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Memorial Day Holiday Excerpt

May 30, 2011

If you read this on Memorial Day, I’m probably at a Panera Bread or something working on a story.  So here’s an excerpt from a 1996 novel “The Savior.”  Since Memorial Day is about saluting those brave men and women who have died in defense of their country, I thought it would be fitting to have an excerpt featuring a military funeral.  But I don’t have any stories about modern soldiers, so the best I could do was from this sci-fi story.

The setup is that the valiant Captain Lisa Shaw’s father, a general, was killed by the enemy S’Parnians on a research station orbiting Pluto.  She and her mother, an admiral, go to the funeral at Arlington Cemetery.  After the ceremony, she meets an old flame.

#

Chapter Six

The first shuttles streaked down towards Earth, carrying their passengers back to their homes for the first time in over a year. Lisa looked glumly out the front of the shuttle, feeling her heart growing heavier as the surface came closer.

She fidgeted in her seat and held her hat in hand, feeling a little uncomfortable in her dress white uniform. She tugged at the collar to loosen it a little and to stop the lump rising in her throat as she thought about going to Washington D.C. for her father’s funeral. It would be the first time she had been to the city in nearly six years, ever since she had been given command of the Explorer. It was a place that she didn’t miss; all of the beareaucrats and politicians were enough to make her choke on paperwork. She thought of those years of working for Alliance Command, shuffling forms and papers around while real captains were out in space; in command of ships and getting things done. The more she thought about it, the more of a waste of time those years seemed. Working in a nice safe office had left her unprepared for commanding a starship. She sighed and tried to prepare herself for the funeral.

A memorial for her father was going to be put in Arlington Cemetary, amongst the bodies of thousands of heroes. It was what every soldier wanted, although there was so little space left in the cemetary that only the most important people, like her father, were laid to rest there. There would be many dignitaries, politicians, and friends there, making it more of a social meeting than a funeral. She thought of the many people that would come up to her and her mother and express their sympathies, even though most didn’t know her father. She had never liked funerals, but this one was going to be the worst. She was glad in a way that none of the Avenger‘s crew had asked to come; she didn’t want any of them to sacrifice their time on Earth to grieve for someone they didn’t know. She looked out the window again and saw the city coming closer.

The spear of the Washington Monument came into view first, then the many other old government buildings. Finally the newer parts of the city came into sight, the gleaming office complexes that towered up near a hundred stories and the lines of mansions that housed the city’s most prominent citizens. The shuttle was roughly following the Potomac River out of the city and to the sprawling miltitary base just outside of it. Many years ago it had been Andrews Air Force Base, but now it was the United Earth Alliance Military Operations Command Center, which was simply called Command by most soldiers. She spotted the familiar rectangular building where she had worked and frowned as memories flooded back.

The shuttle lost some altitude and then swung out over the Alliance Military Academy grounds before making its final approach onto a landing platform. The shuttle hovered for a moment and then slowly floated down before coming to a stop on the platform with a dull thump. Then Lisa unstrapped and stood up slowly, steeling herself before opening the hatch. She flung it open and eased down the ramp. She saw her mother hurrying towards her with a look that was a cross between sadness and sheer joy.

“At last, you’re finally home!” Admiral Shaw exclaimed. They embraced and tears came to their eyes. “Sometimes I thought I’d never see you again.”

“Me too,” Lisa replied quietly. Then they began to walk towards a waiting hovercar. “It’s good to be back on familiar ground.”

“It must have been terrible out there, stranded so far from home.”

“Well, it was at times. The worst part was not knowing when the aliens would get here.”

“I see. Well, at least we don’t have to worry about them attacking us for a little while.” They climbed into the car and it took off, heading for the cemetary. The two passengers were quiet for most of the trip, unsure of exactly what to say. Lisa had caught her mother’s reference to the fight they had gotten into before she had left for Rygan I. That had dealt mostly with her mother not wanting her daughter so far from home, but she knew that part of it had been about her not thinking that she was a good enough commander. She just hoped that she wouldn’t bring that up again.

As they reached Arlington, a rain storm began pounding the car. They slowed down at the gates of the cemetary, and Lisa thought of how appropriate the sudden rain was on the day of the funeral. The car finally stopped and the driver handed them umbrellas. Then they stepped out of the car and flipped them on, hearing a hum as a very low‑powered shield protected them from the rain.

Chairs were lined up on the green plot, and a flock of mourners were already sitting down. As the pair reached the funeral site, taps began to play. A chaplain stood with a Bible in hand. He began to speak from it and Lisa felt a lump rising in her throat. Then her father’s closest friend, Colonel Sam Bedford, delivered a long and hopeful eulogy that was peppered with anecdotes that would have had her rolling on the ground with laughter under other circumstances. Instead, she sat rigidly in her seat with a solemn mask on her face. Finally, the service came to an end as four Eclipse fighters flew over in the Missing Man formation and her mother was presented with a ceremonial Alliance flag. The Arlington Cemetary honor guard came forward and raised their rifles. The crowd stood and came to attention as the first shots echoed hollowly across the cemetary. Lisa snuck a glance at her mother and saw that like her daughter, she was standing at full attention with her right hand saluting, but there were tears in her eyes. Lisa felt tears trickling down her own cheeks and was barely able to keep her composure as the last shots rang out and faded away into the gloomy air. The honor guard lowered their rifles and Lisa slowly dropped her hand to her side. Then the crowd began to disperse and head back for their cars and out of the driving rain. Lisa numbly climbed into her car and took one last look at the granite marker that was all to indicate that her father had ever existed. Her mother sat next to her and the car took off. Again there was no talking, only silence as they drove away.

There was really nothing for either one of them to say. They both blamed themselves for the demise of Jerome Shaw: Lisa for going to Rygan and her mother for not stopping her husband from going to Pluto. Telling themselves that it wasn’t really their fault didn’t help and they looked out the windows, trying to hide their emotions. Emotions would come later, when they were alone and away from prying eyes. Lisa just wished that she had someone she could really talk to, but there was no one. Any potential listeners, like Arsa or Laurants, were on the Avenger while she was here, drowning in a black sea of despair. She sighed and wondered if either one of them would really understand what she was going through.

Laurants would know, his brother had died during the Martian War when his ship had been destroyed, and Arsa knew first‑hand what it was like to lose a life. They would both understand, but she knew that she didn’t have the heart to go to either one of them anyway. Laurants because of the way she felt for him, and Arsa because she was so different now, it was like she was an entirely different person. There really was no one to turn to in her moment of need. She glumly watched the city of Washington pass by her window and finally the car stopped at her mother’s house. It was a three‑bedroom affair that was pretty much standard military housing for high-ranking officers. The inside was much more ornate and a throng of friends awaited their arrival in the living room. All Lisa really wanted to do was change her clothes and spend some time alone, thinking and crying.

She didn’t know most of the people, they were her mother’s friends. There were a couple people that she vaguely knew, but none that she knew too well. The people began to come up to her, mumble their apologies, and then walk away slowly. She was about to find a way to get herself out of the crowd when she heard a familiar voice behind her. “Hey Lisa,” it called, “let’s get out of here!” She smiled and turned around to see someone she hadn’t seen in years.

She wrapped her arms around her old friend and then they maneuvered their way out of the house and to the backyard. The rain had stopped, and they sat under an old oak tree. Lisa smiled at her friend.

“It’s been a long time,” she said as she looked up at the darkening sky.

“It sure has,” her friend, retired Lieutenant Commander Nathan Nichols remarked.

“How’d you find out about the funeral?”

“That was easy, it was broadcast all over a few days ago. He was a great man, with a great daughter, I might add.”

“Thanks.”

“So, how’re you holding up? I didn’t get to see you at the service, there were too many people in the way.”

“Sometimes it’s better than others. Being in that room, listening to all of those people I didn’t even know apologize, that was sickening.”

“They’re just trying to be nice, well, most of them. Others are probably just sucking up to you and your mom.”

“Lot of good sucking up to me is going to do, I’m going to be gone for about a year.”

“So am I,” Nichols said and Lisa turned to him with an eyebrow raised.

“What do you mean? Where are you going?”

“I’m going with you. You’re looking at your new helmsman.”

“What? That’s wonderful! I thought you were retired though.”

“I was, but I was still enlisted in the reserves, so I just had them call me up. It’s easy when you’ve got my connections.”

“I’m sure. Let me guess, you were delivering a couple of cases of scotch and happened to misplace a few of them.”

“Your lack of confidence is shocking. Actually, it was two cases of brandy for General Romanoff at Command. After that, it was easy.”

“Working for TransWorld Freight does give you certain privledges. So, have you been briefed on this mission?”

“A little. Your mother gave me a few sketchy details before the funeral, but nothing that big. I don’t suppose you can fill me in?”

“Not until we’re off Earth. We don’t want anyone knowing about this who doesn’t have to.”

“Right. Well, you suppose we should make our appearance back inside yet?”

“Not just yet,” Lisa answered and kissed Nichols. They wrapped their arms around each other and kissed for several moments before pulling away. Then Nichols wrapped his arm around Lisa’s shoulders and they watched the sun set. Lisa knew that she had a new reason to look forward to this mission now.

Reluctantly, Lisa said good‑bye to Nichols and gave him one last kiss before he left. Then she turned and went into the house, finding her mother sitting in the living room, yawning. “They’re finally gone,” Admiral Shaw remarked.

“Yes, they’re gone,” Lisa repeated, not really listening.

“Even your young male friend?”

“Yes, Nate’s gone too. Is there a problem?”

“What’s wrong?”

“It’s nothing, really. Just maternal instincts kicking in.”

“Hmmm, that doesn’t happen very often.”

“More than you realize. I don’t think you understand how much I worry about you out there. It’s a mother’s worst nightmare to have her only daughter blast off into enemy territory, light years from help. There’s so much that could go wrong.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll come back.”

“You said that last time, and you almost didn’t.”

“I promise, I’ll come back. You should get some sleep, it’s been a long day.”

“You’re right. Good night,” Lisa’s mother brushed past her and slowly made her way to her bedroom. Lisa turned off the lights and then went to the guest room, which was bare and dusty from so little use. She lay down on the bed and looked up at the ceiling.

She didn’t think about her mother’s words or about the mission. All she could think about was having Nichols on her ship. They hadn’t seen each other in years, but she could still remember when they had met, aboard the old frigate John Gallowes.

That had been after Lisa had just graduated the Academy and was a snot‑nosed young ensign. Nichols had been a lieutenant and the ship’s helmsman. Since she had been the defensive operations officer, they had been near each other almost every day. A friendship grew up quickly, Nichols taking her under his wing and showing her the ropes of life aboard a starship. They became the best of friends and they shared their hopes and dreams. Nichols wanted nothing more than to pilot starships, while Lisa had grand dreams of becoming a starship captain like her mother. They had been two opposites, Nichols was talkative, witty, and a daredevil while Lisa was shy, clumsy, and conservative. She still didn’t know why they had gotten along so well, but it probably had something to do with the fact that Nichols was just such a nice person and so likable.

Things hadn’t turned romantic until the night they had shared in San Francisco after Lisa had been promoted to Lieutenant. They had both drank a little too much wine and ended up in the bed of a cheap motel together. Instead of backing down from the encounter, they had agreed that they should go forward with it. That was when they had started their secret affair, which hadn’t been secret for very long. It was hard to keep anything private on a ship the size of the Gallowes. After almost a year, their relationship came to a screeching halt when Nichols was promoted to Lieutenant Commander and transferred to another ship. She remembered the ache in her heart that had not gone away until she met Laurants’s brother.

Now Nichols was back and they were picking up where they left off. Lisa was looking forward to spending at least another year with him. It felt so good to be in love, to forget about the confusion over her feelings towards Laurants, the gap in her heart at the loss of her father, and her abruptly ended affair with Laurants’s brother. She felt so alive, so at peace, in a way she hadn’t since leaving the underground city on Rygan. She closed her eyes and slowly fell asleep, dreaming of Nichols and their love.

***

Lisa spent the next two days at headquarters, debriefing intelligence agents on the aliens and their upcoming mission. Some parts of the story seemed a little fantastic, but she knew that it was all true. Still, she had gotten very odd looks when she had talked about Arsa’s transformations, Manny’s being brought back from the dead, and being given a ship from a nearly extinct soceity. There were times when she could hardly believe it herself, but every day on the Avenger she could see that it had happened.

During the tedious hours of debriefing, Lisa went over the requisitions with various officers. They were going to get everything they had asked for, except for the replacement Eclipse fighter. She pleaded for at least the fighter, but no one would budge. The fighter wings that remained were already badly torn‑up; there was nothing to spare.

The parts for the ExoArmors had been relatively easy to get, especially since the project had been cancelled in her absence. It would probably be reopened now after their performance against the aliens on Rygan I. She hoped so, those things were probably the best weapons in the Alliance arsenal, next to the Avenger herself. They needed more of them. The rest of the supplies had been pretty standard, just rations, spare ship parts, and the like. It had been a little tricky to get parts that would work on the alien construction of the Avenger, but it had been done with some modifications.

The next step was to assign personnel, which would mostly be made of reservists like Nichols. An entire medical team, as well as an engineering crew would be assigned. Nichols’s name was listed as the replacement helmsman, but there was no one else that she recognized. She also saw another little tidbit in there that she would be sure to tell Laurants when she got back: he was being officially promoted to Commander and being officially granted the position of XO on the ship. She smiled and knew that it wasn’t bad for someone who had started the trip out as an ensign. To skip two ranks in a year, and to be second‑in‑command of the most powerful warship in the Alliance was nothing to scoff at. It was only after all of this that Lisa said farewell to her mother and boarded her shuttle. She noted glumly that Nichols wouldn’t be coming aboard until shore leave was over, but she would be busy enough as it was directing the resupply effort.

The shuttle exited the atmosphere and Lisa saw the enormous shape of the alien ship and the much smaller, but still powerful form of the Avenger come into view. The alien ship was a dull brownish spot in space while the Avenger gleamed silver and reflected the sunlight that hit it. It was an impressive sight and what made it even more impressive in Lisa’s mind was that it was her ship. She was its captain and she would take it into enemy territory.

For all practical purposes, the Avenger was the flagship of the Alliance fleet. There was nothing that had its maneuverability, firepower, and speed. It was by far the best ship that remained, and the only one that stood a chance of completing this mission. The rest of the fleet had to remain in Earth orbit, to protect it from a threat that Lisa was sure wouldn’t appear. The aliens had no interest in Earth, only in delivering Arsa to their home planet. If the Avenger failed its mission, then maybe the aliens would come back for retribution, but that wasn’t likely to happen. From what S’Olonny had told them, the aliens held Arsa as some kind of goddess. They would never do anything to harm her.

Lisa shook those thoughts away as the shuttle approached the Avenger. She was able to get a good view of the seamless hull with the recessed areas that contained the vessel’s mighty guns. There were also the tiny bumps that were communications and sensor gear. It was the strangest ship she had ever seen, but one that was also a work of art in its design. Maybe in twenty years we’ll be able to talk to Lothgamm about how they made their ships, Lisa thought as the shuttle lined up for its approach. She was glad that she hadn’t revealed the location of the cloning laboratory to Command, otherwise they might be tempted to go and study it, which could interrupt the process. The shuttle came in for a perfect landing and bounced a little as it touched down on the deck.

Lisa opened the hatch and lowered the boarding ramp, then slung her bag over her shoulder and exited the shuttle. She could already see the others that had arrived from Earth disembarking as the next waves boarded. As she reached the bottom of the ramp she spotted Laurants coming to meet her, doing his best to dodge all of the traffic. “Captain,” he greeted gravely and they set off across the hangar.

It was far too noisy in the hangar, and so Lisa waited until they were in the corridors to stop him. Then she smiled and presented him with a small felt box. Laurants wasn’t sure what was going on until he opened it and saw a set of commander’s pins in it. “Congratulations, you’ve been promoted to full commander,” Lisa said and shook his hand warmly.

“This…this is great,” Laurants stammered. He had been hoping that they would assign someone else to fill in for Arsa, but instead they had decided to make his promotion stick and bump him up one more level. Now he would have to be close to Lisa for another year. At least if he had been given his old rank he wouldn’t have to see her as much. He sighed and then thought of what his parents would think when he came home with his shiny new commander’s pins. One step more and I’ll be there, he thought, remembering his brother. It had taken a lot less time than Laurants had thought to rise up this far in the ranks, but that was merely because he had been in the right places at the right times. It could have happened to anyone, he had just been the lucky one. Not that he was very lucky to be given this promotion. If he had been on a different ship he would be glad to accept it, but this was a different situation entirely.

“So, what’s happened in my absence?” Lisa asked as they wandered up towards her quarters.

“Nothing at all. There haven’t been any problems.”

“Good. I didn’t think there would be any problems yet, those will come when we start loading tomorrow.” Lisa excused herself for a moment as they reached her quarters and she hurried inside to drop off her bag. Then she returned and they continued up to the bridge.

“I’m sure you’re right. Supply runs have a tendency to get bungled up.”

“Right, which is something we can’t afford since those supplies could mean life or death. If they deliver us a load of toothpaste instead of rations then we’ll be in trouble.”

“Not that rations taste much better.” They both chuckled and the bridge doors parted. Laurants headed for his station and Lisa to her command chair. It was all very routine, or would be, until tomorrow. That’s when the real fun would begin.

#

Thank you to all our men and women in uniform and for everyone else, have a safe and productive Memorial Day!  See you on Wednesday…

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3 Comments
  1. Why would anyone go to Pluto? It isn’t even classified as a planet. Better to go to some asteroid between Earth and Mars.

    Story seems a little dated as the shuttle program has been disbanded by the U.S. government.

    Also there’s a height cap of how tall buildings can be in D.C. I don’t think you could have one near a 100 stories. Everything must be lower than the Washington Monument by ordinance so that it is visible at all times from every part of the city.

    • As Briane said, this is 100 years or more in the future, so that law was changed. And this was written 15 years ago, before the shuttle program ended and before scientists arbitrarily decided Pluto wasn’t a planet. Though in the context of the story there was a research station orbiting Pluto that was destroyed by the enemy aliens as they entered the system.

  2. But it’s in the future, Michael — regulations can change.

    Interesting twist on Memorial Day. And, as usual, well-written.

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