Captain cees last stand, p.1
Captain Cee's Last Stand, p.1
Captain Cee’s Last Stand
By Vincent Cleaver
“I’ve always been haunted by water.”
Hannah Clinkenbeard woke up to the words of Sergeant Jules and felt a fierce tightness in her chest. Then the hand clasping at her heart seemed to compress. Pain hammered at her and shot down her arm. She struggled up, falling out of her bed and pulling the covers with her. She dragged herself over the chilly floor to the door, opening it with difficulty.
She tried to cry out for help, but couldn’t manage more than a croak. She was fading fast and the only thing keeping her moving was pure will, and an incandescent anger at just how unfair the man upstairs was. She wanted a word with the management!
She passed out in the hallway, this time dragging over the small table she’d been laboriously climbing, and that noise had finally brought help.
“Back with us?” a familiar voice asked her. Hannah found that she was looking up into Dr. Wong’s face.
“Wah ‘appen ‘ith ‘ee?” she asked, or tried to ask. Wong’s almond-shaped eyes grew guarded and he brought forth a fake smile.
“Everything is going to be all right-” He began to reassure her, but she squeezed his hand tight, twice, stopping him. “No? I see…”
“’Nesty izz eye plizzee,” Hannah gabbled. “Me! What!?”
“You had a mild stroke. Mild in that you survived and I… I honestly don’t know how much you will recover.”
“Tooth!” Hannah beamed lopsidedly, the right side of her face drooping below her missing eye. “Gah, goo, ‘ood!” She howled in frustration as the words fought her.
“Calmness would work better, Hannah. You’re in for a long fight, just like always; conserve your strength.”
Hannah concentrated, willed herself to relax, be calm. “’Ell me.”
“Complications from what was left of your implant, Captain.”
So that damned old injury was still trying to take her out. ‘But Heaven doesn’t want me and the Devil won’t have me’, she thought to herself.
Doctor Wong had not been her Chief Medical Officer on the USAFV Corpus Christi. He had inherited that position when the CMO had died during the evacuation of CeeCee; he had taken care of her people in their initial exile, up here, north of the enemy base down by the sea. The PLASN troops had actually named their settlement among the dragons ‘Shanghai’, Chinese for By-The-Sea. Then, in those first years of downshifting, while she built up the Outfit and the smaller settlements in the North Country, he’d been her private doctor. The policy which she and Old General Ma had set up, that ‘We all will survive here, because it looks like we are it!’ was mutually assured survival for Humans and Dragons. Dr. Wong had helped her to contribute her own hostages to the ‘Hundred Year Plan’; they were conceived, implanted in her damaged womb, and then he had delivered each of her children. Five pregnancies, four births, one death, and then another… She had two sons, their wives and children, all delivered by this man.
“I must say, Captain, that I’m rather pleased that we’ve turned this infirmary into a fertility clinic… Out with the Death Tech and in with the Life Tech…” he busied himself with his work and just a little bit later muttered to himself, “Only about ten percent of your ova are viable... how did you survive?” Then he remembered the Captain and had the good grace to wince.
“It was a very near thing. I had... strange dreams.” Not a near death experience; just her scrambled brain sorting itself out. “But, you see, Heaven doesn’t want me, and Hell won’t take me either. So here I am. I’ll live until I die.”
Wong looked over at her. Captain Clinkenbeard was… eccentric? 'Crazy' was technical term he wasn’t privileged to diagnose, and 'strange' was much too vague. She was reliable; in fact, she was reliably exceptional. She got things done, and if she got them done in a different way than any other officer, then that was because any other officer would have already failed.
“There is one other possibility, Doctor.”
“The fetus you saved from… No. 1.”
“That presents certain ethical-“
“Survival has an ethical argument all its own.”
“We don’t know that…”
“You’re right, Doctor, we don’t know.” The Captain stared him in the eye until he looked away.
“Prep us both. I owe her, and her husband, a life.”
“This is a bad idea, Hannah.”
“Maybe so. We’ll do it, anyway.”
The little boy, Samuel, would have been her first-born, but Sam didn't make it. She had miscarried, and had, against her doctor's advice, tried again. Then along came little Malcolm, and then his brother, Kevin (not Simon or Wash, as Jules had joked). There was another miscarriage, and she had only continued because she had badly wanted a little girl. Uncharacteristically self-indulgent of her, but she had had Georgie and finally Margaret, named for her own mother. Kevin and George had made it to adulthood, and she had acquired two daughters-in-law; one was from Hell and the other from Jupiter or Mars (not Venus, that was Hell!). No. 2 Daughter-in-Law made no sense to her, at all. And yet, she liked her. The one from Hell she understood all too well. Hannah fought her tooth and nail.
Hannah got out of her room on the third day, pursuing noises in the rest of the big old house, cruising in her new ride, a wheelchair woven of sweet-grass cane. She saw what her No. 1 Daughter-in-Law was doing and quivered in incoherent rage. In the guise of taking care of ‘the poor old dear’, she was taking over.
The trophies her Red Team had won in the Militia War Games were coming down. Horrible Hannah’s Hornets (the polite version of HH’s Hellspawn) were the very dregs; she always asked for their hopeless head-cases, the wild, other-directed teenagers. Nearly every year she had seen them to victory. And there was her Yamato Nadeshico doll, the one her father had brought back from Japan for her, the one her room-mate at Annapolis had been holding when Baltimore blew up. It was sitting on the floor. Hannah snagged it up and set it in her lap with difficulty, then wheeled herself down the main hall.
The dedication plaque for CeeCee was down off the wall over the fireplace. Hannah tried to stand and grabbed the doll as it slid, then slumped back into her chair.
“What’s wrong Mom?” It was Kevin, her eldest, now; her problem child, first, last and always. Not because he took to mischief naturally, a rebel, but because her Malcolm had died, all those years ago, and Kevin had never gotten the proper knack of being the eldest child.
He had always been second best.
“I’ve always been haunted by water,” is what Tech Sergeant Jules LeCroix had told her, after her little girl, Margaret, had almost drowned. Malcolm had, while trying to save his little sister. Kevin had succeeded, the first of many things that had fallen to him from his dead brother.
She had placed too much on his small shoulders. Malcolm had always met her expectations, but, oh, they had been so very high. Much too high. Malcolm had gone after his little sister when she fell into the rain swollen river one spring nearly forty years ago. Kevin had hesitated, just a little; just enough, probably. Then he had followed his older brother, and taken over when Mal had tired after retrieving the little girl, snagged underwater by some flotsam. Kevin had been the one to get her to the river-bank, brain-damaged but still living. Jules had found Malcolm's body later, and that had been one of the few times she had ever seen her sergeant cry. For Mal, for all of them, and because she couldn't.
Jules had been her second in command for so long, it had been like losing her right arm when he had left, a decade and change later. He had not been able to talk her out of using her simpleton daughter as a 'brood mare', as he put it. And he had not been able to live with the monster who could.
The funny thing was what she noticed, which she hadn't before. This stroke had sat her down hard on her ass- maybe this just was her body's way of telling her to stop and smell the roses? Doc Wong had told her that the damage to her faculties meant she might lose something else, but it seemed like the sausage smelled all the more delicious, and the dried flowers hung in the library by their resident amateur botanist, No. 2 Daughter-in-law, Patricia were... intriguing. Orangey, with a hint of coffee...
In nearly fifty years, had she ever really stopped to take it all in? Perhaps, instead of fighting tooth and nail, securing the settlements against hunger, or finding the resources with which to fuel 'The Plan'; perhaps she could have taken time to appreciate the 'Heavenly Mountain' just a little more, enjoy her unexpected and un-looked for family, children and grandchildren, perhaps soon even great grandchildren. The horses in every color of the rainbow, the orange-furred cattle, and the red-gold, green-gold or iridescent-scaled Dragons.
Hannah shook her head ruefully. No, it was not in her to stop fighting, even when she suspected that she could, or even, per-maybe-haps, should. It was who and what she was. 'But maybe I'll call a truce, just to try it out,' she thought. 'Peace is pursuing your goals by other means than war, right?'
"What were you thinking, sitting there all sneaky-looking?" Patricia asked, startling Hannah. She had come up behind her; had been watching her for how long?
"Wuh-ahr 'n Peez," Hannah got out. "Trah-ooss!" She thought she sounded rather like a strangled cat or maybe Stephen Hawking on an especially bad day.
Patricia sat down in a chair next to her wheelchair, taking the clawed fist that was Hannah's right hand into her hands, and began to knead it like it was a lump of warm-dough on baking day. Hannah felt it, distantly, and slowly felt a tingling as circulation returned. It was good, to be touched. Somehow, she felt less like an invalid, although exactly how this was different from the solicitous way they all carried on, she could not have said.
"I don't understand your world,” Patricia said absently as she worked. “My generation and our children look on you and yours as if you all came down from the sky. Which you did, literally... I mean, you're alien, in a very real sense. You come from a mythical place called Earth, where they did things so very differently. You have lived your life so strangely. Divorced from the lives of your children- you have thought about what all this means?"
Hannah nodded. “Few-chur, Pass-t izz broke, disjoin-ted, Ah-pert.”
“Past and future broken apart, separate from each other?”
Hannah beamed at her. “Zact-lee!”
CC’s re-dedication plaque, after the refit, had been a heartfelt gift from her namesake city. The people of Corpus Christi had pulled together after the ‘horror-canes’ of ’21, big storms that hit the western end of the Gulf like four quick sledge-hammer blows. Every cent had been a very real sacrifice, and Hannah had brought it down on the last shuttle from the wreckage of a proud starship. She understood sacrifice. Hannah was a preacher’s kid, but a bit of a bad girl at heart, a rebel whose father had loved her for who she was- because ‘God doesn’t make junk.’ Of CC she thought, wryly, ‘This is my body, take of it and know life eternal.’ Somehow the joke wasn’t just a joke- it was funny and sad and glorious!
God, how she had loved that ship; loved being a starship captain for nineteen months, a week, two days and… once she had known to the hour, the minute and perhaps even the second, but not since the stroke. She had great pride in her ship, her crew; her duty to her people, her species and the home world- every once in a while she realized exactly how lucky she was. To be who she was, to have been able to do all the things she had done.
No. 1, Ariel McBride, had said once or twice that God had put her where she was to fight Dragons; that God had put Dragons there for them to fight. Such talk made her very uncomfortable, because deep down she had tended to agree. But surely God had not meant for so many people to die? Hannah had always had a problem with pain; she could take it and she could dish it out, but why, God? Why? Such deep theological issues had been the proper province of her father and No. 1. They had maintained that God made everything, even the things which had since been broken or gone bad. We are in God’s hands, and are God’s hands, here to fix and to help.
Hannah Clinkenbeard, 'Captain Cee', watched the mob gather its' courage. A mob is a group mind and it needs time to poll its' constituent parts. When they came this way, she would probably die, unless she could somehow reach them.
The race riot was a flash-point of resentments between the humans and the dragons, and between the Chinese and Western contingents, but mostly it was about lost men with not enough women and a perfectly good target for their rage. The wind brought them- "Kill the Dragons, hang the round-eyes, rape their women!"
The mobs' demands went downhill from there.
Sergeant Jules LeCroix stood at her right elbow. He asked her, "Do you really want to do this?"
"Don't want to; got to. Are you alright?"
"Smith and Wesson done crawled back upstairs, Ma'am," Jules drawled.
Hannah looked at him sideways and very nearly laughed. She smiled in wonderment. ‘No place else,’ she thought. ‘This is exactly where we need to be.’
"God loves you, Jules. And so do I."
Jules LeCroix stood up straight ("Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duty...") and smiled his big Cajun-by-way-of-Chicago shit-eating-grin back at her. It was infectious. The men who stood with them made their own brave attempts, but it was Hannah and Jules, smiling at some private joke, that made the first ranks of the mob pull up short. They could see no reason for the pairs' confidence and were naturally confused.
Hannah's impromptu speech went by in a blur. She felt possessed of some spirit, some charism; the Clinkenbeard Charisma, some would later call it. She did not remember the words, merely how she felt, saying them, cupped in the hand of a great and benevolent providence. To the end of her days, while she had her many doubts about her own worthiness, this was for her a divine proof. Proof of God.
The weather had kept the mail from arriving for a week and more. It finally came into the great house, but Hannah was judged to be too frail to deal with it, at least according to No. 1 Daughter-in-law. Patricia found found her in the Captain's study, reading her mail. She said nothing, just closed the door a little loudly, and the other woman looked up at her briefly; then Sophia started to read one letter out loud.
"'I have packed and unpacked my bags three times. I would come to my Captain. Does my Captain need me?'" She sniffed. "Jules LeCroix."
"I don't think I want to hear this-"
"But I do," said Sophia's husband, Kevin, who had come in unnoticed. Sophie looked over at him coolly.
"There have been things said and done, which I... let go. God knows she's been a trial for you and us-"
Patricia's face darkened with anger and she turned away from them, to look out into the winter's night. If there was fault, it lay more with these two, and less with Hannah. It was a terrible, un-Christian thought, but there it was.
"-but this is not something I will abide, Wife. Jules held a fathers hand over us, and was a father in all but name-"
Sophia sniffed loudly again, and Kevin was suddenly there, his nose an inch from hers, and she backed up, startled. Black waves of anger radiated off of the man, and Patrica finally smelled the whisky.
"Don't. Don't ever. What you've said, behind my back and my mothers, I've heard all of it, but not from your lips and- never!" He sputtered and Sophia lifted her chin, defiant. Kevin seemed to deflate. Twenty or thirty years fell away for just an instant, and he seemed young and lost, looking for the Captain or the Sergeant. And then all of those years of disappointment, resentment and alcohol slammed back home. Kevin slumped down into a chair.
"He went away."
Patricia watched Sophia's calculating eyes and shuddered. What lay between these two... was a complete lack of what lay between her and George. Trust, respect and love. Which, by all accounts, was what had been between Hannah and Jules.
Jules Le Croix was packing his gear to go. Everybody in the outfit knew it, and nobody except Kevin would do anything to stop it. He went to his mother; went to the Captain. She was always the Captain, or had always seemed so, although there were faint memories of a warm hugs and a softer, gentler, woman when his brother Malcolm had been alive...
Kevin enter her study without knocking and, almost, he shouted at her. But instead, he came to attention like any other of her recruits and said with proper deference, "Ma'am!"
Hannah glanced up at him sadly and said, "Three guesses what you're here about, and the first two don't signify..."
"Mom!" Kevin regretted the outburst, the weakness, as she scowled.
"Jules will do as he needs to do. I... have asked too much of him, over the years."
"He'd stay, if you asked him!"
"Which is why I won't be asking him too, of course. He's right, in his way, and I'm wrong, but I can't afford to be wrong-"
"He's my father, isn't he?"
Hannah looked at him sharply, angrily, but then the sad smile came back. "Who told you such nonsense? All of my kids, you're all by dead men, or by dead men and a dead woman, in the one case. And Jules is like me, in so many ways."
"Then why not marry him, if he's such a good match? He's our father, in other ways!"
"I couldn't do that to him, make him live a lie; can't you see that?"
Anger welled up in him. "I see, you old lesbian bitch! I hate you!"
At his fleeing back, she whispered, "Well, that makes two of us, doesn't it?"
'The flesh will do what it's told!'
Hannah smiled her crooked smile at the delicious irony of that B5 reference. She was a prisoner of her own body; the spirit willing, but the flesh weak and twisted. It hurt the way they looked at her now, the old cripple, 'poor dear'. Perhaps she was being too harsh, but she felt that they no longer respected her for her strength, she had none left, but pitied her for her weakness.
Captain Cee's Last Stand by Vincent Cleaver / Science Fiction have rating 3 out of 5 / Based on15 votes