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seaQuest: The Dawning
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    The sunlight was streaming down on me when I finally came off duty, and as I stepped into the light, I felt my eyes close in protest.
"Ugh." I moaned, shielding my eyes. I made my into the courtyard, glancing at my watch. I was running late, as usual. No matter how hard I tried, I couldnít get myself anywhere on time, and my chronic tardiness was continually getting me extra shifts on Kitchen Patrol. This time, however, I wasnít late for work. I was late meeting my sister Manda, and her punishments might be far worse than anything my commander could dish out.

"Sorry Iím late, chica." I said, jogging up to where she sat, perched in the low hanging branches of a nearby tree. She didnít even look up. Her nose was buried in her computer pad, her stylus flying at the speed of light. I sighed and sat down. The muse was speaking again, it would be awhile. Sighing, I slipped my sling pack off of my shoulder and flipped open the pouch. I opened my scheduler and looked at my shift schedules for the following week.
"Damn. Three night flights on border patrol." I groaned. "Who the hell is making up our schedules?"
"Isaac." Manda spoke without looking at me. I rolled my eyes.
"Well, you think he would schedule someone in his own squadron on better shifts. Hell, Iíd accept better flights. Border patrol? Jasper gets to run training exercises with the new recruits."
"Which is why youíre on border patrol." Manda snapped her stylus onto her notepad and jumped down to the ground. I looked at her.
"What?" She rolled her eyes.
"Come on, Joey. You canít be serious. Did you seriously think you and Jasper were keeping this hot-and-heavy romance a secret from the admiral?"
"You make it sound like weíre two kids rolling around in a backseat. Itís not like that."
"I know, and it would probably be better for your careers if you were." She sighed. "Look, you know that regulations prohibit couples, especially those on the road to marriage, to fly on the same missions. You guys got away with it because Captain Arrington was willing to overlook it. With Admiral Hastings on base, your schedules had to be screwed up." I sighed and picked up my pack.
"Come on, letís go get some coffee."
"Can we swing by the mail room? I need to check my box."
"Sure." I said. We headed off towards the tall brick building in the center of the courtyard.

    06...24...48...I spun my combination and pulled open my mailbox. It was filled with paper. I never checked my mail. The way I saw it, if someone really needed to find me, they were already on the base, or they had easy access to a vid-link. Paper was overrated. I heard Manda cursing as she opened an envelope.
"Stupid electric company. I paid in advance for last month, and theyíre still charging me for this month."
"Sorry, girl." I flipped through my mail and gasped as I came upon a familiar name. Manda turned to me.
"Whatís wrong?" She asked, concern etched on her brow.
"ItísÖitís from Jim."
"What?" She walked over to me and pulled the envelope from me. She stared at the return address.
"Wow.  When was the last time you heard from him?" She asked, handing it back to me.
"Itís been awhile." My brother and I grew up in different families, and rarely spoke. He was also in the military, and our schedules were so chaotic that getting in touch was difficult.
    
          I followed Manda across the hall into the small café. I sat down at our regular table and stared at the envelope as Manda went up to order coffee and bagels for us.  I sighed. Jim and I had an interesting relationship. We were born to the same mother, but when I was one, and he was three, our mother was diagnosed with cancer. I was adopted by our momís best friend, and Jim went to live with our grandparents. When I moved back to the states after my foster mother passed away, Jim had been sent away to military school. Our communication consisted of an average of a few visits and one letter a year, several pages long, trying to cram several monthís worth of events into a short essay.
"Are you going to open that thing, or am I going to have to do it for you?" Mandaís voice broke my thoughts. I looked up and took the coffee she handed me.
"Iím going to open it." I said, continuing to stare at the envelope. Manda shot me a look.
"Oh really?"
"Yes." I said, slipping my finger under the flap and tearing the paper.
"Hey! Joey!" A sudden yell made my head snap up. Spinning around, I saw Isaac Ashford running up behind me, computer chip in hand. I stood up to face him.
"Yeah?" I asked. He gasped to catch his breath.

"Dude, youíve gotta see this." He handed me the chip.
"What is it?" I asked, inspecting it. I cast a confused look at Manda, who shrugged.
"The flight list for Sky Wars." He named our annual flight competition. Flyers from all over the world came to compete in aerial combat, maneuverability, speed, and a number of other tests. Only the top flyers from each base were selected to compete. I slipped my palm computer from my bag and popped in the chip.
"There must be some mistake." I said, scanning the list.
"What? What is it? Let me see." Manda leaned over, her hand resting on my shoulder.
"Iím not on it. Neither is Jasper." I looked at Isaac, who took a breath.
"Thereís one spot remaining. Admiral Hastings said that you and Jasper would have to compete for the opportunity because he wasnít going to put a team of lovers in the sky."
"What?!" I glared at him.
"He said that he couldnít guarantee that you would fly full force competing against one another, and he wasnít willing to jeopardize Miramarís chance of winning because you didnít want to hurt one another."
"Thatís ridiculous and you know it!"
Isaac threw his hands up in defense.
"Hey, donít kill the messenger."

I looked away and groaned. Manda pulled the list from my hands and scanned it, looking for her name.
"Donít bother. Youíre in the 4 spot. Youíre flying." I said. Manda smiled, and then quickly covered it.
"Iím sorry." She said. I shook my head.
"Donít be. Itís not your problem." Angrily, I tossed my computer in my bag, along with the unopened envelope. "Letís go see if Jasperís home. I want to be the one to tell him the good news." I handed the chip back to Isaac without a word.
"JoeyÖ" he said. I turned on him.
"Donít. Thereís not a damn thing that you could say. Iím trying very hard not to blame you, but seeing how youíre the one whoís scheduling the flights, and youíre the one whoís heading up the preparations for Sky Wars, Iím finding it very hard. You know that Jasper and I would NEVER jeopardize anyone. We leave our personal relationship on the ground. It took the commander almost a year to find out that we were dating because we kept it away from work."
"I know that."
"Then why the hell are you going along with this?" His jaw dropped open.
"Admiral Hastings is my commanding officer. What am I supposed to do? Go against his orders? He specifically said that you two were not to be on the same mission, or in the same competition. He threatened to demote me if I didnít rearrange the schedules."
"This is insanity." Manda finally spoke up. "The admiral and commander are supposed to put the best pilots in the sky, regardless of what they do in their spare time. Theyíve forgotten that.  And THAT is what is putting everyone in jeopardy, not our relationships." I turned and smiled at her. Manda was dating another pilot as well, but their relationship was still hidden. She knew they could face as much trouble as we were in right now, and so very few people knew. I pulled my bag onto my shoulder and grabbed my coffee.
    
        "I still canít believe you guys got this house." Manda said, setting down her glass on the porch railing. I nodded and set down the pitcher of lemonade.
"I know. Sometimes I think itís still a dream."
    
         Jasper and I had decided a few months ago to start looking for a house. He had grown up in  a military family, and I never had a stable home growing up, so it was very important for both of us to have someplace to call our own. Combat pay is good, but not nearly enough to buy a house without selling your soul, so we were overjoyed when a retiring admiral was selling a beautiful house in a gated community so he could move closer to his children. His daughter and son-in-law owned a place in St. Petersburg, and he wanted to move fast, so he sold cheap. Besides, he told us, he liked the idea of selling to a young military couple, much like he and his late wife were.
    
          Our home had three bedrooms, three bathrooms and an enormous kitchen, but my favorite feature was definitely our porch and expansive backyard. I looked over at Manda, who was sprawled out on the porch swing. I dropped into a chair, and propped up my feet.
"So what are you going to do?" She asked me. I shook my head.
"I donít know. I guess itís pretty obvious that both of us arenít going to be stationed at Miramar after this rotation."
"Who do you think theyíll move?"
I shrugged.
"Well, since theyíre now pitting us against one another, my guess would be whoever is allowed to fly at Sky Wars will be able to stay, and the other will be moved."
"But what about the wedding?" Jasper and I were going to be married in December.
"I guess that weíll make it work long distance for awhile. Or, if I get moved, Iíll leave the military and stay here."
"And become a housewife?" There was a touch of amusement in Mandaís voice.
"What am I going to do? Leave my husband and my sister? Besides, Iíve got you to do my housework."
Manda laughed.
"Thatís what you think."
    
          Manda wasnít really my sister. After I moved back to the states, I had been passed around between foster families, homeless shelters, the occasion prison cell (one night for a minor violation, nothing serious) and the streets. When I was 16, Mandaís family had taken me in. It was the first family I had ever known. Her father was going to adopt me and make it official, but before the paperwork could be filed, I turned 18. Manda and I were extremely close, and most people thought that we were sisters anyway. What they didnít know, we didnít share.
    
          Manda took a  long drink.
"Whenís Jasper getting home?"
"Sometime after four. He and Alex went up the coast to bring back a car or something."
"Men and their cars."
"Hey, I happen to like my man AND my car." I grinned. "So are you going to stick around for dinner or what?"
"Is Alex coming back?" I threw my hands up.
"What is this? Am I just your connection to your boyfriend now?" She giggled.
"No, silly girl. Of course Iím staying, if only to see the fireworks when Jas finds out about Sky Wars."
"Oh, God, thatís going to be good."
"So, did you open that letter from Jim?" The subject change was abrupt.
"No. Iíll do it later."
Inside the house, the phone rang. I looked at Manda.
"Who the hell?" I asked, walking inside and grabbing the phone.
"Hello?"
"Miss Brody, we have a visitor down here, asking to come through the gate." I looked at Manda who was silently mouthing the word "who?". "The front gate." I mouthed back.
"Who is it?" I asked.
"He claims to be your brother. James Brody. I checked his ID. Should I send him in?"
"Uh, yeah, sure." I hung up the phone and turned to Manda.
"Um, this should be good."
"What? Who is it?"
"My brother." Mandaís jaw dropped.

"Jimís here?" I nodded.
"Whoa." She walked into the living room. I followed behind, grabbing a blanket that was strewn across the couch.
"He could have given me some warning." I said, folding the blanket.
"Maybe it was unexpected leave." She grabbed two random beer bottles and dropped them into the trash as the doorbell rang.
"Shit." I moved to answer it.
"Wait." Manda said, and I  turned. "Are you sure you want me to stay?" I nodded.
"You are not going anywhere." I pulled open the door. Three men stood on my doorstep. My brother, Jim,  and two unknown men, one with dark curly hair and olive complexion, and a wiry man with glasses.
"Hey, Joey." Jim smiled. I smiled.

"Hi." We stared at each other uncertainly for a moment. I heard Manda come up behind me and felt her nudge me. She cast me a look and I grinned, stepping forward and wrapping my arms around his neck.
"Itís so good to see you." I said, pulling back. "Come in, come in." I ushered them into the living room. "You remember Manda, right?"
"Yeah, hi." Jim said. Manda waved lightly and smiled. Jim cleared his throat.
"Um, Joey, this are my crew mates. This is Miguel, and Tim. Guys, my sister and her foster sister, Manda." Tim reached forward to shake my hand.
"Finally, we get to meet you."  I smiled.
"Whatever he told you, itís not true. Can I get you something to drink?"
"Soda?" Jim asked. Tim shook his head as Miguel nodded.
"Soda, water, whatever youíve got  is fine."

TO CHAPTER 2