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seaQuest: The Dawning
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           I led Jim upstairs to our bedroom and began looking through our messy bookcase.
"I know theyíre in here somewhere." I said, pulling out a cardboard box on the bottom shelf. Jim was looking around the room.
"I still canít believe my baby sister is getting married." he said.
"Iím not really a baby anymore, Jim."
"Youíll always be my baby sis, Joey-girl." He came over and knelt beside me as I flipped through the contents. "Even if I wasnít around much while you were growing up, you know that IÖ"
"Jim," I said, cutting him off. I rested my had on his shoulder. "I know. We both got shafted when it came to being together and having a real family. But youíre always going to be my brother. Always have been. Ah! Here they are!" I said, pulling out a small sealed bag. I handed him a small photograph. The picture had been taken in our backyard, with me sitting on the porch railing and Jasper standing behind me with his arms wrapped around my waist. "Youíll get another one when we send out the official invitations, but take that one with you for now."
Jim smiled.
"I will, thanks."
A loud crash sounded from downstairs, and I jumped.
"What the hell was that?" Jim asked. I shook my head and raced to the door.

     Miguel and Tim were standing in the kitchen exchanging looks of amusement and horror. Broken glass surrounded the floor at their feet. Manda came flying in off the deck.
"What did you two do?"
"What did you do to my plates?"
"Miguel!"
Our exclamations came faster than they could respond.
"I, uh, Tim dropped them." Miguel stammered.
"Only because you pushed me."
"I did not! I was reaching to take the top of the stack."
Manda and I exchanged a look and burst into laughter.
"I guess youíre back to eating off of paper plates again!" She teased. I grabbed a broom out of the closet.
"Guess so." I tossed the broom and dustpan at the culprits. "You made the mess, you clean it up."
Tim looked sincerely apologetic.
"Iím so sorry." He said. I shook my head.
"Donít worry about it."
"Yeah, it happens all the time in this house." Manda giggled.
"What she means is, the last set of plates we had were sacrificed to a scuffle between another two soldiers."
"There was a fight in your kitchen?" Jim asked, excitedly.
"Boy, you havenít hung around here long, have you?" Manda asked. "Thereís always something going on here." Jim looked at me accusingly, and I shrugged.
"Hey, you get a group of boys who thrive on competition and combat in the same place, something is going to break. Luckily, we buy cheap flatware now." The doorbell sounded. "Partyís here!"

          I left Tim and Miguel cleaning up and opened the door.
"Hey!" I said, ushering three members of our flight squadron into the kitchen. "Guys, this is Colin, Garrett, and Dave." Everyone said hello, and Dave grinned.
"You lost your plates again, I see." he said.
"Yep."
The phone rang and Manda picked it up.
"Hello?" She looked at me. "You want to talk to Joey, sheís right hereÖ" I moved to grab the phone, but Manda wouldnít give it up. "Garrett? Yeah, he just walked in. Here you go." She handed the phone to Garrett and looked at me with wide eyes. "Itís Jasper."
"What?" I gasped. She shook her head.
"He sounded worried. He said he wanted to talk to Garrett before he talked to you."
Miguel and Tim stopped sweeping and stared as Garrett hung up the phone.
"Gar, whatís going on?" It wasnít a question. He pulled his keys out of his pocket and flipped them around in his hand.
"Iíve gotta go, Iíll be back."
"Like hell you will." I stepped in front of him. "Whatís going on?"  I repeated.

         Colin came up behind Garrett and stood beside him. I cast a worried look over at Jim, who came over and stood beside me, further blocking Garrettís path to the garage.  Garrett groaned.
"Joey, come on." He pleaded. I shook my head and he sighed.
"Alright." He looked over at Manda. "Evidently Alex saw Drew, and decided to start something." Manda gasped.
"Iím going to kill him." she muttered. Garrett shook his head.
"Not if Drewís boys get there first. Theyíre meeting at the strip in," he glanced at his watch, "ten minutes."
"And Jasper?" I asked, softly. Garrettís look was all I needed to see.
          I surged forward and grabbed my keys off the hook. Manda was close behind, grabbing her own keys. Together we threw open the glass door and stormed out onto the porch, racing for the garage. Colin, Garrett and Dave were surging for their own cars. Jim ran up behind me.
"Want to tell me whatís going on?" he asked. I didnít answer as I punched in the codes to the garage. The door slid open, revealing my car, a customized 2019 Acura RSX-S. Miguel gasped.
"Damn, what do they pay you again?"
"Um, Joey?" Jim asked again. I opened both doors with the flick of a switch.
"Get in the car, or Iím going to leave you behind." Tim and Miguel climbed into the backseat, and Jim took shotgun. As I peeled out of the garage, I hit a button overhead, turning on the inter-car communications.
"Manda, you there?"
"Where else would I be?" she replied.  

"Do you think he would do it?" I asked, purposely vague.
"He better not, thatís all Iím saying. You want lead on this?" I shook my head.
"Nope. Your man. Your call. Iíve got second."
"Iíve got third." Colin said.
"And Iím got the end. Headlights off, they can see this road from the airstrip." Garrett called out. As the cars moved into position, I turned on my mute switch and looked at Jim. He looked ready to explode.

"What the hell is going on, Jo?" He said through clenched teeth. I sighed.
"Iím sorry," I said, looking through my rear-view mirror at the two men in the backseat. "I should have asked you two if you wanted out."
"Out of what?" Jim pressed.
"Whatever mess Alex has gotten us all into."
"Joey, get your headlights off." Manda called. I flipped my switch and cut the lights.
"Night visor." I called out. Instantly, a black grid crawled across my windshield, emitting a green glow.
"Ok, Manda, Iím tracing off of you."
"Gotcha." I lined my car up with the two green lights flashing just above her rear tires and popped the top of the dash off to reveal a computer keyboard. Punching a few buttons, I told my car to lock onto those lights and to maintain proper distance from the lead car. I loved our tracing system. It meant that cars could follow one another in the dark without risking collision or getting lost.
"I wasnít aware those came standard now." Tim said. I looked back at him.
"They arenít." He grinned slightly.
"I think what I meant was, I wasnít aware that those were legal." I smiled back.
"Technically, theyíre not. But the UEO gave them to us, and Iím not complaining. Are you?"
Tim shook his head and sat back. Miguel leaned forward.

"So, what exactly are we doing?"
"Weíre following Manda to the airstrip. We donít want Drewís crew to know that anyone is coming. All that will do is make him call out more of his own boys, and Iíd rather end this withoutÖ"
"Without what?" Jim asked, his jaw set. He wasnít happy that I was dragging him into this.
"Confrontation." I finished, guiding my car along a curve and pulling onto a gravel road. As my tires hit pavement, I flipped on my headlights. The cars behind me did the same, flooding the abandoned airstrip with light. Jasper, Alex and Drew looked up, fending off the glare with their hands.  I cut my engine and flew out of the car.

"Damn it, Jasper!" He threw his hands up and looked at Alex, who didnít notice. Manda was advancing  on him. I groaned at Jasper and bit my tongue. He had no business being a part of this, especially the first night my brother came into town.
"Alexander, what the hell?"
"Aw, look, itís the wives coming to bail their men out of trouble." Drew taunted. Manda whirled on him.
"I donít need to bail Alex out of anything." She said, so low I could barely hear her. "And I usually bring more trouble than I eliminate." I looked at her. Mandaís eyes were dark and  piercing. Sheís a good woman, strong, caring, but cross her or her family, and youíre going to get knocked down. Drew smirked.

"And just who is this?" He asked, gesturing beyond me.
"Not your concern." I heard someone come up behind me and I looked to see Miguel. He obviously knew exactly what was happening. I was surprised. He seemed like the smooth type, but he stepped up with enough strength that I wondered who he was more mad at, me or Drew.
"Whereís the damn pink slip?" he asked Drew. His voice was a challenge. Drew raised an eyebrow and reached into his pocket.
"Right here." He said, holding up the paper. Miguel and Jasper exchanged a look and nodded. Jim stepped forward.
"Anyone care to explain?"
Manda glared at him, silencing him with her gaze. He crossed his arms and grit his teeth. I could see him looking from Miguel to me, and then over at Drew.
"So what are the terms?" Miguel asked Jasper.
"He wants a second-go round." Jasper replied, looking at me. I shook my head.
"We donít do second chances."
"Damn right." Alex spat on the ground. Manda slapped him lightly and shook her head.
"Give it up." She said. I wasnít sure if she was referring to Alex or Drew. Evidently, Alex did though.
"One shot." He said to Drew. "Double or nothing. And we choose the merchandise."
Tim cleared his throat.
"Um, are we talking about car racing here?"
Drew laughed.
"Youíve got a quick one, there, Joey." I pounced forward, hitting him square on the chest and knocking him backwards a few feet. Jasper grabbed the back of my top and pulled me back. Jim stepped forward, fists raised. I shook the hands from my shoulder and faced Drew.
"You leave him alone." I growled. He had no right. Then I realized that it was my fault, I had dragged Miguel and Tim into this. Jim was blood, he at least had reason to be here.  Drew took his light coat off and tossed it to the ground.
"Hey, back down." Miguel growled.
"You tell baby Brody over there to back down!" Drew said, moving toward me. I squared off, ready to face him. He stared me down, contemplating his options. Finally, deciding that it wasnít worth it, he pressed his lips together.
"Here." he said, handing the piece of paper over to Tim, who tentatively took it. "The one without the mouth can hang onto this." Jim looked at me.
"Baby Brody?" he asked.
"Yeah."
Jim half smiled.
"I might have to remember that."
"Great." I rolled my eyes.

"Um, if the family formalities are over?" Drew pulled his keys out of his pocket. "Letís finish this." Jasper pulled out his keys and moved to his car. Drew stepped in front of him.
"Nu-uh. No way."
"What now?" Alex was fuming. Drew pointed at the car.
"I know about you and your fancy computers. If weíre going to do this, itís going to be a fair race."
Jasper looked at him.
"Iím tired of this game, Drew. Ether get behind the wheel, or shut your mouth." Drew stood up and pointed at Miguel.
"He can drive."
"No way." I said. Manda nodded her head. It was bad enough I dragged him into this, I wasnít going to risk Miguelís life. Jasper shook his head.
"No. This isnít his fight." I looked back at Miguel who had a stunned expression on his faceÖbut there was something more. Contemplation.

"Iíll do it." He said, softly. Manda shook her head.
"Miguel, no. Not a chance." She turned to Alex. "This is stupid. Just give up the car and walk away."
"This is out of control." I agreed. "Jasper, forget it."
Jasper walked over and pulled the paper out of Timís hand. He tried to hand it back to Drew, who slapped it away.
"You chickening out, Riley?" Jasper didnít say anything. Miguel cleared his throat.
"I said, Iíll do it." Jim stepped forward.
"Miguel, there is no way in hell Iím letting you do this."

I pulled out my keys.
"Come on, letís get out of here." I walked towards my car and popped open the door. Tim looked uncertainly from left to right, and then slid inside. Manda walked over to her car, where Garrett, Colin, and Dave had been waiting. They didnít want to step into the middle and escalate anything, so they maintained a holding pattern. Seeing her, they stood up and walked forward. She cast a look over her shoulder and motioned to the cars.
"Weíre leaving. Alex!"
Alex looked at Drew, and then at Miguel. He nodded slowly and gently slapped Miguel on the shoulder.
"Come on." Miguel didnít move.
"Miguel, letís go!" Jim barked. Miguel looked back at Jim and then forward at Drew.
"Miguel." Jasper whispered. I watched the scene with awe and fear. I was responsible for dragging Miguel into this to begin with, but he was responsible for keeping himself there.
          Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Miguel nodded and stepped back. Drew snickered.
"I knew youíd back down. Your kind always does."
Miguel flew forward and landed a wicked right hook across Drewís jaw, knocking him to the ground.
"Shit!" Drew screamed. Miguel landed on top of him and began delivering a series of blows to Drewís chest.
"Miguel!" Jim flew forward and grabbed onto Miguelís shoulders, struggling to pull him off. Drew seized the opportunity and slipped out from under him. Alex shoved Miguel aside as Drew pounced.  Drew landed on the ground with a thud, and Garrett and the boys surged forward.
"No!" Manda screamed and began racing toward them. I was close behind. There was nothing that either one of us could do. There were five guys on top of Drew.
"Stop it!" I screamed, pushing at Jasper. In a flash, he snapped back into reality.
"Oh, shit." He muttered, and stood up. "Alex!" He grabbed Alexís shoulders and pulled him backwards.
Alex pulled back, and one by one the men fell away, leaving Drew on the ground.
         For a moment there was nothing but the sound of heavy breathing as the reality of our situation sunk in. I couldnít believe what had just happened. We could all be arrested. Drew groaned, rolled over, and coughed.
"OhÖ.this is so bad." Alex muttered. Miguel sat back on the ground, nursing his hand.
          Manda, in a moment of clarity, walked forward and pressed her keys into Jimís chest.
"Go." she said. "Get out of here." Jim shook his head, stubbornly refusing to move.
"No."
"Jim, take Miguel and Tim, and get the hell out of here." I said, pushing him.
"Iím not leaving."
"Yes you are." Alex said. Jasper bent down and leaned over Drew, offering his hand to assist him to standing. Drew slapped it away.
"I can do it my own damn self." Painfully, he rolled to his feet and cautiously stood up. I watched as he limped over to his car.
"This is far from over." He said, sliding behind the wheel. We watched as his headlights disappeared into the distance. When he was gone, I walked over to Jasper.
"What the hell was that?" I asked.
"Are you out of your mind?" Manda screamed. Alex looked at Miguel.
"Yo, that was universally stupid, man." Miguel stood up.
"Yeah. I know."
"That could have been your career!" Jim shouted. Miguel turned.
"And what was I supposed to do, Jim?"
"Walk away!" Jim shouted, blood rushing to his face. Instantly, Garrett and Dave took point incase these two came to plows.
"Guys, come on." Dave said. "Itís done. Letís just get out of here before someone else shows up." Miguel ignored him.
"Itís a matter of pride, Jim. You back down, and they walk all over you."
"So you throw the first punch, and throw away everything, is that it?"
"Guys!" Manda screamed. "Can we just get out of here? Please!"
"Sheís right. We need to split now." Jasper said.
Miguel and Tim piled into my backseat, and Jim started to get in shotgun. I looked at him.
"Manda, take Jim with you. I need to have a talk with my fiancee." Jim nodded and stepped into the other car. Jasper groaned and slipped into shotgun.
          When we were safely on the road, I turned to Jasper, and shook my head.
"I donít even know what to say to you." I looked into the mirror. "Miguel? How you doing back there?"
"Iím alright."
"Tim, is he lying to me?"
"Heís going to be wearing black and blue for awhile, but heíll be alright."
"IímÖIím sorry, man." Jasper said.
"For what?" Miguel leaned forward.
"Dragging you into this."
Miguel shook his head.
"I should be apologizing to you in advance for whatever payback is going to come from this."
I muttered a curse under my breath, to angry to speak. I felt the fury balling up inside of me, and I could hear the blood pounding in my ears. Jasper reached over and placed a hand on my knee.
"Joey?" I kept my eyes trained on the road.
"Donít." I said. "I really donít want to hear it."
"Joey, come on."
I exploded.
"Why the hell would you pull something like that? Especially on the same day Jim comes into town? And then you drag Miguel into it, and almost kill Drew. Jasper, you have NEVER let it get so out of control as you did tonight."
"I know!"
"Itís not all his fault, Joey. He tried to get me to walk away." I looked backwards.
"Oh, and donít think Iím not ready to rip you apart as well. All of you. Except maybe Tim. He, at least, had the good sense to stay back." I sighed, turning into our community and waving at the gate guard.
"I rally am sorry, Joey." Jasper said. I looked over at him, and saw that he was sincere. The exhaustion of the days events sank in, and suddenly, my bones felt like rubber.
"ItísÖitíll be ok, Jas." I cut the engine. "Letís just get inside."
           After making sure that everyone was ok, I sent Dave, Colin, and Garrett home. Manda turned on the barbecue, and the seven of us sat down on the  porch.
"Miguel, I just gotta know one thing." Jim asked.
"Whatís that?"
"Where the hell did you learn to punch like that?"
Miguel smiled.
"That was a pretty wicked hook." I said. Miguel shook his head.
"I wasnít always the fine, upstanding gentleman that you see before you today."
Manda snorted.
"Maybe we should pick another day to use as an example." Jim smirked. Alex looked over at the grill.
"Burgers are done." He got up and handed each of us a paper plate. One by one, we got up and prepared our burgers to taste, before sitting back down.
"My turn. I have to know one thing, Joey." Miguel said, turning to me. "What did you mean when you said it never got as out of control as it did tonight?" I groaned and looked down.
"Letís just say that this isnít exactly a rare occurrence. Itís never come to blows before." Jim sat up.
"I never figured you for a street-racer, Jo. I donít like the idea."
"Yeah. I know." I looked at Jasper. "Itís not always about the racing. In fact, it rarely is. Itís just, well, everyone around here has got something to prove. Miramar East pushes itís officers to be the most competitive soldiers on the battlefield, and it carries over into the real world, too."
"Thatís no excuse." I looked away. There was nothing I could say. I knew that it was ridiculous, and dangerous. I knew that our games had gotten out of control.
"Hey, Jim. Lighten up, will you? You were throwing some punches in there, too."
I smiled at Miguel, silently thanking him for reminding me.
"Thatís right, brother dear. Youíre not a saint in this situation, either."
"I was defending my sister." he said, smugly. Manda raised an eyebrow.
"Your sister was getting into her car. You threw that punch for yourself."
"Yeah, maybe I did." Jim conceded. Tim smirked.
"Maybe?"
"Ok, yeah, I did. I guess Iím just surprised, Jo, thatís all. I mean, I never knew."
"Thereís a lot you donít know." I said, smiling. Jim raised his eyebrows.
"Oh really?"
Manda grinned. I looked at her.
"What?" I asked.
"Oh, nothingÖ.Iím just feeling one of those heart to hearts group conversations coming on." I rolled my eyes.
"Truth or dare?" I asked. Jasper leaned back.
"Oh, God, and so it begins." Alex stood up.
"Anyone need a drink? If you donít get one now, youíre going to need one in a few."

TO WHEN ANGELS FALL