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seaQuest: The Dawning
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          I came down the steps of headquarters. My mind was spinning with the events of the past 8 hours. The flight, the mission, the attack.
    
          The missile that send Jasper’s plane  into a  fiery flat spin, hurdling toward the open ocean. The explosion. Flying home.  Being pulled out of my plane and rushed to headquarters. The questions. Endless interrogations. I felt that water begin to pour down my cheek, and I tripped. Tumbling down, I collapsed on the steps and began to sob. Pressing my face against the cool metal railing, I struggled to breathe through the intense pounding in my chest.  
    
          Everything had fallen apart. This morning, we had breakfast together. We joked around while pouring endless tablespoons of sugar into our coffee. He put his hand on the small of my back, out of sight of the commander, and led me to my plane. I watched him grin and wave as he closed his hatch. And then I watched him die. This couldn’t be happening!
    
          A plane roared overhead, startling me from my daze.  I looked up and gasped. Three men in strict Navy Dress Whites were walking across the lawn towards me. An older man, an younger African-American man, and a muscular blonde. I caught my breath.
It was Jim.
    
           Gripping the handrail, I struggled to my feet and sniffed. I ran my hands over my face, trying to push away the teardrops. Tucking my hair behind my ears, I began to slowly make my way down the cement staircase. Of course he would come. He was a UEO officer, and on my notification list. And with the attack, I was sure the seaQuest would be involved. Still, even if he was here in his professional capacity, he was  my brother, and the one face I desperately needed to see right now. I quickened my steps, and looked up to see him doing the same.
"Joey…" I heard him say as he wrapped his arms around me. I couldn’t say anything. I knew that if I let any sound come out, I would break down again. I wrapped my arms around his back, and then realized what I was doing. I pushed away, and he released me, looking into my eyes questioningly. I looked down at my dirty flight uniform, and then at the smudges on his whites.
"They…uh…they didn’t let me change." I said, my voice barely audible above the planes overhead. Jim saw the smudges and shook his head.
"I can change the uniform. Now, come here." He grabbed my hand and pulled me back into him. This time, I let myself go, and I felt my eyes begin to burn again.
"Oh, God, Joey. I’m so sorry." I heard him whisper. I nodded my head against his chest. He  pulled back slightly and looked into my eyes. With one hand, he reached up and wiped my cheek off.
"How are you holding up?" He asked. I shook my head and stepped back.

"I’m not…I can’t think about it." I twisted my engagement band around my finger. Jim saw what I was doing, but before he could say anything, we were joined by the other two men. I looked from Jim to the other 2 faces, and recognized the stripes of his captain and commander. Trying to recover, I pulled myself to attention.
"Sir!" I said. The older man nodded, a look of sympathy in his eyes.
"At ease." I stood down as Jim spoke up.
"Sir, this is the other  Lieutenant Brody." I nodded slightly as the Commander smiled.
"I’m Commander Jonathan Ford of SeaQuest."
"And this is Captain Nathan Bridger." Jim said. I glared at him slightly, casting him my best "well duh!" look. Of course I knew who they were. I’d recognized both of them, even from a distance. Every sailor in the UEO would give anything to serve under these two men. The captain must have caught my look, because he smiled slightly before returning to his sober expression.
"I’m so sorry." He said. I nodded.
"Thank you, sir."
Jim placed a hand on my shoulder.
"Come." He said, motioning towards a picnic bench nearby. "We should talk."
"You should know, Joey, that seaQuest has been assigned to investigate the attack." He continued, while sitting down. I nodded.
"I know. Commander Jacobs told me during the questioning."
"Questioning?" Bridger asked.
"They’ve had me in headquarters since I landed. They’ve been interrogating everyone, from all of the pilots involved, to the ground crews and the people in the command center." A tear fell. "They want to know how it happened, who saw it, every detail, over and over again. It’s insane." I felt the anger rising in me, and though I knew I should bite my tongue, I continued. "They’ve got the flight recorders, they know we were attacked by an unidentified squadron, they watched it all from the command center! They probably know more about it than we do, and still, they’ve got us in there, straight off the tarmac, for," I glanced at my watch. "over 8 hours, grilling us for details that we don’t have, when we all just lost…I mean…" I caught my breath and realized who I was talking to. "I’m…I apologize for my outburst, sir." I looked down. Jim reached over laid his hand on top of mine without saying a word. Captain Bridger shook his head.
"There is no apology necessary." He looked from Commander Ford to Jim.
"Lieutenant Brody," he began. Jim and I both snapped our heads up.
"Sir?" we chirped, simultaneously. Bridger rolled his eyes and tried again.
"Jim, why don’t you take your sister to go change, and get something to eat." He stood up. "Commander Ford and I will go and try to get some answers." Jim stood up.
"Aye, sir."

    I led Jim to my barracks. As the only female flyer in my group (Manda was in another barracks), I had been allotted a small room to myself at the end of the hall. The other pilots on my floor had to share rooms. I swiped my ID card through the door and walked into the room, nodding to Jim.
"Come in, it’s ok." He looked nervously behind him as I shut the door. I looked at him hard.
"Jim, you’re my brother. No one is going to say anything, especially after…" I dropped my key onto a hook by the door, unable to finish. Jim sat down in my desk chair. I walked over to my locker and opened the door, letting the metal slam against the wall. Blindly, I reached in and pulled out a white T-shirt, and a gray pilot’s uniform, which I tossed onto the bed. As I pulled the nameplate off my current attire, I glanced into the mirror.

"God, I look like hell." I desperately rubbed at my face, trying to make the soot fade away. When Jasper’s plane disintegrated, there had been a hell of a smoke cloud. Jasper… My fingers shook and I suddenly found myself unable to pull the clasp off of my pilots wings.
"You’re entitled." Jim got up and walked over. "Here." He pulled the wings off and grabbed my nameplate from where it had fallen on the dresser. He walked over to the bed and began to pin them both in place on the clean uniform.
"You don’t have to do that!" I protested. He looked at me.
"I know. But brothers are supposed to take care of their little sisters." I didn’t know how to respond.
"Thank you." I managed, and turned towards the sink. I didn’t make it that far.
    
          I collapsed on the floor as I felt the blood rush to my ears. In an instant, Jim was there behind me. I grabbed onto his arm as I cried.
"Oh, my God, Jim…he’s really gone. Jas is gone. He’s dead. He’s not coming back home." I gasped as I felt my body shake. Jim wrapped his arm around me.
"I’m so sorry, Joey."
"It’s not fair!" I screamed into his shoulder. "Not with the wedding so close. We were getting married…and he was going to stay here at Miramar and I was going to step down from flying, and we were going to have a life. A real life! And now it’s over! All because of a stupid mission, a stupid mistake." I sniffed. " I don’t know what happened, we were on our way back, and all of a sudden there are planes everywhere and we’re under attack in UEO airspace…and then Jasper’s plane gets hit, and we all watch him fall. There was no parachute, Jim. No parachute…" I couldn’t say anymore. There was nothing left to say. I felt as if my whole life had been pulled away from me, and I was looking at it from a distance. Like I was looking though a mirror into some horrible vision. Except it was real.

TO CHAPTER 2