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seaQuest: The Dawning
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          Two hours later, Jim and I joined Captain Bridger and Commander Ford in the Officer’s lounge. Somehow, I had managed to shower and change, and Jim had coaxed me into eating half of a bagel and cream cheese. My head was pounding and my eyes were burning. Every breath I took felt as if it were filled with water instead of oxygen. I was certain that I looked as bad as I felt, but Jim had convinced me that the senior officers weren’t going to care.

"Here you go." Jim handed me a cup of coffee and sat down beside me. The two officers sat opposite, and Bridger passed me a small canister.
"Thank you." I said, reaching for the sugar. The coffee was always made as strong as possible, and while the caffeine helped to get us through the long flights, the taste left something to be desired.  I took a sip and grimaced. Ford looked uncertainly at Bridger and cleared his throat.
"We…uh…we know this isn’t exactly the best time for this…" Ford looked down, unable to complete his sentence.
"Ugh." I leaned back against my chair and looked up at the ceiling. I knew what was coming. I heard Jim slam his hand down on the table, and I looked over to see his jaw clenched.
"Come on, Jon. Can’t this wait?" Ford looked down, and I saw a touch of regret in his eyes. Then he shook his head.
"I’m sorry, I really wish we didn’t have to do this." I closed my eyes and sighed.
"No, I know. Go ahead. Ask what you need to know. But I have to know one thing first."
"What’s that?" Bridger asked. I sniffed as my eyes filled up again.
"Um…did you…I mean, were they able to bring Jasper back?" Bridger looked down, and I could see the answer in his eyes.

"I’m, sorry. The plane went down over open water, and with those currents…we haven’t been able to find the plane yet."
"Oh, God." My face crumpled and I leaned my head against Jim’s shoulder. They couldn’t even find his body to bring him home. Commander Ford cleared his throat and started to say something, but before he could, Jim stopped him.
"No." Jim said, glaring at his Commander. Through Jim’s letters, I knew that he and Ford were in constant competition, and today the tension was evident. Ford matched Jim’s glare, but then looked away. Bridger cleared his throat.
"Brody’s right. This can wait. I would actually prefer to continue the investigation aboard the seaQuest."

"The seaQuest?" I asked. Bridger nodded. I bit my lip.
"Sir?" I asked "What’s going on?" The instant the question was out of my mouth, I wished I could take it back.  Bridger cast me a look.
"Going on?" He asked. I nodded my head. Bridger was one of the best captains in the fleet, but I knew when someone was deliberately avoiding a question. He sighed and glanced at Jim, obviously unsure if he wanted to pursue this. I reached over and grabbed Jim’s arm, feeling a cold wave rush over me. I was dreading  the words that would come out of his mouth, but at the same time I had to know.
"Yes, sir." I whispered. Ford leaned back and put his arms across his chest. Bridger placed his hands on the table and looked into my eyes.
"We have been looking at the flight recorders, and onboard computers from the planes." He said. "And we have identified the aircraft responsible for Lieutenant Riley’s crash." I gasped.
"Who did this?" I asked, glancing at Jim. As far as I knew, the UEO had been unable to identify the squadron that ambushed us. Bridger looked at his hands.
"The missile came from a UEO plane."
"What?"
"The plane…was yours."
          I froze, barely noticing my fingers clawing into Jim’s arm. I couldn’t breathe. There was no possible way. I didn’t do this.
"You’re lying." I whispered, my hands flying to my mouth. I could not believe I had just said that to Jim’s captain. But on the other hand, I didn’t care. I felt my face grow hot. Jim reached over and stroked my hair.
"What?" He exclaimed. "There’s no way." Ford shook his head.
"I’m sorry, Jim. That’s why they’ve been interrogating all of the pilots since touchdown. Every recorder confirms that the missile came from your sister’s plane."
"But that, that’s impossible." I looked at Jim. "Jim, I…I didn’t…do this." I barely managed to get the words out before I broke down. As I leaned my head on Jim’s shoulder, I felt a hand touch my back.
"Joey?" I looked up.
"Dakota." I stood up and faced Alex.
          His dark locks were wet and matted against his head, and his cheeks were puffy. I could tell he had been crying as well. I wrapped my arms around his neck and felt his strong arms lock around my back.
"I didn’t do this, Dakota. I didn’t kill him, I didn’t, I swear."
"Shh." He said, pressing my head to his chest and stroking my short hair. "I know, Jo. I know." Sniffing, I pushed back and wiped my cheeks on my uniform sleeve.
"Um, Alex, this is Captain Bridger, and Commander Ford." I gestured. Jim stood up and offered his hand.
Dakota reached forward.
"Alexander Jamison. Also known as Dakota" He rested his hand on my back.
"Joey," he murmured, leaning close. "All of us…we just want you to know…how sorry we are. We know it wasn’t your fault." As I turned away, his hand came to my face to turn me back. "No, Joey. You didn’t do this. It wasn‘t your fault, and you‘re not alone." He wrapped his arms around me in a quick hug.
"How‘s Manda?" I asked. He shook his head.
"About the same as you. We’re all back at the barracks, we’ve taken over the senior lounge.  Come down when you’re finished here, ok? Please?" I nodded.
          With one last squeeze of my arm, he turned and walked away.  I felt everyone’s eyes on me. I glared at Bridger.
"I didn’t do this. I don’t care how many times you looked at the flight recorders, you need to go and look again. I would NEVER fire on my own team. Especially on Jasper."
          Jim grabbed my arm, trying to silence me. I pulled away. "No. I know what happened up there." I pointed to the door Alex had just exited. "The team knows what happened. Alex was my right wingman, he saw everything from my point of view, and HE knows that I didn’t fire on Jasper. So you need to check again, because there is a squadron out there who IS responsible, and if you’re blaming me," my voice cracked, "then you’re not looking for them!"
           I turned and ran out the door, not caring that I had just committed a bigger act of insubordination than my career could handle. It didn’t matter. What were they going to do? Take my wings? At this point, I never wanted to fly again. I would love to see them try to court marshal me.  
           I ran down the steps into the courtyard, hearing heavy steps behind me. A strong arm reached out and grabbed the back of my uniform, spinning me around. With all my strength, I pushed back, throwing Jim back a few steps. It was enough. I turned and continued racing to the barracks. Jim rebounded and came back at me, knocking me to the ground.
          I lay there dazed for a few moments while he stood over me.
"What the hell are you doing, Joey? Mouthing off to Bridger and Ford like that? Do you even want a career when this is all over?" That was too much. I sat up.
"No!" I screamed. "Don’t you get it? I don’t care! It doesn’t matter! None of it! What DOES matter is that we were attacked up there, and Jasper got shot down. He’s dead, Jim! And all you UEO-heads are blaming me, regardless of the fact that there were 7 unidentified planes up there firing at us! No one cares about that!"
"Yes, they do, Joey!"
"No, they don’t, Jim." I took a breath, and rolled to my feet. "All they want is someone to blame. And they got that. So they’re done.  But I’m not." I turned away. Jim grabbed my shoulder.
"What are you planning, Jo?" I shrugged and tried to pull away, but was unable to break from his grasp.
He reached forward and placed a hand on my cheek.
"Listen," he said. "Joceanna, I love you. Jasper…I know how much you love him. And I know that he loved you so much that he wouldn’t want you to do this. We’ll find them. And when we do, I swear to God, I’ll kill them myself. I’m so sorry this happened and I wish that I could make it all go away. But I can’t." A tear rolled down my cheek, and he wiped it away with his thumb. "Jo, even if you accidentally fired on Jasper, it wasn’t your fault. And it doesn’t take away from the fact that you were all being fired upon. No one is going to forget that, especially with seaQuest in charge of the investigation." I saw his eyes water, and that was more than I could handle.
I leaned forward and lay my head on his chest, gasping for oxygen.
"I loved him, Jim. I loved him so much that I can’t breathe without him here. Why did this happen? Why?"
"I don’t know." He whispered, wrapping his arms around me. I heard footsteps behind us, and turned to see Bridger and Ford rapidly approaching. I looked up at Jim, suddenly terrified. He wrapped his arm around my waist protectively as Bridger came up beside me.
"I, uh, I’m sorry, sir." I managed. Bridger held up his hand to silence me.
"Forgiven." Ford looked at Jim and smiled weakly.
"She’s a Brody all right." He said. Jim nodded.
"Yeah, strong-willed as all hell."
"Which could be an asset." Bridger said, looking into my eyes. "But also your own detriment. Understand that." I sniffed and nodded.
"Yes, sir." I knew that I was getting off easy.  He could be doing a lot more damage to my career. Bridger nodded.
"Good. Now, why don’t you go pack a bag. I want you to report to the seaQuest at 1900. I have cleared it with your chain of command, and you are going to be aboard for the duration of the investigation."
"Aye, sir." For a moment, Bridger dropped his status and looked at me kindly.
"I want you to know that we aren’t going to stop looking until we find who is responsible." Jim gripped my waist, reminding me that he had told me this a few moments before.
"Thank you, sir." I stepped away from Jim’s reach and started walking toward the barracks.

TO CHAPTER 3