Lt.Colonel T.C. McQueen

"Thou Nature art my goddess: to thy law
My services are bound. Wherefore should I
Stand in the plague of custom and permit
The curiosity of nations to deprive me,
.... Why bastard? Wherefore base?
When my dimensions are well compact
My mind as generous,and my shape as true,
As honest madam's issue? Why brand they us
With base? With bastardy...."

Shakespeare.

A man who knew who he was, what he was and what Man is.

All my life I've been defined by my birth. There've been times I denied it, ignored it, agonised over it... never have I surmounted it. Its not a question of surmounting anything anymore.

I know that now.

It is not time to think about justice and equality and birthright ,when all that stares us in the face is death and total destruction.

We were alone and the skies were silent. The jubilation of the moon landing 95 years ago passed quiet like so much static noise into the deep recesses of space. But somewhere,someone was listening.

On that infernal night in 2063, the first screams of war echoed throughout the planet. The existence of other life in space is marked by the blood of men and women who toil for the sake of all human life. And we fight them still, and fight them we will, till the day the skies become silent again... either in victorious relief or complete annihilation.

We are no longer alone.

We are more alone now than we ever were.

My name is TC McQueen, Lt Col. and I am an Invitro. I was culled from a gene pool; batch number 2025 13C K9757 ANC , specially selected for its genetic superiority. This increases the chances of quickening and post-gestational survival.

We're stronger, we're faster, we have more stamina, sometimes we're even smarter. That's why we were made. To be better than those who created us; to best the one with the eye-dropper and the petri dish. Some would say that was karmic justice. I don't know if there's such a thing,but if there isn't...I'll make it happen.

I was made to fight. An injury to my inner ear changed all that. I'm grounded, flight status revoked.

Now, I command .

wildcards

The 58th Squadron, my Wildcards.

Green, na´ve, reckless and entirely brave: oftentimes foolishly so. My job is to make them life takers and heartbreakers, a job I don't relish, but I do it just the same , because I am a Marine. I'm not here to be their friend, I'm not their buddy , not their 'Joe'. I'm not here to hold hands; I'm here to teach them how to survive. To be a marine.

I believe in being what you are -- what you need to be--and accepting it.

I was decanted in 2043 in an Invitro facility in Anchorage and worked in the mines on Omicron Draconis for 4 years. I saw many of my shoal die on that barren wasteland, their bodies left to enrich alien soil. But then again, Earth is hardly what we IV's would call 'home'.

I learned a lot, my years as a miner -- mostly that my life was expendible, as were the lives of all my brethren, if the Economics is right .It all comes down to numbers. It comes down to profit margins and cost cuts. Justifiable expenses and unnecessary losses. It's all numbers. That's what we are in the end.

My indentured service was cut short; I was drafted into the service. I'm not bitter about that; I'm still here aren't I? The term for people like me is 'lifer'-- no life but the Corps.

The draft came because humans were fighting the AI war. Some geek called Stranahan created the virus that corrupted all the AI's and we were at war with our machines .Even then I understood how dangerous that was for naturalborns -- runaway creations often took revenge on their creators. One way or another. Its all in the books, from Frankenstein to Dr. Moreau .The Chimaera factor, they call it. In a strange way, I'm more like the AI's than this human flesh dictates otherwise; I'm more like those silicates than I am human.

But empathy is not justification.

Bootcamp was a breeze for most IV's, after our hellish lives as offplanet miners, road-builders, nuclear plant engineers and whatever dirty stinking job the natural-borns thought fit for us to do. At Port Riskin I was put in a team of munitions handlers -- all of us IVs. Natural-borns were not allowed to handle such dangerous activities. What a nightmare place it was. I see it still, in my minds eye, in my dreams....

But tanks dont dream, do they?

27 of us tanks died in the explosion. A part of me that was Hope, that was Optimism, that was Trust, died that day too. I learnt that Natural-Born justice was swift, certainly,but not always sure .

Only another tank can ever know how horrific solitary confinement is. To remember one's birth, to be sentient at the point of it... to be sentient inside that impenetrable glass chamber, as our bodies and minds grew... and to know escape was impossible. And then to be wrenched from it... and to remember.... in our dreams. Dream. That's all we did in those tanks.

Dreamed; and lived but half awake .

I've been told I was lucky to get away so lightly for assaulting my senior officer, since the normal course of events would have necessitated my execution ...

'Lucky', I think , is a relative term.

I stayed in the Marines even after the AI war reached its impasse -- when all the AI's ejected into space. I became a pilot. A good one. They gave me medals, shiny bits of steel which I wore to denote my rank and bravery, to show what a good job I did for them -- killing their enemies. I didnt need that to know I was a good Marine. It was all I knew. Flying, and killing and destruction.

Then they gave me a squadron. My own band of men and women -- The Angry Angels, The 127th; killers in flightsuits. My kind of people. Family. And my job was to lead them to more killing, more death. I'm the only one left of the Angry Angels. My Angels are all fallen, dead from chig fire, and I have lost my wings. But an Angel without wings can still play saviour, I think.

I have a new team of devils to command, now. They need me. They need me to tell them, sometimes, its okay to be scared. Fear is good. Fear means survival. I don't need my Wildcards to be heroes, I just need them to get back in one piece... In, out.

Questions....

Who am I?

What am I?

Who are they?

And what is this about?

There are always questions.

I used to think we were against an enemy with no face and a dark heart. Aliens that were so unlike us, bloodless, inhuman....

And now I know it is their very similarity to the human race which makes them the lethal enemy that they are. For they are the hungry black-hearted predators that we, ourselves, are. And perhaps a part of them is that silent minority in us; the artists, the poets, the dreamers and the saints of our own race.

Perhaps.

Questions. Always questions.

And there are no answers.

The only answers that I need now, are the numbers painted on the side of each Hammerhead.

Kill counts.

Each one pays back the dead men and women who have passed to that dark place, put there by some unnamed chig. And payback's a bitch.

Again, the answer is in the numbers.

We're all a number. The trick is to know how to do the figures.

The end

© Copyrighted 1997

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