“Corporal Melissa, shitbird.”
“Oh my God, sorry!”
“Chill out, Marine; I’m just fucking with you. Long as we’re not mainside, I’m good. What’d you need?”
“I was just wondering. You said last week you and Mr. Gutierrez were gonna adopt?”
“Ohhh, yeah! That’s all stalled until I get home. Human Services doesn’t want to move forward with the paperwork while I’m still deployed. It makes sense. Where are you from, anyway?”
“Ha! How funny; I spent my whole first four at Little Creek! What’s your first name, PFC?”
“Andre. Or just ‘Dre’. God… my first name sounds so weird now; I haven’t heard it in over a year.”
“A year? You gotta be coming up on Lance Corporal. Is he, Captain?”
“Three weeks, if he doesn’t fuck up first. Melissa, what’s that up ahead to starboard? Don’t steer too close; could be–”
McGee sat up in his bed with a shout, panicked and disoriented. He was cold. He looked around frantically, seeing himself gowned and with an intravenous tube in his arm. But this wasn’t Bethesda.
“Well, good morning, General!” came a boom from off to his right. A tall figure, older and in a lab coat, looked up from his clipboard.
“Oh, dear,” the man said, his accent pure Oxford. “Not quite up to complete sentences, are we? Very well, we’ll keep it simple. Me, Doctor Bell. See stethoscope? You, patient. In infirmary. So far, so good?”
McGee snapped to full consciousness. “Me, pleased to meet you. You, have the bedside manner of a vulture.”
“Ah, excellent,” Bell grinned. “So someone is home in there. You’re doing well; just a little dehydrated still. You’ve been down for the count for four days. Picked up a mild concussion when you fell, also. You should be glad Mister Nweke was with you when you went down.”
“Mister… Anthony,” McGee said, starting to get up. “Shit. I’ve got to do–”
“You have done enough for a little while, General,” Bell answered, restraining him. “While were off in Dreamland, the colonies have been in a state of disorder over your little–”
“Okay, stop. Your disdain is duly noted, thank you. Is it for me, personally, or for the military as a whole? Or are you just a jackass full time?”
Bell sneered. “This world may yet become a smouldering, lifeless hulk for our long-obsolescent fascination with killing. Any other species would have evolved beyond it. And your willingness to be used for that purpose doesn’t speak well for you.”
McGee nodded thoughtfully and sighed. “For what little I know it’s worth, you and I are in closer agreement than you may think. Perhaps, at least, cut the ‘General’ shit?”
Bell barked a laugh. “Aye, there’s the rub, isn’t it? You didn’t let me get to the outcome of the past several days’ worth of shouting. The respective Assemblies of these colonies have voted — by a decisive margin, I should say — to implement your recommendations! We’re to draft a Constitution and present ourselves to the world as the autonomous ‘Antark’ people! And would you care to guess your role in this adventure?”
McGee’s head was spinning. “Oh, Christ… I have to talk to Ortiz…”
“Well, you can’t. Ortiz is leaving in about fifteen minutes to meet with the Chilean and Argentine governments…”
And McGee was out the door before he could speak another syllable, barefoot and dragging his IV hanger with him.