Continued from Part Two
24 Summer TN 1936
Helena Matsuo pulled at her uniform collar as she waited in a hangar at Coronado's Kearny Field airport, with the other Mekong Peacekeepers who had been ordered home. The warm breeze coming off of the ground did not make her uniform any more comfortable, and she tried to keep from fidgeting too much as she looked over her fellow Peacekeepers.
They stood in formation before her, their uniforms forming a wall of color against the spartan interior of the hangar. As the senior Peacekeeper in Coronado, Helena stood at the head of the formation, and observed how most of them were conversing in low voices, while some stood silently with sullen or determined looks on their faces. It was the faces she did not see that again commanded her thoughts, as did the contents of a box at her feet and a computer pad in her hand.
Two figures in Coronado uniforms approached her, one of them with a glass of water in her hand. Cathy Forbes, a fellow medical officer in the Hong Kong Crusaders with whom Helena had become good friends, offered the glass and asked, "Thirsty, Helena?"
Helena's throat suddenly became very dry, as she realized how thirsty she was. "Bless you," she replied as she took the glass and drank a long sip of water.
Colonel Jack Sanlander, standing next to Cathy, chuckled as Helena drank. "Sorry to keep all of you waiting so long."
"It's the same old story, 'hurry up and wait,'" Helena said with a nervous shrug.
Cathy shook her head. "Why couldn't we just fly all of you to the Dominion ourselves, rather than making you wait for a plane to come here? The Flying Circus has long-range transports."
Sanlander replied, "We suggested that, but the point was made that any flight originating from the North heading for the Dominion might be construed as hostile and be fired upon." He turned to Helena and continued, "The Peacekeeper in charge of this operation wasn't too thrilled at the idea, anyway."
"Why not?" Cathy asked.
"Well, to put it politely, Inspector-Warder Haichi Tarakaso was not a supporter of Peacekeeper involvement with the Crusaders," Helena said with a smirk. "At best, he considers having anything to do with Northerners a waste of time and resources."
"We're not part of the Northern Lights Confederacy," Cathy said.
"A technicality as far as he's concerned," Helena replied with a shrug. "Anyone north of the equator is suspect to him, especially now that the Dominion has been invaded by the North."
Sanlander's cellphone chirped. Setting it to radio mode, he said into the microphone, "Sanlander, go."
"Colonel, this is Kearny Tower. The flight from the Mekong Dominion you've been waiting for is on final approach."
"Thank you, Tower. Sanlander out."
"Hey, where's Hiroki?" asked Cathy.
Helena nearly jumped. "What?"
"Hiroki Washio, the medical technician from Atsi? I don't see him."
Although she had a pretty good idea, and she was sure Sanlander knew, Helena had to say, "I don't know."
"The poor guy," Cathy remarked. "He's been nearly frantic the last couple of days, wondering what's going to happen to his family. With his wife as high in Coronado Aerospace as she is, and the kids ...." She shook her head. "Little Toru's not even a cycle old, for Mahmoud's sake."
Helena did not reply as the three watched a large aircraft with Peacekeeper markings descend to a runway. The high whistle of the transport's turbine engines became a shriek as the transport approached the hangar, then faded to nothing as the plane came to a stop. Several ground crew and a fuel truck approached to service the plane.
Cathy turned to Helena with a sad smile and said, "Well, I guess this is it." She walked up to her and embraced her tightly. "Take care of yourself, Helena."
Helena almost didn't return the gesture, and pulled away after only a moment. She seemed quite upset as she stammered, "Hey, uh, stick around, okay?"
"Uh, sure," Cathy replied as she stepped away and took a place by a door in the hangar wall. Helena took a moment to compose herself as hatches in the transport opened, and a figure in a dress Peacekeeper uniform almost leaped from the plane. Helena immediately recognized him as Tarakaso.
As Tarakaso approached she and Sanlander, Helena came to attention and barked over her shoulder, "Company, atten-tion!" Several dozen pairs of heels clicked together as Helena and Sanlander saluted Tarakaso. Sanlander said, "Welcome to Coronado, Inspector-Warder Tarakaso. I hope you had a pleasant flight."
Tarakaso returned the salutes and acknowledged Sanlander with a terse "Sir." Sanlander raised an eyebrow at his snub, but said nothing as he turned to Helena and barked, "Captain-Warder Matsuo, have the company fall out and board the aircraft immediately. I want to be back in the air as quickly as possible."
"Surely, Inspector-Warder," Sanlander interrupted, "you'll want to refuel for your return trip."
"That will not be necessary," Tarakaso snapped.
Sanlander's jaw set; he wouldn't put with with any more of this. "As a pilot myself, Mister Tarakaso," he said coldly, "I must ask you to reconsider. The desert is no place to run out of fuel. And if you don't pursue my recommendation," he said to cut off Tarakaso's objection, "I might be forced to call the tower and have them withhold their permission for you to leave, pending a safety inspection."
Tarakaso was furious, but could see he was outmatched. He took a communicator out of his pocket and said into it, "Mister Honda?"
"Yes, sir?" said a voice over the speaker.
"Do we have enough fuel to make it back home?"
"Yes, sir," replied the voice, "but we will not have much of a reserve. If you're still in a hurry, we can refuel while the passengers board."
"Very well," said Tarakaso as he put the communicator away. He said to Sanlander, "Thank you, sir. We'll be happy to refuel," with a cold smile and a tone that said he was anything but happy.
With a smile just as cold, Sanlander replied, "Certainly," and made an arm motion for the ground crew to begin fueling the plane.
Tarakaso turned back to Helena and said, "Now then, Captain-Warder, are all personnel present and accounted for?"
Helena took a deep breath to steady herself and replied, "No, sir."
Tarakaso raised an eyebrow and said in exasperation, "And what does that mean?"
Helena held out the computer pad to him. "As ranking Peacekeeper of this company," she said as formally as she could, "it is my duty to present you with these."
As Tarakaso took the datapad, she bent down and opened the box at her feet.
It contained several Tantos, the ceremonial knives of the Mekong Peacekeepers.
Tarakaso's eyes went wide as he stared at the datapad, than at the box. He could barely exclaim, "What is this?!?"
Helena straightened up and replied, "The resignations of thirty-eight Peacekeepers," as she unsheathed her own Tanto. She hefted in her hand, placed it in the box with the others and added, "including myself." She turned to Sanlander, snapped to attention and saluted. "Request permission to return to my duties, sir."
Tarakaso was dumbfounded, but Sanlander only looked pleasantly surprised, as if he had been expecting this. He returned the salute and said, "Granted."
Helena said, "Thank you, sir." As she turned to leave, she took one more look at Tarakaso's flabbergasted expression, then walked to where Cathy was still standing by the hangar door, slack-jawed with surprise.
Helena said to her friend, "Would you give me a ride?"
Date: 24 SUM TN 1936 32:15:37 TST
To: Machiko Matsuo <email@example.com>
From: Helena Matsuo <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I'm sorry I didn't get the chance to tell you what I was going to do. When some of the other Peacekeepers told me they were going to stay here, I had to work things out with their department heads and the commanding officers, and the more people approached me, the more arrangements I had to make.
When I was little, you told me that the greatest duty was to those who need my help the most. I don't think you realized how much I've taken that to heart. It was why I became a doctor, and it was why I became a Peacekeeper during the war with Earth.
And it was why I decided to stay in Coronado.
These people need me here, Mother. Even though several of us and many Mercantilist soldiers are staying, this unit and this community need all the help they can get. They are in more need of a doctor, a police officer, and an extra pair of hands than the Dominion will be.
My duty is here.
I hope you and Father can understand that someday.
I love you all.