Casualty Notification


It was just another day at work for retired Colonel Luka Han, but then he got the news no parent of a servicemember ever wants to hear. One of his daughters is dead and the other severely wounded. He rushes to the surviving daughter's side, but what can he say? What can he do? Maybe nothing, but he will find that out when he gets there.

Location: Atlantis City, Earth, Earth Sphere
Date: Sat 14 Apr 114
Time: UST 1054

At the JSOC Headquarters, Luka Han was reviewing an INTSUM for the Saturnian Sphere, his area of specialty. He would look at the detailed report later, but for now he was skimming for any major developments in the region. The Sheolites loved to prey on the small, vulnerable colonies. The Iapetus, Enceladus and Atlas colonies had been nearly wiped out and almost all the others had suffered attacks of lesser intensity. After years of getting its nose bloodied, the Union was finally starting to see tide of the war turning in its favor, but it was slow going.
Luka recognized every single person who would go through the office, so he couldn't help noticing a couple unfamiliar Navy officers come in. They both looked out of place and ill at ease. One was an O-6 and the other an O-5. As they got closer, he saw that the O-5 was a chaplain. He had a good idea of what the O-6 was.
A casualty notification officer.
For some odd reason, he remembered that the Navy called them CACOs, only he couldn't remember what 'CACO' was supposed to stand for.
When the CACO stopped a couple meters from his desk, his heart sank. He had been a CNO himself in his day. He knew exactly what they had come here for.
"Colonel Han?"
Luka was a DA civilian now. He had retired three months ago, but it was still fairly common for people to address him as 'Colonel'.
"Yes?"
That was all that came out. He didn't want to hear those memorized lines. He just wanted to know which of his daughters it was, but all he could say was 'Yes?' as if he had no idea what was going on.
The CACO bowed his head slightly, but tried not to avert his eyes when he said, "Sir, it is my sad duty to inform you that your daughter, Commander Leia Han, was killed in action in a hostile exchange with Sheolite forces on the outskirts of the Jovian Sphere."
Luka felt his guts turned to lead. He had heard of the engagement between the Astyanax and the Sheolite dreadnought Lethe. That was four days ago.
"There's more," the CACO continued, "your other daughter, Midshipman Lydia Han, was wounded in the same battle."
"Lydia?" Luka asked. "But she hasn't even graduated yet. How did she get wounded in the same battle?"
"Midshipman Han was assigned to the Oliver Cromwell for her Midshipman's Cruise. It's part of the same battle group as the Astyanax. She is currently in critical but stable condition at Yao RMC on Ganymede. If there's anything we can do..."
Luka held up a hand to stop him. It was terrible enough to have lost one daughter, but to have the other all alone clinging to life several thousand gims from home...
There was nothing he could do for Leia, but he could at least be by Lydia's side. It may not be much, but it was something. He hastily stalked over to his boss' office. He burst in without knocking, not caring what he might be interrupting.
"Zaid," he said, "I'm leaving for Ganymede. They got my little girl in Yao and I've got to be there. I'll send you the leave form from the shuttle."
Zaid, who was in the middle of a conference call, had a hard time processing what Luka was saying. "Whoa, whoa," he said, holding up his hands, "wait a minute." He put the person on the other end on hold. "What's going on?"
"There's a CACO out there right now," Luka said. "You know that battle on the 10th between BG5 and the Lethe? I lost one of my girls and the other one is hurt real bad. I'm taking the first flight out."
"Hang on there," Zaid said. "You'll get leave time. They'll schedule you a flight in a day or two, but you've got to wait for it. Think about your position. You can't just leave whenever you feel like it."
"You can gig me if you want," Luka said, "but I'm going and that's that."
Not bothering to listen to any further complaints, Luka headed out. The CACO and the chaplain followed him as he left.
"Sir," the CACO said, "you really should calm down. It's a lot to take in all at once. Would you like to talk to Chaplain Paulsen?"
"I've got no time for that, Captain," Luka said as he kept on walking. "I know how hard your job is. I've been there, too. Right now I've got to get to Ganymede."
The CACO handed him a card.
"Here. This has all the contact information you'll need."
"Thanks," Luka said, taking the card. "You two take care."
"You have my condolences, sir," the CACO said solemnly, "and the Union's."
After thirty-five years of government service, Luka didn't really believe the Union had much sympathy for him or anyone else, but nothing would change by saying it.
As he headed for the rail station, he pulled out his PersCom and browsed the spaceport's departure schedule. There were no direct hyper-flights to Ganymede that day, but all he had to do was switch ships at Mars. Counting the layover time, he would be there in sixteen hours. It would cost him two month's pay to do it, but money was the least of his concerns.
He didn't bother to go back to his apartment to pack. He would worry about the trivial things later. He went straight to the spaceport. All that mattered was getting to Yao.

* * *

Location: Chen Point, Earth-Mars HGLS
Date: Sat 14 Apr 114
Time: UST 1617

The passenger liner to Mars had just emerged from hyperspace. Once it docked at the starport, Luka would have to hop around on a string of connecting flights before he would be on his way to Ganymede. He only hoped there wouldn't be any delays in the interim.
He was watching a vid on his PersCom to keep himself from thinking too much. There wasn't much he could do to keep his mind off what had happened, but he knew from experience that even a partial distraction made it easier. So long as there was nothing he could do, nothing he could really know, he could easily drive himself crazy. That wouldn't help anyone.
Just then, a call came in. Luka recognized it as a government line from Atlantis City. Probably nothing good. When he answered it, a female operator appeared onscreen.
"Colonel Han," she said, "I am now patching you through to the office of the Security Advisor."
Definitely not good. The Chairman's Security Advisor, Liu Meifang, was the former Director of Central Intelligence, a hard-nosed career spy who liked to bolt down anything that moved. To call her a control freak was exceedingly generous.
Looking at her face, he could already tell he was in for a first-class chewing.
"What's the meaning of this, Colonel?" she asked sharply. "I should have your ass."
"I was visited by a CACO earlier today, Ms. Liu," Luka replied.
"What the hell's a CACO?"
"Hell if I can remember what the acronym stands for. A casualty notification officer. One of my girls is dead and the other up in Yao."
Liu paused, but only briefly.
"I'm sorry for your loss, Colonel," she said, coldly, mechanically, "but you know you're too important to just leave like this. Did you not think you were going to get leave?"
"I couldn't wait."
"You damn well could've. Your work is critical to the Saturn Desk and the Shellies aren't going to take a break while you're gone."
"What's going on here, Mei?" a voice asked.
It was Chairman Armitage himself, who had stepped into Liu's office and was now looking over her shoulder.
"Mr. Chairman, I was just speaking to Colonel Han," Liu said. "He left his post five hours ago."
"You goin' AWOL on me, soldier?" the Chairman asked.
"Yes, sir," Luka replied bluntly. "I have to get to Yao."
"What happened?"
"One of my daughters is there, hurt real bad. The other didn't make it."
The Chairman was quiet for a moment. He looked down and nodded his head, his own subtle way of offering his condolences.
The Chairman then looked up and said, "You do what you have to do, Colonel. Can Jimenez handle your load while you're out?"
"He should, sir, but I'll probably owe him a couple beers when I get back."
"Next time, let the leave request go through first."
"I hope to God there isn't a next time."
"Don't we all. My prayers are with you and your family."
"Thank you, sir."
The Chairman walked out, leaving Luka alone with the Security Advisor again. She looked a little annoyed, a little frustrated, but nevertheless resigned to abide by the wishes of her superior.
"I guess I have to let this one go," she said reluctantly, "but don't think I'll forget about it anytime soon."
"If you were a parent, Ms. Liu, you'd understand. Han, out."

* * *

Location: Yao Regional Medical Center, Ganymede, Jovian Sphere
Date: Sun 15 Apr 114
Time: UST 0640

When Luka touched down on Ganymede, he took a taxi to get to Yao instead of navigating the web of the colony's rail system. Another big bite out of his savings, but he didn't want to wait a minute longer than he had to.
If Luka could have gotten onto a military transport, he would have been a lot closer to Yao, as the military district had its own spaceport. Still, in the grand scheme of things, he would still get there sooner as it was notoriously difficult to get a space on those flights without it being arranged well in advance.
It took a good half hour for the taxi to reach Yao. Fortunately, the main reception desk was a straight shot from the entrance. The receptionist at the center console took notice of him as he was approaching the desk.
"Hello, sir," she said. "How can I help you?"
"I need you to direct me to Midshipman Lydia Han," Luka said, "service number 977-Juliet-India-Kilo-1786."
As she was punching in the information, she asked him, "Are you family?"
"I'm her father."
"May I see your ID, please?"
Luka handed her his ID card.
"Here."
She swiped the card and handed it back to him. Looking at the readout on the console, she told him, "Midshipman Han is currently in the ICU. I'm afraid visitor access is restricted at this time."
"What's her status?"
"I'm afraid I can't tell you anything without a doctor's release."
"The hell you can't!" Luka snapped. "I'm her father and I flew all the way from Earth to get here, didn't pack a damn thing, pissed off the Chairman's Security Advisor, and all I want to know is how my little girl is doing."
"What seems to be the problem?" asked a passing doctor.
"Doctor, I--"
The doctor interrupted the receptionist before she could explain.
"That's quite enough," he said. He then turned to Luka. "Hello there, sir. I'm Doctor Altman. Who are you here for?"
"Midshipman Lydia Han," Luka said. "I'm her father. That individual was just telling me I couldn't see her and that she needed a doctor's release just to tell me how she's doing."
"Well, sir, what a happy coincidence I was passing through. I'm one of the doctors treating your daughter. Come with me."
Luka followed Doctor Altman as he walked off. Wasting no time, he asked, "What's her status?"
"Stable," the doctor said curtly. "Her injuries are extensive and she lost a lot of blood, but her life is no longer in danger."
Part of him didn't want to know, but Luka knew he had to hear it.
"Give me the specifics."
In a cool, clinical voice, Doctor Altman explained, "A Sheolite craft armed with a ballistic cannon fired into her cockpit. By our calculations, only four of the thirteen rounds struck her, but those four rounds did considerable damage. The first destroyed most of her right foot. The second cost her three digits on the left hand. The third went up through her right thigh, shattering the femur, then through the right forearm and up the right side of her face, damaging the skull and eye but narrowly missing her brain, thankfully. The fourth went through her left thigh and across her shoulder, damaging two ribs and essentially destroying the clavicle."
Though no stranger to damage much worse than that, Luka still felt a little queasy. It was his daughter the doctor was talking about, after all.
"My God..."
"I apologize if I upset you," the doctor said, "but you did ask for the specifics."
"No, it's okay," Luka said. "I wanted to know. I needed to know."
They continued walking, not saying anything for a while. The silence wasn't doing Luka any favors. He kept imagining the horrific injuries Lydia had suffered. However, for some reason, he didn't see her as an adult. He only saw the little girl she once was, around the time her mother died. It made it even worse.
He had to say something, anything. Anything to get his mind off of those thoughts.
"Lydia was only a midshipman," he said. "What was she doing out in live combat?"
"I wouldn't know the details," the doctor replied. "Perhaps she can tell you when she wakes up."
"Is she in a coma?"
"No, but we've been keeping her under heavy sedation until we finish repairing her."
"What are her prospects?"
"It's really too early to say, but I've always thought it best to be optimistic about such things."
The doctor managed a weak smile that wasn't the slightest bit reassuring. That nasal, deadpan voice of his with its vaguely British accent didn't help much either. There was something unsettling about him. With his long black hair, he was obviously a civilian and though it wasn't too terribly uncommon in military hospitals, it was still out of the ordinary. These days the Ministry of Defense tended to commission any doctors they wanted rather than use contractors, but Doctor Altman was clearly an exception.
That alone wasn't it, though. There was something else about him. Something that just felt off. It was a gut feeling and his gut was usually right about things. Still, Doctor Altman was the only connection he had to his daughter right now. For now, at least, he needed to put a lid on that feeling of unease.
"Would you like to see her?" Doctor Altman asked, almost as if he knew to derail Luka's train of thought.
"The lady at the desk said visitor access is restricted."
"And I can make you an exception to that restriction if seeing her will put your mind at ease."
"Can I sit in with her?"
"Not yet, I'm afraid. Her condition is still too delicate. Do you have accommodations here?"
"I got a hotel a few klicks from here. Haven't checked in yet."
"I'll see to it that you get a room here on post. That way you won't have to travel so far. We'll let you know when we bring her out of sedation. A familiar face should help calm her when she wakes up."
"Okay. When do you think you'll take her off the sedation?"
"Within the next 48 hours, barring any complications."
As they turned the next corner, Doctor Altman pointed up ahead of them.
"Here we are."
The doctor led Luka into a small one-bed room. On that single bed was Lydia. She was covered from the chest down with a bed sheet, but that only hid part of her injuries. She was heavily bandaged. The whole right side of her face, her right arm, and her left hand. Those pretty new white bandages hid those horrific injuries. His poor little girl...
He wanted to touch her, to rest his hand on her head, as if to reassure her but more to reassure himself. Doctor Altman put his hand on Luka's arm before he could move.
"As I said, her condition is delicate. Give her some more time to recover. We'll be in touch."
Luka nodded numbly.
"Okay..."
There was nothing else he could do.

* * *

Date: Tue 17 Apr 114
Time: UST 0811

Luka probably would have gone insane from the waiting if he didn't have so much to do. Lydia was in the doctors' hands, but there were a lot of decisions to be made about Leia. As her primary next of kin, he had to make funeral arrangements and notify what little family they had. He would probably be the only one attending, though. There wasn't hardly anyone on his side of the family and his wife's relatives pretty much cut ties with him after her death. Although he first thought it was a bad idea, he went ahead and sent a message along to Leia's ex-husband and his mother. Their marriage had been a rocky one--as were most marriages in the service--, but they were apparently on somewhat amicable terms last he heard.
He had just received the letter of circumstances from Leia's CO and a notice about the pending investigation regarding Lydia's involvement in the battle. He was reading through the letter of circumstances when he got a call.
"Colonel Han," the voice on the other end said, "this is Doctor Altman. We're going to try bringing your daughter out of sedation. We would like you to be here for it."
"I'll be right there."
Luka literally ran all the way to the hospital from the hotel. He was still in good shape for his age and was only a little winded when he got in. An orderly was there waiting for him at the entrance.
"Colonel Han, this way," he said.
The orderly led Luka to a different wing from last time, which told him that Lydia had been moved out of the ICU. That was promising, at least. Once he got to Lydia's room, he saw Doctor Altman at her bedside with a handful of nurses and techs.
"Good to see you, Colonel," the doctor said in his unsettling pseudo-friendly way. "We've already started to wean her off the sedatives. She should wake up within the next thirty minutes."
"How's she doing?" Luka asked.
"Her vitals are steady as ever. The reconstruction so far has gone well. Most of the work beyond this point will be purely cosmetic. Once she's able to move around, we'll fit her for prosthetics and begin physical therapy. She still has a long way to go."
In Luka's many years of experience, he had seen this all before. He had even been on the receiving end a few times. Even so, it was different now. No matter how many times he tried to tell himself that he was used to this sort of thing, it was still different. Everything changes when it's your own kid. There was no getting around it.
"I understand," Luka said, wondering now more than ever if he really did.
"I must warn you, Colonel," Doctor Altman said, "that she might behave somewhat erratically at first. We have yet to gauge the psychological damage she has suffered."
He couldn't believe he hadn't thought of that. No matter how they patch up her body, her mind, her spirit, might never be the same. Experiences like this change a person. He'd seen grown men--battle-hardened men--break down, blubbering like babies. He'd had his own rounds with the shrinks when all the things he'd done and seen would catch up with him. But he was an infantryman and poor Lydia was just a nineteen-year-old girl. God only knew what all this had done to her beneath the surface.
He had to be strong for her. He had gone down this road. He'd helped others, brothers in arms, get through this and he learned from the people who helped him get through his own problems. He could use that, use it to help his daughter get through this.
Just as he was resolving himself to do everything in his power to help Lydia cope, she woke up suddenly. Instead of gradually coming into consciousness, she woke with a start, screaming wildly and struggling against restraints Luka hadn't realized were there until now. The nurses rushed in to keep her from thrashing too much. Luka found himself there, too, moving faster than he himself expected.
Holding her head firmly, he shouted, "Lydia! Lydia! Calm down, Lydia! Look at me!"
Had the nurses not been so preoccupied, they probably would have stopped him from taking hold of her like that, but with him being right there, her screams were cut short. She stared at him with her one unexposed eye and the recognition set in. Still fairly high-strung, she came down slowly, still breathing quickly as she tried to speak.
"Wha--, wha--, what's going on?"
Her voice was a hoarse whisper, no surprise given how long she hadn't used it. Before Doctor Altman could step in, Luka tried to explain her situation as delicately as possible.
"Honey, you were in an accident," he said. "You're in the hospital."
"Wh, why do I feel numb? I can't feel anything."
"You've been under sedation. You'll get the feeling back soon enough."
Lydia absently looked down at herself. Although she couldn't move her arms due to the restraints, she could raise up her misshapen left hand enough to see it well. She started breathing quickly again, but before she could go into another fit, Luka took hold of her once more.
"Honey, honey, calm down," he said. "You were hurt real bad, but you're gonna be okay."
She calmed down a bit and then asked the last question he wanted to answer right now.
"Sis... Where's Sis?"
He didn't want to say it, but he knew it wasn't right to keep it from her. She had a right to know the truth.
"She was shot down, honey. I'm sorry."
Lydia stared at him blankly. He couldn't really read her expression, though. Shock? Disbelief?
"No..." she trailed.
She then started to shake, muttering, "No, no, no, no, no, no..."
"NO!" she screamed, bursting into another fit of thrashing even worse than when she first woke up.
While the nurses struggled to keep her down, Doctor Altman quickly went around to the side of the bed and injected a syringe into Lydia's IV line. Whatever was in that syringe acted fast and Lydia was out in mere seconds. Once she was still, the nurses backed away, looking fairly exhausted from the ordeal, while the techs looked on awkwardly.
Disposing of the syringe in the nearby biohazard bin, Doctor Altman told Luka, "We'll try again tomorrow, leave enough of the sedatives in her system to keep her docile." He then started to walk out of the room. "This way, Colonel."
"I'm staying here," Luka insisted.
To his surprise, Doctor Altman didn't tell him he couldn't stay, nor did he try to talk him out of it.
"Very well then," the doctor said. "The call button is right there if you need anything."
Doctor Altman left the room and the techs didn't stay much longer either. One of the nurses left, too, while the other one was busy double-checking .Lydia for any injuries she might have sustained during her fits.
Luka just stood there by his daughter's bedside, feeling helpless and no doubt looking the part, too. When the nurse was done checking Lydia, she went over to the terminal, apparently to do a quick write-up.
With her out of the way, he was able to get closer to Lydia. Somewhat unsurely, he caressed her head softly. It had had always been awkward for him to show affection. He never did know how to treat his daughters, something that was made all the more difficult when he lost his wife. At least Leia was already grown up and able to stand on her own. Lydia wasn't even five yet and he was never there for her. Always off on deployment, entrusting her to one of the wives on post. It was a sorry way to grow up, but Luka didn't know anything else. How else could he have provided for her?
While he was busy drowning himself in regrets, he heard the chair from the terminal roll toward him. The nurse stopped it directly behind him.
"Here," she said. "You might want to sit down, sir."
"Thanks," Luka said, but didn't sit, at least not yet.
The nurse left the room, leaving Luka alone with his daughter and the torment of all the things he wished he'd done differently

* * *

Date: Wed 18 Apr 114
Time: UST 0153

Luka stayed in the room with Lydia all day. Other than a couple calls and the routine checks by the nurses, nothing interrupted his silent vigil, watching Lydia lie there unconscious for hours on end.
He could go for days without sleep if he had to, but sleep deprivation dulls the senses. During his time in the service, he learned to get what sleep he could when he could. He was taking a bit of a cat nap. He wasn't worried about missing anything because it didn't take much to wake him. Army life wasn't kind to heavy sleepers, after all.
He opened his eyes when he heard a soft rustling, the sound of Lydia stirring as she woke up.
"Dad?" she asked in the same hoarse whisper as before.
"I'm here, honey," Luka said.
Lydia groaned. "Can't breathe..."
"It's just the drugs. Try to relax."
Her breaths were shallow, as if she didn't have the strength for anything more. That wouldn't be surprising, but after her display earlier...
She stared at the ceiling for quite a while before speaking again.
"Sis is gone..."
Half-afraid she would burst into another fit, Luka hesitated a moment before replying.
"Yeah, she is."
Before, when she was set off, she got a bad case of the shakes. She wasn't shaking now. She was perfectly still, perfectly silent. At first, Luka thought she wasn't reacting at all, but then he saw the tears start to stream out of her eye. Just before she started crying in earnest, she managed to say one thing.
"Daddy..."
The last time she called Luka 'Daddy', she was about ten. After that, she took up this tough girl act and things were never the same between them. She hadn't cried since then either, or at least tried her damnedest not to let it show. To have her revert to crying and calling him 'Daddy', it was just like his vision of her being a little girl instead of the grown woman she was. Maybe no parent ever could see their children as anything else than children.
Because of her restraints, he couldn't embrace her properly. Because of her injuries, he couldn't even hold her hand. All he could do was rest his hand on her head.
"It's gonna be alright, honey," he said quietly. "I'm here for you."

* * *

Date: Thu 19 Apr 114
Time: UST 1320

Lydia had been fading in and out of consciousness since yesterday morning. She didn't have any more fits and was steadily becoming more and more coherent. Unsurprisingly, she was withdrawn and sullen. That early flood of emotion was dammed up and she was back to the old tough act of hers. He thought--he hoped--she'd grown out of it, but this was how she coped. It wasn't a good way to go about it, but how many people stick to healthy ways to cope?
That wasn't the worst of it, though. When he was talking with the doctors about Lydia's progress and the schedule for her subsequent operations, he was told something he had to go to the source to confirm.
Going into Lydia's room, he saw that she was awake and immediately asked her, "What's this I hear about you refusing reconstructive surgery?"
"I want the scars, Dad," Lydia said, touching her injured shoulder. "I need the scars. I have to remember."
More of that damned tough girl act. Even if Doctor Altman called further surgery 'cosmetic', it wasn't a matter of vanity. Without the surgeries, she couldn't lead a normal life. He had to talk sense into her.
"Honey, that isn't the way," he told her. "It'll be a lot harder to fix later on."
"I don't want to fix it," she insisted stubbornly.
"This isn't healthy, Lydia."
"Fuck healthy."
Luka nearly popped her, but had to stop himself. Instead he angrily jabbed his finger at her.
"Lydia Natalya, you watch your mouth, young lady."
Lydia gave him a mighty fierce glare and the two of them squared off for a few tense moments. However, Luka couldn't stay mad at her long, not in the state she was in.
His features softened, as did his tone, when he told her, "Look, honey, I'm sorry. I just want what's best for you."
Lydia looked away from him, up at the ceiling, still pretty angry. Luka slumped in his chair and folded his arms. He was no better at handling his daughter, but it was silly to think he'd magically become a better father overnight. Being here now didn't make up for all the times he wasn't there for her. After all things he didn't do, what did he think he could do now?

* * *

Date: Sat 21 Apr 114
Time: UST 1136

After their argument, Luka stopped staying in the room with Lydia all day. He would stop by an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening. He was breaking this new pattern today because he just finished making the final arrangements for Leia's funeral. Lydia would most likely want to attend if she could and he had to run it by the doctors. He didn't want to wait until he came back in the evening, so he was back in Yao as soon as he got off the phone.
As he turned the corner to the hallway where Lydia's room was, he saw Doctor Altman with a Navy officer in his service dress, an O-6. He was a bit on the pudgy side, bald, and he had a goatee. Luka never approved of how Navy regs allowed for beards on senior officers.
Doctor Altman looked a little agitated, which was unusual for him. The officer, on the other hand, seemed to be perfectly at ease.
"Captain," the doctor said irritably, "you put me in an awkward position by showing up here. Someone is going to start connecting the dots if you don't show a little more prudence."
"I wanted to see her for myself," the Captain said. "If your predictions are true..."
"That's if we can use her," Doctor Altman countered sharply. "She has to make it through physical therapy first. The prospects are good, but I'm never optimistic about these things."
Since they were standing right outside Lydia's room, it was fair to assume they were talking about Lydia. The Doctor's comment about his optimism was the exact opposite of what he had told Luka when they first met. It was no surprise that Doctor Altman was lying about that, but what else was he lying about?
The two of them didn't seem to notice Luka in the hallway with them, so he continued to listen in.
"She'll be fine," the Captain assured Doctor Altman. "A lot of fight in her. She could be the one we've been waiting for."
"It's still far too early to say Hrist is the Sigdrifa. We've been disappointed before."
"I have a feeling about this one. When can we start conditioning her?"
"Best case scenario: We get her through the Academy by December and ship her out as soon as she graduates. Within a month or two we can have her conditioned and placed in a unit."
Luka had heard enough. He walked right up to the two of them and asked Doctor Altman, "What's the situation, Doctor?"
Surprised, Doctor Altman jumped a bit when he saw him. "Colonel Han! I, ah... Everything is going well. Your daughter is recovering nicely. We might even start some basic exercises for her next week."
Luka nodded to the Captain. "Who's this?"
"I'm nobody important, Mr. Han," the Captain said slickly. "I was just going. Keep me posted, Doctor."
"Of course," Doctor Altman replied, eyeing Luka warily.
Though tempted to press the doctor to find out exactly what he was talking about with the Captain, Luka thought better of it. It could cause more problems than it solved. Best to keep his eyes and ears open for now and do some digging later. He had some useful contacts that could help him. He would find out who Doctor Altman and that captain really were. If they had any sinister plans for his daughter, he would be sure to make them pay dearly for it.
Not yet, though. Not without the evidence to back it up. Eyes open. Ears open. That was all he could do for now.

* * *

Location: Serenity Federal Cemetery, Luna, Earth Sphere
Date: Sat 28 Apr 114
Time: UST 0700

Lydia had recovered enough to be transferred to the Toyama Naval Hospital on Luna for physical therapy. While she could have done her physical therapy at Yao, this way she could actually be there for Leia's funeral. Luka also had the ulterior motive of getting her away from Doctor Altman, even if it was just for a little while.
The Serenity Federal Cemetery was a sprawling plot of undeveloped land in the Mare Serentatis that was used as the main burial ground for all servicemembers who were not native Earthers. Even a number of Earthers who had served in the Colonies opted to be interred there.
Even after decades of terraforming, there was no substantial atmosphere on Luna outside the big geodomes of the settlements. While there were no permanent domes over the cemetery, QuikDomes would be raised for funerals, pumped full of air and pressurized so the participants didn't need to wear spacesuits.
Luka was wearing his dress blues for the occasion. He was not expecting to be back in uniform so soon after his retirement, especially not for this. Lydia was in her dress whites, still heavily bandaged, outfitted with an exoskeletal frame to help her move because she refused to be stuck in a hoverchair. Her right arm was in a sling, but she was told she could take it out to salute thanks to the frame's support.
The cars came to a halt and Luka knew it was time. The detail was already in position and once the mourners were in place, the ceremony would begin. Because Leia's remains were unrecoverable, the service would be somewhat abbreviated. Luka tried to get the standard interment with an empty urn, but the request was denied. In all honesty, Luka would have liked an old-fashioned ceremony with the flag-draped casket, the sort that predated the Union, but that was an extravagance only a few general and flag officers could manage.
They got out of the cars and started walking to their place. There wasn't anyone in the family besides Luka and Lydia and most of Leia's friends in the service couldn't get off duty for the funeral. It would be a small service, but maybe that was for the best.
No sooner had they taken up their places near the headstone than a gaggle of protestors in spacesuits appeared just outside the QuikDome. Their voices couldn't carry, thankfully, but their placards were plainly visible. Some of the signs were holo-projected onto the walls of the QuikDome. Garish slogans like "Death to Warmongers" and the misspelled "End Teran Opression Now!"
The funeral detail ignored them, but Luka saw Lydia stirring out of the corner of his eye. What did she plan to do, tear through the QuikDome and attack them? He wouldn't put it past her and he couldn't blame her. He was suppressing his own urge to go out there and tear the bastards limb from limb.
Putting a hand on Lydia's shoulder, he whispered, "Don't let them bait you. It's what they want. If you get into it with them, you shame the uniform, give them ammunition to use against us. I know it's hard, but you have to be strong."
She stayed put, but was giving them a ferocious glare with her one good eye. Luka watched the protesters with tightly restrained contempt. He'd dealt with plenty of anti-war and anti-Union sentiment in his day. The Colonies had a rocky relationship with the powers that be in Atlantis City and Luna was no different, a large percentage of the populace still harboring ill will over the handling of the Revolt all those years ago.
Happily, the protesters didn't get to menace the funeral for long. The cemetery was federal property and they were trespassing. In no time at all, the cemetery guards were breaking up the protesters and running them off, smashing the holo-projectors as they went. Hopefully the protestors would get to enjoy a few days in lockup.
Grinning slightly, he nodded to the scene and told Lydia, "See? These things have a way of working out. We can focus on our duty and let them handle the rest."
This seemed to satisfy Lydia and they turned their attention to the chaplain's reading of Psalm 119. The Gospel lesson followed and then the prayer.
"O God of spirits," the chaplain intoned, "and of all flesh, Who has trampled down death and overthrown the devil, and given life to the world: do Thou, the same Lord give rest to the soul of Thy departed servant Commander Leia Michiru Han, in a place of repose, where all sickness, sorrow and sighing have fled away. Pardon every transgression which she has committed, whether by word, or deed, or thought. For Thou art a good God who loves and sins not; for Thou only art without sin, and Thy righteousness is all eternity, and Thy word is true. For Thou art the resurrection, and the life, and the repose of Thy servant Leia Han who is fallen asleep, O Christ our God, and unto Thee do we ascribe glory, together with Thy Father, who is from everlasting, and Thine all holy and good, and life-creating Spirit. Now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.
"Now I ask all who are present to join me in the words of the Lord's Prayer."
They did so, and then came the most heartrending part of the ceremony, the committal.
"Eternal by Thy memory," the chaplain said, "O our sister, who art worthy to be deemed happy and ever-memorable."
The chaplain repeated these words two more times and when he was done, the OIC called the firing detail to attention. He then ordered the detail to fire their volleys. Their rifles were purely ceremonial, of course, old-style bolt action pieces that fired blanks. They made a loud, appreciable crack, unlike the nearly silent pulse rifles actually in use. Each of the three volleys felt like a hammer striking Luka square in the chest.
After the volleys had been fired, they were called to present arms. The bugler then sounded Taps. In all his life, Luka had heard Taps countless times, but it had never seemed to take so long, never had each note felt so drawn-out. They might as well have been pulling out his guts one centimeter at a time.
After Taps, the firing detail was called to order arms and the OIC was handed a prefolded flag. He then went to Luka to present the flag to him. Luka was expecting those well-rehearsed lines from the manual, but the OIC didn't do this.
"Colonel, sir," the OIC said, "I'm Captain Banachek, the CAG aboard the Astyanax. I want to offer my deepest condolences, sir, on my own behalf and that of the Navy. Commander Han was one of the finest officers under my command and we are all lessened without her."
So this was Leia's CO. Luka was glad he could be here to personally take charge of her funeral. He had done the same for men under his command as often as he could.
"Thank you, Captain," Luka replied.
The OIC saluted him and Luka returned the salute. He then went to Lydia.
"Your sister talked a lot about you," he told her, "especially since you were assigned to the Cromwell. She had great hopes for you. I expect you to honor her memory in everything you do, wherever life takes you."
"Aye-aye, sir," Lydia said stiffly.
Captain Banachek saluted her and once she had returned the salute, he went back to his position next to the chaplain. After Captain Banachek ordered the firing detail off the field, the chaplain brought the service to a close.
"May He who arose from the dead, Christ our true God, through the prayers of His all-pure Mother; of the holy, glorious and all-laudable Apostles, of our holy God-bearing Fathers; and all of the saints, establish the soul of Your servant Commander Leia Han who has been taken from us, in the mansions of the righteous, give her rest in Abraham's bosom, and number her among the just, and have mercy on us, forasmuch as Thou art good and loveth mankind. Amen. The earth is the Lord's and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it."
Before the mourners returned to the cars, they were given a few moments to themselves, to mingle and share condolences. Because they had been assembled at the last minute, Luka wasn't entirely sure who all had come and as the primary next of kin, he was at the site first and didn't look around to see who else was there with him. As such, he was mildly surprised to find himself facing Leia's ex-husband, Senior Lieutenant Jean Paul Dalmier, and his mother Gabrielle.
Looking terribly ill at ease, he saluted Luka.
"Sir."
Luka returned the salute.
"Lieutenant," he replied coldly, formally. When he saw Dalmier still standing at attention, he added, "At ease."
Dalmier stood there awkwardly for a moment, struggling to speak.
"I, I don't really know what to say, sir."
"Then don't say anything," Luka said. "You're here now. It's enough."
Although he was trying to be charitable, there was no kindness in Luka's voice. Even if the divorce hadn't been a messy one, he had never forgiven Dalmier for not measuring up.
Dalmier had been so preoccupied with being nervous around Luka that he hadn't even noticed Lydia standing right there and had to do a double-take when he realized it was her.
"Liddy?" he gaped. "Is that you? My God, what happened?"
"The Shellies happened," Lydia replied blandly.
"But you're just a mid."
"I was itchin' ta get inta the shit an' I got inta it alright."
Shaking his head, all Dalmier could do was repeat, "My God..."
Finding Lydia even harder to handle, Dalmier turned his attention back to Luka. He looked like he had something to say but couldn't find the words.
"Look, sir," he said, "I just want to say that I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. If it weren't for me, Leia would, she'd..." He stopped himself, shaking his head. "Nevermind. By your leave, sir."
Dalmier saluted Luka once more, who returned the salute and nodded for him to go. Dalmier's mother, dabbing her eyes with a handkerchief, embraced Luka.
"I always thought of Leia as a daughter," she said, stifling her sobs. "If there's anything I can do..."
"Thank you, Gabrielle," Luka replied.
She then embraced Lydia and went to follow her son. There were a couple other people who talked to them before heading off to their cars. Luka and Lydia would be the last of the mourners to leave. He looked to his daughter and saw that she was completely dry-eyed and stone-faced, much like he himself looked, he was sure. In a way, seeing her bearing it all with such stoic reserve saddened him.
"Is there anything you'd like to say before we go?" he asked her.
"That's just a rock," she said, about the headstone. "It's not Sis."
This cold statement saddened him, too. He could still remember a five-year-old Lydia's long goodbye to her mother. Saying something had to have some value, but he couldn't force her.
In lieu of any parting words, he saluted the headstone and was joined by Lydia.
Goodbye, honey, my little girl. I hope you're with your mom right now. If you can spare a moment, keep an eye on your baby sister. She's going to need it.