This Grunt Walks Into a Bar


It all started when this grunt walked into a bar. An unlikely encounter led to the best time of Luka Han's life. However, that time may be coming to an end. How far is he willing to go to keep that which is most precious to him?

Location: Iapetus Colony 01, Iapetus, Saturnian Sphere
Date: Fri 23 Sep 079
Time: UST 2117

Eightballers was a typical dive bar blessed with a convenient location near the main spaceport and the first rail station between the main settlement cluster and the Army post Camp Shetty. Its triple happy hour Friday and Saturday nights sealed it as a popular weekend stop for troops and travelers alike. That being said, there were not all that many troops or travelers to be had in Iapetus and so even a relatively popular bar like Eightballers looked like it was only a month or two away from being condemned. Or it would be if regulations were not so much laxer in the impoverished Saturnian Sphere.
A pretty young waitress unsteadily balanced a tray as she walked over to a table occupied by four soldiers.
Setting down the tray, the waitress began to distribute the order, saying, "Here you are, two pitchers of Löwenbräu and four orders of yakitori. Is there anything else I can get you?"
One of the soldiers--Cockburn according to his nametape--took hold of her wrist and said, "C'mere, lil' lady. Stay a while an' enjoy the party."
He tried to draw her in, but the waitress dug in her heels to hold her ground. This sort of thing was nothing new and the waitress replied with the stock answer.
"I have to take care of the other customers. If you'll excuse me..."
She tried to pull away as delicately as possible, but the soldier did not let her go.
"Take care a' me an' I'll take care a' you," he said.
"Let go of me, please."
The waitress' voice betrayed her concern. While come-ons from the patrons were not uncommon, it was rarer for them to be this insistent.
"Aw, now don't be like that, sugar," Cockburn said. "There's a lil' somethin'-somethin' in it for ya."
One of the soldier's companions--Villanueva by his nametape--clutched at his crotch and said, "'Ey, I got yer somethin'-somethin' right here, mamacita."
A third soldier in the group pushed his chair out to get behind her. Hemmed in on three sides, the waitress' cool started to break down.
"Please, stop," she pleaded.
Her rising desperation was only serving to excite the predatory soldiers, but her pleas were not entirely in vain. A soldier who was previously drinking at the bar got up from his stool and approached the table.
"I believe she asked you boys to stop," he said.
"Fuck off," Cockburn growled. "I'm busy here."
The soldier from the bar, whose nametape read 'Han', took hold of Cockburn's arm and gave it a good squeeze.
"No, I think you're done," he said. "You're gonna pay your tab an' you an' your buddies are gonna get your asses back ta post."
Cockburn let go of the waitress as he shot up to his feet, snapping, "You wanna dance, motherfucker!?"
The soldier who moved himself behind the waitress--Gund--also stood up. Noting the rifle patch above Han's left breast pocket, he said, "You think you're hard just 'cause you're infantry?" He motioned to his other companions, who were also standing by this point. "There's four a' us an' jus' one a' you."
Han only grinned at the threat.
"One a' me's enough."
The first soldier spat, "Cocky bastard. I'll wipe that grin off that stupid face a' yours."
By now the altercation drew the attention of an off-duty cop in plainclothes. He half-turned in his stool and pulled back the tail of his jacket to display his badge and the holstered pistol at his hip.
"You boys best knock it off or you'll be coolin' your heels in lockup."
"Get fucked, pig!" Cockburn shouted, taking his beer mug smashing Han upside the head.
The blow forced Han to release Cockburn and sent him reeling. The waitress screamed. The fourth member of the group--Dolan, who had only leered silently at the waitress up until this point--took his own beer mug and threw it at the cop before he could intervene.
The cop leaned back to avoid the mug as it crashed into the bottles lined up on the back wall. Overweight and in his mid forties, the cop did not cut a particularly intimidating figure, but he displayed an unsettling calm, showing neither fear nor anger as he shifted his weight to get off his stool and reached into his jacket. With a flick of his wrist, he extended a telescopic baton and in a single smooth motion brought it down on Cockburn's collarbone, dropping him. Another flick of the wrist cracked Gund in the ribs, followed by a strike to the back of the head that dropped him as well. Dolan upended the table, but the cop easily sidestepped it and took Dolan down with a swift hit to the temple.
Villanueva did not sit idly during all this and had his chair raised to hit the cop on his blindside, but the injured Han caught him in a sleeper hold and he was out in a matter of seconds. Han then let the unconscious soldier fall roughly on the floor.
"What a goddamned mess," the cop grumbled to himself, stooping down over Cockburn, who was writhing on the floor holding his shoulder. "Can't a man have a drink in peace?"
The cop zip-tied Cockburn's wrists behind his back, showing no particular sympathy for the soldier's yelp of pain and subsequent whining.
"You can't do this! This is police butal--"
"Shut up," the cop grunted, cutting him off with a crack of the baton.
He then zip-tied Gund and Dolan. Glancing up briefly at Han, he tossed a set of zip-ties and said, "Give a hand, kid."
Han obliged by zip-tying Villanueva. With the four troublemakers all trussed up, the cop stood up and pulled out his Perscom.
"Vinny?" he said. "Gorman. Got four dumbass greenbacks makin' a ruckus at Eightballers. Send a car to pick 'em up and lock 'em up. Don't forget to call the Provost Marshal at Shetty." He then hung up and looked back at Han. "Thanks for the assist there, Pri'ate." He nodded to Han's injured face and added, "You might want to get that looked at."
"Oh, God..." the waitress said. "You're bleeding so much..."
Although Han could not see the damage left by the beer mug, macho posturing compelled him to disregard it entirely.
"Ah, it's nothin'."
"It's not nothing," the waitress said, taking hold of his hand. "Come here to the sink so I can wash it out." As she was leading Han to the sink, she told one of the other waitresses, "Jenny, get me the medkit."
Han did not put up any resistance. He let the waitress take him to the sink and hold his head under the faucet to wash the cuts from the glass. While she was doing that, Jenny showed up carrying the well-worn medkit.
The waitress pulled out the antiseptic spray and said, "Close your eyes."
Han did so and could feel the spray quickly go from the initial soothing cool to an intense stinging burn. Of course, the same macho posturing that prompting him to shrug off a shattered beer mug to the face caused him to bite his tongue rather than admit how much the spray stung.
While she was taping down a couple non-stick pads to the side of Han's face, the waitress said, "You're going to need stitches."
"I'll stop by the TMC when I get back to post," Han said.
"There. All done."
Han straightened himself back up and got a look at himself in the mirror, which was cracked along with the bottles broken by Dolan's thrown beer mug. Two big pads covered most of the left side of his forehead and cheek. A fair amount of blood stained his ACU blouse. He mused to himself that if the blood had gone down the other side, he'd have a real set of blood wings to boast about.
"This is a fair bit of nurseymaidin' ya did here," he said appreciatively.
"Thanks," the waitress replied. She paused a moment, blushing slightly as she told him, "And, um, thank you, sir, for what you did back there."
"Heh," Han chuckled, "don't call me sir. I work for a livin'."
The waitress only stared at him blankly.
"It's an Army thing," Han explained.
"Oh."
Han could have parted ways with the waitress then, but something compelled him to stay.
"Ain't you a little young to be workin' in a place like this?" he asked.
"I can serve it," the waitress replied. "I just can't drink it."
"Drinkin's the best part though. So what're you doin' workin' here?"
The waitress sighed and said, "Oh, you've heard the story before, I'm sure. Saving money for college."
"College, huh? I tried that. Didn't have the patience for it, I guess."
"So you joined the Army."
"Yep. Just a big dumb grunt."
Han grinned and the waitress smiled back. She extended her hand and said, "I'm Annabeth."
Han took her hand, which seemed almost like a child's in his own and introduced himself.
"Luka. Luka Han. Pleased ta meet ya."

* * *

Location: Fort Palenik, Titan, Saturnian Sphere
Date: Tue 06 May 099
Time: UST 1538

It had almost been twenty years since Luka met Annabeth in that bar on Iapetus. Then he was a mere private only a few months out of training. Since then, he went on to get his Ranger and SF tabs and a few years ago he attended OCS to get his commission. Not that he wouldn't have been content to remain an enlisted man, but an officer's salary stretches a lot farther when you have a family to support.
His family. Within half a year after they met, Luka and Annabeth got married and since then she had blessed him with three beautiful girls. He would have liked to have at least one son, but he could hardly complain with what he was given.
What he could complain about, however, was what was taken away. He lost his second daughter Rachel to an unexplained illness, something that never set right with him. Not that losing his daughter would set right with him anyway, but the lack of any straight answers about her death never stopped tormenting him.
Rachel's death came to the fore as he sat waiting in Dr. Fizelli's office. Annabeth was rushed to the hospital earlier that day. They probably would've been too late if her biometric feed hadn't alerted emergency services. Luka left for the hospital the moment he heard.
He had been waiting a couple hours when Dr. Fizelli finally stepped into his office.
Luka immediately rose to his feet and asked, "What's the word? Give it to me straight, Doc."
Dr. Fizelli adjusted his glasses and sighed.
"I'm afraid I don't have much good news. We managed to stop the hemorrhaging, but it's only a temporary fix. Your wife's blood vessels are very weak. She doesn't have long. A year at best."
Luka couldn't believe what he was hearing. Out of the blue, his wife suddenly had less than a year to live? What was this?
"Her blood vessels are weak? This is the first I've ever heard of anything like this. How?"
Dr. Fizelli shrugged and shook his head.
"We could spend all day speculating," he said, "but we really don't know."
That answer wasn't good enough. Not by a damn sight. It was only three months since Annabeth's annual physical. Something like this couldn't just sneak up that quickly, could it?
"Why wasn't it picked up sooner?" Luka asked.
"She was in good health until recently," Dr. Fizelli replied. "Her recovery from her last pregnancy was a little slower than usual, but other than that..."
Luka wasn't convinced.
"No, I'm not buying that. Something this serious doesn't just show up when it's too late. You have to do something!"
"I'm sorry, Lieutenant, but there's nothing we can do."
"Whaddya mean there's nothing you can do!?" Luka snapped. "You can't tell me modern medicine can't do shit for my wife! All this technology, all this progress, and you say there's nothing you can do!?"
"You need to calm down, Lieutenant," Dr. Fizelli said with a tone of reproach that reflected more his military side than his medical one. "Modern medicine isn't magic and we doctors can't work miracles, even if looks that way to laymen sometimes. The damage is too extensive. We can't replace your wife's entire vascular system."
"And why not!? That company, NeoGenesis, they had those artificial humans that were nearly identical to the real thing. Why couldn't they--"
Dr. Fizelli cut him off quickly.
"Even that technology was compatible with humans, it's illegal."
"I don't give a damn about some Redblood's paranoia if it means saving my wife!"
"Stand down, Lieutenant Han!" Dr. Fizelli snapped. "I understand you are under a lot of stress at the moment, but lashing out like this isn't going to help your wife any. With any luck, she'll be stable enough to return home within the next two or three days. By then we can begin to look into palliative care options so she can live out the time she has left with as little suffering as possible. That needs to be your priority."
Luka glowered at the doctor for a moment, but realized it was a wasted effort. Getting mad at Dr. Fizelli wouldn't change anything.
The doctor put his hand on Luka's shoulder and guided him to the door, saying, "I'll see that you're in the loop in case there's any change to your wife's condition." He paused for a moment before adding gravely, "A word of advice, Lieutenant: Don't waste your time on any pie-in-the-sky fantasies or let yourself be suckered in by any quacks outside the system. There are a lot of people out there who prey on the desperate. Don't spoil the little time you have left with your wife doing anything stupid."
Luka could only nod weakly. He walked out of Dr. Fizelli's office and made a few plodding steps before slumping into the nearest wall.
Annabeth was going to die. She'd never see the girls get married, have children. Leia was grown at least, but Lydia was only four. How was Luka going to raise a little girl all on his own?
For as long as they'd been together, it was always Annabeth who pushed Luka to do better. He would've still been the same dumb grunt without her. She was the one who set him back on track when he got himself within a sench of being chaptered for brawling. She was the one who encouraged him to go back to school to get the credits he needed to qualify for OCS. She was the one who almost single-handedly carried their family throughout all the deployments and reassignments. Without her, what could he even do?
While Luka was there leaning into the wall feeling utterly worthless, a nurse walked up to him and held his hand.
"You didn't get this from me," she whispered.
She walked away and Luka turned over his hand to see a folded tissue. Opening it up, he saw a phone number written on it. Once he got back home that evening, he dialed it up, not sure what to expect.
An operator said, "Montemayor Research Clinic, how may I help you?"
"Patch me in to Extension 7868," Luka said.
"One moment, please."
Luka was put on hold. Some classical music played. It was not long before he heard the line click.
"This is a recorded message," the voice on the other end said. "Please hold on the line until you hear the beep. You will receive a secure communication within the next 24 hours."
He did so. Once he heard the beep, the line went dead. Now all he could do was wait.
After morning PT the next day, he noticed a new message on his PersCom with the sender listed as 'Restricted'. When he opened it up, the message began as follows:

Mr. Han:
We understand that your wife may benefit from our services. Please fill out the form below to schedule your free consultation. We look forward to seeing you. Have a nice day.

While the secretive nature of all this made him wary, Luka did know that the private medical industry was highly competitive and often tended to skirt along the edge of what the government would allow. There was an element of risk involved, but the Army doctors weren't going to do anything for his wife, so there couldn't be any harm in at least hearing out the people at this research clinic.
During his lunch break, he dropped in to see Annabeth at the hospital. Though she still looked rather weak, she was starting to get her color back and her vitals appeared stable, albeit a bit on the low side, which wasn't terribly surprising.
"How're we doin' today, babe?" he asked.
"Better," she replied with a weak smile. She always had a soft voice, but she could barely speak above a whisper ever since she was hospitalized. "The doctor says I might be released tomorrow, but I won't be good for much for a couple weeks."
"Baby, I've got some news," Luka said. He held her hand, somewhat haltingly as he was afraid he might hurt her. "I think I might've found a specialist who can help you. It's a civvie place, so UCare won't be covering it, but this is your life we're talkin' about here. If the doc lets you out tomorrow, would you be up for a consultation this weekend?"
Annabeth gripped his hand slightly. She didn't ask him any questions or deliberate over it. She simply nodded and said, "Okay, Luka."

* * *

Location: Barone City, Titan, Saturnian Sphere
Date: Sat 10 May 099
Time: UST 0811

The address Luka was given was out past the main settlement cluster. Barone City was originally an independent colony until it was absorbed by ever-expanding primary colony. Titan was about the only place in the entire Saturnian Sphere that ever saw any significant growth and development. There was no comparison between Titan and one of the smaller moons like Iapetus.
It took about two hours by rail to get to their destination. A man in a suit was waiting for them right outside the exit.
"Mr. and Mrs. Han, we have a car waiting for you," he said. "This way, please."
"This is some service," Luka said approvingly.
The unmarked white car was sitting there by the curb at the head of the line of taxis. Luka thought that was illegal, but if the cops weren't going to complain, why should he?
As Luka helped Annabeth into the car, he said, "Easy, honey. Watch your step."
They drove for about twenty minutes before reaching the building where the clinic apparently resided. Not unlike the car, there were no particular markings to identify it from the outside. Luka couldn't stop his growing misgivings, but he could push them aside. Perhaps the clinic was just one of many other organizations leasing suites in the building.
In the lobby of the building was an information desk with a security guard. When the guard saw Luka and Annabeth enter, he said, "Good morning, Mr. and Mrs. Han. Reception is up on the third floor. Room 304."
"Room 304," Luka repeated. "Thanks." He glanced to Annabeth and said, "They're really goin' all-out for us here."
Annabeth only nodded. She looked like she was already getting tired. Luka would be thankful to get her sat down again. And so they took the nearest lift to the third floor. Room 304 wasn't very far. They entered into a small waiting room and approached the desk.
"Zero-nine-hundred appointment for Han," Luka said.
"Please be seated and you will be called shortly," the receptionist replied.
They did so and about ten minutes later a nurse emerged and said, "Mr. and Mrs. Han?"
When Luka and Annabeth rose up from their seats, the nurse gestured to the door.
"This way, please."
They were led into a doctor's office. The doctor--a portly, balding man in his early fifties--rose up from his desk and walked over to greet them.
"Hello, Mr. and Mrs. Han," he said, shaking Luka's hand and then Annabeth's. "I'm Dr. van Leeuwen. How are you today?"
"I'll be better when I know exactly who you are and what you can do for us," Luka replied.
"Luka," Annabeth whispered.
Dr. van Leeuwen gave a dismissive wave of his hand.
"It's quite alright," he said. "Our parent organization takes great pains to ensure our competitors don't steal our research, but the downside is that we come across as a touch on the shady side. I apologize for any concern it has caused you. I can assure you that we are quite a legitimate operation albeit a secretive one.
"If you don't mind, I'd like to go right ahead and start examining Mrs. Han and run some tests. Our lab technicians work very fast. Once I have a better idea of the situation, we can discuss treatment options."
Despite the doctor's reassurances or perhaps because of them, Luka was feeling more suspicious than ever and was wondering if it might be best to back out now before they went down a road they'd much sooner leave untraveled.
He looked to Annabeth and asked, "What do you think, honey?"
"How much are these tests going to cost?" Annabeth asked Dr. van Leeuwen.
"Honey, money isn't an object here."
"Because we're a research clinic," Dr. van Leeuwen replied, "all you have to do is sign a waiver that the test results can be compiled in our database--with your name and other identifying information withheld, of course--and the tests will be entirely free of charge."
"That sounds like a pretty good deal," Luka said, still rather skeptical.
"I guess the data could help other people," Annabeth said. "Okay, I'll sign the waiver."
Dr. van Leeuwen smiled and clasped Annabeth's hand.
"We appreciate your cooperation, Mrs. Han," he said. "Now, if you'll come with me to the examination room, we can get started." He looked to Luka and said, "Please wait in the waiting room, Mr. Han. We'll be finishing in no time."
Luka kissed Annabeth on the cheek and then returned to the waiting room. His suspicions weren't entirely allayed, but he wanted to believe this would all work out so much that his suspicions could not sway him.
Everything is gonna be fine, he told himself.
If only he could believe as much as he wanted to believe.

* * *

Location: Barone City, Titan, Saturnian Sphere
Date: Sat 31 May 099
Time: UST 0724

Three weeks had passed since that first consultation at the research clinic. In that time, Annabeth was hospitalized twice more for her hemorrhaging. Fortunately, Dr. van Leeuwen said that their was an experimental treatment they could try. The odds of success were only about thirty percent, but that was more than the zero percent chance she had with the conventional system.
The operation was scheduled for 0800. Annabeth was lying down in the examination room--the train ride over here was all the sitting she could stand--with Luka and their daughter Lydia with them. Luka would have rather left Lydia at home, but there was no one to watch her and Annabeth said she wanted to see her when she came out of surgery.
All that was left was to wait.
"Luka," Annabeth said.
"Yeah, baby?"
"I need to tell you something."
Annabeth beckoned for Luka to come closer. He did so, glancing back briefly at Lydia, who was rubbing her eyes while watching a vid on his PersCom.
"Luka, I need you to listen to me," Annabeth said, her voice barely above a whisper. "I know you're angry, at the doctors, the Army, the government, God... everyone. But I need you to do something for me. You need to bury that anger. Leia's all grown up, but Lydia's going to need you. You have to be there for her."
"Don't talk like that, baby," Luka said. "You're gonna be fine. The surgery's gonna go just fine and you'll be all better. Hell, you're gonna outlive me."
Normally, Annabeth would concede to Luka, but this time she wouldn't budge.
"Promise me, Luka."
Even though he didn't want her going into this like she wasn't going to make it, but he didn't want to start an argument, especially not now.
"Sure, baby,: he said. "Yeah, I promise. Of course I'll be there for her."
"Let me see her."
Luka turned to Lydia and said, "Lydia, Mommy wants to see you."
"What?"
Lydia picked up this bad habit of replying with a blunt "What?" when called. Luka wanted to find out where she picked it up from and then wring the neck of the person responsible.
"That's 'Yes, Papa,'" he said sternly.
"Yes, Poppy."
Fortunately, she was still well-behaved enough to respond promptly to correction. Most days, at least.
When Lydia walked up to her mother, Annabeth ran her fingers through the girl's sandy blonde hair.
"Lydia, baby, Mommy loves you."
"I love you too, Mommy."
"You be good for Papa, okay?"
"Okay. I need to play on Daapad."
It was funny how she thought rephrasing "I want" as "I need" would get her what she wanted with greater surety. Of course she had no understanding of how serious things were, but perhaps that was for the best.
Annabeth only smiled and said, "You can play on the DataPad. Be good, honey."
Lydia arguably knew the ins and outs of her mothers purse better than Annabeth herself and quickly pulled out the DataPad. She was still carrying Luka's PersCom as well, but that was more than she needed.
"Hey, kid," Luka said, "you can't have both."
He reached for his PersCom, but Lydia turned away, holding it close to her chest.
"No," she whined.
"You said you wanted the DataPad," Luka said. "Now give Papa back his phone."
Lydia looked at the DataPad and the PersCom for a moment before reluctantly handing over the latter. While she started tapping away at the DataPad, Luka pocketed his PersCom and sat back down near Annabeth.
"Daggone kid..." he grumbled in feigned annoyance.
"I'm sorry, Luka," Annabeth whispered. "I'm so sorry."
Anabeth was trying to hold back her tears but wasn't having much luck with it. Luka hated to see her cry and now more than ever.
"No, baby," he said. "You don't got a thing to be sorry for. It's gonna be alright. You're gonna be fine. We're all gonna be just fine."
Luka held his wife's hand and kissed it. Though he was raised in the old-fashioned belief that tears were for women and children alone, it was difficult for him not to get choked up himself. He had to believe she was going to get through the surgery without a hitch. The alternative was too terrible for him.
There was a knock at the door and a nurse stepped in.
"Mrs. Han," he said, "we're ready for you."
The nurse had a hoverchair waiting. Annabeth started to get up off the examination table and Luka went to her side to help her. As he was guiding her to the hoverchair, she turned to him and said, "Luka, I love you."
"I love you too, babe," Luka replied. He kissed her on the forehead and said, "Everything's gonna be just fine."
When Annabeth was seated in the hoverchair, she looked over to Lydia and waved to her, saying, "Bye-bye, Lydia."
Engrossed with whatever edutainment game she was currently playing, all Lydia said in response was a distracted, "Uh-huh."
Luka was going to scold her, but Annabeth waved him off. The nurse then wheeled her off through doors with a sign that read, "Authorized Personnel Only Beyond This Point". Luka returned to his chair and sat down. Annabeth was in the doctors' hands now, and God's.

* * *

Date: Sat 31 May 099
Time: UST 1305

The five hours since the operation began may as well have been five days and every moment of it was agony for Luka. He passed the time as best he could, but his thoughts never strayed from Annabeth.
Lydia had fallen asleep in his arms about fifteen minutes earlier, curled up in her favorite teddy bear-print blanket. She still hadn't broken her habit of sucking on her fingers while she slept and Luka pretty well resigned himself to the fact that she was going to need braces in a good eight or ten years.
Thinking about Lydia eight or ten years from now, Luka couldn't help but wonder what that would be like without Annabeth. Without her, how was he going to handle Lydia going through puberty and everything else? It had been hellish enough with Leia and he was barely there for any of it. Who was going to teach Lydia about becoming a woman if not her mother?
Luka shook his head.
It's gonna be fine, he told himself. It's all gonna be just fine.
As he was telling himself for the millionth time that everything was going to be fine, Dr. van Leeuwen stepped into the waiting room.
Luka rose from his seat the moment he saw him and asked, "How is she, Doc?"
Dr. van Leeuwen lowered his eyes.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Han, but your wife didn't make it."
"What!? How!?"
"The damage was too extensive," Dr. van Leeuwen replied. "There was nothing we could do."
The noise and the jostling woke up Lydia. She looked up at Luka and asked him, "Poppy, where's Mommy?"
It was odd. It wasn't when Dr. van Leeuwen said Annabeth was dead but when Lydia asked that question that Luka felt his heart turn into a lead ball and sink deep into his guts. What was he supposed to tell her?
"Mommy's... Mommy's gone, baby."
Lydia gave him a curious look. How was he going to explain it? Mommy's gone to live with the angels? It was trite, but would it be enough?
He sank back into his chair, still wondering what he was going to say. The door chimed and Dr. van Leeuwen went to answer it. Luka wasn't paying attention to that, though.
After a moment, Dr. van Leeuwen approached him and said, "I know this is a bad time, Mr. Han, but there's someone here for you."
Luka didn't even stop to think of the implausibility of the situation. It was the farthest thing from his mind at the moment.
"I don't care," he said bitterly. "Tell them to leave."
"I'm afraid I can't do that, Lieutenant Han," a different voice said.
Luka looked up to see a man in a black suit and dark sunglasses standing in the doorway. You couldn't find a more stereotypical G-man. He flashed his ID and said, "Special Agent Sykes, AICI. Would you mind stepping out into the hallway, sir?"
What was an Iceman doing here? Luka then realized that his initial misgivings about the clinic were probably correct. Whatever was about to happen, he didn't want Lydia to see it.
Setting her down in the chair next to him, he told her, "Wait right here, baby. Papa'll be right back."
He stood up and followed Agent Sykes into the hallway. Once the door closed behind them, Sykes said, "You have my condolences, Lieutenant Han."
"Cut the shit," Luka growled. "What're you here for?"
"I think you know," Agent Sykes replied. "Even if you did it to save your wife, what you did is very illegal."
Icemen almost always traveled in pairs. Why was this one alone? Whatever the reason, he was just one man.
Agent Sykes seemed to read his mind and said calmly, "Before you even think about it, how far do you think you can get with a four-year-old girl in tow? Where will you run? Where will you hide? There's also your other daughter to consider. What will happen to a midshipman whose father is a wanted fugitive?"
Luka was all too aware at how easy it was to hunt people. Even if he dug out his and Lydia's trackers, the government's eyes and ears were everywhere. And even if the two of them somehow managed to escape off the grid, Leia could still be used as leverage against him. He couldn't win, but he wasn't ready to surrender without a fight either.
Luka crossed his arms and asked Agent Sykes, "So you expect me to just come peaceably and let you take what little I have left?"
Agent Sykes took off his sunglasses, looked him square in the eye and a slight smile crossed his thin lips.
"I've come to offer you a job."
"What?"
"I'm not really AICI, Lieutenant. I represent a different agency, an agency that needs men with your skill set, men who can handle the dirty jobs that need doing."
"So you're with the spooks."
Agent Sykes didn't answer him, at least not directly.
"On the surface, you'll continue to be a typical SF operator, but every now and then you'll be getting a call and then you'll do a little job for us. Not only will we make all this go away, but you'll be well compensated for your work, well enough to take care of your girls. They'll never be left wanting. After all, being a single parent is tough, and it'll be tougher from prison."
Use his skills to do the government's dirty work or go to jail. Luka couldn't help but feel that all this was planned from the start, but what could he do about it at this point? With Annabeth gone, he was all his girls had left and he couldn't do much for them in a three-by-three in the Icebox.
"Alright, fine," Luka said. "I'll do it."
Agent Sykes put his sunglasses back on.
"I figured you would. Your transportation has already been arranged. Your wife's funeral is scheduled for next Thursday. Notifications have already been issued to the relevant friends and family. Mourn your wife. We'll give you a month to sort yourself out. After that, be ready for a call from Red Castle. Your codename is Gold Three-One-Eight. Don't forget it."
"Understood."
Agent Sykes then turned and walked away. Part of Luka wanted to rush up to the smug spook and snap his neck, consequences be damned, but it was nothing more than idle fancy. He punched the wall, a futile gesture of his impotent rage.
"I'm sorry, baby," he said through gritted teeth. "This is the best I can do..."