Chapter 20
The Rumors of My Death...

Location: ESS Ticonderoga, Outside Union Space
Date: Thu 15 Aug 121
Time: UST 0746

Matt skipped PT that morning, only going back to change into his flight suit before heading to Sickbay. Were it not for Lieutenant Wallace, he would have never known that Lydia was there again. The Lieutenant did not give him many details, only that she was minorly injured and only being held for observation.
He walked up to the receptionist's desk, waiting behind a few latecomers to sick call. Once they had been dealt with, the receptionist looked up to him and asked, "What brings you here today, sir?"
"I'm here to see Lieutenant Han," Matt replied. "Of the VF-313. I was told she was a patient here."
The receptionist had to take a second look at his uniform.
"You're not part of her chain of command, are you, sir?"
"No," Matt said, "I'm just a friend."
"Well then, sir, you should know that you would need to get authorization from the Lieutenant's chain of command first."
Before Matt could say anything, he saw Lydia unsteadily walk up to the receptionist's desk, lean onto the desktop like a bar patron and say, "Checkin' ow'."
The receptionist looked at her blankly for a moment, glanced at Matt and then back to her.
"Uh, okay, Lieutenant Han. Last four?"
"Wun-se'en... eigh'-six."
Matt also looked at Lydia somewhat dumbfounded.
"Um, Nyx..."
Lydia looked at him in dull surprise.
"Oh, hey, Cav. Wha' brin's yew 'ere?"
"I came here to check up on you."
"Tha' makes sense," Lydia replied.
Lydia had a bit of a silly smile on her face and talked lazily. Her eye started to drift upward before she shook her head to get herself at least halfway back in sorts.
"Sorry, Cav," she said. "They got me on th' good shit. I'm still a bit loopy. So how've ya been doin'?"
The receptionist interrupted them, saying, "Okay, Lieutenant Han, you're free to go. Don't forget to stop by the dispensary for your prescription and we'll be seeing you again next Wednesday at zero-seven-hundred."
Lydia gave the receptionist a sloppy left-handed salute.
"Roger tha'. See ya whene'er Winsday is."
She started to walk away from the desk, but then turned back and asked, "Hey, can I see Curly, I mean, LT Trifkoveesh. 'N' don' gimme no lip 'bow' chain o' command neither. I'm 'er fligh' leader."
The way Lydia was slurring her speech concerned Matt a bit.
"Are you okay, Nyx?" he asked.
"Killer," she replied. "Speakin a' which..."
The receptionist interrupted them again.
"You should be able see Lieutenant Trifkovic between fifteen- and seventeen-hundred."
"Guess I'll see 'er then. Leas' she ain' dead, don' soun' like."
"Nyx, will you let me help you back to your room?" Matt asked.
"Sure, sure," Lydia replied. "Soun's great. Yer a real swee'art, Cav."
She slung her arm around Matt's shoulder and leaned into him. Matt couldn't help blushing a little, but he reached around to her other side to help stabilize her.
"Ow, dammit," Lydia mumbled. "Watch th' side there, Cav. Psycho fucker sliced the fuck outta i'." She looked down and said, "Ya can migrate tha' hand a lil' futher south if'n yer gonna hol' me. They call 'em love han'les fer a reason. I ain' got much extra on me, but there shoul' be enough t' hol' onta. Don' be shy. We're all frien's here." She looked to the receptionist and said, "Ain' we all frien's here?"
"Yes, Lieutenant," the receptionist dutifully replied.
Embarrassing as it was, Matt complied and moved his hand down along the crest of her hip.
"Tha's more like it," Lydia said.
"Is it really okay to be releasing her like this?" Matt asked the receptionist.
"She should be fine, Commander."
"She should be fine, Major."
Matt had his doubts, but he had to trust that her doctor would not have discharged her before it was safe to do so. With a nod to the receptionist, he guided Lydia over to the dispensary to get her prescription filled. While they were standing in line, two MAs came into Sickbay and walked up to them.
"Lieutenant Han?"
Lydia glanced over one shoulder, then the next, before whispering to Matt, "Coun'erclockwise forry-five, Cav. I can' see."
Even though it sounded more like 'can', Matt knew she meant 'can't' and turned her so she could see the MAs better.
Once she realized who it was, she grimaced and mumbled, "Wha's i' abou' seein' you tha' th' MAs come fer me, Cav?"
"Lieutenant Han," one of the MAs said, "we would like to take a follow-up statement regarding the incident from yesterday."
Lydia groaned. Matt looked at her and then to the MAs.
"She's still a little out of it from her medication," Matt said. "Could she drop by after she's rested a few hours."
"Sir, I really don't--"
"She's not going to be much help until she's coherent."
The lead MA sighed.
"Alright. Lieutenant, we need you to report to the brig by thirteen-hundred. Do you understand? Ma'am?"
"Don' 'ma'am' me, dammit," Lydia grumbled. "I work fer a livin'. Goddamn MAs. Shoul' call ya'll MFs cuz ya'll's a buncha muthafuh, uh, ugh..."
"She'll be there," Matt said hastily, before Lydia got herself thrown into the brig again.
"And your name, sir?" the MA asked.
"Major Matthias Harold, of the Four-Two-One Fighter Squadron."
"Major Harold, we're going to hold you responsible for her. If Lieutenant Han doesn't show, well, to speak frankly, sir, I'm not gonna let it just be our asses on the line."
"I understand," Matt said. "I'll see that she get there."
"It'll save everyone a lot of hell, sir. By your leave."
Matt nodded to them and the two MAs left. Lydia was mumbling incoherently to herself. When it was her turn, the pharmacy tech gave the two of them a critical look before saying, "Name and last four."
"Han... Lijya, Wun-se'en-eigh'-six."
The pharmacy tech played around with his terminal a bit before disappearing briefly and returning with a bottle of pills.
Lydia reached into her pocket, presumably for her wallet, but stopped halfway.
"Ow! Dammit..."
"What's wrong?" Matt asked.
"Hur's too musch ta get mah damn wallit," Lydia said. "Be a dear, Cav."
The pharmacy tech gave them a funny look. Lydia glared at him and shot and accusing finger at him from over Matt's shoulder.
"Yew shu' th' hell up," she growled. "Crazy fucker cut me an' now mah whole damn side burns like fahr. Ya know how many mushles there are in yer damn side? A lot, muthafucka, an' they been all cut ta shit an' i' hur's like hell an' Cav's mah wing buddy an' he's gettin' mah wallit fer me cuz he's a scholar an' a gennleman an' he's still lookin' out fer me e'en though we ain' in th' same unit no more cuz he's mah wing buddy an', an'..."
While Lydia continued to ramble, Matt pulled her wallet out of her pocket, reaching in no deeper than he absolutely had to. Taking out her ID card, he handed it to the pharmacy tech, who swiped it and gave it back with a sack containing the bottle of medication.
The pharmacy tech snapped his fingers to get Lydia's attention.
"Hey, LT," he said. "Over here. Pay attention. You take one of those pills every four to six hours as needed. Don't take more than that. Do you understand?"
"Yeah, I unnerstan', dammit."
"I need to you to repeat it back to me."
"E'er' four ta six hours, As needed. No more."
"How many pills?"
"Wun pill."
"That's good, LT. You get better real soon now."
"Yeah, yeah."
"Come on, Nyx," Matt said. "Let's go."
She was a bit slow and plodding and fairly wobbly as well, but she was still supporting most of her own weight, so it was not all that trying for Matt to walk her to her room. The fact that the air wing's berths and Sickbay were on the same deck also helped. He kept Lydia's ID out so he could swipe her into Officers' Country and her room.
Male personnel were prohibited from entering a female berthing space unless it was absolutely necessary. While the situation may not have qualified as absolute necessity, Matt had no intention of just abandoning her at the door. It was a fortunate thing he was conscientious enough to ring the door chime first because when the door opened, he was met by an Indian woman wrapped only in a towel. Matt could feel himself turn bright red and though she had a fairly dark complexion, she noticeably blushed as well.
The door immediately shut between them and the speaker squawked, "Who the hell are you!?"
Matt pressed the button to answer, but Lydia interrupted him before he could even open his mouth, "Lemme in, Bollywood, ya damn Tweedy!"
Matt tried to shush her before she brought out everyone in Officers' Country. Through the speaker, he said, "I'm terribly sorry about that, but Nyx--Lieutenant Han--was just discharged from Sickbay and I'm just bringing her to her room."
After a moment, the speaker replied, "Alright, give me a minute to get dressed first."
While they waited, Lydia went back to babbling incoherently, though 'damn Tweedy' seemed to come up a lot. The door eventually opened and the woman was now fully dressed in a flight suit and had her hair pinned up.
"So just who are you anyway?" the woman asked.
"Major Matthias Harold of the Four-Two-One Fighter Squadron."
"An' he's th' bossman, too," Lydia said, "so pozzishun o' attenshun, yew."
Surprisingly, the woman did go to attention.
"Junior Lieutenant Kaveeta Bhakta of the VRC-88, sir," she said stiffly. "I apologize for any offense, sir."
"Yeah, yew show 'er, Cav."
"At ease, Lieutenant," Matt said. "I'm just glad I thought to ring the chime first."
"You and me both, sir."
Lydia eyed Lieutenant Bhakta and mumbled, "Damn Bollywood thinkin' yew can seduce mah wing buddy wi' yer bony ass." She chuckled to herself. "Ah, who'm I kiddin'? Ya got a decent ass, Bollywood. No' as cu'e as Xiaoxiao's, though. Lil' munchkin's so goddamn cu'e..."
Lieutenant Bhakta looked at Matt curiously.
"Her wing buddy, sir?"
"We were both in the Two-Oh-Eight together a few years back," Matt said.
"Did you transfer to Air Force then, sir?"
"No, I've always been Air Force. It's a long story."
Lydia made a feeble punch at the air with the arm slung over Matt's shoulder.
"Muthafuckin' unstopp'ble Shelly-killin' masheens!"
Lieutenant Bhakta clearly had no interest in prying any further and said, "I'll take your word for, sir. I need to get going now, so by your leave, sir."
Matt stepped aside so the Lieutenant could leave and then walked in.
"Okay, Nyx, which rack is yours?" he asked.
"Firs' 'un."
Matt guided Lydia to her rack and eased her down. Once she was seated on her rack, Matt let go and straightened himself up.
"You need to rest, Nyx," he told her.
"Fine. Wha'e'er."
He helped her lie down on her uninjured side. For some reason she insisted on lying backward in her rack. When she was settled, Matt looked around the room and found a little trash can near one of the desks and set it down on the deck near Lydia's head.
"I'm going to leave this here in case you get sick," he said.
"Sure, okay..."
"Hopefully you'll be more in sorts in a few hours."
"Then i'll be time fer more happy pills. Yay."
"Try to hold off on taking them for a little while if you can, Nyx. Remember that you need to report to the brig by thirteen-hundred."
"Damn MAs... MFs more like i' cuz they're all a buncha--"
Matt interrupted her before she could go off on another tirade against the MAs.
"Nyx, I'm going to call you around noon to check up on you. If you're having trouble, I'll try to get away to help you, but I can't make any promises with all the sorties we've been flying lately."
"Meh, I'm off th' damn roster fer two weeks a' leas'."
"Well, just focus on getting better and you'll be back in the cockpit in no time."
"Kill me some damn robots..."
"Go to sleep now."
"Yeah, thanks, Dad..."
Matt could only sigh. Sometimes it really did seem like Lydia resented his efforts to help her more than anything else. This was probably his cue to leave. As he started to walk to the door, Lydia spoke up in a low voice.
"Hey, Cav..."
"Yes, Nyx?"
"Wha' was i' tha' Jew-guy liked ta say? Yer a real mensch. Fer a goyabobbawha'e'er..."
Matt realized she was talking about Commander Joachim, more or less quoting something he had said. It seemed like ages ago since they went undercover with him. Matt then realized that the last time he saw the Commander was back in June after the Seven Deadlies were captured. He looked so terrible then. Matt wondered how he was doing now.
His thoughts were interrupted by a petite Chinese woman walking into the room from the side door, which was apparently the lavatory because like Lieutenant Bhakta before her, she was clad only in a towel. Seeing a strange man in her room, it was little surprise when she screamed. Unfortunately, in her surprise, she forgot to hold onto her towel.
Matt quickly averted his eyes, feeling himself flush in embarrassment. Lydia burst in raucous laughter at the scene, but it did not last long. Side-splitting humor becomes less amusing when you have an actual split side.
"Ow-ow! Ah, dammit..."

* * *

Date: Thu 15 Aug 121
Time: UST 1510

Lydia had one hell of a headache and her side was killing her, but she was holding off on taking her happy pill. She wanted to be clear-headed for this. She only had fuzzy memories of that morning, but she was pretty sure she made an ass of herself, more so than she would normally.
She walked into Sickbay and went right to the reception desk.
"Good afternoon, Lieutenant Han," the receptionist--a different one from the morning--said.
"Yeah," Lydia replied. "I'm here ta see Lieutenant Trifkovic. I was told I'd be able ta see her now."
"ID, please."
"Whaddya mean, 'ID, please'? You know who I am. You just said my damn name."
"Yes, ma'am, but we have to follow protocol. You understand, don't you?"
"I guess," Lydia said grudgingly.
She pulled out her ID card and the receptionist swiped it.
Handing back Lydia's ID, the receptionist gestured to the waiting area and said, "Wait here a moment and a nurse will escort you."
She took a seat in the waiting area and fiddled with her PersCom until a nurse called out, "Lieutenant Han?"
Lydia stood up.
The nurse motioned for her to follow.
"This way, please."
They went to Sickbay's Alpha Wing, where Lydia herself had been a patient for a month. In fact, the single Trifkovic was being treated in was just next door to the one Lydia had stayed in.
The nurse peeked into the room first, saying, "Lieutenant Trifkovic? It's Nurse Rodrigues. Is okay for me to come in? I have a visitor for you."
The nurse motioned for Lydia to follow her in. Trifkovic was lying in bed, looking pale and weak, though not as bad as when Lydia found her in the shower room. Her neck was heavily bandaged, of course. She seemed only half-awake, no doubt on even better pain meds than Lydia was.
It was kinda hard to see her like this, but Lydia tried to be as upbeat as she could.
"Hey, Curly!" she said, knowing she sounded like a big phony. "Glad ta see you're still with us!" She looked to the nurse and asked, "How's she doin'?"
"She lost a lot of blood," the nurse said. "Both jugulars were severed and her left carotid artery was nicked. She's lucky to be alive. Her vocal folds were severely damaged and she has elected to have them removed and replaced with an artificial voicebox so she can return to active duty sooner."
That didn't make a lot of sense to Lydia.
"Wait. What does that mean?"
"We don't have anyone capable of properly repairing the damage," the nurse explained. "It would heal, but most likely the scar tissue would make speaking and breathing difficult for her and possibly disqualify her from flight duty. This way she stands a good chance of being cleared for duty within four to six weeks."
This surprised Lydia. Trifkovic was willing to have her own vocal cords cut out just so she could get back in the fight?
"Whoa, Curly," she said, "are ya sure? You could be flyin' a desk instead, ya know."
Trifkovic pointed to the nightstand beside her bed.
"What is it, Curly?" Lydia asked, walking up to the nightstand. "Ya want your PersCom? Here."
She handed Trifkovic her PersCom. Trifkovic typed out a text message that she sent to Lydia.
I've made my hell and now I'm going to live in it.
Lydia stared at the screen a moment.
"That's kinda dark, doncha think?"
Trifkovic started typing again.
You don't get to call yourself Misery anymore. That's my name now.
Trifkovic managed a feeble smile and Lydia was hard-pressed not to return it.
"I'll fight ya for it, Curly, but damned if you ain't a contender."
Trifkovic closed her eyes and sank into her pillow. Concerned, Lydia went to her side and shook her shoulder.
"Hey! You gonna be okay, Curly?"
Not even bothering to open her eyes, Trifkovic started working the keys again and a new text message popped up.
I'll live. Apparently.
That would have to do.
Lydia leaned in and told Trifkovic, "I'll be checkin' up on ya, okay? If there's anythin' ya need, jus' lemme know."
Trifkovic nodded, which was enough for Lydia. She'd let her rest, go take a happy pill and do some resting herself. The Madcaps didn't need to be down two pilots any longer than they had to.

* * *

Date: Thu 15 Aug 121
Time: UST 2232

Matt waited for Lieutenant Wallace to show up. He insisted on getting more information about what happened to Lydia. Although the Lieutenant could at times be rather tight-fisted with what he knew, he did sound willing to accommodate Matt's request.
When Lieutenant Wallace showed up, he dispensed with any pleasantries and immediately asked, "Are you sure you want to know this, sir?"
"I've started down this road, Lieutenant," Matt replied. "I need to see it through."
The Lieutenant shrugged.
"Your call, sir. Well, they're going to bury this and they're going to bury it deep, but Lieutenants Han and Trifkovic were attacked by someone in their own unit."
Lieutenant Wallace held up his PersCom, displaying a personnel file.
"Ensign Shoutarou Iwata," he said, "a rookie fresh out of the Academy. Arrived just before we left Smythe."
"But why?" Matt asked.
"Lieutenant Han gave him a royal ass-chewing after their last sortie. It would seem that Lieutenant Trifkovic was just in the way. It would explain why he didn't make sure she was dead."
"So, what, he just snapped?"
"That seems to be part of it."
"Part of it?"
The Lieutenant adjusted his visor and said, "The whole thing felt a bit off, so I did some extra digging. Turns out Ensign Iwata wasn't born Shoutarou Iwata. His birth name was Kenshirou Mishima."
Matt was certain he had heard that name before.
"Mishima... Why does that sound familiar?"
"Maybe you remember the Hyperion Incident," the Lieutenant said. "Back in '07, a rebel group calling itself the Yamabushi seized control of the Hyperion colony and declared independence from the Union."
He pressed some buttons on his PersCom and then held it up to show a new file. The file photo showed a scowling thirtysomething Japanese man with long hair and what Matt had once heard described as fox eyes.
"Their leader's name was Tohru Mishima," Lieutenant Wallace said.
"So this Ensign Iwata is..."
"Tohru Mishima's son. He would've been six at the time. The government took custody of him, changed his name, sealed his record, and put him in foster care."
Some pieces were falling into place, but there were still some gaps that needed to be filled.
"What does this have to do with Nyx?" Matt asked. "Anything?"
"More than you might think," Lieutenant Wallace replied. "The government sent in Special Forces to deal with the Yamabushi. The leader of the detachment was Captain Luka Han, Lieutenant Han's father. Made a Hero of the Union out of him."
"So Iwata was out for revenge?"
"But how could he have known?"
"Maybe he remembered and maybe he was told."
Even allowing for that, it was still a highly unlikely scenario. Matt shook his head.
"The chances of him getting assigned to the same unit as Nyx are..."
"Too remote to assume it was just a coincidence. Iwata was placed here for a reason."
Matt's thoughts turned to the shadowy conspiracy around Lydia and how precarious their position was.
"But I thought Nyx was supposed to be important to that Einherjar Project."
"She is," Lieutenant Wallace said, "and the two groups may not be related. I do think Iwata was involved with the same people who sabotaged the Ticonderoga last month."
Matt had only heard rumors about what happened on the Ticonderoga. He was not especially surprised that Lieutenant Wallace knew more about the incident, but what was the connection between the sabotage of the ship and Lydia's attack?
"Why do you think they're connected?" Matt asked.
"The equipment he used for his attack, it was the same sort of thing the saboteurs used," the Lieutenant replied. "High-end stuff. The kind of equipment you'd use for black ops. Also, targeting Berserkers seemed to be part of their MO."
"Black ops... So you think it's the government?"
Lieutenant Wallace shrugged.
"Could be. Might be a case of the right hand not knowing what the left is up to. Different factions behind the scenes vying for control, manipulating the war so they come out on top."
Matt shook his head in disbelief.
"This is insane..."
"It is what it is and the deeper you dig, the harder it'll be to get out."
"Will they try to target Nyx again?"
"I don't know, but I don't think his attack on her was sanctioned by the saboteurs. They covered their tracks really well, but Iwata was left for the MAs to find with all that incriminating evidence. As near as I can tell, he went off the reservation and caught them off-guard. They'll probably move to dispose of the equipment and wipe out anything else that might lead back to them."
"What are you going to do about it?" Matt asked. "I mean, if you know it's going to happen..."
"I don't want to tip my hand," the Lieutenant said. "I'm pretty sure they don't know about me and my... resources. I've got a pretty good bead on what goes on here, but even I can get blindsided and I don't plan on getting killed for it."
"What do we do then?"
"You're going to keep on pretending like everything's normal as always. Just do your everyday job and hopefully you won't draw any unwanted attention. Things are heating up all around us, but try not to lose your head... or you might just lose it literally."
It was a grim reminder of the risks he faced, but it was something Matt accepted when he first got involved with Lieutenant Wallace.
"I'll keep that in mind," he said. "Is there anything else?"
"That's all for now."
Although the gesture came somewhat unnaturally for Matt, he rested his hand on Lieutenant Wallace's shoulder and said, "Keep up the good work, Lieutenant."
"Stay out of trouble, sir," the Lieutenant replied, cracking a slight grin as he added, "hard as that may be for you."
Matt did not like to think he was the type to seek out trouble, but it certainly had a way of finding him regardless. As Lieutenant Wallace said, the deeper he got in, the harder it was to get out, not that he had any attention of getting out now. He had little choice but to stay alert and on target, for his own sake and for Lydia.