Chapter 8
The Revivified
ESS Ticonderoga, Outside Union Space
Date: Tue 09 Sep 122
Time: UST 2204

Operation Orpheus was proceeding smoothly. The external defenses and communications arrays of Erebus were cleanly and efficiently eliminated by Commander Joachim's squadron. There was nothing to interfere with troop landings and no way for the Sheolite garrison to send word to the main fleet. The defenders only seemed to number in the hundreds and if the Marines were not being told to advance so carefully to minimize casualties, the entire facility might already be secure.
As smoothly as the operation was going, there was much for the command staff to discuss. They had already been talking for well over an hour when they came to one of the smaller yet still significant issues that needed to be addressed.
Because the issue in question involved a Marine, it was Colonel Grozny who introduced it.
"And now we come back to the matter of Gunnery Sergeant Grisson," he said. He then turned to the Chief Medical Officer. "Doctor Kim?"
"Gunnery Sergeant Grisson is stable at the moment," Doctor Kim said. "She was released from quarantine earlier today and transferred to an isolation room in Sickbay's Alpha Wing. The new environment should speed her recovery."
"Did you find out if they gave her a self-destruct device?" Commodore Frazier asked.
"Gunnery Sergeant Grisson was able to escape early in the cybernization process," Doctor Kim replied. "She does not have the self-destruct device or the cortical implants of a fully converted Sheolite."
"From what I understand, she does have a neural interface, though, correct?" Colonel Grozny asked.
"The exoskeletal frame does connect directly to her spinal cord and brain stem but no higher."
"Is there some sort of receiver for external signals?" Colonel Vasquez asked. "Can the Shellies control her?"
"That is uncertain at this juncture, but I believe that without the cortical implants, any control would be fragmentary at best."
Colonel Vasquez crossed his arms and frowned.
"But you don't know for sure," he said.
"We have never had to deal with this before," Doctor Kim replied. "We know precious little about the Sheolite cybernization process and our own knowledge of cybernetics only takes us so far."
"Where does that leave us?" Commodore Frazier asked.
"Uncertain and cautious. My job only extends as far as Gunnery Sergeant Grisson's health is concerned... and how she might influence the health of the rest of the crew."
Major Knox decided it was time step in.
"This Marine was held captive by the enemy and had an exoskeletal frame brutally fused to her body," he said. "What are we going to do about it?"
"No doctor on this ship or anywhere in this task force is capable of removing that frame," Doctor Kim said, "and even in the hands of the most skilled cybernetician, the chances of survival for such an operation are low. Even if Gunnery Sergeant Grisson would survive, she would almost certainly be left paralyzed, definitely unfit for continued service even in the best possible outcome. She has refused this option and has requested that the frame be better integrated into her system to be usable. This would theoretically be within the realm of possibility for Lieutenant Booth, our prosthetician, but given the nature of this case, her wishes could be overridden."
"She wants the chance to get back in the fight," the Major said, "to continue to serve."
"Would that even be possible?" Commodore Frazier asked.
"Possible, yes, but unlikely."
Commander Sharif, who had been quiet until this point, chose to inject himself into the conversation.
"The intelligence value Grisson represents is too great to take such a risk," he said. "She could prove to be the key to understanding how the Shellies function."
Major Knox glared at the Commander and said, "If you think I'm going to hand over one of my Marines to you spooks to poke and prod, you've got another thing coming."
"You won't have much you can do about it with the kind of authority I can call in," Commander Sharif replied icily.
"Your authority can go right to hell."
"Stand down, Major," Colonel Grozny said.
"You too, Commander," Commodore Liu added. Though not in the Commander's direct chain of command, she was still the most senior intelligence officer in the battle group. "I do not appreciate your habit of bypassing me on intelligence matters," she said sharply. "Whatever intelligence value the Gunnery Sergeant represents, there are other ways to go about acquiring that intelligence."
Major Knox looked to Doctor Kim and asked, "If Lieutenant Booth is successful and she recovers, would you be able to clear her for duty?"
"Now just one min--"
The Major cut Commander Sharif's interruption short, pressing the doctor for a response.
"Doctor, please."
"Again, possible, but unlikely," Doctor Kim replied noncommittally.
With that answer in hand, Major Knox addressed Admiral Mfume directly.
"Sir, the Gunny is a dedicated Marine who deserves that much of a chance."
"And what if Doctor Kim is wrong and the Shellies can control her?" Commander Sharif asked. "What if they can turn her full Shelly during an op?"
"That won't happen," the Major insisted.
"We need something a little stronger than your faith, Major."
Major Knox weighed his options briefly before responding.
"If it means giving her the chance to get back in the field," he said, "equip her suit with a self-destruct device. If she turns, we hit the switch." He paused. "On one condition, though. As her commander, I and I alone have control of that switch."
"I can't help but feel you're compromised on the subject of the Gunnery Sergeant, Major."
It was a loaded comment, but the Major would not fall for Commander Sharif's trap.
"She is one of my Marines and I'll fight for her same as anyone else under my command."
Before the dispute could go any further, the Admiral himself intervened.
"This is too serious a matter to be decided right now," he said. "We need more information first and perhaps some guidance from our superiors back at Supreme Command. We are counting on you, Doctor, and your people to provide that information and tend to Gunnery Sergeant Grisson as best you can. For now, we will keep two armed guards watching over her at all times. You have my authorization to proceed with the Gunnery Sergeant's remediation and therapy. Unless it is determined otherwise later, we will give her her shot to return to duty."
"Sir, you can't be serious."
"I am," the Admiral replied resolutely. "Now, what is the next order of business?"

* * *

Date: Sun 14 Sep 122
Time: UST 0613

Jack and Ally walked into Sickbay. He had received a surprise call asking if he'd like to see his sister, who was wounded during her last mission. This was the first he'd heard of his sister being wounded and, admittedly, it was a little unusual for her to want to see him, but some vague sense of familial obligation brought him to Sickbay.
The two of them walked up to the reception desk and the receptionist mechanically said, "Name and last four."
"I'm not checkin' in," Jack said. "My, ah, my sister's in here. Gunnery Sergeant Miranda Grisson."
"Name and last four," the receptionist repeated.
Jack sighed.
"Johnathan Grisson. Three-one-one-nine."
The receptionist glanced over to Ally and asked, "What about you?"
"I'm, uh, I'm just his battle buddy," she muttered. "I'm not going in."
The receptionist clacked away at the keys and without looking up from his terminal, said, "Take a seat and you'll be called."
They took a seat in the waiting area along with several people on sick call and whatnot. Jack rocked back and forth restlessly, not even realizing he was doing it until Ally rested her tiny hand on his knee.
"It's going to be alright, Jack," she said.
Jack stared at her hand on his leg. He couldn't help feeling a little spark sweep over him when she touched him, but he quickly pushed the sensation aside. The last thing he needed was for things to get weird between them. Anyway, weren't the suppressants supposed to put a lid on that stuff?
"I dunno, shorty," he said, trying to play off the mix of feelings that was confusing everything. "I hear she's been in here a week now. That's not for nothin', I'm sure."
Before Ally could say anything, a Corpsman stepped in and shouted, "Grisson!"
"Here!" Jack yelled back, reflexively springing to his feet and almost going to attention before he could stop himself.
"Come with me, Corporal," the Corpsman said.
"Good luck," Ally said as Jack started to walk off.
Jack followed the Corpsman and he was met by a little Asian doctor only a bit taller than Ally. 'Neutral' was the word that came to mind when he saw her. She didn't smile and she didn't frown. She didn't come off as particularly friendly, but she wasn't standoffish either. Not one way or another. Neutral.
"Hello, Corporal Grisson," she said in a clinical-sounding voice. "I am Doctor Kim. Before you see your sister, I need you to sign this."
She handed him a DataPad.
"What's this?" Jack asked.
"Your sister's condition is top secret," Doctor Kim said. "You are not to speak to anyone about what you are about to see. If you do, you will be court-martialed. This form is simply your acknowledgment of the conditions for you to see her."
"Top secret? What in the hell?"
Seriously, what kind of injury would be top secret? It didn't make any sense.
"There are a number of people who would much rather you not see her at all," the doctor said, "but I believe a familiar face would help."
Well, if it'd help, he should do it, right? They tell you you can't talk about anything else, so what made this any worse than the usual spiel about OpSec and loose lips sinking ships?
"Alright..." Jack said, taking the proffered stylus and scribbling his signature on the line. "There. We good?"
"Thank you, Corporal," Doctor Kim said, returning the stylus to its slot in the DataPad. Tucking the DataPad under her arm, she gestured up ahead. "This way."
They went to the hall--passageway or whatever the squids called them--at the very back. The room was almost at the very end of the hall--passageway, whatever.
Doctor Kim stopped at the door, looked at Jack and said, "Before we go in, I must warn you. Your sister has been through a lot. Try to control your reaction to what you are about to see."
Jack could feel himself getting sick to his stomach. He almost didn't want to go through with it, but he knew he had to suck it up. He and Miranda may not have had the warmest relationship, but they were still family and in spite of all his posturing, that really did mean something to him.
The doctor stuck her head in the door and said, "Gunnery Sergeant Grisson, it is Doctor Kim. You have a visitor."
She then motioned for Jack to follow her in.
"Hey, Johnny," a weak, somewhat raspy voice said.
It was Miranda, though Jack would scarcely know it by looking at her. She was really pale. Her eyes had a sunken look to them. Her head had been shaved recently, it seemed, because she had what looked like a week's growth of fuzz. But that wasn't the worst of it.
Her arms were left bare by her hospital gown and seeing that, he knew why her condition was top secret. She had on this ugly exo frame. No, it wasn't on her. It was in her, embedded deep in her skin. He could see where it was all red and inflamed around the frame, about all the color she had to her. And that was just what he could see.
This wasn't something done by Union docs. They did that to her. The Shellies.
"Helluva a sight, ain't I?" Miranda croaked. She glanced at the doctor and the two armed guards on either side of her bed and said, "I don't reckon we can get any privacy."
"I am afraid not, Gunnery Sergeant," Doctor Kim replied.
"Then you can hear what I have to say, too," Miranda said. She held up her arm and flexed her fingers. "Take a good look, Johnny. This is what we're fightin'."
"Gunnery Sergeant, really--"
"You got him to sign for his silence, Doc, so he might as well hear the truth. This is what the Shellies are, Johnny. They didn't go all the way with me, though, so maybe I'll get to stay in the fight. My CO's fightin' for me, but the spooks might win and make a lab rat outta me yet."
The spooks were involved? Of course the spooks were involved. Something like this, it's what they live for. Jack almost wondered if she'd be better off with the Shellies if that was what was waiting for her.
"I don't want you worryin' about me, Johnny," Miranda said. "I'll get what I get. And I don't want this changin' the way you see things out there. If you ever find yourself facin' off against a Shelly, don't hesitate. You'll be doin' the poor bastard a favor."
She wasn't the first person the Shellies had done this to, and they apparently did worse to others. How many others were like her? Could the same thing have happened to Ally when she was taken?
He didn't get to think on it any more than that because Miranda spoke up again.
"Alright, he's seen enough. It's time for you to go, Johnny. Watch yourself out there. And if it ever comes down to it, don't let 'em take you alive."
That was one hell of a closing note and Jack never even got a word in edgewise. And he wasn't going to get the chance because Doctor Kim took his arm and started to guide him to the door.
"Come along, Corporal."
She took him out of the room and once the door closed behind them, she said, "That went about as well as I could have hoped. I will let you know if you are cleared to see her again."
Jack didn't really know if he even wanted to see Miranda again in the shape she was in, but he didn't need to let the doctor know that.
"Okay..." he trailed. "Uh, thanks, Doc."
"Remember, Corporal," she warned. "Top secret."
"Yeah, I gotcha."
With that, Doctor Kim walked off to do something else somewhere else. Jack supposed it didn't much matter where she was going or what she was doing. A lot of stuff didn't seem to matter much at the moment.
He wandered back to the waiting area in a daze. How was he supposed to take all that? What was the point of even showing him that?
He didn't have any answers, but he didn't have any more time to think about it either, because Ally saw him coming and went up to greet him.
"How did it go, Jack?" she asked.
When he didn't respond, she asked again.
It took him a moment to snap out it and try to pull together some half-baked lie.
"Oh, ah... Well, she's pretty banged up, alright, but she's lived through worse. She's gonna be okay."
The look in Ally's eyes told Jack that she knew he wasn't being straight with her, but she played along all the same.
"That's good," she said softly. She then hesitated a moment before asking, "Um, you want to go get some chow?"
Jack really didn't feel like eating. He didn't even want to just sit there in the DFAC with Ally while she ate. In fact, being with her at all was too much for him. He couldn't bear to have her looking at him in pity, even if she didn't mean to. Those eyes of hers, he couldn't take it.
"I, ah, I think I'm gonna skip today," he said. He tried cracking his trademark grin, even though he knew it had to come off as super-fake. "Gotta... gotta watch my girlish figure, ya know? I'll, uh, I'll meet back up with ya at the evenin' formay, okay?"
"Okay, Jack..." Ally said tentatively.
She didn't even bring up that they both stood to get chewed out if they were caught without a battle buddy. Jack hated not being straight with her, but he'd signed himself into silence. Of course, even without that waiver, he didn't think there was any way he could tell her what he saw. How could he?