Standard fanfic disclaimer that wouldn't last ten seconds in a court of law: these aren't my characters. I'm just borrowing them for, um, typing practice. Yeah, that's it, typing practice. Originally published in To Life Immortal #1 from WOWie Press, back in 1989. Very slightly edited in 2010.
Tears and Thomas Paine
War of the Worlds
by Susan M. M.
Dr. Harrison Blackwood looked up from his crossword puzzle to see Debi McCullough framed in the doorway. The girl peered into the living room of The Cottage (aka Government Property #348). Harrison lay back on the sofa with a copy of last week's New York Times, a purple pen in his hand. Lt. Col. Paul Ironhorse sat in the oak rocking chair, reading. The Beatles' White Album played softly on the stereo.
Ironhorse didn't bother glancing up from his book. There was no need. He had identified the girl as A, non-hostile, and B, Debi, from the sound of her footsteps before she entered the room.
"What's the matter, Deb?" Harrison asked.
"I was looking for Mom," the twelve-year-old confessed. "I thought she might be in here. She isn't in her room, and she didn't come to dinner.
The curly-haired astrophysicist nodded. "Mrs. Pennyworth was upset about that. She hates to think her cooking isn't being appreciated."
"She mentioned something about being on the track of something, and said she wanted to stay with it," Ironhorse added, still not looking up from The Hunt for Red October.
"Mom and Norton are still in the lab?" Debi frowned. The lab was off-limits to her.
"No, Norton left over an hour ago. He went into town to the movies," Harrison explained.
Ironhorse glanced up at the clock – quarter past eight – then down at Debi's anxious face. Smiling at her, the Cherokee soldier laid down his book. "Page two-twenty-nine," he muttered. "I'll go check up on her. If she's at a good stopping place in her work, I'll drag her upstairs."
"By the hair, Colonel?" Harrison whispered sotto voce.
"Thanks, Colonel." The young girl beamed.
Stepping out of the elevator, Ironhorse could just make out Suzanne McCullough sitting at her desk. He called her name softly, but there was no answer. Concerned, he walked over to her office in the corner of the darkened lab, stepping carefully over the broken petri dishes and test tubes.
The microbiologist looked up. Her eyes were red and puffy. Her cheeks were soaked.
"Suzanne, what's wrong?"
"This damned project."
"Now, Suzanne, you have to give it time. You're doing a good job. After all, Rome wasn't –"
"Spare me the platitudes. Do you realize this project goes against everything – everything – that I believe in?"
Ironhorse reached forward to comfort her, then stopped, afraid his touch might be misinterpreted.
"I swore never to be involved in chemical-biological warfare. And what am I doing? Trying to design poison bacteria! Ever since I was a little girl I wanted to find extraterrestrial life – ever since I saw The Day the Earth Stood Still – and now that we've found them, I'm trying to kill them," the brunette complained.
He reminded her gently, "They're trying to kill us. This is war. We have to protect ourselves. I don't like it either, but that's the way it is."
"It's not fair. Why us? Why now?" Suzanne demanded. Another tear trickled down her cheek, but she didn't bother to wipe it away.
"If anybody ever said that life was going to be fair, they never bothered to mention it on the reservation. Why us? We were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Either plain dumb luck or Gr—" Grandfather in a weird mood, he'd been about to say, but that wasn't something he liked to discuss in front of non-Native Americans. "Why now? Have you read Thomas Paine?"
The non sequitar caught her by surprise. "Well, when I was in school …" Then she suddenly realized. "No, I've read about him, but I've never actually read him."
"In the essay that begins 'These are the times that try men's souls,' he described a noted Tory discussing the possibility of revolution who said, 'give me peace in my day.' Then Paine complained that a true patriot, and uh, 'generous parent,' I believe the phrase was, would have said 'If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace.' Debi, Suzanne. You're doing this for Debi," the colonel told her.
Forcing a smile, she looked up at him. "I thought I was supposed to be the psychologist."
"Who, me? I don't know Sigmund Freud from Fred Flintstone." He grinned. A falsehood – he'd taken several psychology classes at both West Point and the War College.
Suzanne reached for a Kleenix and started wiping her face.
"Why's a microbiologist know so much about psychology, anyway?" The tall, copper-skinned warrior tactfully changed the subject.
"Same reason I minored in anatomy in college. Originally, I planned on getting my M. D. in addition to my Ph. D, and becoming a medical researcher. But with marrying Cash and having Debi and all, real life got in the way of my plans. I never got around to it."
"Once the aliens are taken care of, you'll be able to write your own ticket. Probably even get the Pentagon to pick up the tab, if you want to go back to school and get another doctorate. You've held up like a trooper," he complimented her. "Don't let one attack of the blues get you down."
"Is all this comfort and consolation because I'm a woman, Colonel?"
Ironhorse lied, "I don't think of you as a woman, Dr. McCullough, only as a colleague and comrade-in-arms." He paused, inhaling and exhaling deeply. "I graduated from the Point just in time to catch the tail-end of 'Nam. After what I witnessed there .… Would you think I was too much of an MCP if I told you that you were holding up manfully?"
She smiled. "Probably no more than I already do."
"There's an old Indian proverb: 'Regret is a part of life, but try to keep it a small part.' You're doing fine."
"No, I mean it. Now blow your nose, wash your face, finish pulling yourself together, and come on upstairs. Debi's starting to get worried. That's why I came down to find you," the Cherokee colonel explained.
"Debi. Oh, God, I've been in the lab all day; I haven't seen her since breakfast," Suzanne realized. "Worried, hell, she must be frantic."
"And if you apologize to Mrs. Pennyworth for missing dinner, she might let you have a slice of her apple pie," he added as a bribe. "I'll meet you upstairs, okay?"
"Okay. And thanks, Paul."
He looked at her. She was a gentle, loving mother to Debi, as protective of her as a she-bear with her cubs. Warrior's spirit, scholar's mind, lilac's beauty, hummingbird's delicacy…. As he got on the elevator, he muttered to himself, "It's a damned shame you're white."