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Chapter 3


Approaching the coast of Yemen
Saturday June 5, 2004
2245 Zulu

 

“Hammer, come right to 030.” Skates said over the headset.

“Roger, 030.” Harm replied as he eased the stick over to bring the Tomcat right a few degrees.

“Sky fox, this is Eagle-eye. We have you on our screens. Going to tac-2.” Came over the radio as Harm and Skates moved closer to the shoreline. Harm hated the call sign and he was sure it was Webb’s doing.

Changing the radio frequency Skates replied “Eagle-eye, this is Sky fox. We will be feet dry in two mikes. See you soon.”

“Roger Sky fox. Looking forward to it.”

Harm remained silent as he concentrated on staying low to the waves and bringing the Tomcat safely to the coast of Yemen. “Henry control, this is Sky fox. We are going feet dry.” Skates reported as Harm eased the Tomcat’s altitude up to make the coastal crossing.

“Roger Sky fox, good luck.” The Captain’s voice came back.

“See anything yet?” Harm asked as he deftly guided the Tomcat over the natural terrain.

“Nothing yet.” Skates answered. “There they are. Eagle-eye this is Sky fox. We have a visual. We’re taking up position now. You may begin your run.”

Harm glanced out the side of the canopy to watch the helicopter begin its approach to the small town where the extraction was to take place. He still didn’t know who or what was being extracted, but then again it wasn’t his place to question orders. He may want to, and when he got back he was going to beat Webb until he talked, but until then he had a job to do.

“Hammer, I have two bogies on radar. Five miles out….looks like they’re curious about something.”

“IFF?” Harm asked.

“Not one of ours, or anyone friendly.”

“Report it.”

“Yes sir. Henry control, this is Sky fox. We have two unknowns five miles out, requesting instructions.”

“Sky fox, Henry Control. You are weapons free, fire if fired upon. Keep Eagle-eye in the air.”

“I heard.” Harm said before Skates could repeat the message for him. With his thumb he disarmed his weapon safety and changed his weapon selector to arm his sidewinders. “Going hot.”

“What’s the altitude?” he asked.

“Angels five.”

“Angels five, roger. Eagle-eye, this is Sky fox. We’ve got some nosy neighbors and we’re going to go take a look.”

“Roger Sky fox. Good hunting; we’ll be back up in five mikes.” Came the reply.

Easing the throttle forward to pick up more speed Harm adjusted his course and altitude to intercept the two bogies Skates had picked up. If they were Yemeni he would turn around and make it look like he was heading back out to sea, if they were dissidents he would probably have to show them off with some muscle.

“Hammer…I’ve got some more intel on them. Looks like they’re MIGs...Foxbats would be my guess. They Yemeni don’t have any Foxbats.”

“Thanks Skates…keep an eye on them.”

“Intercept in just under a minute….I have a visual. They’re Foxbats all right.”

Adjusting the course slightly Harm made to split the two approaching aircraft in the middle of their formation. Suddenly the shrill klaxon sounded to indicate an attempted missile lock. “They’re trying to get lock…”

Flipping the switch for the ECM module in the plane’s nose Harm hoped the slim seconds the counter measures gained him would be enough. As the two planes got closer Harm saw the luminous flower that indicated the firing of the fighters cannons.

Henry Control this is Sky fox. We’ve been engaged, repeat we’ve been engaged. Tally-ho!” Harm said into his mic. “Fox 1 away.” He announced as he triggered the first missile. Moving his thumb slightly he switched his selector to arm his cannons. “Guns guns guns.” He called as he triggered the cannon to fire at the MIGs without waiting to see if his missile scored a hit.

As he blasted past he heard Skates yell out “HELL YEAH! Scratch one bad guy.” Pulling a high g turn Harm zeroed back in on the remaining MIG in time to see him execute a turn of his own and head back the way he came.

Henry Control this is Sky fox. One bogie down…no chute. The other one decided not to dance.” Skates reported on the radio.

“Roger Sky fox, good work. Return to your station.”

Without acknowledging the order Harm continued his turn at lower g’s and moved back towards the town where the extraction was taking place. “Eagle-eye, this is Sky fox, what’s your situation?” Skates asked.

“We are heading back out…the package is secure. Thanks for the cover.”

“Anytime. Nice working with you.” Harm said as he guided the Tomcat back out to sea and started the climb to 10,000 feet. “Henry Control this is Sky fox. We are en route home coming up on Angels 10.”

“Roger Sky fox, see you when you get home.”

“Going safe.” Harm announced as he moved the master arm switch to safe.

“Nice flying boss.” Skates said from the backseat.

“I live to serve.” Harm said flippantly with a smile. There were few things he liked more than flying, especially in the thick…even if it was only for a few minutes. Sometimes he wondered what the World War II fighter pilots experienced in their protracted dogfights. Sadly with the supersonic fighter jets of today a long and drawn out dogfight was rare.

Two hours later Harm was releasing the canopy and pulling off his helmet while he stifled a yawn. Already his plane captain was making his way towards Harm’s Tomcat with a stencil, a can of paint and a big smile. Even though it wasn’t exactly SOP to record the kills on the sides of the planes anymore, Harm felt it gave them a link to the past and had authorized the plane captains of his squadron to keep count.

Climbing down from his jet Harm and Skates started making their way to the ready room only to be stopped by a man wearing an unmarked flight suit. “Commander, Lieutenant. This way please.” He said in a loud yell to be heard over all of the machinery.

“And you are?” Harm asked wearily.

“I am Mr. Webb’s associate. He is unavoidably detained and asked me to discuss your mission with you. The Captain has graciously allowed me to use one of the JAG offices.”

“How ironic.” Harm said with a shake of his head. Might as well get this over with.

A few minutes later the man was securing the hatch and turning with a slight smile to face Harm and his RIO. “From all reports the mission went off like clockwork. I congratulate you Commander.”

“Thanks…are you sure Webb planned this? His plans don’t usually go this well.”

“I assure you, Mr. Webb was in control of the mission from the very beginning. Now about the resistance you encountered?”

“Two MIG Foxbats. We splashed one and the other bugged out. Didn’t see anything else worth mentioning.” Harm reported with a yawn.

“Well the package has been secured, and you have both returned safely. A rousing success if I might say so Commander. Allow me to express my congratulations once more.”

“So what was the ‘package’?” Skates asked.

“Sorry Lieutenant, need to know.”

“And we don’t need to know.” Harm said bitterly. He hated being used if he didn’t know why. It was like kissing a woman he couldn’t see…interesting and exotic for the first little while and then it just got plain annoying.

“That will be all Commander. If you would be kind enough to submit a written report to the Captain by 0900 tomorrow I think that will be sufficient. Mr. Webb did however ask me to remind you of your next set of orders.” The man said looking at Harm’s flight suit pocket meaningfully.

“Yeah yeah. Tell Webb I want to speak to him when you see him again.”

“I will pass on the message Commander. Good evening.” The man said as he stood up and opened the hatch.

“What’s all this about sir? More of the deep dark secret stuff Commander Keeter did?”

“Something like that Skates….something like that. Why don’t you hit the rack? I’ll do up the report for the Captain and then do the same thing. I have a feeling we’re going to have a busy day tomorrow.”

“If you say so sir. I’ll see you in the morning CAG.” Skates said as she came to attention and then turned crisply to leave the small office.

Making his way to his office Harm was glad it was going to be a short report; nothing to comment about on the way out or the way back and only the single action to report. Reaching into his pocket Harm pulled out the envelope Webb had given him before he left so suddenly. Breaking the seal as he closed the office hatch behind him Harm pulled out the single sheet of paper in the envelope. Glancing over the orders Harm shook his head. What did Webb think? That Harm and his pilots were his personal playthings? Looking at the orders once more he grunted. Nothing in them except a simple patrol, albeit one that was not one of the regular patrol routes. Turning on his computer Harm pulled up the program that contained the maps of the operational theatre. Keying in the path the patrol plan Webb had given him would take Harm was not surprised to see that it passed over some heavily contested parts of Iraq. Well, at least when the CIA was involved he would get some action, at least in one sense of the word.

Turning off the program he was running Harm fired up his email client. Might as well send a few emails off while he was here. After the program checked his mailbox Harm saw that he had four new messages. Two from Mattie, one from Bud and Harriet and one from Mac. Ignoring the one from Bud and Harriet for the moment, Harm read over Mattie’s emails quickly smiling as he read about her days and frowning as she told him about a date she had. Writing a quick reply to Mattie Harm asked about more details about the date. Closing down Mattie’s emails Harm opened Mac’s to find a single line written.

            Stay safe out there. –Mac

Pausing for a minute Harm replied to her email with a devious grin. He responded to her single line with a single line of his own.

            Got a paper cut today. Want to kiss it better? –Harm

Chuckling to himself Harm fired up his word processor to type up his after action report to the Captain.


Somewhere in the Persian Gulf
Sunday June 6, 2004
0830 Zulu


“Morning CAG.” Captain Ingles said as Harm came to attention beside him.

Harm extended the single page of his after action report. “Here’s the report on last night’s mission sir.”

“Captain, the helo is requesting permission to land.”

“Granted. So CAG, I’ve been informed I need to be able to spare you for a few hours again tomorrow night.”

“Aye sir…looks to be a simple patrol…but you know what they say about looks sir.”

“CAG?” the Captain asked in some confusion.

“They can be deceiving sir. Who’s on the helo?”

“Our new weapons officer, and a surprise for you. Seems Tyler won’t be returning to us.” Ingles said referring to the Patrick Henry’s chief weapons officer who had taken seriously ill and had to be medivac-ed a week before to a nearby hospital ship. Looking down at the clipboard he held the Captain continued “A Lieutenant Allison Porter. She’s supposed to be very good.”

Nodding silently Harm watched the helo approach and touchdown on the white square marked on the deck for the purpose. Two individuals disembarked from the helo and made their way across the deck. He couldn’t be sure but there was something about the one of the left that looked familiar. He racked his brain but he couldn’t remember ever having come in contact with a Lieutenant Porter before. ‘Probably nothing’ he thought.
“What’s the schedule like today CAG?”

“Pretty routine sir. Two plane elements running combat air patrols for two-hour hops. Most of the squad is going to be in the air at one time or another today.”

“Think you’ll have time to promote one of your officers CAG?” the Captain asked with a poorly concealed smile.

“Who’s that sir?”

“Skates. Her promotion came through and I’m sure she’d like you to be the one to do it. She seems to have developed the idea you walk on water Harm.” Captain Ingles said with a laugh.

Harm smiled at the Captain and gave him a nod. “I’d be honored sir.” Harm liked the Captain, he had since he first met him a few years before. The Captain always seemed to be a fair man and a good commander. In a lot of respects he reminded Harm of the Admiral.

Just then the hatchway opened and the two new arrivals stepped onto the deck. Harm continued to watch out of the port side window as two of his birds went up for their next patrol and two more came in.

“Lieutenant Porter reporting for duty sir.” A shockingly familiar voice said from behind him. Harm turned quickly to face the new arrivals and saw not some unfamiliar Lieutenant but someone very familiar Meg Austin. Seeing Harm looking at her Meg shook her head slightly indicating he shouldn’t say anything.

“Welcome aboard Porter. I’ve heard good things about you.” The Captain said.

“Lieutenant Commander Riley reporting for duty sir.” The tall man beside Meg said.

Harm recognized the name as a new pilot that was being attached to the Patrick Henry.

“This one is yours CAG. I’ll let you get him settled in.”

“Aye, aye Captain.” Harm said as he extended a hand towards Riley. “Welcome to the Henry Commander. I’m Commander Rabb.”

“Thank you CAG.”

“You drive Hawkeyes don’t you?” Harm asked referring to the ELINT planes. The Patrick Henry had three of the small planes that provided a bird’s eye view of any aerial combat zone.

“That’s right sir.”

“Odd you’d come in part way through the cruise.” Harm said casually.

“Not my place to question things CAG, I just go where they tell me.”

“Don’t we all Riley. Don’t we all. If you’ll come with me I’ll get you settled into your berth and show you around. Captain, Lieutenant.”

“CAG.” The Captain said with a nod indicating Harm could carry on.

“Sir.” Meg said.

Four hours later Harm was standing on the fantail watching the two Tomcats in the air on approach. He heard the hatch open up behind him and Meg walked up to the rail beside him.

“Harm.” She said quietly.

“Meg. Or is it Allison?”

“While we’re here it’s Allison Harm.”

“Want to tell me what’s going on?”

“I wish I could Harm, I really do.”

“Then why don’t you?” Harm asked, finally turning to look at Meg.

“When it's all over Harm, I promise I’ll tell you everything I can. For now, can you please promise me you’ll think of me as Lieutenant Porter?”

Shaking his head he turned back to watch the second Tomcat touchdown barely catching the number 2 wire. “Shaky, too damn shaky.” He muttered to himself. “You shouldn’t have to ask…Allison.”

“I know that Harm, but thank you anyway.” She said as she came to attention and saluted him. “I shouldn’t stay out here any longer, people can see us and I have no reason to be consorting with the CAG.”

“Just say you came out to watch the drivers park their rides.” Harm said with a smile. “Hey….”

“Yes sir?” Meg said still standing at attention.

“Did you ever end up dating another pilot?” Harm asked with an innocent smile.


“Damn you Harmon Rabb…you’re not supposed to be making me laugh.” Meg said with a barely suppressed smile. “And no…I haven’t dated a pilot since that one Italian.”

“Too bad. Dismissed Lieutenant.”

“Aye, aye sir” Meg said and then she turned and ducked back into the bowels of the carrier.

‘Now what was this all about?’ Harm thought as he turned back in time to watch the next patrol take off.

 

Persian Gulf aboard the USS Patrick Henry
Monday June 6, 2004
1400 Zulu

 

Harm had been on the bridge all day with the Captain directing flight operations. It was funny he thought. For years all he had wanted was to be the CAG on a carrier helping young pilots do their best to defend his country. Nine years ago that had changed in one fateful night when it was taken away from him in a blinding ball of fire. During the months it had taken him to heal on his grandmother's farm he came to admire the officers of the JAG corps who helped him during the inquiry. His dreams no longer attainable he focused on becoming the best lawyer he could be, only to find that his dream wasn't dead, only forgotten. Once again he had thought he wanted to be CAG…but now that he was here he couldn't stop thinking about JAG and the life he had there, the people he considered almost family.

"CAG…are you listening to me?" the Captain's voice cut through his thoughts.

"Sorry Skipper. What was that?"

"Why don't you head down to the mess deck CAG…you've been going all day and you haven't had anything to eat. I'm sure the cook could whip up something for even your deviant food preferences."

Smiling Harm shook his head. "It’s all right sir…there's another patrol due back in a few minutes…I'd rather stay to check them out."

"Harm…that's all you've been doing the whole time you've been here; you've done things with the Raptors even Keeter couldn't do. They're getting better everyday…but you're still going to be the proud papa pushing them harder and harder. But you need to give even yourself a break son. Don't make me make it an order."

Bringing himself to attention Harm nodded crisply. "Aye, aye sir. I'll be back in 30 minutes."

"No you won't CAG. You've got a mission tonight in case you've forgotten. Grab some rack time…you'll need it."

"Aye, aye sir." Harm said reluctantly.

Once he made his way to the officer's mess though he had to admit the Captain had a point. He was hungry, he just hadn't realized it. Looking at the selection of food available though he had to shake his head. Too many people on this ship ate dead meat. Not enough good, healthy choices. Grabbing a big bowl of salad and a cup of coffee Harm made his way to a corner table where he could be alone with his thoughts.
Picking at his salad distractedly he did more thinking than eating and without his noticing it the watch changed and a group of young officers came into the mess to grab a late lunch. Many of them greeted him with simple nods or a polite "CAG". It took him a moment to realize that Meg was among those just coming off watch for a bite to eat.
"Lieutenant Porter." He said when she was walking back from getting her plate. "A moment please."

"CAG" Meg said warily. "Something I can do for you?"

"I was wanting to talk to you about the phalanx system…it hasn't been tested in awhile. Please, join me?" Harm asked, trying to come up for a reason for him to be talking to the Chief Weapons Officer.

"Certainly sir." Meg said, well aware that a simple Lieutenant would not turn down an invitation by a Commander. Sitting down Meg made certain to sit across the table from him to maintain the illusion of a nervous junior officer dining with a man like the CAG.

"You know sir, you've developed quite a reputation on board." Meg said quietly.

Shrugging Harm looked around the room before he turned back to Meg. "Lieutenant." He said stressing the rank. "I've been thinking about something to work out the phalanx crews and I could use your input before I took my proposal to the Captain."

"Certainly CAG…perhaps I could come by your office later?" Meg asked warily.

"I'm heading there now. Please join me when you're finished your meal." Harm said as he downed the last bit of coffee and stood up. He nodded politely to the steward who came to clear away his dishes and then nodded to Meg. "Lieutenant. I will see you later."

"Certainly CAG." Meg said nervously.

Harm only had to wait ten minutes before someone was knocking on his hatch. "Enter." He called.

Meg ducked in and then closed the hatch behind her before coming to attention before Harm's desk. "You wished to see me sir?"

"Grab a seat Lieutenant." Harm said as he stood and walked over to listen at the hatch for a moment. "Can't hear much through these damn things…which is good. We need to talk."

Moving back around his desk he sat down looked thoughtfully at Meg for a minute. "Are you here on an undercover JAG investigation? No wait…don't answer that…you couldn't tell me even if you were. Damn it…why didn't the Admiral tell me there was something going on here? I could have helped." Harm asked in frustration. "I thought he trusted me again."

"The Admiral has nothing to do with this sir." Meg said quietly. "And I'm sure he does trust you."

"What do you mean the Admiral has nothing to do with this? You're a JAG officer…why wouldn't the Admiral have anything to do with your being here?"

"I'd tell you if I could sir." Meg said, her anguish showing through. "Really I would."

"Then why don't you? You know you can trust me Meg."

"Trust isn't the issue here Harm, it’s orders. I'm sorry, but I can't tell you anything. Not even the Skipper knows I'm anything other than a Weapons officer."

Narrowing his eyes Harm looked at Meg with a thought he just didn't like. Something about this felt all too familiar, and he didn't feel comfortable with it. However it wouldn't do to air his suspicions…she would most like just deny them. "Not even the skipper knows? What's going on here Meg. No…don't answer that…you'll just tell me you can't tell me again. Meg, you've changed in more ways than one since we last saw each other. There was a time you would have told me anything because you trusted me."

"I seem to remember one time in particular when you failed to let me in on all the details of one of our missions once…sir." Meg said with heat.

"That was a long time ago Meg…a long time ago. Fine…if you don't want to tell me anything I won't push it. I know it won't do me any good…you'll just be even more bullheaded about it. Now if you'll excuse me I need to rack out for a couple hours before my next mission."

Jumping out of her chair Meg came to attention and then turned to open the hatch. Before she could open it however Harm interrupted her. "Oh and Meg?"

"Yes sir." She said as she turned around.

"I meant what I said about the phalanx crews needing to be worked out. I'd hate to come back one day and find out my deck had been blown away because one of your crews were asleep. Come up with a plan to exercise them and submit it to the Captain by 1600 today."

"Aye sir." Meg said with a frown.

"That will be all. Dismissed Lieutenant."

"Aye, aye sir." Meg said and then she ducked to exit Harm's office.

With a sigh he decided to check his email to see how Mattie's date had gone. Firing up his client he waited until his messages were downloaded from the server. Nothing from Mattie, one more from Bud and Harriet, probably more pictures of AJ, and one from Mac. Smiling he double clicked his mouse on the message from Mac. When it was opened it revealed another short email.

            In your dreams Flyboy. Seriously Harm, I worry about you; we all do, even the Admiral. Stay safe and come home in one piece. –Mac

At one time he would have written back saying he was home…but he wasn't sure anymore. Things just didn't feel like he'd thought they would. Deciding he wanted to think about things before writing a response he closed Mac's email and shut his computer down. Thinking about it Harm decided it would probably be best to follow the Skipper's 'advice' and get some rack time before he had to be up to do the evening briefing.

 

USS Patrick Henry
1730 Zulu

 

Walking into the briefing room Harm stopped when the call "Attention on Deck!" rang out.

"At ease people. This one's going to be by the book…we're keeping up with the two plane elements, two hours patrol schedule. Tuna…you and Reaper are going up in 30 minutes; Echo and Tomahawk you go up two hours after Tuna and Reaper. Just because we haven't seen a lot of action don't let your instincts go soft, keep your eyes open and watch each other's sixes. My gut tells me something's going to happen soon. Skates!" Harm called out with a frown.

"CAG?" his RIO answered from her seat two rows back.

"Front and center."

"Aye, aye sir." Skates answered and then jumped out of her seat to come to attention in front of Harm at the front of the briefing room. Everyone else in the room was watching the CAG and Skates and didn't notice the Captain standing in the doorway watching as well.

"You're out of uniform Skates." Harm said shaking his head sadly. "What am I going to do with you?"

Mutely Skates looked up at Harm with a question in her eyes. She knew there was nothing wrong with her uniform the look said.

"Attention to Orders! From this time forward I do hereby appoint Elizabeth Hawkes to the rank of Lieutenant Commander in the United States Navy with all rights and privileges with such rank. Raise your right hand and repeat after me Skates." Harm said with a smile as he reached into his pocket to pull out the small box containing the new rank insignia for Skates.

After swearing her in and pinning the new insignia to her flight suit Harm waited until the other pilots and RIOs had congratulated Skates on her promotion. "Now, we'll have to figure out the wet down arrangements at our next liberty. For now we have missions to fly and ships to keep safe. Skates…stay behind. The rest of you, dismissed."

As the rest of the flight crews filed out of the briefing room Harm heard more than a few shocked "Skipper" greetings. After they had all left the Captain entered the briefing room. "Attention on Deck!" Harm called out and he and Skates came to attention.

"That's enough of that CAG. Congratulations Skates…well deserved." Captain Ingles said as he shook his newest Lieutenant Commander's hand. "It’s been a long time coming, and I'm glad Hammer was the one to give it to you."

"It means a lot to me coming from him Skipper…I mean…no offense sir." Skates said blushing.

"None taken Skates…I know how much you look up to the CAG. Now…has he filled you in on your op tonight?"

"Not yet sir. I was just about to." Harm answered before Skates could.

"Carry on then. And Hammer…be careful out there tonight. There's a foul wind blowing over the deck son, and it’s making me feel like a young midshipman on my first cruise." The Captain said before turning and leaving the ready room.

"An op tonight sir?" Skates asked with a raised eyebrow. "Another one of those hush-hush missions?"

"Hush Commander." Harm said with a wink. Walking over to the map wall he pointed out the route their patrol would take. "Our mission is to fly a high altitude combat air patrol along this route. We have no word on what we can expect in the way of resistance. Weather doesn't look the best, but we should beat anything coming our way back."

"But that takes us into contested airspace CAG. What are we looking for?"

"I don't know Skates, and that makes my hair itch. There's something about this mission that just doesn't feel right."

"You'll get us back Hammer." Skates said with a quiet confidence in her voice.

"I hope so Skates…I hope so. Let’s suit up and go see what the friendly skies have to offer us tonight."

"Aye, aye sir." Skates said and then she turned and preceded her commanding officer out of the ready room. Harm couldn't help but notice there was an extra spring to her step he hadn't seen the day before. It was always good to see deserving officers get promoted; sometimes it made it all worthwhile. Thinking of deserving officers and promotions led him to think about Bud and his accident. It was such a shame that Bud's injury had cut his career short; there was no justice in him having a terminal rank of Lieutenant when Harm knew he had it in him to go all the way…Bud had the makings of a great Judge Advocate General when the time finally came for the Admiral to step down, and now the Navy would never allow him to realize his potential. Once, what seemed like ages ago, Harm knew people thought the same way about him, but he'd done things since then that just wouldn't look good in the service jacket of a JAG candidate. No review committee in DC would approve him for the big chair now. Suddenly Harm thought about how amusing Commander Allison Krennick would have found that. He hadn't thought of her in years. Shaking his head he followed Skates out on the flight deck and out to his Tomcat. Time to get his mind where it belonged; on the mission. Like he told his pilots, just because it was quiet was no excuse for going soft.

"Ready sir?" Skates asked as he came up beside her.

Giving her a grin and a thumbs up Harm replied with his accustomed easy confidence "I was born ready Skates."

Grinning Skates mounted the ladder and pulled herself into the backseat. Harm followed her up on his own ladder and jumped into the front seat. Pulling on his helmet he toggled the cockpit release so that it would close on the hydraulics. As soon as it was secure he and Skates went quickly through the preflight check list. Once they were done he gave the thumbs up to the plane captain. He could feel the deck vibrate slightly through his Tomcat as Tuna and Reaper were thrown into the air off the short deck by the hydraulic catapults. Soon the plane captain was giving him the signal to wind up his engines before the cat threw them into the darkening sky. Easing the throttle forward Harm felt the whole plane begin to vibrate as the powerful turbines spooled up past ground idle.

"Once more into the deep blue yonder Skates." Harm said with a wink in the mirror.

"Anytime sir."

Looking over at his plane captain Harm gave him a quick salute and then the thumbs up to indicate everything was looking good and he and Skates were ready. The plane captain returned the salute and then went down on one knee with his arm extended straight out to signify a launch. Suddenly Harm's Tomcat was rolling across the deck and was thrown into the air. Pulling back on the stick Harm opened the throttle a little more to give it some speed as he climbed into the air.

"Henry Control this is Poniard, we are airborne." Skates sent back on the radio. God, another idiotic call sign. 'Must be Webb for sure.' Harm thought.

"Roger Poniard. Switching control to Raven Sierra-6. Good hunting." The air controller said informing them that they were being handed over to one of the Hawkeyes that was orbiting the area.

"Poniard this is Raven Sierra-6, we've got you. Come right 045 to begin your patrol."

"Roger Raven Sierra-6, coming right to 045." Harm said as he made the requested adjustment in his course. That voice sounded vaguely familiar…he didn't really consort with the Hawkeye pilots a whole lot so he didn't know them as well as he knew his own pilots even thought he officially had command over them as well.

Keying his mic to the internal setting Harm asked "Skates…who was that?"

"Not sure sir…I think it might have been the NG Riley. Why?"

"Just curious…he sounded familiar is all. Now that you mention it, it did sound like Riley."

"Well…looks like we've got a long and boring run in front of us CAG." Skates said.

"Let’s hope so Skates…let’s hope so. My gut still tells me something's up…and the Skipper's foul wind is still blowing. How long until refuel?"

"An hour an a half."

"Right…I'm going to go a bit higher to conserve fuel." Harm said as he pulled back on the stick a bit.

"Good idea CAG. Coming up on Angels 25." Skates called out when they'd reached 25,000 feet.

"Sit back and enjoy the ride Skates. Call out if anything pops up." Harm said as he settled in for the boredom associated with long uneventful flights.

A little over an hour later the radio crackled before Riley's voice came on. "Poniard this is Raven Sierra-6. You guys looking for a rest stop yet?"

"That's affirmative Sierra-6. We're going to set down and ask for directions soon if we don't get some juice soon." Skates replied.

"Roger that. You should see your next fuel station on your radar any minute now."

Harm sat quietly scanning the darkened sky while he waited for Skates to let him know she had the refueling plane on her scope. He didn't have to wait long.

"Roger Sierra-6 we have them on our scope. Hammer bring us right 010 degrees."

"Got it Skates." Harm said as he adjusted the stick slightly to bring them to the new course. Easing the throttle back he flipped the switch to extend the refueling rod and activate the system used to line up with the basket.

"Poniard this is Slammer we've got you on approach. You guys thirsty?"

"That we are Slammer, that we are. Please drop the basket." Harm said with a chuckle. Tanker drivers always thought they were funny.

"Basket is deployed and waiting. Your speed and line looks good."

"Roger Slammer…wait one." Harm said as he guided his Tomcat right up behind and below the large flying fire hazard. Easing the stick and throttle to make his tiny adjustments Harm felt a slight bump as the rod extending from his Tomcat nestled into the basket.

"We have positive contact Slammer. We're ready for a drink."

"We've got all you need Poniard. Starting the pumps now."

Five minutes later the Tomcat had topped up the tanks and was ready to continue on mission. Keying his mic Harm said "We've full up Slammer, thanks for the drink." And then he hit the switch that retracted his in-flight fueling rod. As he watched the basket was withdrawn into the underbelly of the tanker plane which then banked right to move out of Harm's way.

"We jump to the pump for you boys. Happy trails." The voice of the communications officer of the tanker said with a laugh.

"Thanks boys…catch you on the flip side." Harm said as he brought his Tomcat back on course for their patrol route. There was another refueling scheduled on the outbound leg in another hour for a top up and then straight home.

"Hammer, our orders call for us to come left 030 now and drop to Angels 10."

"You got it Skates." Harm said making the necessary adjustments.

"We are coming through Angels 10….now." Skates called as their altitude dropped.

"Poniard this is Raven Sierra-6 over." Riley's voice said in the night.

"Sierra-6 this is Poniard….go ahead." Skates said.

"We've got some bad news…and some worse news. Which do you want first?"

"Give us the bad news."

"We just picked up 3 bogies entering the umbrella. Looks like MIGs, but we don't have a positive for you yet."

"And the worse news?"

"We've got some kind of mechanical problem up here…we've lost 50% power to our number 2 engine."

"Sierra-6 this is Poniard actual. Can you determine the problem?" Harm asked with concern.

"Negative Poniard."

Thinking for a minute Harm silently let off a few choice phrases. "Sierra-6 head on home. Get them to send up the standby."

"Please repeat Poniard." Riley asked for confirmation.

"I repeat, return to the Henry. Have them launch the standby immediately and they'll be on station in 30 mikes."

"Poniard, are you aware that if we turn around you will be out of the umbrella for twenty mikes before Sierra-4 takes position?"

"You heard me Sierra-6, return to base."

"Roger Poniard; returning to base. Good luck."

"CAG, are you sure? We won't have long range coverage for twenty minutes."

"Don't you trust me Skates?"

"All the way CAG, but we won't be able to see what's out there until they're on top of us."

"Sierra-6, what is the location and bearing of the three contacts?"

"Poniard…bogies were twenty miles out…you will intercept on your current heading in six minutes. Be advised that you are exiting the umbrella….now."

"Understood Sierra-6. Take that bird home."

"Good luck CAG. Raven Sierra-6 out." Riley said before signing off.

"Sing out when you see them Skates." Harm said as he chewed on his lower lip.

Five minutes later Skates called out. "Hammer…we've got four bogies two miles out. MIGs…Floggers. Repeat, not three, four. They are moving to engage."

"Roger. Going weapons free." Harm said as the warning klaxon announced at least one of the bogies trying to get a lock. Flipping his master arm switch off Harm reached up and turned on his ECM suite.

Suddenly the warning tone became one long tone and Skates called out "They've got lock! I've got one…two…three missiles inbound!"

Not bothering to answer Harm pushed the stick forward to begin a steep dive. As his nose passed the incoming MIGs Harm pushed down on the trigger. "Guns guns guns!" he called out. Flashes along the canopy of first one and then two of the enemy MIGs announced direct hits.

"One…two bogies down CAG. Two to go."

Pulling out of the dive Harm watched as the missiles that were tracking his Tomcat flew off into the night narrowly missing them. Flipping his selector switch Harm armed his sidewinders and pulled up and into a turn bringing him up behind one of the MIGs. The seconds drew out as he waited for his own targeting system to indicate that he had a positive lock on the MIG. "We have tone sir!" Skates called out and Harm pushed down hard on the button to launch his missile. In just seconds the rear end of the MIG exploded into flames as the missile did its job. "Smoked him CAG!" Skates said calmly.

"Where's the other one? Did he bug out?" Harm asked, scanning the sky for the faint glint of moonlight off metal to tell him where the remaining MIG was.

"Looking…CAG he's above us…he on our six CAG!"

Suddenly the warning light and klaxon came on again for a missile lock. Looking over his shoulder and then the other shoulder Harm pulled the stick back and to the right to initiate a steep climbing turn. Leveling out suddenly, Harm pulled back sharply to begin a loop.

"He's still with us CAG. This guy's good."

"Not that good." Harm said through clenched teeth. He'd be damned if this rebel pilot got the best of him.

Pulling through the loop Harm glanced in his mirror. "Skates…where is he?"

"Still tight on our six CAG. Can't you lose this guy?"

"I'm trying Skates, I'm trying." Harm said just as the missile warning light went off. 'What the?' Harm thought just before he felt his Tomcat shudder with cannon hits. Warning klaxons and lights came on all over his control board.

"CAG we're hit bad!" Skates called. "Mayday Mayday, this is Poniard. We've been hit and we're going down!"

Pulling back on the stick Harm did his best to level his Tomcat, but the controls were sluggish and unresponsive. He could see the flames reflected on his wings and if he had to guess he would bet there was a hell of a lot of dark black smoke too. Swearing Harm reached up and clipped his visor down and looked in the mirror to see Skates doing the same. "Mask on Skates! Pulling the handle….now!"

"At least it’s dry land CAG!" Skates said as Harm pulled the ejection handle and blew the canopy.

The last thing Harm saw as his chute deployed was the sight of his Tomcat turning into one big fireball.

 

Somewhere in Iraq
Tuesday June 7, 2004
Unknown Time


Harm winced as Skates tied the bandage around his leg. He was still slightly embarrassed that he had to punch out, land without a scratch and then had the stupidity to fall down on a rock to get injured. It had taken him the better part of a couple hours to find Skates in the dark desert the night before, but he had and he'd led her to a secluded wadi he had found while looking for her. They had huddled together for warmth not wanting to chance a fire even when the temperature dropped below freezing.

Two hours ago the sun had come up and Harm had left Skates to scout out the area. It was during this little excursion of his that he had tripped and fallen on a hidden chunk of rock. Limping back to where they had camped he had had to endure Skates laughter as he explained what had happened.

"I saw some dust clouds off in that direction." Harm said pointing north. "We're going to have to go on the assumption that whoever it is they don't mean us well…as far as I can tell we're in contested territory."

Skates nodded silently and began to gather up the gear they had salvaged from their ejector seats. Harm checked the magazine in his .45 and slid it back home. Ensuring that the safety was still on Harm slid the handgun into his pocket and moved to help Skates pack up. Her limp was getting worse and he wasn't sure it was a simple sprain as she kept telling him. He knew she was tough, but the landing hadn't exactly been fun.

"Where we going CAG?" Skates asked when she had everything gathered up and ready to go.

"I say we move away from whoever's out there and follow the wadi that way." Harm said pointing away from the direction he'd scouted.

Skates just fell in beside him and started limping when he started limping. The two of them made quite the pair.

All through what Harm guessed was the morning the two of them made their way down the shallow wadi. As far as Harm could tell it would be a small stream during the wet season, if this blasted land ever had a wet season. As they sun rose higher Harm started to look for shelter for them to rest under during the heat of the afternoon. The best he could find was a slight indentation in the side of the wadi where the two of them could get a little shade. Tapping Skates on the shoulder he nodded towards the indentation and they both hunkered down for the afternoon.

"How much water do we have left?" Harm asked after drowsing for awhile. Skates handed him one of the two canteens that was about half full.

"The other one's still full, but if we don't find a source soon we're going to be mighty thirsty." Skates said wearily.

"We'll stick to one mouthful every half hour. I know it’s going to be rough Skates, but it should keep us alive." Harm said quietly. "Get some sleep Liz. I'll keep watch."

"I'll stay up with you CAG…I can't sleep just yet."

"Get some sleep Skates. We're both going to need all our strength to get out of this. That's an order Liz."

"Aye, aye sir." Skates said with a smile then she rolled over and closed her eyes.

Harm hated the fact that they had had to abandon their seats with the built in locator beacon, but anyone unfriendly out there would be looking to find those seats, and they did not want to be around when they came calling. He left signs for any friendlies that found the spot but they had to move on. They had water and food for two days at best, one .45, a med kit and their flight suits and helmets. Neither one of their radios had made it through the landing. Not much to build a house with, but then again he wasn't exactly looking to join the neighborhood.

While Skates slept Harm eased the left sleeve of his flight suit up to reveal a deep purple bruise that looked to be getting larger. He didn't think it was broken, but he couldn't be too sure. His hand still worked, and he could wiggle his fingers, but it was starting to hurt like hell. Reaching over Harm popped open the med kit and grabbed a couple painkiller pills which he popped dry. Leaning back Harm set the .45 on his lap and settled in to keep watch while his RIO slept.

Six hours later Skates was shaking him awake. "Almost night time CAG…sun's starting to go down. Thought you might want some food." She said as she held out an MRE pouch.

"Great…cold uncooked…lasagna." He said reading the side of the pouch. "One good thing about these things."

"Whatever it is CAG, I can't see it." Skates said with a grimace.

"Well…I can be pretty sure that whatever 'meat' is in these things isn't really meat." Harm said with a big smile.

Laughing Skates handed him one of the canteens so he could use his one mouthful to wash down the barely digestible meal.

"I'm gonna go take a look around…see if we'll be safe here for the night." Harm said after they had finished eating.

Skates nodded silently and watched him stand up and start to limp up the side of the wadi. "CAG?" she said when he got to the top.

Looking back down at his RIO Harm couldn't help but notice her little smile. "Yeah Skates?"

"Don't fall on anymore rocks."

Smiling Harm shook his head. "I'll try not to sailor. Keep the home fires burning. Back shortly."

Harm slowly moved his way among the sand and rock around their position looking for signs of habitation or activity of any kind. After what felt like hours he decided to turn back, he hadn't seen anything. Just as he was turning around he caught sight of a wink of light in the distance. Stopping he dropped flat and looked at the light for a few minutes. From the way it shifted and flickered he guessed it was firelight…and it looked to be a good many miles away. Probably not a threat, but he made a mental note to warn Skates and then keep a sharp eye out during the night.

Making his way carefully back to Skates Harm made sure to let her know he was coming by whispering her name as he got to the top of the wadi bed. When she responded he slid down right next to her.

"Looks to be pretty clear, but there's a fire or something a couple miles out. Keep a good eye out tonight when you're on watch…we don't want someone sneaking up on us."

Nodding Skates slid closer to Harm and it was then that he noticed she was shivering. "Skates…I'm going to put my arm around you so we can warm up. The temperature is starting to drop again." Harm said as he watched the fading light.

"Green light Commander…" Skates said with a smile. "But just for the arm. I'm still engaged you know."

"How is your fiancé taking you being at sea again?" Harm asked, remembering she'd given up a stateside posting to serve on the Henry again.

"He wasn't too happy about it…but he understood." Skates said quietly. After a few minutes of silence she went on. "CAG…can I ask you something?"

"Sure Skates."

"It’s personal sir." She warned.

Harm was pretty sure he knew where this was going after his question about her fiancé, but talking was better than sitting silently. "I think I know what you're going to ask Skates…but go ahead." He said wearily.

"It’s just sir…Lieutenant Colonel MacKenzie sir...whatever happened between you two? If it’s too personal sir you don't have to answer…but it just seemed to me when they brought us back from the drink she cared for you a lot." She said with another shiver.

Sighing Harm wiggled closer to Skates. "In a way I do mind you asking Skates…but it’s not like it’s classified information. Mac and I…well it’s been a rough little while between the two of us."

"What happened sir?"

"A lot. I…well Skates I went haring off after her on a mission when I was ordered not to. I thought she needed saving, and she did. There was even a moment…I thought we were finally going to be able to cut through all the bullshit between us." Harm said thoughtfully, remembering the conversation he and Mac had had in the jungles of South America, how close he had come to telling her how he truly felt. "But just like every other time we both backed off. I didn't say what I wanted to, we got out, she started to date Webb, and things have been…strained between us. We just can't seem to work things out Skates. I guess I've pretty much blown it with her."

Skates didn't say anything when he finished, she just sat beside him with her arm around him. After a couple more minutes Harm went on. "Thing is Skates…I'm tired of fighting with her…we just can't seem to stop. Every day it seems we have to go off into a fight in order to be able to go home at night. And things have become…even more complicated."

"How so sir?" Skates asked quietly.

"Liz…we're sitting in the desert freezing our asses off waiting for someone to find us. Do you think we can drop the 'sirs'? My name's Harm in case you forgot."

"All right sir. I mean Harm."

"After all we've been through Skates you think it would be easier for you. Anyway…complicated. Well…a week or so before I shipped out an old friend came to visit…Meg Austin. She used to be stationed at JAG HQ with me…she was my junior partner for about a year. We ended up getting pretty close during our year together…" Harm said.

"You didn't, did you Harm?" Skates asked in shock. She knew the CAG was a little unorthodoxed, but she couldn't picture him doing something to throw away his career.

"Not that kind of close Skates. Not that I didn't think about it…and joke about it with her. Things just…didn't go that far. I suppose having Commander Krennick trying to sleep with me probably had something to do with that."

"Excuse me?" Skates asked in shock again.

"She was the Admiral's aide…thought she had something to prove…she pretty much just viewed me as another conquest. Nothing ever happened." Harm assured Skates. "Anyway…Meg comes to visit just before I shipped out, and she pretty much comes out and tells me that she asked to be transferred all those years ago because she was afraid she was falling for me."

"And now she's back?"

"Not anymore…she's was just in DC for a TAD…she's not there anymore." Harm said elusively. It wasn't a lie after all. "Anyway…since Meg's been visiting Mac's been acting all weird…she even told me she doesn't like Meg."

"Sounds like she's jealous Harm."

"About what? Meg and I are just friends."

"Harm…you just told me the woman said she thought she was falling in love with you when you worked together. Now she suddenly shows up again and she confesses this to you? Sounds like Colonel MacKenzie has reason to be jealous."

"How do you mean? Mac's with Webb now…she's moved on past whatever we might have had in the past."

"Doesn't sound like it to me Hammer; sounds like she's got a case of the Hammer blues. What are you going to do?"

Sighing Harm shrugged his shoulders slightly. "I don't know Skates…that's the problem. I never know how to 'do' anything with Mac…no matter what I do she goes off on me. I always end up pushing her further away."

"Well sir…she called off a wedding for you…she gets jealous when another woman you were close to shows that she has feeling for you…you ever try telling her you love her?"

"I can't Skates…she's with Webb. And besides whenever we try to talk we end up fighting, I told you that."

"Just makes the making up that much more fun Hammer. You want my advice…you either got to tell her you love her or let her go for good."

"I have..she's with Webb." Harm said dejectedly.

"Doesn't sound like it Hammer….you keep saying that like you're trying to convince yourself of something."

Silently Harm looked out at the night sky, watching the now familiar patterns of stars slowly move in their eternal dance. "Get some sleep Skates. I'll keep first watch." Harm said bitterly. Maybe she had a point…maybe he hadn't let Mac go completely. Was he being fair to Mac by holding on, even a little bit? Could she be truly happy with Webb as long as he was around?

"Night sir. And if I were you sir, I'd do the talking and not the letting go. All I know sir is you've gone through a lot for each other, and it'd be a shame to waste that by walking away." Skates said and then she dropped her head to Harm's shoulder to try and get some sleep.

Looking back up at the stars Harm sat and thought some more. What right did he have to tell Mac he still loved her? And even if he could bring himself to let her go completely, what would he do? He couldn't let her go and still see her every day…he would go nuts; the last six months had proven that. So where would he go? Could he handle being a shipboard JAG? Or a base JAG at some foreign station? After working at HQ as senior lawyer? Maybe he could stay on board the Henry as a pilot…make his designator change permanent…again. Could he step down from being CAG? Keeter would be back in a couple months…and the job was his by rights. Harm was just a…substitute teacher. Maybe he would leave the service and set up a private practice somewhere…but then again why would he do that with two years left in his 20?

Reaching down Harm picked up a pebble and tossed it across the wadi. All this wasn't even addressing what he would do about Meg. And speaking of Meg, why was she on board the Henry. She had pretty much admitted that it wasn't a JAG op…if the Admiral didn't know it wasn't JAG. So who could it be? Harm paused in his thoughts as he thought this. There were only two other possibilities and he didn't like either one. Naval Intelligence or CIA. Swearing silently Harm looked for something else to throw. So why had she been at JAG? Was she actually advising someone at the Pentagon or was she simply setting up a cover. So what about her time with him? Could he trust anything she'd said? What had happened to the Meg he'd known?

Looking up again Harm was surprised to see a lightening of the sky to the east. It couldn't be morning already, could it? Skates had only gone to sleep a few minutes ago. Softly he began to shake Skates. "Skates…get up. Something's going on." He said softly.

"Harm? What is it?" Skates asked sleepily.

"Not sure…it’s getting light out though."

Yawning Skates slowly stood up. "You stayed up all night Harm?" she asked in shock.

Shaking his head Harm continued to watch the sky lighten until he had to admit that it was indeed morning and he'd been sitting there thinking all night.

"I guess I did…I was busy thinking on what you said Skates…guess I didn't realize how long I'd been at it."

"Well we can have breakfast I guess." Skates said leaning over to pull out their last two meal pouches. As she was straightening up to offer a choice to Harm he held his hand up.

"Hear that?" he asked quietly.

"Hear what? I don't…"

"Shhh. There…do you hear it now?" he asked quietly.

Skates stood there obviously straining to hear what Harm heard. After a couple minutes she nodded slowly. "Sounds like…engines. Vehicles?"

Harm nodded silently and motioned her to stay put. Pulling out the .45 once more Harm wormed his way up the side of the wadi until he could see over the edge. Swearing silently he slid back down to the bottom wincing as he put weight on his injured leg. "It’s vehicles all right. Trucks, jeeps, even a couple light armored vehicles by the looks of them. About a mile away…and they aren't coming to take us home."

"Shit." Was all Skates said. Both of them made their way up the side of the wadi to where Harm had been laying and watched as the vehicles slowly got closer.

"Skates."

"Yes sir?"

"I'm sorry I got you into this again." Harm said with genuine regret. He always seemed to get this young woman into trouble when she flew with him.

"Well sir…I think this makes me senior member of the 'I punched out with Harm' club. And it’s not your fault sir. You sure do know how to show a girl a good time though…and you always manage to pick interesting venues."

Smiling Harm shaded his eyes against the rising sun and looked back at the approaching vehicles. After a couple more minutes he cocked his head to the side…he was starting to make out another sound…something rhythmic. Thump thump thump thump.

"An apache sir!" Skates said excitedly, pointing off to the left. "Three of them!" Sure enough a trio of the combat choppers were coming in low and fast towards the approaching convoy. At the same time all three started firing their gattling cannons into the cluster of vehicles. Two of the trucks and the jeep burst into flames immediately and then the helos banked in tight turns to make a second pass, this time firing their rockets into the armored vehicles.

"Makes a hell of a show, doesn't it Commander." A familiar voice said from behind them. Turning his head quickly Harm saw the familiar smiling face of Gunnery Sergeant Galindez.

"GUNNY! Damn am I glad to see you man."

"Me too sir." Gunny said with a barely detectable pause. Behind him were a number of marines wearing desert fatigues. "Captain, we've got our two wayward pilots."

Sliding down the side of the wadi Harm limped up to Gunny and slapped him on the shoulder. "Get a medic over here Gunny…the Lieutenant Commander twisted her ankle when we put down."

"Yes sir…and it looks like you can use one yourself sir if you don't mind me saying. Corporal, get up here and take a look at these two."

"Yes gunny." The medic said and rushed up to sit Skates down and started to give her an examination.

"Commander, this is Captain Waters, my CO." Gunny said as another man approached.

Nodding respectfully the Marine Captain shook Harm's hand when it was offered.
"Damn glad to see you Captain."

"Thank you sir, although you may wish to reserve that judgment."

"Captain?"

"In a minute sir, I want to have you checked out by Corporal Anders first. We've been looking for you since you didn't return to the Henry."

"Well we're glad you found us Captain."

"One moment sir." The captain said when he saw his radioman coming up to him. Taking the handset he listened for a moment to whoever was on the other end. "Roger Sand hawk, we have the package. Thanks for the cover." Handing the handset back to his radioman Captain Waters motioned for Harm to follow him.

Moving a short distance away from his men and Skates Captain Waters looked at Harm with regret in his eyes. "Commander…sir…"

"What is it Waters? Spit it out man."

"Damn it sir, this isn't right."

"What is it Waters?" Harm asked tersely. After a day and a half in the desert he had no patience left.

"Sir, the Iraqis didn't just chance across you here…they're looking for you. Everyone is sir. They're saying on the news that you shot down an unarmed civilian aircraft…there's talk of a War Crimes trial sir."

"Come again Captain?"

"Like I said sir, it ain't right. Sir…my brother serves on the Seahawk…he's a machinist's mate. Damn it Commander, he was there when you played tag with that tomahawk. You saved his life sir, and the life of everyone else on that boat. You're the real deal Commander…a hero. And now they want me to take you and the Lieutenant Commander into custody and return you to the Patrick Henry for some kind of investigation."

Harm stood there in shock as what the Captain had said sunk in. There was no unarmed civilian aircraft, he was sure of it. Arrested? An investigation?

"Damn it Commander, they should be giving you another medal, not hanging you out to dry." Captain Waters ploughed on unaware of Harm's reeling shock.

Shaking his head Harm held up a hand. "You're supposed to take us into custody Captain?"

"Yes sir…like I said sir, taking you into custody is the crime here."

"Captain…that's not for you or I to decide." Harm said looking at the younger man who was so earnestly trying to tell Harm he did not want to do his duty. Sighing Harm lowered his arm. "Captain…you've been given an order you must obey. Son, you do what you've got to do, and I'll do what I've got to. The truth will come out son…there was no civilian aircraft, and they're going to have a hell of a time proving otherwise. Do your duty Captain."

"Commander Rabb, it is my duty to inform you that you are under arrest for the suspected commission of war crimes. Please surrender your sidearm and come with me." Captain Waters said in a deep sigh.

 

USS Patrick Henry
Wednesday June 8, 2004
1502 Zulu

 

From where he was sitting next to the door of the helo Harm could see the Master at Arms standing just outside the hatch that led into the tower. The Marines had taken Skates and him back to their camp and got them some food and water and then patched them up the best they could before they were whisked away in a helo from the Henry. And now they were coming back home, to face whatever the fates had in store for them. Harm felt the helo touch down on the pitching deck and then the crew chief slid the door open. "Sir, Ma'am. The Master at Arms will escort you to the bridge."

Nodding Harm jumped down to the deck and then helped Skates down. Ducking their heads they both limped towards the Master at Arms. "Commander, Lieutenant Commander, if you'll please follow me the Captain would like to see you on the bridge."

Once more Harm just nodded and then followed the large sailor into the bowels of the ship. Minutes later they were standing at attention in front of the Captain.

"Damn it Commander, what could you have been thinking? No don't answer that…I don't really want to know. An unarmed aircraft, Commander? Do you have any idea what kind of shit-storm we're going to be in now? I've already spoken with JAG, I let them know as soon as you were recovered. The Admiral assures me he is going to have a team here ASAP to do the investigation. Until then you are both confined to quarters. You are to speak to no one until the team from JAG arrives. Is that understood?"

"Yes sir." Harm and Skates said at the same time. Harm knew there was no point in protesting his innocence to the Captain at this point. His best course of action was to wait for whoever came from JAG and make his case then.

"Master at Arms…escort the Commander and Lieutenant Commander to their quarters."

"Aye, aye sir." The burly Master at Arms answered. As he led Harm and Skates off the deck Harm caught sight of Meg looking at him sadly from her duty station.

For the next two days Harm only saw the outside of his quarters when he needed to use the head. His meals were brought to him in his quarters, and he didn't even speak to the guards beyond letting them know when he needed to take care of business. He was lying in his rack reading the Art of War when he heard the low buzz of conversation outside his hatch. Probably just the guards being changed he figured. He didn't even notice the hatch being undogged until it started to swing open. Immediately it was followed by a familiar head of stylishly short chestnut brown hair. Closing his eyes Harm took a deep breath. This was not going to go well, he could already tell. Why the hell did the Admiral send Mac to do the investigation?

Mac didn't say a word as she entered his quarters, she didn't speak as she closed and dogged the hatch. She was silent as she placed her briefcase on his small table and started to pull out the files she would need.

"Commander." She said finally when she had everything arranged on the table. Closing his eyes once more Harm felt his heart skip a beat at how hollow her voice sounded.

"Mac." He said quietly as he got up from his rack. "I suppose I should have known the Admiral would have sent you or Sturgis."

"Sturgis had just returned from the Thomas Lyons…he wasn't available." Mac said quietly. "Would you like to give me your statement first?"

Sitting down at the table Harm reached out to take her hand only to see her snatch it away. "Please keep to the task at hand Commander." She said with a frown.

"The 'task at hand' Mac? Fine. You'd like my statement? Fine. Last week Webb came to me with some new missions…" Harm stopped speaking as he noticed the look Mac was giving him. "What?"

"Fuck you Harmon Rabb." Mac said savagely and then she stood up and banged on the hatch. When the guards had undogged it she left, leaving her briefcase and papers.

Half an hour later she returned and Harm hadn't moved from where he was when she left. "I apologize for my outburst Commander. If you would like Lieutenant Commander Roberts will take your statement." Mac said starting to put her files and pads back in her briefcase.

"No I don't want Bud to….wait. Lieutenant Commander Roberts?"

Nodding slightly Mac smiled just the barest smile. "The Admiral wrote a letter to the LC review board outlining everything Bud had done. It was amazing…he was accepted for promotion with a unanimous vote."

Harm couldn't help but smile at the news. "Good for Bud, but I still don't want him to take the statement, I want you to take it Mac."

"I'm not sure I should Harm…"

"Why not?"

"Clay's dead." She said simply.

Harm rocked back in shock. Webb dead? "How…when? Are you sure? I mean he's…" Harm thought back to the time that Webb had fakes his own death.

"I thought of that Harm…not this time." Mac said sadly as she sat down opposite of Harm. This time when he reached for hand she didn't pull it away.

"How did you find out?"

"I squeezed it out of his aide." Mac said and then she took a deep shuddering breath. "Damn it Harm…why didn't you tell me he was here? You knew I thought he was in Germany."

"Mac...you know I couldn't. It was need to know." Harm said gently.

"Now you're starting to sound like him." Mac said softly.

"Mac…you know if I could have told you I would have." Harm said and then stopped, suddenly made aware of how similar his words were to Meg's when she avoided his questions.

Standing up suddenly Mac snatched her hand back and started to pace. It wasn't long before Harm noticed her shoulders shaking as she sobbed quietly. "Why the hell is this place so small?" she asked viciously, banging her hand against the bulkhead.

Standing up Harm walked over to her and grabbed her hand to stop her from hitting the steel bulkhead again. Holding her shoulders Harm gently turned her to face him, looking down into her glistening brown eyes. God, he could get lost in those eyes so easily.

"Hey." He said softly. "You're going to hurt the bulkhead."

Mac snorted as she tried not to laugh and cry at the same time. Suddenly she threw her arms around him and squeezed him hard. Wrapping his arms around her Harm felt her shoulders start to shake again as her sobbing renewed. Slowly he moved a hand up to stroke her hair softly. "Hey there…it’s ok Sarah." He whispered softly. "It'll be ok." After what seemed like hours she lifted her tear-stained face to lookup at him.

"My heart stopped when the Admiral told me you'd gone down again Harm; I thought I was going die. I knew something was going to happen to you…I could feel it." She said softly.

Not knowing what to say Harm held his silence for once. Slowly Mac took her arms from around him. She took a step back to break his embrace of her and then before he could say anything she brought her right hand across his face in a full-armed slap.

"DAMN IT HARM! When are you going to stop doing this to me? I can't take it anymore. I…just can't take it anymore. You're not Superman you know? One of these times you're not going to come back."

She struggled against him for a minute when he tried to pull her back into his embrace. "I'm sorry Sarah…I'm so sorry I scared you again." He whispered when she finally gave in and let him hold her. Without thinking he placed a soft kiss on top of her head as he continued to whisper how sorry he was.

No matter how many times he took her in his arms to comfort her he would never get over how it felt to hold her against him. How good her hair smelled, how soft it was, how her skin smelled. He would hold her for hours if he could; unfortunately after ten minutes she slowly pushed herself back out of his embrace.

"Harm…I need to get your statement. I need to know what happened." Mac said as she sat down again. She pulled a tape recorder out of her briefcase and turned it on. "Wednesday June 9, 2004. 1456 Zulu. The following is the sworn statement of Commander Harmon Rabb, Jr., United States Navy. Please state your current duty posting."

"Commander of the Air Group aboard the USS Patrick Henry, deployed to the Persian Gulf." Harm said. Sitting down across from her Harm nodded once. Now was the time to make his case. "I'll tell you everything Mac…CIA be damned. Yes, it was a CIA mission. My CIA contact has had me flying missions for the last three weeks." Harm said, careful not to stir up her pain by mentioning Webb's name. "Six days ago he gave me another mission, and a set of orders for my next mission after that one. He said he had to see to something else and would be there when I returned to debrief me. That mission was to provide air cover for an extraction mission…when I got back he wasn't there but another agent was. He reminded me of the next mission and when I read my orders I saw they were for a combat air patrol over contested territory. The mission was slated for June 6, 2004. We took off just after 1800. An hour and a half into the mission we linked up with our refueling plane. Shortly after that the Hawkeye radioed that they had contact with three unknowns. They also reported mechanical problems and I ordered them to turn back and have the standby launched to provide the radar cover. A couple minutes later we were outside the radar coverage and we engaged the unknowns. There were four of them not three, and Mac I swear to you they were all fighters…Floggers. They fired first, three of them getting missiles off the rails, and at that time I returned fire with the cannon, taking out two of them in the first pass." Harm said and then paused as he thought back to the dogfight. "The next one was a bit trickier but I came up behind him and smoked him with a sidewinder. I'd lost the fourth one by this time and Skates was searching for him. He was tight on our six and nothing I did could shake him. At the last minute though, he switched from missile to guns. I don't know where he hit or what he hit, but everything went crazy after he hit us…Skates called in the mayday and I punched us out."

Harm waited while Mac made notes about everything he'd said. "How long were you out of radar coverage?"

"We left the umbrella about four minutes before we engaged. I'd guess…ten to fifteen minutes between leaving the umbrella until we went down."

"And once you'd punched out?"

"I tracked Skates' chute as long as I could but I'd been knocked around pretty hard. Once I was down I did my best to find Skates…she was about a half mile from where I came down. We then holed up in a wadi I'd found while looking for her. The next morning we moved away from what we thought were enemy forces and took shelter during the afternoon. We remained in the same spot throughout the night and the next morning we saw enemy forces advancing on our position. Before they could reach us however three Apaches struck the column destroying most of the vehicles. At the same time a Marine patrol led by Captain Winters located us. It was then that I was informed of what was being said and the Captain took us into custody." Harm said leaving out the fact that the Captain had not wanted to carry out his order. There was no way he was going to damage the young man's career.

"Why didn't you stay with your ejector seats? Surely the beacons were functioning."

"As far as I know they were…however everyone in the area, friendly and unfriendly saw the lightshow we put on. I didn't want to wait around for an unwelcoming committee. I decided it was best to make sure that Skates and I were safe."

"When you refer to Skates you are referring to…." Mac said and then waited for him to provide the name.

"Lieutenant Commander Elizabeth Hawkes…my RIO."

"Is there anything else you would like to add at this time Commander?" Mac asked.

"Not at this time Lieutenant Colonel."

"Thank you for your cooperation." Mac said and then shut off the tape recorder. It was then that he noticed how much her hand was shaking. Reaching out he took her hand into his once more and gave it a gentle squeeze, followed by a smile.

"It’s ok Mac." He said softly.

"It is this time, but Harm, what if the Marines hadn't found you, or the Apaches hadn't been there?"

"But they did, and they were. There's no point in dwelling on what ifs Mac." Harm said.

Putting everything in her briefcase Mac latched it shut and then stood up. "I'll be back later Harm…Bud and I will have more questions I'm sure."

Nodding Harm watched her walk slowly out of his quarters.

Two hours later Harm looked up from where he was reclining on his rack to see a familiar figure step through the hatch with the barest hint of a limp.

"Bud! Congratulations on your promotion." Harm said as he jumped out of his rack to shake Bud's hand.

"Thank you sir…I'm really touched that the Admiral went to such lengths to get me a promotion when he's retiring." Bud said with a sad smile.

"Well that's the Admiral for…say that again Bud?" Harm said in shock.

"Colonel MacKenzie didn't tell you sir? The Admiral has announced his retirement…I'm sorry sir…I'm sure this isn't the way you wanted to hear about it. Probably why the Colonel didn't tell you when you spoke with her earlier."

"Not your fault Bud…when did he make the decision?" Harm said as he sat down heavily on the edge of his rack. He knew it wasn't rational, but some part of him always expected the Admiral to be in the big office at JAG. Admittedly he'd served twice as long as his predecessor, but still. He was the Admiral, AJ Chegwidden, SEAL, JAG…father to all his wayward children at JAG. "Wow." Harm said softly.

"We're still saying that sir. He announced it last week when he asked Coates to book the Academy dining hall. I think he was trying to find some way for you to be there sir…I know it'd mean a lot to him. But with you flying around the clock and…well…your punching out sir, and now this…" Bud shrugged helplessly.

"Sit down Bud, sit down." Harm said shaking his head one more time and gesturing to one of the two chairs at his little table.

"Thank you sir."

"What can I do for you Lieutenant Commander?" Harm asked putting on a false smile. He needed time to process the Admiral's retirement announcement…but he knew Bud had a duty and hadn't just come for a social call. "I take it you're not just here to flaunt your new bar?"

"Unfortunately not sir. Commander, the Colonel and I are investigating the claims that you downed an unarmed civilian aircraft as you know. I spent a good part of the last hour interviewing the flight crews and well sir, something doesn't seem right to me. I wanted to ask you about the Hawkeye…" Bud looked down at a file on the table in front of him. "Raven Sierra-6. You said in your statement to the Colonel that they reported mechanical problems and you ordered them back. Is that correct sir?"

"It is Bud."

"See sir, the thing is…I spoke to the plane captain in charge of the Hawkeye and he said there was nothing wrong with it when they landed and that the pilot only said that you'd ordered them to return to base."

"Well that's not the way it happened Bud. I'm telling you, they said they'd lost power on their number 2 engine and couldn't complete the mission…instead of risking their safety I ordered them back."

"That's not what the pilot…a Lieutenant Commander…Riley said sir."

"I don't give a damn what Riley said Bud, I know what happened! Check the damn comm. logs, it'll be there." Harm said vehemently starting to pace his small quarters. Why the hell would Riley lie? What the hell did he have to gain?

"We're going to do that next sir." Bud said calmly. He'd seen his friend storming and blustering before, and he'd seen him in a deadly rage.

Stopping in his pacing Harm's mind was working overtime. He needed to approach this like it was someone else who was being investigated and he was doing the investigating…"Bud…have you looked into Riley's service jacket?" he asked suddenly.

Coughing slightly Bud nodded slowly. "I've requested it sir."

"Good good. Next I want you to…"

Coughing softly again Bud stood up and put a hand on Harm's shoulder. "Commander? Harm, I know this is hard on you sir, but let us do our investigation. Please sir, if you're going to do this you will ruin any chance we have at a fair hearing before the World Court."

"What? Oh…damn. I'm sorry Bud. I know you and Mac are going to do your best…I just hate sitting here and doing nothing. The walls are starting to close in Bud."

"Harm? You're not a lawyer right now sir; let us handle things." Bud said softly and then stopped when he saw the look in Harm's eyes. "I'm sorry sir, I shouldn't have said that."

"No, you're right Bud. I shall leave myself in the very capable hands of yourself and the lovely Lieutenant Colonel." Harm said as he sat down on his rack once more.

"Thank you sir. I'll be back with more questions after we've had a chance to review the logs." Bud said as he stood and replaced his files in his briefcase. When he got to the hatch he stopped and looked back at Harm sitting on his rack. "Harm?"

"Yeah Bud?"

"Sir…I know it’s not appropriate for me to say…but…I know you couldn't do something like this sir, it’s just not in you no matter how long they had you in their claws."

"Thank you Bud, that means a lot to me. You're going to need to keep your objectivity though if you're going to prove one way or the other. If it looks like I'm guilty Bud, you're going to need to say that." Harm said quietly. Looking up he saw the warring emotions in his friend's eyes.

"Harriet would kill me sir."

"Harriet would understand Bud. She would know that if I did do it that I would need to be brought to justice, just like she would understand if I didn't do it I should be exonerated."

"I know sir…it’s just that…well Harriet and I have something we want to tell you, and we don't want to do it in the visitor's room in Leavenworth."

"Well Bud, it's a good thing I have faith in you to find all the answers then. You and Mac…I know you'll find all the answers." Harm said with a sad little smile.

"We won't let you down sir." Bud said quietly and then he banged on the hatch to have it opened. Stepping through he looked back over his shoulder once to see his friend sitting on his rack with his head in his hands.

On his rack Harm just sat there as the hatch was closed behind Bud trying to ignore how much the closing hatch now sounded like a closing jail cell. Bud and Mac would find out everything…they would prove he was innocent. They had to.

 

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