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Chapter 4


USS Patrick Henry
Friday June 11, 2004
0900 Zulu


A knock at the hatch was followed by the Marine guard poking his head into Harm's quarters. "Commander, the Captain has ordered me to escort you to his wardroom."

Nodding Harm stood up from where he'd been reading another book. The worst thing about all this was that he was caged like an animal and running out of things to do to keep his mind off the investigation. Why the hell couldn't they just let him go to the fantail or vulture's row? Straightening his uniform he said "Lead on Corporal." before he put action to words and followed his guard.

On the way to the Captain's wardroom Harm and his escort met up with Skates and her escort. Knowing they shouldn't talk to each other Harm just gave her a wink and a smile. When she returned them Harm noticed a slight lessening of the tension in her shoulders. Silently the four of them continued on until they reached the hatch to the Captain's wardroom. Harm's escort knocked once and then opened the hatch and bellowed "Enter!"

"Sir, reporting as ordered with Commander Rabb and Lieutenant Commander Hawkes."

"Thank you Corporal, you and Edwards may wait outside."

"Aye, aye sir. Commander, Lieutenant Commander?"

Harm nodded and then led Skates into the Captain's wardroom. Mac and Bud were both standing behind the Captain who looked like he was ready to bite something.

"Commander, Lieutenant Commander. Come in. Close the hatch behind you."

"Aye, aye sir." Harm said respectfully.

"Harm, Beth…the Lieutenant Colonel and Lieutenant Commander have completed their preliminary investigations of the incident of June 6th of this year. Are you prepared to hear their findings?"

"We are sir." Harm said firmly.

"Lieutenant Colonel." The Captain said waving Mac forward.

"Aye sir. Commander Rabb, Lieutenant Commander Hawkes..." Mac began "while a lot of questions remain unanswered and we have yet to track down a couple of people we wish to question, it is going to be our recommendation that the Captain authorize a continuation of this investigation, looking into the feasibility of an Article 32 hearing."

Harm couldn't believe what he'd just heard. They were going to continue the investigation on the grounds of it perhaps warranting a court martial. 'What would this do to Skates' career?' he thought. Even if they were found innocent, just the very fact that they were brought up for charges would have a chilling effect on her career. Taking a deep breath he forced himself to stand up straighter and stare straight ahead, not looking at the Captain, Mac or Bud, but rather at a point on the wall behind the skipper.

"Commander, I know you realize the severity of this, but I am required to ask. Do you understand what is being said here?"

"I do sir." Harm said woodenly.

"Lieutenant Commander? Are you also aware of the severity of what has been said here?"

"I'm confused sir." Skates admitted quietly with an emotion that Harm had never heard from her before…fear.

"Captain, if I may?" Mac asked.

Nodding the Captain let her continue. "Skates, we don't have enough evidence either way to prove your innocence or guilt. We're going to have to continue our investigation, but we're going to have to do it on the grounds of determining if we should convene a court martial or not."

"What does this mean Ma'am?"

"It could mean nothing Skates…we might find enough to prove you were innocent. Or we might find enough to prove you are guilty. We don't know yet." Mac answered.

"Will that be all skipper?" Harm asked harshly. His shock was starting to heat to a slow boil and everyone could see the anger coming into his eyes.

"Harm, Beth, I'm sorry about this." Captain Ingles said softly. "Dismissed."

"Aye, aye sir." Harm and Skates said at the same time and they both turned to exit the wardroom.

Outside the two Marine guards were waiting to escort them back to their quarters.

"It'll be all right Skates." Harm said quietly to reassure her.

"Will it sir?" Skates asked as she looked at him with worried eyes.

"We didn't do anything wrong Skates. They'll have to see that."

"Thank you sir. You're right of course…I'm just still shaken up is all."

"Keep your chin up sailor." Harm said with a little smile.

As the Marine guard escorted Harm down the passageway to return him to his quarters Harm heard the sound of hurrying feet behind him. Looking over his shoulder he saw Mac making her way towards them quickly.

"Corporal, I need to speak to the Commander for a moment."

"Yes ma'am." The guard replied instinctively and then took a few steps away to give them a modicum of privacy.

"Harm…I'm so sorry." Mac said quietly.

"You're just doing your duty Colonel." Harm said harshly.

"Harm, please…don't be like that with me. You know I had to recommend continuing the investigation. We just couldn't find anything to prove your innocence conclusively."

"Innocent until proven guilty, Mac. You might recognize the phrase."

"Harm…I know in my heart you couldn't have done this, I do. But I can't very well go to the World Court and say 'Excuse me your honors, the accused could not have done it because he's a good and gentle man, one of the best I've known'. You're being tried in the court of public opinion Harm, and you know as well as I do that with them 'innocent until proven guilty' means nothing." Mac said in a voice thick with emotion.

"Corporal." Harm called out. "I'm ready to return to my cell."

"Harm…" Mac began softly, reaching out to put a hand on his arm.

"Now Corporal." Harm said firmly, cutting off whatever Mac was going to say.

"Aye, aye sir. This way please." The Corporal said, obviously not wanting to get between the Marine and the pilot.

With his gaze fixed straight ahead as he and the guard moved down the passageway Harm did not have a chance to see the look in Mac's eyes as she stood there watching him walk away, nor did he see the tears in her eyes.

It wasn't for another hour until there was a knock at his hatch followed by Bud stepping in. "Commander." Bud said coldly.

'Great' Harm thought. 'Even Bud's starting to believe this bullshit.' "Come on in Bud, pull up a chair. I'm afraid I don't have a deck of cards…but maybe we can play some charades."

"I'm afraid not Commander. I've just come from a call with the Admiral and it seems that some people in Washington are very nervous about this whole thing coming so closely on the heels of the prisoner abuse allegations. SecNav has opted to cut our investigation short and proceed directly to an Article 32 hearing."

Harm stepped back, stunned at what Bud had just said. For a minute he just stared at Bud like he had grown a second head and then started laughing.

"Forgive me Commander…I'm not sure I see what is so funny."

"Did you hear that Bud? Right there! Everyone should have heard it! The flush heard 'round the world! That was the sound of my career going down the drain, Lieutenant Commander. After every stunt I've pulled, every chance I took, now every person I've pissed off is getting their day to laugh." Harm said as he laughed uncontrollably.

"Very well Commander. I must also inform you that I will be staying on board to defend you in these proceedings."

"Mac's prosecuting?" Harm asked as he wiped the moisture his laughing had caused to well up in his eyes. "She'll love that."

"Commander…if I may speak freely for a moment?"

"Go ahead Bud…speak away."

"What the hell did you say to the Colonel, sir?"

"What do you mean what did I say? I just told her that I thought she'd be a little more sensitive to my situation…well maybe not in those words…but you understand."

"What I understand…sir is that this is tearing the Colonel up inside, having to be the one to do this to you. And you can't even see it. I can't believe the Admiral is making her prosecute you sir." Bud said heatedly.

Harm was a little aback at his normally easygoing friend's heat. "Easy there Bud. Mac will do as she's told…she's a good little Marine." He said with a hint of bitterness.

"With all due respect sir, I may have to defend you, but I don't have to listen to you speak about Colonel MacKenzie like this. And I think you know you shouldn't be either."

"Bud, we're not going to turn this into a 'Mac and Harm are meant to be together forever' thing are we? I thought that was Harriet's gig."

"Apparently not, sir. Now if you'll excuse me, sir, I need to begin preparations for your defense." Bud said coldly.

As the hatch closed behind Bud Harm began to laugh again and then suddenly he whirled and slammed his fist into the bulkhead. What the hell was he doing? Pushing Mac and Bud away? Somewhere in the back of his mind a little voice told him that was exactly what he was doing; doing it because he didn't want them to be associated with him when he was hung out to dry after all. And Harm was starting to get a feeling he was going to be hung out nice and wet…there was more going on here than just his dogfight turned into a fairy story of evil fighter pilots and innocent slaughtered civilians.

All through the next morning Harm waited for Bud to come to discuss the case with him, and he continued waiting into the afternoon. What the hell was Bud doing? He's a better lawyer than that…he knew he should be here getting all the information he could about the mission. It wasn't until his evening meal was dropped off that Harm realized how late it was. "Corporal, have you seen my lawyer?" he asked the guard dropping off his dinner.

"No sir." was the only reply he got.

Finishing his linguini Harm pushed the plate back and stared at the wall thoughtfully. He knew his reaction to the announcements he had received the previous day was unfair to Bud and Mac…especially to Mac. Deep down he knew how much this must be hurting her, how much it was hurting Bud. But damn it, somehow he just felt he didn't have any more lives left…the cat had run out and this time fate had caught up to him. And he didn't want Mac and Bud or anyone else he cared about caught in the blast when fate came down on him. After staring at the wall for awhile longer Harm decided Bud wasn't coming to discuss the case and turned in.

The next morning Harm was waiting again. He'd finished breakfast half an hour ago, taken a quick trip to the head, and still there was no sign of Bud. Maybe his lawyer had even given up on him…wouldn't be the first time his friends and family had thought the worst of him. That little voice in the back of his mind spoke up again to tell him he was being completely unfair to those who cared about him, that they'd been following orders. It didn't make the confinement, either then or now, any easier however. Harm looked up at the sound of his hatch being undogged and almost fell out of his chair getting up.

"Bud! It’s about damn time! Where the hell have you…Admiral, sir!" Harm said when he saw the tall form of the JAG step through the hatch.

Slamming the hatch behind him Admiral Chegwidden looked like he could rip Harm's head off, and Harm knew he probably could. "Sit your ass down Commander, and shut up. You will listen to what I say and you will not speak. Is that understood?" the Admiral bellowed.

Nodding mutely Harm sank down to the seat he had just vacated.

"Now, I am tired and hungry because I just flew all the way out here from DC. Do you know why I took this moment to visit the picturesque Persian Gulf Commander? No of course you don't…you've been too busy wallowing in self-pity to look around you. I've decided to take this vacation because a damn fine officer tells me that his client is acting childish and stubborn. Which I suppose should not come as a surprise to me, should it Commander? Don't answer that, we both know the answer. You were wondering where Lieutenant Commander Roberts is?" the Admiral stormed.

Nodding Harm remained mute, well aware of the fact that the Admiral was in one of the worst tempers he, in his long tenure of provoking the Admiral's rage, had ever seen.

"Lieutenant Commander Roberts will no longer be heading your defense Commander. I will be."

"Sir?" Harm asked forgetting the order to keep his mouth shut.

"You heard me Commander! After speaking with Mr. Roberts two days ago I came to the decision you needed someone to take you in hand. Lieutenant Commander Roberts is a damn fine lawyer, but he idolizes you Commander, and he does not have the temperament to keep you in line. I do; do not doubt that for a second. The Lieutenant Commander will continue on as second chair, and has been doing a hell of a job convincing me that despite all the allegations to the contrary you are actually innocent of committing this colossal fuckup. Never mind the fact that no matter where you are, no matter what you do, no matter that you now wear a line officer's star with your shoulder boards, you are one of mine. And I will be damned if I let one of mine hang for something he didn't do. I'll be damned if I end my career that way."

The Admiral tossed his cover and briefcase onto Harm's rack and pulled out the second chair in the room so that he sat facing Harm, looking him in the eye. "Harm…tell me the truth son or it will bite you in the ass. Did you attack an unarmed civilian aircraft?"

"No sir." Harm said shaking his head. "There were four MIG Floggers…that's the truth Admiral."

"What about the Hawkeye, why did you order them back?"

"They reported problems sir…50% power loss in their number 2 engine. They couldn't complete the mission safely if this was the case sir, so I ordered them to return and call for the standby immediately."

"The standby never launched Harm."

"What?" Harm asked incredulously.

"The order was never relayed. Damn it Harm…why the hell are you working with the CIA again? No…don't answer that…you didn't really have a choice did you? So help me god if he wasn't dead I'd pull Webb's head off and piss in his skull for getting you into this." The Admiral said reverting to his manner of speech in the SEALs. "This has their stink all over it. The missing logs, the unexplainable order."

"Missing logs sir?" Harm asked.

"Some of the comm. logs are missing, and Bud says there's something funny about the rest from that night, but he can't put his finger on it…yet. We don't have radar logs from any of our planes because you ordered the Hawkeye back…the Iraqis have handed their recordings over, but I don't trust them and neither does Bud."

"What are we going to do sir?" Harm asked.

"I don't know Harm…not yet. Bud and I will work something out though."

"Thank you sir." Harm said with emotion.

Silently the Admiral sat there thinking about things for a few minutes. "Damn it…I can't think straight."

"Admiral…respectfully, go get some chow and rack time sir. You'll need it after your rush flight."

"You might be right Commander. I'll be back later this afternoon." The Admiral said standing up and stretching.

As the Admiral got the hatch Harm stood up. "Sir?"

"Commander?"

"Admiral…AJ…" Harm said taking a chance. "Could you tell Mac I'm sorry? I never should have lashed out at her that way."

"Not me son, you're going to have to tell her that yourself when we get this mess cleaned up."

"Yes sir." Harm said quietly.

As he was opening the hatch the Admiral stopped again and looked over at Harm with his brows knit in concentration. "Harm?"

"Yes sir?"

"Where exactly did your engagement take place?"

"About twenty miles inland sir…we were on a heading of 330 at the time of intercept. Why?"

"Just a thought I had Commander. Just a thought I had." The Admiral said thoughtfully as he turned and exited the quarters.

 

USS Patrick Henry
Monday June 14, 2004
0900 Zulu

 

All weekend the Admiral and Bud had been picking Harm's brain, forcing him to remember every instant of the mission from take off to getting picked up by the Marines. When they weren't picking Harm's brain, they were picking Skates', and when they weren't with either of their clients they were questioning everyone they could get their hands on; comm. officers, pilots, RIOs, the Air Boss and his Pri. Fly staff, the Captain, XO and anyone they could find on the flight deck. According to the Admiral there were just two people they hadn't been able to pin down…the CIA operative who debriefed Harm when Webb went off to die and Lieutenant Commander Riley. No one had seen the CIA spook since the day he debriefed Harm, and Riley had gone missing some time after Wednesday when he had spoken to Mac. Now the four of them were sitting at a table in the Captain's wardroom, Mac sat at another table looking so alone and the Captain sat behind yet a third table. The time for questions was over, the Article 32 hearing commanded by the SecNav was about to begin.

"Lieutenant Colonel MacKenzie, are you ready to begin?" The Captain asked Mac.

"I am skipper." Mac replied in a strong voice. Harm looked at her closely; not many would notice but Harm did…her voice had a brittle edge, and she looked tired.

"Admiral, are you and the Lieutenant Commander ready to begin?"

"We are skipper…though if I may, I would like to call a sidebar first." The Admiral said in his normal no-nonsense, all business tone.

"Quite unusual Admiral, but I will allow it. Would you all approach?"

Mac, the Admiral and Bud all stood up and walked over to stand beside the Captain's table.

"All right Admiral, what's this all about sir?" Captain Ingles asked.

Before the Admiral had a chance to answer the growler phone on the bulkhead rang. Picking it up the Captain answered "This is the skipper."

"Is that a fact?" he asked a moment later. "Take them up onto vulture's row, they should be right at home, and show them some take offs and landings…hell toss them off the fantail for all I care."

A moment later the Captain said harshly "No, that was not an order XO, you should know better than that. How the hell would I explain how a gaggle of reporters fell into my wake? Just keep them busy...we don't have time for them right now."

Slamming the phone down he turned back to the three lawyers waiting patiently. "I'm sorry about that Admiral…another COD load of reporters just came on board…it’s literally turning into a circus out there. You were about to tell us why you requested a sidebar."

"Skipper…we still have not been able to locate either the Hawkeye pilot Riley or the CIA agent who debriefed Commander Rabb."

"How the hell could a pilot disappear off an aircraft carrier in the middle of the ocean?"

"That is what we would like to find out Skipper. We request a continuance until that very question can be answered."

"I object skipper." Mac said quickly. "The onus is on the defense to produce their witnesses in a timely fashion. If they…lost one of them it can hardly be considered grounds for a continuance."

Rubbing the back of his head thoughtfully the skipper shook his head. "I'm going to have to disagree Colonel. The pilot in question is also someone who could be a key witness for your case. I am granting a 24-hour continuance to determine the whereabouts of Lieutenant Commander Riley. We will reconvene at 0900 tomorrow morning. Now get out of here…I'm not banging that damn gavel…I need to go play ringmaster to a circus of vultures. And explain to them why Commander Rabb isn't hanging from the nearest yardarm."

"Aye, aye sir." Bud and Mac said at the same time while the Admiral just nodded.

"Before you go skipper…I would like to speak with you and the Colonel for a moment." The Admiral said thoughtfully. "Bud…please have our clients returned to their quarters."

"Aye, aye sir." Bud said as he came to attention then turned and signaled the two Marine guards.

As the guards led Harm, Skates and Bud out of the wardroom Harm distinctly heard the Admiral say "Mac…I know it’s late for this question, but are you ok doing this? I know how close you and Harm are, but we can not chance any semblance of impropriety here."

The hatch was closed behind them and Harm did not hear Mac's answer, but he did see her looking at him before the hatch was made secure. The Marines then led both Harm and Skates back towards their quarters while Bud followed Harm to his.

"If you have a moment Commander?" Bud asked lost in thought.

"Bud…what am I going to be doing until tomorrow morning? I don't exactly have tickets to the opera." Harm said with an easy laugh.

Smiling self-consciously Bud nodded quickly. "I suppose not sir. I just have some questions that have been bugging me that you might be able to help me clear up."

"Come on in Bud…I don't have any beer, but I'm sure we can make do." Harm said as the guard opened the hatch to his quarters.

Sitting down at his table Harm motioned for Bud to take the other seat. "What's on your mind Bud?"

"Well sir…I've been thinking about the comm. recordings…about how we can't find some of them. Do you remember that case we were working on when that Marine Lieutenant switched the comm. tapes with blanks in order to protect his friend?"

Nodding slowly Harm wondered where Bud was going with all this…the tapes weren't just blank, they were missing.

"Well sir, I can't help but think something like that is going on here."

"But Bud, we don't have blank tapes…they're missing."

"I know sir, hear me out. Are the tapes that are missing really relevant to our investigation?"

Harm thought about what Bud and the Admiral had told him. "Not really…most of them are from earlier in the day…late afternoon."

"Exactly sir…before you began your mission. And the ones that do take place during your mission, well sir something about them hasn't sat right with me since the start of all this. It’s almost as if…" Bud stopped as his eyes lit up. Harm knew that look…that was the look Bud got when he made some unexplainable leap of logic that usually turned out to be correct. "Sir…what if those tapes were accurate?"

"How can that be Bud, I know what I said, and a lot of it is missing from those tapes."

"Exactly sir. It’s missing…but that doesn't mean those aren't the original tapes. Maybe they've simply been…altered. Bits and pieces taken out."

"How would they do that Bud?" Harm asked as his hatch opened up.

"How would they do what Commander?" the Admiral asked as he entered the room. "Keep your seats gentlemen."

"Sir, Bud was just exploring something that's been bothering him."

"Well Lieutenant Commander?' the Admiral asked as he sat down on the edge of Harm's rack.

"Sir, since we've got here something's been bothering me about those comm. tapes they've got from the night of the incident. I'm sorry sir it wasn't until this morning that I sorta figured out what it was…although we'll need to find a way to verify it."

"Spit it out son."

"Yes sir…Admiral…parts of those tapes…the conversations on them…they end a little too quickly sir…almost in mid-word, or mid-sentence."

"Are you sure Lieutenant Commander?" the Admiral asked leaning forward. He'd learned a long time ago that Bud came up with insights his other lawyers missed.

"Not completely sir, but it sure sounds like it to me, and I think I know a way we can prove it."

"What about the missing tapes Bud?" Harm prompted.

"Missing tapes Bud?"

"That's right sir…Admiral…the missing tapes. I've been thinking about those as well…most of them have nothing really to do with the investigation…they're from earlier in the day…the afternoon and early evening."

"Before Rabb's mission." The Admiral said quietly as what Bud was saying sank in.

"That's right sir."

"How could we miss that?" The Admiral said in wonder.

"Easily sir…it was a glaring hole…something someone knew we'd look at…we couldn't help it…it was just…well sir, there. It was easier to 'look at' the hole left behind by the missing tapes than it was to look at the tapes that were there. Really sir it reminds me of this Star Trek episode where…"

"Well done Lieutenant Commander." The Admiral said as he stood up, breaking Bud off in mid-analogy. Bud couldn't help but beam at the praise from his commanding officer. Beam and blush. "Lieutenant Commander, I want you to examine the tapes that are there…find me something that can prove they've been altered."

"What are you going to do sir?" Bud asked hesitantly.

"I'm going to find our two witnesses, more than ever I want to speak with those two. We can't hang our whole defense on the comm. tapes, but it's a start."

Harm sat there watching the Admiral and Bud go back and forth coming up with a new angle to their plan to prove his and Skates' innocence. For the first time in more than a few days Harm felt that things were almost right.

 

2350 Zulu

 

Harm came awake as the pounding at his hatch penetrated the fog of sleep.

"Commander?" Bud's voice asked after the banging stopped.

"Bud? What time is it?" Harm asked squinting at the figure outlined by the light in the passageway outside the hatch.

"2350 sir. We've found Riley?"

Instantly Harm was sitting up in his rack rubbing his eyes to help them adjust to the light. "Where was he?"

"In a storage locker in one of the machine shops sir."

"In a storage locker?" Harm asked not sure he heard Bud right.

"Yes sir. Commander, he's dead sir." Bud said quietly.

"Dead?" Harm was now fully awake.

"Yes sir. The Admiral has asked me to bring you to sickbay to make a positive identification."

Running his hand through his hair Harm stood up and stretched. "I don't think the Admiral had boxers and a t-shirt in mind Bud. Let me pull on a flight suit, I'll be with you in a minute."

"Yes sir." Bud said and then ducked back through the hatch.

Opening his locker Harm saw the picture he'd put up of him and Mac and stopped. It had been taken so many years ago, the first time he had taken her up in Sarah. They looked so young, so happy. What happened to that? Why couldn't they be like that again? God, what he would do to be able to turn the clock back…to go back to those early days when they were still getting to know each other…finding out what made each other tick. Before the fighting had gotten so bad.

Another knock at his hatch brought Harm's thoughts back to the present. "Be right there Bud!" he called and then he grabbed his flight suit out of his locker and quickly slipped it on. Running his hand through his hair again Harm decided one of the ship's ball caps wouldn't be out of order and grabbed his off the shelf in his locker. With a last look at the picture he closed the door of his locker and went out to meet Bud.

Five minutes later Harm, Bud and Harm's ever-present Marine guard entered sickbay finding the ship's doctor, the Admiral and Mac all standing over a body stretched out on a table. Harm couldn't help but notice that Mac must have been sleeping…her normally carefully arranged hair was still disheveled and a lone strand of her hair drifted off on its own across her face. He loved the way her chestnut hair framed her face …and right now his hand itched more than normal to reach up and touch her hair…to lightly caress her face…

"I'm sorry Admiral…what were you saying?" Harm asked when he realized everyone was looking at him.

"I realize it’s late Commander, but try not to go back to sleep until you hit your rack again. I asked if this was Lieutenant Commander Riley."

Looking down at the man lying on the table covered by a simple white sheet Harm nodded. "Yes sir…he came aboard at the same time as me…the new weapons officer."

"A little over a week ago?"

"About that sir."

"Good enough. Commander please provide Lieutenant Commander Roberts with digital photographs of this man." The Admiral said addressing the doctor. "Bud, I want you to email those photos to Sturgis. Have him check with NCIS to see if they can dig up anything on him…have him get in touch with that Gibbs…maybe he can find something out for us. Tell him it's a rush job."

"Aye, aye sir." Bud and the doctor both said.

"Commander Rabb…I don't think we require your services anymore. You may return to your quarters to continue the sleep that you so obviously crave."

"Aye, aye sir." Harm said as he came to attention. "Corporal…lead the way."

As he and the guard left sickbay Harm heard the Admiral ask the doctor "Commander, if you had to take a guess, how would you say this man died?"

 

USS Patrick Henry
Tuesday June 15, 2004
0830 Zulu

 

Harm was nervously pacing the deck in his quarters waiting for Bud or the Admiral to come get him. He'd been up since five and had had to make do with whatever he could dream up for exercise in his cramped quarters. Had it really been almost a week since he had been able to take a run on the deck? Making a conscious effort Harm stilled his feet and stood facing the hatch, determined to appear calm and ready when the Admiral or Bud showed up. Now if only he could keep his hands still…

Finally the hatch swung open to reveal a completely disheveled Bud Roberts, complete with weary grin. "Commander. Ready to go?"

"Let’s do it Bud." Harm said as he stepped to the hatch and nodded to his silent guard.

"How'd it go this morning?" Harm asked as they maneuvered the passageways and stairwells to get to the Captain's wardroom.

"Well sir, we're still waiting to hear back from Commander Turner…he said NCIS would let him know as soon as they found something. Commander…you should know sir. The Skipper has decided to allow a small number of the media to attend the proceedings; it seems the SecNav has an interest in our efforts being shown to the world. I'm sorry sir." Bug said quietly.

Looking at Bud from the corner of his eye Harm gave him a wink and a small smile. "Then I suggest you do something about your appearance Lieutenant Commander. It looks as if you slept in your uniform last night."

"Sleep would have been nice sir." Bud said wryly as he started to tug and smooth his uniform.

"And the hair Bud." Harm said as he watched Bud's efforts with amusement. He hadn't seen Bud this nervous in a long time.

Grinning sheepishly Bud ran his hand through his hair in a vain effort to finger comb it into submission. After the effort yielded some tangible results Bud and Harm continued on their way to the Captain's wardroom.

As they got closer to the wardroom they couldn't help but notice the press of people standing outside; no matter how crowded a carrier may seem, everyone is usually on the move. Rolling his eyes Bud turned to face Harm. "Ready for this sir? I think they've seen us…Corporal…make a hole in that rabble."

"Aye, aye sir." The Marine guard said. "MAKE A HOLE!"

As the Marine bellowed and moved his way forcibly towards the Captain's wardroom Harm couldn't help but grimace. Not even a Marine could stop a pack of reporters.

"COMMANDER! Did you do it?" a female voice with a British accent shouted.

"Why did you do it?" another voice asked with a Russian accent.

"Commander Rabb…is it true that you're responsible for the downing of an unarmed civilian aircraft?" a familiar voice asked.

Stopping Harm looked over to see a familiar face to go with the voice. "DePalma. Why am I not surprised to see you here." He said in exasperation.

Smiling his trademark grin Chuck DePalma moved closer. "Look Harm…give me an exclusive interview…tell your whole story. I'll make sure everyone sees it."

"No comment," Bud said forcefully as he nudged his client and tried to move him through the press of people. "Corporal…clear these people away from the hatch."

"Aye, aye sir. You heard the Lieutenant Commander! Make a hole….NOW!"

Finally Bud and Harm were able to squeeze through the hatch to enter the wardroom. The Captain, Mac and the Admiral were already seated and waiting.

"I'm sorry sirs, ma'am. We had to fight our way in here." Bud said as they heard the corporal continuing to demand the reporters clear the hatch.

"It's all right Lieutenant Commander." Captain Ingles said as the hatch opened again to reveal Skates and her escort. "Good…now that both of you are here…I'm sure you have seen our…guests. I'm going to be letting a limited number of them watch the proceedings. As much as it goes against my better judgment…Sergeant…" the Captain continued looking at Skates' escort. "go pick five of those vultures and get them in here."

"Aye, aye sir." The Marine Sergeant said. He then opened the hatch again and once more braved the press of reporters. Soon he was back with five very smug looking reporters…DePalma among them.

As the reporters were sitting down in the seats provided at the back of the room the Captain stood up. "Now you hear this clear people. If I hear one peep out of any of you I will toss you into my wake. You are not here to interrupt, but to observe. Is that clear?"

Looking at the faces of the other reporters Chuck DePalma nodded and said "Perfectly clear Captain."

"All right then." The Captain said gruffly as he sat back down. "Colonel, you may begin."

"Thank you Captain. The prosecution calls Colonel Farouk al'Fayez." Mac announced.

The hatch was opened to allow an elderly officer in the uniform of the new Iraqi military to enter. As he walked up to the chair set beside the Captain's table Mac stepped up to swear him in.

"Colonel, thank you for being here today." Mac started. "Are you aware of why you've been summoned?"

"I am Colonel MacKenzie. I am here to see those criminals face justice."

"Objection!" the Admiral roared as he shot out of his seat.

"Sustained. Colonel MacKenzie, please keep your witness on track."

"I'm sorry Captain." Mac apologized and then turned back to the Colonel. "Colonel al'Fayez, what is your role in the Iraqi military?"

"I command our new airbase at An Nasiriyah." Colonel al'Fayez said proudly.

"And were you on duty on June 6th of this year?"

"I was on duty until evening prayers." Colonel al'Fayez answered.

"Do you recognize this image Colonel?" Mac asked as she walked over to a computer that had been set up on a cart beside the Captain's table. Taking the mouse Mac clicked on a program icon on the desktop and a representation of a radar image appeared.

"May I?" Colonel al'Fayez asked. When the Captain nodded the Colonel pulled out a pair of glasses and slipped them on. Standing up he walked over to the computer and studied the image shown. "This is the radar image provided from our airbase for the evening of June 6th."

"And what is shown on this radar image?" Mac asked.

"Here…" the Colonel began pointing out a cluster of transponder signals "there is a group of aircraft…a Lear Jet and an escort of three fighters….MIGs by the signals. And…here we see another fighter jet…a…what do you Americans call them? Tomcat? A Tomcat enters from the southeast heading northwest."

Waiting while the radar image played out the Colonel continued. "Here the Tomcat meets up with the Lear Jet and its escort…two of the escorts are destroyed." The Colonel said as two of the transponder signals blinked off the screen. "And here the Lear Jet is destroyed. And here the Tomcat is destroyed."

Finished, the Colonel took his glasses off and returned to his seat.

 

1700 Zulu

 

"We will be in recess until 0900 tomorrow morning." The Captain said and then banged his gavel on the table.

"Well what do you think sir?" Bud whispered to the Admiral.

"Honestly it looks like the only evidence they have are the Iraqi radar images and the Hawkeye returning early. With the Hawkeye pilot dead, however, we can't haul him up and question him. Let's hope Turner has some news for us. Bud, go put in a call to him and see if he's heard back from NCIS."

"Aye sir." Bud said. Gathering up his files and papers Bud took a moment to give Harm and Skates a smile. "We'll get through this sir, ma'am."

"Thanks Bud." Harm said gratefully. He knew he was innocent…but they had to show it to the world. As Bud left Harm turned to look at the Admiral. "Mac did a hell of a job with the Hawkeye angle though sir."

"All she did was prove it wasn't damaged when it returned. Doesn't prove why it returned."

"Those tapes are pretty convincing sir." Skates said referring to the comm. tapes that Mac had played for the court.

"Roberts will be bringing those back up tomorrow Beth, don't worry." The Admiral said. "Let’s get you two back to your quarters."

As soon as they started to move through the hatch the reporters were on them. "Admiral! Why are you here sir?"

"I heard the Gulf was nice this time of year. Now get the hell out of my way!" the Admiral answered gruffly.

"Is it true you're retiring Admiral?" DePalma asked as the Admiral and his two clients started to move away from the hatch.

Pausing only long enough to glare at the reporter the Admiral elected to continue on his way, pulling his two clients in his wake.

"I'm sure I don't have to remind you both to stay away from them." The Admiral said with a glance over his shoulder at the reporters behind them. "They'll just twist anything you say to get headlines."

"Aye, aye sir." Both Harm and Skates said.

As they came to the stairwell that led down to the level Skates needed to take to get to the female quarters she turned to face the Admiral. "Admiral Chegwidden sir…I haven't thanked you yet sir…for doing this for the CAG."

"I'm doing it for both of you Lieutenant Commander, not just Rabb. You might want to hold off on the thanks however until we get this all cleared up."

"Aye, aye sir…I just wanted to say…"

"I understand Lieutenant Commander. And I'll be here for you to thank when we do get it all settled." The Admiral said with one of his rarely revealed moments of empathy.

"Aye, aye sir." Skates said coming to attention and saluting the Admiral.

Returning her salute the Admiral nodded to her escort and the Sergeant saluted and led Skates down the stairs.

"Well Commander, let's get you out of sight before the vultures come sniffing around for you." The Admiral said grumpily.

Nodding Harm followed the Admiral the rest of the way to his quarters. Saluting the Admiral Harm then opened the door and entered his quarters. When he turned from closing the hatch he stopped in shock at the sight he saw; standing in the corner of his quarters was Meg.

Holding her finger to her lips Meg motioned for Harm to come closer. Somewhat confused at finding her in his quarters Harm stepped closer to her and whispered "What are you doing here?"

"I know you're looking for information on Riley…but you're not going to find anything." Meg said quietly.

"How do you know that? And what do you mean we won't find anything, we're checking with NCIS."

"I know you are…and they won't find anything for you…there's no record for them to find. Riley is…or rather was…Naval Intelligence."

"And how would you know that?" Harm asked suspiciously. He had a feeling he wouldn't like the answer.

"Harm…Riley was my partner."

"Your partner." Harm said shaking his head. Somehow he'd just known something like this was going on with her.

"Yes Harm, my partner. Listen, I don't have a lot of time for this. Riley was NI, so am I. Now, my partner is dead, and it has something to do with you and your trial…and I'm guessing it has to do with the case that we were working on."

"Damn it Meg, I knew it was something like this."

"I couldn't tell you Harm…and I don't have time to go into it now. Listen to me Harm…the Admiral needs to focus on the tapes…Bud's right…they've been altered. Tell them the Iraqi radar images have been tampered with as well…if they look closely enough they'll see signs of this. Harm, I need to go...Bud or the Admiral might be here soon."

Harm stood there in shock, still trying to make sense of what Meg had said. He'd known it had to be something like this, but knowing it in his head and having to face it where two different things. "Why did you come to JAG?" Harm asked.

"Harm, it's a long story. I promise I'll tell you everything, but I really do have to go…I'm expected on duty soon." Meg said as she stepped past him to move toward the hatch.

Grabbing Meg's arm Harm turned her back to look at him. "Why'd you come back to JAG? Why did you come back into my life?"

"I'll tell you everything Harm…I promise. Can you do something to distract the guard?"

"Meg, why don't you go to the Admiral or Bud with this?" Harm asked.

"I've thought about that Harm, but what do you think would happen if I tried to speak to the Admiral? I'm supposed to be a young weapons officer…can you see a Lieutenant just walking up to an Admiral?"

"Meg, you can't honestly think the Admiral hasn't noticed you?"

"He's noticed me, but it would blow my cover to be seen with him; and Bud's being followed by too many of the reporters. Now, can you distract the guard or not?"

Shaking his head slowly Harm stepped up to the hatch and banged on it then opened it up slowly. Stepping out he looked at the Corporal. "Green…I need to use the head." He said and then when the corporal nodded started off towards the head with his guard in tow. As they turned a corner Harm caught sight of Meg sneaking out of his quarters. Well, at least he knew why she was here…sort of. But finding out the answer to that question left him with a bunch of new ones.

"You knew she was Intel sir?" Harm asked in shock when he brought the subject up with the Admiral an hour later.

"Of course I knew Commander…she was one of mine after all." The Admiral replied indignantly. "What else did she have to say?"

"Only that we…I mean you and Bud…are to focus on the tapes and the Iraqi radar images. They've been tampered with and she figures Bud can prove it."

"He's having the tapes examined right now." The Admiral said as he paced across Harm's quarters. "She was right…Sturgis called back to say NCIS came up blank on Riley. Nothing; not even a service jacket. So we stay away from the dead man and focus on the electronic information. Did she say how Bud was supposed to prove the tapes were altered?"

"No sir, but I'm sure…" Harm started but stopped when there was a banging at his hatch.

This was quickly followed by the very excited Lieutenant Commander Roberts.
"Admiral! I've got it!"

"Got what Lieutenant Commander?"

"Listen sir!" Bud said as he held up a small tape recorder. Pressing down on the play button he went on "This is how it sounds now…."

"We just picked up 3 bogies entering the umbrella." The recording started.

"…Sierra-6 head on home." Harm heard his voice say.

"Poniard, are you aware that if we turn around you will be out of the umbrella…" Riley's voice said.

"You heard me Sierra-6, return to base." Harm's voice said.

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

Bud pushed the stop button as the last words were spoken.

Harm was shaking his head. "That's not right sir…that's where I called for the standby Hawkeye, and they had identified the bogies as MIGs."

"Just wait Commander." Bud said with a smile. "I had them enhance the recording in places…like I said I just didn't get why some of the sentences sounded like they were stopping in mid sentence."

"And?" the Admiral asked impatiently.

"Well sir…with the digital tapes it’s not like you can open it up and cut a section out and splice it together like you can with analog tapes…they're more like computer discs. And like computer discs you can use software to move bits around, take out sections, basically anything you want. I can make the Commander sound like a chipmunk if I wanted."

"As amusing as that would be to some Commander Roberts, please get on with it."

"You see Admiral, even when you remove a section it’s not really gone…it’s like if you delete a computer file, it’s gone, but not gone. A ghost, if you will, remains of the file, and if you know how to you can retrieve the file from that ghost. I had one of the comm. techs help me in looking for…'ghosts' on the tapes of the Commander's radio transmissions."

"What did you find Bud?" both Harm and the Admiral demanded at the same time. Blushing slightly Harm nodded to the Admiral in apology. "Sorry sir."

"We found the missing pieces of the conversation sir. Or most of it anyway. Actually they didn't do a very good job of it…looks really quick and dirty. You see sirs, they didn't actually try to cut out the sections so much as they compressed them wherever they wanted sections removed."

"What does that mean Mr. Roberts?" the Admiral asked as he rolled his eyes.

"Well sir, when the tape gets to the part of the conversation that whoever did this wanted to hide it would just sort of play that part really, really, really fast and then move on to the next part…so fast that we couldn't hear it. We would just hear a click, or a pop or something like that…it’s what was bothering me the first time we heard the tapes."

"Good work Lieutenant Commander. Go back and have a copy made of the recording with the tampering removed."

"I've already had that done sir." Bud said holding up a digital cartridge. "I've also had a tape made so that we can play it in court tomorrow."

"Great work Bud!" Harm said as he grabbed his friend in a big hug.

"Don't get too excited Commander. All this proves is that you told them to bring the bird home because they said they were experiencing trouble and that you called for a standby Hawkeye. It's a start, but we need more. We need to prove that there wasn't a civilian aircraft."

"What about wreckage sir?"

"The Iraqis aren't releasing anything yet. And before you ask, we haven't been able to locate any of the wreckage from your Tomcat. My guess is the Iraqis got to it first."

"Well…that means no flight recorder."

"Exactly. Something I think the Iraqis would want to keep from us if they were simply taking advantage of a downed pilot to drum up international support against us. I'm working on something else to cover this angle though…I should find out how it looks shortly."

"I'm glad you're here Admiral, Bud. I don't know what Skates and I would do without you." Harm said with feeling.

"You'd fight Harm…it’s what you do. You fight against things you see as injustices." The Admiral said gruffly. "Anyway…I need to go see if I've got anything developing with the radar angle. Bud, I want you to look over the radar recordings we have from the Iraqis."

"Yes sir. What am I looking for?"

"Inconsistencies Bud…prove to me that those recordings are fake."

"Aye, aye sir." Bud said coming to attention and then turning to head out of Harm's quarters. Pausing at the hatch he looked back at Harm and smiled. "Don't worry sir, we'll prove you're innocent."

Before Harm could respond Bud was gone and the Admiral was standing at the hatch. Without a word the Admiral simply nodded and then left Harm alone with his thoughts.

 

USS Patrick Henry
Wednesday June 16, 2004
1312 Zulu

 

"That recording was made from the comm. tapes currently entered into evidence. As you can clearly hear they mention nothing about MIGs or having a standby Hawkeye launched." Bud was saying as he stood before the court holding his tape recorder.

"Lieutenant Commander…are you sure you wish to pursue this? It seems to me that you're doing the Colonel's job for her." Captain Ingles asked, clearly confused at Bud's logic.

"Ah, yes sir. If you would grant me a moment to explain…"

"Very well Lieutenant Commander."

"Captain, the defense has been puzzled about something regarding the comm. tapes, and we've determined that they were indeed tampered with."

"Objection! Facts not in evidence." Mac said as she stood up quickly.

"Lieutenant Commander?" the Captain asked with a raised eyebrow.

"Skipper…if you will permit me a few moments we will be able to prove that the tapes were indeed tampered with."

"You have two minutes Lieutenant Commander."

"Yes sir. We would like to enter this recording into evidence as defense article twelve." Bud said replacing the tape in his recorder with a new one. Pushing the play button Bud continued quickly "You will notice that there is more to this conversation than the previous recording."

Quietly the whole courtroom listened to Bud's second recording where Harm clearly ordered the launch of a standby Hawkeye as well as Sierra-6 identifying the bogies as MIGs.

"Captain, I object. There is no way that the defense can prove that this was the original recording." Mac said quickly.

"If you will permit me Captain?" Bud said just as quickly before the Captain responded to Mac's objection. At the Captain's slow nod Bud continued. "I think I can actually prove that, if you will permit a recess so you and the Colonel can come to the comm. room. There I would have access to the equipment necessary to prove that this is actually the original recording."

"If the Colonel has no further objections to this?" Captain Ingles asked.

"I do not, sir."

"Very well. We will recess for two hours and reconvene at 1600. Guards, please take the defendants to their quarters."

Almost two hours later Harm and Skates were both back in the courtroom with their guards, waiting for the Admiral, Captain, Mac and Bud to return. They didn't wait long and soon all four were back in the courtroom, Bud with a big smile.

"Please continue Lieutenant Commander, your new recordings will be allowed into evidence." The Captain said when everyone was brought back to order.

"Thank you Captain. We would like to call Major Stokes." Bud said and then took his seat again.

The Admiral stood up as an army major was escorted into the courtroom. Stepping up to the witness chair the Admiral instructed the Major to raise his right hand. "Do you swear the testimony you give will be the truth and nothing but the truth."

"I do." Major Stokes said.

"You may be seated Major." The Admiral said. "For the record please state your name and command."

"Major John Stokes, Second in Command, 3rd Division, Army Intelligence. We are currently deployed in Al Basrah."

"Major, what is your role in the military?"

"I coordinate the in-taking of cross-service intelligence material."

"Does the Army regularly share intelligence with the other branches of service deployed in Iraq?"

"Objection…relevance?" Mac asked quickly.

"Admiral?" the Captain asked.

"I am establishing that the Major is suited for giving testimony regarding some electronic intelligence pertinent to this case Captain."

"I'll allow it. But make it quick Admiral. You may answer the question Major."

"Yes sir. Admiral, all military personnel stationed in country work very closely with each other…we need to in order to accomplish our mission."

The Admiral walked over to the Captain's computer and brought up the radar image provided by the Iraqis. "Do you recognize this Major?"

"Yes sir…that is an air space radar image…Iraqi by the look of it. Looks to be south eastern Iraq."

"It is Major. This radar recording was taken on June 6th of this year. Are you familiar with the incident we are discussing here?"

"Only what I've heard Admiral…Commander Rabb is supposed to have shot down an unarmed civilian aircraft."

"Now if I was to ask you to compare these two recordings…" the Admiral started hitting a button on the computer to cause the image to shrink and a second image to take up the vacated space. "what could you tell me?"

"May I?" Major Stokes asked the Captain.

The Captain nodded silently and the Major got up and walked over to the computer, looking closely at the image on the monitor. "At first glance sir, they appear to be different views of the same image; one provided by a ground based radar station, and the second from an Elint aircraft…a Hawkeye or an AWACS. But if you look closer…here…" the Major said as he pointed to a spot on the first image, and then the second image. "and here…you'll notice that while these three transponder signals and the Tomcat transponder are the same on both radar images, this fourth one is different. On this image it is squawking as a Lear Jet, and on this one the fourth signal is that of a MIG fighter jet."

"And if I was to tell you that both of these recordings were supposed to have taken place at the same time, in the same place what would your response be Major?" the Admiral asked when the Major had retaken his seat.

"I would be hard-pressed to see how. Everything about the two is the same, except for that fourth transponder in the group of four. No Admiral, those two radar images could not have taken place at the same time and place."

"Objection...relevance?" Mac asked.

"Admiral?"

"Captain, the image on the left is the one submitted by the Iraqis as the Major noted. The second image was provided by the Air Force, pulled from one of their AWACs planes that was orbiting the area on the 6th."

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Silence reigned in the courtroom. Not even the reporters in the back of the room moved…it hardly seemed that anyone was breathing. The Admiral's revelation had shocked everyone to the core.

Releasing a breath he hadn't realized he was holding Harm looked around the courtroom. Shock, and yes disbelief were evident on every face.

"Your witness Colonel." The Admiral's voice cut through the silence.

Standing, Mac took a moment to look over her files before she looked up at the Major. "Major Stokes, can you say with complete certainty that the radar image you are seeing there came from an Air Force AWACs plane on June 6th?"

"Complete, one hundred percent certainty ma'am? I can tell you that radar image is from an Elint aircraft…most likely an AWACs because of the bull’s-eye. I can tell you it’s American, I can tell you it has a time stamp that indicates it took place on June 6th. Can I guarantee someone hasn't tampered with it? No ma'am. But I'd stake my career on it."

"Thank you Major, a simple yes or no would have done. What about the Iraqi radar image? What can you tell us about it?"

"Well ma'am…it appears to be from a ground based station as I said to the Admiral. Indicators on the image are written in Arabic…and I don't read a whole lot of Arabic ma'am. I can make out some of it…if you read from the top right leftwards ma'am you can see the recorded date…as far as I can tell. You would have to ask someone fluent in Arabic to translate it all."

"Is there any possibility that these two images are the same thing?"

"In a way ma'am. As I said the three MIGs are on both, the Tomcat is on both. It is that last aircraft that raises questions ma'am. It's a Lear on one and a MIG on the other."

"Could the difference be accounted for in the fact that the Iraqis are using Russian made radar systems while the AWACS uses American?"

"No Ma'am. Even though they are two different systems a fighter would not show up as a commercial aircraft. Radar signatures are too different."

"Thank you Major, that will be all. Although we reserve the right to recall this witness Skipper."

"Understood Colonel. Major, you may step down."

After the Major had departed the courtroom the Admiral stood up and announced the next witness. "The defense calls Commander Harmon Rabb Jr."

Harm stood and moved to the witness stand and raised his right hand without being told.

"Do you swear that the testimony you give here will be the truth and nothing but?" The Admiral asked.

"I do."

"Be seated."

"Skipper…I know this is unusual but may I have a word."

"Quickly Commander. Council will approach as well."

As soon as the Admiral, Mac and Bud had come to the table Harm made his statement. "Skipper…I'm more than willing to testify in mine and Skates' defense. I do however request that the media be cleared from the room for my testimony."

"I think I know where you're going with this Commander."

"I was sure you would sir. The nature of the mission as well as the origin of the orders probably shouldn't be made public knowledge."

"Commander, as much as I agree with you, we'd have one hell of a problem on our hands if we did clear them out for your testimony. You're the reason they're here. Admiral, Colonel…do either of you have any objections?"

"None Skipper." Mac said.

"Ah hell, let them stew." The Admiral said with a tiny self-satisfied smile.

Nodding the Captain looked up at the two Marine guards standing at the back of the room. "Sergeant, Corporal, clear the media from the courtroom."

"Aye, aye sir." Both Marines said in unison and then they began to urge the members of the media to their feet and directed them to the hatch.

Once the media were cleared Harm retook his seat and watched the Admiral step up to him. "Commander, could you recount for us the events in question?"

"Yes Admiral. I received a set of written orders on June 5th detailing the mission in question. I was to open the orders upon my return from my mission of the 5th. The orders called for a combat air patrol utilizing a single aircraft to cross into contested territory. Other than that there were coordinates of the route we were to take as well as refueling points on the way in and out. At 1800 on June 6th I went up with my RIO and began the patrol. We made contact with the refuel plane as scheduled and then continued on mission. We were contacted by the Hawkeye tasked to provide radar coverage and informed of a mechanical problem. I made the call to order them back to base because a damaged bird jeopardizes their mission and told them to have the standby launched. We were also informed of a radar contact they had picked up on the edge of their range…three bogies, identified as probable MIGs. As we ourselves were about to the leave radar coverage they were confirmed as MIGs and the threat was updated to four, not three, bogies. We engaged, I downed two with guns, smoked a third with a missile. It was then that my RIO alerted me to the fourth bogie on our six. I engaged in evasive action, but could not shake him. At the time the bogie had a missile lock on us, but at the last minute switched to guns and fired. We took hits to the engine and rear fuselage; our systems were going haywire and there was no way to salvage the bird. I made the call and pulled the ring."

"Who gave you these orders Commander?"

"The CIA sir."

"In particular?"

Harm paused before he answered to look at Mac. He'd known this moment would come, but it didn't make it any easier. "Clayton Webb."

"Why did Mr. Webb give you written orders Commander?"

"He was called away from the carrier on the night of the 5th. He wasn't sure if he would return in time for the start of my mission on the 6th. I guess he just felt he was covering his bases sir."

"Objection, speculation." Mac said quickly, coming to her feet.

"I'm going to allow it Colonel. I would say that based on the Commander's working relationship with Mr. Webb he is in a position to make such a judgment."

As Mac sat down again Harm looked at her closely…she was hiding it well but this discussion of Webb was opening her wound again. Damn he hated doing that to her…he knew what it was like to lose someone you were close to. Focus Rabb…you need to focus on the Admiral.

"When did the standby Hawkeye arrive on the scene?"

"They never did while we were in the air sir."

"Why use a Hawkeye instead of the AWACS? Your mission took place over land after all."

"You'd have to ask Mr. Webb that sir, he planned the mission. I would assume it was because he was using Navy personnel for the mission."

"Commander, you didn't mention adjusting course to engage the hostiles."

"No sir…we didn't adjust course. Their course and ours was a direct intercept sir."

"What do you think that means Commander?"

"Objection! Calls for the witness to make an opinion."

"I withdraw the question. Thank you Commander." The Admiral said as he turned to return to his seat. Pausing at the table he turned back to Harm and raised his finger. "Just one more question Commander. Did you shoot down an unarmed civilian aircraft."

"No sir. I downed three MIG Floggers sir…all of them hostile."

Nodding silently the Admiral resumed his seat and looked at Mac. "Your witness Colonel."

Mac stood up and strode over to the witness chair. "Commander Rabb, why were you working with the CIA?"

"I'd been ordered to."

"By whom?"

"The Secretary of the Navy."

"Why would the Secretary of the Navy order you, a Naval Aviator, to fly missions for the CIA?"

"I would assume it was because I'd flown for the CIA late last year…in a non-naval capacity."

"Isn't it true Commander that you were flying these CIA missions on top of the missions you regularly flew with your squadron aboard the Patrick Henry, the Raptors?"

"You could say that Colonel."

"Yes or no Commander?"

"Yes."

"In fact, isn't it true that in the week leading up to the mission in question you and your RIO flew an inordinate number of missions? Well above normal?"

"Leading up to the 5th yes, but after our mission of the 5th we flew no missions until 1800 when we took off for the mission in question."

"Is it possible Commander that due to the high number of missions you were flying you could have…made a lapse in judgment? An error?"

"No Colonel, it’s not." Harm said with confidence.

"Oh come now Commander, we all get tired. We all make mistakes. Isn't it remotely possible that you, after flying more missions that you should have, made a mistake and thought a civilian aircraft was a MIG? In the middle of a dogfight, with three hostile targets you mistakenly shot down a non-aggressive aircraft?"

"No Colonel, it is not possible." Harm said even more firmly. "Lear jets don't mount hard points, and they don't fire air to air missiles."

"How can you be sure that…"

"Objection, badgering the witness." The Admiral said coming out of his seat.

"Objection, asked and answered." Bud said coming out of his seat at the same time as the Admiral. Blushing, he quickly took his seat again and looked up at the Captain.

"Sustained…on both points." Captain Ingles said.

"I withdraw the question."

"How do you explain the Iraqi radar image that shows an unarmed Lear Jet instead of the MIG as you say it was Commander?"

"I can't Colonel, not without stepping into the realm of speculation."

Biting her lip Mac looked back at her files on the table and then back at Harm.

"Was Mr. Webb here to debrief you on the 5th of June after your mission?"

"No, he had not returned at that time."

"Who preformed the debriefing then?"

"One of Mr. Webb's associates in the CIA."

"His name Commander?"

"He never gave it to me Colonel."

"Don't you think that somewhat odd?"

"Not for the CIA Colonel."

"Where is this associate of Mr. Webb's now?"

"I don't know Colonel…he hasn't been seen since he debriefed us on the 5th."

"Was this a CIA assassination attempt Commander?"

"I have no knowledge of that Colonel. My orders stated it was a combat air patrol."

"Isn't it odd to have a single plane flying a CAP?"

"Odd yes. Unheard of, no. The CIA frequently makes use of single plane elements in their missions. We'd also been flying continuous patrols throughout the last few days and there were no other planes to spare. They were either in the air or hadn't ended their down cycle."

"No further questions."

Harm stood and walked back to his seat. Some of Mac's questions seemed strange to him, but then again the more that came out about this case, the more confusing it was, and the harder it was to prove that anything happened. He didn't envy Mac right now. As Harm sat there lost in thought he completely missed the Admiral and Mac's closing arguments.

"The defense rests Skipper." The Admiral said pulling Harm back into the real world.

"Very well…Colonel would you like to recall any witnesses?"

"No sir."

"All right. We will recess until 1800 hours and then reconvene to hear the findings."

 

ZNN Newscast
Wednesday June 16, 2004
1800 Zulu

 

"Today the defense in the trial of Commander Harmon Rabb Jr., CAG aboard the USS Patrick Henry and his Radar Intercept Officer, Lieutenant Commander Elisabeth Hawkes, made their case. The Commander and Lieutenant Commander are undergoing an Article 32 hearing because of allegations that they fired upon and destroyed an unarmed civilian aircraft."

"The defense utilized witnesses to highlight discrepancies in communication tapes from the night of June 6th of this year. Also on the defense's list of witnesses was Major Stokes, an army intelligence officer stationed here in Iraq to discuss some irregularities in radar images provided as evidence."

"Commander Rabb himself took the stand in defense of himself and his RIO, but due to the sensitive nature of some of the material the Commander possesses the media was not allowed to attend his questioning. A redacted transcript of the Commander's testimony has been provided which includes the Commander's account of the progression of the mission in which he states that he and his RIO encountered four hostile MIGs over contested territory, not an escorted civilian aircraft as has been stated."

"The convening authority in this case, Captain Ingles, commanding officer of the USS Patrick Henry, has ruled that there is not sufficient evidence to proceed with the Article 32 hearing, and has dismissed all charges against the two aviators. The Captain is recommending to the World Court that War Crimes charges not be pursued."

"Upon releasing his findings the Captain returned the CAG and his RIO to active flight status and ordered their return to their unit the Raptors."

"In related news this in all probability marks the last case that will see the current Judge Advocate General of the United States Navy in a courtroom as Admiral AJ Chegwidden has announced his retirement. When asked why he was personally conducting the defense for this case the Admiral replied

"I heard the Gulf was nice this time of year. Now get the hell out of my way!"

"This is Chuck DePalma broadcasting live from the USS Patrick Henry in the Persian Gulf, ZNN News."

 

USS Patrick Henry
Wednesday June 16, 2004
2200 Zulu

 

Harm stood with his arms crossed on the rail before him as he looked out over the moonlight reflected in the waves. He knew he should be inside enjoying the celebration the Raptors were having because he and Skates and been cleared but he just didn't feel like partying much. He was happy that the Skipper had dismissed the charges…but there was something that just didn't sit right with him and he didn't know what it was. He didn't long for them often since he had kicked the habit years ago, but right now he would kill for a good cigar.

Even high up on vulture's row he could hear the sounds of a turbine winding up followed by the harsh crash of the catapult firing. As he looked up two more Tomcats were thrown into the night to start their patrols over the carrier group. Tuna and Reaper he thought mentally picturing the duty board in the ready room.

He was so caught up in watching the two Tomcats take off he didn't hear the hatch open behind him, nor did he catch her footsteps on the deck. It was her smell that alerted him to her presence, even before she stood beside him at the rail. He would know her smell anywhere, even masked by salty air. It was almost like he could feel her in his soul when she was around, and feel the hole left by her absence when she wasn't.

"Mac." Harm said quietly once she stepped up to the rail beside him.

"Hey Flyboy." She replied just as softly. "Not enjoying your party?"

Shaking his head Harm continued to watch the navigation lights of the Tomcats fade into the velvet sky until they had become another set of stars. "Not really in the mood for partying. How come you're not there?" Harm asked without thinking about his words.

Mac laughed sharply as she looked up at the man standing next to her. "As if I would be welcome there Harm. Remember, I'm the one who tried to have your wings and your commission. Yeah, I bet the Raptors would love to see me." Mac said bitterly.

Finally looking down at her Harm noticed the tears in her eyes. "Mac…you had to do it…orders."

"Damn it Harm, I shouldn't have had to do it!"

"Mac, everyone knew something like that would be high profile…I'm sure they just wanted the second best lawyer at JAG on it." Harm said teasingly with a small smile, trying to cheer her up.

Harm could see Mac struggling not to smile, she always did that when she felt his humor was inappropriate. And just like she usually did she failed and a tiny smile graced her lips. "Second best?" she asked with a raised eyebrow. "I'm not sure I would say Sturgis was better than me…"

"Oh very funny Mac, very funny." Harm said with a laugh.

"Hey, you're not a lawyer right now Harm…you're the CAG, remember? And besides, you haven't exactly been at the top of your game lately. I bet Coates could beat you in the courtroom."

With a snort Harm chose to ignore her and turned to look back out into the night. Maybe he wasn't at the top of his game, but it had been a long hard year. And how could he tell her that after getting something that he'd wanted for as long as he could remember, that it wasn't enough; that it was smoke and mirrors…with what he truly wanted hidden from view...no longer his to have, if it ever was in the first place. Leaning forward onto his arms as they rested on the rail Harm silently watched the reflected moon and starlight in the water. From the corner of his eye he noticed Mac shivering in the night air and without thought stood up straight to remove his flight jacket. Laying it across her shoulders he paused when he felt her hand on his.

"Harm…I'm so sorry that you had to go through that." She said quietly, looking up at him with…something…reflected in her eyes. He's seen that look in her eyes before, but it had been so long he wasn't sure he recognized it anymore.

"Mac, I'm sorry we had to go through that. You're right, you shouldn't have had to be the one to prosecute." Harm said, wondering for only the most recent time, how would he ever find himself again if he let himself truly get lost in her eyes as he longed to do.

Taking a deep breath Harm left his hand on Mac's shoulder, squeezing gently. Why couldn't it be like this all the time? The easy banter, the gentle words, everything he missed about their past friendship. Could he allow himself to let this latest incident widen the rift between them? Sure, part of him resented that Mac didn't remove herself from the case, but he also knew she was the best JAG had to do the job of trying to win a tough case in the public eye.

"Whatcha thinking about?" Mac asked quietly.

After a moment to formulate his words Harm answered quietly "About you having to prosecute. Like I said, I'm sure the Admiral just wanted his best on it. It was a tough case, and it was in the public eye."

"You don't resent me for prosecuting?" Mac asked, unconsciously echoing his thoughts.

"I'd be lying if I said no Mac…part of me wants to." Harm paused before rushing on. "Part of me wants to think that you would excuse yourself from a case that involved me, that if the roles were reversed and you were going up and I was tasked to prosecute I'd remove myself. But to be honest Mac, I don't know if I would. I guess I can't know until something like that comes along."

Nodding Mac turned to watch the moonlight on the water. Harm just stood there no longer watching how the moonlight played off the water, but rather how the moonlight accentuated the beauty of the woman before him, how it danced in her hair.

As they both stood there lost in thought the hatch opened behind them. "Hammer." Skates said as she stepped out on to vulture's row and saw him and Mac standing a short distance away. "Sorry to interrupt CAG, but I'm supposed to tell you that if you don't get your six in gear you get dawn patrol."

Looking over his shoulder at his RIO Harm couldn't help but smile. The last time he'd seen Skates she was being carried around the wardroom on the shoulders of some of her squadron mates.

"CAG?"

"Yeah Skates?"

"I don't want dawn patrol tomorrow. So if you'll excuse the impudence sir, get your six in there."

Squeezing Mac's shoulder again Harm looked down to find her looking up at him with those eyes…god, why couldn't he just let go and fall into those eyes forever? "Coming?" he asked quietly.

"No…I think I'll just stay up here for awhile longer. It’s good for thinking." Mac said sadly.

"Mac…I told you…it’s ok. I know you didn't choose to prosecute me." Harm said gently.

"Harm…it’s not that."

"What is it?" he asked intently.

"Nothing…go back to the party Harm…to your party."

"Are you sure?" Harm said and then paused waiting for her to ask him stay.

"Damn it Harm…go. You deserve it." Mac said as she gave him a little shove towards Skates.

"All right then. I'll see you later ok?" Harm said with a sad little smile as he moved to where Skates waited. "Lead on Skates."

Had Harm looked back he might have seen the look in Mac's eyes, or the fresh tears that were softly making their way down her dusky cheeks.

When Harm and Skates entered the wardroom they walked in on some of the Raptors telling Bud and the Admiral stories about their CAG. All of them stopped as the two guests of honor returned and turned towards them.

"Commander, what is this I'm told you engaged in an unauthorized flyby of the carrier?" the Admiral asked as Harm walked up to the group.

"Well sir it wasn't so much an unauthorized flyby as it was…pest control." Harm said with a smile, and a wink for Bud.

"Pest control Commander?" the Admiral asked skeptically.

"Aye sir. All manner of birds were taking their ease along the superstructure sir. It was sure to foul up…something or other…so I took it upon myself to remove the creatures from the ship's surface sir." Harm said.

The Admiral just stood there looking at Harm as if he were a suspect upon the stand. Without warning he threw back his head and laughed heartily. "Pest control Commander…god I'm glad you're someone else's problem for awhile."

"What he means to say sir, I'm sure, is that the office has been too quiet without you." Bud piped up.

Turning his head to look at Bud the Admiral stopped laughing and raised his eyebrow. "Well I suppose it has been quiet without you and the Colonel squabbling in the bullpen. Where is she by the way?" he asked turning his gaze back to Harm.

"She didn't feel it would be appropriate for her to attend sir. Last I saw she was up on vulture's row…thinking." Harm said solemnly.

"Excuse me Commander, Raptors. Enjoy the party."

"Aye, aye sir."

As he walked away from the gathered pilots and single lawyer the Admiral started to shake his head in wonder and said "Pest control." softly to himself.

Harm couldn't help but let his smile grown bigger as he turned back to his pilots and join in on the tale telling.

 

USS Patrick Henry
Thursday June 17, 2004
0645 Zulu

 

A continuous pounding at his hatch brought Harm out of a deep sleep in which he'd been having that damn dream again. Snorting he sat up and called out "Just a minute damn it!" Moving over to his locker he pulled it open and grabbed a t-shirt to pull on with his boxers. Stumbling over to the hatch he pulled it open as he added "There better be an all out attack on the carrier group, damn your eyes."

When the hatch was fully open it revealed a thoroughly amused looking Marine Lieutenant Colonel. "Good morning Harm." She said smiling sweetly.

"Yeah…whatever. Come on in." Harm grumbled as he waved her to follow him and made his way back to his rack.

"My, my, aren't we grumpy this morning." Mac said without even bothering to hide her smirk.

"You'd be too if you tried to keep up with those kids." Harm said as he tried to make his brain focus and come fully awake. "Look princess…I know it’s not much and it's a little beat up, but my heart is yours." he added blearily.

"What was that?" Mac asked in shock.

"What was what?" Harm asked confusedly.

"What you just said..." Mac prompted watching him closely with a raised eyebrow.

"Uhhh…you'd be too if you tried to keep up with my kids." Harm said still confused. Blinking his eyes owlishly at Mac he was wondering why she made him repeat himself. Then it struck him what he'd said and he was wide-awake with the realization. Damn that dream! Oh boy…how was he going to get out of this one? Right on the tail of that thought came the little voice in his head saying 'Do you really want to get out of this one?'

Mac saved him from having to make a decision between the two options by simply holding out her hand and saying "I just came by to drop this off."

Silently Harm looked at the object in her hand without saying a word. She was holding his flight jacket…he'd left it with her on vulture's row last night.

"Uhhh…the Admiral, Bud and I are leaving on a COD in thirty minutes and I thought you'd want this back." Mac said, obviously confused by Harm's lack of reaction.

Shaking his head violently Harm smiled up at her and said "Yeah…thanks. Guess I'll need that around here." Reaching up he took his jacket from her hand trying to ignore the feeling running down his arm when his fingers brushed hers. Looking around Harm just shrugged and tossed his jacket onto a chair.

Dropping her hand to her side once Harm had his jacket draped casually over the chair Mac cocked her head to one side. "Harm…I haven't had a chance to ask you this before now…with everything that was going on…"

"What is it?" he asked wondering where she was going. She couldn't be going…there… could she? Could he hope?

"Well…I don't know how to ask this…"

'Oh god…she was going there!' he thought. Keep calm Rabb…just stay calm. How can he stay calm? This was Mac. He felt the beginnings of what she called his "Flyboy" smile forming on his lips when her next words threw him for a loop.

"What is Meg doing here? I mean one day she just doesn't show up at the office, the Admiral says she's working out of the Pentagon, and then when Bud and I get here she's a weapons officer? And the Captain introduced her as Lieutenant Porter. What's going on Harm?"

Well that definitely wasn't what he was thinking she was going to ask. Deep in the recesses of his mind Harm heard his little voice laughing hysterically. Great, now even his little voice is laughing at him.

"Harm? Are you ok? You've been acting a little strange this morning." Mac asked with concern evident in her features.

"Uh...yeah. Still half asleep…sorry." Harm mumbled. "Mac…I don't know if I can tell you why Meg's here…you'd probably better ask the Admiral."

"Haarm." Mac said, obviously deciding to try wheedling the answer out of him.

"Sorry Mac…it’s not my place to say. Why are you so curious anyway?"

Mac paused a moment before she answered. "Just curious is all. Anyway…I really need to get going. Our COD leaves in eighteen minutes, twelve seconds."

Harm stood up from his rack and stretched trying to get the kinks out of his back. He remembered shipboard racks as being more comfortable. Reaching out he gave Mac a quick chaste hug. "Take care of yourself Marine." He said with a smile.

"You too Flyboy." Mac said softly.

"See you in a couple months I guess." Harm said looking down at where his feet met the deck. He heard her move towards the hatch after a moment.

"Harm…"

Looking up he saw her standing just outside the hatch. She'd turned around and leaned against the combing with her hand grasping just the edge…the way she was standing there reminded him of…that time he'd taken a head blow and had whacked out dreams of her! "Yeah?" he asked after a momentary pause.

"Take care of yourself…I don't want to have to come back out here to do another investigation because you'd managed to lose another Tomcat." Mac said with a smile.

"I'll do my best to keep from inconveniencing you." Harm said with a big smile.

As she started to turn away Mac stopped again and looked over her shoulder. Did she have any idea how sexy she looked when she did that? "Harm?"

"Yes Mac?" he asked. She sure was taking her time rushing to the COD.

"This is nice…oh damn! Thirteen minutes!" Mac said in a hurry.

"Mac?"

"Harm, I really need to go."

"Uh…you'll probably get cold on the COD…you know what those things are like. Here." Harm said with his tongue almost tripping over the words. He grabbed his jacket off the chair and tossed it at her. "Go…you're going to miss your flight."

"Harm…" Mac said holding his jacket where she'd caught it reflexively.

"Go. You really don't want to be on a COD with the Admiral after you've made him wait, do you?"

"No I wouldn't…bye Harm." Mac said as she rushed down the passageway with a last smile.

"Bye Ninja Girl." Harm said to himself softly with a smile.

As Harm watched Mac hurry down the passageway he couldn't help but admire the way her legs led up to her…the growler phone on his bulkhead rang dragging him out of his contemplation of the way Sarah MacKenzie was put together in all the right ways.

Grabbing the phone of the hook he snapped into it "Rabb."

"CAG…I need you on the bridge right away." Captain Ingles' voice said on the other end.

"Right away Skipper." Harm said and then hung up the phone. He knew some would consider it rude to hang up on a superior officer, but Harm knew the Skipper was more concerned with how his people function than with niceties.

Grabbing his flight suit from the still open locker Harm paused to look at the photo of him and Mac. After a moment he slammed the door shut and slipped into his suit and then left to make his way to the bridge.

 

USS Patrick Henry
Thursday June 17, 2004
0706 Zulu

 

"CAG on the bridge!" Harm smiled when he heard that. He'd missed it over the last week and didn't realize it until just that moment.

"What can I do for you Skipper?" Harm asked with a smile.

"You're in a good mood this morning CAG." Captain Ingles said with an arched eyebrow.

"Uh yeah sir, I guess I am."

"You're going to be late CAG."

"Late sir?"

"Well I'd assumed you'd want to be part of the escort for the COD. You know that we've stepped up our alert level…all outgoing flights are to be escorted…I believe that was one of your orders Commander?"

"It was sir." Harm said.

"Well then Commander, you're going to be late. Your RIO is already on the flight deck waiting for you, and the COD takes off in…" Captain Ingles looked at the digital time display on the bulkhead. "Five minutes."

With a smile Harm came to attention. "Aye, aye sir. Permission to be excused sir?"

"Have a good flight CAG, see you when you get back."

"Aye, aye sir."

Harm literally flew through the passageways and down the stairwells to get to the ready room. Throwing open his locker he grabbed his protective vest and helmet. Trying to pull on his vest and helmet at the same time as trying to navigate the short corridor to the flight deck however was not conducive to arriving in one piece Harm found out when he ran straight into a closed hatch. Cursing quietly to himself he threw open the hatch and ran onto the flight deck. Skates was already in the backseat and his plane captain was already waiting to begin the launch procedures.

"All set to go CAG. Have a good flight sir." The plane captain said with a smile at the sight of the CAG still trying to get everything squared away.

His feet hardly touching the ladder Harm found himself in the front seat. Once settled he glanced in the mirror to see the huge smile on Skates' face.

"Something funny Skates?"

"Uhh…no sir. Just damn glad to be home is all."

"Amen to that Skates. Preflight…" Harm said as he began to run down the preflight checklist. When they were complete he punched the button to lower the canopy and snapped off a salute to the plane captain.

Pushed back into his seat as the cat threw them off the deck Harm couldn't help but shout out loud with pure joy. Laughing he looked in the mirror to see the smile still on Skates' face. "Welcome home Skates. Welcome home."

"You too CAG."

Glancing over his wing Harm saw the other Tomcat in the element form up close on his four o'clock.

"Mornin’ Tuna."

"Morning CAG…thought you were gonna miss your flight. We were making bets on how long you'd sleep."

"This old man still has a few miles left in him Tuna…just you watch."

"Aye, aye CAG."

"Funny thing is CAG…your Marine almost missed her flight too." Skates said innocently. Harm chose to ignore his smart ass RIO for a change.

"Kingfisher this is Raptor 1 coming up on your four o'clock, over." Skates made the initial transmission to the COD.

"Raptor 1, this is Kingfisher. Good to have you with us."

"Good to be here Kingfisher." Harm said as he gave a little more throttle to the Tomcat and pushed out in front of the COD. With a quick snap of his wrist Harm threw the Tomcat into a smooth snap roll and then leveled out while still ahead of the COD. Still laughing at the sheer joy of the moment Harm called to Skates "Call off the distance Skates."

"100 meters"

"200 meters"


"350 meters"

"Here we go!" Harm called and then yanked back on the stick to begin a steep climb. As they pushed through the top of the loop Harm could hear Tuna's laughter over the radio. Coming level again Harm once more took up his position on the COD's wing.

"Uhh….Raptor 1…everything all right?" Kingfisher asked.

"Just enjoying the morning Kingfisher." Harm said with a smile.

"Uhh…roger that Raptor 1. Kingfisher out."

"Raptor 1 this is Henry Control…do you have a situation?"

"Negative Henry Control, just reacquainting my RIO with G-force." Harm said with a wink to the mirror.

"Roger Raptor 1. I have a message from the Captain. Message is as follows 'You are reminded CAG that you are a naval aviator and should act accordingly.' Message complete sir."

Sill laughing Harm said "Message received. Raptor 1 out."

"Raptor 1 this is Kingfisher. We are making course for Al Basrah."

"Roger Kingfisher…we're with you until we can hand you over to the zoomies." Harm said into the radio.

For the next twenty minutes Harm and Skates chatted back and forth with Tuna and his RIO Judge to take the boredom out of flying at slower than normal speeds babysitting the 'big fish' as Tuna called it. Just as the coast hove into view on the horizon Kingfisher said "Raptor 1, we have a contact six miles out bearing 340. Please confirm."

"Roger Kingfisher, we confirm. Two bogies CAG." Skates replied.

"IFF?" Harm asked Skates.

"Negative CAG. MIGs"

Snapping his mask into place Harm keyed his mic. "Henry Control this is Raptor 1. We have possible hostiles inbound, requesting permission to investigate."

"Raptor 1, this is Henry Control. Permission granted. Go on out and take a look."

"Roger Henry Control. Raptor 1 Out. Kingfisher…we're going to go look up their skirts. Tuna, tight on my wing, combat spread."

"Roger Raptor 1. Good luck." Kingfisher replied.

"I'm with you like a smart kid on a library card CAG."

"Come again Tuna?"

"You know what I mean CAG."

"Sure. Tally Ho!" Harm called as he opened up the throttle and pushed the Tomcat into a gentle climb to gain altitude.

As they got closer to the targets the RIOs called off the distance. When they were a mile out Harm opened up his mic. "Unknown aircraft, this is Raptor 1 from the USS Patrick Henry. You are approaching an unarmed transport aircraft. Please state your intentions."

Silently the four aviators waited to hear from the approaching MIGs.

"I repeat, state your intentions or you will be forced from the area." Harm said.

Suddenly the klaxons rang out as Skates called "They're working on a lock CAG."

"Henry Control we have hostile action from unknown bogies. Request instructions."

"You are weapons free CAG. Protect the COD."

"You don't have to tell me twice Henry. Weapons free!" Harm called as he turned his master arm switch off of safe.

"Last warning guys…we're here to play hardball."

Suddenly the klaxon became a single long shrill tone. "They have lock CAG!" Skates called.

"Tuna, you take right." Harm called. Grinning like a mad man he opened up the throttle even more and blew through the middle of the two approaching MIGs before they could fire. Working the throttle and the stick at the same time he executed an S-Turn and was tight behind the left hand MIG. Pushing down on the trigger on his stick he fired a short burst from his cannon into the MIG. At the same time Tuna triggered his cannon at his target scoring hits along the side and the wing. Both MIGS began to spew thick black smoke and then both split apart and began to dive. When they had opened some room between them and the attacking Tomcats the two MIGS leveled out and turned back to race towards shore.

"Henry Control this is Raptor 1. Two bogies, bugging out."

"Good work Raptor 1, return to formation."

"Kingfisher, this is Raptor 1, we're heading back to you. Be there lickity split." Harm said with a smile. He didn't fight with Mac this morning, he had a hell of a dream last night, and he was flying again. He just topped that by tussling with a couple MIGs. Can't get much better than that.

Shortly the two Tomcats were back in formation with the COD escorting them towards the rapidly approaching Iraqi coast.

"Henry Control this is Raptor 1, we are feet dry." Harm reported as they crossed over the coastline.

"Roger Raptor 1. Contact Al Basrah control for an Air Force hookup."

"Roger Henry Control. Al Basrah Control this is Navy Flight 110 entering your coverage. We could use a couple of your boys to walk our COD down." Harm said reverting to the actual designator of his aircraft. Those zoomies were so stiff about call signs. Never had any fun.

"Navy Flight 110 this is Al Basrah control. Wait one."

Harm started whistling while they waited for the next few moments. Trust the zoomies to have to see if the sun was up before they allowed customers.

"Navy Flight 110 this is Al Basrah control. Negative on the request for escorts; we've got damage to the runway and can not put any birds in the air. We had a spot of rebel action last night."

"Al Basrah Control, Navy 110. Can we land?"

"Affirmative Navy 110. Landing isn't a problem, it's getting up again that is."

"That's ok boys, we don't need a lot of runway." Harm said with a wink at Skates. He loved baiting zoomies.

"Whatever you say Navy 110."

"Henry Control this is Raptor 1. We're going to walk the COD down, Air Force can't get any birds off the ground."

"Roger Raptor 1."

"Kingfisher, Raptor 1. Looks like you're stuck with us for the duration. Zoomies aren't out of bed yet."

"Roger Raptor 1…I have a message from the two star we have on board. You want it?"

How did Harm know Chegwidden would say something. "Sure, why not?"

"Message is as follows: 'Rabb! Do you want to go to Alaska?' Message complete."

"Roger Kingfisher, message received. Give the two star this message back 'Thought I wasn't your problem sir.'"

"Uhh…your transmission was garbled Raptor 1. No way I'm gonna talk back to a two star."

Harm laughed at the pilot of the COD and his prudence. "How long until Al Basrah Mac?" Harm asked.

" 'scuse me CAG?"

"What's up Skates?"

"You just called me Mac sir."

"I did?"

"You did CAG" Tuna piped up. Harm glanced over and could see his wingman laughing.

"Sorry Skates…"

"It’s ok CAG…I'll take it as a compliment. Twenty minutes is the answer to your question." Skates answered knowing exactly who the CAG was thinking about. Maybe there was more to Tuna's theory that there was a connection between the Marine and the Pilot being late for their flights.

Fifteen minutes later Harm had the air station at Al Basrah in sight. The army had constructed a quick airbase for the Air Force when the Coalition Forces had taken the area from Hussein's troops. A simple two runway system was used, one for landing and one for take offs. Simple and easy to construct, it did have its limitations. Harm could see craters and smoking vehicles on the runway he assumed was for take offs. Someone had had some fun.

"Al Basrah Control this is Navy 110 on approach. We'll put the COD down first and then follow them in."

"Roger Navy 110."

Easing back on the throttle Harm reduced speed so that the COD would gain some distance as they made their approach. It would save on the amount of time he would have to fly in circles. As much as he loved flying, he didn't really enjoy circling airfields.
With the rising sun's light glinting off the metallic structure of the aircraft the COD made a clean approach and was soon on the ground. As it was taxied off the runway Harm gave a thumbs up to Tuna through the canopy window.

"Take it on down Tuna. We'll be right behind you."

"You bet CAG."

As they waited for Tuna to land Skates asked "So, how long until we have to go back CAG?"

"Couple hours I suppose. We'll need to refuel, see what they can do about the runway. Worst comes to worst we can see if they'll let us take off of their open strip."

"Gonna say goodbye to your friends?"

"Didn't get the chance this morning, only seems right."

"You didn't say goodbye sir?" Skates said with a knowing tone in her voice.

"Look, Tuna's down." Harm said, glad that Skates couldn't see his blush. "Al Basrah Control this is Navy 110 requesting permission to land." Harm said glad for the chance to get away from Skates questioning.

"Navy 110, Al Basrah control, you are cleared to land."

"Roger, we'll be right down." Harm said as he nudged the stick forward to deepen his angle of approach.

"Too much runway." Harm said as they coasted to a stop just off the runway. Popping the canopy he pulled off his helmet as he saw three people walking towards the parked Tomcats.

"Looks like you'll get that chance to say goodbye sir."

"Shut up Skates."

"Aye, aye CAG" Skates said with a smirk.

"RABB! What the hell do you think you were doing up there?" the Admiral bellowed as soon as Harm had his feet on the ground.

"Gas her up and do the windows. Check the oil while you're at it." Harm said to the crew chief that was standing by for instructions. Nodding the crew chief ran as fast as he could to get away from the man being yelled at by a two star Admiral.

"I was testing the combat readiness of my aircraft Admiral." Harm said after a moment's thought as he came to attention. Hidden by the Admiral's tall frame, Harm couldn't see the smiles that both Bud and Mac were not succeeding in hiding.

"The combat readiness of your aircraft?"

"Yes sir. And seeing as we hadn't been up in a week I thought I'd best reacquaint my RIO to g-forces Admiral." Harm said.

"Reacquaint your RIO with g-forces?"

'Aye, aye Admiral." Harm said with a smile. "And if I may Admiral…the exercise apparently worked as we emerged victoriously from a glorious mid flight engagement."

"Glorious. Mid flight. Engagement." All this had become too much for the Admiral and he just started shaking his head. "Commander, are you perhaps considering making your billet permanent?"

"Admiral?" Harm asked somewhat confused.

"If you're going to continue to cause problems like this when you return to JAG at the end of this deployment, I'm not sure we can handle you." The Admiral said shaking his head. Suddenly he smiled his little smile at Harm. "Good job up there Rabb. Just try to cut down on the aerobatics next time."

"Aye, aye sir." Harm forcing himself not to smile at the Admiral's praise.

"Oh stand at ease, all of you." The Admiral said to Harm and his wingman and their RIOs.

"Rabb, I'd like a word with you."

"Aye, aye sir." Harm said as he fell in beside the Admiral.

"Son, I've known you what? Almost ten years now. I ended my career bailing you out."

"Admiral, I am truly sorry you had to come out here."

"I'm not."

"Sir?"

"Harm, I got to go out with one last fight. You think a SEAL wants to go quietly? You gave me that chance son. I'm sorry you had to do it, but I'm not sorry I got it." The Admiral said with what could only be described as a vicious grin. After a moment's silence he continued. "Some time ago before you deployed to the Henry I gave you some advice. Do you remember it?"

Nodding Harm looked back at where Mac and Bud stood chatting with Tuna, Skates and Judge. "I do sir."

"And what do you intend to do about it?"

"I don't think I can walk away sir. I've had the chance to do some thinking while I've been out here…and I just don't think I can sir."

"Then fight for her son. I appreciate you and her not wanting to contravene regulations, but I remember what it was like Harm. To feel alive when you woke up because someone loved you. The joy with which you face the day…the joy you apparently felt this morning?"

Blushing Harm looked up at the Admiral. "Sir, nothing has taken place between the Lieutenant Colonel and I."

"I think more than you think has 'taken place' between the two of you son, thing is neither one of you can bring yourselves to admit it. I'm going to ask you something Harm, and you think long and hard about how you answer it. Well maybe not long, we have to catch a Herc stateside as soon as they can get one off the ground. But think about it before you answer me. Do you want to return to JAG?"

Harm looked at the Admiral in shock. Why was he asking if he wanted to return to JAG? Didn't he think he should return to JAG? Suddenly it dawned on him…the Admiral was giving him an out with Mac. His transfer out of her chain of command could be arranged. "Sir, are you asking this for the reason I think you are?"

"Consider it my last gift to you and the Colonel if you want it."

Silently Harm looked around; at the Tomcats, at Tuna and Skates, at Bud and finally at Mac. "Admiral, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't tempted. I'm real tempted sir. But the thing is I've also been doing a lot of thinking about my career. I couldn't remain CAG on the Henry, they already have a posted CAG and he's going to be returning in a couple months. I don't think a carrier is where I belong anymore sir…it just took me some time to realize that."

"You realize that if you were stationed aboard a carrier you and the Colonel would be free to…consider other arrangements."

"I do sir." Harm could see the confusion in the older man's eyes. "I'm not saying I'm not going to try and get Mac to consider other arrangements as you put it sir…and we're going to have to find a way to not contravene the UCMJ obviously."

"But you are going to fight for her?"

"She needs me now more than ever sir, with Webb's death. She needs someone who cares for her sir."

"We all care for her son."

"Yes sir, and that will help until I return…but not in the way I think I can help her sir."

"So you wish to return to JAG?"

"To be honest sir, JAG doesn't feel quite right either…or at least it hasn't. I think Mac and I have taken steps towards getting back what we had before. That will go a long way towards making JAG feel like it did sir…but it will never be the same without you."

Nodding at Harm's words the Admiral put a hand on his shoulder. "Harm…never forget that you and Mac aren't the same people you used to be. You've both grown and changed…and the most recent changes you've both gone through have been away from each other. You'll never be able to have what you had before. You can't live in the past son…no matter how much you may want to."

"You have a point sir. I'm not sure exactly what's going to happen, but I'm going to fight for her sir."

"Good…it’s about damn time. And don't forget to send me an invitation to the wedding when you two finally get your heads out of your sixes."

"Aye, aye Admiral." Harm said with a smile and a slight blush.

"So…you still aiming for the big chair?"

"I won't be there when it's filled Admiral. Besides there are more senior officers than me who will be considered without my…colorful past."

"True Commander, very true. But I think you don't give your colorful past enough credit…it has gotten results where others wouldn't have. You never know what's going to happen. Maybe in a few years…"

"Sir, my twenty is up in a couple years."

"Thinking of retiring already Commander?"

"It’s been something I've thought about often this year Admiral. Can't say I haven't considered it a lot with how uncomfortable things have been."

"Well son, you have a couple years left to make up your mind. And a lot can happen in a couple years. I'd best let you say good bye to Mac and Bud or I'll never hear the end of it from them."

"Aye, aye sir." Harm said coming to attention. Slowly he brought his right hand up in a crisp salute. "Admiral Chegwidden. Although it hasn't always been easy sailing, it has been a distinct pleasure to serve under your command at JAG sir. I wish you the best in your retirement."

Returning Harm's salute the Admiral smiled at the younger man before him. "You've been a pain in my ass more times than I can remember Commander, but you're a hell of a lawyer, a hell of a pilot and a good man. You just need to make an honest woman out of that Marine and you'll make me happy. It has been an honor to serve with you Commander. Now go say your good byes. You need to get back to your carrier."

As Harm started to walk back to where the small group of his friends stood in front of the Tomcats the Admiral called out "Oh and Harm…"

"Yes sir?" Harm asked turning around.

"My daughter and I are going to be touring all of the major league ball parks in the country this summer. Should I give her your best?" the Admiral asked knowing about the flirtation that Harm and his daughter had at times shared.

Smiling his 'Flyboy' grin Harm nodded. "Yes sir. You can give Francesca my very best sir."

"I'll do that son."

Turning around Harm covered the rest of the distance to where his friends, lawyer and pilot, stood. It was then that he noticed Mac was wearing his flight jacket and he smiled at the sight. It would be nice to see her wearing nothing but his flight jacket, but maybe in time.

"You still in one piece?" Mac asked with a grin.

"I am actually. He just wanted to say good bye and give me some advice. Some good advice. He also wanted to know if he was to give Francesca any messages from me." Harm said with a grin.

Mac raised her eyebrow and look at him curiously. "And is he?"

"I told him to give her my best. Now…I think the two of you have a flight to catch and I need to take these ruffians home or Dad will ground us." Harm said. Stretching out his hand he took Bud's in a firm grasp and shook it. He then gave a small tug and pulled Bud into a back slapping hug. "Take care of yourself Bud, and give my love to Harriet and AJ." Stopping Harm remembered something, a promise he'd made. "Can you give AJ something for me Bud?"

"Certainly sir." Bud said with a smile.

"I know I told him I'd be home for his birthday, and I wasn't able to…and you also missed it Bud because of me…"

"Sir…"

"You did Bud, and so did Mac. I'm guessing this won't be one of his favorite birthdays because of that. But I also promised him a gift and I'm gonna make damn sure I come through for my godson on that one." Reaching up Harm worked his fingers behind the squadron patch on his flight suit. With a little working he managed to break through the seam and get his fingers behind it and with a sharp tug ripped it off. Turning he sprinted back to his Tomcat and quickly climbed the ladder. Reaching into the cockpit he rummaged around until he found the ball cap he'd jammed in there the last time he'd gone up. Pulling it out he dropped back down to the ground.

"I know it’s not much Bud, but could you give these to AJ for me? Tell him I'll bring him lots of other stuff back when I come home."

Smiling Bud took the patch and ball cap from Harm. "He'll love them sir. They're from his Uncle Harm. Oh sir! I got an email from Harriet this morning before we left. We're going to have twins!" Bud said with a big goofy grin on his face.

"Congratulations Bud! When are they due?"

"Late November we think."

"Good, I'll be around to spoil the newest Roberts members." Harm said with a smile. He loved spending time with Bud and Harriet and AJ, and two more would just make it that much better.

A discreet cough drew everyone's attention to an Air Force sergeant who had come upon them.

"Sirs, Ma'ams. The Admiral requests Lieutenant Colonel MacKenzie and Lieutenant Commander Roberts join him at their earliest convince. Commander, the refuel trucks will be here in fifteen minutes."

"Thank you Sergeant."

With a salute the sergeant turned crisply and made his way back across the tarmac.

"Good bye Bud. I'll see you soon."

"Yes sir. It'll be good to have you back."

Turning to Mac he noticed moisture gathering in her eyes again. Stepping up to her he used a thumb to lightly wipe the moisture from her eyes. "Hey Marine." He said softly.

"Hey Flyboy."

"You're going to miss your flight."

"They won't leave without me."

"You still need to go. I'll be home soon, and then you'll get sick of me again." Harm said with a big smile.

"Not a chance Harm." Mac said earnestly.

"Permission to hug the Lieutenant Colonel?" Harm asked with a little smile.

"Permission granted." Mac said with a tiny sob.

Harm wrapped his arms around her and pulled her in close. As he held her to him he brought his face to her hair to breathe in as much of her scent as he could. Softly he placed his lips against her hair and gave her the tiniest of kisses.

"It’s ok Sarah. I'll be back soon."

"I'll miss you." Mac admitted.

"Like an infected wound?" Harm asked with a smirk she could feel against her hair.

"Maybe a bit more." Mac answered with a smile. "Stay safe out there Harm. I can't lose you too….I just can't."

"I'll be ok Sarah. You and I need to discuss the anniversary we celebrated this year, and I need to be in one piece to do that." Harm said softly as he gave her one more squeeze and then stepped back. Running his hand down her arm he took her hand in his and then brought it up to his lips and lightly brushed a kiss across the tips of her fingers.

"Anniversary?" she dazedly asked.

"What time is it?" he asked tenderly.

"I don't know." Mac answered without realizing what she was saying.

Smirking Harm stepped back from Mac and looked at Bud and smiled. "I'll see you both soon, I promise."

"And Harmon Rabb keeps his promises." Mac mimicked with a smile.

"Now get, I don't need one more reaming out by the Admiral before he retires."

"Good bye Commander." Bud said with a salute.

"Bye." Mac said with a small wave as she backed away from him.

Silently Harm watched one of the men he admired most and the woman he loved walk across the tarmac. He and Mac had a lot to talk about when he got back.

"So when's the wedding?" Tuna asked innocently.

"Shut up Tuna."

"Aye, aye CAG."

 

 

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