by Starsky Hutch 76
Odysseus climbed back onto the pier, retching up the ocean water that had filled his stomach and lungs. He collapsed on his back, still coughing loudly.
“Could you keep it down?” a feminine voice said. “I’m trying to enjoy the beautiful night. Look at all those stars. You can see so many more when there aren’t any electric lights around to detract from them. We have Penny to thank for that.”
He looked over and saw a scantily clad woman in pink with pink-bobbed hair. “Spellbinder?” he said, choking.
“That’s me,” said Marcie Cooper. “Liberty had me hang around in case you showed up. Apparently, he had a hard time believing a guy who could take on the JSA could be taken out by a giant shark.”
“Don’t forget the missile,” he said. “Or all that damn electricity in the water. It was like taking a bath and then someone throwing in a damn toaster. I had just hacked my way out of that big shark only to be greeted with that little surprise.”
“At least it seemed to shock you back to your old self… mentally speaking, anyway. You still look like the cover of one of my favorite romance novels,” Marcie said. “Nice hair, by the way. Right now, you look kind of like one of the bouncers at a Mötley Crüe concert.”
“I’m hoping it will go down soon,” he said, holding his hand up to his wild mane.
“I’m sure it will,” Spellbinder said, taking his arm. “Come on. We’ve got a jet waiting on us.”
Agent Liberty stood before Commander Steel, finishing his report on the mission to Qurac. “And so, while the mission was a complete success, I had hoped for better results on our side than two fatalities and three wounded.”
“One fatality,” Steel said. “I just received word from Cooper. She and Trevor are on their way back. Frankly, considering the resources you had to work with, I’m amazed you managed to hold onto as many as you did.”
“You are? If you didn’t have complete confidence in this team, then why did you send them all into the field? Why was Deep Blue the only one held back?” Agent Liberty said indignantly.
“Deep Blue aside, isn’t it obvious? You’ve been a soldier for nearly as long as I have, Munro,” Steel said, raising one eyebrow. “The best team is the one forged in the line of fire. The strong survive. The weak fall by the wayside. As the weak ones fall away, new recruits are brought in, and the process continues. I’d hoped a few more slots would have opened up with this mission, but they’ve proven themselves. I’ve got to give them that,” he sighed. “But at least Carcharo will make a nice addition to the team.”
“You’d add that monstrosity to the Squad?” Agent Liberty said, startled.
“Of course I would! His abilities will work well in the field. Of course, it’ll have to be a very specialized mission. I’m sorry if his moral character offends your delicate sensibilities,” Commander Steel said, leaning back in his chair. “I thought we’d already been through this sort of thing.”
“I’m not offended,” Agent Liberty said, stiffening. “I’m used to it. But I do see having him on the Squad as a potential powder keg with the rest of the team.”
“By the time his leg heals enough for him to walk without a noticeable limp, it might no longer be a problem… if you know what I mean.”
“Yes,” Agent Liberty said with a sigh. “I know exactly what you mean.”
“Are you OK?” Gypsy asked Arak as she stood by his bedside in the sick ward at Belle Reve Prison.
“Y-yeah,” he said, staring at his bandaged chest. “But I think I’ll have to wear a uniform with a shirt from now on, unless I want to show off my scars.”
“How about Penny?” she said, looking over at her sleeping form.
“She’ll be all right once the shock wears off,” Arak said. “All she really got from it was a few minor burns. She’d never had to deal with that much power before.”
He turned to where Doctor Trap lay with a custom-fit oxygen mask over his face and an IV line in his arm. Heart monitors were connected to keep a careful read of his vital signs. “Looks like Doctor Trap will live, too. The bastard.”
“How are you really doing?” Gypsy asked, “I mean, besides the scars?”
Arak took a deep breath. “Oh, God, Gypsy. It hurts so bad. Jesus. I mean… I’d known the dude for only a little while, but we were buds. I mean, it was like we were brothers or something.”
“I know,” Gypsy said huskily. Tears began to well up in her eyes. “Paco was like that. He either drove you crazy, or you immediately fell in love with him. Even if he drove you crazy, you eventually came around and began to love him in the end.”
Arak turned from her as he fought to keep his composure as his own tears surfaced. “Huh… Helix is my family. But Paco was… Paco was my friend.”
“You have other friends now, too, Arak,” Gypsy said, taking his hand. She leaned down and kissed his forehead. As he watched her walk out of the room, he realized he didn’t feel so alone anymore.