Hello, my name is Jack.  We sometimes get too caught up in trying to keep from dying that we forget to be alive.  I promised myself a long time ago to see and recognize everything that makes life worth living.  To pursue joy, enjoy beauty, and all those other little fortune cookie statements.  Life is about looking back and seeing all the amazing times you had.  It is looking forward to all the sights you have yet to see.  I plan to live forever, but if I don’t, I’ve lived and I have no regrets.





Jack sat on his bed, legs dangling over the edge, and examined the other Jack smiling back at him.  He considered the unique position they were in, wondering how exactly to consider it.  Were they two people, one genie and one cyber, or were they one person that could be in two places?  He frowned.  He couldn’t see through the other Jack’s eyes, wasn’t experiencing what the other saw, so he supposed that meant they were different people.  But the other Jack was an exact copy of himself, or at least should be if the Peloran systems saved everything right.  The question of course was whether or not they had.

“Oh Brave New World, that has such people in it,” Betty whispered, and Jack could have sworn he heard the echoes of the redhead that made him audition for a part in that Shakespearean play.  He looked at the cyber version of himself and the other man winked at him, obviously having made the same connection.  Good.

“Oh, I do love the Tempest,” Jack said, imagining that amazing redhead on stage with him.

The other Jack let out a long sigh.  “Me too.  Definitely, me too,” he finished with a wink.

Jack chuckled and shook his head.  “But is it for the same reason I do?”

“Absolutely,” the other Jack answered, almost looking affronted.  “Miranda was…was…” the other Jack trailed off, obviously searching for words.

“Her, oh her, so perfect and so peerless, created of every creature’s best,” Jack filled in for the other man, only slightly blemishing the lines he’d learned all those years ago.  Or that they’d learned.  For the first time, Jack wondered how Betty kept things straight.

“Indeed,” the other Jack responded with a satisfied smile.  “You know, Sam reminds me of her.”

Jack sobered and pulled in a deep breath.  “Yes.  She does.”

“Do you think that’s why you…we fell for her?”  The other Jack met his eyes and Jack considered his question for several seconds before answering.

“I think it’s why I was interestedWe were.”  Jack shook his head in annoyance.  This was going to be really hard.  “Whatever.”

Betty laughed from the corner of the room, forcing both of them to turn to look at her.  “You’re interested in anything with breasts and a cute caboose,” she charged, shaking her head in mock disgust.

“Well, she’s got us there,” the other Jack said with a shrug.

“And I fail to see where that is a bad thing,” Jack answered without a pause.

The other Jack pursed his lips, doing an amazing job of acting like he was pondering the matter.  “True.  But we definitely need more than looks for the long term.”

Jack chuckled.  “Oh yes.  Must have brains.”

Betty snorted.  “That doesn’t put you on a high pedestal you know?  Zombies like brains too.”

“Yes, well,” Jack said with a sniff.  “Zombies are slow and clumsy while we…”

“Are swift and graceful,” the other Jack finished for him as he came to his feet to give her a debonair bow.

“Oh God,” Betty said with a look of horror.  “You’re finishing each other’s sentences now.  Please make it stop.”

“What?  Are we two much of a good thing?” Jack asked with a smirk.

Betty rolled her eyes and groaned.  “Not the bad puns too?” she said in a helpless tone.  “Hal?  A little help here?”

Hal flickered into existence and affected a gallant stance as he stepped between them and Betty.  “Now, now, please stop torturing my girl here.”

The other Jack sighed theatrically and exaggerated a shrug.  “I guess this much awesome is just two much to bear,” he said with a wink.

Hal snorted.  “Well, something is at least.”

“OK.  That’s it,” Betty barked, jamming her hands on both hips with a disgusted look.  “If someone doesn’t end this I’m ending it.  And you won’t like the way I end it.  Capiche?”

“Completely,” Hal said with a bow and turned to the cyber Jack.  “I am afraid that we really must cut this short.  A courier awaits to take you to New Earth.  Might I suggest that you hurry?  We are diving for action soon.”

“Ah,” the other Jack said and rubbed his chin, looking at Jack with a worried expression.  “You know it seems ironic.  I’m about as hard to kill as anything out there, but I’m the one going to a heavily fortified world, while you…”

“While I will get the glory for kicking the Shang’s asses across the galaxy,” Jack finished for him with a cocky tone and an airy wave of his hand.  “Don’t worry, we all play our parts in war.  You get to keep the home fires burning while better men keep the enemy burning,” he finished with a wink and an untroubled shrug.

The other Jack chuckled.  “Good luck, Jack,” he said with a smile that showed he understood exactly what Jack meant.  Then he gave Jack a sloppy salute.

Jack sighed and nodded.  “Good luck, Jack,” he finished with an identical salute.

The other Jack nodded, his holoform flickered, and the cyber left the room.

Hal waited a second before smiling.  “The courier is away.”

“Wow,” Jack said as he turned to Hal in surprise.  “That was quick.”

“Well, I did say it was waiting,” Hal returned with a smile, before giving Jack a more serious look.  “Don’t worry.  We will be watching him.”

Jack frowned as he considered what the words meant.  “I’m not certain I like that.”  He’d never been one that enjoyed being watched.  Unless it was girls doing the watching of course.

Hal nodded in understanding.  “You value your privacy.”

“Yes,” Jack said with a grim look.  He really didn’t like giving that up.  Granted, he’d given it up when he joined the Marines, but this was different.  This was…life.  Outside the military.  And it was Her.

“We will respect it,” Hal returned.  “But we have to observe.”

Jack nodded his acceptance.  They’d stopped people from making cybernetic copies of themselves long ago because of problems with the cybers losing their connection with the humanity.  When all someone wanted to do was avoid dying, sometimes life went on the back burner.  But Jack wanted to live so much more than he wanted to just not die.  Hopefully that would make the difference.

“Thank you.”  Hal turned towards the hatch.  “Now you really should get moving.  The British are diving to deal with the Shang and we will be supporting them.”

Jack jumped to his feet, sniffed his armpits to make certain he didn’t smell too much and grabbed his uniform shirt.  “We aren’t leading the strike?” he asked as he began stuffing his arms in.

I am not,” Hal answered, emphasizing the first word so strongly that Jack knew he had a plan.  “We are not signatories to the Lunar Treaties.  You however will fly with the British and support them since you are so very obviously American and perfectly suited to enforcing the treaties.”

“Ah.”  Jack grabbed his trousers and pulled them on one leg at a time before stepping into his boots.  “Right.”  Jack tightened his belt and grabbed his leather flight jacket.  “Are we ready?” he asked, looking at Betty as he slipped it onto his arms.

“Always,” she answered and her form flickered.  Her yellow sundress faded away to be replaced by her full service uniform, complete with matching flight jacket.  “Shall we go?” she asked with an impish smile.

“We shall,” Jack returned with a humoring smile and walked past Hal towards the hatch.  It opened for him and he stepped into Cowboy Country to see the last of the Cowboys disappearing down the corridor towards the launch bay.  He grunted at the sight.  “Maybe we should hurry,” he added and followed after them at a jog.

“Don’t worry, I’m warming our systems up,” Betty returned, keeping pace with him.  His mind went back to the mad scramble of pilots and cybers on the Constellation when the Shang attacked Fort Wichita; how the passageways had been so crowded that the cybers were forced to sit on the shoulders of their pilots in small mode to avoid having someone walk through them.  He smiled at her, realizing one more time how the Guardian Light was like no warship he’d ever been on.  Not that he had a lot of experience with them.  He would have to ask Katy about her impressions.

Betty raised her eyebrow, a quizzical look on her face.

Jack shrugged, aimed an impish smile at her, and shot down the corridor, into the launch bay.  Jack looked up to see the squadron’s mix of Avengers and Hellcats cradled in four rows high, all the way to the end of the large bay.  He’d seen the bay empty, and it was a truly mammoth empty space.  He still didn’t know how Hal had cleared out the space for it, in addition to the fighters he already carried, but somehow he had without losing anything important.  At least Jack hoped nothing important had been lost.  But it was difficult to think about just how large the bay was when he was looking at it, filled with Avengers and their much smaller Hellcat cousins.  It looked cramped and tiny with the fighters taking up the bulk of the space.  Jack licked his lips in amazement.

“Betty?” was all he said though.  They had more important things to do after all.

“Ready,” she answered, either not catching his slight pause or letting it go for later.  She was probably just letting it go for later.

Jack felt gravity weaken around him and jumped up towards their fighter.  The subtle tug of the fighter’s gravity generators pulled him towards it and he flexed his legs, coming to a rest with a soft click of his boots next to the cockpit.  With a quick step forward he dropped into his seat, sat down, and began fastening his restraints.  The displays began to flash to life around him, showing the fighter’s systems coming online.

“Cowboy One to all Cowboys,” Charles voice came over the comm. system.  “Report your status.”

Jack checked the displays once again, making certain that all systems showed green, and a pleased smile covered his face as the canopy came down, sealing him in.

“Cowboy Fourteen, ready to launch,” Katy reported, her voice showing only the calm readiness of a combat veteran with decades of experience.

“Buckaroo Flight is ready for action,” Ken’s words came through his system.  They carried a different tone than Katy’s, less military precision and more of the California surfer attitude that Ken had learned on the beaches.  That attitude was probably one of the reasons he and Ken got alone so well.

“Dutchman Flight, locked and loaded,” Jessie announced in a no-nonsense tone that reflected his Kansas farming background.  Considering his history with farmers, especially in pertaining to farmers’ daughters, Jack had been mildly surprised to find that Jessie had a truly dry sense of humor and could pull off jokes with the best of them.  Not that anyone could tell that when he was preparing for battle.

Jack smiled and nodded towards the console where Betty sat in small mode.  He had a good set of people working with him.  He would take them into battle anytime.  She smiled, seeming to know exactly what he was thinking, and her holoform flickered.  His smile broadened as her yellow sundress came back into focus and she crossed her legs.  He shook his head.  Yes, he truly had good people here.

“Jester Division is ready to kick ass,” he said, trusting her to transmit his words on.

She smiled back at him and nodded, accepting what his smile said over the words meant for Charles.  Then his eyes pulled away from her as the Guardian Light’s hull began to split open, showing him the multi-colored swirling spectrum of hyperspace’s twisted gravity waves.  His breath caught once again at the beauty of it all.  It was one of the most amazing sights he’d ever seen in his life.  The sight was almost enough to make one believe in God.  He let out a long breath as the reminder that it was his job to go out in a fighter and fly through it, with nothing but a see-through canopy between him and it set in.  This was a truly amazing life he led now.

“All Cowboys, commence launch pattern now,” Charles ordered and the first of the Avengers shot out of the kilometer-long battleship, reaching out for hyperspace.  Avengers and Hellcats blasted out after their commander one after another, far enough from each other to remain safe.

Finally a green light came on, telling him it was his time to launch.  He and Betty shared another smile, he slammed the throttle forward, and their Avenger clawed her way into hyperspace, leaving the Guardian Light behind.