Episode One

     
 

 

On Earth

McQueen looked at the cat walking on the treadmill in front of him and manfully resisted the urge to boot the animal into orbit.

"I swear he's making it go faster." He complained to Amy and the woman perched on a bench nearby grinned at him.

"Don't be silly. He wouldn't do that. Would you, Ki?"

Ki responded by sitting down abruptly to wash his hind leg. No longer moving forward under his own power, the treadmill took over, rolling the cat backward under McQueen's feet. With a yelped curse, McQueen leapt up to sit on one handrail, his legs braced on the other. Both he and Amy watched as Ki continued to wash his leg until he was in danger of falling off the treadmill. Only then did he leap back up and trotted back to the front of the treadmill, looking back at McQueen as if wondering what the man was doing.

McQueen gritted his teeth as he dropped back down onto the treadmill.

"Don't even think it." Amy said, this time not bothering to look up from the chart she was reading.

"Think what?"

"About kicking him into orbit. Don't look so surprised. Some guys have actually tried it."

"And?"

"He's got all his claws and you have bare legs. And he knows which one is real.

McQueen glared at her then down at the cat. Ki walked jauntily, tail perfectly upright, giving him a perfect target. McQueen gritted his teeth and lengthened his stride, ignoring the twinge in his leg. To keep in place, Ki was forced to speed up. Not that really he seemed to mind. He looked like he could keep this up forever.

But McQueen couldn't. He'd been in excellent shape before his injury and still pretty much was but the explosion and the operations had been more draining then he liked to admit. The second operation had taken place just a few days ago and the formerly metallic leg was now covered with artificial skin. The coloring was remarkably similar to his own. In fact, once the scar faded, it could very well be indistinguishable from his natural skin. Oddly enough, that made him feel better.

Ignoring the ache growing in his leg, McQueen kept up his steady pace. He had a leg, a functioning leg that would qualify him for active services again and that's what matter. He could go back to the Saratoga and to the 58th. He had to go back. . .

A sharp "rrow" caught his attention and he looked down to see Ki had spun around and was in a half-crouch.

"What. . .? Don't you dare!"

But of course Ki would dare anything. He leapt, making it as far as McQueen's chest. Instinctively, McQueen caught him, stumbling backward. The next moment, he was falling off the treadmill, landing with a thump and a grunt. When he caught his breath and his vision cleared, it was to see Ki lying on his chest, purring mightily, Amy almost falling off the bench from laughing and Stienbeck in the doorway, grinning broadly.

"Cats do nothing for your dignity." The doctor said.

"Maybe that's why I don't like them." McQueen growled, glaring at Ki. The cat just purred harder and butted the man's chin with his head"

Actually, I think that's his subtle way of telling you that's enough exercise for the day. The way you're going at it, it might be enough for the week." Stienbeck raised a hand to forestall sharp words on McQueen's part and continued. "But that's not way I'm here. There's a call for you. Private, confidential, really long-distance, the whole shebang. You can take it in my office. You remember where it is."

"Yeah, thanks." McQueen was already struggling to his feet, something made harder by Ki's refusal to give up his comfortable perch. He finally managed to get the cat peeled off of him and reached for the cane Stienbeck insist he use. Actually, the doctor would much rather him use a wheelchair but McQueen had drawn the line at that. He hurried from the room as fast as he could, not noticing the sleek seal-point figure trotted eagerly at his heels and the bemused grins on both Amy and Stienbeck's face.

Stienbeck's office was tucked into a corner of the hospital and was actually fairly large, making use of left-over space not suited for anything else. McQueen closed the door firmly and sank down into the comfortable chair behind the surprisingly small and battered desk. It was already facing the communications screen and he felt his heart jump to see Ross there. The other man looked exhausted but there was a distinctive gleam in his eye.

"Vansen and Damphousse have been found." He said bluntly, not even bothering with a greeting. "Battered, bruised, and hungry but alive."

McQueen let that sink in, his face totally expressionless from shock. He'd hoped but had seriously doubted they'd ever be found. After a moment, he closed his eyes then re-opened him, stubborn determination flaring. He had to get back to the Saratoga and soon.

"I don't have much time." Ross continued and McQueen realized he was in his dress blues. That damn court-marshal!!! "They're going to testify." A grim smile played on his lips. "The doc keeps trying to confine them to sickbay but Vansen still has her k-bar and I think he's scared to death of her." He shook his head. "Get back here, Ty. Soon."

"I will." McQueen promised. "Another few weeks, I think."

Ross nodded sharply then sudden surprise flared in his eyes, along with a gleam of amusement. "Who's your friend?"

McQueen blinked then looked behind him. Ki was perched there, peering over his shoulder at the screen. He sighed. He'd closed the door, of course, but, like most of the doors throughout this hospital, it had a cat door.

"Actually, this is the new rug for my quarters. What do you think of that, Ki?"

Ki nipped his nose.

Ross started laughing. Part of McQueen wanted to actually turn the cat into a rug, another part was glad to hear his old friend laugh. He probably hadn't had much chance to laugh over the past few weeks.

Ross abruptly feel silent, looking to his left. "I have to go. I'll contact you later, Ty." And the screen went dark.

McQueen leaned back in the chair, not noticing when Ki flowed from the back of  the chair and into his lap. Absently he stroked the cat as he stared blindly at the blank screen.

So. . .one way or another he had to get back to the Saratoga. The therapy was going good; both Amy and Stienbeck said he could be released within the week. He'd have to keep up the therapy for another three or four weeks. Stienbeck had offered him a room in his house so that Amy could continued the therapy on a more advanced scale. McQueen had protested at first until Amy had told him that Stienbeck's home was a huge sea-side Victorian mansion with plenty of room. In fact, she was staying there.

Then, of course, he'd have to convince the military he was ready for active duty. That may be the hard part but he would tackle that when it came up.

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