“John,” Sue whispered as if John’s ears and not his eyes were damaged, “the commander will see you now.” Standing, Sue took his arm, the two walking in slow step like mother and groom through the door to the solitary chair sitting quietly in front of the commander’s large ornate desk. Pictures, a virtual who’s who lined the walls between shelves of multi-colored tomes on topics of leadership and men, or war and not-war. John didn’t need his eyes, the room breathed history, decorum, tradition, right and wrong, black and white. Taking a breath, the familiar smell of spit and polish mixed with buildings academic, which was to say of government issued paint. Go to any military base on the planet and that smell was there, unmistakably, like some warlike god had marked his hallow grounds. And with that smell came the memories, the shouts, the triumphs and disappointments, the long runs and crappy food. The smell was not just a smell, the smell was military life itself. The sounds would come later as would the images of sweat and blood, but before them all, was the masculine aroma of wood and metal, of cleanliness and government issue.

“Thank you Sue,” said the commander. “That will be all.”

John sat, his back upright at attention, bandages over his eyes. He heard the sound of a chair skirting across the floor, of heels clicking on wood, of papers lifted and placed, of heavily starched clothing resisting the tug and crease of measured movement. John marveled at how quickly his sense of hearing had developed, as if a whole world he had never taken notice of before was dancing before his mind, delighting in the attention as children before relatives. The commander breathed and John felt his heavy bulldog eyes settle into a pregnant gaze. Whether the commander paused for effect or simply because he didn’t know what to say to his most decorated soldier, John could not tell. Either way, the silence was unnerving.

“John, as a career military man, I’ve been taught all my life to look for patterns, that patterns don’t lie. Men lie. Men rationalize. Men plot and plan, scheme and dream and change their mind more often than women, but one thing remains true–the patterns of a man’s life, the decisions he makes over time. Free will; that is bullshit. We aren’t free. We are programed, from birth. Me, you, and everyone else on this god forsaken planet. You understand what I am saying?”

John shifted slightly in his chair. “Sir, I’m afraid I don’t quite follow you.”

The commander picked up a folder, flipped through it like a professor bored, and placed it back down on his desk. “I’ve known you for more than twenty years. Saw you graduate first in your class, the best fighter pilot our academy has ever produced. Then I saw you enter medical school. Graduate in three years with honors as a world class heart surgeon before you reentered the academy and virtually rewrote our leadership training. I’ve got an entire filing cabinet of your exploits since. Not a single solitary blemish. On a personal note, I attended your wedding to Cait, was present at the birth of Ariel, and have enjoyed having you as our guest on many dinner occasions. You see John, I know your patterns. I know your choices. I know you inside and out, probably better than you know yourself. What you did John, fits no pattern that I know.”

“Yes sir.”

“You know, there are limits to how far I can go to protect you?”

“Yes sir, I understand.”

“Damn it John, do you? Do you understand the trouble you are in? And I’m not just talking about your career or the thought of prison, I’m talking about Cait too. Do you know how many times she has come to me. Asking me what was going on and I had no answer? Do you know she loves you like you were the last man on world? Do you know the pain and anguish you have put her through? Not to mention Ariel.”

John’s head bows as the weight of a sigh forced itself free.

“Well? Do you son?”

“I do.”

“I do? Is that it. I do? Care to elaborate? I’m all ears.”

One hour later . . .

“So her name is Kyra.”

“Yes sir.”

“And I should believe all that you have said?”

“Sir, at the risk of sounding sarcastic, what does my pattern tell you?”

The commander stood up. Without taking his eyes off John he clicked his comm, “Sue. Come in here, right away.”