Disclaimer: Names, characters, places or incidents featured in this story belong either to Glen Morgan & James Wong (and 20th Century FOX) or they are a product of the author's (that's me) imagination. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. The jokes and the comments in this fan fic does not necessary represent the author's personal opinion.
Author's note: The text that Lance Corporal Hammer sings is 'As heaven is wide' preformed by Garbage. No copyright intended. The text that Gunny says is from William Shakespeare's Hamlet. Again, no copyright intended. The members of the 7th Force Recon belong to me.
Thanks to Vince for beta reading and giving me ideas to this story. There are not many people out there with such knowledge of Space (without passing over to 'nuts'). Thanks to SSgt. Hanson for giving me a heads-up on Marine behaviour. Also, thanks for the Recon Marine Cadence. (Not foxhole but fighter hole, dammit! Marines don't duck they take COVER!) And my special thanks to Billy for keeping my faith in a better world for all of us. Can't wait until you return from the sea, my friend.

Comments are always welcome at space_aab@yahoo.no


The 7th Force Recon
Book II:
Muzhestvo -The Quest for Courage


Anne Schjerven

"The morale of soldiers comes from three things: a feeling that they have an important job to do, a feeling that they are trained to do it well, and a feeling that their good work is appreciated and recognized."

She was standing on the top of a mountain. Alone as always. This wasn't anything new for Robbie. She had always been alone. She sensed a present behind her and turned, looking at the man. He was bathed in the sunlight and smiled to her. A very handsome man with light blond hair and blue eyes. "Roberta" he whispered, holding out his hand. She backed away, scared. Looking behind her she saw nothing but the rocky ground deep under her. She couldn't escape. Over her head an eagle flew but she did not notice it. Her eyes were locked on the man coming towards her. His expression changed into anger and his open hand became a fist. Her own expression changed to sheer terror and she put her hands over her face to protect herself...

"NO!" she awoke with a start, almost crashing her head in the bottom of the upper rack. She dropped down, trying to breathe normal again. Those nightmares were too frequently and sometimes too strong. She rolled on her side, watching the room of sleeping Marines. Hammer looked at them, almost afraid that she might have woken someone up. But there was nothing but silence. "If flesh could crawl my skin would fall off from my bones and run away from here" she muttered under her breath, her tone sarcastically. The idea had just hit her many nights ago. It was from a song that had been a bit popular amongst youths in early 21st Century. It meant everything that she wanted. She wanted away with every fibre in her body. But beyond this...this life as a Marine there was nothing. Nothing but sorrow and hurt. She frowned slightly and rolled on her back, closing her eyes and drifting into restless sleep.

The sound of reveille woke up the five Marines of the 7th Force Recon. Groans, moans and curses were heard throughout the room. Slowly the four men stepped out from their places, stretching and making a little dance on the cold deck. Hammer looked at them -amused- since she was smart enough to sleep in her socks. But in less than five mikes they were all ready. None of them were happy but as enlisted personnel they had all right to complain.

Gunny limped a bit, his leg still recovering from the wound he had gotten on 2063Yankee. The rest didn't even bother to look at the limping -they were all too dead tired. "Five hours of sleep isn't helping us much" Stratfurt said as he and the rest went to the Mess for some breakfast. "And I have seen better chow in a POW camp"

Craig stroke his hand over his short dark hair, his eyes shifting on them. "That is an overstatement, Pat. The chow isn't that bad" he said weakly and rubbed his neck. It was stiff after sleeping on those darn things the Military called mattresses. He had used toilet paper that was thicker.

Gunny smiled as they entered the Mess. He had to admit that his Marines were loud, annoying, mean, quick to draw blood and could complain about almost anything everywhere at any time. He could not have asked for anyone better. They all fitted each other out on different levels. Cummings was the smart one and the only one of them qualified to pilot. Stratfurt was the second in command and seemed to hold them together with talking about his family. Hammer was the radio operator and also the mechanic, knowing almost everything there was to know about radios and cars. Wakefield took the humour with his worried nature and charming face. He was also the one who knew most about weapons. And they were all damn good Marines. Gunny himself...well, Gunny was their leader. He was the one who had the information.

They got their chow and sat down, drinking their orange juice and taking the C-vitamins and Iron tablets as ordered. The last thing they needed in this war was Marines and Sailors with scurvy. Because of this, Gunny suspected that the food was throughout cooked, baked, fried, sealed and dried, killing all the vitamins and minerals.

Suddenly two young lieutenants approached them. The 7th quickly got in attention. Robbie looked at them, trying not to stare. Those Marines were in the 58th. One of them, a young man with a bony face, smiled. "At ease. You are the 7th Force Recon?" he asked, his voice soft with a hint of hesitation. No doubt a man who was used to say what he thought and yet was afraid to be interrupted by someone of a higher rank. He looked like that kind of man that America wanted in the uniform. Tall, strong and handsome.

Gunny looked at him, suppressing a scowl. He didn't remember getting into a brawl with zoomies. "Yes sir" he replied, his voice flat. He didn't like zoomies too much. They reminded him about his brother Raoul.

"We just came to thank you for saving our Honcho on 2063Yankee" the other man said. The line was no doubt practiced. The man was taller than the other with a handsome face and deep blue eyes. He looked like the kind of man who came on posters. Yet he had something childish over him and Gunny didn't need to look at the back of his neck to know he was a tank. He had served with a few during the AI rebellion and it became easy to spot them. However, this man seemed smarter.

"No problem" Hammer said, looking at the lieutenants. "It is our job," she added with a small smile. She enjoyed the sight of the men. Too bad they were officers...

The In Vitro frowned slightly, not really understanding her reply. The other man smiled faintly. "Anyway. Thanks" West said and walked away, followed by Lieutenant Hawkes.

The 7th sat down again, waiting a moment before collapsing in a fit of giggles. "Jesus...those fly boys really know a lot" Cummings chuckled and swallowed a spoon with oatmeal.

Wakefield grinned widely. "Maybe we should tell them we do this kind of stuff every day?" he said and looked at Gunny, as if to ask him of permission.

"Too late. Hammer already did that" Stratfurt nudged Robbie who just smiled.

Gunny sipped his coffee, looking at the youths. The 'fly boys' did just as much as the Infantry did, just in another way. But as most kids these youths saw on themselves as the best of the best. And that attitude saved mores lives than modesty. His eyes met Hammer's and he smiled. "What do you know?" he asked, knowing that look. Hammer was not only the only female but also the only know it all. If it wasn't gossip it was facts. And gossip around a ship like the Saratoga was very much facts.

Robbie bit her lip thoughtfully, as if wondering if she should share her information. "Those were Lieutenants Hawkes and West, right?" she asked, knowing the answer damn well.

Cummings almost choked on his orange juice. He coughed until he got his voice back. "Those zoomies were actually the Tank and the Tellus colonist?"

Robbie nodded and chuckled. "Yep. Nice huh?"

The boys rolled their eyes, eating. Hearing about Hammer and her appetite for men was always funny -as long as they could comment it. Not that the Lance Corporal dated much. She usually kept for herself. Wakefield looked over at Hammer. "Who do you find most attractive. Us our some fly boys?" he asked, pointing a finger at her.

"Fly boys are the reason I smile in the dark, Ben. Don't ya know?" Robbie teased; taking her coffee cup and sipping it like a real lady. Her manners were the only lady like thing with her. The 7th were yet in to meet someone who could tell as many dirty jokes and stories as Hammer. If it wasn't jokes it was stories and if it wasn't some she had experienced it was something she had picked up.

Stratfurt laughed over the comment. "My wife always tell me that she can't use what she can't abuse. Like her sexuality" he pointed out and sipped his coffee. Stratfurt's wife, Megan, was a writer who was currently at home with their two children Erin and Thomas. She was writing a book about the war using new articles and letters from Patrick. Sometimes, the rest of the 7th threw in a few wise words to go with the stories.

Hammer grinned and looked at them. "Consider me Joan of Arc coming back for more" she joked, putting her cup down and taking a bite of her dry toast.

"We tried that. Then we tried to consider you as the female version of Dan Daly. When that didn't work we were stuck with the term 'demon'" Cummings said with a half grin. Baiting Hammer had become a must in the unit and the woman loved it.

"That's the reason why I am not gonna die. The day I die is the day Satan starts packing" she looked critically at her food before pushing the tray away with a grimace. The chow had seen better days and her stomach would object to it sooner or later.

Gunny overlooked their cocky comments, knowing better. They were all playing tough but in reality they were all spooked by the war. But no one could survive by being scared. So they acted brave. Having a girl in the unit had actually helped because no one wanted to be worse than her and Hammer was one tough gal.

He wondered how long the human mind and body could handle the pressure, the stress, the moments of unadulterated fear and the lack of sleep and rest. Gunny had found himself almost shaking when he got up in the morning. His arms felt numb and he did not recognize his hands any more. They looked bigger, like if he was wearing invisible mittens. This damn war...

"To ERR is human, to FORGIVE divine. HOWEVER, neither is Marine Corps Policy."

"How do you feel about HALO jumps, ladies?" Gunnery Sergeant Victor Azaria asked the 7th Force Recon as they were standing in their quarters. He held up a parachute just to make his point. The Marines groaned and murmured. Gunny smiled, having some sick pleasure in seeing their reactions. Again he wondered if he should consider becoming a Drill Instructor after the war. If anyone were expert in taking pleasure of seeing young men and women groan in desperation it was them. "Cheer up cause we are going in. Yes, again we have about ten mikes of a nice drop through an alien planet's atmosphere. Don't we all just love it? Anyway, before you take out your picnic gear, listen up! The planet is hot and we are going to check if there is a snowball's chance in hell that we might build an air strip on the planet" Gunny quickly handed out a paper with a map. More groans. "Simple in and out. We stay there for 48 hours and then get extracted by our nice friends in the Army"

"Our 'nice' friends in the Army tends to be a few mikes too late" Stratfurt grinned weakly and shoved his hands in the pockets of his green combats. What he was unconsciously doing was playing with the cross he had there. It had been a going away present from his kids.

"Of course they do. What else do ya expect?" Hammer looked at Gunny, her expression somewhere between excited and tragically -as if she was wondering how many would die. "What do we get to bring with us back?"

"Information. How many Chig patrols do we see, how many are there in one patrol and they want to see how many of us returns" Gunny's eyes lit up again as he continued, his voice less serious. "The official briefing is in five mikes. General Hammon is doing that and as you know the good General is getting old so I am briefing you now"

"The planet is named Loki. It is a foggy planet but you will not encounter any problems. It is gonna be a light mission since the Chigs are an easy pray" General Hammon eyed the Marines and showed a holographic image of the planet. Hammon was a man is his late sixties with greying hair and a few inches too much around the waistline. He looked like he could never smile and tried to look as alert as he could.

Robbie smiled and chewed on her pen. She never liked the Brass. They threaded them like cannon fodder and personally she had gotten enough of them when she was assigned as a pencil pusher.

"The guy did a few minor missions in Texas during the AI rebellion and he *knows* that the Chigs are an easy prey" she muttered sarcastically. "Gotta hand it to him. No one blew up Texas while he was there," she added as an afterthought.

Wakefield bit into his fist to stop laughing. The General looked at him for a moment. "You will be dropped off at these co-ordinates and picked up there 48 hours later" the General looked at them as if he had personally trained each and every one of them. "I wish I was going with you"

"Sure. But someone has to stay behind and volunteer us" Robbie whispered again, her voice dripping with sarcasm. How the hell could this REMF know how it was? This was a different war than the Rebellion. A different enemy and a different world. Many different worlds when she thought about it.

Gunny smiled and looked down, having overheard the comment. He knew how Hammer felt. He felt the same way himself. How could that stupid General know how it was? He knew that the 7th did not need this extra briefing but the General had wanted to show himself off. Looking at the hatch, however, he saw that Commodore Ross was also watching.

"Do a good job, men. Dismissed" General Hammon said. The Marines got up and saluted him. He saluted back. "Lance Corporal Hammer. I want to speak with you" he barked.

Robbie stopped in getting her gear. Gunny stood beside her. "Don't say anything you'll regret, Robbie" he warned and walked with the rest.

Wakefield moved closer to her as he walked out. "Don't listen to Gunny. Say something and maybe we'll all get grounded and we can stay here in safety" he whispered and walked after Gunny.

As soon as the rest of the 7th had left (though she knew they would be right outside listening) the general approached her. "In every group of Marines there is one that the others look at for guidance and friendship. In this group, you are the one. Your record is good and you basically have the makings of a fine officer if you ever get into OCS. However, I don't like your attitude"

"Sir?" Robbie looked confused at him. "The Lance Corporal does not know if she is using an attitude, sir" she said in that annoying third person face that they learned in boot camp. No enlisted personnel addressed each other by ma'am and sir because it reminded them about boot camp. Rank only, as Gunny used to say.

Hammon moved, his face inches away from Robbie's. "You don't like me and I don't like you. I think you are a smart-ass, Lance Corporal. Someone who doesn't know what she is saying. Stop cracking jokes in the briefing!" he said in her face.

"Sir, the Lance Corporal-" Robbie started. She looked at his nose, not wanting an 'eyeballing' comment since the General was pretty pissed.

"You even say 'sir' as a smart-ass!"

Hammer looked at him. "How do you want me to say 'sir', sir?" she said after a moment, her voice strangely innocent and confused.

Hammon felt his anger boiling in his mind. "Get out of my face!"

She straightened, saluted him and left in a perfect left face. When she got outside, the rest were waiting for her. "What did he say?" Cummings asked her.

Robbie just smiled. She would not say much about this matter. "He doesn't like my attitude. When do we lift off?"

Wakefield eyed her. "15:00 hours. What do you mean that he doesn't like your attitude? It is the only thing keeping us sane" he said and bend down to tie his boots.

Hammer considered his words, a bit embarrassed about his feelings towards her attitude. "That gives us three hours to prepare. I'm hitting the sack for two hours" she said and walked towards their quarters.

"Down to the boys" Gunny marked with a small smile. "Too bad we can't go to the Tun. No drinking" he reminded them before heading to the gym.

Gunny liked those few hours for himself. Just working out and maybe sitting on the Observation deck reading books written by heroes. His love for the stars had only been cut by the fact that his math scores were bad. He never could put himself in those math problems. He knew how to add and divide but had no idea of understanding those things needed to pilot a SA-43 Hammerhead. He was almost shocked when he got over 105 during Boot Camp, which made him consider Recon. Since Recon demanded volunteers, he hadn't been so quick. He had a brother in the Corps and wouldn't want to have his mother wondering about both her sons. He had actually joined to be a JAG but the cards had changed...maybe for the better.

That was during the years of the AI Rebellion. Now there was another war, which he actually had started to get used to. He stood and looked at the stars, not really seeing. He remembered something his teacher used to say. . ."There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy"

Robbie saw standing in the bathroom, looking at her own reflection in the mirror. The eyes that stared back on her were so cold. She didn't look any different except from the lines forming from her nose to her mouth. Her eyes looked like his...the resemblance was almost terrifying. She swallowed, demanding herself to get a grip. She fixed her hair and got out of the head. She sat down on her bunk and took out a magazine. Her eyes wandered to the clock. One hour left.

They were all anxious. To deny it was to deny that they were breathing. No one talked, just kept their eyes on the bulkhead. Wakefield seemed to count scratches in the bulkhead. Stratfurt's hands were upon the cross as usual. Cummings just seemed to think and Hammer bit her lip slightly.

Gunny was sitting next to the hatch, counting the minutes for their drop. He was surprisingly calm and yet he felt like throwing up. His eyes went to his watch. It was time. "Okay! Put on your masks!" he yelled as he put on his own mask. The rest did the same. "You know the meeting co-ordinates. Get in line!"

They got in line beside him. Hammer first, then Cummings then Stratfurt and then Wakefield. Gunny moved his hand to the big red button and the hatch opened slowly. "Come on! Move it! Do you wanna live forever?" he yelled as they moved.

Hammer jumped out without hesitation, knowing that the rest would be right behind her. She concentrated on what she had learned in her training. Wait...wait...she opened the parachute and braced herself. She was jerked up and then she saw the ground slowly closing. She remembered the training. Bend your knees and roll; let your legs absorb the hit. She cut the parachute, rolled and got up on her knees. The parachute landed a meter away from her and she crawled to it and packed it in.

Gunny landed a few meters away from her as the last one. He groaned and got up. "I'll never get used to this," he said as he packed in his chute. His leg hurt a bit when he rolled and he grimaced.

"Your leg still weak?" Robbie asked her commander, giving him a sympathy look.

Gunny grinned and sat down on his pack. "No. If it was I would make you carry me"

She knew he was lying but she did not show that. He didn't want help anyway. "I'd rather not, Gunny" she said and lifted up her pack, throwing it over her shoulder. "We are about two minutes walk away from the LZ. Let's rendezvous with the rest"

Gunny got up, grabbed his pack and took the lead. It was true what the General had said...the planet was foggy. "I'd like to go to a planet with a nicer name some time" Gunny marked as he held his M590.

Robbie chuckled. "I know the feeling. A planet with the name Loki isn't either so pleasant. Considering the fact that Loki was mean as hell"

"Good thing we are that as well" Gunny replied with a smile.

They walked like that until they heard the familiar tone of Wakefield's worried voice. "Jesus, you scared the shit outta us. We thought you were some Chig bastards coming to mess with us," he said in a hushed tone.

"You are paranoid" Cummings marked and grinned. It was almost impossible to see the paint on his dark skin.

Gunny walked up front, his M590 ready to fire. "Let's move out and dig a fighter hole" he ordered and they started to move. Gunny had the habit of never saying foxhole. A foxhole was meant for hiding; a fighter hole meant fighting. After all, he was a Marine. And Marines don't hide.

They were sitting in the fighter hole one hour later, rather comfy with their ponchos and their canteens. Gunny held watch, sitting by a tree outside with his night goggles.

The rest of the 7th were sitting ready for any attack. Stratfurt smiled to them. "Anyone know the cadence 'Force Recon'?" he asked after a while to break the tension.

"Senior Drill Instructor Sergeant Major Hallmark used to make us run to it" Hammer said with a weak smile. Everyone remembered his or hers senior Drill Instructor's full name and rank.

"Paint my face black and green, you won't see me -I'm a Recon Marine. I slip and slither into the night. You won't see me till I'm ready to fight. You'll run into the bushes and you'll try to hide. But that's where I live -you're sure to die. You won't see me till it's too late. A flash of my pang will be your fate" she said, her voice harsh and no doubt an imitation of her Drill Instructor's.

They all chuckled and looked at each other. Yeah, things were not very different here than onboard the Saratoga. Except maybe the paint. They sat in silence until they heard movements outside. They grabbed their weapons and waited.

"Tun Tavern" a voice said from outside.

"1775" Stratfurt replied.

Gunny crawled in. "Cummings, you're next" he said and pointed on Craig.

Cummings took his night goggles and his weapon and crawled outside. Gunny opened a can with MRE. "Did you see anything out there?" Robbie asked after a while. She dreaded the answer. Chigs were not really her idea of a fun time but at least they were better than the AIs. The Silicates scared the crap out of her.

Gunny swallowed a spoon full of spammed ham. "Yeah. One Chig patrol with roughly three Chigs" he answered and drank some water.

"That's the usual number when they are on patrol," Wakefield said, stating the obvious as usual. "Can we pack and go home now?"

It was hard to believe that Wakefield actually has been the top of his class and was a damn good Recon Marine. He looked weary, scared and nervous but underneath that he was cool and dangerous for his enemies. But as he always said, when you have the choice between being brave and die the decision is easy.

"The Marines are careful, brave fighter...they were like hunter, boring in relentlessly without fear. I never heard a wounded Marine moan."
    General U.S. Army General...Staff

The dogwatch. A well known and perhaps a hated term throughout history. Hammer sat by the tree, covered in camouflage and with her weapon ready. It seemed to be a normal state for her now -ready for trouble and ready for a fight. Yet she felt chilled and almost scared. Because she had seen nights like this. But at least the men she served with were not telling her to hide or to crawl for cover or anything like that. She had been put on watch just like the rest of them and for that she was grateful. She was fed up with being careful. She wanted to be in the action, where the fighting took place. She wasn't like Gunny. She didn't see what the Corps wanted by having her on the back line. Getting back into Recon was the best thing that had happened to her since she finished boot camp. Nothing could scare her. She had faced demons before and she had won.

Still, her nightmares were recurring and she shuddered by the thought of them. Not only nightmares but also recalling memories of her father. Blonde, always in front of a light. She had been five years old when he died. He had abused her mother ever since before Roberta was born and one night he came home -drunk- and hit his five year old daughter. This had made her mother so mad that she killed him. She remembered how he smelled. He smelled out of bourbon and something worse.

She opened her eyes, suddenly aware that she had fallen asleep. She checked her watch. Her shift was over twenty mikes ago. She crawled over to the fighter hole and whispered. "Tun tavern"

"1775" Wakefield replied. "You were supposed to wake me 20 mikes ago" he accused.

She smiled; glad he couldn't see how pale she was. "I thought you needed your sleep" she whispered and sat down, pulling her cover down over her eyes.

Gunny looked over at Hammer, seeing that haunted look in her eyes. Like a horse he once had that was afraid for cars. The same look, the same moves. He wondered what was going on but kept his mouth shut. It wasn't his business and he didn't know her well enough to ask.

He looked at his watch, scowling as usual when he wasn't pleased. Still twelve hours left before extraction and they had gotten all the information they needed.

"INCOMING!" a voice cried. It wasn't hard to hear that it was Wakefield yelling on the top of his lungs.

Gunny took cover, protecting his ears, as a Chig mortal hit not far from the Fighter hole. He looked up. "What the hell is going on?" he demanded to know.

Wakefield's voice broke through the radio. "They spotted us! It is pretty hairy here! I could sure appreciate some help!"

Gunny pointed at Cummings and Stratfurt, who moved out to help Wakefield. Gunny crawled over to Robbie since she wasn't moving. Turning her, he saw that her eyes were closed and there were coming blood from them. "Jesus..." he whispered and took off her helmet, checking the damage. Apparently her goggles had exploded from the pressure wave and blown up in her face. Since they were placed over her forehead, the shattered glass had only hit her eyes and nose. "Hammer. Hammer, c'mon...don't give up on us" he said, cradling her in his arms with a worried expression on his face.

Hammer coughed and tried to open her eyes. "I can't see," she said, her voice worried and scared. "Why...why can't I see?"

"You have pieces of glass in your eyes. Just relax, I am going to put on a field dressing. Are you all right?" Gunny opened his pack, looking worried at her but encouraging his Marine. Robbie nodded. "Yeah. It stings but its not that badly. I just...I wish I could open my eyes and get these images out of my mind" she took a shallow breath.

Gunny knew that it must hurt like hell and that she was just saying that it was okay. He felt strangely proud. "What do you see, Robbie?" he asked as he put on the dressing.

"The sun. My father coming closer" she grimaced, balling her hands into fists. "He is getting closer...stop him!"

Gunny took her into his arms as another shell hit. "It's okay. You are far away from him. Just relax. I'm with you" he whispered as he held her. Their lips were so close...but he knew that he couldn't kiss her. There was so much that was between them and something inside him stopped him. He took the radio. "USS Saratoga, this is Delta Five. We are under heavy fire, repeat. We are under heavy fire. One Marine down. Advise?"

The soft humming from the Radio was all that sounded for a while until a voice cracked through. "Delta Five, hold tight. We are pulling you out. Thirty mikes until air cover"

"Roger that" Gunny replied, wincing as another explosion was heard. "Delta five out" he said and looked over at Hammer. The young woman was clenching her rifle. "Air cover will be here in 30 mikes. We have to move"

She started getting up and Gunny moved, offering his body as support. Robbie grabbed his arm. "You'll be my eyes," she said in a low voice.

Gunny nodded then realized she could not see that. "Sure" he said as they crawled outside. Cummings was soon by their side.

"What happened?" he asked, putting his arm around Robbie's shoulder.

"Night goggles exploded" Robbie replied, her voice surprisingly strong.

Cummings winced and moved Gunny and Hammer towards a tree. "Stay here in cover. We are falling back" he yelled over the din and moved to cover Stratfurt as he fell back.

Hammer chuckled. "Who would have guessed?" she muttered as she felt Gunny covered her head as another mortal fell. "That I would be stuck on a planet with a guy like you"

Gunny laughed. "Pure luck, Lance Corporal"

"I'm not so sure" She joked half-hearted.

Gunny looked up in the sky. Where the hell was air cover? He looked at his watch. The thirty mikes were up.

"Delta Five. Are you the guys that called 911? Get some cover"

The bombs swept over the area, taking out a few Chigs and scaring the rest off. The Hammerheads carpet-bombed the whole area. Through the smoke, five Marines walked out proudly. One was holding one up; the rest were walking on their own. The Army sergeant looked at the scene almost in awe. Only Marines could survive a battle and a bombing like that. "Get in! Launch window is only open for five mikes!" he yelled to them.

They started speeding up. Gunny helped Hammer into the ISSAPC and waited until the rest were in before entering himself. The hatch closed brutally behind them. Gunny watched Hammer who was quickly swept off her feet by a corpsman. The ISSAPC took off and Gunny sat down, grabbing a carton with water.

"That was a nasty one" Stratfurt said slowly, his camouflage pant in his face smeared. He smiled warmly and his blue eyes got their life back. He said the exact same words every time after a mission.

Wakefield sat back, looking at the bulkhead. "Never again, gentlemen. I am seriously considering joining the Air Force" he said and grinned. "The chicks love the uniform" he suddenly pointed out.

"Maybe you should consider the Coast Guard so you can get the powder blue uniform" Gunny suggested. "Whatever service you choose, however, you'll still be in the war," he added as an afterthought.

Wakefield grimaced and looked over at Robbie. "I could live with being a REMF"

Cummings rolled his eyes and strapped himself in. "That we may consider when we get to the Saratoga" he looked over at Hammer. "Is she gonna be okay?" he asked, his voice expressing his worry towards their fellow Marine comrade.

Gunny rested his head back against the bulkhead. "Yes. According to the doctor everything can be fixed" he said, his voice soft and tired. He felt like he was one hundred years old. "Good. Cause I am starting to get used to have a chick in our Unit" he grinned to Gunny and took some water.

Meanwhile, Robbie was talking to the doc. "How soon will I be able see again?" she asked, holding herself still as the doctor checked her eyes.

"You'll need surgery and then your eyes will need a two day resting period. You should be able to be back on duty after a week" the doctor said as she put on the bandage. "But we'll worry about that later"

Gunny waited restless in sickbay. Of course he was worried for Hammer, she was under his command. He hated sickbays -he could never see how the corpsmen could deal with both combat and sickbay. The smelled of anaesthetic, drugs and cleaning products nauseated him and he wanted to turn tail and run. And of course there was the annoying white colour. The colour reminded him of the month he spend in a sickbay during the Rebellion. Standing in his khaki uniform he was easy to point out. He sat down, looking at his newly polished shoes. He really lived up to the expression 'spit and polish'. It seemed easier to visit in full khaki uniform than in combats. For the first, the nurses would let you in. And he had something special to award the woman with as well. He smiled and opened the small box. A Purple Heart looked back at him with its traditional face and heart shape.

"Are we interrupting, Gunny?" a voice said. Gunny turned to see Stratfurt stand there in full khaki uniform, followed by the rest of the 7th. "Can't let you hand Hammer a medal without us there"

Gunny smiled and stood up. Again he felt that pang of seeing the men under his command standing so tall and handsome. He felt like a proud father. "Of course not" he said and smiled.

"You can visit her now," a nurse said, touching Gunny's arm.

Gunny and the rest of the 7th Force Recon entered the small room in sick bay, seeing Hammer lye in the sickbed. She had bandage over her eyes. "Hey, guys" she said and smiled.

"How did you know it was us?" Ben asked and walked towards her, sitting down in a chair. She chuckled. "I smelled your aftershave. You use too much. Tramp, isn't it?"

Ben blushed. "Yeah..." he said and looked away. It was easy to forget that Wakefield was just 19 years old. A teenager in a warrior's body.

Gunny approached the bed and sat down beside. He opened the box and took out the Purple Heart. "On behave of the United States of America, the Secretary General of the United Nations and the United States Marine Corps I hereby give you the..." he pinned it to her hospital gown. "The Purple Heart. Can also be used to pin your hair up, sew on new buttons and pinch people" he smiled and shook her hand. "If you have one from before, you can give it to Cummings. He has a lack on Medals"

Robbie giggled. "Thanks guys. For saving my ass among other things," she said, her voice turning serious. She owned them her life. Patrick looked at her, his eyes serious. "You'll pay us back later. When will you be back on your feet?" he asked. He would have a lot to write to Megan that night.

"Soon. Within the week. If I am lucky, anyway" she said and smiled again.

"The queerest of queer, ladies and gentlemen" Wakefield said in his most reporters like voice.

"I give you the real Devil Dog of the USMC, Lance Corporal Roberta 'Howlin' Mad Robbie' Hammer"

Gunny laughed and touched Hammer's hand. "Get some sleep, Marine" he said and got up. The rest followed him. Hammer rested her head against her pillow and fell asleep.

"Roberta. Sweetheart. Come to daddy" the voice whispered. She was standing on the mountain again. The man in the sunlight came closer to her. "Come to daddy"

Robbie looked at the man and then she looked up at the sky. An Eagle flew over her head, across the canyon. She watched it, a small smile appearing on her face. She looked down at the mountain, seeing the rocks beneath her. The man closed, raising his fist. "Muzhestvo" she challenged and threw herself out from the mountain. She fell slowly and then she flew with the eagle. Free from all worries.

Robbie woke up, a small smile on her lips. "Muzhestvo" she whispered. She hadn't spoken Russian since she was five. That meant courage. She rolled on her side and fell asleep again. This time without any dreams.

Next in the Third book about 'The 7th Force Recon':

Personal diary for Gunnery Sergeant V. Azaria. Mission #21, entry one

Giving us an experimental craft without weapons is like calling the Japanese during WWII and tell them that Doolittle was gonna bomb. We need weapons! Without weapons, we are sitting ducks on the asteroids. I guess we just have to put our faith in Cummings and his skills. The craft is very crampy...only room for top five Marines. We are starting to drive each other insane. I know that I should be used to missions like this by now but there is a difference between willingly putting yourself in danger and being put in unnecessary danger. I have a bad feeling about this mission...

End recording.

Next : Book Three - Natio Fides

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