All Characters and the original premise belong to Glen Morgan and James Wong, Hard Eight Pictures, Inc., and 20th Century FOX, borrowed without permission.  No copyright infringement intended.  Members of the Space Corsairs, Seal Team Seven, SAS Troop Eight, this story and any other non-familiar characters are my creations and may not be used or posted anywhere without my persmission.  Quoted material has been used without permission and noted in text.

Thanks to the gang on the saabfanfic list for beta reading.  Special thanks to Werrf for the idea in the first place, helping out with tactical plot details, and supplying me with needed information.  Hugs and CCCH/McQ's for those  who encouraged me insistently (Dianna, MaryAnn, Hondo, and Una)

Aftermath takes place after 'Tell Our Moms We've Done Our Best'

22nd Squadron (Double Deuce)
~Space Corsairs~
Major Kramer Baranek "Crimson Witch"—commander of the 22nd
Captain Kevin Walker "Buccaneer"—22nd Squadron's XO
Lieutenant Lisa Romero "Rogue"
Lieutenant Renee Marten "Outlaw"
Lieutenant Jeremy Sutcliffe "Pirate"
Lieutenant Jackson Porter "Scoundrel"
Lieutenant Michael Carter "Marauder"

Navy SEAL Team Seven
Lieutenant Robert Raines—commander; intelligence specialist
Lieutenant (jg) Eric Dahl—demolition; electronics technician
Lieutenant (jg) Craig Johnson —corpsman
Sgt. Max Olsen—operations specialist
Sgt. Sam Grant—radioman; grenadier

SAS Squad D, Troop 8
Lieutenant Oscar "Ozzie" Cushing—commander
Lieutenant Brian Montgomery—intelligence officer
Lieutenant William Forrester—explosive ordinance detail
Lieutenant Tom McKenna—communications expert
Sgt. Dr. Alexander Barrie—medic

Rated: PG-13 for some non-too-bad violence and bad language

Comments welcome—Send to: catanus@hotmail.com



Jessica Fry

The historians can't seem to settle whether to call this one "The Third Space War" (or the fourth), or whether "The First Interstellar War" fits better.
We just call it "The Bug War."
Everything up to then and still later were "incidents," "patrols," or "police actions."
However, you are just as dead if you buy the farm in an "incident" as you are if you buy it in a declared war….

--Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers

Autumn 2064

It had been a hectic aboard the USS Saratoga since the Chig ambassador, under a flag of peace, had smuggled a bomb onboard and blew up the peace conference.  As a result, many high ranking officers were dead, and Lt. Col. T. C. McQueen seriously hurt.

There had been an ongoing search for members of the 58th Squadron--classified as Missing In Action.  The searches were more difficult by the continuing presence of the Chigs on and around the planet 2063 Yankee. Many hoped Captain Shane Vansen and Lieutenant Vanessa Damphousse had safely landed the APC cockpit on the surface. 

There was still no sign of Lieutenant Paul Wang but it didn't look good.

The thick, cloud-covered atmosphere of 2063Y made it increasingly difficult to get accurate lidar scans of the surface.  The light couldn't penetrate through to the ground, forcing the search groups had to rely on radar for their information.  It was slower and not as accurate, but it was what they had to work with.

Saratoga's largest briefing room was filled to capacity.  Commodore Glen Ross walked into the room and took his familiar spot in front.  He looked out to the faces of those assembled. Not the faces of his pilots, but of special forces team members.  As a former Navy SEAL himself, Ross knew what these individuals were capable of.  They would need all of their skills and experience to pull off the mission he was about to send them out on.

The room quieted down as Ross turned on the display screen and turned to speak. 
"Okay, people.  Listen up!  We've gotten what could be our biggest break in the last couple of weeks."  He brought an image of  2063Y up on the display.

"Radar has picked up something in the general area we believe the downed APC cockpit crashed.  It doesn't register as an enemy aircraft."

Murmurs and whispers filled the room from the revelation of this surprising turn of events.  Ross waited for a moment, then continued. 
"Because of the heavy concentration of enemy forces, both in orbit and on the surface of 2063 Yankee, we have to move now, without strong confirmation of the scans."

"Lieutenant Raines' SEAL team will go down and locate the APC and any survivors.  Due to the nature of this mission, an SAS troop, commanded by Lieutenant Cushing, has been assigned as well for a joint venture." 
The two teams were not unfamiliar with one another.  They had worked together on a number of occasions and over time had developed a friendly rivalry.

Sgt. Max Olsen, the SEAL team's ops specialist, raised his hand.  "Commodore?"

"Yes, Sgt. Olsen?"

"Sir, do we know how many Chigs are in that area?"

"The numbers are sketchy, but Intel says three patrol groups could be making their way across the area very soon.  It doesn't give you all much time to get in, make your sweep of the area, get our people, and make the extraction site."

Lieutenant Brian Montgomery of the SAS spoke up. 
"Why do we have to go in now?  Why not wait until we can get better information about the area and enemy movement?  I don't see the point in risking the lives of 12 men with insufficient details, just for two people."

Ross' face darkened and his eyes narrowed to small slits.

"Lieutenant Montgomery, I realize that you haven't been in the military very long, so allow me to give you a little lesson."

The tension level of the room increased dramatically.  Ross spoke forcefully, leaving no doubt as to the validity of his statements.  "If the possibly of rescuing two of MY pilots is given to me, then I will send how ever many men it takes to bring them home safely."

The commodore now stood directly in front of Lt. Montgomery, placing his rather large hands on table top attached to the seat.  "Captain Vansen and Lieutenant Damphousse are two of the best pilots in the Corps, and they are decorated heroes who risked their lives to ensure the safety of those hostages.  DO YOU READ ME?"

"Y...Yes sir," said Lieutenant Montgomery.  Lieutenant Cushing was aghast.  He couldn't believe one of his men had said such a thing.

Ross resumed his composure, turned, and resumed his place in front.
  "You will make an insertion onto planet 2063 Yankee and find those Marines.  Any and all resources are yours to use.  This is what you all have been trained for.  You leave at 0600."  Commodore Ross turned and headed back to his bridge.  He knew he was leaving the rescue of the two pilots in good hands.

Everyone stood and mingled around.  Lieutenant Montgomery's teammates quickly berated his actions.

"I can't believe you, Montgomery,"  Lieutenant Tom McKenna bellowed in his Scottish brogue.  "Of all the idiotic things to do, and right before a mission."

"Hey, I was just looking out for everyone.  It's my job to see that good information is gotten to form a good mission plan."

"Well, next time, keep your mouth shut!" piped in Lieutenant William Forrester.  "Or I might have to shut it for you."

"All right, that's enough."  Lieutenant Robert Raines came up behind the team.  "We don't need to be arguing over petty things before a battle.  Everyone has things to do to prepare."

"Well, Lieutenant, it looks like we'll get to be heroes together again."  Lieutenant Raines turned around to face Captain Ozzie Cushing.  They had known each other for many years, becoming quite good friends.  The lieutenant smiled and shook the other man's hand.

"Captain, it's good to see you.  I'm glad it's you assigned to this mission.  Time to kick some Chiggy butt around the cosmos and get our people back."

"That's the spirit," Lieutenant Cushing replied.  He was a veteran of the AI Rebellion, but had maintained his enthusiastic fighting spirit.  "Well, let's get this moving.  0600 will be here in no time at all."

"You're right."  Raines gave out a loud whistle to get everyone's attention.  Immediately the talking stopped as all eyes came to rest on the lieutenant.  "Everyone have a seat."

Both teams quickly took their seats.  Already there was an air of excitement that preceded an upcoming mission.  For many of them, it couldn't come soon enough.

"We don't have a lot of time to prepare for this one, but that is nothing new to you.  Everyone will pair off for preparation.  You've all worked together before; you know what needs to be done."  Lieutenant Raines looked at the faces before him and filled with pride.  Before him sat the best Special Forces teams the military had to offer, and he knew they wouldn't let him, the captain, or those missing Marines down.

"Montgomery.  You will be with the captain and me.  We need to get the most recent radar scans, surface reports, and enemy numbers.  Unless the lidar come back on line suddenly, this will be the only intel that we will receive."

"Yes, sir.  I'll get on that ASAP," replied the lieutenant.

"Good.  Dahl and Forrester.  Since we don't know exactly what we'll encounter, I want more than the usual amount of explosives going with us.  With those enemy troops coming in, we'll need all the help we can muster up."  The two lieutenants looked at each other and grinned.  As long as there was the expectation of blowing something up—especially Chigs—they were both very happy.

Lieutenant Cushing moved in next to Lieutenant Raines.  "Sgt. Olsen, make sure all the equipment is stored properly on board the ship.  After we get the Intel, you'll come with the lieutenants and I to plan out a strategy."  Olsen nodded in agreement.

"Yes, sir."

"Grant.  McKenna.  See that all the communications devices are in working order.  We're not sure what 2063 Y's atmosphere will do to any of our equipment.  If what's happening to the LIDAR is any indication, it's better to be prepared rather than with our necks on the chopping block."

"Aye, aye, sir."

"Sgt. Barrie.  I want you and Lieutenant Johnson to secure any medical supplies you will need.  Remember these Marines have been missing for two weeks.  We don't know the extent of the injuries they've sustained.  We need to be prepared for anything."

"Not to worry, sir.  If we find them alive, we'll make sure they get back here in the same way," stated Sgt. Barrie, and all in the room believed him.

"Thank you," Lt. Raines said as he prepared for his short briefing speech.  "People.  This shouldn't be a difficult mission.  We just go in, scout the area for survivors, secure them, and get on back here.  First round is on me in the Tun when we return."  Lieutenant Raines smiled while the men cheered.  After a bit, he deferred to Troop 8's commanding officer.  "Lieutenant Cushing, do you have anything to add?"

Cushing stood up and turned to face the group.  "Only this.  You wouldn't be here if your abilities weren't trusted.  When we return, I expect to see the same faces I see now, plus two more.  That's all."

Raines stood beside Cushing.  "All right.  Let's get this done.   Atten...hut!"

They all stood up and to attention.   "Be in the loading dock at 0515 for wheels up at 0600.  Dismissed," said Lieutenant Cushing. 

Lieutenant Raines watched the men file out of the briefing room.  He couldn't help feeling that by assigning these two teams for the upcoming mission, the chances for the recovery and safe return of the two Marines had increased tenfold.

Saratoga Bridge

"Radar scans definitely show a ship down there," Lt. Brian Montgomery stated.  He turned and walked back to the table that he, Lt. Raines, Sgt. Olsen and Lt. Cushing huddled over for the better part of two hours.

"Just as we thought," replied the lieutenant.  "However, the surface reports are still reading a large force of Chigs heading in that direction.  They seem to be in steadily moving in towards the ship, but they don't appear to have a precise fix on its location."

"If that's true, it could be just the break we need to retrieve those Marines," Lt. Raines said.  "Okay.  Each team will divide into pairs and move quickly towards the signal."

"Sounds good," answered Lt. Cushing.  "We can send your SEALs straight out on point with my people fanned out and shadowing them from the rear."

"Sir, if I may?"  Sgt. Olsen laid a readout displaying the terrain on Planet 2063Y.

"Go ahead, Sergeant."

"The terrain of this area would suggest that maybe the SAS team should keep on the rear left flank of the SEALS.   It's unlikely that the Chigs would risk coming over the high ground," he said pointing to it on the readout.

"As you can see, the right side of our attack will be almost entirely surrounded by the start of these hills.  On the left we've got this forest, and this flat plain between them is where the signal is originating. The Chigs would be vulnerable to detection and attack if they come over any of these hills.  But here where the forest is located seems a more likely  place.  Plus, from the projected angle of their arrival, it would be wasted time to move all of them up around the rise.  If we keep the Troop back and covering our left flank, I think we can prevent being ambushed ourselves."

"Excellent idea, Mr. Olsen," raved Lieutenant Cushing.  "Well, Robert, what do you think?"

Lt. Raines looked over the terrain readout for a moment and then looked up at the two gentlemen.  "I think those Chigs won't know what hit them," he said, slamming his fist down on top of the table.

Inside the APC, seven men were preparing for their mission. Lts. Eric Dahl and William Forrester were just finishing up securing their explosives.  Both men believed that it took a certain kind of man to do what they did, and that they were the best men for the job.

"You gotta love this stuff, mate," said Lt. Forrester nonchalantly, juggling with three of the grenades.  "You can toss it around, put it in a ship that goes through a battle, but unless you pull the pin or set off the fuse, it's harmless."

"I wouldn't exactly call a Smart Grenade harmless," replied Lt. Eric Dahl.  As much as the two men were similar, one big difference was that Eric wasn't as crazy as Will was.

"Oh, come on.  This little thing, it's just a kiddie toy."

"Yeah, and you're the kid.  For my sanity, just put it with the others."

"Listen to the man."  Lt. Craig Johnson came walking up behind them, finishing up with replenishing the medical supplies.   "I just got this stuff put away.  I don't want use it before tomorrow, and then I'm hoping not to use it."

"Hey, Barrie.  You're an educated man," said Dahl.  "What do you make of a man who likes to juggle grenades for fun?"

Sgt. Barrie, who was taking inventory of the medical supplies as Johnson was stocking them, strolled over to the group.  He pondered the question for a while and then spoke.  "I would make a coffin for him."

All the guys laughed, all except Will.  "Okay.  Okay," was Forrester's reply as he put the grenades away.

Sgt. Barrie looked to Lt. Johnson. "Well, it looks as though we're finished.  I think I'm going to retire for the night."

"I know what you mean," replied Johnson.  "I'm bushed.  I'll see you in the morning."  Both men said their good nights to the others and headed off to their bunks.

"So, Eric, what do you know about the two Marines we're going after."

"I don't know much about Lt. Damphousse, but Vansen--now there's my type of woman," answered Dahl, remembering when he'd run into her in one of the 'Toga's corridors a few months back.

"How do you mean?"

"Haven't you ever seen her, Will?  She's got this chocolate colored hair and her eyes are alive and full of fire.  She pretends to be so tough, but I think it's just an act because she's Honcho of the 58th.  I know the type.  Deep down, she wants something more than just the Corps."

"Since when did you turn into the lovey-dovey type?"

"I haven't, but I think I know how to treat a woman," was the curt response.

Sgt. Sam Grant and Lt. Tom McKenna were putting the finishing touches they'd made to the VID-PADs everyone would wear on their wrists and also to the T-1450 LOS Satellite Uplink.  By tweaking it, they had gotten a longer range and a slightly better reception.  They were also listening to Dahl and Forrester's conversation.

"I don't know if you're correct from what I've heard, Lt. Dahl," put forth Sgt. Grant.

"Oh, yeah.  How's that?"  It was well known that Sgt. Grant had informants in several areas of the military, with which he could garner all types of information.

"Apparently, her parents were both in the Corps and she joined up as a tribute to them.  She doesn't have time for frivolity or petty things.  They don't call her the 'Ice Queen' for nothing you know."

Dahl didn't like what he was hearing at all.  "So what makes you the expert on her?  Maybe I'm the one who can melt that icy exterior of hers."

"Hey, don't get so defensive.  I'm only saying what I've heard here and there.  That's all."

"And I bet that you think you're the person to give her what she needs, right?" Will kept egging him.

"Yeah, so?  I'm a damn sight better than those space jockeys in her squadron."

Lt. Forrester cut his friend off before he went on his tirade.  "Okay, okay.  I know.  Look, we're finished here.  Let's hit the racks and get some shut eye.  0600 will be here before we know it."

"That's a good idea," agreed Grant.  "We don't need to be arguing between ourselves.  Let's save it for the Chigs, tomorrow."

0600 Hrs

Lieutenants Cushing and Raines' teams, designated for the mission as Alpha One and Alpha Two, respectively, lifted off on time.  Commodore Ross called this mission "Operation Helping Hand."  He watched from the bridge of the 'Toga as the APC headed off to 2063Y.

"Commodore.  Alpha One has cleared the launch bay and is approximately 72 mikes from the planet," Lt. Elizabeth Conors reported.

"Thank you, Lieutenant.  Keep a comm signal open and the radar on them.  We don't know when, or if, we'll lose contact with them.  If we do lose them, I want to have a good idea of their last known location."

"Yes, Commodore."

Ross turned back to watch the shrinking image of the APC that held the people that might be the only hope of bringing Vansen and Damphousse home.  He hoped the faith he'd placed in those men wasn't unfounded.

Aboard the APC, members of Alpha One and Two were pumped up and ready for battle.  They were quickly approaching Planet 2063Y.  Lt. Raines was giving the men some last words before they disembarked.

"I'm not going to tell you how this is going to play out," he said, trying to be heard over the noise of the ship.  "You're all experienced operators, and know what has to be done!"  He began pacing up and down the aisle between the men, his hands behind his back.  "So watch your six and that of one another.  You're not individuals down there; you're a team."

He paused and then turned around to face the men.  "Edwin Markham once wrote,

'There Is A Destiny
That Makes Us Brothers:
None Goes His Way Alone.
All That We Send Into The Lives
Of Others Comes Back Onto Our Own.'
Lieutenant Cushing, do you have anything further to add?"

Lt. Raines sat down as the oder man stood, addressing them without moving.  "Only this:  Today you are making your respective countries, your planet, not to mention your commanding officers, exceedingly proud."

"Sir, if I may?" Forrester piped up.

"Of course, Lieutenant.  Proceed."

As was custom, they recited a prayer just before touchdown to a mission.  They believed it was a good luck symbol and it hadn't let them down yet.  The prayer was more than 100 years old, found on the body of a soldier who had been fighting another great war.

"'I bring this prayer to You, Lord
For you alone can give
What one cannot demand from oneself.
Give me, Lord, what you have left over,
Give me what no-one ever ask You for.
I don't ask You for rest,
Or quiet,
Whether of soul or body;
I don't ask you for wealth,
Nor for success, nor even health perhaps.
That sort of thing You get asked for so much
That You can't have any of it left over,
Give me what no-one wants form you.
I want insecurity, strife,
And I want You to give me these
Once and for all.
So that I can be sure of having them always,
Since I shall not always have the courage
To ask You for them.
Give me, Lord, what You have left over,
Give me what others want nothing to do with.
But give me the courage too,
And strength and faith;
For You alone can give
What one cannot demand from oneself.'"

They finished up as the ISAPC began its final descent onto the planet 2063Y (2063Yankee).  The pilot's voice resonated through the ship.

"Touchdown, in 5….4….3….2….1."  The ISAPC shook as the retrorockets engaged, slowing it down.  Then with a thud, the pilot set the ISAPC on the surface.

"Good luck, Lt. Raines.  Lieutenant Cushing.  We'll see you in the drop zone." The pilot's voice was barely noticeable through all the internal noise of the ship.

Lt. Raines stood.  "Okay, people.  Let's do this right.  Alpha One.  We will proceed on a direct course following the signal's source.  Time is not a luxury we have as you all well know."

"Quite true," agreed Lt. Cushing.  "Alpha Two, we will disperse through the tree line to guard the left flank.  Remember, you need to be able to keep a visual on the rest of the team.  Don't venture too far into the forest."

"The downed APC is approximately 5 klicks from our present location."  Lt. Raines looked down at his watch.  "It is currently 0705."  The men looked down at their watches as well.  "Ready….Ready….Hack!  We will rendezvous at the crash site at 0900."

Alpha's One and Two were primed and ready for action. Lieutenants' Raines and Cushing stood at the front as the outer door opened.

"Okay, let's move it!"  were Lt. Raines' last words before he ventured out into the relative unknown.

After both teams had disembarked from the ISAPC, the outer hatch sealed up again and the ship took off to wait for the extraction call.  Members of Operation Helping Hand watched as their transport disappeared in to the clouds above.

The surface of planet 2063Y was a contrasting one.  The bare land was dusty and coarse, yet it blended into a lush and fairly dense forest.  The average sized hills had no vegetation just neutral colored rocks of varying sizes.  Cloud-cover all but impaired the sunlight from coming through, making it twilight in the middle of the morning.  The clouds swirled around the men as they set out.

"Let's stay on channel 2, but maintain radio silence between the teams unless absolutely necessary.  We don't want to give the Chigs a chance to get near us," Lt. Cushing said, offering his hand to Lt. Raines.  "Good luck to you, Robert."

"Same to you, Ozzie," replied Lt. Raines, taking the other man's hand.

The two men parted ways and proceeded on with their respective teams.  Alpha One proceeded straight away from the drop zone, while Alpha Two head towards the tree line.

Once Alpha Two got into the tree line, Lt. Cushing had them separate into pairs.  Dahl had come with them and paired with Forrester.  They would work to lay the explosives should a defensive strike be needed.   Lt. McKenna proceeded with Lt. Cushing.  As he was the communications officer, this was nothing new to Lt. McKenna.  Although Lt. Montgomery outranked Sgt. Barrie, he knew more than to test that fact as they proceeded, taking up the rear flank.

Moving out in silence, they spread out along a 20 yard line, each man in the pair covering his partner as they made their way through the brush and trees.

Lt. Raines and the SEALS had to move more quickly than the other due to less sufficient cover.  They were in the open while they moved parallel to the forest until they got to the foot of the first small hill.

With Dahl working with Cushing's group, the SEALS were down to four men.  Sgt. Grant moved swiftly alongside Lt. Raines, while Olsen and Johnson took point 15 feet ahead of them.

As they reached the hill, Raines pulled out his binoculars and looked to the tree line.  The other three men placed themselves on the incline of the hill in a prone position.  They watched carefully for any approaching enemy.

"I can see Ozzie.  He's just inside the tree line.  Mac's with him.  He put the binoculars back inside their case.  "It shouldn't take them too long to clear the trees and come up behind us."

Lt. Raines ready his weapon once again.  "Okay, let's move out.  I want to find that crash site as soon as possible."  His men stood and they continued their way up to the summit of the hill.

Alpha Two had indeed nearly come to the edge of the forest and were all glad that their trek through the woods had been very uneventful.  Lt. Montgomery, for one, hoped this entire mission was an uneventful one.  He and Sgt. Barrie were on rear guard, approximately 30 feet behind the others.

"So why are you still in the military after all these years?" he asked his sergeant, who was behind him.  "Why not go into private medical practice?"

Barrie answered him quietly.  "I did think about it.  I thought that just being a doctor would never give me quite the excitement as being a doctor AND an SAS soldier, much to the disappointment of my parents who…."  He cut off abruptly, snapping his head to the left.

"Monty! he whispered harshly.  "Get down!  Now!"  Both men dropped quickly, the lieutenant looking at Barrie quizzically.  The sergeant pulled out his pistol and quickly added the silencer to the muzzle.

"Look there, ahead of us.  A Chig scout about 25 yards away," he told the young lieutenant.  "You stay here.  I'm going to try and go around and surprise him from the back."

"Sgt. I think maybe I should go instead…." Montgomery trailed off as the veteran soldier took off into the underbrush.

Sgt. Barrie moved quickly through the bush until he was in position behind the enemy scout.  He knew that he would only have one shot at this and couldn't let him get away to warn the others that were presumably not far away.  Raising his pistol, he checked the site and aimed for the junction just under the Chig's helmet and fired a silent shot.  Barrie watched as his enemy fell to the ground, then swiftly rushed to the body.

Suddenly, Barrie was knocked to the ground as the fallen foe brought his weapon up and struck the sergeant in the chest.  The Chig was back on his feet and so intent on killing the veteran soldier that he never saw Lt. Montgomery's approach.  Just as the Chig brought his rifle to the ready and aimed at the sergeant, Montgomery struck from behind with his K-Bar, ramming it into the Chig where the helmet met the body armour.  He didn't stop until he felt the hilt firmly pressed against the Chig armour.

He made sure the scout was dead and then Monty removed his K-Bar and let the body fall to the ground.  "Are you okay?" he asked Barrie, both men breathing hard.

"Yes, quite fine.  Thank you.  We need to tell the LT that the enemy is on its was so he can warn the SEALS."  Lt. Montgomery helped Sgt. Barrie up and they proceeded quickly to catch up with the rest of their team.

The four members of the SEAL team mad their way towards the small valley where they hoped would be the missing APC and Marines.  Suddenly, the silence was broken up by Lt. Cushing's voice on the radio.

"Alpha Two to Alpha One, do you copy?  Over."

Raines knew he wouldn't have broken radio silence unless absolutely necessary.  "Johnson.  You and Olsen proceed onward to the site.  Grant and I will see what the Lieutenant has to say and catch up with you."

"Yes, sir."  The two men moved swiftly and disappeared around the left side of the next hill.  Raines reached for the radio receiver and answered his British counterpart.

"Alpha One to Alpha Two.  I read you.  What's happened?"

"Two of my boys had a run-in with a rather nasty fellow and I'm afraid we've detected four more of his friends approaching our position.  They're probably wondering what happened to him," Cushing answered calmly, despite the dire situation.

"Are they all right?"

"Oh, yes.  Perfectly fine, but we will be a little late to the rendezvous.  We're going to take care of the buggers first."

Lt. Raines couldn't believe what he was hearing.  "Can you be positive that the Chigs don't know you're there.  You should just get out of there and reach us.  It would be wiser to join forces before we take them on."

"We've already got things set here.  Besides, there are six of us and only four of them.  I'd say it'll be a pretty fair fight," Cushing responded.

Robert was about to say something when Lt. Johnson's voice crackled on Alpha One's team channel.  "Olsen and I have found the APC.  I think you'd better get over here, sir."

"Good work, Lieutenant."  Raines turned his attention back to Ozzie.  "Alpha Two, we've located the prize and are going to investigate.  Get rid of your intruders and get to the position ASAP."

"Wonderful news," responded Cushing.  "An even better reason to finish here quickly and be on our way."

"Good.  Alpha One out."

Lt. Raines handed the receiver back to Sgt. Grant.  "Let's go."

They double-timed it, following the path Johnson and Olsen made earlier.  Both men moved in unison, stride for stride.  When they came around to the far side, they found Lt. Johnson heading towards them.

"This way, sir.  It's not far."

The three men continued together into the valley and as they rounded a sloping corner, Johnson called out for Olsen.  From behind a large boulder, Sgt. Max Olsen revealed himself once he was sure of the men's identities.  He lowered his weapon and made his way to join the others.  In the background, they could see the crashed APC.

"Report, Sgt. Olsen," said Lt. Raines as the men neared the ship.

"The APC is intact, but no survivors could be found at the site.  And sir, it didn't crash.  At least from what I can distinguish."

"What?" asked a very surprised Raines.

"There is no exterior evidence that it crashed down here.  It looks like Capt. Vansen was able to keep control long enough to prevent it from dropping straight-away through the atmosphere."

Lt. Johnson added, "I don't know if it was luck or good piloting, but she managed to get it down here in a spot where they'd have some defensive cover."

"Oh, I think it was a little bit of both," answered Lt. Raines.  "Let's see if we can't find out what happened to Damphousse and Vansen once they got down here."

Alpha Two had entrenched themselves in the trees and underbrush roughly twenty feet from the edge of the forest.   They awaited the arrival of the rest of the Chig scout party.  They had planned a very simple ambush; all it needed now was for the Chig's to stumble into it.

None of the soldiers moved or made a sound as the four other Chigs moved right into the target area.  Lt. Cushing insured they would go to this precise spot by stringing the slain scout up to the trunk of a tree in their path.

"They seem to be a bit agitated at the treatment of their friend," commented Mac to Sgt. Barrie.

Two of the Chigs cut down the dead one while the other two took watch.  As they laid the corpse down, Cushing gave the signal and suddenly the forest echoed with rifle fire.  The special forces team was single-minded in their attack, an attack that didn't last very long at all.  Using the element of surprise and sufficient cover, they managed to kill the four Chigs in only matter of minutes.

"Christ!" exclaimed Forrester.  "They didn't know what hit them at all."

Lt. Dahl echoed the sentiments.  "That was such a rush!"

"There will be time for celebrating later," stated Lt. Cushing.  "Right now, we more than likely have at least a Chig platoon on our tails.  We need to reach Alpha One at the crash site and get out off this planet, before the Chigs can catch up to us."  He looked over to the doc who was tending to Lt. McKenna's arm.

"Will he be all right?" he asked.

"Oh, yes sir.  It's just a flesh wound, nothing more.  He'll be just fine."

"Don't you worry, sir.  I won't let a little scratch like this stop me >from doing my job and killing Chigs," McKenna said emphatically, reaching for his rifle and getting up.  "See, no problems."

"That's the spirit.  Okay, gentlemen, let's get ready to move.  Dahl, Forrester.  Lay some mines around the bodies--a little present for our friends when they discover what's happen to their scouts."

"Yes,  sir."

"Aye, aye, Lieutenant."  The men quickly hid the explosives around the four bodies, carefully concealing them.  Then Dahl and Forrester left to catch up with their teammates and proceed to find Lt. Raines.

Despite failing to find Vansen or Damphousse, Lt. Raines was in good spirits.  Closer investigation of the APC had revealed that the emergency hatch had been opened from inside the ship.  They also discovered emergency medical kit missing.

"LT, I think I found something," Olsen stated.  He was standing about 15 feet up the hillside on a small outcrop.  The others were standing guard near the large boulder that they'd encountered Olsen earlier.

Raines made his way towards Olsen, but stopped as Johnson signaled the approach of Alpha Two.  Lt. Raines turned and went to greet Lt. Cushing and the rest of the team.

"Well, what happened?" asked Lt. Raines.

"Oh, they're all dead," stated Lt. Cushing flatly, a knowing smile across his face.  "But I'm afraid that there are more on the move.  It won't be too long before this area will be very unsafe."

Lt. Dahl made his way to his lieutenant.  "Sir, did you find Vansen or Damphousse?"

"No, but we did find encouraging evidence that they did survive the initial landing."  Raines looked to Grant.  "Sam, call the ISAPC and tell them we need to get out of here quickly.  We have an unknown number of enemy troops headed our way."

"You got it, LT."  Sgt. Grant fired up the radio to contact their transport.  "Freebird 1.  Freebird 1.  Do you copy?  This is Operation Helping Hand.  Over."

There were a few seconds of static and then "We copy you, Helping Hand.  Loud and clear.  Over."

"We need an immediate evac, on my location.  We have located the downed APC, but survivors have not been located.  There are a large number of enemy forces heading our way.  Repeat.  Immediate evac on my location.  Over."

"That's a roger, Helping Hand.  Your reading loud and clear.  Estimated time of arrival will be 20 mikes."

"Roger that.  Helping Hand, over and out."  Sgt. Grant turned and yelled to Lt. Raines.  "Sir, we have approximately 20 minutes before the ISAPC gets here!"

"Very well,  Lieutenant.  Thank you."  He and Cushing had made their way up to the outcropping.  "Well, Sgt. Olsen?  Show us what you've found."

Olsen moves back away to reveal a carefully hidden campsite, in behind the rocks and between them and the hill.  To the casual observer, the area would be undetectable, but to those trained, it was clearly visible.

"With the amount of MRE tins and size of the fire ashes, I would say that they  were here for about a week, give or take a few days."

"Agreed.  But the question still remains as to what happened to them?"

"There is a trail of sorts, leading away from this area and heading towards the north.  It could be them.  They're probably heading for the next valley," remarked Olsen.

"I wish we had more definite answers," said Lt. Raines.   "We still have some time left before extraction.  Let's put it to good use."  Lt. Raines, Lt. Cushing and Sgt. Olsen made their ways back down to the rest of the men.  "Okay, listen up, people.  We have less than 20 mikes until we get off this planet.  I want us to conduct a forward search from this location.  I know we don't have much time, but I think we can put it to good use."

"Dahl.  You and Lt. Forrester set explosives in the APC.  If we can't take it with us, I don't want the Chigs to get it either."

"Yes, sir," was Dahl's fervent answer.  The two men gathered arms and headed to the ship to begin work.

"I want the rest of you to spread out at 10m intervals and sweep the area to the north.  Johnson, get to the outcropping and conceal any evidence of those Marines.  MRE's, biovacs, campfire, etc.  Get rid of it all."

"You got it."

"Grant, how much time do we have left?"

Grant looked at his watch.  "15 mikes, 35 seconds, LT."

"Good.  Okay, let's move out."

Alpha One and Two spread out in a line and moved quickly.  Lt. Raines positioned himself in the middle and was the one actually following the trail.  They others guided off him.

Unfortunately, once they left the valley, the landscape returned to being relatively flat.  There was no place for any kind of cover at all.  The trail led to the left and another group of hills, this much larger than the first ones they'd encountered.

"Eric, hand me the last bunch of C-4," requested William.  Both men worked quickly to set explosives throughout the APC.  They gathered all of their equipment and went back outside.

"This will certainly make for an entertaining welcome," said Lt. Dahl, securing the last of the C-4 to the door hinge and set the timer for 2 minutes.  "As long as we have to leave the APC here, we might as well go out with a bang!"

Lt. Forrester groaned.  "That was bad, even for you, Lieutenant."

"Yeah, yeah.  I know.  I just couldn't resist.  Sometimes you've just got...."  He was cut off by a laser blast which struck the APC just above their heads.

"Christ!  They're here!" exclaimed Lt. Forrester.  "We've got to get out of here.  Now!"

Lt. Forrester pulled Lt. Dahl along, both men running at full speed.  Dahl paused briefly as they cleared the hill.  "Let's hope we take a few of them with us," he said as he looked down at this watch.  "In.... 5.... 4.... 3.... 2.... 1!"

In precision timing, the APC was rocked by the initial explosion on the outer door, which then triggered the rest of the C-4 strategically placed throughout the interior.  The lts. could see that the impact wave had struck the first lines of Chig soldiers that had been moving through the valley.

"Come on.  No time to sit and watch," stated Lt. Forrester.

"Good God, Robert!.  Just how much explosive did the lts. use?"  asked Lt. Cushing, looking up from behind a rock.

"Only enough to do the job.  I didn't want any discernible piece of the APC to be left for the Chigs," replied Lt. Raines.  He grabbed his binoculars out of their case and searched the horizon for the two men.  The rest of the men spread out behind them.  They had found a good defensive position--should they need one—behind a large rock formation that ran up the side of last hill.

"Well?  Do you see them?"  asked Olsen.

"No.  Not yet.  They can't be to....  Wait.  I see them now,"  he said.  When he spoke again, his tone was one of urgency.  "Grant, get on the horn and tell that transport to get down here now!"

"Yes, sir."

"Lt.?"  What's wrong?  Is there something wrong with one of the men?"

"No.  But there will be if they don't get here quickly," he replied.   He looked back through the binoculars.  "There is what looks like a whole Chig company on their tails, about 200 yards behind them."  Lt. Raines looked back to the men.

"I want you all to find a good location.  We're going to provide cover for them as soon as they get into range.  Grant, what's the status on the extraction?"

"They said ETA 4 minutes."

Cushing looked to Raines.  "Well.  Here's to the next four minutes."

The ISAPC hit the altitude of 2063Y very quickly.  The pilot, Captain Dillingham, adjusted his coordinates to match Sgt. Grant's last transmission.

"It sounded like they were in the middle of a nasty firefight," said the co-pilot, Captain Markinson.

"Be prepared to give them air support as we come in.  The LZ in going to be extremely hot.  Do you have the signal?"

Captain Markinson adjusted his sensor display.  "Yes.  They're sitting at 122.5 degrees NW from our current location."

Forrester reached the others first, but Dahl was right there behind him.  They dove over the nearest rock and into cover.  The others provided heavy return fire on the Chigs location.  It seemed as though the Chigs were coming from every angle south of them.

The air was filled with the sounds of rifle and laser fire.  Atmospheric conditions made it difficult to see more than 150-200 yards ahead of Alpha One and Two's positions.

"There's too many of them.  We're not going to be able to get them all!" exclaimed Lt. Montgomery.

"Don't worry," replied Sgt. Olsen.  "We'll get extracted before it'll make any difference."

"Operation Helping Hand.  This is Freebird 1.  Do you copy?  Over."

Lt. Raines grabbed the radio receiver from the radio on Sgt. Grant's back.  "This is Operation Helping Hand.  We read you loud and clear.  Where the hell  are you?!"

"We are right above you're position.  You should be seeing us....now."

Lt. Raines looked up to see the belly lights on the ISAPC descending to their position.  Captain Dillingham set the ISAPC between the Chigs and the special forces teams.  Markinson was on the side gun, providing them all cover.

"Gentlemen!" Raines yelled.  "Unless any of you have any objections, I think we'll leave this little haven of paradise.  Everyone on the ship.  Now!"

The men left their positions and raced to the waiting hatch of the ship.  Barrie helped the injured Lt. McKenna who had become a bit more weaker due to blood loss.  Lt. Raines and Lt. Cushing were the last two inside.

"Let's get the hell out of here," stated Robert.  Captain Dillingham acknowledged the statement with a nod and the ISAPC took off as quickly as it had landed.

Through the windows, members of Alpha One and Two watched as the pursuing Chigs swarmed over the area that they had moments before occupied. 

"That was a little to close for my comfort level, if you ask me," stated Lt. Montgomery.

"That's the first right thing you've said all day," Dahl retorted.  Monty shot him a nasty look back.

The doc led Mac to a bench and infused him with an I. V. plasma drip.  "Don't worry Lieutenant, my boy.  You'll be just fine." McKenna smiled at him.

Lt. Raines made his way to the cockpit to speak to Captain Dillingham.  "Captain.  Get me the "Saratoga" on the horn, ASAP.  I need to let the commodore know what we found."

"Right away, Lt. Raines," he replied as the ISAPC pushed through the upper atmosphere and into space.  "It doesn't look like they've sent any patrols after us.  The trip back should be relatively smooth."

"Good.  After the days we've had, smooth would be a nice change."

Unseen by both the departing ship and the assaulting Chigs, a lone figure watched the action unfolding through worn binoculars from a well-hidden spot on the mountain.  Although tired and worn, Captain Shane Vansen was nonetheless alert and ready.  On the ground at her feet, Lt. Vanessa Damphousse sat asleep against the wall of the cave that had been their home since they'd left their first one a week ago.

"Don't worry, Vanessa," Shane whispered.  "We'll get out of here and get back home—where we belong.  I promise."  Shane followed the ISAPC as it disappeared through the clouds, then turned attention to the Chigs scurrying over the soldiers last location.  She hoped she'd be able to keep that promise to her friend before it was too late, for both of their sakes.


© Jessica Fry 1998

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