"However, he perceived now that it did not greatly matter what kind of soldiers he was going to fight, so long as they fought, which fact no one disputed."
- Stephen Crane, 'Red Badge of Courage'

Shane watched in horror as she saw Cooper almost being hit by the debris after the explosion. She didn't see Wolders and quite frankly she didn't care about her. She noticed that she wasn't the only one who was looking shocked at what was happening. "They are standing up" Nathan said, his breath warm in her neck. She turned to see him standing beside her.

She took off her goggles and looked. "They are both okay. And the target is terminated" she said.

Ryan smiled. "Great. Now we only have one target left and it isn't even dinner time"

Shane looked at Wolders and Hawkes as they approached. "Okay. The other target is about two hours walk from here," Wolders said to them. "We should encounter a few problems since we have alerted the Chigs.

Shane was about to say something when Phousse spoke up. "Who appointed you Leader?" she asked sourly. That was very unlike Vanessa.

Wolders had her jaw set stubborn as she replied. "I did. I don't trust you a bit"

Nathan narrowed his eyes at her. "Why do you hate us so?"

"Because if it wasn't for you, I'd be back home now with my boyfriend and my daughter. And I wouldn't be stuck on some fucking planet with a group of media hungry cherries!" she barked to him.

Hawkes raised his gun towards her. "Do you think you are a god or somethin'?" he hissed angrily.

"Why don't you pull the trigger and find out?" Wolders challenged back. "Tank"

Cooper was about to take a swing when Shane cut in. "That's enough! We are all stuck with each other"

Cooper moved away from Wolders with a sneer. West was kneeling down with his hands on his rifle. Vanessa was standing behind Shane and Joe was looking at them with new eyes. Wolders looked angry with them. Vansen walked towards the woman. "It wasn't our fault. No one had ever encountered a civilian Chig before. We didn't know"

"You could have guessed!" Anne yelled to her. "You could have guessed, dammit. And either way you should have shot it"

"What would you have done in our shoes?"

Wolders met her eyes. Shane took a deep breath, not knowing what scared her most, That hatful stare or those cold eyes. "I would have shot it. Tracked it down and blown its ass to kingdom come if it meant I could be home for my kid's third birthday"

Vansen moved away, swearing to herself. "Well. We did what we did. And now you are here with us. Deal with it!"

Wolders swore too, her words muffed. It was hard to figure out what languish the curses were in. But Shane didn't care. "Who is in charge now. Me or Vansen?" Wolders asked after a while. She knew the answer well.

"Shane. She knows us. You don't" West states and got up. He was no doubt cold. "Let's move out. As you said, it takes two hours. And this time we need a plan"

Wolders brushed past him. "Cruising down the hill on snowboards wasn't a bad idea" she muttered, her voice hinting to a joke.

"No. Not if this was the Olympics" Nathan said, forcing himself to smile to ease the tension in the squadron. They all knew they didn't have much choice but to work together.

"Let's move out," Shane said, throwing on her pack. "We have to move out"

The 58th got their packs and started walking in the snow. There was a small storm that blew around their ears. Wonders stopped and took out a white mask, which she took on. A few minutes later the rest did the same.

Shane took on her warmed set of gloves and looked around. West was in lead. It wasn't very cold, not for a Marine anyway, but Shane found it too cold.

"We sound either make a camp or tie us together" Wolders said, walking up towards West.

"Why?" Shane asked, coming up beside them. "This isn't so bad"

"Its gonna get worse. You see over there? When we reach that point, it will be snowing so hard that we won't be able to see each other" Wolders explained, stopping.

"You are from New Mexico" Vanessa cut in.

"But she is right" Nathan said, meeting Shane's gaze. "It will only get worse. My suggestion is that we camp. The Chigs won't be able to find us in this blizzard"

Vansen took a deep breath. "Okay, we camp. Start digging a trench"

Wolders dropped her pack and took out a small shovel. The rest did the same and together they made a relative deep and big trench. Then they strapped a cover over it and went in. It was surprisingly warm inside and soon they were all sitting in their sleeping bags.

"I have a chocolate/peanut bar," Vanessa said, putting it down in the snow.

Joe opened his bag and took out a long bar. "Jersey Fudge bar. You can't get that on the PX" he said and traded it for the chocolate/Peanut bar.

Nathan opened a can of Beans and looked around. He guessed that this was as close they got to something normal in this war. Sitting together having a bad meal…that was as close to camping you could get.

"I'm getting some sleep," Shane said, crawling to one of the corners. Wolders was already sleeping. Hawkes took another spoon of spammed ham, frowning.

"They said there was a third base. Now wouldn't it be fine just to blow it away as well?" he asked West, putting away his food.

Nathan lay back, getting a rather thoughtful expression. "I dunno. Maybe command will send out a bomb squad," he said after a while. "Or it is already abandoned"

Ryan agreed. "Yeah. I mean, if there was something they would tell us, right?"

Vanessa eyed the guys. "Yeah. They would, right?"

They looked at each other, not saying anything for a while. After some awkward moments they all crawled their separate ways and went to sleep…

"He felt vaguely that death must make a first choice of the men who were nearest; the initial morsels for the dragons would be then those who were following him. So he displayed the zeal of an insane sprinter in his purpose to keep them in the rear. There was a race."
- Stephen Crane 'Red Badge of Honour"

There was only a small wind blowing as the 58th started walking towards the Chig camp. The mood was low because of the distrust. Wolders was quiet and some times Shane wondered what was going on in the woman's head.

"I can see it" Nathan said, turning to face them. "It is heavily guarded. I saw about ten AIs"

"Good. I think Silicates are easier to kill than Chigs" Phousse marked, sitting down on the snow.

"There are most likely a few more Chigs inside" West said as he looked at the base with his KQ747 infrared binoculars, a new high-powered model with spectroscope. "I am picking up the heat signature of about one hundred"

Wolders grabbed hers, looked at the base. "It could be the Chigs setting up a trap," she said but then her voice went a bit higher. "There are moving. And it ain't the Chigs. They have POWs there"

"How do you know?" Hawkes asked her.

"Cause I picked up their PLB signals about a klick back" she answered, her expression grave.

Shane approached her angrily. "Why didn't you tell us?"

"Why? You wouldn't have believed me. Besides, I wasn't 100 percent sure. It could have been just a set up, it would never change our mission" she faced Vansen, her own eyes burning with rage and desperation. "I bet that's why we weren't to approach the third base. Cause it is a POW camp. Since we attack one base, they have moved some of their prisoners to another locations. THIS one. Maybe they didn't think we would blow our own people up"

"And they are right!" West yelled. "I am not killing my own people"

Wolders looked away, towards the camp. "We have our orders. It is our duty to execute them"

"The hell we are!" Hawkes cut in, eying her. "We ain't killin' our own. It goes against everythin' we stand for"

"What do you stand for, Tank?" she hissed to Cooper. "If we carry out this mission, we will safe many other lives. Lives of young men and women. We can end the war early!"

"It isn't worth it. We are Marines. All the way" Nathan said, unconsciously raising his M590.

"Ask yourselves this...What will happen if we don't do this?" Wolders eyed each and every one. "We go back to the Sara and watch young rookies die. The Chigs will continue to use this base to send out fighters and kill inexperienced youths"

West approached her, shoving his finger in her face. "There are innocent and inexperienced youths there. Are we gonna sacrifice them? ARE YOU?!" he yelled in her face.

Captain Wolders met his eyes. "Yes. I will. If it means that this war will end sooner and that other young lives will be saved? In a second. If it means that someone will not be a POW and experience the pains that an AI can inflict than I'll do it without even thinking" she said her voice almost a whisper. "This is a terrible war, people. And Semper Fi doesn't run that deep when you are watching the horrors on the battlefield. I say we do whatever we can to make sure this ends fast"

Nathan hit her square in the jaw. "Damn you to hell! You don't see the picture, do ya? We will not be any better than Nazis if we kill our own! We are Marines. We are human beings! We cannot kill our own people! I won't kill another Marine!" he yelled, his fists up to fight.

Wolders wiped the blood off her mouth, her expression as cold as it could get. But she didn't attack. She just looked at him. "Ever been a POW, West? Ever seen how people are broken down? The people down there wish they were dead. And they are by now only shells of what they used to be" she said, but her voice was tired. All her fighting spirit had vanquished.

Hawkes knew that look. It was the look Wang got sometimes. "You were a POW. The Silicates broke you"

Wolders chuckled sadly. "Yes. But not in the way you'd think, Hawkes. Not at all"

The rest just looked away. Again it hit too close to home. Nathan just strolled away, needing some time alone. Shane followed him, as always. Ryan looked at Phousse before looking at Wolders again. "What did you do that was so bad that you cannot forgive yourself?"

Wolders looked at him, her expression blank and innocent as a newborn. Her eyes, however, told a different story. "I turned bad," she said with a sad smile. "And whatever else happened is between me and Satan when I go to hell"

Phousse approached the woman. "God won't let you go to hell if you forgive yourself"

"If there is a God, he turned his back on me the day I was born" she said, turning. "I am a half breed. My father was a tank and raped my mother. I was raised by her" she looked at Hawkes. "But I lived. And if they say that things that doesn't kill ya only makes you stronger than I'll live forever" she laughed bitterly and looked at Phousse again. "Tell your maker he will have to wait a long time for me, Damphousse"

Hawkes eyed them both for a moment before saying the words use din a similar situation. "So much for working together"

"I have seen the enemy and it is great. I have seen the men who were broken under them and what I see shocks me. I pray to God this will never happen again."
- Unknown Army Colonel about the torture at the POW camps in Viet Nam

They were together, everyone. The silence was almost too much to handle. The looks, the small remarks, the chatter. Captain Wolders forced herself to remain calm. This bad brought out bad memories that she had buried and almost forgotten. And to think that all that had happened just a year back...

She was a killer. After her standards and her own. She had killed in battle, but she had never thought she would kill another human being. She would never kill one of her she had thought. But in the end it had come to that. In the camps at Nirriti she had encountered someone she knew well. A former lover who was a good man and he had turned on her. Stockholm's Syndrome, she knew. It had happened to many over the years.

She closed her eyes, recalling the look in his eyes as he attacked her with his knife. And then the look in them when he knew he was dying. When he knew he had one more breath and one more heart beat left because of her.

She shook her head soundless, looking over at the Wild Cards. She deserved being with traitors after all...maybe they were better than she was. She still felt so...dirty. Guilty over what she had done. She could still feel his blood over her fingers and shuddered.

Yet there was hope. Another face came into her mind. Her daughter. Sarah was home with Jack, safe. Far away from this horror.

"Okay. Here is the plan. Get your heads screwed on right on this. We have one shot and nothing more. We go in, surprise the pants off the AIs and Chigs, disable them and get our Marines out of there" Vansen said, her voice set in the command tone.

West nodded. "We need one back here with the radio. Five mikes after we engage we will need some evacuation. With the position the 'Toga is in now, it will take 30 mikes. Which means we have 35 mikes to get in, get our people out and get to the LZ"

"Where's the LZ?" Ryan asked after a moment.

"Right here" Vansen said and pointed her finger on the spot she was sitting.

"Damn, that's close" Ryan grinned. "Who will be with the radio?"

"Damphousse. The rest of us move out in two teams. Ryan, West and Wolders go first. Hawkes and me will follow from the other side. We need smart grenades, plenty of ammo and fast feet. Ready?" she asked, eyeing them.

Ryan grinned and grunted. "Hoo-RAH!"

Vansen smiled briefly and looked at Wolders. The other woman just nodded but Vansen was unsure what that meant. She frowned, not liking the idea that Nathan would be stuck with the cherries. But West knew how to handle himself maybe even better than she did.

To be continued....

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