Disclaimer: The names of all 'Space: Above and Beyond' characters contained herein are the property of Glen Morgan and James Wong, Hard Eight Productions and the Fox Broadcasting Network. These names have been used without their permission. All else is my own creation.

Rating: NC17

Spoilers: None

Author: Vasalysa, with many undying thanks to Geek.

E-mail: cmbower@ennorath.net Comments are always welcome


Blood & Souls



Chapter One

Aboard the space carrier, U.S.S. Saratoga, the 58th Marine Air Cavalry squadron filed into the briefing room with jokes and laughter. Damage from the previous week's heavy battle with the Chig enemy had left its mark on the room. Instead of a view of the cockpit docking area, the shattered glass wall had been replaced with steel. Only the lights in the front of the room were functional, leaving the rear of the room, back by the temporary steel wall, in darkness and shadows.

From the shadows, an unseen observer studied the two men and two women, all in their lower twenties, as they took their seats. The time had arrived to match the information from personnel dossiers to real people.

A tall, older man with cropped short, white blond hair limped into the room and the laughter stilled.

"Atten-HUT!" barked one of the women.

Snapping to attention, the young men and women waited for the man to speak.

The older man limped over to the desk and perched on it. "Be seated."

The observer paid close attention to the older man, Lt. Colonel T. C. McQueen. The six foot tall colonel was an Invitro, having been decanted twenty years ago fully grown from a growth tank, hence the derogatory name most people referred to Invitroes as, tanks. He had risen far for a freed slave, or rather what polite society called an indentured servant. Most Inutero humans, known as natural borns or NBs, tended to treat the Invitroes like slaves whether they had served their term of forced indentured servitude or not.

McQueen's pale blue eyes swept the four Marines and he sighed softly. "Listen up. I have some bad news. I am no longer allowed to go on missions with you."

"Because of your leg, sir?" asked one of the women, a brunette with sharp features. Captain Shane Vansen, leader of the squad, honcho on all missions without the colonel. She was the shortest of the group, around five foot four.


"Are they replacing you completely, sir?" This came from a ruggedly handsome young man that the watcher knew was also an Invitro, who was actually two or three inches taller than McQueen. Lt. Cooper Hawkes, the, finally, decorated war hero. The chestnut hair fell to the seven year old's shoulders. His early life had been marginally better than the colonel's, not having served in the off world mines like McQueen.

"No. HQ is sending a Lt. Col. Silver to be my 'legs'." Bitterness tinged McQueen's voice.

"Is this colonel to fly with us?" This question from the other young man, Capt. Nathan West, running a hand through his short brown hair. He leaned forward, his six foot frame taut with tension.

"Yes and any other activities off the Saratoga. The report says the colonel is well qualified."

"Yeah, like the last one. He damned near got us killed." Lt. Vanessa Damphousse, known as 'Phousse to her friends, was a dark skinned beauty at five and a half feet tall. "It's bad enough we lost Paul to the Chigs. We don't want to lose you too, sir." She sat hunched in her chair.

"I appreciate that, but orders are orders. I hate to turn you over to someone else who doesn't understand you. You're not like the other squadrons."

"Yeah, we like our Invitroes." This came from West, in a resigned mutter. "No one wants us, so they give us to the fuck ups." He glanced up at the colonel, hurriedly. "Not you, sir."

"And not Commodore Ross." McQueen glared at the squadron. "Look, you are going to give Colonel Silver a chance."

Nods were given and McQueen told them they were dismissed. All but Hawkes trailed out. He stepped up beside the colonel. "Sir?" The door closed behind Damphousse.

"Yes, Hawkes?"

"Why can't you come with us?" It came out as a child's cry.

McQueen hesitated, then placed his hand on the young man's shoulder. "I wish I could. But they don't trust the technology that works my leg."

"Then why give it to you?"

"Because then I couldn't be here with you at all. Being with the lot of you only some of the time is better than none of the time." The watcher caught the glint of tears in McQueen's eyes. "I would rather share you than never have you."

"You won't go away on us?"

"Not voluntarily. You know that."

Hawkes nodded. "Ok."

"Now go on. Get out of here."

McQueen waited until Hawkes had left before sliding off the desk into the chair. Dropping his head down onto his folded arms, he allowed himself the luxury of cursing fate, struggling to keep the tears from falling. He forced himself to stop after a couple of minutes, aware that others could enter the room at any time. With a stiffness he had concealed on entering the room, McQueen limped from the briefing room, unaware that anyone had seen him.

The watcher waited several minutes before stepping out of the shadows. Light glinted on the name pin. Lt. Colonel L. Silver. Shoulder length brown hair so dark it was nearly black framed a plain face that had seen its share of tragedy. The tall, slim female glided to the other door of the room. Soft footsteps carried her out into the noisy hall.

The blue-grey eyes constantly roamed, noting details as Silver made her way through the crowded corridors and elevators to Commodore Ross' quarters. Silver absently acknowledged salutes, her conscious mind busy going over the scene in the briefing room. She would have to tread lightly with this group. Tearing them apart was not in her plan.

Silver knew McQueen was lucky to have four out of five of his squadron alive. After the fiasco of the 'peace talks', three of the 58th had been considered MIA. The two women's ISSCV had been disabled and had fallen back onto the enemy's home planet Anvil. Paul Wang, it was pretty certain, had died when a Chig fighter he had disabled had flown into his detached cargo unit. West and Hawkes, carrying colonists that the Chigs had agreed to release as part of the 'peace talks', had been forced to leave their comrades behind to unknown fates.

Silver knew what it was like to not know for certain. People from her own past were missing. There had been a chance that Vansen and Damphousse were still alive.

It had taken West and Hawkes exactly one week to work out a way to return to Anvil. The hijacked AeroTech transport had plenty of capacity and rudimentary medical facilities. The two men had gone AWOL for over a week. When they had returned, it was with Vansen and Damphousse, broken in body but not spirit. Somehow, Commodore Ross, the commander of the U.S.S. Saratoga, had managed to keep the two young men from being court martialed.

West and Hawkes had spent the three months of the women's recovery flying with other squadrons aboard the Saratoga. Both young men had been exposed to a great deal of hatred and malice since their squadron had inadvertently revealed to the Chigs the humans' plan to annihilate the planet that the Chigs used as a nursery. It wasn't their fault no one had ever seen a Chig out of armor. The possibility of an ally against the Chigs had been their motivation. It had led to the so called 'peace talks' and the fiasco of that was still reverberating through the human hierarchy. Several of the military and civilian leaders had died during the 'peace talks.'

McQueen had returned to the Saratoga a month ago to be greeted by four eager squad members. And in that month, the artificial leg that AeroTech had given McQueen had started malfunctioning every so often. Just enough that McQueen could not fly or go on missions.

The memory of the first time she had seen him flitted through her mind. Visiting a friend, Gayle, while on Earth, she had allowed herself to be dragged to the Loxley bar, ostensibly for drinks, but Gayle had wanted to show off the Angry Angels, the 127th. As the best flying Marine squadron had filed into the bar, Silver had found her gaze arrested by the one that split off and sat at the bar, alone. Tall, powerful, silver blond hair, crystal blue eyes that she wanted to drown in, she could barely tear her eyes off him to ask Gayle who he was.

"That's Captain McQueen. Just joined a few months ago. He's already in the top three. Apparently he was captured during the AI War and tortured. As soon as he recovered, he was tested and sent to the 127th. He's a loner. But he's also a tank."

Silver had looked at Gayle. "A tank?" It hurt to know that such a free soul had been so emotionally hamstrung. "And he's in the Marines? How the hell did he manage that?"

"Don't know, but there's some Navy Seal that's been keeping tabs on McQueen."

She had done her research that night, desperate to know the worst. It was bad, so very bad. Omicron Draconis, the plutonium mines; hell in other words. He had been shipped there before he was even a week old. Five years of overwork, little food, little care, and lots of abuse, physical and mental. That he had survived said a lot for his character and strength of will. Then a stint in the Army as a munitions handler and a near court martial over striking a superior officer. Then he had entered the Marines, excelling at flying and ground work. His capture by the AIs had left him further scarred, emotionally and physically. Now, he had gained some recognition as a valuable resource.

In the morning, knowing that the Angels were to fly an early sortie, she had waited out on the flight line, near his Hammerhead, hidden from sight. He strode into view, swinging his helmet in one hand. Any other man would have been whistling, bouncing, showing their eagerness to be back in the air. His only sign was the slightest of bounces to his walk, barely noticeable. He had spotted a flock of geese flying overhead and paused, lifting his head to follow their flight. The look of longing on his face had cut like a knife through her. Bringing his eyes back down to the Hammerhead, he had smiled briefly and reached out to touch the metal, obviously acknowledging it was the only way he would achieve such freedom.

From then on, she had kept tabs on him, even from the depths of space. She still remembered the picture Gayle had sent to her a month ago. McQueen had been through three months of grueling surgeries and physical therapy to attach the artificial leg and learn to use it. One of the places he had gone to as soon as he could walk on his own was the flight terminal. There, Gayle had snapped a picture of the dejected man, unable to fly due to the damage to his inner ear from the first battle with the Chigs, but desperate for the sight.

AeroTech had used McQueen as a poster boy, promoting their artificial limbs.

Damning AeroTech, Silver saw she was nearing Commodore Glen Ross' quarters. Odds were that McQueen would be there. Her sources had informed her that the two men were close. Still damning AeroTech, Silver grimaced. If the mega-corp hadn't given McQueen a faulty artificial leg to replace the real one he had lost in the 'peace talks' defending an AeroTech man of all things, she wouldn't be on the Saratoga now. Fate was a funny thing.

She raised her hand to knock and heard voices within. Curiosity made her pause.

"Dammit, Ross! I won't give up those kids! They're mine!" Anger in the rich tenor voice.

"Ty, I know you don't want anyone else to handle them, but dammit, with that malfunctioning piece of crap they call an artificial leg, you're not fully functional." Rational.

"I'm not a machine, Glen." Indignant.

"I know that. But that leg doesn't work right all the time. And the last thing those kids of yours need is to have to worry about your sorry ass because it stopped working. Ty, use your head, not your heart, about this. Please." Pleading.

"I'm sorry, Glen. I know I can't go with them."

"You care for them, Ty, and it was the only way to get through to them. They're the best damn pilots we've got, and, as far as I'm concerned, they're better than the Angry Angels ever were."

"Yes, at least they've survived this long."

"Look, Ty, give Colonel Silver a chance."

"What do you know about the colonel?"

"Not much. I-"

Time to interrupt. Silver knocked, ready to resume the mission, and the game, once more.


Silver opened the hatch and snapped to attention before the dark skinned man standing, in a Navy commodore's uniform, chewing on a cigar. "Lt. Colonel Silver, reporting, sir."

"At ease. How long you been aboard?" Ross frowned slightly. He thought Silver was not supposed to be aboard for another two hours.

"One hour, sir." Before he could ask the next question, Silver shifted her weight slightly and said, "I had my orders, sir. I was to search out and study the unit involved before I reported to you. And I'm not allowed to say who gave that order. When I accepted this post," she saw McQueen start, "I knew there would be trouble. A lot of people immediately started to bad mouth the 58th to me. So, I dug up everything I could find and figured out why."

"Why do they badmouth war heroes?" demanded McQueen.

She looked over at McQueen, meeting his angry gaze, pretending she did not know him. "They're jealous and prejudiced. Jealous and prejudiced people do stupid things."

"Why are they jealous?" Ross leaned against the wall, frowning slightly.

Silver gave the commodore a slight smile. "The 58th has a CO that gives a damn, who does his damnest against all odds to bring his people home, alive. That CO has a ranking officer willing to overlook the bending of the rules as much as he can. They have a squadron of young, talented people will be running the show in ten years. These same young Marines are the best squadron the Marines, or any other U.S. forces, have."

"Who offered you the post?" Ross chewed on his cigar.

"A friend actually. I had let General McIntyre know that I would be willing to be attached to the 58th some time ago. When he saw a proposal to retire Colonel McQueen from the front," she did not turn to face McQueen who had shot to his feet in shock, "he countered it, Commodore, arguing that Colonel McQueen's expertise and knowledge was far more useful here on the front than behind a desk. When it was then proposed that the 58th be broken up and spread throughout the Fleet, he pulled every string he could and vetoed it, barely. He managed to wrangle a deal for a second CO to be assigned, listing the possibility of my becoming the primary. Of course, neither he or I intend for that to happen. My orders in fact reflect that I am only a second CO."

"Why did you accept such a hazardous duty?" asked Ross.

Silver grinned. "I love a challenge, sir. And I don't want the 58th broken up. If that means I have to join it and become a pariah, so be it. I've been in the Corps fifteen years now, sir, and I don't think I could serve with a finer bunch."

"So what did your study of the squadron tell you?" Ross watched as McQueen sank back down in his chair, still shocked.

"Excuse me, sir, but," Silver to face McQueen. "You are Lt. Colonel McQueen, aren't you?"

"Sorry. Lt. Colonel Silver, Lt. Colonel McQueen." Ross made the introductions.

McQueen nodded, his head dropping slightly so he was not looking up at Silver's face.

"Colonel, I do not intend to take your kids away. I want to protect them as much as you do. And despite what it sounds like, there are people who recognize the way things should be." She reached out and gently tilted his head up, managing to hide the smile as he tried to jerk his head away from her touch. His blue eyes hardened and she let her fingers slide out from under his jaw, reveling in the slight feel of his five o'clock shadow. "If what I saw and heard at that briefing room ten minutes ago is any indication," she saw the sudden panic in his eyes, "no one is going to break up the 58th with any thing less than a tactical nuke."

"How?" McQueen searched her face. He had seen no one else in the room.

"I'll let you know some day, when I know YOU better." She fully intended to get to know the man and soul behind the pale sapphire eyes. She had to for her own sake. Silver turned back to Ross. "Sir, I also brought the latest mission objectives." Silver handed the optical disk over to the commodore and turned back to McQueen. "I understand the 58th suffered a recent loss. A Lt. Wang."


She heard the sorrow and the pain. "Where and how?"

As he told her, Silver nodded. "It's been four months. We're going back to the general area."


"Because there are POWs on the planet Spindle that the Chigs didn't turn over to us."

"What?" Ross turned around from his computer terminal where he had started to read the mission objectives. "It's suicide."

"Not exactly, sir. Two weeks from now, an offensive will begin in the Ephyra System. The 6th Fleet with support from the 10th should be enough to draw Chig forces away from Spindle. As far as we can determine, Spindle is two worm holes from Ephyra and only one worm hole away from the Chig home world. It made a logical place for them to transfer POWs. We will have a four day window for this mission."

The commodore glanced back at the orders that she had handed him. "It says here that you have three pilots to add to the 58th. Where did they come from?"

"My previous unit, the 110th Air Cav."

"What happened?" Intense curiosity from McQueen.

She looked at McQueen. "A Chig fighter crashed into the landing bay while our fighters were preparing to launch. Took out three-fourths of the people in the docking bay, including all of my unit who were there. Myself and the three pilots had been in a disciplinary hearing were late to the bay. Instead of fighting the Chigs, we ended up pulling people out of wreckage."

"Disciplinary hearing?" McQueen's narrowed.

"My pilots are Invitroes and the only ones on the Ticondaroga." Silver's voice spoke volumes.

The men nodded, understanding.

"They're good pilots, when someone gives them a chance. I wasn't about to abandon them on the 'Roga. So I brought them with me." When Ross indicated that she take the last chair, Silver sat down. "'Sides, I need my backup singers."

The two men looked surprised.


"Singers?" asked Ross.

"Lt. Finch is a soprano, Lt. St. John is a baritone, and Lt. Russell is a tenor."

"But singers?"

"Do you have a problem with singing, Colonel?"

"Ah, no, but-"

"It wasn't something you were 'taught'?" She referred to the fact that Invitroes had knowledge implanted in their brains during their growing in a tank.

"No." McQueen straightened, his jaw tight at the reminder.

"You should try it sometime. The lieutenants hadn't been 'taught' either. They caught me serenading a potted plant, I believe. They became hooked almost instantly. Once they got over the embarrassment of learning." Silver leaned back. "You should try it, Colonel. It's a great way to vent steam and no one gets hurt. Except maybe their eardrums." She chuckled. "We usually fly to music of some sort. I've actually gotten them to enjoy classical music as well."

"But singing?"

"Colonel, try it before you condemn it. In fact, I seriously recommend you try it. From what we've discovered about the Chigs, music is alien to them. They have nothing like it. So, I developed song cues for different operations. Chigs and AIs can understand the words, but that doesn't necessarily describe what the cue means."

"You don't have to sing, though."

"Colonel, you should have seen us on Tantos. Eight of us against three squads of Chigs. We were down on ammo. Every shot had to count. Capt. LeRoy started up the Battle Hymn of the Republic. We ran out of ammo and advanced, singing. Chigs just froze. A few turned and ran. A three to one margin and we took them out in hand to hand combat." Silver rubbed her right arm absently. "None of us died, though we had some serious injuries. So singing can have some advantages."

"I'll think about it."

Silver smiled. "Just keep an open mind about it. I'd hate to think you were as close minded as a lot of natural borns." She saw that stung McQueen, though Ross hid what she thought was a smile behind his hand.

"When are your pilots supposed to be here?" asked Ross.

"They came aboard with me. I told them to meet me in whatever passes as a drinking hall. I'm sure they've found it by now."

"No doubt. I can only hope it is still intact," Ross stated dryly but with a grin.

"They had orders not to have more than two beers apiece. Of course, I didn't specify how large a beer they could have." Silver shrugged and looked at McQueen. "Is it all right if I go ahead and bunk them in with the 58th?"

McQueen nodded curtly.

"Good. Then I'll collect them and drop them off. I'll get to meet the 58th at the same time."

"Do you know where your quarters are, Colonel?" Ross met her gaze steadily.

"Yes, sir. I dropped off our gear there first."

"Then I'll let you go get your pilots and meet the 58th."

"Thank you, sir."

As Silver rose and saluted before leaving the Commodore's quarters, McQueen stared after her with narrowed eyes. How the hell did she know what had occurred in the briefing room? Who did she think she was touching him without permission? And why the hell did he want to trust her?

Abruptly, McQueen rose. "I'll be back, Glen."

"I'll be here, Ty." Ross reached for his guitar.

Silver asked directions and found her way to Tun Tavern. Standing in the doorway, Silver spotted her three pilots relaxing at one table and the 58th huddled over another table. There were nearly thirty other personnel, mostly Marines, scattered throughout the room. She headed for the bar, unaware that McQueen stood in the doorway behind her.

Silver watched as Lt. Finch, a tall, willowy, blonde Invitro, rose with her half full tankard. She listened as Finch's clear voice sang,

"From the Halls of Montezuma-" At this point, the other two, now standing, joined in. "To the shores of Tripoli, We fight our planet's battles, In Space Air Land and Sea. First to fight for right and freedom, And to keep our honor clean; We are proud to bear the title Of United States Marines!"

A man in a Marine uniform spun on his bar stool. "Shut your mouths, tanks!"

Silver stepped up beside the man. "Tell me something," she identified his rank, "Major. Is it the song or the people singing it that you don't like?"

"They're just damned tanks! They don't deserve to sing that anthem." The major turned around and started to smirk until he spotted her rank.

"Tell me, Major," she read his name tag, "Danson, how long have you been in?" Silver knew that her pilots were approaching.

"Five years."

"How many engagements have you survived?" The three Invitro Marines stood ranked behind her, at parade rest.


"Do you recognize the Battle of Dicte?"

"Everyone knows that one. The 76th Ground Battalion skunked a mess of AIs."

"Yes, that is ONE version of it." Silver's voice became cool, detached. "I was there, with the 110th Air Cavalry. Human and Invitro Marines. I was on the front line. The human 76th was one hundred yards behind us, armed with the mortars. The AIs dropped heavy mortar fire into our trench. We called for mortar support. The 76th ignored us. In fact, when the AIs charged our line, the 76th turned tail and ran. Our individual pockets rallied and we turned the battle around. The 76th came rushing in at the end and claimed victory for themselves. They waltzed off the field, leaving their dead behind. We brought back not only their dead but all of ours as well. Out of five hundred Marines, a hundred and two were able to even walk onto the transports."

Silver leaned in close to the major, but everyone heard her voice. "Now, Major, you tell me. Who earned the right to be Marines?"

Swallowing, the Major said, "The 110th."

"And you're looking at the last survivors of the 110th, Major. These Marines have served with me for seven years. Next time before you open your mouth, find out who you're about to bad mouth. They've earned the right to that song." She looked the major up and down. "Of course, it could also be that you've forgotten the words and the meaning behind the song."

Lt. Finch started again with pride. "From the Halls of Montezuma-"

Again her two companions joined in as did Silver. "To the shores of Tripoli-"

'Dammit,' McQueen thought to himself, 'the woman's been aboard less than two hours and she's already made an enemy. She handled him well, but she's going to need back up.' McQueen walked forward, singing. "We fight our country's battles, In Space Air Land and Sea-"

Seeing their CO joining in, the 58th rose and sang, "First to fight for right and freedom-"

Most of the rest of the Marines in the room rose and joined in. "And to keep our honor clean; We are proud to bear the title Of United States Marines!"

Under the combined weight of singers, the major forced himself to stand as the last two verses were sung. He remained silent.

"Our flag's unfurled to every breeze,
From dawn to setting sun;
We have fought in every clime and place,
Where we could take a gun.
In the snow of far-off Northern lands,
And in sunny tropic scenes;
You will find us always on the job -
The United States Marines."

"Here's health to you and to our Corps,
Which we are proud to serve;
In many a strife we've fought for life
And never lost our nerve.
If the Army and the Navy
Ever look on Heaven's scenes,
They will find the streets are guarded
by United States Marines."


The echoes died away. Silver stared at the major. "Don't mess with me or mine. I have a very long memory, Major Danson. And as they say, Revenge is a dish best served cold." Her grin was predatory. "It is very cold in space, Major. The perfect place for revenge." She started to turn away, then faced him again. "And better men than you have tried to bring me down over the years. I'm still here and they... are not."

As Silver turned, she saw McQueen and gave him a nod. "Colonel."

"Allow me to introduce you to the 58th, Colonel."

In perfect step, Silver's Marines followed her to the 58th's table.

"5-8, this is Colonel Silver, your new co-CO," announced McQueen. He introduced the squadron. "Capt. Vansen, Capt. West, Lt. Damphousse, Lt. Hawkes."

"I've heard a lot about you, 5-8. Hopefully you'll continue to live up to it. These three are Lt. Finch, Lt. St. John," a well built brown skinned man, "and Lt. Russell," a lean, red headed man. "The 110th has been formally dissolved, its dead membership listed on the rolls. The last surviving members have been transferred to the 58th."

"Did you plan that little show?" asked West, his hazel eyes fastened on Silver.

"No. I had been hoping these three would keep a low profile for a change. But that's like asking a leopard to change his spots."

McQueen looked at his squad. "These three will be bunking with you. They are now part of the squadron."

"Yes, sir," replied Shane Vansen.

McQueen nodded curtly. "A briefing at 0800 tomorrow. We have a mission to prepare for."

"Yes, sir."

McQueen turned and left.

"A man with a lot on his mind," murmured Silver watching him stride out of Tun Tavern.

"Why do you say that?" asked Hawkes, having heard her with his superior hearing.

"Look, I need to talk to all of you, but somewhere a bit more private. Any ideas?"

After a hard look at Silver, Vansen rose. "This way."

Vansen led the way to the 58th's barracks. "Guard the door, Hawkes." She knew he would be able to hear anything said. "What do you need to tell us?" The original members of the squadron sat around a table.

Silver leaned against the far wall near the table. "It's about Colonel McQueen. There are those looking for any excuse to pull him off the front lines. The fact that his replacement leg doesn't function correctly works for them. In fact, I'm fairly sure that he was given a substandard part on purpose."

"Why do you care?" demanded Vansen.

"Because I admire him and know how hard he's worked to get this far. He's needed here. He needs to be with you." Silver sighed, crossing her arms. "Look, what I'm about to tell you is not for anyone's ears, not even McQueen's. He has to trust me before I can let him in on it."

Suspicious, West demanded, "What are you talking about?"

"I have connections back on Earth. They are working on Invitro regeneration. In the next month or so, they should be contacting me on whether it is successful. If it is, McQueen will be eligible. A week of travel back to Earth, a month of treatment, a month of physical therapy, a week to get back to the Fleet. Two and a half months, three tops, and he would be back in fighting shape."

"And you? What would you do?" asked Damphousse.

"Hopefully stay on as co-CO for now, eventually dropping to XO. If it doesn't work out, I do have other options."

"And these three? What of them?" Damphousse leaned forward.

"They are now a part of the 58th. They would stay here. Unfortunately, they can not follow me if I leave here."

"We like our skins whole and on our backs." St. John perched on an unoccupied bunk. "I've done my share of covert ops. A pain in the butt. Necessary, though."

"And if McQueen went to Earth, you would have the squadron until his return?" West fixed his gaze on Silver.

"Yes. Unless you would like someone like Ray Butts in charge."

"No." Vansen leaned back in her chair. "And if we decided we didn't want you, you would just turn us back over to McQueen?"


"All right." Shane nodded. "We'll go along with you for now. But tell us what you find out about this treatment, good news or bad."


"What do you get out of this?" snapped West.


"She gets the colonel," announced Vansen, sharply. "Right?"

"Well, he's a helluva good looking man, don't you think?"

"He's also a-"

"I know what he is." Silver leaned over at West. "I know EXACTLY what he is. He's a man who has been through hell and back again too many times. He's a man who has had damned nearly every hand turned against him until that is what he expects. He's a man who desperately needs someone to show that they care about him as a man, not a Marine. And you don't fit the bill. I know him, better than you. I've been through several of the hells that he has; I know the road by memory. Only I lucked out, I had people who stood by me. And I fully intend to show him that it is all right to be a man."

Silver stood up. "Now, I'm going to get a drink, some food, and turn in. I've been up for thirty-six straight hours. You three better come get your gear."

"Yes, ma'am." Finch smiled. "Then we'll let you rest."

McQueen knocked.

"Who's at my hatch?" came Ross' voice.

"Colonel McQueen."

"Come in."

Inside, McQueen threw himself into his usual chair. "Where the hell does she come from, Glen?"

"Just like she said, Ty. The Ticonderoga." Ross strummed the guitar.

"I just watched her make an enemy in the Tun. I backed her up. I felt like I had to. That it was what I was supposed to do." Shaking his head, McQueen leaned forward. "I need a drink. May I?"

"Help yourself, old friend."

McQueen rose and went to the wet bar. "Want anything?" He poured himself a large scotch.

"Not tonight."

Tossing the first scotch down quickly, McQueen poured himself another before sitting back down. He sipped the second scotch, watching Glen play.

"Do you know anything else about her, Glen?"

"Only that she is a good officer. And she's obviously capable of handling any challenges the 5-8 will throw her way."

McQueen fought the urge to tell his friend about his odd sense of wanting to trust Colonel Silver right away. He won the battle, settling deep in the chair and consciously ignoring any thought of the woman.

Two hours later, the three new members returned to the bunk area.

"Where have you been?" asked Vansen.

"Making sure the colonel ate. She has a habit of not eating properly when she's tired. It's sort of our job to make sure she takes care of herself," answered St. John.

"So you've been with her for seven years?"

"Yeah, Hawkes. Seven years. Seven long, hard years, but we couldn't have asked for a better commander." Finch sat at the table across from Hawkes. "I know what you're asking. We'll give you an idea of the colonel.

"Our first battle together was Dicte. Silver was only a 2nd Louie. We were lousy corporals. There were twenty of us under her command. She held us in position when the AIs started their push. She called for mortar support. Nothing came. We ran out of ammo and still the AIs came at us. Our line was overrun and we were fighting hand to hand. As you know, AIs are tough. She went down under a mess of them. We thought she was dead. There was a roar of rage and up she popped, bloody but alive. We closed ranks around her and fought our way to another pocket. She started singing the hymn and the folks we were trying to reach sang it back. They joined us. Every pocket we reached gave us more numbers. We kept on singing; it helped us keep from thinking about dying. Turned out she was the highest ranking officer left. She finally turned her attention on the AIs. By now, we were all so damned hyped the AIs could have doubled their numbers and we would still have wiped them out. By the time the 76th got their little hiney butts into the fight, there were only a handful of AIs left."

From the upper bunk he had claimed, St. John said, "The 76th hustled on upstairs, leaving us behind to clean up. By the time we got up there, they had spread the word that we," he snorted, "that we had turned tail and run, leaving them to fight the AIs. Unfortunately for us, that got spread real fast through the newsies. They didn't bother to find out the truth. So by the time we arrived, with the dead and injured, we couldn't counter the damage. The brigadier, he wrote it up properly and some of us got medals for doing the work. And the 76th received medals from the President for doing squat."

"Silver was given a field promotion and made XO of what was left of the 110th. Over the years, there were replacements from time to time, but never enough. The 110th's luck ran out last week. We pulled the bodies of our comrades out of the wreckage the Chig fighter made out of our docking bay." Russell stared down at West. "So Silver talked to McIntyre-"

"General McIntyre? Third in command of the entire fleet?" Damphousse gaped.

"Is there another General McIntyre?" chuckled Finch.

"He and Silver go back to before they joined the Corps." Russell waved his hand in the air. "Way before our time. Anyway, she talked to him and found out that a proposal was on the board to ship McQueen back to Earth, to turn him into a desk jockey and show pony."

"No!" every member of the original 58th gasped.

"Yes. Silver talked to McIntyre. Don't know what went on between the two of them, but when McIntyre went to the meeting about McQueen, he managed to shoot that plan down. Then they started proposing breaking up the 58th." Russell overrode their shocked gasps this time. "They were saying that with McQueen unable to fly or lead missions, that the 58th was out of commission. He pounded that one into the ground, too. McIntyre then brought up Silver's idea. A co-CO who could take over the active command of the unit, leaving McQueen the rest. It took McIntyre twelve hours of arguing to win them over to his plan. So now, everything is riding on how well we make this work out. If we blow it, both colonels' careers go in the toilet and we get split up among the fleet to die without someone at our backs." Russell nodded curtly at West. "We know your reputations. There's a lot of folks out there that would love to tear you apart; they're so damn jealous of what you've got. And understand this, if we didn't think the colonel's plan a sound one, we wouldn't be here."

"All right, we'll work with you."

Russell nodded to Vansen. "That's all we ask."

The 58th was rousted out of their bunks at 0400 by the red alert klaxons. "Squadrons 44, 58, 64, 89, and 100, report to Docking Bay 3."

"Must be a helluva reception waiting for us," remarked 'Phousse, sliding into her flight suit.

"Well, let's not keep them waiting," grinned Russell. "Let's rock and roll."

"You got ships here?"

"Of course, West. How do you think we got here? Walked?" St. John laughed, pulling on his second boot. "Just packed everything we owned into the Hammerheads and flew on over. What's a twenty-five hour flight in a SA-43?"

"Move it!" Vansen snarled from the doorway.

"On your six, captain." Finch grabbed an object and tossed it to Russell. "Today's choice."

"Rockin' Bach. Good choice." Russell trotted out the open hatch, tucking the optical disc into an upper pocket.

The 58th squadron trotted into the docking bay and scrambled into their cockpits. As they were lowered into their waiting Hammerheads, the pulsing hard rhythms of Bach filled their helmets.

"What is that?" asked Hawkes.

"Bach, man. Fantastic composer." Russell waited for the order he knew was coming.

Silver's cool voice came over the helmets. "Deuce, turn it down."

"Aye, ma'am." Russell turned it down to a tolerable level.

"Launch in one mike."

"Roger that-" Vansen hesitated, realizing she didn't know Silver's call sign.

"Roger that, Diamond Queen," Finch stated. "Trey waiting."

"Snake Eyes, ready to launch, Diamond Queen."


On the Saratoga's bridge, Silver turned to McQueen who had just arrived. "All yours, Queen 6. The 'Cards are in the air, or rather, space."

Relinquishing the seat, Silver stood back out of the way of the bridge crew. She intended to watch through this battle, learning the ways of this ship and crew.

Commodore Ross, she noted, relied heavily on McQueen, seemingly to pick up the threads of whatever plan McQueen came up with. Everything revolved around Ross, but McQueen was there, in the background, calmly directing the air units in the combat, using them like surgical strike teams to exploit every opening the enemy provided. When Ross spoke to McQueen, McQueen listened intently, acknowledging the commodore's experience and taking the input seriously. And when McQueen started snapping out orders, the bridge crew obeyed, knowing he had good reasons for the commands. Ross would stand by McQueen, waiting for the quiet words that McQueen would say to fill him in on what ever threat McQueen saw.

Resolving to spend every other air combat on the bridge, Silver watched and waited for the attack to wind down. Two hours later, the Chigs broke off. Gratefully, Silver noted their losses had been quite low. Only three pilots lost.

"They'll be back in a few minutes. Ready for a debriefing?"

"Of course, colonel." Silver followed McQueen off the bridge.

Next : Chapter Two
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