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


Chapter Two

The first fight as a team behind them, the 58th squadron waited to be debriefed. Pausing outside the same room she had watched them the day before, Silver stopped McQueen with a gentle hand on his arm and faced him. "Will you let me handle this one?"

McQueen hesitated, not looking forward to the debriefing. The start of a massive headache centered behind his eyes.

"Give me a chance to prove myself to them and to you."

With a sigh, McQueen nodded.

"Thank you."

McQueen opened the door and followed Silver in.

"Atten-HUT!" snapped Vansen and the seven pilots obeyed.

"I'm letting Col. Silver run this debriefing." McQueen ignored the looks of dismay from his kids and sat down behind the desk. He wheeled the chair to the side of the room, leaving Silver the floor.

Silver gave him a brief nod before turning to the pilots. "At ease," she growled, her voice low and almost guttural.

The original members of the 58th started to relax and head for chairs, but realized that the other three remained standing in parade rest. They hastily followed suit.

"Lt. Finch, please enlighten me as to what you were doing?" Silver stood, hands behind her back, several feet away from Finch.

"Yes, ma'am. Once engaged with the enemy, I proceeded to fly solo." Lt. Finch gave a run down on her actions up to the last several minutes. "-and after I took out the Chig on Capt. West, well, I - I messed up, ma'am."

"How did you mess up?"

"I zagged left when I should have zigged right. That way the Chig wouldn't have hit my engine, just my wing."

"And then what happened?"

"The Chig got another hit on me. Took out most of my controls, including the landing gear."

"And then?"

"Capt. Shane blew the Chig to pieces, the fight was over, and I was towed back to the Saratoga, ma'am."

"And Finch, how much did the bird you flew only once in combat cost?"

"Three point six seven million, ma'am."

"I must congratulate you, Finch, for yet again scrapping the first plane you fly off a carrier. Once more you have rendered an expensive piece of hardware to pure scrap." Silver moved to stand directly before Finch, eye to eye. "And by the way, how do you know what your mistakes were?"

"Hind sight, ma'am." Finch's voice dropped.

"Which is?"

"Always twenty-twenty, ma'am."

"Finch, unless you can read the mind of the other pilot, you can't know what is going to be a mistake until after it is made. And then you pray you live to remember it. Do try to remember that, hm?"

"Yes, ma'am."

Silver moved to the next in line. "Lt. St. John, you racked up an impressive - one - kill. Care to tell me how you did it? There were one hundred and fifty of them to our seventy-five. Explain yourself."

"Ma'am, I -" St. John shot a frantic look at Russell.

Silver's voice went chill. "Were you playing Duck?"

Eyes wide with fear, St. John rapped out, "Ma'am, yes, ma'am!"

Gripping his flight suit front, Silver jerked him forward and down, off balance. Despite the fact he had fifty pounds, four inches and was an Invitro, she man handled him easily. "I warned you about playing Duck," she growled into his ear.

The original members of the 58th stared in shock when Silver lifted St. John, spun on her heel, and tossed him toward the door. He landed beside the door, fifteen feet away. He hastily resumed stance.

Silver turned to his partner. "And you, Lt. Russell? Anything to say?"

"Sorry, ma'am. We won't do it again!"

"I'm going to break you of this game once and for all." Silver did a repeat performance with Russell. "Fifty laps of the ship, three hundred push-ups, and one hundred and fifty curls, in this room under my eye. And," she paused, "latrine duty for the entire ship."

"Ma'am, yes, ma'am!"

Looking at Finch, Silver said in a calm voice, "Twenty five laps, one hundred and fifty push-ups, one hundred curls."

"Ma'am, yes, ma'am." Finch ran to stand beside the two men.

Next in line was West. "Tell me, Captain, how close did you come to shooting Capt. Shane?"

"Too close, ma'am."

"Next time, try to get a steeper angle."

"Yes, ma'am."

"Five laps, fifty push-ups, fifty curls."

"Ma'am, yes, ma'am."

"And you might try an Immelmann next time."

"Ma'am? A what?'

"A review of basic dogfighting will be tomorrow." Silver shook her head.

"Yes, ma'am." At Silver's gesture, West darted over to stand behind the three at the door.

"Lt. Hawkes."

"Yes, ma'am?"

She regretted the fact she was about to wipe his pleased grin from his face. He had flown well. Seven more kills to his credit. The smug look on Hawkes' face vanished with her question. "Whose wing man were you for this engagement?'

"Capt. Vansen's, ma'am."

"And how many minutes away were you when Capt. West almost shot Capt. Vansen?"

"Several, ma'am." Hawkes deflated completely.

"What would have happened if Capt. West had been oh, say, thirty seconds or even a full minute further away?'

"Chigs would have gotten Capt. Vansen, ma'am." Now Hawkes sounded miserable.

"Tell me something, Lt. Do you often desert your wing man in the thick of battle?"

Incapable of lying, Hawkes answered, "Yes, ma'am." His voice trembled.

"This is a serious offense, Lt. Being someone's wing man means they have to trust you to be there when they need you. Were you?"

"No, ma'am." Hawkes struggled not to cry. He broke stance, looking at Shane. "I'm sorry, Shane."

"I know, Coop." Shane turned her head long enough to give him a quick smile.

The sight of Hawkes tearing himself up over the issue made McQueen want to comfort Hawkes verbally, but he forced himself to stay silent. He had tried unsuccessfully to get Hawkes to stay with his wing man. All he could do was hope Silver did not push Hawkes too far.

"Well, Lt. Hawkes, I think you owe me forty laps, two hundred push-ups, and one hundred curls. In addition, you will stand guard over Capt. Shane's bunk. Six hours should suffice. You will spend the entire time reflecting on your actions and the fact that next time the both of you may not be so lucky."

"Ma'am, yes, ma'am." Hawkes stumbled away at her curt nod with none of his usual grace.

"Lt. Damphousse, do you know what an Immelmann is?"

"I remember hearing that it was a flying term from the early 20th century, ma'am."

"I really will take this up with the flight trainers. It is basic dogfighting technique. As with Capt. West, you should try for more angle when going for a bogey on someone's tail. Five laps, fifty and fifty."

"Ma'am, yes, ma'am." Relieved, 'Phousse went to stand beside Hawkes.

"Capt. Vansen, can you answer my question about the Immelmann?'

"No, ma'am."

Shaking her head, Silver asked, "How often have you had the squadron in VR simulation?"

"Twice a month, ma'am."

"Really? As often as that?" The sarcasm dripped from the words. "How many flight hours has the squadron logged in the last thirty days, discounting this latest engagement?"

"Thirty two or so, ma'am."

"Divided by four?"

"Is eight hours a person, ma'am."

"Do you know how many flight hours you are supposed to have, individually?"

Shane struggled to remember, but admitted failure. "No, ma'am."

"Twenty five or more. Do you know what happens to squads who do not meet performance regulations two months in a row?"

"They don't fly, ma'am."

"Correct. They get pulled from flight until they re-qualify, a procedure that can take as long as a month. Is it your intention to ground this squadron?"

"No, ma'am." Shane stood rigid.

"Five laps, fifty and fifty. I want a schedule for simulations on my desk at 0800."

"Ma'am, yes, ma'am."

"Lts. Russell and St. John, lead the run. Double time, march."

McQueen moved over to the desk as the squadron vacated the premises.

Alone with McQueen, Silver closed and locked the door.

He frowned.

"I don't want anyone disturbing us." She stood behind McQueen. Setting her hands lightly on his shoulders, she felt his muscles tense further. An intensely private man, he obviously did not like to be touched. "Relax." Silver started to massage the tightness in his lower neck and shoulders. "It's just a massage."

Little by little, he relaxed. His head dropped to his chest after several minutes. "That feels good, colonel."

"It should. I spent good money learning how to give massages." Silver ran her hands down his arms and felt rewarded when he allowed her to lift his arms to the desk, fold them and lower his head to rest on them. She started working her way up his neck.

McQueen stiffened.

"Easy, colonel. I have given plenty of Invitro massages. I know how to touch so it merely relaxes. I'm not going to turn you on." Leaning over and breathing into his ear, she added, "This time."

Her thumbs massaged the muscles on either side of the omphalos, or neck navel, dragging a groan from McQueen.

He tried to recover his sense of control, but McQueen knew she could do anything she wanted to. Somewhere, somehow, he had given up control to her. "This time?" He heard the fear, the excitement, and dread in his voice.

"Yes. I want you anywhere I can get you. But in a serious relationship. Not a one night stand or a trophy hunt. And I'll wait until you are more comfortable with the idea." Shifting her thumbs slightly, Silver pressed hard for several seconds and then released.

Another groan escaped McQueen as he felt muscles he had not been aware of suddenly relax. The burgeoning headache started to fade. He remained still as her skilled, experienced hands worked their way down to between his shoulder blades, following the tightness. The headache retreated further.

"How's the headache?"

"Almost gone." McQueen allowed her to shift his body again as she wanted. She brought him upright, tilted his head back slightly so he rested between her breasts, and stroked her fingers across his eyebrows. Unbidden, he closed his eyes.

"Hands in your lap, please." Once he had obeyed, Silver placed her thumbs over his eyebrows above his nose. She pressed hard and slowly stroked toward his temples. Five times she repeated the movement. "And now?"

"What headache?" Opening his eyes, McQueen gave her his first smile.

She returned it, drowning in the depths of his brilliant blue eyes. "Do you think I was too hard on them?" Silver tore her mind away from the thought of kissing him then and there. Too soon.

"No. I've been pretty lenient on them lately. I haven't been pushing them like I should. It's my fault they aren't up to regulations."

"It is not your fault. Shane is supposed to be running the day to day operations like that. Now stop taking the blame. I know you love those kids like they were your own, but they do need to stand on their own two feet. Don't coddle them."

"How do you know?"

"I have a thirteen year old daughter on Earth." At his surprised look, she asked, "Didn't you look at my dossier?"

"Ross forgot to give it to me. I haven't asked him."

"God, you're a stubborn man." She started massaging his face. "All right. Crash course on Col. Silver. I'm 5'9", somewhere around 160, hair dark brown, eyes blue, grey, or green depending on my mood. Of Celtic descent. That means that I've a bit of Irish in me, some Welsh, some Scottish, and who knows what else. In addition to being a mongrel, I have a lousy temper which I control religiously. If I lose it... Well, the advice of a friend comes to mind. He said, 'Duck and run for cover. Preferably in a foxhole five counties away.'"

When McQueen chuckled, Silver smiled and caressed his throat. "I have an IQ that's up there. I finished high school early and already had half of my required college classes. I finished my degree when I was eighteen."

"In what?'

"English literature," she laughed, running her hands down to his upper chest, striving to ease more of the tension she could feel curled in his body, returning to his throat. "Can you believe it? Then I taught Junior High School for a year. I decided I didn't want to make my living trying to pound some appreciation for the classics into adolescent, hormone driven, angst ridden, children who weren't using what few brain cells they had. I looked around, saw the way the AI thing was headed, and enlisted in the Core. I wanted to be able to defend myself."

McQueen discovered he enjoyed her touch. His wife had rarely just touched him, but had expected him to constantly give her attention. It was one of the million social niceties that the Invitro programmers had deliberately left out.

"Don't tense up on me now. Think of something relaxing. Like what I'm doing. Concentrate on that." She ran one hand lightly over his forehead, the other stroking his throat, feeling his pulse.

"How did you know?"

"You frown too much." She used a thumb to smooth the frown. "Not everything is about your being an Invitro." Silver took a risk and planted a kiss on his forehead. "Now, I suspect the first of your kids will be here shortly. Try to stay relaxed. In fact, you don't have to stay."

"No, I want to be here." McQueen rubbed his knee. "I wish I hadn't lost the leg."

"If you hadn't, you wouldn't have gotten that massage."

"True. But I don't think it's a fair trade."

Silver nodded her understanding and stepped away, headed for the door.

"What is Duck?"

Crossing her arms, Silver faced McQueen. "It's when a pilot lures Chigs into the firing line of another pilot. Russell and St. John developed it and have it down to an art. Unfortunately, others do not have the skill and often they are the ones who die, not the Chigs. It takes an exceptional team to make it work and I've been trying to break them of it for the last year. Hopefully, this will do it."

McQueen hesitated, then asked, "Silver, what's your name?"

"Lysa." She unlocked the door.

"An unusual name."

"It's a family name. Passed down for generations." She stood by the desk. "And you?"


"Ah, rock. A good solid name. And the city that bore it was renowned for its wealth and beauty."

Not many knew about the Phoenician city. "How do-"

The door opened and the first three members of the squad finished with their laps entered. They snapped to attention before the desk.

"You may begin the push-ups." Silver waited until they had finished their first push-up before coolly announcing, "On your feet."

They hurriedly obeyed.

"Exercise your pathetic excuses for brains and give me the first cadence you learned at basic."

"1, 2, 3, 4, I love the Marine Core."

"That was as pathetic as your brains. Try again."

"1, 2, 3, 4, I LOVE THE MARINE CORPS!"

"Better. Now use it."

"Ma'am, yes, ma'am."

McQueen allowed a small quirk of his lips as his kids dove back down to the floor and proceeded to fill the room with their cadence. He let Silver see it and was rewarded by a flash of a grin.

Pride filled him that his three normal human kids managed to finish the detail. He watched as West and Shane slowed down to keep them all in sync. They were all exhausted.

"0830. Be here. Dismissed."

As the three staggered out, Finch entered. "Lt. Finch reporting, ma'am."


At the door West glanced back and saw Finch drop into a push-up.

"1, 2, 3, 4, I LOVE THE MARINE CORPS!"

West closed the door.

"You've let them get soft, Colonel."

"They're only human."

With ten push-ups. to go, Finch glanced up at the door as it opened. Hawkes staggered in.


Tired and sullen because of it, Hawkes dropped down and started doing push-ups.

McQueen stood up, slapping his hands down on the desk. "Lt. Hawkes! Present yourself!"

Hearing the anger in his CO's voice, Hawkes scrambled to his feet. "Lt. Hawkes, reporting, sir!"

"Is it your intention, lieutenant, to embarrass me before the colonel?" McQueen's voice resembled ice.

"No, sir!"

"Do you, or do you not, know the proper procedure for reporting your presence?"

"Sir, yes, I do, sir!"

"Then show me."

"Sir, yes, sir!" Hawkes trotted out the door and back in, bringing himself to full attention before the desk. "Lt. Hawkes, reporting, sir!"

"Start your push-ups., lieutenant."

"Sir, yes, sir!" With a barely audible sigh, Hawkes dropped into position and started. "1, 2, 3, 4, I LOVE THE MARINE CORPS!"

McQueen sat down, giving Silver a shrug and a look of apology.

With a nod, Silver sat down, pulling reports over that she had brought in.

Finished with her curls at last, Finch received permission to leave.

Hawkes had only finished half of his push-ups. when the last two miscreants arrived.

"Lt. St. John, reporting, ma'am!"

"Lt. Russell, reporting, ma'am!"


The two started their cadence and dragged Hawkes into their faster pace. By the time Hawkes finished his count, he collapsed momentarily on the floor. He groaned and rolled onto his back to start his curls.

Russell glanced over at Hawkes. "Ah, come on, Hawkes. Can't you go faster? What are you? Soft?"

In response, Hawkes sped up.

St. John and Russell started their curls, pushing the cadence hard.

By the time Hawkes finished, he could not move. He lay panting, as the other two rose to their feet.

"Damn, Hawkes. You are soft." Russell snapped to attention beside St. John. "Ma'am."

"The latrine schedule will be posted in two hours. I will be available for our usual ten klick run at the normal time."

"Yes, ma'am."

Hawkes struggled to his feet. "Ma'am."

"Lieutenant, I have to agree with the assessment of Lt. Russell. You are badly out of shape. I suggest you join us for our run and exercise program. You can get the details from them. I expect to see you beside Capt. Vansen's bunk for the next six hours. Dismissed."

"What does your exercise program entail?" McQueen asked once the door closed.

"After the run, we do three hours of intensive workouts. Feel free to join. I would enjoy having a partner who won't worry about rank. In fact, extend an invitation to the entire squadron."

"A gentle kick in the behind since they're obviously out of shape. They'll be there."

"And what about you? You need to keep in shape, too."

"With this damn fake leg, I-"

"McQueen, you have nine tenths of your body left. Don't neglect it worrying about whether or not that damn piece of metal is going to give out on you. Stop wallowing in self-pity. Or I just might start kicking your ass."

Taken aback by her forcefulness, McQueen narrowed his gaze. There was no pity in her eyes. She meant it.

"McQueen, I am serious. If you need help, ask. I will give it unconditionally. You don't need to play hero with me. I've been where you are. You can't do it all yourself. The sooner you realize that it is ok to ask for help, the sooner I can help you."

McQueen admitted, "It's hard for me."

"I know. I don't need words all the time. A hand, a gesture, a look can do the same as asking aloud. Lean on me. I'm stronger than you can know. Maybe stronger than you."

"Right," McQueen said dryly. He knew natural born humans were weaker than himself, even in his current state. What she had done with the two lieutenants, he figured they had allowed her to do.

Without warning, Silver moved. She grabbed McQueen by the upper arms, lifted him out of the chair, and carried him across the room, his feet never touching the floor. He stared at her in surprise. Setting him down by the door carefully, Silver gave him a wicked grin. His head ensnared in her hands, McQueen found himself being kissed passionately. Her hands roamed down to his waist as he unconsciously responded and deepened the kiss.

Electricity arced through his body, bringing his senses to full awareness. The body under his hands was hard, yet womanly soft. A vague part of him wondered just what she looked like under the flight suit. McQueen broke the kiss off, desperate for air.

Silver moved her mouth down to his throat, feeling how his pulse raced. Her lips rested above his pounding pulse and she fought the urge to taste him. Slowly, she pulled away from the tantalizing source of life.

Gazing into the green eyes, McQueen knew he had never encountered anyone like her. "Who are you?"

"Lt. Col. Lysa Silver."

"That's not all."

"You'll have to learn for yourself. Now, will you trust me not to let you fall?"

"Yes," he breathed.

"Good." She traced his cheek with a finger. "Have the 58th at the main gym at 1800. Don't forget to eat. And no alcohol until afterward. You'll need it."

"Going to run me into the ground?" He struggled to steady his breathing.

"At least, run your leg off." She grinned, kissed him quickly, and stepped away. "See you later. I have some business to attend to."

"Do you need help?" Ah, there, a calm tone. Control reestablished.

"Later. It's 1-10 stuff. I'll need the run and exercise by the time I finished."


"A few." Her eyes shifted back to blue-grey.

"I understand."

"I know." Silver opened the door and left.

Alone, McQueen sighed. His body had awakened under the first kiss and it was busy telling him it had been too damn long. Swearing under his breath, McQueen stalked out of the room.

"Listen up, 5-8." McQueen stood in the barracks hatchway. He watched as the squad turned toward him., Hawkes beside Vansen's bunk. "We've been invited to join Col. Silver for some exercise tonight." As they started to groan, he said, "I've let you get away with bare minimum exercise lately. The lot of you could barely finish today. You could have done it in your sleep once. It's time we got back in shape. And that's an order."

"Yes, sir," Shane responded.

"Be at the main gym at 1800 hours. We'll be doing a ten klick run. Afterward, be prepared for three hours of workout. Dress appropriately. Make sure you eat early enough."

"Yes, sir."

McQueen left the barracks, knowing that for all their protests they would be there.


"He's right, Vanessa. We've really been slacking off. And he let us."

"Do you think he'll be there?"

Shane nodded. "Yes, West, I do."

"Then we better be there."


McQueen ate a light meal at 1600, knowing he would be back after the workout. He nodded approval as he saw the 58th enter the mess. The only one he did not see was Silver.

When he had finished and returned his plate, McQueen stopped next to where Finch sat with the 58th. "Where's Colonel Silver?"

"She ate already, colonel. I just got back from working out our route with her. If I know her, she's reading." Finch smiled. "I think she just started the Tolkien stuff again."

Russell groaned. "More fantasy hero stuff."

"Hey, I like it. Orcs, elves, dwarves, hobbits, heroes, villains, great deeds." St. John leaned back. "It's great stuff. It's all so real. Tolkien was a great writer."

"Hell, you think Lewis Carroll is a great writer."

"Can I help it if you have no appreciation for the finer things in life, Russell?"

McQueen left as the apparently old debate grew heated.

Outside Silver's quarters, McQueen hesitated. He took a deep breath and knocked.

"Who's at my hatch?"

"Col. McQueen."


Stretched out on her bed, Silver looked up from her book. "Have a seat. Take a load off."

Doing so, McQueen peeked a look at the book's title. "The Hobbit?"

"Yeah. I love a good fantasy. And Tolkien was among the best."

"Did you finish your business?"

"Yes. That's part of why I read this. It helps." She glanced at him. "Is there something you need?'

"I just wanted to make sure everything was all right."

"I'm dealing with it. It's been two weeks since it happened. And it isn't the first time I've lost huge numbers of my team."

Deciding it was time to change the subject, McQueen gestured to the book she held. "So, what's it about?"

"Don't tell me you haven't delved into the fantasy side of humanity?"

"I am a realist."

"It doesn't mean you can't enjoy a good fantasy." She tossed him the book in her hand. As he caught it reflexively, Silver grinned. "Get started. I've got others. Just remember it was written a hundred years ago."

"What, now?"

"Do you have anything pressing to do?"


"Then read. Relax. I'll even let you stretch out on the bed if you want."

"I'm fine here." McQueen settled back into the chair and opened the book. He watched over the top of it as Silver rose and went to a book shelf. There she picked out another book, tossing it on the bed. Then she inserted an optical disc in a player. Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor started.

"Do you mind?"

"No. It's fine."

"Good. He's one of my favorite composers."

When Silver returned to her bed and stretched out on her stomach, nose buried in her new book, McQueen forced himself to actually start reading.

McQueen was startled when his book suddenly snapped shut.

"I hate to interrupt, but it is time to go."


Silver grinned. "Sorry, but it is almost 1800. Do you have clothes at the gym to change into?"


"Good. Come on. We'll shower there and change."

Reluctantly, McQueen set the book down. "We can drop it off at your quarters if you want."

"It's too valuable for you to-"

"Hey, it's mine. I loan my books out to friends. Bring it back when you've finished, and you can try the next installment."

McQueen glanced down at the book. "I don't know what to say."

"Thank you is good."

"Thank you." He looked back up at her. "I will take care of it."

"Just don't lose it down a garbage shoot, hm?" She held out her hand.

Slowly McQueen took her hand and felt her strength as she hauled him onto his feet.

Five minutes later, he stood before his locker at the gym. He could see Silver from the corner of his eye stripping off her flight suit. The locker room was currently empty, for which he was grateful. It was hard enough to reveal the horrible scarring on his body normally. His Invitro faster than normal healing had taken care of the scars on his face already and his neck was slowly healing. Within a few years no one would be able to tell his body had suffered such massive scarring.

"Hey, you just going to stand there admiring that handsome face or are you actually planning to exercise?" Silver reached up and turned his head so he faced her. "It's ok, McQueen. I know your history. A few scars don't matter to me. What matters to me is the man under the skin. Besides, I have my share of scars. See?"

She turned completely around and he saw what she meant. Just under her shoulder length hair, a set of five parallel scars ran down her back on the right side to her waist. Burns and puckered marks were scattered across her back and front. Her body did not resemble a model's, but the curves and breasts were ample enough. Muscles played under the satin skin, testifying to her strength.

McQueen brushed the parallel scars lightly. "How?"

"Would you believe I ran into a grizzly bear in Alaska? Damn near stumbled over the cub and Momma came out with a vengeance. Broke four ribs, too. Put me in the hospital for a week."

The next one that drew his attention covered her left breast. It looked quite familiar.

"Yes, I've had my share of run-ins with the AIs. I have enjoyed their hospitality, oh, seven or eight times. I think my total time runs to three months."

"Three months?" His own time totaled twenty days and the first time they had broken him by the end of three days. It had taken him another eleven days to break free. Since then, he had managed not to stay long enough to break again.

"It's not your concern, McQueen. Each of us have their burdens to bear. I've learned to live with mine. You've learned to live with yours and get on with your life. As a realist, you know better than to dwell in the 'if onlys'. You can't change the past. I also know that lesson well." Silver took his face between her hands and gently kissed him. "Now, change before those unruly hellions you call your kids arrive."

McQueen's smile was bleak but he stripped off his flight suit. As he dressed in a khaki tank top and sweat pants, McQueen knew he should stop wearing the black flight suit from his days as an Angry Angel. He was never going to fly again. But a stubborn part of him refused to give up what the flight suit represented to him. It was a symbol of his freedom, of what he had forged himself to be. Nothing could take it away from him.

Watching him, Silver could guess his thoughts hidden behind the stone mask. It was her goal to give him back what he had lost. "Tonight, I think we'll have a bit of a song fest. There's one song in particular I want you to hear."

McQueen nodded.

He was just finishing putting his running shoes on when the 58th trotted in. Rather than listen and watch their banter, he decided to join Silver in the gym area and start warming up.

Silver stood beside him and touched his arm gently. "McQueen, I better warn you. The term run is a misnomer. It's more of an obstacle course."

"Now you tell me." He shook his head. "I'll do my best."

"That's my colonel."

Once everyone had warmed up, Silver nodded to Finch. "Finch, you lead. Hawkes and St. John next. Then Vansen and Damphousse. West and Russell follow. McQueen and I will play tail end Charlie. Double time, march."

Finch spun on her heel and jogged off. St. John grabbed Hawkes by the arm and dragged him along in her wake. The others followed, quickly falling into step.

When Finch scrambled up a ladder, the group stalled, though St. John followed.

"Move it! This isn't a stroll in the country. Get your asses in gear!" bellowed Silver.

"You said it was a run!" protested Hawkes.

"And how often do you get the leisure to actually just run from your enemies? Move it! Go! GO!" Silver turned to McQueen. "Colonel, you've got a bunch of pansies here."

"I know. They used to be roses."

He smiled inwardly at how that spurred them on, driving them to keep up with Silver's three.

With only a half kilometer to go, McQueen stumbled and went to his hands and knees. His teeth ground together to keep the pain inside.

Silver glanced down at him, then at the squad. "What are you waiting for? The colonel and I will meet you at the gym. Move it!"

Grateful it was a rarely traveled corridor, McQueen accepted Silver's help in sitting and he leaned back against the wall, wincing as his leg started twitching uncontrollably. "Damn. I knew I was favoring it too much." He grimaced as Silver ran her hands over his leg, searching out the origin of the spasm.

"Take a deep breath. When I press on the knot, let it out. Ready?'

"Do it." Pain sledge hammered its way through his body and McQueen forced himself to exhale.

The pain eased a degree and McQueen could feel her hands working on his thigh, easing the muscle spasm. Her fingers dug deep and he clenched his fists, trying not to tense up the leg further.

Silver let her fingers do the work and let her eyes roam over McQueen's sweat drenched body. The obstacle course/run had taken its toll on McQueen. Wet fabric accentuated the lean, hard muscles of his upper body and thighs. His slender hand wiped the sweat from his face.

He felt her look. "They're not the only ones out of shape."

"We'll have you back in fighting trim in no time. And don't nay say me, McQueen. As long as you are ready and willing, there are always alternatives. There, let's get you on your feet. You should be able to jog the rest of it out. Too bad you didn't have my brother for your physical therapy."


"He drives you until you're in better shape than before whatever happened to you."

"I was in good shape then."

"You'd be in great shape now. He works your tail off."

Once back at the gym, they found that Finch had initiated the rest of the exercises for the squad. Silver proceeded to work out the rest of McQueen's body until he was ready to drop.

It amazed him how easily she kept up and how hard she badgered him to finish the routines. When at last she told him they were done, McQueen allowed himself to lie on the mat, panting.

"Up. Time to hit the showers." She extended a hand.

Gratefully he took it and lurched to his feet. "I must be getting old."

"Nonsense. You just need to whip yourself back into shape. And until this squad is back in shape, this will be a nightly arrangement."

McQueen started to walk and swore as the artificial leg chose that second to malfunction. He collapsed to the floor and fought back tears of rage.

"Where's the reset button?" Silver asked softly.

"In the back. It has a flip up catch."

"Got it. Here it goes. Let's try that again." Again Silver aided him in standing. She waited to see if the leg would malfunction again. Her hearing picked up the mumbled curses under his breath. "Now, now. That so-called piece of s-crap allows you to be here."

"I know. That's what I tell myself. Over and over again."

"Come on. Let's hit the showers. It's working for now. Let's make the best of it."

Too angry and tired to care what others saw, McQueen stripped in the locker room and entered the shower room, tossing his towel on the shelf above a shower. He dialed the water up to its hottest and slapped on the water, letting it beat against his chest. Water cascaded down his body and he let it wash away his anger and frustration as well as honest sweat. He ducked his head under the water, letting the water spill down his back.

Hands touched his back lightly and McQueen put his hands on the wall, bracing, knowing what would happen without asking. Strong, sure strokes lathered his back and buttocks, easing down to his knees and all the way to his left foot. He lifted his foot when it was lightly tugged, praying that the artificial one would not malfunction. Foot back on the floor, McQueen then reveled in the feeling of someone washing his hair for him.

"Turn around."

Obeying, McQueen tilted his head back, letting the water rinse his hair. When he finally looked for Silver, she stood under another shower, washing her hair. They were alone. "Aren't you going to finish what you started?" A risk he knew.

"Are you prepared to take the consequences?"

"I'm a big boy."

"I noticed."

"That's not-" McQueen realized she was teasing him. "Yes."

Silver turned off her shower and glided over to him. She picked up the soap again and started lathering his chest and abdomen.

He placed his hands on her shoulders to steady himself as she started moving downward. "No Chig attacks, please," he breathed softly.

Her hands touched him firmly, cleansing him thoroughly, like the nurses had done. But this was different. He was not flat on his back helpless. Silver's hands moved to the insides of his thighs and he sighed in regret. Then caressingly her hands returned to his groin, touching, stroking. His body responded eagerly.

He pulled Silver to her feet and this time he initiated the kiss. Reluctantly McQueen released her a moment later. "What have you done to me?"

"Not a thing. Yet." Silver laughed and stepped away. "I think I'll insure a bit of privacy." She went to the door and leaned out. "Hey, Finch, you still here?"

"Yes, ma'am. Just a second."

Silver waited until Finch arrived. "The colonel is experiencing some... difficulties. Don't let anyone in, hm?"

"Yes, ma'am. You'll take care of the colonel?"

"Yes. Oh, and remind me I want to speak to you about a song or two when I get out of here."

"Yes, ma'am."

Smiling, Silver shut the door and returned to McQueen. "Now, where were we?"


"I'm a big girl, McQueen. I know what I'm doing. Just be sure about yourself."

"It's been a long time since I had anyone who wanted just me." McQueen cupped her cheek.

"I don't work charity cases, McQueen. Decide now."

McQueen closed his eyes. "Please," he asked softly.

Her hands resumed their caresses and he moaned, barely audible. Then hot, wet flesh engulfed him and he gripped her head, trying not to thrust too deep. But she took his entire length, her tongue busy on his engorged flesh and he had to move. It had been far too long and his control was not enough. He pounded hard into her mouth and felt her taking him easily. The fire that burned through him exploded and he arched backward, pulling her head in tight.

When he could think again, McQueen discovered himself on his hands and knees. Silver stroked his shoulders and back, easing his body again. "Told you it had been too long."

"It's all right. I'm no stranger to deep throating. Now, let's finish up here. Don't want to give the youngsters too much to talk about. I've already rinsed you off. Up you go. Let me wrap this towel around you." Silver patted his ass. "Out with you. I'll be right along."


"Don't argue. Go."

McQueen left, realizing she wasn't going to take no for an answer. Before the door closed, a dressed Finch, holding another towel, ducked inside. No other members of the 58th remained in the locker room. Even taking his time, McQueen was mostly dressed when Silver left the shower, still talking to Finch. As Silver started dressing, McQueen allowed himself the luxury of watching her.

She moved with an unconscious grace that reminded him of cats. Not domesticated ones, though. Silver struck him more as a panther, gliding, stalking, able to suddenly become still. Only her eyes alive then. He was unaware that others saw him the same way.

"Finch, go set it up, please. The colonel and I will be along in a few mikes."

"Yes, ma'am." Finch left.

"What is she setting up? Oh, yes. A song fest, I believe you called it."

Silver dressed quickly in her flight suit. "Time I started showing you what I meant."

They found the 58th in their barracks. Finch was fiddling with a laptop computer hooked into a set of speakers. Russell and St. John stood nearby, waiting patiently. The rest of the squadron sat on their bunks, not sure what was going on.

"Russell, rustle up a pair of chairs."

"Yes, ma'am," grinned Russell and he darted out the door. He returned in a few minutes with two folding chairs. "I don't think they'll miss them, so I'll stow them away here."

"Good idea, but make sure you leave a note as to where they are. Someone will have to account for them." Silver frowned at Russell.

"Yes, ma'am."

"'Kay, guys. Ready?" Finch looked up from the laptop. At their nods, she pressed a button and stood up, standing between the two men.

Russell and St. John stood, heads bowed. Finch's music pulsed through the room. The two male voices rose and blended becoming one powerful voice. Finch's rose like an angel above them. The two men slowly raised their heads and looked at McQueen. They knew who the song was for.

"Come all of you who lie in the prisons of the mighty,
who refuse to deny what you believe,
and know your greatest foe is the servant o' the night
who tries to sell the bargain of reprieve.
And when the captains o' the cruel come to whisper their lies,
let their temptations fall by your side.
Listen tae the ocean and remember
how the rock stands firm against the tide.

And you who would be jailers, take this warning -
for every man you break upon your wheel,
there's another whose courage will pierce you like a thorn,
when you see you can never make him kneel.
And when the thorn digs deep into the canker of your heart,
and the prisoner sees the shame you cannot hide,
it's then you'll fear the sound of the ocean,
where the rock stands firm against the tide.

No matter the freedom, no matter the cause,
no matter the truth that lies beyond,
no evil can triumph though it cloak itself in law,
against a man whose word is his bond.
No cage can hold the spirit of a true man's heart
and injustice can never fetter pride.
No tyrant can ever chain the ocean,
while the rock stands firm against the tide.

McQueen's chest felt tight as he heard the message. And he resolved to remain true to his name. The tide eventually destroys the rock, but it took time.

After a brief pause, Russell looked at Silver. "We thought we might do a few more by McNeill."

"Go on. Choose what you want."

The three voices rose together.

"I asked the Master Builder, why did he make John Muir
from the seed of a man so hard and unforgiving?
A father who tried to use the Gospel to ensure
that his son's life would never be worth living.
And the Lord's voice whispered on the High Sierra wind
from the mountains where the clear waters lie,
saying 'hold the bravest heart above the greatest of sins
and I'll show how to make a hero rise.'

Leave Calvin and the Bible to parish o' Dunbar.
Give a blind man back his eyes to find the brightest of the stars.
Then lead him to the altar of a better God by far
in the vale of the redwood cathedral.

I asked the Master Builder, how did he find the way
to put the man in the mountains and the mountains in the man?
How long to find the uncommon clay
that he needed for his master builder's plan?
And the Lord's voice came down from the High Sierra skies
saying, 'take a heart of hard Scottish stone,
plant the seed of a wild place deep down inside
and I'll show you how to call a hero home.'

Leave Calvin and the Bible to parish o' Dunbar.
Give a blind man back his eyes to find the brightest of the stars.
Then lead him to the altar of a better God by far
in the vale of the redwood cathedral.

And as I stand by the thunder of the roaring mountain falls,
and hear California call you savior,
I cannot help but wonder, had a different fortune called,
would you have done the same for Scotland the Brave -
your home and your fathers?

God lives above the redwoods, so men say,
looking down, straight and true, at the best of all his treasures,
and if a man should stand among them to pray,
it's against them the Lord will take his measure.
And who grew straighter than Long Johnny Muir?
A redwood of flesh, blood, and bone,
filled by the Master Builder with a passion so pure
for the mountains no single man can own.

Leave Calvin and the Bible to parish o' Dunbar.
Give a blind man back his eyes to find the brightest of the stars.
Then lead him to the altar of a better God by far
in the vale of the redwood cathedral.

McQueen decided that the next time he was on Earth to visit the redwood forest. Looking up who John Muir had been was the next mental note. It surprised him to be considered a hero by these three. They did not strike him as hero worshipers. He noticed that Finch was rummaging in her foot locker.

"My Uncle Jim, he served his time on the shores o' the Forth, as a joiner,
and three pounds ten a week was all he earned,
but the wages were better working Michigan pine
so he sailed on an ocean liner
to build a better life with the trade he'd learned.
And the shore he reached in twenty-three, the home o' the brave,
the land o' the free, was dry as the Devil's tongue on Judgment Day,
but to find the dram in a foreign land, it's the natural gift of a Falkirk man,
and Lady Liberty looked the other way, or so I've always heard my uncle say.

For he's the best o' the barley, cream o' the crop.
Easy on the water, I'll tell you when to stop.
Would you please charge your glasses with the real pure drop,
and drink to the best o' the barley.

My Uncle Jim was a child of his time, and the tricks of the time were dirty,
and dirtiest of all was the one they played on a working man's dollar
and a poor man's dime between twenty-nine and thirty,
for they killed all the steady jobs in the building trade.
And the only way that Jim could see was to play the game with Lady Liberty,
though no one ever told him all the rules,
and when fainter hearts were homeward bound
Jim sold Michigan ice by the pound, with a leather sling and an iron hook for tools,
just to show the Yankees how to keep their cool.

For he's the best o' the barley, cream o' the crop.
Easy on the water, I'll tell you when to stop.
Would you please charge your glasses with the real pure drop,
and drink to the best o' the barley.

My Uncle Jim, he could keep good time when the band played an eightsome reel,
and loved to waltz away the summer nights,
and the spring in his step kept him in his prime,
through the turns of fortune's wheel as it spun him
through the darkness and the light.
And to dance the jig called history, Jim took the hand of the century,
and he never let her steal a backward glance.
From the D-Day beaches to the cold lake shore,
he whirled her round and round the floor to show her
how a Scotsman takes his chance, and he never missed a measure o' the dance.

For he's the best o' the barley, cream o' the crop.
Easy on the water, I'll tell you when to stop.
Would you please charge your glasses with the real pure drop,
and drink to the best o' the barley.
Here's a health to the best of the barley, to Scotland and the best of the barley.

Carrying a tray, Finch stood up. "And here's real Scotch malt whiskey. I've only got eight shot glasses. So, Colonel McQueen, as head CO, do you mind?" She held out the three quarters full Scotch bottle, balancing the tray on one hand.

McQueen nodded, rising and taking the bottle. One by one, the filled shot glasses were taken. He remained standing, knowing he should make a toast. "To absent friends. To the Corps."

After no one spoke for several seconds, Silver toasted, "To the best of the barley." She tossed her whiskey back in a single gulp and so did the three singers.

McQueen, not to be outdone, took a large swallow from the bottle and nearly choked. It was a lot better than the scotch he normally drank. He glanced at the label. Aged twenty five years. He met Silver's eyes and saw how she laughed silently at him and the rest of his squad as they had the same reaction to the whiskey. "Woman," he growled, "you should know better than to do something like that to us poor Marines. A drink like this should be savored, not tossed back."

Hawkes stared at his glass. "Hey, that tastes different!"

"That's because it's a real drink," West said. "They serve the cheap stuff to us at the Tun." He looked at McQueen. "How old is this stuff?"

"Twenty five years."

"No wonder." West held his glass out toward McQueen. "Another, please."

McQueen found himself playing bartender to the squad as they all had another shot. When Hawkes started to toss back the shot, McQueen said, "Savor it, Hawkes. Small sips. Enjoy it. You'll not taste its like again."

"I wouldn't say that," drawled Silver. "Take a real good look at the label."

Doing so, McQueen saw, 'Robert Taylor Silver Distillery.' "Your family?"

She smiled broadly. "My great-grandfather started it. And since it can not be called a true Scotch whiskey unless it is fermented in Scotland, at least one member of the family has to run the place. Patrick, my slightly older brother, is the lucky fellow this generation. The rest of us get free samples every year." She sipped her whiskey.

"I'll never drink whiskey in the Tun again." 'Phousse sat on her bunk, sipping lightly. "Beer only."

"What other surprises do you have up your sleeve, colonel?" asked McQueen.

Silver made a production of looking up her sleeves. "Why, none, colonel." She grinned. "For now at any rate."

Hawkes looked sheepishly at McQueen. "Can I have another?" He stared down at his feet when McQueen frowned at him.

"One more," relented McQueen. He poured it and looked around. Another round poured, he sipped from the nearly empty bottle.

"All right, folks. We have an 0830 briefing. Get some sleep." Silver rose. "Bring the bottle, colonel."

"Night, 5-8." McQueen nodded to his kids who smiled at him.

Silver let McQueen out first, then shut the hatch after herself. "Your quarters, colonel."

"What do you have in mind, colonel?" McQueen asked, starting down the corridor.

"Helping you sleep tonight."

He pulled up short, eyes narrowed.

"I heard you last night when I was having difficulty settling down to sleep."

McQueen stiffened.

"I did some quiet asking around and discovered that everyone knows to avoid the corridor outside your quarters at night. Hell, even the people who live around you have sound proofed their quarters. You might consider doing the same. Make life a little easier on everyone."

"It's my life."

"And keeping you sane is my responsibility. Get used to it. You can't pull rank on me and run away. I'm going to find a way to help you even if it means beating you against the bloody wall in your skull. You're stuck with me, colonel. And I'm very tenacious."

Back ramrod straight, McQueen stalked down the corridor. Silver followed, several paces back. At his quarters, she waited patiently while he typed his lock code. Despite the fact he did not invite her in, Silver caught the hatch before it closed and entered. Locking it behind her, she turned around to view his quarters.

His spartan quarters told her much. She swiftly eyed the numerous books on a shelf. Mostly war and eastern philosophy, she noticed. A bonsai tree sat on the corner of one desk along with what she thought were calligraphy brushes. Near the bonsai rested an Asian style teapot with a couple of cups. Several books were on the desk, including her copy of the Hobbit. On the wall was a copy of the unfinished picture of George Washington and she could only wonder why that one. Nearby a framed Purple Heart hung and she wondered about the other medals she knew he had earned over the years. What was so special about that particular one? A little further over another picture of- was that W. C. Fields? Interesting choice, she thought. So, there is a sense of humor under the gruff exterior. The only personal pictures were perched on the desk with the bonsai tree. The Angry Angels stared out of one photo and the 58th out of the other. The other desk held only objects of work orientation: several reports, what appeared to be a schedule, a cup of pens, no photos, and the latest manual of the SA-43 Hammerhead.

"Get out!"

Silver faced the icy blue gaze calmly and reached over to take the whiskey bottle. "It's my bottle, McQueen."

"Take it and get out!" He thrust it at her.

Silver took it and poured herself another shot before tossing the bottle back to him. As he caught it, she said, "Cool it, McQueen. As the saying goes, 'you doth protest too much.'"

This effectively silenced McQueen for several seconds. Angrily, McQueen took a swig from the bottle, finishing off the whiskey. "There. It's empty. Now get out." His voice was cold.

Shaking her head, Silver stated, "You really are a porcupine, McQueen. Fine. I'm not the one who's going to lose sleep and be unfit for flying in a simulator in the morning." Her voice became clipped. "0900. VR simulation. Be there. Night, colonel."

She had unlocked the door and shut it behind her before the meaning of her words penetrated his cold rage. She couldn't possibly mean for him to practice. There was no reason to. He was grounded for good. By the time he opened the hatch, she was no where to be seen. McQueen sighed and locked the hatch.

The familiar nightmare gripped McQueen. The AIs tortured him, breaking body and spirit.

McQueen snapped awake, drenched in sweat, hearing his screams in his ears. Shudders coursed through him as his body and mind remembered the feel of whips, knives, electrodes, and other vicious things done to him, all designed to break him. He threw the covers back and stalked into the bathroom. Stripping out of the sweat soaked t-shirt, McQueen flung it to the floor and slapped on the water, dialing it to the coldest setting.

The shock of frigid water jarred his body and mind away from the nightmares. He sighed, wondering just how Silver had intended to combat the nightmares. Regretting his angry response to her effort to help him, McQueen shut off the water and wondered if she would accept an apology at this late hour.

With another sigh, McQueen started to towel dry and decided to apologize in the morning.

Red alert klaxons interrupted his thoughts.

Next : Chapter Three
Previous : Chapter One
Back : To General Fiction