Disclaimer: The characters and situations of the TV program "Space" Above and Beyond" are the creations of Glen Morgan and James Wong, Fox Broadcasting and Hard Eight Productions, and have been used without permission. No copyright infringement is intended.
However, "Six Against The Dealer" and all its episodes, as well as all non-canon characters, especially Morgan Tyler, Jordan Rain, Sarah Cullen, Mariah Pagodin, and Hudson O'Neill (and whoever else I might think of in the course of writing this thing), are mine and should not be used without my express permission.
Also, the biases and prejudices found in this story are of the characters themselves and do not necessarily reflect my own beliefs.
The name "Gethen" is from the Ursula K. LeGuin novel "The Left Hand of Darkness" and is used without permission.
"The Cremation of Sam McGee" is by Robert William Service, also used without permission.
Rating for this particular episode is R, for language, violence, and scenes lacking in clothing. ;) (Special note to specific people who are waiting for a certain scene… ep 4, I swear.)
I'd appreciate any and all comments. Please send them at SeuneAeryk@hotmail.com.
SIX AGAINST THE DEALER - Black and White
The clear anatomy arrive,
Winter, the paragon of art,
That kills all forms of life and feeling
Save what is pure and will survive.
- Roy Campbell
Lt. Nathan West was quiet as he entered the 58th barracks. He hadn't done well in the earlier skirmish but for some reason, he didn't really care. Though he never really had the taste for bloodshed and warfare that his fellow Marines seemed to have, he at least used to pride himself in being one of the best pilots on the USS Saratoga. He knew for a fact that people were still talking about the time he wiped out six Chigs at the same time through his fancy flying during the Battle of the Belt. Now he was content to just support the others and let them have the dubious honor of blowing the enemy away.
He threw his flight helmet on his rack and climbed up, still brooding. It seemed to him that for the past six weeks his life had been alternating between limbo and hell. In limbo waiting for word regarding McQueen, waiting to hear from Kylen, waiting for the pain of defeat and loss to go away. The arrival of his new 'teammates' had been the hell part. Much as he would have liked to accept them, they were a constant reminder that the Corps wasn't in any hurry to find out the fate of Shane and Vanessa. A fate which in a chicken-shit kind of way he wasn't in a hurry to learn anymore, either.
I used to be braver than this, he thought, a little wistfully, remembering the day he had stolen an SA-43 and gone to Tellus to find Kylen. Then, everyone had been so sure that he was deluding himself but his belief, his faith, had been absolute. That had given him that strength and the courage to go to Tellus and prove everyone wrong.
But somewhere between Tellus and now his courage had abandoned him. Maybe it was losing his younger brother Neil, something he had been helpless to prevent though he had only been a few feet away. Or perhaps it was losing Paul while he was still reeling from the shock of seeing Shane and Vanessa's plane go down. Maybe it was that he already carried such a burden of guilt over Shane and Vanessa, part of him acknowledging that maybe Hawkes had been right when he had accused him of choosing his girlfriend over their teammates. Whatever it was, he now felt powerless and paralyzed, and even the slightest bit fatalistic. Hawkes was stubbornly sticking to the belief that Shane and Vanessa were still on 2063Y, slightly scuffed, but whole, waiting for rescue. He was trying to believe that, too. He just wasn't quite prepared to risk that belief by going after them himself. Which brought him back to limbo.
They should have let us look when we wanted, he thought again, angrily. We still had a chance then.
He shook that last thought away, feeling slightly traitorous. Shane and Vanessa were still alive. He had to believe that, had to. That was the only thing that was keeping him and Hawkes sane.
Now that he thought about it, Hawkes hadn't mentioned Shane, Vanessa or the Colonel in quite some time either. Nathan wondered if Cooper, too, was starting to lose faith, or was just afraid to bring the subject of their friends up. He sighed. He wasn't even brave enough to be the one to talk to Hawkes about them. It felt like everything was slipping out of his hands, one by one. His friends, his family, his life. Even his sanity.
He wanted out. He wanted to go home. He wanted to wake up and find that none of it the Chigs, losing Neil, the whole goddamn war had been real.
Nathan snapped out of his introspection as the hatch of the barracks opened and the rest of his 'team' filed noisily in.
"Your barrel rolls need work," Captain Morgan Tyler was telling Lt. Jordan Rain. "You're not coming out of them with your nose flat and they're not as tight as they could be."
"Are you kidding?' interrupted a grinning Lt. Sarah Cullen as she flopped down on her own rack. "We were hot! The WildCards -- 14, Alien Scum nothing. And presenting our MVP and consistent top scorer," she announced grandly. "First Lieutenant Jordan Rain! Six fighters, sports-fans, all by his lonesome."
Rain just smiled and along with Tyler went straight to their lockers for their shower kits.
"You know, Cullen," commented Tyler, dryly, as she started to remove her flightsuit. "If you paid more attention to actually engaging the enemy instead of just cheerleading you could have gotten more than that one plane."
As ambivalent as Nathan's feelings may have been for Rain and Cullen, there was no question about what he thought of Tyler. The woman was pure unadulterated bad news. She was everything that Shane wasn't cold, nasty, manipulative, power-mad and certifiably psychotic. He had always thought of himself as a fairly open-minded and tolerant person, but as far as Tyler went… he'd rather trust a cobra not to strike.
"What for?" dismissed Sarah cheerfully. "You guys had it covered."
"I remember West being in a tight spot once or twice," Tyler pointed out. "And I didn't see you giving him a hand."
Nathan paid no heed to the fact that he was now the topic of conversation and shifted his attention to Cooper, who had sat down on one of the utility tables and was now busy unlacing his boots. For some still unknown reason Hawkes was handling Tyler's presence better than he was. A surprise, considering how the InVitro felt about Shane. He wasn't even complaining that much about their new Captain anymore, though he had borne the brunt of the woman's snide remarks and vicious attacks. Lately, Hawkes had been tight-lipped about the subject of Tyler -- reticent, even, and he had taken to watching her with what Nathan could only describe as dark fascination. Nathan hoped that his friend wasn't secretly planning the woman's sudden and violent death.
Though, of course, if he was, Nathan couldn't blame him.
"Oh, pooh," said Cullen. "He was just playing with them. He was bored." She threw him a sideways glance. "Weren't you, Nathan?"
Reluctant to be brought into the conversation, Nathan only shrugged carelessly.
Tyler halted in mid-zip and Nathan realized that he'd managed to make their new leader angry. Again.
"Is that true, West?" she asked, her voice dangerously low. "This war not exciting enough for you?"
Nathan shook his head. "No, Captain. It's just that…"
"What?" she prodded, still lowly.
He doubted she'd understand, that any of them would. The four of them were warriors, born and bred. All they knew was fighting. "Well, it seems that lately all we're doing is reacting. They attack us, we respond, they retaliate, we punch back." He shrugged again. "We're like… I don't know feuding factions in one of those old soap operas -- we've been fighting so long we've lost sight of everything else. I don't even know what we're doing anymore. And I'm starting to wonder if…"
"If any of this still makes sense."
Tyler stared at Nathan, her face unreadable. By now he knew that that wasn't a good sign.
"So what do you want to do, Lieutenant?" she finally inquired, softly, silkily. "Surrender? Give up everything we're fighting for? Forget everything we've sacrificed?"
"No," Nathan protested. "I just--."
"This isn't a game, Lieutenant," she cut in, her eyes flashing furiously. "We don't get to go home when it gets dark and play again tomorrow. No one's gonna call a timeout. Our dead, those hundreds of thousands of dead bodies your friends and mine they aren't gonna stand up ever again."
Rain placed a placating hand on Tyler's shoulder. "He didn't mean it, Captain," the tall Cherokee said quietly. "He's just tired." Like Cullen he looked to Nathan for confirmation.
Morgan shrugged off Rain's hand. "He better not have," she said coldly. "And you," she continued, turning to Cullen. "I don't care if West had those planes dizzier than white mice drunk on fermented fruit. In this squadron, we back each other up, is that clear?"
"Yes, Captain," Cullen answered, chastened.
Nathan had to breathe a silent sigh of relief as Tyler turned away and went back to her locker to pull a sweatshirt over her tank-top. Maybe for once Tyler would let something drop.
No such luck.
"Goddamn, I hate this squadron," Tyler muttered suddenly, fiercely, slamming the door of her locker vehemently. Her murderous glare encompassed them all. "Goddamn you people," she spat and stalked savagely out the barracks door.
"Damn," cursed Cullen, sending West an apologetic glance. "Sorry, Nathan. I wasn't thinking." She turned to Rain and softly made a suggestion. "Maybe you should go after her -- save some poor Private from getting run over…"
"No," Rain shook his head, "she needs time to cool off." He looked at the West and Hawkes solemnly. "She didn't mean it, either."
"Yeah, she just adores us." Nathan's retort was sardonic, focusing on Tyler' s outburst rather than his guilt. "Fortunately, she makes it _real_ easy to return the favor."
Mission briefings were always solemn occasions but this one seemed particularly on edge. West was feeling especially sensitive to the negative vibrations in the air. The last blow-up hadn't been relegated to history. Tyler was maintaining her icy disdain, and Cullen was uncharacteristically somber, as if afraid that something she might say would spark another argument. Even Hawkes was still acting awkward towards him.
After Tyler had stormed out of their quarters, Hawkes had turned to him, his tone accusing. "I can't believe you said that."
"What," he had retorted defensively. "You're on her side now?"
"You didn't mean it, right?" Hawkes had pressed
Nathan could only shrug.
Hawkes had looked stricken. "You can't mean that, Nate," he repeated. "What about the Colonel? Paul? Shane and Vanessa?"
"That's just it, Coop," he answered, jumping at the chance to explain. "It's just not the same without them. This 58th it's just not us." He had thrown Rain and Cullen an apologetic glance before continuing. "And being here just makes everything harder, you know? I don't think we can do this without them."
"Don't say that!" Hawkes had interrupted wildly. "They're coming back!" Then Cooper had fallen silent and bitten his lip, as if realizing how unsteady he had sounded. Unsteady and unsure.
That was a thread Nathan wasn't prepared to follow. Instead, he tried to make Coop understand how hard it was for him, how tired he was. "We've done our part I'm thinking it might be time to quit this war and let someone else handle it."
Hawkes had backed away, confusion evident on his face. "You'd leave me?" he whispered hoarsely.
Nathan had been taken aback by the hurt Cooper's voice. "No, Coop," he had tried to protest. "I was thinking maybe we'd leave together," he had added lamely.
Hawkes had just emphatically shaken his head. "I ain't leaving. Ever."
Cooper had sounded very young, childish even, and Nathan had reacted impatiently to the need in his friend's voice. "Come on, Coop," he had snapped angrily. "Why stay? What's here?"
"My life," Hawkes had answered, his voice thick. "I ain't like you. I ain't got nothing else."
Stunned, Nathan could only watch silently as Hawkes turned away and left the room.
Rain had shaken his head disapprovingly. "Good going, West," he had drawled sarcastically. Rain didn't often get angry so it was especially noteworthy when he did. "That's really what Hawkes needed to hear right now. That the only friend he thinks he has left is leaving him, too."
"Stay out of this," Nathan had warned Rain. "This is between me and Coop."
"That's the problem," Cullen had interjected, also angrily. "It's not just you and Hawkes here. The 58th includes us now, and we're not going anywhere. We're doing our best but you have to give us a chance."
A chance, Nathan had thought then. Was that really all it took?
"I know it's not the best situation in the world," Rain had continued, "but I really suggest you deal with it. This prima donna act isn't doing anybody any good. Tyler's right. You'll only get yourself, or us killed."
"Tyler," Nathan had returned nastily. "You two think she's so hot, but she's not. She has no idea what it takes to be a leader. Shane ---."
"Isn't here," Rain had interrupted coldly. "We've heard all the stories and we're suitably impressed, but she's not here. Morgan is our Captain, can't you understand that?" Rain had turned away in disgust, heading for the door with his shower kit. He had turned back at the last second, glaring at Nathan. "You know what's so funny about all of this?" he had asked acidly. "Vansen is the one who crashed on that planet. She's the one who's missing. But you're acting as if she's going to burst in here any moment and rescue you."
"Gethen," announced Ross, bringing Nathan back to the present. "Those who are fans of 20th Century literature might recognize the reference to the classic LeGuin novel."
"I presume that means it's an ice planet, like the planet it was named for," commented Jordan.
"It's not so much an ice planet, as much it's winter 70 percent of its year," explained the Commodore. "Intelligence has uncovered a Chig base hidden on the planet, one that functions mainly as a refueling and holdover station for troops."
"Refueling?" questioned Nathan. "That Chig bomber we were able to study showed that the Chig ships power source was practically inexhaustible."
"And what about the Sewell fuel?" added Cullen.
"Apparently, the late Mr. Sewell was right," answered the Commodore. The fuel is new technology to the enemy as well as to us. So far we haven't engaged any other ships using it. As for the regular ships, they are admittedly amazingly fuel-efficient, but that doesn't mean their fuel reserves are inexhaustible. Sooner or later they need to refuel -- it's as simple as that." He gestured towards the star chart behind him. "And the base on Gethen is the only facility of this type in eighteen light years."
"So we take out the Gethen base, we own this system." Tyler smiled in anticipation.
"I wouldn't exactly put it that way, Captain Tyler," responded Ross, 'but yes, we destroy this base, we hopefully take this system out of the equation."
"But sir, the Chigs can always build another base," Rain pointed out.
"Yes, they could," agreed Ross, "but it would take months."
"And they probably won't want to if they know we can always get to it," added Cullen.
"It gives us an advantage, however slight," stated Ross. "And that's how wars are won. Which brings us to your mission." He brought up a series of photos on the holoscreen. "The base is logically well protected. Our bombers would never get within range."
"So we're bombing them from the ground?" asked Hawkes.
"Not exactly," answered Ross. "Though the base has air and ground forces protecting it, Intel shows that they have no anti-ballistic capacity. So, our forces will engage the enemy here," he pointed to a spot on the star chart, "hopefully luring most of their air forces away. Meanwhile we'll be utilizing long-range smart missiles, deployed from the USS Michigan, from this position," he pointed to another spot at the star chart. "About three quarters of an astronomical unit away from the planet."
"Hey, Rain, that's where your old unit is stationed, isn't it?" commented Hawkes. "The 71st?"
Rain didn't answer. "And where will the 58th be, Commodore?" he asked instead.
"We'll be on Gethen," answered Tyler coolly. "Lacing the target."
"I can't believe that the Chigs would actually want a planet like this," commented Cullen as she fought the wind and the snow. "It's nasty."
"I think it's pretty," commented Rain, looking down the side of the mountain they were climbing. "Sort of like home. It'd make a great ski resort. Very Christmas-sy. Besides, aren't you the girl who actually _liked_ Styx?"
"Hey, Styx had trees with leaves," argued Cullen good-naturedly. "Styx had birds. Styx had…"
"Don't you two ever keep quiet?" asked Tyler. "Watch where you're going, West, I don't want you falling off this mountain and messing up my schedule."
"I don't see why we couldn't have dropped at the top of the mountain instead of parachuting down to the foot of it and then climbing up," complained Hawkes. "In fact, why do we have to climb this rock at all?"
"Because we need to target the center of the base from at least a mile away and the only way to do that is to get elevated," answered Tyler shortly. "I'm sorry, Hawkes, next time you don't listen to a briefing tell me and I' ll send you a memo," she added sarcastically.
"The winds at the top of this mountain can get up to 500 mph," added Cullen. "If we had tried to 'chute down we could have been battered at the side of it. You should be thankful that we found this path. At least we don't have to grapple up."
"Actually, I think it's a frozen stream bed," interjected Rain. "It's the path the water will take down the river during the spring thaw."
"I thought this was an ice planet?" asked Cullen.
"It is," answered Tyler. "But it has its seasons just the same. That's one thing you should look out for, by the way, underground rivers, and the like. Be careful where you step. Not everything that looks solid is."
"And keep an eye out for sudden storms," Rain added. "In this temperature, we could freeze to death in minutes."
Cullen grinned. "Good thing I wore my long underwear," she commented, tongue-in-cheek. Actually, she was wearing two sets of thermal underwear. They all were. Plus a minimum of two shirts, three pairs of socks, two pairs of gloves and two ski caps each in addition to their winter combat ensembles.
"Just keep moving, and save your breath," instructed Tyler. "And be thankful we don't have to climb all the way up to the top. Rain, how far to that ledge?"
"About two hundred feet straight up, Captain," answered Rain.
"And how much time do we have?"
"We have 155 mikes till the drop, Captain," answered Rain after consulting his timepiece. "Plenty of time."
"You're doing better," observed Rain under his breath as the rest went on ahead.
"Excuse me?" Tyler asked irritably.
"You explained the reason behind your orders instead of just ending with the 'do as I say and deal with it' speech," he clarified. "I think it shows progress."
She shot him an even more irritated glance. "I don't believe in explaining myself, Lieutenant," she stated shortly.
"Come on, Captain," Jordan protested, lightly. "You can't just expect them to swallow everything, do you? They have the right to ask a few questions."
"Stopping to ask questions could get you killed, Lieutenant," she answered. "You know that as well as I do. Obey first, ask questions later, that's how it's supposed to be."
"Well, even you ask questions, don't you?" he asked quietly. "Isn't that what happened at Gilead?"
She stopped, the question taking her by surprise. Oh, God, she thought with a pang. Gilead. She tried to ignore the sudden rush of memories, both precious and unwanted. Did people really still remember Gilead? It had been so long ago… In another life.
"What do you know about Gilead?" she asked, glaring at him suspiciously.
"I was at the PX a few days ago," he explained. "This Navy lieutenant comes up to me and asks what it's like working with the 'heroine of Gilead.' Naturally, I looked it up." He nodded approvingly. "You did good work. Saved a lot of people."
"The 'Wings saved a lot of people," she corrected coldly. "We were a team. Something this squadron wouldn't know anything about."
"But the 'Wings had been together for more than a year by then," he pointed out. "We've been together barely a month. You have to give us time to get to know one another."
Actually, the 'Wings had only been together eleven months, Tyler remembered. And Caitlin and Simon had only been with them for a few weeks. She could still hear Caitlin complaining that they hadn't left her any good handles. The 'baby' had spent her first week trying out different nicknames ignoring her colleagues who teased her good-naturedly by calling her things like 'Gnat' and 'Tick' because she had not only been the youngest, she had been the smallest before finally deciding on the handle 'Cygnet.'
"'Black Trumpeter Swan' is a little too long for a handle," the young New Yorker had grinned then.
Better times, thought Morgan, allowing herself a moment of mourning that never registered on her face. Instead she turned to Rain with an air of exaggerated patience. "Lemme explain this to you again, Lieutenant. We're at war. We don't have time to throw soirees and mixers."
He returned her look calmly. "I'm just saying you can't expect them to automatically trust you just because you're in command."
"And I say they don't have to trust me," she responded. "They just have to obey orders."
"And did you?" he challenged. Just obey orders, I mean. On Gilead?"
She was careful to keep her surprise hidden this time. Damn, she thought. How the hell did he know about that? As far as she knew, the exact details of the Gilead mission were still classified and compartmentalized. That had been the only thing that had saved their collective asses from a court martial.
"If you had followed MacLaughlin blindly then," Rain continued relentlessly, "those people could have died. You questioned then, and when things didn't add up you made a decision and did the right thing. At the risk of your careers, not to mention your lives."
"That has nothing to do with now," she stated icily. "MacLaughlin was not only stupid, he was insane," she added. "This isn't Gilead. I'm not MacLaughlin."
"They don't know that yet, do they?" he asked quietly.
Enough, she thought fiercely, slamming that part of her mind shut. She'd revealed too much already. She had to stop thinking about Gilead. About the 'Wings. About anything that meant anything.
With every ounce of her self-discipline she forced herself to speak calmly and without emotion. "I thought my instructions were clear about staying out of my business, Lieutenant."
"You said stay out of your head," he returned, smiling slightly. "You never said anything about the Corps Command database."
"Maybe you just have a death wish you don't know about," she informed him. She put up her hand and stilled his next words. "Enough, Lieutenant. This conversation is over." She nodded towards the rest of the 58th who were steadily moving farther and farther away. "Let's pick up the pace before we lose those three."
"Don't worry," Rain answered gently. "We won't."
"Hoo-rah!" the shouts of victory were lost in the series of explosions that followed almost immediately. From their vantage point the WildCards could clearly see that the missiles from the Michigan had hit the target dead center. What was just a few moments ago a cloister of metal structures lay in shambles, ravaged by fire.
Morgan watched silently for a few moments before she gave the order to pack up the equipment. "Rain, you, Cullen and West take the equipment and head to the extraction point. Hawkes and I will pop down to that base for a while and see if our guys missed anything."
"Aww," said Cullen, disappointment in her voice. "It's not often we get to watch fireworks like this. Usually we're in the middle of it and can't enjoy the view."
"You know, Sarah," began Rain with a slight smile. "Studies during the 20th Century showed that most sex offenders were pyromaniacs as well."
"Hmm," answered Sarah, returning Rain's grin. "Now why doesn't that surprise me?"
"Captain," interjected West, "I think we should stay together."
"Here we go," Tyler muttered. "Is this, like, an automatic reaction with you, Lieutenant West? Is your prime directive to disagree with everything I say, or do you actually have a good reason this time?"
"I just think we should stay together," West repeated stubbornly. "We don't know what you could run into our there."
Tyler sighed impatiently. "Well, as much as I appreciate this sudden concern and team devotion," she answered sarcastically, "there's a job to be done." She motioned to Hawkes, who had already strapped on his pack. "Let' s move, Lieutenant."
Morgan and Cooper trudged through the snow, operating mainly on auto-pilot. The biting wind had come out of nowhere, and with it, a thick curtain of snowfall. They continued on, putting one foot in front of another, relying on their instincts and near-frozen compasses to point them in the right direction.
"We should turn back," Hawkes shouted to Tyler over the wind. "This is turning into a real storm."
"The base is nearer," returned Tyler. "We can take shelter there and wait this out. We'll radio the others from there and advise them of the situation. Stay near me. We can not be separated."
Neither of them saw the ravine till it was too late. It hadn't been on any of the Intel maps and from their elevated vantage point all signs of the precipice had disappeared against the uniformly white background of the planet. Tyler was just a few steps ahead of Hawkes when it happened. With no warning, the ground beneath her feet gave way.
"Tyler!" screamed Hawkes as he saw her go down.
At the last microsecond she managed to grab hold of the edge and hang on.
Hawkes wasn't exactly sure what had happened, just that Tyler had disappeared from sight. "Tyler!" he shouted again.
"I'm fine!" she shouted back, trying to find a foothold on the slippery side of the cliff. "Just give me a chance to catch my breath."
He was aghast when he made out her gloves against the slightly less brilliant white of the ground. "Hang on, Captain," he said, taking a step towards her. "I'm coming after you."
"No!" she shouted. "Stay back!"
Again, the warning came too late. Hawkes had already come too close. The ledge collapsed under his weight, and he went down in a flurry of arms and legs, right on top of Tyler.