Disclaimer: The characters and situations of the TV-Programme 'Space: Above And Beyond' depicted in this story are legal property of Glen Morgan and James Wong, Hard Eight Production and 20th Century Fox Broadcasting and have been used without permission. No copyright infringement intended.

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Henry Fleming

"Colonel? Sir?"

I looked up, seeing West standing before me. What was it now?
"Yes, lieutenant" I said, tried to hide just how tired I was. I noticed that West's upper lip was swollen and he had a number of bruises on his face. A fight. I knew just what he was going to say.

"Sir, Hawkes did it again" West's voice was harsh, as he accused me for it, for not keeping watch over Cooper 24/7. "He attacked me"

Because you called him a stupid tank, again, I almost said but I kept my voice neutral. "Look, West. Hawkes has a temper problem. And so do you. Now Hawkes doesn't have the experience to control his, but you do. My advice is that you keep a distance and think over what you say to him. Try to be a bit friendly. It's gonna be a long war" I knew that it wasn't going to happen. West hated In Vitros too much. I disliked the young man. West was…actually everything I wasn't. From a big family with history -even military history- with a girlfriend, High school diploma and many friends.

West took a deep breath. His voice was surprisingly soft when he replied; "Aye sir"

The kid respects authority, I thought. Hope Hawkes does too. I had only been in command for the 58th for three months. In that time I had seen evidence that they could work together. People change in Combat. I should know.

After West left, I read a bit from The Naked and The Dead before calling in Hawkes. The young tank looked almost proud with his black eye. West was no match for Cooper, but the kid knew how to fight when he let the demon in him out. My guess was that Hawkes attack and West got in a few surprisingly strong punches before the big tank smashed him into a wall. "Sir down, Hawkes" I said.

Cooper did so. He looked quizzically at me, as if he did not understand why he was here. "Sir?" he asked.

"Cooper. You have to stop baiting West" I looked at Hawkes. He looked away. I knew I had hit a sensitive spot. "He has a short temper. But…he isn't really all-"

"He called me a stupid tank. I ain't stupid, sir" Hawkes said to me. There was the word again…stupid.

"I know. But you have to stop tormenting him about his girlfriend. He believes she is alive and that drives him. Don't tell him she is dead. Let his face that himself when he is ready for it" I was surprised just how calm and reasonable I sounded.

"I just don't know how to act. I mean, Natural Borns learn it when they are kids. It's not like I can learn it now. It's too late..." Hawkes said, most likely without thinking.

I eyed him for a moment. "Let me tell you a story, Hawkes. A story that could have been placed in a fairy tale book"

He looked at my surprised, but sat back and listened to what I had to tell him.

The Jungle. Damp, green and almost impossible to find a way out of. I was lying in a foxhole with three natural borns and another tank. The spring of '54.

"There's another one!" a GI yelled.

I looked up, seeing more AIs coming this was. I fired my rifle. More kills, more medals. "This is bad" I muttered to the other In Vitro.

"Yeah. I'm surprised the Natural Borns hasn't wet their pants yet" he whispered back.

A scream of pain and horror. It rang in my ears. I turned, seeing that one of the GIs was down. Half of his face had blown off. I reloaded and fired again. More kills. And still there was too many off them. Did they ever die? Stupid question. Machines can't die. But they can be blown up.


I covered my face and lay as still as I could as the hand-grenade hit. I felt a sting in my arm. More screams. Make it stop, please…

I opened my eyes. My head was bleeding. I looked around. Damn, they were dead. All of them. I moved out, after putting the dead bodies in fire position with empty guns in their hands. Maybe I could trick the Silicates.

I ran as fast as I could, until I realized it was going too well. I am walking into an ambush, I thought bitterly.

"Take cover!" a voice yelled.

I hit the dust and suddenly the firing started. I covered my ears, almost crying. This was too intense and so loud. Nothing like I had experienced in the mines. But there I had faced different horrors.

"It's clear. You can get up" That voice again, almost laughing.

I opened my eyes and got up, slightly shell shocked. A form walked towards me. As it approached me I saw it was a woman. She was covered in camouflage; even her face was painted. She had a sniper rifle in her hand. Of course. A Marine sniper. That was why I hadn't seen her. She had been up in the trees. Her gray eyes were smiling to me and she stuck out her hand to me. "Hi Marine"

I took the hand and helped myself up, a bit surprised. "Hi…thanks for saving my ass" it came out muffed. I had bitten my tongue, again.

She looked at my wound, but deciding it wasn't life threatening. "Your name, Marine?" she asked. Why didn't she call me tank? Why did she call me 'Marine'?

"TC McQueen. Lieutenant" I answered. I was getting my voice back now.

"So, Top Cat" she said with a smile. "What does an aviator do here?"

Top Cat…my name was Tyrus Cassius -The Tank. Top Cat…I actually liked it. "Got shot down" I replied. "What's your name?"

She just smiled. "Friends call me Camouflage"

Friends...friends…The word so often used and so often used against In Vitros. "Where are the rest of your unit?" I asked distant.

She just smiled. "The camp it fifty klicks away. We might as well start walking" she said and patted my back. "And later I'll check that wound of yours"

I didn't know how to react. I just nodded and started walking beside her. She was whistling. A soft, almost sad melody. She was short. Shorter than me at least. Her hair cut reasonable short. Her eyes seemed so, sad and yet so happy. I wondered if this human knew that she was walking with a Tank. After a hour we stopped.

"Let me see" she whispered and placed her hand on my cheek, turning my head. I winced out of habit, almost waiting for her to painfully pinch my navel. Her eyes moved to the wound. "Take of your shirt"

I did as I was told, like a good tank. Damn, that word. But that was what I was. A damn tank. A Nipple neck. A nice looking soldier made by some lab rat with a preterit dish. She looked at me and took out a small field pack with medical supplies. She cleaned the wound and put a field dressing on it. She used my shirt, because she seemed to be out of bandage.

"Good as new in no time" she said and smiled. Then she moved to my back. I closed my eyes as her hands rubbed over my shoulders, kneading the flesh. I relaxed and sighed. "Man, you are stiff. How the hell do you do anything with all this tension in your neck?" she asked me, her voice light.

I turned, grabbed her wrist and pulled her down in a hard kiss. She waited until I was finished before pulling away. "You can't do that," she said calmly, softly, as if correcting a spelling mistake.

"But I want to" I replied. Did she reject me? There was no rejection in her eyes but still…

"But can't do that the same. You can't kiss someone without at least have a feeling they want that" she sat down beside me. "You have to…get to know that person. And never do it unless it is true for you"

I didn't understand. Was she talking about love? Love…a term which not many tanks understand. A term which we never learn to understand. "But how do I know? What is love?"

She looked at me and grinned. "Love, my friend…Love is six feet deep. It starts in your mind and in your case, come out of your dick. Love is the most powerful feeling in the world. It has destroyed empires. Love is also, my friend, the twin of hate" she pattered my hand and stood up. "And no one understands it"

I was surprised over this philosophy. Was this the love I have heard so many tales about? I watched as she set a small campfire and took out some MREs. "Lieutenant, I suggest you stay awake"

Not a word about my navel. Not a sound. Not as much as a small remark. I took out my poncho and laid it on the ground. She opened a can of food and warmed it. "The worse thing I know is cold pasta. Don't you agree?"

I just nodded not sure what to do. Was she a Tank? No…she was not. She did not sound like one. Nor act like one, for that matter.

"Not much of a talker, heh, Top Cat?" she asked, tucking a stray hair away from her face.

"No. No reason to talk" I replied a bit suspiciously. Could I trust her?

She shook her head. "I guess not. Except the fact that you can't talk if you are dead" she pointed out with a small smile. "Tell me something about yourself, Top Cat"

I searched my mind for something. A small thing. Nothing important. "I want to make General" I answered seriously after a while.

She grinned. "I see. Okay, General Top Cat" she looked at him with an almost secret smile.

"What about you?" I asked after a few moments.

She looked at me, her eyes going serious suddenly. "I am afraid. And I want to go home" she whispered. Then she lay down and looked away from me. "Good night"

I looked at her as she fell asleep. Scared? She admitted she was scared? Is it okay to be scared? I asked myself that question many times during that night.

That song again. Never a voice, just a humming or a whistling. I opened my eyes again. It was early. I saw her by the river. She was just wearing her pants and bra. She was cleaning her face, washing her hair and letting the cold water run down her face and neck. I watched, in silence. She turned and for one moment and I was in shock. How old was she? Even by In Vitro standards she was young. Her face had a few red spots -sits- and her face was without any sign of aging.

"You are awake" she said and smiled. She took on her tank top and jacket, walking towards me. "Here, have some tea"

I sipped the hot liquid. It tasted strange. "It tastes like hot water," I said.

She chuckled. "It is hot water, stupid" she said and stroke my hair roughly and fondly.

"I ain't stupid" I replied a bit sourly.

"You have to stop talking like that if you want to make General" she said and sipped her tea. "It is called, I am not stupid. No ain't, no gonnas, no wannas and sure as hell no fucks" she smiled and sat back, looking at me.

"You mean I have to talk like this?" I asked her. She nodded. "How do I sound intelligent?"

"Military Intelligence. Now that's a new concept" she muttered. "Books will help. Here…" she said taking out a book from her bag. "Read this. It was written by an amateur, but it is well known"

I looked at the book. There was a painting on it. A man in military clothes looking lost in front of him. Under the picture it stood A detail from the painting Two-Thousand-Yard-Stare by Tom Lea, depicting the US Marines at Pelelieu Island on 16 September 1944.

There was also big letters in the front. Normal Mailer: The Naked and the Dead. I opened the book. "Thank you" I whispered and looked up at her. "No one ever gave me stuff like this before"

She smiled. "Hey, it is Christmas soon. Consider this my gift to you"

I looked at her. "I am a Tank. I don't know much about these things. Like...Christmas. They don't teach that in the Mines"

"Christmas is...a holiday we spend with friends and family. We give each other presents, have lots of good food and just enjoy each other's company" she rested her arms over her knees, looking out over the small river. Then she stood up and started packing. "We have to move. The AIs are closing"

"How do you know?" I asked. But she did not reply.

We walked all day, not stopping unless I had to go to the john. It seemed like she didn't have to at all. She just smiled as I turned my back to her. "Squeamish is something you ain't" she marked.

I turned and zipped up my trousers. "Any reason for it?" I asked confused.

She shook her head and grinned. "Nope. I have seen one of those before. But it is quite a specimen"

I didn't understand her at that point. She was a strange Natural Born. She wasn't shy and didn't care about what I was. She encouraged me and taught me about...the human nature. It surprised me that someone would spend their time explaining stuff to stupid tanks.

"You are not stupid, Top Cat. But you have a temper. Learn to control it. Observe others. Keep in the background and come forward when you know something they don't know" Camouflage said as she walked. "Overlook people who insult you"

"Like you know" I muttered as I walked.

Suddenly she stopped, turned and slammed my body into a tree. She held me locked there, her eyes filled with...something. Slowly she let me go and smiled. "Observe. I know a lot more than you think. I have been here before, remember"

I frowned, not sure what I had seen. Something deep. She was walking again, her tempo easy and light. Her weapon was cocked and ready and she looked around. Suddenly she sat down and crawled towards the bushes. I did the same. "The camp" she said, her voice sounding almost sad. "Here parts our ways, Top Cat"

I looked at her. "Why? I mean, you must belong to the camp as well"

She walked towards me and kissed me full on the mouth. "You have potential, kid. Both as an officer and as a kisser" she winked and started walking off into the woods again.

I looked after her. "CAMOUFLAGE! Don't leave me!" I realized she was gone and started walking to the camp. I heard the remarks from the enlisted. I realized I wasn't wearing a shirt, that I had it tied around my head. Everyone could see my navel. Tank. Nippleneck.

A nurse approached me and put her hand out to steady me. "You okay, Marine?"

I looked at her. "There was a Marine sniper. She...she helped me here"

The nurse -later I would discover her name was Helen- looked at me as she helped me into the infirmary. "A sniper?"

"Yeah. Her name was Camouflage" I answered as she made me sit down on a bed.

A man sitting half bandaged in a bed looked up at me, his eyes haunted. "Camouflage? A woman about 19 years old? Kinda cute?"

I nodded and the man paled even more. I didn't understand what was going on. "Camouflage got it in the field, Tank, how dare you to use her name?"

Hawkes looked at me, surprised and shocked. "So this Camouflage was a dead chick?"

I smiled kindly. "No. She was all in my mind. I made her up when I needed it the most. I haven't thought about her in years until..."

Hawkes was leaning closer. "Until what, sir?" he asked me.

"Until I heard this song" I said and walked up to the laptop. I clicked on one of the files and the music filled the room. Whoa, Camouflage. Things are never quite the way they seem. Whoa, Camouflage. I was awful glad to see this big Marine. "I must have heard it before my team when out. It tells the story about a kid who was saved by a Marine named Camouflage in Vietnam. But Camouflage had been killed the week before"

"So you made her up. Should I make up a friend?" Cooper asked me as he stood up.

"No. You have friends. Real Friends. Just let them be your friends. Thrust them. And stop kicking West's ass" I smiled and watched the kid leave. Then I looked on the laptop.

Even now I doubt she was in my imagination. She was too real. I wanted her to be real. If she was...maybe she was right. Maybe I could make the first In Vitro General. I shook my head and turned off the music and took the reports from Vansen.

I looked at the photo on my desk. "Helen...Who am I?" I asked the picture before turning off the lights.

The End

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