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

Author's note: I wrote this quite a few years ago, so if it seems clunky in places ... that's because it is. Also, this story takes place after the episode Toy Soldiers.

Comments are welcome at Karin L.

PG-13 rated, for explicit language and war time violence

Fortunate Son


Karin L.

You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fiber your blood.

Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.

- Walt Whitman
from Song of Myself

I was in the thick of it, dirty, deafened, and in a strange way distanced from the chaos surrounding me - when I saw my brother Neil. He was crouched on his heels on a rise of dirt and gravel to my right, hands clasped between his knees, perfectly balanced, perfectly clear, looking down at me in the natural trench we all were in, trying to fend off a horde of Chigs. I stared. He was wearing the uniform he&'d died in (dead in my arms, I remembered, in a flash that hurt), but held no weapon, and his eyes were dark and large. He smiled at me. And for a moment nothing existed but what I was seeing and the internal silence that allowed me to see it.


Something yanked me down by the collar, just as weapons fire tore over my head. I found myself lying awkwardly on one arm, my face half in dirt, with Shane screaming, "Are you crazy? Don't stick your head up like that!"

I ignored her. I fought to get a vantage of that little hill, but Hawkes suddenly had a fistful of my sleeve, anchoring me.

"What're you doing?" He shook me hard.

"I saw ..." The words fell away. My mind seized up. I stared at him but I wasn't seeing him.

"Saw what?"

I yanked from his grip, fumbled my rifle back up over the trench and told myself it was nothing, it was battle stress. Neil had died in a similar trench.

A blast of noise and heat washed over us and everybody looked up to see the long-called-for ISAPC tear behind us, scoping for a safe LZ. Shane yelled for us to move but I stayed with her, laying down covering fire as the others bugged out. Then we fell back ourselves, aiming for the straggling few Chigs too stubborn or too stupid to retreat. The others already in the APC fired out over our shoulders and we were safe to turn our backs.

But I looked back. I wasn't sure what I expected - to be turned into a pillar of salt? - but there was nothing behind me but dead Chigs. Everyone was yelling at me. When I climbed up into safety and the APC shuddered and tilted, blasting from the zone, Hawkes and Shane practically shoved me over getting me to sit, in my face with demands to know what the hell I thought I was doing.

"Nothing," I said, which only frustrated them. But they wouldn't have believed me anyway. I hardly believed me.

I slumped back in the seat and looked away from them, toward the cockpit, and they left me alone. Battle stress. Nothing more. As if - as if my brother would appear to me like some damn Hamlet ghost, beckoning and saying "Mark me" so I could swear an oath with my sword, carve it on the hard earth? Hamlet had needed serious psychotherapy. I was no different. Walking wounded. Mistress Death's faithful lover.

Kylen. Neil.

I shut my eyes. They came back when I least wanted to remember. Like the ghosts they were. Like the ghost I had become, haunting my own nightmares. Corporeal or not, living only in my mind or not - they still walked close to me, closer than my own shadow. They were my own heartbeat and sometimes, sometimes, like the telltale heart, they drove me mad.

Sound seemed strangely muted, the colors of the ISSCV loading bay grayer than usual. Maybe I was still gone-out from the fracas with the Chigs. I knew all that rifle fire practically deafened me and the stress of the firefight still made my nerves twitch. Besides that, what I saw was internal, what was in front my eyes registered barely. I didn't look at anybody. I think I needed to lie down before other things began to manifest and I lost it totally.

I should have known Shane wouldn't let it go. She caught my arm as we headed toward the wardroom to dump our gear. I didn't break stride for her.

"What was that about, Nathan?"

I could hear Hawkes' heavy steps behind me, close as a bodyguard. Wang and Phousse whispered to each other behind him. They were curious. They were concerned. I probably owed them an explanation for nearly getting my head shot off, but I couldn't form any that made sense.

"Tired," I said. Which was the truth. If I could've just stopped thinking about how clear he'd been, how real. Even smiling.

"You said you saw something," Hawkes spoke up. "What?"

"Like I said." I extricated my arm from Shane's grip. "Tired."

I went into the wardroom, dumped my gear on the floor and swung myself up onto my bunk, dirty uniform be damned. I wanted to shut my eyes. I turned my face away from them, tossed onto my stomach, heard Shane say, "Let him rest."

The bunk shook as Wang dove onto his covers with a heavy sigh. Then nothing but the familiar sounds of the others getting out of their uniforms and heading toward the showers. Hawkes knocked against something and swore. We were all blind tired. I kept my eyes tightly shut. Someone was nice enough to turn down the lights for me and Wang and then there was nothing but darkness and silence.

"Nathan." A whisper.

"Shut up, Paul," I mumbled.

But Paul was snoring beneath me and he didn't talk in his sleep.

"Nathan." Louder.

I couldn't deny it. I opened my eyes and rolled over. A shadow stood in the open hatch, backlit and unrecognizable. My heart leapt and hammered. I said, "Paul."

"Nathan," the silhouette said. And I knew the voice.

I said louder, "Paul!"

Wang continued to snore. The shadow was backing into the corridor. Soon I saw his face lit brightly by the unequivocal fluorescence and I practically fell off my bunk in my haste to get to the hatch. He walked away out of sight, down the corridor, but I went after him, knocking things over in the darkness, hitting the bulkhead at a dash, looking down the way he'd gone.

At emptiness. An empty passage. I sank against the wall, breathing hard, feeling my heart running like something small and panicked. This was no good. I shoved my fists against my eyes.

Someone touched my shoulder.

I jerked back, head coming up. But it was just Colonel McQueen.

"West, you all right?"

I nodded but my breath hadn't caught up yet. No words got past my throat.

"You look like hell."

I looked down the corridor again, as if I might catch a wisp of something that no longer existed. I felt McQueen look too, felt his confusion.

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing." I shook my head. Kept shaking it past what the question required. "Nothing."

He was doubtful. He kept it to himself.

"Get some rest," he said instead, patted my shoulder and moved off down the corridor, where he had gone.

I wasn't so tired anymore. I hadn't been hallucinating. These two sentences I repeated in my head like a mantra as I shuffled back into the wardroom and peeled out of my uniform. Then I headed to the showers.

Typically they didn't give us much respite. Six hours later we were back in the orientation room, waiting on the colonel to show up and brief us. Hawkes was trying to lure me into conversation but I couldn't shake this fresh onrush of grief. I couldn't understand why I was thinking of these things now, months later, thinking of it so much I started to see things. I couldn't get his face out of my mind. And inevitably, thinking of Neil, I thought of Kylen. She might not be dead. And then she might be, I had to admit that now. I rubbed my hand over my eyes, focused on the heavy pressure in my chest.

"Hey." Hawkes nudged me.

I looked at him.

"Why the long face?" He looked a little chagrined. "I mean, besides the obvious fact of this damn war."

I stared down at my desk. I said, slowly, "There's stuff I can't get out of my head." That was vague enough.

After a moment he said, "Kylen? Or Neil?"

I looked at him, surprised. He shrugged. "Sometimes I think about Kate. Well," he smiled a little, "a lot of the time I think about Kate."

I'd forgotten about his sister. He'd probably figured that. I nodded at him. "Yeah."

"Is that what happened yesterday?"

I wasn't sure I wanted to broadcast the fact I was seeing things. I said instead, "It won't happen again."

"What exactly happened?"

I was saved from answering by McQueen, who strode into the room and dropped a pile of flimsies on the table at the front. He put his hands on his waist and looked at the five of us seriously. We waited for him to begin but instead of starting right in, he paused. Suddenly another figure walked through the doorway. Commodore Ross.

Shane leaned forward a little from Hawkes' other side and raised her eyebrows at me. I shrugged back.

"Five-eight," Ross said loudly, in his way, drawling the first syllable. "What I'm about to say is classified, compartmentalized."

That got our attention.

But nothing quite prepared us for what came next.

"Recent deep insertion reconaissance has revealed a prisoner of war compound." He turned aside to indicate the tac chart as we gave one another startled looks. I felt my heart begin to beat faster. The commodore picked up the pointer and tapped a green circle on the star map. "This is Enki. As you can see, it's well behind enemy lines. The Chigs are holding an estimated twenty humans, many of whom we suspect to be colonists from the Tellus mission."

I knew the others looked at me. But I couldn't take my eyes from the map.

Ross continued, "I need not tell you the importance of successfully completing this mission. While it is essential that we do not lose ground, the recovery of men and women thought to be lost is a vital part of this war. We don't want these aliens to get one piece of us. Colonel McQueen."

McQueen stepped forward. "For the past few weeks we've been dropping hints to the Chigs that two of our battle groups are amassing just outside the line in preparation of an attack. There has been a lot of traffic there - " He pointed to a margin of space. "And here, further away. This has successfully divided the Chig forces in this region. While our intention is to kick alien butt, the maneuver also serves to give you a path straight through to Chig territory. Hopefully they will be so distracted by our forces, which we have underestimated for their benefit, that they will hardly notice one APC driving straight to their heart." His mouth flattened a little.

Wang cleared his throat but didn't say anything. We shifted in our seats. My hands felt clammy, my muscles tight.

McQueen popped up another map. "The POW compound is on the southeast tip of this large continent. The terrain is desert and the region is in its rainy season, which means mud and deep wadis." Photographs began to flicker on the screen, shots of the compound from the air. "The camp is surrounded by ten-meter, alien-made berms, with guard towers at each of the four corners. There is only one way in or out, through a gate here." He touched a long, dark shape on the southern side of the camp. "The Chigs don't think we know about the place. Only ten of them guard the entire compound." His eyes swept over us, expressionless. "We have seventy-two hours to study the recon reports and plan our strategy. Walk-through, talk-through. It will be oh-eight-thirty by my time. Ready . . . ready . . . hack."

Even after our superiors had dismissed us, and in fact walked out ahead of us, we sat in that room, saying nothing for a long moment.

Finally Shane broke the silence. "We're going to get them back." She looked at all of us matter-of-factly. "Every last one of them."

We had no room for doubt or fear.

And as for me - my heart was too full of hope.

That night I had a conversation with my brother. I was asleep, as happens, but in dreams you don't usually differentiate on such details. It felt real. He was real. We were sitting in the Tun Tavern and his face was lit by a soft, calming blue light from the neon behind the bar. He had his elbows on the table, leaning forward, keeping the conversation between us. At another table, not far from ours, sat Vansen, Wang, Phousse and Hawkes. Neil slid them a look, smiling.

"I envy what you've got, man." He looked back at me.

I was perfectly composed, considering the situation. And amused. "What?" I asked innocently. "Life?" Teasing him. About being dead. And it was all normal and he laughed, unoffended.

"Well, that too," he said. "But I meant the squad. You know, what you've all been through. I hardly had time with my buddies. I just miss it, y'know?"

"Miss this?" I asked mildly, half-smiling. It was all so natural. "This routine of bad food, no sleep, irregular showers and moments of unadulterated fear?"

"Were you always such a pessimist, Nathan? I don't remember you that way."

The smile died on my face. Something black and thick began forming deep in my chest. I reached across the table, shot through with sudden fear, and grasped my brother's arm.

"Neil." For some reason I couldn't get anything past his name. I stared into his face, memorizing it, what he looked like when he smiled. What he looked like without worries, without injury. Like he was somewhere between a child and a man. Not quite innocent. Not so jaded.

"It's all right," he said.

"You're not leaving me this time. You're not!"

But he was already removing my hand from his arm, without effort. I could not hold on.

"Don't worry. You'll see me again. I haven't really left, have I?"

"Neil - " I tried to stop him with words. Denial. "Wait, please, you gotta tell me - you gotta answer me - " He was walking out the bar.

He stopped a little ways from our table, turned back. With the shadows cutting across his face, his skin lit blue, he was ethereal. As if he could bleed right into the dark corners, an ephemeral presence.

"Tell me - " My eyes began to tear, " - what about Kylen?"

"Nathan," he said sadly, receding into the shadows.

"Tell me!"

"But I'm here. I'm here." Then he was gone, disappearing before he even reached the doors.

I awoke with tears running hotly down my temples, staring up at the featureless ceiling. It felt like I'd lost him all over again. And Kylen.

And Kylen.

The morning of the mission I woke sandy-eyed and feeling as if I'd run the length of the 'Toga over and over for the past seventy-two hours. Neil hadn't come back, in any form, so I began to think it had all been hallucinations and bad dreams, nothing more. Yet that didn't explain my complete restlessness. The possibility of seeing - finding, saving - Kylen made my nerves taut.

And there was the guilt. I had to admit to myself that though my ultimate goal was to some day find Kylen, or at least confirm what had happened to her, the war had swallowed me in the mean time. Like a tsunami it bore down on all my idealistic intentions and dashed them on the shores of war. The four people I'd come to rely on for my life and my sanity usurped my initial intentions. They were my immediate concern, as important to me as my own life. I had to admit now that I didn't know what had become of Kylen and what I could possibly do about it at this point, except hope. But now I hoped for so many things, all of them tied to this war and the people in it, the people closest to me. The people who lived it with me.

Kylen was hope. Kylen was freedom and peace.

Somewhere along these battle lines Kylen had been swallowed, the Kylen with a voice and emotions and a form I could touch. Separated by time and space - as the old adage went - did not necessarily strengthen our ties.

And now if she were found, and we were together again - what then?

She would return to Earth. I would go on fighting. And we would be separate again.

I was afraid. Perhaps she'd changed - who wouldn't, being a prisoner of war? I had changed. Love did not transcend reality.

Guilt. Fear. An overdose of anxiety. Things I couldn't afford to feel the morning of a mission.

And I hadn't even found her yet. There was still only the hope of her. The hope that was her.

Touchdown. We were battered and buffeted from our hell-bent flight through the Von Braun line. While the battle groups kept the Chigs busy, it was still a rough ride charging through the fire zone. And there was no respite. The APC hit the hard deck, Colonel McQueen whipped open the doors and a blast of heat hit us square in our faces. I was ten seconds out in the sun and felt the sweat running down my back and sides. We were all in full gear and had a kilometer to walk in this oven.

And this wasn't even high noon. We'd timed it so by the time we got within sniper range of the compound, it'd be dark.

Perhaps on another mission we would have said something, a joke to relieve the stress. But this was too important. And McQueen gave us no quarter. We headed into the desert. It was already so humid and hot that I barely felt the APC take off behind us.

In some ways this was going to be the hardest part of the mission. Sand and dirt swirled around our ankles, driven by a steaming breeze. We all wore polarized polycarbonate shades but had to keep swiping away grains of sand from the lenses. Hawkes walked point and we kept our eyes and rifles aimed at specific areas, each of us covering a different part of our bare surroundings. Sweat was dripping down the sides of my face and my head felt ripe beneath the helmet. I remembered stories told by other Marines sent to similar scorching planets, the one about a guy who'd had his brains over easy because of the heat. The liquid in his brain literally boiled up and killed him.

My breath sounded loud to my ears.

We marched and consumed our own thoughts in silence. I thought of Kylen. I looked out on the dry earth and couldn't believe this was their rainy season. I thought of Neil. I tried to walk without dragging my feet but it was becoming increasingly difficult. My mouth felt sandy. No doubt our rifles were eating dirt too, and that was dangerous. The horizon shimmered like a pool of water, enticing and false. Images of Kylen. They flashed across my eyes. She could be so close.

The heat. I couldn't get my mind off the damn heat.

It was difficult to tell through the shades that the sun was actually setting. It didn't feel like it. But we were walking for what seemed like hours when I suddenly realized the breeze going over my face was cooler, the world darker, and the heat I was feeling was just my own skin still remembering. Everyone switched to night goggles. I was fifth in our column. But as soon as Hawkes threw up his clenched fist we all crouched practically in unison. Shane and McQueen crawled up to Hawkes' position while Phousse, Wang and I kept our eyes to the surroundings. By our maps, we'd finally hit the berm that we planned to use as cover until the signal from the APC. The berm was roughly two meters high and thanks to a vicious sandstorm some weeks back, was practically a permanent landmark, hard-packed dirt and sand and tiny rocks that would need an equally vicious rainstorm to dismantle. McQueen motioned us up to the base. We crawled low and put our backs against it.

McQueen pointed to Shane, gestured with two fingers to his own eyes, and Shane nodded, sliding herself up the berm to have a look. After a few seconds she crouched down again, held up four fingers.

As expected.

Now we waited. That was a Marine's life: hurry up and wait, punctuated by intense moments of fear. I felt as if a drill was burrowing into my gut. So I looked up at the stars. As usual they were merciless, dispassionate. I used to dream of them. Now they were nothing but silent witnesses. They maintained their distant beauty, independent of our desires and fears.

I remembered a different night sky. And firmly shoved that out of my head. That particular memory had no business in my mind now. It was the cool breeze that was making my eyes tear, it was the plain damn fact of a man's hope and I hated hoping so strongly it drove sense away, I hated being scared that hope would shrivel when the truth of daylight burned it bare. The truth that was sitting in a Chig compound not fifty meters from me.

The wind was picking up, stiff and cool-handed. It shoved at us as we sat huddled against the flank of the berm. And deep in the distance the sky rumbled.

Wang looked heavenward. I could almost hear him thinking, "Oh, come on."

The storm descended on us with shocking force and speed. Of course it could only help our plan. But the rain was cold and sharp, the lightning and thunder loud enough to make our nerves jump with every crack and growl. I was soaked to the bone in seconds and soon we were sitting in mud.

Hawkes looked personally offended. Shane was her usual clear-eyed self. Phousse seemed a bit wild about the eyes, staring into the shadows. Wang was disgusted and McQueen just let the storm slide off his back.

I was relieved when the attack began.

The ISAPC swept down from the heavens through the roar of weather, drowning out the elements with its own force, rapid destructive blasts that flattened the compound's east side berm. We stood overlooking the attack, saw the Chigs in the four towers swing north toward the APC, which was tilting in preparation of another run.

We moved, Shane first, then me, then the others. I veered right, only pausing long enough to take aim at the Chig above me with its back turned, its weapon pointed toward the stars.

My shot propelled him off the tower, where he landed out of sight inside the compound. Likely dead. Phousse had the explosives rigged on the gate and I ran a safe distance away before she activated the bombs. I barely waited for the smoke to clear, but was first through the gates with no fear of fire from above. Hawkes, Shane, Wang and McQueen had taken care of the other Chigs in their towers. I knew it.

Chigs came out of the guard complex, no more than six. I felt someone beside me and we let go as we ran, taking down the aliens in an easy sweep. I went by their dead bodies, through the guard complex, toward the only door that led into the prison. A rifle blast sounded behind me and I swung.

Hawkes was glowering. "The console." He gestured with his weapon at the sizzling control panels. "A light was flashing. I think they sent a distress call."

Nothing to do about that now. "Phousse."

She came in panting, with her satchel of explosives. I stared as she set about setting charges on the door. No doubt it was reinforced and heavy. McQueen strode in next, followed by Shane. Wang was watching outside.

"Behind that console," Phousse barked. We retreated, crouched low against the wall. The blast roared over us, tossing out debris, deafening me despite the fingers in my ears.

"I'm in first."

I vaulted over the console, plowing through parts of the door, into the darkness that was the Chig prison. Footsteps sounded behind me. The smell of the place hit me first, stale and hot. The dark seemed laced with rankness. I yanked loose the cyalume stick from my webbing and aimed it at suspicious corners. I took the one corridor slow, took it careful, swinging my rifle. Cell after cell greeted me right and left, empty when I shone my light inside. Empty. Empty.

My breath was leaving me with increasing speed. Heat rushed up behind my eyes. I heard Hawkes swearing behind me, a distant way behind me.

I turned left where the corridor led me. But it was nothing but the same. My steps echoed. Moisture stains crept down the walls like tears. At the end of the corridor I stopped. I lowered everything, let the light point toward my feet. Darkness was all I saw. Was all I felt, somewhere infinite inside me, somewhere deep. I felt my hope sliding down the well inside me, sucked into it like into a gravity dive.

"She's not here," I whispered. Saying it made it hurt the more. I doubted she ever had been here. That anyone ever had.

"Look," Shane said suddenly, aiming her light into one of the cells.

Letters scratched on one of the walls. PFC T. Garcia, Bravo Company, 4/12.

I looked at those walls. I swung toward McQueen, not knowing what I wanted to say, to do.

His eyes were fierce. "They were here," was all he said.

Then Wang's voice rang through our headsets. "Chigs incoming!"

McQueen led the way. We emerged into the guard room, heard chaos outside. Wang was just inside the open door, firing out.

"They're swarming!"

We had the one open door. I stood at the opposite side from Wang, picked my targets as they came through the gates. I killed those aliens with such cold hatred it burned through me. And still they came. And still I fired on them until I realized my ammo was low. Soon I was empty, both my rifle and sidearm. I was shaking and sweating, moisture running down my face, from my eyes. Shane took one look and shoved me aside. Hawkes relieved Wang. And I felt a hand grab my shoulder and swing me about.

McQueen's eyes were close and hard.

"West," he said. "This mission made no promises. Get rid of it."

I thought: Get rid of what? I have nothing left.

The rifle was heavy in my hands. He let go my shoulder and I slumped against the wall, slid down in a crouch, holding the weapon to me like something fragile. I saw them above me, fighting. But the Chigs still came, an endless horde not even the APC could stop, and we were trapped, trapped in the prison we'd been sent to destroy.

And the people we'd been sent to free . . . now we had only ourselves.

"Nathan!" Shane cried. "Get up!"

I said, too quiet for her to hear above the rapport of rifles: "Out of ammo." So this was what my brother would have felt at the end, knowing there was nothing to do but wait. Hearing the hell come down around his ears with nobody to rescue him from the inferno. I'd been too late.

"Get up, West, damn you!" Hawkes yelled.

I stared at their backs, Shane and Cooper on either side of the door, McQueen and Phousse crouched by their feet at a low angle, Wang behind Phousse, sending out grenades. Past them I saw the Chigs, deep shadows moving through the night, flickering in the rain.

A shadow moved on my immediate right.

I turned, reflexively raising my empty rifle, my empty sidearm in my other hand. I squinted into the dark corner and the shadows there seemed to collapse on themselves, taking shape. An indistinct figure moved toward me, growing clearer. He looked down at me with dark eyes. In his hands were weapons like my own. He smiled at me, but it was not a kind expression. It was a killing smile, a smile of triumph.

And then his face changed, just momentarily, and he was my young brother, someone to protect. But it was so swift I doubted it, I doubted him as he began to move toward the open door. I saw him moving away, walking purposely toward the incoming fire and I stretched out my hand, half on my feet, yelling, "No! Stop!" Crazy words. But I saw my brother. My brother, going out to die.

He moved into the night, past the others at the door, not looking back. He raised his guns.

I lunged ahead.


Hands grabbed me from behind. Voices. Noise. I saw only him, was only aware of him. Striding toward the enemy.

But the enemy was retreating. Turning, running. The APC roared overhead. I fought the restraining hands. I ran into the night toward my brother, chasing the backs of the aliens. Neil was running, firing, screaming like a beserker, and I ran, I yelled his name but he didn't turn, he was widening the gap between us. I left behind the chaos of voices.

I was alone.

Rain came down around me. Thunder split the world.

And the darkness turned to day.

We stood on the field we'd played on as boys, a seemingly endless stretch of grass so green it shone like emeralds under a high, round sun. Oddly he was dressed in plain clothing, black jeans and a white shirt that reflected light so sharply it hurt my eyes to look at him. I was in battle fatigues, and they were filthy and rough.

"Look at that," my brother said, staring at the field and the blue sky above it. "It's pure."

I breathed in fresh, cool air. "It's not real."

He turned to me. When had he suddenly been able to look in my eyes? When had he grown? And where was I, feeling so much older?

"It's real, Nathan," he said.

"And you?" I held him behind the neck. "Are you real, Neil?"

He didn't answer. He wept, his face unmoving. Unlike what I'd imagined was his last expression, when he'd cried to me, "I'm so scared." The tears merely came as he looked at me calmly.

I was not so controlled. Did he know how I grieved for him, how they'd had to pull me away from his body? I never would let him go. Now he didn't let me go.

But only for a moment more. When I opened my eyes he was gone. And it was Shane leaning over me, it was the gray innards of the APC I saw, not the bright green fields of my home.

"Lie still," she said quietly. Other faces hovered behind her. "You're going to be all right."

I stared at her. I wondered why her eyes were shining. And why my vision blurred.

The Chigs had retreated, or so they told me. The battle groups on the line had done their jobs. The Chigs had finally fled, an unheard of response, and it seemed - McQueen explained to me as I lay in sickbay - that the Chigs we'd been facing on Enki had been recalled by their superiors to assist the alien troops in space. That was why they'd bugged out. Recall orders. More important fronts to fight.

I remembered the sight of my brother, walking into their ranks.

I remembered someone had told me once that the Chigs thought we were zombies, an army of walking dead.

Maybe they saw with different eyes.

Maybe I did. Or maybe I was finally making my way toward a section eight.

So the question still was: what had they been guarding? McQueen thought it had all been a decoy to trap more of us. That the prisoners had long since been moved. That the aliens had let us through, figuring on destorying the battle groups and getting a few prisoners to interrogate on top the bargain. But who really knew a Chig's mind?

Who really wanted to, was my thought.

The APC had been firing into the Chig reinforcements. I discovered I'd run right into the blast zone, been thrown a few meters and knocked unconscious. Nobody knew why I'd done it. They were still wondering why I'd yelled my brother's name.

I didn't tell them. When my physical wounds were healed enough to let me out of sickbay, and I went back to the wardroom, they greeted me with curious eyes and careful smiles. They watched me, cautious, as I sank onto my bunk and found myself staring at Neil's picture. At Kylen's.

I hadn't found Kylen. But I knew now that she wasn't with Neil. I would have seen her if she'd been with Neil. Like Neil. I wanted to believe that. I wanted to believe what I'd seen and felt, especially him, standing in that field.

So maybe that was it, that was all, the belief.

Maybe it was enough, when the memories couldn't be.

And maybe the memories and the belief together could keep me whole.

The End

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