Part Two

Alex spent the next couple of weeks constantly in meetings with staff officers. She went over every little detail on the Chigs, over and over again, until she was doing the meetings in her sleep.

On a brighter note, she finally got to meet the one squadron everyone had been talking about, the 58th. Alex found out that they were under the tutelage of McQueen himself, and was secretly eager to meet them.

She had given the same staff meeting she had to all the other's, but she noticed that they were different. There was a playful camaraderie between them.

West, she found to be quiet, almost introspective, he leaned back in his chair, and watched silently as she gave the presentation.

Hawkes, another IV, watched her intently, full of boyish curiosity, and charm, as he asked the most questions. She could see times when he bit back a inappropriate question. It reflected well on his training.

Wang, she pegged as the one the others gathered moral support from. His comments, although respectful, had been stated in a manner that had made her smile on more then one occasion.

Vansen, she formed a almost instant rapport with. She sensed the young, intelligent woman had suffered much in her past also. She had been through the fire, and emerged stronger because of it.

Damphousse, she found was the silent member of the 58th. She listened, took down notes, and picked up details maybe the others might have missed. There was something about her, some familiar ability that Alex could almost touch on, before it slipped away.

He was really beginning to irritate her, Alex thought. She took a drink of her beer, savoring the sharp, malty tang. She didn't want to hurt him, but if he didn't leave her with any other option....A simple "Go away." hadn't worked. Neither had walking away.

"We'll go back to my bunk and give those guys something to really eyeball before I kick em' out." The pilot said, brushing a lock of dark hair out of his eyes.

"C'mon, we both want it." He coaxed. "It's been awhile, hasn't it sweetie?" He said with a smile she found disgusting.

"So what do you say? Let's rock and roll, babe." He urged, stroking her arm softly, before resting his ham sized fist on her shoulder.

Alex looked directly at the man, her violet eyes blazing furiously. To his credit, he removed his hand. But the bravo his inebriated state gave him kept him from backing off and going away.

"Too bad." Alex thought. It looked like she was going to have to hurt him after all. Maybe he'd learn from the lesson.

McQueen entered the TUN TAVERN, and looked around. The 58th were over in the corner. It sounded like Vansen And Damphousse were kicking Hawkes And Wang's butt at the game they were on. West was sitting nearby, reading a letter, probably one from back home.

Alex was at the bar, drinking a beer, and trying to ignore a rather drunk pilot. He overheard the man's rather crude comment and saw the dangerous glint in Alex's eyes. That pilot was about to land himself in some pretty deep shit.

McQueen decided it might be a good idea to stop things before they got out of hand. In a way he almost felt sorry for the pilot. The man probably didn't even see past her rather nice body, to the warning in those intelligent eyes.

He strolled up to the bar next to Alex, and leaned casually against it. Ensign Cox, the resident bartender, flashed him a quick smile, and poured him out a beer and brought it over. Her lively, dark eyes flashed over to Alex for a second before she greeted him.

"Evening Colonel."

McQueen's mouth twisted up into a semi-smile. As always, Cox knew everything that was going on in the bar. She was a sharp woman. Trustworthy too, and just about as reliable as they came. Too bad a earlier accident had grounded her. She would have made a damn fine pilot.

Alex looked away from the obnoxious pilot, and gave McQueen a quick glance. She lifted an inquiring eyebrow. McQueen took a drink of his beer, a slight line of front lining his upper lip.

"Never seen "TAI QUEN KON DO" performed before." He said, looking at Alex.

"TAI QUEN KON DO?" Cox inquired, in a voice loud enough for the pilot and his friend to hear, but not loud enough to draw any undue attention.

McQueen simply nodded and took another drink of his beer. "It's the ability to knock a man on his butt, out cold with only two fingers." His gaze towards Alex had just the right touch of expectancy in it.

Alex caught on immediately, and gave the drunk pilot a small, but chilling smile. The man blinked and looked a little nervous. His friend gave Alex a worried look, and grabbed his friends arm.

"C'mon John, let's go."

"Yeah...." The pilot murmured, giving Alex a dirty look. "Nothing of interest here anyway."

Alex turned away, and took a deep drink of her own beer. Soon the place was quiet, all except the noise the 58th was raising over at the skeetball machine in the corner.

"Thanks." She said simply.

"Not that you needed any help." McQueen told her, looking into his beer.

"Not that I did." Alex agreed. "TAI QUEN KON DO?" She asked a moment later.

"No such thing." McQueen admitted.

"Ah, a officer AND a gentleman. I'm impressed."

McQueen shot her a quick look, wondering if her words had been sarcastic. Alex had her chin propped up in her hand. She was smiling at him. And she looked like she had meant every word she had just said. A strange fluttering sensation occurred in his chest, and he looked quickly away.

Alex almost grinned. Could it be the hard nosed colonel had a weakness? He actually looked a little uncomfortable at her sincere, but off-handed compliment. She couldn't resist trying once more to see if it was true.

"They're good." Alex said, with a motion of her head towards the 58th. "You're doing a wonderful job with them." Another true statement.

McQueen shuffled uncomfortably at the bar, and gazed intently at his beer. "I just give the orders, any skill belongs to them." There was the briefest touch of pride in his voice.

Alex smiled inwardly. The very fact that a sincere compliment could affect the man raised her esteem of McQueen several notches. Maybe, just maybe, he was the slightest bit shy around women? Not on duty, that was for sure, Alex thought. She still remembered her first meeting with the man. But maybe it was true on a casual basis.

McQueen looked up at her. His gaze travelled to her neck. "What happened?" He asked, indicating her neck, where a IV's navel was usually located.

"One of the geeks at AEROTECH decided it was ascetically unappealing, and had it removed. I had no say in the matter."

McQueen nodded, and looked into her eyes for a moment. His eyes widened slightly, and he drew in a quick, sharp breath, and looked away. His forehead furrowed in some unknown emotion. Quickly he downed the rest of his beer, and walked out.

Alex gave his disappearing figure a puzzled look. Was it something she said? Ensign Cox came over and placed another glass of beer in front of her.

"I didn't order that." She told Cox.

"On the house." Cox told Alex, flashing her a warm smile.

"Why?" Alex asked, mystified by the woman's action, and even more so by the friendly woman's gesture.

"Not too many people manage to make the good Colonel blush."

Alex gasped. "I didn't...."

"Sure did. He always takes off like that when someone gets to him." She leaned closer to wipe the surface of the bar top clean. Cox then put the rag down and held out her hand. "I'm Mari Cox." She said introducing herself.

"Alex Sommerville." Alex told her, still a little puzzled.

"So what did'ya say?" Mari asked. The woman's warm personality was so engaging, that Alex found it hard not to like the woman.

"I just told him he was doing a good job with the 58th."

Mari smiled and nodded at her. "That'll do it. He's really proud of them. I think he sort of considers them his "kids". "

A couple of officers entered the bar, and Mari went off to get them, their drinks. It amazed Alex that she knew what everyone's favorite beverage was.

McQueen walked away from the bar, furious with himself. His heart was pounding like a jackhammer. All she'd done was say a few nice words, and he looked into those pretty violet eyes and lost it. All his composure had flown out the bar, leaving him far behind.

Not wanting anyone to know how tongue-tied he had become, he'd made a quick retreat. It really galled him that she had gotten to him without really even trying. She probably didn't even know she had punched a few of his buttons.

He could still visualize the shocked look on her face, when he had gotten up and left so abruptly. The last thing he needed was another complication in his life. McQueen gave a disgusted snort, and headed back towards his quarters.

The exercise room wasn't empty like he had planned. McQueen leaned against the door frame and watched silently.

Alex was practicing on the balance beams. She performed a series of maneuvers and landed neatly on the floor. She frowned darkly, and repeated the procedure. Apparently, still not satisfied, she went through the motions once again, moving with such a smooth grace, McQueen enjoyed watching.

A small smile of triumph curved her lips the third time. McQueen figured she must have been satisfied with her final attempt. As if sensing she was no longer alone, Alex turned and saw him standing there.

"I can leave now, if you wish, Sir."

"No need." McQueen told her, entering the room. Alex followed his gaze. It rested momentarily on the three puckered scars her tank top revealed. One was right above her collarbone, the second right below it, the third in the fleshy part of her shoulder.

"You can ask if you want. Everyone else does." Alex commented, reaching for her towel.

McQueen walked over to a weight machine, and swung his towel over the high bar. "I don't need to. They're scars from a assault rifle. Ten meters or less, probably."

"You're good." Alex stated in a matter of fact voice. She performed a series of stretches while McQueen's back was turned.

McQueen adjusted the weights, trying to think of the best way to approach a touchy situation. Just by watching her move, he could tell how tautly strung she was. Maybe brittle would be a better word, he thought.

He recognized it in her, because he had seen it in himself. And he knew how self-destructive those emotions could be. He had to get her to talk, and let it out.

"I also know how you got them." He told her.

"Really? Where?" Alex answered glibly. There was no way he could possibly know. She found herself watching him strap himself in, and do a series of lifts. Watching the play and ripple of muscles, as he lifted.

"Must have been rough." McQueen commented, as he adjusted the weights.

"What?" Alex questioned. She raised a leg to the exercise bar, and stretched.

McQueen wished she'd stop that, it was damn distracting. He did another set of lifts before answering her. "Being decanted-born is never easy for us. It must have been brutal for you. You were the only survivor weren't you?"

Alex stretched the other leg. A cold chill traveled through her. "That wasn't on any report." She retorted, her control starting to slip.

"No it wasn't." McQueen admitted, doing another set of lifts.

"Then how did you know?" Alex probed. She grabbed her towel, and wiped her forehead.

"I saw it in a dream."

"IV's don't dream." Alex scoffed.

"So they say. I didn't until a month ago." McQueen told her.

Alex sat down heavily on a bench. She ran her hand through her thick braid. Tendrils of hair had escaped her braid, and lay damply against her neck. "What did you see." She asked against her own better judgement. She really didn't want to get into this, but she had to know where he had gotten the information.

"Everything until they wheeled you out on the gurney. I don't know why I keep dreaming about it, but I do. Or I did until a few nights ago." McQueen told her, doing another set of lifts. "Want to talk about it?" He asked.

"Why would I?"

"Because if you don't it will eat away at you until it destroys you."

"How would you know?" Alex asked sharply. No one understood. Not that she ever expected anyone too.

"I know. I really do." McQueen told her. Something in his voice expounded sincerity. He did a final set of lifts, and unstrapped himself. He stood, stretched, and walked over to her.

She was looking down at the towel in her lap, and apparently didn't hear him approach. She jumped when he placed a gentle hand on her shoulder.

"Let it out Alex. Let it out before it destroys you." He urged gently.

She looked up at him, her eyes dark and troubled. He took a seat on the bench beside her, careful to maintain a careful distance.

"Tell me!" McQueen urged with quiet urgency. Alex gave a sigh. She was tired. Tired of fighting it.

"You're right it was rough. The pain was unbelievable. They told me that I was clinically dead for three minutes before they revived me."

That's why he had blacked out in the dream, McQueen rationized. He had come close to death before, but always with some sort of warning. She had been born, died, and been revived all in a matter of minutes. The experience must have been tramatic.

Alex twisted the towel in her hands. "Do you know how training begins for a female IV?" She asked him.


"Once you recover from being born, and are strong enough, they assign a monitor to you. They bring you to a room, are taken in as brutal a manner as possible."

Alex twisted the towel tighter. "They explain the rape away as being for your own benefit. That the world out there always views woman as weak objects. You are lead to believe that it's only your IV training that will prevent it from happening again."

McQueen pressed his lips together tightly. It all made sense now. The bruises on the women, the haunted looks, the screams late at night.

"After my "initiation", I joined the school with the rest of the IV's. But there were always the whispers, the looks when no one thought I was watching. I felt different. One day I got fed up with it all, and went to one of the monitors privately, and asked him.

He told me that I was different, and that I would be receiving "special" training when I finished IV school. It made me feel better, unique. I was so stupid, so naive."

"You didn't know." McQueen told her. He held out his hand, palm up. Alex looked at the offered hand for a long moment before placing her hand in it. He closed his hand gently around hers. "Go on." He urged.

"Two weeks later I was entered into the accelerated classes. I entered into hell."

McQueen gave her a puzzled look, but she wasn't looking at him.

"There were tests. Endless tests to find out which abilities had survived unscathed from my premature decanting. Alex shivered slightly, and faltered for a minute before continuing.

"They couldn't find any trace of my telekinetic abilities. I was assigned to a monitor that was very good at bringing out abilities thought lost.

He taunted me, telling me how useless I was. He went on and on. He knew what buttons to push, and when to push them. Finally I lost my temper, and shattered the glass in his hand. With that victory, they assigned me to Matt Tolian permanently."

Alex's nails bit into McQueen's hand. He ignored it, seeing the pain in her face. He knew she was close to revealing the source of the torment that had been eating away at her. Once it was out, she could start to heal.

"Tolian was a sadistic man. He had.....ways of getting me to do what he wanted. Things I didn't want to do. A longer shudder tore through Alex this time.

"My normal day consisted of 10 hours of study. Physics, biology, mechanics....anything they choose for me to study. The next six hours belonged to Tolian." Alex bit her lower lip hard, her breathing coming in harsh pants.

"I grew to dread those hours. True, he taught me how to use my telekinetic abilities, but it was his....extracurricular duties I dreaded the most. He chose when, how, and the method. He was a very physical man. Fighting him, only excited him more. There was no one I could tell who would listen, so I just....took it." Alex squeezed her eyes shut, as another shudder tore through her.

McQueen gave her hand a gentle squeeze, urging her to continue the purging.

"I remember one day in particular. It was cloudy, overcast, and horribly muggy. The small room they had left me in had no circulation, and it was so close, so hard to breath in there. The heat seemed to drain my strength." Alex's eyes opened, and had a far away look in them.

"I was looking out a tiny window with thick bars on it. Outside were the trash dumpster's. On the ground, I remember was a broken glass. I remember associating with that glass. It was broken, useless, like me.

Then something wonderful happened. Just for a second, the sun came out from behind the clouds. A beam of sunlight hit the glass, and reflected the most beautiful colors off of it. I had never seen anything quite so beautiful." A tiny, wistful smile formed on Alex's face.

"It started me thinking. Maybe I wasn't so useless after all, maybe all I had to do was find my beam of sunlight, to reveal the beauty I had hidden inside. So I started gathering data. I knew that data on AEROTECH had to be valuable, because they were always so secretive, so paranoid about security. It took me six months to gather the data on that chip."

McQueen nodded thoughtfully. It had been a brilliant bit of planning on her part.

"Then something happened." Alex said almost in a whisper.

"What?" McQueen asked, in a gentle, concerned voice.

"Tolian pushed me to far. He had been particularly brutal that night. Something inside me snapped, and it felt like a angry beast inside me was clawing and screaming to get out. I just let go. Tolien received the full, raw force of my telekinetic abilities. I heard him cry out, and a loud crash."

Alex squeezed McQueen's hand hard, her nails biting into his hand hard. He knew she wasn't aware of the pain she was causing, and shrugged off the pain, watching the play of emotions on her face.

I couldn't see or hear anything after that. All I was aware of was being lost in world of mist. A angry red mist that was crushing me, tearing me apart. I somehow got out of the room and stumbled down he hall a few feet before collapsing. I had never felt pain that intense since the time I was born."

Alex gave a deep shaky breath. "I was in the medical ward for a month, before I was well enough to start asking questions. No one would tell me what had happened to Tolian."

Alex's eyes had a haunted look in them. McQueen covered her hand with his other, and squeezed gently, offering what support he could with the gesture.

"They all treated me differently after that. Like I had a loathsome disease. Well, I left the medical ward late one night. I found Tolian before I left. Or what was left of him. He lay in a room, spittle drooling from his lips. He babbled continuously, not making a bit of sense."

Anguish covered Alex's face. "Even after all he had done to me, I couldn't help but pity him. I destroyed a portion of his brain. It was a very real, very scary lesson, never, ever to abuse my abilities. I'll never forget the look on his face. Never." Alex whispered hoarsely.

"Then what happened?" McQueen asked.

"I found a job at a factory. They hired lots of immigrants, and paid them substandard. I didn't care. It was a job. One night the press malfunctioned. They had a large contract to fulfill, and were already seriously behind schedule. So I fixed it for them. The next day they promoted me to maintenance mechanic" Again, Alex got a wistful look in her eyes.

"I was happy for the first time in my life. I felt useful. But I should have known better. I wasn't there for two months before AEROTECH tracked me down. I was forced to leave with only the clothes on my back. I spend the next few weeks, scavenging for food, resting only in snatches. AEROTECH was always only a step behind me."

Alex let out a breath she had been holding for too long. "Curtis found me at a airstrip. I had been looking at the departing ships with such a longing in my eyes. I felt my destiny lay out there in space, among the stars." Again, she smiled that tragic, wistful smile. It tore at McQueen, and he squeezed her hand a little harder.

"Curtis bought me my first warm meal in days. He got me clean clothes, and offered me a job back on TANTUS. I jumped at the opportunity, and we left later that day." Alex shook her head sadly.

"Curtis told me on the way to TANTUS that I had reminded him of his youngest daughter. His wife and two daughters had been killed in a shuttle accident thirty years past. It was on TANTUS that I began to realize some of my dreams. I had a few good friends, and a job where I was really useful.

Curtis made me realize how precious life was. That everyone was special and unique in their own way. He loved Norse mythology. He could tell a tale that would keep me spellbound for hours." Alex's voice trailed off.

"You miss him, don't you?" McQueen asked. Alex nodded.

"At least I have the comfort of knowing he lived a full life, before he was killed." She said with a deep sigh. "I should have known it was too good to last.

The price AEROTECH had put on my head was just too good to resist. I saw a good friend, Cassie, die right in front of my eyes. She had been trying to get me out of there. Her last words were a request to tell her dad."

"That's why you contacted General Moss." McQueen stated. Alex nodded mutely.

"He helped me. He didn't like AEROTECH anymore then I did, and he now had a score to settle with them. I'm only here because of his help." Alex was silent for several minutes.

"Let it go, Alex. It's over and in the past now. Your place is here now."

Alex withdrew her hand, and wrapped her arms around her midsection. She trembled, and rocked back and forth, her eyes clenched shut. McQueen watched as all the emotions that had been seething inside her for so long were released.

He was struck by the sudden desire to take her in his arms, and hold her. To never let anyone ever hurt her again. Instead, he just sat there, letting her purge herself of all the poison she had been carrying around for so long.

She didn't cry. Somehow he expected her too, but her eyes remained dry. Time passed, and slowly she stopped trembling, and her breath stopped coming in painful gasps.

Alex was afraid to look up at McQueen. Afraid of what she might see in his eyes. She couldn't bare to see disgust or pity there. It would threaten the new, fragile peace she had made with herself. But in the name of her newborn peace, she forced her gaze up into his eyes.

She felt a sudden warmth steal over her when all she saw in his vivid blue eyes was understanding.

"How do you feel?" He asked in a deep, raspy voice.

"Like I've weathered a hurricane." She told him.

"But better though?"

"Much. Thank you." She told him in a throaty whisper.

"Like I told you, I've been there."

"When?" Alex asked.

"I spend five years in the mines of Omnicon Dragoncois. I learned how cheap life could become. How much abuse a mind, body and soul can take before breaking." McQueen's gaze didn't waver from her's.

"Then again, later at Fort Bragg. You know how lax some precautions can become. There was a accident and a lot of good men-IV's died there. I would have died myself, if someone hadn't prevented me from going on a suicidal mission to try and save them. If that person hadn't pulled me away."

"Who?" Alex asked, curious.

"A man. Another IV. "

Alex's eyes widened slightly.

"I was outraged, and decked the foreman. I was sentenced and spend ninety days in solitary for my actions. But I never forgot Ross's words, or his actions. He did what he could for me. Sent me books, musical tapes, that sort of thing." McQueen told her, letting out a deep breath.

"When I got out, I lost contact with Ross until the "ANGELS" were killed in the "Battle of the Belt". I was injured, grounded, bitter. Ross picked me off my ass, and pulled strings to get me my position here. Do you know why?" He asked her.

Alex shook her head, listening intently.

"He saw something in me. Something worth salvaging. He had faith in me. You might say he was my "Curtis".

"I see something in you Alex. Something special. Something valuable. Something unique. Let me help you." It was a sincere offer, and Alex felt a lump form in her throat. She swallowed convulsively. Did she dare risk it?

"Please." She choked out a minute later. McQueen gave her a slight smile. And in that minute she realized that he really was special. That he was a caring, compassionate man. One that it was safe to trust.

"Now that you have pretty much finished your briefings, I have another job for you." McQueen told her.

"Where?" Alex asked.

"Research and development. I think you'll like Lt. Cato. She a tough woman, but fair. She'll probably work your butt off. I fully expect you to enjoy every minute of it." McQueen told her, once again, attaining his normal demeanor. "I'll take you to her, when you're ready."

"I still don't like it." McQueen stated adamantly. "It smells like a trap!

"It very well may be." Ross told him. "But we both know the situation. Three ships have disappeared in that sector. Something has to be done."

"I just don't get it. It's not a known hot spot for Chig activity."

"That we know of." Ross warned.

"You feel it too? I have a gut feeling that they're behind this."

Ross nodded. "The U.S.S. EXCELSIOR is due through that sector next week." He said grimly.

"Damnit, why won't they listen and reroute?"

"Because it would add too much time to their trip. That and the Earth Alliance delegates are as hard-assed as we are." Ross told him, with a wry smile.

McQueen shook his head disgustedly. "If the information they are carrying gets into the wrong hands----"

"I know." Ross said, a dark expression entering his sharp, black eyes.

McQueen cursed loudly when he got the news. The EXCELSIOR was gone. The worst case scenario has just happened. Thankfully, though, not before they had transmitted their last known coordinates, and giving the rough location of a strange that had struck the ship.

Ross, McQueen, and Alex were in the briefing room. Alex was pouring over every bit of data that had gathered on the attack. She had been silent for quite some time.

McQueen watched Alex nibble on her top lip. He knew she always did that when facing a difficult problem. As a matter of fact, he noticed too damn much about her. The smell of the shampoo she used in her hair, the way she moved. Lord, the way she moved! It took a special effort not to watch her walk from one end of the command deck to another.

He had caught on of the deck hands watching her one day, and glared at the man. The hand saw the cold look on McQueen's face, and flushed, and quickly averted his eyes. It was hypocritical, but it had made him feel better.

"What do you think?" Ross was asking McQueen. McQueen realized that he had totally missed the question.

"I'd need to see it." Was the first thing he thought to say.

"It's right here, come take a look." Alex invited, tapping the reports. He got up and walked over, looking over her shoulder. Instantly he was aware of the perfume she was wearing. It was a very light, subtle fragrance. Some flower, lilac he thought."

"Well?" Alex asked.

McQueen glanced at the printout. "Looks like programming code."

"That's what I thought. But I don't recognize it." Alex agreed.

"Can you make sense out of any of it?" Ross asked, taking a drink of coffee.

"Yes, actually two lines of it." She showed the section to McQueen. "It's a log on to the SPACE NET."

Ross gave her a "what the hell" look.

"I'll get Wang down here. He's familiar with the NET." McQueen said, walking over and paging Wang over the comm.

Paul Wang appeared in the doorway a few minutes later.

"You sent for me, Sir?"

"Yes, get over here, Wang, and take a look at this data." McQueen told him.

Alex handed Wang the printouts. He studied them for a few minutes.

"Can you identify those files, Paul?" Alex asked.

Wang nodded. "Some of them." He placed the print outs on the table, and pointed to a section. "Those are space-net game files. DOOM PATROL I think. I never had a chance to play it much."

McQueen wondered how long she had been on a first name basic with the young lieutenant. "All of that is a game file?" He questioned a little more sharply then he intended.

"No, Sir." Wang told him. He indicated several area's on a couple of pages, "This is someone's personal encoding signature."

"Can you break it?" Alex asked.

"It's against SPACE NET restrictions to violate another's person's code signature."

"Can you do it, or not?" McQueen asked, a little less sharply.

Wang looked puzzled for a second. "Yeah, I can do it. But I'll need the entire code structure. This looks only like part of it." He looked at McQueen. "Can I ask what this is all about?"

"You'll be briefed." Ross told him. Wang frowned, obviously in frustration, then left as dismissed.

"We're going to have to go down there, and get the entire log." Alex told them.

"I figured as much. Any luck on finding out what kind of beam hit the ship?" McQueen asked her.

"I can make a educated guess. Proanite Ion beam. Chigs use them often on surface to space attacks, they disperse less."

"Any ideas on how to get past the beam, and onto the surface, without the whole Chig army deciding to pay us a visit?" Ross asked, walking over and refilling his coffee cup.

Alex smiled. Can you give me 12 hours, 16 max?"

"I think we can wait that long. What did you have in mind." Ross asked.

McQueen simply watched her. He saw the wheels turning in her head. Leaning back in his chair, and simply waiting for her to amaze them once again. He wasn't disappointed.

"Two things actually. Mantray emissions. I'll need to make a Mantray detector, and enough of it to load into maybe a dozen torpedo's." Alex told them.

Both McQueen and Ross gave her puzzled looks.

"Mantray emissions?" McQueen asked.

"Yes, AEROTECH discovered that Mantray emissions give a rough fix on fixtures that use Proanite about five, six years ago. The Chigs know that AEROTECH has that technology too.

If you send out some fighters armed with Proanite torpedo's, and shoot them on various sites, planetside, you should be able to distract the Chigs, long enough to get a transport down. The Chig's don't know we already have the coordinates where the beam originated."

"Rough coordinates." Ross added.

"That's what the Mantray detector will be for." Alex told him.

"Damn, I'm glad you're working on our side." Ross noted, smiling at her.

"Actually, the person who encoded these files was a genius." Seeing their puzzled looks, she quickly elaborated. "Do you think the Chigs would actually look for sensitive data in a game file?"

Ross chuckled over his coffee. "She's got a point there."

"Lucky for us." McQueen observed.

McQueen looked at the faces of the 58th. He was pissed as all hell that he couldn't go with his team. But Ross was adamant about that. He doubly resented the fact that Alex was going instead. He knew it made more sense for her to go, but still in rankled.

"Ok, listen up everyone. You're going on a mission to BRAXXON III. We've lost four ships in the area. The first three simply disappeared. The forth, the U.S.S. EXCELSIOR managed to radio in their coordinates before they were shot down by a Proanite Ion beam."

McQueen gaged the reaction of the 58th before continuing.

"The EXCELSIOR was carrying some highly sensitive data that you will be recovering. It's going to get real hot down there, so I want you all to be careful." McQueen began to drum his fingers, realized it, and stopped.

"This mission has two parts, so you'll be split into two teams. West, Damphousse, and Hawkes, you will be TEAM ONE." He held up the device that the engineering department had just finished constructing. "This is a Proanite detector. Once you get to the surface, your objective will be to track down and destroy that Proanite reactor. West you are Honcho for TEAM ONE."

McQueen handed the device to West, and instructed the group on how to use it.

"Vansen, Wang, and Sommerville, you are TEAM TWO. Your objective is to recover the data files from the EXCELSIOR. Wang knows where to look for them on the ships computer. Vansen, you are Honcho for TEAM TWO."

McQueen pointed to a visual map. We will send out a squadron of HAMMERHEADS, armed with MANTRAY torpedo's. They will provide the distraction for you to get down on the surface. I'm assigning a ground force unit to each group for backup. It's going to get real ugly down there, so play it cool, and watch your sixes. Any questions?"

McQueen answered all the questions, and gave them the departure time. They slowly filed out, talking among themselves. McQueen walked over to the port window, and folded his arms, and looked out, staring out into space. A moment later he realized he wasn't alone.

"What?" He snapped at Alex.

"I'm sorry."

"For what?" McQueen asked in a aggravated voice, turning towards her.

"It's you that should be going down with them, not me." She lifted a hand, and gently touched his scarred cheek. "If it's within my power, I'll make sure they all get back in one piece." She told him in a soft voice. Then she turned and left before he could say anything, or react to her statement.

McQueen watched her departing figure with a bemused look on his face. He really didn't know how to take her sometimes. She made him.....feel, and he didn't like the uncomfortable feelings she had roused.

Ross looked out from the bridge viewscreen. "Looks like it worked." He commented.

"Let's hope the rest of the mission goes as smoothly." McQueen added.

The entire landscape reminded Wang of a bad science fiction movie he had seen once. The sunlight had a pale line tint to it. The wind, which seemed to be always blowing, whistled, and shrieked through the area, blowing with it, mounds of cinnamon colored dust.

He rubbed at his eyes again, trying to stifle another sneeze. Large, oddly shaped rocks dominated the area, carved into impossible spires by the wind.

The vegetation consisted of straggly clumps of grass, and groves of thin, bamboo shaped plants, with flowery spikes at the end.

Vansen lowered the micro-binoculars. She tapped them against her leg muttering a complaint. "Probably have to wait until the wind dies down."

"If it ever does." Wang complained.

There was a soft, almost inaudible footfall, and Sommerville rejoined them again, behind the rock cluster. "Three patrols that I saw. One north-northwest, one to the south, and the last to the east." She scrubbed at her eyes for a moment.

"The northern patrol seems to have the tightest formation. I think they are guarding our target."

Vansen nodded, using the binoculars again, now that the wind died down momentarily. "Bingo." She said. "Up there, on the far side of that hill there is a impact trail." She let the others look.

"Here's our plan. We divide the ground troops into three sections. Section one will cause a diversion to the south. Section two and three will form a pincher maneuver to draw their fire."

Vansen stopped to sneeze, and then continued. "We will take ten of the ground crew and force our way in. Everyone clear of this?" At Wang's and Sommerville's nod of agreement, she radioed in the plan.

"How many guards?" West asked, as Hawkes returned, squatting down behind the shale-like rock face where they were hiding.

"Two patrols that I saw. Four in each. They only have three Chigs guarding the door. Hawkes informed them.

"We fire a single shot, and it will bring all the patrols right on top of us." Damphousse noted. Her voice was muffled by the rag she had tied across her nose and mouth, to keep the flying dust out. For her, it was a necessity, since she had starting sneezing almost continuously upon landing.

"I know----we are going to have to draw those guards away without firing a shot." West agreed, trying to think of a feasible plan."

"I can do it." Hawkes volunteered.

"All three?" West asked, disbelievingly.

"I was trained for this in IV school."

West eyed him for a minute, then gave him the go ahead.

"Coop." Damphousse whispered, when he took a couple of steps away. He turned and looked back at her. "Be careful." He smiled at the concern in her voice, and nodded.

Hawkes waited until the third Chig's circuit took him to the far side of the building. Then he crept silently down the path, and disappeared. Moments later, he reappeared from around the structure and gave West a thumbs up.

Creeping with all the finesse of a cat, Hawkes came within a few feet of the guard on the right. He picked up a small stone and threw it into the brush growing a few feet away. Both Chigs looked, but to their credit, neither moved away to investigate.

There was a thump much closer, and a loud hissing. When the Chig on the left looked back, he saw his partner, collapsed on the ground, air hissing out of his cut breathing tube.

The Chig looked around carefully, before approaching the body of his partner. He noted the angle from which the breathing tube had been cut.

Quickly, he looked up when he saw the brief flash of metal. But it was too late. The hurled K-bar landed in the vulnerable crack between the top and bottom portions of his body armor. The knife alone wasn't a mortal blow, but it did do its' job. Distracted by removing the blade, the kick Hawkes aimed at the Chig knocked him off his feet.

The Chig landed hard, and Hawkes was right behind him, leaping on the Chig, grappling with him. They struggled for a few minutes, before there was a loud snap, followed by silence.

"Damn, You're good." West told Hawkes as they hid the bodies of the Chigs behind a large rock bathed in shadow. "I would have liked to be in your school if they taught things like that."

"No you wouldn't." Hawkes said in a dead tone.

Damphousee was already sending the message to the ground troops to take cover and surround the building. Ten of the men followed them into the building.

The diversion and pincher movement went off smoothly. Almost too smoothly, Alex though. They entered the wreck of the EXCELSIOR, and quickly scoped out the interior. The six remaining men took their positions in the shell of the ship.

Wang found the main computer console, and hooked up the portable power supply. He inserted the tapes and tapped a few keys, only to curse loudly.

"What?" Vansen asked.

"I'm getting a busy signal."

"You're getting a what?" Vansen asked.

"A busy signal. The SPACENET is giving me a blasted busy signal. I've hooked it up to auto dial, but I don't know how long it will take me to get through."

Several shots rocked the side of the ship. Sommerville came hurrying back in.

"We got problems. They didn't go for the diversion. They only sent out a patrol to investigate. Things are getting hot out there."

"We got problems in here too. Wang isn't getting through." Vansen said.

Alex gave Wang a inquiring look.

"Busy signal." He told her.

"You know if this wasn't so damned serious, I'd laugh." She told him. He nodded in agreement.

Vansen's radio bleeped softly. She picked it up and talked into it for a few minutes. "Well, we aren't getting out the front way. We've been cut off. Paul?"

Wang scowled, then began to type furiously. "I'm on, just a few minutes."

Alex looked around, and her gaze fell on a panel. She walked over and removed the panel. She reached inside and pulled out a mass of wires.

"What are you doing?" Vansen asked.

"Seeing if we can take the back door out."

"The back door....?" She looked over at the relay Alex was fiddling with. "An escape pod?"

"Chigs won't be expecting it." Alex said.

"Great idea Alex! I'll radio the section out back and see what the resistance is like."

"Got it!" Wang said, removing the tape, and storing it away safely. "I dumped the files after copying them."

"Looks like we're out of time. All the Chig patrols are in, And most of them are heading in this direction."

"I've almost got it." Alex said, working furiously with the wires. "What's the situation?" She asked, her voice muffled from her position under the panel.

"We've only got six men left. I told them to fall back and retreat. The area behind us is still relatively cool, but it won't be for long."

Alex worked silently, while Wang watched the front entrance anxiously. Vansen gritted her teeth, and waited.

"Got it!" Came the Alex's muffled voice, as the escape pod shot free. The docking bay door began to shut, as Alex worked frantically to keep it open. "Go GO! she shouted as they ran for the rapidly closing door.

By the time Vansen and Wang got there, it was only open a few inches. The space remaining was too narrow for them to get through. A blast shook the hull of the ship, and almost knocked them off their feet.

"Can you open it just a little wider?" Vansen asked, casting a glance back at Alex.

Alex looked at the fused circuits, and knew there was nothing more she could get out of them. Another blast, much closer this time, shook he ship. Dust and debris fell from the ceiling. She only had one option.

"I think I can manage for a few seconds, but make it quick." Alex told them. Wang slid to the ground next to the door, ready to slide out.

Alex looked at the door, and reached out. Resistance met her immediately. She felt acid smoke, and the bitter smell of hot metal. She reached out further, feeling the hiss of molecules, moving until it surrounded her, permeating her sense. She knew when the moment was right, and pushed.

She heard the scream of metal being forced. Angry flashes of red pulsed behind her eyelids. Her blood thundered heavily in her veins, as the metal protested. The weight began to close in, crushing her, in a vice like fury.

Alex focused, and pushed harder. The molecules in the door began to move faster, and faster, agitated by her touch. Slowly the door began to inch open.

The cells in her own body cried out at the abuse she was heaping upon them. Tension mounted with the pain. In her head, black became rust, with flares of violet. Rust became red, bloody red, galloping through her, clawing attacking her.

"Come on Alex!" Vansen was screaming from a very long distance away. Her body responded slowly, reluctantly, sluggishly. She managed to get up and under the door without swaying too dizzily. She let go. The door slammed shut with a crash, and the pressure was gone. The pain remained, and Alex felt her stomach churn, tasted the bitterness of bile rising in her throat.

"Are you ok?" Vansen was asking, noticing how pale she had become.

Alex nodded weakly. "Got...a little bit of a shock." She mumbled in a drugged voice. "I'm ok." She told Vansen. Hopefully the pain was ease off in a few minutes.

They made there way out back, up the side of a hill, zigzagging from bolder to bolder or any other source of cover offered.

The silence was almost eerie inside the building. West turned on the detector and handed it to Damphousse. "Keep an eye on it would you? I'm taking point."

Their footsteps echoed hollowly as they followed the soft beep of the detector. They ran into precious few Chigs, and were able to avoid them.

They came to a fork in he passage. The detector gave the same reading for both passageways.

"Now what?" Hawkes asked.

"We pick a path. Right looks good to me." West said.

They advanced down the right path a distance before Damphousse stopped them. "Nathan wait."

"Nathan wait."

"What?" He asked her.

"I don't hear it anymore." Damphousse told him.

"Hear what? The detector is still working."

"The humming. It's gone now. I wasn't really even aware of it until it was gone." Damphousse stated.

Hawkes tilted his head slightly to one side. "She's right it is gone."

They went back to the folk, and listened.

"You have good ears, Vanessa." West told her. He heard the humming now, and proceeded down the left corridor. The humming very likely came from the generator.

A few minutes later, they hit another obstacle. The detector faded out, came back on, then went dead. Damphousse checked it, and didn't find anything to short it out.

"Anything wrong with it?" West asked tersely.

"Not that I can see."

"Can I see it?" West asked. Damphousse handed it to him. He checked it out for a minute, then slammed the device against a wall. The detector gave a almost indignant beep, and started working again.

"There you go, Vanessa." West said, trying not to smile at the looks they both gave him.

"West's radio bleeped quietly.

"Elmer Fudd to Duck Dodgers, over?" The voice came over the radio. It was Vansen.

"Duck Dodgers here, go ahead."

"The speech therapy worked, I've lost my lisp. Over." It was Vansen telling him that they had completed their mission.

"Understood. Marvin the Martin is still on the loose, but we are on his trail. Over and out." It was West's way of saying they were still looking for the generator.

"Gotya, Duck Dodgers, good luck with the carrots. Over and out."

Damphousse smiled. She had personally liked he call signs, knowing that they would confuse the hell out of any listening Chigs. Her detector suddenly increased it's volume and frequency.

"I think we're close. Someone want to scout ahead?" Damphousse asked. Hawkes nodded and silently crept down the corridor. He came back a few minutes later.

"Two Chigs in front of a double door. Probably a lot more inside. Bad news is it's a sequence lock. Probably take a lot to blow it open."

West nodded, a thoughtful expression on his face.

"We could use part of the explosives to force open the door." Hawkes suggested.

"Yeah, but then we might not have enough to blow the generator."


They both turned to look at Vanessa. "I have a crazy idea that might work."

"What?" They both said at practically the same time.

Smiling, she explained her plan.

The two Chigs at the door looked down at the device that came sliding a few feet away. It bleeped softly. One of the Chigs aimed his rifle at the device, but the other stopped him, and walked over cautiously. He nudged the device with the tip of his gun. The device bleeped innocently.

The Chig looked to his partner, who made a tapping motion to his forearm, and made a series of clicking noises into it. A few minutes later, a series of clicking sounds were returned on the piece from his forearm. The Chig walked over to the sequence panel, and punched in a sequence of buttons, and took the device inside.

"Get it?" West asked Hawkes.

"Yes." Hawkes said, lowering the micro-binoculars. It took a few minutes to get the men into position, then they were ready.

West ducked around the corner, long enough for the Chig to see him, made an obscene gesture to the Chig, and then ducked back. It distracted the Chig long enough for Hawkes to sneak up from the other direction, and cut his breathing tube.

"If i was a Chig, I'd change that design." Hawkes told West, re-sheathing his knife. Giving the ready signal, Hawkes pressed in the sequence of numbers he had seen the Chig press earilier.

They got the benefit of surprise on the Chigs. The takeover was quick, bloody, and efficient. They lost two men to the attack. Damphousse removed the dogtags from the men, and joined Hawkes and West at the generator.

"From what McQueen and Sommerville told us, these are the prime areas to put the explosives." West said pointing out the three areas. They had just gotten the explosives in place when West's radio bleeped. He listened, replied, and signed off.

"We got incoming patrols closing in. Those three Chigs you took out failed to report in. We better wrap this up in a hurry."

"Sure thing." Damphousse said, She removed a camera from her pack, and took several pictures of the room." She noticed the looks West and Hawkes gave her. "Any information we get on the Chigs will help us in the future." She informed them.

"Good thinking. West admitted, now let's fall back and get our butts out of here." They exited the chamber and West pushed the timer activator. "Five minutes, let's get."

They exited the building, and darted behind a large grouping of rock just as the first Chig patrol came over the hill. They watched as the patrol entered the building.

"Down! DOWN!" West urged, as the timer reached zero. For a moment the light was blinding as the explosion shook the area. Pieces of metal hurled through the area, imbedding themselves into rock, and slicing like scythes through a bamboo grove. Dust filled the air heavily, and powered rock fell down on them. After awhile all was silent.

"Duck Dodgers to Elmer Fudd. Martin the Martian has lost his cool. Over." West reported back to Vansen.

"Copy. It's still wabbit season, so watch your six." Vansen warned, letting them know several areas were still hot. After surveying the area, they stared to make their way to the rendezvous spot.

Next : Part 3
Previous : Part 1

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