Disclaimer: "Space: Above & Beyond," its characters and devices, are the property of Glen Morgan and James Wong, Hard Eight Productions and Fox Entertainment. While no permission has been granted to use these characters and devices, this is a work of fan fiction, and no copyright infringement is intended.

AUTHORS NOTE: "Interview with the Vampire" by Anne Rice is mentioned but not quoted. Comments are welcome and may be sent to Dora Shelton at dshelton. Enjoy!

Dora Shelton

Part One

Reveille sounded at 0430 hours. Heather crawled out of her bunk and dressed in her blue jumpsuit. The only designators on the uniform were the patch of the USS Saratoga and her last name, "Scott," embroidered on the front left chest. So boring, these civilian flight crew uniforms, compared to the Marines, with all their patches. But, they had the colorful job too, didn't they? Ready, she headed toward the flight deck.

It was not far from the barracks to the flight deck, but half asleep it felt like miles. Today there was no special briefing regarding flight preparations, so the crew would make ready for routine patrol flights. Heather wasted no time on entering the flight deck, moving directly to her duties. Everything had to be ready when the pilots arrived at 0530 hours.

At 0530 hours, the 58th entered the flight deck. As they entered, Col. McQueen caught their attention. "Five-eight, listen up. I know that it's been two weeks since your last meeting with the Chigs. Don't get too relaxed. They are out there, we just aren't sure where, so watch your six!" He looked at Vansen. Meeting her eye he nodded, a silent message asking her to look to the safety of the others.

Vansen met his look, returning his nod. Looking at the others she set them into motion. "OK, lets do it!" She turned and headed toward her cockpit, as each of the others did the same.

Heather approached the cockpit as Vansen took her place and began to secure herself. Heather helped Vansen adjust her helmet, watching her run through her pre-flight check at the same time. As Heather double checked the oxygen flow and a dozen other minor items, she asked, "Check OK?"

Vansen answered, "Check OK, clear to go."

As Vansen began to close her hatch, she heard Heather tell her, "Return safely, Captain." Vansen looked up to meet Heather's gaze. She was immediately suspicious, finding it unusual for a member of the flight crew to speak with her. She looked for some sarcasm or hidden meaning in the words, or in Heather's manner. Finding none, she realized that they were only well-meaning words of encouragement. She nodded her acknowledgment as Heather moved to clear from the flight deck.

Her work complete for now, Heather watched from a corner as each cockpit was lowered. She knew that the others of her crew were filing out of the area toward other duties, but Heather always stayed a few seconds longer, until she could feel the changes below her, as the hammerheads left the Saratoga.

With other duties to occupy her until 0930 hours when the patrolling squadrons were expected to return, Heather turned to leave the area. As she left, she noted that she was not the last to leave. Col. McQueen was just leaving as well.

As Heather waited for the return of the 58th from patrol duty, she thought about her decision to become involved in the war and her recent experiences onboard. She had entered flight crew training hoping for assignment to the USS Capistrano. Her husband, also a Marine pilot, was assigned to that ship. They were married two weeks prior to his unit being shipped out to fight the Chigs. At the end of her training she submitted a special request to go to the Capistrano, but there were no positions availible on that ship. She was assigned the Saratoga, and although disappointed, she had heard that it was an excellent assignment. She had only been with the civilian flight crews onboard the Saratoga for about two months, but so far she had no complaints.

In those two months, her duties tended to rotate, so she learned the habits of different crews. She had encountered several pilot squadrons, but none were like the 58th, who she found impressive. They were proud, but without the over burdening egos of so many other squadrons. They were a bonded group of individuals, rather than a group of people all from the same mold. When the opening for a permanent position on the 58th's crew came open, she immediately applied for a transfer to the position, not really expecting to get it. Just yesterday she learned that she would be assigned to the crew next week.

No problems were reported to the flight crew prior to the return of the squadrons, so tensions were not high when the 58th arrived. By the time Heather approached Vansen, her helmet was off. She handed it to Heather, who took it and stepped back to give Vansen room to get to her feet. Knowing that the pilots rarely stood by long enough to tell the crew what repairs to start, Heather made a point of asking if problems were encountered. She kneeled down, placing the helmet in the seat of the cockpit and asked before Vansen could move away, "Any problems, Captain?"

Vansen stopped a few paces away and turned. "Nothing wrong." Her tone was even, but she had a suspicious look in her eye. Heather had no time to spend on setting her mind at ease, so she simply nodded before looking around to see who might need assistance. Seeing another crew member moving some equipment, Heather rose to her feet and went to help.

Vansen watched her go, wondering why she did not remember encountering this crewman before. She still questioned her openness, but saw her efficiency. There were more important matters to attend to, so she pushed the matter to the back of her mind. She turned to the flight deck entrance, knowing that Col. McQueen would be waiting for them. Seeing that the others were already gathered around him, she went to She felt that if you do not know yourself, you are incapable of truly knowing others. Rob never understood this, but then he was not the introspective type. Over the years, she found that she could learn much about people just by spending time watching them. She also learned much about herself this way, through comparing herself with others.

She looked around the tavern, noting three civilians she did not recognize at a table drinking beer. West and Wang were engaged in their weekly game of foosball. It was the same each time they played, because no matter who won, the other was accused of cheating. They would get angry and sit for awhile, not speaking until after the others arrived. Unless they could get Hawkes to play, in which case they would gang up on him, making him mad. Heather smiled, thinking what little boys men could really be.

Tonight, Wang was the winner and West stormed off to sit alone at a table. Wang threw his hands in the air, walking in a circle. "Aw, come on West, you cant do this to me. I'm on a winning streak." Looking at West, who refused to meet his eyes, he threw up his hands again in resignation, looking at the ceiling. He knew better than to push West when he was in such a mood, so he went to sit with him, slowly drawing conversation from him. Everything would be fine if he could get him to talk.

Heather caught movement in the corner of her eye and turned to see Vansen and Hawkes enter. Hawkes joined the others, while Vansen sat on a stool and ordered a beer. She looked around the room until she saw Heather. She picked up the beer and crossed the room, stopping at the table. Heather looked up, and Vansen asked, "Mind if I join you?

Heather answered, "Not at all," waving her hand toward the chair across the table from her. She had never met Vansen and had only dealt with her on the flight deck. Even so, she had watched Vansen enough to realize that they were alike in several ways. As Vansen sat down, Heather could see that Vamphousse had joined the others and they were all looking in Vansen's direction, obviously curious. Heather looked back at Vansen, waiting.

Vansen looked down at her glass, then back up at Heather. She cocked her head to one side and asked, "I've been watching you since you stood by for me on one of our missions a few days ago." She shifted in her chair, seeming unsure how to continue.

"And you were wondering if I treat you, or others of the squadron as I do because I want something?" Heather thought that it would allow Vansen to relax if she asked the question which was so obviously on her mind. Heather preferred for people to be direct with her, but she also understood how difficult that could be in some situations.

Vansen was not expecting such directness, but she recovered quickly. "Exactly."

Heather smiled and sipped her drink. "Captain, my job here is to help on the flight line however I can. I don't know what needs to be done unless I am told, and I find that I get more information about problems encountered when I ask." She set down her glass and leaned her arms on the table. "I don't want anything but to get the job done right." She waited for Vansen's reaction to this.

Vansen thought about the answer, but was not completely satisfied. She felt she should continue the directness begun by Heather. "None of the other members of the flight crew even speak to us. They seem too intimidated." She cocked her head to one side and narrowed her eyes slightly before finishing. "Why aren't you intimidated?"

Heather laughed outright at Vansen's distrust, which she understood only too well. "My husband is a fighter pilot for the 142nd onboard the Capistrano. I'm afraid that because of that fact, Marine pilots just don't intimidate me. Good or bad, that's just how it is!" She smiled and laughed, seeing the obvious relief on Vansen's face. "Besides, I need to that trust in order to get the information I need to do my job. I have been permanently assigned to your flight crew starting Sunday and I don't want my job to be any harder than it has to be."

Vansen smiled a mischievous smile, leaning forward to place her arms on the table in front of her. "I think I understand now. I didn't mean to seem rude, it's just that someone always wants something, you know?"

"It's OK, Captain." Heather looked toward the rest of the 58th, noting that they were still watching her and Vansen. She also noticed that Col. McQueen had entered the room and was sitting at the bar, away from the others. He was watching the 58th watch Vansen, then turned to watch as well. She fought the urge to laugh. "I think that you are going to be expected to report this entire conversation."

She sipped her drink as Vansen turned to watch the others. She turned to Heather and rolled her eyes. "I think they will just have to wonder about this one for awhile." She finished her beer and stood up. With a devious smile she said, "See you on the flight deck, Scott.

Heather looked down at her drink and replied, "That you will, Captain." She was still fighting back laughter. She looked up and watched asVansen walked straight to the door of the tavern, giving the others an irritated glance. Hawkes sat up straight in his seat, as he watched her walk out the door. He glanced at Heather, as they all did. It was obvious they wanted to know what passed between Heather and Vansen, but after a while, they lost interest and returned to their conversation.

Heather finished her drink and decided that it was time to go back to the barracks. They likely would be empty since tonight was the big poker game with another civilian crew. She stood up and headed for the door and nobody even noticed as she left. Nobody except Col. McQueen.

As she returned to the barracks, Heather thought that of all the members of the 58th, she was most drawn to Vansen, Hawkes and McQueen. She saw in Vansen an inner strength that combined with, and sometimes hid, a big heart. She felt that she and Vansen had much in common.

She always had to smile when she thought of Hawkes. At first she had trouble understanding him. The actions and moods he displayed were confusing, until one day she realized that he still saw the world through the eyes of a child. This realization came one morning on the flight deck when she was assisting him prior to a flight.

As she held his helmet, waiting for him to get settled into the cockpit, she felt the back of the inner seal of the helmet was damaged. She looked at it quickly, knowing that a good seal was required for proper oxygen flow. Seeing that the helmet was not damaged, but had been cut, she realized that he was In Vitro. He had cut the seal himself in order to ensure a proper fit. She knelt down to help him with the helmet, and noticed a cautious look on his face. She smiled and helped him with the helmet, tilting it back prior to closing it to ensure a good seal. "Seal OK?" she asked.

He replied by asking, "How did you know it wasn't damaged?"

Heather replied, "A friend at home cut the same notch into his motorcycle helmet. Check OK?"

Realizing he had not run his preflight check, Hawkes quickly stepped through it. "OK." He looked back at Heather with a curious expression.

She could tell that he had questions, but now was not the time. "Maybe someday we will talk about it, Lt. Right now, you have Chigs to chase!" Tapping the top of his helmet, Heather moved away to complete other duties.

They had never had any discussion other than the short phrases spoken during flight preparations, but since that day, Heather was no longer perplexed by Hawkes' behavior. In fact, she enjoyed watching him most. It was obvious that he saw life as a child sees it, with all the wonder and curiosity that is lost in the cynicism that our life experiences bring. She felt that if more adults had such a view of life, they would not miss so much of what went on around them. She certainly wished she had the ability to see life in such a way. She made a point of watching as he made discoveries and tried to learn from watching his experiences what she could no longer learn from her own.

Col. McQueen was quite another matter. He was surrounded by a self imposed distance and a natural mystery. He always set himself apart from everyone else, yet watched everything and everyone, no matter how insignificant. Heather had even looked up while working on occasion to see him watching her. He looked after the 58th but did not often interfere with their daily interactions. At times she was witness to his scolding them, like an angry father, leaving them to correct their behavior. Yet it was more than obvious that McQueen was their commanding officer. He never crossed the line of over familiarity in the presence of others.

The distance he exhibited could be easily explained by the fact that he is In Vitro. He had surely experienced the hard knocks life deals to those who are different. But the mystery was due to more than the manner of his "birth." In spite of the whole In Vitro system, he had led a successful career, as few did. She realized that he was very complex and she felt a special need to try to understand him more than the others, partly because she found him difficult to read. There was just too much beneath the surface to ignore. Yet, she knew that he would never allow her too close.

There was also an attraction to him that surprised and frightened her. She saw in him a inner strength that she had never seen in anyone before. This strength explained the stories told about him, and his risking his life to defeat the Chig "Red Baron." She also saw a rare determination found only in those who have found a purpose and direction in life. Nobody had ever been so magnetic to her. Heather was able to push away these thoughts since her only contact with him was minimal, never having spoken with him. It was easy for her to keep these feelings at bay, and it was enough for her to watch and learn. Her fascination was enough.

As she entered the barracks, Heather felt very tired. This was one occasion when she did not spend time laying awake, thinking about Rob. She was asleep as soon as she placed her head on the pillow.

The pilots had returned from patrol two hours earlier. The flight crew had finished their duties, but Heather remained behind. She had been meaning to clean the area, but had not been able to break away earlier to do it. With nobody else around, she felt she could get more accomplished. She swung the mop back and forth across the floor, taking a small step backward with each swipe of the mop. She was about half finished with the entire flight deck in half the time it would normally take.

Suddenly she bumped into something, where there should have been nothing. She stopped and turned around, just as Nathan West turned to see what had bumped him. Seeing the annoyed look on his face, Heather stepped away.

"Sorry Lt. I didn't realize there was anyone else here."

As she resumed her mopping, West asked, "Since you are here, would you help me remove the hatch for some maintenance work?"

She was surprised by the request, since he never asked for help from her crew. She turned back toward him, noticing that he was uncomfortable in having to request help from her since no other members of the 58th were there. As she started to answer him, he thrust a tool into her hand. She looked up at West, who looked down quickly as if embarrassed. When he looked up again, she flashed him a devious smile, and pushed the mop handle toward him, so that he caught it as it bounced off his chest. "Sure, Lt. Just as long as you help me mop the floor when we are finished. You do make part of the mess, after all!"

West stood staring at the mop handle in his hand in horror. After a few seconds, he looked up at Heather. She could was overcome with the look of panic in his face and burst out laughing. She took advantage of his shock, to push the issue a bit farther, asking, "What's wrong, Lt.? You do know how to use a mop don't you?"

As West stood there speechless, Heather saw movement from the corner of her eye. Someone had entered the flight deck. Not wishing to make matters worse by embarrassing him in front of anyone, she knelt down next to West's cockpit. Trying to hold back her laughter she asked quietly, "Don't you think a better tool will be needed to remove the hatch than that mop?"

He quickly glanced at the mop handle in his hand, looking even more panicked. Letting go, he watched it fall to the floor. He stared at the mop, jumping slightly when he heard a second, more familiar female voice. "Is there a problem, West?"

He turned to face Vansen with the same startled look. "No. No problem." He quickly glanced at Heather, "I think."

Vansen flashed Heather an amused look, as she turned and walked toward her own cockpit.

Heather began working on the hatch of West's cockpit to hide her laughter. West recovered and completed his maintenance with her help, and without ever looking at her.

When finished, West sat back on his heels and finally looked at Heather. His discomfort was obvious. She stood and retrieved her mop from the flight deck floor. West looked at the mop, then looked questioningly at Heather. Smiling, she assured him, "Don't worry Lt. West, I won't hold you to the deal." An undisguised look of relief washed over his face, and she laughed quietly as she began mopping where she had left off.

West joined Vansen at her cockpit, and they left the flight deck together a few minutes later.

Friday night, Heather went to Tun Tavern. She was supposed to meet some of her crew mates there later, and wanted to spend some time alone there before they arrived. It was always quiet in the tavern early in the evening, giving her time to get settled and watch people as they arrived without being noticed. She took her glass of bourbon to a table in the back of the tavern, where she sat with her back to the wall. She always tried to get this table when it was availible, because it was inconspicuous, and had a good view of the rest of the room.

She thought about Rob tonight, but she was not comforted by her thoughts. She realized that she had started thinking about him less, and worried that things might be changing between them. Or at least changing for her. She closed her eyes, becoming lost in thought.

She opened her eyes to find someone standing across the table from her. She looked up to find Vansen looking down at her with her head cocked to one side, with a concerned look on her face.

Heather smiled and said, "Don't just stand there, Shane, sit down."

As Vansen sat down, Heather saw Col. McQueen sitting at the bar, looking at them. Vansen's expression never changed and she asked, "Is everything OK?"

Heather smiled sadly. "Just thinking. It seems that I do that too much lately."

Vansen looked into her beer. "I hear that!" Looking up, she had an amused look. "Speaking of thinking a lot, I have to tell you that I have thought a lot about that stunt you pulled last week. I have never seen anyone leave West speechless, until I saw your trick with the mop. But it would have been even better to see him mopping the floor."

Heather laughed. "It's an art that few perfect. But I couldn't add insult to injury. He seems too proud to mop." The sight of West humbly mopping the flight deck floor flashed through her mind, and made her giggle. "It would have been something though, wouldn't it?"

"Sure would." Vansen was beginning to relax around Heather. They had run into each other in some of the public areas of the ship several times over the last month and had slowly opened up to each other. They talked of small things, getting to know each other and were finally on a first name basis. This slowly led to deeper, more personal subjects. They seemed to have an instinctive understanding of each other.

Heather looked over Vansen's shoulder and noticed that Col. McQueen was still watching them. She leaned forward toward Vansen on the other side of the table. "Your Colonel finds it interesting that we are sitting here talking. Maybe we should invite him over." She smiled as she sipped her bourbon and peeked over Vansen's shoulder.

Vansen grinned. She was getting used to Heather's joking remarks that always sounded serious. "McQueen?"

"Yup!" Heather cocked her head to one side, suddenly very serious. "What is he like?"

Vansen sat back, looking into her beer, thinking about the question. How can anyone explain Col. McQueen? And if you were to try, she thought, where would you begin? "That's tough to answer. He's cranky, but I respect him, as an officer and an outstanding pilot. I can tell that he cares about us, but he is a very private person, and he doesn't let us get too close. I really don't know how to answer you with more than that."

Heather nodded, expecting as much. "He is hard for me to figure out. I find him...." Heather paused to gauge her answer, not wanting to seem too direct on this issue. "Fascinating is the only word I can find to describe it. I want to figure him out, get to know him, because he is a challenge. But I'm afraid to try, you know?"

Vansen smiled, "I know exactly what you mean. There is a magnetism that effects everyone differently, that you can't really explain. It either attracts you or repels you, nothing in between. I stopped trying to figure it out and just accept it. He is the commanding officer of the 58th, and we would follow him to hell and back. Each of us would lay down our lives for him without question. What else can I say?"

Heather nodded, understanding Vansen's view as she had understood hers without going into unnecessary detail.

Damphousse entered the tavern. She saw Vansen, and headed that direction. She pulled a chair up to a third side of the small table for two. She smiled at Heather and said, "Hey, Heather, how's it going?"

"Good, Vanessa. But you know, same thing, different day!"

Heather and Vamphousse, like Heather and Vansen, were on a first name basis. They got along well, but the relationship was not the same as with Vansen. With Damphousse, it was social. With Vansen, a friendship had developed.

"Hey, Shane, Coop is looking for you. And look out, he's in a mood." Damphousse said this to Vansen with a look of warning.

"Aw, now what? Did he get into another fight with West?" She set down her beer, leaning back in her chair and crossing her arms in front of her. Thinking about their childish bickering, Vansen sat frowning.

"I don't know, but he will likely be here soon. He was heading for the flight deck looking for you. I didn't tell him where you were, wanted to warn you first." She knew that Vansen would straighten Hawkes out when he found her. She always did. The only two who could handle him were Vansen and McQueen.

"Thanks. Just what I need, Hawkes making another scene in front of the Colonel." Vansen sat forward, playing with her glass. Damphousse turned her attention to Heather, letting Vansen brood. After a few minutes, Vansen stood up. "I'm going to find him. I don't want him to pull anything in front of McQueen. Last time the Colonel was really pissed off."

As Vansen left the tavern, Wang walked in. They spoke in the doorway for a minute, then went separate ways. Wang saw Damphousse and smiled, walking toward the table. "Mind if I join you ladies?"

"Not at all," both answered him in stereo, then laughed. Small talk with Wang and Damphousse was easy for Heather. They could spend a long time talking about absolutely nothing.

Later, a few of Heather's crew mates entered the tavern. They waved at her and took a table across the room. As she waved back at them, she realized that this was not the first time that she was with some of the 58th and encountered members of her crew. They never approached her at these times, but would sit across the room. When she eventually joined them, they never brought up her relationship with the Marines. She wondered what they really thought, but figured that they must not disapprove, since they never mentioned it. She said goodnight to Wang and Vanessa, and joined her crew mates.

Col. McQueen watched as Heather moved across the room. He shifted around to face the bar. When he finished his beer, he left the tavern, on his way to meet with Commodore Ross.

Next : Part Two

Dora Shelton 1996