The characters and situations of Space:Above and Beyond depicted in this story are the legal property of Glen Morgan and James Wong, Hard Eight Productions, and 20th Century Fox Television and have been used without permission. "Gone with the Wind" by Margaret Mitchell is also quoted in this story. No copyright infringement is intended.

Literary Giants



Chapter One - Mitchell

Kylen remembered first watching him sleep. Or maybe he was unconscious. It was a 50/50 thing. She felt old. She felt tired . She felt newly born. She felt adrift and without anchor. So she watched him sleep. She found herself counting his respirations. Sometimes he would dream - the breathing would change first, then she would see the eyes flicking beneath the lids, then his fingers would twitch - then he would rest again. Never long - only moments really.

Who the Hell is he, to contol his dreams, she thought, envying the possibility. When she looked back she thought that she probably had picked him out on an subconcious level. Even out cold this man created a bubble around himself. She hoped that it would expand and include her.

She had been the last one to enter the transport. It was crowded with the refugees and wounded. Most seats were taken. People would have to share ...

Some things just don't change, she thought to herself. She had seen the man, had almost seen the bubble surrounding him and had gone to find a place there. Situating herself in a quiet and surprisingly roomy space to the right at the foot of his cot. She could lean against the wall. She even had room to stretch out if she wanted too. His wounds didn't bother her. She had seen worse.

He was at the back of the vehicle or what she thought of as the back, almost behind the escape hatch - she remembered climbing through one like it a few hours earlier. What better place to be?

Nathan, like a Viking come to carry her off... to save her and now they were separated again.

"It's just another choice", she told herself. She had survived by being able to identify choices when they arose and by making smart ones. This reaction - her actions now were just another choice. She could choose to survive, to keep looking ahead. She could eak out of the air and circumstances a measure of contol or she could cave. Several of the group had caved - months of stress and pain and fear spilling over. They were quiet really, almost silent, no exhaltation, no wailing, no gnashing of teeth but they had caved. You could see it in their faces.

"God help us if something goes wrong now," she murmured.

She wanted to be anywhere but in the caldron of traumas: physical - emotional - spiritual. Leaving Nathan. He was so different but, then again, so was she. But they were both alive. He was changed, harder, grown up and somehow spendid. It was frightening and yet a comfort. In her heart of hearts, she had been afraid that she had seen too much, lost too much and made too many damn choices to ever really connect with Nathan again. But she could see it in him as well. He had been slaying some formidable dragons while she had been gone.

Good, Damn it ! It made her somehow feel comforted and confident. That he had been moving; that he had suffered.

They had a chance to be together and they had a chance to connect again. She was both thrilled and repelled by the strength and toughness she had gained.

There were three med techs, Corpsmen they called themselves. There were thirtysix survivors and wounded on board.

She had counted, Some things never change. Habits die hard. The rest had to be on another transport. She had seen Nathan talking to th injured man before they had taken him aboard. Nathan had been worried for him. The corpsmen treated this man somehow differently. One with a respect boardering on reverence, another with a bruskness which boardered on contempt, the third with professionalism but with a little something extra. What?

Give me time and I'll figure it out. Detatils are important. Details can mean survivial. This man was an officer or someone important.

An hour into the three hour hop to the The Nightingale she pumped some info out of the diffident corpsman. The man was a colonel, no surprise. An In Vitro, big surpirse. Colonel McQueen, commanding officer of the 58th squadron. Nathan's group.

Yes, it followed. Nathan would look to such a man. She was momentarily furious. This man McQueen had been there. Had probably been intrumental to the changes she had seen in Nathan. He probably knew him better than she did now. It made her want to scream. She felt like doing damage to something .

She was so tired of staying in control, of watching everything, of trying to plan ,of missing her life. She felt herself on the edge.

Not yet. Can't let go yet. Still too far from home. She had a thought and made herself chuckle. she repeated the thought out loud. "Tomorrow, I'll think about that tomorrow."

A dry whisper immediately countered "After all tomorrow is another day." and a sardonic snort. Months in captivity had schooled her responses so that she did not jump but slowly turned her head towards McQueen.

"Margaret Mitchell," she whispered.

"Gone with the Wind," the response.

"The book was better," she whispered.

"No shit."

They made eye contact. Neither smiling but both of their features softened.

"You're Kylen," he whispered and almost smiled.

"You're McQueen."

He took a deep breath. She thought for a split second it was pain, but no, it was something different.

"We need to talk," he said.

"No Shit," she replied.

He snorted again, amused, gave her the half mast smile, closed his eyes and was shortly asleep. She started to count his respirations.

Chapter Two - Aeschylus

McQueen woke up slowly. He knew where he was, what was happening, but uncharacteristically he had no idea how long he had been out.

God, even my hair hurts.

He had never had an injury this catastophic but he had had injuries he thought would kill him. Could have killed him. The docs had patched him up; he was stable or he wouldn't be on the transport so he probably wasn't going to die.

He had been grounded before and now he was off the battlefield as well. Off the Saratoga. He had no idea where it was going to send him but The Crotch would work that out. It always had. A hospital, rehab, then a desk job somewhere out in the back of beyond. Counting paper clips.

"Don't go there," he whispered to himself. "It's too soon." He would think about that ... tomorrow. Simultaneously finishing that thought and remembering that he had spoken with Kylen.

He had, in some unguarded moments, wondered about her. She was the bottom line to everything West did. West's belief in her survival, in their relationship had become a major rhythm for the squadron. And he had accepted it just as easily as the Cards . It had always been there from the day he assumed command. It had grown in their subconscious from an incedental item to a central belief. It was as much of who they were as their squardron name. Three of them were gone - missing or dead - to give this belief flesh.

McQueen opened his eyes secure in the knowledge that the light would be dim. He knew the drill. He had been here before. She was sitting right next to him, asleep, leaning against the collar of the escape hatch. When he saw her, McQueen suddenly felt the same rage that Kylen had felt when she had watched him sleeping.

Unlike Kylen, whose rage had flared, burned and passed without her needing to address it, McQueen had to beat his into submission with a whip and a chair. He wanted to grap her by the shoulders and shake her to the point of breaking her neck. Did she have any idea at all?

This was dangerous ground. He had to get control of his emotions. Maybe if she were somehow more real to him, more than a picture then he could put all this anger in a compartment and close the door on it.

He reached out and touched her hair. He was surprised to find it cool and soft, silky to the touch. He would have thought that those curls would have felt dry, like wheat. McQueen withdrew his hand. Anything else and he would risk waking her up. The brief touch had made her more real, no longer a symbol.

He readjusted himself to look at her more easily. Given what he knew of her life in the last months, her face was surprisingly serene. Her hands were a mess. Yes, she had been in the thick. Maybe he wouldn't have to break her to get her to understand. That would be a small mercy. Hell, maybe he shouldn't bother at all.

Hope is what had fed West's survival. It's probably what had kept her alive too. Damn, there had been times in his life that hope had kept him breathing as well. Blown up and separated from Saratoga, he was having trouble mustering any hope at the moment.

"Men in exile feed on dreams of hope." He had spoken softly without realizing .

Kylen slowly opened her eyes not moving another muscle.

Oh, yes, thought McQueen, She's been in the thick of it alright.

The two regarded each other silently. For a long time they just looked. There was no challenge, no battle of the wills, but neither was there a whole lot revealed. They regarded each other. Finally , her expression shifted, remembering something.

"Aeschylus?" She whispered. Then again "Aeschylus," with certainty. McQueen nodded.

They rested in companionable silence for a few minutes. McQueen calmly surveyed the area and finally lay back down apparently content to stare at the ceiling. Kylen eyed him through her hair.

"How many" she asked, voice cracking. The effect on him was dramatic. His head snapped to look at her, mouth slightly open as if to speak, expression unreadable, intent.

Her voice had shaken McQueen to the core. He was shocked in equal measure that he had been caught so completely unaware, so unprepared.

"I'm must be in pretty bad shape to get hit like that. To have let my guard down." The voice, the emotion, was so like the recording on the phototag. To hear it again was deeply unsettling.

The Wildcards, his kids, had give him the tag at Christmas. Not so much as a present but as a token of their faith in him, their trust. He hadn't listened to the recording in way of honoring the trust given to him. Not that he didn't want to. Part of him was sorely tempted. He could have just as much curiosity as the next man. It was just somehow his end of the bargain. He would protect it but never own it. He would carry it in trust. But he would never listen. He had just now given it back to West.

He had not broken that trust to himself. Not when West had been so crazy and the rest of the kids were thought dead. That had been a struggle. He had held it in his hand - for it was always in one of his pockets. He had turned it over and over but he hadn't listened. Not anytime his squardron had been away from him in harms's way had he broken this faith. He had always carried their trust - unopened - in his pocket. Not then and not after they were found. He hadn't bailed when the fleet left Demios leaving the battalion stranded. Not even after the 1900 hour communications had stopped.

But he had started to weaken on the return to Demios. More every day and more again every night it grew heavier and added onto itself. He would take it out and stare at it. He had trouble putting it down. He fingered it in his pocket in idle moments. Inevitably, on the morning he was go back in to look for survivors his resolve had crumbled.

"What if they were all gone?" It had been her voice he had heard tearful and breaking. He heard it again now and he felt like she had caught him stealing. Like he had walked in while she and Nathan were making love.

One of the corpsmen came over and did a quick check of McQueen's vitals.

"Colonel, sir, I'm giving you some thing to take the edge off the pain. It will help you to sleep, sir." It was in the iv before McQueen could make a move of protest. "It's on your approved list, sir, so just relax. We should be at the Nightingale in about an hour. Don't keep him up too long, ma'am. You should rest too." He left them alone again.

"How many"? This time stronger, more assured. A different voice. Level. Insistent. She wanted to know.

He knew what she meant. Why bother to screw around? But he had trouble bringing himelf to say these things to a civilian - to her. "I don't know" It wasn't a total lie.

"How many of the 58th?" She asked again in the same tone but her eyes would brook no nonsense.

"Two missing, one presumed dead." Quietly and straight into her eyes.

"Nathan's friends?" McQueen nodded.

"I'm sorry."

She was still and McQueen searched her face. After a few seconds he saw her starting to get panicy. She leaned forward speaking with intesity.: "But it wasn't just me, I mean, Nathan knew I was there , he told me, but it wasn't just me, there were 40 of us. I wouldn't ask them to do that. There was a transport full of survivors. I wouldn't ask Nathan to do that for me. To ask his friends to die. I wouldn't do that to people he loved. He knows that. I know he knows that. You have to know it. You. McQueen, you have to know too. And the other one, the big one. Someone has to tell him too. The really big guy. Like from another place."

"Cooper," he whispered.

"Yes, Cooper, Cooper. He ... He was ... It was ... It was as if we were his very reason for being but we were somehow in his way. Not worth his time. He was like a Gabriel. Looking like an avenging angel. You could feel the fire inside of him."

She was running out of steam and they both knew it. She paused and gathered herself together. McQueen had been struck by the concept of Cooper Hawkes as an avenging angel and his amusement, however ill concived at this moment, was evident. The docs had been giving him soporifics.

Well. I'm really cocking this up, he thought to himself. This was taking on the hallmarks of a major disaster.

She had been on the edge of hysteria and he couldn't control the situation. Worse, he wanted to laugh at the image of Cooper Hawkes, Avenging Angel. He took a deep breath.

Shit, at least two broken ribbs there. But he took in another breath, let it out slowly and centered himself. What could he possibly say? Nothing. Nothing to say to make it any better for either of them.

"They would have done it if you hadn't been there, Kylen. Your safety, your life was a gift for us all. They would have done it anyway." As soon as the words were out if his mouth he knew them to be true. Her eyes bored into him seeing the truth there.

"How do I live with the weight?" McQueen was clueless. What could he give this girl? What could he say? He hadn't been able to comfort Nathan when he had needed it and he knew Nathan. He said the only thing that came to his mind.

"The Third Great Wonder of the Ancient World."

Shit, I am way too high to be doing this.

"What???" She looked ready to smack him.

Out of his element,in over his head, and way way too high, McQueen could do nothing but repeat himself.

"The Third Great Wonder of the Ancient World".

She drew a blank but she could see that he was drugged and not crazy. He gave her more intel: "Mausolos' Tomb."

He saw the light dawn in her eyes. "The Tomb of Affection and Guilt."

"Anonymous," he whispered.

Chapter Three - Pindar

The transport was loaded with green or yellow tagged civilians and personnel which put it low on the priority list. They circled for a good thiry minutes before the crew was given the ball by traffic control. The sound and vibration of the maneuvering thrusters woke McQueen. His instincts hadn't failed him even if he was as high as a kite. His head still ached, and his lungs burned but less - maybe. He had heard enough in his career to know what phantom pain was. He hadn't really believed it but they hadn't lied. He know that his leg hurt like a bitch but that was the thing about most pain killers; they really didn't kill the pain. They just made you not care that you felt it.

Kylen stirred at his side. He had wanted to speak with her. He wasn't even sure what he had wanted to say, but he had wanted to. Civilians made him uncomfortable and indecision irritated him. He wanted to speak with her and then be done with her. To be able to drive on with his own concerns.

Kylen had been dozing, bored, the repeated blasts of emotion and adrenaline worn off.
The change in the engines had given her another short burst and she was almost immediately awake and alert. She did a quick visual, saw the corpsman in a state of purposeful but relaxed activity and her heart rate began to decrease. Docking.
One step closer to home.

One of the corpsman arrived at the cot to do the last check of McQueen vitals. Do the IV's, check the straps, asking about the level of pain: "On a scale of one to ten".
With no sense of urgency the preparations for the landing were moving forward with skill and efficiency.

Standing, she motioned the corpman to her side, feeling slightly foolish , but determined.

"Could I please have a piece of paper and borrow a pen."

The corpsman looked shocked by the request and she felt that she had somehow vaguely insulted him.

"Im sorry to ask but I don't have anything." It dawned on the man that she and the other survivors indeed only had the clothes on their backs and those were whatever the Toga had had in stores.

"Sure," he smiled taking a pen and a small notebook out of one of his many pockets. He opened the little book, tore out a few pages which he carefully folded and placed in another pocket.

"Please, you can keep the pen and my notebook. Wish I could give you something more."

Kylen was unexpectedly touched. Blinking back tears she could barely croak out a "Thank you". The young man awkwardly patted her on the shoulder and left.

"My God", she thought and exhaled deeply realizing she hadn't known that she had been holding her breath.

"What a wonderful thing to just be treated with courtesy." She hadn't realized how much she had missed it , how stripped away they had all become. Survival was all that had mattered.
Up until that moment, that particualar gesture of personal goodness, it had all been about The Group, about herself and their immediate world. They hadn't really known about the war. Not really. The AI's had said a few things but no one really believed what they said. They would lie about the weather. The hostage transfer, the airbattle, Nathan's friends dying, those things had been about The Group and its survival. Now, with the simple act of easy, almost thoughtless, kindness the young corpsman had brought the enormity of the War home to her like a door slamming in her face.

The War was a reality and it swallowed up everything else. It was huge. It was dreadful. Nathan would not follow her home anytime soon. The universe, the circumstances of life, had continued without her while she had been locked away. She had know months ago that she would never be the same - that she had been changed forever. Now she knew with granite certainty that nothing would ever be the same again, anywhere. She was going home to a foreign country.

She wanted to pray. To ask for the safety of this gentle corpsman, for Nathan, her family, herself but her mind had been opened too wide to form the words.

"Please," was all she could whisper.

McQueen had watched the exchange out of boredom rather than interest. He had not anticipated her stunned reaction after the corpsman turned to his duties.

She was transfixed holding the notebook like a breviary and staring at the hole in the air where the man had stood. Like she had had a vision or visitation. McQueen had no idea what he had missed but wished that he had been faster on the uptake.

The landing thrusters fired and the unexpected braking knocked Kylen off of her feet. She landed backward onto her rearend with a nasty flop like a toddler losing her balance. She was level with Mcqueen. Her face wore the expression of a Titanic survivor. The transport detached from the wing section and the elevator began to bring it into the loading bay.

Again they regarded one another. McQueen watched, knowing he was still too drugged to comment. Years in the mines and then in The Corps had taught him one of a number of great truths

"When in doubt keep your mouth shut."

She opened her mouth as if to speak, thought better of it and closed her lips tightly. McQueen watched, fascinated as her expression shifted from shock, to fear then shifted again. He could read blame there briefly in her eyes, then it was gone. McQueen could see she was moving through things at dizzying pace and he was in no shape to keep up. All he could do was bear witness.

At last, her eyes and features settled into what he could only think of as determination. Survival mode. An echo in his mind came like a benediction: These days that are still to come are the wisest witnesses.

She finally shifted her gaze: "There was nothing you could have said to me." - an absolute statement of fact.

Next : Chapter Four to Five

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