Disclaimer: The characters and situations of the TV-Programme 'Space: Above And Beyond' depicted in this story are legal property of Glen Morgan and James Wong, Hard Eight Production and 20th Century Fox Broadcasting and have been used without permission. No copyright infringement intended. This story and the characters of Sqdr. Ldr. Meg Chambers, Major General Chambers, Cpt. Patterson and Lt. Angie Carlson are purely fictional and legal property of U.-U. Fritz. This story is not open for distribution or sale in either fanzines, ftp-sites or elsewhere without the permission of the author.

Author's Notes: 'Redemption' is the second part of the cliff-hanger 'Tell Our Moms ...' as I imagined it. The first version was written shortly after the last ep of 'S:AAB' was broadcast on 22nd September, 1996 on VOX Television Germany.

My warmest thanks and lots of hugs to Lale, my 'Turkish tulip', who told me to stop mopping about the ending of 'S:AAB' and just DO IT! And also many 'thank yous' to my beta-reader and brother in spirit Dylan Humphries.

PG13-rated for language and war-time violence





"Hey, I'm a hot pilot. Best there's on this ship," Nathan said matter of factly. "After ..."

"Me!" Shane cut in.

"McQueen!" Nathan replied and grinned.

The rest of the Wild Cards shook their heads about this idle chatter and Cooper snorted.

"Who wanna know, anyway," he murmured and looked up from his comic.

"Coop, don't sulk!" Vanessa said and went over to him. "Anybody knows that you're the best shot around here ..."

"Yeah, the living nightmare of all Chigs!" Paul said and turned towards Nathan.

Suddenly, something changed. Vanessa, Shane and Paul went over to the door and before leaving the Wild Cards' quarters, they raised their hands in silent salute.

"Semper Fidelis. Forever faithful, my friend!"

Chapter One

Autumm 2064

Nathan West woke up with a start and was confused at first when he found himself lying on Paul Wang's bunk. Over the passed week he had found himself again and again lying on one of his dead crew-mates' beds. Nathan closed his eyes and with utmost strength he suppressed the tears. Beside him, on Shane Vansen's bed, Cooper Hawkes stirred in his restless sleep. Nathan lay back again and closed his eyes.

Had it only been a week ago that all of the five-eight had set out to rescue the remaining settlers of the Tellus colony? he asked himself. And now only two of the five Marines were still alive.

West's encounter with his love Kylen Celina back on the flightdeck had left a bitter taste in his mouth for he knew that her rescue had been paid with too high a price.

The young Marine turned his head and stared straight into Cooper's blue-grey eyes.

He is as lonely as I am, Nathan told himself silently. For the first time in almost two years there was absolute silence in the bunk room of the Cards' quarters and it was a constant reminder what had happened the week before.

"It's so silent around here," Hawkes said, voicing Nathan's own thoughts aloud and he buried his face into Shane's pillow, taking in her scent.

He still had to come to terms with the fact that his friend and CO was gone. When he had first joined the Marine Corps he had felt like hell, but after a while Shane had made him feel comfortable around the other natural born humans and they had become friends. Shane even becoming something like a mother to him - the only mother he would ever have. The young IV felt a deep pain in his heart as he remembered something Shane had asked him a long time ago.

Did you ever lose someone close to you? she had asked him on the transportation to their first mission on Mars. Back then he had not answered her for he had not known what she had meant. But now he knew and he wished he had never been able to learn from experience. He felt alone and abandoned and he wished nothing more than that the door would open and Shane Vansen, Vanessa Damphousse and Paul Wang would enter and chide them for sleeping in late.

The young Marine sighed and sat up in bed. When he heard Nathan stirring beside him on the other side of the small corridor, he looked up and they both exchanged a long look.

The two Marines stood up and slowly, they changed into the standard USMC uniform to face the Commodore. They knew that they would be court-martialled soon. Giving away compartmentalised information about the final attack of the Allied Forces to an Alien on Anvil, planet 2063-Y, was not considered well by Fleet-Command to say the least and the JAG officer who had interrogated them over the passed three days had made it unmistakably clear that they could end up in the brigs.

West inhaled deeply and stared at the contents of his locker. Over the passed one and a half years the Marine Corps had become his family.

Family? he asked bitterly. This family of his had been demanding; always taking from him what he was willing to give ... and more. Nathan closed his eyes, resting his forehead against the locker door. He was sick of giving more away from him than he had thought was possible. First the Corps had taken away his brother Neil and now Shane and the others. The Corps would surely take away the rest of what had been left of him as well: his stripes as a Lieutenant and discharge him dishonourably. He couldn't stand it any more.

Nathan looked over to Hawkes who sent his lockerdoor shut with a loud thud. Watching the young man, Nathan was sure that he could not fathom the meaning of being court-martialled.

What am I thinking? Nathan asked himself silently. He is a Marine for crying out loud. He had been through the drags already when he had been sentenced by some judge who had thought it funny to sentence a tank to do time in the Corps. Nathan fought the sudden urge to laugh out loud bitterly.

He had seen Hawkes in combat, killing mercilessly and yet Nathan knew that Cooper was still a seven year old child in a twenty-five year old body. And watching his friend he wondered for the umpteenth time how Cooper could bear all this. The last time he had seen Cooper in such a shocked and desperate state was shortly after his flirtation with the green meanies. Back in detox he had watched his friend as Coop had given up hope. The same look was on the young Marine's face now and Nathan feared that Cooper would do something stupid, like getting himself killed while trying to look for 'Phousse and Vansen. Shaking his head, he followed Hawkes to the O-room.

Cdre. Ross was already waiting for them and as they came to a halt in front of their CO, Ross dismissed their salute with a nod. The Commodore leant against the desk and stared at a point between his crossed ankles and both Marines shifted their weights uneasily from one foot to the other.

"Sir?" Nathan inquired, a shiver of anticipation and dread running down his spine.

"Five-eight..., " Ross hesitated for a moment, then commenced: "Lieutenants, Fleet-Com has contacted me. Your charges have been dropped and they have granted you ten weeks R&R ..." Cooper shot Nathan a quizzical glance.

"Sir, I don't understand. What we did back on Anvil ..." Cooper began.

"What did or did not happen on 2063-Yankee is none of your business, Marine! The whole mission has been compartmentalised. It never happened, UNDERSTOOD?" he asked angrily and brought his face close to Cooper's. But Hawkes was not silenced by this. He shook his head like a stubborn child.

"To hell with Fleet-Com. We've friends down there. At least give us the chance to look for them ..." he started again but one look into the Commodore's eyes made him hesitate and he swallowed hard.

"You will not, I repeat, WILL NOT be assigned to the SAR team ...", Ross cut in sharply, directing his gaze to Nathan as well. "You will report back on the Saratoga to meet your new wingmen on 4th December!"

"Sir, yes, Sir," both Marines answered in unison, but it was clear they were highly confused.

Ross closed his eyes for a moment, rubbing his finger across the bridge of his nose.

He knew he should tell them that Fleet-Com had already sent out SAR teams to look for Vansen and Damphousse but telling them would surely mean they would go AWOL and look for their crew-mates themselves. But there was another reason he wanted them as far away as possible from the 'Toga and planet Anvil. When he had heard about the dropping of charges against the Marines he had been relieved, after all he had pulled all the strings possible to get them off the hook but then he had heard about the rumours which had spread aboard his ship and there were some people who wanted the hide of those two for screwing up 'Operation Roundhammer'.

After that bit of information he had even contacted his friend Chambers back on Earth and he, too, had done everything possible to help his Marines. An hour ago he had received an urgent email from Major General Chambers. It had simply said that the 'chicks were off the hook'. Chambers and his cryptic messages, he had thought but the postscript had surprised him even more. 'Return them to their mother hen'. He had had not any contact with McQueen, for what, five days now. He had heard that he was due to have surgery and he didn't know what he and Chambers were up to. But he would know eventually, either McQueen or Chambers would contact him as soon as they knew that the remaining 'Cards were safely on their way.

"That's settled then. Your ride, the USS Dakota, leaves in forty mikes. Dismissed!"

After Cdr. Ross had left the o-room, the young Marines exchanged a quizzical look with each other.

"Why ... didn't he reprimand us?" Cooper asked and shook his head.

Although he had not been fully able to understand what they had done wrong on Anvil by telling the Alien that Operation Roundhammer was already under way, he had known that they all had retaliation to fear. And yet if the resulting peace-talks had been a success, their skipchatter would have been looked upon as a good deed. The young tank rubbed his temples wearily as if he wanted to force that bit of information into his brain.

Nathan was as shocked as Coop. He should have felt relieved and yet he had the uncanny feeling that something was behind the whole compartmentalisation of mission 'Homeward Bound'. From experience he knew that Fleet-Command had little to say in this war. Mega-Space-Organisations like AeroTech were behind most of the schemes and they seemed to know more than they let on.

"I don't know about you, Coop, but I have a bad feeling about this!" Nathan commented matter of factly.

On their back to their quarters, Cooper's shock had worn away and he was growing angrier every minute.

"They wanna substitute Wang, Damphousse and Vansen just like that?" Cooper asked and shook his head. "They can't do that, I mean not 'til we really know for sure they're... dead ..." His fist crashed into the metal wall of the corridor.

"The spooks didn't pick up any SOS signals from Shane and Vanessa," Nathan replied, dragging Cooper along. He desperately wanted to believe that at least Shane and Vanessa were still alive and secretly, he was determined to look for them. But as it was right now, both Hawkes and he himself had to keep a low profile.

The young Marine closed his eyes, trying to force back the memories. Back in the cockpit of the ISSCV, he had watched in horror as Wang's ISSCV-shuttle had been destroyed by the Chigs but the disabled safety cockpit of Vansen's vehicle had entered the stratosphere of planet Anvil. There had not been an explosion, only Vansen's voice trailing away as the com-channel was interrupted.

Semper Fidelis, always faithful, my friend, she had said and Nathan had felt as if something deep inside of him had been torn apart.

"Come on, Coop, let's pack..." Nathan said wearily and put a hand on his friend's shoulder. Cooper followed his friend back to their quarters and when they entered it, they encountered a Sergeant who had been busy taking away the personal belongings of their dead comrades.

"Keep ya dirty hands away from 'em," Cooper shouted angrily as the Sergeant tried to rip off the photographs above Shane's bunk. The young officer stepped quickly away from Cooper's menacing figure and nodded his head.

"Sir, yes, ...Sir," he stammered. "I was asked to return the personal effects to... to their families..., Sir."

"We'll take care of them!" Nathan said as he dismissed the Sergeant with a nod of his head. After the Sergeant had scurried out of the room, Nathan stepped closer to Wang's bed and looked at the pictures his friend had put onto the wall above his pillow. He smiled when he scrutinised a photograph showing Paul in a Chicago Bears-outfit. Cooper came up to his side. He had picked up the plastic bags the Sergeant had left behind.

"Do ya want to hand 'em over to their families?" he inquired slowly.

"Yeah," Nathan answered, turning towards him. "We'll do it together and afterwards we'll visit my family..."

"Nathan..." Cooper began. "I dunno that's such a good idea. I mean, I'm not sure that your family wanna see me ..."

"Where'd you want to go, Coop? There's nothing you can return to." Nathan asked angrily, echoing the very words McQueen had told them before their last mission.

Vanessa had fantasised about a civilian life, what she would do as soon as she had returned to Earth. Back then they all had given in to the luxury of imagining their lives after the war. Only Cooper unsure about his future. When McQueen had said that as a tank he had nothing to return to, Nathan had realised for the first time that Cooper would be alone once the Wild Cards were discharged.

He shook his head slowly, then grinned sheepishly.

"Please, accompany me to my parents' place. I don't know how to face them after what has happened to Neil ..."

After Cooper and Nathan had packed their duffels, they left for the flightdeck. West was appalled to see that the flightdeck did not show any signs of the terrible things which had happened there.

Only hours ago he had said good-bye to his girl-friend Kylen Celina here. He had felt relieved to see her. To hold her in his arms once again. But their meeting had not put his doubts at rest. Still he saw the clone on Kazbek who had had almost enticed him to leave his friends alone.

Would he ever be able to look at Kylen and see 'her' instead of the clone he had killed? Nathan closed his eyes for a moment, trying to push away the thought. But try as he might other images overwhelmed him. Images about McQueen as he was rushed off to an emergency unit on board of an ISSCV.

Their commanding officer had been attending the peace talks when a bomb had exploded, killing several high-ranking officers including the Alien representative and therefore shattering all hopes for a peace treaty. McQueen had been severely wounded and for all they knew, he would be discharged from active service once he had recovered.

If he recovered, West thought. From what he had been able to detect inmidst of all the bloodstained bandages the Colonel was likely to loose his leg and be immobilised for the rest of his days. Watching the techies and occasional MP-guard scurrying over the deck, he still could see the commotion, the bloodstained bodies of the dead officers put into the coffins to be transported back to Earth.

They were scheduled to leave for Earth on the USS Dakota in twenty mikes and when their ride was announced, they shouldered their packs. Other Marines had been granted leave as well and their happy skipchatter was filling the small transporter shuttle. Cooper and Nathan did not join their antics, separating themselves from the others as they took up lodgings on the Dakota after lift-off.

During their journey back to Earth, they talked little and both men were deeply absorbed in their own thoughts. Keeping separated from the others, only mingling with the crew-men when they went to the mess. If they went.

Nathan was worried about Cooper. The big IV had retreated to some place in his mind where his friend was not able to reach him. Watching Hawkes as he lay on his bunk motionless, Nathan thought about the last time he had seen his friend like this. Shortly after he had been released from detox Cooper had kept to himself and only with the joint effort of all 'Cards he had snapped out of his self-imposed guilt-trip. Back then, he had thought that nothing could harm Cooper's equilibrium but his drug addiction had changed him.

Oh, he had been his old self again but some of his childlike naivety had been lost. West closed his eyes, shutting out the image of Cooper lying on the bunk across him.

All he could do was wait and just be there if his friend needed him.

Cooper stared out of the port above his bunk. Staring at the stars blinking in the deep darkness of space, he tried to put some sense into all the things which had happened. In times of confusion he had always been able to turn to Shane for advice.

Shane ...

Closing his eyes, a vivid image of his CO rose before his mind's eye.

There had been a time when he had been infatuated by her. It was during their first mission as a Marine Corps squadron that he had tried to kiss her, infuriating her so much that she had slapped him. Back then he had been angry, assuming that she hated tanks but over the passed months he had realised that her reaction had had nothing to do with him being an In-Vitro but that he had just overstepped himself.

When had his feelings for her changed? he asked himself. For all he knew from his accumulated sensations over the last seven years, he knew that he had felt something like ... what? Love? for her.

No, that wasn't the right word, was it? He had wanted to be close to her for sure but over the months this feeling had turned considerably. With her ability to make everyone relax in her company, she had taught him the way of humans. Shane had become his mother, well sort of anyway. The closest he would get to having a mother. And the rest of the Wild Cards had become his family as well.

Nathan, Mr. Hotshot as he had called him during their HIST, had become as close to him as a brother. From him he had learned what it meant to be family despite the occasional quarrel. 'Phousse, with her laughter and no-nonsense talk, had taken a place in his heart, too. She had been the little sister he had never had. And Wang?

He had always thought that the Wanger had been the luckiest of all of them. Always ready to make fun of everything and everyone, Paul had shown him that there was more to life than duty and obedience which had been forced into him by the monitors. Sometimes he had not understood what had made Wang tick besides his love for sports but when he had seen his heartbreak over his lost innocence and willpower back on Kazbek, he had for once understood what the Marine had felt. Self-hatred and disgust were some feelings he had come to know quite intimately since his birth in a gestation tank back in Philly.

And thinking about the gestation facility brought his thoughts back to McQueen. Ever since he had met the 'Angriest Angel', he had seen in him the father he had never had. Over the last eighteen months since he had been forced to join the Corps McQueen had become his role-model.

Thinking of his CO he fingered the ID-tag around his neck unconsciously. Beside the usual dogtag and PLB there was another gadget attached to it. He picked it up and stared at it for long moments.

He turned his head back to the port again and inhaling deeply, he tried to force back the tears which gagged his throat.

He closed his palm around the RAF Corps signet ring. Holding it in his hand, he could almost feel the presence of McQueen and his godchild Flight Lieutenant Megan Chambers. Squinting his eyes to be able to read the words on top of the ring, he had to smile despite himself.


That were McQueen and Chambers alright.

Chambers had been part of the UFEP, a United Forces Exchange Programme, and she and her squad had been assigned to the five-eight a couple of months back. After the 'Cards had found out that she was McQueen's godchild, Cooper had almost screwed the whole thing when he had kissed her one evening on the deserted flightdeck, flirting with disaster.

Oh man, was he kiddin' himself or what? They had taken off like a house on fire, using Shane's words. Just like Shane, Meg had touched something inside of him and he had felt immediately drawn to her. Especially after he had discovered that her father was a tank like himself and that McQueen was her uncle.

But had that been the only reason? He sighed and rubbed his eyes tiredly. She had treated him like a normal human being. Back then he had wanted nothing more than being with Meg and after she had left, her image still fresh in his memory, they had written long letters to each other.

When had he stopped writing to her? He asked himself. Of course, he knew. He had stopped writing when he had been addicted to the green meanies. He wasn't proud of that and when finally the knowledge had broken through the constant haze he had been in back in detox, disgust and self-hatred had prevented him from even thinking of Meg. He had felt dirty and ashamed after that.

Chapter Two

Somewhere on planet 2063-Yankee

Darkness .... darkness all around me and the pain, the pain is unbearable. Pain soaring through every vein and fibre of my body.

Where am I? I can't see ... The pain ... it's tearing me apart. I can't see, I can't breathe ...

Where am I? WHO am I? Can't think, can't remember ... Sleep ... I want to sleep. I grope around in the darkness and all I can feel with my hands is cold metal. I can feel some nooks and crannies beneath my fingertips and I know that these are steel-plated boards.

I'm so cold and I want to sleep, but I can't. I have to know what happened. Deep down I know that I wasn't alone ...

The Elroy-L model watched as the dark figure slumped back against the wall of the small cell and he grinned.

It always made his CPU skip a beat so to speak, when he saw humans like that. But this little human wasn't much fun as the other four. The others were stronger and tried to resist him during interrogation, accelerating his processors every time they screamed the hell out of themselves.

But this one didn't even know what IT was. He had taunted the officer, telling outrageous tales about cruel humans who wanted to have this officer' head served on a platter. For all that dumb eggbrain knew or thought to know he could easily persuade it to believe it was a Chig!

The AI sighed dramatically and turned. Yesterday one of the Chigs even barged into one of his little games and ended it abruptly. Those Chigs! They were afraid of humans and yet thought them a formidable adversary. He had been considering to 'take a chance' when the Chiggy officer had demanded that he would end the brutal interrogation but he had re-considered. It wouldn't do him, Elroy-L, any good to pick a fight with a Chig.

NOT YET! He thought and strolled along the corridor to the interrogation room.

When he entered Felicity-OHL bent over another human, slowly inserting a syringe into the man's stomach. Elroy smirked, he knew that 'Sewel-fuel' hurt like hell in the man's intestines.

"OHMYGOD!" the scream echoed through the empty corridors. The young pilot forced his legs upward in a protective motion but his legs only strained against the metal clasps which bound him to the stretcher.

"Oh, honey, did that hurt you?" Felicity asked in a cooing tone, caressing the man's brow.

"I don't want to hurt you, Captain Patterson. Just give me the information I require ..."

The man on the stretcher forced his eyes to open and stared at the silicate.

"I don't know what you're talking about," he hissed and stifled another scream as the liquid raged through his guts. Felicity grabbed him hard by his throat.

"Tell me, honey. Tell me what you we're doing on Anvil?"

There was a momentary silence before Patterson opened his mouth.

"Patterson, Geoffrey. Captain of the 35th Airborne Wing of the USAF. Tag number 905-334-21 ..." he murmured as he passed out.

The silicate backhanded him across the face but the young pilot did not wake up again.

"Relax, Fel-babe," Elroy had come over to her and caught her wrist. "You know how delicate those Carbonites are ..."

Felicity-OHL turned and smirked at him.

"You had any luck?" she asked but Elroy shook his head. The crosses of his eyes deleting somewhat by a trick of the light.

"A Chig barged in before the fun was really starting ..."

He went back to the other interrogation room where the Justin EB-unit had put another of his little 'play-things' onto the stretcher.

No fun anymore, Elroy thought as he stepped over to the still figure lying on the stretcher. With a sigh he unscrewed the cap of his index-finger and the processors underneath it gave off a static sound as the isolation was removed from them.

"I don't want to hurt you, Marine. It's so much easier if you just ... talk. Why don't you tell me what you were doing here?" he whispered as the officer opened the eyes.

"What ... ?" a faint voice inquired, barely audible and just barely human.

"Why do you resist? Just tell me what I want to know and you're free. Free to leave this camp ..." Elroy coaxed.

I can't stand this any longer. I just ... CAN'T. Why are they doing this? WHY? Anvil ... Planet 2063-Yankee ... Why was this important? Why?

Semper Fi, my friend ... Nathan ...? Why is this name important to me? Why do I dream about a planet, shrouded in fog? A voice ... a face ... NO ... two faces ...

"Coop ...?" the pilot whispered.

"Yes, tell me what happened to Coop? Was he the one who left you abandoned on this planet? Tell me. You don't owe him anything ... He has left you ..."

Why do I have to think about baseball? It's important I have to remember!! But I can't. I CAN'T!!! The pain ... the smell of burning flesh ... MY FLESH ... I don't feel anything.

I can't ... feel ... anything ...

"C'mon, you don't need to go through all this again, Marine," Elroy whispered into the officer's ear. "Tell me what you did tell the Chig in the cave? Then you'll be free and we will give you everything you want ..." He edged the electrical surge closer into the flesh.

NO!!! STOP THOSE SCREAMS!!! MAKE THEM STOP!!! I can't stand it anymore, just make them stop! OHMYGOD, it's ME! I'm screaming ...

Elroy let go of the pilot's arm which fell back against the metal railing.

It was no good. The pilot was too far away for him now to give him any information. A Chig stepped forward and got the pilot out of the interrogation-room, Elroy watched in disgust and turned his back, replacing the cap onto his finger again.

HMS Wellington, Groombridge Sector

The call had just come in after the debriefing had finished. Squadron Leader Megan Louise Chambers wearily trotted off to Air-Commodore Coulthard's office, leaving her squadron to their well-deserved showers. For a moment Meg hesitated in front of the Commodore's hatch then she knocked on the door.

"Who's at my door?" a loud voice inquired from the inside and Megan cleared her throat.

"Sir, Sqdr. Ldr. Chambers, Sir," she answered tiredly and she was surprised that the door opened so quickly.

"Come in, Sqdr. Ldr., and have a seat!" Coulthard demanded after he had dismissed her salute with a wave of his hand. Meg sat down in front of his desk and looked at her CO expectantly.

"Chambers, is it true you have been on constant duty for what ... ten months now?" he asked her and Megan moved uneasily in her chair.

"Yes, Sir. I was due to go on liberty just before Ixion but with Roundhammer under way it never happened, Sir!" Meg replied and caught herself short before yawning in font of her CO.

"Well, with the help of those Marines we don't have to worry about that anymore, do we?" Coulthard replied sarcastically and opened a folder. "You have been granted about nine weeks leave, Chambers. Someone must have finally realised that you have at least three months leave on your record and with the VC and your promotion they thought it would be a nice gesture ..."

Megan was surprised by this. Nine weeks? Lord, what would she do with it?

"Well, you really surprise me with your silence. At least I'd had expected that you would be overcome with joy ..."

"I am, Sir. It's just that I didn't expect it, that's all. Nine weeks? I've never been grounded for so long except after the battle in the Procyon Sector, " the young woman gnawed at her lower lip and wearily rubbed her temples. "Sir, with all due respect may I speak candidly?" she inquired and when the Commodore nodded, she commenced: "Sir, do you have anything to do with it? I know you weren't satisfied with my performance lately but that was due to the constant battle stress ..."

"Meg, you sound as if I have grounded you for the rest of your life," Coulthard said and shook his head. "And no, to speak candidly, I was very happy with your performance. Given the chance I would order you to split up the leave and take two days at a time over the next couple of years but this is an order from top brass! All you can do is relax, enjoy your ride home and do whatever young girls like you do when they are on leave ..." he smiled at that. It would be nice to see Chambers in a dress for a change.
His own daughter was in Chambers' age and all she could think of was what to wear for her next date. Watching the young Squadron Leader in front of him he wondered what had made Chambers go off to the RAF in the first place. He had seen her record, almost knew it by heart by now and her career was exceptional, she was one of three youngest Squadron Leaders in RAF history but that was no surprise considering who her parents were.
He knew that her mother came from a long line of career officers and her father was one of the highest ranking tank-officers in the US Marine Corps. Although the Armed Forces had allowed women to join up for armed combat sixty years ago, only a few had really taken the offer. But to see a young woman who had signed up at the age of sixteen at RAF Innsworth, Personnel & Training Command Headquarters, to pursue an officer's career was still new to him.

"Sir, you're serious, aren't you?" Megan asked and she looked as if she was to be taken to the brigs indefinitely.

"Yes, Squadron Leader! Firth will stand in as the honcho of your pack that will keep his mind off from thinking up new stupid jokes in the tavern."

Megan grimaced, then nodded slowly. The last time her second in command had free time on his hands he had 'redecorated' the ship's tavern with tissue paper. Her squad had needed two days to clean up the mess so to speak.

"Well, I've taken the liberty to board a seat on the HMS Canterbury for you. She is a fast vessel and is due to reach Earth in ten days ..." Coulthard eyed the woman closely when she groaned. "Yes, Chambers. An all-Navy ship! No Spitties or Skyhawks anywhere ..."

After Megan had been dismissed she slowly walked back to her quarters. Coulthard had given her a small envelope before she had walked out of his office and now she stared at it, uncertain what to do.

With a sigh she opened it and as she started reading, all colour drained from her face. The message was clear, even to her exhausted and confused state of mind: the 'Cards have lost Joker, Queen and Ace, they are MIA ... McQueen needs your help.

Megan swallowed and read the message again. That had been the reason why she had been given liberty. Quickly, Megan stashed the letter in one of the pockets of her flightsuit and walked back to her quarters with a determined step. If her father thought it was important to have her on Earth than he and McQueen were planning something.


Tyrus Cassius McQueen looked in disgust at the artificial leg that had replaced his own. Ever since they had told him that an AI leg would be the only chance to bring him back to the Saratoga as a serving officer again, he had had mixed feelings. As much as he wanted to be able to get back to the 'Toga, he hated this THING! When he had first come out of ER after that fateful peace talk, the only thing he could think of was dying. How could he live when three of his kids were missing and supposedly dead? But when he returned to Earth, his friend Ray Chambers had taken care of him, yelling at him that he had no reason to feel pity for himself, that he was behaving like all those other stupid sulking tanks. In fact, giving him a brushing down like he was some kind of schoolchild. It had made him so angry at first but soon it had dawned on him why Chambers had done it and he had been grateful. He had given his ok. to the surgery and as the physiotherapy had started he cursed his friend over and over again. But Chambers had laughed at that, even teasing him more.

This morning Chambers had informed him that his daughter Megan was on her way back to Earth and if he kept behaving like a dweeb she would give him a brushing down even Chambers wouldn't have the courage to dare. McQueen had smiled at that.

His friend couldn't know that she had done the very thing not a long while ago, when she had been under his command. He knew what Megan Chambers was capable of, even going AWOL to look for missing Marines. Something she had done in the past, something he was about to ask her in a few days time when she arrived here.

The Colonel inhaled deeply and watched a bee as it flew from one flower to the other. Chambers had put him into his family's summer house in Maine where he had spent innumerous R&Rs with his friend's family.

Beside the Corps this house had been a home for him. He stood up from the wicker chair and went to the end of the porch and into the garden. The leg still felt strange but it reacted just like his old one as he strolled the overgrown garden.

Even better,he thought with a smirk on his face.

Chapter Three


Cooper felt strangely relieved after they had visited their friend's families and especially Shane's sisters. Now after more than six weeks of travelling through space and across the country, he was sitting beside Nathan on a flight to the West's farm house in Maine. The young Marine had been surprised that Nathan had asked him to accompany him and he was a little nervous about the trip. When he had first joined the Corps, he and West had some quarrels together but eventually they had buried their enmities towards each other and had become friends.

Nathan sensed that Cooper was nervous about meeting his family and he could understand why. He was nervous as hell himself and he did not know what to expect of his parents. Since the death of his younger brother Neil, he had had no connections with his parents. The pain of loosing his baby brother KIA was too fresh and deep inside his heart, Nathan knew that his parents held him responsible for the death of his brother.

If I hadn't joined the Corps to be able to search for Kylen, perhaps Neil would have never got the idea to follow in my footsteps in the first place, Nathan thought and closed his eyes for a short moment. There was no use denying it. His actions had caused his parents great pain. The young Marine looked out of the window and when the Captain of the plane announced they would land soon, he grimaced.

Both men groaned when they left the plane, flexing their muscles awkwardly. After being accustomed to their state of the art space-crafts they were not used to the more conservative way of travelling anymore. In their SA-43 transatmospheric attack jets they could travel almost with lightning speed, never being aware that they covered thousands of MSKs in only minutes. But back on Earth, there was a different way of commuting, more slowly and the Marines were unnerved by it.

When they approached the comfortably built farmhouse, West stopped still for a moment, taking in the peace and calm of the scenery. In a flash he remembered the last time he had been here. Shane had walked beside him and his brother Neil had come out of the house, throwing his arms around him in a bear hug. That would never happen anymore, both were gone.

Nathan reluctantly knocked on the door and when he heard soft stirrings inside of the house, he opened the flydoor and stepped inside. With Cooper close at his heels, he entered the hall.

"Nathan!" His mother had appeared in the doorway and almost slipped a plate of china she had been currently drying with a kitchen-towel.

Before he was able to greet his mother, Mrs. West embraced her eldest son and started weeping. Drawn to the commotion, Mr. West and Nathan's youngest brother John entered the hall and after John had calmed his mother, the Wests greeted their guests properly.

Cooper was surprised that the Wests had no recriminations towards him, on the contrary they seemed to be eager to make him feel comfortable. Especially Mrs. West made a fuss over him after Cooper had commented that he could check into a hotel for the time they stayed with the Wests.

"I don't want to hear about this, Lt. Hawkes," Mrs. West exclaimed.

"We are delighted to have guests in our house, especially now after Neil ..." she broke off and wiped her eyes in embarrassment.

During dinner Nathan was determined not to talk about the Corps but John swarted his valiant stand and asked a continuous flow of questions which were directed at him and Cooper. He was surprised that his parents seemed at ease with their youngest offspring's interest and when he helped his mother preparing the dessert in the kitchen, he gently pried her for an answer.

"Mom, if it hurts you too much to hear about the Corps I'll shut John up ..." he said as he picked up the plate with the cake.

"No, no, Nathan. I think ... I think we should honour Neil by talking about a subject which was very dear to his heart," she gave him a crooked smile and petted his arm awkwardly.

"I just hope John won't join the Corps ..."

"Fleet-Command has pressed the Congress to put through an amendment bill that younger brothers of serving officers will not be recruited any longer," Nathan replied, trying to reassure his mother that John would not be able to join the Corps.

"I just hope that will be put through soon, John is so much like Neil," Mrs. West said, suppressing her tears.

"You joined the Corps to look for Kylen ... Now ... that she is back you could discharge yourself..."

"No, mom," the young man shook his head.

"It's true that I joined the Corps because of Kylen but I cannot leave now, the war is still at large and the Corps needs every serving officer. I'm a Marine, sworn to the Corps ..."

Mrs. West watched her oldest son. Nathan had changed considerably over the one and a half years he was away now. When he was one of the Tellus settlers, he had been a cheerful young man, always ready to laugh but now there was a gloomy countenance about him and he was distant to her. Although Kylen had returned home a week ago, Nathan had not asked about her. It seemed as if with rescuing Kylen, his purpose had changed. He was not the young boy any more. Mrs. West saw a tough Marine who had seen more atrocities over the past months than any other of her family. New tears welled up in her eyes but she suppressed them nevertheless. She smiled at her son and they both walked over to the living-room.

After their meal they watched the newscasts on TV. After the anchorperson had briefed the audience of the newest incidents of the war, there was a short commercial break before the station showed a short interview with Colonel McQueen. Cooper bent forward when the strained face of his commanding officer showed up on the screen.

The interviewer, a young blonde woman, asked him about his experiences during combat and both Marines were surprised when they listened to him while he told the audience about the Wild Cards.

"The five-eight was the best squad the US Marine Corps had and I'm proud that I've been their commanding officer. But despite the fact that Fleet-Com thinks that three officers are supposedly MIA, I'm convinced that there will be no need to recruit new officers for the Wild Cards," McQueen's soft voice boomed from the loudspeakers.

The Wests were silent as they listened to it but Nathan jumped to his feet and stormed outside. Cooper watched him go but he was not able to offer him any comfort because he felt as lost and as alone as West.

"What makes you so certain that there is no need to recruit new officers, Colonel?" the interviewer asked. "Do you have any knowledge about the missing Marines or will the five-eight be disbanded because they gave away compartmentalised information to an Alien?"

"No comment!" McQueen said and the camera changed its focus and the interview was interrupted and when Cooper looked up, he saw that Nathan had rejoined them again.

"What do ya think?" Cooper queried, clearing his throat. "Does McQueen know anything we aren't aware of?"

"Obviously," Nathan replied. "But I don't understand why he agreed to be interviewed in the first place. Does that mean he'll be coming back or what?"

"Perhaps you two should visit this Colonel McQueen," Mr. West suddenly said and both Marines watched him expectantly.

"Something's up that's for sure. In the interview they said that the Colonel stays at a house a few miles away from here. You two should pay him a visit ..."

"Don't you think Nathan should visit Kylen and her family first?" Mrs. West inquired rather sharply but her husband dismissed her with a shrug of his shoulder.

"What the Colonel said sounded more like a coded message to the remaining officers of the 58th squadron, perhaps he knows something interesting ..."

At the end of the interview Cooper's gaze was caught by a slender, young woman, clad in a flightsuit of the RAF. When the interviewer turned towards her, he was struck by the sight of Flight Lieutenant Meg Chambers, McQueen's godchild.

"I understand I have to congratulate you, Squadron Leader Chambers," the woman introduced the officer. "Isn't it unusual that someone given your family background is promoted to Sqdr. Ldr. so soon AND awarded with the Victoria Cross? As your father is an In-Vitro, don't you think that your promotion was a PR trick to calm the somewhat heated discussion about In-Vitro civil rights especially in the RAF?"

"My squadron, the seven-ninth RAF Flight Wing, received the VC for their fight at the battle of Ixion, ma'am," the young Squadron Leader answered sternly. "But I don't think that my father was the reason that I was promoted to Squadron Leader. I joined the RAF to pursuit an officer's career before the war broke out. It is common rule that senior officers are promoted because of their performance in battle and not because it is good for publicity, ... ma'am!"

"Yes, of course," the interviewer cut in. "I didn't want to imply that, Squadron Leader."

The interview was interrupted by another commercial break again and Nathan watched Cooper as he shifted uncomfortably on his seat.

"Wasn't this the young Sqdr. Ldr. you wrote us about?" Mr. West asked his son and Nathan nodded.

"Yup, that was Chambers alright. I'm amazed that she remained so cool and calm when the interviewer implied she had only been promoted as a PR ploy ..." Nathan shot Cooper a glance but the young Marine held his gaze closely to the ground. West sighed inwardly and rubbed his neck wearily. He knew that Coop and Meg had been more than mutual acquaintances once. Not that they had an affair or something, far from it. McQueen would have grilled Hawkes if they had but for some time Nathan had thought that his friend would get lucky for once, he even had coached him with the letter writing until the IV had been confident enough to write to Meg on his own. The fact that Coop didn't seem touched by Megan's sight, made him nervous.

If I just could only find a way to get him out of this damn' depressive state, Nathan thought.

Soon, Cooper retreated to the guest room but he wasn't tired really. He stood in front of the window and stared into the darkness. Seeing Meg after so many months had given him a definite start. Suddenly, he remembered all the little details about her. How she had laughed and made fun of him, how she had tasted the first time they had kissed. He shook his head. It was no good, thinking of Meg made him miserable and it scared the hell out of him.

There was a knock at the door, Nathan hesitatingly came in and sat down on the bed.

"It's funny, you know, almost every night over the passed months I've wished to have a room to myself at the 'Toga and now ..." he shrugged his shoulders helplessly. "I guess it's not so important any more..." he looked up at Cooper expectantly who still stared out of the window.

"It's so silent without the others breathing ..." the young Marine commented and turned towards Nathan. He massaged his temples wearily. "I've been thinking about what your father said ..." Cooper started. "McQueen sounded kinda strange during the interview as if he wanted to say that he knows something about Shane and Vanessa. Tomorrow I'll go visit him."

"I'm coming with you. If McQueen has any information about Shane and 'Phousse then I want to hear it ..." Nathan said.

"What about Kylen? She expects to see ya ..." Hawkes inquired and watched Nathan as the man closely inspected his hands.

After so many months of doubts Nathan was not sure how to face Kylen. The short intermission aboard the Saratoga had been strange and he had felt at a loss. He still loved her but he had changed.

"I'll ask her to accompany us ..." Nathan said, not sure if this was a good idea after all. He went to the door but after a moment of hesitation he turned back to Cooper, staring hard at him.

"Coop?" he asked and Cooper's head jerked around. "You have to tell her!"

"Tell who?" Cooper answered defiantly and turned towards the window again.

"Tell Meg what happened before our R&R on Bacchus, I can imagine she is worried sick about you ..." Hawkes turned around and clutched his fists angrily.

"To hell with ya, West!" he hissed. "How da ya think I'd explain to her that I'm just like any other stupid tank? That I almost screwed up the lives of the five-eight because of some damn pills!?"

"For crying out loud, you stupid tank!" Nathan shouted and his temper flared. "Do you think that you're the only one who was affected by the accident? More than once I wished myself to hell for almost KIA you ..." Nathan watched Cooper's rigid face. Even yelling had no effect on him. The young man sighed and tried to calm himself.

"You came through alright," Nathan said. "What happened back then wasn't your fault. The medics who gave you the meanies are to blame and I know Meg will understand. If not for her sake then do it for yourself and talk to her. Coop, you have to stop this! I don't want to loose you as well ..." After that West left the room and Hawkes turned back towards the window.

Yeah, he had come through alright back then. But he still had doubts about their mission 'Homeward Bound'. What if he had not stayed with the POWs back in the transporter? What if he had been with 'Phousse and Shane, would he have been able to prevent their deaths?

They had helped him through his addiction and when they had needed his help, he hadn't been there for them ...

Chapter Four

Kylen Celina had watched the interview with Colonel McQueen as well. Ever since she had come back from the POW camp, she had felt restless. Now that all colonisation programmes had been stopped on Earth, she did not know what to do with her life. When she had first seen Nathan on board the shuttle transporter, she had been relieved. The young woman had thought that Nathan would accompany her back to Earth where they would have married but he had opted to stay in the Corps instead and she felt rejected.

What was she about to do? The last few years she had given up her life for the Tellus-Programme and she was not properly educated for a civilian life. In this time of war no-one needed a technician who had been educated in the peaceful sciences of terra-forming. The young woman opened the back door of her father's house and stepped outside into the silent night. Deeply, she inhaled the soft summer breeze into her lungs and closed her eyes for a moment. Unconsciously, she petted the crumbled piece of paper Nathan had given her before the launch off of the Tellus rocket. During the desperate months as a prisoner of the Aliens, Nathan's letter had given her hope and now as she stood there in the glinting light of the stars above she recited the words she knew by heart.

Elsewhere stars are born ... Other systems, older, larger continue to breathe. The solar system dies of cribdeath ...

Suddenly, she heard a noise behind her and she swung around. Squeezing her eyes, she could make out the figure of a man standing only a few yards away from her in the darkness and when the man stepped into the dim light coming from the porch, her heart began to race.

"Nathan ..." she whispered and before she knew if she was dreaming or not, she felt his arms around her.

"Nathan, Nathan ..." she murmured again and again, kissing his dear face.

"Kylen, my love," Nathan said and took her face into his palms, taking in every curve of her face.

For minutes they just stood there, whispering meaningless endearments to each other, but after their first urge to reassure themselves that this was real, Nathan led her to the porch where they sat down close beside each other.

"I needed to see you before I move on tomorrow morning," Nathan started and gently caressed Kylen's hands. "Cooper Hawkes and I want to visit McQueen ..."

"I saw the interview ..." Kylen replied, trying to hide the hurt in her voice. Nathan nodded and kissed her hands.

"We think that he knows something and we have only little time left before we return to the Saratoga...'

"Your mum thought you would leave the Corps, Nathan," she said, searching his eyes for the soft glimmer of love she had always been able to detect when she had been with Nathan in former times. It was still there but it was guarded carefully. Too much time had elapsed and both were unsure of each other.

"I can't leave now, the Corps needs all its officers ..." he fondled Kylen's hair and buried his face into the golden mass of her blonde curls.

"Do you want to accompany me to McQueen? We could spent time together..."

Kylen's heart began to race again and she blushed. The thought of being with Nathan, although only temporarily, was more than she had imagined.

"Yes," she whispered as she offered her lips to him.

Early the next morning, Nathan and Cooper said good bye to the Wests and after they had picked up Kylen, they took the bus to Harmsville where McQueen was staying.

As they reached the drive of the small farmhouse, they came across several Army vehicles. Two MP guards stood on either side of the entrance and when the three new-arrivals trotted up the steps they were halted by them.

"I'm sorry, Sir. But you can't enter!" One of the guards said.

"Sergeant, we've come to visit our commanding officer Colonel McQueen, we're the Wild Cards ..." Cooper said and pushed slightly forward.

The MPs barred the way and were determined to use force if the two Marines and the woman didn't step back. Suddenly, the door flew open and a high-ranking officer appeared. Before Nathan and Cooper could salute, the General ushered them inside.

"Miss," he said and nodded towards Kylen. "Nice to meet you, Lieutenants!" the tall man in his late forties greeted them cheerfully.

Cooper and Nathan exchanged a puzzled look with each other but both remained silent. The Major General led them into the living-room which was decorated with Japanese Katana-swords and paraphernalia. Colonel McQueen sat by the window and when they entered, he turned his head. Five weeks had passed since the Marines had seen him last and Nathan was surprised that the Colonel looked almost healthy again, not like the defeated man they had seen on board the Saratoga. But then again he had heard that In-Vitroes were genetically manipulated to heal quickly and seeing McQueen like this the rumour was confirmed.

"West, Hawkes," he greeted them and when he saw the woman beside them, he shot her a smile. "Miss Celina ..."

"So, you're the Cards ..." the General said and walked over to a sideboard and poured scotch into glasses.

"Ray, I guess you scared the hell out of 'em," McQueen replied and nodded towards the Marines. "What's wrong with you, are you so awed by Major General Chambers that you forgot your good manners?"

"Sir, no, Sir!" Both Marines snapped to attention and saluted correctly.

CHAMBERS, that was Meg's father, Cooper thought and blushed when the man handed him a glass.

The men and woman in the room fell silent for a moment when they heard a short commotion at the door and after some seconds of an argument, the door opened and Meg Chambers entered. Cooper's pulse quickened as he saw her and when their eyes locked he nodded towards her and she answered his greeting with an uncertain smile.

"Congratulations, Chambers," Nathan said and petted her shoulder after she had seated herself alongside his own chair. "Now we have to salute ya ...with the VC and everything"

"Thank you, West," Chambers replied then she shook her head. "You and saluting? You and Hawkes would rather kick my butt ..." The young Squadron Leader felt edgy and nervous.

To be in the same room together with Cooper Hawkes after so many months, she was not sure what to expect. Seven months ago they had met for the first time back on the 'Toga. He had helped her getting over the deaths of her old squadron mates and at that time she had flirted with the idea that perhaps he liked her as much as she liked him. But now sitting in the same room together, breathing the same air, she felt as if they were strangers. She glanced over at Cooper but he held his gaze steadily down onto the floor. He looked different, she thought. When she had first met him he had been like a grown-up child, his hair unruly falling into his eyes but now when she looked at him, she saw a cold Marine with his standard crew-cut and she wondered what had brought on this change.

After her father and McQueen had exchanged a glance, the Colonel cleared his throat.

"I'm glad that you have come immediately. I was not sure if you understood that I wanted to see you ..." McQueen said and picked up the glass and saluted them. "Welcome back!"

After they had exchanged more niceties, McQueen picked up a thick manila envelope. Chambers and McQueen exchanged a glance with each other and both men watched Kylen. It was always a risk to speak about a mission considered to be code red when a civilian was present and neither men were sure how to break the news to her that she should leave the room. Meg had witnessed the exchange and she bent over to Kylen.

"Do you like to see the house and share a cup of tea with me, Miss Celina?" she asked Kylen and the young woman nodded. When Meg looked back again at McQueen and her father, both men shot her a grateful smile. After the door had closed behind both women, Nathan and Cooper bent forward and West absentmindedly put the glass on of the nearest tables.

"Sir, may I speak candidly, Sir?" he inquired and McQueen nodded in confirmation. "Why weren't we court-martialled?"

Chambers and McQueen exchanged a look and it was Chambers who stood up and walked over to the window.

"A good question, Lieutenant West," the man said. "Two days before you were sent out to retrieve the POWs, the Department of Intelligence received a somewhat disturbing message. It said that some corporations have questionable relations to Silicates. A small group of high-ranking officers believe that AeroTech is trying to undermine the Armed Forces to be informed about every move the war is taking. It seems as if they want to prolong this war, that they even instigated it. Unfortunately, our informer was mysteriously killed and I believe that you'll be the next on the list because of your little stunt back on Anvil. Investigators found out that the bomb which exploded in the meeting room must have been carried by Wayne and as he was from AeroTech, they wanted to make sure that no peace talks would commence. I don't know what would have happened at a court-martial but I'm sure that AeroTech would have found a way to silence you one way or the other ..."

Cooper and Nathan exchanged a glance with each other and Nathan's look said: I should have known.

"Ross and I have pulled every possible string to get those charges dropped against you but it seems Fleet-Com still considers having your heads served on a platter. We don't know if the whole executive of AeroTech is involved in this but we have confirmed information that they have already infiltrated some top-brass of the Army throughout the United Forces," Chambers inhaled deeply.

"I don't have to tell you that all we talk about here in this room is strictly confidential. So consider this compartmentalised!" he said after that McQueen opened the manila folder he had given him.

"As you can see, we cannot trust anyone. Chambers' team found out that Fleet-Com has received coded messages from the Chigs telling that they have allegedly taken prisoners on Anvil and yet only two SAR teams were sent out and soon after called back again."

Nathan and Cooper exchanged a glance with each other and Cooper bent forward.

"Sir, do you want to tell us that they deliberately aborted a mission to retrieve the missing Marines? That they could have found Captain Vansen and Lieutenant Damphousse by now, Sir?" He queried in a tight voice.

"We are not sure ..." Chambers replied. "According to what our Recon-services were able to pick up before aborting their mission, there is a crash-site on Anvil but we are not sure whether it is one of ours or a vehicle from the Chigs ..."

"Fleet-Com doesn't believe that Vansen and Damphousse are still alive but Ross has received confirmed information that the Chigs indeed have captured five of our officers. The problem is that we had several skirmishes during the past weeks and we have lost five attack jets in the Anvil area ..." McQueen stated.

"So, the reported POWs could be these pilots, Sir?" Nathan inquired, bending forward. "And Fleet-Com didn't do anything to retrieve them ..."

"Yes, Lt. West, that is the case. But what I can't understand is that we have received messages BEFORE we lost the Hammerheads ..." General Chambers replied. "So their reluctance to send SAR teams could be that they don't want us to find out that Vansen and Damphousse might be alive. Officially, Fleet-Command said they're not willing to sent any SAR teams into the area for the planet is still hot. But I pulled a few strings and from what I learned I discovered that at least two high-ranking Generals have connections to AeroTech ..." he looked at both Marines expectantly. "What exactly did you do on Anvil when you encountered the Alien?"

After both Marines had given their statements about the time when they happened to encounter the 'friendly' Chig, the men in the room were silent. Nathan was surprised that Cooper had given them every detail of the encounter, even stating the almost exact conversations of that moment. It was always spooky, when Cooper did something like this.

McQueen rubbed his eyes wearily and stood up. After sitting down so long, his leg was stiff and he paced the floor in long determined strides.

"Do you still have the 'mud', Cooper?" he asked suddenly and swung around, facing the Marine in question.

Cooper shrugged his shoulders.

"It was just muck, Sir. The Alien gave it to me in exchange of one of my comics and when we retreated I, uh, just let it drop ...Sir"

Chambers shook his head at that and grinned.

"There goes our possible clue, Ty," he commented and shot his friend a crooked smile.

"It was just a thought, Ray ..." McQueen said. "What I can't understand is why AeroTech thinks it is so important?! It doesn't make sense."

"Nothing AeroTech ever did made any sense, Ty."

"So, what do we do now, Sirs?" Nathan inquired. Chambers let out a sigh and poured himself another scotch.

"You all will return to the 'Toga in a week's time. Boss Ross knows you're coming, so there will be no suspicion. Once aboard the 'Toga, you will take two Hammerheads and an ISSCV to 2063-Yankee. In the northern hemisphere of the planet SAR has located a bunker and they picked up short signals of various PLBs. But due to the high rate of atmospheric interference they couldn't make a clear ID. But Squadron Leader Chambers has brought a new non-AeroTech designed SRR and she will accompany you on this mission," the General said. Cooper shot Chambers a glance and let out an expletive beneath his breath.

"My feelings, exactly, Lieutenant Hawkes," Chambers said. "My daughter is not a Marine but she's the only one we can trust right now."

McQueen watched Cooper's and Nathan's reaction to this, especially Hawkes did not look happy about his new crew-mate and he presumed to know why.

"We need at least four Marines for this Op and Chambers is our only possible choice," he said and turned towards the General. "After all the trouble you've gone through to get her those nine weeks R&R."

Chambers shrugged his shoulders and tried to look innocent.

"In fact it was her mother who pulled the strings to get her on leave, Ty. All I did was to persuade her CO to ship her back to Earth immediately ..." Chambers replied.

Cooper shook his head slightly at this. He didn't want Meg on this mission. It was dangerous and he didn't want her to die. When he looked up at Nathan he could see that West's thoughts were on a similar level as his own.

"This mission is non-existent and therefore we will not have any back-up ..." McQueen's stern voice was heard and Nathan and Cooper drew their attention back to the Colonel.

So now Nathan knew the reason why they hadn't been cartered off to court-martial immediately but he felt not relieved. All along he had suspected that AeroTech did not play fair but that they had this kind of influence ...? Nathan shook his head. This particular mission could mean that he would not return safely, but the prospect of finding either Shane and Vanessa or the four Marines was worth the risk.

After their short tour of the house, Meg led Kylen into the kitchen.

"You are going on a secret mission, aren't you?" Kylen Celina asked suddenly and Meg eyed her in surprise. Kylen laughed shyly and shrugged her shoulders. "With so much brass gathered in one room, it's the only possible explanation ..."

"Do you think that Nathan shouldn't take part?" Meg inquired and Kylen shook her head. "Are you afraid for him?"

"It's not that... Watching Nathan like this makes me feel as if I don't know him any more," Kylen answered wearily. "He acted so differently. Suddenly, he wasn't my Nate but one of them. He's a stranger ..." Meg sat down beside her and touched her gently on the shoulder.

"West is a Marine and with McQueen and my father present he thinks and acts like one. But his other, more gentle side is still there. When I was about seven years old my father held a briefing at our house. I had the same feeling back then, suddenly there were all these hardened soldiers conversing in our living-room and my father was one of them, it scared me," Meg laughed in an embarrassed way. "I hid in my room the following days and didn't want to see my father. I was afraid and I wished that I could have my daddy back again ..."

"Do you still feel that way?" Kylen asked in a shivering voice.

"In a way, yes," Meg replied. "But for the past seven years I have been a soldier myself and now I understand why my father had scared me so much when I was still a child ..."

"I don't think I can cope with this as well as you do ..." Nathan's girl-friend replied and took a sip of tea. "It is so difficult. Nathan is so withdrawn and he never had this streak of ... of cruelty ..."

Megan sighed and rubbed her eyes wearily.

"It's not cruelty," Chambers said slowly. "Those who have lost a squadron are driven by an unknown force to make up to their dead crew-mates ..." The young Squadron Leader closed her eyes for a split second. She had experienced the same when her old squad had been erased.

"Eventually you will understand, Kylen. You know when I was part of the five-eight, Nathan's every waking moment was filled with thoughts of you. He loves you but he has seen too much brutality and for almost a year he had doubts of ever seeing you again," Meg's voice trailed away when she noticed a movement at the door. She stood up when Nathan entered the kitchen.

"Just him," she whispered and left.

Nathan slowly came over to the table and sat down beside Kylen.

"The briefing is finished ..." he commented and massaged Kylen's neck gently. The young woman smiled sadly and cuddled closer to his side.

"When do you have to leave?" she asked in a low voice, afraid to be parted with him again.

"In a week's time, McQueen has to go to a med's examination tomorrow but I guess he'll be declared fit to do what ever he intends ..." Nathan replied and took her into a tight embrace.

Chapter Five


Patterson groaned and clutched his stomach as he slumped against the wall. Opposite from him he could see another person in the cell.

"How are ya doin', Capt'n?" First Lieutenant Carlson asked and crawled over to his side.

"Holding up, I guess, Angie," Patterson replied and winced when he saw Carlson's face.

Those bastards, he thought as he raised his hand to trace the open wounds on Carlson's once perfect skin.

"They have left some painkillers here, Geoff," Angie whispered and shoved two pills to his lips. The screams of another POW ended abruptly as she tended to his wounds.

The silence was even more worse than the actual screams, she thought.

"They'll be coming for one of us soon," Patterson said and petted her hand awkwardly. Suddenly, her body went rigid and she started screaming.

"GOD, make them stop! I can't bear that anymore!" she yelled and in her raging pain she threw herself against the metal walls of their cell.

"NO! ANGIE, STOP IT!" Patterson made a grab for her and tried to restrain her from hurting or killing herself. They were both hurt and tired and Patterson was glad that her ranting ended as quickly as it had started. Rocking her to and fro on his lap, he held her limp body in his arms. "It's alright, Angie," he whispered, closing his eyes to her tears and the screams of the other POW.

Elroy shook his head as he watched the young man who had passed out for the third time during this interrogation.

It was no good. Life didn't hold any more pleasures for him today, he smirked at that and looked up. A Chig had come in and after he took a long look at the prisoner, it gave off a series of click-clicking sounds.

"I know that he has passed out, you spoogehead!" Elroy retorted angrily, but caught himself immediately.

Those Chigs really got on his processors. They wanted the information, they would get it! It wasn't their concern how they got it! he thought and gestured towards another silicate who waited patiently by the door.

"Wake that carbon-shit again!" he ordered but the Chig waved the silicate away. With swift, efficient gestures, the four-fingered hands of the Alien released the arms and legs of the POW from the stretcher and threw the lifeless body of the young officer over his shoulder. The POWs wouldn't stand the torture any longer and as soon as he could contact one of his superior officers, he would ask to give them a rest.

"Suit yourself, spoogehead!" Elroy yelled after him.

Darkness again. But this time I can make out some light coming from the door.

The silicate told me that I should hate humans but deep down I know that he is wrong. I remember ... the last time he tortured me I remembered faces ... faces of people I love ... my lovers? ... No, that doesn't feel right ... Nathan ... and Cooper. Yeah, something like brothers. I wish I could remember ... Perhaps I'm regaining my memory ... Keep thinking! A face ... a face of a woman ... beautiful ... why do I think of her as an eagle drifting in a sky of brilliant blue? Blue eyes ... the 'thousand yard stare' of the ... Colonel?


The AIs are coming for me again, I can hear them. I hate them ... they have ... killed ... killed someone ... God, I wish I was back at the Cards' quarters ... The Cards? Why did this ring a bell in my mind? Cards, a deck of cards ...

What can you do with cards? Play poker ... Ace ... King ... Queen ... Jack ... Joker ... I know it's important! Think ... think!!!

The Chig on guard watched as the young Marine groaned when he came to his senses again. Although he hated the red-stinkers for invading the sacred ground of his people, he felt something like pity for the young human lying in the darkness of his cell. He had remembered the day almost four weeks ago when they had retrieved this particular human from a small safety pod. He had been surprised that the human had been still alive and he had to admit to himself that those seemingly weak humans were made from a stronger stuff than they had thought or the silicates had told them.

The Chig knew that he had overstepped his rights when he had thwarted Elroy's obvious pleasure at torturing the human but something had been familiar about this man. For all he knew this Marine could have been the one who had told his brother about the impending counter-attack of the humans. Why had he told him? he asked himself again and shook his head. Perhaps the AIs had not been as faithful to them as they had let on.

He had to find out, he thought and there was just one way to do so. Perhaps the ways of the AIs was wrong. Keeping the POWs separated wasn't a good idea after all. Perhaps they were more willing to co-oporate if they were put together in one cell.

The Marine woke up with a start when she heard the door to her cell open and close. First, she thought that the silicates had come to torture her again. She had to get out of here otherwise she would go mad. The physical torture she could always bear but the silicates had tortured her mind over and over again, creating images of things which had happened a long time ago. When she did not hear the unmistakable sound of the AIs, she slowly edged her eyes open to slits and when she saw the other woman crouched over at the door, she held her breath and relaxed.

"'Phousse ..." she whispered and the head of the woman snapped up.

Focusing on the Marine lying in front of her, the woman only stared at her for long, unnerving moments.

"Shane?" her voice was barely audible. The woman crawled over, and, taking the Marine into her arms, she started weeping.

"Shane ... oh, Shane, you're alive," the words came out in a sob.

Chapter Six

Earth - Harmsville/Maine

In the evening when the military vehicles had left, silence once more came over the house. Cooper had retreated to the backporch overlooking the overgrown garden.

After Nathan had told him that he would return to his parents with Kylen, he had felt a momentary pang of jealousy but he knew that this had been a childish notion. But given the circumstances Cooper was afraid that Kylen would persuade Nathan to leave the Corps and where would that leave him?

As he looked up into the sky from where he was standing, he heard the screech of the backdoor behind him. Without even looking he knew that Meg had come to him and when she leant against the banister beside him he turned to look at her profile which was illuminated by the dim light of the stars above.

She looked tired as she squeezed her eyes shut for a moment. Cooper was amazed that despite his doubts and uncertainty, he still reacted so strongly towards this woman. It made him both angry and sad. He knew he wouldn't be able to give her the things she needed and that left him frustrated.

Megan felt nervous and she chided herself for following Cooper out into the garden. The reason why she had joined Cooper outside in the first place, had been simply to be with him. To hear his voice again, feel his presence.

"Congrats to your Victoria Cross, Squadron Leader," Hawkes said, shifting his weight from one foot to the other uncomfortably.

"Thanks, Lieutenant ..." Chambers answered and watched him closely. He looked worn out. Like a man driven too hard to the brink of collapse.

"What do you think, Coop? Will we be able to rescue the Marines?" she asked softly, suppressing the urge to reach out her hand to caress him. Cooper shrugged his shoulders and rested his elbows on the banister.

"If I didn't believe in this mission, I wouldn't take part... I ... dunno, uh ... I mean somewhere deep inside of me I believe that Shane and Vanessa are still alive and yet ..." He fell silent and watched the sky above them.

He had always found it difficult to voice his feelings and thoughts aloud. Normally, it did not frustrate him because he was used to his lack of words but this time he desperately wanted to explain his feelings.

"When I first heard about it I couldn't believe it myself," Meg said. "Only a few months ago you all saved my life and the thought of Shane, Paul and Vanessa being dead makes me so angry. I keep thinking that if I had been with them, perhaps I might have helped preventing it somehow ..."

"No-one could've prevented it from happening, Megan!" Cooper said, his voice sounding sharp. "Don't ya think that I've asked that myself again and again? I felt so helpless back there in the ISSCV, listening to Shane's voice ... and I knew I couldn'a do anything but stay with the POWs ..." Cooper's voice trailed away as the pain swept over him.

Jeeez, he couldn't stand it anymore. When was the pain ever to stop?

Without a second thought Meg put her arms around his shoulders and held him while he wept. At first, he struggled against her embrace but after a few moments he clung to her, all his pain and anger dissolving with the shedding of tears.

Meg closed her eyes and comforted him gently. Over the years she had done the same thing again and again to her father. She knew that In-Vitroes never learned to cope with their feelings but having an In-Vitro father she was used to their helplessness on the emotional side of things.

But when she thought about this, she had to admit that her actions weren't as unselfish as she wanted herself to believe. She wanted to be close to him, she wanted him to need her and as she held him in her arms, she caught herself stroking and caressing him in more than the universal gesture of comfort. After a while Cooper's sobs died down and he became aware of their intimate embrace.

"Sorry ..." he whispered and stepped away from her. Meg let go of him, putting her arms around herself as if she was cold. A stab of rejection shot through her and this made her angry and hurt.

"I hope you feel better, Lieutenant," she said coldly and turned away from him.

Fool, she told herself. Grow up, Meg.

Cooper knew that he had hurt her but he had no idea how he should act around her. What he wanted to do and what he ought to do considering the situation his MIA-mates were in, fighting for their lives on this damn' planet, were two quite different things. He wanted to be close to Meg, hold her and even kiss her but then again he knew that natural borns behaved differently and he did not want to look like some unfeeling bastard who wanted a tumble with her.

"Meg?" he asked shyly and touched her shoulder. Without a word she turned towards him and stepped into his arms. Meg shivered when she felt his arms around her.

"Please, Coop," she pleaded. "Don't push me away! I feel just as bad as you about Shane and the others!" She kissed his cheek. "Don't shut me out!"

Cooper closed his eyes for a moment. It felt so good to hold her in his arms again, to feel her body pressed close to his. But it wasn't right! How could he let her trust him when he distrusted himself? He pried her arms off his neck and stepped further away from her. He had wanted her since he had seen her all those months back on the 'Toga, and even now his body yearned for her touch and yet he was afraid.

"I got hooked on phyllophthetamines a couple of months back ..." he blurted out and gave off a short embittered laugh. "Cooper Hawkes, the stupid tank, thinking he is superman. Nathan and the others risked their asses for me when I freaked out on Op and now, I can't even repay them. All I could do was just watch ..."

Megan heard the pain in his voice and she stepped closer to him and encircling her arms around his shoulders, she put her cheek against his back.

"Oh, Coop," she whispered. "Why didn't you tell me? Did you think I'd let you down?" Cooper moved uneasily but he put his hands onto her arms and squeezed them slightly.

"Don't ya understand? I thought you'd think me stupid and ... and despise me!"

"Despise you? Lord, Coop, my father was addicted to the meanies and tankbrats are prone to this addiction as well. I would have understood what you've been going through," she shook her head and smiled sadly. "I love you," she heard herself whisper.

As if hit by a whiplash, Hawkes turned around to face Chambers. Grey-blue eyes stared down on her and for a moment she thought she could see something likewise in his eyes but his eyes were immediately guarded again.

"No, you don't ..." Cooper said hoarsely, a definite edge to his voice.

"I LOVE you!" she said again, more confident now.

"Don't!" Hawkes growled and went to the far end of the porch. "I'm a tank, understood? I don't know anything about the love-stuff ..."

Meg shook her head angrily and something snapped in her mind. She couldn't stand it anymore! All those years when she had desperately begged her father to love her, to trust her, came back in a rush. She walked over to Hawkes in long, determined strides, coming to a halt immediately in front of him. At any other time, with any other man half the size of Cooper, her stand could have been threatening but not now. Meg tilted her head backwards to see directly into his eyes.

"Don't give me that shit about being a lifer and lifetaker! I've heard enough of that already! And I know you better than you think!" she hissed angrily.

"No, you don't, Chambers. You think you know me because your father's a tank!"

"I'm pissed off by you tanks. Sometimes I get the feeling that you use your upbringing as an excuse. You just don't bother, do you?" she exclaimed and when he did not answer her right away, the anger got the better part of her and she punched her fist into his stomach. Cooper did not even flinch when she hit him.

Man, he wanted her so much, even now as she was brushing him down, Cooper thought but he tried to shut out the feelings she awoke in him. He wanted to believe her, wanted to believe that he was able to love and be loved but he couldn't.

Megan was so absorbed in her rage and her hurt that she didn't even notice that he didn't ward off her blows as she kept hitting him.

"You really piss me off, Cooper. Why can't you accept that you are human like everyone else, for Chrissake? If you want to drown in your self-pity, then do it but DON'T YOU DARE PUT THE BLAME ON ME! YES, you ARE a stupid tank! I thought you liked me, trusted me ..." She broke off. She knew she was getting meaner the minute and she had to stop before she would say anything more hurting, but she wasn't able to and she didn't want to. She wanted him to pay for all those doubts she had been through when he had stopped answering her letters. She wanted to wound him, wanted to inflict the most damage possible on him for dismissing her pledge of love so easily. Megan raised her knee and slammed it adroitly into his groin. Cooper toppled over, clutching his abdomen. She had taken him unawares and when he looked up at her, the pain slowly subsiding, his eyes showed deadly bloodthirst.

"DON'T you ever do this again," he rasped angrily and squeezed his eyes shut for a moment. "Or I give you a bashing you'll never forget!"

Megan stared down at him, then snorted.

"You and who else, tank? One thing I learned for sure from your kind, never ever try to mess with NBs!" Without so much as a warning she kicked him into his ribs. Cooper growled in fury and swiped her off her feet. Before she could recover her breath which had been knocked out of her, he was on top of her. In blind anger she hit his face, trying to get hold of his head but Cooper backhanded her across the face and caught her wrists with one hand, subduing her.

"I hate you, Cooper Hawkes. I hate you!" she yelled at him, desperately trying to push him off her.

"Not as much as I do, Chambers," Cooper hissed and tried to restrain his anger which hazarded to engulf him any second. He tried to concentrate on other things, tried to shut out the reactions his body dictated against her blows. If he would give in to his anger, he would probably kill her. Forcing his mind to control his rage, he suddenly became aware of her body beneath him. He cursed as other emotions flooded his mind and body.

"What's going on here?" a harsh voice inquired angrily and both stopped still for a moment.

Suddenly Megan was released and when she looked up she could see that Cooper was sitting against the banister, his knees drawn to his chest. Drawing herself into a sitting position, she fingered her face delicately. She was sure she would sport a black eye in the morning.

"You two sure made a spectacle out of yourself," McQueen said and stepped out from the deep shadows of the door onto the porch and watched both sternly.

McQueen had been aware of the strong currents of emotion between Megan and Hawkes. But he had not thought that it was that serious. Suffering through the loss of friends was always hard, he had learned this particular lesson the hard way himself back in the AI POW-camp. He should have known that Hawkes would turn towards the one person in his life he had trusted beside Shane and the others, a person who loved him. And indeed he had but different to what he had expected. With their training those two could have easily killed each other if he had not stepped between them. McQueen closed his eyes for a moment and tried to clear his mind.

"What got into you?" he asked in a deadly hiss. "Isn't it enough that the Chigs kill us off one by one, do you have to help them finish the job?"

"No," Cooper muttered and McQueen's head snapped up.

"What was that, Lieutenant?" he asked sharply.

"Sir, no, Sir!" Cooper scrambled to his feet and flinched. Drawing in his breath he touched his right side. Megan had pushed herself to her feet as well and as she stood beside Cooper, she felt embarrassed that her uncle had witnessed her shameful behaviour.

"So tell me, what should I do with you? We have an important mission to execute and all you can do is try to bash each other's heads! I don't know what took you off like that but you better work it out of your systems quickly," he shot both of them a cold stare and Cooper and Megan had the grace to look embarrassed.

"We've a lot to do during this week and I want you to be fit and wide awake ..."

"Sir! Yes, Sir," both muttered and they were halfway to the door when the cold voice of McQueen held them back.

"I don't care what you do on your R&R but we are on Op soon and I won't stand any petty fights between two of my officers just because they've got the hots for each other. Understood?"

"Sir, yes, Sir" Coop replied, deeply shocked and Megan lowered her lids with a deep flush of her skin.

McQueen watched Hawkes and Chambers as they hurried to their rooms. Then he leant against the banister and stared into the sky.

What should he do now? the Colonel asked himself. He should reprimand them according to Military Law. They were both officers and this wasn't exactly a friendly bashing at a barfight. It wasn't even his business to care about those two whether they killed each other or not, he tried to convince himself but he couldn't. He felt trapped. Chambers and Hawkes were the closest he ever got to a family and kids. When he first had seen Hawkes he had been appalled to see the haggard look in the young man's eyes, just as if he had given himself up. For a short moment he had even suspected that the young IV was on the meanies again but seeing him now ... The anger and the pain had been still there but it seemed as if Cooper had found a means to channel those emotions by taking it out on Chambers. He shook his head. Of all things he had expected it wasn't both of them fighting! What had gotten into those two idiots? The reason why he had wanted Megan on this mission was because he had thought that Hawkes needed her remain his cool on this Op, that she would help him coming over the deaths of his crewmates if they found them KIA. She had been through all this herself and Coop had been the one who had helped her half a year ago. He had been wrong. Now then ever he knew that it had been a mistake to involve her in this mission but the dice had been rolled ...

McQueen sighed wearily and pulled a small, crumbled book from his flightsuit-pocket. He started reading in the decreasing light, but the words of the Japanese poet did not help to soothe his troubled thoughts.

After McQueen had been to the doctor's, Meg, Cooper and McQueen spent the day preparing for their impending mission. After Meg had been already outfitted with standard-issue US Marine Corps gear by her father, the only thing which was left to do for the young Squadron Leader was to pack her army duffel. When she picked up her flight helmet, she lovingly brushed over the old emblem on the front. The emblem showed five BC-48's, the standard attack jets of the RAF Corps, in a perfect diamond formation. But these days were over for now. She got some turpentine, a rug and paints from the garage and started scratching the painting off her helmet.

While she was working on her helmet, Colonel McQueen walked into her room and when he noticed what she was doing, he nodded his head in appraisal.

"Did you chose a code name?" he asked and sat down beside her, inspecting her work.

"There are not many names left, are there?" Meg replied and picked up a paintbrush and dipped it into a pot of black paint.

"I decided to use a name which was not used by Shane and the others ..." Carefully, she drew a poker-card onto the helmet. "I'll use Ace of Spades as my code-name in the 58th squadron ..."

McQueen nodded and lowered his lids. Meg had chosen a name which had never been used by any of the Wild Cards, dead or alive.

"A good choice, Meg," he said and put a hand on her shoulder. "I'm proud that you'll honour the missing Marines ..."

"Would you have thought otherwise, Uncle Mac?" Meg asked and applied another coat of paint onto the helmet. "By now you should know me better..."

"Yes, Meg. And because I know you quite well I want to give you a bit of advice. If the Op fails because you and Hawkes screw it, I see to it myself that the two of you are court-martialled!"

Meg's face turned deep crimson when she turned towards her uncle.

"What do you mean?" she asked hoarsely.

"Don't play dumb, Meg. You know what I'm talking about," he said calmly and pointed towards her black eye. "I know that you and Hawkes have come a long way but to see you fighting like this ..." McQueen shook his head.

"What is wrong with the two of you? You both know how important this mission is, during this Op it is crucial that nothing goes wrong. If you and Hawkes can't put a lid on whatever is bothering you, you put the lives of the squad and the POWs at stake!"

Of course, Meg knew he was right. She had not thought about the danger their actions would inflict upon this Op. In fact, last night she had even forgotten the reason why she and Hawkes were here. All that had mattered was bashing the shit out of him for being so stupid.

"I'm sorry, it was a daft thing to do, but he made me so mad," she replied. "I just didn't think when he ... " she broke off and blushed deeply. She had never found it difficult to talk to McQueen but this time it was a somewhat delicate topic and she wasn't sure how he would react. "Let's say Cooper made damn sure that I behaved like a complete idiot," she said and shrugged her shoulders.

"He told me that he doesn't need my affections. I'm just a tankbrat, remember, what do I know about what a tank needs anyway?!" But McQueen shook his head.

"Hawkes needs you, Meg. Don't you ever think that he doesn't need you. Over the last few months he had to put up with a lot of things which put a major guilt trip on him and loosing his mates hasn't made it any easier for him," When he saw her tensing he gently caressed her hand. " All I'm asking you is that you should try to understand him, ok.? He's shocked and doesn't know what he should do. It was just a tank's bad timing ..."

After a while Megan nodded slowly, though she looked more like a sulking child than a seasoned pilot right now.

"Alright, that's settled then," McQueen said after a moment of consideration. "I've decided that you will be in one of the Hammerheads backing the transporter ..."

"You mean, I won't fly with you?" Meg asked in a tense voice, still put off by the Colonel's former words. "I thought we would team up for once?"

"We are a team, Meg!" McQueen replied, almost yelling at her. "But you and Hawkes are the best shots in the five-eight now. West is good but he is a better pilot and with that leg still bothering me I need a good pilot at my side," the Colonel explained calmly and Meg's anger died down.

She knew that her godfather was taking a great risk to join this mission with his health still on the brink. And her brawl with Hawkes had made this mission not any easier for him. On the contrary, she knew that open animosity between fellow-officers could lead to havoc. She was determined to make this Op a success because she knew that the US Marine Corps was McQueen's true family and that he would do anything to rescue the missing Marines even if that meant to reprimand his niece.

"I think you're right," Meg said slowly and inspected her paint-job. She considered it a poor image of the real Wild Cards emblem but for the impending mission it had to suffice. On the front of her helmet she had drawn the Queen of Spades with two Aces on either side of it.

"You should've gone to Art's School," McQueen said, referring to her father's proposition when she had still been a teenager. Meg grimaced and cleaned her paint-stained hands on the rug.

"You cannot defend your country with a paint-brush, Uncle Mac," she said. "Not with aliens from outer of space attacking us anyway."

The Colonel nodded and stood up. Ever since she had joined the Royal Air Force, he had thought that she was not tough enough to last even the first year. But he was glad that his dark prophesies had not been met. After seven years in the RAF and five years as a serving commanding officer, his godchild had shown that she was the true daughter of her father and a goddamn good soldier and fighter-pilot.

Chapter Seven

The Alien went into the cell unarmed as he brought some food and water. After he had made sure that the Marine was still breathing, he left the cell. Shortly, before he sent the door shut behind himself he took another long look.

The Chig made sure that the door was securely locked before he returned to the guardroom. On his way there he happened to look into one of the other cells. The two Marines they had captured last were huddled together in the far corner of their cell, whispering with each other. The Chig was surprised and somewhat fascinated by the sight of it.

How come that humans, seemingly not related by family could become that close to each other, he thought and shook his helmeted head. They were different, those humans. He couldn't understand that they liked to touch and caress each other despite their unbearable smell.

I can remember ... parts of it anyway. But I still don't know who I am?! My head hurts and from what I have been able to detect I have several broken ribs and obviously, I also got hit on my head but despite that I can consider myself lucky that I'm still alive.

The silicate had been here again, talking about this shit that I don't owe the Marine Corps nothin'. Hah, I owe them a lot, I hope so anyway. But I guess I'm right and this AI is wrong. I had dreams again last night. About Nathan and Cooper ... AH, I wish I could remember more ...

I hear them coming again ...The door opens and some food is shoved into the room.

The Chigs never gave me something to eat while I was awake and this change in routine makes me nervous. Suddenly, I hear the unmistakable CPU sound of silicates and I know that they are coming for me. For the first time in weeks I'm clearheaded but I still don't know what they want from me. They take me to the interrogation room again and I'm careful to notice everything on the way there.

Elroy puts me on the table again and I feel the pain shooting through my leg all the way up to my brain as he snaps the metal clasp around my ankle.

NOOO! The pain, it's killing me ... Someone has to make them stop!! Why are they doing that to me? Please, God, make it stop!!!!

"Jeez," Vanessa whispered and closed her eyes for a short moment. Pain shot through her left arm and she clenched her teeth.

Shane was examining the burn marks on her arm, carefully cleaning them with the small supply of water a Chig had given them.

"It's almost over, 'Phousse," Shane said and sat back. Wearily, the young CO rubbed her eyes and stretched her muscles awkwardly.

"What do you think, Vanessa? Why did they put us into one cell? Are they playing their little game again?" Shane inquired.

Vanessa moved uncomfortably and creased her nose.

"I don't know. It's weird they didn't say a word when they shoved me in here," Vanessa replied. "Did they ... ask you about our encounter with the Chig in the cave?"

Shane nodded.

"Yeah, Elroy asked me again and again what this Chiggy told us, whatever that means ..."

"I've thought about this, Shane. When Coop gave the Chig his comic, it put something into his hand, do you remember? And gave off a series of small, almost pleading sounds ..."

"But it was just mud, 'Phousse. If there had been something special about it Coop would have noticed ..."

"You're right," Vanessa said and put her head against the wall behind her. They were silent for long moments, both women deeply engrossed with their own thoughts.


"Mmh ..." Vansen mumbled and looked up.

"Do you think they're looking for us?"

"Of course, Nathan saw where we went down, I just hope they got to the 'Toga in one piece ..." Shane said slowly. Had Nathan and the others made it back to the 'Toga safely? She didn't know. Ever since the Chigs had taken her and 'Phousse prisoner she had asked herself that again and again. She didn't even know what day it was but she estimated that almost four to five weeks had passed since their fateful mission 'Homeward Bound'. Given that time, the SAR teams must have found the disabled cockpit by now but why didn't they sent a rescue team?

"You know, what strikes me as unusual is that the Chiggies have given us some water and food. The last time we weren't given anything, they just watched us like guinea pigs ..." Vanessa broke off as they heard footsteps coming from the corridor.

The hatch to the cell was opened and Felicity stepped in.

"Vansen, it's your turn!" she said and dragged Shane out of the cell.

Next: Continuing Chapters of Redemption

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