Disclaimer: No part of this story is to be printed, emailed, or used anywhere without my express permission. The characters from the TV series-"Space: Above and Beyond" are the property of Glen Morgan and James Wong and Hard Eight Productions. No infringement of copyright is implied or intended.
All other characters are my creations and will NOT be used without my permission! This story is a complete work of fiction and should be treated as such.

Rated "R" for language, adult situations, and graphic violence.

This story takes place four months after the events of "Tell Our Mothers That We Did Our Best"


From the Ashes - Risen Phoenix


Robin Burchardt

Deep Space- December 2064

The craft was dark against the eternal black of space. It bore little resemblance to the one that was approaching it. No lights were seen on it and the insignias on its side were well worn. Nothing that would have inspired little more than a passing glance from any Chig fighters. It was a dead ship.

Or so the Chigs thought.

The Earth vessel that pulled up alongside was a standard salvage vessel. Always on the hunt for scrap from the war that still raged between the United Earth Forces and the Chigs. The crews of such vessels hadn't always had the best luck and this particular vessel would bring them nothing but pain a little ways down the road.

The lasers got through the reinforced steel space door in fifteen minutes of cutting. A brief bio-scan and an influx of oxygen into the once-sealed hold and suited men entered the craft. The beams of their lights cutting through the smoky haze left from the laser torches. They knew they were not on a vessel from their planet when they saw the containers that still bore active green lights on the panels at the ends.

Hypersleep vaults.

By chance, they stopped at one of the ice-encrusted containers and one of the men ran a gloved hand over the frosted-over plas glass. The frost melted away and they all peered in. Lights were illuminating the form within.

In this particular vault was a military officer. Not a low-grade grunt by any means. In a uniform of solid black, bedecked with ribbons and medals, glinting with gold, a shining sabre buckled at the hip. Service hat cradled in the right arm. Hash marks of very long service that went all the way up the left arm- from cuff to elbow.

The face was female. A hard-worn female. Rounded but gaunt face, glowing blonde hair cut to shoulder length, firm mouth, and fine nose. The eyes were hidden under lids but for the men around they speculated on the color they were in their own minds.

After many minutes, one of the men looked up at the rest. "We need to report this to the MilIntel folks."

"Fuck! There goes the salvage value!"

One of the other men breathed softly. "Who are they?"

"American. I've never seen uniforms like this one."

"How the hell would you know, Faulk?"

"My brother, asshole. He's in the fucking Army. This uniform is not like the ones his superiors wear."

The man named Faulk squinted at the woman officer's collar. A ring of five silver stars enclosed a single gold. A six-star general? A woman, six-star general? Not in this lifetime. His eyes traveled down to the black nameplate with the white letters on it.


Two months later [February 2065]- Washington D.C.

Maria Nastassia Strasser hadn't been out of hypersleep for more than a few months when she got shuttled to the Pentagon. Her mind had been bombarded with the wholly unfamiliar sights of an America she didn't recognize. That aside from the way the scientists treated her like a cross between guinea pig and a variety of human alien. Asked inane questions time and time again like she was something to practice interrogation techniques on. All the scientists and experts could say was that the story was the story and nothing else or less.

America certainly was not the one she'd come from in 2234. It didn't even have the same history that she knew. A history she and her men helped create from their arrival back in 1863 to repel the Soviet attempt to change the American Civil War. She and her men had nearly wrestled an American victory in World War 3 when they had to go to, what they thought was their final mission. Back in the time, to the battles between the Blue and the Gray.

From that and the long way through normal time to the centuries later of 2234 and the Earth/Sirius Majorian Wars. Leaps of technology, change and the vast passage of time unlike anybody would ever know except for her and a rare few others.

The shuttle of them had been going to the surrender of the Sirius Majorians on JKI 349. Most certainly they had not made that date. They didn't even know how that 15-year war between Earth and those aliens had finally ended. The aliens known as 'Thinking Spiders' for their appearance.

Maria Strasser had not aged one iota from the 34 she was when she led her Armies back to 1863. The time tunnel they passed through then granted them the blessing/curse of non-aging. They could not die of old age. They could be killed or suicide but age would not be able to claim the end of their lives. It was a warp matrix that could never be duplicated again in later years. She was exactly the same now, physically, as she was then.

Now, as the limousine whisked her through the streets of Washington to the Pentagon, Maria Strasser felt very alone. Her old friend, Major General Steven Olfetsky, her onetime radioman in WW3, had been separated from her. The rest of the entourage was likewise nowhere to be seen. These people… these military people had been courteous alright but not a one would say a word on where the rest of her men were. She knew better than to ask twice. Her men had been shunted away from her. Likely for security reasons.

Maria's lined hands smoothed the plain skirt she wore. A navy blue suit. Skirt slit demurely, pantyhose, black pumps, white silk blouse, and navy blue blazer with a gold ID button on the lapel to get her through security.

She spared no look to the two MPs who flanked either side of her. She said nothing. She was heartily sick of all the simpering faces and condescending words or the outright looks of bother that those she'd come into contact with bore.

She had it over all of them. 358 years of non-stop service to the United States in a uniform. Six terms as her President, service through eleven wars and other conflicts too numerous to count.

In HER America she could work, fly, drive and sail everything in the American arsenal with great competency. Not one secret it had was unknown to her or divulged to others by her. She had led soldiers into frays and they gladly followed because she was always with them- not in the rear getting fat and soft.

Now she was little more than a curiosity and near-nobody.

Maria swallowed dryly kept her eyes ahead as they neared the main gate of the Pentagon. She noted the guard's smart beret as he emerged to talk with the driver. His brown eyes scanned the car's interior and stopped on her face. She looked back at him.

He saluted.

Maria was shaken a little. Why had he saluted? Hell, there were no real rankers in here to salute. She nodded back gravely before she was whisked again into the heart of America's most secure installation.

Room KT-214- the Pentagon

Gary Sellier rose from his seat as the other assembled officers turned to face the woman that walked in. He knew the others were skeptical of this woman and in the accounts from the ship she'd been taken off of. Still, in the midst of the Chig War, they all could not deny that if this all proved true the United Earth Forces might have the winning hand in this game of life-or-death poker with the aliens.

They all knew she and her men were not of this time, place, or dimension. They had to accept that she came from a stream of time/history that never existed here. The computers aboard the ship had been rather comprehensive about the history of that Earth and United States. There was also technology that AeroTech was salivating over to get their hands on. Of course, the military was salivating over the prospects in this woman.

After the demise of the negotiations with the Enemy aboard the 'Saratoga', Earth needed all the breaks it could get. However, until this woman, her crew, and everything on that ship were exhaustingly scrutinized all was not 'official'.

Sellier smiled to Maria Strasser.

"Good evening, Ma'am. Please have a seat."

Maria noted the uniforms present. Her olive green eyes missed nothing. Two colonels, a brigadier general, two admirals, a lieutenant general. Two Army, one Air Force, two Navy and one surly-looking Marine. A whole cross-section of men who eyed her like a piece of meat. Not a one of them looked worth enough to talk to.

An aide poked his head into the room.

"Sorry, sir. Fleet Admiral Martens."

The Fleet Admiral made his way in with his aide, behind Maria and took one of the two empty seats at the back of the U-shaped table. He passed by to a flurry of saluting officers because his rank was the top in the entire room.

His graying black hair and thin face took Maria back to World War 2 and her friendship with Claire Lee Chennault- the legendary leader of the 'Flying Tigers'.

She nodded to him as he gave her a slight smile. Her hand reached out for the chair she was to sit in. Her old scars were really tweaking in the cold tonight and still had not let up. She sat down as Sellier began to talk.

"Gentlemen, you have all read the documents behind the woman who sits in front of you tonight. All of you have consented to be here to question her directly. Again, I remind you that what is said here tonight does not leave this room for matters of national security. "Maria Nastassia Strasser was found aboard a vessel in the ZX sector with eight other crew members aboard. All were in uniforms that have their origins with various militaries here on Earth."

Because the damn diplomats were already on JKI 349. Maria thought sourly.

It was thought that we would 'soil' the bastards if we'd gone with them.

"Ms. Strasser was one of the two American officers aboard this vessel."

"For God's sake, Gary, try relating to her by her rank for a change." Fleet Admiral Michael Martens commented.

Christ, he's got balls too! Maria took a breath as Sellier seemed taken aback.

"Sir, with all due respect, her rank is not valid until all the findings come back." Sellier began but was cut off by one of the Army colonels.

"No offense to you, Ma'am, but I have a hard time believing anything about these documents about you and your men."

He looked to Sellier and the Fleet Admiral. "Who's to say that this is not some AI or Chig joke?"

Maria wanted to bite the man's head off but looked at him with her hard, unblinking stare.

"Your comments are noted, colonel."

A murmur went about the room and the colonel in question sat back in his seat. Sellier cleared his throat, looked at her, and continued. "Gentlemen, our purpose here tonight is to see whether or not Ms. Strasser might be able to be of some value in the present war we are fighting with the Enemy out in space. According to the facts we do have, she has some experience with alien.."

"Fifteen years worth."

Maria muttered rather audibly. This was beginning to irritate the shit out of her. She was growing tired of being a damn exhibit.

"Races." Sellier knew this was going to be a short night.

The meeting didn't quite totally break up.

Everybody left the room except Sellier, Fleet Admiral Martens, the Marine lieutenant general, Marten's aide, and Maria. The two lower-rank admirals left after a few short words with their superior.

At last, out of the sight of so many eyes, Maria rubbed her hands to try and soothe the arthritis in them. She watched Martens look at Sellier and wave him off.

"Leave us, Gary. Thank you for your time."

Sellier looked shocked. "But sir.. "

"You are NOT needed here anymore. I'll be handling this matter. I figured I'd have to anyway. Dismissed."

Martens watched Sellier grab his papers and leave without a further word. The door shut and the Fleet Admiral gazed again at Maria.

"I must first apologize for the behavior of some of my fellow officers towards you tonight. I know you must be feeling a great deal like a lab rat."

"I have been feeling like a lab rat since they brought me out of cryosleep. Thank you for the apology, though. I would likely be inclined to some of the same thoughts if I were one of them. However, it would be taken with the knowledge that time-travel is possible and has been done."

Maria rubbed her hands again.

"Are you alright?"

"My arthritis and old wounds are acting up with the cold and wet tonight."

Martens smiled and took out a piece of paper.

"I have given your situation a lot of thought. As result of those thoughts, I have an offer for you. I know you served for your entire career as an Army general. However, I don't think those two Army colonels tonight will give you good press to their superiors tomorrow."

"I noted that as well." Maria commented, her eyes stayed on him.

"My offer to you is this. I would like to commission you as full colonel to a fighter squadron on the Battleship 'Saratoga'. I know you have led squadrons in the past, according to the accounts I've received. I can tell you that it will be quite a good spot for you until things get legitimate in a few months time. When you are finally acknowledged for who and what you are. What do you think?"

"Squadron commander. Been awhile out of that arena. I'm not up to scratch with the current technology here."

"Your ship is giving the scientists at AeroTech wet dreams. The technology aboard it is a good hundred years ahead of ours. I have my connections there, you see. I know that you know that ship inside and out. And I doubt it's even the pinnacle of the technology that you know from your time."

Martens gave a wry grin that Maria couldn't help but chuckle at.

"True, she wasn't very high on the totem pole." Maria composed herself and looked at him.

"Why would you want me to lead this squadron? Aren't there good officers out there to take over?"

"General, our losses have been grievous. There are no present officers I would want to command the 58th. They are one of the top units in the whole Marine Aviator wing. The incident during 'Roundhammer' aside. Their old C.O., an In-Vitro, was injured during the fight on the 'Saratoga' at the negotiations. He lost his leg there. Added to it are the injuries he sustained when the war first erupted. He is no longer fit for active service although he's been retained as a military advisor to Commodore Ross who captains the 'Saratoga'. He was a damn good man and fine pilot. The C.O. there now is nobody I would want to place good money on being able to carry that unit to further success.

"That is why when you and your records became available to me, as General Hayes here well knows, I wanted and did break off being aboard the 'Enterprise' to come and talk to you."

Martens offered her the commission papers for her to become a full colonel in the United States Marines.

"I know I'm a Navy flag officer offering this, but even my President has had the Congress and Senate give the go-ahead on this. Had to whip up quite a cover story to go with it but it'll hold. Will you accept this charge?"

Maria leaned forward to hold the document and look at it. After a moment, she rose to her feet.

"Admiral, I respect the fact you are brave enough to believe in me. Especially when so many of your peers think me to be not who and what I am. I would be honored to accept."

Martens rose and extended his hand to her.

"Welcome then, 'Colonel' Strasser. Your unit waits for you. I'll see that all the necessary paperwork is drawn up. As soon as you receive your orders you leave for the 'Saratoga'."

Maria shook the admiral's hand and noted that a bright, beaming smile broke out on General Hayes' face as she did. The first time all night that she'd seen the Marine smile.

U.S.S. Saratoga- 0930 Hours, 20 days later

The grand lady made her way through space as the space-going city of military might she was. With well over 1,000 people aboard her, she was every bit a microcosm of humanity in the depths of the void.

Today was a normal day after the latest battle with the Chigs and everyone was going about their routines when the ISSAPC approached. It got clearance to land and the crews to tend to it inside got ready to receive the cargo on it. There were new crew members aboard it too who would beef up the present voids in the ship's roster.

Up on the bridge, Commodore Ross watched the shuttle approach after it was given clearance and looked then at his old friend and comrade, now advisor, T.C. McQueen. He seemed pensive about the newest C.O. for the 58th. Even when Ross stated that this colonel had clearance from even the President, the blue eyes flickered with unvoiced thoughts. Ross knew that Ty wasn't pleased about this more-permanent commander of his 'kids'. The present Major Billings was far less than what the 58th deserved. Then again, that man was a stopgap until a REAL C.O. got appointed for the 'Wild Cards'.

The new C.O. was here and Ty needs to get a grip. Ross thought and turned to leave.

"Let's go." He said to the silent McQueen who turned to follow.

Maria began to file the papers inside her briefcase. Her shore fatigues were still crisp as they all made the hop from the cargo vessel that brought them, to their point out here with the 'Saratoga'. The silver eagles glinting from their positions on her collar.

The others on the shuttle were very quiet, seeing that there was a colonel in their midst. It was one thing she could care less about. From the meeting with Martens until now, Maria had been in a whirlwind of simulators, indoctrination refreshers, readings of the latest manuals on weapons and the Hammerhead she'd be expected to fly as the 58th's commander, Chig attack patterns, and Marine etiquette. She didn't need anybody or anything to tell her how to lead troops. She already had hundreds of years of the real thing.

She looked at the young faces across from her as they all felt the jolt of landing on the space pad on the deck of the 'Toga'. A minute more and the cargo hold was lowering into the more livable section of an off-loading bay.

Maria clicked her briefcase shut, put on her service cap, and reached for the soft-sided officer's version of OD duffel that rested against her right leg. She looked at the dress shoe's mirror shine only a moment before rising to her feet- after the descent ended with a loud bang of metal on metal. The rest of the men looked up at her as the hatch slid open and a whoosh of the ship's air greeted her.

Commodore Ross returned the colonel's crisp salute and stepped forward as she came off the shuttle with her briefcase and dufflebag. The three of them stood aside as introductions were made.

"Colonel Maria Strasser, reporting as ordered." She handed her orders to Ross; taking in the hard, black face of the ship's commander. He was interested to see the officer in front of him.

Relief? Probably that there's a replacement.

"Welcome aboard the 'Saratoga', Colonel. Did you have a good flight?"

"Yessir." Maria caught the eyes of the man that stood with him in a black jumpsuit with patches and the nametag that read: McQueen. This was the InVitro. Not that Maria gave a great goddamn how the man came into this world. They were all human with human DNA. She could sense the measuring-up he was doing of her as she was doing of him. Am I good enough for your people, Colonel McQueen?

"This is retired Lieutenant Colonel T.C. McQueen, presently my military advisor." Ross gestured to the man who seemed uncomfortable, but nonetheless extended his hand.

An advisor? A.K.A.- he's too valuable to be sent back to Earth to skip stones on the local lake. She shook his hand with the firm shake she always gave.

"A pleasure to meet you, Colonel McQueen."

"Likewise, Colonel."

The commodore began to lead them from the dock.

Why the hell was Ty digging his heels in on this woman?

"If you'll come this way, we can go to your quarters and I'll need to get you up to speed on matters. Then, you meet the 58th." Ross knew this was going to be the subject of Ty's gripe session later on. It had been for the past week since the news arrived.

The trio entered the Commodore's office and took their seats as Ross opened the orders Col. Strasser had brought with her. Sitting in his leather chair, the man looked over the documents for a few minutes. An aide finished setting up the assembly of items for drinks and left the room silently, shutting the door behind him.

Ross laid the papers on his desk and got up. "Would you care for a drink, Colonel?"

"No sir. I'm fine." Maria sat still, even as she felt McQueen's eyes upon her.

The Commodore fixed himself bourbon and sat back down at his desk.

"The 58th is not a bad squadron by any means. However, I would be curious in knowing your thoughts on the incident that occurred during 'Operation: Roundhammer' when the unit was down on the planet 'Anvil'. Otherwise known as 2064K. You are, I assume, informed of that and the subsequent court-martial of Captain Vansen and Lieutenant West that happened after?"

"I am informed on all events regarding the 58th, from its inception up until now." Her eyes glanced from Ross to McQueen.

"Your thoughts?" Ross prodded.

"It is my belief that though the 58th was hasty in their informing of the enemy of our plans while down on planet, they cannot be faulted in total for what they did and why. They were, so far as I can determine, NEVER given a picture of the enemy sans the bio-suit that is worn. When one does not know the face of the enemy, such mistakes are to be expected. They should have been shown all pertinent pictures of the living creatures of that planet before being sent in. Especially pictures of the enemy if they are present on said planet. It is my belief that Capt. Vansen and Lt. West were acting out of instincts that, while ill advised in wartime, would be a thought many soldiers would have to protect innocent lives. No matter what sentient species they might happen to be.

"The court-martial was a logical step but one that would not be able to find the pair in question guilty beyond doubt of treason or insubordination to the orders of their superiors."

Ross took a healthy sip of bourbon and eyed her. "You were retired after twelve years of service. You saw action in the A.I. War. May I ask what you did then?"

Maria swallowed dryly though not noticeably. "I am not at liberty to discuss my actions during that conflict, sir."

"You worked in MilIntel. You were a 'solo agent'. Correct?"

"I was in the Army but that is all I can say about my service then, sir." Maria's voice became distant and cold.

She had never served but the false history that she was a 'cleaner' for MilIntel was something she couldn't fathom them assigning her. It was only because, perhaps, she couldn't divulge anything that it was used.

"You seem to have extensive flight time while retired. You were active back in Milwaukee with the Reserve units there. Flew with one of their fighter wings before being transferred back to active duty."


"Why did you choose to join the Marines after so much time in the Army?"

"Change of scenery." Her simple reply drew a curious look from the Commodore but she watched it turn to acceptance. Grudging acceptance.

The 58th's Quarters

Captain Shane Vansen checked her watch again. In ten mikes they were due in the Briefing Room to meet the new Commanding Officer of the 58th. Lord knew, the whole squadron had their doubts after Major Billings and his martinet approach. It could easily be said that the whole unit breathed a sigh of relief when he informed them that he was leaving as their commander and that a new one was incoming.

She was aware of the scuttlebutt that this new colonel was picked by Fleet Admiral Martens himself with approval from the President. It went around the ship like covert wildfire. It made some people very nervous.

Shane wasn't one of them as she checked her shirt in a mirror. They normally wore flightsuits but the Commodore made a special request that they wear their fatigues.

"I can only hope this one is a little more experienced than Billings." Lt. Henry Collins commented from his bunk.

"Don't know anybody could be worse." Lt. Nathan West shot back, adjusting his tie.

Lt. Damphousse, Hawkes and two newer pilots stayed out of it. Each had their own things to do.

Vansen looked at herself in the mirror before turning to face them all. Her dark-hair and firm features said 'ready' to her.

"Five mikes. Let's go."

The whole room cleared out in short order.

Briefing Room

T.C. McQueen watched from the door to the Briefing Room as his old squadron filed in.

There were a few newer faces since the failed 'Operation Roundhammer'. Failed because of the provoking given to the Chig's representative at the talks McQueen had gotten injured at. He could see the apprehension on a few of the faces. It was too well noted the griping about Billings that had gone around.

McQueen had ghosted Ross and Strasser since the woman first arrived onboard. He noted how little the woman said and how much she listened to his old friend. He himself was unsure about her. She was hiding some things and he hoped they had nothing to do with these fine pilots that were now here.

"Attention!" His voice brought all of them to their feet as Maria entered the room. She went to the chair behind the desk and brought it out so she could directly face all of them when she decided to sit down.

Not so unlike what he'd done the first day he met them all as squadron commander of the 58th. Except that he overhauled the table the chair sat behind that time.

Maria looked at all of them, as they stood at rigid attention, for a moment and smiled.

"At ease. Sit down." She said with a nod to all of them.

"I am Colonel Maria Strasser. I have been assigned as your commander until such time as the powers that be see fit to deem otherwise. I just wanted a little time to say some words and get some feedback in private before we continue on to kick the Enemy's ass. I know you have questions for me. I want you to ask them. I will not think ill of you if some of those questions are a little pointed. If you need to ask it, then do so and get it out in the open-here.

"Before that, there are a few things I need to inform you of relating to how I command those under me."

Maria sat down in the chair and looked at each of them in turn as she spoke.

"I am not a tight-ass for spit-and-polish. Spit-and-polish is a cover used by the inept to control those who aren't inept. I do expect professional conduct, appearance and precision in how you do your job as Marines and pilots. How you act reflects upon this ship, the Corps, and me. I definitely do NOT have time for those that cannot or will not pull their weight. I will eliminate those that fall into this category if making their life HELL doesn't first succeed."

She noted the bemused smiles on their mouths and nodded again with her own smile.

"That is what I expect. Now, do you have any questions for me?"

Hawkes looked at her from his seat, dark eyes boring into her. "How many fights do you have against the Chigs, Ma'am?"

"Fair question, Mr. Hawkes. I have NO fights against the Enemy on my record. I was brought out of retirement to lead this unit. I am aware of Chig tactics and I know I can hold my own in any fracas they get us into."

She knew they might not well believe her. Her eyes caught the glare of McQueen from the door.

"All of you started from square one. I will start from the same. I do learn damn quickly. If I didn't, I wouldn't be here right now."

"Ma'am, how many years have you been in?" Damphousse asked, after a moment.

Gods, if only these folks knew. Go with the cover story.

"Twelve, before I retired. Going on to thirteen in a few months. I 'd prefer you all to refer to me as 'Sir' in the future."

A few were eyeing ribbons for conflicts she'd never actually served in for a basis to her statement. It seemed to work.

Maria watched them shift in their seats. Wrap it up.

"People, I am available if any of you wish to talk to me. I do NOT sit behind a closed door when you need to air concerns. I know that trust is earned and I hope to earn yours as well as vice-versa."

She rose to her feet. The 58th followed suit.


Tun Tavern- 2130 Hours

Hardly anybody was in here tonight. The jukebox was blissfully silent as the bartender wiped down glasses. He kept an eye on Maria as she sat at a table by one of the porthole windows. Her glass was kept refilled but she hadn't asked for much to drink at all.

Seeing that it was getting low, he walked over with the bottle of Maker's Mark and set it before her.

"Ensign, is there a smoking deck nearby?"

"Towards the stern is the largest one. It is on Deck 3. The Commodore permits smoking here provided that it is not done to excess by the officers. Where you are is the intake, so it wouldn't be a problem." The ensign saw her look up and smile.


Maria took out her pack of Marlboro's that she now wouldn't have to go to the ass-end of creation to light one up. Flicking open the Zippo, she lit up and took a long drag before continuing with the papers she was reading. She noted the ashtray that appeared silently a moment later.

McQueen appeared at the tavern's door and looked in to see her near the back. He had knocked at her hatch to no response earlier. He hadn't gone to gripe to Ross. He rather wanted, after much thought, to talk to her and get a feel for her intentions with the 58th.

Walking in, he went to the bar and ordered his customary scotch before walking over to the table where she was sitting. The cigarette smoke was unfamiliar to his nose. He never smoked. InVitros never had the taste for tobacco that Natural-borns had.

Still, seeing the pack on the table advertised the unseen gulf between someone like her and himself. Or so he thought.

Maria felt the man's eyes as she read and marked her place in what she was reading before closing the cover and looking up.

"Good evening, Colonel McQueen." She eyed the chair across from her that the man took and sat to face her.

"I hope I am not disturbing you."

McQueen looked at the bottle of whiskey she was drinking and had a thought. Was she so much a danger? What proof was there that she was?

"You're not. If I had that worry I would have remained in my room." The olive green eyes watched the man's features.

"I had wanted to ask if you cared to have a drink and you are already here."

McQueen inwardly winced. He sounded like a teenager asking someone for a date.

"I know you have concerns about me. I can feel it. Let's hear them. I am open to listening since you were with the 58th from the get-go."

McQueen took a seat with his blue eyes on hers the whole time. "My only concern is your lack of experience with this particular enemy. I am concerned because I don't want the 58th to suffer because of it."

She sat back and thought about that one. Formulating the proper response in her mind. When it was done in her head she spoke as his blue eyes again connected with hers.

"Forgive me for saying this, but I am aware of your record. You were once in my shoes when you were with the "Angry Angels". You and your squadron faced the Chigs for the first time then. You survived while many of your fellows died. You learned quick how to fight them.

"I have been in war, McQueen. I know battle and I have the wounds and experience to prove it. I know the Chigs are one enemy I've never encountered before, but if there is to be a wound it will happen to me because I won't allow the 58th to suffer. I know that I can learn as quickly as you did back then."

Maria watched his face. "I would, however, like to think that I could perhaps be able to consult you from time to time until I do get a firm idea of the enemy I am up against?"

McQueen looked at her. That was damn strange but it was a relief at the same time. He'd never had his help requested for this matter before. That she was willing to ask showed something of her character. He liked that character so far.

"I wouldn't mind that at all."

Maria raised her glass to him. "Deal?"

"Deal." The glass of scotch and glass of whiskey clinked to seal it.

The Saratoga- one month later

The 58th just got off their morning patrol and their cockpits wound up back in the flight deck of the 'Toga. Crews rushed out to unhook the pilots from their hoses and fittings and other maintenance crews busily went about their jobs.

There was a general air of excitement as 'Mail-Call' was due today from a shuttle on an adjoining dock and the whole unit was eager to get there.

Col. Strasser smiled as she heard the excited chatter of the 'Cards while taking off her helmet. They, meaning the unit, had it emblazoned with a gold-rimmed Ace of Spades. Her radio name was now "Ace Six". She had gotten only two Chig fighters this morning but her total kills for her first month had gone up to a very respectable fourteen.

At least the unit wasn't as jumpy about her and they seemed to actually trust and respect her quite a bit more than that first meeting with them in the Flight Room.

"Coming to the 'Mail Call', Colonel?" Collins asked, helmet cradled in arm. It was an example of how many things improved thus far. That a unit member asked her instead of going without a word.

"I'll be by directly." Maria said, getting out of her cockpit and stepping onto the deck.

McQueen was always watching them when they left and returned. It was now custom for Maria and he to exchange little blurbs about patrols while walking away from the flight deck.

She could always see the relief in his face, though he tried hard to fight it. As soon as they were able to talk, Maria shook her head.

"They are loading more and more fighters against us. Smacks of desperation."

McQueen nodded. "Hard to think Chigs get desperate."

"Ok, otherwise."

"The shuttle landed a few minutes ago." McQueen inclined his head towards the bay it was in.

"I thought you and 'Mail Call' didn't like each other?" Maria said, wry grin twisting her mouth.

"I just like to see how they pounce on it. Like lions on prey." McQueen said it dryly enough that Maria chuckled.

The streams of crewmembers were already filing into the bay where the sacks of mail from home would be off-loaded.

Maria's quarters

Nearly everyone waiting for their name to be called for mail gawked at the huge box, a thin square box and one brown-paper wrapped parcel she got. The huge box wasn't too hard to lift but Maria's eyes went wet when she saw where it was from. She also knew who sent it and what possibly might be in it.

Damn him anyway! She thought as her knife slit the tape that secured the top of the box. Folding it, she stuck it back in its belt holder and opened it. Sonofabitch! Steve, this is worth over three grand!

The box from Cavalry Quartermaster Leatherworks held a fully outfitted general officer's Grimsley, halter, and double-reined bridle. The saddle blanket and officer's shabraque were folded neatly underneath.

Maria bent over and lifted the ornate leather and brass saddle out of its package. Not caring about the tears that spilled from her eyes, she smiled as she heard the familiar 'tink' of the stirrup irons against each other. Double pommel holsters, officer's valise, crupper, breast collar, and girth.. Everything was as she'd known it. Back so, so long ago.

Her head snapped up as she held the armful of saddle to the knocks on her hatch.

"Who's at my door?" She said loud enough so whoever it was could hear.

"Captain Vansen, sir. There is a letter that was left for you."


The door opened. Shane stepped in to see Maria putting the saddle on her bed. She saw what it was and was surprised. She handed the letter to Maria.

"Present from home?"

"From an old war buddy of mine. He seems to feel that I shouldn't be without my normal furnishings here."

Maria took the letter from the Captain's outstretched hand. "Thank you."

Shane nodded and turned to leave her commander alone again.

As soon as the saddle found its way onto the saddle rack from the thin, square box, Maria began to open the soft package from the Eder Flag Company out of Wisconsin. They occasionally would make custom flags. This one was about as custom as they could come.

She touched the fine black silk a moment before drawing it fully out and unfolded it onto her bed to look at it.

A huge, flame-colored eagle rose from the pyre on the black background. Every inch was embroidered, down to the olive branches and arrows in its talons to the "E Pluribus Unum" scroll in its beak. Its wings were poised for a surge upward from its fiery birthplace, once grave.

Maria touched the eagle fondly and paused as a flashback came to her. It was the flag of the "Risen Phoenix" armies. The armies of World War Three that she commanded when she was so young to her military life.

The Soviet convoy hadn't been expecting them. According to the radio traffic, they thought they could do this without a unit of Americans attacking them. How wrong they were.

It started as a wave of RPG fire on the lead cars. Only the honchos of the convoy rode in those and most of the excess soldiers too. It wasn't hard to see the body parts that were catapulted from the exploding wreckage that came thumping on the ground far below the bluffs where they were firing. The rest of the smoking wreckage blocked the huge trucks that carried the supplies. The guards in them were spilling out pell-mell to the ground so they could return fire to an enemy still as yet unseen.

High above, on the bluff Maria Strasser watched the puny forms begin shooting. Her green eyes were hard as she watched them. There would be no air cover since the Soviet MiGs never got out this far without refueling and gasoline was short for the armies of the Russians.

With a small click of her tongue the men alongside her picked their targets and opened fire. The fire discipline they used was extreme. The men only shot at a person once and that once was to kill. There was a lull to assess who was still moving and they began another one-shot/one-kill burst of fire. Bullets were too hard to get to waste ammunition.

When it appeared that there was very little moving after the ten minutes of fire, the whole line got to their feet and advanced down to the ground below. The horse-tenders leading their mounts so as to make escape quick if need be.

The stones crunched beneath her cleated boots as she walked down the line of trucks that hadn't been blown-up. Corpses lined the shoulders of the road- heads blown out; guts laid open, some had ears or cock knifed off as trophies.

She could hear the grunts of some of her men as they raped the two, unfortunate Soviet women soldiers that had been found alive. The women had tried to scream at first but there was still a line waiting for a fuck with them. That truck had been off-loaded onto the packhorses before the guys had their 'fun'.

In a different type of war, rape would have been a court-martial offense. Not so here. Not with 250 million dead Americans over the span of ten years. Women like Maria were gang-raped before they got loaded on the boxcars that were to take them to the 'slaughter stations' that snuffed out any and all American lives. Nearly all that had survived had no relatives or family members that lasted those first few years.

Maria had absolutely no family at all now. The last member she'd seen was the broken body of her sister in a stinking, concentration camp. A body she held until her sister died. The camp got burned to ashes and its guards were strung up and gutted like obscene deer for the predators to eat.

She looked up to see Cpl. Lean Eagle hand her the reins to Shetan, her black Arabian. The animal stood 16 hands so he likely wasn't pure Arabian but he had enough fire as a stallion to be a damn good war-horse. Maria took a handful of mane and vaulted into the English saddle on his back. Feet into the irons, Maria rode the rest of the way down the line to monitor the progress of the supplies being packed.

"Hey, General! Got some chocolate here. Godiva! Meant for some fat fuck at Red HQ!" A man called holding an open, copper-foiled box from the back of a truck.

"Not today, Stu." Maria said weakly. "You enjoy them for me."

Her stomach was on the fritz again. Her lungs had joined in as well. Since the gassing, it had been that way. At least until she was able to get the bronchodialator tablets back in New Washington D.C. .

The flag hung against the wall over her bed. She stood back to admire it before sitting on her bed to read the letter she'd received by way of Capt. Vansen.

Steve, you took one hell of a risk to get in touch. I hope they didn't get on your ass for it.

Opening it, she read the familiar writing.


Heard that you are posted to the 'Saratoga'. That's great news to hear. I'm currently back in the Army with a Recon unit. Can't say where, as you know restrictions. The 75th is a great bunch of guys. I'm presently a major with them.

I bought the saddle for you. It is to remind you that I still think of you. I know they'll allow us to see each other again. I tried from the get-go but they always said 'no'. They'll fuck up one of these days.
Take it easy. This note is short since we are moving out.
Got more Chig asses to whomp.


She looked out her porthole window.

Yes, we'll wind up back together on some battlefield, old friend. They'll fuck up one of these days and do it. How glad a day that will be for me as well.

Maria Strasser would get him a gift as soon as she could find a good one. For now, she watched the stars out her window and wondered where he was among them.


Next : Part 2 - Wingman

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