The characters from the TV series 'Space: Above and Beyond' are the property of Glenn Morgan, James Wong, Hard Eight Pictures and Fox Broadcasting. Infringement of copyright is not implied or intended. All other characters are creative property of the author and may not be used without permission.

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Rated 'R' for language and some violence

This story is set after the events of "Cloak of Stars".

From the Ashes - Thread


Robin Burchardt

Planet 'Tethys', Eolus System

The 58th, like so many other Marine units, had to cash in their Hammerheads for the assault on Tethys. It was only to be temporary but for the five-eight it was a literal eternity. It was as far from the comfort of the 'Saratoga' as one could be.
Now, as the blood-red double-suns loomed overhead, the 58th along with other Marine units began to swarm through the thick underbrush of the tropical planet. Responding to command's request to attack the Chig's left flank stationed on this rock with weeds.

The music from Hans Zimmer's score to 'The Thin Red Line' was eerily apropos. As such, the track 'Journey to the Line' wafted through Maria Strasser's mind as her hands went through the motions of reloading her rifle. Unlike the other units about them, she had the 58th observe something that their long-ago basic training never taught them: fire discipline.

As a result they didn't plow through ammunition as quickly and stayed able to fight when others were screaming for reloads. Only problem now was the distinct lack of water in the steamy environs. It was pointless to complain about uniforms so drenched that they felt like they'd just come from the washer.

A rivulet of sweat ran down Maria's spine as her eye locked in on the detachment of Chigs that advanced on her position. She did not even regard the rifle's weight, as her immobile muscles stayed put. Her ear could catch Vansen's silent breaths by her side. Hawkes was off to port and also scoped in on a member of the Chig patrol.
She cleared her mind as the forms advanced ever closer on the hidden Marines. Her finger caressed the trigger of her rifle, seeking to soothe the invisible itch to pull back on it. To explode the Chig's head in its helmet. Her breathing grew slow and measured.
Earlier, she had nearly thrown the radio a good ways when it had blown their cover with Command's asinine babbling. A whole Chig platoon had given them a hell of a fight before they got offed. Now one of the newbies, Lawler, kept it hidden and silent. Save for some headphones by which to hear the latest gas from the powers-in-charge.

When at last the Chigs were in range, shots broke the natural noises of the alien rain forest. Bolts of light screaming through the vegetation. A moment of seeing Chigs upright, then collapsing with smoke issuing from armored suits.

Maria recovered from her position and gained her feet again. There hadn't been much said aboard the 'Saratoga'. Just the usual speech about what a 'priority' this place was. How 'vital' it was to securing this sector. Even when a blind man could see that this place was a shitbag backwater objective. Command must've felt it better to waste lives on this place than to send them to where the real fighting was.

She certainly was in no position to complain. She was only a squadron commander in the Marines. She knew her place for as much as her gorge rose at the thought of wasting time here. Even an uneventful patrol in a SA-43 was better than this fucking assignment for the 58th and herself.

Out of the corner of her eye, Lawler was fiddling with the damned radio. Its noise carefully subdued and seemed to have fits and starts of power. Hawkes and West had turned on the man with dangerous looks of not wanting to be put into danger again by the device.

"Lets get the hell out of here, people." Maria returned her rifle to its ready position in her hands and led off through the bush again. Her squadron falling into order behind her.

'Saratoga'- in orbit

Commodore Ross couldn't do anything but wait for reports to come in from the surface. The 86th, 39th and 58th had all not reported in for over six hours now. There were transponder fixes but nothing that could be confirmed. The fighting had been brutal and costly but Command wanted to press on.
What press had infiltrated the 'Washington' had stated that Tethys was rapidly becoming the next 'Guadalcanal'. A pivotal planet on the way to forcing the Chigs to truce. Ross had seen the hyped-up reports that got sent back to Earth and was livid. It was wonderful to tell the rest of the known-universe about where the majority of the UEF was. Wasn't it?

He hadn't slept in over twelve hours and didn't want to. Fretting over what was going on down there was eating him way too bad. He didn't want to eat since his nervousness, though hidden, made his stomach lurch.
Ross put a hand down and nearly tipped the glass of water an aide had put down earlier. He picked it up and looked at it carefully.
They would kill for a glass of it down there.

Tyrus McQueen noted the contemplative look as he brought up the latest reports from the front down there. He watched his friend turn and almost grab it from his hand.

"They find the 58th yet?"

McQueen took a breath. A deep one. "Yes. They are ahead of where command wants them."

Ty knew they would be. He had heard the barking at Strasser earlier in the day. She stated that they were in some 'heavy weather' but command didn't care about things like that. They told her, in military lingo, to get a move on. No doubt she had told them, off-line, to 'get fucked' and in a position not normally attempted.
Now, they were holding their pos. and command was acting tardy in getting up there and relieving them. Feigning problems with terrain and such. It was no surprise that she and the 58th had cut loose of command and went on. The silence from them over the radio spoke that very well.
If Strasser didn't wind up being court-martialed for this it would be quite a miracle. She had the quietly admirable quality of not giving a damn what Command thought. She did care about what the Commodore said, but gave no mind to the rest of them if the orders didn't make sense. Ty would've had words with her if he and Ross didn't know so much about who she really was.

The only thought that wiggled in his mind was the fact that Earth had taken to calling Ross very frequently. He had seen the man go off more than once to the 'secure room' to call his superiors back there.

Openly, McQueen knew not to comment or pay attention to any of it. Privately, he knew why Ross was going and felt only that it didn't bode well for the 58th's present commander.

AeroTech Headquarters, Earth

The heads of the 'organization' sat in the sealed meeting room as the debate began to focus on the woman whose face was on each of their individual viewscreens. Most of the names of the people present were not openly known to anyone outside of AeroTech and names were not really that important to those that steered the course of the giant defense conglomerate. It was one of those gatherings that would not exist and would never be admitted to have existed.

There was one face that was up on the giant viewscreen at the end of the room. It was a woman's face whose sightless eyes gazed into nothing as she listened to the talk that swirled about the room. Only she knew the names of each voice that spoke up here.

Diane Hayden shifted in her seat back at her secure, private office in the HQ of the United Nations in New York. Though her face was impassive, her mind was swimming with the new name that had been broached along with some of what the person had done.

"Why wasn't I informed of this 'Maria Strasser' before?"

The faces in the room looked at each other. Looks of surprise, some of fear, some of disgust. The leader of them all spoke up. The one person who'd replaced Dr. Sewell after his untimely death. "Madam Secretary, Maria Strasser has been openly known about in the highest military circles for some time. Her background, though, is presently ultra-compartmentalized to only a select few in the Pentagon. It was only through the work on our new 'Cloaking Device' that she even became known to us."

Ultra-compartmentalized, Hayden thought. She's not so secret now. It made her tingle with rage. There was no reason why this person should be kept secret. The U.S. signed the 'Open Information Act' the same as all the other countries of the U.N. shortly after the Chigs attacked. This was a flagrant violation of that agreement.

"How much do you know of her?"

Hayden's voice snapped, impatient for more information.

The man swallowed and took a sip of water from his crystal glass. "She is not from this time-stream. Her ship was found on the far-fringes of the known universe by an errant salvage vessel. She was with a group of people frozen in hypersleep."

"WHO is she?"

Another man spoke up. Thinner-faced than the rest. Used to the irritated voice by now.

"She is a General of the Armies. American Army. She is over 400 years old and was on her way to a 'peace-talk' after a war her Earth was fighting. It was then that she somehow entered this stream of space/time."

"You know of her extensively, Dr. Flemming?"

"I know enough about her work to know she is no fake, Madam Chairman."

Flemming watched the woman's face concentrate for a moment. He had to know what her plans would be. Now that she knew.

"What are Aero Tech's plans for this woman?" Hayden rose to the bait. Flemming would be required to submit a full report later. Everyone in the room knew that. Had she sight, her eyes would've focused on a man that was not Flemming.

"It is our intent to force the matter of more information out of her. She might be ensconced on the 'Saratoga' but that doesn't mean she can't be approached and held for our use."

The man Flemming had spoke in place of, glared at his fellow scientist with barely hidden contempt.

"Your recent attempts have been pitifully inept. Is there some other route in your minds for this? I'm not in the mood to be coddling AIs much more. I have my image to uphold outside of these tawdry dealings."

"We will insert two of our AI units aboard the 'Saratoga'. They have orders to 'read' her once they are able to subdue her. Then, she will be 'terminated'. It will be made to look like an embolism. Leaving her alive is too much of a risk. Even if her people come back for her, which I doubt, they will think it a normal death."

"When will you be ready to undertake this action? Especially considering the Tethys campaign."

"We can't do this until we have clearance for supply ships to attend the Fleet. The security is such that any of our ships that go near will be either turned-back or destroyed. The military is bound and determined to not have us anywhere near them so long as this battle is occupying them. They are too familiar with past incursions."

Flemming kept careful rein on showing anything but knew it was vital to get through to his friend in the Navy at the first chance he got. It had a person's life hinging on it.

Hayden smirked. "Leave clearing shipments to me. Be prepared to leave very soon. Thanks to you all for your work thus far."
If Tethys hadn't killed Strasser, AIs would. Where she felt safest.


Maria swung the machete through the thick growth as they plowed forward on the left flank of the main Chig force. Her hand was beginning to ache fiercely at the prolonged use of the tool. The 58th was slogging up behind her. Where before they could keep her blistering pace, now their strength was flagging. They had been active for ten hours now and the wear was telling on them all.
She stopped at a small clearing and turned to face her tired squadron came up to and around her. Saw Hawkes reach for his canteen, unscrew the lid and take a deep guzzle. Maria pulled out her waterproof map from her flak-jack pocket and unfolded it for all of them to see.

"Gather round." She waited for them to cluster about her.

"We got two more kliks before we hit this plateau. We'll stop there for the night. It will provide a good chance to see any approaching enemy. If it is anything like this fucking jungle, we'll have cover-enough to heat up our MRVs and set a good perimeter. Sound like a plan?"

A scattered 'hooah' hit her ears.

"What's the latest on the horn, Lawler?"

"Command's pissed. Wants a transmission ASAP. They were reported to be at least nineteen kliks behind our right. No action reported in their vicinity."

"They can wait until we get to our objective." Maria swung up her machete as the rest of the 58th took up their rifles and stowed their canteens. Two more kliks and they could set up camp before the twin suns sunk into a Tethyian night.

Rural Maryland

Fleet Admiral Martens could do nothing but fume at being stuck on Earth while the battle for Tethys raged. With the sad excuse of a JCoS meeting. All the people around him were beginning to chafe at him. That was when he got into his car, drove away from Washington and its snakes and to the secluded home on the shores of the Potomac. There might be one person at this house he went to. She was always welcome to him and knew how to keep her mouth shut.

Captain Sydney Powell couldn't help but welcome the man into her home. Not only was he her superior, he was also a welcome respite from a very-lonely life as an analyst at NIC. They had known each other for the past ten years and were friends before they ever became lovers. Their thirty-year difference made little matter in their affection for each other.
Martens loved the smell of her nut-brown hair after she'd washed it. The fresh, clean smell of her skin. Her fried catfish was something of a rare pleasure because the woman could cook with the best. Of course he knew the daughter of William 'Bull' Powell would always know how to cook any type of fish thrown at her. Especially when the Navy let her loose at the end of her shift.

Martens polished off the last of the fish and took a heavy swig of beer. He knew Syd was concerned about him. Especially with the Fleet out in the Eolus system. Knew something big must've come up for the Fleet Admiral to be grounded here on Earth. She'd heard the innuendo. She wanted to know the truth.

"Why are they keeping you here?"

Martens looked at the woman's grey eyes a moment. "Hayden."

"Oh, what the hell now?"

Syd could see the discomfort in the man. Just the name of the UN's leader was enough to make him angry.

"You know that Colonel I mentioned a while back?"

Syd knew. She had heard a great deal about the woman. The new head of the Marine's 58th Squadron. They had the distinctly ugly name of the 'Traitors' instead of their given 'Wildcards' in most military circles she was in. It was not an enviable position. In fact, it could be considered a bad one for anybody wanting advancement in promotion and career. Strasser, though, was able to seemingly repel the stigma like a duck with water.

Martens sat back. "Hayden just found out about her and her past. The SecGen is far from pleased about it."

"Just because Hayden heads the UN doesn't make her privy to all of our Intelligence and secrets. The 'OIA' be damned."

"You know she feels 'entitled', though." Martens said bitterly. His eyes swam with thoughts.

Syd knew the look. "You think Hayden is up to something?"

"I do. What I think she's up to is not going to bode good for Colonel Strasser."
He didn't name Flemming. There was no need to bring that name up. He hoped it would explain the sweep of Syd's house he'd done after he came in this evening. He couldn't risk being nabbed by surveillance.

"How can a Marine Colonel be any threat to the head of the UN?"

"Simply by existing, Syd. Hayden feels threatened. I believe she regards the Colonel to be more than a mere Colonel. You know how bad old Diane wants the US to merge with the UN as some other Nations have begun to do. It would legitimize her power. Strasser could undo all of that if things fall a certain way."

"The way you want them to fall?" Syd smiled gently. She knew as well that there were more out there than the both of them who wanted to make sure the UN didn't assimilate the United States and turn it into a robot at the beck and call of the world group. God knew, it was what Hayden had been bucking for all this time.


Maria ate a lukewarm MRE and felt her gut twist at the unwelcome influx of sodium, fat and rather nasty flavor. She usually had the habit of giving up her day's meals to the gang. Their stomachs weren't shit like hers was a good portion of the time.
This shit was supposedly spaghetti. She'd had the Thai variant of coconut milk rice with vegetables and that was pretty good but all those packs were gone. She tried not to look at her fork now as it lifted another, glutinous lump out of the sack and shoved it in her mouth.

Hawkes sat on rock, scanning the horizon for movement with his night-vision goggles. Hands occasionally rearranging grip on his rifle. He hadn't complained once about this whole damn campaign. None of them had. Almost like they were oddly grateful for being here and not back with the rest of the clusterfuck that constituted the main body of the attack force on Tethys. Command knew their pos. but said nothing. Didn't seem to want them back or even care.

Maria knew the only thing they missed was being out of contact with the 'Saratoga'. It was a funny thing, the attachment they all had to that ship when a soldier's life was never one of being stationed permanently in any one place for the rest of one's career.
Except for McQueen, who seemed to have the luxury of being a permanent fixture on the 'Saratoga' so long as Ross remained CO.

Her eyes went up to Shane's tired face and knew the woman deserved some sack time after the long day. Had seen the captain cover her yawning mouth more than once.

"Get some shuteye."

Vansen looked shocked, but Maria just kept on eating her MRE.

Finally, the Colonel had to look up. "Would you prefer that to be an order, Captain?"

Resigned, Vansen got up and went a small ways to pick out a spot in which to sleep. If sleep was possible here.

West regarded the scene from his vantage point and turned back to scanning the perimeter. Only faint, scattered sounds met his ears before the annoying hum of Tethyian flying suckers came about his head and face to be swatted away.

The Saratoga- 0135 hours

Ty McQueen started up from the vivid dream right before the klaxon propelled him from the cot. Clad in his skivvies, he hastened into his uniform as the entire ship went to 'General Quarters' and called each to their battle stations.

Thumping his artificial leg to get some feeling coursing through the nerve endings in the stump, the vision from the dream invaded his head again. A dark and hairy furball of a fray- no room to hide, no warning and those too slow got themselves dead in a nanosecond.

Early in the evening he had stopped by a doorway and peered in on a group watching the news from Earth. One of the segments featured the anti-war 'alien-huggers' who were advocating an end to hostilities with the Chigs no matter what the cost.

"…Those in the military are not known for being the brightest people. Those with a mind know that this war is wrong."

McQueen felt an invisible bristle at the clean-faced woman with dark brown hair, as she seemed to spout her natural superiority. He recalled the offensive noises and comments of the assembled viewers but did not stay to listen to more. His blue eyes had swum with dark thoughts. Her coolly smug words an affront to all of the fine soldiers and others he'd known through his career in the Marines.
If this were the way those on Earth viewed this whole conflict, then what point would there be in returning to live there for him?

He reached the controlled chaos of the bridge as the first wave of Chig fighters made their attack on the Fleet.

Tethys- Next day

They laid down hellish fire as the waves of Chigs kept coming, and coming, and still coming through the slightly acidic rain. Bolts sizzling raindrops, smoking forms falling to the ground like felled trees.

Maria sprinted across the slick, muddy ground and slid in behind a tree stump to reload. Cursing the goo that had infiltrated her weapon, she jammed a finger into the top of the magazine to clear the slop as bolts shot through the dark. Hawkes landed behind her with a skidding plop, breathing hard. She exchanged a dark look with him that said "Where the fuck and how the fuck?!"

She tried to rework the slide again but goo permeated it. With a curse, she set to fixing it, gazing down at the dark metal when the world went chalk white. The world went into slow motion as Maria felt like something was trying to suck her from her spot. Then pushed in the opposite direction- HARD. Her unsecured Kevlar helmet was flung from her head.
Heart stopped, Maria flung her face into her arms. Could smell the goo they were in beginning to steam. Burning her face as she pushed it further into the muck.

My God! Not nukes! Not here!
She felt nothing before the concussion rolled over her and the rest of the 58th. Only the hollow they all were in saved them from being killed.

The Saratoga

The smoke from the many small, electrical fires still hung in the air as the reports came in. The suicide attack by one tri-wing had failed. It had done a bit of damage but nothing that compromised the pressure hull or life-support for the bridge and environs.

Ross winced at the metallic feedback of Major Thomas of the British 8th Army before the connection got cut to static. Squadrons had been rallied to get their asses to the planet but were now subjected to swarms of enemy tri-wings and so could provide no cover for the embattled troops below.

McQueen broke from the screen of the battle-area and went to one of the radio operators to listen in to the chatter from a gang of Army Rangers that seemed to have a toehold at a sharp ridge from what was being said. He was trying furiously to shake the vision he had of Vansen's back getting sizzled by a Chig bolt around the kidneys… A very bad dream from the night before.

The look on the young man's face went deathly white. Came onto the Bridge from the nearby satellite room. Paper shaking in his hand. He went to the Commodore, almost breathless.

"Sectors F-2 through F-8 have taken a direct hit from a 'Bowling Ball'." Handed the shaking paper to his superior and tried to compose himself.

Ross saw and stared at the man in disbelief.
'Bowling Ball' was the nickname of a Chig weapon seldom used or seen but when it was, it fried and killed nearly everything in its wake. It was the nearest to a nuclear weapon the Chigs had. A weapon they only used in the most profound desperation. The fact that it had no radiation was no consolation when it incinerated all in its path.

"More are reported. D-3 through 9, H-1 through 5.."

Ross didn't want to hear anymore. Didn't want to face stone-faced Ty who had very likely lost his old squadron in a blink. Wondered how the hell could begin to write all the letters to families that had their loved ones wiped from existence in the flutter of an eye.

Tethys- 2 hours later

She had no idea how long she'd been out or how many were left living. Her first attempt to open her eyes had been painful. Her nose and mouth were stuffed with ashes. Her attempt to breathe normally had been met with the sense of choking as it got inhaled.
With a mighty cough, she began to hack up the acrid ashes as her eyes sought to begin seeing again. It was like the world had been overexposed. A blur of ashen white that slowly congealed into shapes and shades and forms.

Recovering from her hacking, which had almost bordered on vomiting, Maria regained her breath as her slightly burned eyes began to scan the world about her. The closest comparison was the aftermath of napalm. Charred stumps of trees poked into the alien sky but little else obscured the twin suns. The whole landscape had been charred above the ridge around them. The rocky outcrop that had protected them from the intense heat now jutted like a huge hipbone from the ground.

Maria's deafened hearing was just recovering enough to see the ashen form of Hawkes squirm on the ground. Her eyes looked at him as visions of the 'concrete people' of Pompeii came to her mind. Just what he looked like.

She extended her hand and grabbed him underneath an armpit to raise his head above to choking ash. Could feel the stiffness of her singed uniform crackle over her limbs. At least it wasn't falling off of her.

Hawkes flailed his arms and jumped away from her. His eyes blinking fiercely until he could discern who had touched him. To an outsider they were both ghosts in a Hiroshima nightmare.


"Yeah, it's me." Maria spat out a dirty wad of spit and began to scan the ground for more of the 58th. There was so little to say and there was more need to find the living and dead than talk about the obvious. The hand she raised to her scalp brought down a rain of singed hair.

Hawkes scrambled over to where Vansen lay, pinned in dried mud and turned her over. She almost seemed dead until she began to writhe and cough. Making a painful amount of wheezing before she regained her breath.

Soon, he had Damphousse, Lawler and West up and out of their former positions. Only thing was, there were no further survivors of the 58th to speak of. They were dead.

Earth- Rural Maryland
0348 Hours

Martens shook the vestiges of sleep from him and disengaged Syd's arm from the draped way it was about his waist. Pulling on his shorts, he quietly padded to the kitchen as the crickets continued their nighttime song. Low peals of thunder announcing the rains to come. The lack of real news bit at him as he grabbed the remote and clicked the set to on and mute. After a few minutes of surfing, he stopped cold when CNN had the announcer with the 'Tethys' backdrop behind her and slightly raised the volume.

"…Again, the latest. Earth Forces on 'Tethys' are facing stiff opposition from reinforcements of enemy troops. Details are sketchy but human losses are heavy and the ability to hold the planet from Enemy control is waning fast. Numerous reports of bombs called 'Bowling Balls' seem to have been used by the Enemy against troops on surface. No figures on casualties are yet available. We will relay them when they are. On other news…"

Martens flicked the remote back to mute and picked up the phone.


Maria and Hawkes finally mustered the 58th after about a half-hour of letting them rest and catch their wind. Moved off into the protective cover of the jungle. Under the canopy of vegetation and again into hiding.
However, things only began to get worse.

Even out of the blast perimeter, the intense heat and wall of force that had descended scarred the jungle. Some corpses had been found with huge branches impaling them. Some were human, some Chig. They stopped to bury what humans they could and take dogtags for return back to the 'Toga. They hadn't paid much attention to the Chigs until they came near to their final hour of sunlight.
IT was such a huge tree…

Maria's mouth formed a taut line as the rest of the 58th looked up. 'Phousse gasped as Shane dry swallowed. Hawkes was mesmerized, West's eyes grew large and Lawler gagged as a whiff of decomposition hit his nose. It was human. It was American. It was quite dead and it brought back memories to Maria she wished she could have left buried.

She eyed the vine rope the corpse was strung up with and flashed her Ka-Bar out. Her hand snaked out to grab the vine and gently lower the corpse. Hawkes and West lent their strength to assist. Resheathing the knife, Maria bent over the bloated body, seemingly unfazed by the stench. Her eyes looking over the unfortunate corpse.
This had been done to Soviets in World War 3. It had brought an abrupt end to the atrocities they pulled on innocent citizens and American soldiers alike. It would have to be utilized now. On Chigs. Staring into the open, bug-eaten eyes Maria vowed this soldier would not be left unburied. That and the Chigs would be subject to a fate she knew all too well how to carry out.

Saratoga- 2247 Hours

McQueen stared into the dead space above his bed. Sleep was so elusive that he had almost asked for a sleeping pill from the Sick Bay but dismissed it. They had no pills down there to take them out of the place they were. He had heard the report but it just made him more angry and sick. They were alive, but only by sheer miracle.
He wanted to be down there so bad he could taste it. To share in their privations.

Ty shook his head furiously. Trying to shake the incident that had cost him his leg and ability to still be CO of the 58th. It was nothing to do with Strasser, this desire to be on 'active' duty as a squadron commander. She had done more for them than many could have or would have. He thought of 'Ray Butts' and snorted when the image came flickering across the viewscreen of his mind. No, she was different.
So different.

He had entered her quarters a day ago. Was careful to not disturb the things there. The place had been very clean. He could see that from the start. Not the forced clean of the newly-'hatched' out of Basic. This was the result of ages of habit. The things inside were spare but full of meaning. It had been so hard to not touch the embroidered flag above her bed or the ornate saddle that rested in illumined glory under a ceiling light on its rack. The carefully polished brass glittering against shined, black leather.
Ty had seen the book. It made his heart ache to be able to not take it with him. Knew it was the package she'd received a month ago at that one mail call. The one where he got his yearly 'Publisher's Clearinghouse' entry and the birth announcement from Carol about her baby son. Both pieces of mail not half as desired as what he saw cross her face.

He could only watch her detailed scrutiny as she took the plain-wrapped package out of the cargo bay and away from all other eyes. His eyes had burned every one of the gilt letters into his brain once he'd gained access to it.

"Six Stars: The Life of General Maria Strasser" by John Toland

It was huge and thick. At least two thousand pages. It had color plates that one could discern from the contrast of paper on the sides. His hands wanted to crack the cover, to peer within. It was no secret that she received mail from Admiral Martens and that man she referred to as 'Steve'. If he could just take it, commit its position to memory and read it until right before they all returned. Wipe all fingerprints off it. Like he hadn't even been there…
Honor had stayed his hands.

He HAD been there. Had invaded the private quarters of a fellow officer. Certainly not to destroy but his curiosity had always been high since Arizona. He'd always wanted to know more but knew it wasn't his place to ask or pry. He wouldn't do it. To take this book, but the urge was still in him. So much could be answered with the reading of that book. Or could it?

Ty's eyes shut. A wave of sleep coursed over him. It would only be a catnap.

Washington D.C.

Martens saw the form of the long-coated Flemming walking toward him in the grey drizzle. The lean face smiled, a hand came out to grasp the other. What sounded like the most inane, pleasantries and talk about family and friends was only a cover for the words really being said. [translation follows] "Thanks for coming."

"Was going to anyway. Your Colonel is in the sights." Flemming said with a low voice as they began to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue.

"I know."

"You know also that Hayden has authorized it?"

"I know that as well. I'm going to be returning to the Fleet. I'm slated for some garbage too if I don't leave Earth quick. How's she planning to pull it off?"

"Assassins, likely AI. They are the only ones who can elude the heat scanners and odor sniffers."

Martens looked up at the grey landscape. The White House made him sick. Sick of the useless puke that sat in the Oval Office as a so-called 'President'. All HE remained was Hayden's lap dog.

"Tollin is useless. I tried to get him to enact new measures for security. He blew it off. No doubt, old Diane stopped his ears with her bullshit."

"So the supply ships are going through?"

"Have to. The Fleet there needs to be restocked. Costs have already topped $25.5 Mil for 'Tethys'. Congress is screaming for us to get our people out of there and back into hotter zones. Except that the damned UN is hog-tying things as far as wrapping it up."

"You need to get through to the 'Saratoga' about the threat."

"I have an old friend aboard her. He already knows." The Admiral felt a fat drop of rain hit his cheek and go down his neck.

"We'd best get some cover and wait this round out."

The two men went into the cozy confines of a coffeehouse as the rain began in earnest and took a seat at a window table. In the distance, the glowing dome of the Capitol shone through the murky, morning skies.

Saratoga- 0900 Hours, two days later

By the time he was able to break away, McQueen made his way to Sick Bay to check in on the two. Hoping against hope that they were not badly injured. Wanting the rest of them to come back in one piece. Especially since Command felt it best to leave them to slug it out. Even after the reports of the slaughter the war on this planet was becoming. The Commodore had understood about Ty's need to check in on them both.

If only all the leaders of this offensive could be so caring about those under their command.

The first sign of reassurance was when he did not see them with the gravely injured still in the main room. He did his best to skirt the frantic bustle of the doctors and nurses as he made his way into the quieter part where those living were laid out.
McQueen would never verbally admit to the wave of relief but certainly felt it as he spied the forms of West and Vansen in two of the many beds. They might be intubated and have IVs sticking out of their arms, but they were still alive.
Glancing at Vansen's heart monitor, he was able to look down on the dirty, bloodied face and singed hair. His mind flashing back to the way his own face was when he'd first seen it after the debacle that wiped-out the rest of the 127th and left him sole survivor.

"Hey, Colonel."

He turned to see West give a weak smile and removed himself from Vansen's side to go to Nathan's.

"West. Seems you all had a mighty nasty time down there." Blue eyes scanning the lieutenant's face. Both their heads were sporting abnormally short hair. He knew it was from the 'Bowling Ball' they'd endured. No doubt, they all had that badge to sport.

West shuddered with the thought of how he landed here and nodded. "Coming out of everywhere. Hardly could react." His mind's eye saw the black rage of Maria and Hawkes as they rained down hell on the Chigs all about them. Even as he fell and nobody knew if he was alive or dead.

"The rest..Are they OK?"

McQueen could only nod. Strasser called for the medi-lift out of there but nothing was heard since. Best not to burden West with details. Besides, he was worried enough for all of them. He watched Nathan flutter in and out of consciousness and squeezed his hand before leaving to see if Vansen was awake. Cursing the artificial leg that kept him bound up here.


Maria had watched the departure of the ISSAPC and its ascent to the sky until its dot disappeared. Her mood had turned foul with the casualties and the lack of contact with any real semblance of a command structure on surface but it was something she tried hard to not burden the rest of the 58th with. The craft had only come down for the wounded, not for the rest, to take them out of this place.
Dwindled down to a mere four people after the vicious firefight, she led her trio through the jungle after stringing up a few Chig bodies to serve as a warning. They had seen more humans hanging from trees after the attack by the 'Bowling Ball', but now her response was making such sightings fewer and fewer. Knew that West and Vansen had been horrified by the change in their leader but kept such opinions private. They honestly felt safe with a person like her who would do anything for her soldiers. Even if it was the action of stringing up dead enemy corpses from tall trees with native vines.

As the foursome made their way across the landscape, connection cut with the GPS provided by the Fleet in orbit, their small party had taken on straggler remnants of other American units. Small groups of soldiers whose comrades had either been decimated by firefights or the damned 'BB's. Men and women willing to fall under the command of a Marine colonel who seemed a savior against the implacable Chigs they'd faced. A simple case of 'safety in numbers'. Like Maria, most of them enjoyed stringing up bodies and cutting down any and all of the enemy they could find. Now that there was a larger firepower to back them up than just two or three by themselves.

By the time Maria had been able to recover from her gang rape and forced migration out West at the start of World War 3, she had joined up with the first unit she'd ever been part of. She had learned very quickly the value of having people that would not flinch to kill about her. Even in her meteoric rise through the ranks she always had people normal, peacetime society would consider profound psychopaths. Those who were not willing and able to kill the enemy were shed in short order. It wasn't exactly a luxury she had here, but Tethys had hardened all of them to do the job that needed done to preserve their own lives for another day.

Stopping for breath, the Colonel looked over her shoulder as her group of about twenty-five came up behind her. Glancing at her watch, she knew sunset would descend quick. Their lucky hit on a partly burned supply depot yielded some MREs and sparse ammo that hadn't exploded in the fire. The place was way too many kliks back and in hostile territory to be regarded as safe lodging for the night. The Chigs were still sniffing about areas human bases had been at. Wanting to bank on other humans coming back to the same spot. They had to gather and quickly move on before patrols caught up to them.

"Captain, gather them up. We'll camp here for the night." Maria found the dirty, worn face of Damphousse and gave a rare smile to comfort her.

Vanessa nodded and began to bring up the soldiers. There was only one lieutenant out of all of the stragglers and he was far 'fresher' than any of the remaining 58th in this War. She'd noted the smile and knew there was some humanity left in the woman. Just that there was none for the Chigs at this point. Her field promotion to Captain was given out of respect for the fact that she was somebody the others would follow. Hawkes being an IV ruled him out of the equation.

"Yes sir."

Maria sighed and looked about as Hawkes came up to her. He was the one soldier she felt a real kinship to. He was so much like one of her 'boys' from WW3 that it almost scared her. She'd found herself catching her voice before she talked in 'battle tongue' to him. Had to remind that the 58th knew nothing of her previous life and history.
Hawkes was still the one she wanted implicitly to be in the foxhole with her if things went from shit to worse.

United Nations- New York

Diane Hayden gritted her teeth as the voice relayed the bad news. That and the maddening use of actual names even when the line was the most secure and encrypted possible.

"There is no way to insert them onto 'Tethys' at this time, Madame Chairman. The entire area is in military lock-down to all supply ships until General Pryce sees fit to lift it. The best means is for an insertion at the alternate site we discussed."

Hayden's blind eyes stared as vacantly as ever but her mind was racing. She would certainly have to use the pull she had to get that lifted so 'they' could be inserted. Care had to be taken that 'they' would not be detected as coming on the 'Saratoga'. There was no way to achieve that without getting the lock-down lifted first.

"I will take care of this problem. How soon will 'they' be ready to go?"

"The moment you give the order."

"It won't be long, I promise. Thank you for your work. Your payment is forthcoming. Partial now and the rest upon successful completion."

The Silicate chirp was heard before the final words. "We look forward to serving you, Madame Chairman. Good day."

The connection severed, Diane Hayden lay back in her chair and thought about how best to take care of a Fleet Admiral in the same way as this woman he found so interesting and obviously of use to him and his ilk.

Tethys- A week later

The man's eyes grew as wide as saucers upon seeing her. It was the most unlikely sight he'd ever seen in the midst of his Country ripping itself apart. Would have never believed it except for the fact that the Confederate general's uniform had red dots dancing all over it. Wasn't a wise move to try and yank her down from her giant black mount.

General William T. Sherman was as suprised as General Forrest. Had brought his Union troops to surrender to the Soviet-backed cavalry commander and found himself not to be surrendering at all. His near black eyes darting over the grim faces of the 'New American Army' as they called themselves. Noting with relief the weapons they carried matched the infernal firepower that had decimated his men and forced him to take the white flag to the Enemy.
Perhaps now, the same ability would knock the Confederacy's cockiness down a few pegs. Even if not, Forrest was a dead man.

The hard green eyes gazed down on the fuming Forrest as his men had their weapons removed and rounded up into a tight group. Off in a distance, the Soviet soldiers and their unfortunate Colonel were being lined up to be shot. The reports of M-16s shattered the stillness and sent birds screaming from the tall pines of Georgia.
Maria Strasser took no joy in seeing this belligerent man who'd labeled her a 'whore' to her face. She would have been willing to spare his life, but his affiliation with the Russians had been done with full knowledge. It was unpardonable.
Her eyes turned to the tall, red-haired Sherman and nodded to a horse brought up. His own mount, left picketed on a post near the mansion.

"I demand to know who you are!"

Maria glanced back to Forrest. As if it were an afterthought, she turned out her collar. The six-star clusters drained the color from his face.

"YOU! You were reported dead!" Forrest sputtered in disbelief. The Soviet rag sheet, 'Red Star', reported that Maria had been killed. Before she ever crossed the Mississippi River by crack troops under General Karkov.
Forrest had no clue about this since there were no crack troops. They were all further East. Trying to wipe out the Union Army and conquer Washington. That was before they bogged down in Georgia. Fighting opposition they knew had come from their own time.
What was more, Strasser was very far from DEAD.

"How sad for you. Traitor." Softly spoken. Barely audible to anybody but those very near. A curt nod made the soldiers take him away. Attention turned back to Sherman. She was too tired to spare much talk for anyone. That and Shetan was itchy to be off.

"Our ride will be hard, general. I hope you are up to it. We are going to an airfield about sixty kliks northeast. From there, we go to Washington."

Sherman was about to ask about Forrest's fate when two gunshots answered his question.
The man was dead.

She awoke to Hawkes shaking her shoulder at the break of dawn. It took a moment for her to realize they were still in the jungle of Tethys. Another damned day in this fucking jungle!

Maria stiffly got up and regarded the nasty taste in her mouth before her eyes scoped out the nearest canteen. Around a hundred soldiers milled about now. In various stages of waking up or making breakfast. Pickets monitored the jungle for Chig life but nothing came up for the entire night. Nothing was peeping now. Hadn't been for quite a while.

"Morning, sir." Damphousse handed her a half-full canteen. Her eyes somewhat commiserating with her.

Maria gratefully took it and guzzled a mouthful to wash the taste from her mouth. Shot an arc of water off to the side.

"What word from on high?"

Vanessa saw the resigned look on her Colonel's face as she got up and stretched. Not a word from those safe in the battle group in orbit.

The soldiers milled about were accumulated over the past week. As commanders got killed, supplies were sporadic and those left got desperate to team up with any other humans just for safety. The one thing about the planet was the distinct LACK of feeling safe. At least these people were willing to mass up what supplies and firepower they had with others. Only thing was that national lines were still drawn on what unit teamed with what unit.
Maria and the 58th had elements of the 25th Infantry, 3rd Cavalry, 17th Infantry and 10th Cavalry and a few stray Canadians with them. She hadn't found out what unit the Navy folks were from since they'd joined late last night but they now numbered more than a hundred. All of them had seen fellow Marines at the start but none since.

Maria ignored the eyes of the soldiers as they looked up from whatever they were doing. Knelt down by the radioman and tapped his shoulder.

"When we getting off this rock?"

"Still stone-walling. They don't what the fuck is happening, sir. Last tran was three hours ago. You were asleep." The kid might have been a pimply teenager but he was mature far beyond his time now. Army kid too. Since the 58th had lost Lawler four days ago, he had been made radioman.

Maria stood and snorted. She'd tried for days to find out what command wanted done but got nothing but a friggin' run-around and positions for Chigs who were not even where Command placed them at. Maria and her men kept finding automatic transponders left behind. It made humans THINK Chigs were there but they were not. Now, there was no choice but to get these guys moving and see if other humans would band up with them. When the extract did come, all of them would be able to be airlifted without any being left behind.

"What do we got going today, sir?" Major Peltier came up to her with his thick Louisiana drawl. Could have been a dead-ringer for Billy Bahrberg if he hadn't had the accent. That and the man was 17th Infantry, not 2nd Cav. like Bahrberg had been.

Maria looked at the dark-haired man a moment. "Keep moving north. We should meet up with elements of the Rangers if we are lucky."

"That or more corpses." Peltier sighed and turned to get the other junior officers going.

"SIR! It's the 'Saratoga'! We are to expect ISSAPCs in five hours! Pickup coordinates to follow!" The radioman called aloud and was drowned by the roar of cheers that followed.

"Would've been nice for them to repair the GPS first. So we'd know our way around this hole."

Maria caught the muttered words of Peltier and nodded. The whole fucking time they were down here it had been down. At least of GPS were up, those scattered soldiers without a radio could've homed-in for pickup as well. Now, the planet would need to be scoured for stragglers. Wasting everybody's time and effort.

"Captain Damphousse, see that everybody gets packed. We got soldiers out on patrol. Make sure they get back. I want everybody to leave this place once our ride is here."

Vanessa gave a hell of a smile. "Yes sir!"

Saratoga- Same day

Glen Ross finally felt a wave of relief as the call came through and he dispatched ISSAPCs to begin picking up the soldiers down on Tethys. Wondered if he had ever seen a more disjointed effort on any alien world before this.

He had been privy to some of the talk about bringing the soldiers back up, but was not in on 'why' and 'who' had given this tardy order. Damn near everyone felt the troops on surface should have been brought back up weeks ago when the Chig transponders became more and more numerous. What few Chig troops remained behind were merely a 'diversion' for the fact that many of them had left the planet in a steady stream. Right under the noses of Earth's top generals.

Ross turned as Ty came onto the bridge. The man was brimming with energy now that his 'kids' would be coming back. A fierce fire glinting in the blue steel eyes.

"Command wants all troops aboard by 2000 Hours." McQueen handed the latest dispatch to his superior.

Ross gave it a cursory glance. Command had other plans in mind for them all. With luck, it wouldn't be the profound waste the 'Tethys' battle had been.

The Docks

When at last the doors slid open and the gush of ship's air hit them, the 58th almost swooned. Weeks of trudging on that godforsaken pit of a world almost made them believe they were consigned to remaining there. Being back aboard the 'Saratoga' was a type of 'Bacchus' to them all now, save Col. Strasser.

Maria noted the reaction of her squadron and the way they streamed towards West and Vansen, but remained distant. Memories of the fellow soldiers and other servicemen she'd met down there were a reminder of times long past. A time when she was in her element and leading more than a mere handful of soldiers. Grateful for the ISSAPCs and their gaping hatch, but not that happy to leave all those fine soldiers to their other posts. Never to be seen again. It was the one aspect of being a soldier Maria never had an easy time with.

Shouldering her rifle, she stepped off the threshold and back onto the 'Saratoga'. Looked up to see the lithe form of Ty McQueen gazing at her after appraising the return of the 58th. She looked away and proceeded on. A whiff of dank jungle, ashes and body stink followed her as it did all of them. Her hair was nearly gone after the 'Bowling Ball', downed to an unruly scrubbrush the ship's barber would have to clean up. Fatigue would settle in with the hot water and soapy lather on scarred, weary bodies. Set in, settle and send them all into an attempt to catch up on sleep.
Afraid that her thoughts might be somehow read in her grimy features and far away, old eyes, Maria did her damnednest to get off the cargo bay but not before McQueen stepped out and touched her arm. Nerves screamed out in protest and her teeth gritted in response. Flinched it away with the sudden realization that it sustained a severe gash. Courtesy of the last fray a few hours before. Hadn't noticed that the top side of her hand was all caked with dried to semi-dry blood.

"Your Cloaking Device is being installed in thirty more ships. We will be rendezvousing with them in the Hermes Sector. While the rest of the Fleet is being refit." Ty's voice said softly, his blue eyes trying in vain to look into hers. He could see the patches of blood on his fingertips in his peripheral vision. The sight of her dirty face and scorched hair made his gut twist with anger at the Chigs who'd done all of this.

"You need to get to Sick Bay, Colonel."

Maria only shrugged. At least the specter of patrols in a Hammerhead was more pleasing than jungle slogging on Tethys.

"Welcome back."

The olive green eyes glanced up as she gave another nod and left the cargo bay without further delay.

Private time- 2200 Hours

The place hadn't gathered much dust as Maria emerged in her shorts and t-shirt from the hot shower she'd spent nearly thirty minutes in. Couldn't even begin to imagine how much soap she'd plowed through or shampoo she'd used to cleanse the grime and old ash of 'Tethys' from her. She had thought somebody had been in to clean the place but had been informed that her quarters had been locked-down until she returned. Funny, it seemed to have seen somebody…
A fond hand graced the Grimsley as she sat down to read the mail that had accumulated over the weeks she hadn't been aboard to receive it. Her gut gave an ominous lurch, then quieted. It had been all the damned shots and drugs to counter the parasites brought back from 'there'. They'd all received the treatment after the debriefing. She should eat but her stomach would send it back quicker than she could down the stuff. Besides, food on the 'Toga was ten times richer than weeks of MREs and tepid, foul-tasting water.

Letters, junk mail and a brown package from the Admiral. Shunning the rest, Maria opened the latest video offering and drew out the disc. Apocalypse Now: Redux
A faint smile curved her mouth as she left it and the rest on her desk. Maybe later. Maybe next week. Maybe when 'Tethys' faded a little bit. Col. Kurtz had been found and it had almost been her. The 'jungle' was something she was thoroughly sick of. Not for the people she'd met there but for how thin the thread of tolerance had become at Command's ineptitude. Wondered why in Christ they had dragged this whole affair out. Certainly Hayden hadn't planned this just to kill her off. She'd heard the rumor from Marten's in one of his coded letters but could hardly believe it of a woman so highly placed. Still, there was the niggle that said it just might be true.
Sitting on her bed, she brought forth her trusted .44 and placed it into its sleeping position under her pillow.

Cargo Bay 7

The Silicates dropped out of their hiding places and slinked through the darkened maze of the dock. All humans having long since gone to bed. The pair knelt to assemble their rifles and scrutinize the plans they had been given before silently stalking off again. It would take cunning and stealth to make it to the deck where the Officers Quarters were, without being detected. Moved with the eerie, fluid grace of felines through dark halls.
They had but one target to take out.

A pale hand held the wand of incense as the flame died to the orange glow of the ember at the tip. Wisps of fragrant smoke came into the stale air of the tight room. Hints of lavender and sage. A tease of the outdoors of the planet the 'Toga was so damn far from.

Placing the smoking wand in the burner's holder, Maria shut her eyes and inhaled deeply in the quiet dark of her room. The 'After Action' report from Tethys had been completed and submitted. Small matters squared away. Nothing pressing remaining. Yes, there had been the gash in her left arm, the questioning look of the doctor as he took a needle and silk and closed it up. Had been sans painkiller when most would've screamed for it.

In retrospect, Maria had walked in like very little had been wrong. The dark, scummy uniform she wore had hid the wound very well. An artery hadn't been hit so the blood eventually stopped. She'd felt a slight bit faint but nothing abnormal…

What was 'normal' anymore?
Maria sighed and stretched out on the bed. The t-shirt and shorts clinging to her non-existent stomach. Her rib cage was very pronounced. Not a lick of fat remained on her. A nagging thought of she should have gone to the Mess Hall with the rest of them, but did not. She wanted sleep. Now, she knew she would be awake a while.

The papers had come through from Earth. Courtesy of the County Clerk's Office in Milwaukee. Copies of birth and death certificates for people who would never know her or would even care if they were still alive now.
Dad died of leukemia, mom of a heart attack, Sis of a degenerating liver and shutdown kidneys, her half-brother of a massive heart attack from genetic obesity and diabetes.

There had been a 'Maria' here.
Recorded as having been born in 1967, like she had been. The report got a little bit more comprehensive, courtesy of Admiral Martens and his pull with the Social Security folks.
She'd died a little over twenty years ago. Seemingly of old age. No military career. Married at the late age of thirty-six. Never divorced. One child-male- who now had a home in Louisiana near where his father had come from. Kid was also married with children of his own. The son was military- Air Force- Major- and was serving in a theatre a few light years removed from the 'Toga and the group she was with.

She'd lived on the outskirts of Denver, then moved down southwest to around Tucson and remained there until death. Her husband died about five years before she did. Seemingly a happy union, though the man had a drug-rap sheet from his youthful days in Louisiana that stretched a small ways. Some tax evasion but it had been cleared up with the debts from Student Loans. Must've really cleaned-up his act since that 'Maria' had no police record aside from a few Wisconsin, and one Colorado, speeding ticket in the whole time she'd been alive. No violations at all while they lived in Arizona.

Maria had felt a chill seeing the old face of this 'Maria Strasser Killain' and knew her face could never age like this woman's had. The old eyes that gazed forth from the picture had none of the hard steel Maria could see in her own. She did not look down on the 'one' that had lived her life here. That woman could never have made the wildest jump of belief to grasp that a very different version of her was now living.

Inhaling the scent of the incense deeply, Maria sought to still her mind as the distant sound of the ventilators kicked on again. Sucking the scent from the cold air and replacing it with neutral air. Her hand reaching under the pillow for the .44. Once finding it, her hand came back out and pulled the thin sheets up over her as the cold began to permeate through her.
Her other hand reached out to snap out the bedside light. Her eyes shut to the darkness.

Captain's Quarters

Commodore Ross read through the reports from 'Tethys' and had to marvel at the things that seemed to be coming to light about that whole episode.
Command wanted, begged and pleaded to keep all those troops down on planet. Even after the majority of Chigs took off for parts unknown. Kept on that way for weeks. Encountering some fierce, though token, resistance from the Chigs left. Before the whole matter was called to halt and the troops returned to their ships. Halted only after Chig 'Bowling Balls' had incinerated to ashes more than 10,000 soldiers.

Ross rubbed his tired eyes and set Strasser's 'AAR' back down on his desk. She wasn't verbose, never was. For that, Ross counted his blessings. The 58th would resume its normal patrol schedule tomorrow. Hopefully they would relish the confines of the Hammerheads all the more after the stint on 'Tethys'. Was sure they would.
The alarm klaxon broke his silent reverie and made him sprint from his seat. Slammed his fist on the intercom.

"This is Ross. Where?"

"Officers Deck. One, possibly two forms. Shots have been fired."

It has started.

"On my way."

Ross growled and went for the holstered piece that lay on a nearby table. Hayden was now trying to kill one of his officers and wouldn't stop in the attempts until it was done. She might succeed. Only over his dead body, though.

The Commodore disappeared out his hatch.

Officers Deck

Master-at-Arms Fowler stood over the prone form of the AI outside of Col. Strasser's quarters, almost expecting the bastard to pop back to life. Unaware of the approach of several senior officers, not the least of who were McQueen and the Commodore, Fowler maintained his position. He'd had to double-tap the fucker before it would die. The klaxon had been silenced but was standard procedure as an intruder alert. At least it brought everyone awake and alert.
Stepping over the body, Fowler peered into the quarters of the 58th's CO and saw another AI with its head blown off and apart. The Colonel still had her gun at ready but was not quite coherent.

"Sir? Are you alright?"

Fowler felt some of his guards finally come behind him after having gotten to the scene. The man summoned his bravery and stepped into the room. Holstered his gun so as not to be registered a threat. Knew exactly what he was dealing with. Had seen so much of this in his ex-service buddies after the AI war.


Maria's face snapped up and her eyes focused clearly on Fowler. Noted the faces of McQueen and Ross as they stepped in. Was conscious of the fact she was only in a t-shirt and shorts but could care less. Words..oh, yes. The man had spoken.

"I'm fine, Chief. Thank you."

Fowler straightened, relieved. Looked back to his boys. "Get this 'thing' out of here."

A curt gesture to the men brought three in to remove the decapitated AI before too much more of the silicate's 'blood' oozed out.

"Scour all cargo bays and containers for more stowaways. Detain any you find. Now, please." Ross growled.

"Aye, sir." Mack Fowler stepped back outside to lead his men and the two bodies away from the scene.

Ross glanced at McQueen and the man stayed outside as a guard as he shut the door. Didn't see the look of hidden regret at not being able to join in on the conversation. Just holstered his own sidearm back at his waist.

"I figured on that coming. Just wasn't sure when."


Ross nodded. "Mack is an old friend of his as he is to me. I've had the shipments eyeballed damn close. It wasn't close enough. I'm sorry."

Maria sighed and let the .44 down onto the blanket. "He mentioned a certain person of very high rank in a certain organization. I believe him. I'm not very liked or wanted to remain alive by them."

Ross caught the need for anonymity and nodded. "Correct guess. We'll talk tomorrow, Colonel. For now, try to get some sleep. I'm locking down this entire deck once it had been checked. Wake-up will be moved to 0630. Good night."

The Colonel of the 58th nodded and replaced the .44 under her pillow as the Commodore left her to her deserved rest. Time later to resolve the events of just minutes ago. Time later to rectify the wrongs attempted on an innocent life.

End Part 5

Next : Part 6 - New Orders

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