The following story is a work of fiction and may not be reproduced in any way, shape or form by any means without the express consent of the author. The characters from the TV series "Space: Above and Beyond" are the property of Glenn Morgan, James Wong, Hard Eight Pictures and Fox Broadcasting. No infringement of copyright is implied or intended. All other characters are the sole property of the author and cannot be used, without express consent of the author, for any reason.

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Note: Credit to Bob Dylan for the lyrics to his song "Things Have Changed". Rated 'R' for adult language, violence and a tiny amount of romance. This story is set two months after the events in 'Thread' and 'Smokie and Butts'.

From the Ashes - NEW ORDERS


Robin Burchardt

2065- New Year's Eve
Flamen Sector

The 'Saratoga' had almost recovered from the most recent battle with the Chigs. Dalion had only been the first of a long string of battles the gray lady had been in. Five months of sorties, campaigns and various other offensives against the Chigs. Then the transfer from Hermes Sector to the rigors of working the Flamen Sector. After all that only now were the repair crews nearly done with the myriad repairs and maintenance required of a space carrier. Anticipation of the New Year was not high on the priority list for most of the crew. Especially when Christmas had been a typical day of work instead of the bright holiday it always seemed to be.
New Year's was expected to be a repeat.

Plans were still in the works for the galley to whip up some special dishes for all. Or at least whatever could be considered special after so many months in space and with the infrequent visits from supply shuttles so far out.

The cloaking device had saved the ship on more than one occasion. The Chigs never seemed to be able to home in on the 'Toga until it was too late for them to do anything about it. Despite that, the squadrons aboard the ship were doing double duty in flying upwards of three sorties a day or protecting ground force at certain sites with air cover. The strain was wearing on everyone. Most of all on the squadrons themselves.

Flight Deck

Col. Maria Strasser hauled herself out of her cockpit and tried to stand on the deck a moment so she could get her legs. Right off the bat, at 0500 they had been out flying after a scant five hours of sleep. Flying up against Chig squadrons that were testing the utmost of skill for them all. The cream of the enemy forces. 'They' never seemed to sleep. Were always alert. Had blanked out eight fighters today. Eight more families to get the notice about their loved ones. Eight more families to grieve in what should be the happiest time of the whole year. When there might be a chance for an end to this war. And a dim chance for peace.

Maria managed to grease five tri-wings this morning but she was feeling greased enough to want to hit the sack for what little precious time might be had. It might be possible with the ship now running under cloak.

"Hey, watch it!" West bellowed, irritated.

Maria blandly looked over to see Collins mutter a 'sorry' after almost tripping over West's cockpit in an attempt to get underway towards the 58th's quarters. She shook her head tiredly and hauled herself from the cockpit. Once on the deck, she went in the direction of her quarters rubbing her eyes. Vansen and Damphousse had already lurched out and away to their bunks. None of them were much interested in talking to anybody.

Damn AAR could wait until later. When she felt like she had half a functioning brain. There was always enough fuel and ammo to outfit the fighters but when would there be enough sleep for her men so they could be rested and alert enough to face all the Enemy forces out here? She looked up in time to avoid bumping into McQueen.

He gave her a look of concern, blue eyes scanning her face. Wanted to extend a hand to steady her but refrained from the gesture. Not that she wouldn't appreciate it but it wasn't wise to look too interested in front of so many eyes. Lately, she had been quite a bit on his mind.

"The galley has decent chow this morning." The eyes still did a recon of her tired features.

"I'm going to bed. I'm more in need of decent sleep." She patted McQueen's shoulder tiredly and continued on.

It had been just to say 'thanks, but no' and he watched her depart. Too aware of the grueling schedule all the 'Saratoga's' squadrons were under but the 58th had been relied on the heaviest of all.

She was losing weight again. The last time he'd seen her healthy was back in the long ago of the shore leave they all had had nearly six months ago. Now the dark circles under her eyes and the weariness in the rest dominated her face. The rest of her body bore an increasingly baggy flightsuit. It was painful to see it. Especially when there were fat bastards back in the rear dictating every order sent to the 'Saratoga' and the rest of the Fleet. Well-rested, well-fed bastards. Ones with too much time on their hands. Ones that wanted their precious schedules met. Without any consideration for the soldiers and airmen they threw into harm's way like so much cannon fodder. Any regard for the health of those same soldiers like an annoyance to be dismissed at first chance.

It had been bad enough to see her condition when she returned from 'Tethys'. The rest bounced back. She only lost more weight.

Ty McQueen couldn't tell her. Couldn't obligate her. No matter what the Commodore wanted. He would take the flak.

The Bridge

Commodore Glen Ross couldn't be happier at the orders that got handed to him that morning. There would be no sorties after this morning's go-around for the 'Saratoga' and the very few other ships of the fleet that had the cloaking device. It seemed favoritism until one realized that the cloakable ships got the heaviest duties of all. Their uncloaked counterparts got light or moderate duty until their time came to return to Earth for the refit.

No sorties until after New Year's Day itself. He looked up to see Ty return. Had sent him to tell Col. Strasser about the plans for tonight. Had hoped they all would enjoy the chance to cut loose a little.

Ross saw the look on his face and knew that wasn't to be the case. "Well?"

McQueen looked up at his friend and commander. "I didn't have a chance. Or the brass."


"She's exhausted. They all are. No party in the world is worth sacrificing sleep for. I couldn't burden her, or them, like that. No matter who shows up tonight."

Ross knew the intent. Had expected this almost. The 58th didn't need to be bothered with the obligation of attending a wingding when what they needed was many, many hours of uninterrupted sleep. Only problem was that Admirals Donegal and Pierce were coming to help host the thing. Gratitude for the 'Saratoga's' exemplary service all these months. They would not be pleased if a whole squadron didn't show to their gig.

He nodded at McQueen and turned back to watch the stations. Fast footwork was needed to tell them both that the 58th, which they both especially wanted to see, would not be making it tonight. Perhaps the footwork would not be able to be done. In which case, the 58th would SOL and obligated to show.

58ths quarters

Vansen and Damphousse were the last to slip into sleep but kept a light on just so waking would be easier when the alarm came through. Collins hadn't even bothered to strip his flightsuit before he plunged into his rack. Hawkes and West were already lightly snoring. The two newbies, Hicks and Forrest were likewise gone into dreamland. Their gear dumped unceremoniously at the base of their bunks. None of them even bothered to hit the showers when the hot water would have made them slump to sleep on the tiles.

The person that entered was as silent as a cat and began to pick up after them. Stowing gear so they wouldn't trip and covering those who were too asleep to grab the blanket to pull over themselves. The only problem with running under cloak is that the central heating from the reactors was quite diminished. All rooms in the ship were 10 degrees cooler now. Good for sleeping but you'd wake up freezing.

McQueen turned to survey his 'kids' before snapping out the lights, save the nightlights, and shutting the door silently behind him. There would be no alarm to wake any of them for the rest of the day.

Maria's quarters

She had fallen asleep after barely making it out of the shower and into a clean T-shirt and shorts. Ran across the cold-ass floor, dived into bed, pulled all bed blankets over her and spread the heavy, woolen Dragoon horse blanket over her. Sliding into sleep had been easier when she was warm and the horse blanket did it just right. She forgot to turn out her bedside light but what would be the point? They maybe had another three or four hours before they would be flying sorties again. Her face was deep in the pillow and her hand had felt for the cold comfort of her .44 automatic under her pillows before she fell into sleep. The blissful embrace of sensory blackout. At least until the nightmares intruded.

Now the gun was snapped out, into direct center and a mere two feet away from the forehead of Tyrus McQueen's face. The only reason he wasn't dead was his scent. They both knew her reaction was instinct. She was defenseless while asleep. Combined gifts of so many years in uniform and so many wars. So many nights of sleep in hostile territory.

Even the 'Saratoga' had fallen into that category. They both recalled the two, stowaway silicates that had come aboard with the supplies a few months ago. They tried to get to her and she had blasted the head off of one before the Master-at-Arms took care of the other. First the AIs then the two assholes from the 'Tiber' who thought it was cute to sneak in and snatch away 'Smokie' while she was sleeping.

Maria wearily lowered the gun and flicked the safety back on. She felt McQueen's warm hand gently curl about hers and remove the weapon to the nighttable. Felt him sit on the bed. She turned so one eye could see him a moment.

'What?" She croaked. Christ, not an early wakeup again!

"Admirals Donegal and Pierce will be aboard the 'Saratoga' tonight. They are hosting the Officer's New Year's Eve Party. They have requested that the 58th attend. The Commodore and I tried to get you out of it but they insisted very..strongly."

He watched Maria groan and sink her face into the pillows even deeper. She heard the inflection of 'strongly' and knew they had tried to go to bat for her. Had been struck down.

"No more sorties until January 2nd. No more cover patrols until then, either. 'Saratoga' is one of the only Fleet ships being given this due to our operations while cloaked. The unrefits will have to take up the chores while we have a holiday."

"What time is the damn thing going off?"

McQueen heard the mumble and took a moment to decode it. "1900 Hours. Full dress."

"Alright." Another McQueen-deciphered mumble came back.

McQueen couldn't help but give a kind smile to the dog-tired form he sat next to and rose from the bed. He pulled the woolen blanket up over her shoulders and turned out the bedside light. Before he left, with a passing thought of feeling like a house-elf, McQueen lifted out Maria's full dress uniform and shoes from her closet. He suspected they might need a slight polish for tonight.

U.N. Headquarters- New York City, New York -A Week before the Present Events

Diane Hayden hadn't been pleased by the failure.

It had taken so much fast footwork to disavow any knowledge of the silicates being aboard the 'Saratoga' with orders to terminate the commander of its 58th Squadron. She knew they could state their innocence all they wanted but the U.S. military knew otherwise and beefed-up security on all their ships. The generals and admirals did a fine job of strong-arming President Tollin to sign the order after ramming it through the Congress and Senate.

Her fine fingers deciphered the Braille of the report. Disturbing news coming as unspoken words into her mind. Talk of the cloaking project nearing completion. Strasser's performance on Tethys greatly admired and commented on. Rumblings by some of a promotion to general staff rank. Whispers of rumors that she didn't ever want to hear but did.

Hayden restrained herself from wadding up the paper. Instead, filed it away so she could read it later. Needed to compose herself. A thought entering her mind. Nebulous at first. Then coming stronger. A way to pry the 58th's leader off the 'Saratoga'. Another chance to plan for the colonel's demise without the protection of a carrier battle group and its attendant security. It would be like removing security from the great ships. They did or would have the ultimate security of the cloaking device now. What need to have so many squadrons aboard them?

Hayden's mouth curved into a cold smile. This would be a pleasure to execute.

Officer's Mess- 1917 hours

The Admirals talked with the Commodore as the rest of the 'Saratoga's' officers milled about with drinks in their hands. The formal dinner hadn't started as appetizers came around on platters held by unformed servers. Rarities seldom seen on a ship so used to the privations caused by being in war: shrimp, foie gras, mini lobster tails, assorted canapés. Just to name a smattering of what was available.

Col. McQueen kept glancing at the door that was flanked by two guards. He hadn't needed to do much to her uniform. Not that he thought he would have to. It was nearly impeccable. Still, he felt good about having done it. More his way of thanking her for the care she'd shown the 58th through all her time on this ship and to his 'kids'.

Last New Year's had passed in a flurry of missions and duties. Not much attention was paid to celebrating at all. He recalled getting himself fucked-up drunk and going to sleep well before midnight. He didn't know what she had done then. If she was even in transit to the 'Saratoga' then.

McQueen took a sip of his neat scotch as some of the 58th milled near him. They talked quietly among themselves. Their dress blues glittering in the mild light. They had taken off their white dress gloves in order to hold glasses and nibble the tidbits offered them. Could hear them, hear bits of their conversation at times. Knew that as soon as they decently could they would be going back to their beds. He caught Hawkes looking at him and watched as he made his way over towards him. Until Collins intercepted and asked Hawkes something.

McQueen knew the discomfort. He'd felt it plenty when he was as fresh out of the tank. Unsure of how to behave and afraid of messing up. The Marines had taught him discipline but they couldn't overcome the inherent discomfort with it.

Maria walked down the empty hallway. Her shined dress shoes clicking on the decking. She could hear the voices and the music inside. This wasn't so much different than all the damn State Dinners she'd had to attend in her six terms as President. All the formalities and etiquette. A responsibility of her position towards the diplomats and heads of state that she had to entertain. Even when she wasn't President she still had to attend certain events at the White House. Obligated by rank. The only time she'd ever enjoyed any of it was when Cump had been alive and that had been in the 1860s and 70s. Now she was obligated again.

Maria stopped and sighed. Stifled a yawn with the back of her white-gloved hand. Knew the guards at the door were looking at her. Composed, she nodded to them and waited. The doors opened and she stepped inside.

Admirals Pierce and Donegal recognized her right off the bat. They broke from their conversation with Commodore Ross and opened their trio to her.

Maria recognized Donegal from the meeting in Washington and walked up to them. Saluting stiffly, she waited until they returned it. Once they'd done so, she removed her cover and dress gloves and gave them to the man who waited to receive it and take them to where the rest were being kept. Then she scanned the room to acquaint herself with the surroundings before Admiral Donegal spoke to her. His brown eyes flashed.

"Glad to see that you could make it, Colonel. Would you care for a drink?"

Yeah. How 'bout ice water? She thought sharply. Really not in the mood for liquor or getting chummy with either of them.

"Tanqueray and tonic with lime." She spoke to one of the waiters who disappeared to get it.

"Glen here has been very complimentary about you and your handling of the 58th. I must say that word of your deeds has gotten back to Washington. Seems you have charmed Fleet Admiral Martens quite completely."

Maria looked down and smiled. Brief and fleeting. Yes, I'm sure Hayden is overly charmed with me as well. Prig bastard!

"I'm only as good as those under me. I couldn't ask for better than those I have in the 58th."

"Modest, aren't we?" Pierce commented. He wondered if she would have had the guts to call her squadron a 'pack of traitors' like the rest of the military believed of the 58th. Especially for causing 'Roundhammer' to fail. Of course, they could stare in the mirror. See the botched fuck-up that was 'Tethys', glaring with klieg lights, back at them.

"I prefer to think of it as being honest." Maria caught the slight grin on Ross's face. He liked hearing it. Even if the Admirals didn't. She looked over to see the drink she'd ordered and took it from the silver tray. Ice clinking in the crystal highball glass, wedge of lime poised just so. This drink would have her buzzed at the least. At least she knew how to keep her brains and her liquor. A polite sip. Not bad, but a little heavy on the gin and not enough lime for her taste.

"We have some things to discuss with you later but I believe dinner is close to being served." Donegal gestured to her. "Feel free to mingle, Colonel. Admiral Pierce and I have a few more things to discuss. After all, this party is for you as well."

Don't mind if I do, pompous twit. Maria nodded her leave from them and took a heavy sip of her drink. She moved quickly to a rather quieter area by the huge windows that overlooked the bow of the ship. Feeling a little more at ease, she took another sip and knew McQueen had come up beside her.

"Some party." He commented dryly.

"Hate the damn things. Would prefer to be sleeping." She caught his eye. Was hard not to catch the rest of his immaculate dress blues and the row of brass buttons in the soft light. "Thank you for sprucing up my suit."

The blue eyes blinked. A slight nod. "You get the AAR turned in from this morning?"

"Left it on the Old Man's desk." She turned her head to him slightly so it wouldn't appear they were seriously talking anything but pleasantries. "They got something up their sleeve."

"New orders for you and the 58th but I don't know what they are." The tone suggested concern. Ross had been very tight-lipped since the Admirals came aboard hours ago. Still, hints were made.

Maria looked at McQueen and they turned as West and Vansen came up to them. They were just about to initiate some talk when the call to dinner came to them all. Having no choice they made their way to the long tables set with linen, china, silver and crystal.

The Admirals, Commodore Ross and the two colonels went into a small briefing room and shut the door. Outside, the party was still going on but a good number of the 58th had already filtered back to their quarters after the dinner. They all took seats around the room's round table and Admiral Pierce started off. Eyes flashing at those assembled. He debated whether or not the Tank should be here but decided it couldn't hurt. He cleared his throat and started.

"The introduction of the cloaking device has enabled the following orders to be formed. These orders pertain to where nearly all air squadrons will be based for the duration of this war."

Here it comes. The 58th is getting a new home plate. Maria's thought was echoed in Ty McQueen's eyes as they glanced at each other.

"As the 'Saratoga' already has the cloaking device, such a heavy presence of fighter squadrons on her is no longer needed. It has been decided that squadrons are to be reestablished on planets where the UEF would wish to maintain footholds in this war. It would prevent any 'back and forth' between the Enemy and us.

"Once established on planet, fighter squadrons will be able to retain the planet for us and be able to patrol sectors without having to be yanked out of them because they are 'carrier-based'. There is also the grim fact that a current battle in which two carriers and one battleship were lost had sacrificed six squadrons in the process. This loss will not be tolerated in the future."

Pierce yielded to Donegal who stood and went over to the overhead display and shut the room's blinds. A picture of a star system came up before all of their eyes.

Donegal brought out his laser pointer. "This is the Hydra System. It is where the 58th will be stationed from now on. The main planet is the gas-giant OA 6578. Totally inhospitable but there is a smaller planet, code-named 'Aries', that can support life. We have had the Seabees down there for months. Once they are done, by the end of this month, the 58th along with two CAF squadrons will be relocated there. There will also be five units of the Army's 25th infantry and a German Wehrmacht unit down on planet with you. They will be coming down later. Together, all of you will be a formidable presence."

"Atmosphere is oxygen based?" Maria asked, studying the map.

"Yes and has a little more nitrogen in it. There is potable water down there and it can support plant life and animal species of Earth. It was a planet due to be colonized but the War has since put a hold on that idea."

Maria sat back in her chair. "If I might be able to voice a concern, sirs?"

The two admirals nodded. "Proceed." Pierce said and waited.

"This move takes away the strongest line of defense if ships like the 'Saratoga' lose their cloaking device."

"Lose their cloaking device?" Donegal queried.

"Goes inactive or goes down. You would expect the 'Saratoga's' guns to adequately defend her?"

Ugly visions of the fate of uncloaked spaceships falling prey to the Spiders blazing through her thoughts. She didn't want to meet McQueen's brief glances in her direction. Almost like he could sense her thoughts and wanted her confirmation about them.

"Carriers like the 'Saratoga' will be retaining three squadrons for defense but they will be newer-formed squadrons. It is desired that the more experienced squadrons be planet-based since they will have so much more to cover and defend."

Maria's look was grim. It made sense but it would be a blow. "No further questions."

Orders were orders. Fate had a different thing in mind now. She couldn't bring herself to look at McQueen or Ross. Had to will her face impassive to counteract the reaction to the fact she and the 58th would well separated from them from now on. Would be down on a planet and well away from the protection of a carrier like the 'Saratoga'.

2345 Hours

The CD got slid in and the opening number on the "Buena Vista Social Club" soundtrack began to play in the quiet of Maria's quarters. There hadn't been many left after the briefing from the two admirals. Maria had stalked off by herself to think over the news. Walking through the still ship, through its many corridors she knew by heart. Had gone down to check the cloaking device. Had gone to the smoking deck on the stern to light up.

Now she was back in her quarters as the guitar strains wafted sound through the space she could call her own on the 'Saratoga'. There would be mechanics and a flight crew on Aries. A hospital to serve the many units Aries would house. Even an Officer's Club at the 58th's base itself. She'd seen the layout of the base and it was, to use a term she coined while stationed in the WW2 South Pacific, 'outback posh'. Well-designed and protected by a planetary net of satellites and sensors. Maria could find little fault with how they had laid it out.

Her eyes flickered as memories came back to her. Malarial fever, fights against Japanese invasions, out and out boredom and the monotony of protecting a confined area of sea. Now it would be a confined area of space for her and the 58th. Hell, at least in World War 2 she could go to different theatres if she wished. It was the way that she had been able to acquire Gen. George S. Patton Jr. to her forces when he slid out of favor with Ike and the rest in Europe. His skill made her job ten times easier. Her rank then enabled her mobility, if she so wished. Here, she would never have that luxury. Much less the ability to 'acquire' those she really wanted for this squadron. Not that she'd met any that fit that category yet aside from the five-eight's original crew.

As "Chan Chan" played on she began to organize her papers. In a mere month they would be so far away from real contact with the outside world that the true natures of those she commanded would really come out. She heard the latch turn on her door and looked up. Knew it would be him. Flicked down the stereo.

Maria watched Ty McQueen enter with a bottle of champagne and two glasses from the party. She felt her mouth begin to grin as he set them down and listened to the music a moment. Watched the blue eyes turn to her. Damn but he was something to look at tonight. Even when he was wearing his normal black flightsuit. It would take death itself to stop him from wearing his tribute to the 127th.

"Had to make sure that you toast the New Year. Commodore's orders."

"Your orders as well?" She watched him sigh and take a seat on the bed, peeling off the foil on the bottle's top. His face was resigned. He was taking the news awfully hard for a man who would never have to leave the 'Saratoga' for the foreseeable future. For a man whose sole purpose in life was service to the Corps.

"I have no choice but to accept. I'm not happy about what was said tonight." He began to twist the wire cage's tie loose and exposed the white plastic cork. Hand enveloping it, he began to slowly pry it up. After a soft, hissing pop he reached for one of the flutes and poured it half-full. "Are you happy?"

Maria took the glass from him with a soft brush of her fingers against his. "You know I'm not. But I'm a soldier. I have my orders."

He poured his own glass and noted the clock's time then looked at his watch.

Two minutes.

Rising to his feet, he looked at her intently. Wanted to say how he wished it could be changed, dismissed. Anything to keep her and the 58th here. Safe. He noted the deep green of her eyes, even in the soft light. The hues of her blonde hair. The expression in her features of liking what she was looking at. He had never looked at her in the same way as Carol. She was a level above his now-remarried, ex-wife. His ears caught the delicate chimes of the clock she had in her room.

Midnight. The New Year of 2066 had arrived.

He sipped some of the champagne from his flute. The fine bubbles danced on his tongue. Watched her take a sip, watched how it moistened her lips..

Maria had just lowered her glass when she noted his stepping forward after setting the glass down on the desk. Gently took her glass and set it beside his. Closed the distance between them with an arm about her. Looked into those ice-blue eyes as he lifted her chin and kissed her. She could taste the champagne on his lips and tongue. The arm about her waist pulled her to him. Knew he'd wanted to do this down in Arizona but she'd slammed the door on it. Tried hard to hide it and stay aloof from him. Now it wasn't an option.

It was just there and was what it was. Neither chaste nor rude. A statement of feeling from a man who had so little experience with love and affection since he was an InVitro. Made to a woman who had no real mate in the life she lived here.

She felt herself melt into his arms as they wrapped about her. Her hands could feel his well-muscled back underneath the black flightsuit and T-shirt. Felt his hands on her back holding her very tightly, gently to him. Could even feel the pulse of his heart against her.

They parted from it a minute later. Both sets of eyes glowing at each other. It was not the time or place to fan the fire between them to anything higher than what had already been done. They were both soldiers and officers. They both knew that to carry things farther would subject them both to the possibility of repercussions for their fraternization.

Maria rested her forehead on his chest inhaling his scent. Quietly trying to regain her breath. Damn, he would have to do this when my lungs are testy. Felt his hand stroke her back. Fingers twined her fine, blond hair. Could feel herself beginning to rise to his touch. Felt the same response in him. No! Dammit! I can't do this! Not to him, or me. Not yet.

She shyly stepped back from him. A great test of will against her lust for him. Her posture indicated she liked him but was not ready to carry things further. He seemed to know and went back to the table where he'd left his glass.

There was no doubt about their feelings.

Tyrus McQueen silently picked up the bottle and his glass and left moments later. If he stayed he wouldn't be able to trust himself. Knew that she wouldn't be able to trust herself. There was so much there.

The door shut with a quiet click. Maria reached for her glass and sipped until what remained of her champagne was gone. Not at all surprised by what she felt for him now.

-10 days to relocation
U.S.S. Saratoga

The ship came out of its space-drive to hover about the planet 'Aries'. It allowed those aboard to get their first glimpse of the small, brown and blue planet. There were some patchworks of green and some white on the surface as well. Vegetation and snow/ice. Reports said that there were polar caps, small seas and pretty massive mountain ranges. All in all, it looked like a rather pristine place. No wonder prospective colonists had drooled over this planet before the war began.

Maria stepped up to the window in her customary flightsuit. It bore the new patch of the Aries-based forces- a representation of the planet with an angry ram's head and a small Hammerhead for the 58th and CAF squadrons and a tank for the Army and Wehrmacht forces that would also share the planet. A scroll above the circular patch read "Aries". Not inspiring but it was meant to signify that the 58th's being part of the 'Saratoga' was almost at an end. The military tailors had removed the 'Saratoga' patch from all their uniforms. The spot wasn't as visible on her flightsuit as the ones of Vansen, West, Hawkes and Damphousse were. They were the original crew of the squadron and Maria had heard their gripes about the patches being taken off. It was like part of their identity had been stripped away.

Maria understood. She lost all of her material identity when AeroTech removed all of them and the ship they had been on. Lost George Washington's sword- presented to her by President Gregory Buchanen to signify her assumption of total command of all U.S. forces in World War 3. Lost the C.M.H. with the diamond ring of 52 stars for retrieving the Country's most prized documents during that same war.

Lost all the ribbons and medals of her long and distinguished service. Lost her dog tags from WW3. Lost her West Point class ring. She still remembered its glowing ruby and wondered if it hadn't found a way into an AeroTech pocket.

It wasn't the medals themselves; it was all the memories they brought to her mind when she saw them. Felt them. Remembered exactly how she'd won each one of them.

"So this is it." Cooper Hawkes muttered, gazing down at the new planet. Not happy at having to leave. As hurting as the rest at being pried from a ship he'd grown to like. Still, the duty of a Marine was to adapt and overcome. He knew he'd have to.

"Not much to see from up here." West commented from Maria's right side. He could feel a certain person approach and invisibly bristled to protect his colonel. He never liked this guy from the moment he'd come aboard. "I hear it has a landscape that rivals New Zealand for beauty." The German-accented English belonged to Gunther Floss, one of the Wehrmacht majors who had taken something of a shine to Maria lately. Not obvious but it was there. Tall and lean, with short brown hair, high forehead, blue eyes. Looks that would rival the old German movie star Juergen Prochnow. Save the bad acne the actor had. He was second in command to his Colonel, Hans Reichstadt, of the Wehrmacht forces that would be on Aries.

"Has all types of terrain and weather."

"No disrespect but it doesn't stop Chigs." West shot back.

Maria turned to give him a warning glare without words. She wasn't attracted to Floss but courtesy had to be maintained.

"Wonder where our base is?" Shane said, peering out at the planet. Just came in to see

Maria blinked and pointed to the spot where it was. "See that peninsula, near the equator. The one that looks like a thorn. It's in the upper middle. On a place called 'McCaffrey Ranch'. It is owned by some Australians but they had to release their hold until the war is over."

Drawing in her hand, she gazed back at the whole planet. Maria was not enjoying the prospect of going down there as much as she would like to. She wondered how long it would be before the AIs found her on Aries, as they'd found her here on the 'Saratoga' Excusing herself from the crowd at the window, Maria went back to her quarters in silence.

On Patrol- five days later

The small disc slid into the cockpit player as the two Hammerheads flew their patrol about Aries. After a few moments "Things Have Changed" was heard over the headset of the two pilots. Bob Dylan's smoky voice and guitar played for Hawkes and Strasser.

"…People are crazy, at times are strange. I'm locked in tight; I'm out of rage. I used to care, but things have changed…."

Turning the stick to guide her craft in a gentle arc over Aries, Maria smiled as the lyrics resonated in her mind. Hawkes followed at her wing. Clouds swirling below them. They both flew in silence until the song ended.

"Nice song." Hawkes said simply.

The colonel smiled at his assessment. Oh yes, how indeed things had changed. "Let's pay a visit to our new base. Prepare for atmosphere interface." She began her descent towards the planet's surface.

Armstrong Air Base, McCaffrey Ranch, Aries

The two Hammerheads landed in a flurry of stirred-up dust and found their places along the runway. Cockpits opened and Maria took a deep breath of the new air she would breathe for however long the 58th was wanted to stay. Glancing over at Hawkes, she removed her helmet, left it in the seat and rose from her cockpit as the skeleton flight crew came out to secure their planes.

Standing on the ground, the area was surveyed. Garden-variety air base: low, camouflaged buildings, barracks, and ammo dump. A few trees well out of the way of the jet-wash area of the runway. Nothing very remarkable.

Hawkes looked up at the American flag that flapped in the fitful breeze and followed his colonel into what he assumed was the headquarters. Cool and darker than the bright world outside, it had offices and a radio building set off away from it. Watched as she made her way into a bare office and surveyed what little was inside.

She put a hand on the leather chair at what would be her desk and looked at Hawkes. "Care to see the barracks?"

They weren't the bunks of the 'Saratoga' but individual beds. All made to military specs, cooling units quietly humming in the ceiling. The building was separate by a short walk from the hangers where the mechanics had their radio going

Hawkes went over to a far bunk by a window and sat down on one of the beds. Seemed to say, 'This one is mine.' And laid out on it for a moment.

"Where's your rack, Colonel?" Hawkes asked after many minutes.

Maria looked past the open door into the sparkling clean 'head' then went down the hall a little further and opened the closed door.

"Think I found it." Maria strode into the windowed room, filled with filtered light from the mini-blinds. Was offered a panoramic view of the whole field. Small desk at one end, Full-size bed at the other. Upright armoires for gear and uniforms. File cabinets for papers near her small desk. A/V station. Ceiling fan whirling away above her head, its gentle breeze tousling her hair.

"Damn. Pretty sweet." Hawkes murmured, as he entered the room.

"Better than some holes I've been in." Yep, better than the moist, dirt-floor tents and freezing or broiling Quonset huts. That or the huge mansions that looked gaudy enough to be a whorehouse with just a little more help. Or stinking, insect-infested holes in jungles or desert climes.

Nice, but not like her Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house, Road's End, at Van Vorn AFB. Not even like the Fleet Admiral's rancho, which had come close to Road's End.

She sighed and they both left to continue their foray around the base.

Three days later- 1545 Hours
-2 Days till departure

Commodore Ross fingered the small, paper-wrapped package from Earth and placed it in front of him when his aide opened the door to permit Col. Strasser in. The Fleet Admiral had been specific that she was to receive this before she took the 58th to their new base and the 'Saratoga' proceeded to their new orders in the Grenna System.

"Seems Admiral Martens wants you to have this before you leave." He lifted the light package up to hand to her.

Taking it, Maria took a seat to open it.

"How did you find the new base?"

"Spartan, but not bad. Been in worse, like I told Hawkes." Ross watched as the wrapping came off. "Worse?"

Maria looked at him. "I was never a REMF in wartime or anytime, Glen. Yes, worse. Thankfully, Armstrong Air Base is not in that category." She removed the box and took off the top.

It was a ring box. There was an envelope underneath it. Her heart began to pound as she opened the top. Her old West Point ring glimmered back at her off of its black velvet setting. Had obviously been cleaned up and the ruby still held the minute chip from a long-ago battle.

Ross watched her place it on her left ring finger and look at it like an old friend. Recognized it immediately. "What year?"

Maria looked up at him a moment, then back to the ring. "1967."

She'd planned her graduation for the birth year that she had back before World War 3.

"Wasn't Vietnam going on?"

"No. Avoided that snafu since Communism was snuffed out before it even got thought of. Marx and Lenin were assassinated when they were still young children. Vietnam ousted the French without Ho Chi Minh's help. We never had the drain on Social Security by Johnson either."

Hell, Johnson never even made it to nomination so he could be Kennedy's VP, then make President on J.F.K.s assassination that had been orchestrated by him. Maria had a bit to do with how her country had its leadership decided upon but it had never come to light. She'd paid back the arrogant S.O.B. when he threatened that if he became President he'd be 'the first to yank her command and retire her ass to oblivion.' A view Kennedy and his party very much distanced themselves from. Even the few power-hungry Presidents she had known knew better than shoot their mouth off as Johnson did had.

She held her old hatreds. A fault of hers, perhaps, but a rare one with all her virtues. One easily forgiven with her service to the Nation.

Only when that was complete, did Maria open the envelope. Tore it at one end. Her original dogtags and deathtags spilled out into her hand. The hand closed about them. Time to put them on would be in private, later. Looking back to Ross, Maria smiled. "Thank you." She watched the Old Man nod.

"I'm not happy to see the 58th leave, Maria. Command is sending us the 162nd but it is a completely new squadron fresh out of Flight School."

"There are still two back-ups up here."

"I can't have them play baby-sitter to the one six two and try to defend this ship at the same time. I stuck my neck out and got it nearly hacked-off for doing so. Disturbs me that Command views squadrons as being an off-shoot and not a vital part of a carrier like the 'Saratoga' now."

Ross rose to pour some shots for them both. Maria's ring finger felt heavy with the class ring back on it.

"Has Ty spoken to you lately?" Ross asked.

"No. He's been very aloof. Why?" Truthfully, Maria had not seen him and had very little time to talk to him if she did. Especially after New Year's Eve.

Ross chuckled and handed the highball of whiskey to her. "If I didn't know better, I'd say he's already missing the 58th."

"Been talking to you?"

"A little. I know him well enough to know that he's going to take it hard. Tries to put up the tough-Marine exterior but you and I both know about that."

Maria took a deep swallow of her whiskey and thought about that. Ty was tough but he truly did have a tender heart for his 'kids'. Knew the same applied to her. "Yes, I do know about that."

Departure Day- 0930 Hours

The 58th filed into the flight deck for the last time as one of the 'Saratoga's' squadrons. There were no tearful farewells or even the chance for a 'going away' party so that tears could be shed. The whole unit was stone-faced as they filed in and got into their cockpits.

Shane looked up for the Colonel and gave a small grin. One that was to herself. She had seen Ross and McQueen come to the window and watch them prep here before leaving. She tried not to look at them. Her belongings were already down on surface. All things of theirs were sent down yesterday and were waiting for them in their new barracks. It didn't bother her that they were still clustered together as a squadron or that the Colonel was the only one with a room to herself. Rank had privileges and Shane couldn't fault the base designers for it. Shane looked over to West and shared a knowing grin. Then she caught Vanessa's eye and another small grin was exchanged.

All of the 58th's eyes went to the Colonel as she came in last, helmet cradled under her arm. Maria looked at Shane a moment then got into her cockpit and handed her helmet to one of the deckmen. As soon as she was in, the man fitted it on her head.

Commodore Ross watched Ty's intent gaze at his 'kids'. Thought he saw a little extra liquid in the man's blue eyes but knew they would not be allowed to fall. Simply wouldn't do for the man to break down in front of everyone. Ty would never permit such a display. Glen snapped a salute to the squadron as they saluted them both. The flight deck crew vacated the area as the doors closed; cockpit lids lowered and the 58th could be seen no more. Only the faint sounds of the metallic 'crunch' as cockpits mated to their Hammerheads prior to take-off.

McQueen's quarters

He entered the dark privacy of his room only to find that the light had been left on. Caught sight of the box on his bed with the envelope on top of it. Knew there was a reason why the lock on his door had been jimmied. He wanted to be angry. Was ready to be, but now realized who had been in here.

She hadn't very much time to do anything except leave this here. There had been no time for final words. What would be the use? Everything fluxed when one was a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine. You didn't have much time for feelings or sentiment. There were always orders to be followed. Often it meant giving up something or someone you had come to like.. or love.

Ty McQueen opened the envelope first and saw the neat script on the parchment when it was unfolded. There were several different hands that had helped write it. He began to read:

To Lt. Colonel T. C. McQueen-

For wisdom and guidance given and received by me with gratitude [Vansen's writing]
For giving me the inspiration to do my best all the time [West]
For being there to care about each and every one of us [Damphousse]
For helping me through my darkest hours [Hawkes]
For being there as a friend [Strasser]

You are and always will be one of us. Our thoughts and prayers will always have you in them. Even the passage of time and distance of space will not change what you mean to all of us. Semper Fi!

It had been signed by all of them. Had taken time to write in the midst of all the work and preparations for going to their new home.

Ty made no attempt to hide the fact that his eyes brimmed now. There was no shame in crying after reading what the 58th had all helped to write. He knew that only the oldest members and Maria had chipped in to whatever was in the box. That spoke volumes to the normally solitary man he was. His fingers shook as he opened the flaps of the box and dug through the crushed paper. He knew what it was by touch and the first tear fell from his eyes. Knew that plenty more would follow.

He lifted out his Wild Card's helmet. He never had one made for him as head of the 58th. All he had was his veteran one from the 127th. Now he had one that they had chipped in to get him with what pay they could gather up. His name in gold letters with the black script of his callname "Queen Six" above it. The deck of cards bearing the Queen of Spades at the front of the spread.

McQueen swallowed and lifted his tear-streaked face to the stars outside his window. He held the helmet to him tightly. He couldn't see the tight formation of the 58th before they disappeared beneath the clouds of their new home base but he knew his heart would always be with them and theirs with his.

End Part 6

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