Disclaimer: The characters and situations of the TV-Programme 'Space: Above And Beyond' depicted in this story are legal property of Glen Morgan and James Wong, Hard Eight Production and 20th Century Fox Broadcasting and have been used without permission. No copyright infringement intended.

Rusty Trails



Part One

Cooper Hawkes was on his way back from the flight deck when he heard the cry. It wasn't a familiar sound, so he tilted his head slightly to one side, waiting to see if the sound was repeated.

The cry, when it came, was weak and full of pain. It plucked at something deep within him, making him want to stop and help. Cooper followed the soft, intermittent cries to a storage closet.

The closet had a low overhang, and Cooper had to duck his head to look inside. It was dark inside, and he fumbled for his penlight. Cooper heard a soft rustle to the back of the room, as he flicked on the penlight.

The thin beam of light illuminated the dust motes suspended in the air, and various cleaning supplies. A quiet rustle came again from the left hand corner of the room, and Cooper searched the area with the penlight. He jumped back, surprised, when his light reflected on two bright orbs that seemed to be watching him suspiciously. And promptly nailed his head on the low roof.

Cursing loudly, Cooper searched for the light switch with one hand, while keeping a eye on those strangely glowing orbs. His fingers encountered the light switch and he pressed it on.

A loud hiss came from the corner as light flooded the small closet. Cooper peered at the creature with surprise. He recognized it as a cat, from a movie he had seen in the Rec Hall a while back. The cat hissed at him again, as Cooper squatted down to get a better look.

The first thing he noticed was a ragged, matted gash on the cat's side that looked inflamed. The cat was very thin, and looked the worse for the wear.

"Nice kitty." Cooper intoned as he reached out a hand to the cat. The cat growled deep in her throat, and pressed her ears flat against her skull. She watched the intruding hand approach with narrowed eyes. When she finally reacted, it was with lightning speed.

"OW!" Damnit!" Cooper yelped as a claw flashed out and left a bloody furrow on his hand. He leaped backwards and again nailed his head on the roof. He glared at the cat, and the cat glared back. How could something so cute be so mean? Cooper wondered.

The cat tried to scoot further back against the pile of rags in the corner. Her growl was louder this time. It was then, that Cooper noticed the smaller forms wiggling behind her. Kittens! She had babies!

"Wow! I guess that makes you a mommy, huh?" Cooper asked as the cat shielded her kittens with her body, and hissed at him again. She definitively needed help, Cooper decided. So he flicked out the light, and closed the door firmly. He rushed back to the 58th's quarters.

The only one present in the quarters was Vansen. She looked up from her book curiously as he came rushing in.

"Coop, what is it?" She asked, seeing the expression on his face.

"I need your help! Please!"

"Well, sure. What's the emergency?" She asked.

"I'll show you. Now come on!" He promised, as he grabbed her arm and pulled.

"A storage closet?" Vansen asked, as Cooper opened the door and switched the light on.

"Yeah, I need your help. Look in the left hand corner."

Vansen gave him a puzzled look, and then bend down to look in the corner. She slowly straightened up and looked back at him.

"She looks sick. You didn't touch her did you?

"No, but she did me. You will help her, won't you? We have to do something, she's got kids!"

Vansen looked at the scratch on Cooper's hand. "She could be carrying some kind of disease. I want you to go get that looked at."

"But we can't just leave her here, she needs help!" Cooper pleaded, his eyes dark and earnest.

Vansen took one look at his face and sighed inwardly. He looked every bit the worried little boy right now. She chewed on her bottom lip for a minute. He was right, she had to do something.

"Ok, I'll see what I can do. Go get that scratch looked at."


"Now, Cooper!" She ordered.

"Ok, and thanks Vansen. It.....means a lot to me."

Vansen had the cat and all five of her kittens in a box back in their quarters when Cooper got back a couple of hours later.

"Sorry I took so long, but they were busy giving annuals when I got there." He explained. His hand was neatly bandaged. "How is she?"

Vansen frowned. "I have a friend that took a few years of veterinary medicine down at the lab. She checked her out, and said it didn't look like she was carrying any diseases."

"And?" Cooper probed, looking at the cat who was also neatly bandaged.

"Well, Coop, the wound was infected, and she's not exactly in the best of shape." She told him gently. She could only hope that he wouldn't get attached to the cat.

"She'll get better. I know she will." Cooper said looking at the sleeping cat, and her tiny kittens.

"I hope so Cooper, but don't get your hopes up. She's pretty sick." At Cooper's crestfallen look, she took out a bottle of medicine and gave it to him. "My friend said to give her three drops of this four times a day for a week. It's your responsibility, understand?"

"Three drops four times a day. Sure! I'll be glad to. I better find someone to do it for me if I'm out on patrol."

Patches was a fighter, as Cooper had named her. The calico seemed to rally for almost two weeks. Cooper's spirits seem to rise with every passing day along with his self-confidence. Even the rest of the 58th seemed to want to help him out. But he took his job very seriously.

Cooper noticed the kittens meowing loudly one afternoon as he was returning with Patches food. He looked in and froze.

The rest of the 58th found his later holding her and sobbing silently. Paul gently squeezed his shoulder. "I'm sorry, pal, really I am."

"She was doing so good. I really thought she would make it. I was so careful." Cooper said in a broken voice.

"We know you did, Coop. You even got up in the middle of the night to give her her medicine." West offered quietly.

"Why did she have to die? Why?"

"Maybe it was just her time to go." Vansen offered as gently as she could.

"I don't understand. I just don't understand. " Cooper bewailed.

"None of us understand, Cooper, and we really never do." Damphousse offered. "It's just the way it happens somtimes."

Vansen finally got Cooper to let her take Patches away. To give her a proper burial, she insisted. The rest of the 58th sensed his need to be alone, and granted it of him.

Damphousse came back about a hour later with a bowl of milk and some soft bits of rag. She had seen the deep pain in his eyes, and wanted to help.

"You know you'll have to be the kitten's mom now." She offered.

"I don't know nothing about being a mom."

"Then you'll have to learn, won't you? They need you Cooper, you are the only person they have."

Something glinted in Cooper's eyes. "Will you help me? You being a woman and all."

"Sure, Cooper, sure."

It was a very trying day for Cooper. The kittens were too young to drink milk by themselves. All the milk he dribbled into their mouths tended to run right back out. He was frantic with worry, when a soft knock sounded at the door.

"Yeah?" He yelled out in a angry, stressed voice.

The woman standing at the door peered in. She had soft blond wavy hair that came down to her shoulders, and the prettiest eyes Cooper had ever seen.

"I'm Captain Vansen's friend, Lt. Walker. She said that you had some baby kittens, and might need a little help." Her smile was balm to his taut nerves.

"They won't eat." Cooper said, all the worry in her eyes showing as he looked at her.

"Well, I think we can fix that. These should help." Lt. Walker said, holding up a box of test tubes with rubber nipples on the ends. "And I brought you a small heater to warm the milk."

The next hour, Lt. Walker showed Cooper how to warm and test the milk until he got it right. Then they had the busy job of feeding five very hungry little mouths.

"So why are you helping me?" Cooper asked, puzzled.

"Because these kittens need all the help they can get. And the fact that you are almost as cute as they are."

Cooper stared at her, dumbfounded. "Me cute?" He asked in a shocked voice.

"Handsome then. Do you think I could adopt one of these kittens when they are old enough?"

"Oh." Cooper said, totally nonplussed. "Yeah, I guess it would be cool for you to adopt one." He said awkwardly.

"Great." Lt. Walker told him. She found his boy-like charm adorable. "You'll need to feed them every two or three hours. If you need to pull patrol or something, just let me know and I'll cover for you. Ok?"

"Yeah. Thanks!" Cooper told her, with a bashful grin. The smile she returned him warmed him clear down inside. Maybe this wasn't turning out to be such a bad day after all.

Cooper found out that Lt. Walker had a really great sense of humor the next few weeks. She always managed to lift his spirits, and even made him laugh a few times.

He was deeply grateful she was there with her comfort and support when two of the kittens died. Cooper considered her a friend. Almost as good a friend as the rest of the 58th, who he considered family.

"So have you named them yet?" Lt. Walker asked as she put one plump kitten down, and readied a bottle for the next one.

"Yeah. his one," Cooper said, picking up a charcoal grey kitten with green-gold eyes. "Is Amy. She seems to be the creative one, making up games for the other two."

Cooper patted Amy, then put her down and picked up a rust colored kitten with vivid green eyes. "This is Rusty. She's real intelligent, I almost think she understands everything I say." He patted Rusty a few times and put her back into the box.

"And who's the one that keeps trying to climb out of the box?"

"That's Tigger." Cooper told her, picking up the kitten that had been balancing precariously on the edge of the box. He placed the vividly colored tiger stripe kitten on his lap. Tigger looked up at him with her bright golden eyes and purred. "She's the adventured of the group."

"Hi Coop. Hi Lt. Walker." West said, breezing into the room. "How are the kittens?" He asked, peeking into the box. "Wanna go for a ride, kitty?" He said, swooping Amy up, and swirling her through the air."

"I wouldn't do that if I were you." Cooper warned.

"MEW!" Amy cried out.

"How come?" West asked, settling Amy on his shoulder. Suddenly a strange expression cross his face. "Oh geez Coop, your cat just peed on me!"

"That's why. Amy gets motion sickness." Cooper explained, watching Tigger carefully, as she climbed up his chest, and sat on his shoulder.

"Who got motion sickness?" Vansen asked as she entered with the rest of the 58th.

"Coop says his cat does." West told her, as he went over to his locker and removed a clean shirt.

"Good thing she isn't a HAMMERHEAD pilot then." Paul Wang joked.

"Oh they are growing up so fast, Coop!" Vanessa Damphousse exclaimed. She wiggled a few fingers for Rusty to play with.

"You'll have to start scouting out homes for them soon." Wang said, settling comfortably on his bunk.

"I think they are still too young for that. Maybe in a few months." Cooper commented, trying to keep Tigger from climbing up his collar.

"Nope, they are almost old enough now." Vansen said, trying very hard not to laugh at the kitten trying to climb on top of Cooper's head.

"I was just going to get permission to take Amy home, actually." Lt. Walker told Cooper.

Cooper looked disturbed. "I guess I just don't want to let them go." He mumbled.

"Spoken like a true mother." Wang said grinning. Everyone laughed but Cooper, who just managed to look confused.

"Mother's never want to let their kids leave home." Lt. Walker explained.

"Oh, yeah well I guess it's true, then." Cooper said, pulling the kitten gently off his head, and putting her back in the box with Amy and Rusty. "I was kinda hoping McQueen would let me keep one."

"Will I what?" McQueen asked as he stepped into the room. He frowned at the way everyone was clustered around a box in the room.

"Well, I really have to go. See you later, Cooper." Lt. Walker said. "Sir." she acknowledged McQueen. He nodded, and she slipped from the room.

"What's in the box?" McQueen asked. At his look they all moved aside. He walked over and bent over to look into the box. Tigger and were playing a lively game of catch each other's tail. Rusty looked up at man leaning over the box. A zipper from his flightsuit swung back and forth intriguingly.

Rusty watched the movement of the zipper for a few seconds, and then began to bat at it with her paw. A puzzled look crossed over McQueen's face, and he straightened up.

Poor Rusty, who was not the most coordinated of kittens, managed to get her claw caught in the zipper, and was hauled into the air.

"MEOW!" She cried out in terror.

McQueen looked down at the kitten dangling from his flightsuit. Calmly, he found where the tiny claw were caught and unhooked it. He then placed the kitten back in the box with a gentle pat on the head.

Luckily, he never noticed how hard everyone had to try to stifle the laughter that bubbled up at the sight of a kitten dangling off his flightsuit.

Rusty climbed back up so she could look over the top of the box at the nice smelling man. She purred, totally smitten.

"Sir. Cooper found the kittens in a storage closet. I had them checked out for any diseases. They won't be a problem, I assure you." Vansen explained.

"How long have they been here?"

"About four weeks, Sir." Cooper offered.

McQueen pressed his lips together. "Make sure they don't Captain. Mission briefing in 15 mikes." He then turned and left the room without a second look.

"Oh man, I thought we were dead!" West said, sighing in relief.

"I almost lost it when that kitten was hanging from his flightsuit" Wang said. They all looked at each other for a second and then burst out in laughter at the memory.

Lt. Walker came back a few days later to pick up Amy. "Find homes for the others yet?" She asked.

"No but I'm trying." He told her.

Lt. Walker nodded and then promised Cooper a dozen times that she would take good care of Amy.

"You can always come and visit her, if you want." Lt. Walker offered with a big grin.

"I'd like that."


Cooper halted just short of the crew quarters. He was understandably nervous of the possible consequences of this encounter.

"Yes, Colonel McQueen?" He asked, wishing he had a place to hide the plate of cat food he was holding.

"I'd like a word with you, now, if you don't mind."

Cooper Hawkes nodded mutely.

McQueen indicated the crew quarters with a motion of his head. They both stepped inside.

"Cat food?" McQueen inquired, looking at the dish he was holding.

"Yes." Cooper quickly gave the two kittens their food, and took a place on his bunk.

McQueen noticed the dejected slump of the soldier's shoulders. And the worry in his eyes.

"Vansen told me that you've been taking care of the kittens almost solely by yourself. That you even have someone to over for you when you've been out on missions."

"Yes, Sir. I've tried to be a good mom to the kittens."

McQueen almost smiled at the use of mom and Cooper in the same sentence. But he knew that the young IV was deadly serious.

"That shows responsibility."

Cooper looked up at McQueen. "Colonel McQueen, I was hoping that I might be allowed to keep one of the kittens."


"Well because..." Cooper's words trailed off. McQueen noticed that he was searching for the right words. Noteworthy for the normally outspoken young man.

"Well, because they liked me unconditionally. It didn't matter to them that I was a Tank. They liked me just the way I was." Cooper's eyes grew dark and misty. "I've never had anyone accept me like that before. You, and the 58th are my family, but it wasn't the same."

McQueen nodded silently. It was true. Maybe having the responsibility of a pet would further mature him.

"I'm willing to give you and the cat a chance. But if I see any deviations in your performance, it goes. Understood?"

Cooper nodded eagerly and smiled. "Yes Sir! Thank you, Thank you very much, Colonel McQueen."

Rusty was very excited. Her man was back! She had been starting to fear that he would never come back for her. She even let Tigger get more then her fair share of the food, because she was so busy keeping an eye on him. She was so happy she could purr!

But wait! He was leaving! He was leaving without even stopping to see her. Indecision filled her young head. Then her bright green eyes gleamed. She knew what she had to do. She gave Tigger a friendly swat goodbye and jumped to the top of the box. She made it with no problems for once, and was very proud of herself.

She landed on the floor with a soft thump, almost knocking the breath out of herself. Why did she have to be so clumsy? No! There was no time to waste thinking about it. She had to follow her man and get him to accept her.

It turned out to be worse then her worst nightmares. Rusty ran and ran, trying to keep up with her fast walking man. There were loud and horrible crashes and strange noises. Rusty would have normally run and hid in her box at such things, but now she couldn't. It seemed that everyone was yelling! Her poor heart threatened to burst from her chest with fear.

And she was so very, very tired. She didn't know how much longer she could keep up this pace. Rusty wanted nothing more then to curl up and her nice box and take a long nap. With determination she didn't know she possessed, Rusty kept going.

One of the deck hands laughed. It was so damn funny to see a small kitten following McQueen. He bet McQueen didn't even know he was being followed.

"You find something amusing, Ensign?" McQueen snapped.

"No Sir!" The deck hand said, snapping to attention. "No disrespect meant Sir!" He stated quickly.

McQueen frowned darkly. He walked on, wondering why the hell everyone he encountered either met him with a smile or outright laughter.

He discreetly checked him flightsuit to see if anything was out of place. Not that wasn't it. Looking around, he saw nothing else that could possibly cause such a outburst. Puzzling, very puzzling. The one place McQueen had missed was looking down.

Rusty stopped and caught her breath. She was so glad her man had stopped for a few minutes to let her catch up. That was so nice of him. If she hadn't been so out of breath she would have purred. Ooops, he was off again. So, she got up and followed him again.

McQueen reached Ross's quarters and knocked quietly. Ross invited him in. Rusty reached the door just as it closed in her face. It was too much! She was so upset! She tried scratching until her paws were sore, to no avail.

Now she was really mad! She had come all this way through all kinds of danger, and run herself to the point of exhaustion. Now she was locked out here, all alone in this scary place. So she did the only thing she could think of. She let out a full fledged yowl of unhappiness.

"Have a seat." Ross said, indicating the chair in front of him. "We have a major problem, and I need your input."

"Certainly." McQueen said, taking a seat.

"We've had three ships explode right after takeoff, and the tech crew hasn't been able to discover anything that could be causing the problem."

Ross stopped suddenly. "What the hell was that?" He asked.

"I didn't hear anything." McQueen told him.

"Well, I heard something, but I'm not sure what." Ross got up and walked to the door. He opened it just as Rusty let out another yowl. They both looked at one another. Rusty's eyes widened. The man that had opened the door wasn't her man!

"Well hello there. What are you doing out here?" Ross said, picking up the small kitten.

Rusty smelled him. He smelled friendly, so she gave him a grateful look. Maybe this nice person could help her find her man.

Ross walked back to his chair, and placed the kitten on his desk. He stroked the kitten's fur gently. "You're a cute little thing, aren't you? I wonder where you came from, little fellow."

"Meow!" Rusty replied, letting him know she was a SHE!"

McQueen groaned inwardly. He should have known that those cats would cause him problems sooner or later. Luckily, it seemed Ross liked cats.

Rusty was quite content to let this nice man pat her, until she noticed McQueen. He was here! It had all been worth it! She wiggled out from under the other nice man's fingers and walked towards McQueen.

Rusty stopped at the edge of the desk, and looked down at the great chasm that separated them. It was so big, but she hadn't come all this way to chicken out now!

So she lifted her little butt, and wiggled her tail for good luck and sprang. She made it almost perfectly too. She landed on her man's hard knee and knocked all the breath out of her body. To her horror, she felt herself slowly sliding off his knee and down his leg. She landed with a hard thump to her dignity on his boot.

McQueen had a totally lost and confused look on his face. Ross looked over the edge of his desk and laughed. Rusty gave them both her "I meant to do that" look.

It all clicked together then for McQueen. The kitten must have followed him from the crew quarters all the way across the ship to Ross's quarters. That was why everyone seemed so amused. He had to admit the vision of a tiny kitten following him around was a bit on the humorous side.

Afraid that she had made a fool out of herself, Rusty then proceeded to perform her best cute routine which consisted of playing with his bootlaces.

"Stop that." McQueen ordered. Ross looked over the edge of his desk again, and burst once more into laughter.

Rusty stopped what she was doing when her man spoke to her. It was the first time he had ever said anything to her, and she thought he had the most wonderful voice.

"Well, at least she listens." Ross said with a grin. "God, Ty, I needed that laugh."

McQueen watched the kitten claw her way determinedly back up his leg and curled up in his lap, purring loudly. Safe at last, Rusty decided to take a short nap.

"She seems to like you." Ross offered.

McQueen shrugged.

"Looks like you got yourself a cat to me."

"I don't have time for a pet." McQueen told him.

"Don't have it, or don't want it?" Ross asked pointedly.

McQueen looked down at the small form sleeping so trustingly in his lap. It triggered a warm feeling deep down inside him.

"It would interfere with my work."

"Ty, you are probably the most efficient man I know. You could make time for a pet if you wanted to. But it takes a special man to take on the responsibility to have a pet. You up for it?"

As if sensing people were talking about her, Rusty opened her green eyes, and looked up at her man. She butted her tiny head against his hand, wanting him to pat her. Unconsciously, McQueen stroked the soft head, and was surprised to hear such a loud purr coming out of such a tiny creature.

"About the explosions..." McQueen began, avoiding the subject.

Ross smiled inwardly at the way McQueen was stroking the tiny kitten. Maybe this is just what the man needed.

"We've had three ships explode shortly after takeoff. Analysis of the wreckage still hasn't given us any clues. Any suggestions?"

McQueen was quiet for a moment. "Any abnormalities in the preflight checks?"

"None. We've checked and re-checked. Gone over the ships with the proverbial fine tooth comb. Nothing seems to be out of place. We have to nail this problem down before things with OPERATION ROUNDHAMMER start heating up." Ross said, taking a drink of his now cold coffee. "I'm at a loss. And I'm relying on your insight here, Ty."

McQueen nodded. "I'll get on it right away." He picked up the kitten and stood up. He frowned for a moment, seeming at a loss on what to do. Then he opened up a zipper on his flight suit, and gently tucked the kitten inside. Making sure she was secure, he walked out of the room.

"Gotya." Ross said with a grin, after McQueen had left.

All in all, Rusty and McQueen got along pretty well. He located a small box, and tucked in a worn out t-shirt. He placed it by his bunk, and Rusty settled in quite happily.

Rusty learned quickly not to disturb him unless he was sitting idly at his desk, or lying on his bunk. She showed off all her cute tricks that Amy had taught her, like chasing her tail, and old bootlaces. And never once did her human yell at her when she had one of those embarrassing bathroom accidents. She grew to love him when he never laughed at her when she tripped over her own two paws. It was a match made in heaven, she felt, as she lay purring on his chest one night while he lay reading.

"Don't even think about it cat." West said, as he swung his legs over his bunk. Tigger looked disappointed. How was she supposed to wake her humans up if they didn't let her nibble on their toes?

"Lighten up, Nathan." Vansen said. She lay on her stomach on her bunk, and dangled her fingers over the edge of the bed. Tigger raced over and swatted playfully at the finger, purring loudly.

"Yeah, yeah. How come she never chomps on your toes, when you get up to take a leak?"

"Cause she's intelligent?" Came the muffled reply from Paul Wang. West picked up his pillow and threw it at Paul, who skillfully deflected it. It landed with a thump near Tigger, who decided to pounce on it.

"Breakfast, Tigger." Cooper called out, as he entered the room.

Tigger raced towards the voice of her favorite human, narrowly missing Damphousse, who had just returned from the showers.

"Faster then a speeding bullet." Vanessa said, smiling.

"Mission briefing in twenty mikes." McQueen said, entering the room. He stepped nonchalantly over the kitten that was eating underfoot.

"It makes me feel damn uncomfortable." Wang was saying as they headed towards their HAMMERHEADS. "Knowing your's could be the next ship that explodes without notice."

"Put a lid on it, Paul. We all know the situation. WE have to go and get some readings on that dust cloud we passed through a few days back."

"Yes, but it is eerie." Damphousse agreed.

A loud sneeze came from behind them. Cooper looked around and saw that Tigger had followed them.

"No Tigger! Bad kitty! You know better then to follow me here!" Cooper scolded. The kitten was next to a ship down the way exploring a dark spot where some fuel had spilled out onto the deck. The kitten sneezed again, so hard that she landed hard on her butt.

"I thought you trained her not to come here anymore?" Vansen said disgustedly.

"I'm working on it, honest. She just has a problem learning what areas are off limits. Maybe I should just lock her up back in our quarters."

"Might be for the best." Wang suggested.

"Don't look now, but I think you have a problem, Cooper." Damphousse said, pointing to the kitten.

They all looked at Tigger, who was reeling around drunkenly. She fell to the ground, and began vomiting.

"Oh no! Tigger!" Cooper said, scooping up the sick kitten, who promptly threw up on his flight suit.

"Cooper we don't have time for this." Vansen said in a terse voice.

"Just give me five minutes, and I'll be right back. I'll drop her off with Lt. Walker. Ok?"

"Go." Vansen ordered. "And make it quick."

Cooper docked back on the SARATOGA. He took off his helmet and threw it into the cockpit of his HAMMERHEAD. Then he took off at a run to the medical labs.

"Well, we all know where he's heading." West remarked.

Nathan, take it easy on him. He's never had the experience of having a pet like we have before. Damphousse said.

"I'm going to drop off these readings with McQueen. I'll meet you back at our quarters." Vansen told them.

Vansen was rubbing her hair dry when Cooper and Lt. Walker entered the room.

"How's Tigger?" She asked.

"She's going to be Ok." Cooper told her. "But I think you should listen to what Lt. Walker has to say. I think it's important."

Vansen put the towel down, and looked at Lt. Walker. "What is it?" She asked.

"Well, when Cooper brought Tigger in, I checked her out. It's really weird that she has the same symptoms that some of the men brought in do. So I checked to see if it was just a coincidence."

"Go on." Vansen urged.

"Well, Tigger's been to the docking bay lots of times, right?"


"But she's never gotten sick there before?" Lt. Walker asked.

"Nope." Cooper said, looking nervous.

"And Tigger came into contact with some spilled fuel, right?"

Vansen looked puzzled. "She was playing near one of the ships belonging to one of the other squadrons. I think it had just been refueled." A strange look passed over Vansen's face. "You're not saying that something in the fuel made her sick, are you?"

"I gathered a sample of all the fuel we are using here on the SARATOGA. Tests are being run on it right now."

"Tell her about the symptoms." Cooper urged, eagerly.

Lt. Walker gave Cooper a faint smile. "I did report the incident. And the symptoms four deck technicians have been admitted for. Does dizziness, difficulty in breathing, and uncontrollable vomiting sound familiar?"

Vansen nodded. " I think McQueen should be notified about this."

The 58th, Lt. Walker, and two of the head lab assistants were gathered in the ready room. Ross was holding the report given him by the lab. He tapped the pages together, straightening them. He then looked at the people gathered around him.

"The last fuel shipment we received had a few tanks in it with a chemical additive that caused it to distablize shortly after ignition. This is what has been causing the explosions."

Ross pressed his lips together. "The fuel supplier has been arrested. He claimed he didn't notice any tampering with the shipment. His ties with the AI's are being currently probed."

Ross placed the report neatly to one side. "I want to thank everyone involved you helped crack this case open."

He gaze rested on Lt. Walker. "You showed good initiative, Lt. Walker, and saved the Corps a great deal of money and lives. My comments on your record will reflect this."

Ross looked at Cooper next. "Lt. Hawkes. Your act of charity also saved the lives of many men, your own squadron among them. Your actions will also be duly noted on your records."

Ross gave a faint smile. "The real hero here is a bit of a surprise. I am not in the habit of awarding medals to animals, so I will not do so. I do, however, have something that should suffice."

He handed McQueen a box, and the other two to Lt. Walker, and to Cooper.

"These were suggested to me by party or parties that wish to remain unknown." Ross informed them.

Cooper opened the box. Inside, in miniature, were a set of dog tags with the name "Tigger" imprinted on them with a set of serial numbers.

"Consider your proteges honorary members of the 58th squadron, with all the rank, respect, and privileges that brings."

"Cool!" Cooper exclaimed, as they left the ready room. Her own dog tags."

"I don't envy you the job of getting them on her, though." Lt. Walker said with a wink. "Come on, let's go get a celebratory drink at the TUN TAVERN."

The End

Whitethorn 1996

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