Disclaimer: The characters and situations (except Emma and Remyton) of the TV program "Space" Above and Beyond" are the creations of Glen Morgan and James Wong, Fox Broadcasting and Hard Eight Productions, and have been used without permission. No copyright infringement is intended. I didn't think them up, I just put words in their mouths. Send comments to Stephanie
Rated PG13 for language and mild sexual content.
Nathan West sat on his bunk with his head in his hands. The past four weeks had been hell. After Shane, 'Phoose, and Wang had gone down, Nathan had volunteered to go after them. But, Anvil and its surrounding space had been declared hot, just like Tellus before her. And, like before, that had not stopped Nathan, or Cooper. They'd gone A.W.A.L. after them..........and came up empty. Ross was fit to be tied. He'd let them off because of their record and of who they'd gone A.W.A.L. for. Shane, Vanessa, and Paul had been declared KIA, their families notified, and replacements sent. Cooper now sat in the brig because of one of those replacements. Their new Captain had gotten under his skin, shot her mouth off about Anvil, and Hawkes had hit her. Nathan felt he had to lookout for the big thank, given that he was all that was left. And then their was Kylen. Nathan didn't know what had happened. She wasn't the same, or he wasn't the same, hell, maybe they both weren't the same anymore. All he remembered was her indignation after he went A.W.A.L., her lack of understanding. Before, Shane had gone over the wall after him, knowing it was important, caring because he did. Kylen was not Shane. He had given her back her photo tag, finding now that it was not the symbol of faith and hope it had been. It seemed to him that all his hope had crashed on a lonely, hot, deserted planet.
"ISSCV to Saratoga, come in Saratoga."
"ISSCV to any United Earth Vessel."
"ISSCV, this is the H.M.S. Valiant. What is your purpose and designation?"
"H.M.S. Valiant, this is Q of D of the USS Saratoga's five eight. Purpose and designation, the hell out of space."
"Did you say the USS Saratoga? Repeat, USS Saratoga?"
"Affirmative. Would like to request permission to come aboard. I've got wounded."
"One real bad, other shaky."
"Well enough to land her."
"ISSCV, precede to bay 3. Repeat, bay 3. Medical personal will be waiting."
Commodore Ross was awaked form his fitful sleep by a pounding at his hatch. The comm tech looked nervous.
"Sir, incoming message from H.M.S. Valiant, they're asking for you, sir?"
What now? thought Ross.
The ISSCV bay doors opened and the med-techs poured in. Shane pushed through them to Paul and Vanessa.
"Damphoose had a nasty blow to the head, may be a little dehydrated too. Wang's the worst. Don't know what happened to him."
She watched as her injured comrades were bustled towards sick bay. An officer approached her.
"Captain Vanson? The Admiral wishes to see you."
Shane quietly slunk into the Valiant's sick bay at 1900. she was endeavoring to avoid the floor nurse. 'I'm a Marine,' she told herself, 'I should be able to do this.'
Shane managed to slink into Vanessa and Paul's room undetected. They were keeping the two together until their transfer to a hospital ship and then to earth. Their injuries had been make worse due to the lack of proper medical attention during the past four weeks. The last eleven days had been the best care they'd gotten. Personally, Shane didn't see how Paul was still alive. Shane looked at all the monitors, wishing she could read them. A low moan from Vanessa's direction caught Shane's attention.
"Oh, man. Did somebody get the number of that truck?"
Shane smiled, "Sorry, 'Phoose. I missed that one."
"What's goin' on?"
"They're sending you and Paul to the USS Barton and then back to Earth." "What about you?"
"Me? They're keeping me. Too orney to send home."
"Vanessa," Shane grabbed her friend's hand, "I have things to do."
"What?" Vanessa's indignation was clear on her face.
"I can't tell you. I just can't. Trust me. All that matters is that we're back and safe."
"Shane, how did we get back?"
"What do you remember?"
"Not much, just hazy details. A room. Your voice."
"Listen, Vanessa. If anybody asks you anything, say you don't remember anything. You have a head injury. It's believable."
"Do I have to make that and order, Lieutenant? Listen, I have to face this myself, what happened on Anvil and after."
"Vanessa, please. Let me do this."
Vanessa bit her lip. Realistically, she was in no position to argue, but she tried. "What happened on Anvil was all of our decision."
Shane lowered her voice, "Listen up, CFB. Half the GI's and all the big wigs want my head for that, and I won't take the rest of you with me. Your job is to get well. I'll need you later. Let me worry about everything else."
The door opened and light invaded the dark room, assaulting Shane's face. Vanessa gasped. It was the first time she had seen her friend in full light since they left the Saratoga. The left side of her face was scarred. Acid burns radiated from her cheekbone to her jaw, interrupting the smooth skin on either side.
A figure stood in the doorway, a mere silhouette. "What do you think you're doing?"
"Uh, oh," Vanessa sighed, "busted."
Shane stood, "When Paul wakes up, give him my best. When you get to Earth, you should be able to get in touch with McQueen. He's still there. Make sure they let you get in touch with your families. We were listed KIA."
"Shane...."Vanessa's hand shot out and latched on to her.
"Vanessa, please. Get better. I'm a big girl; I can take care of myself.:
Shane smiled, "You too."
Then she stood and left.
Commodore Ross stood in the landing bay, waiting for the ISSCV's doors to open. Thousands of thoughts were flying through his mind. The most prevalent one was one of shock. Shock that his solider was still there, shock that her fate was now in his hands. He could protect her or let her hang. He know what his decision would be. Ty's kids were his kids.
The door opened and a Marine, flanked by two MPs, exited onto the deck. Ross stared at the slight woman with a mix of amazement and pity. She had already been through so much yet would have to face so much more.
"Captain Vanson requesting permission to come aboard, sir!"
"Permission granted. Welcome back." Shane smiled at the Commodore. He continued, "However, not everyone here will express that opinion. Therefore, for your own protection and my piece of mind, you'll be under MP custody until the joint chiefs arrive for your debriefing, barring any further developments."
"Sir, the Captain was hoping to be assigned to her former post, sir."
"I know you were, Vanson. But replacements have been assigned, some of them that bear the most hostility toward you."
"Sir, West, Hawkes?"
"Will be taken care of. Now I suggest we get you to quarters before word of your presence gets around."
Nathan West sat in the Tun Tavern staring into his drink. The rest of his squad was involved in a heated poker game. West wouldn't have had the energy if he were welcome. He had just visited Hawkes in the brig. He felt sorry for the big tank. Nathan was all he had left. McQueen, Shane , Wang, 'Phoose...they had been the man's family. They were all lost in one day, and they were both still grieving, in their own ways. Nathan's just wasn't as violent. Nathan's mind drifted back to the image of Shane. He didn't want to reason why the loss of his Captain was the most painful of recent blows. When had Shane's face replaced Kylen's in his dreams? Nathan only stared into his drink.
Then he began to become aware of someone hovering nearby. He looked up to see two MPs standing stoically infront of him.
"If the Lieutenant would come with us, sir........."
Nathan shrugged. He figured it was just a matter of time before he joined Hawkes. He tossed back the last of his drink and stood, wondering what he'd done.
"This way, sir."
Nathan followed the MPs out of the Tun, but was mildly surprised at the direction they took. Instead of heading to the brig, they headed for the officers' quarters. He surmised he was being called up one the rug by Ross.
The MPs stopped at a hatch. "In there, sir."
Nathan, surprised yet still game, opened the hatch and stepped through into the quarters. The door slammed shut as he searched the room for its occupant. He found her, staring out into space, her back to him.
"You sent for me, sir?" She smiled to herself, although he could not see it. Then she uttered one word.
Nathan automatically responded, "Bulldog." He strode across the deck and turned the woman around to face him. At the sight of her face his heart gave a powerful, painful thump.
He embraced her, holding on for dear life, and felt her bury her head in his shoulder.
When they finally released each other, Nathan examined his friend more carefully. Shane refused to look him in the eye. He gently grabbed her chin and forced her head upward. His eyes turned ice cold when he saw the angry wound that scarred her pale face.
"Nathan, please. It's along complicated story."
"I have time."
Shane sighed bitterly, knowing that she would never be able to evade Nathan's questions. Vanessa's, yes, Nathan's, no.
"It has everything to do with Anvil."
"The Chig we warned was just not any Chig. It was a very important, almost godlike in its position, Chig."
"Then why did that patrol want to spam it?"
"Civil war. That same group was the one who did the Peace Conference bombing. But they're not the faction in power."
"So the truce was a ruse."
Shane shook her head. "It was legit. After we hit, Chig soldiers grabbed us. I wouldn't leave Vanessa, so we got caught." She averted her eyes. "Spent some weeks with the AI's enjoying their 'hospitality' before the Chigs figured out who we were. Lucky for us, it was the ones we warned."
Nathan reached over and gently touched her face. She looked at him quickly and continued. "They patched us up the best they could, gave up Paul, put us in a ISSCV, and sent us back."
Nathan smiled. "So the Wildcards will fly again."
Shane shook her head. "Vanessa and Paul are going back to Earth for treatment. But that's not all. They sent me back with a message, and a mission. Peace talks."
Doubt flashed in Nathan's eyes.
"I know you don't' trust it. I don't blame you. But, Nathan, I do. I trust this completely. There's one problem though."
"I have a feeling they'll court-martial me before I open my mouth."
"Because of Anvil."
She nodded. "Because of Anvil."
Nathan sighed bitterly and drew her to him. "You come with a solution, a message of peace, to end the worst conflict in the history of humanity, and the bureaucracy wants to court-martial you."
He could feel her smile against his chest before she looked up at him. "Well, it's either that or let the GI's shoot me on sight."
Nathan snorted. "With the attitudes around her, that's not far from the truth."
"I heard about Hawkes; Ross told me. Assaulting an officer."
"It's been hard on him. The comments, the looks, they eat at him. He finally snapped when our new CO-who resembles you slightly, by the way; puts him off balance-shot her mouth off about what happened."
Nathan suddenly realized how tightly he was holding Shane. He reluctantly let her go. She moved away from him, sensing he need his space.
"I get debriefed the day after tomorrow."
"What do you do until then?"
"Sit here and stare at the bulkhead, most likely. Listen, will you go tell Hawkes we're O.K.? That we're back?"
"Why don't you tell him yourself?"
Cooper Hawkes stared at the wall of his cell in disgust, desperation, and anguish. Damn Captain Remyton. Why did she have to cut down the 58th's dead? She looked so much like Shane, yet acted so differently. She was uncaring, cold, and hostile. Of course, Cooper thought with a snort, Shane could be all those things, if she was pissed.
He heard the hatch open. HE looked up to see two figures standing at his cell. Nathan and Her.
"What's she doin' here, West?"
"Hawkes........" Nathan began.
"I said get her away from me before I do more than hit her."
"Cooper..." Shane's rich alto tones shattered Hawkes's hostility. He rushed to the bars, reaching through them to embrace her. When he let her down, he stared hard at her face.
"What the hell happened?!"
Shane began to explain.....again.
"Oh, man," Cooper muttered. "There ain't no way the brass is gonna believe that."
"That's what I figure," Shane replied. "That's why you and West gotta deep your mouths shut about Anvil."
"We're not letting you take the heat alone," West broke in.
"It's not your choice, it's mine."
"We ain't abandoning you again." Hawkes was adamant.
"You won't be abandoning me. You'll be helping me. It's easier if I only have to explain my own actions." Shane glanced at her watch. "I gotta get back to quarters before everyone's up and about. The less people who see me, the better."
"I'll walk you back," West replied.
"Shane," Hawkes began, "We'll watch your six."
The journey from the Brig to Shane's quarters was uneventful. Nathan was prepared to leave her at her hatch, alone, but she stopped him.
"Nathan.....I don't want to be by myself, not yet."
He followed her into the room, concerned. "Are the nightmares back?"
She looked at him with tears in her eyes. He drew her to him, holding her while she silently cried. She seemed so childlike, innocent. He gently stroked her back, burying his head in her hair. She smelled of ozone, hammerhead fuel, soap and a unique perfume that was all her own. It was intoxicating. She felt so good, so right, in his arms. He had thought he loved Kylen, and maybe he had. But no like this. This was all encompassing, as if she were part of him, body and soul. He had lived without Kylen. He could not live without Shane.
He was gradually aware that Shane's arms had moved form around his torso to around his neck, her forearms resting on his shoulders. He pulled away from her, slightly, so he could look into her eyes. He knew his new found feelings were easily read by the look of shock that came over Shane's tear streaked face. But then the shock was replaced by ....wanting, perhaps? Nathan touched her face gently. She caught her breath. The air crackled with electricity. She whispered to him, needing to know, "Kylen?"
"Kylen is my past. She wasn't what I thought," Nathan murmured back, his lips centimeters above hers.
Shane moved to close the gap between them, their lips connection gently at first, then urgently, confirming what the both felt, needed, and wanted.
0300. Nathan's foggy mind was struggling to tell him something. Mission, that was it. He had a mission briefing in two hours. He needed to get back to the 58th's bunk. He looked down at his companion. Shane's head was pillowed on his chest, her dark hair fanning out around her. They were intertwined on the room's only bunk, arms and legs hooked together. He never thought he would fall asleep with Shane Vanson resting in his arms. He absently tucked the sheet around her more securely. He should leave; he'd be in it deep with his CO anyway. He gazed at Shane once more. Screw it, he thought, I don't want to move her. Who am I kidding, he continued, I don't want to leave.
The 58th had two empty chairs. Captain Remyton was livid. Hawkes, she knew why he was missing, but where the hell was West? He'd never come back to quarters. HE had about five seconds before she'd, as the saying goes, went thermal nuclear on his ass. Commodore Ross entered the room. Remyton silently cursed West under her breath. Now she'd have to explain his absence. Just as the 58th sat down in their chairs, West entered the room. He inwardly flinched. Late, damn.
Ross sent a stern yet understanding glance in the young pilot's direction. The Commodore was not a stupid man. Nor was he an uninformed one. He knew where West had been.
Throughout the briefing, Remyton sent death glares in West's direction. That boy was in for it.
Ross noticed her glares, and they reinforced his most recent decision. Remyton was a good solider, but not a good leader. She needed someone to hold her reins. She needed to see the bounty that leadership extracted from its victims. She needed to see what the sacrifices a leader made left him or her with. Lord knows, West and Hawkes didn't make it any easier, but she needed discipline. She was good, but she needed more experience. And be it for a brief time, it would also give him a way to help a certain Marine facing a firing squad. Ross watched as the 58th filed out and headed toward their planes. He did not miss Remyton's glare to West that said 'later.' Ross vowed that there would be no later.
Shane sat i8n the Commodore's office staring at the man in shock.
"You want me to be the 58th's CO?"
"Yes, I do."
"But, I can't. I have to........"
"I know, Captain. I've read your report. But until the powers that be arrive and make up their minds, you're stuck here with nothing but time on your hands."
Shane said nothing.
"It will also speak volumes of the faith I have in your abilities, motives, and loyalty," Ross continued.
Shane looked straight at him. "In that case, sir, I accept."
The 58th got back, tired and grubby from their patrol. West was hoping to avoid Remyton's wrath, but the woman caught him before he'd exited the hanger.
"Where the hell were you!?"
"Gee, I didn't know you cared."
"Captain Remyton," Ross barked as he strode toward the pair, "a word please?"
Remyton stared at the woman sitting next to her. She knew she'd be assigned a CO sooner or later, it was inevitable, but why did it have to be her. As if she didn't have enough to worry about.
Shane Vanson glanced at the woman sitting next to her. She could feel the dislike radiation from the Captain. Wonderful.
"Captain Remyton, you will still be honcho in space and on planet, for now."
"Sir, meaning no disrespect, sir, but if my new CO is unfit for combat......."
"She's no unfit, Captain. She is far to valuable to loose on a routine patrol. She just may save all our sorry asses."
Remyton looked chastised.
"Therefor," Ross continued, "the Major..."
"Major!" Shane exclaimed.
"Major-I can do that-," Ross continued, "will be your adviser, consultant, in short you don't take a dump unless she says so."
Remyton set her jaw.
"E suggest you meet your squad in the briefing room, Captain. The Major and I will be right behind you."
Remyton left. Vanson glanced at Ross. "She doesn't like me."
She doesn't have to. All she has to do is keep you alive. Right now, the 58th is the best protection you could have."
"Even though some of them would like me dead?"
Hawkes sat in his chair and looked around the room. He'd been sprung from the brig today. Noticing the absence of their CO, he leaned over and whispered to West, "Where's Remyton?"
Maybe he's gonna court-martial her."
"I don't know. I gotta funny feeling. Something's up."
Remyton stormed into t he room.
Hawkes whispered, "What bit her?"
West raised an eyebrow.
"5-8, Listen up!," Remyton started. "We're getting an officer."
"West and Hawkes had no time to exchange even glances, let alone impressions and predictions, before some one shouted, "Commodore on deck!"
Ross walked through the hatch. Instead of proceeding to the table, he stepped aside, letting his companion enter the room. Stepping through the hatch, Shane was suddenly keenly aware of McQueen's absence. She'd never been on the other side of the table.
Ross addressed the 58th. "5-8, this your new CO, Major Vanson." West raised an eyebrow. Hawkes grinned. "She is in fact, God to you until further notice. Don not question her. Stick to her like glue, and this whole mess may soon be over. Major."
Shane looked over the assembled Marines. "As of the Commodore's orders, the 58th is being reassigned."
"Reassigned!" Hawkes burst out.
"Can it, Hawkes. Listen up. You've been reassigned to protective duties until further notice. The heads of the United Earth Forces will be convening on the Saratoga tomorrow. You're to make sure what happened before doesn't happen again."
A lieutenant to the left of West spoke up, "Doesn't the Saratoga have more than enough security personnel?"
"You won't be protecting the Earth Forces Leaders. You'll be protecting me."
Stunned looks permeated the faces of those present with the exception of Hawkes, West, and Ross. Then Remyton decided to speak up.
Captain, if you're half as smart as I think you are.........."
"Sir," Shane interjected, "Let her say it. Someone has to." Remyton continued, "Why the hell should we? We'd be home already if not for Anvil. She's accepted the responsibility for it. She should be strung up, not promoted."
Hawkes shot out of his chair. Nathan jumped to restrain his friend. Shane threw herself infront of the big tank "Save it, Cooper!"
Hawkes settled. Shane continued. "I should be, and probably will be. I admit to what I did. But that's not as important as what is going to happen."
"What's that?" Remyton cracked.
"Peace, " Ross answered.
The room was silent as the Commodore lift the room, pausing at the hatch, throwing these words over his shoulder, "Bunk with your squad, Major."
Shane tried to pull herself up onto the bunk, but caught her breath as she winced in pain. Nathan was immediately at her side, helping her back down to the floor. He looked at her, their mutual agreement of silence and suspension as to their new found relationship still echoing in his eyes.
"Guess I bruised that rib harder than I thought."
"Do you want to go to Sickbay?"
"No, I'm fine, really."
Nathan sent her a look that said he didn't believe her, not for one second.
"Take my bunk, so you don't have to climb," this came from Hawkes.
"Cooper, I can't take you bunk......."
"Can it, Major." His eyes twinkled at bit with the invocation of her new rank.
"Besides, I slept in your bunk for two weeks after, you know...."
Shane shot him an unbelieving look.
"I did, man. Ask West; he'll back me up."
"All right!" Shane threw up her hands, wincing. "I think this is what they call mutiny."
Shane sat, suddenly exhausted, on Hawkes recently vacated bunk.
"So," The youngest member of the new Wildcards piped, "how come the Commodore thinks you're gonna end the war........sir?" The 'sir' was tacked on after a vicious look from Hawkes was sent in the young man's direction.
"You ever hear the expression, 'The enemy of my enemy is my friend'?"
"It's something like that."
From aloft her bunk, Remyton snorted. "Sounds like treason to me."
West and Hawkes held their breath, sensing what was coming. Shane, who had endured the looks, the barely verbalized comments, and the hateful gestures, finally snapped. She shot up from the bunk, reached up, and despite the pain it caused her, grabbed Remyton by the shirt front, and hauled the startled captain off her bunk before she knew what was happening.
"What the hell is your problem?"
"You haven't the foggiest about what happened on Anvil. No one does! If you did, you'd know enough to keep your mouth shut!"
"All I know is that for what you and your squad did on Anvil, betraying human kind, you're getting off easy. All of you should be shot. But everyone else pays the price!"
Shane backed the woman up against the bulkhead. She thrust her face into Remyton's and continued in a deadly voice, "I'll tell you what I got for Anvil. I got to be interrogated for three weeks straight by AIs. You ever been interrogated?" Remyton shook her head. "I thought not. I got these," she gestured to the burn scars on her cheek, "I got to watch one of my pilots, my friend, slowly dying from a head injury and there wasn't a damn thing I could do about it. I got to help my captors patch up another of my pilots, my friend. I got to hold his stomach together, got to have him bleed all over me, praying to whatever God that still exists that I was doing the right thing, that I shouldn't just let him die to end his pain. Then, I got to come back here with a responsibility to save the whole damned planet, and probably court-martialed to boot. The only things that were remotely positive was that a, my friends know I'm alive, and b, the Commodore showed enough faith in me to give me your sorry ass to command. I also got a promotion that I didn't want because, if by some unexplained phenomena, I don't get court-martialed, I'll get stuck with a group of wet-behind-the-ears kids to keep alive and make sure they don't shoot each other in the foot!"
Shane released Remyton and moved away from her.
"Shane..." West began.
"Stuff it, West."
"...I tell you about how bad off Paul and Vanessa were? Didn't make any sense to. They're fine now."
"How do you know?"
"I know. She looked at her hands and then back to Cooper and Nathan. "They have to be."
Colonel T. C. McQueen stared out of his hospital room window. Six weeks and no word about the war. Nothing. He heard footsteps behind him. Thinking it was his nurse, he spoke, "It's not one yet; not time for vitals check and medication."
McQueen twisted around to behold the owner of that voice. There stood Vanessa Damphoose in a hospital issue robe, an IV stuck into her arm.
"Damphoose!" McQueen reached out to her and captured her hand.
"Sir," Vanessa said, grinning from ear to ear.
"I don't know, sir. Head injury. Last thing I remember is being on the 'Toga. Not much after that. They say that's normal."
"Paul is just been moved out of the ICU today. He woke up yesterday. I think Shane's onboard the Saratoga again, with Nathan and Cooper."
"Sir, I need to leave. The nurse doesn't know I'm gone. Plus, I want to be there when they bring Paul in."
"I understand," McQueen paused, glancing at the door, "but I think you've already been caught."
"You're certainly correct, Corneal," Nurse Keller interjected, bustling into the room. "Now, young lady, who are you and what are you doing here?"
"This is Vanessa Damphoose, one of the 58th Wildcards, recently risen from the dead."
The woman merely raised an eyebrow.
"I think you're about to be confined to quarters."
"Yes, sir," Vanessa replied, "only........."
"Only what, 'Phoose?"
"They haven't told our families we're O.K."
"How do you know?"
"Because mine would be here."
McQueen looked at the nurse. "Keller, would you be so kind to make sure that both Lieutenants Damphoose and Wang get access to a video phone?"
"I think I can arrange that."
"Thank you, sir."
Vanessa and Paul sat, both emotionally drained from speaking with their families. Vanessa had one more call to make. She reached for the phone controls. Paul looked at her.
"Yeah, if Shane hasn't called already this may be hairy."
"I'd rather be back in that cargo compartment."
Vanessa smiled weakly and completed the call. The face of a teenage girl filled the screen. She looked awful. Her eyes were red and puffy from crying. From behind her, Vanessa heard Paul gasp and mutter, "God, they look alike."
Ignoring him, Vanessa started, "Are you Lauren Vanson?"
"Yes, who are you?"
"My name is Vanessa Damphoose. I serve with your sister."
"You mean served. My sister is dead."
The finality in the girl's voice made Vanessa's heart ache. "No, she's not."
"Shane's is alive."
"Is this is some kind of sick joke?"
"No, no joke. I swear."
"Oh my God............" the girl began to sob.
From off screen, Vanessa heard a voice calling, "Lauren, what's wrong? What is it?"
The girl moved away form the screen, "Anne...."
The rest of the conversation was lost, babble filling up the connection. From the sound of it, Vanessa figured she must have excited the whole household. A man suddenly appeared on the screen.
"I'm Anne's husband, Ed; Shane's brother-in-law. What's going on? Lauren said that Shane's alive."
"Yes, that right."
"But the Corps. sent us...."
"I know; they listed her KIA. Me too. But we're not. She's alive and well."
"Why haven't we been official notified? Why hasn't she called?"
"It's not exactly official. She may not have been able to call you yet. She's in hot water right now."
"Where is she?"
"I can't tell you because I don't know."
"But she's alive?"
"Yes. She was there when they loaded me onto the medavac. Saw her with my own eyes. I was with her from the time we went down until we were rescued. She is most certainly alive."
"Thank you so much."
The screen went black. Vanessa looked at Paul, who voiced their mutual thought.
"Why hasn't she called?"
Vanson sat in the conference room, next to Ross, across from the head of the earth forces. Thing were not going well.
"So, after you reveal the plans for the most important offensive in the history of Earth to the enemy, are returned unharmed from their prison, and say that you trust them impeccably, and you expect us to trust you with the future of our species? I think not!"
Ross broke in, "Sirs, I know this is hard for you to accept, but Vanson has shown nothing but excellence in service and loyalty........"
"That is not your decision to make. Commodore. I suggest that you not let your personal feelings interfere with your professional judgment."
"Sirs?" Vanson interrupted.
Every pair of eyes were suddenly glued to the young woman.
"The Major had hoped it would not come to this, but the Major sees no other option." With determination, Shane rose from behind the table and moved to the middle of the room. With lightening moves, she produced a hidden k-bar from her clothing. Before anyone could move to stop her, she had sliced into her arm.
"Vanson!" Ross grabbed the young woman by the shoulder causing her to drop the weapon.
"Sir, you don't understand, Sir."
Shane managed to thrust her hand into her wound and grabbed at something embedded in it. Ross released her as he saw her extract a chip from her bleeding arm.
She dropped the chip on the table. "This will contain verification of all I've said. I hoped I wouldn't have had to extract it."
Ross noticed that she was bleeding more heavily than before. He quickly moved to staunch the flow of blood.
Shane continued, "If you still have doubts, this should put them to rest."
Shane, feeling woozy from the blood loss, replied, "Why what?"
"Why should we believe they want peace?"
"They saw what I did, what we did, telling them about roundhammer as an act of compassion. A compassion they didn't think we were capable of." She faltered, Ross supporting her. "They saw that we could feel and didn't want the innocent to die." Her knees buckled, causing her to fall into the Commodore's arms. "We showed them. We all did."
Ross could wait no more. He gathered the crumpled Major in his arms and bolted for Sickbay.
Fuzzy shadows, lights and darks, and muffled sounds were the first thing she became aware of. The second was the figure asleep in the chair next to her bed. She softly smiled at him, memorizing his features. In the soft light, he looked so young. She saw the man, no the boy, he would be if this war had never happened. She had never looked that innocent, was her next conscious thought. Her innocence had been cut tragically short one night that repeated in her dreams. She wished he could always look like that, no troubles, no worries. Suddenly, his eyes opened and the illusion was gone.
He sat up and leaned forward in his chair, capturing her hand in his. His reproaching stare needed no words to accompany it.
"I had to Nathan."
"You had to slice open your arm and bleed all over the Commodore."
"I had to. Don't you see? They didn't believe me!"
"You opened two veins and artery."
"I had to."
"The doctor said you were lucky. Any more and you would have needed a transfusion."
"Nathan, please. This has to end. I'll do any thing to see an end to this. I'd give my life in battle, and I'd give my life in peace. It must stop."
Nathan reached over and grabbed her head. He stared into her eyes. What she saw there caused her breath to catch in her throat. "I will not loses you."
She couldn't breathe. She couldn't let him go through this, not again. She knew what she had to do. It made her die inside.
"What?" She put her hands over his and pried them away from her face. "You were supposed to take her home."
"Go back to Kylen, Nathan. She won't hurt you."
"I won't let you go."
"It's not your choice. I'm already gone."
She turned away from him, staring at the wall.
"Damnit!" She heard him swear and move away from her. As his footsteps faded away, the tears rolled down Shane's face. Eventually she fell asleep.
The next time she woke up, she saw Hawks sitting by her bed.
"Cooper," she smiled.
"Hey," Hawkes smiled at her. "How you feelin'?"
"Like I wanna get outta here."
Suddenly, the big tank looked down at his hands.
"What is it, Hawkes?"
He looked at her with an expression that would prompt 'Phoose to say 'busted'. "What happened to West?"
"He is one pissed off marine."
"He'll get over it."
Cooper looked at her, analytically. "Yeah, but will you?"
Shane, shocked, wondered how much Cooper knew. "Ya know, Coop, for a six-year-old, you know allot."
"Yeah," he grinned. Then he looked at her. "I gotta go. We're pulling a patrol. Remyton'all shoot me."
Hawkes left, leaving Shane alone with her thoughts. Her solitude was a short one. Commodore Ross smiled as the Major tried to snap to attention.
"As you were."
"They're shipping you home."
"They believe you. They just don't want to be reminded that you were right and they were wrong. For what they wanted to string you up for, turned out to be the miracle we prayed for."
"I didn't do it alone, Sir."
"I know. You move out in five hours."
han ran his fingers through his sweat soaked hair as he and Cooper walked down the corridor. They had just gotten back from patrol. At the end of the corridor, Nathan saw her. She met his eyes briefly before she stepped through a hatch, onto the flight deck.
the time he and Cooper reached the hatch, it had been sealed. They dashed for the observation lounge just in time to see the transport drop through the floor. Nathan slammed his fist into the glass.
at won't change her orders, son."
h pilots whirled around to find the Commodore watching them.
ey sent her home."
at's classified, but I can tell you this much. She didn't leave in custody."
Six weeks later, Shane set foot on the base in Loxly, Alabama for the first time since boot camp. She knew she had a choice to make, and she wanted her suspicions confirmed before she made it. She approached the medical building. She hated doctors.
"Major, are you sure this is what you want?"
"Yes, sir. I want to resign."
The corneal sighed. There was nothing he could do. She had been given a choice and she'd made it.
Shane stood on the doorstep of the comfortable suburban home. The winter sunshine glinted off the house's windows. She could picture what the inside looked like. The tree was sparkling in one corner. Wrapping paper was scattered all over the floor. Marion, not quite one, would be the focus of cameras in all directions. It would be loving and happy. She urned to be part of that. It had been so long. But she couldn't force herself to knock on the door.
You can do this, she told herself. Be brave. She knocked. Someone walked toward the door. An unfamiliar, elderly face appeared at the door.
"I'm sorry," Shane stammered. "I must have the wrong house."
"Shane!" A voice shrieked. Lauren streaked through the door and flung herself into her sister's arms. Shane began to cry. Suddenly she was inside, and Anne was there, encircling both of her sisters in a crushing embrace.
When she was released, Shane looked around the room, seeing unfamiliar faces.
"Shane," Anne said, brushing her older sisters tears away, "this is Ed's family and this," she picked up a child, "is Marion."
Shane took the child from her sister and marveled at the tiny person. She knew she was crying, but didn't care. She hugged the little girl, knowing there would soon be another. She bathed in the love of her family.
Later that night, when all the quests were gone and everyone asleep, Shane sat alone in the darkened kitchen. Her hands were clasped over her stomach, and she stared into space. She knew he was there before he spoke.
"Shouldn't you be in bed, Ed?"
"I was wondering about you."
She smiled, "Can't sleep."
"Want to talk about it?"
"No." She got up and headed up stairs. "I won't be staying long."
"Shane," he grabbed her hand, "you just got here. We haven't seen you for nearly two years. Hell, we thought you were dead!"
"I know, Ed. I just can't stay."
"Talk about it in the morning. To Anne. To Lauren."
"It is, isn't it."
Shane did sleep. For once, t he nightmares left her alone, in peace.
Morning at her sister's house was a new and not entirely pleasant experience for Shane. She wasn't used to the easy, laid back atmosphere. It was also, in her opinion, too late for breakfast. She'd been up at five, the same time that the revelry would have been sounded on the Saratoga. She hadn't been looking forward to the concept of food, either. Assuming that a run would clear her head and settle her stomach, Shane left a note on the table and headed out. When she came back, soaked in sweat, two hours later, the household was up and breakfast was nearly on the table.
"Good morning, Shane!" Anne called from the stove. "You just have enough time to change before we eat."
Shane nodded and headed up the stairs. Lauren called after her, "I threw some clothes on your bed so you don't have to wear fatigues all the time."
Later, Shane headed downstairs to join the family for breakfast. She sat, accepting the plate that Ed passed her. Momentarily, she was stunned. Real eggs and bacon assaulted her senses. She sat looking at them, puzzled.
"Shane, what's wrong?" Anne asked.
Shane grinned at her. "Sorry, it's just been a long time since I've had eggs that didn't start out as a powder." She took a bit. "Heaven."
As she helped with the dishes, reality finally caught up with her. She stood, her hands in soapy water, staring out the window.
"Shane, Shane? Are you listen to me?"
"I asked how long your leave is."
"What? You don't mean you went A.W.A.L.?"
"No, Anne. I resigned."
"Two reasons really. One, I don't think I could go back. Fly, shoot, kill. I've taken too many lives, and I can't go back. I'd choke and get everyone killed. And two, the most important, I'm pregnant."
"What?! You're pregnant. Who, what, when, where?"
"I know how."
"Let's just say I would complicate things if I stayed in."
"Shane, what will you do?"
"I don't know. I can't stay here."
"Don't, Anne. I don't belong here anymore."
A voice from the door interrupted them. "You can't leave! You just got back!"
Shane turned to confront her youngest sister. "Lauren, you don't understand..."
"You can't! I went back to school for you! I went to make you proud! You have to stay!"
"Lauren, I can't."
"Why did you pretend to care?! You left us! You never even said good-bye! And you didn't call!"
"We thought you were dead. If it hadn't been for Lieutenant Damphoose, we wouldn't have known you were alive. If you weren't going to stay, why didn't you stay dead!" Then the girl turned and fled.
Shane realized she was gripping the sink so hard her knuckles were white. She slowly forced them to open.
"I was afraid of this," Anne said. "She took your leaving so hard."
"I thought it was best. I was just so damned tired of taking care of everyone."
"It forced us to grow up."
"I shouldn't have gone. I should have stayed."
"You needed your own life."
Shane was silent for a moment. "I'll go talk to her."
She found Lauren out back, sitting under a sprawling oak tree. Shane plopped down nest to her. "It's been along time since I've sat in dirt without it being a foxhole."
"I know you're disappointed that it has to be this way."
"That you abandon us again."
"I wouldn't call it abandonment."
"Lauren, there's somebody whose life will be a hell of a lot more happier if I wasn't in it. This is where he'll look."
"So I get to suffer."
"Please, honey. I can't go back. I've changed too much.:
"I know. I hate it."
Shane pulled her into a hug. "I love you, kiddo."
"I love you too. I'm sorry."
"So am I. So am I. For more things than you'll ever know."
Nathan and Cooper were back in Loxly. Five hours till leave. They sat in their bunk with the rest of the 58th. The door to the barracks opened and neither moved.
"What do you think? I've never seen such sad faces on Marines before leave."
"I don't know. Depends on where leave is."
Nathan looked up in astonishment. Standing in the doorway were Paul and Vanesssa. "Wang! 'Phoose!"
West and Hawkes engulfed their friends in hugs and backslapping. "You ornery devils! You're up and moving!"
"Hey, we heal fast," Paul grinned. "It's all because of the lucky tee shirt. He revealed the Cubs shirt under his fatigues.
"Ah, man!" Nathan exclaimed. "Please tell me somebody's washed that thing. On second thought, don't answer."
Vanessa scanned the room. "Where's Shane?"
"She's not with you?"
Nathan and Copper exchanged looks. "We have allot to catch up on."
Seven months later, McQueen surveyed the bar he sat in. He knew she was here. Then he saw her, the waitress. She was hard to miss. She waddled through the place. His jaw tightened when he saw her face and it wasn't at her scars. She stopped at his table without noticing who he was.
"What'll you have?"
"The bastard's head on a platter."
Shane gasped, her hand flying to the black eye she now sported. That voice was very familiar.
"Come one. We're leaving."
"But I have work......."
She nodded. "I'll meet you outside in ten minutes."
Ten minutes later, McQueen was ushering her into a cab. She told the driver her address and settled back next to him.
"How did you find me?"
"I'm persistent. Who is he?"
"The black eye, Vanson."
Shane's arm went to her belly. "No, but it was a roof over my head."
They stopped at her apartment. "Get your things."
"I don't have anywhere to go."
"I'll find a place."
Shane sighed as she picked up Emma's toys. At five, her daughter was a whirlwind of energy. As she bent over to retrieve a teddy bear, a flash of light caught her eye. Her dog tags were lying in front of the couch. Emma must have gotten into her drawers again. Shane took them in her hands. It had been a long time. The last person she'd seen had been McQueen when he'd gotten her a decent job, housing, and the hell away from an abusive boyfriend. He'd said he'd want her to return the favor.
Emma, who'd been sitting on the front steps eating a popsicle, called out, "Mamma, Mamma! Soldiers!"
Shane joined her on the steps, scooping the little girl up in her arms. She stared at the Lieutenant on her front steps.
"Major Vanson, sir?"
"At one time, yes."
"You are asked, respectfully to come with me to Loxly."
"Personal request from T.C. McQueen."
Shane sighed. "A moment to pack our bags, Lieutenant. A moment to pack our bags."
Loxely had not changed. Shane smiled to herself as she watched the new recruits getting chewed up and spit out by DIs. She held onto Emma's hand tightly, knowing that the mischievous little girl would love to wonder off in the bustle of the base.
She entered McQueen's outer office and spoke to the receptionist.
"My name is Vanson. He's expecting me?"
"Go on in."
Shane lead Emma to a row of chairs. "Sit here and don't move."
The child nodded. Shane disappeared into the inner office.
Emma Vanson pouted. She never got to do anything. They went to anew exciting place and what did her mother say? Don't move. She never got to have any fun.
Kylen West was not happy. They had been on their way to a dinner party, and suddenly they were on a direct flight to Alabama. Nathan was agitated, jumpy. He reminded her of the Nathan she'd met upon the Saratoga. He'd apologized for the things he'd said and done after he'd went A.W.A.L., but he'd carried a new grief with him. He'd never talked about it. She felt her husband retreating farther and farther away from her. Hell, she wasn't surprised. Their marriage had never been a happy one. Oh well, it wouldn't last much longer anyway. They'd only kept it up for appearance sake.
Nathan entered McQueen's office and headed for the receptionist. "You should wait here," he called over his shoulder to Kylen. She watched her husband disappear into the inner office as she took a seat. She noticed a little girl pouting in a nearby chair. She wondered what kind of parents would leave such a child unattended. She noticed the girl eyeing her evening bag, which had sequins and fringe.
"Would you like to see this?"
The girl nodded. "I'm not supposed to talk to strangers. But I guess it's O.K."
"And why's that?"
"My mother's in the next room. All I'd have to do is scream and you'd be sorry."
"What's your name?"
"Well, Emma, my name is Kylen, and I have no intention of hurting you."
"Was the man with you your husband?"
"My mommy doesn't have a husband."
"He looked familiar."
"MhmmHumm. I think I saw him in a picture or something."
West entered McQueen's office and was momentarily shocked into silence. There sat Shane Vanson. Nathan's jaw tightened, remembering the last time he'd seen her and the things they'd said. Then he addressed McQueen.
"Sit, West. I was just telling Vanson that you were both being drafted."
"During peace time?"
"Apparently," Shane interjected, "that doesn't matter."
Neither she nor Nathan looked at each other.
"Vanson, I know this is difficult for you........"
"Respectfully, sir, you have no idea what this is like for me."
McQueen sighed. "I told you I'd collect."
Shane said nothing.
"What's this all about, sir?" Nathan asked.
"The AI threat is back, tenfold."
Both Shane and Nathan were silent.
"We need recon. We need the best. I'm planet bound because of the leg."
"Sir....." Shane sounded almost desperate.
"What's the matter, Vanson?" West's tone sounded harsh. "You never needed a reason to spam AIs before."
Shane inwardly winced. "Shut up, Nathan."
"Enough," McQueen's tone was deadly. "You people were part of the best unit in the Corps. history. You're both reissued your last rank. Hawkes, Wang, and Damphoose have been pulled from their current assignments and will meet you onboard the Saratoga. You leave immediately."
Shane looked like she was going to cry, "Sir, will you......?"
McQueen nodded. "I'll see she gets to your sisters in San Diego."
"Thank you," Shane replied, ignoring West's questioning look.
The three left the inner office and stepped into the outer one. There Shane saw her daughter talking animatedly to a woman that Shane recognized from Nathan's photo tag. Kylen. She swallowed the lump of fear and sadness in her throat and called to her daughter.
"Emma, honey. Come here."
Emma bounced across the room to her mother. Shane squatted down and held her daughter at arms length. Emma's smile disappeared when she saw the tears in her mother's eyes. Mamma never cried.
"Mamma, what's wrong?"
Shane smiled at her young daughter. "Babydoll, you're gonna have to go stay with Aunt Anne for awhile, O.K.?"
"Mamma's gotta go somewhere for awhile."
"I'll go to."
Shane gathered the child in her arms. "Mamma loves you, sweetie. Don't you ever forget that!" She picked Emma up and carried her to McQueen. "This is Mamma's friend, Corneal McQueen. He's going to make sure you get to Aunt Anne's O.K." She held the child tightly. "Be good."
Nathan looked at Kylen. She looked at him. Her expression said, 'Go, get it over with.' He headed for the door.
Shane handed her daughter to McQueen and followed Nathan. He paused and waited for her. Emma began to scream. "Mamma! Mamma! Come back! I'll be good! Anything! Come back! Don't leave me! Mamma!"
Shane almost turned and ran back to her little girl, but suddenly Nathan had an iron grip on her arm. "You'll just make it worse," he whispered. Shane nodded as tears ran down her face.
They hadn't spoken since they'd left McQueen's office. Now they were fifteen miks from docking. Nathan couldn't stand the silence any longer. "How old is she?"
"You could of told me."
"You assume she's yours."
"Listen, Nathan. You have your life, I have mine."
"Why the hell did you leave?"
"I had no choice. I had no idea what was going to happen."
"So you left?"
"You seemed to recover nicely."
The transport docked and the door slid open. Exiting, Nathan replied, "What choice did I have? You disappeared!"
"Past is past, Nathan."
They were in the corridor. West reached out and grabbed her shoulders.
"I need to know."
"No," she lied.
Hurt, he lashed out. "So you just screwed your way out of the service. Nice."
Shane slapped him. They stood, eyeing each other when a familiar voice startled them.
"Welcome back," Ross retorted.
Wang, 'Phoose, and Hawkes sat in their quarters, reminiscing, waiting for the arrival of their former squad mates.
"And then Hawkes says.........." Vanessa's tirade was interrupted by the violent opening of the hatch. As the door slammed against the wall, and equally violent Shane Vanson stormed in.
"Shane......." a pleading Nathan West followed her in. His check sported a small, bright red handprint. "I apologize. It was uncalled for."
"Well, maybe if you weren't being so secretive and hostile..........."
"You're the one who disappeared for five years!"
"It is none of your business where I spend my life!"
"You've made that painfully obvious!"
"Look, Nathan, we don't have to spend God knows how long together, so why don't we just suck it up, deal with it, and move on. I want to go home as soon as possible."
"What else is new? You've been running away your whole life! Abandonment seems to be your call in life!"
Shane moved to strike him, but Nathan easily blocked her blow, catching her arm in his unyielding grip. "I let you hit me once. I won't let you hurt me again."
Shane was furious. She and Nathan were locked in a death stare.
"Um, guys?" Cooper asked. "You wanna maybe enlighten us?"
"Shut up, Hawkes!" they chimed in unison.
Shane broke away from Nathan. She shucked her stuff on a bunk and headed for the hatch.
"Where are you going?" Nathan called.
"If you must know, I'm heading for the showers."
Vanessa looked at Paul and Cooper. Paul cleared his throat. "Um, is just me of did she not take a towel or clothes or anything? I mean, not that that could be a bad thing.........."
Vanessa shot him a dirty look. "I'll go after her."
"Shut up, Paul."
Nathan, still steamed, watched Vanessa rummage through Shane's bag for the things she needed. After she'd left, Nathan turned to Paul and Cooper.
"You wanna share what that was about?" Cooper questioned.
Wang sighed. "Oh, yes. This is going to be so much fun."
Nathan rolled his eyes. "The Tun still operational?"
"You know it," Wang replied.
"Then let's go. I'm buying."
"Lead the way, my man."
Shane accepted the towel from her friend gratefully.
"You want to talk about it?"
"It might help."
"It might not."
Vanessa sighed. Shane was just so stubborn. "We were worried about you. You just disappeared."
"I'm fine. You can stop now."
"Girl, you are just all prickles today, aren't you?"
ne sighed bitterly, near tears. "I'm sorry, Vanessa. It's just......."
essa gathered her friend in her arms. "Tell me all about it."
Four hours later, both Shane and Vanessa sat on Shane's bunk, deep in conversation. Shane had filled her friend in on the last five years, editing out one important thing. Emma. Shane didn't know how to explain it without dragging Nathan into it. Vanessa's questions had to be evaded.
"That doesn't explain Nathan."
"He was mad at me for leaving."
"Vanessa, please. I really don't want to talk about it."
Vanessa's response was lost to the men's arrival.
"Hooyaah!" Wang exclaimed as he entered the room. "You should have seen it! We wiped the floor with 'em."
"You didn't get in a fight did you?" Shane scolded. "You should have waited for us."
Hawkes crossed the room, picked up his CO, and spun her around. "I believe Vanson has just come back to us."
"Put me down!"
Cooper let her down, grinning. "We were just playing poker, ma, honest."
Shane momentarily froze at the mention of 'ma' but quickly recovered. "Since when can you play poker?"
"He almost could have beaten you, Shane," Nathan broke in, offering the white flag.
Shane accepted, "Believe it when I see it. Bunk down. Revelry's 0500."
"Yes, Sir!" came four mock serious replies and for awhile, everything was fine.
Briefing at 0700. Shane was surprised how tired she was. I must be getting old, she thought. How did I ever do this before. Ross entered the room, ending her musings.
"5-8," the Commodore began, "you have no idea how much pleasure it gives me to stand here, handing you your assignment. Just like old times. But as much as I enjoy this, I wish to hell I didn't have to do this. The AI Wars is part of a history I hope never repeats itself. This time, it could be worse. We don't know. That is where you come in. We know they have access to both our technology and the Chigs technology. Combine that with an enemy that feels no emotion whatsoever and has a vendetta against us and it scares the hell out of me. We have three days until we reach the target zone. You have a briefing at the same time tomorrow. Until then, enjoy yourselves. Welcome home. Dismissed."
The 'Cards got up to leave. As Shane passed him, Ross pulled her aside and handed her a piece of paper.
"This arrived this morning."
Shane read the message; Package delivered safely with few tears. Shane smiled to herself. "Thank you, sir."
Later in the Tun, Shane, Paul, and Vanessa were watching Nathan and Coop duke it out at the Foozball table. Well, Paul and Vanessa were watching the game. Shane was staring at the full shot glass sitting in front of her. She hadn't touched it since Vanessa had plopped it down in front of her twenty minutes ago. A sudden commotion drew her attention to the game. Coop had obviously just scored and was feeling proud of it. Shane grinned. Just like old times. Almost. She suddenly noticed a group of wet-behind-the-ears kids staring at them. She moaned.
"Man, those kids are making me feel old."
Vanessa grinned at her. "Just a little hero worship, Shane. Nothing wrong with that."
Shane snorted and lifted her shot glass. "Here's to all the kids I'm gonna scare the shit out of, to AI guts blasted everywhere, and to the first drink I've had in five years." With that she downed the shot, immediately thrown into a coughing fit as the liquid burned a path down her throat. Paul began to pound her on the back.
"Good God, 'Phoose? What did you give her?"
Shane held up a finger and croaked, "Another."
Paul shook his head and got his friend a drink.
Shane was suddenly aware of a person standing over her. She looked up to see a nervous kid waiting for her attention. She raised an eyebrow.
"I just wanted to say, um, how much I admire you, and your squad. The 58th is legendary."
Vanessa piped up. "Watch your six and keep your head down."
Shane looked at the young solider. "Go home alive."
By this time, Paul had returned and handed Shane her shot. She downed it, got up, and left. Vanessa and the unnamed marine watched her go.
"What I miss?" questioned Paul.
"5-8, this is not merely the recon mission you were told it was. We have reason to believe that the AIs have taken prisoners, and you know what that means. If possible, you are to rescue those interned, after the data is recovered. However, if things get hairy, you are ordered to get the hell out of dodge. Your recon can not be lost. No heroics."
Shane contemplated the Commodore's words. She knew she wouldn't leave anyone behind, not if she could help it.
"You leave in thirty miks. Dismissed."
As the Wildcards filed out, Shane stopped to talk Ross. "Sir?"
"What is it, Vanson."
"Sir, if I don't come back, will you do something for me?"
"No, because I expect you to come back."
"Sir, I need this."
"All right, Vanson. What is it?"
"Will you tell West I lied?"
"Tell West you lied?"
"All right, but I do not intend to have to."
The bunker was nestled between two hills. Through the binocs, Shane saw only one guard.
"O.K. Here's the plan. West, Hawkes, Damphoose; take the right. Wang and I will take the left. Jump the guard, pocket the memory core. Then we deal with prisoners."
"Shane," Nathan interjected, "remember, the Commodore said no unnecessary risks."
"I'm not leaving them. Move out."
The guard never knew what happened. Shane slit his mechanical throat before he made a sound. "Quick, grab the core. They know we're here."
Vanessa extracted the memory core. Then the squad moved in. They split up and down the corridor. Shane held up her hand. One, two, three. They burst through the doors. Shane looked around. She quickly crossed the room to what she thought was a human form crumbled on the floor. She turned it over only to be met with the sadistic smile of an Elroy model.
"Scatter, it's a trap!" Shane managed to call before something slammed into the back of her head. Stunned, she was unable to put up much of a struggle as she was dragged into the corridor. She could see that her warning had come to late. Wang and Damphoose were in the same position. As they were all lined up in the corridor, the AIs forced them on their knees.
"Well, well. Looky her, boys," a Felicity model crooned. "It's a little Vanson girl. Let's have a little reenactment, shall we?"
"Go to hell."
A rifle but slammed into the side of Vanson's head.
"Shall we try this again?"
"Take a chance."
Felicity smiled. "That won't work this time, little one." Then she stepped back, grinned, and fired. Nothing.
"Blanks. Did you really think you would get off that easy, Vanson. It won't be just like mommy and daddy. Get them up."
The silicates hauled the marines up onto their feet. "First, you're going to tell us what you know."
"I think not, " a voice sounded down the corridor as Hawkes and West fired at the AIs. They dropped, their twittering silenced as the 58th climbed to their feet. Looking at the two, Shane smiled, "What took you so long? Move out to the extraction site."
As they were leaving, Shane suddenly had a feeling she had to go back.
"Vanson!" West called. "Where are you going?"
"I've got a feeling. A feeling that there are still people in there."
"It was a trap!"
"I'm going back."
"Like hell you are!"
"That could be me, 'Phoose, and Wang!"
"I am not bringing you back to your daughter in a body bag!"
Shane looked as though he'd hit her. "I'm goin' in."
"Damnit!" Nathan grabbed her did hit her. She slumped against him. "Great. Assaulting an officer. Fun." He looked around. "Hawkes! Get over here and take her pack!"
Cooper scooped up Shane's gear as Nathan hoisted the unconscious major over his shoulder.
"You hit her."
"Kept her from goin' back in, didn't it?"
Copper grinned. "True, true."
The 58th loaded into ISSCV. After they had just cleared the planet's gravity well, Shane began to regain conciseness. She sat up.
"You're back on the ISSCV," Nathan replied.
Groggy, Shane began to remember. She lashed out at Nathan who easily caught her arms. "You idiot! Why didn't you let me go back?"
"You know why."
"She still would have had you!" Suddenly, Shane realized what she said and bit her lip. She broke Nathan's hold and buried her head in her hands. She began to sob, soundlessly. Nathan, stunned, sat infront of her, his hands resting on her shoulders, silent as he contemplated her words.
"O.K. Now I KNOW we missed something," Paul cracked.
Loxely, Alabama. Shane sighed. She glanced at Nathan. She hoped she was strong enough to face what lay ahead. The transport touched down. The 58th filed out, glad to be home on leave. McQueen stood twenty feet away, a small figure clinging to his hand. As Shane stepped out of the transport, the figure broke free and dashed toward the marines. Shane dropped her duffel and rushed toward the child.
"Mamma!" The little girl threw herself into her mother's waiting arms. "Mamma!"
Shane whirled her around in a circle. "Emma! What are you doing here?"
"The Corneal brought me! He said I could stay with you!"
Shane saw that McQueen had stooped infront of her. "That is," he said, "if your bunk mates don't mind."
Shane felt Vanessa's hand on her shoulder. The young woman set down Shane's discarded duffel and smiled. "Oh, I don't think we'll mind."
Emma yawned. Her mother, noticing, decided to end the evening's festivities.
"Emma, time for bed."
Emma, who had just finished rooting through the duffel bags of Paul, Cooper, and 'Nessa as she called them, protested. "No, Mamma, please! I'm not tired."
Paul picked up the little girl and tossed her into the air, causing her to squeal in delight. "You need to listen to your mother.....or she'll court-martial you!" he joked, tickling her as he handed her to Shane.
"Besides," Vanessa broke in, "Paul, Cooper, and I are going out to get something to eat, so it'll be pretty boring around here."
Emma rolled her eyes. "Sure, that's what they all say."
Cooper gawfeed when the little girl said that. "You know, Major," he teased, "she looks like you did when you decided to bargain with Minx........"
"All right, all right," Shane drawled. "Enough. You grunts get out of here so I can put my mutiness daughter to bed."
Her friends headed out the door.... all except Nathan. Shane looked at him. He had remained silent durning the teasing session. She decided to dive in head first, breaching the dreaded subject. She sat down next to him with Emma on her lap.
"Emma," she began, "this is Nathan, remember?"
The little girl nodded, and sensing away to forestall the bed time process, she held out her arms to him. Shane handed the child to her friend and one time lover. The child looked at him.
"It's O.K. if I call him Nathan, Mamma?"
"No. It's O.K. if you call him Daddy."
"Shane...." Nathan began.
"She deserves to know, Nathan. She deserves to know what a wonderful, caring, loving person her father is."
Emma looked at the man whose lap she was seated in. "You're my daddy?" the little girl questioned.
Nathan nodded, unable to speak.
"Good," she said. "I like you." She wrapped her arms around Nathan's neck in a choke hold hug. She grinned, "Can I have a pony?"
At the Asteroid, Vanessa was proposing a toast with the 'food' they'd gone to get.
"To the Wildcards."
"To happy endings."
Paul downed his drink and speculated, "I wonder why West didn't come."
Cooper smirked, "I know why."
"The Major is about to inform her daughter of her parentage, and for that, my friends, West has a front row seat."
Vanessa snorted liquor out her nose. "You mean Shane and Nathan....."
"Listen up. It's better than a soap opera. After you guys went down, West n' me, well we kinda went A.W.A.L. after ya. Kylen didn't get it 'n West kinda sorta told her that it was over in so many words. He gave her back the tag. Then, for reasons I don't wanna get into, right, I get thrown in the brig. The next thing I know, there's Nathan with Shane in tow in the middle of the night, talkin' about some plan to save the world. Anyway, they leave, but the next day, he's lookin' at her like he used to look at that photo tag."
"Nope. Gets better. She pulls some stunt, winds up in Sickbay, and he refuses to leave her side. Then he comes bustin' out of there, madder'n hell and almost puts his hand through a bulkhead. Won't even talk about it. I go to see her, and she looks like she's been cryin' buckets. Shane Vanson don't cry buckets. So I put two and two together. I may be young, but I ain't stupid."
"A torrid affair," Paul surmised. "She tells him to get lost, go back to Kylen. He gets pissed, and she disappears. Come on, Coop. That's movie of the week kinda stuff. That is not Shane Vanson and Nathan West kinda stuff."
"I call'em as I see'em."
"Paul, think about it," Vanessa reasoned. "Five years later, she shows up with a five-year-old that she doesn't say a word about to any of us. You know how proud she was of Marion, never stopped talking about her. And how hostile she and Nathan were toward each other when they first came on board."
"I still say it doesn't sound like them. I'm not saying it's not true, I'm just saying it sounds to....."
"Romantic?" Vanessa interjected.
"Like going A.W.A.L. for Kylen wasn't romantic. Like dancing in the Tun with Oakes wasn't romantic."
"Okay, Okay. I surrender."
"Man," Hawkes grinned. "That kid is gonna be like hell to raise."
"How do you figure, Coop?" Vanessa questioned.
"Imagine," he answered, "Nathan's bullheadedness, Shane's determination, both their tempers, and combine it to form one human being."
"May the Lord have mercy on their sorry souls," Paul deadpanned.
Nathan watched his daughter sleeping. His daughter. It was hard to believe. He heard Shane approach him.
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"I almost did, once. I got all the way to your office door, and I chickened out. I didn't want to ruin your life. I decided one of us should have the picket fence and the two point five kids. Picket fences make me claustrophobic."
"I'd rather have jet fuel and you."
"Nathan, we've been down this path before. Kylen...."
"....served me with divorce papers the night before we left."
Shane looked at her hands, "What are we going to do?"
"Well, I thought I'd probably stay in for awhile. How would you feel about making Emma a Marine Brat?"
"Nathan, you know I'm not staying in! I won't risk what happened to me happening to Emma! I will not make her an orphan! I will not do that to her!"
"Shane, I wasn't suggesting you stay in, although I think you're a fool if you don't. E was asking you to marry me."
"What?" Shane stammered.
Nathan knelt infront of her, capturing her hand in his. "Shane Vanson, will you marry me? I have been in love with you since the first day of boot camp. Real love, not what I thought I felt for Kylen. I could live without Kylen, I can't live without you. Not anymore. I want our daughter, OUR DAUGHTER, to grow up with a mother and a father. And Shane, I want her to have brothers and sisters. Shane, I want to spent the rest of my life with you. You're my best friend. I love you."
Shane slowly sank to her knees, facing Nathan. "How can I say no to that?"
Nathan wrapped his arms around her and held her.
"You know," she said, her voice muffled in his shoulder, "you're parents are gonna hate me."
"My parents loved you."
"They tolerated me."
"They'll love you. They'll be tickled to death to meet their granddaughter."
© Stephanie Meyer 1998
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