DISCLAIMER: The characters and situations of the TV program "SPACE: above and beyond" are creations of Glen Morgan and James Wong, Fox Broadcasting and Hard Eight Productions, and have been used without permission. No copyright infringement is intended.
This story is not to be published on any ftp site, newsgroup, mailing list, fanzine, or elsewhere without the express permission of the author.

Authors note: I would like to thank VA for his help and the people on the fanfic list who did the beta reading for me. A special "thank you" to RiverRat, who has spend a lot of time on my story and who has given many good advises and suggestions.

Comments to wiena@daxis.nl



Wiena Rijstenberg

Part 2 of the Shadow series

Planet Omicron 5:

It's dark and cold; Capt. Dana Troy looks through her night visor checking the area for enemy activity.

Softly she speaks into her microphone, "58th: How is your situation?"

"All clear Capt. No enemy activity here," Lt. Nathan West replies.

"OK all, listen up. Approach target real carefully, we know they're here and they're probably waiting for us. Lt. Hayden, contact the Saratoga that we're going in, tell them to get air support ready for extraction in 45 mikes. Ready ...Hack ..."

The Marines of the 58th and 31st carefully approach the bunker, it is partially covered with sand to hide it from sight.
Dana leads the 31st towards the bunker making sure that their back are covered by the members of the 58th squad. She gives the stop signal as she spots the two chigs guards standing partially hidden in the bunker door. She ducks deep in the sand, trying to make a decision in seconds' time.

"Johnson, I want that rocket launcher up here. I want to send somebody a welcome present." She waits until Roy Johnson crawls up beside her.

"Don't you think the bunker will collapse from the explosion?" Johnson's expression settles into a worried scowl as he studies their target.

"We've got no choice, the thing does look rather solid to me . We have to take out those guards at the entrance of the bunker, and if there are more waiting behind that door, it'll take care of them to. Lets do it."

Under the cover of an enormously loud explosion, the 31st scramble down the hill and rush into the bunker followed by the 58th covering their back. Behind the door is a large room, four Chigs lie dead shattered to pieces, what's left of them is just armor and spooge. The 31st secures the room and waits for the 58th to enter.

"You all know what to do! We split up at the first branching. Lets take as many of our people home as we can." She looks at Lt. Hawkes and she knows that he has been eager to finally bring some of the MIA's home that he had been thinking of so much since Operation Sandman.

It pleases Dana to see how well the 58th and 31st are working together. She notices the change in behavior between the two squads since they have had to work together on several ground OPs. Mutual respect grew on both parts of the squads and Dana thanks McQueen in silence for making them work together.

The operation goes smoothly, there's less resistance than they had expected. When they finally board again at the APC, they all feel real good about the people they were able to finally bring home after they had been held prisoner for so long.

"Who's at my hatch?"

Dana answers, "Its Capt. Troy, sir!" She enters McQueen's cabin and stands at attention, "You've send for me, sir? Were there any problems with the reports that I filled out?"

"No, captain, I just would like to ask you how the operation went on planet: How did the teams cooperate ?"

"The operation went smoothly, sir. There was less resistance than we had expected, and both teams worked as one unit. The squadrons from air support really saved our asses. I think they had the hard part on this mission."

McQueen nods and walks towards Dana, "How many MIA's did you bring home?"

"Sixteen, Sir ."

"A lot of families will be very relieved that the ones they had assumed dead will finally come home." McQueen walks towards his desk and picks up a few documents.

"I was at sickbay today, and I had a talk with your doctor; I would like to ask you some questions that are puzzling us."

Dana is surpised about the sudden change of subject but she makes sure that she doesn't show it.

"You've recovered real fast from that C4 explosion haven't you?"

"I feel fine , sir , I don't even have those headaches anymore."

"When you got wounded before did you always heal this quickly?"

"What are you getting at, sir, I don't understand the importance of this!?" Dana looks away; she doesn't feel very comfortable with this strange question. "I always had a good health, what can I say."

"I would like to ask you something personal; may I?" McQueen stands up from his desk and walks towards Dana.

Dana nods and it looks like McQueen is searching for the right words to formulate his question.

"I've read in your file about your mother, but have you got any idea who your father is?"

Dana looks shocked, and she feels her hands start to tremble so she hides them behind her back. It's silent for a while but than Dana looks up, and she's really pissed.

"If you know what my mother was than you can perhaps understand that I don't have a clue who my father is, I'll give you the answer that my mother gave me when I was a little child.

"Oh dear, I screwed maybe fifty man in that fertile period, how the hell do I know which of them bastards knocked me up." McQueen is shocked at her rough language and is surpised about the anger he sees in her eyes.

"Watch your mouth, captain, and don't get so up tight."

"I would like to know where this is supposed to be good for, sir" Dana tries to get herself better under control.

"You're extremely strong for a woman, Troy; you knocked me of my socks real easy, and I can promise you, Invitro's don't usually go down that fast. And when I combine this with your ability to heal this quickly, I was wondering if your father might have been an Invitro." McQueen studies the look on her face intensely.

"Are you implying, Sir, that I'm a *Tankbrat*, that's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard, sir, with all due respect." Dana feels real upset; she wants to get out of his room immediately.

"I didn't mean to upset you, captain; I'm just trying to figure things out."

"I don't understand. What's so important who or what my father was? Frankly, I don't care, and if there's nothing else, sir, I would like to leave."

"There's one more thing. The doctor told me that on the scans they made from your brain they've found older scars from earlier operations. The scars are in that location of the brain where the memories are stored. What happened to you that made such an operation necessary?" McQueen notices the change of color on her face it changed from red to very pale. Dana feels panic coming up, and she's trying to find an answer that might satisfy him without telling him the truth. She can't. So she just stays silent and she stares at her feet.

"Have you lost your tongue, Dana."

Finally she blurts out, "I have no idea what your talking about sir, maybe they've operated on me and left me with no memory of that." When she looks up her face has become a stone mask.
"If there's nothing else, sir, I would like to go now."

"I'll let you go, for now, but maybe you should think about what we've been talking here, and we'll have another talk sometime soon." McQueen watches Dana leave his quarters and he know there are things she's hiding from him.

Dana feels really upset , and she decides to have a drink at the Tun. Maybe it will take her mind off McQueen's nosy questions.

As she enters the Tun she notices the rest of her squad and some members of the 58th sitting together having a drink. She orders a whisky and walks towards them and pulls up a chair.

"Hi Dana, everything all right? You look like you need that drink." West smiles, but his face gets serious as he sees that Dana isn't responding. Dana doesn't answer , it looks like if she hasn't heard him.

Cooper pats her on her arm. "Dana, did you hear the good news ?"

Dana looks disturbed at the hand on her arm "What news, did I miss something?"

Cooper looks at her with a big smile on his face "McQueen told us tonight that both Vanssen and Damphouse will be back on active duty next week, isn't that great!"

Dana has to smile about his enthusiasm, and she replies, "No I hadn't heard yet but that's great news. How is Wang doing, is he any better? I haven't heard you talk about him for a while now."

"Wang is not doing so well. He is still very emotionally disturbed; it doesn't look like if he's ever coming back." West looks at Dana; his face is troubled.

"Does Kylen still visit him, Nathan?"

"Yes she does, but she wrote that he is in a very bad shape. He doesn't want to talk."

Dana decides to change the subject by trying to bring up another issue.

"How are your wedding plans with Kylen doing, Nathan? Did you already set a date or what."

"We've decided to wait, until the war is over, I mean".

Dana notices that McQueen enters the Tun and is coming their way.

"Good evening Sir , would you like to join us in a toast ."West stands up, and he raises his glass . " I would like to toast to Shane and Vanessa, to old friends coming home."

"Sure, wait a second" and he gets over to the bar for a beer.

After he comes back he pulls up a chair a sits down next to West, "I have a little announcement to make before the toast." He takes a sip of his beer and he looks at all the members of the 58th and 31st .

"Cmdr. Ross informed me that we'll arrive in the area where the Bacchus is stationed in two days . The 58th and 31st will both have a stay on the Bacchus for three days."

A loud cheering is to be heard. "A toast then, to old friends, and a three days leave." Nathan rises from his chair. They all join him and raise their glasses.

After their toast, Kay inquires, "I know this probably sounds stupid , but what's the Bacchus?"

Nathan bends over the table "Its a recreation or pleasure ship, Kay, you can do what ever you like there."

Lt. Ann Fisher, one of the new members of the 58th, laughs, "Haven't you people ever visited the Bacchus?"

Johnson, who's sitting next to her, answers, "We haven't been seeing much of anything."

"But where did you go, when you were off duty then?" Lt. Harry Cramer, another newby on the 58th, looks upon the members of the 31st .

"We have been on duty for the last few years; we never had a day off. Our idea of recreation has always been working out in the gym." Kay looks at Dana.

"Dana hasn't had a day off in seven years, have you Dana?"

"No, I haven't but to tell you the truth, I have no idea what I should be doing with my time for three whole days."

The other people at the table are laughing about her statement-- except McQueen-- he looks at the expression on her face.

She looks lost, and not at all thrilled by the idea of having a three days leave.

"Hey, Dana, you should check out all those gorgeous Marines aboard the Bacchus." Lt. Amy Fisher grins lasciviously at Dana.


"Why, girl if I where you and they would let me go out for the first time in seven years, I would find me a willing, handsome man, and just rip his clothes of and get me some good old fashioned sex."

Dana raises from her chair, she puts both her hands on the table and bends over to Amy.

"First of all, I am not like you, the first Marine that comes closer than 2 inches will be kissing the floor before he knows it. I don't need no days off. What a waste of time." And she turns towards McQueen, gives him a brusque nod and walks out of the Tun.

"Did I say something wrong?" Amy has a repentant look upon her face. "I just wanted to make some fun."

"No, Fisher, I think she's just scared; you could call this a prisoner syndrome. When people who have been detained for a long period of time are suddenly released, they won't be pleased at all. When the daily routine you had for the last seven years stops, what should you do with your time?" McQueen answers and takes a sip of his beer and looks at the door Dana just went through.

Kay stands up. "I'm going to check on her and maybe I can talk some sense into her, you wouldn't believe how stubborn that woman sometimes gets." She leaves with a grin on her face.

She finds Dana sitting on her bunk, reading a magazine.

"Hi Dana, move over." Kay takes a seat next to Dana. "You weren't serious in the Tun, were you? I mean you must have been doing things you liked before you were convicted. I mean, what did you do when you went looking for a good time?" and she looks at the disturbed face next to her. "Tell me what makes you happy." Kay waits but there's no answer.
"You were happy once, weren't you, tell me about it!" she urges.

Dana is silent for a moment staring at her hands but when she looks up, her face shows a sad expression.

"Have I ever told you how I met Damien, Kay? I think that was the happiest day of my life."

Dana starts to talk and a smile curls her lips and she and shares her memories of long ago.

"I was only thirteen that day that I first met him. I heard voices; people were entering the alley where I had taken cover for the night. A loud voice said "You're going to pay for that!" I heard the sound of people fighting, and a gun went off . I tried to make myself as small as possible behind the trash cans I was hiding behind."
Dana's voice gets husky as her memories take her back in time.

York 2047

Footsteps came in closer, and all of a sudden, a hand pulled her out holding her by the hair.

p-please don't h-h-hurt me , I didn't do n-n-nothing".

"Who the hell is this?" another man joined the man that was holding Dana. He looked at Dana and turned her face towards the light of a streetlamp.

"What are you doing here, girl? Who are you spying for?" Dana turned her face towards the man that had addressed her. "I-I-I'm just hiding here, t-t-the police was after me tonight and I- I- I thought I would be s-s-safe here; they don't like these dark a-a-alleys".

"Stop stuttering." And he shook her.

"I c-c-can't , I'm s-s-sorry."

"How old are you and why aren't you at home?" the man nodded to the man who was holding her hair.

Dana was relieved that he let go of her hair, but when the tall man grabbed for her wrist she felt scared .

"I-I-I'm thirteen and I don't have a home." Dana tried to let her voice sound self-assured.

"Why? Are you on the run from the police?" he continued. Dana refused to answer and looked stoically at her feet.

"Damien, let's hand her over to the police; she's of no use to us," the smaller one of the two grinned at her.

Dana panicked "No! Please! They'll lock me up and then they'll f-f-find out". The taller man with dark hair man got intrigued and with a ironic smile on his face he asked

"And what serious crime have you committed?"

"I...I ..killed someone," Dana stuttered and her eyes filled with tears.

The two men looked at each other skeptically and the shorter man said "Damien, let's go, she probably ain't ticking right," and he walked away.

"No , wait, Paul. I'll take her with me, it isn't safe here for anybody and not at least for a thirteen year old female."

"Why? She's of no use to us, she's not a kitten you can take home with you." Paul shook his head and left the alley.

Damien looked upon Dana and grabbed her chin. "Do you want a place to stay tonight? I can't wait to hear your story."

Dana looked at the grinning face in front of her and she knew that this man wouldn't hand her over to the Police and maybe he had some food. She followed him through the alleys, staying real close to him, ignoring the disapproving looks of the other man. They stopped in front of a house and Paul knocked on the door. A face looked through a small hatch, checking their identity.
When they arrived at this so called "safe house", he took her to his sleeping place, putting her on his bed and sat next to her.

"Now tell me, Shorty , what happened?" Damien turned on the light and he examined the young girl sitting opposite him. Her face was covered with dirt but he could still see that she had the promise to grow up to be an astonishingly beautiful woman. Her eyes were black as coal, and her long hair has the colour as the feathers of a raven.

"Where are your parents and why are you wandering on the streets?"

Dana started to stutter again. "M-m-m my-- my mother is dead, I d-d-don't know who my father is. I lived in the s-s-state orphanage. Our headmaster molested me and several of the girls for years." She was quiet for a few seconds but then continued.
" I I-I-I have escaped several times but the police arrested me and brought me back every time."

"Didn't you tell them what happened at the orphanage?"

"I t-t-tried but they didn't want to listen, or m-m-maybe they got irritated with me stuttering so m-m-much, and some of them just didn't care."

"Who did you kill and why?"

"I-I killed the headmaster of the orphanage. I just couldn't t-t-take it anymore."

Kay grabs Dana's hand and rubs it. Dana pulls her hand back and goes on with her story.

"I don't know why he cared or even why he took me in but from that day on, he took care of me. He helped me with my stuttering and started to train me; he wanted to make sure that I could take care of myself. From that first day we met, I started to follow him. Every where he went, I went, and that's how I got my name. Not that Damien was very thrilled about it in the beginning, he even spanked my ass the first time he spotted me.
But I couldn't back down, I just had to make sure that he was OK. I was so afraid that something would happen to him. In a short period of time he had become everything for me, my father, brother, friend, teacher. He was my god: I worshipped the ground he walked on.
Some of the gang members were jealous or made jokes about it, "If you see Damien le Sabre you can be sure that his shadow is near."
Damien had to smile about that; he didn't care; he just made it clear to everybody that if anything ever happened to me, they would have to answer to him. The next seven years were the happiest of my life. Yes I was happy once."

The other squad members return, and Dana stands up and walks towards her locker, putting the magazine away.

They all got ready for the night, and when they were all lying down on their bunks, they heard Amy Fisher's voice: "Dana can I ask you something?"

Dana sighed and turned on her back: "What's up, Amy".

"I've known you people for a few months now and I've been wondering why you did it."

"Did what, Lieutenant?"

"Why have you all been convicted for murder?"

A long silence follows; you can only hear the breathing of all the people present . Then, suddenly, Roy Johnson speaks: "I can't speak for the others , but I killed my wife. I found her in bed with her lover, and I just snapped."

Carl Manson raised on his elbows to look at Amy. "My brother and me were living on the streets, we had no money and no food . We were hungry and we robbed a food store, the police arrived and Johny didn't get out in time. They were beating him, and tried to kick him to death, I didn't hesitate. I went back and I shot the bastard. Killing a police officer is the biggest mistake I ever made."

Kay Hayden sat up straight and looked at the faces that were looking at her. "I used to be a profesional kickboxer; I earned my money with that. One day I was doing grocery shopping and a few punks tried to rob me when I walked for my car. I just kicked the shit out of them. One of these kids didn't get up again, and I got convicted for using my skills."

It falls quiet after that for a while and then Nathan's asks "Dana, why were you convicted?"

"What does it matter? You people will never understand. You come from fine families with nice houses. How could you ever understand how it is to live in the gutter, fighting for your existence every day of your life? I've killed to survive, simply to survive.
And that's all I'm going to say about this. I don't want this subject ever raised again. Do you hear me 5-8th ?"

"Yes, ma'am," voices respond.

Not a word is said after that and everybody tries to get some sleep, but not Dana. Thoughts keep rambling through her mind as she remembers the situations she has been into and the faces of people she has killed. They would haunt her in her dreams until the day she died.

The next morning Dana approaches McQueen.

"Col. McQueen, can't I stay aboard the Saratoga? There's nothing for me to do on the Bacchus."

McQueen turns around and looks at Dana's face, noticing the nervous twitching of her eyes. "Capt. Troy, we have been ordered to go to the Bacchus and take a three days leave. You don't want to disobey orders, do you? I'll bet that when we return you won't remember why you wouldn't want to go in the first place." And he walked away, a grin on his face, getting ready to board the ISSCV.

"Don't bet your ass on it."

He turned around. "Did you say something, Captain?"

"No Sir, I'm ready to go."

Kay and Dana share a luxury room on the Bacchus and Kay is looking at her wardrobe.

"Dana, what should I wear, this black catsuit or the red dress?" And she shows Dana her new clothes. The first thing Kay had wanted to do after arriving at the Bachuss was to look for some clothing shops. "You can't expect me to go out in my camouflage outfit, can you?" Kay had smiled and dragged Dana with her. "Why don't you look for something nice to wear, Dana?"

"I don't care much about clothes, Kay; I feel quite comfortable the way I look now. And you don't expect me to wear a dress do you? You know how my arms and legs look like a regular road map."

"Oh, but they have beautiful pants and shirts here as well," Kay had grinned.

"OK , I give up." And she had started to look around for something that she could wear.

"I'm ready for some serious action tonight, Dana; I'm going to find myself a man, and I intend to stay in bed for at least 24 hours."

Dana's face gets serious as she looks at her friend with concern. "Kay, I know it's none of my business and you can tell me to shut up, but I have to warn you. You know how vicious men can get if they find out who you really are. Just because you have a criminal past they start treating you like you're trash and it can get really ugly."

"Is this why you never let anyone get close to you?" Kay asks curiously.

Dana is quiet for a few seconds, and than she replies, "No, not really but I have seen it happen to my old teammates, and I don't want it to happen to you."

"Thanks, Dana, but I'm a big girl, and I can handle myself. And I know you can as well, so why don't you just relax for just once?"

"You're not giving up are you .....?.

"I'll tell you this, something nasty happened to me ten years ago and I don't really want to go into this and I think I'm over it. But I can't forget that we are still indentured, and the Marine Corps can do anything they like with us, so why look for a relationship when your not free to make a long term commitment?"

The blond woman nods. She isn't really satisfied, but she notices that Dana got a little jumpy. She knows that she won't get any further answers this time.

Dana looks away, glad that Kay is willing to let it rest for the moment. She starts to get dressed for the evening but she keeps pondering about it.
She feels lonely from time to time, but she isn't looking for a one night stand and there is just nobody she could really put her trust in. Then a certain face flashes through her mind, and she tells herself "Don't even go there, girl! He's off limits and I doubt it if he would be interested. Even if he weren't my senior officer, I could never live up to his high standards. Even under the best circumstances-- if I weren't indentured anymore and I would have a different CO-- he could never let himself get involved with somebody like me. It could ruin the career that he worked so hard for. You're trash, and you better not forget that." She reminded herself.

That night the two women enter the bar where they were supposed to meet the others and have a drink before splitting up in different directions. In the background there is a live band performing, and people are dancing and laughing.

Dana notices their squadrons at the end of the bar and they walk up to them. As they arrive glasses of beer are immediately passed on to them.

"Wow, Kay, you look great in that dress." Cooper hands the beer over.

"Dana , you look...."

"Don't even say it, Hawkes." Dana interrupts his sentence and walks away with agitated steps. She looks for McQueen and finds him sitting on a stool, talking to Nathan West.

Dana takes a seat at the other side of him and waits until he's finished talking to West.

He turns towards her. "Is there something that you want to get off your chest, captain? Or do you want to make a pass at me?"

Dana feels herself blush from embarrassment, and she starts to stutter.

"I-I-I, Sir I would never do that." She looks up in his icy blue eyes, and she notices the amused look, and she know he has been teasing her. She decides to come straight to the point. "I've been meaning to ask you how the inquiries about Col. Henson are doing, have you got any news?"

His face gets serious immediately as he responds. "No, my contacts tell me that the main problem is that you have to have witnesses, and it's hard to find anybody who wants to open his mouth about him. It seems that he has an unblemished record."

"And I don't. Is that what you're saying?"

"Calm down, captain. I don't give up that easily; you should know that by now." He looks at her intensely. "I believe you, and so will everyone else as soon as we expose him."

Dana lowers her lids; she doesn't want him to know how good it feels to hear him say these words.

"Thank you, Sir." She whispers, and she stands up and walks back towards Kay and the rest of her squad.

"Dana, we are going to the "bad ciber twins" concert. Would you like to join us?" Amy asks.

"The bad what ...., oh never mind; nope- I'm going to check out the ship. I'll see you all later." Dana walks through the corridors and she wonders what the hell she's doing here.

She finds a three dimensional cinema; she decides to give it a shot. After only a few minutes Dana is sold; they are showing Earth locations; it all looks so real and she enters a world she has never seen before. For the first time she sees the pyramids of Egypt and a virtual tour inside one; after that they take her to Niagara Falls. Dana loses track of time, seeing all these places she has never been and probably will never be able to visit.

Three hours later she returns to her room. As she unlocks the door, she hears a voice behind her.

"Dana, come quick! Something terrible is happening! We need you; I've been looking all over for you." Kay almost drags her along.

"Calm down, Kay. What's going on?"

"After the concert we went to a bar and had some more drinks, and suddenly Cooper starts to throw the furniture around. We can't reason with him, it's almost if he doesn't hear us. He pulled a knife and he threatened to kill us all. I don't know what's happening to him. One second he was OK, and all of sudden he went bananas."

"Have you warned McQueen?"

"Not yet. Do you think we should wake him? We figured that you would know what to do."

They arrive at the bar, and Johnson is waiting for them at the door. "I just wanted to make sure that nobody enters the tavern unexpectedly, we were lucky that there was nobody in the bar anymore when he freaked out. I told the bartender to take a long piss."

"Well done Roy." Dana walks towards the ring of people who are looking at the Marine crouched on his heels, waving his K-Bar. "West, what happened?"

Cooper growls and stares around the bar with the expression of a madman.

"I don't understand what happened! He went to the jukebox, and when he returned, all of a sudden he started to moan. When I tried to touch him, he went crazy."

Dana looks around the tavern at everyone's faces; Amy looks like a scared deer, West looks upset, and Johny Manson is talking to Cooper in a soft tone, trying to calm him down. She then notices the grin on Carl's face: he stands next to his brother, still holding a glass of liquor in his hands.

She steps towards him. "Carl, what's going on?."

He looks down at her, smiling from ear to ear, "This is one crazy tank dude Dana."

Immediately, she notices his dilated irises. "Carl, are you doing drugs? Damn you Carl, have you taken narcotics? Are you out of your mind?"

She grabs the collar of his shirt, pulling his face towards hers. "What did you take?"

Carl Manson grins sheepishly at her, "I just bought some speeders."

"What, Carl?"

"Blue K7's, but they're harmless. Ease up! They only work for a few hours, and they're non-addictive."

"Did you gave them to Coop, Carl , answer me!"

"Nope, relax. I put them in my drink."

"What was Cooper drinking tonight, West?"

"We were all drinking black Russians, Dana."

"Fuck, he must have taken your glass by mistake, Carl! Blue k7 is a harmless drug for natural borns, but it's dangerous for Invitros."

Dana scratches her skull, trying to figure a way out of this. She notices that they are all looking at her as if she has the answer to everything.

"OK, listen up! I want you all to leave the tavern and go to your rooms except for West. I want you to wait outside the tavern; I need you to help me carry him to your quarters."

"Dana, what are you going to do?" West looks upon her, doubting if he should leave or not.

"I'm going to take him out, and I don't want any of you around to get hurt."

"Johnny, don't let your brother out of your sight. I want to have a word with him afterwards. . . . Now! go!"

As the door finally closes behind them, Dana sinks on her knees, watching Coop closely. He hasn't moved and still makes those strange sounds. It's like he isn't aware of where he is.

Dana starts to talk to him in a soft tone, trying to reach him.

"Hey Coop, it's me, Dana. Look at me. I know you feel awful. Try to relax, nothing is going to happen to you. Just calm down. Coop! Please put the knife down. . . . Do you hear me, Cooper?! "

There is no reaction, and she tries to think of a way to disarm him without having to really get into a fight with him. She realizes that there's no such way, the drug has increased his strength and his reflexes. Dana tells herself that there has to be another way: "Think, girl. Think."

Then, suddenly, she realizes that there might be a second option. She glances over her shoulder to make sure that they are alone in the tavern.

"Can I do this.....? Don't think about it, just do it." She crawls toward Hawkes, who's taking position to attack her.

"Cooper," she whispers; "Look at me." And slowly she unbuttons her shirt and removes it. Cooper glances at her like he's under hypnosis , not blinking his eyes once. "I know you like this; would you like to touch me?" And she takes of her bra, very slowly. She lifts her breasts with her hands.
"Would you like to touch them?" Dana knows that this moment is crucial, he's going to give in or will make a sudden attack. She notices that his tongue tips out; she has his full attention.

She moves closer into the range of his knife; she lets her right hand hang beside her ready to stop the knife from stabbing her. With her left hand she slowly reaches for his, and gently she puts his free hand on her breast. He's totally focused on her breasts now. She moves her face closer to his and with her tongue she touches his lips. He bends slowly towards her, and Dana knows, that he's totally focused on her now. She kisses him, gently letting her tongue slide into his mouth. With her free hand she reaches for his hand that holds the knife, Slowly she moves it upwards towards her other breast. Suddenly he's reacting. He drops the knife, pulling her towards him and passionately kisses her back.
Dana can hear her heart beating in her ears, and lets her hands go up his back towards his neck. She touches the navel in his neck and she feels him jerk towards here trying to get as close to her as he can. Her fingers move towards his throat, and she puts her finger ready to squeeze the nerves in his neck. And then with all her might she squeezes. He resists, only for a second, and then he falls backwards, and Dana grabs for his head preventing it from slamming on the floor. She lets out a sigh of relief.

"I can't believe I did that."

Quickly, she puts her clothes back on and walks towards the door.

"West, come in. I need you."

Nathan follows her in and kneels down besides Cooper, "What happened ?"

"I took him out, like I said. We don't have much time; he's going to wake up soon. Help me get him to your quarters; we have to tie him down."

Luckily, the hallways are empty, and they don't have to answer any curious questions. Together they manage to drag the heavy Invitro towards his room.

They put him on his bed, and Dana looks at Nathan: "We need something strong to chain him to the bed."

"Will these belts do?"

Dana nods, "Let me help you."

Together they tie Cooper to his bed.

"This will have to do, Nathan. I have to leave you here with him for a while but I'll be back."

"Where are you going?"

"I have to find out where the bartender went, and I'll try to bribe him. After that I'll check on Carl. Don't let anyone in."

Dana leaves the room and starts to search for the bartender. It takes her quit a while to locate him. She makes inquires at the administration desk she noticed earlier. They provide her his cabin number after she gives them a made-up story about forgetting his cabin number. She grins sheepishly at them, thanking them for all the trouble they have to go through. She walks towards his quarters, checking the money she still has on her. Dana feels relieved that he's willing to forget about what happened that night, especially when she starts waving the money.

"And now, Carl?" she thinks, "What should I do with him? If McQueen finds out he's history."

She arrives at Johnny and Carl's room and knocks at the door.

"Carl, how could you be so stupid? I can't believe you did this!" Dana walks towards him.

"I'm sorry, so sorry. I didn't want this to happen. I just wanted to relax and have some fun. When that dealer approached me at the concert, I just didn't think. I thought it was just harmless shit. I never meant it to be for Coop."

"Do you know a way out of this?" Johny steps next to his brother; he has a very worried look upon his face.

"There's only one way. We can't conceal this; sooner or later McQueen is going to find out and when he does ... You'll have to go to tell him yourself, there's no other way."

"He'll send me back to earth, won't he Dana?" Carl looks miserable now.

"I don't know. Maybe he'll have clemency on you but we have to wait until we know if the drug has done any lasting damage to Coop. I'm going to check on him now, I'll meet you at 0800 hours at his quarters. I'll go with you to see Colonel McQueen, and you'll have to face the consequences, what ever they are..... You hear me?"

"Yes, Ma'am." And Dana walks away.

"West, how is he doing? Is he awake?" Dana walks over to the bed and sees the young Invitro struggling with his bonds.

"I tried to calm him down, but he just doesn't react. How long will this go on?" West stands beside Dana and looks at Cooper.

"I don't know, Nathan. I think a few more hours, but I would like you to get some rest. I'll take over. You can bunk with Kay if you don't mind. Here are the keys." Nathan hesitates.

"Don't look so worried, Nathan; I have been in situations like this before. I can handle this. Could you be back at 0800? I'm going along with Carl to McQueen to tell him what happened."

"What do you think will happen, will he be sent back to Earth?"

"I don't know, Nathan; I have no idea how McQueen will react. Let's wait and see how Coop is doing tomorrow morning."

Nathan nods and takes the keys and leaves Dana alone with Hawkes.

Dana takes a seat next to Cooper, and she brushes her hand through his hair.

He immediately pulls away, growling at her, trying to rip his bonds. In a soft tone she starts talking to him, carefully touching his face making sure he can't bite her all of a sudden. Dana feels depressing memories overwhelming her.
Memories of her mother when she had a bad trip. Her mother kicking and screaming or bursting out in tears. Dana had still been a young child when she first had seen the influence of drugs on a human being. The narcotics had taken her mother away from her and later on Damien. Other painful memories drift into her mind as she keeps caressing Cooper. Damien had started dealing and experimenting with drugs seven years after they first met. She just didn't want to have anything to do with narcotics, not after what she had been through with her Mum. One half of her still loved him, but the other half of her felt contempt, and it had driven them apart.

The hours slowly go by, and finally Cooper starts to relax and falls asleep. Dana unbuckles the belts, she knows the worst is over.

At 0800 Nathan enters. "How is he doing?" He approaches the bed.

"He's asleep. I think he'll be fine."

There's a knock at the door, and Dana stands up from the bed. "Nathan, I'll go see McQueen now with Carl. I'll be back later." She walks towards the door trying to give Nathan a reassuring smile.

Dana and Carl Johnson arrive at Col. McQueen's room, and Dana knocks at the door; there's an immediate answer: "This better be good at this early hour." McQueen opens the door himself, looking in surprise upon Dana and Carl as he notices the serious look upon their faces.

"Com' on in. What happened?" He closes the door behind them, and watches the faces of the two Marines in front of him who are standing at attention.

"Sir, I have made a big mistake. Or better said, I really fucked up." Carl looked upon Dana as in searching for her help, but her stoic expression gives him no reassurance or help.

"What did you do, Lieutenant ? What the hell happened?"

"Sir, last night we went to that concert and afterward we went to a bar and had a drink together I ....bought drugs at the concert, Sir."

The look upon Col. McQueen's face changes as he starts to understand the seriousness of the situation.

"Sir, I bought some Blue K7. I mixed it in a cocktail; it was just meant for my own use, and I thought it was just a harmless drug. I used to take this in the past when I still was a civilian. It just helps you to stay awake and have a fun all night."

"What went wrong?" McQueen steps in front of Carl, bringing his face towards his.

"Cooper drank by mistake from my glass, Sir, and he started to freak out!"

"Damn you! ... How could you do this ...? Have you got any idea of the risks that an Invitro takes when using drugs?"

Suddenly he snaps at Dana: "Where were you, Captain? Couldn't you prevent this from happening? And what happened with Cooper? Where is he? I want to see him immediately."

"Sir," Dana steps forward towards McQueen, "Cooper is doing fine now; he will have a slight hangover but that's all the damage that he'll have."

"How would you know? Have you got any idea of the dangers that are ... of using Blue K7? It causes loss of all kind of control with an Invitro. They get extremely violent; they could easily kill everybody that gets in their way; you can't reason with them. And it increases their strength."

"Sir, I have seen it before, and I therefore knew how to handle the situation. Cooper didn't hurt anybody or hurt himself; he just trashed some furniture."

"If this comes out, Lt. Johnson, you can kiss your ass as a Marine Good-bye," McQueen starts to pace up and down his room.
"Lt. Johnson, you are confined to quarters. After I've checked on Lt. Hawkes, we'll talk about the consequences you'll have to face".

The color on Lt. Carl Johnson face has completely vanished; he looks old for his age and defeated.

"Sir, for what its worth, I would like to apologize, not only to you but also to Capt. Troy. I let you both down, and I'm very sorry."

"You better save your apologies for Lt. Hawkes, Lt. Johnson. You're dismissed." McQueen turns his back towards Carl and Dana is busy studying her shoes as he leaves them alone.

She braces herself for the next attack that will be directed at her personally.

"Where the hell were you, Captain.? Can't you handle your people and keep them out of trouble?" he snaps at her.

"With all due of respect, Sir, I thought these were a few days off for all of us. I wasn't aware that you wanted me to guard them. I didn't go to that concert because it was much too loud for my taste, so I went to the virtual cinema instead." She notices the raising of his eye browse in surprise.
"Sir, I realize that what he did was really stupid, but I think things like this could be expected from people like us who have been in detention for such a long time and than all of a sudden ... all this freedom, it must have made him temporarily out of control. All the alcohol must have made him reckless, and I know this is not a very good excuse, but I would like you to consider this before you take any decisions upon his future. Also, please consider that Cooper is all right, and I made sure that nobody except the 58th and 31st know about what happened." Dana is a little out of breath after her emotional plea.

"How did you take him down, Captain? I know now that you're aware of how dangerous it is to approach an Invitro under the influence of Blue K7. Did you have to get into a fight with him?"

"No, Sir. I managed to avoid a fight; I surpised him. I squeezed his carotid artery and he was down before he knew it."

"You could have been seriously injured yourself, Captain. You shouldn't have gone anywhere near him. Instead, you should have sent for me!"

"Sir, like I told you before, I knew what I was doing; there was no real risk." McQueen shakes his head as if questioning her sanity.

"Let's go see Hawkes. I want to see with my own eyes that he doing well and if there's any lasting damage."

Together they enter Hawkes' and West's room. Nathan is just passing Cooper some fresh brewed coffee.

"How are you doing, Cooper?" The look on McQueen's face is one of serious concern.

"I'm fine, Sir, except for a slight headache. Why is everybody so concerned?"

"Do you have any recollection of what happened last night, Lt. Hawkes?"

Cooper stands up from the bed, and he looks at Dana and West for some assistance, but they both remain silent.

"I remember the concert, it was great. Afterwards, we went for another drink but after that .... I have no idea how I got in my bed."

West blurts out "Don't you remember Dana? She has been sitting next to your bed all night."

"Dana, have you been here with me all night and I don't remember?" he gives Dana a puzzled look. She doesn't notice the curious look that appears on McQueen's face as she answers Cooper.

"Last night at the tavern after you went to the Jukebox , you drank from a glass of liquor that wasn't yours. It contained a drug named Blue K7, it's known to be very dangerous for Invitros." Dana watches his face.

"I don't remember; I can't believe this!"

"Believe it, Lieutenant you emptied Carl Johnson glass. He had bought the drugs at the concert." Col. McQueen studies Hawkes, as he starts to pace up and down the room. D

ana is glad that he doesn't remember anything. It would save her an embarrassing moment in front of McQueen and West. There's a knock on the door.

Dana opens it and looks at Kay Hayden, "What can I do for you Lt. Hayden?"

"Is the colonel here? He wasn't in his room. I have a message for him. They said it was rather important and I should hand it over to him immediately."

"He's here. Come in." Dana watches Kay walk over towards McQueen, handing him over a sealed note. Col. McQueen reads the message; they all notice the change of expression on his face.

"People, this is serious. Our leave has been cancelled. We have to leave for the Saratoga at once. I want you to get everybody ready for departure in 30 mikes; an ISSCV will be waiting for us."

"What will I tell Lt. Johnson, sir, about what is going to happen to him?" Dana asks in a soft tone.

"Tell him that I'll deal with him later. First I want to find out what is going on at the Saratoga. But be sure that this will have consequences for him." McQueen leaves them in a hurry; he's eager to find out what the emergency situation is about.

It's silent in the room for a few seconds after his sudden departure, but Nathan breaks the silence. "Let's get ready and notify the others."

The ISSCV boards the Saratoga at 1500 hours. The hatch opens, and Col. McQueen steps out followed by the members of the 58th and 31st squadrons.

A lieutenant steps forward. "Col. McQueen, sir , you and Capt. Troy are expected in briefing room 3; would you please follow me".

McQueen looks at Dana and nods at her, together they follow the Lt. to the gathering room, where they expect to find out what is going on.

Dana enters the room after McQueen, but the first face she sees makes her freeze up instantly. Dana looks directly at Col. Henson, who stands next to the door.
She can hear her heart beat in her ears.
What is he doing here? Is he going to confront them about the inquiries that are made about him? "Col. McQueen, Capt. Troy, glad you arrived; sorry that we had to break up your leave." Comdr. Ross stands up from the chair behind the table where he was sitting.
"Admiral Jordan, General Mc.Kenzie, and Colonel Henson." he points at the people present in the room. "Colonel McQueen and Captain Troy."

"What is going on, sir?" Col. McQueen looks at Dana to check on her after he realizes that the man was who is introduced as Col. Henson is her former commanding officer. He realizes that the icy look on her face hardly covers her disgust.

"Col. McQueen , Capt. Troy, I would like to start by telling you both that everything that will discussed here is highly confidential. This will all be compartmentalized." He looks upon them with an unusually, serious expression.

"We have a very serious situation on our hands. Headquarters has been planning a major operation against the chigs' home planet. This operation is to take place in two months. The name of the operation will be Dark Sky. This is what happened: An army ACP got intercepted by AI's on its way to the USS Chartwell. They were forced to land on Darios 5. All passengers were brutally murdered except one man: General Daniel Torres, he has been the head planner of operation Dark Sky. I think that makes our problem very obvious."

Admiral Jordan looks at the two newcomers as he starts to talk. "The abduction took place 24 hours ago. We, however, were able to track their traces, we know where he is. They probably do know that we know, but they must be feeling very safe on Kazbek. They're probably assuming that we won't follow them so near the home planet of the Chigs in order to avoid a direct confrontation with them. The joint staff almost decided to give up on operation Dark Sky, but Col. Henson here , who joined our staff about six months ago, made a suggestion, and that is what brought us here. He convinced us that if we act quickly there is a chance to save operation Dark Sky and General Torres because they aren't expecting us to do so. He told us about the 31st S.O. Squadron special abilities and how they have handled precarious situations like this one before. We immediately started to plan an operation we call Bird Cage."

Damned, he's up to something ... it would be a perfect plan to get rid of us, Dana stares at her feet while she listens to General Mc.Kenzie who walks toward a map on the holoscreen.

"This is an satellite picture from Kazbek, taken six hours ago. We have been informed by intelligence that the General is held prisoner somewhere in the mine where the so called Sewell Fuel is refined." And he points at the picture. "We want to drop the 31st behind enemy lines on Kazbek; we expect them to penetrate the mine and find general Torres or find out if he has been talking about operation Dark Sky."

"Sir, with all due respect, that sounds like a suicide mission to me." Col. McQueen looks to Commodore Ross to back him up, but Ross looks away clenching his jaw.

"Col. McQueen, if I might interrupt." Col. Henson answers in a disdainful tone and he steps in front of McQueen and looks him straight in the eyes. "We think that we can cover them with air and ground support coming from the Saratoga, the USS Wilmot, and the Chartwell. If the whole operation runs smoothly we can be in and out within an hour."

McQueen doesn't even blink his eyes and stares right back; they face each other with daggers drawn.

"Have you got any notion of how big that mining facility is? They will be looking for a needle in the haystack."

"Maybe I have more trust in the 31st than you have; after all they were under my command longer, so I'm very well aware of what they are capable of doing. They have been trained by the best; they are the best SO team we have. They have worked under the most difficult circumstances and they have never failed. But let's ask Capt. Troy on this." And he turns towards Dana with a vicious smile. "What do you think, Captain?."

Dana answers his smile with an ice cold look. "The 31st has never refused an order, sir. If so ordered, the 31st will go and get the job done." Satisfied, Henson looks upon Admiral Jordan and glances in triumph at McQueen.

"That settles things; we'd better start on the planning." Admiral Jordan walks back towards his seat. "For the duration of this mission Col. Henson will be the CO of the 31st once again; he will brief the squadron on further information they'll be needing. Capt. Troy, you are excused. Col. Henson will brief you and your squadron later."

Dana hears Henson's voice as she turns to leave . "Captain, I have requested separate quarters for the 31st; make sure you get settled immediately. You're confined to quarters until further notice."

Dana freezes up but doesn't turn her head. "Yes, Sir."

On her way back towards the mutual quarters of the 58th and the 31st, Dana tries to get a grip on her anger, and anyone in her path gets shoved away.

The bastard, he finally got them where he wanted them, off by themselves again, so he could get away with anything he pleased to do or say. How could she explain this to here teammates? They would take it very hard. It was not the mission that bothered her, although she didn't trust him and she expected that he would come up with something vicious.

But why did he pull the 31st into this. He had been relieved that he had finally been promoted to headquarters. Maybe ... just maybe he had become aware of the inquiries McQueen has made about his conduct towards the 31st. It would be a perfect chance to get rid of them..... and he could get away with it. She arrives at their soon to be old quarters, she takes a deep breath and enters.

They all look at her as she walks in. "Dana, what's going on?" Roy Johnson steps forward and looks at the frozen look on Dana's face.

"31st ,listen up! Pack your gear. We are moving into new quarters; there has been a change of command for us. Col. Henson is again CO of the 31st."

"No, that can't be true!" Kay exclaims in shock.

"It's true, believe me. I want you all to hurry so that we have some time to talk before Col. Henson gets there, and I want to prepare you for a few things."

Dana passes Kay and Roy and opens her locker and starts to fill her bag. The others follow her example.

She overhears Johnny saying to Carl, "Man this sucks, we are fucked, believe me."

West stands up from his bunk and taps Dana on her shoulder, "Dana, Col. McQueen won't allow this!"

"He has no choice, West, and neither have we; we are under orders." West is struck by the look of defeat on her face and in her voice.

"Dana." Cooper walks towards the other side of the locker "Is there anything we can do?"

Dana stops packing and looks at the tall Invitro. After a few seconds she replies, "You could all watch our sixes; I got the feeling that we will be needing you."

"We will, Dana, we will" Nathan looks at the rest of the squadron and they all nod in agreement.

The 31st follows Dana and the Lieutenant who has been ordered to accompany them to their new quarters. And who is assigned to stand guard at their hatch... she has to smirk about that. She finds out that they aren't even on the same deck any more. Henson must want to keep as much distance between the two squadrons as he can. As they start to unpack and get settled they notice the course correction of the Saratoga. They are already on their way towards their new assignment.

"OK, all of you, listen up. We are going on a compartmentalized mission. During this mission Col. Henson will be once more our CO. There's nothing we can do about that; we are under orders. Col. Henson will soon pay us a visit to fill us in and have no doubt he's going to rub it in. I want you all to keep calm, and whatever you do, don't make any smart remarks because we are in more troubles than we have ever been before. Like you, I don't trust Henson. No doubt he has something up his sleeve, so I want you all to be very careful. I don't know what exactly is waiting us for this mission but it's going to be a hard one. We can only rely on each other and watch each other sixes."

"Dana, do you think that somehow he found out about us trying to bring him up on charges?" Carl asks.

"Yes, it might well be, and that's why I want you all to be very careful. This could be a great opportunity to get rid of us. All we can do now is wait and see what his first move is going to be ."

One hour later the door opens and Col. Henson enters. "Atten-hut." Dana shouts and they all jump of their racks and stand at attention.

Henson steps in front of them, staring at each of them in turn. "You must be all thrilled to see me back. Did you miss me?" Henson opens with a filthy smile.

Nobody moves a muscle: there is not a flicker of emotion on their faces as he addresses them. They just stare into the air.

He stops in front of Dana and inspects her face, " Why did you have surgery? I kind of liked the scars on your face ."

"Comdr.Ross ordered me to have it reconstructed, Sir." Henson narrowed his eyes and steps back to look at them.

"This is how it's going to be: None of you will leave these quarters except for your daily training sessions. You are not allowed to talk to anyone else; I will keep you separated at all times; I want you all to focus on the job that's ahead of you. I want 100% concentration , because this is going to be your hardest assignment ever. We will reach the planet Kazbek in two days. That means we have only forty-eight hours to prepare for operation: Birdcage. I want you to spend that time training because I have reason to suspect that you all went lazy aboard this ship. They have granted you too many privileges here, but that's going to be over now. Who knows, you might all live through this. Wouldn't it be great to come home to earth with me?"

Still no reaction. Henson starts to feel a little uncomfortable now, and he tries to figure out something that would cause a reaction.

"You all must be very grateful that I freed of the burden to serve under a Tank CO, God I would have loved to see your faces when you arrived here."

Dana turns her head towards Henson. The stare she gives him runs a shiver up his spine. God-- he hates this bitch.

And after a few seconds she addresses him. "Sir, what are your orders for the rest of the day?"

He stares back at her, suddenly with a innocent look upon his face; he answers, "I want you all go to the barber first and get a decent haircut, and after that you'll start training at the Gym for your usual daily program. In the gym there's a man waiting for you. I brought him with me from Earth. He will be an additional member of the 31st; he's fully trained in all the skills required. That's all ...for now." He leaves them after giving them a last triumphant glare.

"Someone please tell me this is a nightmare." Kay sits down on her rack.

"It's not, Kay, but we will live through this, you hear? Don't let him get to you; that's all he's after. I'm proud of you all. " Dana puts her hand on Carl's shoulder. "He's going to try to provoke us to a reaction, but I want you all to react like we did just now. Just give him the respect his rank entitles him, but nothing else, no emotions, no outbursts, no nothing. Lets go, we have an appointment with the barber."

"I hate him trying to take our dignity like this. I just started to feel feminine again," Kay sighs deeply as she accepts Dana's hand to pull her up from her bunk.

"That's his general idea-- he takes away our dignity, privileges, and self confidence. Don't let it get to you Kay, its just hair and it will grow back." Dana smiles trying to lighten up her friend.

"He thinks he can get away with manipulating us once again. He wants to bring us down. But it's not going to work, not this time, and I need you all to stand by me." Dana stretches her arm, balling her fist and every single member of the 31st touches her knuckles with his or hers. They leave their quarters and are escorted to get their hair trimmed.

"I feel like a jail bird again with that guard following us around." Roy Johnson opens the doors of the gym, and Dana steps in and checks immediately on the whereabouts of the new guy. They see him lifting weights at a bench. There's nobody else; must be the colonel's orders. Dana nods and they all follow her.

"Ahhh, look, the new guy! Training hard-- what a sense of duty. Let me help you ."

Dana takes over the weights and looks down at the man. Suddenly she lets the barbell drop. He just catches it in time, and then she start to push it down on the man's throat.

"Catch his legs, Mansons. Let me introduce myself: I'm Captain Troy, your honcho. Welcome aboard." And she grins viciously at her victim.

"What's your name, Marine?" He looks about twenty-three years old.

"Lt. Mark Cullen, Captain I was told the welcome wouldn't be much but this beats all my expectations." His voice sounds raspy from exertion trying to hold back the weights.

"Why were you sent here, Lieutenant.?" Dana lowers her head so she can look straight into his grey eyes .

"I was sent here to join the 31st on a classified mission, at least that's what I thought."

"What was your crime? Why where you send here?"

"I robbed a liquor store and shot the owner." Dana narrows her eyes as she notices the flickering of his eyes and she knows, she instinctually knows... this man is lying .

"I'm a convicted killer like you." he says, now with more confidence in his voice.

She bends even further and whispers in his ear in a deceivingly friendly tone. "I don't think so. I eat 'boys' like you for breakfast."

Suddenly, at Dana's signal, they release him. They walk away towards the middle of the mat and start to loosen up their muscles.

"Col. Henson could have warned me that he put me up with a couple of weirdos." Mark Cullen throws away the weight bar and rubs his throat.

"Stop the chatter, Cullen. Come over here and join us; lets get to business."

After their first workout Dana gives the orders for the rest of training session.

"We're going to train pair-wise. Johnson, I want you to take the FNK and check on his reflexes and skills and afterward take him to shooting range to check on his sharp-shooting capacities. Kay, stay with me; lets go."

Dana and Kay are sparring kick boxing together, carefully avoiding full contact. Softly, they are consulting with each other. "What do you think?" Dana asks.

"Don't know, Dana; couldn't tell, but I don't like him; I get the feeling that he thinks he's better than we are."

"You're right, I noticed that too. One thing's for sure, he lied about murdering that liquor store owner. Oh, I believe he's a killer, but he lied nevertheless."

"Johnson, may I ask you something?" Cullen watches Dana and Kay spar as they are doing their push-ups.


"How is it to serve under that mega bitch? I for one feel that women shouldn't be allowed on special OP's teams. Call me old fashioned, but I have no interest in their premenstrual problems." He looks at the dark colored man next to him who doesn't even slow down his rhythm for one second.

"You don't have to worry about PMS, Cullen. They both have been made sterile. Didn't you know that women are not allowed to menstruate on any SO team? And for the bitch thing, she has always been there for us, so watch your mouth and save your strength for the workout."

At 21.00h another Marine Lt. steps in and tells them that dinner will be served at the officers' mess in 20 minutes. They take a quick shower and change their clothes. Dana hopes to see a familiar face when they walk up to the officers' mess, but no such luck. The mess is empty as well, and she feels disappointed .

There's not much conversation during their meal; everybody seems to be occupied with his own thoughts. After their dinner they are escorted back through the corridors. Dana follows behind.

While they are passing general toilets Dana sees one of the doors ajar; she notices McQueen signaling to her.

"Hey, Lieutenant, wait. I have to pee." she says.

"We're almost back at our quarters, Captain. Can't this wait?"

"Nope." And she's in the toilet and has closed the door before he can even reply.

"Wow, she must be really in a hurry. Maybe something she ate?"

Mark Cullen looks at the others for a reply, but they all stare stoically back at him.

"Sir, what are you doing here? I guess it's out of the question we talk in public, is it?"

"Yes, it is. The admiral has granted all Col. Henson's requests, and he probably will continue to do so as long as he thinks that this operation will be a success. There's nothing I can do to change the situation right now, but I want you all to know that I'll keep an eye on your CO.
Somehow I think he's on to us; I tried to be real careful but there must have been a leak. He wants to stop us before we find someone who will testify for us. I want you all to watch your sixes real carefully on Kazbek; you could all easily be killed."

"I know, Sir. I'm not afraid for what's going to happen on Kazbek. I'm well aware it sounds like a suicide mission, but we are going to do our duty as always. I'm worried about other things."

"Name it." the frown between his eyes becomes deeper.

"One thing is our gear and equipment. I don't want anyone else messing with that; we're probably going to need every piece of it and I would be really pissed off to find out that things are missing. Second -- our ride back. Think of what would happen if the door of the ISSCV that is supposed to pick us up would suddenly shut its doors in our face's. We would be toast."

McQueen nods in agreement, "You'd better go now before someone comes in to check; you can be sure that I'll take care of these matters."

Dana turns around ready to open the door as she hears him softly speaking,

"Be careful, Dana." She pauses just for a second and without looking at him she leaves the room.

Reveille is at 0400 hours. An hour later they are at the shooting range and Dana notices that Lt. Mark Fisher is an excellent marksman.
She hates to admit it but he's really good: Where did you come from, bastard, I'm on to you. You don't fool me with your smile and your good looks.

"OK, people. Enough for today; lets go to the gym. We have a briefing at 1200."

At the gym everybody starts again with their own training program. Dana starts with the loosening up exercise of Aikido on the mat. Its an ancient form of martial art which specializes in self defense. Kay joins her and together they start to warm up their muscles.

"Don't you think they should join the national ballet or what." Mark Cullen smirks at Johnson who is running beside him on their mutual rounds in the gym.

"Better watch your mouth Cullen before she hears you."

"Too late, I heard that." Dana replies and she immediately stops and walks towards Cullen.

"What's wrong with our exercises Cullen, not violent enough for you? Or do you just have problems with women in general?"

"It looks silly. I saw you do it yesterday as well and I think its something for softies."

"Aaah- you want a shot at the title then , I see....."

"Dana, don't let yourself get provoked into this; just ignore him." Kay touches Dana by the arm.

"OK, Lt., let's see how good you really are." And she pulls her arm away from Kay.

Suddenly the door of the gym opens and they all glance surprised at the their visitors.

The 58th enters the gym , "We didn't know somebody was up here; we will leave you so you can continue your training program." Nathan has a totally innocent look on his face.

"Heyaa, 58th ,you're just in time to place your bets; we're going to have a little match here." Dana smiles viciously at Mark.

"I think a real man should teach you some respect, and I'm ready!" Mark Cullen stares back at her, and she notices the contempt in his eyes.

"My money's on you, Dana. I'll bet you ten bucks on one minute." Johnny steps forward followed by his brother Carl.

"I give him half the time," says Carl.

"Count me in for 20 seconds." Roy is clenching his hands-- he seems to really look forward to this match.

"Dana, don't bother.... OK, I'll give him 10seconds." Kay looks over her shoulder as she makes room on the mat. "

5-8th, do any of you want in on this?" Roy walks up towards the people standing beside the mat.

"Nope, I don't think so; this is something that only concerns the 31st." Dana doesn't recognize the voice; she takes the time to give the Wildcards a second look.

"You must be Captain Vansen ... Welcome back; I'll be with you in a second. OK, hotshot, let me see what you got."

Dana gets ready; she just stands there with her arms hanging beside her and waits. She doesn't have to wait long. Cullen swings at her immediately. Dana intercepts his fist with her palm and jams it down, using Cullen's own weight against him. Cullen falls flat on his face, but Dana still holds his wrist.
Immediately she puts her shoe in his neck and pushes his arm forwards. Mark Cullen screams out in pain and anger as he realizes that it's already over, and he had underestimated her.

Dana waits for a second and looks at Kay who is checking her watch. "How many seconds, Kay?"

"Six Dana; you did it in six fucking seconds!"

It's quiet in the gym after that for few seconds, then Carl blurts out "Damn it, Dana, you always cost me money."

Dana scowls down at Cullen. She is still twisting his arm behind his back.

"I hope you've learned a lesson today. Never underestimate me again, you hear?" and she lets go and walks towards the 58th.

Mark Cullen rubs his sore arm, and stands up slowly; there's an expression of rage on his face, but he gets a grip on himself as he reminds himself, "Don't lose it now; your time will be coming soon, and then you can teach that bitch a lesson."

"Capt. Vansen, sorry that I kept you waiting, but first things first."

Capt. Shane Vansen curiously studies the woman in front of her. She's surpised about her scanty height, and although she looks very muscular for a woman, she still is very feminine. Her shaved head doesn't make her unattractive; it just makes her eyes very prominent in her face. They're black as coal, and Shane realize that she must be probably Latino.

"I wanted to say thank you for what you did for us." And she reaches out her hand.

Dana accepts the handshake and smiles, "I'm a very nice person, if you give me a chance; believe me." And she grins at the rest of the 58th. She nods at Hawkes, West, Cramer, Fisher and another, unfamiliar, face.

"Ma'am, I'm Lt. Damphouse, remember me? I would like to say thanks as well."

"Just let it rest. We just did our jobs, but it was great bringing you home." Dana shakes her hand as well.
"You'll have to go now, before you get into trouble for this."

"We took care of the guard, Dana. He owes me big time, and I just pulled in a favor." West smiles at her, trying to reassure her.

"That's good, but you'll have to leave nevertheless; give my regards to Col. McQueen." She slaps him on the shoulder while she whispers to him, "Tell McQueen about what you just witnessed." Dana turns around and walks back towards Kay.

"Okay, nap-time's over, lets get back to work." She just hopes that McQueen will get the message. She had forgotten to mention it in their private meeting yesterday, but this is their problem, something the 31st has to deal with themselves.

12.00h the briefing of Operation: Birdcage.

The 31st squadron files into Briefing Room Five to take their usual places. There are a number of high ranking officers already seated behind a large table in front of them: Admiral Jordan, General Mc.Kenzie, Commodore Ross, Colonel McQueen, and Colonel Henson. The latter stands and walks toward them.

"31st , listen up, this is what's going to happen. Tomorrow morning at 0400, just before sunrise, Operation: Birdcage will begin. Insertion will be by means of a HALO jump."

He shows them possible: a recon photo of the surrounding area, and after that there's a layout of the mining facility.

"You'll arrive at 0430 hours, and its your objective to enter the facility undetected. You'll immediately start the search for General Daniel Torres."

Torres picture comes up the screen. Dana studies the picture intensely, to print it into her memory. The General is wearing dress blue's. He's in his early forties and has a serious look on his face. She ponders on the spirit of this man.
Will this man be strong enough to withstand torture at the hands of the chigs?

"Col. McQueen, who has provided us with the mine layout, also warned us that there will be silicates present. There will be ventilation shafts nearby the mine. We have agreed that this is probably the best way to get inside. It will be a long way down, but you will be equipped with the best gear we can provide. Immediately after you have entered the pipes, there will be an airstrike to draw the attention of the enemy. Soon after, ground troops will be dropped who will assist you on your way back. We expect that the chigs will have several division of air support around because we're really close to their own home planet. The Saratoga will be backed up by two other Carriers: The USS Wilmot and the USS Chartwell. It's your job to penetrate the mines, find the General and get him out alive or dead. The first thing we have to know is if the plan is still intact. Capt. Troy, we would like you to radio in at the first opportunity, so that we know where we stand. We will provide you with the coordinates for the ISSCV that'll be waiting to take you all home. That will be all. You may return toward your daily training program."

Dana notices the serious looks on the faces on the men in front of her, and she knows that she has to arrange that they themselves get in charge to prepare their own equipment.

"Yes, Sir. We will. May I speak freely?"

"What's up, Captain? We are very busy, so speak your mind." Comdr. Ross stands up and answers before Col. Henson can reply.

"Sir, I would like to request that the 31st take care of their own gear and equipment after their training."

"Why's that, Captain?"

"We have always worked that way, Sir; so that we can be 100% sure that we have everything we need and that we won't be confronted with any unexpected surprises. I believe that this is our responsibility towards this mission and to make sure that nothing goes wrong."

Comdr. Ross looks at the Admiral present, who nods his head, giving his consent.

"Granted, Capt. Troy. I wish you all good luck."

Dana notices the flash of annoyance on Col. Henson's face and McQueen's slight smile of approval.

The 31st gives the present "Top Brass" a last salute, then they leave the briefing room and head back for the Gym.

1700 Hours

At the Saratoga's weapon depot.

"OK, people, listen up. We have two hours left, let's get ready." Dana gathers her people around her.
"This is what I want you to do. Every one packs his own gear. This is what I want you to take: Everyone gets a Stoner SR-25. We'll use 7.62mm shells. there are 20 rounds in every magazine; make sure to take 5 additional magazines. Mansons, the two of you will take additional the Caligo M-900. It will give us 100 rounds of 9mm ammunition and again take an extra 2 magazines. The rest of us will take the Franchi SPAS-- it holds only 8 shells, but at close range, the effect can be devastating.
Take 5 extra magazines. Hayden and Johnson, you'll be carrying the ropes we need for the descent. Aerotech has invented recently a new nylon cord; it's up to 500 meters and can carry a weight till 300 pounds. The weight has been brought down to 15 kilo's each."

"Has it been tested, Captain? I've never heard about such a rope."

"Let's hope so, Cullen , or we will end up as ketchup." Dana grins.

"Just let me finish. I want you all to take 4 smart grenades each. I know that we'll be carrying a lot of weight with us but don't forget we're not planning on taking it back. And don't forget to double check your parachutes and 0˛ supply for the HALO jump. So let's get busy. Select additionally any knife or dagger of your choice. Before I forget, Johnson, bring a radio; and, Kay, take a medical kit; I will take with me a rocket launcher, just in case. Get busy, people!"

Dana walks away, and she's pondering if she did the right thing to let everybody pack their own weapons so that Lt. Cullen wouldn't have the time or opportunity to mess up with other peoples gear.

"Capt. Troy, what about food supplies?" Cullen still stands next to her.

"What about it? Do you want to have a picnic down there or what? You heard the orders. We will go in and out within the hour. So move, Lieutenant. We still have to get dressed and camouflage ourselves. Don't forget to pack the infra red night visors. We will need them in the mine, or we will be blinded by the Sewell Fuel."

1900 hours

The 31st are back at their quarters. Dana gathers them around. "Com' on people, we have to talk . Listen up, I know this mission sounds like suicide but we have been in situations like this before, except for you, Cullen."

"You mean like that time in Columbia, when we were stuck in that damned jungle?" Johnson looks at Dana with an innocent look on his face, but all the others know what he's referring to.

A year and half ago they were sent to Columbia to track down cocaine plantations. They had been provided with a guide who, as they found out, couldn't be trusted. He had tried to lure them into an ambush. They had just got out in time before the whole area had been bombed, they had to run for their lives.

"Yes, like that one, but we dealt with that and we will deal with this mission. Mansons, you'll pair up, and so will Kay and Johnson. Cullen, you'll be my partner. Like it or not." And she winks at him. "The difficult part will not be getting in, but getting back out again in one piece. It's going to be hell on that planet. So let's hit the showers and get some sleep."

They all walk out. Dana stays slightly behind with Johnson as they are heading for the showers.

"Johnson, warn the others to check on him on every step he makes; don't let him out of your sight. Columbia was a good example, Roy, I don't think he got the message." After the showers they are served a light meal at the mess.

0330 hours

The 31st are gathered at loading bay 3; they're getting ready for departure, stashing their equipment. Col. Henson enters the loading bay and calls them together.

"Three-one, are your ready? I want to wish you good luck. Don't disappoint me-- after all I bragged about you to Fleet Com. Make us look good."

"Sir, I promise you, we will give it everything we've got... as always." Dana and the others salute and pick up the last packages as the door opens and McQueen and the 58th enter the loading bay.

"Colonel McQueen," Henson addresses McQueen. "What brings you people here? I hope that you keep this short. The 31st is ready for departure."

"We will, Colonel." Col. McQueen replies, and he steps up to Henson and starts a conversation so that the two squadrons have some time to say good-bye.

"Dana, I don't like this mission. It sounds like suicide to me." Cooper Hawkes has a sad look in his eyes as he speaks to her.

"I know Coop, but we don't have a choice; somebody has to do it and the 31st has never refused an assignment. We are Marines, we all are. But I expect you to be up there giving us air support. Don't let us down, you hear?" And she reaches her hand out and shakes Coopers'.

"Capt. Vansen, this will be your first active mission. I hope things go well for you. It was nice meeting you, although a little short." Dana looks at Shane, who still has a reserved look upon her face.

"Yeah, you and I should get together when this is over. There are a lot of things I would like to talk about."

"Maybe we will, and I would like to talk to you as well. Nathan and Coop have told me so much about you that I have started to think that you might be a supernatural being."

Shane has to grin about that. "I would say that the same counts for you."

"People, time to leave." Col. Henson gives the signal and they all pick up their gear again and board the ISSCV.

Dana is the last one to enter as McQueen stops her "Dana, watch each other's sixes and ... come back. I'll try to watch things from here," and he nods at Henson who's standing at the hatch of the loading bay waiting for McQueen and the Wildcards to leave.

"I know, sir; I want to thank you for that. Remember that first conversation we had? About trust and that it should be earned? I trust you, we all do. We put our lives in your hands." She smiles: it's a sad smile and she looks at him intensely .

It makes him hold his breath. She looks beautiful even though she's fully covered with camouflage colors. He reminds himself not to get to attached to her, it will only bring him pain and sorrow, and he had enough of that in the past. Dana notices the distant look that appears on his face and she feels disappointed. She salutes him and turns away and boards.

Operation Birdcage

"Three-one, listen up, it's time. Check your watches, it's 0340 hours. Ready ....ready, hack. Line up, we will jump in 5 mikes. Get ready and don't forget your oxygen support. There will be no talking until we reach the mine. Stash your parachute and 0˛ SS. I want the area secured right after that, so we won't have to fight our way into the mine. Get ready." Dana takes her place at the door and as she watches the others get ready, she notices the tensed looks upon her people's faces.

"I've got a bad feeling about this one, Dana ." Kay stands next to Dana, she's the first to jump.

"I don't want to hear that, Kay, not from any of you." And she steps aside so that they can all have a good view on her. Her voice sounds filled with self confidence as she states:
"Remember who you are! We are hard-ass Marines! We go where told and get the job done. We're the best of the best! If we don't get the job done , who will? I know you feel nervous, and that's OK; it keeps you sharp. I want you all to focus on the job and nothing else. Forget your emotions, just act, act on instinct, and we will survive." Dana has a passioned look upon her face as she speaks. "Skip the chatter and focus on the job before us."

They all land safely on Kazbeck soil. Immediately, they start to hide the HALO jump gear. Hayden and Johnson scout the area; there's no enemy activity. Dana signals them to follow her, and she uses her compass and map to find the right coordinates for their way towards the airshafts of the mine. Dana speeds up the pace to make sure that there's enough time for them to enter the mine before the airstrike starts. After 5 mikes they find the first airshaft, and Dana decides to enter this one immediately. They have only 5 mikes left till the bombing starts. Dana makes sure the ropes are well attached and that their carbines are hooked. She signals Cullen to enter the pipe with her, they'll go down in pairs.

They slide down the pipe. There's just enough room for two people. After fifty meters they're in total darkness. Dana counts the knots in the rope so that she knows exactly how many more meters they'll have left. At a depth of 400 meters Dana hears a strange sound that gets louder and louder. S

he tells Cullen, "Go slower, if we don't find an entrance soon we're going to be chopped liver."

Slowly they proceed, looking more carefully, and they find a door at 450 meters.

Dana is relieved: the sounds of the rotor blades sound really close, and she realizes that this door will be used for repair works if necessary at the ventilation system.

She tries the door. It's locked. Dana takes a small piece of plastic explosive and puts it in the lock. "Cover your ears, Cullen, and look away. Get ready and use the Franchi if necessary when we go in."

There's a small explosion, and door swings open. Immediately, Dana swings her way into the opening and lands on her knees, looking in every direction.

Nobody. Dana sighs in relief and releases her carbine's safety. She orders the rest to come down fast.

The Mansons are the last to enter, and they can hear the sounds of explosions through the airshaft. The airstrike has begun.

Dana looks around. The mine is gigantic. She figures that it would be illogical to keep a prisoner down here. There are no chambers on the level where they are now, so Dana decides to work their way up.

"Listen up, we use the ladders to make our way up. I want you to check out the levels in pairs so that we can check three levels a time. I expect, however, that we'll find nothing here except maybe whoever works down here. Let's do it fast. Use your Stoners. Shoot any Chigs or AI's you see on sight. If you spot Humans, let them live, but don't take them with you, that's not why we're here."

Dana nods, and she steps up the ladder first followed by Cullen. As Dana expected, they find only a few chigs, who work deep below the ground. They are able to take down the chig guards without much resistance, the chigs are totally surprised by the sudden attack.

The noise of the explosions gets louder as they climb higher. They reach the top level, and Dana opens the doors that lead towards the penalty center a few inches. This is the place where Lt. Paul Wang was tortured and the others were held prisoner last year--they're on ground level.

There's a lot of enemy activity. She spots Chigs and AI's running through the hallways. Dana looks over her shoulder, giving her orders.

"Use four smart grenades in each direction, they'll take care of most of them. Hayden and Johnson, secure the entrance and make sure nobody gets in or out anymore. Mansons, you'll follow me and Cullen. We'll split up at the first branching. Lets find our Bird as fast as we can and get the hell out of here. On five, ready."

Dana starts the countdown. They jump out the door hitting the floor throwing grenades in both directions. Immediately, they open fire with their Stoners. They cover their faces when the explosions go off, then they jump to their feet, going their separate ways. The resistance is hard, and they only progress slowly.

After ten minutes, Dana hears Lt. Hayden on her intercom. "Capt. Troy, entrance is secured."

"Good work, Hayden, make sure that nobody enters or follows us from the mine shafts. Keep our backs secured."

The other four search each room they pass. They only find small groups of Chigs and AI's who are trying to delay their search for the General. They take them out with their last smart grenades, and their rifles do the rest. Without thinking, they proceed totally focused on finding the location of the POW General. Suddenly in the hallway before them a group of AI's steps out; they are holding General Daniel Torres as a shield as they make their way deeper in the complex.

"Hold your fire." Dana shouts.

They make an easy target now; the AI's use the opportunity to shoot at them. Dana jumps for the nearest room, Cullen follows her but both Mansons are not that lucky. Carl crawls towards the door and Troy and Cullen pull him in; he got shot in his right arm. Dana sees Johnny lying on his back; she can't reach him and hears him moan. There's nothing they can do, except to wait.

The AI's have reached the corner and disappear with their prisoner. They drag Johnny into the room, and Dana examines him; a bullet has penetrated his abdominal wall and his intestines are coming out. He's screaming out in pain. She knows this is lethal; there's no hope for him; he'll die a slow and painful death. She realizes that Lt. Hayden has possession of the medical kit with the morphine; there's nothing she can do for him.

She turns towards Carl, "How bad is that wound?"

"It went right through. I'll manage-- I'm left handed, remember. How is he, Dana?"

She shakes her head and she sees an expression of deep sorrow appear on his face.

"Carl, I need you; I want you to come with me; don't let me down now."

He hesitates, and bends over his brother. "You'll be fine, Johnny. Hold on, fight the pain."

Then he pulls himself together, "Lets get those bastards."

"Cullen, I want you to stay with Johnny." she looks at Carl. " Let's go!"

Dana knows that she has to take Carl instead of Mark Cullen; she can't take the risk that Cullen would take the opportunity to shoot her in the back once they're alone.

Their first priority is to save the general, at any cost, even if this means she has to take Carl away from his brother who is in his darkest hour. They move fast; they have lost a lot of time; there are only 20 minutes left until extraction time. Slowly they make their way through the corridor. Around the corner they find an empty hallway, but as they make their way they find several doors. They examine them one by one. As they have progressed half way they open a door, and it's completely dark except for the middle of room .

There's a prison cell, it has a hexagonal shape with smaller hexagonal bricks at three sides and three open walls with stasis fields to prevent the prisoners from escaping. On the floor lies the man they need to take home. Quickly, they withdraw from the room.

"They're waiting for us, but we have no choice. We'll go in on three. Jump to the right, stay low, and use the Stoner; put it on full auto." Almost whispering Dana gives her orders and they put their nightvisors back up. They nod at each other and they jump, hitting the floor on their stomachs; they both start firing their rifles each in a different directions . Dana sees two AI's go down as they try to open fire on them; a third jumps back behind the cage . Carl takes down another AI, but he is shot in the back.

As fast as he's able to he rolls on his back and takes out the AI that has been standing in the corner of the room. He feels dizzy after that, and the pain he feels is so severe it makes him sick. He doesn't feel able to move anymore, and he lies still on his back waiting for the dizziness to leave him.

Dana sees Carl get hit and take out the AI that shot him. She quickly turns her head around as she hears a voice hissing at them.

"Look here, Marine, I want you to put your gun down and put your hands behind your neck. It's over. You lost. I've got your General here, and if you make one move , I'm going to put a bullet in him. "PUT YOUR WEAPON DOWN, MARINE". The single remaining AI stands in the cage holding a handgun to the General's head. The General is still lying on the ground, his head raised ,looking at her.

There's fear in his eyes, and Dana knows this AI won't hesitate for a second to kill the man. She has to take him down fast. She knows Carl won't be able to help. He still lies on his back, unable to get back up. Slowly she puts down her rifle and takes off the goggles, laying them on the floor before her.

The AI growls at her, "Push it away."

Dana obeys and slowly raises her hands up behind her neck. She knows it would be no use to shoot at the AI, the force field of the cage can not be penetrated by anything.

She has to wait patiently for a chance, hoping that the AI will make a mistake.... leaving the cage. She knows he has to, because he can't fire at her either.

The AI grabs the General Torres by his hair, pulling him up to his feet, using him as a shield; she hears those strange beeping sounds the AI produce and the force field that surrounds the cage disappears.

He steps out pointing the gun at Dana. "Who are you?"

Dana answers him slowly " I'm Captain Dana Troy, 31st Special Operations, they call me Shadow."

The AI holds his head cocked, checking the AI general Data Bank for the information she just has provided him with.

Slowly Dana reaches for the dagger she always carries between her shoulder blades and carefully she gets a grip. She knows this is the time. She notices the AI's attention waver as he receives the data. At this moment she lets herself fall to the left, throwing the dagger as hard as she can. She feels a bullet scrape her side, but as she turns around she sees the AI lying on his back, the dagger sticking out of his right eye. General Torres has fallen back to his knees as the AI lost his grip on him. Dana gets back on her feet and walks over to Carl, who has raised his head checking on her after he had heard the gun go off.

"Carl, where did you get hit?" She lets her hands slide over his black Teflon jacket.

"Somewhere between my shoulder and chest. Help me up, will you, I have problems getting up it seems."

Dana grabs him around his waist and helps him back on his feet "Can you still walk?"

Carl nods. He doesn't trust his voice enough to answer her, and he feels awful. Dana turns back towards the General and gives him a hand to help him back up his feet.

"How bad are you hurt, sir, any serious injuries?" Dana looks at his bruised face but it seems like he can still stand on his own feet.

"I don't think so. Just my head-- it feels like it could explode any second. Just get me out of this place."

Dana puts her finger over her microphone as she asks the most vital question,

"Sir, I have to know, is the plan still intact? I have to radio in; they are waiting."

"The plan is intact, Captain. I didn't talk, but I'm glad you came. It wouldn't have taken them much longer to break me."

Dana nods her head "That's good news, sir. We have to hurry now, extraction will be in 10 mikes. Can you walk on your own?"

He nods, "I think I can manage. Just lead the way, Captain."

Dana supports Carl as they make their way back through the corridors. When they arrive at the room where they left the others, Lt. Mark Cullen steps out. In his hand he holds his Franchi, and it's pointing at the floor towards the people who are approaching him.

"Did he talk? Is the plan still intact?" Lt. Cullen asks in an eager tone.

"That's none of your concern, Lieutenant." As Dana replies, the General interrupts, " I didn't, the plan is still safe. Let's get out of here."

"That's all I needed to know, that's my ticket home." Cullen grins viciously as he raises his weapon.

"Are you crazy, Cullen? Put down your weapon! Without us you'll never be able to get out of this mine. Have you got any idea how things are out there in the open? They'll blow you away. You'll never reach the extraction point without backup."

Dana can't go for her weapon, because she still supports Carl. Even if she would try, she would be too late. She has no other option than try to stall him. General Torres steps forward , "What is going on here?" He looks totally confused.

"Somebody asked me to make all your deaths as painful as possible, and I feel very much obliged to. And about leaving this place, don't worry. I'll get out, I always do. We have planned this very carefully, and the reward will be worth it." Cullen smiles viciously at them.

"Did you ever think you could outsmart me, you bitch-- you're going to be the first to die."

"Just one question, Cullen-- what's the price of betrayal these days?" Dana looks at him with a disdainful look on her face.

"Hahaha ha, money of course. What else-- oh yeah I forgot-- a promotion. I'm the only one coming back, and I have the information they need so badly."

"I don't think so smart ass; you've forgot something." Dana grins back at him wickedly, and she looks at a spot behind him.

"I'm not going for that, you're bluffing." He puts his finger on the trigger. There's a shot. Cullen goes down, his face showing his disbelief. "I think I came just in time" Kay Hayden lowers her gun and she tabs her microphone.

"I'm glad you disobeyed orders this time, Kay, but can Johnson hold our position on his own?"

Dana steps over the dead body of Cullen and she adds. "Give me a hand with Carl will you?"

"Yep, our position is cleared, but we have to get the hell out of here."

"What the hell is going on here? I demand a answer." General Torres looks totally confused.

"There's no time, Sir." Dana answers "We have to go, or we will be late for our extraction. Kay, take the general back towards the entrance; Carl and I will follow in a minute."

Dana goes back into the room, while still supporting Carl, towards where his brother still lies. Secretly she hoped that he had already passed away but no such luck.

They both kneel down beside him and they look at the man lying on the floor. His face is covered with sweat, his body convulsing as he still tries to hold his entrails together.

He becomes aware of his brother sitting next to him .

"Are you OK, Carl? How bad is it?"

"Just a few scratches. I'll be fine, believe me, I just can't lift my arms at the moment." And he tries to smile.

"Carl, please help me, end this please. I can't hold on very much longer and the p-p-pain. Oh my God the pain... please." Johny is begging his brother to end his life but Carl looks down to his chest; he's unable to fulfill his brothers last request. Not only is he too seriously wounded but he also can't find the courage to fulfill he brothers last wish.

Carl looks up to Dana. "Dana, please help us-- don't leave him like this. We don't have much time left and we can't move him, but you know what happens if the Chigs find him and he's still alive. They'll shred him alive and cut his heart out."

Dana feels the chill crawling towards her heart getting colder, and she knows that she has to do what has to be done.

Slowly she nods, and she takes out the dagger again she had just pulled out the eye of the dead AI. Johnny turns his head towards Dana.

"Thank you. Take care of my little brother, will you? He's a good kid, just a little wild now and then."

"I will, Johnny, I will. I promise. Say good bye, boys we don't have much time left."

Dana gives them a minute of privacy, and then she returns for her horrible task.

"Johnny, look at me, I want you to do something for me, OK? When you arrive up there make sure you save room for us, all right? And when you meet the big boss, tell him something from me will you? Tell him that I don't appreciate his kind of humor." She bends over him, gently caresses his face and she whispers to him, "Good-bye , my salsa brother." And when she notices the small smile that reaches his lips for her bad effort to make a joke, she stabs, quick and precise in the middle of his heart.

Johnny Manson dies within a second; his suffering is finally over. She lets the dagger fall to the floor and tears are running over her face as she looks at Carl again. They both look at each other in deepest despair, tears are running over Carl's face as well, and he is slowly rocking forward and backward.

"Carl, Dana, I'm so sorry but we are running out of time; we've got only two minutes left." Kay Hayden voice sounds hoarse as she comes through the microphone, and Dana could tell that she was crying aswell.

"There's nothing more we can do. We have to go, he's not here anymore." She takes the dogtags off Johnny and puts them in Carl's vest pocket.

"Let me help you get up." She brusquely wipes away her tears and stands up. Slowly they make their way to entrance, avoiding the corpses lying everywhere.

"We won't make it to the extraction point in time, Dana. Let me radio in and ask for an alternative extraction location." Kay Hayden is ready to radio in. Dana nods, and carefully she looks outside the mine entrance, checking out the area, and the sky. The sounds of anti-aircraft cannons seem to come from every direction. Chig fighters and SA-43's are still dog fighting in the clouds. It must have been a hell out here as well, Dana realizes.

"Saratoga, this is Shadow 2. Come in, Saratoga."

"This is the Saratoga, Shadow 2; what is your position?"

"Saratoga, we are still at the entrance of the mine; we have obtained our objective.

"The Bird hasn't sung , I repeat the bird hasn't sung." Saratoga, we are unable to reach the extraction point as agreed on, over. "

"Shadow 2, I order you to go for the extraction point; the APC will try to hold position as long as possible." They all recognize this voice; Col. Henson has taken over the microphone.

"That's a negative, Sir; we have two people down and one wounded, we still have to fight our way out of here."

"You just got your orders, Lieutenant."

Dana feels all the rage she has been withholding coming out as she grabs for the radio. "Saratoga, this is Shadow one; the order is a negative." With clenched teeth she radios in, "I want new coordinates for extraction, and I want them now, or you can come down and get your precious General yourself."

There's a short silence, and then they hear a familiar voice. Commodore Ross has taken over the radio. "Shadow one, we'll send another carrier to the following position: the coordinates are 566875 Northwest of your position." In the background she hears him say, "Lt. Faraday escort the Colonel off the bridge."

To them he replies, "Three-one, good job. I hope to see you all soon. Well done. Saratoga out."

In the meanwhile the APC that was supposed to pick them up gets their orders to retreat.

Col. McQueen hears the orders over his microphone and tells everybody to leave their post and head back for the carrier.

The Colonel is the last one holding their position, still shooting at the Chigs to recover their retreat. Suddenly he goes down, and just before he loses consciousness, he realizes that it wasn't the Chigs who fired—he has been shot in the back.

He doesn't hear the voice of the Sergeant on the microphone who tells the others that Col. McQueen got hit by enemy fire and is presumed dead. He returns quickly towards the APC and boards, telling the others that there was nothing more he could do, he had been unable to get to the Colonel and he had seen him go down. He assures them that there was no way that somebody could have survived a wound like that. He walks to the intercom and orders the pilots to head back for the Saratoga. Everyone is silent. A great man has fallen; an Invitro, but they all had great respect for him.

He would be missed.

Dana gets her small group ready for retreat, giving her orders.

"Johnson, get the rocket launcher and load it with the grenades that head for several different directions; we have to clear a path out of here. Kay, you take Carl, and I'll take care of the General. Johnson, fire when you're ready."

Their way towards their extraction point is hard and difficult. Lt. Kay Hayden gets shot in the leg, but is still able to go forward. She clenches her jaw against the pain. She knows she can't give up now... they have come so far, they're almost at the extraction point.

Over the next hill an Army ISSAPC is waiting and a SAR Marine squadron is making their way towards their position to assist them.

"Damn, am I glad to see you guys, you're just in time! Give us a hand with the wounded." Dana shakes the hand of the Marine who first reaches them.

Together they fight their way back towards the APC. As Dana boards, she hears a growl of pain behind her, quickly she turns around.

Lt. Johnson falls to his knees. Dana opens fire for the last time at positions where the Chigs have dug themselves in. She grabs Johnson under his arms and drags him into the vehicle.

"Where did you get hit? Talk to me, Roy!" she asks as soon they are safe aboard.

"Aw, I don't believe this. The bastard shot me in the butt." Relieved, she lets him lie down on his stomach. "There will be a medic soon, Roy, just lay still." Dana sits besides him too tired to move an inch.

She notices the ISSAPC taking off, and she hears the guns answer hostile fire.

She closes her eyes for a moment.

"I'm getting to old for this; God. I'm so tired."

They finally arrive at the cargo bay of the Saratoga; the medical staff is already waiting for them, and they are taken to the sickbay.

Dana is surprised a little that there's nobody to welcome General Torres, but she's just too tired and let's it slip.

After the wound in her side has been take care of she is dismissed. She checks on her people a last time and decides to talk to Carl about what happened on planet before she heads for the shower.

"Carl, I feel so awful, I wish I could turn back time and save him. It hurts so bad that I had to be the one that took his life. I know we had no other option but it tears me apart."

Carl looks at the tears that she tries to hold back. Slowly he reaches for her hand and he squeezes it tightly.

"I know, Dana, I know. It should have been me dying there and not him. I always used to screw things up, and he always was trying to save my ass. It's just not fair."

"Don't say that, Carl. You're a good man, maybe a little wild but Johnny loved you and so do we."

"Don't feel guilty, Dana; you did what I should have done for him . I will be always grateful for what you did, and I know how much it cost you." Dana bends over and hugs him, tears are running down her face.

She spins around abruptly and almost flees from the room, leaving her fiends to look anxiously after her.

Although the empty barrack isn't very appealing, Dana falls asleep as soon as her head touches her pillow.

She has bad dreams, over and over she goes through the moment that she killed Johnny Manson. She wakes up trembling and soaked with perspiration. Tears are running down her face again.

I can't go through this again....I'm so tired of the endless killing... this war... there's no prospect that things are ever going to change. "I want it to end, I want out."

But there's nobody who hears her soft, desperate, whispered cry for help.

Finally she falls to sleep, and she sleeps for 12 full hours until she notices somebody has entered their quarters.

Immediately she sits up, wide awake. Its Col. Henson. "So you made it; congratulations."

She can hear in his disdainful tone that he doesn't give a damn.

"Thank you, Sir." She replies in same tone of voice.

"What happened to Lt.'s Johnny Manson and Mark Cullen?" He looks at her; his face all tensed.

"They're both dead, Sir; died through enemy fire." Dana knows she can't prove that he was behind the betrayal of Cullen, so she lies, giving him the illusion that his secret is still safe.

She has to talk to Col. McQueen first and hear what he has to say about this. Apparently General Torres hasn't been briefed yet or he was just too confused to understand what really happened down there.

He nods, "We are expected at briefing room 2 in 5 mikes, are you ready?" And he walks away, leaving it up to Dana to follow.

Dana expects that this is going to be a briefing about their mission but is alarmed as she notices the furious expression on Comdr. Ross's face as they enter the briefing room .

Admiral Jordan and General McKenzie are there as well; they both look like they're wearing masks, trying to show no emotion. Something is definitely going on here!

She sits down on the other side of the table and waits for things to come. She wonders where McQueen is—and the thought flashes through her mind that she needs him.

"Capt. Troy, our congratulations on this successful mission. We are sorry for the loss of your two teammates, we lost a lot of good men on this operation." The admiral stands up from behind the table and starts to pace the room.

He doesn't seem pleased; something must be wrong. Dana looks worriedly at the highest ranking officer aboard the Saratoga.

Could they have been talking with General Torres and now they want some answers?

"Capt. Troy, we have a new situation. Aboard the ISSAPC that was supposed to take care of your retreat was Col. TC McQueen. He has been shot by enemy fire and we assumed that he was dead, but we have been informed by one of our ground troops that while they were retreating they saw AI's carrying a Marine officer onto a transport which then lifted off, destination unknown."

He waits for a few seconds, to let the information dawn on her.

Dana feels a shock of horror. This can't be happening, not to him. Thoughts flash through her mind. Before she faces the Admiral again, she looks down at the table until she is sure no emotion shows in her expression.

"So we are back to the point where this all started. Col. McQueen has vital information on Operation Dark Sky and we presume that Col. McQueen is the officer that is taken by the AI's."

Dana can't be silent any more and blurts out "But what was he doing aboard the ISSAPC? He wasn't assigned to that, was he, sir?"

Comdr.Ross stands up and puts his hands on the table as he answers her.

"No Captain, he wasn't. We are at this moment still unaware of his motives. He was assigned to his normal duty, taking care of the SA-43 pilots. He never showed up on the bridge, and we were just too busy to notice his absence until it was too late".

General Mc.Kenzie interrupts, "Intel has located the position of the AI aircraft. It's still in Chig territory, and it has landed on one of the moons of Kazbek . Intel informed us that it used to be a penalty facility but now there seem to be several Chig divisions stationed down there."

With a deep, aching sense of guilt, Dana realizes why McQueen had been aboard that ISSAPC. He must have found something that had threatened their retreat. It was her fault that he was MIA.

General Mc.Kenzie continues, "We have discussed how to proceed; we can't risk another S.O. We have encountered severe losses on the last operation. Col. McQueen knew the risks when he boarded that ISSAPC, and we will not sacrifice more lives for his return.

Dana glances over to Comdr. Ross, and she understands his anger now.

"Capt. Troy, we want to send you on a special mission." Admiral Jordan sits back on his chair and he looks Dana straight in the face; his facial expression is tensed.

"Col. Henson has suggested that you're skilled to do a mission where you will be dropped behind enemy lines by yourself, find the target and eliminate it." Dana's outraged, and she can't keep still anymore.

"I don't believe this; you want me to terminate one of our own; you can't be serious?"

It's quiet for a while, and all their faces look like frozen masks. Then she notices the smirk on Henson's face, and she realizes he must have been the one who has brought this plan to the attention of the others. But she can't understand that the others have accepted this plan.

"Are you telling us that you will refuse this assignment?" Col. Henson asks in a deceptively friendly tone.

"What will happen if I do, Sir?" Dana stands up and turns toward Henson so she can look him in the eye.

"We will send someone else, and you will be facing Court-martial for disobeying a direct order." She's silent for a while, not taking her eyes off Henson for a second .

"Then you leave me no choice; I'll do as ordered." Her voice sounds defeated.

"Capt. Troy, I hope you understand that we don't have another choice; too many good men have already died; we can't afford to have more losses." General McKenzie's voice pulls Dana's attention away from Henson.
She looks at him and nods, but her face remains a cold mask, not giving him the approval that he was hoping to find on her face.

"When will I leave, Sir?" she looks at Admiral Jordan coldly.

"Within six hours, Captain. Prepare yourself."

"Yes, Sir. I do have a question though, if may speak freely, sirs?"

"Ask away, Captain" Comdr. Ross answers. His expression is one of disappointment, as if he had expected different from her.

"What will happen with the 31st if I don't make it back?"

"Captain Troy , Col. Henson has requested to take the rest of the 31st back with him to earth where you will be reassigned to a new CO. Your position on the Saratoga will be untenable; Col. McQueen is well respected and we want to avoid problems amongst our troops aboard."

So he's doing it again, and gets away with it. This would be a great opportunity to dispose of McQueen and herself, the rest of the 31st shouldn't give him many more problems after that.

"I understand, Sir; with your permission I would like to prepare for this mission."

"You're excused". Ross nods at her and the four men get back into their seats to discuss this upcoming mission.

Dana slowly walks towards sickbay; her mind is working overtime.

First she has to say good-bye to her teammates and warn them of things to come. If she fails to return they should let the whole thing go, or Henson would go on playing his games until they were all dead.

How long would it take for the news to spread that she would go on a solo mission?

They would all figure out soon what her mission was about. Nobody goes on a mission alone and brings a heavily injured man back.

How would the 58th react? Ha, they would probably want to kill her themselves. Damn that bastard, it's just a perfect way to cut off their friendship and to isolate them again.

Dana enters sickbay and walks towards the room her teammates are sharing and closes the door.

"Hi, guys, gal, how are doing?"

"Heyaa, Dana," Kay sits up and the two men are trying to get into a position where they can look at her.

"We'll be back on active duty in no time." Carl gives her a shy smile.

Roy notices how tense she is. "Dana, what is going on, what's wrong?"

"We are in deep trouble and I can't figure a way out of it." Quickly, she briefs them on things that have been happening while they were in sickbay.

"I want you to keep low profile if I don't make it back. He won't hesitate to kill you all. He still doesn't know that Cullen blew his cover and that we killed him. You'll be safe as long as you keep your mouths shut."

"Dana," Kay interrupts, "I can't believe your actually going to go through with this assignment".

"Have no choice, Kay, they will simply send someone else and have me prosecuted for disobeying orders." Dana voice sounds husky and she looks away, unable to look at Kay.

"Maybe it would be easier on all of us if I just didn't come back. I'm tired of fighting the inevitable. And I have lost faith in things ever changing for us."

"DANA, NO!" Roy bursts out .

"We need you, Dana." Carl looks at Kay to help them talk some sense into her.

"Dana , you've never let us down before-- don't do this to us."

"Listen, please." Roy stares at her intensely as he continues. "You have always found a way to get us out of trouble and we believe in you. Dana, you can pull it off again."

"I don't know guys, don't know, it's just that I'm so tired of everything ." Dana turns her back on them and walks to the door. She turns around for last, defeated look back at them. "

Watch each other's sixes, and if I don't make it back, I want you all to know that these past years I spent with you were a few of the most bearable for me."

"Dana, wait!" Kay blurts out-- but Dana has already left. "Damn you, Henson."

She walks towards the ammunition depot to collect the weapons and gear she will be needing for this OP. She notices that people are whispering as soon as she passes them in the hallways and she knows that the news is out.

She gathers her gear with quick precision, then returns to her quarters to change her clothes. She puts on a special polar suit that will keep her warm so she can withstand the low temperatures on that moon.
Then she just sits on her bunk and waits.

After an hour, Henson enters.

"It's time, your ride leaves in 10 mikes. You will be dropped behind enemy lines. Chigs and AI's are assumed everywhere. Find yourself a way inside the building and get it over with. Don't you let me down, you hear? I expect you to follow orders and radio in so that we can give you the coordinates for extraction."

Slowly Dana gets up from the bed and lifts her gear onto her shoulder.

"Did I ever fail you on an operation?"

"No, but I just want you to know what's at stake here. If you implement your assignment and make it back and let things rest after that, I promise you that we will work out an arrangement that suites both of us. Did I make myself clear, Captain?"

"Loud and clear, Sir, loud and clear." Dana eyes him coldly and than salutes him and follows him towards the waiting ISCCV.

There seems to be a farewell committee as they enter the loading bay.

Comdr. Ross approaches them as they walk in; with his eyes he dismisses Henson and looks down at Dana to look her in the face.

"He believed in you, I can't believe that this is the way that your going to pay him back."

Suddenly, furiously, Dana snaps at him. "Are telling me to disobey orders, Sir?"

"I can't ..... and I have never felt this damned helpless." He clenches his jaw.

"Then there's nothing more to say." Dana steps aside and walks towards the waiting members of the 58th who are standing at the entrance of the vessel and braces herself.

They are just staring at her, not saying a word; their faces are cold and hard.

"You'd better not come back," Shane hisses at her. Dana just stands there; her face shows no expression, she doesn't wink an eye.

She nods once and then boards.

END OF PART 2 - To be continued

© Wiena Rijstenberg 1998

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