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

Comments are always welcome at anne_of_the_norther_lands@yahoo.com


The subject of time


Anne Celina

It was dark. Very dark. 1st Lieutenant Nathan West had to narrow his eyes to see anything. His M590 loaded and in his hand, his finger on the trigger. He didn't notice Hawkes or the rest of the SAR team behind him. All he could think about was Shane and Phousse. Finding them. The small prison camp seemed strangely empty. Maybe no one had been there in weeks. But this was where Shane's trace had leaded them. It was a Miracle that Shane and Phousse had survived the impact. Another miracle was that they had gotten so far. With only 20 hours of air each and in the un-breathable atmosphere of the Planet 2063Y or Anvil as it was called. Nathan was glad he could hear the hiss from his O2 pack. As long as it was making sound, it was working. Just in case he checked it. It was on 69 %.

"I have a visual" an Aussie accented voice broke through the unpleasant humming from the comlink.

Nathan quickly lent against the wall, his weapon cocked and ready. "Your position?"

It took a long while before the reply came. "50 meters away, first door on the left…Wait… We have two soldiers down here. One Dead"

Nathan froze, feeling cold sweat down his back and sides. "Who is it, sergeant?" he asked calmly. He was afraid of the answer but tried to hide it as good as he could.

"Well, sir…It's you" came the sober but muffled reply. "He's dead. Shot in the head. The other is a female. Brunette… kinda short, relative good looking"

Nathan felt his heart jump. He felt as if the cold sweat was freezing to ice. He was breathing hard, as if he had runned a few miles. Was it Shane?

"Nathan. I've found Shane and Phousse. They are okay" Hawkes cut in, his voice happy.

I must face it, Nathan thought. Can't deal with it unless I face it. That was his motto. Always face your fears, no matter how scaring it was. He half walked half-runned across the hall and walked into the room, looking at Sergeant Miller.

He was helping a woman up. She was unconscious. West was more interested in the dead man. He was lying on his side, dried blood in his hair. The floor was also read with blood and brains, as the expression goes. Nathan went down on his knees, his jaw set stubbornly. He rolled the man on his back and stared into two dull eyes. His own eyes. He almost screamed. Instead, he looked at the man. It was him. Older, of course. Maybe 30, maybe a bit older. West looked at the man until the sergeant put a hand on his shoulder.

"Leftenant, we have to go," he said. "Help me put him in a body bag, mate"

Nathan helped the sergeant getting the body into the bag. Nathan took it over his shoulder and walked out, his eyes blank and his mind confused. He met Hawkes' eyes. Cooper looked happy, holding Shane up. He was surprised when he saw Nathan's expression. "You found a survivor as well?" Coop asked.

Nathan nodded and took the extra mask and linked it to his own O2 holder. Then he walked over to the unconscious woman and put it over her head.

On the ISSAPC, Nathan quickly went to see Shane and Phousse. Both were okay, just some minor wounds. Shane was pale but smiling. "Thank you, Nathan"

He just shrugged. "Thank Hawkes and the SAR team"

"I've already done that" Shane sounded worried. "What's wrong, it looks like you have seen a ghost"

Nathan just shook his head. "It's nothing" he said. He didn't want to talk about this. The only one who could answer the questions he had in mind was that wounded Marine lying on the other end of the ISSAPC. How was she doing anyway? He quickly excused himself and walked over to the doc. "Hey, how's she doing?" he asked.

The doctor looked up at him. "She'll live" he said.

Nathan looked at the woman. He had no idea how old she was, but she was older than he was. Maybe in her late twenties or early thirties. She had brown hair, which was cut feminine short. No doubt a lifer. She was a bit short than him, he guessed. And right now she had a tube down her throat and one in her nose. "I need a favor. A DNA sample from the dead guy"

The doctor looked surprised. "Why?"

"I just do. It is very important. I'll do anything" Nathan looked desperate.

"I'll do it for 10 minutes on the videophone" the doctor said after a while, his dark eyes meeting West's. "Get a tissue sample and I'll make it happen"

Nathan nodded and took one of the scalpels. No one noticed him as he opened the body bag and cut a little square in the dead man's arm. He kept his eyes away from the face. Instead he looked at the hands. They looked like his own, only paler. But that had something to do with the fact that this other guy was dead. He took the sample, zipped the bag again and walked to the doctor. "Here. As soon as you are finished with it, I'll give you the call"

The doctor smiled and took the tissue sample. Nathan looked away and met the sergeant's eyes. Miller didn't say anything. Nathan knew he would never do. He sat down, looking at the body bag. He would know soon…if this man was a brother, or just someone else.

Shane was up and walking the next day. Phousse was having some problems controlling her legs. That would pass in a few days, the doc said. Nathan was sitting in the rec room when someone knocked on. The big Afro-American doctor walked in, holding a small disk. "I have a DNA sample. Here is the code. I didn't check it" he handed over the note. Nathan gave him the time slot of the phone call. "Thanks, man" the doc said and grinned, before leaving.

Nathan walked to the computer and opened his file. In there was his service file, past medical file and high school scores. He opened his medical file. "DNA…DNA…" he muttered, a frown on his face. There it stood. DNA profile. He clicked on it and after a few seconds a picture showed up. Then he opened the disk and compared it. It took the computer two minutes to find the answer. His eyes widened after a while as he found more and more similarities. Actually, he didn't find anything that wasn't identical. This could be a clone…a twin or something. But Nathan had a feeling that that was impossible. The DNA was identical. He was him.

He stared. It was impossible. He couldn't be two places at the same time.

Hawkes looked at Shane, his expression somewhere between worried and angry. "He has been acting strange ever since we came back. He won't talk to me or nothin'. He is like…like that jerk he was back in boot camp, just hold the yellin'"

Shane smiled. "Look. He is just having a hard time with handling Paul's death. I am sure it is nothing more"

"It's not that. He doesn't act like he did when Neil was dead…then he spend more time with me" Cooper shook his head. "I caught him looking in the mirror yesterday. Just looking, as he had never seen himself before. It freaked me out. And I caught him heading to the showers too. He just stayed there for hours, alone in silence"

Vansen didn't know what to say. "Give him time. West is a very…complicated person. But he can figure out himself"

Coop nodded. "I'm glad you and Phousse are okay. I was worried"

"Any news about the Colonel?" Shane asked. Cooper could it with changing the path of a conversation. Just as good.

Hawkes nodded. "Yeah. He is staying back home, training pilots. We should get a new CO soon…You"

"Me?" She was surprised and shocked and flattered.

"Yep. Command send down orders. You are getting promoted" Hawkes' grin widened. This couldn't have gone better under the circumstances.

West kept watch over the wounded woman, having nothing better to do. As soon as the replacements came, the 58th would reassure their missions. Until then, he had nothing to do.

He was reading aloud from Hamlet when the monitors suddenly started beeping irregular. He took the wounded woman's hand. "Doctor!"

The doctor came walking in, with a nurse on his tail. "Okay, let's take a look on her"

The nurse pushed Nathan back and took off the tape of the woman's eyes. Then she put eye drops in her eyes. "It's okay. Just relax" she said and took out the tube from her throat. The woman coughed. "Okay. What's you name?"

"Susan" she muttered her voice faint and almost impossible to hear.

"Last name?" the Doctor asked tense.

She didn't reply, just shook her head.

West watched, his eyes locked on the woman. Susan? Susan what? The doctor and the nurse left after a while, not noticing West. He sat down beside Susan, looking at her. She looked back and smiled. "Nathan…have you come to take me with you?" she asked, but then her eyes focused properly. "No. You haven't. You…you are not the one I know"

"Who? Who do you know?" West asked. "Who are you?"

The woman smiled briefly before she fell asleep. Nathan looked at her and swore. Damn. What was going on?

** West walked back to the 58th quarters. He was tired, dirty and confused. Undressing, he thought about the woman. Susan. It was a nice name. He smiled as he stripped off his underwear and grabbed a towel. Then he headed to the showers. He wasn't surprised to see Cooper there. Hawkes loved hot showers. Nathan suspected that they didn't have any at the In Vitro facility. Of course they didn't.

"Where have you been?" Hawkes asked as Nathan walked in.

Nathan stepped into one of the showers and turned on the water. "Just walking" he lied. He knew that lying was an art, which took years to master. Cooper didn't know the first thing of it.

"I see…Why haven't you been seeing Shane and Phousse?" Hawkes asked after a while.

Damn In Vitro, Nathan thought. Can't he just leave me alone? Then he realized that that was just what Coop was afraid of. Being alone…

*** Nathan walked into SickBay the next day. The woman, Susan, was awake. She looked at him, her dark eyes locked with his. He didn't know what to say, just felt a bang of something. This woman…there was something in her eyes. As if she knew something. He walked towards her bed. "My name is Nathan, Nathan West" he said. "I…I want to ask you some questions. What's your name?"

She looked almost shocked to hear his voice. "Susan. My name is Susan Affleck, United States Navy"

Nathan sat down, looking at her. "That man you were found with…do you know who he was?" he asked, his voice almost trembling. It took a great effort to not swallow or move his hands.

She looked away as if it was too painful to look at him. "I…His name was…is…Nathan West. Major. USMC"

"How did you get here?"

"Operation Termo. To travel in time…God, Nathan" she whispered and looked at him. Her eyes were filled with tears. "You died, Nathan. For me, for this mission. You told me not to talk. They held the gun to your head…for hours. Then suddenly, one pulled the trigger. But they…fled before they had time to shoot me" she whispered, tears running down her cheeks.

Nathan froze. "It can't be…it is impossible" he got up, wanting to kick something. He settled with stuffing his hands in his pockets.

"I know it is hard to understand. I mean…this shouldn't have happened. We should never have met here. I…the other me is Lieutenant Junior Grade Susan Affleck Hanson. Stationed on the Moon. My…my husband Paul Hanson died not too long ago on Demios" she explained. "Look it up and you will see that I am telling the truth"

Nathan got a more or less tormented expression on his face. He didn't know what to do. He felt helpless. He didn't say anything, just left to the rec room.

It didn't take long before West found the service record of Lt. Susan Affleck. He opened her file and looked at the photo. It was her. Younger, of course. No sad lines around the mouth. A young, happy woman in her Dress Whites. He read through her file, feeling his heart stop. Her husband was dead. She had a Silver Star, gotten for risking her life and saving others when an airlock gave up. Nathan couldn't help but stare on that face. Young, happy and somehow proud of herself. This was a proud woman. She was also the kind of woman who would easily be called 'Honey', 'Baby', 'Toots' or 'Sweetheart'.

"Who's that?" Hawkes asked from behind.

Nathan jerked his head up and turned the computer off as fast as he could. "No one. Just someone I ran into" he said quickly.

Hawkes eyed him. Nathan shivered under that stare. Doesn't he ever blink? he asked himself. He suspected that In Vitros didn't blink as much as humans. "'Kay" Hawkes said after a few beats. "We are having a poker game. Wanna join us?" he asked.

Nathan stuffed his hands in his pockets, an annoying habit he had when he was nervous. It brought out just how slim he was. "Nah, I am tired. I guess I'll hit the rack"

This was something Cooper didn't believe. But he didn't say anything, just muttered something and left. West sighed. He had hurt Hawkes' feelings, and that bad. The seven-year-old Tank would not forgive him for a while.

Nathan needed answers and that bad. The only place he could find it was with Susan. And that was where he headed.

He found her asleep in sick bay. Nathan looked at her and took the blanket over her body. No need for her to freeze. This must have woken her because before he knew it she had turned and was looking at him. Again he felt as if he was a schoolboy. Susan suddenly smiled and sat up.

"What is it?"

"What?" Nathan asked, confused.

"You are blushing" she whispered, leaning closer.

Nathan looked away. "I want to know…why are you here?"

She took a deep breath. "We here to get back one of our men. Kent Hawkes, Cooper Hawkes' brother. He is also a member of the team. He was going back…to get more Sewell fuel. But…something went wrong. We lost contact with him. We went to find him...but he isn't in this time zone. He is most likely back again…but I am stuck here"

"Coop has a brother?" Nathan looked shocked.

Susan nodded. "He found him when he came back home in…'66. They stayed with your parents while you finished the war"

"The war is still on in 2066?" Nathan couldn't believe it. Who won? And why was Hawkes back on Earth?

"Yes…the war ended in…2068. A peace agreement. An Army squadron got stuck on a planet with a squadron of Chigs. They became friends and…they refused to fight each other. It was an example that Chigs and Humans could live side by side in peace. Or at least be out of each other faces. Coop…he lost his arm in an ambush. But they made him a new one. The same as they did to McQueen in '65" Susan looked at Nathan, her smile fading.

"How close were we?" Nathan suddenly asked.

She didn't reply at first. "We were close. Too close"


She looked at him and a small smile showed up in her eyes. "Right guess. What made you say that?"

West took a deep breath. "The way you looked at me. The sound of your voice when you talked"

"Just the way Kylen talked?" Susan asked. Nathan's jaw dropped. She smiled. "You are still good friends. But never again lovers. You both knew you had changed too much. The war, the other things. She is married, with two children. Her husband, Craig MacPherson, is a nice man. Good husband and father"

"She married him?" Nathan asked, his voice sad and bitter.

"Yes. You were invited. But you never showed up. We…we spend the night in France instead. It wasn't planned, but we got a bit drunk" Susan just shook her head, amused. "Things happened. We talked. You about Kylen, and Paul's death. You feel guilty, but why wouldn't. You said if you had been a bit faster on the stick…or given him an order. But Nathan, it was his choice to give his life. And you couldn't do anything"

"I…I told you?" he whispered. This was strange, actually, it was impossible. And yet…

"Yes. And about Neil. You have suffered a lot, Nathan. But you told me about it and I told you about my father, my friends and my husband" she looked at him, her hand in his.

"Your husband who died on Demios"

"Yes. Chances are that you…you buried him" she said and yawned. "Gosh, I am tired. They have…must have had some drug in me"

Nathan let go on her hand. "Okay. I'll…see you tomorrow, Susan"

"Nathan" she looked at him. "You never got serious wounded in this war. I don't know if that means anything, but just in case…I made it okay"

He looked at her and smiled. "Thank you"

"No problem, Nathan. Take care" she looked at his leave. He was alive…and still dead. This was the young Nathan, the Nathan she had never met in person. And her only chance to get home.

"What's your malfunction, West?" Vansen asked, her voice low and serious.

"What do you mean?" Nathan asked, a small innocent smile showing up on his face.

"Don't play innocent with me" Shane said. "I know something isn't right"

"It's just…" his voice trailed off. No need in telling her something he could not figure out himself. "It's basically nothing. I just don't feel very good"

Shane held his eye for a minute longer, knowing he was lying. But she also knew that Nathan would, as always, figure it out for himself and not let it come in the way for his duty. She watched him head for the showers and lay down on her bunk. She turned and met Cooper's eyes. He looked puzzled. She shook her head. Don't bother...

Shane couldn't help herself in following Nathan the next day. She was curious and worried about him. She looked in through the glass, seeing Nathan sitting beside a woman. She was talking, no, explaining something. She used her hands, as if she was explaining how to fly. Vansen shook her head. Was West in love? She smiled and walked away, not bothering to ask anything.

Susan smiled. "So basically, we create a rift in the space-time continuum. A sort of black hole. We do that by using gravity"

"But how do you protect the craft and create it?" West frowned.

"Chigs got the technology, but not the interest or the knowledge. So we used it. And it powers on Sewell Fuel. The planes are simply SA-43's with Chig technology. Sometimes we use the FA-51 Pigeons to the Air Force. They aren't so good thought. And then we have an electricity field that surrounds it, like a small force field. It is like taming a wild horse, but quite cool" she looked at him, her brown eyes amused.

"I still don't get it. I mean, where is the Hammerhead now?"

She smiled, closing her eyes. She remembered West and herself down on the planet, in the bush. Hiding the Hammerheads was easy. "They are in the bush…coordinates Four-seven-six-niner-either-niner North west of bulls eye"

"That's five clicks from the camp" Nathan said, remembering the map.

"Photographic memory?" she asked, despite her own knowledge about West.

"No…just good memory. That is about the coordinates where Shane and Phousse went down" Nathan pointed out. Then he added. "Coop is the one with the photographic memory"

"Yes, like most In Vitros" she pointed out. "Especially Black Ops In Vitros"

"I have always suspected Hawkes to be made for war. He is a natural on the stick, he can fire whatever they put in his hand…and he knows how to hide" West sat back, looking at her. He was past the point on not believing her. She knew too much, things that he never told. Things he almost couldn't admit to himself. This woman…she was for real. "What was the worse time period you have ever been in?" he asked after a while.

"Let me see…" she frowned slightly. "I guess that was…2001. The year 2001. The world was in chaos after…well…after the 11th September" She shook her head sadly. "Anyway…we kinda had a lot of work to do. I mean, all those silly Marines" she winked to him.

"Swabbie" Nathan said with a grin.

"Jarhead" she replied. "We weren't there for long. Only long enough to stop the assassination on ex President Clinton"

"The only presidents that were assassinated was Lincoln, Kennedy, Young and last SG Chartwell" West was a bit shocked. "Why kill the ex president?"

"Who knows. But the PTB didn't want that to happen. So we killed the assassin" Susan's smile faded. "Or… I did. You were busy holding the Marines away from the Hammerheads"

"You know who it was?" This information shocked Nathan. And made him wonder. Was she making it up?

"Beats me. Someone hired by the FBI and the CIA. Just as the Kennedy assassinations and the M. L. King assassination. And just as President Young" Susan pointed out rather quickly.

West looked at her hand. "President Young was shot by a Silicate in 2051"

"Yes…But Aero Tech programmed the Silicate. They might even have programmed Duke Duc Tran to shoot Chartwell. But that we don't know" Susan took a sip of water and tried to sit up. Nathan quickly helped her, putting a pillow behind her head. "Aero Tech is just like the FBI and CIA put together. A big firma with big bosses making sure that the world acts the way they want"

"Well…I guess that is just how it will always be" West sounded depressed.

"Nathan…" she smiled and lifted his chin up. "I will need help to get back, you know. Access to a Hammerhead so that I can get to the planet"

"In your condition, you'll crash"

"Bullshit. I am the best pilot in Navy. Male of female" Susan pointed a finger in his chest.

"Oh yeah? Well…I'd like to see that" Nathan grinned and took her hand. They both seem to freeze. Slowly, Nathan moved closer to her. He touched her hair and rested his hand on her nape as he pulled her towards him. Their lips met dry at first and then warmer, passionately. Desperately. After a time that seemed as forever the kiss was broken. Nathan opened his eyes, finding his lips still inches away from hers. They looked at each other. "I believe you" Nathan whispered.

She smiled, their lips almost touching. "What? That I am a damn good pilot?"

"That we are lovers" he replied, his eyes locked in hers. He took her face in his hands and kissed her again. Her skin was so soft, her hair thick. It felt like he hadn't kissed someone in years. He had kissed Kylen not too long ago, but this felt different. This was…unexplainable. Like spinning into infinity, a heart stopping, maddening feeling.

She hugged him, despite that it hurt. He smelled the same. Military soap, after-shave and that smell that was just perfect Nathan. She dragged her hands through his hair. Thick, short and almost silky between her fingers. "This feels good…" she whispered, kissing his cheek and neck. She shifted, feeling the ribs hurt. Nathan felt her winch and pulled back.

"Is there anything I can do for you?" he offered, his hands still on her neck and shoulders.

She looked at him, a small and wicked smile coming to her face. Nathan felt his heart jump as she moved closer, suggestive. And then she opened her mouth, as to ask something. "Can you get me a pass to the Hammerhead bay?" she asked and the mood was broken. She smiled innocently.

Nathan smiled too, feeling like someone had thrown cold water in his face. "I'll get you a pass…on one condition"

She looked at him. "What?"

"That I will be your wingman. The planet is hot. You need help to get in there. Two pilots are better than one" West realized he was half sitting on the bed. He was about to stand up when she took his arm.

"No way in hell, Nath. You'll risk your career and you life"

"But…Theoretically, when you get back to your time and stop Coop's brother from doing a mistake, you'd never come here. Which would mean that-"

"That this would never have happened and all you'd find on planet was Shane and Vanessa" Susan finished for him. "Okay. It's not like I have anything better to do. Besides, I want to see if you are as good as McQueen"

"As good as McQueen? I'm…well…I wouldn't bet on that" Nathan put on a boyish grin.

"You are a great pilot. Not as good as me but…maybe as good as McQueen" she winked.

Nathan grinned. "Lemme guess…Modesty just isn't your policy"

"That's right, honey" she said with a small smile.

Nathan kissed her again, enjoying the feeling of her lips against his. She tasted good. He felt so…normal in the kiss. He pulled away and looked at the clock. "I have to get going…I haven't visited Vanessa since she came back. I will…" he stood up and kissed her. "…Be back later"

"Yeah. Later" Susan said.

Nathan smiled and walked out, looking over his shoulder. She was waving to him. He waved and walked towards Phousse's room. "Hey, Phousse"

Damphousse opened her eyes, looking at West. "Hey. Nice seeing you" she said a big smile on her face.

"I was in here not too long ago…but you were asleep" he said. He sat down beside her bed, rubbing his knees. This was awkward. She and Paul had been so close and…and it was his fault that Wang was no longer alive. "I…About Paul…" Nathan looked at her, his eyes guilty. "He gave his life for the colonists. He did what he had to do as a Marine and as a-"

"And for himself" Phousse looked sad. "I know, Nathan. I guess I knew it all along. You was there when he died…could he had done something different?"

West closed his eyes, painfully remembering. "He…he could have joined me in the cockpit earlier. There was a malfunction and the hatch just wouldn't open. I warned him, I told him to come but…" he took a shallow breath, forcing the tears back. "But he said he would hold them off, provide cover. He separated the cargo hold and…I could hear him. I could hear him breath. And then I…I turned off the sound. I didn't want to hear him die. Not when I wasn't with him…" he covered his face in his hands, but didn't allow himself to cry. Not in front Phousse.

Vanessa looked at him, her big eyes filled with tears. How Nathan must feel. She had set her mind to blame him, but she couldn't. "Hey…you remember the Rifle Creed?" she asked.

"Yeah…sort of. I mean, if Bougus suddenly showed up in my face, I would give him it" Nathan said, looking a bit confused at her.

"…Without me, my rifle if useless. Without my rifle, I am useless…" she quoted. "That is how Paul felt. He felt useless without his honor. I like to believe he has it back" she smiled. "I love Paul. I guess I will always love him. I do also understand what he meant. He died for a cause he believed in. He has his honor back. Don't blame yourself for a decision that he made"

Nathan nodded. Was everyone going to give him an anti guilt talk? He had already heard two of 'em. "Look…I have to scramble. I have to help Coop with something and…and there is Paul's funeral"

"Yes…of course" Phousse forced a smile. She watched him leave in silence. Then she frowned. Okay, so Nathan wasn't her special field. But something was bugging him.

As a pilot, West had the security codes. And as a former Aero Tech mechanic he knew a bit more about these things than he should. He met Susan outside sick bay. She was wearing a standard flightsuit with no patches whatsoever. He was wearing a brand new flightsuit without any of his normal patches. She had warned him about using his normal flightsuit.

Nathan watched Susan as she prepared her Hammerhead. She worked steady, quick and without any mistakes. He looked at her. Her slim body, the curve of her neck, the way her hair fell down her face. His lips felt dry as he watched. God, she was something. Pretty, smart…no wonder that he fell…or will fall for her. He almost laughed at the thought.

Susan smiled, looking at him. "What?" she asked.

"Nothing" he smiled and took on his helmet.

"Yeah, and rain makes applesauce" she marked and took on her own helmet and got into her Hammerhead. "Master Switch…safe"

"Everything is working fine. Fuel Line…" Nathan checked it. "Fine…We are a go"

Susan chuckled. "As always"

*** "I've got something on my LIDAR" Susan said. "A Chig Squadron..."

Nathan checked his LIDAR. "Yeah…I see them"

"Can we outrun them?" She asked.

"No. But we can outsmart them" Nathan replied and unsecured his weapons. "Let's give 'em a ride they'll never forget"

"Funny…that's usually my line" Susan whispered and made herself ready. "Hey, Nathan. You know what the Military Cooks' motto is?"

Nathan shook his head. "Beats me"

"When it's smoking, it's cooking. When it's burning, it's done"

"The Naked and the Dead, right? I should have remembered it. My DI made us read it. I wasn't too impressed about it. It was good written and the story was good but just…"

"But just too close to home" Susan muttered. "But let's talk about this later, Lt. Hearn"

"You're calling me Hearn? I'll show ya" Nathan grinned as the Chigs came closer. He pulled up, spinned the Hammerhead and fired a missile towards the Chigs. Two kills.

"Okay" Susan said and pulled up on Nathan's seven. "Maybe I should call you Croft instead"

"And who will you be?" Nathan asked with a smile as they fired at the Chigs. He felt sweat down his face.

"Sure as hell no lady in need" Susan pulled more up and then fired two missiles towards the rest of the Chigs. They blew up like it was 4th of July.

"Great hit"

"Gee, thanks. You're not so bad either" she laughed.

West stepped out of the Hammerhead and loaded his weapon. "You okay?" he asked Susan. He couldn't see her face through the helmet visor.

Susan loaded her weapon. "I'm fine. We are five clicks from the Time Machine" she wished she could wiped the sweat off her forehead.

Nathan wanted to kiss her, but settled with touching her arm. "I wish we had more time" he whispered.

"Time is something we have lots of. But not now, Nathan" she whispered back. Her voice sounded a bit worried.

"Maybe we should start" Nathan said after a while.

"Yeah" Susan agreed and started walking. He smiled and walked after her, his gun ready.

"It's packed with Chigs" Nathan whispered.

"But the Hammerhead is still here. They must have overlooked it" Susan whispered back. They were lying in the mud, their M590's cocked and ready.

"No way to get to it" Nathan frowned.

"Not unless you believe suicide is painless"

They laid there for what seemed like hours. It even started raining. "God, it's getting cold" Nathan whispered.

"Stop complaining" Susan replied, her hands tight around her M590. "We can't wait longer. You cover me while I make a run for it"

"Hold your horses. In a few hours-"

"I don't have a few hours and neither have you. Sooner or later the Wild Cards will see that you are missing and then…" she shook her head and Nathan knew she was right.

Cooper Hawkes opened his eyes slowly. It was before reveille. He yawned and got up, looking towards Shane's rack. She was sleeping soundly. He looked over towards Paul's rack and felt kinda sad. Wang would never sleep in that bed any more. He got up and moved towards the rack, realizing that he didn't hear Nathan breath. As he moved closer he was that there was no one in the upper bunk. West was gone. You fool, he is most likely on a walk, a voice said in his head. But you didn't hear him leave, did ya? Another voice whispered. And West ain't the kinda guy who buzzes off in the middle of the fugging night.

"Shane" Hawkes whispered.

Vansen opened her eyes, yawning. "What? It's the middle of the night"

"Nate's gone"

The words hit Shane like a sledgehammer. "What? Nathan isn't here?" she asked. Cooper nodded. Shane frowned. Maybe he was with that woman…even though she didn't know Nathan liked older women. If she'd known… "Maybe he is taking a walk"

"I doubt that. Think he's gone AWOL?" Cooper realized he was worried.

"No. Nathan wouldn't do that. Kylen is safe, we are safe…" she smiled. "Nathan wouldn't get himself charged with Absence With Out Leave now that everything is finally okay again" she looked at Cooper and saw the frown on his face. "You've been spending too much time with him. You are getting the same frown. Relax. Go to sleep"

Cooper rubbed his neck and looked at Shane. "Yeah. You're right" he muttered and walked to his rack.

* "Can you hold them off?" Susan asked Nathan, her hands shaking a bit. She swallowed and looked over the hill.

"Yeah. You go for it. I'll cover you and make it back to my Hammerhead" West said with a small smile.

Susan looked unsure but finally she crawled away from him. "You give the signal"

Nathan nodded and loaded his rifle. "NOW!" he yelled and opened fire against the Chigs.

Susan started running as Nathan covered her. She tripped and fell a few times but she made her way past the Chigs and towards the modified Hammerhead. She pressed the security code and the cockpit opened.

Nathan took his smart grenade and threw it towards to of the Chigs. It only hit one but it startled the other. He fired again until his clip was empty. Then he attacked one with his ka-bar.

Susan closed the cockpit and started the Hammerhead. "C'mon…c'mon" she muttered as she took off. She was dangerous low on fuel.

Nathan stopped for a moment to see the Hammerhead take off, disappearing up in the sky. He smiled and suddenly he felt something knock him over. He rolled over, looking up into the mussel of a weapon. Great. The last thing he was going to see before he died was the ugly face of an AI.

The AI, an Elroy El model, smiled. Nathan couldn't hear what he said but he could see the hands moving to his helmet. Bracing himself, he bid goodbye to his parents, his brother, Kylen, the Wild Cards…and Susan. He hoped they all would understand… The AI ripped the helmet off his head and Nathan held his breath, knowing that sooner or later he would be forced to take a breath of the deadly air.

Meanwhile, Susan took a deep breath and pressed a few buttons. Then she pressed the big red one. "See you back home, Nathan…" she said as the Hammerhead started rocking, heading into the black hole.

Nathan closed his eyes, feeling his lunges ache. He opened his mouth and took a shallow breath. The world became blurry on the edges and he found it impossible to breathe. It was like he was breathing cement. He coughed and coughed.

Then suddenly it all stopped.

It was dark. Very dark. 1st Lieutenant Nathan West had to narrow his eyes to see anything. His M590 loaded and in his hand, his finger on the trigger. He didn't notice Hawkes or the rest of the SAR team behind him. All he could think about was Shane and Phousse. Finding them. The small prison camp seemed strangely empty. Maybe no one had been there in weeks. But this was where Shane's trace had lead them. It was a Miracle that Shane and Phousse had survived the impact. Another miracle was that they had gotten so far. With only 20 hours of air each and in the un-breathable atmosphere of the Planet 2063Y or Anvil as it was called. Nathan was glad he could hear the hiss from his O2 pack. As long as it was making sound, it was working. Just in case he checked it. It was on 69 %.

"I have a visual" an Aussie accented voice broke through the unpleasant humming from the comlink.

Nathan quickly lent against the wall, his weapon cocked and ready. "Your position?"

The Aussie sergeant waited a moment. "Fifthly meters away. But the room is empty. False alarm"

Nathan swore, loosening the grip on his weapon. Then, Hawkes' voice broke through the humming. "Nathan. I've found Shane and Phousse. They are okay"

Nathan smiled and turned. "I'm coming, Coop" he said, feeling relief floating trough him.


It was the summer of '71. Nathan West, his brother John, Cooper Hawkes, Shane Vansen, Vanessa Damphousse and McQueen were all on their places, waiting for the ceremony to start. Hawkes was the best man, with McQueen and John West by his side.

Shane Vansen was sitting beside Vanessa and her husband Tom Grey. She had to smile. It had been a few years since all the Cards were gathered. And now couldn't have been a better time.

Nathan swallowed again, as he had been doing for the last ten minutes. He felt almost sick. He looked over to McQueen. "I dunno if I can do this" he whispered.

McQueen smiled. A rare smile but it fitted for the moment. After all, this wasn't the business he was used to. "It's too late to change your mind, West. Picture this as a mission…"

Cooper chuckled. "Yeah. Your mission is to love, honor and obey"

Nathan smiled, feeling a bit overdressed up in his Dress Blues. Then the music started and the crowd stood up.

Nathan felt his mouth go dry as he saw her. Beautiful Susan Affleck wearing a rather sexy wedding dress. He was used seeing her in white…after all, Susan was in the Navy.

He heard Hawkes gasp. "She is beautiful…You are one lucky guy, Nathan West," Coop said in Nathan's ear. And he was right, Susan was a queen.

The rest of the ceremony seemed like a fairy tale. Mrs. West was crying her eyes out. They had gotten Nathan's father to escort Susan to the altar since her own father died of cancer a few years earlier. They said their vows and exchange the rings. Then came the moment which they both had dreaded a bit. "Then I pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss your bride"

Nathan looked into Susan's eyes. She was actually crying. he didn't feel so steady himself. He moved closer to her and kissed her. She kissed him back, putting her arms around him and taking over the kiss.

McQueen chuckled, looking at Hawkes. "I wonder who will be in charge in that marriage. The Commander or the Major"

Cooper laughed, looking at Susan and Nathan. "I dunno. But I think they will find a way"

"I don't doubt a second," McQueen said, looking at his kids. She with her husband, Vanessa in a beautiful blue dress…Hawkes standing beside him, handsome in his Dress Blues and Nathan West, kissing his beautiful bride. They had matured over the war…and now it was over. Thank God. For a moment, McQueen wondered just how wrong things could have gone over the years…

Back : To General Fiction