Chicken Feed

Christine Forrester

Writers note: This story was inspired by the premise Tucker Smallwood gave at Wolf 359 when he was asked about the future for Space Above and Beyond. Wong and Morgan had planned the Season One Final as a cliff hanger for Season Two Opener. They had several ideas about the 58. I do not know how they would have resolved the story but have included what Tucker told us in this story. Only time, a TV movie or a new series will tell how close I was.

What happened in Season One Final "......Tell Our Moms we did our best".

Peace talks with the Chigs commence aboard the Saratoga. The Chigs request the presence of the Aerotech Boss , at the talks. Commodore Ross develops a bad cold and is prevented from joining the peace talks Lt. Colonel McQueen takes his place.

The 58 find out that they have given the plans for Operation Round Hammer to the Chigs and tell McQueen. They are summarily relieved of duty and confined to quarters in disgrace awaiting court-martial. As a sign of their peaceful intentions the Chigs release the Tellus and Vestan survivors which include Kylen Celina. However when the APC is half way between the Chig homeworld and the Saratoga the peace talks take a turn. The Chig claims that they are from Earth, a race that existed before humans. They were forced to leave to find planets with a methane atmosphere. The moon that the 58 discovered the Chig breading cavern in is Holy and Aerotech landed an explorer on this moon. The Aerotech Boss becomes angry and irrational and the Chig breaks through the environmental field to fight the man. During the fight there is an explosion that kills everyone in the room, except Lt. Colonel McQueen who has his right leg blown off below the knee.

The Chigs now attack the ISSCV with the colonists aboard. The disabled craft is adrift mid way to Saratoga. Boss Ross mobilises the 59 squadron in hammerheads as cover for the 58 in another ISSCV. West and Wang board the stricken craft and evacuate the civilians to the ISSCV piloted by Vansen and Damphousse. The Chigs attack the locked pair and West and Wang decide to fly both units back giving extra firepower for defence. The Chigs ram the ISSCV knocking Vansen and Damphousse unconscious and splitting the Command capsule from the personnel module. Vansen comes round to report that the Command Capsule has been caught in the nearby planets gravity well and she wont leave Damphousse who is unconscious but will fire thrusters and hope the drogue chutes make a landing survivable. Contact is lost as they fall through a thick green atmosphere.

Hawkes is now adrift in the ISSCV personnel module with the civilians. Wang has to manually release the damaged module from the other ISSCV from the inside. He fires at the Chigs as a diversion calling the names of all the 58 killed in action. As West picks up the drifting civilians a stricken Chig fighter crashes into Wang's module and pieces of debris fly off in all directions.

Hawkes and West arrive back at the Saratoga to say good bye to Lt. Colonel McQueen as he is being medevaced back to Earth. After saying goodbye to Kylen, West and Hawkes return to the 58 quarters where they lie on the two bottom bunks. Hawkes remarking that he now knows how Vansen has felt all her life, loosing her Mother and Father in one day.

Anger was all that Lieutenant Paul Wang felt as the cargo module of the ISSCV drifted away from the drive module. He knew he was a sitting target but was determined that the attacking Chigs would not get the civilians in the other module. He listened in horror as Captain Vansen, refusing to leave the unconscious Lt. Damphousse, tried to fire the Command Module's retro rockets and her final words echoed through the small gunnery compartment.

"Semper Fi. My friends"

Wang swung the gun emplacement around targeting the on coming Chigs. Overcome with emotion he called out the names of the fallen members of the 58th.

It was too late to take any further action when Paul Wang realised that the on coming Chig fighter was heading straight for him. The impact catapulted Paul against the farthest wall and the sound of twisting tearing metal drowned his scream of agony as the Personnel Module exploded into pieces. Stifling darkness and cold folded around him blotting out all other experience.

Shane Vansen felt failure as the Command Capsule of the ISSCV began to enter the planets atmosphere. Vanessa Damphousse remained unconscious, unaware of her friends willing sacrifice to try and save her. Vansen struggled to fire the retro thrusters of the module. She thought that she would be too busy to think but the events of the day kept cramming into her head. Perhaps this was a fitting way to go. The onboard instrumentation had been damaged by the impact with the Chig fighter and she was flying blind. Reaching across she activated the homing beacon on the capsule. At least they would find the pieces to bury. The temperature in the module was increasing. The external atmosphere was thick. Making a guess Vansen released the Drogue Re-entry Parachutes. The capsule pulled up suddenly jerking her neck painfully. To her amazement she could see objects floating in front of the windows. At first she thought they were clouds but then she realised they were life forms. Not birds, as they should have been but more like fish. Large black staring eyes peered through the windows at the two Marines as Vansen struggled to keep the module aligned for landing. Impact occurred while she was marvelling at the life outside. The capsule ploughed into something thick and soft before impacting on something solid and unfriendly. It bounced three times, but Shane was only aware of the once before she lost consciousness. The drogue chutes floated down to cover the capsule nearly completely. Outside, the flying fish swam around the fallen object bathing in the warmth it gave off and feeding from the particles that had begun to cling to the parachute canopies.

Lt. Colonel T.C. McQueen had a hard hollow feeling in his stomach. The reports of the 58's rescue mission had filtered through to him in the Sickbay and through the pain and shock of the explosion Ty McQueen felt the loss of his Kids deeply. He had not even begun to think what he would do now he was no longer combat worthy, he had always thought he would die in battle. The medevac team began to move him towards the outgoing vessel that would return him to Earth and Civilian life. His friend Commodore Glen Ross was waiting to say his good byes. McQueen could see from the Commodore's face that he felt guilty about the events of the previous hours. Sadness was all he could feel at the pain in the Commodore's face and also the pain and loss in the faces of Lieutenants Hawkes and West. He wanted to offer them some hope, especially Hawkes, but never able to express feelings well he remained silent, empty. Commodore Ross's parting grip did little to ease his pain as the medics transferred his stretcher to the ISSCV and then to Earth. He was resigned to the inevitable loss and pain that seemed to be his lot in life.

Colonel Avril Alison commanding the 46th Chig Busters waited until the APC had left the Saratoga before she approached the Commodore.

The hard faced Colonel in her late forties had her hair cropped like a mans and other than her body shape could have passed for any hard bitten male career Marine Officer.

She fixed the Commodore with her hazel eyes and spoke curtly and quietly into the Commodore's ears. "Permission to send a message to Quantico Medical facility with the casualty list Sir?"

Numbed from the recent events Ross nodded. The Colonel walked smartly away to the bridge.

Emotionally exhausted Hawkes and West lay on the two bottom bunks in the 58's quarters. The room was empty and too quiet. Thoughts filled West's head. He should have been happy. Kylen was safe and on her way home, but the loss of his friends cut him deeply. The empty dead look in Hawkes eyes told West that the Invitro was having a hard time trying to sort out his emotions.

The door opened and out of the corner of his eye West spotted the black flying suit of the commanding officer. As he reacted automatically his mind playing tricks with his emotions he imagined the 58 coming to attention as LT. Colonel McQueen entered. The moment was lost as he realised the figure in the doorway was a woman.

"Look alive you lumps." Her voice was quiet but cut the air like a knife. "You have been assigned to the 46th Squadron, Chig Busters until replacements for the 58 arrive. We are going out to retrieve the casualties from the last show and I thought you might like to come along. Hammers drop in twelve mikes."

She turned and marched from the quarters without a further word.

"They never let up do they?" Hawke's tired voice followed her departing back. "So that's Colonel Hard Ass Alison."

"At least we are doing something." West was on his feet now. "Its only right we should bring Paul and the girls back."

Twelve minutes later West and Hawkes, the only two operational hammerheads in flight deck six were space born. They joined the six fliers from the 46th slotting in at the back of the V formation.

"King of Hearts. Jack of Spades. This is Hornet One." The Colonel's voice. "When we get to battle zone you are to fall in behind me to retrieve the APC Personnel module. We rendezvous with ISSCV 97542 with our cargo for return to Saratoga. The APC is already on route. Hostile activity is negative. You copy."

"Copy Hornet One." Hawkes and West chorused.

The search and retrieve exercise was slow and painful. The personnel module had been well and truly destroyed. There was no sign of Lt. Paul Wang's body amongst the metal and mineral remains. Pieces of the craft were spread over a wide area.

It was Hawkes who spotted the spinning gunnery module. It was charred and dented and there was no sign of any life.

"King of Hearts. I've found him." Hawke's voice sounded excited. "The gunnery emplacement is intact."

"Don't get your hopes up Jack of Spades." The Colonel's voice cut into the intercom. "Well spotted but the module looks badly damaged and there won't be any life support. You and King of Hearts grapple it to the ISSCV. We'll continue search to ensure pick up unless its confirmed from base."

The ISSCV crew were experts at retrieval and the gunnery module was soon housed safely within the personnel module. They confirmed a body inside. The three hammerheads joined the rest of the 46th retrieving the remains of the 59th squadron. The six bodies safely aboard the ISSCV the vessel turned and headed back to the Saratoga.

"Good work team." The colonel's voice again. "We'll do one round sweep then head back to the barn."

The hammerheads in formation began to run a routine sweep and pickup run around the Saratoga looking for large debris or other bodies possibly alien. Finally returning to the flight decks 45 minutes later.

Getting out of their flight cockpits as fast as they could West and Hawkes headed toward the ISSCV cargo bay. Rounding a corner as they left flight deck 6 they both ran into the 46th Colonel. Hawkes hit her with such force that the eagle on her right lapel gouged a line along his cheek.

"You are in a hurry."

"Sir. Sorry Sir. We just want to get to the cargo bay." Hawkes was both flustered and anxious.

The Colonel's hard expression never changed, but her eyes were not angry. "I understand Lieutenant. I suggest you both slow down before you run into anyone important. And Hawkes get that cut dressed."

West and Hawkes raced into the area in time to see an engineering crew cutting through the gunnery door. Commodore Ross was standing by with a medical team. As the door pulled back, the medics pushed into the gunnery emplacement. They emerged several minutes later with a body on a stretcher.

The doctor looked up at Commodore Ross. "He's breathing. Severe internal injuries. Hypothermia. That's what kept him alive."

The medics hurried from the hanger with their precious cargo as the Commodore turned around and smiled at Hawkes and West. "He's not out of the woods yet." The Commodore's voice was sad. "You had better go with him. I'll let Colonel Alison know."

The medics in the sick bay ITU pushed the two lieutenants out of their way as they busied themselves with Wang.

"Look Lieutenants." An exasperated nurse pushed passed them in the doorway. "We have to get him to the OR before he bleeds to death. You can't help. He will be back in several hours come back then." She pushed the two Marines back into the corridor and slammed the door in their faces.

That evening, while reviewing the outgoing messages from Saratoga, Commodore Ross wandered at the addition to the casualty report from the sickbay. It read. To Chicken Farmer. One oven ready battery chicken enclosed. In need of your attention. Cook as Appropriate. Advise. SSOB.

Shane Vansen woke slowly. It was still dark outside and the temperature was definitely indicating snow had fallen. Perhaps she could go back to sleep and get up later when the sun was up. But there was something that she had to do. Something urgent. The party last night had been good if the hangover throbbing behind her eyes was anything to go by. Trying to keep awake Shane tried to sit up. It was then that she realised that she was strapped into her flight chair. The realisation of her situation began to dawn on her. The command module was in one piece and airtight but had fallen onto its side when it had crashed. Lighting was out and life support was at minimal.

"Vanessa" Shane's voice sounded hoarse to her own ears. "Vanessa are you alright?"

Reaching out to her right, Shane's gloved hand made contact with the still figure of Lieutenant Vanessa Damphousse. The unconscious figure was breathing but was otherwise unresponsive. Struggling against gravity and the nausea that threatened to overcome her with every movement Shane released the seat harness and practically fell against the dimly lit control panel before her. Her orientation compromised by the position of the capsule, it took her several minutes to locate the aft supply cabinet. The contents spilled out onto the wall that was now floor and Shane had to feel the packages carefully before she identified her objective. Breaking open the emergency lighting module she was temporarily blinded by the flash of white light as it ignited. The cold light unit was standard issue and when its energy dissipated the unit was edible. Shane pocketed four more of the ten units held in the box. She didn't want to be in the dark even here. Looking around she was amazed at the crushed sides of the capsule and made a mental note to congratulate the crafts design team. She made her way back to Damphousse, taking care not to step on any of the consuls and panels that were now part of the flooring.

Vanessa Damphousse lolled in the co-pilots seat. She was totally unconscious and didn't respond to anything Shane did.

Carefully feeling along her friends spine and around her neck Shane eliminated any possibility of fractured spine injuries and carefully releasing Vanessa's harness lowered her friend to the floor. Damphousse was breathing in sharp shallow gasps and Shane could tell that she had broken several ribs from her impact with the harness. Carefully altering the girl's position eased her breathing and Shane sat back against the floor out of breath but relieved.

"Don't you die on me now you ungrateful bitch." Shane's words were spoken with tenderness as she rested her hand on her friends shoulder. "I could do with you to talk too. I could also do with some help getting a comunit running."

Pulling herself up Shane made her way back to the spilled contents of the supply cabinet. She carefully arranged the contents opening the space blankets to cover and pad Vanessa and herself.

She carefully opened the second supply cabinet. The contents were scattered around the inside of the cabinet but were in tact. A water/urine recycling unit and at least a months field rations. An emergency medical kit and oxygen/air EVA units, six body bags.

"Well diner is going to be boring but at least we won't starve." Shane continued to talk to Vanessa as she arranged their supplies and padded and covered Damphousse, with the space blankets and body bags.

Her nausea had gone while she was occupied and now she had nothing to do the sensation began to return. Tearing open a field ration she began to chew on a high energy protein bar. That was it she was hungry.

Her watch told her that it was 20.00 hours on the day they had crashed. Shane reached over for a pad and pen and began to keep a log. As she looked out of the window, she realised that it was not dark outside, she was gazing on the inner surface of the drogue chutes that had draped over the capsule as it settled. Watching carefully she could see slight movements from the canopy perhaps from wind outside. Documenting this in her log Shane lodged the light source carefully against a bulkhead support and wrapping the space blanket tightly around her settled down to sleep.

She woke cold and shivering. Looking at her watch it read 04.00 hours time for reveille. She reached across to her friend. Vanessa was warm and her breathing was steady.

"Its nice to see you've had a good sleep. Just stay in bed and let the Captain do the worrying will you."

Reaching across to her food pile Shane opened another field ration. The food heated up in the air and the smell of beef stew filled the capsule.

"Not what I'd chose for breakfast but it'll do. Want some?"

Damphousse remained silent. Shane also opened a drink ration the smell of coffee was wonderful.

"I'll have mine with cream and sweetener." Vanessa's weak voice was the best sound Shane had ever heard.

Reaching across to her friend Shane had to refrain from hugging the injured girl. It was then that Shane realised that she could see light, a sickly green light peeking through holes that were appearing in the canopy that draped the capsule. As she watched the holes slowly got bigger as though the fabric was dissolving. Shane lent closer to the window. The fabric was dissolving and tiny red threads were wriggling over the remaining fabric and beginning to wriggle onto the window beneath.

At 05.00 hours the Saratoga communications officer on duty reported an unusual coded message from the Quantico Medical facility, he wasn't sure who it was for. Commodore Glen Ross read the message with interest. To Stubborn SOB. Recieved oven ready. Cooking on slow heat due to tuff nature of bird. Will advise. CF.

Folding the message the Commodore headed towards the Operations Room where the 46th Squadron was awaiting instructions about a retrieval and rescue attempt for the Command Module from the APC. An emergency beacon had been detected although the planetary conditions were very hostile. Colonel Alison was standing ramrod straight at the head of the room discussing survival and rescue techniques for the Methane heavy atmosphere. Lieutenants Hawkes and West sat near the back of the group looking very tired.

Handing the Colonel the paper with the message Commodore Ross turned to address the group. He caught a rare smile flick across the Colonel's face as she read the report. He made a mental note to question her more closely about this cryptic communication.

"Marines" The Commodore began. " There was a successful rescue attempt yesterday. Lieutenant Paul Wang of the 58 was successfully retrieved from wreckage. He has undergone surgery for internal injuries and his condition is stable. The CMO informs me that another hour and Wang would not have survived. We have received automatic telemetry from the Command Capsule that crashed on planet 2063 Yankee. The beacon is automatic and has severe interference from the planetary atmospheric conditions. We do have an approximate position for the unit. This indicates that the capsule may have made it down intact. The atmosphere is acidic. Heavy encounter suits are required and if there is any breach in the capsule this will be a retrieval not a rescue. Maximum planetary exposure is twenty mikes per suit so EVA's will be at a minimum. Good luck out there 46th."

West felt like an ancient deep sea diver as he walked across the smooth slippery rock surface of the planet designated 2063 Yankee. Colonel Alison had insisted that the Marines searched in a circular movement around the APC . They were to travel in pairs linked by a heavy chain. The marine he partnered was a surly Southerner whose dark black face never showed any sign of a smile.

"Can you see the capsule?" West wanted to break this silence that had fallen between them.

"What do you think?" Macenzie sounded like he wanted to cry. "I can't see more than three meters in front of my face, and these threads keep clinging to my visor." He made an irritable gesture to wipe the red threads away from his visor. "Shit my gloves are dissolving. How long have we been out here?"

West hurriedly looked down at his own gloves. They were definitely dissolving. "15 Mikes."

"Away team three. This is base camp. Mark your position and return to the nest. " The Colonel's clipped voice.

"Acknowledged base camp." Macenzie's sad reply. "This stuff is really toxic. The suits wont do more than two EVA's if that."

The APC was a welcome sight and the other Marines hosed down West and Macenzie before they were allowed through the airlock.

A short asian girl was examining something through a microscope. "Yes they are alive."

"You've heard from the capsule?" West asked eagerly.

"No they are looking at those red threads that stick to our suits." Hawkes sounded irritated.

"Triangulation from markers has confirmed presence of Command Capsule. It is 500 meters west of our landing sight. There is no reply to standard communications, but that doesn't mean anything in this soup." A squat red headed lieutenant spoke from a survey consul. "I estimate that we will loose hull integrity in 60 mikes so if we are going to try anything I suggest we hurry."

"Away Team four. You are go." The Colonel looked strangely worried. "Take the life line as far as you can then return. Watch the ground I don't want anyone falling down in this atmosphere. Watch those threads Rabena isn't sure if they are the cause of the dissolving of if they are feeding off our material as the atmosphere soups it."

The two marines left via the airlock leaving a nasty stillness in the ISSCV.

As she looked around at her squadron West thought that the Colonel had suddenly shrunk. She didn't seem half as proud and haughty as first impressions had given. Her hard features were a little softer. He remembered how McQueen had appeared when they had first seen him. A tall arrogant Angry Angel, yet he had quickly warmed to the Wild Cards and they had in turn relaxed and trusted him. West wandered what their new commanding officer would be like, in the mean time this one would do.

West suddenly realised that the Colonel's gaze was resting on him.

"I said. Do you think you are fit enough to go the last leg with Hawkes?" "Oh. Yes Sir." West's heart was beating very quickly.

"Good." The Colonel smiled at him. "Change your EVA suit. I'm coming with you so is Osterhousen." She nodded in the direction of the tall blonde Swede, who returned the nod in silence. "We leave in 10 mikes. I'm not waiting for the team to come back that will waste precious time. We may have to bring your friends back without EVA's which will be a problem in this atmosphere."

Hawkes made a funny noise. Every eye turned to him.

"You have something to say Lieutenant?"

"Yes Colonel." Hawkes' eyes were bright with excitement. "You remember Mars, Nathan?" West nodded. "During Officer Training. We were out in a sand storm. Someone had suggested we bring body bags with us so we could take any casualties back like real marines. We could have used them for shelter against the sand storm. We can use them to bring Vansen and Damphouse back all we need to do is take the oxygen/air EVA units to allow them to breath."

"Good idea Hawkes." The Colonel looked impressed. "It will slow down our return though so we'd better saddle up and head out now."

The life line laid by team four saved the rescue party precious minutes as they all but felt their way towards the beacon on the capsule. Night vision and automatic sensors were useless but the direction finder worked perfectly. It still took 20 minutes to reach the damaged capsule and the EVA suits were showing definite signs of deterioration.

West was shocked to see the state of the vessel. The sides were dented and buckled and it lay at a crazy angle.

"West. Hawkes. " The Colonel's voice came over the com. "Don't hold any hopes. This looks bad."

Hawkes was already approaching the capsule window. He pulled the remains of the rotting chute canopy away and to West's surprise began waiving and whooping at the contents.

"I guess you can get your hopes up West." The Colonel sounded as happy or was that wishful thinking.

Suddenly Hawkes thrust his helmet against the glass of the capsule. Then his voice bellowed through the com links. "Get the EVA breathers on and both of you get into two body bags each. No that's the only way you'll get out of here. The atmosphere is toxic. It's dissolving us so you wouldn't stand a chance."

Reaching into his weapons holster Hawkes pulled out his pistol and aimed it at the window escape panel. The words on the panel read 'Emergency Escape. Hit With Sharp Object To Shatter'. West felt the detonation of the charge, the sound was a heavy distorted explosion but the effect was the desired one the glass disintegrated and Hawkes clambered into the interior. He passed a body bag out through the opening as West and the Colonel arrived. Osterhousen had been right behind Hawkes all the way and gently took the offered package pulling it across his shoulders fireman's lift style. He turned around and headed back to the APC as Hawkes emerged from the interior carrying another precious cargo.

Vansen looked pale and shaken as the body bags were unzipped from the outside to let her out. The APC was a welcome sight and the emotion of the last few days caught up with her. Her shoulders began to shake, and as Damphousse was released she began to cry.

Vanessa Damphousse had faired slightly worse. She was clearly suffering from concussion and bewildered was glad to lie at a medical station as Rabena started to perform observations on her vital functions. West was busy watching this activity and when he turned back to Vansen he was surprised to see the Colonel sitting cuddling the Captain.

"That's alright." The tough woman was saying. "You have a good team here. You've done very well to survive this long." Then nodding at Hawkes she handed Vansen over to him for comfort and debriefing.

Three weeks latter the injured and members of the 58th were ready to return to light duties. Wang still flinched with pain if he caught at an angle but otherwise they were all fit. West and Hawkes were surprised at how friendly the 46th had become and the two squadrons were working well together.

At 05.00 hours on the day that the team was back in action a message was received from Quantico US Marine Base. The communications officer handed it dutifully to Commodore Ross who handed it straight to Colonel Alison. It read. To Stubborn SOB. Free Range Chicken. Oven Ready to replace Battery bird, on its way. Dinner is on you. CF.

Nodding slowly to herself the Colonel looked quizzically at Commodore Ross. Then spoke slowly as though framing a difficult question.

"Sir. The Colonel ..."

"I know. Asks permission to reply to this communication." Ross finished for her. "You may. First, Colonel. What is this all about?"

"I'm not at liberty to say Sir. It is classified information." With that she turned around and headed for the bridge.

Ross was standing behind her as she sent the reply to Quantico. Thanks Chicken Farmer. Will let you know how this one cooks. Send bill. SSOB.

The next morning Commodore Ross received notification that the Commanding officer for the 58 was allocated and would arrive the next morning.

Commodore Ross was waiting as the APC arrived in the cargo area. The doors opened and the commanding officer limped awkwardly down the ramp using a walking stick for support.

"Welcome back Lt. Colonel. I thought you were fit for duty?"

"I am sir." McQueen stood stiffly erect. "It's this damned AI leg prosthesis. It is taking a while to get used to it."

Ross nodded, happy to see his friend return. "I hear the 58 is back in the saddle?' The Colonel continued.

Ross nodded. "They have been working with the 46th. Charges were dropped due to circumstances and some string pulling."

"You know its amazing. I thought I was out of this war. You'll never guess how the surgeon got the idea for this prosthesis?"

They were walking towards the hanger door.

"Battery chickens." Ross said leaving an astonished McQueen behind him.

Colonel Alison walked into the Operations room where the 58 were gathered. Standing at the front of the room she looked each of them in the eye.

"This morning I am handing over command of the 58 to her new commanding officer. Before I take my leave I just want to say that it has been a pleasure to work with you. I would accept any one of you into the 46th at any time. Attention for your new commander Lt. Colonel McQueen"

The 58th never noticed the Colonel and Commodore Ross as they left. They pushed forward to greet their CO.

"You'll never guess where the surgeon got the idea for this AI leg." McQueen was saying as the door closed.

"Chickens." In unison from the 58.

The messages had not been as secret as they were supposed to be Colonel Alison laughed to herself. She'd have to watch out or others would be calling her a Stubborn SOB. Commodore Ross looked at her and was about to say something then changed his mind. He felt happier than he had for months.

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