This story, "Promises to Keep", takes place immediately following the episode "Tell Our Moms We Done Our Best." It is also contains references to my previous story, "The Darkest Night." "Promises to Keep" is rated PG for language and non-graphic violence.
Many thanks to Gabrielle Bessey for all her help.
The Characters and situations of the TV program "SPACE: Above and Beyond" are the creations of Glen Morgan and James Wong, Fox Broadcasting and Hard Eight Productions, and have been used without permission. No copyright infringement is intended.
All other characters not belonging to Glen Morgan and James Wong, Fox Broadcasting and Hard Eight Productions, are my creations and property. Permission is hereby granted to use them in fan fiction, providing that the author acknowledge my rights to them.
copyright Becky Ratliff, June 1996
Promises to Keep
by Becky Ratliff
From "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" by
"The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep"
There was a bird singing somewhere close by. Vansen shook her
head, opened her eyes. It was steaming hot, and her field of
vision was obscured by something hazy and translucent red. She
blinked her eyes a couple of times.
The parachute had fallen over top of the cockpit...and she was
still alive to be aware of that fact. After that last hard
bounce, she wouldn't have bet the rent on that outcome.
She turned in her seat so fast her restraints bit into her
shoulders. She struck the release hard with her fist to get out of
the seat belts. "'Phousse!"
Her co-pilot was still out cold--for all Vansen knew she hadn't
regained consciousness since they'd first been hit.
The cockpit was sitting at a definite angle, making movement in
the crowded quarters an exercise in caution. She found the
medikit and pulled out the little hand scanner. It wouldn't tell
her much but it was better than she'd had as a lifeguard. She
attached the clips and sensor tabs and waited for the little unit
to boot up.
The results were fairly good, Damphousse's pulse and blood
pressure were a little low but not dangerously so. And she didn't
have that shocky "look" about her that Vansen had come to
associate with people who were about to need mouth-to-mouth
resuscitation. The unit recommended a mild stimulant to help
bring her around, but Vansen did what she could to check for
obvious injuries first. She didn't want Damphousse to aggravate a
fracture by moving around...especially not a neck injury. But
when the most thorough exam she could manage produced no evidence
of any such thing, she tore open a stim patch and stuck it on the
back of her friend's hand. Presently, the drug began to work, the
scanner showed `Phousse's vital signs creeping back to normal.
Ten minutes later, her eyes started to flutter open.
Vansen said, "Vanessa, it's me. You're okay. Don't move around
too much yet."
Damphousse blinked a few times and the confusion slowly faded --
to be replaced by a violent bout of nausea. That was the usual
result of getting knocked out! When she finally felt like she was
back on dry land instead of tossing on the high seas in a rubber
raft, she asked, "Shane, what happened up there?"
"Don't know, we took a hit that activated the cockpit separation
sequence. We got caught in the planet's gravity well. I ordered
Nathan to leave us and pick up the colonists, `Phousse, but I'm
sure an SAR team will be on their way in no time."
"Right. I've got to move, Shane, let me out of this seat."
"Let's make double-sure you don't have anything broken, first."
"I got shocked. I've got a burn on my hip where that wire got me,
it really hurts. But nothing else does."
"Okay, then, but don't move too fast. We don't want you passing
`Phousse nodded and carefully bent the live wire back out of the
way, she did NOT want to come into contact with that again! She
stood up very gingerly -- and the cockpit shifted, slid maybe half
"Hey, Shane, where did you land us?!"
"You're lucky I landed us at all! We bounced three or four times,
I thought the last one was going to knock my teeth out!"
"Well, it busted the viewport right behind you. Turn around real
slow and see if you can poke a hole in the chute so we can see
where we're at!"
"Right. Hey, we found out one thing," Vansen said.
"What's that?" Damphousse asked.
"We can breathe the air down here."
Damphousse gulped. "That's really good to know, Shane."
"Yeah, I thought so." Vansen slowly turned around to face the
viewport behind her. She drew her k-bar, a section of the
viewport about a meter in diameter was broken out. The thick
safety glass broke into chunks, not shards with sharp edges; she
didn't have to worry about getting cut on glass as she made a hole
in the parachute. Carefully she stuck her head out. They had
come to rest on a loose gravel hillside, there was a high cliff to
port and, about fifteen meters downhill to starboard, a wide
shallow creek. On the other side of the creek was another gravel
bank and another cliff. Here and there near the stream, short,
wide trees with fat lime-colored leaves grew in the gravel. The
sky was obscured by thick cloud cover. Looking up, she couldn't
see the top of the canyon for the steamy haze.
"We're sliding down this gravel hill," she reported.
"Does it look like we'll roll over?"
"It doesn't look like it, but I don't think it's a good idea to stay in here all the same."
Moving very carefully, they removed their gear from the capsule.
Damphousse got the radio beacon working. "The chigs are as likely
to pick this up as our people are!"
Vansen said, "No one's going to pick us up from here unless
they're right overhead. Those cliffs could go up forever for all
I know! They'll block the signal."
Damphousse said, "Oh, what a wonderful place you found to
shipwreck us, Shane! At the bottom of a canyon, at the bottom of
a gravity well!"
"I think I bounced us off the top of the cliff, aren't you glad
the jets still had some power when that happened?" Shane shot
back, but she couldn't help grinning. They were VERY lucky to be
alive at all, the odds were against making a parachute landing on
dry ground without a carefully planned trajectory. If they'd
entered the atmosphere at the wrong angle, they would have made a
very pretty shooting star, had anyone happened to have been
looking. The chutes could have deployed too early for local
conditions and burned up in atmosphere, or too late to slow their
descent, and let them smash into the ground at a fatal velocity
either way. The atmosphere could have been poisonous -- most
were, after all. Had the planet been nearer or farther away from
its sun, conditions could have been unsurvivable for humans.
Landing in an ocean would have been much gentler, but then
they would have been floating out in the middle of all that water!
"Let's look at that burn, then find somewhere to make camp. I
don't want our camp visible from here, in case the chigs do find
the wreck first."
(Aboard the med-evac transport)
McQueen woke up to the persistent beeping of a monitor. He tried
to sit up and a wave of drugged dizziness forced him back. He
had a needle in his arm. Looking around, he saw a pole with an
almost-empty bag of saline solution. He remembered they'd been
giving him blood while he had been lying on the stretcher earlier,
and he wondered how long he'd been out. Then it hit him again.
Wang was dead, Vansen and Damphousse missing in action and
presumed dead. He had to know how long he'd been out. His watch
had been broken in the explosion, but there was a clock on the
bulkhead. At least six hours.
He tried again to get up, found out he couldn't, and then
remembered why. He'd lost at least his foot in the explosion,
wasn't sure how much more. It was hard to accept the truth of
that. He could still feel his foot there, as long as he didn't
look. But the helplessness was worse...they were giving Shane up
He had always known, in an intellectual sense, why West had gone
AWOL looking for Kylen...but now he finally understood it. He was
certain Shane was alive, as sure as he was of his own existence.
If finding her alive and rescuing her from that rock was the last
thing he ever did it would have been worth it. But this transport
was carrying him further away from her every minute, back to an
Earth that didn't give a damn about either of them.
A pretty, Nordic-looking nurse checked on him. "Is there anything
I can get you?"
He just shook his head and turned his face to the bulkhead,
pretended to sleep. It was easier than trying to think of
something to say. He hadn't felt this kind of despair since the
mining colony, watching friend after friend waste away from
radiation sickness without being able to do a damn thing to help
them. There was nothing left to hope for and even less to live
for. Except that, if he was the only one who believed Shane and
Vanessa were still alive, then giving up wasn't an option.
It was getting dark, the signal light back at the wreck was coming
on. Vansen wondered how much good it would do, though, its beam
filtered up through the ever present haze and she wasn't sure how
far up in the clouds it could be seen.
Vansen looked around their camp, it was well hidden in the rocks.
Camo tarps worked better some times than others, but this time it
had done an excellent job of emulating the mottled gray pattern of
the gravel. She knew chigs wouldn't want to climb that loose
stuff without a real good reason, they moved too stiffly in their
battlesuits. From here, they could see the wreck through their
scopes, and they'd have plenty of warning to move along if the wrong
kind of company came calling. They'd stuffed their packs with
supplies and cached what they couldn't carry in a recess in the
cliff. Even if the chigs did force them to abandon their camp and
run for the hills, they were going to do everything they could to
avoid another Demios situation.
There didn't seem to be any large wild animals around. They
hadn't seen anything all day that was bigger than some little
avians, the creatures looked closer to pterodactyls than birds.
As evening came on and the canyon darkened, some large-eyed furry
creatures the size of woodchucks had crept out of their hiding
places to search for food, but they hadn't seen or heard anything
to indicate any large predators were around. They had the camp
blacked out rather than building a big fire as protection against
animals, which would allow them to stay hidden at night as well as
during the day.
Satisfied that they had done as good a job of concealing the camp
as they could, she headed back up. Damphousse had opened two
packages of rations and made coffee. She turned off the little
heater unit and hid it behind a big rock where it wouldn't show up
to infrared lenses. They crawled under the camo tarp and she
passed Vansen her supper tray. "How does it look?"
"Pretty good. I think they could walk right by us along the
stream and not spot us. We'll take turns keeping watch, though,
I'd rather not put it to the test."
"We're going to have to get the repeater unit out of the wreck
tomorrow and get it up on one of those cliffs somehow, to boost
our signal up out of this canyon. We don't have a snowball's
chance of being spotted down here."
"'Phousse, I was looking at the cliff while we were hiding the
supplies earlier. I did some rock climbing back home in
California, and it looks like we could do it."
"With the radio repeater?"
"We haul it up on ropes!" Vansen explained. "We won't have a
real climbing rig, of course, but it looks like there are plenty
of handholds and we can belay one another. I'll make a test climb
tomorrow, and then after I scout it out, I'll teach you. You
aren't afraid of heights, are you?"
"No, but falling is another story!"
Vansen agreed that falling was to be avoided. "If we didn't have
the chigs to worry about, you know, this wouldn't be too bad."
"Shane, my idea of a dream vacation would be visiting the French
Riviera, not going on safari! I'm scared. At least, when we were
stranded on Demios, people knew where we were!"
"I know, `Phousse. But as soon as we get that repeater going,
they'll know where we are, right?"
Damphousse hesitated only a moment. "Right," she said decisively.
"There's one thing I can promise you. The Colonel won't let them
leave us here. Somehow he'll make them come after us."
Damphousse had stretched out on her bedroll upon finishing her
coffee, but now she rolled up on one elbow and stared at Vansen.
"Whoa, girlfriend, you just lit up like fireworks on the Fourth of
July! You are in love with the man, aren't you?"
Vansen was completely flustered at the velocity with which the cat
had just leapt out of the bag. "Well -- I -- It's a real pain to
try to keep something quiet around a psychic, you know that?"
`Phousse smelled a good story. "Don't worry, I won't tell anyone.
Is something going on--?"
"No. We decided that would be a bad idea. There's too much
"Yeah. I guess you're right. Paul and I decided the same thing,
you know, we didn't want to cause trouble with the rest of the
unit. It doesn't change the way you feel, though."
"Oh, Shane, who could believe something good could come out of
being captured on Marged?"
She smiled and lay back. "Score one for the good guys."
`Phousse reached over almost shyly to pat her shoulder. "Shane,
thanks for sticking with me. You risked your life to bring that
capsule down in one piece. I'll never forget that as long as I
"You'd have done the same if I'd been knocked out."
"That doesn't change what you did. You're a real hero."
Vansen made a rude noise. "Real heroes don't give the battle
plans to the enemy! We wouldn't be in this mess if I'd had more
sense back on Anvil!"
"We were all as guilty as you were."
Vansen said miserably, "The only good thing is -- if we hadn't
done what we did, I doubt the truth about Aerotech would ever have
come out. But that doesn't seem like enough of a good thing to
make up for what we did. Oh, `Phousse, if we'd never brought that
damn chig on board -- what happened to the Colonel was all my
"Oh, no, it wasn't! We may have done a lot of things wrong,
Shane, but we weren't the ones who decided to trust that chig far
enough to let him sneak a bomb into the peace conference! I know
damn well the Colonel doesn't blame you for what happened."
Vansen knew that was true, but the fact was that she was blaming
herself. She wasn't the only one who had made the mistake but
that didn't matter, it had happened on her watch. She was silent
a long time, and when she finally spoke, it was barely above a
whisper. "'Phousse...I don't think the Colonel has ever needed
anyone in his life, but he needs me now, and I can't help."
"The guys will be there for him until we get home, you know that."
"He's tough, and so are you. You just keep believing and hang
in there for him -- and you can bet he's doing the same thing for
"Go to sleep. You're going to need it if we're going to go rock
climbing tomorrow! I'll take first watch."
Vansen burrowed her hand under her bedroll to pull out a couple of
especially uncomfortable rocks, then curled up and tried to fall
asleep. It was so hard to believe that this morning they had all
been together and the war had been all but over. Her biggest
concern then had been completely selfish, that as punishment for
her stupidity on Anvil she'd be reassigned to permanent garbage
detail on some outpost far away from McQueen. Now, she would have
welcomed being busted back to private and assigned to an iceball,
if only he hadn't been hurt. Some good people had been killed in
that explosion. But for the grace of God Commodore Ross would
have been in that room as well. For all Damphousse's words of
encouragement, she couldn't stop feeling responsible for
everything that had gone wrong today.
This, Vansen thought, was a lot like the day her mom and dad had
been killed. The family had been planning to go to the beach
later that day. For the most part, though, it had been an
ordinary day just like any other, as late summer had faded into
autumn and school had been getting ready to start. And then in an
instant, everything had changed. By nightfall, her parents were
dead, and she and her sisters had been just three more orphans in
the county home.
But, Vansen reminded herself, they had survived and kept their
little family together through all the adversities that followed.
They had been batted from one foster home to another, some had
been good and a couple still made her skin crawl. But they'd
managed somehow until she was old enough to sue for emancipation
and get custody of her sisters. She'd worked a lot of minimum
wage jobs to keep the rent paid and food on the table. She'd
stayed out of trouble, got her diploma, and kept her sisters out
of any serious trouble as well.
She knew she had the determination to make it through the hard
times, and she trusted Damphousse to be tough and resourceful
too. They'd be okay. They'd get the repeater working, boosting
their SOS signal up out of this canyon. And someone would rescue
them. She couldn't let herself think about anything else right
Her watch was almost over when it started to rain. They weren't,
she realized, going to be doing any rock climbing today! There
was going to be nothing to do except huddle under the tarp, listen
to the steady rainy drumbeat, and get soaked all over again every
time they had to venture out of the tent. Her only consolation
was that, if there were chigs out there, they just had to be even
more miserable than she was with all that water around!
Disgusted, she let Damphousse sleep, and sat watching it rain on
the rocks outside.
<End Part One>
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