Part One -- by Becky Ratliff
The Darkest Night
Promises to Keep
An Echo of Yesterday
Even Kittens Have Claws
Degrees of Guilt
A Very Merry Christmas
Return to Kazbek
My fanfic is available on my web page at:
and at the following WWW sites:
Mission Status - Space: Above and Beyond
Space Above and Beyond Creative Works Center
My e-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org
Comments are welcome!
Disclaimers and Copyright Notice:
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 acknowledges my rights to them.
copyright Becky Ratliff April 1997
"Sparrowhawk, this is Copperheads Leader. This is where we part company."
Damphousse snapped a salute to the young man in the hammerhead off her port bow. "Roger that, Copperheads, and thank you. Safe trip and good hunting."
He returned the salute. "Thank you, Sparrowhawk. Good trip home."
She watched the squadron break off, they had reached the limit of the range they could escort the shuttle away from the Colin Powell. They had to turn back, from here the ISSCV was on her own until she reached the limits of space patrolled by the Saratoga's battle group.
Not even the threat of running afoul of a chig patrol could dampen spirits aboard the transport. Commodore Ross, Colonel McQueen, and Major Vansen had been called to the Colin Powell to give their report on the events of the last weeks, from the capture of Kazbek to the discovery of the alien derelict. Ross had chosen his pilots from among the 58th squadron, Damphousse, Hawkes and Avery. Marcy had come along as well, as McQueen's aide she would have been conspicuous by her absence. They had been able to report a complete success, for once, and the brass had been happy to hear it. Even the colonel, who
usually hated these "get dressed up and mingle with the VIPs" things, had been enjoying himself -- it had been a much needed break, and the first opportunity since before the war to get away with his old friend the Commodore.
Damphousse stifled a smile, she'd heard passing references to some wild old times on leave in New Orleans. And she suspected those stories had probably been true in their day! She wondered what the two of them had been like in their younger days ... it was hard for her to imagine them at her age.
Something else was going on, though. There had been a conference that only the brass had attended, she had the sense that Shane didn't know what it was about. That wasn't unusual, because of the special nature of Vansen's relationship with McQueen they were very careful not to ever allow even the slightest appearance of impropriety where privileged information was concerned. As a result, it wasn't uncommon for Shane to be the last to hear the scuttlebutt, rather than the first. But Vanessa couldn't shake the feeling that this was something that directly affected Shane, and it was something ominous.
Still, she'd kept her forebodings to herself ... unless there was something sensible to be done about one of her "bad feelings," it was usually better just to keep quiet. She'd learned her lesson quickly about spooking the rest of the squadron with vague omens that had no practical use. That was all right, she could worry enough for everyone. Anyway, Vanessa didn't want to pour cold water on the outing for everyone else. Downtime was precious.
Hawkes came forward to relieve her. "Did the escorts make their turnaround already?"
"A few mikes ago," she replied as she handed off.
Avery said, "Thirty mikes to the wormhole."
She chuckled. "Be sure and announce it a few mikes before we make the jump, it better not be your fault if the Commodore spills his coffee."
"Roger that," Avery replied fervently. He had been in awe of the man he had known as Uncle Glen since he had been a small boy, when during the AI war his father had been a computer specialist attached to the 127th squadron. The world knew them as the Angry Angels but he had grown up calling them all aunts and uncles. Now, like all of the squadron brats he'd grown up with, he too had lost a parent ... and he was still in awe of Glen Van Ross.
Damphousse went aft. Marcy was avidly watching a pocket sized vidscreen, Damphousse recognized a clip from Top Gun and figured Shane had loaned her the movie chip. Vanessa knew that movie was one of Shane's favorites and had been since she was a little girl, she had watched it so often that the label had long since worn off.
Ross, McQueen and Vansen were sitting at the table talking, Damphousse took the seat that Ross indicated. "We'll reach the wormhole in half an hour, sir."
Ross nodded. "I hope this is going to be a short hop, young lady. My old bones are not what they used to be, I find that I no longer consider wormholes and roller coasters as amusing as I once did."
Damphousse grinned and warmed his coffee without needing to be asked. "Old bones" or not, she was in no hurry to climb into the ring with the ex-SEAL. "Sir, no sir. The projected subjective time in the pipe is only seven mikes this trip."
"That doesn't sound too bad."
When McQueen and Vansen both passed on more coffee, Damphousse poured herself a cup. "No, sir."
Her presence was no intrusion, her senior officers continued their conversation where they had left off. McQueen said, "I think it went well. Earth seems to understand now that it's necessary to keep the pressure on the chigs, keep them drawing back into their home system.
They can't continue without access to their off-world resources. That might make any other escalation unnecessary."
Ross scowled. "For the most part, everyone understands that, yes. But there is still an element that will not be satisfied with anything less than a total victory. Right now
the mentality of a lot of people back home is that the only good chig is a dead one. If the enemy is faced with genocide, Ty, I do not believe they will die easily or alone. I would rather leave them a certain latitude to sue for an honorable peace."
McQueen said, "That, sir, is assuming that you are having a conversation with a person who understands the concepts of peace and honor. I believe that many members of the faction you're referring to understand neither. They want the chigs eradicated."
Vansen asked, "What's to gain by that if they're no longer a threat?"
McQueen shifted in his chair. "Have you ever read some of the extreme right-wing philosophy behind Partie Nationale d'Identite politics?"
Vansen shook her head. "To be honest, no more than I had to in school government courses. It made me nauseous. That whole attitude, dividing people up on a basis of religion or skin color -- it was like something from the dark ages, like the Inquisition or something."
"But take all that and transfer it to a division between humans and bloodthirsty aliens -- do you see? Once the chigs are defeated, they'll become a convenient scapegoat to unite the people of Earth behind the party's badge. It's about power. On that level, it's always about power."
Ross nodded. "I think you're right about that, Ty. But I'll be damned if I see anything we can do to stop it. The remnant of the extreme left was crushed in the CC war, and when Aerotech goes down, the moderates will be left without leadership and direction. There won't be anyone else left besides the extreme right."
Damphousse said, "That isn't going to happen, though, sir."
Ross asked, "What makes you say that?"
"People like that have never won, sir, not in the long run. Someone's always come forward to stand against them. I believe that will happen now."
McQueen said, "I've always had trouble accepting the existance of an unalterable fate, Lieutenant."
She laced her fingers. "I don't think destiny is unavoidable, sir. I think it gives us ... opportunities. Openings to change things. We still have to accept the responsibility."
McQueen said wryly, "So General Fate gives us a mission in life, and it's up to us to get the job done?"
'Phousse looked up at him and smiled. "I think that's exactly it, sir. Sometimes I can see into the future, but we know those visions are only what will happen if nothing comes along to change things. I think sometimes we're put into a position where it's possible for us to cause that change."
McQueen said, "I think I could accept that philosophy more easily than a number of others I've studied, Lieutenant."
Ross asked, "Just out of curiousity, Lieutenant Damphousse, is this a purely philosophical discussion, or something more concrete?"
She hesitated. "I don't know, sir. Just that ... someone has to do something."
Damphousse finished her coffee about the time that Avery announced they were nearing the wormhole. She wanted to ride it out in the gun turret. For one thing, people intent on causing trouble often lay in wait around a wormhole, waiting for a target to come to them. For another, the gun turret offered the best view of the wormhole -- and she wasn't yet old enough to be tired of one of nature's grandest shows. She stowed all the coffee mugs and went back aft, while everyone else strapped in.
They were well into the pipe when she thought at first they took a hit. There was a loud crackle of sparks and then the louder snap of a heavy breaker slamming open. Lights
flared and died, and she smelled burned circuitry.
She hit the quick-release on her safety harness and threw it aside, climbed out of the turret and grabbed for a fire extinguisher. She could hear yelling from up front, but couldn't understand the words over the hiss of the fire extinguisher. Hawkes and Avery were doing their best to hold the craft steady -- that was never easy in the wormhole's weird gravity eddies, and it was certainly a lost cause in the damaged transport.
Vansen was putting out another fire in the forward bay. "What the hell was it, a bomb?"
Damphousse replied, "Some kind of a massive overload -- did we get hit by something?"
"Is it all out? Avery, report!" Vansen yelled.
"Ma'am, I don't see any more fires reported on my board!"
Hawkes warned, "Brace yourselves, we're coming out!"
McQueen pulled Vansen over to a grab bar, just as the ISSCV bucked and rolled hard to starboard. Neither of them knew if the transport was going to be torn apart any second by a freak gravity wave...the arm he put around her wasn't entirely to keep her from flying across the bay.
Hawkes held the craft as close to the planned course as he could, close enough to bring them out in one piece. The last few short circuits finally tripped breakers and the confusion settled down to an ominous, dark silence. One by one, emergency lights flickered to life and dispelled the darkness, like small candles scattered through the bay, haloed in the smoke.
Vansen stepped out the protection of McQueen's embrace, with a clear regret written plainly in her expression for a brief moment, before she turned back to business, assessing the situation just as he was doing. Marcy had ridden it out safely strapped in, and Glen and 'Phousse were okay further down the bay. The extent of the damage to the ship was still an open question.
Instantly Avery and Damphousse started tearing into electrical panels, under the circumstances neither of them trusted the damage control reports from the computer. Avery yelled, "Damn -- we've only got 5% power in the mains!"
Hawkes cursed the transport's lack of control. They were near a pretty turquoise and white planet, he hoped the air was something they could breathe because life support was red lighting all across the board. He called, "Get up here, Jimmy, I need you to stand on the trim pedals! Got nothing from my station! We're gonna have to land where ever this is!"
McQueen got out of Avery's way, heard him say, "I hope to God we got enough juice left to fire the maneuvering thrusters or we're goin' in the hard way!"
Vansen looked over at Damphousse as they all scrambled to get strapped in. "Here we go again!"
Damphousse dignified that remark only with an evil scowl. 2063-Yankee hadn't been a hell of a lot of fun the first time -- she wouldn't have suggested doing it all over again!
The transport started to shudder violently as the planet's gravity well took them. Up in the cockpit, Hawkes and Avery fought to stabilize the craft and keep them at a slow enough descent that they wouldn't burn up in atmosphere. A deep green sea dotted with islands came into view, he aimed for one of these with a wide beach. As they came in, Hawkes flipped a switch to dump the remaining fuel for the manuevering jets, a precaution against fire -- and nothing happened. "Jimmy, try dumping the fuel from your side!"
Avery flipped the switch cover up and tried it twice. "Nothing, Coop, it's all routed through that mess amidships!"
"Stand by, I'm dropping the box."
"We're too low--!"
"They'll hit water, they'll be okay." Hawkes gulped. "If anyone crashes-'n'-burns, it's gonna be us." He hit the emergency switches to separate the pod, the hatches connecting it to the engine section slammed shut and the pod dropped free into the heavy surf below. After that,
they had their hands full trying to land the engine section.
In the cargo pod, all of them immediately figured out what Hawkes and Avery had done, and why. All they could do was pray for the boys' safety, and their own, as they ducked their heads and braced for the impact. Shane reached over to tuck something in the side pocket of McQueen's pack, he heard her say it was for luck. His hand closed over hers as they went in.
All the assorted junk that had been blown around by the damage earlier turned into projectiles when the box slammed into the ocean, something hit McQueen in the back but he didn't have time to worry about it just then.
He grabbed his gear, everyone else who had the chance was doing the same thing. Vansen and Marcy went off the pod into surf that was over their heads, he immediately lost sight of them as he and Ross jumped overboard. He saw 'Phousse clear the hatch a few seconds before a wave knocked him and Ross both off their feet.
In the cockpit, Hawkes tried one more time to dump the fuel, then concentrated on landing the engine section. They came in hard, clipped trees and came to rest finally in a ravine. They scrambled out of their restraints, grabbed the survival kits packed under the seats, and hit the ground running. Only when they were a safe distance away, they stopped and looked back to see what shape the engine section was in.
Avery stared round-eyed at the wreckage. Finally he said, "Damn, we totalled that one, didn't we?"
Hawkes laughed. "It was a lemon anyhow...!"
"I don't think it's going to catch fire. Let's get the rest of our stuff and make sure everyone else is okay."
Hawkes said, "Yeah, I think you're right." He sent a ping out over his radio. Nothing. "Boss Ross, this is Jack of Spades, do you read me? Queen-6, do you copy?"
Nothing. Nothing from anyone. Avery said, "Maybe your radio's messed up. Let me see."
"Try yours, Jimmy."
Avery put that bit of common sense into action while Hawkes pulled his helmet off.
"Nothing?" Hawkes asked.
"They aren't answering, Coop."
"Oh, hell. Let's just cache the food and water in case the chigs find the wreck. You see if you can do anything with the long-range radio, we've got to contact the Saratoga! Keep your eyes open and get out if a patrol comes along! I'll look for the others."
Avery hesitated, but Hawkes was right. Getting the LRR back up was as vital to the safety of their missing shipmates as finding them was. It was just a logical division of labor. "Roger that."
The heat of the midday sun baked through the blood-soaked fabric of McQueen’s flight suit. The warmth felt good. He wanted very much to just lie there and enjoy it for a while. It was almost like the beach down around the Gulf of Mexico back home. He could hear the waves, a
ways down the beach. The tide must have gone out ... he had been in the surf the last he could remember. He knew he and Ross couldn't have got too far before he'd passed out.
Glen! The thought of his friend brought him the rest of the way awake. He tried to get up, and clenched his jaw to keep from crying out as his injuries pulled. Fire in his shoulder burned until it receded with consciousness to a bearable distance.
He didn't try to move again, until he felt a sudden jab of pain -- something pulling at his wound -- and he rolled hard, batting wildly. He hit something and knocked it flying -- a hardshelled creature that was close enough to a crab to suit him. "Get out of here, your supper's still
kicking!" Well, it had got him moving anyway. Ross was lying a few feet away, half conscious.
McQueen leaned on his rifle to get to one knee and hit the releases on his pack. He knew losing his gear would probably be the end of him, but not as fast as trying to carry it would be. There was one thing -- he dug into the side pocket to pull out whatever it was Shane had put in there for luck just as the ill-fated cargo pod had crashed into the surf.
His hand closed around hard plastic. It was those phototags of Kylen’s again -- he was beginning to believe the damned things were good luck. The last time he'd seen them had been at Nathan and Kylen's wedding reception, when Nathan had quietly given them to Shane. On the chain were two new tags. Both of the pictures had been taken at the wedding. One of all of the Cards together, grinning into a camera, and another of Shane and himself. In that one, they had been standing near the wedding candle, its glow in the darkened observation bay reflecting off the polished brass of their uniforms. There was nothing there
to suggest anything, to anyone who didn't know the true story, but it was a symbol of hope and joy to those who knew the truth. He put the tags around his neck and slipped them into the top of his flight suit as he staggered over to Ross' side.
Glen winced and swore when he started to move, but aside from the pounding he'd taken in the surf, he thought he was all right. "Let me have your gear, Ty, I never got the chance to get to mine."
"Can you carry it?"
"Yeah, the surf just whacked me against the side of the pod a few times. I think I'm okay. Where's everyone else?"
He shook his head. "My radio's dead. I don't have any idea where the girls are. Marcy and Shane went out the hatch ahead of us. I thought 'Phousse was right behind me, I know she came off the pod. I couldn't really follow the engine section's trajectory, but it looked like they went in further east. I think Coop and Jimmy are probably okay." If they'd crashed and burned, the smoke and flame would be visible from here ... but that was no indication that they hadn't simply been killed by the impact of a hard landing.
"Let's get out of the sun and get you patched up, then we can look for them -- if they don't find us first." They helped one another over the loose sand up to the edge of the trees. McQueen pulled his flight suit down. He didn't want to have to cut it off because, in this intense sunlight, he'd blister without it.
The injury itself wasn't too bad, not too deep. It had bled a lot, though, and the scanner from the medikit indicated an unknown anticoagulant contaminating the cut. Standard cleaning procedures got rid of it.
"Must have been something in the sea water," he speculated.
"Who knows what. Probably turn out to be some kind of medical breakthrough one of these days," Ross said. "In the meanwhile, you won't be feeling too good until your blood pressure comes back up."
"I hope the condenser unit made it, because I sure don't want to drink any more of that stuff than I did already."
"Yeah, and you're going to need liquids." Ross got into the rucksack and pulled out the condenser unit, inspected it. "Looks okay." He set it on a dry spot and turned it on. Then he went back to sealing McQueen's injury. "Get some sleep for a few hours, Ty, there isn't much you can do for anybody like this anyhow."
McQueen wanted to argue. There was some desperate part of his mind screaming at him to get off his ass and make sure Shane was all right. But she'd be the first one to tell him what an idiotic stunt that would be. If basically the only thing wrong with him was blood loss, the best thing he could do was get some rest and let his IV recuperative abilities work for a few hours. It would be enough that he wouldn't be likely to pass out from low blood pressure. He
wouldn't be in shape to run any marathons, but he wouldn't be a burden or even a danger to everyone else.
Ross saw how torn he was by that decision. "I'll scout up and down the beach a ways, I'll stay in sight of the pod but if anyone came ashore near here I'll find their tracks."
"Glen, be careful out there -- you've never run across chigs on the ground, it's a whole new world the first time they open up with those plasma rifles. Keep your ears open, they make a hell of a racket in those battlesuits even when they're trying to be quiet. You'd hear them before you'd see them in this stuff. And if you smell rotten eggs--"
Ross knew his friend was right about all of that. This was no damn time to play hero. "I haven't forgot everything I learned in the SEALs, my friend, if there are chigs out there they'll never know I've been around."
Damphousse floated in a green sea, looking around desperately for land. She had come off the transport last. A psychic warning had prompted her to grab her rebreather as a high wave had slammed her into and under the transport pod. She had no idea what had happened to the rest of the Wild Cards, but she had been caught in the undertow and pulled under, dragged out to sea. She’d managed to seal her rebreather mask in place in time to keep from drowning, though she'd lost everything other than her Ka-bar by the time she'd managed to come up for air.
She saw the island, a distance away, and struck out for it. It occurred to her that she might have more trouble with the undertow. She floated on her back to put a fresh chemical charge in her rebreather, just in case.
It was a long swim to shore, but Damphousse knew she could make it. She'd been on the triathlon team all through high school and college, long distance swims in open water were nothing new to her. But there was no chase boat this time, no one standing by to get her out of the water if a triangular fin suddenly surfaced! And who knew what she was swimming in! Well, it was too late to worry about that too much, since she’d swallowed plenty of it when she’d first been pulled under. Other than the usual queasy aftereffects of swallowing sea water, she hadn’t noticed any ill effects so far....
It had been a long time since the Marines had actually stormed a beach, but that was essentially the situation she found herself in when she finally reached shallow water.
She lay in the sand with just her head poking up out of the water, as she studied the layout in front of her.
She had several meters of shallow water to cross, then a beach that looked like loose-packed powdery sand -- no way to move very quickly across that. The beach ended in heavy jungle.
She could imagine several hundred pairs of jet black eyes back in the bush, each pair staring directly at her over the barrel of a plasma rifle. She didn't need several hundred -- one would be plenty, if he happened to look her way.
It looked deserted. It probably was deserted. And she couldn't stay here. She hauled herself to her feet and ran like hell for the jungle. She expected a plasma bolt any second, especially as she struggled through sand that buried her wet boots up to her ankles. But finally she dived into the underbrush. A vine with fat wet leaves smacked her in the face and another one tangled around her foot ... but she'd made it onto dry land!
She looked around. Now what! Which way was the transport pod? Surely everyone else would be using one section or another of the ISSCV as a rendezvous point. She would rest a while after her long swim, then start looking.
Vansen's first, overwhelming impression was green, jewellike glowing green everywhere seen through half-opened eyes. Then she started to cough, and gasped a deep breath as she remembered where she was. "Ty--?"
Marcy scrambled over there. "Shane, Shane, don't move, did you hit your head?"
"M-marcy? You got me out of the water?"
"We more or less got each other out."
"Where's McQueen? And the Commodore and Damphousse--!"
"I don't know! They were all right behind us when we jumped out of the passenger box. But the waves kept knocking us down and we got pulled under. When we finally got up on the beach I couldn't see anyone else or hear anything over the radio. And then you passed out,
don't you remember?"
Shane shook her head, that was a mistake because the movement set off another round of nausea. "I remember jumping out into the surf. I don't think I hit my head. I must have -- heh -- 'just' almost drowned." Very carefully, she got up to a sitting position. She could see that Marcy's left arm was badly damaged, charred from the inside. "What happened to you?!"
"I ripped it on coral or something and the water got in, some of the seals must have been broken. I had to cut off all the power from my shoulder down, the short circuits were draining my batteries too fast."
"If Avery sees that -- did my pack make it?"
Marcy shook her head.
Shane found a sealed roll of gauze in her pocket. "Come here, we've got to camouflage that."
Marcy nodded, and obediently allowed Shane to wrap a bandage around the torn synthskin, hiding the melted circuitry.
Shane asked, "Does that hurt?"
"Well ... I don't think we feel pain the same way you do. There's an alert when we're damaged, and the worse it is the higher priority the alert gets. A high priority damage alarm is one of the most frightening things I can imagine -- especially if it happened to be something I couldn't stop, or repair. But there's no feedback with the power shut off, and I think I can fix this when we get back to the Saratoga."
Shane wasn't sure which of them she was trying to convince. "Let me rest a few minutes, then we'll find everyone. We can't be that far from the others." She shook water off her radio and took it apart, carefully drying off the batteries and all the contacts she could get to. If water hadn't actually got inside and shorted it out, she might just be able to get it working.
McQueen rested until Glen got back, but he wasn't able to sleep before then. "Anything?" He asked, and a lot more than he had intended of his anxiety for Shane and the rest found its way into his voice.
Glen said, "No, but that's good, Ty. Everything in the surf washes up on that beach just like we did. If they'd drowned they'd be there. They've just come ashore somewhere else." Ross checked the condenser, it was three quarters full already. Water wasn't going to be a problem. "Here, drink this and get some sleep. We'll find them this evening when you feel more like moving around."
"No sign of chigs?"
"No, Ty, and no sign of mermaids or any other damn thing. Go to sleep, that's an order."
"Yes, sir." It was one he didn't have a problem obeying, now that he knew his people weren't lying on the beach out there. He didn't know how long he slept, until sleep gave way to dreams. After all these years, when the nightmares started, he knew he was dreaming, and sometimes he could make himself wake up before it got too bad. But not this time ....
.... He lay as still as he could on the narrow table, trying to conserve his strength as best he could. His body had a will of its own, though, jerking and convulsing in a futile attempt to escape the inevitable. Finally whatever they were doing stopped, relief at that mingled with terror of whatever was coming next. He fixed his gaze on one particular panel in the bulkhead. Somewhat lighter in color than the rest, it made a good focus point. He tried to think only of the eternal peace and beauty of the stars just a few meters beyond. It wasn't enough when the world turned inside out in a blinding white light as an electrical shock burned through him. Somewhere in the distance he heard screaming, and some part of his mind still capable of reason wondered what they were doing to that poor bastard. Then the pain abated somewhat, and he realized the screams he had heard had been his own....
.... There was something insidious, cold ... evil ... something that was not a part of the nightmare he knew so well by now. He had thought there could be no greater sense of violation than that which he had experienced at the Silicates' hands ... but that terrible presence was worming itself past his defenses, into his mind, in a way not even the truth scanners had ever been able to do. He had only one weapon available to him ... if he could find the courage to use it ....
.... Somewhere nearby, he heard a groan, a muffled cry. Ross. McQueen drew a deep breath and set his jaw, twisted his hands around a length of vine to have something to grip. He turned back to the dream, to the worst of it, to the place where they had broken him. All of the horror and the agony and the defeat that he had shoved into a dark box in the back of his mind and nailed shut, lest it overwhelm him again -- the vine cut into his palms as he forced himself to remember. Then he reached out for that invading presence, caught it up in will and fury and dragged it into the middle of the nightmare with him. "Do you want to read my mind, you bastard? Read this!"
He was rewarded by a scream and a blast of pure panic. With no psi power of his own, there was nothing he could do to prevent his enemy from simply dropping the contact. But his desperate, improvised attack had been successful enough for that. He had been riding an adrenaline high, but now that the crisis was past all the strength left him, and he welcomed the blackness that came spiraling up to claim him.
Some time later, McQueen awakened to the rustle of breeze in the leaves, the warmth of the sun on his face. His throat was raw from screaming and every muscle ached ... the dull throbbing in his hands tried to bring back memories that his conscious mind refused to face just yet. "Glen?" He forced his eyes open.
The haunted look in Ross' eyes forbade questions. "What the hell was that!? One minute I was just sitting here and the next --!"
McQueen could only shake his head, he was still out of breath. He couldn't have been unconscious more than a few minutes ... it felt like hours. Finally he got out, "I think .... whatever Damphousse has been seeing."
Ross helped him sit up, held the water bottle to his lips. He drank a few sips. It may have been distilled and tasted of plastic, but it was ice cold, and he couldn't remember the last time anything had tasted that good. When McQueen took the container in both aching hands, Ross leaned back against a tree and drew a couple of deep, ragged breaths, trying to tame whatever demons the enemy psi had called out of his memories. "You scared it off?!"
McQueen did not quite manage to suppress a shudder. That victory had cost him dearly and he did not know how he would ever in his life be able to bring himself to do that again. That trick probably wouldn't go to the well a second time anyway. "I doubt it'll fall for that again, I caught it by surprise that time but it knows by now I can't really do anything to it -- not from here anyway. Let me in the same room with it, though--!"
"Not if I see it first," Ross replied.
McQueen passed the water back, cursing a flare of pain from his hands. He had snapped the vine between them, but not before it had cut deeply into his palms, and there were still fragments of leaves and bark in the cuts. That took a while to clean up.
By then, Ross had recovered enough to scout the immediate area. "Nothing," he said. "What do you think, Ty? Is this thing here on the island with us, or sitting back home in Chigsville with its feet propped up in front of the TV?"
"What do I think, sir? Until I find out otherwise, I think it's right over there about thirty meters out, watching us over a plasma rifle."
Ross laughed. They were okay if they could wisecrack about it. "Think you can move?"
McQueen nodded. "For a while anyway."
"We've got to find the others. I am not going to just sit here and wait for that son of a bitch to do that again."
Go to Part Two
Go back to Fanfic