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Gage Silver

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About Gage Silver

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  1. Frankly, my dear, it’s just a ship. A Granger-Silver Log Frankenship. Trusty little ship. Ugly ship. Maintenance nightmare. Ship no self-respecting fleeter wanted. A ship for the reluctant hero, constantly fighting with his machine but never trusting another. Magnet for trouble. With a lot of luck and a few minor injuries, she'd get you through any situation. Guaranteed epic adventures. But don't forget your brown pants. Gage felt a connection with her. Part of him wished it was just him and the ship marauding out here. Maybe he’d retire and become a roguish captain. Leave all of his troubles with females behind. Smuggle goods through the outer rim and dodge Imperial Klingon cutters in a piece of swift junk he won fair and square cheating in a game of cards. Daydreams. At best he could count himself lucky that he wasn't the only engineer aboard this tour, the more his head ached. Gradually slouching from the chatter in the mess, he’d put his feet up and tugged the dark brown fedora of his relic-collecting alter ego low over his eyes. Cass sat at the next table, one hand on her thigh as she straddled a bench, her eyes flicking from the fedora to the edge of their table as though gauging distance, trying to decide if she should reposition herself to take down the fedora or just settle for splatter. Hec’t and Tasha turned aside, playfully reconning the target. O’Neill exchanged a glance with Moa, shook his head with a sigh and lounged back, elbow on the table. On the other side of the table, Souter took aim with a forkful of creamed peas seconds before Cass held up her hand. “This one’s mine,” she said, loud enough to carry, surly tone fully deployed. "I know you're not gonna do what you're thinkin' about doin'," Gage spoke lowly from beneath his hat. A chorus of “Ohoooos” egged Cassie on. She swung the other leg over the bench to lean closer, forearms resting easily on her thighs, hands dangling between them. “And just what am I thinkin’ about doin’, sir?” she said, an impish grin lighting up her eyes. "Starting a fight you won't win." Trays clattered. Bodies shifted into position. Conspiratorial whispers passed down the line. Daniels began a drumroll on the tabletop. “Looks to me like you’re outnumbered, El Tee.” She ticked her head in the direction of the team, “Then again, I wouldn’t think of letting you face the food mill by yourself.” Gage eased up the brim with a finger and peered at the firing line with one eye, the other tightly closed against the light. "Right," he skeptically drawled. “We could even the odds,” she suggested, tilting her head down to close the gap. The other eye opened slowly, skepticism blending with a private frustration. “We, huh?” His tone wasn’t lost on those who knew what had happened between Cass and Gage or the few who noticed how their roles had reversed after New Topeka. Gage keeping his distance and growing stricter, punctilious. Cass more and more the banterer, irritating Gage whenever she tried to get a rise out of him. She shrugged and leaned closer, the hint of a smirk emerging. “A little one-on-one?” He studied her, eyes wandering a bit, but sluggish and constricted. “Didn’t think you were down with that,” he muttered and promptly stood. He made for the exit, reseating the fedora on his head. “There’s no we, Cass," he announced, saying more than he intended. "There’s me, the lieutenant; and you, the team. I say 'jump', you ask ‘how high’. Today I say--" He stoically grinned at the compartment in the fedora’s shadow. “You lose.” And he ducked out, Souter's peas splattering on the bulkhead in his wake. Cass eyed the bulkhead from the bench, disappointed that the plot had backfired. “Sorry, guys,” she said with a dismissive wave at the exit, “can’t say I didn’t try.” Silence. She looked up. They looked back, hungry eyes fixed on hers. “Oh..h...ho.. no. No...,” her hands thrown up in feigned petition broadened their predatory grins as she eased herself to a stand, countering their movements, her eyes darting from one to the other, calculating an exit strategy. Souter and Daniels shifted to flank, mashed potatoes to the left, creamed peas to the right. Tasha and Gonzales wielded custard and spaghetti to block the exits. O’Neill stepped away from the line and assumed a casual pose, checked his chrono to mark the time, and began finger-writing on his left palm like he was keeping score. His barely audible, “Execute,” began the attack and they pummeled the warrant until she could have passed for a pile of scrapings except that she bobbed and weaved with every shot and the language that emerged would’ve made a garbage heap blush. Moa? He stood at the galley door with mops and buckets, placating the galley chief until Cass had paid her dues. Some time later Cass exited the lift at the barracks, having mostly ignored the comments about carpet stains and walking buffets. She would have stripped in the mess, but that didn’t seem becoming an officer. Not that a walking buffet did either, but you get the drift. No, she didn’t enjoy the plastering, but yeah, she did, given the team did. At her expense. Because of Silver. Thankfully, team barracks were quiet, some having gone on-shift and the rest dead-out in their bunks, catching as much as they could whenever they could. Fleeting thoughts of payback came as Cass stripped and tossed her fatigues into the recycler before stepping into the shower, her once-a-week water ration quickly hosing off the remnants of dinner. Appearing in the hatchway at the opposite end of the compartment, Gage steadied himself. He trudged to his rack, gripped the frame and gingerly collapsed onto the bunk with a low groan. Cass pulled on her tee and exited the shower area in time to see Silver’s collapse: not an unusual action given the team schedule during ops prep. “Hello, sir,” she said, grabbing a water. “Come to assess the damage?” Gage wearily opened a single eye to give her a once-over. "Looks like you took care of it," he indifferently replied after a beat, unaware of what had happened in the mess. She gave an ironic chuckle. “Too bad you didn’t stay.” The water container gave a pop as she recapped it after a swig and dropped onto the bunk next to his. “You could’ve witnessed your own payback,” Cass continued playfully, “Custard was first-rate -- what little got into my mouth. Spaghetti,” she waggled her hand, “not so much. And cream peas make a damn good substitute for sealant; my fatigues would’ve made a good EVA suit.” She watched him a minute, then leaned forward, lips pursed. “You look like hell, sir. You okay?” "Been better," he quietly admitted. “Sounds like you might need medical. Should I call?” "Been there. Got meds. Want sleep," he mumbled. Giving an unseen nod, Cass swung her legs onto the cot and watched him a minute before closing her eyes. “I’ll be here.” * * * * * * Unless you’re dog tired, there’s only so long you can lie on a bunk trying to sleep until it really gets to you, your body starts twitching, and your brain goes haywire. At least that’s the way it is for Cassie Granger. The situation tends to be compounded when you’re trying very hard to not do something because it’s a hell of a lot easier to do something than to not do something. Someone tells you, “Don’t look,” and sooner or later you’re going to look. You have to look. If they really didn’t want you to look they wouldn’t have said anything in the first place, and chances are that the one who told you not to look had a real sadistic reason - or so it seemed. Both parties know for damn sure you can only resist that urge for so long before you just have to look. It’s Apple Syndrome, pure and simple. Don’t eat the fruit ends up with the fruit being eaten followed by the blame game and everyone getting kicked out of paradise. Or Starfleet. Yeah, it’s a whole lot easier to do something than to not do it. And at the moment Cass was trying to not think about a lot of things, one being the guy one bunk over. Whether it was a calculated move on the part of billeting or a sadistic twist of fate, trying to sleep with him right _there_ was damn difficult if not impossible. “Don’t think about it,” someone had said with a dismissive shrug. Like it was that easy. But when she really thought about it, having her bunk at the end of the line wouldn’t have helped either. Then she’d probably be thinking about being able to sleep in the bunk next to him and someone would say the same thing: don’t think about it. Go figure. * * * * * * * After several hours, Cass realized that sleep wasn’t in the plan, so she swung her legs over the side of the bunk to stare at Silver. He didn’t look good at all. In fact, he looked worse... his face pale... frozen in a pained expression, and... he’s not breathing... “Lieutenant?” she said, bolting off her bunk into a kneeling position beside his. Getting no response, one hand took a firm grip on his shoulder and she upped her volume, “Silver!” Gage jerked awake and sprang up, hand clamping on her wrist like a vice. Cass’s body tensed as she parried into a defensive position and for several seconds the situation teetered on the brink. He stared at her, half out of his bunk with one foot on the deck and breathing heavily, the alarm in his face slowly fading as he came to his senses. “Cass,” he sighed and relaxed back onto the mattress. “Don’t do that.” “Just makin’ sure you’re alive, Sir,” she said with relief, adding wryly, “and it looks like you are.” “You sure I didn’t just die of a heart attack?” She was clearly not amused. He rubbed at his eyes with a mildly pained expression. “What time is it?” “Two hundred hours,” Cass replied as she dropped back onto her bunk and hung her head, one hand rubbing her neck. “Gotta couple more hours before I relieve what's-his-face in engineering,” Gage quipped. “Guess I’ll get up.” “Groginski,” Cass commented absently. Gage paused as he climbed out of his bunk, eyes on Cass. “What’s going on, Cass?” “Groginski. Kid’s name’s Groginski. Marty I think. Sat with him in the mess once.” “Not talkin’ about Groginski, Cass,” he replied. “What’s going on with you? Look moped out.” Cass looked up, dropping her hands to rest on the edge of her bunk, resolved. “Tired. Worried. Frustrated,” she replied, then added, “Can’t sleep thinking about that last op...,” she sighed, correcting herself, “raid. We can take the goods and not take out the pirates. Worried about the Fleeters on Rura. Frustrated because....” She eyed him a minute, then let the thought hang with a sigh waving a hand dismissively. “Just... because.” “Okay,” Gage neutrally drawled after a moment and shrugged. He looked lost, like couldn’t decipher ‘just because’ and decided it was safer at the moment to let it go. “Gonna see what they’ve got for midwatch rations. Try and get some sleep?” “Been trying. Not gonna happen.” She looked up wearily, “Want some company?” “Sure,” he accepted with a hint of wariness. Cass pushed herself to a stand and tagged along, wandering through the barracks and down the corridor toward the mess.
  2. Aftermath A Granger-Silver Log Gage heard Major Ishiiu call his name and quietly sighed, weaving to the front of the compartment as the team and support personnel continued to file out. He’d received a long third-degree before their initial debrief. Cass’s capture. His decision not to seek approval for her rescue. Better to ask forgiveness than permission, right? Signs of what Ishiiu disapprovingly called a clear lack of objectivity. It’d all go into official record. Ishiiu even felt obliged to observe how far south Gage’s career had gone in a matter of weeks and warned him to straighten up or risk a job in supply. So what now? “Didn’t believe it until now; why you requested that transfer,” Major Ishiiu remarked in a fatherly tone as he pulled Gage aside. It’d finally clicked in Major’s head during the meeting. That was a change from earlier, but not an improvement. Gage shrugged, wondering why the Major wanted to pound the sand and too weary to discuss it. The exhaustion hit just after the shuttle broke atmo en route to the Buffalo Gap, watching a medic tend to Cass’s wounds. Hoping that she’d indignantly reach up and slap him once she realized who held her. “You made the right decision,” the Major assured. Gage dismissively tipped his head, shifted his gaze to the wall monitors. “Yeah. That’s what I keep telling myself.” Ishiiu’s eyes narrowed, his scrutiny drawing a long look from Gage. “For the best, Lieutenant,” he said. “That you recognized the problem and resolved it on your own is a good thing.” Praise didn’t change the deflated expression on Gage’s face, just twisted it into an incredulous smirk. He glanced at the hatch like a man watching the clock. “Why don’t you go check on Granger,” Ishiiu suggested with a caution: “Just keep what I said in mind?” “Yes, sir.” Gage nodded. Gage spent a lot of time in sickbay that afternoon. He cleaned up first, but by his unshaven face and absence at dinner, he was more interested in waiting out his teammate to regain consciousness. He wasn’t needed and didn’t see why he should be anywhere else. He leaned against her biobed, deep in thought, arms folded and his back to a sleeping Cass. Hearing her steady breathing behind him, thoughts drifted into how far they’d come from the seafaring navy. Fewer hack saws and amputees now. The use of flight-for-life remained confined to the short distances within planetary systems. Except on the smallest ships that never strayed into deep space, the doctors were competent and sickbays self-sufficient, equipped to repair complex trauma. The old practice of patching you up so they could fly you to a hospital wouldn’t save you when you were caught between stellar distances and weeks or months to the nearest shore. That brass thought enough of them to send along specialists on their transports meant something. Put Gage at ease, for what it was worth. “Hey, sir.” His gaze snapped to his left, face relaxing once he realized that she wasn’t just moaning in her sleep and he wasn’t hearing things. “Hey,” he echoed, cautiously smiling, unfolding his arms as he turned. “How’re ya?” “Feelin’ pretty damn good, sir. Can’t deny it. Gotta hand it to medical; they sure do know how to fix a cocktail. But I think I’d go a little light on the scotch next time, maybe add a little Jack to the mix. Straight up.” Her grin came out goofy, made worse by the swelling. Gage gave a halfhearted smirk, focusing on her good humor to stifle the urge to frown at her bruised face. “We gave ‘em hell, didn’t we sir. Kicked ass.” “Everything they deserved,” he agreed. “Got a few more for kickin’ too, sir. Names. Places. Gonna be a hell of a ride.” Gage scowled at the one topic he didn’t feel like discussing and gave a heavy pause. “Not going with you, Cass.” “Roger that, sir. I got this. We’ll kick ass, you know that.” “Yeah,” he agreed, fighting off the things he really wanted to say. “Lieutenant?” A soft male voice spoke behind him. Gage glanced over his shoulder. “Doc?” “Yes,” he said, offering his hand, “Doctor Jose Panjota,* Starfleet Special Warfare. You must be Lieutenant Silver?” “That’s what they call me,” he mirthlessly replied, shaking Panjota’s hand. “How about we step away and let the warrant rest.” He stepped back, indicating Gage should follow to a medical station not far from Cass’s bed. As if he anticipated reluctance from Gage, he added: “Not far. You can return when we’re done and I’ll set up a recliner.” Gage gave the doctor a strange look, wondering what was going through Pantoja’s head as he followed. Leaning against the desk, Pantoja waited for Gage to settle in. “You’re confused,” he began. “Understandable. In response to political opposition, several studies were conducted in the twenty-first century that explored this very phenomenon—” “What phenomenon?” “The effect women serving on the front-lines had on their male counterparts, of course,” Pantoja said, smiling. “Interesting,” Gage droned, trying to appear apathetic by stuffing his hands in his pockets and studying the doctor’s credentials. “The studies revealed that, while largely an individual predilection, those who were affected often lost focus when faced with the injury or loss of a female teammate on the battlefield, to the point of endangering their units and missions." Pantoja studied Gage for a moment. “You don’t believe that applies to you?” Gage gave Pantoja a sidelong glance, growing irritated. “Don’t believe I wanna be head-shrinked right now, Doc.” “Just providing information,” Pantoja affably replied with open hands. Gage stared. "Why?" "Because it’s what I do. Because you're still here and your team is not. Well, you and the young man that's camping outside in the passageway." Gage didn't realize he'd given Pantoja a puzzled look until the doctor added: "Wouldn't worry, he refuses to come in." Maybe it wasn't a puzzled look. Gage shrugged. "Answer this: for her," he gestured toward Cass, "what were you willing to give up?" "My life," Gage answered without hesitation. Pantoja nodded, thinking. "I usually see you here in groups or shifts around the clock. Your team's giving you space, am I right? “But the young man outside is different. Standing guard at the hatch I’d expect from a Marine who didn’t know the warrant personally. You may be shipmates but you aren't on the same team, and you aren't here for the same reasons, are you? Or perhaps you have different ways of dealing with grief," Pantoja observed. "Does it matter?" "It might. We both know these kinds of scars are more than physical. Friends, teammates, loved ones," he waited a beat. "She'll need all of you to heal. You'll need each other. Here, in person, if possible, and capable of relating to her." Gage felt his irritation fade a bit and nodded understanding. "Now, if I remember right, I mentioned a recliner," Pantoja said. "You don't mind if I keep you company for a while?" "No," Gage shook his head. "I’ll have more questions," Pantoja warned. "From my patient's doctor to her team leader." Gage knew that wasn't what Pantoja really meant. The doctor had him figured out. "Whatever you need to help her." "Good. Coffee?" "Yeah." “You were a medic on the teams, were you not?” Pantoja asked as he prepped the coffeemaker. “Long time ago.” “Well, I’m sure you know it’s good thing you recovered her when you did. It could have been much, much worse. She suffered a moderate concussion, but the damage isn’t permanent,” Pantoja paused to pull a steaming mug from the dispenser and slip in an empty one. “There will be some scarring for the cosmetic surgeon to repair, if that’s what she desires. And we suspect the electrodes also caused nerve damage; we’ll know more once she’s up and moving around. But she’ll heal with time.” He glanced at Gage. “Cream? Sugar?” “No, thanks.” ___________ * Jose Pantoja: This name is used with utmost respect for the dedication of U.S. Army SGT Jose Pantoja, medic, 3rd Platoon, Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division.
  3. When Cass came to she was sitting in a small room, pitch black except for one intense spotlight casting a brilliant circle around her, adding its heat to the already dank, humid air. Her ear bud was gone, which was probably the least of her worries. Stripped to tee and shorts, leather thongs strapped her arms to a heavy wooden chair and metal shackles cut into her ankles. Chains secured them to the floor. The wet straps would soon dry, dig into her arms, cut off the circulation and press on vital nerves, making whatever they planned more intense. Cass left her head nodding forward, shoulders slumped and legs limp. Her eyes opened enough to assess the situation but not enough for anyone to realize she was conscious. A heavy throb in her head didn’t help, but at least the room wasn’t spinning. She began the standard assessment for escape. Night sounds drifted from outside: feet shuffling through dirt, a few twigs snapping, some running by in a chaotic manner, tree branches swaying, and an occasional weapons discharge that sounded like a disruptor. After their intrusion the mercs were probably shooting at anything and everything. Hushed tones seemed to come from an adjacent room, but they could be outside. Two... no, three distinct voices. One had the heaviest southern accent she’d ever heard mixed with a Scottish brogue; it took her a while before she could pin it down. Someone spoke a Romulan dialect she couldn’t place, one not used in diplomatic or military circles, so she figured it was lower class. A few words were familiar; most were not. The third seemed to understand them all, his speech occasionally peppered with choice Klingon phrases. In the distance Klingon swears split the silence, then a shout, followed by a deathly stillness. She heard no animal or insect sounds; they must have hunkered down for the duration. The reek of decomposing garbage and fuel mixed with ozone from energy weapon discharge, sewage, wet dirt, and rotting wood. If she was lucky, the rotting wood was the floor, which would make it easier for her to free her legs. Working with the shackles or taking them off altogether would be a different story. Wet dirt could mean a crawl space beneath the building, which might mean she was in the central building, the one on stilts. Sewage? Wouldn’t be the first time she swam through a cesspool. Breeze? None. Given the soft tree-branch swoosh outside the air wasn’t still, so there were closed windows or no windows at all. Minutes passed, then an hour, or maybe two. The throb in her head subsided. Though she fought it, she soon found herself drifting off.
  4. Unity* A Granger-Silver Log Gage reached their primary extract, breathing heavily and sweating as he brought up the rear. Their shuttle waited in the clearing, crew covering their approach. In the dim cabin lighting of the shuttle, for the first time he clearly saw the passengers that Cass might have lost her life to save. Severely abused and malnourished, they were wrapped in emergency blankets, looking small and submissive in their seats with their hands awkwardly bound in zip cuffs. A precaution until their identities could be confirmed on the Buffalo Gap; the chance that one of them would attack their rescuers or aid the enemy too real to risk. Maybe unnecessary, given the profoundly dazed and fragile look of one man. But insensitive? The only sustainable routine is vigilance, Gage reminded himself against a pang of sympathy. A crewmember pulled the blanket taut around the dazed man’s shoulders and offered him water, but he just stared, lost in the recesses of his mind. One quietly sobbed and another endlessly thanked the crew, caught between mania and disbelief. The bright eyes of the woman next to him slowly found Gage and she weakly smiled in spite of her bindings, spilling a tear on her scarred, dirty cheek. Gage couldn't give her much in return for her smile, numbed by feelings he never could put into words. That left him stunned like a punch in the gut. Not quite out of breath, but couldn’t catch it either. Empty. Noticeably restless. “You took a hit,” Tasha pointed out, digging out a bandage as he neared. He absently touched his shrapnel-grazed neck and glanced at his hand. His gaze shot up, counting and assessing what remained of the team. All present except Cass but in one piece to his relief, lingering at the foot of the cargo door and watching for a sign. Moa quietly towering and an anxious Souter standing in his shadow. Tasha looking like she would break into sobs if she glanced at the shuttle behind her. O’Neill and Daniels affirming their resolve while the crew chief impatiently yelled and waved for them to board. And Gonzales: his first and closest friend on the team. The one member in which Gage really confided. The buddy that snapped him out of the fog between training and instinct, when Cass went down and their advance was blocked by a barrage and unexpected enemy forces. That reminded him with a squeeze of the shoulder that they stood a better chance if they ignored impulses and found the door*. Gage nodded in gratitude, knowing they felt the same. They fell back to regroup and go back in. They wouldn’t leave without Cass. Gage didn't blame the victims or command for what happened. Strangers, teammates, family: these were the reasons they served and willingly risked their lives. To protect freedom. Preserve life. The things they valued the most. You wouldn’t protect a whole lot if you were too busy saving yourself. They had to make peace with the possibility of losing everything. But they weren’t expendable. Not in their minds or the minds of command. The desire to make it home with your team was your strength, the thing that kept you going and vigilant. No one wanted to die. No one liked sending people into die and the teams were too valuable for command to use recklessly. Impersonal but true: a single operator wasn't easily replaced, requiring a lot of money and time to reach their peak. Life, including theirs, was far from cheap to anyone in the community. But sometimes things just went wrong. They'd risk it all again to make it right. For her life. Not heroes. Just people dedicated to something bigger than themselves. That wouldn't hesitate when it counted. “Grab the extra kit,” Gage said, Souter and O’Neill jumping to retrieve it as he gave a message for the pilot to the crew chief. The crew chief nodded. “What about them?” he asked, pointing at the agents they were sent to recover that had yet to board the shuttle. Gage caught their eyes, screaming questions at him in the dark. The team had done all they could. Used their secondary extract to ambush and throw off any pursuing forces, and give Moa and Tasha time to get the sick and injured back to the shuttle. But it was just a matter of more time before someone stumbled on their position. They’d delayed the shuttle’s takeoff for too long. But he couldn’t leave them without an explanation. He’d make up for the brevity later, if it came to that. “They’re going with you,” he told the crew chief and turned. “Staff Sergeant,” he addressed the agents and reconsidered, trying to soften his tone. “Mr. Granger. Ma’am. You’re daughter was captured. We’re going back, but there’s a chance she,” he subtly hesitated, “might not make it out. “Give you my word we’ll do everything we can,” he said with finality. “But right now you need to board that shuttle.” Marine SSGT Frank Granger flashed a stern look, obviously withholding comment. His wife, Marine GYSGT Samantha Ducharme, stepped between the men and met Gage’s eyes straight on. “Look,” she began, then paused as though choosing her words, “I appreciate your sentiment, sir, but we’re your best chance at getting her out. We know the area, we know the personnel and how they work, and trust me, after what we’ve witnessed, which is a hell of a lot more than what you see here,” she jerked a thumb over her shoulder, “payback is going to be more than sweet. “Besides,” she sucked a breath taking a resolute stance, “you’re really short on time. What they don’t have in firepower they make up for in brutal interrogation methods. Intel’s their big ticket. The prisoners that survive they sell on the cheap; the intel goes for high dollar. After what just went down, you leave her in there long and she won’t survive.” Gage looked averse to the idea as he considered, but surprisingly agreed. “All right.” He glanced at the crew chief, gesturing with a tick of his head. “Need to borrow a couple of your phasers.” The crew chief didn’t need convincing. Frank and Sam were armed. The team cleared and Gage gave the pilot the signal to takeoff. Slipping back to the trees, Gage paused at the edge of the clearing to watch the shuttle fade into the darkness. They were committed. Gage set a demanding pace through the jungle, steering a hook that would bring them around the behind the compound. They stopped once or twice to adjust their heading, but not for very long. Sunrise was approaching. They didn’t have a lot of time if they planned on using the dark to mask their approach. With less than two hours to the compound, hand signs passed through the team and they took a knee, pausing for the last time. Recorded infrared from the still-airborne raven* showed a party discovering their primary extract about forty-five minutes after they’d left and a little over three hours after the first assault. The enemy lingered in the area for ten minutes before pointing back toward their base, suggesting they’d given up after finding evidence that a shuttle had recently landed and taken off. It meant the team didn’t have to contend with a pursuing force on their rear, but numbers at the compound would increase before they arrived. Still, they might have an element of surprise if the enemy was convinced the team left. Tucking the slate back into a pouch on his carrier, Gage scanned for one man and shifted. “Staff Sergeant,” he called to Frank, taking a knee nearby. His voice was tense even as he kept it low, body language charged. “Tell us everything you know about that compound.” Frank gestured for the slate, dimmed for low-light, and pulled up the recorded video, freezing it on a full frame of the compound. “What you’ve already seen is it: all basic wood and thatch construction, easy to penetrate, easy to blow, easy to burn. They weren’t looking for infiltration.” He jabbed at the screen. “Ammo dump is here, barracks here, fuel here. Central area has the main generator system and a wooden hut on stilts that usually holds the prisoners.” Moa changed position to listen. “Group is a mix of Klingon and Romulan black-marketers with a few earthers. Not much protection inside except for personal weapons, all kinds, energy and non-energy. What you saw on the cliffs is their max, meant to keep prisoners in, not intruders out, but one mortar, here, will be a problem." Gage didn’t leave room for pause. “What about numbers? Source intel came up short.” “Thirty-two with the last shuttle. Guards outside five to seven, but after what went down, they might double or triple that. They’re not that great on tactics, but they do have some. Since they’ve never been assaulted before I’m not sure what you can expect, but I’d expect the worst.” Gage nodded, jaw grimly setting. “Reinforcements?” “Negative. Last shuttle came in just before sunset, bingo* fuel. They’re low on everything. They were waiting for their next hit, hoping to sell the prisoners you just swiped. They start on her....” his lips drew thin as he wiped sweat from his forehead with the back of a hand. “Where will they keep Cass?” “That wooden hut on stilts mid-compound. It’s about 20 by 24, no windows, one door,” again he tapped the slate, “large generator outside here, razor wire on the perimeter with an opening in the wire by the door, here. Garbage dump and ######ter is close by, some running under the building. The smell’s supposed to help with interrogation.” Gage took back the slate, wearing a frown. “Ok, we’ll go in here, take out these positions first,” he said, jumping frames and pointing. “Follow up with these emplacements. John’ll cover our infil from the east.” He looked at Daniels. “Take your shots and displace. Keep ‘em guessing on where you are, where we’re coming in. Stay frosty.* Raven’s not on target yet. Donno how far out their patrols’re going. “Hect, take Frank with you. Set charges here and here. Jack’ll, you take the Mrs,” he glanced at Sam. “Set charges here. The rest’ll get Cass. Rally here. John, you’ll cover our exfil from here. Good?” Seeing nods in the moonlight and hearing no objections, Gage put the slate away. “Move out.” ________________ *Unity: in reference to the song by Shinedown *finding the door: maneuvers made under fire to rally your unit, break contact with an enemy and regroup *bingo fuel: only enough to return to base *kit: gear needed for the operation *raven: small Unmanned Aerial Vehicle or drone, launched by hand *stay frosty: stay alert and calm
  5. Blaming exhaustion for the stupid things you say or do is like blaming it on the five beers you didn’t drink: a lousy excuse. So Gage forgot the idea of shedding his damp uniform and gave Cass her space, drying in the recycled air of the mess for another thirty minutes after she left. By the time Gage dragged into the berthing compartment, the curtain on her bunk was drawn and the light out. A chorus of breathing and snoring had joined the ship’s pervasive hum. It was either a stroke of luck or unconscious foresight that Gage had taken a top bunk on the opposite side of the compartment. Difficult to cross the line with an entire compartment of sleeping teammates between you. She had all the space he could give her. Asking the ship’s XO to dislodge his crew to accommodate their petty issues was out of the question and wouldn’t fix the problem. They had to work together. It was his job to keep things copasetic. No more raillery: no more icy encounters. He climbed into his bunk and dozed just shy of waking. A vision of Cass clubbing him like a baby seal in the night for an indiscretion jerked him back to reality. He glanced at her bunk across the compartment, curtain closed and still. She wouldn’t, he assured himself and relaxed, hands behind his head. Not for his dreams, at any rate. He hadn’t had a lot of dreams that would justify clubbing him. Fading moments with Mariah that, a long time ago, felt so real he thought he was awake. Nightmares that preyed on darker memories and personal fears. Few included Cass. Except that recurring dream where Cass was swooning in the middle of a fight with Romulans, but it was just one stupid dream. Right? And that other dream— Someone turned over and mumbled in their sleep. Better forget about dreaming, he thought. Lot of good that did. Gage rushed down the hallway and barely negotiated the corner at a full run, catching a flash of his target at the next intersection. Jaw setting, he pressed forward, fueled and blinded by his hatred for the target. He burst into the lobby and collided with a secretary. She yelped. He sidestepped and tightly hugged her to his chest, his footwork keeping them upright as she stumbled along. She gave him a wide-eyed look as they came to a stop, dark hair spilling and the stylus that had secured the twist on her head tumbling to the floor. Gage smirked. “Afraid this isn’t a good time to tango; you’ll have to take a raincheck.” He smirked at the beautiful woman tangled up in his arms. At his clever remark. At the embassy where he’d served his tour of guard duty. Knowing this moment would end in his favor and more than willing to play along in this memory. Her eyes narrowing, she released her clutch on the fabric of his uniform and pushed free of his grip. “I wasn’t trying to dance with you,” she retorted, stepping back to check buttons and smooth her blouse. “You ran into me, because you weren’t looking where you were going. A Marine! Running down the hallway!” “Guess I owe you an apology. Dinner and dancing? Tonight?” She eyed him with a sigh and then tugged on the hem of her miniskirt. “While I appreciate the gesture, Corporal, it’s not necessary and, to tell you the truth, I’m tired of telling you ‘no’ every time you ask me out.” “Could say ‘yes’,” he quipped and teasingly complemented her. “That’s a nice little skirt you’re almost wearing.” Her face flushed and eyes snapped up, bright with fury. The slap rang in his left ear, stinging deep into the oozing, feverish claw marks on his cheek and smearing blood. He groaned, cringing. She gasped at a rising nausea, appalled by the blood coating her hand and finally noticing the red streaks on his face but too offended to care. From somewhere down the left hallway that ended in a t-intersection at the lobby, came a crash, curses and the vexed yowl of a cat. He glanced over her shoulder and seconds later a tabby with white paws skittered across the opening and down the opposite hall, pursued by a flying object that shattered. “That’s my cue,” Gage announced. “So, one slap for ‘yes’, two for ‘no’?” Sly trick and maybe unfair. Seeing her wind up, he grabbed her by the waist and ducked, weaving beneath her swing to come up from behind. “Your place. 7,” he promised lowly, then let her go. She spun and howled at his back as he jogged after the cat. “I’m not going on a date with you, Gage!” Fifteen minutes later, a chime rang in the embassy’s diplomatic-housing wing and Gage could hear the muffled rattle of a tea cup against its saucer. He could imagine Ambassador Hamisi on the other side of the door, stiffly sitting in a large armchair, inhaling to calm his ruffled nerves. “Enter,” Hamisi invited, not making the effort to rise or look at Gage as he entered. “It’s Corporal Silver, Ambassador Hamisi. I have your cat, sir.” “Thank you,” Hamisi affectedly replied and waved from behind the chair. “You’re dismissed.” “Sir.” Gage retreated across the carpet and the door closed behind him, what must have happened next playing out in his head. Hamisi sipping at his tea, then giving the empty chair next to him a puzzled expression. “Mr. Mittens?” Another sip of tea. “Why don’t you join me, Mr. Mittens?” he asks with a smile. A muffled whine reaches his ears and he pales. Scrupulously placing his tea on the leather ottoman at his feet, Hamisi stands and casts his gaze down into the entry. There is Mr. Mittens on the sideboard, rigid like a statue, coated and fur spiked in a dried industrial wax. Gage smiled, picturing Hamisi's fist shaking in the air as he screamed. “Silver!” The inevitable disciplinary action couldn’t keep Silver away from the girl he really wanted. He arrived on the secretary’s stoop and rang the bell five minutes to seven in that evening. Her resolve hadn’t improved from the look on her face when she opened the door, but she was home and he decided it was a sign. “I heard about what you did to Hamisi’s cat,” she greeted. “Do you ever take anything seriously?” “Take you seriously,” he answered. “I wish you would give up,” she irritably replied. Gage shrugged. “You make it hard to.” She rolled her eyes. “I’m gonna keep asking until you say ‘yes’, so you might as well just say ‘yes’.” “Or I could report you for stalking me,” she retorted and sighed. “If I say ‘yes’ will you quit asking?” “Maybe,” he reluctantly answered, “if you really want me to, but don’t think you will.” “Oh, I do,” she assured and turned like she meant to close the door. The sincerity in his voice stopped her. “Mariah,” he said. “Look, I know you’ve been burned before. But I’d be honored if you’d go out with me tonight. Give me a chance. Give you my word: all really want is to see you smile.” He heard her sigh again, but she would later admit that she felt intrigued. “I’ll get my coat,” she said. She turned on the porch light and paused as her gaze caught the intense redness on the left side of his face. “I’m sorry I slapped you,” she apologized before realizing it. Gage shook his head. “Don’t be. I deserved it,” he answered, surprisingly earnest. Her head tipped to the side in apparent confusion and she gingerly fingered his cheek. “It feels like it’s on fire,” she quietly exclaimed. “Did a doctor look at it?” He still gave her a sheepish look, despite feeling a fringe of rising panic. “No.” “I’ll be right back,” she announced and rushed back inside. She returned wearing her coat, carrying a jar of salve, and cozily pressed against him to dab it on his wounded cheek— That’s not what happened, he thought. “Gage,” she said in the voice that always got his attention. Not what happened, the thought repeated as he stood by and watched her subtly age into the wife he had lost. He swallowed. “Yeah?” She tucked the jar into her coat pocket, caressing his good cheek. “It’s time to wake up.” When she kissed him, the world dissolved. Gage quietly woke, staring into the darkness at the overhead. It took a few hours to fall asleep again and his dreams were increasingly disjointed. By the time his watch started beeping, he had Rhett Butler’s, “frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn”, and Cass as an inverted Queen of Hearts stuck in his head. He felt robbed of sleep and something else he couldn't articulate, but he was still the first out of his rack that morning. He checked on Cass first thing, ensured she was holding up after the shock she’d received last night. But today he would make an all-out effort to behave and keep his distance. Maybe he couldn’t completely stop joking around, but he’d learned an important thing or two over the years. Trailing her to the mess for breakfast, he waited until she looked comfortable and then sat at the farthest table in the farthest corner from her. He realized his mistake when they locked gazes for the second time. He should have sat facing the other direction. A tray clattered on the table and Gonzales slipped into the bench, blocking most of Gage’s view. Okay, that worked, too. “You got security issues, bro,” Gonzales remarked, plowing eggs onto his spoon with a biscuit. Gage leaned back. “Yeah?” “Yeah,” Gonzales emphatically replied, “she knows about Six.” He looked from the cooling food on Gage’s tray to the man who wasn’t eating it. “When you gonna come clean?” “Don’t need to. Got my orders from BUPERS.” “Goin’ through with that transfer, huh?” Gonzales didn’t have to follow his gaze to know what Gage was looking at and that he made a lousy wall. Worse than a window. “Does she know?” he asked, gesturing in her direction with his head. “Don’t think so,” Gage said, absently rubbing his face. “Probably better,” Gonzales observed between bites. “Calestorm isn’t gonna like it.” Resolve shaking the thoughts that preoccupied him, Gage finally looked his teammate in the eye. “Skipper doesn’t have a choice.” Gonzales shrugged in agreement. “She talk to you yet?” “Nope.” “She will when we get back. Timing’s not great; gonna look like you’re bailing on her because of Grayson. What’re you gonna say?” “Tell her the truth,” Gage flatly replied. “Don’t trust my objectivity.” “Uh huh. That’s gonna go over well. No one trusts her objectivity, but ya don’t see her giving up the Captain’s seat.” He shoveled another spoonful of green chili and eggs into his mouth. “If you don’t trust your objectivity, then why’re you still on the team?” The look Gage gave him was all the answer Gonzales needed. “Yanno what?” he said, pointing the half-eaten biscuit at him. “I’m glad you’re transferring, ‘cause you’re a pain in my ass. You and your big-brother issues.”
  6. Only the Beginning A Granger-Silver Log Word from brass arrived once they cleared the Gygax barrier. Orders to rendezvous with the Buffalo Gap and transfer a portion of her special operations teams, shuttle pilots and crews. Then return to port for repairs and upgrades while the remaining crew took shore leave. Praises for a job well done on Grayson. Not the reaction many of them expected from brass, and seeing the incident highlighted in the news that night fueled a thriving cynicism. The flight from Grayson to their rendezvous was solemn and would doubtlessly continue that way to New Topeka. As the first post-sanctioned military intervention and boasting the fewest casualties in Starfleet history, the operation that removed Luca from power was an unprecedented success. But more than Grayson’s sociopolitical climate had changed. The Creek changed. No one could forget the eight-hundred-pound gorilla sitting in the Captain’s chair or the crew-sized elephant staring her down from the corner. Getting out from under that cloud was all the liberty most of the personnel transferred to the Buffalo Gap needed. They were finally en route to Klingon space and the assets that signaled for extraction over a month ago. That wasn’t an exceptionally long time to wait in special operations. Gathering intel was an involved time-consuming process and crossing stellar distances had more in common with the Age of Sail than the Age of Jets. Still, some wondered why now. Starfleet had no reason to play team favorites with the Creek. They hadn’t received deployment orders when initially briefed. Dedicated, better-trained teams could have mobilized sooner and waited near the border. Word was brass didn’t think they had enough to go on, so they didn’t send anyone. Didn’t want to waste time or get caught with their pants down by a clever enemy hoax. But that had recently changed, given their transfer to the Buffalo Gap, and they were the only team available. After stowing their kit, Major Ishiiu told the teams and shuttle crews he’d brief at 0700 the next morning, dismissed them and then pulled Gage aside. Hours later, Gage still sat in the empty mess where he’d retreated, slouched forward at the end of a bench and visibly absorbed in his thoughts. A warning flashed on the tablet next to him as its battery slipped from green to red. “Lookin’ like both of you could use a charge, Sir,” said Cass, as she stopped for a drink, “but at this point I think we all do.” “What?” He gave her a puzzled look. “Your tablet." She half-turned from fixing her coffee at the counter, waggling a finger at it. “It’s flashing red. If you need a charger, I have extra.” Gage stared at the bright screen shining up from the table. He picked it up and blearily scanned the open document before twisting it around. “Cass, got something to tell you,” he said and held the tablet out to her. “Techs finally recovered the files; Intel ID’d our targets.” “Really,” she said, turning to give him her full attention. She left her drink on the counter and wandered over, her enthusiasm up a notch but tempered by his reticence. “ ‘S good,” she said, nodding. “Knowing who they are makes our job a hell of a lot easier.” “Yeah,” he bleakly agreed, still holding out the tablet. “Take a look. Thought you should know before the Major’s brief tomorrow.” “Okay. Sure,” she said, giving him a baffled look before taking the tablet. “Anyone I kno...” she let it hang as she read. She flicked her eyes at Gage then dropped them again to re-read. After two or three times, her expression blanked and she backed up to brace herself against the counter. Visibly shaken, her eyes focused on the tablet. Anticipating the worst and already up, Gage reached the counter in less than a second. “You okay?” he asked. Cass opened her mouth but nothing came out. She stared blankly at the deck, the tablet slipping slowly from her hands. “Hey, Cass,” he said, his voice calm but firm as he lightly gripped the tablet and her hand. “Look at me.” “Huh? What?” Apparently disoriented, she forced a, “Sorry,” and released the tablet. “How..,” she began, then pushed herself away from the counter, trying to get a grip. “Romulans? Why Romulans?” she said on an exhale. “Ask ‘em when we get there,” Gage replied with a subtle smile, setting the tablet aside. “Right. When we get there.” Her head jerked around to eye him but her tone remained more practical, more analytical than challenging. “When I get there, sir. So far as I know I’m the only one on the team, possibly on the ship, who speaks and understands Romulan. That means I go in to verify. Right, sir?” He gave her an uneasy look. “Don’t think that’s a good idea, Cass—” “So,” she sucked in a breath, “someone else goes in, possibly gets caught speaking to the Romulans in Federation Standard.... hell, in English.... They’re captured, the assets’ cover is blown, and then where are we, sir?” She settled her arms across her chest, obviously determined. The expression on his face fluctuated, difficult to read. “Okay,” he reluctantly agreed with a nod. “You lead the team in; Daniels’ll take sniper. Good?” “Good, sir. Daniels is the best, hands down.” Gage nodded again, bringing them back to the present. “Need anything? Another drink?” “Yeah,” she replied, “A good stiff double Jack, but for some strange reason I don’t think the major would take too kindly to me comin’ in to the briefing with a hangover in the mornin’.” He smirked. “Don’t think this boat stocks alcohol — most of the fleet follows regs, y’know. Want water? Juice? Milk? More coffee? Could look in the galley.” She glanced at her cup on the counter and shrugged. “Coffee’s cold. Water’s good,” she replied as she leaned forward to pick up the half-dead tablet and bounce it in one hand. “Sure you don’t want me to charge this up for you, sir? Won’t take a minute.” “Yeah,” Gage replied and studied her. “You gonna be okay if I get your water and the charging cable out of my bag?” “Water’s water, sir. I’m good with it any way.” Gage smirked and looked concerned at the same time. “Meant I’ll get the cable and then your water from the galley.” “That works, too,” she replied with a grin. Studying the tablet again, she shook her head as she absently paged through documents. “Damn, sir. Whole situation is weird. Just plain weird. And what are the chances...” she left off, waving a hand at the document. Gage stared at her for a moment longer but couldn’t think of a reply. Assuring her that he’d be quick, he disappeared into the passageway and returned through the galley less than a minute later, cable in one hand and a bottle of water in the other. Cass’s stare — the sheer concern and disbelief written in her face — stopped him halfway to her table. “What’s wrong?” “Think I saw something I wasn’t supposed to, sir,” she said apologetically. She stepped forward to return his tablet. “It’s.... I’m sorry. Just hope it didn’t have anything to do with the captain’s mast.” Gage gave her a baffled look as he took the tablet, then glanced at the screen and sighed. “Here,” he handed her the water bottle. “No, wasn’t that,” he answered as he located an outlet near the big screen, plugged in the tablet and set it on the counter. Slipping onto a bench, he paused for a moment, perceptibly weighing what he should say. “Was Grayson.” Cass nodded, cradling the water bottle in her hand. “DEVGRU/6 was your dream, sir. Somehow I can’t believe it’s been denied because of Grayson, but,” she bounced the quart bottle in her hand a few times, “wouldn’t be the first time juniors took the fall for a senior.” “Didn't take the fall for the skipper,” he flatly denied and left the rest unsaid. Leaning back, he rubbed his face with a low groan and clasped his hands behind his head, eyes closed against the bright overhead. “Six isn’t the wild FirsTR, Cass,” he explained. “They want people who’ll follow orders; make the right decisions under pressure. Don’t want rogue operators that they have to bail out. That risk teams for their own agenda. No good for the teams. Or the brass's blood pressure." Cass nodded, twisted the cap off the bottle and took a sip, then eased onto the bench next to him, two fingers dangling the icy bottle between her knees. “Gotta be honest, sir. You’re anything but rogue. Aggravating? Hell, yeah. Hard-headed? That, too. But what’s happened just isn’t right; anymore it’s appearances that count more than reality. Tell the truth, there’s no officer I’d rather serve under than one like you.” Gage smiled. “If you haven't noticed, they aren’t playing along with the fleet’s latest PR image. Reality is they don’t care why I did it or that fleet's not gonna hang anybody — still disobeyed higher orders to follow the rogue Captain of the hour. But, y’know, it’s not all bad.” He shrugged and half-chuckled under his breath, fighting a grin as he blurted: “Cause I like it when you serve under me, too, Cass.” After a pause to process that was pretty much sealed by his facial expression, Cass straightened up, her eyes taking on the look that was half way between dangerous and mischievous, leaning way toward the latter. She pointed one finger straight at him, her bottle of ice water open and poised for attack. “Okay, now, that’s a broken promise right there, sir. A definite red light.” Spinning to a stand, she emptied the quart of ice water onto his head, drenching him and splattering it onto the deck. With a slow, satisfied air, she capped the empty bottle and did a three-pointer into the recycler. “Payback’s a bitch, i’n it, sir,” she smirked. He gasped in shock and blinked at the overhead, deflated and chagrined. “Yeah, might’ve deserved that,” he admitted, wiping his face. “Roger that, sir. And it almost makes you Corps material. So where to now?” “Dry clothes. Bed,” he replied and climbed from behind the table. “Night, Cass.” “Night, sir. See you in the a.m.” Giving a wink, she disappeared out the door. “Not funny,” he irritably muttered to the empty compartment.
  7. Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting. -Sun Tzu Try Not To A Granger-Silver Log Rising from his meditative sprawl to straddle the bench, Gage groaned and clamped a hand on his head at the temples. Apparently the new lump on the back of his head and strains from the day had said hello. Hearing the groan, Cass hesitated, one hand on the door frame, wondering how she could begin a conversation when she had little idea what it would really be about and only an inkling of what was actually happening, or even why. The room had emptied out long ago; most had either gone for chow or hit the rack, which meant that she and the ensign were alone. Put that with the prospect of getting to the bottom of whatever was eating at her, and the situation was pretty darned intimidating. “Ensign Silver,” she called down the line, one hand draped over an open locker at the end of his row, “got a minute, Sir?” Gage glanced up and studied her, half shielding his eyes with a subtle grimace as he clearly deliberated between making a crack and taking her seriously. Then his expression relaxed in her favor. “Yeah, take a seat,” he said and eased the nearly forgotten t-shirt in his hand over his head, tugging it down before stretching out an ache. Cass wandered down, stopped to consider then threw a leg over the bench, straddling it to face him. “Got a problem, Sir. Not sure how to approach it. Hell, not even sure what it is.” Arms folded across her chest, she eyed him a minute before continuing. “Think it might have to do with mission sabotage: me trying to get intel from the guy at the bridge?” “What about it?” he soberly asked. “That thing about flirting. Wha'd you mean by it?” He stared for a second and then shrugged. “Donno. Giving you a hard time like I always do, I guess.” Despite her gut reaction to presume he was about to turn the whole thing into another joke at her expense, she decided to take the statement at face value and move on. “So... why'd you dump the guy in the drink? Why stop the questioning? I get the idea I'm missing something here." Gage sighed. “‘Cause he didn’t want to talk, Cass, and pushing him was escalating the situation. Dumping him seemed like the quickest way to separate you before you-- before one of you got hurt.” It took a second for her to process that. “You think I couldn’t defend myself?” she said, more confused than annoyed. “Didn’t really think about it, Cass,” he answered, rubbing his eyes and sounding wearied, like he still heard a defensive, feminist angle in the question. “Just grabbed him and threw him over.” “Gut reaction, Sir?” He smirked. “Yeah, something like that.” Cass turned away briefly, thinking. After a moment she blew out a breath and gave a slow nod. “Guess we both have some gut reactions to work on. Think that might be the problem, or part of it, communication being the other part.” Gage expelled an ironic chuckle and stood, leaning against his locker door. “Yeah, there’s a failure to communicate, but in my defense, my ‘gut reaction’ didn’t give you a concussion,” he replied, putting on a grimace as he touched the back of his head. A glance toward his injury and she uncrossed her arms to return to the subject. “So the question is: how do we plan to fix the communication problem? Figure it’s going to take work on both sides, so have at it, Sir.” A sharp nod indicated he should take the first shot, her expression all business. He looked at her, the hint of a stifled quip in his face before he visibly deflated. “Answer’s simple, Cass. Banter’s supposed to be fun. But you’re wound too tight to enjoy it. Makes you uncomfortable. One of us is gonna have to adapt. Something tells me you won’t and I shouldn’t expect you to,” he exhaled; “So I will. “Give you my word: no more jokes,” he assured. “If it’ll help, we’ll switch up teams for the rest of the op. Tomorrow, you go with Moa and I’ll head out with Souter. Good?” “Good, Sir. And me?” She paused, checking out the ceiling for a bit, “I’ll try to lighten up.” Gage crossed his arms, shook and bowed his head. “You just keep being you, Cass,” he replied, staring at the bench. “Problem’s mine.” He gave her a sober smile. “Due respect, Sir? We’re in this together.” “Didn’t ask your opinion,” he retorted, his smile persisting. He reached out to touch her shoulder, then stopped and with his hand briefly suspended in the air, sneered in apparent self-reproach. He was already breaching her personal space after learning he made her feel uptight. “Get some sleep,” he said as his hand collapsed into a loosely pointed finger that disappeared in his pocket. “Aye, Sir,” she replied, mirroring the point before she unhooked her leg from the bench to stand. “Think maybe you could do the same.” “Yeah,” he agreed, unamused. Rubbing the back of his head, he turned his back and moved down the row, muttering: “If there’s a pill outta this, God knows I haven’t found it yet.”
  8. Colonel: Now answer my question or you'll be standing tall before the man. Private Joker: I think I was trying to suggest something about the duality of man, sir. Colonel: The what? Private Joker: The duality of man. The Jungian thing, sir. Colonel: Whose side are you on, son? Private Joker: Our side, sir. Colonel: Don't you love your country? Private Joker: Yes, sir. Colonel: Then how about getting with the program? Why don't you jump on the team and come on in for the big win? Private Joker: Yes, sir. Colonel: Son, all I've ever asked of my marines is that they obey my orders as they would the word of God. We are here to help the Vietnamese, because inside every gook there is an American trying to get out. It's a hardball world, son. We've gotta keep our heads until this peace craze blows over. Private Joker: Aye-aye, sir. --Full Metal Jacket (1987) // Pointless. Supine with his head resting on his right hand, still holding the clean shirt he’d intended to put on, Gage blinked and stared blankly at the overhead; so bemused after they’d returned to the Creek for the night that he’d only managed to clean his weapon, shower and partially redress before his thoughts distracted him. Not every thought on his mind was related to the next and some hit closer to his vest than Grayson - thoughts that dwarfed Grayson and divided him on other fronts, thoughts he couldn't quell and had kept to himself for sometime - but the situation on Grayson held the mental stage for the moment. Even now, for a seventeen-year veteran, it wasn’t cut and dry. There are hard ethical and moral questions to answer. The line dividing one choice from another - the system that governs our society - feels thin. If the Fed Council sanctioned it, we’d intervene in a heartbeat. Not everyday the Fed takes an interventionist stance. But it's happened before and most of us wouldn’t think twice. Skipper goes off and intervenes in another society's affairs on her own and now everybody’s a legal crusader. It’d be easy to ignore the system. There’s a part of me that wants to. But the system is there to prevent this kind of anarchy. The system: a social construct. The synthesis of our personal codes into one ethos. It unites and protects. It balances. Ensures no one person or philosophy alone makes the world-changing decisions. We come together; decide together. In anarchy it’s every man for himself. Every point of view for itself. Doing their own thing: making those world-changing decisions without considering the cost to those around them. No system means no law. Without law: no wrong or right. No unity. No protection. Starfleet isn’t a democracy. But we still participate in and answer to that system. We’re still guided from the top by a democratic process: the council that should be making this decision. A group that, when and if it works, ensures the decision is balanced: studied, as rational and unbiased as possible. There are times when we’ve let the system down. Done things for the wrong reasons. I believe in the system. Joined to protect it. But if we adhere to it only when it’s convenient, what’s the point? Respecting the system is the only way to keep it. The system depends on our ‘true faith and allegiance’ to survive. Integrity isn’t just consistently doing the same thing. It’s honesty. Doing the right thing when it’s difficult and no one is watching. Keeping your oaths. Looks easy for the skipper to ignore it while the rest of us are torn up inside. Brass has bailed her out so many times before, she doesn’t have to check herself. But the crew is fed up. Dissent like this doesn’t happen overnight. Don’t think the skipper realizes what’s going on. Claims threatening to censor the doc’s report was a joke. But, given her reply, I’d say the doc took it at face value. Don’t think it’s just because she’s Vulcan. I took it at face value, too. Can't believe this is just some noble idea of liberating the underdog. It’s a snap decision. She didn’t even stop to weigh it out. Is she doing it for the rush? Some grand idea of adventure? Whatever it is, the skipper’s set like concrete. We won't dissuade her by talking, not even for her own well-being. Wouldn’t be surprised if trying is making it worse. She's more than bullheaded. Maybe insane. Might go off if we keep trying. She beat the drum hard. Lit a nerve with those speeches. No one wants to look like the guy that could’ve made a difference, but cared more about himself. The guy that was a coward. Deserted someone in their darkest hour. Deserted his team. Bravo foxtrot. The blue falcon. Not easy standing for anything when you’re divided in your own mind. I see trouble and want to be there. Run toward the sound of gunfire. Be the solution. Make a difference. Do something. Grayson’s another humanitarian mission gone wrong. Eats at me standing by and watching it happen. Knowing I’m not supposed to get personally involved. Having to let it go. Just like the last time. So I sit here divided, just talking to myself. If the skipper would just give it time, the right deliberation. Let the so-called 'experts' and brass weigh in. Not afraid to make sacrifices. Made peace with the risks a long time ago. But I didn’t join up to take what I’ve got for granted. So could I fire a shot without considering where it’d land. Want to come out of this without losing sight of the shoreline. Without betraying what I believe in. Return home with honor. But I also want my team to make it home. And I've got people on my team that volunteered to join the skipper. It’s not a simple question of right or wrong anymore. It’s a question of my team and my future. Do I sacrifice one for the other? Do I sacrifice this team, so I can satisfy my sense of honor? For my career? For team Six? Hearing the skipper give the old “this is what we do” speech, I felt angry. She sounded like someone who never had to make or witness the same sacrifices. Never had to watch a career end. See the lost look on their faces. Never had to make notifications to a buddy’s family in person. See what it does to the people left behind. Maybe I’m too stupid to see a better way. But I’m not going to leave this team short. I've done what I can to take most of the blame when the time comes. Can't shield them from all of it. Injury or death. But if it comes to that, I’ll be there. For the recovery. When they answer the door. Tried to reason with the skipper, but our destiny's decided. She decided it and nothing we do will change it. Could put on a clown suit and end the universe on a Hail Mary. Grayson will still happen with or without us. Maybe we're insane expecting what we think or do to matter; that we can - that she’ll let us - help shape the outcome. That we’re here for more than the ride. Is it that pointless? A fart in the windstorm?
  9. The Better Part of Valor A Granger-Silver Log Cass stood on the periphery of the discussion between Silver and the skipper. Questions cut to the core; answers were hard to swallow. The hardest part for her was to listen, to keep her mouth shut. There were decisions to be made and the consequences of those decisions would have repercussions across time and space. Generations would be affected, whether for good or evil. Actions would have to be accounted for on both sides. Was it personal? Damn right. War is always personal. Personal for everyone. Who pays the price? Everyone. Holding her peace was the hardest thing she’d ever have to do. Action’s easy; peace is hard. * * * * * “Feel like I’m stuck in the middle of a damn fairy tale,” Cass muttered as she continued to search through her tactical vest, then pat down the pockets of her fatigues. Not soon after the crew briefing the protection detail had returned to the ship, Gage had ordered their presence in the Captain’s military offensive and they’d geared up. A few days into the mission found Cass and Silver moving in the general direction of Luca’s lair to recon the local layout and gauge the general mindset of the population: talking to people re: Luca & Co., getting to know who they were protecting and what they were dealing with. But put a full tactical kit and a couple days of recon together with only a few energy bars and, trained or not, you have one hungry Marine. “Damn. Know it’s here somewhere....” Gage briefly glanced over his shoulder at her. “What’re you looking for?” he asked soberly. A disgusted expression accompanied her sudden stop. “Sorry for the delay, Sir. Left it on the ship. Transporter chief prob’ly finished it by now... if he was hungry enough.” Something caught her attention and she squinted into the field, then raised her high-power binoculars to check it thoroughly. Gage didn’t immediately reply, offering neither rebuke nor humor, giving the distant object a glance as he continued down the cobblestone road in an unbroken stride before he stopped and looked at her. “You coming?” Without a word, she turned to double-time toward him, glancing from side to side, continuing to check the roadside ditches and the fields beyond. A few hundred meters ahead the road bridged a wide, slow-moving stream dividing the countryside and the fields gave way to a quaint village that looked like it fell out of Shrek. Activity had steadily picked up as they left the quiet and concealment of the forest far behind them, passing farmsteads and stray travelers; and the village, intersected by several highways in the region, teemed with people. As they reached the stone bridge, wide enough to accommodate foot-traffic in both directions, a man in his late twenties, wearing brown tweed and shouldering a satchel, crossed in their direction and halted midway. Gage glanced at him and, apparently discerning minimal threat, kept at arm’s length and passed him without breaking stride. The younger man didn’t move, his gaze fixing on Cass once Gage had moved out of the way. Cass stepped to the side to let him pass. “You’re from the outside,” the man abruptly observed, stepping in front of her. “Indeed I am, Sir,” she replied with a courteous nod, her accent a passable match for the planet’s population. “You’re the so-called army that will defeat,” his voice dropped and his gaze briefly shifted toward Luca’s distant black castle; “he-who-shall-not-be-named?” Feigning ignorance, Cass replied, “Should we defeat him, Sir?” He sneered. “Don’t pretend you don’t know. Everyone knows of your Captain and her pact with Phalen the Defender.” “And how did you learn of this pact our ‘captain’ supposedly has with this ‘Phalen the Defender?’” she ventured, maintaining a casual stance but meeting his eyes straight-on. “Is this ‘Phalen’ someone to be reckoned with?” The question seemed to irritate the stranger. “What do I care of Phalen and his militia? They’ve done nothing but stir up trouble when we wanted peace,” he growled. “Did you expect your pact to remain secret when your Captain gallivants around the protectorates like a high senator and Phalen boasts of your great army joining him to defeat...him? No doubt he knows of you and your plans. Because of you, he’s blockaded my road home with his vile beasts and I’m stuck here, in the middle of your psychotic little crusade.” “He’s blockaded your way home, has he? You must be worried for your family, your land, your livestock.” She flicked a glance at Silver, who seemed impatient. She stood her ground, determined to gather as much intel as possible. “Tell us of this Luca, other than that he cannot be defeated? He has an army and vile beasts, ‘tis true, but what else? Has he a vulnerability?” “You need me to tell you that?” he laughed scornfully. “You’re no ‘great army’ and you, woman, are no soldier. Go back to your scullery and take your insane Captain with you.” “My scullery?” she straightened up, pasted a smile on her face to hold back the few choice words that came to mind, and shifted her hold on the rifle. He had become more agitated; she was ready with the rifle butt. A mild blow to the midsection would probably back him off. If not, she had a few other maneuvers. But the stranger’s sneer devolved to a panicked yelp as Gage silently grabbed him from behind, helped him over the low stone wall and head first into the stream below. Cass eyed the empty space, then glanced over the wall at arms flailing in the gentle stream. After a second or two she shifted back to Silver, dumbfounded. “Guy was a pain,” Gage remarked dryly, evidently amused as he glanced the stranger floating downstream. “Now you’re done flirting, can we go?” Cass glanced over the edge once more, then jerked back, livid. “Flirting? Gathering intel is flirting?” “No, just flirting.” Gage tauntingly repeated, then simply turned and started for the village. “Hey,” she called, coming alongside, not a little annoyed. “You think I was flirting with that jackass?” “Looked like fireworks to me,” Gage replied. “Fireworks?” She grabbed his arm to swing him around. “You want fireworks, I’ll show you fireworks.” Gage stared at her for a second, then grinned and laughed at her expense, returning his gaze to their surroundings. “This is why I like you, Cass. Easy to mess with.” “Not exactly the time to be messin, Sir.” Her jaw clenched repeatedly, face flushed. “Relax,” he replied and turned, still chuckling a bit. One swift round kick from behind and he landed, flat-out, on the ground, Cass standing over him. Gage groaned from the impact and didn’t look all that amused, but his laughter persisted. “Damn, Cass,” he managed in spite of the air he’d lost. “Want to get this straight, Sir,” she whispered, leaning down, “gathering intel is no joking matter. I don’t like bein’ here and I sure as hell don’t like workin’ with someone who’s sabotaging the mission.” She paused, letting the s-word sink in. “You’re supposed to be Alpha leader?” she continued. “You call yourself a Starfleet officer? Suggest you start actin’ like one or none of us is going to make it back.” With that, she grabbed her rifle, adjusted her kit, and started off for the village, determined to do her job - alone if need be. Luca was the enemy; he was the focus of the mission. Lose that focus, start second-guessing or questioning your teammate, and the battle was already lost. The grin on his face had evaporated and Gage sat on the ground watching her indignantly march away, then brushed the dust from his head. “Lucky it’s you. Blew my situational awareness with that stunt,” he muttered to himself and climbed to his feet. They entered the village in silence and unmolested; it seemed no one had noticed the incident near the bridge. The village consisted of Tudor-style buildings spread over the hilly landscape in a star-shape, centered on a busy, open market square at the intersection of five highways. “Still hungry?” Gage asked, eyeing several carts of local, fresh produce as they entered the square. From the easygoing tone of his voice, he’d already let the incident go and dropped back into that ‘big brother’ mode Cass disliked. “Could use something,” she replied, half-heartedly checking out the great variety on one cart. Had to admit it was tempting. Creek’s menu occasionally included fresh fruit, but not this caliber and definitely not this quantity. “Here,” he said and tossed her something shiny red. Her hand shot up for the catch and she gave it a once-over. “Sure it’s not poisoned?” “Yeah, I’m sure,” he smiled a bit and slipped the merchant an apologetic look as he paid. Her anger put aside in favor of food and the fruit was half gone in a few seconds. “You’re gonna frighten the locals,” Gage remarked. “They’ll deal,” she replied before devouring the rest of it and reaching for another. She tossed the vendor a few local coins and pointed to the pile. “You game?” “No, thanks,” Gage replied with a shake of his head. “But go ahead; just, uh, leave a little for the village.” “Roger that,” she replied, checking the assortment before picking a few and paying the vendor. A quick turn and, with a heftier toss than intended, she sent one in Silver’s direction. “Heads up.” Not expecting fruit zooming at his melon, Gage cursed and barely ducked as the apple sailed over and broke a window. Gage blinked. Cass blinked, staring at the window, her mouth ajar. Gage bemusedly rubbed the back of his neck and then dropped and shook his head. “Stay here,” he said and strolled toward the door, intercepting the mildly distressed owner as they exited. Gage returned, one short conversation, some coinage and one satisfied victim later, still wearing the same bemused look. Not a little embarrassed by the situation, Cass stood there, ready for the axe to fall. Gage pressed his lips together and nodded to no one. “Okay, guess you can add that to your resume: dangerous with fruit.” “Along with dangerous to Everlast, Sir?” she said on an exhale, still flushed and only a little relieved. “No comment.”
  10. "Like a Boss", please.
  11. Here and Now A Granger-Silver Log His focus first on their surroundings and then Cass and Belo a few meters away, it took a moment for Gage to realize that his conversation with the skipper had begun and ended with her passing comment. He glanced between the skipper and Phalen, the latter offering a ride on his giant stinging beast to the skipper’s dismay. “Right,” Gage remarked to no one and closed his hand around the projectile he’d pulled from his shoulder. He considered tossing it for a moment, then stuffed it back into his pocket and mused on its purpose. A .177 caliber bolt that ended in a hypodermic needle the same diameter as the type used for blood transfusions. Too inefficient to quickly bleed out a target and not much of a hollow-point. Intended to take samples, maybe, but more likely a delivery system for something: tranquilizers, tracking devices, psychochemical agents or, at worst, a lethal drug. “Doesn’t matter,” he quietly muttered to himself. Recent spikes in physical exertion had significantly increased the absorption of any drugs that entered his system. What’s done, is done. Still, he should inform the doctor; she wouldn’t like it if he took a turn for the worst and she wasn’t prepared. Gage snagged Cass by the arm as she walked by to take a position ahead. “Hey, pass this to the Doc,” he said, handed her the bolt by the fins and let her arm go. Apparently caught off-guard, Cass glanced from Silver to the bolt and back, shrugged, then turned in the direction of Doctor T’Aral. Gage stared for a minute, the distance from his shipmates growing; fifteen meters, twenty and then he shook the bemused look on his face and scanning the area once more, fell into step trailing their six. After some minutes Cass emerged, pushing her way toward him through the crowd. “Sir,” she began as she came alongside and gave his shoulder the once-over, “that thing looked downright nasty. You doin’ okay?” He glanced at her before snapping his focus on his AOR. “I’m fine,” he bemusedly answered. “Stopped bleeding awhile ago.” Cass nodded. “Looked dry to me; probably nothing in it when deployed. Could have held anything. Still... hell of a stinger.” Gage smirked. “Not any worse than a couple a’ ten-year-olds battling it out in the ditch with pellet guns. Little bastard got me in the knee.” One hand rubbed her neck as though trying to hide her grin. “The knee? Think I’d aim a little higher.” He chuckled and grinned unwittingly, caught her grin in the corner of his eye and then reclaimed his focus with a cough. “Anyway, Sir,” she continued, blinking away her amusement. “Sitrep on security: Souter’s still tailin’ Shalin, who’s mostly up to his normal aimless wandering. Gonzales and Yamanaka’re deliverin’ three mercs to local LEOs - lockup’s at the end of the block here.” She pointed in the general direction of crowd flow. “O’Neill has Hammond with the skipper and Daniels with the exec. He and Moa are on overwatch outside the wire.” Gage nodded and walked on portentously silent. “What about Shavra? She make it back?” he asked, ending the dead air with an arriere pensee that made his jaw visibly tighten. “Came back with Daniels, Sir.” A crane of her neck and she caught what looked like a brunette wig glistening in the sunlight. “Think she’s just ahead of us,” she pointed, “with some of the crew.” “Right,” he sighed, clearly disquieted as he watched Shavra converse with Belo. “Think she can read my thoughts?” he asked offhand. Casting a wary look in his direction as they followed the crowd, Cass thought a moment. “Don’t believe so, Sir. Understand Deltans can be... uh... a little difficult to shake relationship-wise, but don’t recall they can read minds. Then again, she is female, and females tend to... know what a man wants....” She turned away to mutter, “...kind of,” apparently unsure if she’d crossed a line. Gage frowned, but his voice betrayed his banter. “Not what I wanted hear right now, Cass. You’re supposed to say--” He stopped in his tracks, his amusement with Cass fading. Shavra had spotted him and begun heading his way. “... this got complicated,” he grumbled. “Want me to run interference, Sir?” Gage sighed tightly. “No. My problem.” She nodded, stepping back to take his AOR. Gage didn’t feel very appreciative, but he had little choice. Shavra approached circumspectly. “May I walk with you, Gage?” He gestured indifferently and Shavra dismally pressed her lips as she turned to match his pace. “I’m curious,” she began carefully. “Now that the hostilities have ceased, if only temporarily, would it be a good time for us to talk?” “Not really.” “I see.” Her gaze fell to the ground. “Would you at least,” she hesitated, “explain to me my position?” “Now’s a bad time, Shavra.” “I apologize, Gage, but I cannot remain patient,” she lowly retorted. “In truth I am baffled and far more troubled by events as they unfolded than I believe you are. After the moment we shared, I felt confident I understood your romanticism and how you wanted to be approached--” “Ah, geeze,” Gage angrily groaned and rubbed his face, his weight shifting like he wanted to bolt. The implications of what she suggested antagonized Gage in ways that Shavra had likely not intended. “Is it so difficult to listen to me?” she demanded with a rise in her voice, halting in the road. “Please explain the problem to me, Gage, because I’ve laid myself bare to you. It can’t be wrong to expect that much in return.” Gage tensed and turned on his heel, ignoring the curious eyes that had drawn on them as he firmly grabbed Shavra by the arm and drove her stumbling forward. “This is why I don’t want to talk about it right now,” he growled. “Distraction is compromising my OPSEC. And I can’t have you losing your ever-loving Deltan mind ‘cause you don’t like what I’ve gotta say.” He felt her gait steady, resistance weaken and could have sworn her skin grew cold. “Why wouldn’t I like it?” she choked. Gage thoughtlessly let a curse escape. “Can you at least wait until we’re inside?” “Yes,” she answered and glanced at him despondently, her voice and look stirring up such potent guilt that it sharpened his anger. He released her arm with a snap, but couldn’t bring himself to abandon her and reclaim his position from Cass. Truthfully, after what transpired, he didn’t want look the Gunner in the eye. They walked the remaining distance to Phalen’s offices in awkward silence. Once there and before separating, Calestorm drilled him about the incident, and warned "see that you do" when he assured that he would take care of it. He left Cass to oversee security and entered the room Shavra had retreated to, furious with her and the fault his superiors perceived in him for her outburst. Belo knew he felt angry, given the passing look he saw on her empathic face as he left a crack in the door behind him. He glanced at the walls lined in books that Shavra uncharacteristically ignored to stare distantly out a window from where she said at one end of a couch. Gage quietly crossed the small library and sat at the other end. “It won’t work between us, Shavra,” he remarked tightly but within control. Shavra kept her eyes on the sky outside. “Why?” He gave a cleansing exhale and leaned forward on his knees, head down as he carefully considered his explanation. He couldn’t give into his inclination for bluntness; she might shut off if he cut straight to hard reality. “Well, for one, you took an oath not to become involved--" "I plan to retire--" she quickly interjected. Gage tried not to sigh as he added: "And I’ve already been married once.” He heard Shavra shift to look at him and the surprise in her voice. “You were married?” He nodded his hanging head and wrung his hands a bit, his anger fading. “Yeah.” “When did this happen?” “A long time ago.” “May I ask what happened to your marriage?” He brushed off the negative inference of her question and inclined his head with resignation. “She died.” Shavra was quiet for a moment, staring out the window again. “My condolences,” she replied and sounded sincere. “But I fail to see how that destines our relationship to failure before it begins.” “Shavra,” Gage began and paused to curb his revived ire, his voice firm as he continued. “You said you wanted to marry a guy who’s never been involved. I loved my wife. Hell, I donno who you think I am, but I’m not some kind of saint. I don’t fit your mold. Not the mythical guy you’re looking for.” Shavra appeared to briefly consider his assertion and then replied philosophically, “It was a Human author that said: ‘Events in the past may be roughly divided into those which probably never happened and those which do not matter.’” “She mattered to me,” Gage retorted without thinking. “I understand,” Shavra insisted, slowly sliding to sit next to him on the couch. “But your former marriage cannot be an obstacle unless we make it one. Please allow me the opportunity to help you heal.” She ran a caressing hand through his hair. “Stop that,” Gage snapped as he brushed her hand away and then sighed. “Shavra, you gotta face reality. I don’t love you and you don’t love me.” Shavra leapt from her seat and he couldn’t mistake the dark expression on her face when he saw it. “Why would you presume to know my feelings better than I?” “Just hear me out,” he waved. “Y’know, I get it. You’re afraid. You’ve got this funny idea that I’m the guy you have to live with ‘cause all your righteous dreams are over and it’s the only way you can save face. But you’re wrong, Shavra. “Yeah, it happened and there’s no forgetting it. But it didn’t change who you are. Don’t let it. What happened between us doesn’t matter. Don’t let a choice you didn’t make decide your whole future. Don’t compromise with it. You’ll be miserable. I’ll be miserable. Let this whole disaster fade into the bad dream it is. Take your own advice and quotes and live a little. Find the guy you really want. It’s not me.” Shavra stood there dumbstruck, glaring at Gage until she finally spoke. “Bad dream...? But I sensed your affection--” “You sensed what you wanted to,” he interjected and wearily rubbed the back of his neck. “That can’t be,” she shook her head like someone who had just been told to cut the line on their climbing partner. “I know without a doubt that I sense it right now.” “Dammit,” he snapped again, frustration getting the best of him and making Shavra jump. “Stay out of my head. What’s in there isn’t for you.” She would’ve known that if she’d just paid attention, he mused. But why expect that when she obviously couldn’t bring herself to accept he was angry with her, much less realize that he honestly wasn’t attracted to her. Still, how long would it take before one of these prying espers finally busted him for a stray thought? Maybe he was busted already, he considered and gave the door a glance. “Look, Shavra, it’s just how things are. I’m sor--” “Don’t apologize, please.” “You’re gonna have to come to terms with it at some point.” She nodded, appearing speechless as she stared at a corner. “I’ll get the XO to have you beamed up,” Gage remarked, standing from the couch. “No,” she replied quickly and smiled. “I appreciate your concern, but I will be fine. ‘What's gone and what's past help Should be past grief.’” Gage scrutinized her before skeptically drawling: “Okay.” “Please, Lieutenant, I don’t need you worrying about me,” she assured and walked from the room with her head high. Maybe she thought it sounded like light-hearted banter and she was putting on a good front, but Gage only heard bitterness. “Good grief,” he muttered, brushing a hand through his hair and down his neck.
  12. Hell in a Handbasket A Granger-Silver log Gage didn’t remember signing up for Lord of the Rings, but they’d shown up anyway: Armor-clad troops hovering over Grayson on giant black dragons. Gage acted on his first instinct and moved for the nearest exit -- or made one. Every ground had its disadvantages, but Gage prefered open ground and maneuvering room to the confines of a city. His priority was getting the young, untested officer with him out before she became entangled in a situation for which she wasn’t the least prepared. The shortest path took them down an alley to the outer wall. Pausing near the edge of the last house in the alley, he studied the next obstacle: a 3 meter wall that towered nearly 4 feet over his 6’2’’ frame. He glanced at Shavra and then back toward the center of town, eyeing the black-clad troops as they fast-roped to the ground from their monster transports. No time to find another exit. He checked the corners again and looked at Shavra. “You’re going over the wall,” he instructed. “Once you’re out, Shavra, get up to Cass’s position.” “Where?” she asked, glancing anxiously about in spite of the wall that blocked her view. “Due west about 450 meters, on a hill,” Gage answered as he moved into the maintenance alley separating homes from the wall. He looked at Shavra. “You ready?” She nodded warily and joined him. Gage shifted the sling of his rifle and clasped and lowered his hands. Putting a hand to the wall and grasping his shoulder with the other, she stepped into his grip. “Which way is west?” The question startled Gage. “Just worry about getting outside right now,” he replied curtly. Tugging on his shoulder, she shifted her weight to the foot in his hands and he raised from his crouched position, boosting her up. It wasn’t enough for her to see over the wall. From the ground to the top of her head, their combined height, with Gage’s arms at full extension toward the ground, measured just shy of 9 feet but it put her within reach of the top. Balancing against the wall, she warily padded up the side until she wrapped her fingers over the edge. Conscious of her fear by the instability of her foot in his hands, Gage smoothly curled her 140 pound build further up the wall, exposing her head and shoulders. She shifted her grasp to the outer edge of the wall and should have been able to pull herself over from there, lift a knee and roll her body weight over the top. But it didn’t work the way Gage imagined. Instead of using her free leg, she lifted the supported foot, sagged without Gage’s support, and, lacking the arm strength to do more, she began to slip and panic. Her feet flailed for purchase, making it impossible for Gage to catch one as he ducked her thrashing. Then her grip failed. Gage had only a few seconds to turn aside before she fell on his head, her slide down the wall scraping up her hands and arms. Seeing the muscles in his jaw tense as he steadied her on the ground, she shrank. “I’m sorry; I tried,” she said, evidently too anxious to mind her burning skin. The sound of her voice didn’t do much to build his confidence in her wall-scaling abilities. “Okay, plan B,” he remarked, exhaling off his frustration. Taking several steps back from the wall, Gage shifted his rifle sling about, took a running start, jumped, dug a toe against the wall, and easily pulled himself to straddle the 40 centimeter thick wall where he made a cursory sweep of their surroundings. Seeing nothing exigent in the immediate area, he briefly considered his position and hunched over to reach down with a single arm. “Jump.” Shavra flashed an uncertain look and then imitated his leap with a running start. But her jump wasn’t as powerful at only half the height, and more was lost as her smooth-soled boot hit the wall and slipped. Gage barely grasped her wrist on the way down; countering the sudden weight and inertia that threatened to pull him off with clenched legs and a white knuckled grip on the wall. As Gage worked to stabilize their balance, she slapped her other hand around his forearm and dug in her nails. He quietly grimaced, straining to curl her full weight towards him with one arm and beyond thirty-degrees at his elbow. Pulling more from his core, he let go of the wall as soon as he was upright, finally able to ease her over the top with both hands. Dropping her down the other side was considerably easier in spite of the sensation in his shoulder, weakened by numerous dislocations and age. She landed gracefully enough for the trouble. The searing pain in his other shoulder didn’t hit until he swung his leg over to jump down. Not sparing a moment to look back, he landed on the ground next to Shavra and pointed toward a hill a little over a quarter of a mile in the distance. “That way. Go,” he said, pushing her forward. Shavra broke into a run. Stalling briefly, Gage craned to find the source of the burning sensation in his rotator cuff. He spotted the black end of a bolt, buried to the shaft and jutting out from his back, and stretched to pulled it free with a grunt. He frowned at the deep red blood coating the .177mm point and barrel and, stuffing it in his pocket, sprinted to catch up with Shavra. *** As hides go, the one Cass had chosen for overwatch on Grayson City was palatial. On a hill just short of 500 yards from the city wall, a long, low bush sheltered her from prying eyes and the afternoon sun. A thick layer of moss cushioned the otherwise hard-packed dirt, almost too comfortable for the five plus hours they’d been there. The best part: only a few low buildings impeded her line-of-sight into the city square where most of Creek’s personnel had congregated (good for investigation; bad when dragons arrive in attack mode). As Silver appeared over the crest of the hill, Shavra in tow, Moa crept from his hide where he had been wedged between two boulders beneath a tree 20 yards to Cassie’s left. The rest stayed put: Daniels and O’Neill against boulders below them - one facing the city and the other facing uphill to cover their backsides - and Hammond sitting cross-legged in the crotch of a dense evergreen to Cassie’s right about 35 yards higher on the hill. A quick mental calculation left Souter tailing Shalin, and Gonzales and Yamanaka with the exec floating among the crowds within the city walls. The one thing Cass had taken that would be a total violation of the PD if discovered was a state-of-the-art computerized sniper scope, a safety net that allowed her the advantage of fast, easy adjustment in a tight situation (like this one). It also had a blue force tracking system built in to keep her from taking out one of the crew. Always a plus. Cass kept her eye to the scope, tracking as many of the crew as possible and reporting hostile positions to in-town command as Silver slid in next to her. Moa slipped him the high-power binoculars. “Glad you made it, Sir,” said Cass, pot-shotting the dragon-troops that had engaged the crew and townspeople and occasionally painting a new dragon target. “Me, too,” he muttered. He craned again to eye the small hole in his duster. The blood had soaked his shirt immediately around the wound, but it looked like nothing noticeable had made it outside the heavier coat. That the hole was tiny and the dark brown duster helped to mask its appearance. Maybe if they stared at him long enough, someone would notice it. Shavra quietly stood next to the tree where she had stopped, panting to catch her breath. “Looks like friendlies, Sir?” Cass asked as a figure in white plate armor appeared on a wasp and shouted orders to the town guard. Gage grimaced at the blinding white spot in the distance. “Looks like.” Still prone, he rolled to look at Moa. “Keep an eye on Shavra,” he said, reaching beneath his collar to feel out the small wound and then rubbing his bloodied fingertips in the dusty soil and grass before anyone knew what he was doing. “I'm going back in.” He got to his feet. “Right behind you, Sir,” said Cass before punching her com. “Alfa, cease fire. Coming down with Silver. Daniels, get up here and take Moa’s position. Silver and I are going back in. Trading my M24 for your Mk11 on the way by; you keep painting those targets for Creek.” A quick change of channel got her to Creek for a temporary cease fire and update. After the exchange with Daniels, Gage and Cass covered the remaining 400 meters to the city wall in roughly one and three-quarter minutes. They scaled the wall and disappeared inside.
  13. Mm. Expected more. Ehecatl1906 aka Jem aka Mumsie wins this round.
  14. Gage wore a transparent frown as he watched the shore party disperse from the corner shop at Main and Union, and their rendezvous point. High-risk officers had opted not to buddy up and wandered off alone in spite of his repeated admonishment to the contrary. Sweeping his gaze over the joint security personnel that remained, Gage balanced his rifle in his right hand and signaled Gonzales and Yamanaka with the left. The Sergeant reacted with a snap and as he neared, Gage lightly grasped the shorter, hispanic male at the collar; the younger, Japanese female trailing up behind him. Receiving instructions in undertones, the two nodded and a clap to Gonzales’s back sent them in Scooter’s footsteps. Gage knew he could count on Souter. Shalin was callow and impulsive but drawn to the path of least resistance and wouldn’t take extremes to shake his teammate. Gage could picture Shalin lazing in a cafe or park, grinning privately at the perceived futility of Souter’s job. There was far more to Souter’s responsibilities than just watching Shalin, but whether on the move or stationary, Souter would see it through. Better that patience came easily to the witty and laidback Montana-born Marine, and he’d take it in stride as he kept a keen eye on his teammate’s back. The only drawback laid in Shalin: too busy resenting and plotting ways to get rid of Souter to effectively watch his back in return. Gage had a limited number of security ashore and already faced a terrible dispersal of assets with two dedicated to Commander Wesley. He’d have to bank on Shalin coming to his senses in time to help Souter. Gage wouldn’t soon forget if something happened to the Marine. Or any harm that could have been avoided with precautions and teamwork, for that matter. At the other end of the spectrum was Commander Wesley: private, accustomed to doing things her way and apparently skilled enough to get past most of security [Pistol Packin’ Momma]. (Funny, everyone forgot about that embarrassment.) Gage felt certain the Green Baron* would object to the burden of a partner, given that she often acted like she believed she didn’t need one. There was a time and a place for going solo; a crowded and foreign town center in this situation wasn’t one of them and everybody needed a teammate in his opinion. But Gage didn’t have spying in mind when he sent Gonzales and Yamanaka behind her. He knew he’d probably argue with her until he was blue in the face. No need to set her off and start a game of cat and mouse. He simply wanted someone in the same general area, so if or when she needed backup, their response time would be short. Gods help him at the inquiry if it wasn’t short enough. On the other hand, the Captain, T’Aral and the others had teamed up in pairs to his knowledge and relief. With each other or members of security: didn’t matter as long as they had someone to watch their backs and keep them sharp. Sure, running into trouble ashore wasn’t their plan and they might not run into any at all. Some might justify going alone in retrospect if nothing happened. But the point was to be prepared for the unexpected because it’s unexpected. Zero hour was a bad time to regret not having reinforcements nearby. There was nothing like waiting on your backup for over an hour. Or a day. Or two. “As the others are exploring within the city, I think I’d like to begin without and catalogue some of the flora and fauna for Innogen,” Shavra piped up from a short distance aside, still standing where Gage had brushed her off his arm. Mid-sentence in discussing Souter with Granger, Gage abruptly stopped. He eyed Shavra and she smiled cheerfully before starting for the edge of the city. He shot a brief glance at Cass. ‘I’ll go with her,” he said and didn’t look back as he followed. “You catch up with Moa. Get up high, if you can. Lemme know what you see.” *** The sun was two and a half hours higher in the sky since they’d arrived ashore and they hadn’t made it more than three klicks around the city’s outer wall. Gage focused on their unfamiliar surroundings as they travelled. But Shavra immediately revealed an unsuspecting and carefree nature, carrying most of the conversation with small-talk and commentary that Gage didn’t always answer or openly discourage. “How interesting,” she observed as she leaned over a stubby bush of blue red-veined leaves and pink blossoms. She raised her hand again, shading the blossoms from the sunlight and watching in awe as they appeared to glitter with spots of light. They were unaware of the science and medical teams that were scouring the area or that Shavra was duplicating their work. Maybe it didn’t matter. That it mattered to Gage, depreciated or complicated his position in acting security obviously wasn’t a concern. All’s well that ends well? “Missed your calling,” Gage remarked offhand, eyes out as he tugged at the collars of his tan shirt and dark brown duster from his neck. Sensors had promised a balmy high of 25.5C (78F), but it was getting hot. Shavra pulled her hand back and gave him a puzzled look. “Pardon?” “The way you’re hovering over that tricorder,” Gage explained as he slowly passed a few meters in front of her to circle the area. “Should’ve been a Scientist. Look like you know what you’re doing, at any rate.” “Ah,” she smiled. “Unfortunately, while I do have an affinity for natural science, I didn’t score high enough on the academy entrance exams to pursue a career in science.” “Really,” Gage mused a bit absently as he focused on scanning the 360. Finished with her scans of the bush, Shavra raised, folded her tricorder into a shoulder bag, and returned to the narrow path worn down to the soil. “Yes. But I’d previously obtained an equivalent four-year degree on Delta IV, and was eligible to enter Officer Candidate School. So I entered Starfleet through the Officer Candidate program and was billeted as a Deck Officer.” She glanced back as he fell in a few meters behind her. “Does that surprise you?” Gage shrugged. “Why would it surprise me?” “I’ve found that Humans often assume that other species - such as Deltans - are, on a whole, more intelligent than they are, and expect us to individually score above average. In fact, I’ve noticed this misconception is often accompanied by a sense of jealousy,” she explained. “You truly aren’t surprised?” “That kind of assumes we all think alike, doesn’t it?” Gage remarked. Shavra glanced down at the path and Gage could hear the smile in her voice. “Yes, I suppose it does.” “So you didn’t ask to come along because you’re secretly a scientist in beige.” “No, but perhaps I will be, someday.” She walked a few more paces; then stopped to turn and fix Gage with her dark eyes. “Does it disappoint you?” “What? That you didn’t pass?” Gage slowed but kept eyes on the forest around them. “Yes.” For a brief moment he locked her gaze. “No, why should it?” he asked, sounding bemused but sincere. In stark contrast to the beginning of their friendship, she shied away and turned her back. “On one hand, as you weren’t surprised, one might conclude that you dismiss stereotypes and judge each individual on their merits. But, on the other hand, it’s possible that you have also come to expect that my performance-- What I mean to say is simply that I hope I don’t disappoint you,” she gingerly replied, resuming her stroll. Gage quietly sighed. “Passing or failing the test doesn’t mean a hell of a lot. More important that you didn’t give up. You know who you are, where you want to be, and you’re here. Dedication counts a lot more than being the smartest fish in the sea.” Gage glanced at the Deltan in front of him, her brunette updo swaying. The hair was fake, but in the last few hours, he’d begun to forget that she was naturally bald underneath. That she wasn’t Human. Was that wrong? “Thank you,” she murmured, barely audible. Real silence settled between them for the next five minutes. They stopped as Shavra catalogued a small bird - or maybe more of a bug, but less menacing than a giant wasp. Gage thought they’d discovered a fairy at first glance, mistaking its flowing black and teal body for hair and a miniature dress. This bug was largely formless, lacking recognizable arms and legs or the tiny face of a Human-like creature with diaphanous wings. But after hearing the word fairy, Shavra was hooked and had to drag the last detail out of Gage on the subject as they continued further on the path. Gage half wondered if she just wanted to hear him talk after doing the bulk of it herself; he usually carried their conversations. “Gage?” said Shavra as he finished. “Yeah?” “May I tell you something...personal?” “Shoot.” Gage thought he heard the sound of stifled laughter. “That’s an odd thing to say.” “Old Earth slang, habit,” Gage shrugged, still focused more on their surroundings and yet he noticed the change in her voice and body language. It was hard to miss. “Gage,” she said, sobering. “We’ve only begun to know each other, but I feel as though we’ve made a strong connection in the last few days.” “Okay,” Gage replied awkwardly as she paused. “Do you feel it as well?” she asked. Gage felt a rising consternation. “I donno; maybe, I guess.” Gage couldn’t shake the impression of a ballerina as she gracefully spun on the path and glided toward him. “When I told you that I too believe in monogamy, there’s more to it--” Gage interjected: “Shavra, can’t this wait until we get back to the ship?” “Please,” she lightly objected. “This is important and will only take a moment. And this place is,” she glanced to each side, “freeing to my mind; more so than the ship.” She lowered her eyes. “As you know, an open lifestyle is the dominant philosophy of my people. But there are a few, like myself, that don’t subscribe to the same ideals. From the time I was a little girl and read the Human story called Sleeping Beauty, I’ve dreamed of a monogamous relationship.” Gage looked aghast at the mention of her favorite fairy tale and she stopped. “Is something wrong?” “Uh,” Gage shook his head. “No, just hope you’re not talking about the version I’m thinking of.” “There’s another?” “Never mind,” Gage quickly deflected. She hummed at him. “Since that time,” she resumed and slowly regained her train of thought. “I’ve desired to meet a monogamist like myself and live our lives together until death. Someone who had abstained and saved himself for the relationship that he would swear to share only with me, and I with him. Like the old Human weddings that were once common on Earth. “But,” her voice gloomily dropped, “the incident between us changed things. I was initially heartbroken.” Seeing the shadow that dimmed his expression, Shavra quickly but clumsily amended: “Not because of you and I don’t fault you for what happened, please don’t think that. I was heartbroken because, though what we shared was only telepathic, it’s a special part of the experience for a Deltan and I’m no longer--” She searched for the word. “Untouched.” Gage sighed and rubbed his face, feeling mentally wearied. Assurances aside, she was still unloading a weight on his shoulders that he didn’t feel up to carrying. “But after we made amends and I had thought about the situation for some time,” she continued, “the truth occurred to me.” “How’s that?” he asked warily, the desire to move on written in his face. Her answered shocked Gage. She kissed him. “What the...?” he balked at her. That she had feelings for him was clear, whether sincere or, more likely, a perceived necessity. But somehow he hadn’t seen this move coming. “I believe you’re the one,” she explained with a sweet smile. “Shavra, this ain’t the time...” He stopped to listen to a familiar voice in his earpiece. Cass: reporting their status in the blind. But she’d barely given her position when the transmission cut. Gage visibly tensed. “Cass? This is Gage. Status?” “What’s happening?” Shavra asked as her smile faded and she dropped from her toes. He didn’t answer her, already spinning on his heel and moving back toward the city’s entrance. “Cass? This is Gage. What’s your status?” Even before he had a reply, he’d broken into a sprint and left Shavra dazed. Predictably, Cass answered a second later and brought Gage to a skidding halt at the crest of a knoll, breathing heavily but relieved. Cass was okay; Moa was okay. She’d paused for unexpected foot traffic nearby to keep from being overheard. Listening to the explanation, Gage cursed his instinctive panic and crisply turned back to rejoin Shavra, irritated with himself. “Is everything alright?” “Yeah,” he exhaled, unconsciously pacing in front of her. A hand to his chest brought him to a standstill. “Where were we then?” Shavra asked with a smile that morphed into a surprisingly mischievous grin. Gripping the lapel of his duster, she leaned in closer, intending to kiss again. “Not doing this,” Gage snapped and gently pushed her back by the shoulders. “We’ll talk later.” He looked at his watch. “Right now, we’ve got about an hour to get back. We’ll make it in half if we double-time it. Let’s go.” He left no room for objections; just a young woman who trailed behind and wore the hint of embarrassed dread on her face. ---------------------- *Pun reference to the Red Baron: Skilled and renowned WWI German ace fighter pilot, Baron Manfred von Richthofen, with 80 air victories to his name. Killed by a single .303 to the chest, fired at him from the ground while flying low near the Somme River in pursuit of a Canadian novice flying a Sopwith Camel.