Go to Prologue
The darkness deepened. Night sounds could be heard through the quiet. Slight zaps could be heard as whatever night life in the area was repelled by the small electric charge from the shock sticks. The stars looked so much brighter and so much closer,out in the wild. She felt like if she could just reach a little higher she could grab one. Kate leaned against the side of the stinger. Her ears picked up the sounds of foot steps as they approached.
"Is there anything I can get you? Or do for you?"
"You can answer a question for me? What is Drop Out Canyon? You mentioned that earlier to the Colonel."
"Drop Out Canyon is twenty five kilometers of the worst terrain in the states. It was designed by a sadistic son of a bitch high on some whack ass drug. To graduate we had to take the canyon at a run wearing a fifty pound survival pack on our backs. We had a time limit in which to complete it. If we could not get through it the first time, they would give us a second try but one hour was taken off the time allowed. If you could not make it through the second time you did not graduate. Not many made it through the first time without dropping out. Even less when the time was shortened. You were given another shot after waiting six months, but the weight of the pack was increased to seventy five pounds."
"How did you and Kacey make out?"
"We made it on the first try. I only did it because the Colonel egged me on. She made me keep putting one foot in front of the other to keep me going. Much like she did with you today. She did not say it, but she was not about to leave you behind. So yeah she insulted me and made me mad enough to try to catch her. She made it through by sheer cussedness. The Colonel would not give up and would not let me give up either."
"So you have been together since the Academy?"
"We were roommates, best friends, competitors. The only reason we are what we are today is because we constantly challenged each other. At graduation we ended up first and second in our class. She had me by half a point."
"Thank you Major. Where is the Colonel now?"
"She is catching some sack time. She had me put her on the three hundred to six hundred watch. There is room for you in the Colonel's tent ma'am."
"Major put me on that same shift ."
"Do it Major." Kate ordered. "Major thank you for giving me some insights into the person the Colonel was." Kate walked back to the camp sight where she accepted a ration pack. She ate in silence. Kate entered the tent silently to not disturb Kacey She looked at her sister for just a time before sleep claimed her."
Kacey knew when Kate entered the tent. She lay as relaxed as she could. She felt Kate looking at her, but continued to pretend she was sleeping. She did not want to get into another argument. Even though part of her felt bad for making Kate cry, she would not risk another fight.
A tap on her head just before three hundred hours, snapped her awake instantly.
"Time Colonel," the Lieutenant whispered. We have fresh coffee ready."
Kacey nodded and left the tent. The Lieutenant went to wake Kate.
"Let her sleep." Kacey ordered.
"The Captain ordered Major Anderson to put her on this watch."
"Whatever." Kacey shrugged, stretch to work the kinks out then went to the coffee pot. She poured herself a cup and sat cradling the cup in her hands when Kate stumbled to the fire. She moaned as her muscles protested the abuse they had taken hours earlier. She reached for the coffee pot and like Kacey sat for a moment trying to wake up.
"You can go back to bed, Captain. We have this under control." Kacey said softly. "We will have another long walk in a few hours."
"No Colonel. I want to be able to pull my weight. I may not be able to carry your injured pilots, but I can at least let the men who will, get as much rest as they can."
"Suit yourself." Kacey stated, finished her coffee and stood. "I am going to check the perimeter." She walked off.
Kate shook her head, finished her coffee and walked off in the opposite direction.
The quiet seemed so profound that even their footsteps sounded loud in the stillness. No noise came from the shock sticks as though even the night creatures were asleep, safe in their burrows or dens. Their paths crossed several times as they made the circuit. They both stopped in the back section away from the camp.
"Can we talk, Colonel?" Kate asked.
"You want to have another shouting match now Captain? I would rather not disturb my people. We will have to carry out the injured pilots in a few hours, They need their rest." Kacey stated to move away.
"Kacey, wait, please."
"Resorting to begging now Captain? That is not like you at all."
"Damn it Kacey."
Kacey held up her hand. "With all due respect Captain, this is neither the time or the place to have any sort of discussion. It can wait until my men are in Sick Bay." She stated angrily and walked away before Kate could say another word.
Not another word passed between them as they walked their posts. The sun had just started to rise. Kate made her way to the camp sight. The Marines seated around the fire offered her a coffee which she gratefully accepted. One stood to let her sit down. Kacey and the Doctor joined them shortly after.
"The pilots had a fairly good night. Each woke up for a short time. They were both lucid. I gave them pain medication and loosened the splints. I will give them more meds when we are ready to move out. The jostling will be very painful for them. Marines may learn to walk as softly as a whisper, but are not known for gentleness." This got a laugh from them all.
"Colonel do you have any ideas on how to get the stingers out of here?"
"I gave it some thought. After breakfast I want to see if they will even start. We could do a very low level flight to get them to the field. but we have no way of knowing how far up that field is. We get too high and risk the chance of crashing the stingers again with more injuries. Otherwise we will have to pull them out by hand."
"How do you plan on pulling them out? Tie a rope to them and drag them behind us?" Kate asked.
"Feel up to a challenge Captain?" Kacey responded. "One problem at a time. First we see if they will start."
"We were at two hundred meters, when the engines were knocked out, Colonel so if we keep it below that height we might be able to fly them to the field." Major Anderson stated.
"But is the field at a consistent two hundred meters? The scanners are not able to pick up on the field so we have no way of knowing. " Kacey said. "We have the Rovers we could use to pull them out. They have a different propulsion system so they might be able to get through that damn field.
"If the engines start why can't you drive them out?" Kate suggested.
Kacey looked at her. "Very impressive Captain. And you are right. Just because they are flyers does not mean we have to fly them out. We could drive them." Kacey thought for a minute. "After breakfast pull in all the shock sticks and lights. Get them stored,. Every one take five sticks as well as the tents, just in case we can not get back tonight."
"Do you think we will have to spend another night out here?" Kate asked
"I don't know Captain. We will be carrying two injured pilots and slow going. If you want to go on ahead, it is a fairly straight line that way." Kacey pointed. Kate stared at Kacey without saying anything. She dug her nails into her palms to bring he temper in check. Kacey stared back. Instantly regretting her comment. She dumped the rest of her coffee and walked towards the stingers.
The Major followed her. "Colonel can I ask you a question?" Kacey nodded. "We have been friends for a long time. Been through a lot of crap together."
"We have. But your question is?"
"Why are you being so hard on the Captain?"
Kacey sighed. "Mike because we are friends, I am going to ask you not to get involved. This is a problem between the Captain and myself."
"We are already involved, Colonel. We all have to work together to get every one out of here. The Captain has followed your every order on this mission. She has deferred to your experience and knowledge."
"I know Mike. I am being hard on her. But she really did have a good idea. Get into seven, I will take eight. Lets see if we can get them started. If they will start, then try to move them forward. If they will roll, we can drive them to the field today instead of coming back tomorrow for them."
They climbed into the cramped cockpits of the stingers and hit the starters. With a little effort the stingers started. Kacey pushed the throttle forward slightly and released the brake. The stinger rolled forward. The second followed close behind. They drove the stingers to the camp sight and shut the engines down. They both got out of the cramped cock pits that were designed for a smaller person.
"All right listen up." Kacey stated. All eyes turned to her. "It will be daylight in about thirty minutes. Lets get everything ready to go. The stingers are drivable. Two pilots who actually fit into those ships will drive them. The rest of us will be on foot. If you stay off to the side we will not get caught in the backwash. Pull in the shock stick and get the lights down. Lets move it people." Kacey ordered.
"Doctor, would it be better to use a stretcher or litter to move the injured?" Kate asked
"A litter would be better. Less swinging plus the ride would be a lot smoother for them. Also less strain on the ones doing the carrying. Their spines would be straighter. I did not pick up on any spinal injuries, but I do not have an x -ray to verify that. The back boards will keep them from moving to much."
"Captain do you know how to build a litter?" Kacey asked.
"I have a general idea, but I have never done it, Colonel."
"Come with me. You are about to get a cash course in litter building." Kacey said. They walked off together. "First we will need these tents down. Lay them flat. We will need those light poles also." Kate watched what Kacey did and followed her. The tents were flat on the ground. "Now take one edge of the tent and fold it over. Take one of the light poles and put it between the canvas close to the fold." Kacey watched Kate. "Good. Take the tent ropes and put it through the rivets and pull it tight. Take the second light pole and put it in by the rivets and stretch the poles as far apart as they will go. The weight of the men will hold the tent in place." Kacey looked over the litter Kate made. "Good job Captain."
"Thank you Colonel."
"All right everyone, listen up. I want one man each pole. We will switch off every fifteen minutes. Doc are the men ready to be moved?"
"Yes Colonel. I have given them pain meds and they are good for at least four hours."
"Good. Lets get these men on the litters and move out." Kacey stated. The men gently lifted the injured pilots and strapped them on the litter. "I will take point." She said and started out.
Kacey kept the pace slow and steady. The stingers moved off to the side to keep the dust from kicking up. The men switched off with very little unnecessary shaking of the injured men. Kacey checked the terrain looking for the smoothest area. She checked her map against the ground she was seeing. After four hours, she called a halt.
"Everyone grab something to eat. We will start back up in thirty minutes. According to the map, we have gone about half way. How are the men doing Doc?"
"I will need to give them another shot before we start again. So far they are fine." She checked the splints and loosened them a bit.
"Better grab something to eat while you can Doc." Kacey stated. "We have survival cardboard that taste somewhat like beef stew, or survival cardboard they say tastes just like chicken." There was a stunned silence for a second before the men started to laugh. Kacey did not understand why they were laughing until she remembered the old joke. "You men have the dirtiest minds."
"You know what they say Colonel. A dirty mind is a terrible thing to waste." Kacey shook her head and laughed with her men. Even Kate and the Doctor joined in.
"Colonel I will take the cardboard chicken." This brought on another round of laughter. "It is not always true gentlemen. Does not always taste like chicken. The men roared with laughter with a few "Go Doc" thrown in.
They finished their lunches picked up all their garbage and prepared to move out. Kacey went to take her turn at the poles but the men pushed her aside.
"We have this Colonel. You find us a nice smooth ride for those guys." The Major said.
"All right Mike. Tomorrow night the first drink is on me. I have point." Kacey said.
"Colonel" Kate called out. "Do you mind if I walk with you?"
"That is up to you Captain. Move out." Kacey started off with Kate by her side.
"Colonel, I would like to say thank you."
"You are welcome. For what?"
"I have watched your actions and reactions while we have been out here. I have to admit that I am really impressed with how calmly you have handled everything. You have been cool headed and quick thinking and definitely not afraid of a challenge."
"Didn't think I had it in me?"
"That is not what I was thinking at all. I knew you had it in you. This was the first I have been able to see you in action. To see first hand how capable you are. I am trying to give you a complement here."
"Thank you, Captain. That means a lot coming from you. Does that mean no more video locks on me?"
"No. Whether you believe me or not, I do have to have a video recording of every mission. Every time someone is away from Andromeda, the locks go on. You can hate it all you want. Hell I am not fond of it either, but it is regulation. You will just have to accept that."
"Then this will always be a problem. All right you said it's regulation, fine. Put it on someone else"
"I can not do that." Kate stated.
"Why the hell not. No wait don't tell me. This is another high command fucking regulation." Kate sighed. "I am going to scout ahead." Kacey stated "Captain you are in charge." Kacey ran from the group until she felt her anger at high command, their regulations and Kate who was so adamant about following each rule to the letter. She took stock of her location. The ground was flat with no rocks and holes. Less pain for the injured.
Now that anger was not clouding her thoughts, she was able to think clearly. She took out her binoculars and scanned the area. She could not pick up the shimmering air to signify the electro magnetic field. Yet off in the distance she could see the reflection of the sun off their ships.
This brought another set of possible problems. If they could not see the field, they would have no way of knowing when they were about to enter it. What if they were not able to get back through it? If they can, how will the field affect the metal poles they used for the litters? "Get your head together Colonel. Time to stop acting like a petulant child. Get back to your people and do what they pay you to do. You are their damned leader. So lead them." She told herself. Kacey took a long drink of water before she started to run back to her crew. In less than ten minutes she rejoined them.
"Gather around" She ordered. Kacey took off her fatigue hat and ran her hand through her perspiration wet hair. "We have another kilometer to go until we reach the border of ten and eleven. Unfortunately we are not able to see the shimmering from this side."
"Could it be that it only affects anything coming into this section and not leaving? Kate suggested.
"That is a good question Captain. Unfortunately I do not have a good answer for you. Another question comes to mind is how will the poles react to the field? The answer to that one is easier. When we get to the coordinates we will lose the poles and carry the men through. The way is nice and smooth. Drive the stingers about another half kilometer and hold them there." The pilots nodded.
"How are they doing Doc?"
"Good, but I will be glad to get them into some shade"
"That is for damn sure Doc. Lets get to that damn field and tackle whatever crops up next." Kacey once again led the way. Kate at her side. "Want to try for round ten or is it eleven or twelve?"
"Just felt like walking with you, Colonel." Is that all right?"
"Sure. Captain, tell me the truth, how are you holding up?"
"Truthfully, I am not used to all the physical activity. You were right, I do spend way to much time behind a desk. How often do you work out?"
"I try to get a work out in every day, and get in a five kilometer run in the gym, or the treadmill in my quarters, then other exercises. I also use the punching bag in my quarters. Natalia runs also and is up to two kilometers."
"Does that punching bag happen to have my picture on it?"
"Of course not. Why would you even ask that?"
"Well with all the arguing we have been doing lately, you can not punch me out, so putting my picture on the bag could be the next best thing."
"Do you honestly think I would do that?" Kacey asked. "You know I could give you a list of exercises to build you up."
"That would be great. So the next time you take me on a five kilometer run I just might be able to keep up without you insulting me."
"It is what the Corps expects of us. In order to graduate, in addition to passing all of our courses, we had to tackle twenty five miles of hell with a full field pack."
"Major Anderson told me about Drop out Canyon. He told me that the only way he made it through on the first try was because you challenged him to reach down and find every ounce of reserves needed to take that next step until you both finished the course."
"He exaggerated." Kacey stated.
"I don't think so, Kacey Not this time." Kate stated. "He told me exactly what happened. Do not short change yourself. You are a role model for you Marines."
Kacey stopped suddenly. Her ears picked up a sound that was not there earlier. "Everyone stop" She ordered. "Be quiet." She strained to hear that sound she picked up on earlier. A sound none of the others seem to be able to hear. "Can you hear it?" She pulled out the map, and checked the coordinates.. She scanned the area. She pointed. "There."
To be continued...
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