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The Marine, the Rebel and the Sangheili: Kilgore
Posted By: QuantumSheep<quantumsheep@optusnet.com.au>
Date: 23 December 2008, 7:17 am

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April 23rd, 2526
KV9-X7, UNSC Marine base camp

It had been about half an hour since the pair of Spartans had arrived, been greeted and then shown to their accommodation. One thing Lyssa didn't think too highly of, concerning the Spartans, was that male one, Leon. The one that was apparently the "unstable" one, who enjoyed killing, didn't say much and when he did he was usually insulting someone.

Stuck with the job of making sure the pilots who would be arriving soon enough were given a good first impression, Lyssa hadn't much else to do but sit and wait, having come back from filling up her water canteen since water was the only real decent drink on the planet, although she knew some of the officers had stronger stuff hidden around. Not that it really mattered now; the last thing she wanted was whiskey on a hot day like this.

The Corporal had returned with a pair of lemonade bottles, a grumpy look on his face from their previous conversation. He sat himself down on the seat next to her and handed her the lemonade bottle, although now she didn't really feel like it. Instead, she thought she would try and get on the Corporal's nerves a bit.

"So, chicken shit," Lyssa said jokingly, "you going to tell me that you like me or will your new nickname stay?"

The Corporal shook his head, frowning as he opened his bottle of lemonade. To her, he did look mightily annoyed, so she felt obligated to see how much he could take before he finally burst.

"I do like you," the Corporal replied confidently, "for one thing; you have a nice ass…"

Lyssa frowned at this remark but didn't do anything to stop him, the heat having sapped most of her energy for the day. The Corporal trailed off, unsure of whether he should continue or not.

"Is there anything else you want to add?" Lyssa asked, "Or is that all?"

"Well, I'm sure I'm not the only one who likes you. Besides, you're a young, pretty athletic woman. You have the looks, although your personality…"

Lyssa felt a little insulted by the way he trailed off like that, as if he didn't know what to say about her personality. The Corporal paused to think about what he should say, trying his best to find a least insulting way to describe it.

"The way you act…It scares off most men, you know," the Corporal explained, "you punch a guy in the face if he comments on your ass, which, if you weren't sure, isn't such a big turn on for some guys. Others, sure, they like that in a woman…"

"But they would prefer it if the girl they got involved with was some vulnerable, good looking one who would need their protection, am I right?" Lyssa asked, years of experience having taught her this, "most men like to feel superior to their girlfriends, not the other way around."
The Corporal nodded, smiling when a particular thought crept into his mind.

"You know, if I wasn't mistaken, some men would think of you as a bit of a 'bitch'," the Corporal said with a grin, obviously finding this quite funny, "didn't you ever realize that?"

Lyssa had always had that kind of thought in the back of her mind, that her actions indicated that she was some sort of bitchy marine, but it had never really bothered her. The way the Corporal was snickering about it now did annoy her, though.

"Do you think that's funny?" She asked, the Corporal shrugging, "what if I kicked your ass, Corporal? Would that be funny?"

"This is what I've just been talking about," the Corporal said, "your anger, Lieutenant. That's your problem. You have a bad temper…"

Lyssa hadn't been too serious about her previous threat but what the Corporal did say about her temper struck a chord with her somewhere. She knew that was mostly true, others having commented on her temper before.

"You're a short tempered woman, Lieutenant," the Corporal said, "but that doesn't keep me from talking to you, like I am now. Some men, after all, do like girls that have a fiery temper…"

Lyssa didn't reply, instead she sat back in her seat and looked across the landing strip, noticing how a familiar looking shadow had fallen across part of the strip. Looking up, she saw a Pelican in descent, coming down over the landing strip at a steady speed, placing itself about twenty metres ahead of where she and the Corporal were sitting.
Hovering about half a metre off of the ground, the pair watched as the rear ramp extended and a lone figure, tall and somewhat muscular, stepped out of the Pelican, his features hard to make out at this distance. The figure paused to gaze around at his surroundings, put a hand up to his round, cowboy-style hat and spat off to the side.

"Is that him?" The Corporal asked, nudging Lyssa slightly, "that's got to be him. I mean, look at the guy, he's only been here for a few seconds and he's already standing around like he owns the place."

Lyssa didn't reply, she knew she didn't have to, as Major Lance Kilgore, forty-eight years old and veteran of all kinds of wars, all of which had been against some form of rebel organization, stepped out of the Pelican wearing his trademark cowboy hat and boots, a short-sleeved desert coloured shirt and light pants made him almost blend into the desert background. His brown hat and dark sunglasses stood out though, having not gone for the complete camouflage image. The guy probably wouldn't even be going into the thick of it anyway.

Lyssa had seen this guy's photo on datapads and in books before, as well as seen him on the news every now and then. The Major had a thing for cameras, when there were a few journalists nearby he would come along and hog the limelight, not that anybody complained since he was good at boosting the ratings of any television show he appeared on, most of them news programmes although he had been on a few talk shows, talking about his experiences in the many conflicts in the last twenty-something years.

Unlike most war veterans, he wasn't traumatized by his experiences. Rather, he seemed to have enjoyed them, flying around or walking around killing rebels, whatever suited him at the time. He had won a few war medals but never the Colonial Cross, the highest UNSC declaration, which was something a few people teased him about. No matter how hard he tried, the Colonial Cross was always just out of his reach. It was always in sight, but never out of reach.

Stepping out onto the sandy landing strip with what looked to be a toothpick sticking out of his mouth as he pointlessly chewed on it, giving him some sort of macho look. He gazed around at the camp, keeping his expression neutral, although he did seem to notice Lyssa and Corporal Walther's presence.

Following him out of the Pelican were three other people, one an older, bearded man in light coloured clothes and the other two younger men, one of which was holding one of the new, lightweight video cameras which filmed straight onto a large sized hard-drive built into them. The other was holding a datapad and entering information as the Major began to speak, although Lyssa and the Corporal were too far from them to hear what they were saying.

Soon enough, the cameraman held up the small camera and began filming as Major Kilgore walked over to Lyssa and the Corporal, gazing down at the pair and noticing that a few army engineers were watching him as well. Giving a piercing gaze to the trio of engineers, they promptly scattered away, heading back to work. Returning his gaze at Lyssa and the Corporal, who kept his expression neutral while he chewed on his toothpick.

"Where the hell is everybody else?" The Major asked, sounding annoyed, "are you the only two that the General sent out to greet me?"
Lyssa nodded, trying not to feel intimidated by the Major's manner. He didn't look amused by the fact and kept talking, the cameraman filming while the note taking guy kept on taking notes.

"I was expecting a much bigger welcoming party," the Major continued, holding his hands at his hips, a hint of a Texas or some other Southern state accent in his voice, Lyssa couldn't work out what. "Not that it fucking matters anyway."

"Where are the pilots?" Lyssa asked, noticing that Major Kilgore almost looked insulted by this question.

"I come here and all you can do is ask me where everybody else is?" Kilgore asked, sounding slightly annoyed, "well, for your information Lieutenant…" He gazed at the insignia on her uniform to find out her rank before continuing, "everybody else, as you so put it, are on their way, they were just held up on the cruiser, that's all. Now, I'm sure you know who I am…"

"We do, sir," the Corporal interjected, the Major turning his gaze over at the Corporal, "I'm pretty certain everybody in this base knows who you are…"

"I'm glad to hear that," Kilgore replied, taking the toothpick away from his teeth for a moment and moving it around in his right hand, "I would be surprised if any of you hadn't heard of me in some way…" He gazed around at the camp once more, frowning with some discontent at the way the place looked before returning his gaze to Lyssa.

"Who the hell are you two anyway?" He asked. The man didn't seem to have too many manners, although manners were something that many people these days were lacking. Lyssa felt she should better give him an answer, Kilgore was known for sudden violent outbursts, something of which would be funny to watch, especially since his camera crew were filming, but probably not as funny to actually bare the brunt of.

Lyssa stood up and gave the Major a salute.

"I'm 2nd Lieutenant Lyssa Raine, this is…" She gestured to the Corporal, who had also stood up and saluted, "that's Corporal Henry Walther."

"Raine, huh?" Kilgore regarded her with some uncertainty, trying to work her out. Lyssa stood still as his gazed moved from her feet and back to her face as Kilgore took her looks in.

"What is a pretty lady like you doing in a shithole like this?" Kilgore asked, "I would expect to find your type in much better places than this."

"I was sort of dragged here," Lyssa replied.

"How long you been here for?"

"Since day one, last year in September," Lyssa replied, "why?"
Kilgore shrugged, merely curious as to why Lyssa was even on the planet.

"I just wanted to know," he replied, turning to look at the Corporal and regarding him with some apprehension. "What about you, Corporal? You been here since this whole load of shit started up?"

The Corporal looked up, having not been listening. He stuttered for a moment, trying to form words even though he had no idea what the Major was talking about.

"What load of shit, sir?"

"This whole fucking operation, moron," Kilgore said, a hint of anger creeping its way into his voice, "have you even been listening to me?"
The head of the camera crew, the bearded man in the red shirt, smiled appreciatively and started nodding.

"Good anger Major, good anger," he said, before glancing at the man with the camera, "be sure to record everything…"

The Major ignored them as he waited for an answer from the Corporal. The Corporal looked a bit nervous though and stammered slightly.

"I…I…Yeah, day one for me as well," he said, "why?"

Kilgore didn't reply. Rather, he reached into a pocket on the chest of his shirt and retrieved a box of cigarettes, dropping the toothpick from his right hand and letting it land on the sand and most likely remain there for as long as the environment would allow. He held out the box to the Corporal, who shook his head.

"I don't smoke sir…"

"I thought so," Kilgore said, "you do look like a sissy ass…" The Major left Corporal Walther to digest this remark while he lit himself a cigarette, puffed lightly on it and put the box back into his pocket.

"Call him 'chicken shit', sir," Lyssa said with a grin, the Corporal managing an annoyed glance, nudging her in the side slightly. Major Kilgore simply nodded in complete agreement to this suggestion.

"Corporal Chicken shit, that has a good ring to it," Kilgore said. He turned to the red shirted head of the camera crew and frowned, deciding to move onto more important matters.

"Where the fuck are my bags?" Kilgore snapped, the director taken aback by the Major's sudden anger, "are you just going to stand there or are you going to go back to that Pelican and fetch my fucking bags?"

The director nodded, turning around and running back to the hovering Pelican, climbing back on board and returning with two large suitcases which he seemed to be struggling with. He stepped out of the Pelican and almost fell over when he took a step off of the rear ramp, only balancing himself on the suitcases which he planted firmly onto the ground. To Lyssa it seemed Kilgore had made this camera crew, and the director especially, some sort of servant service or something, she wasn't sure what to call it but Kilgore seemed the type to take advantage of anyone he could.

While the director was taking his time returning with the suitcases, Kilgore turned back around and faced Lyssa, his expression hard to read due to his eyes being hidden behind the sunglasses he wore.

"That idiot director guy is Kyle, he's directing some sort of documentary…" Kilgore nodded to the director and then trailed off, trying to remember the facts.

"What was it called again…?"

"Diary of a Shortsword pilot," the note-taking man said, Kilgore nodding in approval.

"Yeah, that was it," he said, nodding over to the note-taking man, "don't mind Kevin, he's just writing everything and recording everything I say and do for the book that's going to be released. He's almost as much of an idiot as Kyle…"

The note-taking man lost his smile but kept writing.

Lyssa exchanged glances with the Corporal while Kilgore droned on about the documentary. This man certainly seemed self-centred, regarding everybody else, including she and the Corporal, as inferior. He walked around as if he owned the place and demonstrated this as he started past the tents, leaving Lyssa and the Corporal behind.

"Could someone direct me to my damn tent?" He asked, stopping and turning to look at the pair of marines, "or do I have to find it myself?"
Lyssa turned to the Corporal, who had turned to her, expecting her to be the one to direct him to his accommodation.

"Fucked if I do it," the Corporal said, "I can't stand the guy…"

Lyssa smiled when she saw Walther's reaction. He didn't have much of an argument against doing it and she was his superior, after all.

"Who's in charge here?" She asked, expecting more of a reaction than an answer. The Corporal shook his head, defeated and walked up to where the Major and his camera crew were waiting. The group disappeared behind a row of tents, passing several other marines and engineers that were milling about the camp, concentrating on their own thing.

Lyssa returned to her seat and decided to have the lemonade the Corporal had gotten her, unscrewing the lid and drinking the chilled, sweet drink which was a welcome change to drinking water all of the time. Gazing out across the landing strip, she watched as the Pelican that had brought Kilgore and his camera crew ascended, its engines quieter than most other aircraft, managing a soft whooshing noise as the craft accelerated away from the landing strip, disappearing across the horizon.

It probably wouldn't be long before the pilots arrived, about five of them apparently, probably all cocky, young men who enjoyed blowing things up with the help of the heavy ordnance available for Shortsword fighter/bombers. She was certain most of them, if not all, hadn't seen any combat, doubting that the UNSC would send them experienced pilots. They were far too stingy to do that, preferring to keep such pilots for more important operations, whatever they may be.

It was just after noon, planet-wise time according to the watch she wore on her left wrist which she had tuned to be as accurate as possible to the planet's day and night cycle. It was the equivalent of an Earth half-past one time now according to it, which meant she still had plenty of day left ahead of her. Not to mention being assigned front gate guard duty for tonight. Not only would she be made to stand in a guard booth (or sit, she would be bringing a chair with her) but she would be made to do it in the very dead of the night, from eleven pm to one am. Maybe not a very long time, but at that time of night an hour seemed to go on for four hours.

One thing she knew she needed was a decent wash. Her face was sweaty and grimy from having been out in the desert for so long and she really just felt dirty all over, as well as a bit smelly. She wasn't the only one, but in a desert environment it was hard to get a hold of water to wash one's self. There was of course the water pumps bringing up water from underground streams but otherwise showers and baths were hard to come by.

Taking off her NCO cap and wiping her brow with her sleeve, she considered taking off the armour plating that seemed to be the main cause of her sweating, reaching down and unclipping the armour vest off of her torso so that she was down to her army fatigues, reaching down and taking off her leg plating, followed by her armour plating.
Feeling only slightly relieved, she finished off the lemonade and attempted to get back into the shade, but the way the sun was positioned in the sky now had made this side of the tent lose its shade so she was sitting in the full brunt of the sun's heat.

Sunburn was the least of her worries considering that, every day as part of a morning routine she had adopted when she first arrived here, she made sure to cover herself with layers of sunscreen. She wasn't the only one who did such a thing considering nearly everybody in this camp would be spending a lot of time in the sun.

Tugging at her collar, a thought occurred to her concerning Kilgore's camera crew and the Spartans. If the camera crew filmed the Spartans in action, or even at all, wouldn't that be violating the secrecy of the Spartan project? She had a feeling somebody would be around to stop such a thing from happening, though.

She wondered how her squad was doing, whether or not the rebel armour column had showed up or not. If it had she would have expected them to call for some backup since anti-tank weapons were something which they had lacked for some time and were a rarity around the camp. The General had made sure such weapons were conserved for more important combat missions and so only a select few had access to them. Unfortunately, nobody in her squad were one of those select few.

Now, for some reason, the uselessness of this whole operation was something she was beginning to realize entirely. For months they had been out here without getting many reinforcements or supplies and for months they had been forced to fight a superior enemy. Even fighting the rebels hadn't occurred since late January, so staying on this planet seemed pointless. It's not like being away from home was getting to her, she didn't have any family and the one person that she might have even remotely wanted to be with had abandoned her years ago. The whole pointlessness of the situation occurred to her right now, right where she sat, baking in the heat of the sun and suffering from the first symptoms of heat stroke, a headache creeping into her head.

She began to laugh about it all as beads of sweat dripped from her forehead. She laughed loudly, not that anybody nearby was within earshot and those few that were didn't care.

She was so into her near delirium that she didn't even hear the roar of the engines of the Shortsword fighter/bombers that zoomed overhead, beginning a circle of the landing strip as they awaited the non-existent air traffic controllers to grant them landing clearance.

She stopped laughing a short time later, watching as the wing-shaped, aerodynamic grey-blue fighters kept circling the landing strip, trying to get into contact with whoever ran the landing strip who turned out to be a bored NCO who was busy outside the air traffic control tent, Lyssa could see him as he stood talking casually with a large, middle-aged moustached man who looked familiar to her, probably because she had seen him somewhere before.

If no one was going to grant landing clearance to the Shortsword fighter/bombers then they probably weren't going to land, which she thought was a bit of a good thing since the last thing she wanted was to talk with a bunch of cocky flyboys, especially when she was beginning to feel nauseous. Maybe water would help, she thought, although she couldn't be bothered getting up from where she sat and thought that maybe she would take a nap, not the smartest thing to do when she was lying in the sun but she didn't care anymore. Her whole presence here was pointless, anyway. Nobody here was doing anything worthwhile and it would probably stay that way for some time to come.

"Okay, change of plan: we just land, screw their air traffic control," the pilot said, shifting his gaze onto the landing strip below. He heard a few affirmative grunts from the other fighters over the radio and so, being flight leader, adjusted his aircraft's speed and flaps, heading in for landing.

It hadn't been his idea to get assigned here, rather the head of the 342nd Shortsword Squadron, otherwise known as the "Lightning Hawks", had made him and four other pilots, all with only slight experience, be the ones to get assigned to some dull posting on some shithole of a planet. According to what he had been told and the briefing, the marines here were fighting some rebels which had set up bases in the desert wastes and hadn't had much luck with routing the rebels from the planet. The pilot knew he could have gotten far better postings, but being the black sheep of the squadron the Major had decided to send him down here.

The cockpit of a Shortsword was quite roomy and the controls and readouts were laid out in easy-to-use fashion, after all, over five hundred years of aircraft design had come to this, the pinnacle of aircraft technology. The cockpit allowed excellent visibility for an already reliable aircraft which could either be made for bombing or dog-fighting, either way it done its job well.

Captain Rick Palmer had always had a fascination with flying, ever since he had been young, and so it made sense that he had decided to become a pilot. He had been a pilot for about ten years and had seen a few large scale operations against the rebels and so was used to air combat. The other four pilots he had been put in charge of though were mostly green and fresh out of flight school. They did know how to fly, but he was yet to see how they did in actual combat.

When he had first heard that Major Kilgore was going to select five pilots to be posted at the UNSC base on KV9-X7, he had half-expected him to be chosen. After all, the last mission he flew hadn't gone all too well and had made many others in the squadron make him out to be the 'black sheep' of the group. He was trying to make amend for past mistakes but he hadn't had much of a chance to do so, this war against rebels going into a slight lull, unlike last year which had been full of raids on important rebel installations. 2526, it seemed, would be an uneventful year.

Palmer was thirty-seven, older than most of the other guys in the squadron except for the Major, who was the oldest out of all of them. He had green eyes and dark, brown hair cut short but not too short and Palmer himself was, like all people in some sort of military service, quite fit, strong even. He had been born on Reach and had grown up with only a single mother as a parent, his father having left before he had been born. He had no clue what had happened to the man and didn't particularly care, having lived fine without him.

One main reason why he had decided to be a pilot was that his childhood home had been located close to a UNSC airbase, so nearly every day he was able to watch all sorts of aircraft take off and land, doing training exercises and whatnot. That airbase had been the very place he had first joined up after coming out of basic flight school and had worked on the base for about a year before he was called to be posted in the lesser known Outer Colonies region. Apparently that's where all the action was, and that had been proven correct when his first operation had involved 'softening up' rebel positions in a mountainous region on some insignificant colony world. The planet itself may have been insignificant but the action he had seen there hadn't, especially since these rebels had somewhat older models of aircraft but had modified them to make them equal to today's military aircraft.

During that operation he shot down three rebel planes, no easy feat, especially since there hadn't exactly been too many planes to shoot at in the first place.

Now here he was, reduced to being put on an even more out of the way planet to hopefully help out the slack marines stationed there. It was an absolutely uninteresting task and the only reason Kilgore himself had came down to the planet was so the documentary crew could film what he did here. Kilgore himself hadn't flown in a Shortsword for months and Palmer had heard rumours that maybe Kilgore wasn't as brave as many made him out to be, but as long as it didn't concern him, Palmer wouldn't care too much.

The base certainly looked insignificant. From this low altitude it looked like a bunch of green tents and a few solid, makeshift structures surrounded by a wire fence on top of a desert plateau. The landing strip looked only just suitable for a Shortsword to land on, being more or less a stretch of hardened desert ground.

All attempts at contacting the base via radio hadn't been successful, although even from where he was Palmer could see a set of radio antennas and even people milling about outside in varying uniforms. There were the grey uniforms of the marines, the yellow of the technicians and the red of the engineers, many watching the Shortswords approach. There didn't seem to be anybody waiting on the landing strip itself, Palmer taking note of all this as he started on his way to land, going in line with the landing strip and shifting his aircraft downwards slightly, pulling up at the right time so the landing gear that extended from the underbelly of the aircraft were in line with the ground.

It seemed to him that this whole business of getting Shortsword pilots was so poorly organized on the part of the marines that they didn't even have people listening in for incoming radio messages or teams waiting near the landing strip to direct the aircraft on where to park and so forth. Palmer decided he would have a good talk with the guy in charge of this base, who was some General according to what he had been told, although he couldn't remember the name…

"I don't see any landing party," a voice said through the radio in Palmer's helmet. Damn right there was nobody waiting for them, as he came closer to the ground he could see a few technicians watching as the fighters came in for landing.

"That's because there isn't any, Hank," Palmer replied, pulling up slightly as the gear touched the ground. The plane bounced slightly, rocking him in his seat but otherwise it landed perfectly, driving along the landing strip and leaving a billowing cloud of dust behind it.
Looking around for somewhere to park, he noticed a pair of large, open hangar-type structures, obviously intended for any aircraft but both were empty, with crates and barrels of fuel the only objects occupying them. Directing his fighter inside one of the hangars, he parked to one side to allow room for the other fighters and switched off his fighter's engine, the interior hum the engines made dying. Of course, it sounded a lot louder outside the aircraft.

Shutting down the controls and readouts in front of him, Palmer reached up and unclipped the standard pilot's mask from the bottom half of his face, taking off his helmet and goggles and placing them in the small space behind the seat. From that same little storage area he found a small metal box, once used to hold high calibre bullets but now it held something far more important to him. Seeing that it hadn't moved and sat snugly in its little spot, he left it alone for now, reaching over to one side of the cockpit and finding the switch that opened the cockpit. Flicking it, the cockpit canopy opened slightly to his left, allowing him to put a hand through and push it open the rest of the way.

The air outside was hot, a soft breeze billowing through the hangar. Immediately he felt stifling, thankful that the cooling systems inside the Shortsword were still in working order. Behind the hangars was the perimeter fence, and behind that was merely desert, with valleys, wadis and badlands, as well as some small valleys lined with jagged rocks, mesa and buttes sticking up on the horizon. The sky was pale blue with almost no clouds; the ones that he could see were the wispy cirrus type that lay at high altitudes. It seemed just the place to fight a war considering its almost inhospitable conditions, with heat and desert. There didn't seem to be any water around in the immediate vicinity either, which was something he felt a sudden thirst for.

Behind him the other Shortswords were coming in for landing, one at a time while the others circled around until the landing aircraft was well out of the way. The Shortsword fighter containing Hank rolled up beside him, leaving enough room in the hangar for one more.

Shortswords were built to carry heavy ordnance but present as small a target as possible; hence the reason for the tear-drop shaped fuselage (when viewed from above) and the short wings, hence the name "Shortsword". The tail lay at the very tip of the teardrop fuselage, the cockpit standing out against the dull-grey colour of the aircraft because of its lighter blue, almost transparent tone.

The cockpit on Flight Sergeant Hank Williams' aircraft opened up, the twenty-five year old pilot taking off his helmet, goggles and mask whilst turning to look at Rick who still was on the verge of exiting his cockpit, deciding whether or not he should subject himself to the insane heat.

"Some place this is," Hank said, shaking his head, "I mean, where the hell are the landing teams? What about air traffic control…?"

Rick glanced over his shoulder at the Flight Sergeant. The fresh-faced pilot had been one of his more favourite new pilots in the squadron but was a little too green for his own good.

"Who knows?" Rick said, "They obviously haven't planned this whole thing well. They certainly know we're here…"

He trailed off when his eyes fell upon the person sitting by the side of the landing strip on a folding chair, leaning back a green tent and dressed in the standard grey army fatigues. She must have been in her mid-thirties with hazelnut coloured hair which was tied back in a neat ponytail which widened out towards the end. She looked to be asleep, only just in the shadow of the tent although the sun was more on her side now.

The last of the Shortswords touched down and Hank went on to climb out of his fighter and go and talk to the other three pilots. Rick didn't care much about talking to them and getting to know them better, he wasn't interested in the new pilots. Rather, he climbed out of his Shortsword and started towards the woman, trying to work out why no one had come out to greet them.

He stopped in front of her, now in the light of the sun which just made him feel hot. He would be getting out of his flight gear soon enough, having stored some luggage in a compartment underneath his fighter. That suitcase contained some more suitable changes of clothes for this kind of climate.

He was now able to get a closer look at the woman, who sat with her eyes closed and head lulled to one side slightly, breathing gently. He watched the up and down movement of her chest for a while, noticing that some armour plating which obviously belonged to her lay on the ground by her chair. She was actually quite good looking, Rick deciding to take things slow as he reached over and grabbed her shoulder, shaking her slightly.

"Hey, girl, wake up…"

The woman, a 2nd Lieutenant according to the insignia on her uniform, sat up and opened her eyes, frowning when she saw Rick, having no idea who he was. She looked a little pale and she gulped slightly.

"Who are you?" She asked sheepishly, looking up at him, "I've never seen you before…"

"That's because you haven't," Rick said, "but I think I might have seen you before somewhere…"

The woman shook her head, seeing through his lie.

"Uh-huh," she said, unconvinced, "maybe before you begin trying to flirt with me you should actually tell me who you are."

Rick felt a little embarrassed at the failure of his admittedly half-hearted attempt, but quickly composed himself and gave her the reply she wanted.

"Captain Rick Palmer of the 342nd Shortsword Squadron, otherwise known as the 'Lightning Hawks'…"

The woman scoffed when she heard the squadron nickname.

"'Lightning Hawks'?" She said, shaking her head, "that sounds really lame…"

Rick laughed weakly, the name of the squadron not really much of a concern to him. It was obvious this woman had gotten her fair share of men hitting on her and had developed a sort of smart-ass attitude, warding off guys like flies.

"The name of my squadron doesn't really matter right now," Rick said, losing his smile, "but your name does. Go on, tell me…"

"2nd Lieutenant Lyssa Raine," the woman said, sounding bored. She looked past him and at the other pilots who had grouped behind him, taking note of the single, blonde-haired female one amongst them.

"Who's the girl?" Lyssa asked, nodding to the younger woman. Rick didn't look back, he knew who she meant.

"Relieved to see your own kind for once?" He asked, although the joke was lost on Lyssa and so he decided to continue to the point, "she's Katherine Tyler and this is her first posting. Why?"

"What about your other guys?" Lyssa asked, looking at the group of three men who stood silently, unsure of whether or not they should speak, "have any of them actually flown in combat before?"
Rick shook his head.

"No, but they do know how to fly a plane…"

"If they didn't, they wouldn't be here," Lyssa replied matter-of-factly.
She eyed Rick carefully, probably trying to figure him out. She probably did this to all the guys she met.

"Well…" Rick tried to think of something to say, "Maybe you could show me around?"

"Maybe I could," Lyssa said, rising to her feet but swaying unsteadily. She certainly didn't look well, her face had gone more pale than when Rick had first seen her.

"Then why don't you show me and my pilots where we'll be staying?" Rick said, "Somehow I doubt we'll be having much fun during our stay in this shithole."

Lyssa gestured to them to follow her as they started on their way through the path between tents, heading into the main area of the base. Some of the marines and other personnel watched them but many simply weren't interested. They passed a large tent, obviously the mess hall tent where talking and laughter could be heard coming from within. At least some people were having a good time during their time here. Rick would try and do that, but deserts weren't exactly his favourite holiday locations.

That was when Lyssa stopped, putting a hand to her stomach. Rick glanced around, they didn't look to be near any vacant tents so he had some uncertainty as to why she had stopped.

"What's going on? Is there something wrong?" Rick asked, walking up behind her. Rather than reply, Lyssa bent over and threw up what she had eaten for lunch that day, including bits of breakfast. Rick hadn't been expecting this and stepped back slightly, although he did grab her to help her steady herself.

"You alright?" He asked before realizing the stupidity of that question. Lyssa was finished vomiting but had relaxed in his arms, her head lulling backwards as she fainted. Glancing back at the other pilots who stood watching, it was Katherine who spoke for them.

"Maybe you should get a doctor?"