Disclaimer: The characters and situations of 'Space: Above and Beyond' depicted in this story are legal property of Glen Morgan and James Wong, Hard Eight Production and 20th Century Fox Television and have been used without permission. No copyright infringement intended.

This story and the characters of the TASAS team are purely fictional and legal property of the author. This story is not open for distribution or sale in either fanzines, ftp-sites or elsewhere without the permission of the author.

This story was first written for the, now defunct, Round2 Project - like a Round Robin the Round2 members write episodes to continue season two. Heimkehr is episode 28 of the Round2 series.

PG-13 rated, for war time violence

Episode 28

Writer: Una
Beta: Werrf
Producer: Werrf
Executive Producer: Mary

"I stood with the Dead, so forsaken and still;
When dawn was grey I stood with the Dead.
And my slow heart said, 'You must kill, you must kill:
'Soldier, soldier, morning is red'."

Siegfried Sassoon

The Com Room on the E.S.C. Berlin, one of the Pan-European dreadnoughts under the shared command of British as well as German officers, was almost deserted. On EMCON the crew of the Com Room took it easy and two officers were chatting while they scanned the transmissions from deep space.

Suddenly there was a beep on one of the boards and a female officer frowned. Setting the communication up, she immediately recognised the coded message. Calling Air Commodore Peters over, she handed him the decoded messages on one of the bluescreen sheets.

The Commodore frowned but got on the com immediately.

"Hauptmann Geiger to the OC room on the double!"

Captain Shane Vansen gave the radio another shake before she switched it off for good and tiredly she rubbed her eyes. Ever since Vanessa had transmitted their last extraction co-ords, she had tried to make contact again and again with the Toga, but to no avail. Beside her in the cave, Lt Vanessa Damphousse was propped up in a more or less upright position. Her shallow breathing only audible to the best trained ears. Shane was worried about her friend. Vanessa had lost a fair amount of blood from a cut on her leg when the APC had crashed. She had had a hard time getting Phousse out of the smoke filled cockpit after they hit but she had been lucky to find the cave nearby. For almost a fortnight now they had managed to survive on this planet but they were running out of supplies and Shane wasn't too sure if Vanessa made it.

With the small medikit she had retrieved from the cockpit, she had done what she could but they were running out of phyllophetamines and other pain killers. She just hoped that her radio transmission had got through and that help was on its way.

Shane wiped her eyes wearily and moved over to the entrance of the cave. She felt tired and worn out ... the last few months were taking their toll. She couldn't stand it anymore, she was sick of being in charge and she felt her self-control slipping away. The very self-control she had depended on through the assassination of her parents and the raising of her sisters.

The young woman shook her head. She couldn't stand it anymore. She just couldn't.

Turning back, she watched Vanessa for the longest time. She knew she shouldn't crack, her friend depended on her but right now, in her emotional turmoil, she thought it would have been better if Vanessa Damphousse had died in the crash. That way, she would have buried her and then moved on - moved towards a better safe place, away from the Chigs.

Hauptmann Stefan Geiger stopped what he was doing when the call came in. He exchanged a look with his old school-friend and XO Leutnant Maik Pendler.

"Was glaubst du, gehen wir rein? Does this mean we are going in?" Pendler asked, rising from the stool he was sitting on.

"I don't know, maybe - maybe not," Geiger replied.

The other team members, six men, all from different parts of Germany, specially trained and chosen personally by Geiger and Pendler, watched their senior officers. They knew that Geiger wasn't a man of many words and they didn't expect an explanation.

After Geiger had left, the other men resumed their work - many of them already starting to plan what they needed for an op.

Peters looked up when the German special task force Hauptmann came into the room. The man was in his mid thirties, of medium build and clean shaven. Nothing indicated that he had a special training, that in fact he was a killer, trained to infiltrate behind enemy lines.

"Hauptmann, we have a job for you," Peters said after they had both taken a seat.

"You'll command your team for a search and rescue mission. The briefing will be at 0700 tomorrow morning. Make sure to inform your squadron," He switched on a tape recorder and replayed the SOS call.

After a short silence during which Geiger and Peters exchanged glances with each other the Commodore said, "You will be despatched in twelve hours to planet 2063 Yankee to search and retrieve whatever is down there..."

"Twelve hours, Sir?" Geiger asked.

"Twelve hours, Hauptmann. We need at least eight hours to approach planet 2063 Yankee and I'm sure your team need some sort of preparation."

"My team is ready, Sir," Geiger asserted as firmly as he could without sounding too arrogant.

"Very well, Hauptmann, that is all for now."

The Captain went back to his quarters, wondering what this was all about. When the call came in it had had a ring of urgency to it and now the OC had mentioned they would not be moving for yet another day. Geiger was eager to move out. TASAS (Tactical Assault Special Air Service) units were almost non-operational in this part of the galaxy as the battles were all fought in space rather than on ground. His men were restless and a ground op, even a minor one, would get them going again.

When Geiger entered the bunk room, the complete TASAS team was present.

"So?" Pendler asked.

"We are moving," Geiger simply stated and grimaced when eight ground pounders whooped and cheered.

"Cut it, pals. Not yet, briefing is at 0700 tomorrow at the OC." (Officer in Command)

At 0650 hours the fast attack team of the TASAS assembled at the OC table and headed off to the briefing area. Everyone of them was in a jovial mood and the squad members whispered to each other, commenting and also speculating on the oncoming mission. The briefing room was more or less a steel box containing heavy technical equipment with a plate on the hatch saying NO UNAUTHORIZED PERSONNEL BEYOND THIS POINT. It was obvious that the OC and the spooks wanted this mission compartmentalised otherwise they would have chosen one of the normal briefing rooms.

The team was used to isolation. Regiments - whether they were British, German or whatever other nationality - were always kept in isolation due to their highly delicate missions. OPSEC (Operational Security) was crucial even in this war where the enemy didn't easily understand human languages.

The OC waited till the commotion had died down a little bit and switched on a holo screen. Some team members who had already been familiar with Operation Round Hammer grinned when they saw the specs of the mission.

"Let's get down to business, gentlemen," The OC said and pointed to planet 2063 Yankee and the moon Anvil. "The week before last, United Earth Forces made contact for the first time with one of the Chigs, and as you know the meeting with high ranking UEF officers went badly when the Chig ambassador activated a bomb. However, several squadrons of the US Marine Corps were able to retrieve the missing colonists from the Tellus Colonisation Programme though the mission resulted in the loss of two entire squadrons and the dismemberment of another."

"Last night, the United States flagship, the USS Saratoga picked up this transmission during EMCOM ..." A female voice wavered through the loudspeaker.

"This is Ace of Hearts to Saratoga battlegroup ... requesting extraction at reference Charlie Hotel Lima Mike. Out."

"The Saratoga, though she is the nearest tub, cannot extract, and that's were we - you - come into the ball game. Commodore Ross of the USS Saratoga has requested our help. You will be sent in - to search for, retrieve and extract the MIA Marines." The OC looked over to one of the Intel Officers and the man handed out some service record sheets.

"The Marines in question are Captain Shane Vansen and 1st Lieutenant Vanessa Damphousse of the 58th squadron, 5th Air Attack Wing. They were flying the colonist's APC and while engaged in a dog fight with several Chig bombers and jets ejected the APC to save the lives of the colonists while their disembodied cockpit was caught in the gravitation of planet 2063 Yankee and crashed on planet. At first, it was not thought possible that one of the pilots could have survived the crash ... until last night. Of course we are aware that this SOS could be a set up ... it has been done already and it will surely be done again in the future, but we cannot say with certainty if this is genuine or not."

Hauptmann Geiger frowned slightly.

It was a possibility that the transmission could have been done under pressure and torture which meant he and his men could fall right into a Chig trap, he thought.

"The Saratoga has verified the voice ... it belongs to Lt. Vanessa Damphousse - but whether it was transmitted voluntarily or under pressure cannot be determined." The TASAS men moved uneasily.

"Your team will infiltrate at point Charlie Yankee Niner Bravo, approximately six ks away from the extraction point. The operation is called Shadow Run and your call sign will be Shadow Bravo One."

The man pointed the laser towards an area of what seemed to be light undergrowth.

"It seems as if this area is semi-flat, semi mountainous ... with small brush and trees here and there, and the APC - as far as we know from RADAR and LIDAR transmissions - has crashed on a rocky surface on one of the few higher ridges of a mountain range, south west of your infil position. Any questions?"

Geiger watched the holo screen intently. Pendler, who was sitting beside Geiger, nudged his CO.

"Sounds real easy .. too easy," Maik whispered and Geiger nodded.

"Sir, is there any Intel on how many Chig squadrons are in the surrounding infil area?"

"Unfortunately, Leutnant Pendler, we do not have any information on that but we think that due to the Chigs knowing that we were planning Operation Round Hammer they have moved their troops towards Anvil and only a small garrison of Chig soldiers will be expected on planet 2063 Yankee."

"Thinking, huh?" Helmer, one of Geiger's team, threw in under his breath. "The REMFs don't know shit."

"Cut it, Helmchen," Geiger said good-naturedly. He as well as the others of his team knew that Intel reports meant nothing in a situation, whether serious or minor.

"We need as much mapping of the area as you've got," Geiger said. "All the topographical info and the weather conditions, I don't want my men running into a tropical or winter storm."

The Intel Officer nodded. "We only have a small amount of mapping but we will provide you with air navigation charts as well as long range transmitter pictures - otherwise there is none."

The men swore beneath their breaths.

"As for weather conditions ... we do know the planet has a semi-tropical climate and the co-ords of the infil suggest that you will be operating under conditions of what we know on Earth as Equatorial Tropics. We estimate that it is summer time with the odd rain shower and gale. So we suggest that you pack your equipment and bergens carefully with an eye on water supplies and water proof equipment."

"Great, that means we have to snake through mud and rain as big as the Niagara Falls," Helmer whispered and some of his team mates grinned as they knew that Lt. Helmer was a born pessimist.

"Don't forget the heat, Helmchen," Pendler added and nudged his mate in the ribs.

After the briefing, Geiger and his men started packing their bergens. They all knew that preparing bergens was a special task. It afforded equipment to task - meaning they had to ensure that they had equipment to help their ordnance. Many civilians as well as army personnel thought that Black Ops teams were travelling light, but that was not true. They needed equipment for every situation on planet, so Helmer and Pendler roamed the tub for batteries and trauma-management kits and other useful stuff they could get their hands on.

Usually they had all the stuff ready to be taken, but sometimes - on a ground op - things would need fixing. Radios could fail due to low batteries and they needed a few other things not normally on the TASAS equipment list.

Helmer went to the staff room to chat to some of the Navy personnel and when he returned he had eight cases of Kevlar & uranium coated ammo and three sets of shuriken or ninja stars with him. Of course, these items were not considered standard issue but special ops units worked on the premise of If it's shiny - take it and you never knew ... perhaps they might need it.

When they had finished, they had to carry around an awful lot of weight but the whole team would be well prepared for any situation, being self-sufficient for at least two weeks on planet.

Pendler was distributing the equipment evenly when one of the Intel spooks entered the unit's quarters with the weather charts and other Intel info on Planet 2063-Y.

Maps and air charts were passed around with some comments being exchanged but all in all Geiger thought his unit took it very well that they had little to no Intel on the planet's situation itself.

The booming of photon blasters was reverberating off the cave's walls and Vanessa, who had just chosen this moment to wake up out of her semi-consciousness, sat up with a start.

"Shane?" Vanessa groaned and turned towards her mate who was scanning the area outside with the NVGs.

Shane turned back, the NVGs turning her friend's face a ghastly green.

"They have found the APC ... in no time they will notice that we are missing ..."

"Why are they shooting?"

Shane shrugged and took off the NVGs.

"They were shooting at the APC with grenades, probably making sure to kill us off for good," she came towards Vanessa and squatted beside her.

"Let me see your leg again, I need to change the dressing anyway." Damphousse shook her head.

"I'll manage, Shane, let it be..." she said and drew the leg slightly away. "We need to get further away from the wreckage ... if the 'Toga has picked up our transmission we need to get moving pretty fast to make it to the extraction point."

"Don't you think I know that, Phousse?" Shane snapped. "But I thought that you weren't fit to move... if it weren't for you we would have moved ages ago ..."

"Then go, Shane .. if you think I slow you down then go alone, I won't keep you!" Vanessa threw in.

"I didn't mean that, Phousse, I only said that we could have moved sooner if you weren't injured!" Shane shouted and rubbed her eyes.

Calm down, Shane , she told herself.

"All I wanted to say is that we could have moved but I do not leave an injured Marine behind!"

Vanessa sulked. She sensed that something was on Shane's mind but she was in too much pain as to inquire further. She knew they had to move, soon.

Shane wiped her eyes wearily ...the whole situation was nerve wrecking and she was afraid. Afraid she would loose Vanessa as well if they didn't move quickly - real quickly. They were still a few klicks away from the extraction co-ords that much was true but if the Toga had picked up their signal, they would have already sent an extraction team and an ISSCV - and they wouldn't have waited for long. Vanessa and herself would be late - the Toga didn't have a taxi service.

The TASAS unit moved silently towards the ISSCV middeck. Geiger had made sure all his men bore an equal share in their bergens on their back. Boarding the ISSCV was a matter of minutes, the Captain making sure that all their gear was safely stashed away in the back of the APC.

When they heard the roar of the thrusters, the men settled back in their seats, conversing slowly in German.

It was all routine for them but a certain tension, a sense of anticipation ran through each and every one of them.

Pendler, sitting beside Geiger, turned towards his friend and grinned.

"The guys are all in a good mood. I hope it'll stay that way ..." Geiger watched each of his men carefully before replying.

"This assignment needs men to be alert, and if those take it all too light-heartedly someone could get killed."

Pendler watched his friend - he knew that something was preoccupying his friend's mind. The young Leutnant hoped it wasn't a feeling of premonition.

"Take them through the infil drill again, I don't want to have any casualties," Geiger said, switching on the coms as one of the ISSCV pilots reported in.

"Sir, we are advancing on target. Target infil is in 02.00 minutes, repeat, target infil is at 02.00 minutes minus 10."

"Roger that," Geiger replied.

Pendler's head snapped up when he heard the sound of the thrusters changing and he could tell they were manoeuvring close to the ground of their destination planet. He exchanged a glance with Geiger who had stood up and was slowly advancing towards the air-lock, bending down ever so often to pat his men on their shoulders.

"Alright, let's get ready .... five hundred feet and going down." Geiger said, checking the planet's surface through one of the port holes.

"Once the air lock is opened you jump, no tallying, no sound - you know the drill."

During Black Ops it was necessary for the infil craft to make the infiltration and get out easily and speedily, so all men of the unit knew that it wouldn't land. Several feet lay between the safety of the stable ground of the APC and the somewhat doubtful safety on planet. One false move while hitting the ground and one or perhaps more of the Regiment men could be easily disabled for good during the whole op, so it was crucial for all of them to get through the infil procedures again.

The first four men together with Pendler advanced towards the half opened air-lock hatch, weapons ready. Clouds of dust flew up and the noise from the revving thrusters from outside was deafening.

The ISSCV was still a couple of feet off the ground when the first team jumped. If there was a contact Geiger and the remaining men wouldn't know till they saw them jumping back in. The bergens were hurled out into the darkness, it would have been a daft idea if the men would have jumped off the APC with their bergens on their backs, the extra weight would have them driven into the ground - hard.

One of the pilots had come from the cockpit with a small torch in his hand, doing a last sweep-up inside the APC to make sure the team hadn't forgotten any of the gear. Geiger waited while his remaining men jumped off the air-lock hatch one by one. When the pilot gave him the thumbs up, he nodded in relief and jumped. The split second he hit the ground he looked up at the ascending ISCCV then towards his men.
Five Regiment men assessed the situation and were checking the area with their weapons in a wide circle while the remaining three were huddled up around the bergens, making a quick check.

They were on ground, Geiger thought. Now the real fun began!

After Spinger, one of the guys with the gear in the rear as he always liked to call himself, had used the GPS to ascertain their position, they knew they were about 5.5 ks from the extraction co-ordinates and despite all the positive Intel they'd gotten, weather conditions were poor.

"Alright, grab your bergens and then we'll tab!" Geiger said over the com, having difficulties to make himself heard over the constant pouring down of the rain - wind was whipping down on the men and soon their water proof protection was ripped and torn.

The TASAS team made their way through what looked liked bushes and undergrowth North North West.

"Jesus, what did they say again about the climate? Tropical?" Helmer asked in an exasperated breath, his words being carried away by the wind.

"Shut up, Helmchen and save your breath." Geiger retorted near his ear. He had given the signal for stopping and he hoped all of his squaddies had noticed his handsignal. When he looked left and right of him, in almost a straight line, there were his seven men.

Good, he thought. At least the visibility was as indicated in the Intel report!

After his men had gathered around him he pulled out of one of the escape maps. With a small flashlight he highlighted the area of the supposed crash site.

"We'll be advancing from here - tabbing around this mountain range and coming onto the crash site from the North East. Intel says there will be four to six Chig camps in positions here," he highlighted a part of the map with the flashlight. "And here and here. We'll be dealing with approximately two Chig cohorts of seven Chiggies each at the camps that means 8 against approx. 60 alone in this area till we get to the crash site. If we get into a situation we split up. It is crucial to meet the ordnance at hand - to get the two pilots and make it to the extraction co-ords. Any questions?"

Seven heads shook no in unison.

"Alright, let's do it. Com channel seven niner two is open for nine one one calls - apart from that we have CS." (Com Silence)

"Alles klar," the men whispered in their native tongue.

Tabbing was one of the hardest part of any mission, they all knew that. Their bergens weighed nearly 40 lbs. with all the equipment, MREs and additional ammo but the men were used to lugging their packs around the countryside, even in such poor weather conditions as these.

The rain poured down continuously and where there were more exposed areas rain beat down on the soldiers.

Slowly they made their way, tuning into the surrounding countryside and its sounds. One quick move could generate loud noise and the men wanted to avoid an early situation to save both human resources and ammunition.

Geiger gave the sign to stop, just over a small ridge to the right where point had made out green lights flashing in the semi-grey darkness of the rainy day.

"A Chig patrol - 4, 5 at most," Schaefer said closely to Geiger's ear. It was crucial to secure the mission to avoid all noise, even a whispered word could be carried far by the wind.

Geiger nodded and gave the sign to spread. A patrol of five Chigs would not cause a problem for the men. Even if they were slightly in the minority here.

Vanessa opened her eyes slowly. She had been dreaming - reliving the events that had led to her and Vansen being stranded on this planet. She wished the others were safe. The only thing she could remember clearly was that their pit had been hit by a laser blast - after that everything was blank.

The woman groaned when she moved her injured leg, gnawing on her lip when the pain raced over her.

Shane Vansen had been keeping watch for the last twelve hours. She had kept a close eye on the Chig patrols rummaging through the debris of the wrecked cockpit and more than once her TS had targeted on a solitary Chig or two. But she was too tired and she feared that due to the lack of sleep lately her senses and reaction were too slow to finish what she had started once the first Chig had been downed by her.

She wiped her eyes and looked wearily over her shoulder to where Vanessa was huddling in the somewhat questionable safety of the cave. Shane was almost tempted to cover her ears when Vanessa groaned in pain. She couldn't stand it anymore - the pain - the loss - this war. She felt as if she had been drained - that the Corps had taken all of her and more.

Stop it, Shane! she told herself off. The first task was to keep alive. But what point was there if all of her friends were dead? The thought had been gnawing on her soul for ages, ever growing, getting deeper and festering in her self and conscience.

Did she not witness the exploding ISSCV? Hadn't Cooper and Paul been on it?

She closed her eyes for a long moment. What point was there in going on and on? she thought. How can I save Vanessa if I cannot save myself from all this?

Shane looked back where Vanessa lay. She felt so alone - and tired. TIRED OF IT ALL!

The men slowly advanced towards the edge of the ridge. Below them they could make out the remains of a burnt out cockpit.

"Bingo!" Helmer whispered. "Either the Chigs set off the distress beacon by mistake while rummaging inside the pit or the girls are good..." Referring to the abandoned crash site and the distress beacon the Marines set up with a hacker code.

"They must be ... they are Marines right? They are always the best!" the scaley whispered with a snort. "Okay, Distress beacon on hacker zero point seven ks to our left ... not exactly on Charlie Hotel Lima Mike - but hey, no body is perfect. Good luck the Chigs haven't picked it up yet." Geiger nodded.

Pendler who had slowly crawled right beside Geiger whispered.

"I'll take Schaefer, Helmchen and Kowalski - we'll double take to the other side of the ridge. This way we can attack from both sides," Pendler said.

"Do it," was the response of the CO.

It took the second group about 20 mikes to double take the Chigs and get into position.

"Momma Bear to Poppa Bear reporting in," Pendler's voice wavered over the ear pieces of every man.

"Roger that, Momma Bear," Geiger responded. Haben Position bezogen "On position, Poppa Bear!"

"Right, hold position ..." The Hauptmann gestured his men to find a good vantage point to take out the Chigs. "Fire at will when ready."

"Roger, Poppa Bear - Momma Bear and her boys will fire at will when ready." Pendler replied.

Every man secured their imaginary strip of field where the crashed pit and the Chigs were, every one targeting through their CS.

Plop! Plop! Plop! Three Chigs went down and hit the ground before the rest of the Chig patrol could take cover. The silencers not allowing any sounds apart from the plop of the Chig armour opening and exiting gas.

Shane couldn't believe her eyes. The Chigs broke down in hissing clouds of gas as she watched them through the TS of her M590. Shaking off the fatigue which had held her in its clutches she targeted the remaining Chigs. If she was about to die then she would take some of those bastards with her.

Maik Pendler noticed the cross fire as one of the first. He tracked it to a series of caves off their position to the right.

"Poppa Bear, crossfire from position Yankee Niner Zero - I think we have found the pilots!" he almost shouted into the com system.

"Spinger, get onto the radio and haul the transport in to a position off to the far left, there is a plain big enough for an ISSCV." Maik said, knowing his CO had the same in mind.

Spinger, the scaley did as he was told and after about two minutes he could confirm that their rides were on their way.

"Good, let's get to position Yankee Niner Zero PDQ - GO!"

Firing in a wide sweep down into the small valley the TASAS team advanced onto the position of the two downed pilots.

"Vanessa!" Shane shouted. "Vanessa they are coming.. The Toga has sent a team!" Shane slumped down for a few moments and tears of relief were rolling down her cheeks. They were safe ...

Vanessa scrambled to her feet with several suppressed groans. She grabbed her M590 and crawled to where Shane was.

The Chigs didn't know what hit them, some of the patrol members tried to take cover inside and behind the crashed APC, firing in wild disarray as the TASAS team made for the cover of the caves where the pilots hid.

"Spinger!" Geiger shouted and turned around to cover his advancing men. "Get on the radio .. We need extraction - NOW!"

The rumble of a vehicle came from the North and it bore no good news. The Chig tank blocked the only way towards the pilots. The TASAS just had to stand and fight for all it was worth to get through to the extraction co-ords.

"Shit! They have a damn tank!" One of his men, probably Schaefer shouted and while running he pulled out a bazooka 66 out from his bergen which he had bound on top of it. Pendler and Schaefer snapped their 66s open and ran around to find a decent spot for firing. Helmchen, who covered them with his M203, started to talk like their old British SAS instructor.

"Now, DO remember the backblast, chaps - no use to get your face or that of your cover peppered - I want to chat up some chicks on the Berlin next Saturday."

Helmer stared down the sights of his M203 at the line of the ridge, from where the sound of the advancing tank was coming from.

"Come on, you Chig bastard - give me a good target ..." When the tank came into sight again, all hell broke loose, Photon blasters erupted from the nozzle of its turret and exploded right and left of the position of the TASAS team.

"Scramble!" Geiger shouted while Schaefer, Pendler and Helmer stayed on position ... First one then the second missile left their cases and ricocheted towards the Chig tank.

The rest of the team tried to get into cover. It was no good to stand or crouch in the open when you were up against an armoured vehicle full of infantry on board.

Two major blasts erupted but the tank kept on firing more and more rounds towards the team. Pendler and Schaefer were about to discard their 66s when one of the rounds stitched about 2 metres in front of the two.

Helmer and Pendler kept firing from their M590s while Schaefer grabbed his handgun.

"We need to get out of here!" he cried while he emptied the magazine, being his last words as one shot split his skull and embedded itself deeply in his brain tissue.

"Pendler, Helmer," Geiger's voice came strained over the com. "Take cover! Sod the tank and take cover!"" They scrambled and the only cover they could take was to hunch behind Schaefer's dead body.

"Alright ... cover the tank with constant fire .. don't let the pounders out of it. We'll move in twos as soon as they are covered. The closer we get the better - use smarties if you pass that damn thing. Pendler, Helmer you move first!" Without thinking, Geiger changed his magazine. He had no idea how many rounds he had had left in the old. It was still quite heavy but he didn't notice - he needed a full one and he let the half filled slip into his belt kit for further use. From the sound of it he noticed that the others were doing the same - new magazines were slipped in in no time.

When Pendler and Helmer came running towards Geiger, Maik gave him the thumbs up and stepped up the rate of his M203 with the grenades to initiate the move. Geiger gave the sign to advance ... Two by two the men ran forward towards the tank. Firing and dodging the incoming fire. Cries were heard and Geiger could see that two more people were down, Helmer and Pendler grabbed the ammo belts and the guns off them and ran forward.

Still the team put down a fearsome amount of covering fire. The first had reached the tank who tried to veer around, the gunner not sure which target to cover. People didn't fire on the move - that would be deadly with the backblast and all, so the team had to get forward, get down and firing and then moving again. It slowed down. Helmer got one of his smarties off his belt kit and threw it into one of the vents of the tank, then continued running past the tank.

Geiger knew it was a stupid move and he was about to shout a warning to him when the blast erupted from the vent - tearing a big hole into the side of the tank, covering the passing men with Chig spooge and debris.

The situation was too serious as to keep track of the rounds fired. Changing magazines were done instinctively rather than after having counted the rounds they had spent. No one of the men wanted to hear the *dead man's click* of the trigger. They ran on now that the tank had been partly disabled, spilling out the remaining Chig patrol.

Shane watched the fiasco down on the valley ground and covered as many of the Chigs with fire as she could. Even Vanessa had crawled up beside her and fired her handgun. They both knew they had to act fast .. the situation down there was almost unbearable to watch. From the eight men who had come to their rescue only five were still up standing, running, firing at the tank which spilled out Chig after Chig in huge numbers.

"Do we still have those smarties?" Vanessa asked and Shane, without taking off her eyes from the tank, nodded her head yes.

"Back in the cave, beside the medikit," she replied and fired round after round, trying to take out the Chigs which climbed out of the burning tank.

Under some difficulties, Vanessa moved back into the cave, groping around in the ever increasing darkness for the smarties. She knew that using the grenades was a risk - although they were smart, the grenades couldn't discern between friend or foe. A grenade could easily take out as many friendlies as the enemy. Besides these smarties were deadly in its own way - they were new - Aerotech made, and were small micro-thermonuclear bombs.

Back to where Shane was still firing off round after round, Phousse readied herself ... taking carefully aim as she sent off her deadly goods.

Geiger and the few who had survived the onslaught of the tank, gathered behind some of the first boulders marking the hill where the crashed pilots were hiding. Firing for what they were worth, the men exchanged their remaining ammo evenly between themselves.

The Hauptmann knew that they didn't stand a chance against the remaining Chig squadron if they didn't dig themselves in ... on the other hand there was no sense in trenches if their ride back home arrived on time. He looked right and left to make out Spinger and when he had found him he signalled him to get onto the radio again.

"Right, Hauptmann," Spinger answered over the com.

"Spinger, how long till the pick up arrives?"

"About 5 mikes, give and take two," the scaley answered.

"That's too long, radio HQ for air cover - strike target at two point one three degrees South of our position. Code name Yellow Badger."

"Roger that, two point one three South, Yellow Badger," Spinger repeated before he transmitted.

Those who had listened in knew what Yellow Badger meant. They were right in the middle of the co-ords if they didn't make it to the downed pilots.

But just as Spinger had transmitted the message, explosions went off. Frantic click-clicking sounds could be heard over the ear-shattering booms. Those who were point scurried back to Geiger's position to report - the bio scans on the environment suits went haywire but stayed in bearable proportions.

"What the hell..." Pendler asked and ducked his head behind the boulder in front of him.

"Micro-Thermal bombs, shit, those Marines are better equipped than us," someone shouted over the racket.

Geiger and Pendler watched as the bombs exploded amidst the squad of Chigs, readying their men to advance.

Two by two the remaining TASAS men made their way up the hill, giving cover for each other. When the first two had reached the cave where Damphousse and Vansen were hiding, they were almost shot by the female Marines.

"Hey, hold it there, we are here to get you!" Spinger yelled and dropped down beside 'Phousse.

Two by two the TASAS men jumped over the little wall to the cave and covered the Chigs down in the valley with fire.

"Captain Vansen?" Geiger asked and Shane nodded her head.

"Nice to meet you, Ma'am, Hauptmann Geiger of the 13th TASAS team European Space Corps, German division. We are here to help you get off this dump."

To Shane this polite introduction stood in total contrast to the appearance of the man. Most of the TASAS team had minor injuries and of the eight people only four had survived the Chig attack. They were dirty, sweaty and yet there was an air about them which reminded her of the cool gentlemanly appearance of those old RAF movies Nathan and Cooper loved to watch on their off duty time in the rec. room.

"Captain Shane Vansen and Lieutenant Vanessa Damphousse, 58th Squadron, US Marine Corps, 5th Air Wing," she replied, a small tired smile around her lips.

After each had introduced themselves to the Marine pilots, the medic silently and efficiently assessed the situation. Apart from the four dead, all the others had minor injuries, cuts and bruises and one had two smaller photon blaster burns on his back.
Geiger counted the minutes, just like every one else in his unit. When there were T minus 1 minutes he gave the sign to advance towards the extraction co-ords.

Pendler helped Damphousse onto her feet after the medic had put a stronger dressing onto her leg and they followed the others to the extraction co-ordinates. They had to dodge smaller and bigger boulders, still not sure if the smart grenades had killed off the remaining Chigs, when they heard the unmistakable sound of Spitfires and STCVs dispatched from the Berlin overhead.

Strafing the area where the Chig tank had been with rapid fire, the TASAS team boarded one of the ISSCVs while another team went off to gather the remains of the fallen officers.

Pendler found his friend sitting solitary behind the cockpit, staring at the black body bags which had been hauled in just seconds before the STCVs had taken off. Maik sat down beside Geiger, closing his eyes for a short moment - shutting out the image of his dead comrades now encased up in black polythene.

"Warum mussten vier von uns ihr Leben lassen, nur um zwei Piloten zu retten?" Maik asked.

"Ich weiss es nicht." Geiger replied.

"Why had four of us to die just to save two ?"
"I do not know."

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