Chapter One - The Girl in the Forest

It was a dark and stormy night. Well, that wasn't entirely true. It was dark, and it was certainly stormy, but the glance that Delta 62 took to his chronometer said that it was only the middle of the day. He sighed somewhat heavily before glancing quickly around to see if his squadmates had by chance heard him. They hadn't, for they just kept plodding along across the soggy terrain, the heavy raindrops splattering hard against their sturdy armor plating. If he hadn't been trained for long hikes across hundreds of miles of unfamiliar landscape on a planet that he wasn't even sure had a name, the next words out of Scorch's mouth would have been "Are we there yet?" He couldn't help it. He was beginning to tire, and he wasn't sure how long it'd been since Boss let him take a nibble from his rations. Quite frankly, he was sick and tired of wiping his visor clean every time the rain fogged it up, which was about every five minutes. But since his brothers weren't saying anything about the less-than-satisfactory conditions of their current assignment, he figured that he shouldn't either.

"Fierfek, I hate the rain," Fixer complained suddenly.

"That makes two of us, ner vod."

The words were out before Scorch knew it. Whoops. Sev snickered somewhat spitefully.

"You two are getting as wimpy as a pair of white jobs."

Scorch reached over and lightly punched Sev in the chest plate, just barely knocking the commando backward. They laughed for a minute before Boss anxiously waved his hand to silence them.

"Cut the horseplay, Deltas," he said quickly. "Let's keep focused, please?"

The boys shrugged at each other. Boss was normally quite laid-back; they couldn't figure out why he had become so terse all of a sudden. But then again, they did. There was a sudden rustle in the underbrush, and the squad stiffened. Four DC-17 rifles whirred to the ready, and they held them aimed at the bushes. Was it a bunch of Seps, or perhaps a wild, starving animal? Or was it merely a misguided local who had no idea how much firepower the four commandos wielded? But to the complete surprise of Delta Squad, it was none of those things.

A chubby-faced eighteen-month-old girl waddled out from the thick green bushes, covered in mud, dust, and a few scratches. Her curly pale blonde hair was tousled, and a few leaves were stuck to it; nevertheless, she was incredibly adorable. Her big blue eyes sparkled despite the dirty mess of her clothes and hair, and she squealed happily when she saw the commandos. Her grubby little hands shot up, as if she was begging to be picked up, and Boss exchanged a confused glance with the others.

"Just like a kit bag, Boss," Fixer suggested.

Boss shrugged and slung his rifle over his shoulder for a minute as he knelt down on the soggy ground. The little girl toddled over and crawled up into his armored arms, cooing. The other Deltas gave a laugh as she nestled herself into Boss' orange shoulder plate and sighed contentedly.

"Aww, how cute!" Scorch snickered. "Boss has his own pet baby!"

Sev chuckled darkly, crossing his arms over his chest plate. Fixer didn't say anything, but it was obvious that he was trying to stifle another laugh by covering it over with a cough. Boss glanced down at the little girl in his huge arms and sighed.

"What did I do to deserve this?" he asked, not quite sure whether she was a gift or a curse that the Force was playing on him and his squad.

No sooner had he said this than the little girl climbed up his shoulder and batted his helmet playfully. He clamped his hands around her tiny body and pulled her away from his head, trying to keep her muddy hands off his visor. He failed, for she seemed so incredibly intent on touching the orange-tinted helmet that she was almost literally holding on with tooth and claw. Scorch doubled over with laughter, and over the helmet comm, the others could just about hear Boss's face redden. He sighed as he finally pulled the little girl free of his helmet. She giggled.

"All right, fine," he muttered. "You can play with the helmet as soon as we get back to base, okay?"

She squealed with glee, and Boss rose from his kneeling position on the ground. As he turned back to his squad, cradling the little girl in the crook of his left arm, he found that not one of his squadmates was saying a word. His head tilted only slightly to the side, and he smiled audibly.

"What's the matter, Scorch? You're not laughing."

"Uh, should I be, sir? I mean, you just said we're taking her—"

"Back to base. I know what I said."

"But, sir," Sev interrupted. "We don't know how to take care of . . . her."

"So? Did you know how to shoot a sniper rifle the minute you came out of the pod?"

"That's not funny." Sev cradled his favorite sniper rifle protectively.

"Aww, come on, Sev," Fixer interjected. "She's cute. Let's keep her. Besides, how much trouble can one kid her size be?"