Operation:Homeward Bound
Aerotech pleasure ship, the Bacchus
First week of June, 2065

Handsome Alvin ducked easily as the glass paperweight bounced off the wall behind
him shattering to the floor in a million pieces. Leia advanced on the AI, fury burning in
her green eyes, "I've had just about enough from you, pool boy."

Alvin grinned as he leaned against the office wall, "Coming from someone who says
she doesn't care, I've grown to like that pet name, cupcake."

Leia blinked, "Cupcake?! I'll show you a cupcake!"

Howard Sewell-Z sighed loudly as he tried to maneuver between the two AI's in the
tight quarters, "You two are giving me quite a migraine. Either kiss and make up or go
to your separate corners."

Leia whirled on her boss, "Howie, why are we still on this dump? Its been almost six
months."

Sewell sat down behind the small desk, "Trust me, Leia I'm well aware at how much
time we've spent here in the land of Oz. The person who sent us on this mission is
convinced that they know more than they're saying."

Leia shook her head furiously as she began to pace, "Howie as much as I hate to
disagree with our great leader they don't know anything. As much as I love playing
with Possum I'm sick to death of hearing their name, rank and serial number."

Sewell nodded in agreement, "I agree with you Leia love. I believe its high time to ask
them nicely one more time. If they don't tell us what we want to know we kill them and
scrap the mission. Our leader will just have to find out his precious information another
way." He looked at Alvin, "I trust you'll take care of the lovely Captain?"

Alvin smiled, "With pleasure."


*******

USS Franklin Roosevelt
Chig Territory
June, 2065

If Oakes had decided to drop a pin in that conference room you would have heard it
hit the floor. John forced himself not to grin at the stunned expressions.

McQueen was the first to find his voice, "How could you keep this from your
superiors?!"

Oakes glared at him, "You think I had any say in this? You think I enjoyed letting
Shane think I was dead?! I was under strict orders that if I valued my career and my
new lease on life I could not tell anyone."

"Orders from who?" Ross demanded his black eyes the color of coal.

Oakes turned to face him, "Sewell, Aerotech."

McQueen shook his head, "Sewell was killed on the Saratoga months before your
incident on Hale."

Oakes stood one hand leaning on the back of the chair, "The Howard Sewell that died
on the Saratoga was an AI."

"You have proof of this?" McQueen demanded.

John nodded, "His replacement, Howard Sewell-Z's smiling face was the first thing I
saw when I woke up."

"Talk about nightmare material." Hawkes muttered under his breath.

Oakes nodded, "He told me in no uncertain terms that if I wanted my life back. If I
wanted my career back I had to go along with their plans."

Nathan ran a hand over the back of his neck, "I always knew there was something too
snake-like about Sewell."

"What were their plans?" Lucas Grey asked moving closer to the group.

Oakes shook his head, "I just did as I was told. I was never let in on the big picture."


*********

Operation:Homeward Bound
Aerotech pleasure ship, the Bacchus
June, 2065

Vanessa Damphoose winced in pain as the knife was pressed harder against her
throat.

"So my dear Paul," Howard Sewell-Z began as he walked around the perimeter of the
small room, "I will ask this one more time and I suggest you think carefully about your
answer. Leia has been known to slip on occasion."

Paul strained against the metal cuffs that held him to the chair as he glared at the AI's,
"How many times do we have to say it for you to believe us?! We don't know
anything."

Sewell shook his head, "Wrong answer Paully." He glanced at the blonde woman
behind Vanessa, "Leia, dear....."

Leia placed her right hand under Vanessa's chin tipping it upwards as she smiled at
Paul, "Take a last look at your lady friend, Possum. I don't like to brag, but I am
known for my craftsmanship."

Vanessa met Paul's frantic gaze, forcing herself to concentrate on his face. She couldn't
believe that after everything she had been through since joining the 58th that this was
how she was going to die. She jumped as the knife pricked the tender skin above at
the base of her throat. She felt the warm trickle of blood start to flow downward.

"No!" Paul shouted the chair jumping as he struggled to free himself, "No! Leave her
alone!"

Sewell stepped in front of Paul blocking his view of Vanessa, "Now Paul, you know
there's only one way to end this. You have to say the magic words. Your squadron
brought something back from Anvil, where is it?"

Paul glared at his captor, "I'm telling you we didn't bring anything back except a pile of
dirt the Chig gave Hawkes! We have no idea what you're talking about!" Wang's voice
broke as he lowered his head, "Please, don't hurt her.....please."

Sewell shook his head in disgust, "Now there's one thing I can't stand a weak Marine.
Leia will you do the honors?"

Leia smiled broadly as she walked around Vanessa so she was facing her. Knife still
held at her throat.

"With pleasure, Howie." She replied as she met Vanessa's gaze, "Now, since I'm such
a nice person I'll give you a choice on how you're going to die. Do you want it quick or
if you like pain I can drag it out so it'll take days for you to die."

The four people in the room jumped as the door was kicked in, causing harsh
florescent light to blind them.

"Nobody's going to die, at least not today." A familiar voice said as the silhouette
walked farther into the room, "Drop the knife, lady and step away."

Leia looking like the proverbial deer caught in a pair of car headlights couldn't move.
She stood rooted to the spot knife point still at Vanessa's throat. Vanessa took
advantage of the opportunity and kicked the knife out of Leia's hand, wrestling the AI
around so she had her in a choke hold. Booted footsteps stormed into the room
behind the silhouette as fifteen Marines surrounded Sewell without incident. Leading
him out of the room in handcuffs.

"Since I'm such a nice person, I won't kill you." Vanessa said with a weary smile as she
forced the AI to lay face down on the floor.

Paul's eyes finally adjusted to the light but his stunned mind refused to believe what he
was seeing.

"Colonel?" He asked in a weak voice.

McQueen knelt down next to the chair working on prying open the metal cuffs, "Yes,
Wang its me. Good to see you back among the living."

Paul tried to shake the cob webs out of his mind, but none of his thoughts were
connecting enough to make sense. After all the months of torture he couldn't believe
they were finally being rescued.

"I don't understand, Colonel. How did you find us? Shane's dead. They killed her
when she tried to get to a radio."

McQueen shook his head, "That was just another lie the AI's told you to break you.
They had kept her in a separate cell for months. Unfortunately she's not in as good as
shape as you two but she'll live."

Vanessa joined the duo helping free Paul from the chair, "I still don't understand,
Colonel. How did you find us after all these months?"

McQueen placed a gentle hand on her left shoulder, "I'll explain everything once we
get you two back to the Saratoga and have a doc look you over."

********

Epilog
USS Saratoga
Neutral territory
June, 2065

It was a happy but exhausted group that gathered in the Saratoga's medical bay. Kylen
smiled as she leaned into Nathan's embrace the Wildcards were finally back together.
A little bumped and bruised but they were back were they belonged.

Captain Shane Vansen lay in a bed two feet from Paul. She had several broken ribs
and her left leg had been badly sprained in her last torture session. Cooper stood next
to her bed, awkwardly holding her hand. Vanessa stood on the left side of Paul's bed
her right arm in a sling, she had sprained her wrist during Leia's arrest.

"Is this really happening?" Vanessa asked softly as she looked at Paul and Shane, "Am
I really standing back on the Saratoga?"

Paul smiled at her, squeezing her hand, "I've been asking myself that same question
over and over."

"Well, you can start believing it." Commodore Glen Ross said with a wide smile as he
walked into the room followed close behind by Lucas Grey and McQueen.

Shane struggled into a sitting position looking Ross in the eye, "Commodore as much
as I appreciate the reunion I still don't understand how you found us?"

"Perhaps I can explain that." Colonel John Oakes replied as he stepped into the room
crossing over to Shane's bed taking her hand in his, "Good to see you again, Captain."

Shane reached up and gently touched Oakes's right cheek, "John?" She asked in a
hoarse voice, "How?"

Nathan grinned as he looked at Ross, "I think you better start explaining Colonel. I
don't think Shane can handle too many more surprises."

Ross nodded, "You can thank the ghost here for your rescue, Shane. After he came
forward a few days ago and revealed how he had been allowed to survive the incident
over Haleg everything began falling into place."

McQueen picked up the story, "After Oakes dropped the bomb that Sewell was an
AI Ross contacted Hayden."

Ross shook his head still not quite believing the events of the last few days, "After
confronting her about Sewell she finally relented the whole sordid tale. The head of
Aerotech, Michael Lane had blackmailed her into participating in this bizarre plot. But
she pulled one over on him. After learning that they were holding the three of you on
the Bacchus she contacted an AI named Alvin to work for her."

Shane blinked almost getting out of the bed before Cooper gently forced her back,
"Handsome Alvin is a patriot?!" She asked incredulously.

Ross grinned, "Ironic isn't it? She paid him triple what Lane was offering and he agreed
to send her periodic updates via email. Just before I contacted her Hayden's assistant
had just received a letter from Alvin that told of Sewell's plan to kill you. Her
conscience finally got to her and she told us everything."

Vanessa shook her head, "This is unbelievable."

"It gets better." McQueen replied as he leaned against the wall.

Hawkes looked at him questioningly, "The Angel ships?"

"What Angel ships?" Shane asked looking from Oakes to McQueen and back again.

"That's what we thought were the Chig's latest weapon." Ross replied.

Oakes continued, "In reality they were Aerotech."

Kylen stared at him in surprise, "Aerotech?"

Oakes nodded, "Perhaps not what you saw, Kylen but the later versions that
destroyed the Valley Forge and the 33rd were Aerotech's doing. It seems that after
the peace talk debacle the Chigs really did want to make peace. They're numbers
were far more diminished than we thought."

McQueen had a disgusted look on his face as he continued, "It seems that in exchange
for ammo and material to make the ships the Chigs would continue the War."

Paul raised up into a sitting position, "Why? Why would they want that?"

"Greed." Ross replied as he folded his arms across his chest, "Pure and simple greed.
It seems Aerotech was near bankrupt. Without the war they were out of business and
Lane couldn't have that."

"Unbelievable." Kylen said turning to look at Nathan, "All those lost lives."

"One thing," Vanessa said as she looked at her friends, "Commodore you said Hayden
was being blackmailed. What did they have over her?"

Ross looked at Nathan, "She asked me to give you a message, Nathan. She said to tell
you that you were right."

Nathan looked at Kylen, "Aerotech knew about the Chigs before they launched the
Tellus and Vesta colonies." He said sadly.

"And Hayden knew that before she was elected. Once she was elected Lane had that
to hold over her. He knew if that ever got out to the press her career would be over."

"What happens to her now?" Shane asked.

Ross shook his head sadly ,"She resigned. They'll hold an election within the next three
weeks to choose a new Secretary General."

A black haired nurse in her forties stepped into the room smiling apologetically at the
group, "I'm sorry but you'll all have to leave now. The patients have been through an
incredible ordeal and need there rest."

Ross grinned, "Okay, we'll get out of your hair." He said turning and motioning Grey
and McQueen out of the room.

McQueen paused in the doorway looking at the 58th. He never thought he would see
them together. A feeling of peace settled over him maybe the world wasn't perfect but
at least his little corner of it was as close as it came.

"Don't forget to tell them about the party, West." McQueen reminded the young
Captain in a gruff voice as he turned and exited the room.

Paul's eyes lit up, "Party?"

Nathan grinned, "As soon as the Doc gives the okay they're going to have a party for
us in the observation lounge. Sort of a welcome back party."

Oakes smiled at Shane, "Think you're up for a dance, Captain?"

Shane grinned, "Just try to keep up."


********

USS Saratoga
Neutral territory
June, 2065
Three days later......

"Well, I see they went all out." Paul Wang commented as he placed his right arm
around Vanessa's shoulders as they walked into the lounge. Vanessa grinned noting the
ice sculptures shaped like a deck of playing cards and the gold 'Welcome home'
banner that stretched the length of the room.

"I think we deserve it." She replied turning to face him extending her good hand, "As
they say, When in Rome."

Paul grinned, "May I have this dance, my lady?"

Vanessa laughed, "I'd be honored, good Sir." She replied as Wang led her out onto
the small dance floor.


*********

"Penny for your thoughts?" Lieutenant Colonel John Oakes asked as he came up
behind Shane handing her a tall glass of champagne.

Shane turned away from the window smiling at him as she took the glass, "I believed
you were dead, John."

Oakes grinned, "I thought you were dead. I think that makes us even."

Shane punched him lightly, "I'm serious."

John lightly touched her face, "So am I."

He reached into his pocket and took out his good luck charm. Gently he pinned the
gold aviator wings on the right side of Shane's uniform shirt. "There, now they're back
where they belong."

Shane's gaze lingered on the pin for a moment before looking into his eyes, "I can't
believe you kept them all these years."

John pulled her into an embrace, "It was a part of you I could take with me." He
leaned back slightly so he could look into her eyes, "So Captain Shane Vansen do you
still not believe in forever?"

Shane nodded, "Yes, but when I'm in your arms you make me think that it might be
possible."

"I love you." John whispered before he captured Shane's lips in a tender kiss.

"I love you too." Shane replied quietly after they broke the kiss, resting her head on his
shoulder.

********

"There you are." Kylen Calinea commented finally finding Nathan in a far corner of the
observation lounge.

Nathan smiled at her as he took her hand pulling her close, "Sorry if I disappeared on
you. There was something important I had to get."

Kylen kissed him quickly as she sat down on a nearby chair, "Its alright. I was just
worried about you. Everything has changed so suddenly."

"Change can be a good thing." Nathan replied getting down on one knee and taking
her left hand in his.

"Nathan."

Nathan took a small velvet covered jeweler's box out of his pant's pocket. Awkwardly
he handed it too her.

Kylen felt tears come to her eyes before she even opened the box. They started
flowing full force when she saw the beauty nestled within.

"It was my Grandmother's." Nathan explained taking the gold ring out of the box. The
small diamond flanked on either side by two rubies glittered.

"Its beautiful." Kylen replied as Nathan gently slipped the ring on left hand.

"Kylen." Nathan began softly ,"All the events of the past year made me realize how
precious you are to me. When you were missing it was like they had taken part of my
heart, part of my soul that could never be hole again until I had you back in my life.
Then by some miracle God gave you back to me and I made a promise to myself
never to let you out of my sight again. So Kylen Calinea will you do me the honor of
being my wife?"

Tears of joy clogged Kylen's throat so it was several seconds before she could speak.
When she did her voice was a soft whisper.

"Yes, Nathan." She replied standing, "Yes, I'll marry you."

"Thank God." Nathan whispered as he lifted her off her feet spinning her around, "I
love you." He said when he finally sat her back down.

Kylen gently touched his left cheek with her hand, her blue eyes sparkling with tears of
happiness, "And I love you, Nathan West."


*********

Tyrus Cassius McQueen leaned against the mobile bar, a glass of champagne in his
right hand. He glanced up as Ross joined him taking a glass from a passing waiter.

"So, do you think the War's really over?"

Glen Ross shrugged his eyes never leaving the crowd of people, "Your guess is as
good as mine, Ty. I think we are finally seeing a light at the end of the tunnel with the
exposure of Aerotech's plot. As for whether the Chigs want to negotiate that we'll just
have to wait and see."

"So the 5-8 will stay together?" McQueen asked.

Ross nodded,"With the highest honors the Core has to offer ."He looked at the Marine
squadron, "But with all they've been through its really up to them if they want to stay."


*****

Shane tapped the side of her champagne glass stepping toward the center of the room
to get everyone's attention.

"Everyone, if I could have your attention." Shane paused as she waited for the
conversation to die, "I'd like to make a toast."

She held up her glass smiling at her friends, "To good friends."

As glasses clanked around the room Cooper Hawkes took a step forward. His eyes
misting slightly, "To the Wildcards." He said holding up his glass.

"To the Wildcards." The 58th replied joining Cooper in the center of the room,
enveloping each other in a group hug.

They had come through the ordeal of the last year stronger. And with peace almost at
hand, the future had never looked brighter.


The End