Moffitt yawned.

He smiled when Tully repeated the action shortly thereafter.

''Early day of it, isn't it?'' Moffitt looked out to the horizon. It would be hours still before the sun appeared over the dunes.

''Yeah. Too early if you ask me.'' Tully looked with wonder at Hitch who appeared to be sleeping standing up. ''How does he do that?''

Moffitt grinned. He positioned himself in front of Hitch. ''Look alive, soldier!'' Moffitt snapped. He gave Tully a wink.

Hitch's eyes flew open and his spine straightened. ''I'm awake, Sarge!''

''Could've fooled me.'' Tully gave a loud guffaw.

''It is indeed an amazing talent, Hitch, to be able to sleep standing up,'' Moffitt said, still grinning. ''One that I certainly don't possess. I must say, I'm more than a little jealous.''

''Try going to twelve debutante balls in a one season. You'd learn how real quick.'' Hitch looked forlorn at the memory.

''Sleeping through a swarm of pretty young ladies? That hardly seems like you.'' Moffitt considered. ''Though if they were anything like the tea dances that I had to attend as a young man, I do see your point.''

''Yeah,'' Hitch agreed. ''That sounds like it was probably worse. The tea part, especially.'' He made a face at Moffitt.

As he knew that Hitch would be expecting it, Moffitt began winding up to give a proper defense of tea. As he started to utter his tried and true arguments, someone tapped him on the shoulder. Moffitt turned to find that Troy had suddenly appeared behind him. ''Hello, Troy,'' Moffitt said.

''Moffitt, again with the tea?'' Troy narrowed his eyes. ''Spare me the speech, will you? Not only could I practically recite it myself, but it's way too early for it.''

''Never too early for tea,'' Moffitt muttered.

''Never too early for coffee,'' Hitch piped up. ''I could use some coffee.'' He looked at Tully. "Doesn't coffee sound good?''

''Yeah, but only if you're not making it.'' Tully put a matchstick in his mouth.

Hitch sighed and kicked a patch of sand. ''Not my fault no one else ever makes coffee. If I'm so bad at making coffee, why am I the only one that ever makes it?''

Moffitt began to wonder if Hitch had been making bad coffee on purpose just so he didn't have to be bothered with it again. If so, then the boy obviously needed a new plan as it hadn't worked in the six odd months that Moffitt had been assigned to the Rat Patrol.

''Cut it out. All of you.'' Troy pulled a cigarette from his pocket and lit it. ''No one's going to ask me why we're up right now instead of sleeping?''

No one asked and Troy looked as cross as a dragon as he exhaled a cloud of smoke.

''All right then. Why are we up at this awful ungodly hour, Troy?'' Moffitt was happy to humor Troy if it meant that he had even a remote chance of getting back to his bunk within a reasonable time.

''Because we just got a new mission.'' Troy pushed his hat farther back on his head revealing hair that was still as untidy as it had been when he'd been roused from bed. ''And a new partner, apparently. Orders from Captain Boggs.''

Moffitt, Hitch, and Tully looked at one another in surprise.

Hitch was the first to recover. ''But Sarge, every time we get someone new, it just kind of slows us down.''

Tully nodded in agreement.

''A special resource for the mission? '' Moffitt thought about the miserable excuse of a safe cracker that they had been saddled with recently. At the very least, Moffitt hoped that this man would be healthier.

''Yeah. Specialist for the mission. An expert. And I'm no happier about it than you guys, but it is what it is, and it's an order.'' As if to emphasize his point, Troy hissed another cloud of smoke.

''Expert, huh? That's just great.'' Hitch's tone made it obvious that he thought that it was anything but. ''Another one?''

To Moffitt, it was obvious that Hitch was also recalling the long line of unfortunates that the Rat Patrol had been saddled with just because someone had considered them to be an ''expert'' in something. When Hitch's gaze came to rest on him, Moffitt glared at him.

Hitch gave him a slow smile. "Well, I guess not all of the experts have been all bad. At least one of them proved to be kind of useful.''

''Which one?'' Troy looked at Moffitt. When he got no reaction, he punched Moffitt lightly on the shoulder. ''Come on! That's funny, Moffitt. Where's your sense of humor? No snappy come back?''

''My good humor and wit might reappear after a cup of tea. Or after four additional hours of sleep. Whichever comes first.'' Stiffly, Moffitt crossed his arms against his chest. "Something tells me it's most likely going to be the tea.''

''And you'd be right.''

''I was afraid of that.'' Moffitt sighed and thought again about his unoccupied bunk.

''Well, let's go meet this expert. It's not getting any earlier.'' Troy started walking and his three men followed.

''So have you met this guy, Sarge?'' Hitch asked, dragging his feet at the rear of the line.

''No. I haven't and I don't know much about him. Guy's name is MJ Knight. I guess Boggs was pretty impressed by him. Went on about how lucky we were to have such an amazing person at our disposal.'' Troy led them predictably towards the camp's visitor's tent. "Wouldn't shut up about it, actually.''

''Well, if the old man is that impressed, then this man must really be something.'' Despite himself, Moffitt had to admit that he was curious about their new ''expert specialist.''

''We'll see.'' Troy shrugged. He brought them to a halt in front of the visitor's tent. ''MJ Knight?'' he called through the slight gap in the tent flap. ''It's Sergeant Sam Troy. Captain Boggs sent me?''

A muffled reply came from the tent.

Troy looked back at his men. There was an odd expression on his face. ''Be right back.''

A small fire, expertly built, burned outside of the tent. Upon it was a kettle that seemed to be almost ready to boil. Moffitt pointed. ''I'm very much liking this fellow already! Must be a country man of mine, or, at the very least, an unusually civilized American.''

Hitch rolled his eyes. ''Wonder if he can make coffee? Now there's a skill that we'd appreciate.''

''Amen,'' said Tully.

"Absolutely!'' came a voice. ''I make excellent coffee. Coffee and tea hold equal places in my affections.''

It took Moffitt a moment to put his finger on why the sound of the voice had shocked him so thoroughly. After a moment, he realized it was because it sounded as though it belonged to a woman. He turned his head so quickly that he felt something pop in his neck. The owner of the voice was indeed a woman. And a very fine looking woman, indeed. She may be the very nicest thing that had ever happened to the desert.

And he really meant it this time, thought Moffitt. Mouth open, he looked at Troy.

Troy looked just as surprised, if not more, as Moffitt felt.

''Erm, Miss MJ Knight, I presume?'' Moffitt looked at her and felt particularly awkward. In her silk dressing gown, a brilliant emerald that matched her eyes, it was impossible to tell if the young woman was an officer or not. He wondered vaguely if he should salute her or shake her hand. He waited for her to do something which might give him a clue around how to proceed.

''Sergeant Jack Moffitt, I presume?'' MJ extended her hand and firmly grasped Moffitt's when he offered it in return. ''It's a pleasure to meet you! Yes, I'm MJ Knight.''

''The pleasure is all mine, Miss Knight.'' Moffitt turned to Tully and Hitch. ''Miss MJ Knight, may I present to you Privates Tully Pettigrew and Mark Hitchcock?''

Miss Knight smiled brilliantly and shook both of their hands in turn. "Great to meet you all!''

Hitch, grinning from ear to ear, and Tully, smiling shyly, both nodded.

Moffitt looked at Troy. Troy still looked dumbfounded. Moffitt wasn't sure that he blamed him.

Miss Knight broke the silence. ''Would you like some tea, Sergeant Moffitt? The kettle is about to boil.''

''Absolutely! That would be spectacular.'' Moffitt watched MJ take the kettle from the fire. ''Wherever in the desert did you find a proper kettle?''

''Oh, I brought it with me. From England. Tea is very important, you know. Warms the body and raises the spirits.''

''A woman after my own heart,'' Moffitt murmured appreciatively. He had never thought that he would ever hear those words stated in an American accent, much less by a beautiful woman.

Carrying the kettle, Miss Knight went towards the tent flap. ''Coming?'' she asked, before she disappeared inside.

''Of course.'' Moffitt grabbed a dazed looking Troy's elbow. ''Coming, Troy?''

''Yeah.'' Troy blinked.

''Are you all right? What's wrong?''

Closing his eyes and then reopening them, Troy looked at Moffitt. ''When she called me into the tent . . .'' Troy paused, apparently trying to gather his thoughts.

Moffitt waited patiently.

''I was expecting a man. And then I walked in . . . And she's obviously not a guy.'' Troy's eyes grew wide. ''And to top it off, she was barely dressed,'' he whispered.

''I see.'' Troy always had all of the luck, thought Moffitt. ''Bit of a shock, old man?"


Moffitt thought about what he had seen so far of MJ Knight. And while he had not had the good fortune to see as much of her as had Troy, it had been enough to allow Moffitt to form a rather strong opinion. ''Couldn't have been that unpleasant, could it?''

''No, not at all. I'm just having problems thinking about anything else.''

''Completely understandable.'' Grinning, Moffitt directed Troy inside.

Tully and Hitch followed closely behind.

Miss Knight was pouring hot water into a teapot. Moffitt watched with appreciation as she added what he considered to be the perfect amount of water to the tea. He then watched as she magically produced a caf├Ęterie and coffee and added the remainder of the hot water into it.

''Have a seat, gentlemen. And help yourself to either tea or coffee as you like.'' Miss Knight gestured to the chairs around the table. Moving to the cot, she took a seat there, giving a glimpse of long smooth legs as she settled her dressing gown around her.

Troy, having recovered enough to sit down, took a seat first. Moffitt, Tully, and Hitch followed his lead and joined him at the table.

Miss Knight nodded. ''I suppose,'' she said, pulling her long dark hair into a haphazard knot, ''that you're all wondering what our mission is going to be and what role that you're going to play in it?''

''Yeah,'' said Troy. ''What do you have in store for us, Miss Knight? It Miss Knight, isn't it?''

Laughing, Miss Knight nodded. ''Yes, it is. I'm a civilian. No rank to worry about. And very much a Miss.'' She held up her left hand to showcase a very naked ring finger.

The table breathed a collective sigh of relief.

''I am, by training, a doctor, but more of a research scientist now. And my specialty is the study of infectious diseases. I work with a very large organization that is dedicated to world health.''

The table nodded along, attention raptly on Dr. Knight. Both the tea and the coffee went untouched.

Dr. Knight continued. ''It has come to our attention that there has been a new and particularly dangerous virus created in North Africa. And also, from what we have heard, those that are working with the disease may be planning to engineer it to make it even more deadly. There's a doctor in the desert who is definitely capable of pulling it off.'' She paused and looked at the men of the Rat Patrol. ''It's really a very important and very grave matter.''

''So, where do we come in, Dr. Knight?'' Troy asked. ''Are we destroying the location where you think that the virus is and the work that's been done on it so far?''

Moffitt looked thoughtful. ''I would wager that we're not only going to do that, but that we're also going to be asked to either capture or kill the person doing the research? Am I right, Dr. Knight?''

Troy shot Moffitt a look that Moffitt interpreted as an order to keep his predictions to himself. Moffitt smirked. They'd see who was right.

''Anyone else have any guesses around what I'm asking of your team?'' Dr. Knight clapped her hands together like an excited child. "I'm really enjoying this game. I wish that there was a prize that I could give for the best answer.''

''I can think of one,'' Hitch muttered under his breath.

Moffitt elbowed him. ''Behave!'' he scolded.

''Well,'' Tully began slowly, ''I'd think that we'd do all of that, but it seems to me that maybe you wouldn't want to destroy the virus. Maybe you'd want to take a sample of it and make a cure? That way, everyone would always be safe. And then capture the guy who made it, too, just for good measure.''

''Private Pettigrew!'' Dr. Knight exclaimed, ''you are absolutely right! That is exactly what our mission entails!''

''Nice work,'' Moffitt told Tully.

Tully smiled and shrugged.

Troy narrowed his eyes. ''All right. Sounds reasonable enough. We've certainly been given worse to do.'' He looked around the table and waited while everyone nodded. ''But, Dr. Knight, there were somethings that you said that I'm not sure that I like the sound of at all.''

Dr. Knight raised her eyebrows. ''Yes? What?''

''Well, if you'll excuse me, ma'am, I heard you say 'our' mission and 'that's exactly what we'll be doing.' You're not planning on coming along are you?''

''Of course I am. You'll need me, Sergeant Troy, trust me.'' Dr. Knight shrugged. ''Why the hesitation? I am expert in viruses and I will be able to recognize it and the people working with it. I'll also be able to help you handle it safely to ensure that you aren't infected and even worse, that an epidemic isn't accidently started in the desert.''

Moffitt watched as Troy colored slightly. He knew the reason for Troy's hesitation but he was loath to voice it, just as apparently Troy was.

''Ma'am, what we do is extremely dangerous. And I certainly don't doubt that what you do is, as well. And I'm not arguing that you're an expert and that your input is extremely necessary to our success. But . . .'' Troy paused, his eyes burning with more intensity, ''I am not taking a woman into that situation!''

The collective table had all of their eyes trained on Troy. When he finished speaking, they moved their gaze expectantly to Dr. Knight, as if they were watching a tennis match.

Dr. Knight calmly got up from the bed and came to the table. She leaned down until she was eye level with them all and then she turned to Troy. ''Sergeant Troy, I've spoken to Captain Boggs. I know that your orders are to take me with you. Certainly, you're not going to argue with your commanding officer are you? Even if you don't approve of me tagging along?''

Troy was looking her directly in the eyes as he answered. ''Yes, I will argue, ma'am,'' Troy told MJ Knight.

The familar stubborn jut of Troy's jaw was not lost on Moffitt. Moffitt knew that it certainly wouldn't be the first time that Troy had argued with Boggs.

And sometimes, Troy even won.