Rating: PG-13, to be safe (for language and what some might call "adult situations")

Warnings: Creaky old sci-fi plot device ahead -- willing suspension of disbelief is recommended. Heck, it's a little weird, okay? :)

Disclaimer: This story is based on characters that I do not own -- I'm just granting them a little unauthorized R&R. Also, it was written for my own fannish amusement and I am not profiting financially from it in any way. So there's no need to get anyone's lawyers in a lather.

Polarity

by iolanthe iolanthe@cais.com

Chapter I: Just One of Those Days

Major Margaret Houlihan clung grimly to the nearest available handholds as the Jeep lurched over parallel dirt ruts that bore only passing resemblance to a road. Exactly why she had agreed to accompany Father Mulcahy on this trip to the orphanage, she couldn't now recall. It would have been such a simple matter to order one of her nurses to go -- then the orphans would still be getting their immunizations, while Houlihan herself would be back at the 4077th MASH unit in the peace and quiet of her tent with two or three pillows over her head.

Her head was indeed the problem: a headache that had been blossoming steadily throughout the morning was threatening to wind up as a full-blown migraine. "Father, please," she growled through gritted teeth, "try steering around some of the potholes?"

Mulcahy spared her a sympathetic glance before returning his attention to the road. "It's not much farther now, Major -- we'll be there before you know it!"

Houlihan sighed and hung on tighter. No, she couldn't really blame Mulcahy for the condition of the road or for the vehicle's crummy suspension, but she could sure as hell blame him for being too damn persuasive. In pursuit of a goal he deemed worthy, the unassuming little priest could display the tenacity of a bull terrier.

She made a mental note to point him in the direction of Kellye or Bayliss the next time he asked for a favor.

Closing her eyes only made matters worse, so Houlihan chose a spot on the Jeep's hood on which to fixate. Almost there...we're almost there...and then I can swallow a fistful of aspirin....

But her concentration was soon shattered by the sharp *ping* of metal striking metal. "Snipers!" she hissed as another bullet ricocheted off the hood. "Get us out of here! Go!"

Mulcahy ducked low behind the windscreen and floored the accelerator, but to no avail. Before the engine could fully respond, both tires on the passenger side were shot out from under them in quick succession.

The unbalanced Jeep spun nearly halfway around, kicking up a cloud of dust and making a frighteningly believable threat to flip over before Mulcahy managed to wrestle it into submission. The instant it stopped moving, Houlihan vaulted over the side with Mulcahy one step behind her, and as they crouched together beside the vehicle in the best available shelter, she pulled out her sidearm and double-checked the loaded clip. Though she was a nurse, trained to save lives and not take them, in a situation like this she had no qualms about using a weapon to defend herself and the unarmed chaplain.

"Stay down," she whispered.

"Oh, I intend to," Mulcahy assured her. Though inexperienced under fire, he seemed to be keeping a reasonably cool head, for which Houlihan was thankful. She was scared enough as it was without having to worry about him doing anything reckless.

Now that their means of escape had been immobilized, the shooting became sporadic and light, just enough to keep them pinned down. Houlihan risked a quick peek over the side during a lull in the action, but she couldn't pinpoint the sniper's location. The disturbing thought had occurred to her that there might be more than one of them.

That suspicion was dramatically confirmed when something plinked the Jeep within inches of Mulcahy's head. He gasped, startled, and looked back over his shoulder to trace the bullet's trajectory. "Major, we're surrounded! What should we do?"

None of their options looked promising. Get back in the Jeep and try to limp away on two tires? Stay put and wait to be picked off? Surrender?

She was gearing up to gamble on option one when the decision was taken out of her hands. Five men in North Korean uniforms, their weapons drawn, appeared across the road behind them and slowly advanced on the Jeep. Their four compatriots on the other side of the road came out of hiding seconds later.

Too many...way too many.... Houlihan's throat tightened as she fought down the urge to scream. To be taken captive...to have unspeakable horrors inflicted upon her as a female prisoner of war -- this was her worst nightmare become reality. She didn't have a chance in hell of holding off nine enemy soldiers armed only with a .45 and a priest.

Her shoulders sagged in resignation as she reholstered the pistol. "I'm so sorry, Father," she murmured, eyes downcast.

But Mulcahy sought out her hand and clasped it, offering a tiny but welcome spark of reassurance. "Listen to me, Margaret -- you have nothing to apologize for. You've done everything you could possibly have done. Our fate rests in God's hands now."

His words and the warmth of his voice were unaccountably soothing. How was he managing to stay so calm? When she met his eyes, she could see the fear that was there, but also something more. Was it hope? Faith? Whatever it was, she wished desperately that she could borrow some of it.

With the Jeep encircled by the enemy, the two Americans rose, arms held up in surrender. Houlihan's last clear memory before everything went black was of watching the chaplain fall, struck down from behind by a North Korean rifle butt.