By Carol Sandford


Chapter 22


Spirits were high when the men arose at the crack of dawn the next morning, despite only having four hours sleep, in conditions that were as far removed as they could be from their warm, cozy beds back at base. But even the meagre breakfast couldn't dampen the men's eagerness to get the day started, the job done, and then home again for a sumptuous, well earned feast tonight, if everything went according to plan.

Walking back towards the shuttle after doing his own personal ablutions, Will whistled as he raked his hands through his dark hair, unsuccessfully trying to flatten the damp ends that perpetually stuck up on end when it got a half inch over long.

At first he ignored the feint buzz, thinking it to be bugs of some kind, especially as a couple of close by ones attempted to make a meal of his nape and he swiped them away, automatically raking his hand though his hair once more to flatten the re-raised area, cursing mildly as he did so, "Damn, pesky gnats. Go away and nibble on somebody else."

But the buzz didn't dissipate. It grew louder. Nearer. Ominous, and Will began to feel a wave of terror wash over him when it sank in that it wasn't pesky bugs he was hearing, but space ships.

Alien space ships.

Sindareen space ships.

His hands, feet and heart froze as the distinct whine of ships engines grew louder. Shielding his eyes with the same hand that only moments ago was raking though his hair, now damp with perspiration, as the dread began to claw at his gut, Will scanned the horizon, instinctively looking toward the Sindareens encampment.

Fear gushed into his soul when his eyes finally focused on the small dots that looked like an invading swarm of flies, an ebony wave of death that Will estimated would take less than five minutes to reach them. He began to run.

He had to get his men off the ground, it was their only chance. On the surface, they were nothing more than sitting ducks. Somehow the Sindareen knew that they were there. Somehow, someway, they had found their location and had planned their attack with military precision. Somehow their enemy knew when they would be at their most vulnerable. They had timed it just right, and caught them still pulling their boots on.

Will ran faster.

Even as he approached the camp, he could see his men scuttling around, thanking the stars that they had heard the invading ships too, and reacted with as much speed as the scum about to pound them. But they needed another few minutes more to become the soldiers that they were trained to be, and not the fumbling, chaotic bunch that their superior witnessed.

Will watched as some were desperately trying to pull boots on, their antics at any other time would have been comical as they hopped around in an effort to get the task done faster, when in reality it would have probably been quicker if they'd just sat down and done it. But that was what fear did to you.

Others were throwing things into the back of the shuttles, not caring where they landed. Will raced the last few meters, his lungs bursting with not only the effort of running, but the same fear that filled his soul, feeling it fill every pore, and every thought.

Forget the supplies!" he bellowed. "Get the ships in the air, we must get off the ground!" he roared, as he finally ploughed into the camp, grabbing the nearest man and physically dragging him into the ship. Making his way to the helm, he was gratified and relieved to find Tang already at the controls, preparing to lift off as soon as his C.O. commanded him.

It didn't take long.

"Get this bird moving, Tang, NOW! Those bastards thought they'd catch us with our pants down. Christ! ten minutes earlier and they would've." Horror lacing his words as images that were too painful to imagine flicked through his mind. Throwing himself into his seat, Will's hand flew over the controls, years of practice simplifying the tedious job.

The ship began to lift and along with it a smidgen of relief. "Made it...just. Good work, Tang." Will swung his gaze around the ship, checking if he had his complete complement on board. Four men, eyes wide with fear and excitement stared back at him. "Buckle up, it's gonna get bumpy." But nobody took any notice of their commanding officer. The job was already done. Now they just had to wait for the bumps.

The air was alive with frantic tension and War. This was what they'd come to Betazed for. This was what they'd joined the military to do; To defend those that couldn't defend themselves. To eradicate scum that preyed on the innocent. To give the Federation shooting practise occasionally.

Hell, they needed it.

And hell, they were going to get it, right now.

Will flew toward the oncoming enemy ships, silently balking when he saw how many were headed straight at them. Sometime during the night, more had arrived, because ahead of the Federations measly eight ships, were at least twenty Sindareen fighter craft.

Will was mortified. He'd gotten it wrong. He had underestimated his enemy. Believed that they were a second rate force that bared no resemblance to the might of the Federation. Thought that they would die as easily as stepping on a sleeping slug.

But he'd got them wrong. Terribly wrong.

Sergeant Tang marvelled at the man that sat beside him, even though he'd known that Will was beating himself up for under-estimating the Sindareen. Hell, if he'd have been in the same position, he'd have probably done the same thing. The only difference was, he didn't have a little lady waiting at home for him like the young lieutenant, and Tang wasn't sure if that was a blessing, or a curse.

When he intruded on Will's private time last night, it was as plain as day what Will was daydreaming about, and he warmed at the memory. The only thing that he had to think about was finding a seamstress to add another inch or so to the waistband of his struggling pants.

Tang envied him.

But that all was irrelevant now as they stared death in the face and wondered how it was going to happen. Would it be quick, or would they shoot them down and leave them to fry in the searing sun.

The mild expletive left Tang's mouth, "Shit."

Will swung a look at Tang, and Tang caught the gaze and met it with one of his own. Swallowing, Will muttered quietly, "Say a prayer for us, my friend."

And quieter still, Tang told him, "I already did, Sir, as soon as I woke up this morning and found that we were still alive."

Will swung another quick look at him, and Tang murmured, "But I guess it won't hurt to say another one."

And then all hell broke loose.

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