Sharaabi shook her head. "You expect to me believe that?"
Carl's eyes flashed, and McCormick quickly stepped between them.
"Has he ever failed us, Sharaabi?" She asked softly, hoping to lessen the tension in the room.
Sharaabi and Jenkins continued their staring game.
McCormick shook her head. "Stop this."
With a haughty look, Sharaabi used her secure line to General Redwing. Carl gave McCormick an uneasy look.
Redwing seemed...perturbed as she gazed into the monitor. "What is it, Sharaabi? I'm late for a lunch date."
"Can you spare a few moments, General? We need to speak with you."
Carl stepped into Redwing's line of view. "She means me."
Redwing clenched her jaw as her eyes narrowed to slits. "I'll be right over."
The monitor went dead, and Carl let out a deep breath. Sharaabi sat at her desk, and leaned back in the chair.
"Are you prepared to deliver the bad news, Private?"
Carl turned to face the doctor. "Just chalk another attribute to my growing list of personal qualities."
"Carl..." McCormick stepped forward.
"Forget it, Mac. We all know where this is headed."
Redwing stepped through the doors. "Where is this headed?"
Carl and McCormick stood at attention; Sharaabi merely nodded acknowledgement.
"You have something to tell me, Private?" Redgwing's tone was indicative of her hostility.
Carl waved an arm towards the two young women in the brightly lit room, sealed off from the world by a plate of glass.
"Private Roland regained consciousness earlier this afternoon. I was unable to penetrate her mind."
Momentarily, Redwing's gaze softened as she watched Roland, asleep on the bed.
"Is this going to lead somewhere, or are we going to play Twenty Questions?" Redwing turned back to Jenkins, her arms crossed over her chest.
"I was unable to remove the barricade in Roland's memory, until I was contacted."
Redwing gave Sharaabi a sharp look; Sharaabi merely shrugged.
"Contacted? By whom?" Redwing failed to conceal her apprehension from Carl.
Jenkins sighed, and clasped his hands behind his back. "That Black Ops squad you guys sent in is still operating. However, only one trooper is alive -"
"Color me surprised," Sharaabi said under her breath.
McCormick threw her a look, but said nothing.
"One trooper. The only psychic. She found Roland, and used her mind as a relay. Unfortunately, it wasn't until Roland awoke that we've been able to make contact."
Redwing took a step closer to Jenkins. "Continue."
"She's weak, she's exhausted, she thinks the bugs know about her, and she doesn't know why she hasn't been killed yet."
"She says she can finish the job. But she'll need backup."
Redwing raised an eyebrow. "Backup. She had backup."
"Can you contact her for me?"
"She calls me."
"She calls you? She just picks up the phone, punches in her code, and she calls you?" Redwing glowered at Jenkins, who quietly gazed back.
"General, I know you're frustrated at the loss of those squads, but please...don't let this squad go to waste. This trooper is worn out, and she's not sure in her current condition if she'll be successful."
Redwing again stared into the other room. Roland, asleep, and Chiquita flipping through the few magazines left in the room. Squads gone to waste. In one week's time, eight squads - erased from the Federal payroll, and gone into archive.
She whispered a curse, then turned back to face Jenkins. This time, her brown eyes were sad.
"When she contacts you...." Redwing's voice trailed. They were so close. "When she contacts you, order her to fall back. Get her coordinates, so that we can send in a retrieval ship. Tell her to avoid detection, because more than likely - she will be going back."
As Redwing made her way to the door, McCormick timidly said, "I hope you'll still be able to make your lunch date."
Redwing glanced at Jenkins, then shook her head. "No. I'll have to cancel. But not like it's the first time." The doors closed behind her.
"Well..." Sharaabi grabbed her clipboard, and headed for the room that housed Roland and Chiquita. "Jenkins, get some rest. You know how these things wear you down."
Jenkins watched Chiquita bristle as Sharaabi entered her room. He turned away.
"Mac, I'll be in my quarters."
"You okay, Carl? How you feelin'?"
"Like a harbinger of death."
McCormick smiled pityingly. "Remind me never to walk in your shoes."
Jenkins tried to smile, but failed. The sun felt good on his face, and instinctively, he closed his eyes, and lifted his face to the sky.
He started, and opened his eyes.
Are you there?
Jenkins looked around, but no one seemed to pay him any attention.
I'm here, he replied.
He felt, more than heard, the trooper's sigh of relief. Thank you.
Quickly, he made his way to this quarters. He could feel the isolation and pressue in the other trooper's thoughts.
Where are you? he asked her.
I had to ditch the last hiding place. I wonder if bugs can smell fear.
Or starvation. When was the last time you ate?
There was a pause, and he felt her reluctance. Eight days ago.
Are you secure?
He lied flat on his bunk, and closed his eyes. Tentatively, he used the psychic thread between him and this lone survivor to guide his way to her. He could... "see" ... the dark cave she currently lived in. The tiny alcove that she managed to cram herself into.
I'm here. Get some rest.
You don't have to do this, she replied.
Yes, I do. You'd do it for me, if the situation was reversed.
She laughed softly. You're right.
Though he couldn't see her, Carl felt her body immediately relax, her head back against the rock wall. Her sleep was swift.
She didn't hear him as he whispered aloud, "I've got you covered, Spitz."