It was all a blur.
From the moment the squad had met the bugs in a face-to-face challenge, to the fall after fall of MI troops. At first, the MI thought they had the upper hand, and would clear out the valley of bugs. But no one saw the advancing tanker bug or ripplers, until it was too late.
And the one transport that arrived for immediate evac was broken in two by an onslaught of ripplers.
Now, survival was first and foremost on her mind. Chiquita struggled through the thick vegetation; she knew that if she ran into the bugs, her life would be snuffed out.
And the trooper she half-carried, half-dragged back to the river where a skimmer should be waiting for them. If anyone back at Barbers Point received her transmission.
Regardless of the armor, Chiquita's ankle was broken, and the weight of her best friend didn't help matters. She knew, she could feel Nicki dying in her arms, and if it was the last thing Chiquita did, it was not going to let Nikki die.
It was more an angry plea than anything else.
Help from above was what she needed.
"Hold on, Nic, hold on."
Not once did Private Rhodes respond. The blood that oozed from her mouth, ear, and chest was still fresh. The young woman was pale, and if Chiquita had bothered to check, she would've felt the chill in Nicki's arms.
Breaking through the foilage, Chiquita fell, and Nicki with her.
The mud on the riverbank absorbed their fall, but Chiquita suddenly felt useless. Out of all the things she'd ever done, ever accomplished... ever failed... this was the pivotal moment of her life. If she allowed Rhodes to die, then what had been the use of her life? Because certainly, it hadn't saved her friend.
Muddy and bloody herself, Chiquita choked back the sobs, and tried to stand with Nicki in her arms. She wasn't going to fail.
She managed three steps before she fell back to the mud.
"Please, please, please...."
Chiquita took off her gloves and her helmet, before easing off Nicki's helmet. Tenderly, she stroked the cheek of her friend. Then tried one more time.
And this time, she couldn't stop the tears.
The anguished scream alerted Rico, in the skimmer, that the source of the transmission was closeby.
Razak ordered Gossard and Doc, on the jet-skis, to move further in.
The three vehicles rounded a corner to find Chiquita struggling along the riverbank, a wounded trooper over her shoulders.
Gossard was the first to pull up.
"Here, let me help you." He gathered Rhodes in his arms, and frowned at the distant look on the other woman's face.
Doc had already rushed forward to check on the troopers by the time the skimmer arrived. "Get this one back to Kaneohe, now!"
Razak didn't argue with his medic, and nodded to Rico, who turned the vehicle around.
"Nic!" Chiquita rushed forward, but Gossard caught her arm.
"We can catch up," he said, "get on."
Chiquita sat behind Gossard, and wrapped her arms around his waist. As her two saviours throttled the jet-skis after the skimmer, a dazed Chiquita rested her head on the back of Gossard's armor.
All she wanted was to sleep.
And wake up from this nightmare. The likes of nothing she'd *ever* encountered. Ambush was certainly a term she hadn't used. If it wasn't for the fact that she was covering the rear, she would've been wiped out, as well. Just like her squad. Her teammates. Her.... family.
The closer they got to Kaneohe, she could hear the call for an ambulance to await the arrival of the skimmer. She peered over Gossard's shoulder and watched them gain momentum.
"Hurry, hurry," she whispered.
How many minutes had passed from the interior of the island to now? She didn't have a clue.
She didn't wait for the jet-ski to stop when she rushed after Nicki, who was being lifted from the skimmer to the ambulance.
Chiquita tripped, but scrambled to her feet.
She missed the ambulance by two feet.
It rushed away without her.
A guttural cry escaped her lips, and she fell to the sand, a wave of helplessness washing over her.
The Roughnecks exchanged looks. Except for Razak, who quickly approached her, and took her by the arm. He pointed to the hummers that were close by.
"Get in," he said simply. Even as she hurriedly limped over to the vehicle, the Roughnecks wordlessly joined them.
Razak wasted no time in getting them to the clinic.
Chiquita jumped out, and again, fell to the ground, but this time, managed to roll to her feet. She stormed into the clinic, and brushed aside two of the security guards.
Only to be stopped by two more, outside the glass of the room Nicki lay in.
"You can't go in there." She was told.
"The hell I can't!" She shoved the trooper to the side, only to be knocked down herself.
The second trooper held his weapon on her. "No. You can't. Let them work on her."
Chiquita stood slowly. "Look, that is my best friend. I have to let her know that I'm here."
Razak moved to Chiquita's side. "She knows. Believe me... she knows."
Chiquita swallowed tightly. His voice was soft, reassuring... the same tone as her own squad leader. Who even now, lay on the bloody grass, split open for the world to see.
She turned and leaned against the glass partition, silently whispering any and every promise she could bargain with.
Razak turned to see where his own team was, and silently approved of their quiet presence in the clinic. T'Phai merely stood against the wall, Rico and Dizzy stood apart from the others and whispered to each other, Doc and Gossard had followed the lieutenant deeper into the clinic, and Higgins, like always, had the camera at the ready.
Razak turned back to the window into the cubicle. From the corner of his eye, he saw Doc flinch, and knew, it was too late.
The surgical team relaxed only a little, looking at the clock, and pulling their masks off.
Chiquita was stunned.
She slammed her palm onto the glass and forcefully yelled, "No!"
The cry startled everyone.
She hurried for the doors, and Razak jerked his head.
Gossard, closest to her, grabbed her from behind, and tried to yank her back into the hall. She struggled against him, trying to reach the still form of Nichelle Rhodes.
"Oh, my God," she sobbed, "I failed. I failed."
Gossard looked over at Doc. They knew her pain, they'd both been there before. Without realizing it, Gossard stroked her hair, and tried to soothe her.
It only angered her. Why the hell was she out here, safe and sound? And her friend, her best friend, lying on that cold slab of steel, covered by a once-white sheet?
She turned to smack Gossard, but somehow, he'd anticipated her move, and caught her hands. She fell into him, and this time, broke down. Gossard held her tighter as the sobs racked her body.
Razak sighed. This was the fourth casualty in a week, that the Roughnecks had encountered. The fourth casualty that had lost an entire squad.
Right now, the odds didn't look for good for the Mobile Infantry.