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BetaKnight
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In some cultures, what I do is considered normal.
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Aislyn tried to ignored the sleeping girls as she relentlessly scraped her stick with the coarse, fist-sized rock she had found. She tried to stay focused on the task at hand, namely, grinding down the edges of the stick to make a sharpened point. Holding the branch at an angle, with sure, steady strokes, she worked, determined to create a weapon to defend herself with. While the task was physically demanding, it wasn’t exactly visually or mentally stimulating.

As she watched the other girls enjoy their peaceful slumber, she found herself apply more force to the stick than was absolutely necessary. The methodic rasping of the stone on the wood filled her ears. With each stroke of the stone, her irritation began to grown into something more. Treacherous, poisonous thoughts began to creep into her mind.

Let’s just take a nap.

On a mountain.

With no cover or anything.

Just in case the crazies come back.

We can be completely helpless.

Easy targets for even the clumsiest hunters.


Slowly, Aislyn’s gaze travelled from Melissa to Felicia before resting on Samaya’s peaceful form. It would be so easy to just end it here for them. It would almost be a mercy, an act of kindness to spare them from the indignities and cruelties that some of the other students would surely inflict upon them. They would never know or feel a thing. She was fairly certain she could make it quick and painless for them.

But she couldn’t do that. This was her team. Her team...who were sleeping on the ground without a care in the world. They were relying on her to keep them safe while they slept. She couldn’t betray that trust. The situation wasn’t hopeless yet. They had only been here a little over a day. There was still time. Her thoughts drifted to a comforting starry night from the not too distant past.

________________________

It was easier to talk to her father about his job and their lifestyle and what that meant for the future when the only illumination came from the comforting, flickering flames of their campfire and the distant twinkling of the stars overhead.

The McCreerys were a tight-knit and loving family, but neither father nor daughter was entirely comfortable with things that were ‘touchy feely’. The dancing shadows cast by the firelight obscured enough that neither one of them had to be embarrassed about witnessing any awkward displays of emotion. Aislyn prodded the fire with a stout stick, causing the fire to flare briefly before settling into muted glow. The dark, as her father liked to remind her, was your friend.

Setting the stick aside, she absently twisted her fingers in the hem of her shirt as she tried to figure out how to approach the topic. Even though her father had been a sailor for as long as she could remember, the final few days leading up a deployment never got any easier. It seemed so selfish to ask him to reassure her when he was the one heading off to an active combat zone.

“Penny for your thoughts, Cess.”

Her father’s gruff voice startled her. Aislyn looked up from the fire, her eyes wide. “Wha…what, Dad?”

Across the fire, her father lifted his metal coffee mug and gestured to her hands. “You’re twisting up your shirt there pretty good. That usually means you’ve got something on your mind. So why don’t you just tell ole’ Dad what it is you’re thinkin’ about?” He raised the mug to his lips and took a deep drink while knowingly watching his daughter.

“It’s nothing. It’s stupid,” she mumbled, feeling like a small child again.

“Ah, so it’s the old ‘you’re going away and leaving me’ bit again, is it?” he asked in a knowing tone.

Aislyn blushed hotly, cringing a bit. “Well, when you say it *that* way, it really does sound stupid,” she barked, unhappy with her father for his teasing. “I mean, why should I be upset that you’re going to a place where people get killed on a regular basis.” She tried to swallow the lump that had suddenly appeared in her throat. “Why would I worry that one day you’re gonna go and not come back? You’re right. It’s stupid.” Staring at the sullen embers embedded in the ash, she willed herself not to cry.

Sighing, he put aside the coffee mug and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “Aislyn, we’ve been through this before. This is what I do. I go out with a team, we kick ass, take names, and come back home to brag about it. You know that no matter what happens, I will always come back. SEALs don’t –“

She finished the statement for her father. “Leave other SEALs behind. Yeah, Dad, I know,” she sighed. “It’s just…what if something happens while you’re gone? Like that train bombing in Spain? Or the one in London? What if something like SARS sweeps Italy and they won’t let you guys come back? I don’t want to be alone if something like that happens.” Aislyn squirmed in her seat, uncomfortable at the amount of vulnerability she was revealing.

Her father stood and walked around the campfire to sit beside her. Settling down, he picked up her stick and began to poke at the fire. “Aislyn Grace, what have I said to you every year since you started school? What does the note that goes into every emergency kit and deployment package I have ever given you say?” All teasing was gone from his voice. He studied his only child out of the corner of his eye as he moved small pieces of wood around.

“Not to worry. That you love me and if something has happened, to sit tight and wait for you to come and get me,” she mumbled as she leaned against her father’s comforting bulk. “But-“

“No ‘buts’,” he said, his tone serious. “There are no ‘buts’ to that statement. You are the most important thing to me in the world, and if you need help, I will come and get you. It doesn’t matter if it’s a natural disaster or a man-made one. I *will* come and get you. Your job is to hang on until I get there. And I will get there. Because there’s nothing in heaven or hell that can stop a SEAL for coming to get a team mate.”

Not trusting her voice, Aislyn nodded her head. After a moment, she cleared her throat and spoke, her voice low. “Thanks, Daddy. I’m sorry.”

Her father slung his arm around her shoulders, giving her a reassuring squeeze. “Hell, I’m nervous too, Cess. And I know we do this song and dance every time I go. But never forget, you are the most important thing in my life, and I will always come if you need me. Even if I have to *walk* back from Iraq. I will come. “

“I know,” she whispered, her voice almost inaudible.

Giving his daughter one last squeeze before releasing her, Lucas McCreery leaned back and studied the fire. “Now that we’ve got that out of the way, why don’t we make some s’mores before we call it a night? And you can tell me if you can finally pick out the Northern Cross,” he said, gesturing at the sky.

“Sure thing, Dad,” Aislyn said, discreetly wiping a few stray tears off her face as she got out the s’mores supplies. “I’m pretty sure I’ve got it nailed down this time.”

____________________________

The rustling of some leaves snapped Aislyn back to the present. ‘Stupid stupid stupid!’ she silently chastised herself. ‘You’re on guard duty! You don’t get to wander down Memory Lane! You’re lucky nobody got killed by your inability to focus!’

Hefting her makeshift spear in one hand and the rock in the other, Aislyn cautiously crept towards the edge of the clearing, where the sound had originated. Weapon at the ready, she waited for the inevitable attack. When none came, she lowered her arm, feeling incredibly foolish. Relaxing a bit, she walked back to the other girls.

“Rest time is over, ladies,” Aislyn called out as she neared them. “This isn’t a secure location. We’ve got to keep moving.”

Seeing no immediate movement, she took a deep breath before barking out the three girls’ names in rapid succession. “FELICIA! MELISSA! SAMAYA! GET YOUR ASSES UP! IT’S TIME TO GO!”
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