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Aerogirl's Website

Daenar's Website




Classification JAG Story, Romance (H/M)
Length Approximately 41,000 Words, 102 pages (8.5x11")
Author's Notes

This story alternates points of view by chapter, with the exception of one chapter that alternates more than once.  Dae wrote one person’s POV: AG wrote the other.  We leave it to you to figure out which is which.  Not that it should be too hard, considering AG’s mild fixation with a certain character …

The basic premise that begins this plot has its origins in reality.  Three ships really did leave port in Iraq this winter without a clear destination or cargo, causing confusion and some concern.  Beyond that point, though, “ripped from the headlines” takes a break, and fiction steps in.  The story is set at the beginning of the recent conflict in Iraq , and therefore ignores the end-of-season story arc in Paraguay .  (If you’d care to think of this as a more shipper-centered stand-in for those eps, go right ahead, because there are some basic similarities.  But this was conceived quite a while ago, so we had no intentions of borrowing too much from the show.)

A disclaimer seems appropriate: though we are focusing on an al Qaeda cell and its associated motivations, we have no wish to imply that Islam and terrorism must go hand in hand.  Quite the opposite, as we hope the ending will demonstrate.  If our portrayal offends anyone, we sincerely apologize.


From AeroGirl – Dae, you’ve been an absolute joy to write with.  Thank you for trusting me to do justice to your idea.  Your friendship is truly one of the best things I ever could have hoped to get out of this hobby, and I will forever admire your strength and your outlook.

From Dae – AG, I feel incredibly honoured that you agreed to work this out with me. Few things have happened to me in the fanfiction world that I’ve enjoyed so much as I have this truly inspiring cooperation. But there’s more: just when we had decided to get started on this project, RL suddenly knocked me off the track big time. You managed to get my thoughts off the bad things and helped me come back to my normal self. Although we’re oceans apart, it felt like I had a kindred spirit right next door. Thank you a million times for being such a good friend, I really owe you, my dear.

And, of course, thanks to Valerie and Heather for beta-reading!  On parallel missions to a region gripped by war, two officers are forced to risk their own lives -- and each other's -- to protect the lives of countless innocents.

Summary On parallel missions to a region gripped by war, two officers are forced to risk their own lives -- and each other's -- to protect the lives of countless innocents.




Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 Part 7 Part 8





Chapter One

The loud clicking of the door behind me made me sigh contently. It was the audible line that I had gotten used to mentally drawing under a day filled with an intense workload, the sound that always marked the beginning of my ‘Hard Day’s Night,’ to cite the Beatles. The one moment I looked forward to each day, because it meant that I could finally breathe and be myself again.

True, the real relief would still have to wait a little. As long as I wasn’t home or, to be exact, in the place that I had accepted as ‘home’ for the time being, I would still have to be on my guard. But deep inside, I felt that the sound of the key turning in the rusty lock of the school door was tantamount to being at least free to let my thoughts flow in whatever direction they liked – which was mostly west, to a place thousands of miles away, where a pair of blue eyes would just now be perusing some file; where a warm, velvety voice would just now be trying to coax information out of some frightened person; where a noble, crystal-clear mind would just now be engaged in the quest of serving truth and justice. I’d never have imagined how badly I would need this one image in front of my inner eye to keep me from slowly going insane.

Briefly closing my eyes, I savored the feel of the gentle evening breeze on my face, before I gave in to the inevitable and pulled the thick cloth of my Chador in front of my mouth and nose. This would be a beautiful spring evening to take a walk alongside the Potomac . But as it was, it would be just another beautiful spring evening to be confined to my house. Just another spring evening in western Afghanistan .


1823 Local – 1353 ZULU
Suburbs of Zaranj


I turned my head in the direction the voice had come from. The old white pickup with the red half-moon painted on the hood had pulled up about thirty yards down the dirt road, right in front of Mr. Salimi’s tailor shop. Leaning against the passenger door was my husband, impatiently motioning for me to join him. I flung my bag over my shoulder and hurriedly complied, throwing him a subdued “Mote asefam!” to apologize for letting him wait.

Just before getting in the car, I made another silent apologetic gesture and slipped into the shop. The owner’s face lit up upon seeing me. The distinguished old man in the decidedly western-looking light suit immediately put away what he was working on and walked towards me with the help of his cane, the impressive polished brass knob shining. When I had first known Ahmad Salimi, I had been very astonished about his appearance. But as we had soon gotten to like each other – unlike many locals, I was a well-dressed woman under my Chador and knew about style – we had often had nice conversations about society and I had soon learned that Salimi had perfected his skills in Europe with a London high-society tailor, back in the golden sixties when the former Afghan king had still tried to open his country to the west, before the Soviet occupation and the Taliban.

As soon as the post-Taliban law had permitted him to cut his beard and turn back to the clothes he had come to like in Europe , Salimi had returned to his old habits and had even found a way to obtain a subscription to the International Herald Tribune. With me, he talked in Farsi, of course. He had no way of knowing I spoke English.

“Mrs. Goshtasbi, it’s a pleasure to see you,” he addressed me in his melodious Farsi, handing me a parcel that contained the new shirt I had ordered for my husband three days ago. “What else can I do for you?”

“Nothing right now, Mr. Salimi, thank you,” I answered, smiling. “My husband will come to see you next week for the new jacket we talked about. Would that be all right?”

“Of course, ma’am.” Noticing the nervous glance that I cast out of the window, Salimi’s expression turned a little compassionate. “You don’t have time for a little tea today, I assume?”

“Unfortunately not. Next time, I promise.” I paid for the shirt and turned to leave.

Salimi insisted on walking me to the door and held it open for me. “I am looking forward to it. Good bye, ma’am.”

“So am I, thank you. Good bye.” I gave my old friend a last friendly nod and then mentally prepared myself to face my husband’s anger.

The pick-up’s motor was already running. With a scowl, my husband opened the passenger door and roughly slammed it shut as soon as I had climbed aboard, not caring that part of my Chador had ended up between the door and the doorframe. At least I was allowed to sit in the driver’s cabin. After all, things had changed a little once the Taliban regime had been defeated. Thus, the life of Mrs. Vajih Goshtasbi was something I could handle enduring.

I barely had the time to take a firm hold on the handle above the side window before my husband forcefully stepped on the accelerator and, with screeching tires, sped off, leaving a cloud of dust in the street behind us.

During the entire ten-minute ride, neither of us said a word. My husband never spared me a glance. Once again, I firmly tucked my Chador in place, wincing at the sound of ripping cloth as I tugged a little too forcefully at the side that had caught in the door. My husband only frowned. Finally, he came to a rough stop in front of our small house. Yanking my door open, he again impatiently called out to me.


Suppressing a sigh, I got out and let him usher me through the door. As soon as I was inside, he turned and firmly locked it. Only then did he take off his traditional cover, throwing it on the low table and letting out a deep breath.

“How was your day, ma’am?”

In the fraction of a second, Vajih Goshtasbi had reduced to the mere initials of his name. The Red Half-Moon charity worker from Isfahan wouldn’t be needed any more right now. Smiling easily, Victor Galindez stepped up behind me and took my Chador away as I let myself fall onto the couch.

“Thanks, Gunny, same as always.”

“Same here, ma’am,” I heard him agree from the adjacent room, my bedroom.

“We still need to work on your ‘a’, Gunny,” I called back and had to grin as I heard him sigh.

“Yes, ma’am,” he said obediently, returning into the room and sitting down himself. At least he had somehow gotten used to moving about the house without always jumping to his feet whenever I got up or waiting to be offered a seat. That was quite an achievement, given the fact that we had only been ‘married’ for about four weeks.

“You know, Gunny, I understand that for you, being married to me may be easier if you keep on pronouncing my cover name like some slurred ‘ma’am’, but I think you should reconsider your priorities on this point.” I couldn’t quite keep the smile out of my voice.

 “Yes, ma’am.” The Gunny’s voice wasn’t entirely sober either. He met my mock frown with a guilty grin of his own. Shaking my head, I got up and went into the kitchen to prepare dinner.

Generally speaking, I had no reason whatsoever to complain about my private student. As long as I kept overlooking his reluctance to leave off the formal address due an officer, he was diligent and had, in amazingly little time, reached a fluency in Farsi that enabled him to pass for genuine Iranian, as long as he pretended to be one of the glum and seldom-speaking kind. In the evenings, we still employed a considerable amount of time to smooth and polish his pronunciation and just keep talking, but I had to admit that by now, Gunnery Sergeant Galindez would beat any of the most ardent students in the district elementary school when it came to doing a grammar test or writing a story.

When Webb had first briefed us about our mission, which was to infiltrate the local al Qaeda cell and find out about their plans, I had all but laughed in his face at the idea. Only the fact that the conversation had taken place in Admiral Chegwidden’s office, my CO being present, had prevented me from bursting out laughing. An elementary school teacher, me? Married to Gunny Galindez who would have to pose not just as a member of the local Iranian minority but as a charity worker from Iran itself? Impossible. Utter madness. Well, Webb. Still, although I despised him for it, Clay had once again been proven right. We could in fact pull this off. People respected Vajih Goshtasbi and included him into their social lives. And Maryam Goshtasbi had soon become a well-liked guest in every housewife’s tea circle, being a rather elegant woman from the big city of Isfahan . We only hoped that our efforts would soon begin to pay off. Life was beginning to get boring as hell.

I had admitted to Harm in one of the few cherished emails that I had been able to send that I had actually come to like being around the kids of my class. I had been assigned the first grade, thirty children about the age of six, luckily including girls as well as boys. Not that I’d have been afraid to put up with a bunch of children who already knew their teacher to be inferior to them because of her sex. After all, who better than a female Marine officer to know about prejudices? But still, having girls around rendered school life a whole lot more agreeable. Not only could I count on having a few allies, but I could also do some good and try to help them brace themselves against the society in this ‘Man Country,’ as Harm had once so eloquently put it.

Of course, whenever he got the chance to get in touch, Harm would mercilessly tease me about having found my true mission in life. And as I told Gunny when, every once in a while, undercover life threatened to squash my real personality, these little episodes that I lived at school, the little joys, the hidden heartaches of my students and my efforts to mend them if I could, were the only things that helped me think straight. Everyday routine was becoming overwhelmingly monotonous at times, being forced to play the dutiful Muslim wife. I needed every straw of diversion that I could get my hands or mind on, including the aforementioned images of my best friend on Earth doing all by himself what we usually did together. At least, in his last email, he had between the lines admitted that he missed me, too. There’s indeed something to the concept of sorrows shared being sorrows halved.

While I was at school, Gunny was working at the nearby Red Half-Moon base, coordinating the distribution of food donations with an efficiency that fatally resembled that of a U.S. Marine organizing an office full of military lawyers. Webb had picked the ideal job for him. He got in touch with all the local VIPs, including those who only thought they belonged in that category. Gunny’s police background had proven indispensable in this respect. He was used to seeing people for who they were. As he pointed out to me, there wasn’t too big a difference between people fighting for some influence in a small American rural community and people doing the same in the suburbs of a mid-sized Persian-Afghani town. The Gunny had a trustworthy gut feeling for the characters of the people he came across. This would surely come in extremely handy one day. I was glad that he was in this with me.

We were about halfway through our curried chicken when a sharp knock at our door startled us. I rushed to get my Chador even though we were at home. You could never know if there was a man in front of your door. I wouldn’t want to offend any visitors by forcing them to see my face. Afghan law permitted women to go without the traditional Burqa ever since the Taliban had been chased away. But as a good Iranian housewife, I knew when my Chador would be required. Wrapping myself in the warm, black woolen cape, I sat down at the far side of the room, pretending to knit and hoping that whoever came to visit wouldn’t notice that I didn’t have the slightest idea about what I was doing.

Galindez opened the door. From the corner of my eye I noticed two middle-aged men, clad in local costume, but obviously belonging to a slightly wealthier class of society than the average population of the district. Their clothes seemed less worn-out and shabby. Gunny reverently bade them come in and accommodate themselves at the table. Then he sternly looked at me.

“Maryam. Tea.”

I nodded acknowledgement and withdrew into the kitchen, keeping my ears open, praying that Gunny wouldn’t choke on his Farsi. We had never yet received a social call this late in the evening. I couldn’t fight the feeling that things were finally beginning to get interesting. While I was waiting for the hot water to turn the right color, I listened intently.

“Vajih, you know my brother Rokneddin,” said the elder of the two men whom I knew to be called Kourosh Maghari. Gunny had told me that he was the head of the district’s fire watch.

“Yes, I do,” Gunny answered in perfect intonation, if maybe a little slow. “I am very pleased to finally meet you in person.”

“So am I,” Rokneddin replied in an amazingly melodious voice. I decided to choose this moment to carry the tea inside, rather than risking an interruption of any vital conversation. Putting the tray down, I nodded silently and became invisible again.

“Although we always like spending time with you,” Kourosh continued, getting straight to the point, “You may have guessed that this isn’t a strictly social visit.”

Galindez waited.

“We... uh... believe  that you and some of us.... share a few fundamental convictions,” Kourosh ventured cautiously. I felt my hands starting to sweat and tightened the grip on my knitting needles.

“In what respect?” Gunny only asked, careful to keep his tone respectful.

“As to how Allah wants this world to be,” Kourosh answered enigmatically, casting a pointed look in my direction.

Gunny instantly understood. “Maryam,” he ordered, “Leave us.” I did. In my room I pressed my ear to the wall to catch any words. They went on very low, but they obviously hadn’t counted on my Recon-trained ears.

Rokneddin took over. “There are a lot of people around here who devoted their lives to Jihad. Apt men who are convinced that the rightful leaders of Holy War aren’t to be found anywhere in political positions. That the only righteous way to follow Allah’s command is to follow his appointed warrior who has already fought so many glorious victories against the unfaithful.”

“Osama Bin Laden,” Gunny cut in in a low voice, apparently intimidated by the fact that he was indeed about to be invited to join the cohorts of our sworn enemy.

Rokneddin had paused to let the news sink in. “Look, Vajih, Jihad needs people like you. People with organizing talent, with capacity of reasoning, with authority. We hold out our hands to you, asking you to join our brotherhood of faith and honor. But be warned: we only make this offer once, and may Allah have mercy on your soul if we misjudged you.”

Even from my room, the distinct threat in his voice became apparent. Gunny, however, was as cool as ice. “You didn’t, brothers,” he answered in an amazingly calm voice that sounded as if he could lure anyone into trusting him. “What will be expected of me?”

“You have to come with us now to be questioned by our brotherhood’s counsel of elders.”

“Who are your brothers?” Gunny asked, still applying the amazing, open tone he had used before.

“We are people who trust in nothing but the Holy Koran. The Brotherhood of True Faith.” Rokneddin’s voice had taken up a tinge of reverent awe. “Although we aren’t directly part of them, Allah’s enemies see our parent organization in al Qaeda.”

There was the monster’s name. al Qaeda – The Base. I felt my gut clench. Although this was exactly the contact that we had been hoping to establish, having the word hanging in the air made the whole scenario seem strangely surreal. This was it. ‘You can do this, Gunny.’

I was reluctant to let him go into the lion’s den all by himself, but right at that moment it couldn’t be helped. Or so I thought. But I hadn’t counted on my ‘husband’s’ readiness of mind.

“I will come with you,” he acknowledged calmly. “But may I make a suggestion?”

Obviously intrigued, Kourosh told him to do so.

“Let me bring my wife.” Gunny’s voice had sounded as if he had just asked if he could simply go to the bathroom. Our guests gasped audibly – and so did I, by the way.

“Of what use could that woman possibly be to us?” Rokneddin’s voice was full of contempt.

Upon hearing his answer, I resolved never to play poker with Galindez. “Her father was a driver for the American embassy in Teheran when the Shah was still in power,” he calmly explained. “Maryam grew up to despise America, but nevertheless she learned their language so perfectly that she could pass for an American wherever she wants to. She might be of infinite use to our cause and I know that she would pledge her life to Allah, even though she may only be a woman.”

Had the situation not been so deadly serious, I would have had enormous difficulties stifling my laughter at the Gunny’s bold explanation. I sent a silent prayer heavenward that Kourosh and Rokneddin bought it.

“Bring her here.”

“Maryam!” Gunny sounded like a drill sergeant.

I quickly entered the room and looked at the three men, waiting in silence.

“You speak English?” Rokneddin asked in Farsi. His stare could have stabbed me.

“Yes, I do,” I said in English, shyly lifting my eyes.

The brothers exchanged a surprised glance. Then Kourosh pulled out a scarf and blindfolded the Gunny. A moment later Rokneddin did the same with me and we were swiftly led outside and seated in a car that instantly drove off.


Half an hour later
Unknown location
Near Zaranj
Western Afghanistan


I blinked several times once they removed the blindfold. They had brought Gunny and me into a poorly-lit hut. We were standing in the middle of the small, dirty room, in front of us a row of middle-aged and elderly men, scrutinizing us in silence. I braced myself and waited, unconsciously seeking shelter behind my Chador.

“You are Vajih Goshtasbi?” the eldest in the row quietly addressed Galindez.

“I am,” he answered calmly. In an odd little mental side-note I resolved to mention in my report the Gunny’s excellent command of Farsi under considerable pressure.

“And this is your wife Maryam?”


“Vajih, who is your most powerful enemy?”

“The United States of America .”

“Maryam, whom do you hate most in this world?”

I swallowed and quickly asked for God’s forgiveness. “The Americans,” I answered very low.

“What is the maxim of your existence?” The whole jury was looking at the both of us.

Glancing at me, the Gunny took my hand, silently bidding me to go along with his reaction. I hoped I understood what he had in mind.

“There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet,” we said simultaneously.

“Do you pledge your life to Allah and this brotherhood so that you can become His tools to fight new victories even more glorious than the holy deed of Mohammed Atta?”

Feeling Gunny’s grip tighten painfully and fighting the overwhelming urge to throw up at the thought of what we were asked to swear, I implored God to take our following actions for what they were truly intended to be.

Again, my colleague and I spoke together. “I do.”

After what seemed an endless half-hour, the terrorists again dropped us off at our humble abode, giving us directions to attend their next meeting, two days from that time. From what we understood between the lines, something big was in the planning and we, especially I, were part of their plans. I fervently prayed that we might get the chance to do anything that would annul our dreadful oath.

When he had closed the door behind my back and lit the little petroleum lamp, I saw that Gunny’s face was just as ashen as I believed my own to be. For a short moment, ignoring rank and only seeking comfort with a friend, we hugged tightly.

“Semper fi, ma’am,” Gunny whispered.

“Semper fi.”


Chapter Two


1317 Local -- 1817 Zulu
JAG Headquarters

Falls Church, Virginia


Her innate sense of timing had finally begun to rub off on me.

While it must undoubtedly be a useful trick in many cases, it was driving me insane at this particular point in time. I didn’t want such a keen awareness of just how long she’d been gone, and yet I couldn't find any way of turning it off. It was like a set of tumblers turning endlessly in my mind, clicking through the hours, days and weeks since she boarded that plane.

I’d had a file open on my computer for a few minutes already, but I honestly had no idea what it contained. My thoughts were scattered in a dozen different directions: the latest theater report from western Afghanistan, the calm yet cautious tone of her last email, the likelihood of me finding a justifiable reason to join her out there ... That last one stretched the bounds of logic a little. I would have been about as inconspicuous as a Starbucks in her current location. Still, I hated the idea of being utterly superfluous while my partner -- no matter what, I’ll never stop using that term -- took on possibly the most difficult and risky assignment of her life.


It was a moment before I realized that someone was addressing me, and I wondered how long Coates had been standing there. Maudlin introspection really wasn't my style. “Sorry, Petty Officer. What’s up?”

The young woman started to open her mouth, but seemed to change tactics in midstream. “Permission to speak fr – “


Coates looked apologetic as she spoke. “You need to stop watching the clock, sir. It won’t bring the colonel home any sooner, and you’re just going to give yourself an ulcer.”

Busted by the office staff. That was a new one. I offered a smile to keep her from worrying about having overstepped her bounds. “Am I that transparent, or are you just perceptive?"

“Maybe a little of both, sir?”

I shook my head, the false smile suddenly too tiring to maintain. “I can’t not think about it, Coates.”

“I know, sir. Um, the admiral wants to see you, so maybe he’s about to give you an assignment that will take your mind off things for a while.”

“One can hope.” I stood up from my desk. “Thank you, Petty Officer.”

When I reached the admiral’s office and recognized his visitor, I was struck by a momentary flash of cold fear. Clayton Webb was sitting in one of the chairs facing the desk, and Admiral Chegwidden waved me into the other one. I swallowed all the questions about Mac's status that immediately rose in my throat. If something had happened, surely it would be the first topic of conversation.

“Admiral, Webb,” I acknowledged, working to keep my voice even. It took more effort than I’d expected.

“Commander, a rather ... important and unforeseen situation has come up,” the admiral began. “Mr. Webb has been sent by the DCI himself, with coordination by the CNO’s office, to bring us up to speed.”

I swiveled to face Webb, cocking an eyebrow. The past year had cooled some of the tension between the Navy and the CIA, but not by much. If the Director of Central Intelligence and the Chief of Naval Operations had found something worth ignoring that mutual animosity for, it must have been something substantial.

“Am I to assume that this is unrelated to the operation in Afghanistan involving Colonel Mackenzie and Gunnery Sergeant Galindez?”

“That's correct.” Webb opened a folder and handed over a stack of photos. “Satellite imagery from the port city of Umm Qasr in Iraq , taken six days ago, before the port was secured by coalition forces. Those three cargo haulers are registered to a front company -- repeated inquiries have found no evidence of a legitimate shipping business. They left port in convoy approximately ninety minutes after these pictures were taken. Our analysts have reason to suspect that they may be carrying biological and/or chemical weapons, which forces in the Baath government may be attempting to keep hidden from U.S. troops or UN investigators.”

To say that the idea was chilling would be a severe understatement. American intelligence had been telling anyone who would listen about the threat of such weapons in that country for months -- years, even. But in an age when politics could color even the smallest perception, and in an arena where revealing information could compromise lives, it was all a storm of chaos -- and so the possibility hadn’t fully registered with me until this.

“It’s possible, of course, that the ships aren’t Iraqi government property at all. They could be controlled by any one of a number of terrorist cells, not the least of which is al Qaeda. To be honest, I’m not sure which contingency is worse. And it’s also possible -- likely, even -- that whoever controls the ships is prepared to use any or all of their weapons in retaliation for U.S. action in Iraq , or simply as an act of fundamentalism. We can’t say for sure what their capability to attack is, because so far we haven't been able to confirm the cargo.”

“Where is the convoy headed?”

“Nowhere, apparently.”

I glanced up from the photos and leveled a disbelieving gaze on Webb. “Nowhere?  I know those ships are old, Webb, but six days is enough time to go a long way.”

“They keep changing course. Sometimes they cut their engines altogether. Satellites and reconnaissance drones pick them up every few hours, but both platforms can only hold their position for so long. As far as we can tell, they’re going in circles in the Gulf area. If they haven’t met up with any tankers yet in order to take on fuel, they’ll have to do so soon -- those old boats can’t sail indefinitely.”

“If their holds are full of stored diesel instead of normal cargo, they could hold out longer than you’d expect,” I felt obligated to point out.

Webb looked impatient. It was an expression I was very used to seeing from him. “Well, if they’ve got a non-standard cargo load, someone in that port has to know about it, so that should probably be your starting point.”

His choice of words immediately set off a warning chime in my head. “What do you mean, my starting point?”

The admiral took over. “This situation needs to be remedied with as little chatter as possible on normal intelligence channels. Apparently someone at the Agency -- far be it from me to speculate on who -- suggested that a JAG with extensive investigative experience might be able to track down some information on those ships, and also accomplish the associated task of developing rules of engagement regarding the convoy.”

I took a moment to absorb the gravity of the assignment, and even then it didn’t completely take hold as being reality. “Rules of engagement based on what, sir?”

“The threat posed by the convoy, and the likely targets of that threat. If there are in fact biological or chemical weapons aboard any of those ships, they could be delivered to a number of populated ports in the region in a matter of hours. Should we confirm the presence of such weapons, the contingencies for a preemptive strike would have to be addressed.”

Another frightening option instantly came to mind, and I voiced it almost without thinking. “If, on the other hand, those ships turn tail and start steaming toward Kuwait or Qatar , and we don’t have confirmation of their cargo ...”

The admiral regarded me coolly, but I could see that he wasn't impervious to the dilemma. “You can see, then, why we need to get an experienced JAG into the region at the first available opportunity.”

“Yes, sir.”

The steady acceleration of my pulse during that exchange had everything and nothing to do with my own personal anxiety. I’d had lives in my hands before, and I had plenty of knowledge about both maritime law and wartime ROEs. If a theater commander were to ask for my recommendation on whether or not to destroy a convoy of three ships, I knew I’d be able to give it without hesitation. But I also knew what it was like to live with recriminations, and the death of a young RIO would pale in comparison to the deaths of dozens of civilian merchant sailors on those ships -- or the deaths of thousands in a chemical or biological attack.

There are days when I seriously question my decision to become a judge advocate. This wasn’t one of them, though. Tough decisions are an inevitable part of life. If someone had to make these particular decisions, it might as well be me.

“What specifically is my assignment, Admiral?”

“Get out to the Seahawk first,” the admiral instructed, “and talk to the battle group commander about some basic preliminary ROEs. Then, travel to Umm Qasr and see what you can find out about these ships. But if you hit a dead end, cut your losses and return to the ship. Better to stay on top of the situation from there.”

“The port has been secured,” Webb added. “All the same, go in as a civilian.  We’ll fake you some media credentials: you’ll probably get more information as a reporter.  If that doesn’t work, you can pretend to be from the Red Cross, UN Relief, or whoever the hell you want.  Just do what you have to.”

Admiral Chegwidden reached for a file on his desk. “Personally, I’d suggest taking an aide along, if only for strength in numbers.  You can commandeer a legal officer from the battle group, or if there’s someone you’d prefer to take from Headquarters – ”

I knew at once what my choice would be. “Sir, with your permission, I’d like to take Petty Officer Coates.”

Webb scowled. “The delinquent?”

“That’s former delinquent to you, Webb. She was closely involved with Lieutenant Roberts’s ROE work in Operation Enduring Freedom, and she’s good at finding ... creative solutions. Admiral?”

“I’ll add her to your travel orders. Better go let her know that your transport leaves in two hours.”  The admiral’s voice was grim, but resolute.  “Good luck, Commander.”

“Thank you, sir.”

I ducked back into my office to tie up a few loose ends. Before shutting down my computer, I fired off a quick email to Mac:

Hey, Marine --
I have to go out to the Seahawk. No, not to fly. I’ll explain when I get a chance. But at least our emails won’t have to travel quite as far for a while.

Take care – Harm

Already preparing myself for the road ahead, I went out into the bullpen. “Petty Officer.”

Coates straightened. “Sir?”

“Still got friends on the Seahawk?”

“A few, sir.”

“Let’s go pay them a visit.”





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