I could not have possibly saved him, he thought.

Neil sat on his bed in his small chilly room staring blankly out the window. The past two weeks filled him with complete horror and disbelief. It is not possible. Jim cannot be dead. They were a team. Now all that had changed.

Natalie feels the cold radiating from the walls as she walks toward Lieutenant Colonel Fisher’s room. Maybe it is the time of day, her current mood, or a combination of those that allow her to see how the red stripes on the walls of Cole Hall reflect the blood that has been shed. Ahead she could see his door, but there was a deep fear within her pulling at her like walking through mud. The admiration she has for him allows her to continue.

Standing before the large black door, sweat beading on her forehead in spite of the cold hall, she did not wish to deliver this message. She knew what he was feeling and did not like the idea of disturbing him, but orders are orders.

A soft knock suddenly interrupted Neil’s thoughts. “Come in,” he said, without looking over his shoulder to see who was there. The door opened silently as Colonel Natalie James entered. Her first sight was of the steep jagged peaks of the snow-covered mountains framed by Neil’s windows. It distracted her momentarily causing her to shake herself in order to regain focus. Neil was seated in front of the windows and the left corner of her lip drew in with worry when he did not move upon her entrance.

Neil was a slender man of average height who appeared deceptively weak. His short blond hair and boyish good looks hid the fact that he is in his thirties and a highly decorated war veteran. She recalled just a few weeks ago when he and Jim had returned from a mission, both had been awarded the Medal of Honor and the Chinese War Medal. As one of the best strike teams in the whole of the Army, Jim was then given a Purple Heart posthumously.

She cleared her throat.

“Yes.”

“Lieutenant Colonel Fisher, I hate to disturb you. I know it’s not a good time, but I have a message from the General.” Natalie stumbled over her words as rocks scattered on the ground uncertain how he might react.

Natalie was a tall woman, towering over most of her subordinates. Her dark straight hair hung to her collar with bangs sporadically hiding her broad forehead. Neil barely recognized the shaky scratchy voice of Col. James as she was usually well composed and clear spoken. He stood quickly turning toward her, “I’m sorry ma’am. It has been a tough few days as you know.”

Natalie stepped back. “It’s ok Neil. We won’t stand on protocol today. Here is the General’s message,” she said handing him the envelope. Turning back to the windows, Neil slid his slender finger under the flap breaking the seal.

On the all too familiar gray and red embossed stationary, he read his new orders.

 

To: Lieutenant Colonel Neil Fisher

 

You are hereby ordered to depart on Flight DCT-46 at 0600 hours tomorrow morning to take command of the Charlie Advance Unit in Hebei Province, China.
Major General R. Bailey

 

Attachment:
On a personal note, I understand that you have had a difficult few weeks however; I need your expertise out there if we hope to reach Beijing before winter. God-speed son.

 

Neil collapsed into his chair, almost falling off the edge. Natalie reached out to steady him, gently touching his shoulder, then jerking her hand back. He handed the paper to her over his shoulder.

Natalie read the orders and unintentionally took a sharp inhale of breath. Turning around, Neil saw a tear run down her cheek. She looked away.

“I know,” he said. “I wish he were here too.”

 

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