DISCLAIMER: All main, recognized characters belong to William Broyles, Jr., John Sacret Young. and Warner Bros.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: What else? Another challenge from The Raven. Parameters of length, time and summary were set by Rave. Post "Cherry."
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

By Cheyne

Part One

China Beach R&R Center - Republic of South Vietnam - 1968

Dramatic. Intense. Mysterious. Impressive. Image problem. Stirring beauty. That could have described her but it didn't. It described her location.

KC Koloski exhaled residual smoke from her coveted French cigarette and glanced out over the five summits of the Marble Mountains, named for the elements, Earth, Fire, Metal, Water and Wood. The mountains, which were indeed marble, were, at once, an enchanting and frightening place. She was always fascinated by the panoramic view from the Thuy Son summit of the beach, airbase and the Five and Dime - the 510th Evacuation Hospital - and the hypnotic coastline that, minus the sounds of explosions, gunfire and helicopters, could almost make you feel as though you were overlooking paradise, Hawaiian style. At the same time she was terrified at the proximity of the Viet Cong, who occupied several recessed caverns in that particular range.

The apex of Thuy Son, alone, was reached through a steep ascent of honeycombed narrow tunnels and chimney caves. Warrened in these grottos were Confucian, Cham and Buddhist temples, pagodas and relics and an underground 'trading post' where KC made a lot of her deals and did a lot of her black market bargaining. Sometimes what the prostitute trafficked in was the most precious commodity of all - human lives. She bitterly recalled having to barter with her own existence more than a few times to get herself out of those marble mazes alive. The VC didn't care about the fairness of quid pro quo, they were more concerned with their own survival. As was she, of course.

In a drunken stupor one evening, one of those nights when she, Colleen McMurphy and Cherry White got thrown out of the Jet Set because Boonie was tired and wanted to close up and they weren't ready to quit drinking, they retreated to KC's hut and continued their party. In a rare, careless moment, the prostitute spoke of the caves - the wall carvings commemorating the aircraft taken down by the VC, the plethora of bullet scars that marked the monasteries and statues, kitchens, munitions storage, living quarters, and, the most unbelievable of all, the existence of a hospital in these tunnels. That piqued the interest of Lieutenant McMurphy, nurse extraordinaire, but thankfully a mid-morning hangover erased most of the memory of the secrets of the night before.

And Cherry? Before her arrival at China Beach in November of 1967, KC was positive that McMurphy was the most prosaically virginal woman she'd ever met. Cherry, so aptly named, made the nurse look like she just stepped off the boat from Shanghai. The cherubic blonde was a sweet, naive, emotionally unblemished Red Cross volunteer from East Bumfuck, Iowa and KC still couldn't figure out how that unworldly, unhardened, kind and gentle sprite found such a deep place in her heart.

KC remembered finally agreeing to use her sources and connections to try and locate Cherry's brother, Rick, an AWOL soldier formerly assigned to the 1st Marine Division Headquarters, hiding somewhere in Viet Nam. The first thing she discovered was that Rick White did not want to be found but, never one to back down from a challenge, KC persisted. She eventually enlisted the assistance of Dodger, who helped to finally reunite the brother and sister. It couldn't have been a more unsuccessful meeting - the brother Cherry knew and loved and the stranger Rick had become were not one and the same and it nearly destroyed the young woman's faith in anything and everything, ultimately resulting in the death of her innocence. She was forever scarred by the sordid encounter and it broke KC's heart like nothing had in a long, long time. But Cherry moved on, as difficult as it was. Despite the abysmal ache and sense of loss, the Red Cross volunteer still believed that, even if she couldn't save and be of assistance to her brother, she could still administer to others. Optimism returning slowly, Cherry began donating and spending her time in areas closer to the action. It's what she felt she needed to do to regain her sense of self back.

Then came the bloody Tet Offensive, which finally brought the brutality of the war home and became very visible to the American television viewing public. The Air Force began relentlessly bombing South Vietnamese villages and cities in an effort to flush out and eliminate the communist insurgents but casualties began piling up on both sides. The most memorable scene of all, haunting footage shown over and over again worldwide, was of a prisoner, with his hands bound behind his back, being shot through the head by a South Vietnamese general. Of all the death and destruction commencing on the eve of the Vietnamese New Year, that image stuck in everyone's head. The first of many.

When KC found out that Cherry, just by virtue of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, had been killed in the Tet Offensive, even she was surprised at her own inconsolability. And it wasn't Rick White who accompanied his sister's body back to Iowa, it was KC, in an ultimate selfless act that surprised even her. Maybe she hadn't sold her soul to the devil after all.

KC shook the sad memory from her head and stabbed her cigarette out against the rock wall outside her door. That's what she got, she admonished herself, for getting too close. Getting attached - on any level - always had a disastrous outcome. At least for her, anyway. She learned the hard way, growing up in an abusive household with a father who obviously had his conscience removed with minor surgery, that love equaled pain. She not only lived it but continued to experience it every turn her life took. Her philosophy became 'If you can't beat 'em, join 'em' and, for the most part, it had served her well. Her emotional distance and sharp, business acumen made her very successful at what she did. Prostitution may not have been one of the most respected professions but the supply and demand were at an all time high, especially in such a concentrated area where GIs were plentiful and willing, round-eyed women were not.

Returning inside, longing for an industrial strength fan as the heat seemed to be at its worst point ever, KC lazily prepared herself for her trip to Danang, later in the evening, when it was cooler. Maybe she could convince Boonie to sign a jeep out of the Motor Pool and drive her into downtown to make some deals and replenish some personal sundries and supplies. Hmmm, she thought suddenly, if Boonie could get his evening free to take her anywhere, maybe she could talk him into going to Hoi An, a much more accommodating city.

Danang, the fourth largest metropolis in the country, was not one of her favorite places to go even if it was convenient. The citizens, although thrilled with the American dollar, were less enthusiastic about the reason behind it, knowing that their lives were precariously balanced every minute of the day due to the war that brought the minor and shaky prosperity to the city. Usually by the times GIs spent the brunt of their near poverty level paychecks in Danang, they were already drunk or drugged or uncontrollably horny and they didn't care about being scammed as much as they cared about some form of escape that would transport them - even if just for a moment - into another world, one without the immediate ramifications of battle. Thankfully KC was used to negotiating with both the legal and illegal merchants and her experiences were a little more pleasant than the average American's were, although not without frustration. Maybe tonight would be different.

The atmosphere at China Beach seemed calm today, almost deserted. The hospital helicopter runs had been infrequent and the normal sounds of distant combat were sporadically rare. If she hadn't found it such a relief, KC may have paid more attention to the little hairs that stood up on the back of her neck. The unusual quiet should have struck her as spooky and suspicious, not welcomed and beneficial. She instinctively knew better than to let her guard down completely but sometimes she just resented having to be so distrustful all the time and silently rebelled against her own nature. That was always a mistake.

Colleen McMurphy mixed herself a shot of bitters and lemon, an old family remedy that usually worked pretty well at easing the symptoms of a hangover. She didn't know why she felt the need to get so toasted lately. Her situation could not justify her recent chronic inebriation as she had finally been conquering dealing with the horrors of war, the revulsion and devastation this political act of puppetry brought to her doorstep every day, several times a day. She knew, at some point, she needed to decipher the motivation behind these binges - no, that was incorrect, she had already figured out what influenced this most recent increase of alcohol consumption. What she really needed to do was to acknowledge and then deal with it.

Well, that wasn't going to happen. These were things one did not discuss, feelings and uncontrollable urges that one kept inside. Nice, well-bred Catholic girls didn't develop crushes on other girls. Especially other girls whose reputations were less than sterling. And if they did, it wasn't talked about, was never admitted to - at least not out loud.

It had to be the stress she was under, had to be the pressures of war, of grasping onto anything real, anything to bring light to this ever-present darkness of death and despair. Something had to be causing her heart to somersault lately every time she caught sight of the blazingly sexy, obstinate, redheaded hooker.

McMurphy remembered the first time she began noticing that sensation in the pit of her stomach concerning KC. Lila Garreau had just taken over command of China Beach and ordered KC off the base. Her first thought was one of ambiguity - she and the prostitute were not friends by any means, in fact, they got on each other's nerves more than once. However, she was a lesser fan of Lila's and she found herself rooting for the enterprising redhead and rather enjoyed KC's 'in your face' confirmation that she had higher and better connections than the colonel and if it came down to between the two of them, if anyone left China Beach, it would not be KC. This managed to at least temporarily take the wind out of Lila Garreau's sails, which gave everyone on the base a nice break from the overbearing officer's less than anticipated dictatorship. That night - the night when Lila admitted defeat - a miracle in itself - McMurphy, Boonie, Beckett, Dr. Richard, Wayloo Marie Holmes and the rest of the gang joined KC at The Jet Set for a celebration of sorts (one the colonel wisely stayed away from). She felt oddly close to the redhead by the end of the party and when KC gave her an unexpected full body hug after walking her home, she felt a stirring within her she had not experienced in quite a while.

She tried to shake it off. She was just lonely. And so alone. But it had startled her. The fact that KC embraced her at all meant something. Even though her profession called for the redhead to intimately interact with her clients, KC, by nature, wasn't exactly a touchy-feely person. In fact, the less contact, the better. But the pure warmth generated from that hug, not to mention the outright heat in her touch and the sizzle in KC's very revealing eyes was, at the very least, disconcerting. A grin that could only be described as sinful suddenly curled the corner of her mouth as her imagination took her to a forbidden place.

God, Colleen, get your mind out of the gutter, she reprimanded herself, and try to concentrate on something else. McMurphy looked at the clock. Two more hours before her shift ended. She couldn't wait. Not that she had anything planned but a shower and something barely passing as a meal but the usual less-than-pristine smells of the hospital, which normally never bothered her, were doing a very good job of turning her stomach today. Maybe it would have made a difference if she had been busy, if the influx of patients had been overwhelming, as it was a majority of other days - days that dissolved into nights that dissolved into weeks that dissolved into months, years... where did the time go? But everything was so quiet today and that in itself was odd but it didn't help each dragging minute which felt like an hour.

Maybe she'd go into Danang later, after she ate and cleaned up, see what Boonie was up to since the bar was closed tonight for repairs. KC had talked three strapping members of the Army Corps of Engineers, there for a couple days of R & R, into fixing up the place. The whole structure needed reinforcing so the prostitute traded her services for theirs. Eventually someone would have been requisitioned to do it on Uncle Sam's time and money but Lila was tied up in red tape and 'eventually' wasn't going to be soon enough. KC never did have the patience for 'hurry up and wait,' so she took matters into her own hands - so to speak. Although McMurphy didn't approve of her methods, she certainly couldn't discount the hooker's resourcefulness and her ability to get things done when all else failed. KC. Hmmm. Wonder what she was doing later. McMurphy really wasn't fond of going into Danang alone, if Boonie wasn't available, maybe KC would be.

It used to be a lot more enjoyable to sojourn into downtown before heavy fighting in the rural areas forced thousands of people to seek refuge in places like Danang and Hue, where serious overcrowding resulted. After the regime of Thieu and Ky were strengthened by the capture of Buddhist rebel strongholds in those areas and a new constitution was approved, the conflicts the Vietnamese president and vice president were faced with became intensified by the swiftly accelerating war. Then, after heavy damage was sustained in Hue and Saigon during the Tet offensive, even more people retreated to the city. This may not have bothered the visiting and vacationing GIs, who didn't know any different, but it did not make it pleasant for the more inherent populace, McMurphy being one of them. She just knew she had to get away from the base, even if it was only for an hour or so. Something was making her feel like she had cabin fever, making her even more stir crazy than usual. That should have sent up a flare inside her brain. But it didn't.

Disappointed but not deterred when she could not locate Boonie, KC was almost considering not going into town after all. She was really beginning to enjoy the almost transcendental atmosphere that suddenly seemed to be enveloping the military installation. There was nothing immediately pressing that she absolutely had to retrieve from Danang or Hoi An and there were never quiet nights like this at China Beach. Now...if she could only find herself some company, she would hole up in her place with candlelight, cheap champagne and...well, whoever she could find who wouldn't treat her like a hundred dollar an hour prostitute. That could only mean one thing - her choice of bed partner could not be male, as men just couldn't get beyond her profession...even for a freebie.

She personally preferred women anyway in her private life as a majority of prostitutes did. At once shocked and relieved by that revelation, KC was barely out of high school when the realization hit her. Her home life had desensitized her to men and she discovered sooner than she needed to that a good portion of the male species were all younger, older, taller, shorter, heavier, thinner versions of her father. But she also learned at a very tender age, soon after puberty, that she could effortlessly control boys of all ages with her tempting sexual aura. It took no time at all for KC to appreciate that she was sitting on a gold mine and used that as her ticket out of Kansas City and, eventually, Missouri itself. Not that all her experiences were positive or rewarding. Prostitution was never an easy life for anyone but sometimes the only way to develop good survival instincts were to learn from mistakes and know enough to never make them again. And, above all, never ever work for anyone but yourself.

KC's first serious female lover was one of her greatest accomplishments and also one of her biggest mistakes. The woman, Alana Marsales, was very well connected in the upscale social circles of St. Louis. Mrs. Marsales was a congressman's wife with a penchant for young, fresh-faced redheads. She and her husband had a relationship, which accommodated them both quite nicely - they both discreetly screwed anything in a skirt. Alana spotted the lovely Miss Koloski in town one late afternoon leaving an establishment of questionable reputation, allegedly popular with prostitutes and lesbians, and looking quite fetching in a cute shift of miniskirt proportions, white vinyl go-go boots with her "That Girl" hairstyle and cage dancer attitude. The congressman's wife was immediately smitten, invited the young woman into her car, drove her to a summer home she inherited on Mark Twain Lake and fell madly into bed with her. KC remained at the rustic cabin, "kept" by Alana and enjoyed three months of carnal bliss with the lovely Mrs. Marsales. Never having known this kind of happiness or respect, KC had quickly and without question, devoted herself to the engaging congressman's wife and mistook Alana's ample generosity for love.

Then one night her whole world shattered around her as Alana persuaded KC to "be nice to" a couple friends of her husband's, politicians in town for a long weekend. Alana had invited them to the cabin to relax and had offered up KC as a recreation for them as well. It worked out so favorably for the innovative Mrs. Marsales that it became a habit and one where the young prostitute never made any money, just political points for her lover's husband. The last straw was when Mr. Marsales showed up drunk and belligerent at the cabin one evening, just expecting KC to automatically give it up to him and beat her into submission when she resisted him. When Alana saw her the following day, she was angry with a bloodied and bruised KC for provoking her husband into that aggressive behavior.

Heartbroken and despondent, the redhead left town the next day, hitched up with a USO coordinator, and slept her way through Asia, eventually setting down roots in China Beach. Working for herself in an environment such as an R & R base allowed her to succeed in ways she never would have had she stayed in the States. It wasn't a mansion but she was independent, she was comfortable and it was home. At least for now.

So...who to cruise for company...

Well, there was always Lila's assistant, the cute little admin specialist who broke out into a sweat every time she and KC were in the same proximity. And, hmmm, there was Lieutenant Delgado, that hot little chili pepper of a nurse who outright propositioned her one night after getting a Dear Jane letter from her significant other back in The World. But, no. Delgado seemed too commitment-oriented, which was the last thing the redhead needed. Strolling by the BOQ, KC's ears picked up the melodic laugh of Lieutenant Colleen McMurphy. Ah...now there was a prospect with promise...

"...I'm actually your mother - the bishop's your father..."

The two of them laughed uproariously at the punch line of the old joke. McMurphy had heard it before but the way Lourdes Delgado told it, her vocal inflection made it sound completely new, therefore funny again. The Irish Catholic nurse loved religious jokes, especially ones that poked a little bit of fun at the stuffy upper echelon of the faith.

"So Colleen, what are you up to tonight?" Delgado asked, putting the finishing touches on her make up.

McMurphy shrugged. "Not sure. It's such a nice night, I was going to go into Danang but it's so extraordinarily quiet around here, I think I'll just go down to the beach and enjoy the peace by the moonlight."

"Ah, such a romantic, Colleen," Delgado grinned. "Such a shame to have to do that alone."

"With my experience, Lourdes, sometimes alone is better," McMurphy remarked, her voice not without a touch of melancholy. "Are you excited about going to Hawaii?"

Delgado glanced at her watch. "By tomorrow morning I will be there. Fourteen days of fun in the sun, no bloody bodies, no gunfire, no evac helicopters..." she cast a sly glance at her colleague. "Girls in grass skirts...maybe I'll get 'lei'ed right off the plane."

McMurphy laughed, pink rising from her neck to her forehead. "You're incorrigible."

"Hey, Colleen, don't knock it if you haven't tried it," Delgado smiled back, brushing her long, luxurious black hair, her golden brown eyes twinkling.

"I don't think that will be happening," McMurphy sighed, almost reluctantly. "And you need to be careful, Lourdes. I know you trust me with your secret but this base is too small. Lila is just looking for an excuse to exercise her power."

"Lila needs to get laid and not the flowery necklace kind. In fact, I think if Lila had a woman in her life and got properly made love to - with all the extras -" Delgado flashed an unchaste grin, "- she'd be a much nicer person and much easier to deal with."

"My sentiments exactly," came a sultry voice from the open doorway. Both women looked up, startled, to see KC leaning against the frame. Her arms were folded across her chest and she wore a relaxed and knowing smirk

"...And speaking of getting laid," Delgado quipped, turning back toward the mirror, checking herself out. The pretty, compact Hispanic woman had forgiven the redheaded hooker for rejecting her months earlier. Delgado realized some indiscreet sexual romping with KC was not in her best interest after all, and when her hangover wore off, she was grateful to the prostitute for turning her down. Although, it didn't stop her from imagining what the fiery redhead was like in bed.

"Going on leave, Lourdes?" KC inquired.

"You bet. And I can't wait." She rose from the makeshift vanity, gathering all her cosmetics and tucking them into her smaller piece of luggage, a hard plastic rectangular case that fastened with a metal clasp.

"Hawaii. Lucky you. Maybe you'll find your dream girl."

"Yeah, huh?" Delgado nodded, grinning.

"Wait - KC knows? About you?" McMurphy asked, surprised.

"Colleen, KC knows about everybody," the shorter nurse told the brunette. "In fact, I think KC knows things about everybody here that they may not even know about themselves." She winked at the redhead in the doorway who laughed softly at the implication.

KC glanced up at McMurphy, who abruptly looked like a deer caught in headlights. Interesting reaction, the prostitute thought immediately. Aha. Maybe there was a chance for her and the virtuous lieutenant after all. "What are you up to tonight, McMurphy? Anything fascinating?"

This made the nurse chuckle. "Fascinating? Here? I hardly think so. How about you?"

Shrugging nonchalantly, KC said, "Well, I was going to head into Danang but I think I'd rather enjoy the uncharacteristically peaceful atmosphere here." She pinned McMurphy with a torrid look. "Care to join me?"

Deafening silence filled the room.

"And on that note, I think I'll be leaving," Lourdes Delgado grinned, the heat in the room suddenly very obvious. She stepped over to McMurphy and hugged her. "Goodbye and I'll see you in about two weeks."

The nurse returned the embrace. "Be safe, Lourdes. I'd say don't do anything I wouldn't do but I really want you to enjoy yourself," McMurphy cracked.

Leaning closely, Delgado whispered, "I have a feeling that might change tonight. And I can't tell you how jealous I am." McMurphy pushed away from her slightly and studied her expression. Delgado winked at her and collected her suitcases. "I'd tell you I'd send you a postcard but I have no doubt I will get back here before it does." She passed the redhead in the doorway, gave her an intuitive smile and moved on, shaking her head.

What was that about? McMurphy thought to herself. Her mind wandered, daring her to cross an imaginary suggestive line in the sand but reality drew her back quickly. No way would the self-protective, guarded Ms. Koloski ever expose such an intimate nerve as what the nurse spent too much time unrealistically daydreaming about. Would she?

The two women strolled side by side slowly on the beach, following the line of the tide as it crawled its way to shore. McMurphy wasn't quite sure she wanted to readily admit what propelled her to take KC up on her offer of companionship, regardless of what that may or may not have entailed. Their conversation was surface, at best, almost downright awkward in places because the nurse could not ignore the large butterflies that tickled the inside of her belly. She wanted something to happen between them and at the same time was terrified that something actually would.

KC could feel McMurphy's uneasiness, inherently sensing an excitement mixed with agitation, inwardly smiling that she caused such an uncertain reaction in someone usually so together. When did this happen? KC thought, pleased and puzzled. She weighed whether or not she could be misreading the signals but she doubted it. She was rarely wrong about this particular vibration. Well, this certainly is an interesting and welcome development.

"So you think this eerie quiet is some kind of calm before the storm, too?" It was more of an agreement than it was a question. McMurphy had shoved her hands into the pockets of her knee-length beach pants, more as a solution to keep them still than anything else.

"I think it's odd, yes. As to what it might mean, I honestly don't know. I'm not sure I want to speculate and, instead, just enjoy it while it lasts."

"Oh my God...am I hearing this correctly? The normally cynical KC actually being noncommitally hopeful about something?" McMurphy sarcastically looked skyward. "Where's the snow? There should be a blizzard starting any second now."

KC chuckled. "Snow in the tropics...that would actually be a relief sometimes." She smoothly linked her arm with the brunette's, automatically drawing them closer together. They fell silent again, just walking.

It was still well over eighty degrees so why was McMurphy shivering at the contact? She was hoping that if a move were to be made that KC would make it as the brunette would never have had the guts. The fear of being wrong, rejected and mortified severely outweighed any pounding curiosity. But now that KC had, indeed, initiated contact, even if it wasn't exactly intimate, she found herself at a loss for words and all cognizant thought.

Again, KC found herself carrying most of the conversation and she was not beginning to get annoyed, exactly, but she was starting to wonder if she may have been wasting her time. Although, she had no doubt McMurphy would succumb to her at some point she was hoping that she didn't have to drag it out of her kicking and screaming, so to speak. Well, there was only one way to find out.

Putting one foot in front of the other, her head down, studying the beach intently, it took a moment for McMurphy to realize they had stopped walking. Looking up, her startled brown eyes met determined deep blue ones, which rendered her immobile. Moving in passively at first, giving the nurse a chance to step back, professional lips tentatively captured trembling ones. When McMurphy didn't make any attempt to move away, KC stepped closer, her arms sliding behind the brunette's head, her body fitting nicely against the nurse's, the kiss deepening into something much more passionate, born of desire and need. Before she knew it, McMurphy was hungrily returning the gesture, her heart thumping nearly out of her chest. Several minutes of delicious tongue parrying later, the nurse broke the kiss, desperately out of breath and pushed herself away.

"I...I can't do this..." McMurphy gasped, shaking her head.

KC's breathing was almost as labored. "Why? You can't tell me you didn't like that, Colleen."

Looking up at her, surprised, the brunette almost laughed. "Like it?" Then it dawned on her and she reached out, taking the redhead's arm and pulled KC to her. "No, no. That's not what I meant. I can't do this here. Out in the open. Where anyone could see us. Like it? Good Lord, KC, that was amazing!"

Caught off guard, the hooker squinted at her. "So...you mean...if we were somewhere more private, you wouldn't feel strange or guilty about this?"

This time McMurphy did laugh. "KC, I'm Catholic - I feel guilty about everything... one more thing won't make that much difference. Will it?"

Smiling, KC cocked her head and replied, "Probably not, although this might be high up there on the list of transgressions."

"Are you trying to talk me into this or out of this?" The nurse threw at her, brown eyes now mischievous.

The tunnels, cleverly constructed and designed by the Viet Cong, which sequenced through the foot of the Marble Mountains, also ran under a portion of the base at China Beach. This labyrinth of subterranean passageways was three layers deep in certain areas. If the US military powers that be were aware of this, they never mentioned it to Lila Garreau.

She had heard rumors about the fake termite mounds on the floor of the jungle, guessing that if they existed they were probably air vents. Also rumored were other extensions of the tunnels, which emptied out into the South China Sea and the lower gulf, that were more than likely escape routes. Further folklore, which turned out to be, unfortunately, valid, spoke of lethal traps in the jungle with sharpened bamboo stakes, which were used to defeat American troops and allies in an ambush. But the rest was only gossip, as Colonel Garreau had never been given any proof that any of the other nonsense was real. The fact that she commanded a base that housed an Evac hospital, which temporarily treated injured VC prisoners of war, as the Geneva Convention dictated, gave her a false sense of security that the enemy would never attack there. Yes, it was true that gunfire erupted and explosions detonated very close to the base but so far, any real combat had been kept at bay. The residents of China Beach only witnessed the consequences of it. To her better judgment, Lila had become complacent.

The Viet Cong, founded in 1960 with the aim of fighting the corrupt government in South Vietnam, were an assemblage of South Vietnamese denizens, who were struggling against capitalism for communism, their goal for Vietnam to be a united country. At the end of the Liberation war in the late 1950's, Vietnam had been divided into two countries of North Vietnam and South Vietnam. The VC were what loosely amounted to a massive posse of assorted villagers of South Vietnam who were fighting against the most powerful and most wealthy country in the world - The United States of America.

A compression of the term Viet Nam Cong San (Vietnamese communists), the VC reportedly never personally used the expression, and, instead, referred to themselves and their movement as the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (also known as the National Liberation Front). They divided themselves into principal sections: the intelligence gatherers or saboteurs who acted as the paramilitary unit and the main force, true guerrilla army who were usually made up of teenage peasant boys, recruited in the villages. The Vietnamese townspeople were hostile to the government of policeman, tax collectors and landlords but most especially to their American backers, who the villagers regarded as foreign invaders.

The soldiers who were now quietly and swiftly overtaking the base were clothed in a uniform of what looked like black pajamas and Ho Chi Minh sandals, silent because they were constructed of old tires. This was a gutsy attack for these people whose normal every day enemies were malaria, poisonous snakes, malnutrition and B-52 air strikes. But these dedicated guerillas were determined in their mission and usually fought to the death. It wasn't their intention to gain and hold onto territory, and usually did not pursue large-scale battles because they knew they were no match for American firepower retaliation.

Typically, the Viet Cong waged what they referred to as the 'War of the Flea,' which consisted of thousands of little hit-and-run attacks, ambushes that took advantage of their stealth movements in the darkness, booby trap warfare that instilled nightmares and terror in US GIs. The aftermath of one of these bloody bushwackings, the scene always littered with body parts, sucked away the morale of US troops. But to try and capture an entire US military installation with limited and archaic armaments confiscated and stolen from the French, Japanese and dead Americans? Unheard of and unthinkable. At least from a rational perspective...but then - what was rational about war?

If one of their best strategists and toughest leaders, Ky Dinh Nguyen, wasn't lying in the prisoner ward of the Five and Dime, this infiltration might not have been necessary. Nguyen had been wounded and captured in one of the closer jungle skirmishes, and was receiving treatment before being sent back to the unit which captured him for disposition into prisoner of war channels, which was the Vietnamese government who was responsible for the final care of Viet Cong prisoners. They needed to get their leader out of there before that happened. They only intended to lock down the base until their mission was accomplished, feeling confident that the US would not attack their own. But then - what was predictable about war?

McMurphy and KC reclined on the redhead's bed, kissing, exploring, feeling, moving in a slow, gentle rhythm against each other's bodies. They were illuminated by candlelight and urged on by provocative blues music playing softly in the background, enhancing the seductive atmosphere. A glass or two of champagne helped the nurse relax to a point of anticipated surrender and now both women were just enjoying the moment in each other's embrace. They had yet to move beyond extensive making out, yet to remove any restrictive clothing, yet to go beyond a point of no return.

The brunette surprised herself with how easily she had let herself be enticed into this situation but she was not half as startled as KC. The prostitute was more than confident in her alluring powers of persuasion but she was also aware of her boundaries and her capabilities only went so far when it came to crossing them. Having had sex forced upon her more than once, there was no way she would ever push herself on anyone else. Until the second they kissed, KC never would have believed this moment would have happened. Yet it was obviously something they both thought about, needed and desired in each other...

Victor Charlie. It was the NATO phonetic alphabet letters used to refer to the Viet Cong. Then it just became 'Charlie' for Communist.

No one was more shocked to see Charlie coming at him than the military police officer guarding the door at the hospital. His partner, standing guard duty with him, had just gone around the side of the building to relieve himself. Talk about getting caught with your pants down... Up until this minute, the assignment to China Beach had been a relative piece of cake, comparatively. The young MP had no time to react before his weapon was knocked out of his hand and he was face first on the pavement, wetting his pants, praying for his mommy. One by one, armed soldiers had been disabled, some injured, some not, but all had been taken prisoner temporarily until the release of Nguyen had been executed and Charlie scurried back to their tunnels.

In a remarkable display of coordinated genius, the VC were able to completely gain control of the base and block any and all access to the post, except by air.

Lila Garreau, asleep in her uncomfortable bunk, never knew what hit her and when she swam into consciousness later, she was bound, gagged and blindfolded. She didn't know which to be more afraid of - being captured by the enemy or by her own troops.

They had segued from making out like oversexed teenagers to practically devouring each other like very smooth, experienced adults. A few more glasses of champagne and McMurphy was ready to allow herself to be taken, to be made love to and worked into a frenzy like one she had never known. At lease that's what should have happened next.

Just as they were about to fully consummate this act, a loud noise startled them both.

"What the hell was that?" KC asked, raising up, looking up toward her door.

"It sounded like a muted explosion to me. What did it sound like to you?"

"I don't know, I wasn't exactly in...um...a position to hear it very well..." Her expression was a mixture of lewd and bewildered.

Unfortunately, whatever it was had somewhat rattled them out of the immediate mood, wanting to remain alert in case they heard the sound again. Rolling on her back, the redhead lit a cigarette. They lay naked, entwined, KC trying not to exhale her smoke in McMurphy's face. Neither seemed to be up to dissecting what had happened between them at this point, so feeling the need to fill the silence with inane conversation, McMurphy began blathering about the only exciting thing going on (that they were aware of) and that was the political prisoner, a man of legend, who was going to be transferred out of there in two days.

"Have you worked on this Nguyen guy at all?" KC wondered, inhaling a lung full of smoke.

"No. Lourdes has. Says he's very hostile but he loves American food. Figures. Only someone not used to the real thing would actually enjoy hospital food. Except he wants to spice up everything with nuoc mam."

"Ugh! That sauce is not my friend. My stomach lurched just hearing the name. The Vietnamese can have it. Didn't you say something once about working a POW ward? Before you got here?" KC wondered.

"Yeah, before I came here I was assigned to the 85th Evac, 18th Surg. It was a Quonset hut with hospital beds lining the walls on each side with a high barbed wire fence and guards posted around it. It was an interim tour, more like a TDY. The biggest shock to me at first was that a lot of the VC patients looked like prepubescent boys. I got over my dismay quickly though. They were young but they were deadly. I always felt as though we were all equally afraid of each other. When they got to us, we treated everything wrong with them, including the wounds they had been brought to the hospital for."

"Like what? Like malaria?"

"That and TB and intestinal parasites..."

"Lovely," KC commented, sarcastically and extinguished her cigarette. She was about to roll on top of the brunette and try again when several shadows ran soundlessly, eerily by the window. "Did you see that? What was that?" she asked, suddenly wary, her voice hushed.

"What was what?" Colleen asked, immediately lowering her voice, following KC's gaze.

"Something just...huh." Sliding out of bed, she blew out what candles were still burning, shut off the music and instinctively moved furniture against the door to barricade it.

"What's wrong?" McMurphy looked at the redhead as though she had two heads.

"Shhhhh..." KC pressed her finger to her lips. "Something is not right. Get dressed," she instructed the nurse as she did the same.

"What - what do you mean? How do you know?" McMurphy scrambled to the floor to join KC, their backs against the wall, the shaded window above their heads.

"I just know. Stay down, I'm going to check something out." Rising slowly, she moved aside the edge of her bamboo blind and quickly surveyed everything within her peripheral vision. She sank back down to the floor next to McMurphy.

"I don't hear anything," the nurse whispered.

"That's my point. The two MPs who normally guard the south entrance of the hospital? Not there."

"Maybe they took a break."

"One of them maybe, not both at the same time." KC sighed, scratching her chin in thought. "Nobody is around, Colleen. I just saw a group of shadows move by my window but I didn't hear them. How many GIs do you know who run quietly?"

"None. Combat boots on pavement are not exactly silent."

"But Ho Chi Minh shoes are..."

Both women exchanged looks of disbelief and fear. Whatever was going on out there, it could not be good. "What are you thinking, KC?" It was a question McMurphy wasn't sure she really wanted an answer to.

"The same thing you are, I'm sure."

"That's not possible...is it? Charlie wouldn't be stupid enough to invade this base..."

"Don't be naive, Colleen," the redhead advised, preoccupied, biting her nails in contemplation. "Getting Nguyen out of here is worth risking just about anything to them. Lila was arrogant for not requesting more MPs just in case and ignorant for not even considering the possibility existed of this happening."

Running her hand impatiently through her hair, the nurse sighed. "What do you think they will do?"

"How do I know?" KC snapped. Seeing the hurt and defensive look on the brunette's face, combined with obvious trepidation, KC immediately reached over and gently put her hand on McMurphy's shoulder. "I'm...sorry. I'm...not sure what they will do." She pulled the nurse against her in a comforting gesture.

"I thought you might have more insight...I mean, you do deal with them on a pretty regular basis." McMurphy rested her head against the prostitute's.

"If they can get in, get Nguyen and get out, that should be all they're after. If they encounter any snags, any major resistance, they will squat, self-destruct, taking whoever they can find with them. On the other hand, if they get caught, they can secure the base, that will give them access to all our weapons, food, supplies and communications."

"But...that's suicide. They know they are no match for, say, a division of marines to come in here and take the base back."

Removing her arm from McMurphy's shoulder, KC hugged her knees to her chest. She put her head down and started to rock slightly. She then looked up, focusing on something inanimate across the room. "That's not what concerns me." Crawling over to her closet, the redhead started digging for something. "C'mon, c'mon," KC mumbled, "I know you're here..."

"What are you looking for?" McMurphy whispered harshly.

"Yes!" Sliding across her floor, back over to the wall, KC revealed a dusty, cracked AN/PRC-10 military walkie-talkie.

"Where the hell did you get that?" the two women stared at each other. "Never mind."

Fumbling with all the dials and buttons, the prostitute realized the handheld portable radio was dead. "Shit." Leaving the device on the floor, she crawled over to her dresser, opened a drawer, grabbed something and crawled back, resuming her position under the window.

"KC -! What is that??!!" the nurse asked, pointing at the ten-inch dildo. She was so obviously blushing, KC was surprised she wasn't glowing in the dark.

"What do you think it is, Colleen? Jesus..." The prostitute removed the batteries from the gadget, dumped the dead batteries from the radio and replaced them with the newer ones. Turning the power button, KC extended the antenna, and heard a crackling as it came to life. She then adjusted the dials until she located the frequency she was looking for.

"Aren't you going to call for help? Let them know what's going on? That we're here?" McMurphy questioned, trying not to sound panicky.

"No. Not yet. First, I want to know if anyone outside this base knows anything yet. It would be better if they did not. Like I said, if they just get in, get what they want and get out, it will be best for everyone."

"How can you say that? We're under attack, KC."

"Second, this thing can only receive, not transmit."

"What?! Okay...okay...what's the worse case scenario? We stay here and maybe try to get to the bomb bunker by the bar without being noticed..."

KC was shaking her head negatively before McMurphy even finished. "Do you remember the incident outside of Chau Doc Province eight months ago? The insurgents that took over the Hoa Hao commune to steal their food and medical supplies?"

It took a minute for McMurphy to recall the event. Her eyes grew wide. "Where they chased the occupants back to An Giang and took the ones captive who wouldn't leave and used the commune as headquarters?"

"Yeah...remember, among those hostages were American and French doctors and nurses who were there for their weekly visit to bring supplies and tend to the sick, injured and wounded. Soldiers would seek refuge at the commune...."

"There was something else, though, what was it?"

"The US napalmed the area," KC supplied with a deadly finality to her voice.

Staring at her agape, McMurphy was already shaking her head. "No...no, they didn't...they wouldn't...we had people in there."

"They did. I dealt with one of the Mahayana Buddhists who just managed to escape. Bought a necklace off him for Beckett to give to Mai. He saw it."

They both ceased any conversation as they listened to radio communications. They could only make out certain words as reception was scratchy and static-filled. Radio traffic seemed frantic and McMurphy began recognizing military ten codes, coordinates and the phonetic alphabet. This went on for more than an hour when through an open mike, gunshots were heard and then silence. Both women held their breath as whoever was on the receiving end of this SOS kept trying to illicit a response from the GI who had been attempting to keep them updated on the situation. Then they heard the words they were both dreading. "Charlie Bravo 510 Alpha! I say again, the order is November Alpha Papa Echo, do you copy, over."

November Alpha Papa Echo. The day code for Napalm.

"But...but what about us?" The fear in her expression was palpable.

"Collateral damage," KC closed her eyes.

Part 2

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