For the want of a Rifle

Author: Tenhawk <tenhawk[at]>

Disclaimer: All characters belong to their rightful owners... none of which are me. If their proper owners had the slightest concept of how valuable their characters really were... I wouldn't have to write this stuff.

Summary: Government and Military authority make decisions every day. What happens when one of those decisions is made for the wrong reasons, and one man tries to make the wrong things right?

Warning : Crossovers ahead. (Yes Plural.)

Rating : PG-13. For mature themes and all the other fun stuff that rarely makes network TV.

Feedback, It's the coin of the realm.

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Chapter 1

August 19th 1996, Marine Testing Facility, Mojave Desert

"Rickman! Get down!!"

The Marine Major hit the ground as the simulated fire opened up all around him. He crawled in a sideways scramble and just made it to the cover of a rock as a live fire explosion spattered his area with rocks and debris.

He looked up for a second, checking on his squad, then yelled out another order. "Rickman! Grab Banks and make for the second checkpoint!"

The Major then hopped up, bracing the new rifle he was testing against the rock and squeezed the trigger. The Marine's called the new weapon the AR-F1, and for the Major it had been love at first fight.

The chunky little weapon was big, ugly, and after two months in the Mojave sands it was also battered all the hell. But when he squeezed that lever down the weapon let out a familiar roar as it pelted the targets of the first checkpoint with high velocity armor piercing rounds. He'd never had a misfire in the entire two months he'd been issued the weapon, his team had never heard a fatal click instead of a comforting roar.

The weapons were heavy, snub nosed, and down right ugly but they'd yet to fail under any conditions that he'd been able to manufacture.

And the fact that they packed more firepower then some HUMMV's didn't hurt in the least.

As the last of the targets went down, the simulated fire dropped off and the Major let out a yell. "Go Go Go!"

The next paired team of Marines broke from their cover and raced down the range, their F1's blazing as they laid down short bursts of cover fire against the next ridge. The Major watched them move, letting one of his clips hit the ground as he replaced it with a fresh one. He broke cover as they made the ridge and waved the rest of his Force Recon team along.

Under the cover of the two advance elements, the rest of the team made the ridge in short order and the Major slid to a halt beside them, reaching back and pulling a powerful pair of field binocs from his pack.

After a moment he looked over again, "Three armored emplacements at staggered intervals. Covered by interpenetrating fields of heavy machinegun fire from six nests."

There was a silence for a short moment, then a voice came from behind him. "No prob, Major. What do we do after breakfast?"

The Major let the chuckles go for a few seconds, but didn't partake himself. After a few moments he held up his fist and the laughter subsided. "Alright. Banks, Rickman... flank left. Eliminate those three nests. James, Cruz, flank right You've got the other three. Santos, you're with me. Move!"

The Force Recon team broke over the ridge, spraying fire from their assault weapons as they approached their targets.

The first of the machine gun nests fell to the teams mere moments after the charge, newly issued grenades dropping into the emplacement from overhand lobs and detonating seconds later. The explosion ripping the simulated weapons apart in a fierce whirlwind of steel and fire.

The next two fell to sustained impacts from the heavy 10x62mm fire that rained down onto their location.

The Force Recon team hit the last three nests almost simultaneously, coming in from the flanks and outside the fire arc of the armored emplacements.

The Major threw himself into the destroyed nest just as another pouring of live fire opened up around them, keeping his team's head down.

"Sir!" Came the Banks' voice over the radio, "I'm pinned down!"

The Major risked a quick look over the sandbags, and quickly spotted where Banks had stumbled and been forced to take cover behind a small ridge of sand. He quickly scanned the area, looking for a way out, but another voice crackled over the radio first.

"Major, Cruz here. I think I can get the emplacement from here... it'll give Banks cover to break."

The Major nodded, looking over the area. "Do it."

"Yes sir."

The Major risked another glance over the sandbags and caught sight of Cruz as he racked back the action on the grenade launcher snugged under his rifle and brought the weapon to his shoulder.

The Major was still watching when Cruz pulled the firing stud on the launcher, and was killed when his own weapon detonated in a spectacular ball of flames.

"Cruz!" The Major screamed as he leapt over the sandbags, already flipping his tac radio over to the field frequency. "Man down! Man down! Cease fire! Abort trials!"

August 25th, 1996, Judge Advocate General Corps.

"Lieutenants, in my office."

"Yes Sir, Admiral." Lieutenant Harmond 'Harm' Rabb Jr said, raising an eyebrow to his colleague, Lieutenant Caitlin Pike and turned to follow the Admiral into his office.

The dark haired lieutenant raised an eyebrow in return and half smiled as she followed.

Once inside they came to attantion in front of the Admiral's desk as he took a seat.

"At ease." He said, not looking up as they shifted posture. After several long moments of studying papers the Ex Seal looked up and handed them each a folder. "Article thirty two hearings. Rabb, you'll defend."

"Yes Sir." Rabb responded, leafing through the folder. He stopped, raising his eyes to the admiral again, "Marine Force Recon Major?"

"That's right."

"Accused of negligence? That's hard to believe." Harm smiled slightly.

"Just read the file, don't editorialize." Chegwiddon said grumpily. "The Major is being called to take responsibility for a training accident while his team was testing the new rifles being manufactured to test for the new replacement for the M-16 rifle. Apparently the weapon's grenade launcher detonated a grenade prior to firing..."

"Ouch." Rabb winced.

Chegwiddon stared at him until he fell silent again, then continued. "You could say that, Lieutenant. The misfire killed one marine, badly injured two others. The company that manufactured the weapon's insist that it has to be human error."

"Of course they do." Pike said dryly.

"Yes well, the Major happens to agree with them." Chegwiddon said, frowning. "He insists that the weapons are viable for combat."

Rabb raised an eyebrow, "Let me guess Sir, that's gotten him into trouble?"

"You guessed it." The Admiral nodded tiredly. "If it's not material fault, then it's got to be human error. And the Major was responsible for checking all of those weapons before use."

Rabb sighed. "What's the timeline on this, Admiral?"

"Short. The military needs the investigation concluded fast, and resolved in court so testing can continue... or be canceled."

Lt. Pike frowned, "I've never heard of this rifle, Sir..."

Chegwiddon nodded, "It's not as well known as the OICWS, but it has been in the running Lieutenant."

"I see."

Harm shrugged, "When do we fly out?"

"Tonight." Chegwiddon said, "There's a C-130 bound across country in three hours. Be on it."

"Nothing like first class." Rabb smirked.


"Isn't that always the way?" Rabb asked flippantly as he and Pike left the office. "Open your mouth and get your ass kicked."

"He should have kept quiet." Pike shrugged, "A material fault would have been accepted."

"Maybe he believes that the rifle is worth keeping?" Rabb asked.

She shrugged, "Look what it got him."

"You've got a dark outlook today, Pike." Harm smiled.

She half smiled back at him, "I have a dark outlook everyday, Lieutenant. Why do you think I'm prosecuting?"

Rabb rolled his eyes, but smiled as he split off from the young woman and headed for his office. "I'll see you on the Tarmac, Pike."

"He's being courtmartialed."

"Idiot. What on earth was he thinking?? He could blow ten years of infiltration over some stupid rifle."

"He made a military decision, Sir. We trained him to think like a Marine... With all due respect..."

"When I hear that phrase, Captain, I rarely feel that any respect is actually being accorded me. Watch yourself."

"Yes Sir."

"See if he can be salvaged. If not... wait until he's being transferred to Leavenworth and then terminate the project."


"Yes Sir."

August 27th, Marine Facility, Mojave

Rabb walked down the cement hall toward the base's brig, escorted by two guards.

At the locked door he motioned them aside and let himself in. On the bunk inside, his client looked up and nodded tiredly at him as he entered.

"Major McQueen? I've been assigned to defend you at your article thirty two."

Chapter 2

"Alright, Major." Rabb said, looking over the disassembled weapon on the table in front of them. "Why don't you walk me through this."

"This is the AR-F1 Assault system." McQueen said, stepping up to the table, "Basically it's a pretty simple device... more so then any household appliance I could name. It's a 10 millimeter, caseless assault weapon..."

"Caseless? I thought those were experimental?"

"They are, mostly." McQueen replied. "This one and Heckler and Kosch's G-11 are about the only ones of their kind being field tested right now. There are some others on the block, there always are, but those two are the most promising."

"I see." Rabb said evenly, then nodded. "Please.. Continue."

"The rounds are armor piercing, High explosive core. Designed to counter body armor and guarantee a kill shot with practically any hit." McQueen continued, "Biggest trouble we've had with them so far is that they tend to over penetrate unarmored targets... Target dummies just get a big hole in them, and something in the background goes boom."

"That's not exactly a comforting thought, Major."

"It's a small boom, Lieutenant." McQueen smiled. "The manufacturer has been working on the problem, but you know what they say about comprimise..."

"Yes Sir." Rabb nodded, "An agreement designed to make everyone angry."

"That's about it, Lieutenant." McQueen nodded. "In this case the weapon is already compromised enough."

"I'm... afraid I don't follow." Rabb said, frowning.

"The manufacturers specs claim that the weapon can deliver 1750fps muzzle velocity, with a round a fair bit heavier and larger then a 7.62Nato cartridge." McQueen said, "We had to reduce the powder load in the first couple weeks because it was becoming a spray and pray situation. Still, at 1500 fps we have control almost as good as an M-16 when we need to go full auto... in Single shot mode the recoil is actually less then a '16... Burst mode is roughly comparable."

"Those are impressive statistics, Major." Rabb nodded, "But let's move on to..."

"Not let, Lieutenant." McQueen said sternly. "I need you to understand this weapon the way I do. I want you to know why I'm staking my career on this case."

Rabb hesitated, then nodded. "Very well, Major. Continue."

McQueen took a breath and went on, "The gun is only slightly more complicated then a modern firearm, and it's design mitigates that complexity by making the weapon completely self contained and even self lubricating. The bullets aren't fired by lever action, they use an electro-pulse to trigger the propellent block... other then the trigger itself, there are no moving parts in the firing mechanism."

The Marine Major started fitting the weapon back together and continued pointing out the features as he did. "The clip feed doesn't use blowback as it's primary source, instead it leads bullets using an electric motor assembly... in a lot of ways you could consider it the baby cousin to the General Eletric mini-gun..."

Rabb snorted, "I don't see the family resemblance, Major."

"You wouldn't, Lieutenant. But I do." The Major said confidently. "That's another compromise we already made during the testing phase. The weapon was originally geared for nine hundred rounds per minute... And the first issued rifles managed it... at a cost of several barrels after sustained simulated firefights. In order to level out the heating curve we had to power the motors down to about 450 rounds per minute. In combat that's about fifteen seconds to unload a full clip instead of eight."

The Major continued to assemble the weapon, fitting each piece into the next with practiced certainty. "The clips carry ninety nine rounds at full load, but we had some problems with jamming in the initial test batch... Finally we dropped four rounds from the full load and haven't heard a dead click since."

The Major passed the weapon over to Harm and handed him a full clip. "Give it a try, Lieutenant."

"I, uh," Harm laughed softly, "Don't have a lot of time with assault rifles, Major. I'm a Tomcat man myself."

"I fly Harriers when I get the chance." McQueen said seriously, "But we're both military. Give it a try."

"Yes Sir." Harm said, slipping the clip into the pistol grip reciever as the Major passed him a pair of ear guards and put on a pair himself.

Harm brought the chunky weapon to his shoulder and carefully depressed the trigger. The first thing he noticed was that the trigger pull was really quite light compared to an M-16. The next thing was that the bite as the weapon hit his shoulder wasn't as bad as he would have expected.

The last thing was the heavy plate of steel at the far end of the range shattering into no less then eight pieces.

"Damn." Harm said, lowering the weapon.

"Damn right." McQueen said, smiling tightly.

"This is the toned *down* version??"

"That's correct, Lieutenant." McQueen said, taking the rifle from Harm. "The company rates it at an effective fighting range of about three hundred and fifty meters, with variants being designed to give it sniping capability at ranges in excess of two thousand meters... But we found out early on that by the Corps standards we should knock at least a hundred meters off their claims as SOP."

"That bad?"

"That's not as bad as you think." McQueen corrected. "The M16 has an official rating of about three hundred meters... but not too many people would choose to use it at that range if they had a vote."

"I see." Harm nodded, considering that. "It seem a bit... hefty."

"It is." McQueen nodded, "Almost half again the weight of a loaded M16. But in exchange for that you get more stopping power then an M60, almost three times the ammo in a single clip, a weapon that's almost a third shorter over all, and they toss in the grenade launcher gratis."

Harm paused and nodded as he thought about it. "Let's talk about that grenade launcher, Major."

The Major sighed and nodded, flipping the weapon on it's side in his arms. "Pump action, nestled under the muzzle, fires these..."

He racked the pump and ejected a machined cylinder into his hand. "Thirty millimeter grenades. Pack enough punch to damage most medium to heavy armor currently in use, excepting one or two russian designs and the new M1A3 DP Uranium armor. And even those it'll put a nice dent in, I promise you."

"That's all very good, Major, but I want to know how one managed to blow up in the launcher." Rabb said cooly.

"That's the one thing about this gun that I can't tell you, Lieutenant." Major McQueen said finally. "Because I do not know the answer myself."

McQueen set the rifle down and picked up another grenade, showing it to Rabb. The cylinder was machined steel with a red plastic cap over one end.

"You see this cap?"

Rabb nodded.

"First thing is, the grenade can NOT be activated while this cap is intact." McQueen said, flipping the cap off with his thumb. "Underneath you have the receiver for the launcher's activation command. When you fire the launcher the grenade receives the signal to detonate, but it's prevented by the red safety cap. A small charge launches the grenade, and causes the cap to disintegrate. It flies off the grenade *after* the weapon leaves the launcher... it simply can't come off inside the barrel, even if the weapon fires and the grenade gets jammed."

Rabb nodded, "Alright. What if someone loaded a grenade without the safety cap?"

"Good question." McQueen smiled, loading the grenade he had into the breech of the weapon.

"Hey... wait a second...."

The Major racked the slide, loading the grenade, and then depressed the trigger before Harm could back away.

And nothing happened.

After several more seconds, McQueen unloaded the weapon. And showed the grenade to Harm.

"Is it a dud?" Harm asked.

The Major smiled, thumbing down the button that was on top of the cylinder. "The receiver also doubles as a manual detonator. You press it down, let go... and seven seconds later..."

He threw the grenade down the range as far as he could. It hit the ground and bounced under one of the steel targets.


The target went airborne in multiple pieces, clods of dirt raining down all around them.

Harm glared at him for a moment before turning to wave the sentries off.

"Alright. You've made your point." He said, annoyed as he turned back to McQueen.

"I hope I have, Lieutenant." McQueen said seriously. "Without the protective cap, the launcher will not go live."

Rabb sighed, rubbing his face. "Alright. I can see that you like this weapon, Major... But it's getting a lot harder to prove anything else but human error... And you're responsible for the testing procedures."

"I am aware of that, Lieutenant." McQueen said grimly.

Lt Harmon Rabb Jr sighed as he went over his notes from the meeting with his client. The case simply didn't add up. According to the base expert on the weapon, what had happened simply *couldn't* happen. The early NCIS report indicated that it was most likely a faulty design, and so far no one had come forward to refute that other then the man being courtmartialed.

The real problem was that, even accounting for human error, the designers of the F1 seemed to have gone out of their way to make the weapon as idiot proof as possible. He didn't see how anyone could carelessly cause this sort of accident.

Next on his list was meeting with the representative of the company, Armat Incorporated. He stepped into the comfortable briefing room and nodded to Caitlin where she was sitting, and then to the company rep.

"Hi, my name's Gordon Burke." The man smiled widely. "Pleased to meet you."

"Mr Burke, this is Lt. Harmon Rabb, he'll be defending Major McQueen." Caitlin said, standing to welcome Rabb.

"Good, good." Burke grinned, "McQueen is a good man. I'd hate for anything to happen to him."

Harm nodded, leafing through his notes. "Mr Burke... Do you or your company have any ideas what could have caused this situation?"

"Absolutely not." Burke shook his head emphatically. "The M41 is designed specifically to avert this sorts of nasty..."

"Excuse me... M41?" Caitlin looked up, "Aren't we talking about the... AR-F1"

"That's it's testing designation, yes." Burke nodded. "The company designation for the project is the M41."

"I see."

"Well, the problem we have here, Mr Burke," Caitlin said after a moment, "Is that it DID happen. And if we can't identify how it might have been caused by negligence, we will have to assume that it's a defect in manufacture. Either of the launcher, or the grenade itself."

Harm looked up sharply. The grenade. He had almost missed that, if the rifle wasn't to blame, perhaps it was the ammunition?

Burke frowned, leaning back. "I tell you what, I'll talk with our designers and see what they say. But I'm certain it isn't material fault. We tested this weapon extensively before offering it to the Marine Corps for field tests."

"We'd very much appreciate your cooperation in this." Caitlin said, smiling.

On her, Rabb decided, the smile did not look inviting.

Chapter 3

August 30th, 1996

Lieutenant Rabb found himself staring blankly at the tech manual provided to the marines by the Armat Corporation. It was as dry as any such manual, but well written just the same. Rabb had read a good many similar documents in his day, and he was well practiced at it.

The problem with this one was that it seemed perfect.

Ok, maybe perfect was a bit much, but the company really seemed to have covered all the bases. Unless there was a material defect in the grenade itself, Rabb just couldn't see how anyone could cause the kind of incident that had happened by accident.

Abruptly Rabb stopped, the tapping of his pen falling silent as he looked up and frowned.

"Wake up, Major."

Major McQueen rolled over in his bunk and glared at the spic and span image of the navy fighter jock turned lawyer who was staring at him. "You know Lieutenant, it's customary to knock before entering a superiors room."

"Not if it's the brig, Major." Rabb smirked, "And especially not if you might have found a way to get your superior out of said brig."

McQueen sat up, shifting out of bed. "What do you have, Lieutenant?"

"I need to know something, Major." Rabb said, pulling up a chair. "Namely, what would happen if you were to remove the safety cap from a thirty millimeter grenade, manually triggered the device and let the countdown go to... say, six seconds before replacing the cap?"

McQueen frowned, "The cap is designed like the pin of a normal grenade. The electrical fuse would hold in place waiting at one second..."

"And if someone loaded that grenade into a launcher?" Rabb prompted.

McQueen hesitated, "It would fire as usual.. Except..."

"Except the grenade would detonate just as it cleared the barrel, right?"

McQueen nodded, "Yeah. It would. But that would mean..."

"Sabotage." Harm finished.

Sept 2nd, '96, Article 32 Hearing

"I object, Your Honor." Caitlin Pike said, standing up. "There is absolutely no evidence of this sabotage. And even if there were, the weapons were under the strict supervision of Major McQueen."


"Your Honor," Rabb turned to the judge, eyes widening.

"I said sustained, Lieutenant." The Judge said firmly, "Get on with it."

"Yes your honor." Rabb sighed, turning back to Gordon Burke who was one the stand. "I'll rephrase. If someone were to do what I just outlined, what would the result be?"

Burke frowned, then shrugged. "The grenade would... could detonate prematurely in the air and injure the soldier who fired it."

"Thank you, and can you think of anyway this could happen accidently?"

"Absolutely not." Burke said firmly.

"Thank you. No further questions, you honor."


"Thank you, your honor." Caitlin got up, walking around her desk, "Mr Gordon..."

"In summation," Pike said sternly, "While Lieutenant Rabb paints a very convincing conspiracy surrounding the event, he is unable to provide and suspects or motivations. No one can think of why anyone would have wanted to kill Corporal Cruz, or why they would have used such a haphazard method to do so. The weapons in question were issued by only one person, Major McQueen. He was responsible for their deployment and care. In the end, your honor, the buck stopped with him."

Pike nodded to the assembled officers and took her seat.

"It's not looking good, is it Lieutenant?"

"I don't know, Major." Rabb frowned as they waited. "I don't understand why the judge refused to consider the possibility of sabotage."

"It is far fetched, Lieutenant." McQueen sighed. "Cruz was a good guy. No one wanted him dead."

"Maybe he wasn't the target?" Rabb shrugged, "Look, Major, we know that something caused that grenade to detonate. Accidental detonation, or on purpose it did blow up and kill a marine. If no one can tell me how it could have happened by accident, I have to believe that it was on purpose."

"It makes for a nice story, Lieutenant. But that's all it is." McQueen said stonily.

"Major, you're supposed to be helping me here."

"Really? I thought that you were supposed to be helping me."

Rabb groaned as he sat back and tried to understand what was going on.

"We find that there is sufficient evidence to warrant a General Court Martial, and do hear bye remand this article thirty two to a general court martial."

Rabb sighed as he sat back. He turned over to his client, "I'm sorry Major."

"You did your best Lieutenant." McQueen said stiffly as the guards flanked him.

"If you want a lawyer for your court martial," Rabb said, "I'm available."

"I'll consider it, Rabb." The Major smiled slightly as he let the guards lead him away.

Rabb snorted softly as he stood up and shook his head. He watched the Major being led away by the guards. "Damn it."

"Take it easy, Rabb." Pike said as she stepped up beside him. "You lost. It happens."

Rabb frowned, "Yeah. It happens. Good job by the way."


Rabb watched as she picked up her papers and packed away her desk. Then he turned to his own, carefully packing the tech manual for the rifle as well as the dummy 30mm grenade that he'd used as a prop. <This isn't over.>

Sept 11, '96 - JAG Headquarters

"It's over Lieutenant." Admiral Chegwiddon stated flatly. "You lost. It doesn't mean you have to get used to it, but you do have to accept it."

Rabb frowned, "Admiral, I'm telling you, it doesn't make any sense. Critical evidence was suppressed by the hearing..."

Admiral Chegwiddon stopped him with a single motion. "Be careful Lieutenant. Allegations like that could end your career here before it get's started. You can't challenge a navy judge without solid proof to back yourself up."

"Damnit, Admiral, I know that something was wrong about that hearing." Rabb said, forgetting himself and his language in front of the Admiral. Luckily the Ex-Seal had heard a lot worse from better men, and overlooked it. "Major McQueen is being railroaded."

"I'm glad you feel that way, Lieutenant." Chegwiddon said, smiling tightly.

Rabb paused, frowning. "Excuse me? What did you say, Admiral?"

"I said, that I'm glad you feel that way." The Admiral repeated himself. "It's a good attitude for a defense attorney to have in a Court Martial."

Rabb blinked, "I'm afraid I don't understand Sir."

"Major McQueen seems to think that you handled his hearing adequately, Lieutenant." Chegwiddon said, "I'm not certain that I would be as generous if you'd allowed me to go to court martial, but he does have a right to request his own council."

"He asked for me, Admiral?"

"Yes he did. I trust that you won't have any problems serving as defense attorney in this matter?"

Rabb straightened to attention, "No Sir."

"Good." Chegwiddon said, "Because you're going up against a very experienced attorney. Commander Bekken has an extensive prosecution track record, and you might want to consider asking for a little help on this one."

Rabb nodded, "Yes Sir. I'll take that under advisement."

"Good." Chegwiddon looked back to his papers for a while before looking up. "Well, what are you waiting for? Get out of here and get cracking."

"Yes Sir." Rabb said, then headed for the door.

As it closed behind him, Chegwiddon looked at it for a long moment before sighing. He picked up the phone and dialed in a number. "It's me."

"Yes, he accepted. I'm not sure I like this, Sir."

"Why? Because Rabb is right. Something stunk about that Article 32. There was no way that should have gone to general court martial."

"Because, Rabb wanted the case. He knows something is up... he's willing to put his career and reputation on the line for Major McQueen. The Major needs that, because someone is gunning for him."

"I know you can't get involved, Mr Secretary. But you should know, this could get ugly."

"Right. Uglier. I agree."

"I'll do that Mr Secretary. Take care."

Conversation finished, Chegwiddon sighed as he hung up the phone. Rabb had a promising career ahead of him as a Navy Lawyer. He just hoped that it wasn't about to get run over by whoever was railroading the Major.

Rabb went to his small office and pulled open a desk drawer, pulling out the tech manual for the M41. He flipped it open to the first page describing the 30mm grenades and turned on his computer.

<30mm launcher, loads are available in HE, CS, and Anti Personnel rounds.> He read to himself. <Electronic timer detonation, variable from contact to remote settings... timer must be set by computer prior to mission, or with portable interface module in the field.>

Rabb's light was on long into the night, well after the rest of the building had gone dark.


Chapter 4

Washington DC
November 20, 1996

Major McQueen leaned back slightly as he watched his lawyer, Lt Harmon Rabb Jr, deliver the evidence in a smooth and professional manner. The man was quite good, if McQueen's opinion counted for anything. Unfortunately, the Major could tell from the members sitting in judgement of him, that Rabb's arguments were falling on deaf ears.

His pupils dilated as he focused in on one of the Admirals sitting in the members section.

The man's pupils, facial expression, and body language were those of a man who had already made his decision. That hadn't changed from the moment the moment the man stepped into the court room, weeks earlier.

The same held true for the rest of the members, save one Marine Brigadier General, who was actually listening to the evidence and seemed to be leaning in his favor. One vote out of the five wasn't going to get McQueen or the Marines anything, and the Major was regretting his request to bring Rabb onto his defense.

Not for his sake, though, because the more McQueen watched the court process the more he was certain that his time as a United States Marine was coming to an end. No lawyer could have done him any better then Rabb was already doing, that much he was fairly certain of. As it stood, the military court would have a difficult time sentencing him to Leavenworth for criminal negligence, and that was all Rabb's doing.

But McQueen could see the look in the eyes of one of the Admirals, a look that was shared in the eyes of a Captain and the Navy Judge as well. It was a look that didn't bode well for Lt Rabb. McQueen was almost certain that, if not for the incident on the Kitty Hawk a couple months earlier, Rabb's career would already be in the toilette.

But the man was a national hero now, and untouchable for the moment at least.

"Lt Rabb, may I have a word with you?"

"Certainly, Commander." Rabb nodded, motioning to the two Marine guards to wait before escorting McQueen away. "How can I help you?"

"I've been told to offer you a deal." Commander Bekken said calmly.

"You've been told?" Rabb frowned, "I'm not sure I like the sounds of that, Commander."

"Join the club, Lt." Bekken replied, not giving anymore information.

"Say I was interested..." Rabb shrugged casually. "What kind?"

"No brig time. Dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of pay and benefits." Bekken replied.

"Commander." Rabb said in an exasperated tone. "I think I've proven that Major McQueen wasn't guilty of criminal negligence."

"You proven that there is some doubt, Lt." Bekken replied, "But don't get a swelled head. You know how to read the court as well as I do. Just to make this clear Lt, this deal isn't my idea."

Rabb frowned again, his eyes flicking around to the abundance of brass that decorated the area. That wasn't an admission that would come easily from the Commander, he knew that. In fact, it tread seriously close to violating several statutes that Rabb could think of. Which meant that Commander Bekken was taking a hell of a risk just telling him.

"General discharge, full pay and benefits." Rabb countered calmly.

Bekken look almost ill, but he nodded. "Deal."

"Absolutely not."

"Major, be reasonable." Rabb sighed, tapping the papers. "This is as good as we are going to get. I don't know what the hell is going on in that Courtroom, but the Judge has overruled every major motion I've made, at least three of the five Members are openly hostile toward you, and myself incidently, and I'm sure you've noticed that we've already been buried so far down the docket that I'm personally surprised that anyone even noticed when our court date came up."

McQueen growled, "Lt, you don't understand. This isn't about me. I know that my career is finished, but my marines need that weapon. If I settle, the M41 will be buried with me."

"Major. The M41 is already buried." Rabb said evenly. "Armat is in the process of filing for bankruptcy even as we speak."

"What? Why!?" McQueen stood up, startling the two guards.

Rabb waved them back, as was becoming a habit for him. "Loss of government contracts while this case has dragged on, Major. With the M41 in question, the rest of their contracts have been suspended until this case was resolved."

"And we've been at this for months." McQueen slumped down, blinking in understanding and shock.

"That's correct." Rabb sighed. He had a good idea why the case had been shoved so far down the docket, but getting evidence of that wasn't going to be easy, if it was possible at all.

McQueen looked beaten for the first time since Rabb had met the man, and not for the first time Rabb tried to understand why he would stake his career on a rifle of all things. What kind of man would dedicate that much of himself to something that seemed so small?

"Take the deal, Lt." McQueen said finally. "Take the deal."


"Sir!" Rabb snapped to attention in the hallway of the courthouse as he was approached by Admiral Chegwiddon.

"At ease, Sailor." The Admiral returned the saulute.

"Thank you sir." Rabb shifted his stance. "What brings the Admiral here today?"

"I had a... some business nearby, Lt." Chegwiddon replied, "I decided to see the verdict. The Members were going to report it today, I believe?"

"Yes Sir, but there won't be one, Sir." Rabb replied.

"Oh? Care to explain that, Lieutenant?"

"Commander Bekken offered a deal, Sir."

"And you took it?" Chegwiddon looked mildly surprised.

"After some negotiation." Rabb nodded.

"What kind of deal?"

"General discharge Sir. No brig time, no forfeiture of pay."

The Admiral blinked, surprised, but only for a moment. The longer this case had gone on the more people were being dragged closer to the light of day. Rabb's fervor in pursuing the case had many of them worried that he'd continue to agitate even after a verdict was returned.

Finally Chegwiddon nodded, "Very well, Lieutenant. I believe that you can probably chalk this one up in the win column."

"If you say so, Sir." Rabb replied sourly, not looking like he considered it a 'win'.

"I do, Lieutenant." The Admiral replied tightly. <More then you realize.> "Good job."

"Thank you, Sir."

T.C. McQueen, formerly of the United States Marine Corps, reluctantly turned in his uniform and reclaimed his personal effects. He felt all wrong in civilian clothing, he'd never worn such things, except when he went to sign up for the marines over a decade earlier.

He couldn't get used to the fit.

He needed a uniform, something to identify him, without it he just didn't know who he was.

And so, with his final paycheck in hand, T.C. McQueen walked out of the Marine's admin building and into the light of civilian life.

He made it an entire ten steps off the base when he was met by a familiar looking figure. He immediately halted and started to salute, but the grim faced man just scowled and he dropped the salute instantly.


"You've really fucked this one up, Soldier." The man said stiffly. "Walk with me."

"Yes Sir."

The two started to move down the road.

"You mind tell me why?"

"I felt that the Corps needed that rifle, Sir. It was superior to anything else that we'd tested, and I didn't want it to be flushed away over an accident."

"If you really think that was an accident, you're thicker then that Navy puke you had defending you. The rifle was sabotaged, Soldier."

McQueen tensed. He'd known that, but he didn't understand why. "Why Sir?"

"Why else? Money. I trained you in every facet of military life... I suppose I should have trained you to think like a civilian as well." The man growled, then finally shook his head. "Go about your life, Soldier. We'll be in contact soon."

"Sir?" McQueen was confused. He wasn't being called in?

"You'll be watched for a while, Soldier." The man snapped, "You pissed off some major people... Besides... I need time to convince the brass that you're still useful."

"Sir." McQueen hid his discomfort.

"Don't get your hopes up." The man snapped, "You really screwed up by the numbers this time. Ten years, Soldier. Ten YEARS, lost."

"I'm Sorry Sir. I didn't realize how far it was going to go."

"I'm aware of that, Soldier. But many people don't realize it... I'll convince them... don't worry about it." The man said smoothly.

McQueen wasn't sure if he believed a word of it, but he had no choice. He had to follow orders. "Yes Sir."

A car slid up beside them and the man got in the back, "Lay low. Spend your pay, and try to keep from pissing anybody else off."

"Yes Sir!"

"Let's go." The man said to his driver as he closed the door.

McQueen watched, swallowing, as the car drove off and decided that he could probably count the rest of his life in days from this point on.

Chapter 5

November 21th, 1996

General William Gray packed up the last of his things into the single suitcase, checking his watch. If they were punctual, his ride should be here momentarily. He smiled slightly to himself, <They'd better be punctual.>

He closed and clipped the suitcase, turning to the door when the phone rang.


"Your ride is waiting at the front door, General."

Gray blinked, looking at his watch. Exactly twelve hours. To the second, unless he was mistaken. <Ok...> "I'll be right down."

"There's a complication." The voice said after a moment. "We'd like you to start working for us immediately."

Gray hesitated, "I won't do anything to subvert the..."

"Of course not, General. We merely wish you to interview and determine the suitability of another candidate." The voice interrupted him, causing Gray to bristle slightly.

"Why? I thought you people were all over that stuff. The kid seemed pretty confident when he recruited me." Gray retorted.

"You see, General. We like what this man did... we don't know if we'll like why he did it." The voice returned. "The details and a Card are waiting in the car."

Gray nodded, sighing gruffly. "Alright. I'm heading down now. I'll see you shortly."

"Not me, General. I'm not as mobile as all that." The voice said with a hint of ironic humor before cutting the line.

<What the fuck did that mean?> Gray shrugged as he stared at the phone. Finally he gave it up and put the phone back in the cradle and headed downstairs.

When he stepped out of the hotel there was a black sedan waiting for him and a kid with a military bearing was waiting by it.

"Sir." The kid snapped a salute, "I'm your driver."

"I can see that." Gray eyed the boy slowly. "You have a name, son?"

"Rudy, Sir. Rudy Marlowe." The boy said quickly, then he took a half step forward. "Can I take your bags, Sir?"

"Alright Son." Gray handed to him, and waited as the kid deposited the case in the trunk and then came back around and the door. He didn't really need or want the door opened for him, but Gray found himself almost morbidly interested in the kid's actions.

"Thanks." Gray said as he got in and the door shut behind him.

Rudy got in the drivers seat and started the engine before looking back, "Merlin sent a file for you, Sir. It's on the seat. I've been told to drive you to a hotel downtown."

"Go ahead then, Son." Gray said, nodding as he picked up the manilla envelop and broke the seal.

He started reading as the car pulled smoothly away from the curb and the didn't notice as the kid in the front seat began to deftly weave them through the downtown traffic of Washington DC with an ease that a professional limo driver would envy.

T.C. McQueen sat on the bed of his cheap hotel room, staring at the wall. Around him the room was in perfect Corps shape, something it hadn't been when he moved in. The bed was crisply made and the room was as perfectly clean and neat as he could make it, though he'd given up on the carpet. When he'd done that, there was nothing else to do so he'd just sat down and waited.

The phone would ring soon enough, of that he was sure. When the call came, he'd be told to come in. And he would do so.

And then...

Well, then he supposed he'd have reeducation to look forward to if he were lucky. Six months, then he'd get another mission. Unless they decided he was of no use anymore.

None of the thoughts flashing through his mind showed on his face as he continued to stare at the wall.

"We're here, General."

Gray uttered some grunt of acknowledgment, but didn't look up until he finished the paragraph he was on. "Alright. I'm going to finish this first."

"Yes Sir." Rudy turned around and tried to keep from fidgeting.

Gray was trying to keep his anger from burning through, but it just seemed that the world around him was rife with injustice. The file he was reading was that of a dedicated Marine who had fallen on his sword in an attempt to just get his superiors to realize that the weapon they were testing wasn't at fault. This wasn't a man that should be thrown away for whatever politics were being batted about the back rooms.

Gray was no lawyer, but even he could tell that this Rabb boy had done good by the man, and yet the reports left no doubt that the fix was in. If the secondary sources this 'Merlin' had quoted were accurate, then it was all about money and ego.

He swallowed, hating himself, however irrationally, for having missed this case. While he and the President had been feeling sorry for themselves... <No. While I was feeling sorry for both of us, this happened right under my nose.>

"Alright." Gray opened the door, startling Rudy into action. "Stay in the car, Son. I'll be back soon."


"Just stay here."

"Yes Sir."

Gray shook his head, not for the first time wondering at the young man's age and eagerness. He had some military bearing, but the discipline didn't seem quite perfect.

<Probably Navy.> Gray smirked internally as he approached the cheap hotel. He quickly located room twelve and knocked.

McQueen's head snapped to the door, his face perplexed. His contact should have been by phone. He considered for a moment, then got up and walked over to the door. There wasn't a peep hole, so he opened it even as he prepared to jump to one side.

When he saw the man on the other side he saluted by reflex, despite the fact that they both wore civilian attire. "Sir!"

"At ease." General William Gray said, "You mind if I come in, Marine?"

"Yes Sir. I mean, No Sir..." McQueen hesitated, then stepped aside, "That is, come in Sir."

"Thank you." Gray said, stepping over the threshold and closing the door behind him.

McQueen didn't say anything, instead he waited at 'ease' for Gray to speak.

"I've been reading your file, Major." Gray said after a while, noting the perfect state of the room. With the exception of a single depression in the bed and some of the wear on the room, it would pass a Marine inspection easily. <A point in his favor.>

"Have you, Sir?" McQueen countered as he'd been trained. <Reveal nothing. Let him talk.>

"I have to say, I'm curious." Gray turned to him. "Why did you give up your career for a gun, Major?"

"Sir! This Marine felt that the weapon in question was essential to the Corps, Sir!"

Gray's lips twisted at the perfect response. "Don't give me that, Marine! How much did they pay you?"

McQueen hesitated, then looked confused. "Sir?"

"You heard me. How much were you paid to push the rifle on the Corps?"

"Sir, nothing Sir!"

"So you're cheap, is that what you're telling me!?"

"No Sir! I didn't take any money, Sir. I felt that the weapon in question was..."

"Essential to the Corps. Yes, I got that." Gray said sourly. "Tell me why."

"Sir?" McQueen looked confused again.

"What makes this rifle so impressive?" Gray asked, "It's a simple question, Major."

"Sir... Yes Sir." McQueen nodded, quickly getting his thoughts in order as he'd been trained. "It was evident from the start of testing that the weapon was impressive, Sir. Despite numerous problems, the M41 delivered a consistently superior performance over the other test models, and far exceeded the baseline M16 models we used."


"Firepower. Reliability. Durability. Sir."

"Explain." Gray ordered crisply.

"The M41 fires armor piercing rounds with explosive cores, capable of defeating any modern body armor with ease. The explosive core guarantees a kill with almost any hit placement. Muzzle velocity is lower then the M16, but with the heavier round it still exceeded the kinetic force on impact. Each clip uses a custom U bend load that triples the clip capacity, while the caseless design of the ammunition allows a completely sealed mechanism... Sir, the M41 is one rugged rifle, Sir."

Gray nodded slowly, but frowned. "According to the specs I've seen the weapon consistently underperforms an M16."

"No Sir!"

"450 round per minute cyclic rate? The '16 manages 800." Gray quoted the numbers from the file, "And as I recall the muzzle velocity was almost *half* that of an M16."

"Sir, those numbers are misleading, Sir." McQueen said confidently. "The weapons are capable of much higher rates on both counts... but even at those rates I'd rather have a squad armed with '41s then '16s... any day, Sir."

"If the weapon is capable of higher rates, then why were you crippling them, Marine?" Gray snapped.

"Sir, the barrel material was unable to handle sustained fire from the new propellent at 900 rounds per minute. They warped after two clips were emptied in succession, creating a potentially lethal situation. At 450 rounds per minute it was impossible to duplicate the problem, Sir." McQueen returned crisply. "The problem was being looked at by the designers. I'm confident that new materials for the barrels would have solved the problem."

"I see." Gray said, impressed. <The boy knows his stuff.> "How old are you Soldier?"

"Twenty Seven, Sir."

Gray nodded, then motioned to the bed. "Take a seat, Son."

McQueen hesitated again, then nodded and took a seat. Gray snorted softly as he noticed the Marine even *sat* at attention. He grabbed a chair and pulled it up in front of the bed. "What are your plans now, Marine?"


"You heard me."

"I don't have any, Sir."

Gray nodded, then reached into his pocket. "I've been authorized to give you this."

McQueen reached out, accepting the white card from the General. He frowned and looked at it for a moment, then his eyes widened as it shifted and began to turn black. All except for two words.

The Knighthood.

Chapter 6

"Terminate him."

"Ma'am... I don't believe that's necessary, we can still use him on covert..."

"Captain." The woman said acidly, "He has a military file. We even let him have DNA sample for their records. He's a bad risk, eliminate the risk. That is your job, isn't it?"

"That sample has been sanitized! It in no way points to us, or reveals what he's capable of..."

"Captain," She leaned forward, "Read my lips... I... Don't... Care. We have others ready to take up his position."

"But none with his experience, ma'am..."

"Captain, are you deaf? I said terminate him. No questions. No objections. Call him in and put two of those bullets you're so fond of in the back of his head."

There was a long silence, followed by a sigh. "Yes Ma'am."


"We should be leaving, Sir."

Gray shook his head as he looked out over his hotel room. "Not yet. I think he's going to call."

"Alright, Sir. But Xander's been advised of our arrival... he's expecting us in California so he can show you..."

"He'll just have to wait." Gray said calmly.

"Um... Yes Sir."

T.C. McQueen stared at the card in his hand as he sat stiffly at attention, idly turning it over in his hand as he waited.

He'd been sitting there since the day before, though he'd taken a few hours to sleep in between and had even gotten into the bed to do so. It was something of a luxury, but he didn't expect to have that option soon enough.

When the phone rang he reached over mechanically and picked it up before the sound finished it's first tone. "McQueen."

"It's time to come in, Soldier." The voice said.

"Understood." McQueen returned, hesitating. Something in the man's voice, "Is there a new mission, Sir?"

"Absolutely, Soldier."

<I've been canceled.> McQueen thought dispassionately. He hesitated again, then made a decision. "Sir, I've been approached with a... job offer."

"You're not actually a Civilian, Soldier." The voice snapped.

"No Sir, but the offer was... Interesting." McQueen said, "It concerns the terrorist activities this spring past."

"Off the west coast? What about them?"

"The group offering me a position claims to have been involved on the same side as the American forces."

"What's their name?" The voice was cold now, calculating.

"The Knighthood, Sir."

"Take the offer. Contact me when you're in. Understood?"

"Hu-ah, Sir."

"A simple yes would suffice, Soldier. I'll be waiting."

"Yes Sir."

The phone went dead and McQueen looked at it for a long moment before he picked up the card in his other hand and held it up to the phone.

"He called."

Gray smiled at the young man and nodded, "Alright, Son. Now we can go."

"Is he coming in?"


"What? I told you to..."

"He was contacted by a group with a proposal."

"... What kind of proposal?"

"A group identifying themselves as The Knighthood recruited him. I instructed him to accept."

"I don't have time for games, Captain...."

"Ma'am, I assure you, I'm not playing games. The Knighthood has been a buzz word in higher military circles since last spring. They were responsible for handling a large portion of the hostiles that attacked the west coast then."

"I see... And you think that he might be able to infiltrate them more effectively then he did the Marines?"

"The very reason he was recruited was because he was an *exemplary*Marine, Ma'am. And because he left the Corps in the way he did, standing his ground against a corrupt system."

"Hardly an attitude I would expect to be beneficial to us, Captain."

The Captain stiffened in his place, his face masking a sense of outrage at the implication. The woman merely laughed slightly and shook her head. "Oh stow your moral outrage, Captain. I've seen how you trained him and the others. Now... tell me more about this 'Knighthood'."

The black sedan cruised quietly into the airport, parking in the rental lot as the occupants got out.

"I'll be right back, Sir." Rudy told Gray. "I just need to drop the keys off."

Gray nodded once to him as he looked around the airport lot. Beside him he could see that McQueen was doing the same thing, only where he was looking for reporters, the younger man was looking for trouble. Gray smiled softly to himself, <I remember when I watched public places that way.>

It took only a few seconds for Rudy to reappear and motion them away from the main terminal. "This way, please."

They followed him around to a private hanger and Rudy led them inside where they found a private Golf Wing jet waiting for them.

<Well, it's not Air Force One, but it's a step up from a cargo plane.> Gray thought to himself as Rudy led them up the steps.

"We've got some other passengers, Sir... they may be a bit cranky about waiting, so be patient." Rudy grinned as he stripped off his suit jacket.

"What are you doing?"

Rudy grinned wider, "Didn't I mention it? I'm your pilot."

Then he vanished up through the Cabin as Gray and McQueen made their way in and sat down inside the comfortable aircraft.

"Hi, I'm Dade." one of others leaned forward, "That's Jason, Gibson, Maria, and Jackie. So, What's your gig?"

"Pardon me?" Gray blinked.

The boy grinned, "I'm a Hacker. Computer specialist. Jason over here is research scientist... specializes in Bio-something or other..."

"Bio-neural circuits." The slightly older boy frowned at the one who'd called himself Dade.

"Right." Dade shrugged, moving on. "Maria here is a mechanical engineer..."

Maria was a mousy woman in the mid-thirties who looked about ready to jump at anything. Gray guessed that she didn't like flying. "Hi."

"Hi..." She said back.

"Gibson over there and Jackie were partners in some technology scam..." Dade continued.

"Hardly." Gibson openly scowled at the young man. "Our business had real products, and real value. Our synthetic spider silk alone was worth billions."

Dade just shrugged again, and smiled apologetically. "Sorry man."

Gibson shook his head and leaned back, but looked carefully at Gray. "I know you."

"I don't believe so."

"Yeah. You were that General guy who stood beside the president when they tossed his butt out of the white house." Gibson snorted, "Politicians. Always causing trouble and expecting to get away with..."

Gray had started to bristle, but was surprised when it was the cheery Dade who's hand slapped out and grabbed the guy by the shirt and yanked him forward. "Listen up, pal. You don't know the story behind that, so keep your mouth shut. Where we're going there's a ton of people who think Whitmore hung the moon last spring, and all of them are very dangerous people."

With that the kid shoved Gibson back into his chair and sat back down. A moment later, he turned to McQueen with that same smile, "So... What's your story?"

The plane landed in Sunnydale just behind schedule as the sun rose the next morning, and the occupants climbed out and looked around the California landscape.

"Hola." A voice called cheerfully from a distance away and they all looked up to see a pair of figures approaching them from behind the plane.

"Harris." Gray grumbled, recognizing one of them.

"General." Xander smiled, shaking the man's hands. "This is Rupert Giles. He'll be driving most of you to where you'll be staying in town. I'd advise you not to invite anyone in after dark... I believe that most of you know why?"

Gray was startled to find that every one but himself and McQueen nodded.

"Good." Xander smiled, "General, Major... you two are with me. We'll get you settled in, then we'll show you what the Knighthood exists to fight. Things are a little... tight in town right now, so I want you guys shown the ropes and moved the hell out of here before your noticed..."

The two military men nodded and picked up their bags, moving toward the vehicle that Xander had gestured to. Xander fell into step behind them when something about McQueen caught his eyes. He abruptly stopped, his pleasant expression slipping away.


"Yes, Sir?" McQueen responded, stopping and half turning.

"That's an interesting Tattoo you have."

McQueen reached instinctively to the back of his neck and his cover story came to mind, "I got drunk once, Sir."

"I see," Xander scowled openly. "Merlin and the General... as well as the facts behind your case all speak well for you. So I'll reserve judgment... But frankly, I have serious doubts about anyone who'd willingly have a barcode tattooed to the back of their neck, Major."

McQueen didn't have anything to say to that, so he just nodded as the group continued on.

The End


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