PHASE III : THE NEPHELE ARC ( 37 of 44 )

: Scraps of Honour
PART 6 OF 15 : A HARD DAY'S NIGHT ( 1 / 2 )

 


Flight Deck, BWS Sicily
Seggalion System, Union of Border Worlds
1218 Hours, February 9 2681 (2681.040)

The flight deck of a carrier is always busy but never more tense than when fighters squadrons with battle damage are inbound. Medical crews, firefighting teams, ordnance disposal technicians and other deck personnel scurry to their assigned stations while the tension inexorably mounts. All eyes regularly turn to the PA speakers, waiting for some word from the Flight Control Center as to what will happen next. Eventually the word comes down from On High.

"Deck crews we have multiple damaged fighters coming in. Stand by." In a holomovie this would be where several dramatically-appropriate last-minute chores would just now be finished by the deck crews, but they had already completed all the preparations some time ago. They were all ready for action.

It wasn't long in arriving. The first fighter to land was a mauled Intruder trailing sparks, smoke and debris. One tailfin had been blasted away by an exploding missile and the other one leaned so far to the right it resembled a tailplane more than a tailfin. Most of the paint and armor was gone, replaced by exposed circuitry and blackened scorch marks trailing the length of the fighter. The Intruder was drifting noticeably to the left as it passed through the airlock's force field and abruptly slammed down onto the flight deck, the pilot obviously landing before he completely lost control of the fighter. The tyres squealed as the fighter careened along the deck before finally coming to a complete stop. The pilot then taxied to a parking bay at the side of the deck under the guidance of a landing officer even as another fighter started its landing approach.

Lieutenant Anthony Grimm finished powering his battered fighter down even as the ordnance techs checked his fighter to make sure he wasn't carrying any missiles which could cook off and risk flight operations. The young pilot suppressed a slightly hysterical laugh at the sight of the ordies. It's not like I've got any bloody missiles LEFT! he thought to himself. He flipped the switch to open the canopy as a technician wheeled a ladder over for him to climb out. He clambered out of the cockpit and down the ladder, turning to head to the Scrappers' briefing room but suddenly stopped. He turned back to the ladder and looked at his hands in surprise. They were still gripping the ladder's handrails. He tried to force them to release their grip but no matter how desperately he focused his will his hands simply refused to let go.

"You okay, Lieutenant?" Grimm turned his head and saw Master Sergeant Andy Foster, the Scrappers' chief technician, standing at his shoulder with an expression of concern on his lined face. He nodded jerkily and tried to speak but his mouth was drier than the sands of Lennox III's Lassiter Desert. "Then how about letting go of the ladder?" Foster asked quietly. The rookie pilot simply stood there, trying not to tremble. Foster looked at him for a few seconds then reached forward and wrenched his hands away from the ladder. "C'mon kid, move it," he snapped as he guided Grimm away from the Intruder and the tech crew already swarming around it.

The Scrappers' newest pilot managed to get eight steps away from the medium fighter before his legs collapsed under him. His hands shook as he unclipped his helmet, revealing the cold sweat on his pallid face as he gasped for air. "Oh, Christ," he managed to whisper after several seconds. Taking a deep breath he managed to get to his feet and stumble to the nearest wall, nearly falling against it before a nearby medic caught him and began checking him for wounds. Jeeze this is embarrassing, he thought numbly as the medic used a penlight to check his eyes for dilation.

"You'll be okay," the medic told him after a cursory check. "You're just coming down from the adrenaline. Get some fluids into you and take a rest." The medic clapped him on the shoulder and trotted away in response to calls for medical assistance. Grimm raised his head and looked around for the source of the commotion. He focused on a Hellcat bearing Tanfen markings that looked like it had lost a fight with a mob of soccer hooligans armed with blowtorches. Half a wing had been torn away by energy weapons fire, the engines were pocked with holes and the rest looked more like an abstract sculpture by a Brilliance addict than a warplane. The pilot was being carried away on a stretcher with blood oozing from a head wound and an IV plugged into his arm.

"Not exactly like the holos, is it?" Jack DeVille asked, quietly as before. Grimm almost jumped out of his skin and looked over his shoulder to see the blond Major less than three feet away. Dammit, I hate when people creep up on me! Then again, in the state I'm in I'd be lucky to notice a meteor before it hit me. I've gotta pull myself together fast... "C'mon, let's get some coffee before the debriefing starts," Jack commented.

 

Briefing Room, BWS Sicily
Seggalion System
1243 Hours, February 9 2681 (2681.040)

"... so that's it for the debriefing," Paul Onslow concluded. "So with all the boring crap out of the way I can now give you the information you've been waiting with bated breath for." He pressed a button on the podium and the killboard lit up. Most of the Scrappers studied it in silence but Dragan Emerson let out an exultant whoop.

"Three kills and three assists! Damn I'm good! One more assist and I'd be getting Bronze Wings for my first time outta the box!" the young pilot yelled happily, startling the other members of the 349th. The Scrappers' CO glared at him coldly then spoke.

"Sorry to disappoint you, Lieutenant, but your wingman doesn't count," he grated. The icy tone of his voice sent a chill through most of the flight personnel in the room but Onslow didn't notice. Time to rein this little bastard in, he thought grimly. "You were too busy trying to notch up marks on the killboard to watch out for your wingman like you were supposed to."

"Sir, I - " Emerson began to reply.

"Let me guess," the Colonel cut in. "You're going to say that it was Grimm's responsibility to watch your six, right?" Silence was the dark young Lieutenant's only answer but it was answer enough for his squadronmates. "Well, it was," Onslow continued in a reasonable voice. Anthony Grimm sank down in his seat trying to avoid being seen by his comrades. Here it comes, he thought miserably. I'm gonna get ripped a new one for getting my fighter torn to scrap. "But unlike you he did his job." There was no mistaking the anger in the scarred Colonel's eyes. "What is the job of a wingman?" he asked Emerson quietly.

Emerson drew a deep breath. "To cover his leader." It was a response straight out of the Academy but he couldn't see where Onslow was leading with it.

"And the job of a wing leader?"

"To carry out any mission objectives assigned to the squadron."

"And if there are no other objectives assigned to the squadron?"

Now the verbal trap their CO had laid for Emerson was apparent to all the Scrappers. The dark young Lieutenant looked up at Onslow helplessly. "Then he should cover his wingman, sir."

"So why didn't you?" the Scrappers' leader demanded. The tension in the briefing room, already thick enough to be cut with a combat knife, was growing by the second.

"All right, I screwed up! I had my fangs out for kills and I screwed up! Is that what you wanted me to say?" Dragan exploded. Onslow continued to regard him coldly.

"Anyone who checks the telemetry and the comm logs will be able to see that you were busy running solo and placing the squadron at risk," he finally told Emerson. "I wanted -- no, I needed -- for you to admit that. You're a member of a fighter squadron and we need to be able to rely on you to do your job, not go running off after glory." He gestured to indicate the rest of the 349th watching the confrontation silently. "It's not likely you'll forget this lesson, is it?" he asked in a gentler tone of voice. The young pilot mutely shook his head. "Just make sure you remember what you've learned here and we won't have to have this conversation again." Onslow straightened up and looked around the briefing room. "Does anyone have any further questions?" he asked the other pilots and gunners quietly. Most of them shook their heads but he saw one hand raised.

"How would you grade my performance on the mission, sir?" Anthony Grimm asked nervously. He'll probably say I sucked but I've got to know for sure, he thought to himself. He swallowed nervously as his commanding officer turned to look at him.

The kid looks more scared of me than he was of the pirates, Onslow thought to himself in surprise. Am I truly that frightening? He dismissed the thought hurriedly. "You did pretty well for your first mission, Grimm," he told the Scrappers' other rookie. "You stuck with your leader and covered him like you were supposed to. You got two kills and two assists out there and you managed to bring your plane back home."

Grimm's mouth twisted. "I barely managed to bring my plane back home," he muttered. Onslow refused to be put off.

"But you made it home even if your plane was ripped up. And, more to the point, your wingleader made it home with a lot less damage than you did. Don't beat yourself up over doing what you were supposed to do." The Scrappers' leader watched as the young fair-haired pilot reluctantly nodded "Anyone got anything else?" he asked the rest of the 349th's flight personnel. This time there were no dissenters. "Dismissed, then." He began putting his notes in order as his squadron filed out of the briefing room.

Onslow's gaze snapped up from the podium at the sound of a light cough. "Something on your mind, Jack?"

"You went a bit hard on Emerson, didn't you?" Jack DeVille asked quietly. "We've all had tiger fever at one point or another. Shit, Paul, it was the kid's first live mission. No wonder he had his fangs out."

"I'm sick of smartass punks who subscribe to the Maniac Marshall school of combat flying," Onslow snapped. "They tend to survive but their wingmen sure don't!" He slumped against the podium and sighed. "I'm tired of writing next-of-kin letters home to families, Jack. I'm sick of having to make up some bullshit story about how their kids bravely sacrificed themselves instead of telling them that their son or daughter would be alive if some tiger-fevered moron hadn't screwed the pooch by bore-sighting on a bad guy and leaving their wingman's six uncovered."

"Paul," his XO began slowly, "Dragan deserved a chewing-out for leaving Tony in the lurch, there's no two ways about it. But I can't help wondering how much of that was because he needed it and how much of that was because you needed it."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

The blond Major raised a hand in a placating gesture. "All I'm saying is that you're human just like us. We've all been under a hellacious load of stress trying to adapt to life on a carrier, and the idea of being the last best hope for the Border Worlds isn't helping any. From what I've seen you haven't slept more than four hours a night. Now the idea of a boss who actually looks out for his subordinates' welfare is reassuring - trust me, you don't want to hear about how some Confed COs will fuck over their people in order to score points with a promotions board - but the idea of my CO burning out on the eve of the biggest battle this side of Armageddon isn't too appealing." He made a rueful face. "Damn... I sounded like Eric when I said that."

His commander wasn't amused. "Get to the point, Jack."

"Bottom line? You're forty-one years old, Paul. You're the oldest of any of us and you're our leader. You can't help worrying about us. Hell, those two nuggets are young enough to be your sons - "

"If I had any," Paul Onslow said bleakly. His mind flashed back across the years to a time when he was a brash young Lieutenant flying a Rapier off the cruiser Braxton. Back to a young woman with dark hair and eyes so blue a man could drown in them. Back to the tension on the flight deck of the escort carrier Wake Island as he and his wingmates prepared for the jump into Sol and the frenzied mêlée of the Battle of Terra. Back to the feeling of heartsick grief and horror when he'd been told of the misjump which had destroyed the Braxton, the woman he'd loved and his hopes for a family of his own.

His mind returned to 2681 as Jack resumed speaking. "The point, Paul, is that now we have some time to kick back you're going to come down to the lounge and join us for a few drinks, maybe a few rounds of pool. If Onslaught disappears and Paul Onslow shows up for a while I don't think anyone would complain."

Jack's commander raised an eyebrow enquiringly. "And if I'm too busy?"

The 349th's second-in-command sighed with mock regret. "Well Kristy still has enough medical qualifications to downcheck someone if they're suffering from excessive stress, and you're looking like you fit the bill perfectly. Now the first step in treating stress is to move the patient to a relaxing environment."

"Such as the lounge?" Onslow asked with a faint grin. DeVille affected a look of innocent surprise.

"Well I suppose that would be one option," he deadpanned. "Anyway the really scary thing about obsessive-compulsive workaholic types who fall victim to stress is that they often don't realize they need treatment. So if Kristy reckons you need some time to unwind, which I'm not saying you do, then maybe you'll ignore her advice. So Todd and myself would have to escort you to someplace you could let off some steam."

Onslow was grinning openly as he raised his hands in a placating gesture. "Whoa, whoa, I surrender already! So when do we start booming?"

"As soon as we collect the others from the flight deck," Jack replied.

"Then lead on, Macduff!"

"And be damned to he who cries 'Hold, enough'..."

 

Flight Deck, BWS Sicily
Seggalion System
1251 Hours February 9 2681 (2681.040)

"C'mon, it's obvious she's got the hots for you!"

"Will you give it a bloody rest?!"

"Well, the way she just happened to fall into your arms as you helped her out of that ejection pod you tractored in was kind of a hint..." Kristy Joyce commented, a playful twinkle in her green eyes as she glanced at her wingman.

"You'd be pretty wobbly from shock if you'd been stuck in an unshielded pod under the guns of a couple of fighters and almost been killed," Alex Morgan replied tartly. "If you don't believe me you're welcome to hop outside in a pod. I'll do an attack run or two on you and we'll see how you hold up." He looked over at Anthony Grimm. "Besides it's not like Courtney's the only one to be a bit unsteady after that mission, eh, Tony?"

Grimm ducked his head in embarrassment but not before his comrades saw the blush creeping up his face. Vincent Tsu chuckled and ruffled the new pilot's sandy hair affectionately. "You're not the only one to go weak at the knees after the first time you've faced the enemy," he advised. "So, did you wet yourself?"

"No!" Grimm snapped indignantly. Did they really expect me to be that weak?

"Did you puke?" Sandra Lynch asked, watching Grimm with a neutral expression.

"No, dammit!"

Lynch shrugged. "You did better than some of us," she explained dryly. She jerked her head in Todd McLaughlin's direction. "On his first live mission, Todd was in hot pursuit of a smuggler over the Lassiter Desert back on Lennox III. Turbulence from the thermals was a durasteel-plated bitch for us as well as the smuggler, we all wound up getting tossed all over the sky. Anyway we made it back to base and Todd doesn't even bother getting out of the cockpit. Halfway through powering down it's off with the helmet and bleargh!" The red-haired major chuckled softly. "Man, Andy was pissed!"

"I still say it was the lousy food I had before we scrambled," McLaughlin replied, disdainfully ignoring his squadronmates' laughter as they walked onto the flight deck. "Anyway, here we are. Now I told you that - what the hell is going on here?" he asked as he saw the nearly-empty flight deck. He stepped forward to look for the technicians who should have been swarming around the damaged fighters and almost jumped out of his skin as a viselike grip closed around his forearm.

"Sir, you'd better clear the flight deck," a stocky Marine sergeant in chameleonic fatigues advised. McLaughlin looked like he was about to argue when he noticed several other armed Marines taking up positions near the flight deck's exits.

"What's happening?" he asked. The Marine opened his mouth to answer the pilot's question but snapped his head around in time to see a Thunderbolt fighter leading a shuttle into the Sicily's landing bay.

"Dammit, they're bringing them in too early!" he swore. He looked around at the confused pilots. "Clear the deck! Get behind those blast barriers now!" he ordered, indicating one of the fighter maintenance bays off the main deck.

"Do it, people!" Lynch snapped. The Scrappers bolted en masse for the cover of the maintenance area, Lynch bringing up the rear as the shuttle touched down. "Does anyone have any idea of what this is all about?"

"Ask them," a dark-haired woman in a khaki flightsuit with Tanfen patches told her, pointing in the direction of the protective revetment. Eric Maslevski looked in the direction of the blast barrier and muttered an oath. A squad of Marines crouched behind the barrier with their weapons covering the shuttle as it landed. Most carried standard issue M-58 Laser Assault Rifles but one had a neutron minigun attached to a torso harness for heavy firepower. The pilot watched the shuttle for a few seconds before he noticed the symbol on the side.

Savior on the Cross - that's a White Hand shuttle!

"It looks like this ship's becoming a mobile prison," he told the other members of the 349th flatly. The Scrappers and Tanfenners turned to watch the shuttle as a side door opened. Hands nervously gripped sidearms and pilots shifted to areas offering cover from the pirate shuttle but they needn't have worried. One by one, a group of unarmed figures in combat armor with their hands clasped behind their heads exited the shuttle. The Sicily's pilots watched silently as the pirates sullenly filed past the muzzles of the Border Worlds Marines' weapons to be taken into custody by a Marine squad near the flight deck entrance the 349th had passed through so recently.

"Well, I guess this explains the work crew refitting that forward cargo hold," one of the Tanfenners mumbled. Alex Morgan glanced back at the speaker and felt his jaw drop as he recognized the huge blond man. "It hasn't been all that long since we last met in the Wild Hart, has it, Lieutenant Morgan?" the blond man asked wryly.

"This is going to strain our resources to the limits," Todd McLaughlin grumbled as he watched another group of prisoners shamble away under Marine guard. "We should just space the lot of them."

"Then we're a pack of murderers no better than they are," Vincent Tsu coldly told his wingman. "Every code of law as far back as the Code of Hammurabi has specified the right of the accused to face his accuser in a court of law."

"And what about the right of their victims to justice, Vince?" Danica Owens demanded, tension tightening her features as she shifted her gaze from the pirates to Tsu's face. "What about those they've killed?"

"What about them?" Tsu asked her harshly. "It's not the dead who claim to cry out for justice when all they want is vengeance. It's not the dead who force politicians to call for instant results and force us to settle for nailing the small fry while the kingpins who are really responsible walk away." He jabbed a finger at Owens indignantly. "So don't ever tell me that summary execution of a murderer is justice. It just lowers us to their level. Do you really want that, Dani?" he asked. "Do you really want to know, deep in your heart, that you're no different from them?"

"I am nothing like these White Hand maggots," the platinum blond Lieutenant grated. "They kill and torture for fun. I don't. I fight to protect people, dammit, not murder them!"

"But how much of your need to kill these pirates stems from your duty to the Border Worlds and how much comes from the fact that you personally want them dead?" the ex-InSys pilot queried. "If you want them dead for attacking Border Worlds people then that's fine. But if you want them dead just for what they did to you then I don't want to know you."

"Don't you even think of judging me until you know what those bastards did to me!" Dani snarled viciously. "You don't know what they've capable of!"

"So enlighten me," Tsu urged. Owens shook her head.

"Major, trust me when I say that you really don't want to know the sort of sick shit they get off on." She turned away from her colleagues and watched a second pirate shuttle land and be emptied of its occupants by the Marines. Each shuttle can carry sixty troopers plus the crew, she thought. There were four shuttles full of troops plus two shuttles chock-full of jamming gear. What in God's name was on those transports which was valuable enough to risk over two hundred grunts plus thirty fighters?

"Seems like the Commodore had to strip every ship in the fleet of its Marines to provide enough security for these guys," Dragan Emerson commented. It was the first time he had spoken since Onslow had chewed him out in the briefing room.

"If it keeps this lot contained it's worth it," Dani replied flatly. "So long as they get to hurt people they don't care what else happens." Emerson opened his mouth to reply and she treated him to an arctic glare. "Trust me, these guys are complete psychopaths." Her gaze shifted to the flight deck's entrance and her brows furrowed in concentration. "Who's that with the Commodore?"

"Commander Abbott. He's the fleet's Intell officer," Courtney Tseng told the Scrappers. "They must be hauling in that Excalibur we captured." Alex Morgan raised an eyebrow mockingly in her direction.

"What do you mean 'we'? I didn't see any of you guys leeching it," he commented. Tsu lightly cuffed the back of his head.

"Be nice."

"What, me be nice? Ask for a planet of platolum while you're at it!" Alex snorted derisively. "C'mon, I can hear the lounge calling," he said as he turned towards the entrance to the flight deck. Most of the 349th's members followed him but Kristy Joyce turned back to the Tanfen pilots.

"You're welcome to join us, you know," she told them. The dark-haired woman who had been doing most of the talking for the Mustangs smiled but shook her head.

"Thank you, Captain, but we still have work to do," she replied. For the first time Kristy noticed she wore a major's insignia. "However, if we get some free time later some of us might drop in," she concluded. "I'm glad that at least one person is trying to smooth things over to the point that we can work together."

"You're welcome, Major - " Kristy paused to read the nametag of the Tanfen pilot "- Wright." The strawberry-blond Border Worlder turned and jogged over to join her comrades, barely noticing the sound of yet another shuttle landing. "So who's buying the first round?" she asked her squadronmates breezily.

"You are, since you brought it up," Alex shot back. He grinned at Danica Owens and wiggled his eyebrows in a blatant parody of a certain holovid character, drawing a faint chuckle from the beautiful pilot. "I've never seen you on the booze since you got assigned to us. Tonight you have no excuse!"

Dani shook her head in amusement at Alex's theatrics. "And you have no excuse for those corny jokes you keep telling." She looked over at John Hawke, standing near the back of the group as they filed off the flight deck and she went absolutely rigid. Blood drained from her normally fair face leaving her as pale as a bloodless corpse.

"Dani?" Hawke asked her quietly. "What's wrong?" The unexpressive pilot's gentle tone surprised most of the Scrappers. Gossip credited Hawke with antifreeze for blood, a computer for a brain and a scarred moonscape for a soul - tenderness and compassion did not fit into anyone's perception of him. Nobody doubted that he could be counted on during a mission but there was a difference between trusting someone and liking them. And, as the Scrappers suddenly realized, sometimes there was an equally large gap between trusting someone and knowing them.

Dani merely continued looking in his direction fixedly as he approached. Most of the Scrappers tensed as John Hawke rested a hand on his wingman's shoulder reassuringly, expecting the touch to frighten her even further. Instead it seemed to push her into a berserk rage. With a bloodcurdling scream she reached down, drew her foot-long survival knife from its boot sheath and lunged forward. Hawke twisted out of her way with uncanny speed and grace, ready to defend himself against another attack by his wingman. But it never came, because Owens' rage had been directed at a target behind her wingleader. She hurled herself at the pilot of the pirate Excalibur being hustled off the flight deck by a pair of hard-faced Border Worlds Marines, swinging the knife up in a disemboweling strike. "Gorthaur, you bastard, you die now!" she shrieked furiously, taking satisfaction in the shocked expression on the pirate leader's face.

Then she fell flat on her face as someone hit her from behind with a flying tackle. "Let go of me, damn you!" Dani yelled at her attacker. She tried to push herself to her feet but her assailant kept hold of her legs. In desperation she sighted in on the pirate again and drew back her arm to hurl the knife into his chest. But just as her arm started to swing forward her wrist was caught in a grip of iron.

"HE'S NOT WORTH IT!" Hawke roared in her ear. "Dammit, girl, if you have to kill him, don't do it in front of witnesses!" he continued in a more modest yell even as he drove his thumb into her wrist. The knife fell to the deck with a clatter even as Dani kept trying to tear herself free.

"Let me go! I'm gonna fucking kill him!" she screamed. "John -- "

"No!" he snapped. "Keep yourself under control or I'll have Todd haul you off the flight deck!" He froze as the pirate leader spoke for the first time.

"She never could control herself around me. Could you, little one?" The mockery and contempt in the pirate's voice seemed to drive the platinum-blond Scrapper even further into a frenzy. In order to handle the stress of combat flying pilots have to be extremely fit, and John Hawke and Todd McLaughlin were both very strong men. Despite their strength and their combined weight of four hundred and forty pounds -- nearly four times Dani's weight -- they were struggling to keep her from tearing the smirking White Hand pilot's throat out with her bare hands. "I'm sure we'll have a lot of fun when we get to catch up on old times," the pirate insinuated.

"I'll see you burn in hell, Gorthaur," Dani spat as Todd McLaughlin hauled her upright. She stopped short at the sound of someone nearby clearing his throat in an obvious attempt to draw attention. She looked over her shoulder and saw Commodore Johnson and his intelligence officer watching the confrontation from twenty feet away.

"Am I interrupting?" the task force commander asked politely. His courtesy hit the young Lieutenant like a bucket of ice water in the face, clearing her anger away. She mutely shook her head.

"Actually, you were but that's all right," Gorthaur replied with mock-courtesy. The pirate was a perfect candidate for the cliché "evilly handsome" with sharp features, auburn hair and eerie orange eyes. "You really should train her to have more respect towards guests, you know."

Johnson's round face was expressionless. "I'll be sure to keep it in mind."

"I'd be happy to train her myself, you know. Consider it payment for the information you want from me." The pirate's eyes were almost glowing with sadistic glee as he watched Owens for any reaction. If he was hoping for her to show any fear he was sorely disappointed, for her face revealed nothing but defiance and hate.

"Well if you want her you've got her." Johnson shrugged. Dead silence greeted him as shock spread through the Border Worlders on the flight deck. Even Gorthaur looked stunned at Johnson's offer. "Although," he continued, "she's part of a fighter squadron so I'd have to give them all to you too." The Commodore's flinty gaze locked onto the pirate's inhuman eyes. "Quite frankly the idea of being alone with a squadron full of pissed-off knife-wielding pilots would give me the heebie-jeebies. But maybe you're made of sterner stuff than I am." Finally Johnson let his face show the disgust he had concealed for so long. He looked at the Marines gripping the now-pale pirate's arms and jerked his head towards the flight deck's exit. "Get this sonofabitch off my flight deck," he ordered curtly.

As the Marines began dragging the White Hand leader away John Hawke spoke coldly to him. "Remember, Gorthaur, you only need your throat and tongue intact to tell us what we want to know. There's all sorts of pieces which we can remove while leaving you still capable of speech," he told the raider coldly.

"Like your kneecaps," Paul Onslow added grimly from where he stood near the flight deck's exit. "Or your testicles. Try messing with any of my people, punk, and the sickbay'll need gene sequencing to ID your remains." He glared at Gorthaur as the Marines hauled the pirate off to the brig then looked at his squadron with considerably more warmth. "The lounge is open, the alcohol is on tap and I'm buying the first round. So what the hell are you waiting for?"

 

CONT...