PHASE V : THE NIFELHEIM ARC ( 42 of 62 )
“ Welcome to Hell ”
"Their force is wonderful great and strong, yet we pluck their feathers little by little."
- Sir Francis Drake
"Go in quickly - Punch Hard - Get out!"
- A. G. "Sailor" Malan, "Ten Rules for Air Fighting," August 1941
BWS Sicily; Pilots' Quarters
18th February 2681 (2861.049)
0732 Hours (CST)
Tony “Rat” Carruthers examined his bleary reflection with interest as he started to shave. No longer an ugly, livid purple, the bruising to the left side of his face had faded to a kind of jaundice-yellow tinged with Mr. Spock Vulcan green Number 2 in places, though it was still very painful to the touch -- shaving was not the most pleasant experience he’d ever had.
I don’t remember the bastard’s face. I wish I did. Not knowing if it’s the guy beside me, behind me -- and knowing I can’t take revenge, like it or not – that stings more than the bruising.
Rat shook his head and kept on shaving.
TCS Miles D'Arby; Wing Commander's Quarters
18th February 2681 (2861.049)
0957 Hours (CST)
Wing Commander Michael Black sat in the darkness of his unlit stateroom, his mood matching his name and the environment. Anger and a fear bordering on terror fought for control of his body. Neither gained the upper hand and as they quarreled bitterly his limbs and digits twitched involuntarily and words, mostly curses, issued randomly from him in between moans of despair and primal growls of fury. He punched and flailed pathetically at empty air, scratched and tugged at his hair until his scalp burned, his hair came lose in his fingers and his skin bled. He stamped, kicked, punched and sobbed in frustrated futility. The emotional turmoil in his body sought an outlet as he paced like a caged tiger, seeing terrible things looming in the darkness as he screwed his tearful eyes up so tight that shapes and lights swum in front of them. Meanwhile his conscious thought had seemingly decided to crawl away and hide in the corner in the deepest, darkest recess of his mind. The emotions inside him were so strong he could not think clearly at all. It was like being extremely drunk - his mind would not focus on anything, going around in circles. He couldn't make a decision on what to do, merely waiting in terrible fear and yet desperate hope for the MPs to knock at the door and put the cuffs on him to parade him past a line of jeering onlookers come to hurl abuse at the cuckolded, impotent would-be rapist. At least it would end the torture of suspense.
He didn't know how long he'd thrashed and moaned in the dark but eventually, exhausted and lying in a heap on the floor, his breathing returned to normal. Sobs turned into deep, rasping sighs as he regained control of his body. Or perhaps it had simply expended so much energy it no longer had the power to overwhelm his rational mind. Either way, he started to be able to think the situation through. Would she report him? Something like 1/4 of all women were subject to a rape or sexual assault, he knew, but 3/4 of them did not report the incident. Joyce so far had not, so there seemed a good possibility she wouldn't, and even if she did, there would be nothing but her word against his. He hadn't raped her, so there would be no evidence from, say, semen. She hadn't scratched him, so there would be no skin under her fingernails for DNA testing. Her wrist might bruise -- his cheek certainly had -- and there was always the possibility of hairs being on her flightsuit, but he doubted that would make much of a case. He had panicked for nothing. Calming by the minute, he pondered how else she might gain revenge. Her possibilities for physical retribution against him seemed limited. He relaxed. She couldn't hurt him. Or could she? Even the accusation itself would hurt him. Or would it? If they won, he'd be a victorious hero. Bad PR to make much of an unsubstantiated sexual assault claim by a border world slut like that. If they didn't win, he almost certainly wouldn't survive, and a rape-claim would be the least of his worries. Anyway, too late now to worry about it. What was done was done.
Even so, his over-stressed and guilt-wracked brain churned the problem over and over without coming to a satisfactory conclusion. He could make no decision. There was nothing to be done anyway, except pretend it never happened. He had best put it out of his mind and get on with the job. The problem was he couldn't. Couldn't get her or his bitch of a wife out of his mind. He screamed a profanity at deafening volume in the confined space. And was still. Exhaustion finally overcame the constant worry in his mind and sleep came to him. Sleep but no peace. His dreams were wracked with nightmares.
Torgo Superbase Comm-terminal
18th February 2681 (2861.049)
1000 Hours (CST)
I can get you out of that contract in no time at all. It’s quite clear they shouldn’t have signed you simply as an able spaceman given your level of experience. One e-mail should do it.
Simpson & Graham Solicitors, Saturn Station 3
Jackson had barely got the reply off when his vidcomm buzzed. The incoming call was Mr. Rossitter and he was quickly put onto the holoscreen.
“So the insurance payments for the Elizabeth have come through then?” Jackson didn’t waste time with small talk.
“Your insurers were a little reluctant to pay out at first. They quibbled over some irregularities and details but eventually they coughed up.”
“So how much do I get?”
“With your share of the vessel, you’ll get $1,259,350 and change. Less my fee, of course.”
“Of course,” Jackson agreed laconically.
“Right then, I need you to get me off this damn prison ship ASAP. There’s a business opportunity here but the timeframe is critical.”
“I can have you off the Prometheus in an hour or two.”
“Good. Where’s my money now?”
“Currently in a short-term, high interest account.”
“Right. I’m going to need a ship. A small one, maybe a one or two man vessel, but with a cargo scoop, grab arm or some sort of tractor beam unit, but it needs to be jump capable. No in-system shit.”
“Your payout should cover it, but I can arrange a loan if you need one.”
“Good, good. As long as the funds are available when I need them. It might be short notice and I might need to pay cash.”
“That can be arranged, but do you know what you’re doing? You use up all the money from the Elizabeth and quit your job, what are you going to do?”
“Sorry, Allan, I can’t tell you that, but I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t think I could turn a tidy profit in the short term. Any depreciation of the ship will be more than covered, but I’ve got to do it now or the window will evaporate.”
“Okay, it’s your money. I’m only your lawyer and I’ll get my fee anyway.”
“Your concern is touching.”
“Don’t mention it.”
“I won’t. I’ll E-mail you when I know the details.”
“Okay. Good luck.”
The vid connection was cut off and Jackson sat down to write a couple of E-mails. He had work to do.
Torgo Superbase; Main Docks
18th February 2681 (2861.049)
1420 Hours (CST)
Freed from the Prometheus, as much a prison to him as to the convicts it transported around the galaxy, Jackson didn’t have too much trouble finding a ship: He had contacts. One soon pointed him to a guy called “Hairy” Harry Hoggard, a man who had made his living running drugs, stolen goods fugitives and anything else small that certain people wanted transported on the QT between stars. Unfortunately, Harry had missed a rather important rendezvous because of the military activity thereabouts. Owing large amounts of money to vicious and unscrupulous men was not a great career move and Hairy gladly took Jackson’s offer of a million for his privateersman.
She was the Marie-Antoinette, small, reasonably quick with a two man crew, but might squeeze four into the cabin in an emergency. She had a few modifications needed for passing packages between vessels in deep space, and absolutely perfect for the job.
Finding a navigator with firsthand experience of the Nifelheim system wasn’t too difficult either as plenty of miners were sitting idle at Torgo, hanging their heads, worrying about the money they were losing sitting in dock accumulating docking fees and spending money in bars. Sure, they’d been offered some compensation when they had to evacuate the system but all would be out of credit before that came through and many hands had been laid-off by hard-up owners of mining vessels.
Paul Metcalfe had a firm, dry handshake and rough, calloused hands, three days worth of stubble and short, neat black hair turning to silver, as were his bushy eyebrows that shaded his alert hazel eyes. Sure, he knew the system, he’d spent all last year in the inner belt area, mining iron, cobalt and anything else they could find, and yes, he was a dab hand with a tractor scoop. No, he didn’t care if the job was probably illegal, and as for the risk, well, if Jackson thought it was worth taking himself, then that was fine by him too. Yes, there was a bar nearby, on the same level just a couple of sections along the rim and he’d have a beer, thanks.
Jackson had a partner. He was in business.
Somewhere in the Nifelheim System
19th February 2681 (2861.050)
0053 Hours CST
Jackson never took his eyes off the small dark object slowly tumbling in the darkness ahead of them. So dark, in fact, it disappeared every few moments but as it turned it again caught the dim glow of the Nifelheim star some 2.3 AU, over 345 million klicks away, and glinted faintly, but shining brightly enough for the grizzled veteran spacer and his new partner to keep a visual fix on it. This piece was just large enough to show up on their radar but many of the pieces were too small to show up, and this ship didn’t have a LIDAR unit, the sensors of which would have a small enough wavelength to detect the smaller pieces of debris they were scooping into their cargo hold.
In hindsight Jackson would have equipped the craft with such a sensor, but hindsight is always 20:20. Instead they were having to locate larger pieces of debris with Radar and looking nearby for other debris in the battle locations. This was time consuming and inefficient, but still the time and place was everything, and they were in the right place at the right time. They had managed to salvage several tonnes of debris from the wreckage anyway, and those would fetch a high price if they got in early and cornered the market. If they waited too long to sell their booty as souvenirs, others would get there before them and the price would plunge, but meanwhile their star item was a large section of cockpit which seemed to contain the corpse of one of the Nephilim pilots, and Jackson hoped for a high price on that piece alone.
It was less than 24 hours since the Nephilim had entered the system and so the debris was fresh and more to the point, most of it hadn’t drifted too far. Another several hours sat in dock fitting a LIDAR unit and they’d have had to chase further around the system looking for chunks of debris that had that many more hours to drift away from each other. It was always a trade off. If they made more runs, which would depend on the price the alien objects were making -- he’d have to fit one.
“Let’s get this chunk and call it a day,” Jackson said to his new partner, “we’ve still got to go back through that sodding minefield yet.”
“yeah,” came the laconic reply. When they’d jumped in, most of the mines hadn’t been activated, but now they had and sneaking through them was going to be a nerve-wracking experience -- and with luck they would actually survive it!
Within moments they were close enough to snare the twisted and broken piece of alien metal with the tractor scoop and bring it aboard.
“Do we have enough?” Metcalfe asked.
“Aye, I reckon. The money is getting to the market first -- so let’s plot a course for the Torgo jump point and get the hell out of Dodge. Let’s hope our valiant heroes have done their job as per SOP and sowed a minefield designed to stop capital ships and not fighters, eh?
Jackson was counting on the fact that that the mines had to be placed far enough apart so that detonation of one wouldn’t set off all the others in a cascade, a domino effect. Their small 2-man craft should be able to slip through.
“Get some coffee and chocolate down your throat,” Jackson ordered, “we’ll need to be alert for this.”
“The greater the risk mate, the greater the reward. This little venture could set us both up for life.” Jackson slapped Metcalfe on the back. “Don’t sweat it, mate, I’ve done this sort of this before.”
“You and me both. Blockade running, drug smuggling -- sneaking into places that were tighter than a fish’s arsehole.”
“Yeah, that’s about how I was puckered doing it!” laughed Jackson. “Give me a slug of that coffee when you’ve had some.”
“Here you go, mate, black as night and sweeter than a virgin.”
“Just the way I like it.”
“You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?” Metcalfe asked.
“Too right. Won’t catch me doing a 9 to 5. Where’s the fun in that? Life’s no fun without the element of danger.”
“You mad bastard!”
“Guilty as charged, yer ‘Onour!”
Metcalfe just rolled his eyes and crossed himself. Jackson laughed. Smiling, they set about preparing to squeeze through the minefield.
Avernus Station; Officers’ Quarters
0403 Hours (CST)
Captain Robert “Robber” Bell answered his mobile communicator but it kept ringing. He looked at the number calling -- it was his wife. He’d forgotten her birthday. What was she calling him in the middle of the night for? No, her birthday is in June, isn’t it? It’s not June yet, surely? The persistent tone went on. The clarity of vision in his dream dissolved into blurry reality. He fumbled for the bedside lamp switch, gave up. His dry mouth managed a hoarse “Lights!” and the main striplight burst into painful brightness. Squinting and rubbing his stinging eyes Robber saw that the comm was urgent -- it had better be, at four in the morning -- and answered it.
“What is it?”
“Sorry to disturb you,” the D’Arby’s Intel officer didn’t say “sir" -- despite being in temporary command of a squadron and serving longer, Bell was junior to him, but a little politeness wouldn’t come amiss at 4AM -- the Intel officer bustled on, seemingly ignoring Robber’s disheveled state and tired features, “but Task Force Alpha has just lost Goldeneye, one of her SWACS birds. Quite a large number of Nephilim fighters bounced her and her escorts as they came within range of the inner belt. It’s in the area you flagged for attention yesterday evening.”
“Thanks,” said Robber, trying not to sound too bored, “I’ll take a look at it in the morning.”
“The e-mail with the data should already be in your inbox, Captain.”
“I’ll get right on it,” Robber told him, then shut off the communicator. As soon as his head hit the pillow he was asleep again.
Avernus Station; Officers’ Quarters
0427 Hours (CST)
Bell looked at the e-mail with intense concentration. About 30 fighters had been sent to tackle the SWACS and her escorts -- severe overkill. What were they hiding? They hadn’t managed to conceal Two Orca destroyers and five Barracuda corvettes that were skirting clusters of rocks in the area – so what was a group that size -- twice what was probably warranted -- doing? An SWACS was certainly an important, high value target but destroying one wouldn’t cripple the early warning screen of the Task force. Something just didn’t add up. Where’s the rest of the group that the Auriga sweeps saw? Where’s the carrier? Where are the rest of them?
Robber brought up a holo projection of the system. He zoomed into the area in question and plotted the tracks of the known contacts on it.
“Now I see what you’re doing, you little bastards…”
Robber opened the second E-mail that hadn’t long been sent. It told him that Task Force Alpha had just launched a strike on the destroyers.
“I wonder what they’ll find when they get there?”
Near CAP Station Delta
0449 hours CST
Situational Awareness is the key to success in any modern conflict. Not just the situational awareness of the fighter pilot in the midst of a swirling melee of a dogfight, but awareness of the whole arena of battle. Such situational awareness had been the key to victory in several aerial conflicts of the 20th century, when humans had first taken warfare into the air.
The RAF would not have been able to hold off the outnumbering Luftwaffe if not for the “Chain Home” Radar stations allowing the right forces to be in the right area at the right time. Had they not been able to do that, the RAF would have been swept from the skies, paving the way for Hitler’s “Operation Sealion” and the conquest of the island of Britain and removing all possibility of allied victory or the reconquest of mainland Europe. Instead, of course, the opposite happened. Nor indeed could Britain have survived if not for America’s partisan neutrality helping win the Battle of the Atlantic, preventing Hitler’s U-Boats from starving Britain into submission -- but of course that would have been for naught without the invention of Sonar swinging the battle in favor of the allies.
The sale of E-2s to Israel certainly made a difference in the Arab-Israeli wars of the 80s, and conversely, Britain’s ill-judged decision to give up her Airborne Early Warning capability for the fleet hampered her during the Falklands War and gave the Fleet Air Arm a much harder time against the Argentines than they might have done had they not scrapped the Ark Royal complete with AEW aircraft incapable of flying from “Harrier carriers."
The E-3 AWACS and the innovation of JSTARS gave the coalition a massive advantage in the 1991 Gulf War that is impossible to underestimate. Of course, the advent of ‘Stealth’ did not affect the war much, though it stole the news headlines, but the destruction of the Tiger’s Claw could be seen as an example of the ability of stealth to break down the situational awareness (and morale) of the enemy.
Not that Kilrathi (or indeed Confederation) cloaking technology seemed to have an effect on the Bugs. Whatever sensors they used seemingly were immune to cloaking devices. Still, they must be comparable to the sensors of human capital ships (in range, if nothing else) because judging by the probing fighter sweeps of Nephilim patrols, they were just as blind at a distance as the allies were -- or even more so, for they didn’t seem to have any SWACS capability.
Those allied SWACS craft were vectoring the outer CAP layer to intercept the Bug patrols. Mostly they were running, but they were taking some casualties regardless. It had to be said, it seemed as if they were testing, probing, testing for weaknesses and looking at where the best places to attack the allied battle groups were.
By the time several intercepts had been made -- or rather, attempted -- the realization that the Bugs didn’t want to play had been made and by now second-line fighters were relieving the more dedicated fighter craft that had been forming the outer CAP screen. Robber and his trainees were a group of Thunderbolts tasked with taking over a CAP station from a 4-ship of Bearcats that had used all their AB fuel in a fruitless pursuit of a group of Nephilim that had turned away upon contact with the fighters sent to intercept them. That long tailchase had not only exposed the Bearcat flight to danger, it had opened a gaping hole in the CAP cover, but their frustration was understandable – they’d been waiting for what seemed an eternity to get into the action, and now they were being sidelined again. Or at least it seemed that way for the moment. Maybe the Bugs would wait until later to turn their attention to the reservists boosting the allies’ meager forces in the Nifelheim System.
As the two sets of fighters passed close, the Bearcat leader raised his hand. Robber wasn’t sure if it was a salute, thumbs up or an irreverent and insulting extended finger. Nor did he care for very long as the SWACS suddenly came on air:
“Thundercloud, this is Crowsnest. Five plus bogeys 300 by 10 for 100. Can you intercept?”
Robber hesitated for barely a second before keying the switch to reply, “Crowsnest, Thundercloud, roger, turning to 300 to intercept.”
“Roger that Thundercloud, Crowsnest copies you intercepting. Bogeys heading west, range now 95.”
“Copy that, Crowsnest,” Robber acknowledged. Moments passed, and the tension mounted. Would the Bugs turn away, or would they somehow know the fighters vectored toward them were less capable Thunderbolts, and attack? The T-bolt’s speed might give them away, but without wasting valuable afterburner fuel, that couldn’t really be helped. Then suddenly the Bugs turned away. At the top speed of the Jugs it would take them forever to intercept, even if they were able to catch them. With a mixture of frustration and relief they turned back toward the CAP station they were assigned to when Chess suddenly called an intermittent contact, but the SWACS wasn’t showing anything.
Deciding to take a look anyway, they plotted an offset intercept, to come in parallel rather than a direct intercept. That way they could sneak in closer or even in from behind, rather than some sort of nose-angle merge. The contact kept dropping off their scopes but didn’t change course so it was easy to pick it up again. Presumably it hadn’t seen them -- whatever it was.
“It’s parabolic,” Punk announced matter-of-factly after a while, “she’s orbiting the star.”
“You sure?” Robber queried, unconvinced. The blip wasn’t a rock, so why would she be orbiting the Nifelheim system’s central star? “She’s not a rock on my scanners.”
“Oi never said she was a rock, sure, but Oi’ve seen enough parabolic tracks to know one when Oi see one.”
“Silent running? Drifting with engines and all power off?” Robber suggested.
“Aye, maybe,” Punk admitted.
“Okay, keep sharp. We’ll see it and find out soon enough.”
And so they did. A glint. Then another. A regular winking. Which meant only one thing:
“It’s tumbling. She’s a derelict. A wreck.”
“Big one, by the looks of it. She’s still a way off.” They slid in closer. The tumble was slow and leisurely, and along at least two axes. The hull was open to space along the whole length of the port beam and carbon scoring and blast marks blemished the rest of the battered hull like plague sores.
“Someone messed her up bad,” Chess spoke what they were all thinking. ‘Someone’ she said, but Robber could see from the blast patterns it was Kilrathi work. He didn’t realize he’d said it out loud on an open mic but he must have, for his wingmen chorused agreement.
“Not recently, though,” Punk announced. “Look at the amount of oxidization. She’s been here more than a day or two.”
A lot longer than that, thought Robber. “Anything lost out here recently?” he asked, “Maybe a gang of pirates?”
“No ships this size have been reported missing lately,” Punk told him, “not for a couple of years at least.”
They regarded the hulk silently for a minute or two as they checked it over.
“You know, she could have been here since the First Kilrathi War,” Robber told them.
Punk agreed, “Way out here, nowhere near any of the asteroid belts. Nobody is looking for rocks out here.”
“And too small to show up unless you were looking,” Robber finished. “Let’s see if we can get a name. It could be a known loss or a ship listed as missing. At least we might put a few relatives’ minds at rest if they knew for sure.”
Or maybe not. The port bow section was torn clean away, and with it, presumably, went the name and registration as the vessel bore no such markings anywhere else.
“Nothing else we can do here,” Robber said, “let’s just call it in and with our data – mass and class – maybe there’ll be an ID. And with the track we’ve got, someone can come and get her when this war is over.” One way or another…
BWS Sicily; Pilots' Quarters
0533 Hours (CST)
“Have you ever killed anyone?” Rat suddenly asked Dani.
“No. Well -- I don’t know. I’m a fighter pilot, I’ve a few ‘kills’ -- but I don’t know for sure if I’ve ever actually killed anyone. Not that you could call bugs or Kats or some other species ‘people.’ Why? What’s up? You’re not getting some sort of ‘conscientious objector’ ideas, are you?”
“No, not like that. I’m not worried about shooting at other fighter aircraft, either -- I mean, it’s just a ship, a fighter – you’re not staring into anyone’s eyes as you pull the trigger. Not that I hadn’t thought about it, I mean, you can justify it just from the realization they’re shooting at you as well -- so it’s self-defense -- or that you’re following orders -- a weaker moral argument, in my opinion -- but the truth is that it wouldn’t bother me. It’s not that I’m just shooting at an aircraft, or that it’s mostly non-humans we’d be flying against -- I’ve tackled plenty of human pirates -- but it’s just that I really don’t care. They could have family, lovers, friends -- but that’s not my problem. I don’t know them, they don’t know me. It’s not like killing a real person who you know personally. Even that might not bother me -- I dislike quite a large majority of the human beings I know anyway! No, the simple truth is I like my job and I like getting ‘kills’ and if that makes me a bad person I just don’t give a shite.”
“You don’t care about killing people?” she asked.
“Not particularly. Some people deserve to get killed. The terminally stupid, for a start. I used to have a little black book of people I’d kill if I thought I could get away with it, or if I found out I had a terminal disease or something, but… well, maybe I’m a bit more laid back now. Instead of scribbling down the names of everyone that pisses me off I just shrug and say ‘who cares?’ because I just can’t be arsed with it. But maybe it’s just because some of the crimes I used to think warranted death aren’t that bad – once upon a time, a hotheaded teenager called Anthony Carruthers seriously considered killing people simply for looking at him funny!”
“So have you ever killed anyone?”
“Not to my certain knowledge,” Rat admitted, “but I’ve come close in a fit of rage a couple of times. And I tried to break a man’s neck in a fight once.”
“Why didn’t you?”
“It’s not as easy as it looks in the movies!” Rat smiled, but Dani wasn’t laughing.
“No, look – street fights are like dogfights. If you play it soft, go easy, give the other fucker a break – and he’s going to have you. You’re fighting someone you don’t know, with no rules, no referee, no ring and no bell at the end of the round. It’s not the time or place to fuck about. You fight to win, and win quickly, with no holds barred. Then you get the hell out of there before the cops come.”
Dani was going to say something but Rat kept going, “Killing someone face to face isn’t like launching an ImRec… it’s intimate.”
“I don’t know what you’re trying to say,” Owens told him.
“I’m just trying to let you know what you’re letting yourself in for. I’m a person who is more likely to regret the times when he didn’t use violence to resolve a situation than the times he did.”
“You mean you want me to know what sort of a monster I’m sleeping with?” she said harshly.
“What are you doing, Tony?” Dani’s eyes bored into Rat. “Is commitment and real feelings something that makes you panic? Are you trying to scare me into telling you to get lost because you’re scared of where things might be going between us? Haven’t you got the guts to break it off yourself?”
“It’s not that at all!” Carruthers protested.
“Then what the hell is this conversation all about then?” demanded Dani. “You’re scaring me. I know you’re not the psycho monster you’re trying to make out, and believe me, I know what a psychopath is like, and you don’t come close.”
“No, it’s not like that.”
“Then what is it then?”
“I wanted to know if you would kill someone if you thought they deserved it and you thought you could get away with it?”
“I would have said yes without hesitation a few days ago, Tony, but when it came to it, when push came to shove and I was given the chance to do just that – I found out the real answer was no.” Rat just stared in puzzlement at her.
“I had the chance to kill the monster that tortured me. And I didn’t take it.”
“Why the hell not?” Rat exclaimed, “I would have.”
“How the hell would you know?” she exploded. “How could you possibly imagine you know what I was feeling?”
“Sorry hun, of course I can’t.”
“No, you damned well can’t. You can’t imagine wanting something so much that it hurts and then when you can have it, find out it wasn’t really what you wanted anyway.” They both sat in silence for a few moments. Rat didn’t have a clue what to say. Eventually Dani solved that problem for him.
“He wasn’t worth killing. Killing him would have made me no better than him. Now I can look forward to thinking about him locked up forever. If I’d killed him I’d have saved him from that. And had his face in my head forever.”
“Don’t be. It’s not your fault.”
Rat rubbed his stubble, nodding slowly. “So I guess you wouldn’t approve of me doing away with our ‘fearless leader’, Wing Commander Black?”
“Don’t even joke about it. You’d never get away with it anyway. Let him get what’s coming to him. Anyway, it’s not my place to decide -- or yours. If anyone, you should be asking Kristy.” Rat made a face at that prospect.
“Right then,” Dani said, “just forget about it.” But Rat