PHASE II : THE TYR ARC ( 4 of 28 )

: Straight Eight ”


On Approach - TCS Yorktown
Tyr System
Contested Zone, February 2nd, 2681
1630 Hours

Shooter waited as the pilots of his Delta Wing each took their turns landing. One by one, the pilots of Grendel Squadron made their trap. Torchie headed on in. Shooter closely observed her approach. Her Vampire had taken a smattering of damage in the furball, and Shooter was curious to see how well she compensated for her damaged fighter.

Torchie matched speed with the Yorktown and lined up with the landing bays. Shooter noticed a very slight jitter on her starboard maneuvering pod. It meant little, but Torchie would have a harder time getting a "pass" on this trap. She eased her Vampire forward, edging toward the waiting hangar. The ALS tractor beams stood ready in case of an accident. The Vampire approached the mouth of the hangar. Torchie killed her engines and lowered her gear. The momentum carried her fighter down its glidescope into the hanger. She tapped her maneuvering thrusters and planted her fighter firmly on the flight deck. A towcart instantly latched onto the Vampire and towed it to its slot.

"That's a pass, Delta Five. Delta Leader, you're go for landing," the Landing Officer reported. Shooter smiled. The lady had the chops. Torchie was the newest addition to the Grendels. She had done well in her first furball with the squadron. Shooter readied his fighter for landing.

He made his approach with caution. As his fighter had escaped unscathed, he had no reason to use the ALS for landing. A non-tractored landing, though the single most dangerous of all carrier traps, was often required in combat situations. Using the ALS took precious time, time that simply could not be wasted in a capship engagement. The Yorktown's survival in such a situation depended on her ability to launch, land, and re-equip her fighters in a minimum amount of time.

Shooter drew nearer to the landing bay. So far, his flight path had matched the "meatball's" cue perfectly. He lowered his landing gear.

"Delta Leader, you're go for final approach," the Landing Officer informed him. Shooter eased his throttle back, allowing his dwindling momentum to carry him in. The Yorktown's maw seemed waiting to swallow his Vampire whole. Like Torchie before him, Shooter cut his engines and fired his reverse thrusters, this time more violently. The jolt shuddered throughout the fighter. The Vampire passed through the pressure barrier and deposited itself on the deck with a light thud. Shooter braked, coming to a complete stop. A towcart pulled his Vampire off the flight deck.

Shooter peered out his canopy at the rest of the Grendels from his patrol, all of whom were climbing out of their cockpits. Ground crews scurried about the Vampires, Torchie's craft getting the greatest share of attention. Shooter noticed at least as many science officers as ground crew combed over around the Vampires. He doubted that the six kills Delta Wing had racked up were the most valued of the afternoon's spoils. The intelligence they had gained would prove far more valuable. Grendel Squadron had drawn first blood in more ways than one.

Shooter opened his cockpit and removed his helmet. He took a whiff of carrier air and extricated himself from his craft. As he climbed down the service ladder, he noticed his ground crew swarming over the ship with every scanner in their arsenal. Jen Sheldon waited at the foot of the ladder, grinning.

"Heard you put the goods to use out there, Rosie," Sheldon greeted him. She handed him a datapad with a checklist for him to sign off on. He took it.

"Yeah, but we had 'em outgunned and outnumbered. I took a few hits, but only to my shields. Nearly took a missile up the tailpipe, but Matchlock bailed me out."

"Yeah. Lieutenant Carson could shoot the wings off a fly and leave the rest to be swatted. Good thing he popped that missile for you. Well... it's my turn with your baby. They're pulling the flight recorder now. God knows it'll probably be classified 'til doomsday. I'll never even know what hit you..."

"Well, chief, into your hands I commend my bird," Rosencrantz declared. He handed her the signed datapad and walked to the flight lockers, loosening his flightsuit on the way. He encountered Col. Alvarez. She dispensed protocol in favor of directness.

"Good job out there," the Wing Commander complimented. "We needed that information. That, along with what we can glean from what Echo Wing found should give us an edge."

"Is WhiteWitch back yet?"

"No. She and Echo Wing found a convoy that got trashed and had been adrift for a couple weeks. We scrambled a salvage party 15 minutes ago. WhiteWitch is holding station until the salvage team arrives."

"Okay, good. In that case, I'll wait until Echo Wing gets back before I do a mission review. I take it that Intell is doing a debrief on Delta?"

"That's correct. Commander Jessup is waiting for your report after you stow your gear," Alvarez informed him. As he began to head off, she stopped him. "Major, I think I'll have the Sindri Stars pilots sit in on your recap. I'll want them to hear what you found."

Rosencrantz nodded. The recon pilots would almost certainly be sortied later to confirm the location of the enemy fleet. Alvarez wanted them to have more than simple facts. Pilots had an innate ability to convey tactical data to one another. Having the Sindri Stars and the Grendels in the same room, working on the same problem, would only make the two squadrons more formidable. Alvarez dismissed Rosencrantz. He walked to his locker and stowed his gear.

After a quick shower, Rosencrantz reported to the ship's ranking Intell officer, Commander Jessup. Jessup debriefed Rosencrantz, reviewing the flight logs, combat tactics, and operations procedures. Jessup understandably focused his greatest attention on the behavior and performance of the enemy fighters. After an hour, Jessup concluded the debriefing. A call came over the intercom.

"Major Rosencrantz, report to the flight deck. Echo Wing preparing to land."


TCS Yorktown; Flight Deck
Tyr System
1735 Hours

Rosencrantz exited the room and made his way to Flight Control. There he found the landing officer clearing Echo Wing for landing. Rosencrantz studied the approaches of the respective Vampires. All had made preparations for non-tractored landings. Good. One by one, each of the remaining Grendels made his or her landing. All received passes. Arkadyova, as usual, brought up the rear. She gingerly landed her Vampire on the deck. As her craft was being towed to its service slot, Rosencrantz went to meet her.

"How'd it go out there?" he asked as she climbed down from the fighter. She unzipped the front of her pressure suit and swiveled her head. She massaged a slight cramp out of the back of her neck.

"It went well. We encountered no enemies at any navpoint. As we were about to return to base, the Colonel sent us to investigate a pair of contacts off the G'wriss jump point."

"The two transports?"

"Yes. There was nothing left. No survivors, no chance of salvage. We left station after a survey crew arrived. Hopefully they can get enough data from the wrecks to help us in the fight ahead."

Rosencrantz let the information sink in. Such a scenario, finding a pair of ghost ships adrift in space, harkened back to the First Kilrathi War. He himself had found more than his share of hulled 'sports while on patrol. It usually signaled that a greater incursion lay ahead. Delta Wing had merely seen the iceberg's tip that afternoon.

"Alvarez wants us in for a recap in half an hour. The Sindri Stars will be there, too. After that, we might get ourselves a "straight eight."

Arkadyova nodded. Rosencrantz nodded back, motioning her to relax before the debriefing. Arkadyova headed off the flight deck to change out of her flightsuit and hit the showers.

A half-hour later, all of the pilots of Grendel Squadron had congregated in the briefing room. Col. Alvarez and Commander Jessup stood at the podium in front. A moment later, Sindri Star squadron, led by their CO, Captain Selena Martinez, entered the briefing room. They sat and fixed their attention on the WC.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we have confirmed contact with the enemy. Delta Wing, led by Major Rosencrantz, engaged and destroyed six enemy fighters. They then identified a group of enemy capital ships. Meanwhile, Captain Arkadyova's Echo Wing patrolled Charlie Zone, finding nothing until discovering two dead transports near the G'wriss jump point," Alvarez said for the Stars' benefit.

Jessup stepped forward to speak. "Naturally, all this is classified. We'd appreciate it if you didn't spread this too much further. I know that this is a small ship, but there's no need to fan any flames. Besides, when the time comes for us to hit the Aliens hard, we'll let everyone know. Now, Major Rosencrantz, if you would begin by describing the enemy."

"We encountered six fighters, three medium-equivalent, three heavy. The medium fighters appeared to mount two energy weapons and an undetermined number of missiles. According the Midway's data, these confirm as Moray-class, the heavies as Manta class. Lieutenants Drake and Waterston had the greatest amount of exposure to them, sir," Rosencrantz nodded over to Torchie and Harpy.

Waterston felt the pressure mount. She now had to analyze the mistakes she made during the engagement, mistakes thankfully nullified by Drake's quick action.

"I picked up a tail as we separated. I had been targeting one of the Mantas when a Moray came up behind me. It began firing. I attempted to shake it, but it kept coming. I radioed for help. Lt. Drake disposed of it, but the Moray had been able to penetrate my shields. My ship's right engine pod took light damage," Waterston declared.

Drake then took the initiative. "I responded to her request for assistance. The alien had so single-mindedly lined with her tail that I doubt it noticed me. I fired full guns. They took a load out of the Moray. Its core was in the red after that hit. I then fired a Spiculum IR up its tail. It blew instantly. Our missiles work just as well against them as the Kilrathi."

Rosencrantz looked over to Waterston. He then inquired, "Lt. Waterston, if this engagement were to be repeated, which it probably will, how would you modify your tactics against the Moray fighters?"

"Sir, I would use my speed advantage to pull ahead, autoslide, and bring my guns to bear. With the power of the Vampire's guns, he'll either have to break off or be destroyed."

"Indeed. Good work, Lieutenant," Rosencrantz commended. Waterston saw all of the Piranha pilots making mental notes. Waterston exhaled deeply out of muted frustration.

Lt. Drake nudged her arm. "Don't sweat it, Kat. Everyone gets a little bounced around in their first big furball."

Waterston glanced at Drake, thanking her for the reassurance. She watched as Lieutenants Walker and Strayhorn recounted their tag-teaming of a heavy fighter, an effort that would allow them to paint half a fighter on their respective cockpits. Waterston herself would get an assist, while Drake would get one and a half, the highest count of the day. Bardzini and Jaeger, respectively Dagger and Trader, would share a kill as well. After reviewing each ship's flight recorder, Tactical was at a complete loss to deciding who would receive credit for the final kill, as it seemed to be a seven-way tie. It had been dubbed "a team effort."

Bardzini and Jaeger explained their kill. The Piranha pilots paid particular attention to Jaeger's description of the Manta's main gun. The Piranha had paper-thin shields, necessitating evasion of just such a weapon. The debriefing concluded with Rosencrantz's evaluation of the enemy's missiles. Science division had already begun modifying countermeasures to spoof the new threat. Alvarez stepped forward.

"Grendel Squadron, you did good work out there today. Now, until we can gather more data about the enemy, I must second the commander's request that you don't advertise today's actions. We're preliminarily planning something big. When that comes around, we'll fully brief the crew on today's engagement. Until then, you won't be seeing much action. You have a full eight hours to rest up. Dismissed," Alvarez ordered. The Grendels filed out. The Sindri Stars stayed behind. Undoubtedly, they would now begetting a full briefing.

Drake and Waterston exited together. They headed toward the lounge to chat. Behind them, Lt. Carson was opting to get some sleep rather than taking Rosencrantz up on his offer of scotch. Rosencrantz then turned to Bardzini and Jaeger.

"You two, I'd like you to get some time in the sims. Carrier defense. I've already scheduled you for the slot opening up in 30 minutes. Take a quick break, then get set up. I review your scores at the end."

Waterston took a deep breath, then slowly let it out. For a moment, she had been afraid the Major had been talking to her. She and Drake traveled down the long corridor to the lounge. The doors hissed open as they entered. The two pilots sat down at the bar and ordered drinks. The bartender served them two pints with a blessed lack of head to them.

"So, four weeks. How do you like that Vampire now that you've gotten to know it?" Drake inquired. Waterston had been with the Grendels for just under a month. Until today's sortie, her flight schedule had been one of rigorous training. Rosencrantz demanded a high amount of proficiency, and he did not allow any weak links. It was apparent that he took pride in the Grendels' ability to move, think, and fight as a single entity.

Waterston took a sip from her beer, then replied, "Sure beats flying Tigersharks. I remember what ol' Foxxman said: Vampires are holy fighters from God."

Drake laughed. "Yeah, they do kick a lot of ass. They'll take a pounding and come back for more."

"Yeah. Hell, I was lucky not to be grounded."

"What? Grounded? You had a knicked engine pod. That's not bad at all."

"Well, it was the techs. They practically swarmed my fighter after I landed. They were glad that I took damage, so they can study the alien weapons. They're still going over my fighter."

"So why'd they want to ground you?"

"Half the techs wanted to keep my fighter as their own pet science project, and the other half wanted to box it up and send it back to Confed HQ ASAP for a complete rundown of every system and panel."

"And the WC's response?"

"Ten minutes after hell freezes over. They could take both engine pods, but not the whole fighter."

"What? Both? Those things cost too much to dump one."

Waterston shrugged. She followed her shrug with a sip of beer, beer that continued to taste better. Drake had almost finished her own.

Lil, with all the training, I've learned how to fly with these folks, but, who are they? I mean, you're about the only person I really know here in the squadron."

Drake motioned to the bartender for a pint, this one of water. When it came, she got up off the barstool and directed Waterston over to the far table. Waterston did as she was told. They sat down. The table gave them distance from the bar.

"First things first: when you want to talk, stay the hell away from the bar. Them pitchers got big ears," Drake instructed. Waterston nodded.

"Well, for one thing, you've got me, cabin mate and guardian angel. And, you know the Major. Started out skinning Kats, ended up with us. You saw good ol' Matchlock in action today. He could peg a gnat at 2000 yards and still choose which wing he shot off. Then you have BlueNote. Good pilot, better sax player. You know Footman from the Arkrunners. He's a good team player," Drake commented. Waterston nodded her head in confirmation.

"Let's see... who's left? Oh, yeah... Dagger and Trader..." Drake wryly punctuated her words.

"Yeah, what's up with those two? How long have they been... ?"

"They've 'been' since Trader got promoted to full Lieutenant. Between the two of them, I don't know. Maybe it's just the adrenaline. Maybe it's just how they bleed off the tension. I will say that Trader has definitely improved his mood since they've... 'been.' He used to be full of a lot of piss and wind. His older brother was killed over Locanda at the tail end of the war. Vic had a need to kick ass and take name in the worst way. Maria... mellowed him out."

"What's the Major think about it?"

"He allows it, but he snaps them back if he thinks there's a problem. One time, they really pushed it. The Major was pissed. The Major brought them back into line. He hasn't had to do much of anything since then," Drake noted. Waterston stretched her neck and took a large drink of her dwindling pint.

"Okay, that leaves WhiteWitch, Cockney, SittingDuck, Whisper, and Psi-Cho," she observed. From the far corner, the door whirred open. In stepped Robert Wells, carrying a copy of Jane's Fighting Spacecraft, 2680 edition. He spotted Drake at her table and nodded to her. She returned the nod, motioning for him to come over.

"Well, speak the devil's name and he shall appear," Drake said, grinning slyly. Wells pulled up a chair and set his things on the table.

"What's up, Lil? Trying to scare off another bunkmate to get the cabin to yourself again?" Wells asked, returning fire.

"Hey, Veil's transfer to the Eisen was one of HQ's decisions. Besides, I liked her."

"Yeah, she was a good pilot."

"So, are you here for your usual?"

"Yep, I need some time in the funsim. The Major's book the realsims for the next hour, so I'll just have to make do. Hey, either of you want to make a friendly wager?"

"What's that?" Waterston asked.

"Oh, maybe, the next three rounds are on the low scorer for the sim 7 gauntlet?" he replied.

"Don't waste your money, kid," Drake directed Waterston. "Psi-Cho here takes it every time. Hell, he's got moves that the computer goes whiskey-tango-foxtrot on sometimes," Drake informed her. Wells merely shrugged. Waterston chuckled at the unassuming demeanor of the would-be sim shark.

"Psi-Cho... how'd you score that handle?"

"Because 'Maniac' and 'Moron' were already taken," Drake chided.

"I will admit to being a bit rough on the equipment," he conceded. "Hey, I don't need to take this abuse. I think I'll just prove it to you," he said with mock hurt. Wells stood and walked over to the egg-shaped sim and entered. He began the simulation.

"So what's he like as a wingman?" Waterston asked, nodding to the sim.

"Psi-Cho? Absolutely dependable. He does do some risky things, but, so far, his luck's been good. He's easily the best pilot we have. Folks like Rosencrantz, Arkadyova, Fergus, they're bulldog flyers. Wells is pure finesse. He knows everything about the Vamp. He makes it dance."

Waterston took this in. She then asked, "Anyone else I should know about?"

"Hmm.. there's Whisper. She keeps to herself. Good flyer, solid shot. She's about as solitary as Arkadyova. Cockney is our prankster. Don't piss him off. Trust me. Also, there's Tommygun. He's like Matchlock, but almost as good. After that, only little SittingDuck remains."

"Sitting Duck?!" Waterston exclaimed.

"Yep. Sucks to have famous relatives. One of his uncles designed the Drayman transport. The instructors at the academy, who all suffered through 'sport escort duty, never let him live it down."

Waterston laughed. She had heard enough horror stories from Cat War vets to know that the Drayman didn't react well to enemy fire. SittingDuck had chosen his ancestors poorly. Indeed, if everything she had heard was true, the Drayman was even more loathed than the Epee starfighter.

Waterston swallowed the last of her pint. Drake had been a great help. Waterston liked her casual manner. Drake was the type to coast through a stint, nor was she one of the adrenaline junkies or revenge cases that were drawn to space combat. She was simply a pilot's pilot. Waterston could almost see Drake as a lifer, eventually rating a squadron or flight wing of her own. The woman was good at inspiring easy-going calm.

Drake looked at her watch, then to Waterston. She motioned for her attention.

"So, are you gonna hit the sack, or are you planning to stay up?"

"Bedtime for pilots. That's what a 'straight eight' is for," Waterston replied. They stood and deposited their glasses at the bar. Their cabin beckoned, promising sleep.


TCS Yorktown; Sim Room
Tyr System
1930 Hours

Lieutenants Bardzini and Jaeger stood outside the "realsims." Unlike the "funsim" in the lounge, these sims were used for official training purposes. Indeed, pilots often remarked that the realsims provided total immersion. Quite often, a pilot who had completed a mission in the sim found himself surprised to be in the sim room when the hatch opened, not the flight deck. Jaeger fiddled with his helmet.

"Why the hell is the Major having us run a sim mission? It did get a bit hot out there, but we were ready."

"Victor, you were playing with that fighter. I was, too..."

"We did our job and had fun kicking ass at the same time. What's the harm?"

"It's not professional to have fun on the job. Now," she said, flashing him her killer smile, "let's get this over with so we can have some real fun."

"Which one did he want us to do?"

"Number six. Carrier defense."

"Nasty suvbitch. Well, let's go," Jaeger said. The two pilots climbed into their sim pods. Bardzini commanded the computer to load the mission. The carrier defense mission had originally been programmed for the funsim on the Midway. Arkadyova had called in a favor from a friend on the Midway and had it transferred. She and a tech then reprogrammed it for use with a Concordia-class carrier. It made the mission infinitely harder; megacarriers were simply built to take a nastier pounding than Concordias. Rosencrantz had handed them quite a workout. Their pods' interiors flashed into the form of a Vampire's cockpit.

"Let's get it on!" Trader exclaimed. He burned toward the Kilrathi attackers. Dagger followed close behind. They broke and began picking targets. The massive guns on their Vampires shredded the Dralthi in their midst.

"Hey, Trader, I'll bet I beat you on the kill score," Dagger both challenged and teased. Her adrenaline controlled her mouth, along with the rest of her body. She pirouetted her Vampire in an autoslide strafe, blasting a Dralthi in the process. The WC's voice came over the radio.

"This is Yorktown control. Bombers inbound."

Trader and Dagger rolled out and engaged the Vaktoths. One immediately swung around and fired on Trader. He launched a missile at its flanks. The Kilrathi's port side shed glowing-hot metal. Trader closed, killing it with his guns. Dagger waxed on of her own.

"Torpedoes inbound!" the WC's voice yelled. The two Vampires burned toward the torpedoes. Dagger fired, destroying one. Trader attempted to shoot his torpedo, but to no avail. The computer-controlled friendly fighters were of little help. The torpedo impacted on the Yorktown's starboard side. A massive gash exposed ravaged decks.

Trader and Dagger pitched up to meet the new threat. More Vaktoths had jumped in. One broke off from the main group and headed for Dagger. She moved to intercept it. The Vaktoth's guns stripped away her forward shields. Dagger pulled out in time to avoid destruction. The Vaktoth kept coming. Despite her maneuverability, the Kilrathi kept a bead on her.

Dagger called for help. Trader broke off his attack on the three other Vaktoth to take on the ace harassing Dagger. He pushed his fighter to the limit. He was too late. As he entered missile range, Dagger's Vampire burst into flames. Trader screamed, an inhuman sound.

"Now, ape, I hope you are a more savory kill than your lairmate!"

Trader launched a spread of Trackers at the Vaktoth. It dodged them with ease. The Vaktoth brought its frontal weaponry to bear on Trader. His shields absorbed the salvo, but he had precious little to spare. Once again, he heard the WC's voice.

"Oh my God! Torpedoes incoming! No time to intercept! All personnel to lifepods!"

Trader twisted to see a hideous blast shatter his carrier. As it went up, the depth of his failure slumped him into his seat. The Vaktoth finished its job.

A minute later, Bardzini and Jaeger climbed out of their pods. Jitters and sweat marked their time in the sim. A third pod opened up. Major Rosencrantz stepped out.

"Sir... why?" Bardzini asked, shaken.

"It was for your own good. On patrol today, you were playing. You got the job done, but still, pulling stunts like that could be the reason I have to write a deathcomm for you. You two feed off each other. I'm fine with that, when you aren't being reckless about it. That little sim mission was supposed to teach you something. Kill score is irrelevant. Getting off on the rush is irrelevant. Survival isn't. Stick with the objectives. And... I regret putting you through that. I hope you aren't too shell-shocked. Now, get some rest. We'll all be needing it."

Bardzini and Jaeger left for their respective quarters. Both had been put through an emotional wringer. They knew Rosencrantz didn't like to use psiwar for discipline. They understood. Soon, dreams would take them both.


TCS Yorktown; Flight Wing Rec Room, Lounge
Tyr System
2000 Hours

Frances Rubio sat at the bar, waiting. Her shift had ended a half-hour before, and now, she needed a drink. The bartender happily complied. To her left, Joseph Fergus sat, slowly sipping his drink.

"Hey, Fergus, I heard that you ran into bad guys today," Rubio said as her drink arrived.

"Echo Wing? Naww. We didn't much out there."

"Bull. Come on, Joe. Don't lie to me on this one."

Fergus weighed his options before speaking. "Well, We didn't find too much," he cautiously responded, mindful of the Wing Commander's orders. He nodded over to the other side of the room, away from the bar. Rubio followed him over. Holding their beers, they leaned against the wall.

"We found a pair of ships out there."

"Ghost ships?"

"Aye. Pair of transports got hit by whatever we're here to deal with. Completely wiped out."


"Oh, the hulls are still basically there, but the ships were completely gutted. Not even the emergency beacons survived."

"Christos!" Rubio exclaimed. Of all the items carried by ships of the line, the emergency beacon was the sturdiest. Its multiple, independently redundant comm systems were housed in a shell of Confed's toughest alloys and polymers. The phantoms that they would soon be facing had destroyed two before they could warn Confed.

"Aye. That would be the sound of the shit hitting the fan," Fergus replied. Rubio was obviously disquieted by the thought. Fergus sipped his drink, his demeanor unperturbed.

"No worries, Frances. Neither of us can die. If we did, the bar would start stocking inferior beer. We owe it to our mates to stay alive so that our brave fellows don't go into battle with pisswater in their bellies," Fergus grinned. His gallows humor tended to shine through in tense situations. He chucked Rubio on the shoulder.

"Cheer up, Francis. Let's toast," he said as he raised his glass. Rubio, gladdened by her friend's mirth, raised hers as well.

"To us pilots: Noble defenders of the galaxy, pure of heart, strong of body, clear of mind, and after a furball, skunk off our arses drunk. May we live to fly another day," he concluded. They drank.

Rubio finished her drink. "We're not going to live through this," she declared. Fergus immediately shot her a silencing glance. Fergus then finished his drink and put on an air of stern jollity.

"Well, I don't know. I'm sure we'll at least live to drink another pint. Now, let's go and get some air," Fergus responded. Rubio stood and followed him out the door. As the door closed behind them, Fergus stopped to face Rubio.

"Now what the hell are you doing? You're acting drunk, shooting your mouth off, and making an arse of yourself. What's up, Frannie??"

"This whole thing has me scared, Fergus."

"Jesus Christ. Me too, but find a way to boil it off, Fran. Remember, you've got a squadron to think about. I hope you don't pull any of this around them. Do you?"

"No... no."

"Good. Tell me you're seeing the psych officer."

"Hell, no."

"See him. And keep yourself together. Eventually, our squadrons will be working together. We'll have to rely on each other. We'll have to back each other up. Can I count on you, Frannie?"

Rubio paused for a long beat. The reality of the situation sank in. She lifted her head and replied, "Yeah. You can."

"Good. Now get yourself to bed before anyone important sees you and mistakes you for a pilot," Fergus chided. Rubio smiled weakly. She headed back to her cabin to sleep the alcohol off.