|HTL 101: SCRAPS OF HONOUR 8- SHADES OF GREY (PART ONE)
By Nick "Chaeronea" Deane
Briefing Room, BWS Sicily
0637 hours, 11 February 2681 (2681.042)
“...so the Marauders will be carrying anti-capship mines instead of
torpedoes as well as four standard mines and the usual heatseekers. The
Intruders pack standard loadouts in case we run into any Bugs,” Paul Onslow
told his squadron. The pilots of the 349th lounged around the briefing room
with a casualness which would have thrown any Confederation officer into
fits. (According to Confederation military protocol, slouching in your seat
with your feet on the headrest of the chair in front of you is *not* the
proper posture for listening to a mission briefing.) But first impressions
were deceiving and Onslow knew his pilots were paying careful attention. “We
patrol three navpoints then lay the mines at the Loki jump point. Finally we
head back to the Sicily via Nav 5. So are there any questions?” Only one
pilot raised his hand. “What’s on your mind, Emerson?” the Scrappers’ CO
asked the 349th’s newest member.
Dragan Emerson looked tired and concerned. “Sir, is there any word on
Anthony’s condition?” The room became even more quiet than usual. Onslow let
out a deep breath before he answered.
“The medical staff say he’ll be okay. At the moment they’ve sedated him to
make him sleep,” Onslow replied. “There’s no sign of any complications so
far.” Emerson let out a sigh of relief.
“Thanks sir,” the normally exuberant pilot acknowledged as the briefing room
door opened and Colonel Jack Tanagawa, the Sicily's wing commander, entered.
The Border Worlders responded in the same way they usually did when a
superior officer entered the room - they remained seated, although they did
sit up a little straighter.
"At ease," the wing commander ordered, just in case anyone *had* responded.
"I'm glad I got to you before you headed out. There's been a change of
plan." He turned to look at the Scrappers' leader. "Colonel Onslow, you and
Major DeVille have been temporarily assigned training duty aboard Avernus
"What the hell?" someone asked incredulously. “Are we turning into Confed
with all this last minute bureaucratic bullshit personnel shuffling?”
“Knock it off!” Tanagawa barked. “There’s a group of local pilots who were
recruited by the Nifelheim militia as soon as they heard that Admiral Hanton
was planning the final battle against the Bugs here. They’ve been giving
these volunteers a very basic flight course but they're still a long way
from being combat-ready. That's where your CO comes in." He looked at the
Scrappers’ leader. “You’ve got quite a rep for bringing fresh pilots up to
speed in a short time, Colonel. We need that with these rookies right now.”
“So what have the Nifelheim squadrons been doing for training?” Onslow
asked. “I hope they know at least some of the basics.”
“Most of the basics,” Tanagawa admitted. “Most of them were shuttle and
atmospheric transport drivers until they were called up, so they have some
“But none in combat,” Onslow muttered. “Christ, sir, how do I get a bunch of
rookies who haven’t fired a weapon heavier than a turret laser ready for
combat in a week?”
“That’s your decision,” the wing commander replied evenly. “With the
fighters from the convoy you rescued in Seggalion we can convert our Banshee
squadrons over to more modern fighters. So we’re training the Gunslingers
from the Arnhem on Excaliburs, and the Speed Demons from the Anzio on
Bearcats. That gives you twenty-four Banshees to equip your cadets with,
Colonel. You’re training a dozen of them on Banshees and someone else is
training another dozen of them on Thunderbolts.”
“That gives me plenty of spares for the ones they break,” Onslow replied
heavily. “Okay sir, I’ll do what I can.”
Deep Space, Nifelheim System (Near Nifelheim II)
1209 hours, 11 February 2681
Lt Colonel Paul Onslow had trained a fair number of fighter pilots in his
time in the Border Worlds military. To be honest, most of his experience had
been devoted to training recent Academy graduates into truly combat-ready
fighter pilots, but he was rather good at training rookies as well. From
teaching the lessons of twenty years of space warfare to wide-eyed newbies
he had learned how to encourage, how to teach, and how to be patient.
But right now he was on the verge of ordering his entire class to land and
biting a few heads off.
Keep it together, he told himself. They're newer to flying than Academy
rookies. Hell, they're newer than the Frostreavers - and they haven't even
graduated yet! He winced as he saw a Banshee flown by one of the cadets
almost skid into another fighter. It was bad comm procedure to yell at a
trainee over an open comm frequency, as well as hard on morale, but God it
"All right. X-ray Squadron proceed to Landing Bay 2 and initiate automatic
landing procedures," he ordered. "Keep an eye on your navmaps and stay on
your assigned routes, because if you stumble into a minefield and I have to
come get you, I won't be happy. Understood?" A ragged chorus of affirmative
responses filled the comm channel.
The Scrappers' CO watched attentively as the trainees swarmed towards the
landing bays, wincing at the bedlam as the air traffic controllers on
Avernus Station attempted to make order of chaos. Part of his mind was busy
cataloguing the training needs of the new pilots. Now that the Border
Worlds taskforce had enough hard data from the Confed task force to program
the alien fighters' profiles into the sim pods on the Sicily, another part
was calculating how to get enough time to train his squadron to combat the
alien fighters. And part of Paul Onslow's mind wondered just how the bloody
hell he'd stay sane long enough to face the Nephilim.
Cafeteria, Avernus Station
1249 hours, 11 February 2681
“I swear, Jack, if those brats don’t shape up there’s going to be a
firefight in that briefing room,” Onslow grumbled to his second-in-command.
“Most of them hardly know how to fly, and those who aren’t accidents waiting
to happen can’t be bothered with teamwork. They’ll be meat on the table.”
“Well, these are the first aircraft they’ve ever been assigned,” Jack DeVille
told him. “Most of them are kids who volunteered because they know a little
bit about flying shuttles and the others are privateers who didn’t have a
choice.” Onslow gave him a curious look so he continued. “The militia
squadrons scored a big smuggling bust two weeks ago and managed to nail most
of the smugglers. They were awaiting trial when Admiral Hanton sent word
that the grand finale against the Bugs would be held right here. Anyway, the
militia commander offered to put in a good word for some of their better
pilots if they’d volunteer, so they did.”
The Scrappers’ CO nodded. “Well, I want to bring the real rookies up to the
point where they can manoeuvre without slamming into each other. Once we get
to that point we concentrate on teamwork. Now let’s get some food.”
“Or something resembling it,” Jack commented as they walked into the
cafeteria. Aside from two other figures in flight suits the room was empty.
The blond Scrapper nodded courteously then stiffened as he saw the
Confederation Star on the flight suits’ sleeves. “Check it out, boss. Looks
like the Confederation’s helping with the training program,” he murmured.
“Any chance they were the ones who shot up Grimlock?” Onslow asked in an
equally hushed voice. DeVille shook his head.
“Not unless the other cadet squadron’s going to be flying Excaliburs,” he
shot back as he loaded something vaguely resembling meatloaf onto his tray.
His commander nodded in agreement as he poured himself a cup of coffee, then
angled his head towards the Confed pilots.
"Let's," DeVille agreed. The two Border Worlders walked over to the pair of
Confed pilots and sat down. "How's it going?" Jack asked cordially.
One of the pilots, a big man with blond hair so pale it was almost white,
rolled his eyes. "I'm just wondering if I have time to increase my life
insurance." His darker colleague chuckled.
"We were just going over the files for these new recruits. Looks like we've
got our work cut out for us," he commented. Extending his hand to the Border
Worlds pilots he introduced himself. "I'm Captain Robert 'Robber' Bell and
this is my CO, Major Harold 'Viking' Svensson."
Onslow shook Bell's hand firmly. "Colonel Paul 'Onslaught' Onslow. This
smartass next to me is my squadron's XO, Major Jack 'Diamond' DeVille." Jack
gave his leader a sour look.
"You had to warn them didn't you?"
"Yep," the Scrappers' leader agreed. Turning back to the Confederation
pilots he asked, "So what are you guys doing here?"
Svensson sighed. "We're supposed to be training a bunch of absolute rookies
how to fly Thunderbolts. What about you?"
"Same thing with Banshees," Onslow admitted. “Mind you, I think we should
first give them some training in how to follow orders.”
Bell laughed, then looked towards the cafeteria’s ceiling. “A Border Worlder
bitching about lack of discipline? You can take me now, Lord! I have seen it
Onslow shook his head even as a rueful grin spread across his face. “Oh, you
bastard. I’ll get you for that.”
“So long as it doesn’t involve gunfire I can handle it,” Robber replied
casually. Onslow felt the smile slip from his face.
“No, I leave that to Maneater and her crew,” he answered harshly. "I've got
one of my people in the Sicily's sickbay because her pilots got too damn
trigger-happy. If we hadn't gotten lucky I'd be writing a deathcomm for him
"Meaning if Shelly and her people hadn't chipped in you'd be writing a
deathcomm," Svensson replied acidly. "Look, Colonel, the D'Arby spotted a
group of incoming bogies not showing any friendly IFF. Now what would you
have done if you were the task force commander?"
"I'm not blaming the task force commander," the leader of the Scrappers shot
back. "I'm not even blaming Maneater. I'm blaming the bastards who took a
shot at one of my people! Dammit, I know we didn't have any transponder
codes up, but neither did you! If they knew Border Worlds forces were in the
system, they should have at least taken a second look before they started
"Exactly," Bell agreed. "Like you said, if they knew you Border Worlders
were here. That's the problem."
"What's that mean?" Jack DeVille asked as Paul Onslow took a deep drink of
coffee. The Confederation pilots glanced at each other, clearly
uncomfortable. Finally Svensson answered.
"Nobody told us about any Border Worlds fighters being in the system," he
mumbled. The colonel choked on his coffee and Jack DeVille looked astounded.
“Didn’t it occur to anyone that maybe, possibly, there might be Border
Worlders flying patrol in a Border Worlds system? Especially one where
there’s due to be a battle which the Union’s survival would hinge on?” He
threw his hands into the air in disbelief. Turning to his commander he
asserted, “We now have conclusive proof that Riley’s Law is alive and well.”
“True,” Paul Onslow agreed as he wiped up the coffee he’d coughed up. “I
think this incident just proved that Murphy was way too optimistic.”
Robber’s eyes widened in surprise. “Let me get this straight. The idea that
anything which can go wrong will go wrong is optimistic?”
“You bet,” Onslow replied cynically. “Even *we* were sure there was no way
Confed HQ would fail to let you know that there were Border Worlds
reinforcements on their way to Nifelheim. This little stuff-up proves that
even something which can’t go wrong will still go wrong!”
Flight Deck, BWS Sicily
1412 hours, 11 February 2681
Alex Morgan groaned as he rubbed his aching neck muscles. He leaned against
his Marauder's nosewheel strut and surveyed the flight deck. The scream of
engines, the shouting of the ground crews and the clang of metal were a
background noise as familiar to him as his own footsteps. However the notion
of it taking place in a huge metal box in space with only a thin force field
separating dozens of people from hard vacuum took some getting used to. A
four hour patrol through the Nifelheim system to the Loki jump point, a
quick run to lay the mines around the jump point and two and a half hours of
flying straight back to the Sicily had left him stiff and sore. It had also
been about as exciting as watching paint dry.
His gaze shifted to the maintenance bay where technicians laboured over
their new charges, eighteen Bearcat fighters requisitioned from the convoy
rescued from pirates in Seggalion. He also spotted a group of pilots near
one of the fighters, apparently being lectured by a major in a Confederation
flightsuit. Twelve of the pilots belonged to the Speed Demons, a squadron
from the carrier Anzio who had traded their Banshees in for the more modern
Confederation fighters. The other six pilots were from the Tanfen squadron
aboard the Sicily.
A few days ago the idea would have sent you ballistic, he told himself
wryly. Now the thought of Tanfenners flying Bearcats doesn't bother me half
as much as what they'll be protecting us from. Those Nephilim fighters are
Colonel Onslow had been scheduled to take the Scrappers
through a simulator exercise to give them a taste of combat against the
aliens who had razed the Tartarus and Dakota systems, but he'd been
hurriedly reassigned to train a squadron of volunteers. As a result, with
the minelaying mission flown, the Scrappers were at loose ends for the moment.
The grey-eyed pilot checked the landing board to see if any other planes
were due to land before crossing the landing deck. After all, a fighter in
the midst of landing has a lot of trouble coming to a stop before it runs
over someone in its path. He jogged towards the rear of the group of pilots,
curiously listening in on the lecture.
“So the main change for you Banshee pilots is that you’ve got the agility to
shift in all three axes rather than just two,” the stocky Confederation
major advised. He glanced at his watch and announced, “Okay, break for lunch
and I’ll see you back here in thirty minutes. We’ll go over basic flight
manoeuvres when we resume.” The group of pilots scattered and headed towards
the flight deck’s exit and Alex chuckled wryly.
“God, these fighters must be old.”
“What do you mean?” a familiar voice asked. Courtney Tseng walked up to the
tall Border Worlder and grinned.
Alex relaxed slightly. “Like the guy said, they’ve got equal agility in all
three axes. The Banshees that Confed ran into during the ’73 war were the
first fighters that were designed to focus on agility in just two axes. They
did so well that Confed ripped the idea off us and designed the Panther to
work the same way."
“Does this mean you’re bashing someone besides Tanfen? You really must be
mellowing out.” The copper-haired Tanfener raised an eyebrow slightly.
"I'm not bashing Confed," the dark young pilot denied. A note of sarcasm
entered his voice. "I mean they've got four whole fleets sitting with their
thumbs up their asses while they've sent one fleet and a bunch of
second-rate reservists to make it look like they're doing something. I
wouldn't be surprised if some senators and admirals back on Earth are hoping
that the UBW gets wiped out." His expression turned innocent. "But I'm not
bashing them. Honest!"
Tseng giggled. "Isn't that a bit paranoid?" she asked, shooting a glance
past the taller pilot. Alex shrugged.
"Maybe, maybe not. Remember it's not paranoia if they're really out to get
you," he commented dryly.
"Then I suggest you take it up with Major Reid and Captain Carruthers," the
corporate pilot suggested and pointed past him. The militia lieutenant
turned and felt his guts contract as he saw the pair of Confederation pilots
scowling at him.
Sickbay, BWS Sicily
1413 hours, 11 February 2681
His helmet was too tight.
Ever since his father had taken him on a shuttle flight when he was nine
years old, he'd always associated flying with a state of relaxation. Sure,
flying required concentration and focus but it had always brought Anthony
Grimm to a state of serenity. He'd have been happy flying a passenger shuttle
or a cargo transport until his mother had been killed in a pirate raid when
he was fifteen. Since then he'd wanted to join the Space Force, but even with
the shock of adjusting to military life he'd never stopped enjoying flying
for its own sake. He settled his shoulders back into the comfortable seat
and relaxed to enjoy the ride. There was only one problem.
His helmet was too tight.
Dammit, the young pilot thought idly, I'd better answer that comm message.
He reached for the comm switch but only found open air. That's strange. He
fumbled for the comm switch again with no further success, rousing a minor
curiosity. When a hand emerged from the control board and grabbed his wrist,
all he felt was vague surprise. He opened his eyes slowly.
Sandra Lynch leaned over him, studying him with an expression of concern on
her face. “Quit flailing around, Tony! You’ll hurt yourself!”
If I did manage to get a woman into the cockpit with me, God, couldn’t it
have been Dani instead of Major Lynch? Anthony thought wistfully. During his
time at the Academy, Dragan Emerson had gleefully recounted several stories
of what two people could get up to in a fighter cockpit. He looked around
and saw white walls instead of the star-streaked blackness he expected. What
the…I’m in sickbay! But I was flying..
Lynch read the confusion on his face as easily as a navmap. “You’re probably
still groggy from all the medication after you hit your head. You kept
trying to stay awake, so the medics had sedate you before you’d take their
advice and get some rest.”
“Hell, you’ve got enough sedatives and what-me-worry in you to make you feel
casual about going fishing planetside with just a fishing pole,” Dragan
Emerson commented. “It’s about time you started coming around. Welcome back.”
Grimm looked up at his friend in befuddlement. “What’s the big deal about
“It’s obvious you didn’t read the system briefing,” the Slavic pilot
explained. “Nifelheim II’s got a biosphere like prehistoric Earth, including
the sea life. Imagine a shark big enough to chow down on an Intruder as
easily as a Terran great white could take a human, and you’ve got something
about the middle of the food chain.”
"Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase 'the fish are really biting', huh?"
Eric Maslevski noted, drawing laughter from his comrades. Grimm looked up at
"Isn't this where you compare the fish on this world to the whale which
carried Jonah in its belly?" he inquired. Maslevski shrugged.
"Jonah had some measure of divine protection because God was testing him,"
the lanky Archchristian replied. His face darkened. "It seems we'll need
some divine protection of our own to survive our supposed allies."
"Or for them to survive us," Lynch replied. "I'm glad Bloodhawk was already
on deck when the word about what happened to you came through," she told
Grimm. "Otherwise he might have been tempted to give the Confeds an object
lesson in what happens when someone picks on one of us."
"Well we didn't have any ID running," the shy young pilot began, "so we
can't really blame them for being jumpy. I mean I was pretty nervous too."
He looked apologetically up at the other Scrappers. "We can't really blame
them, I guess."
Dragan studied him with a disbelieving expression on his dark face. "You're
concussed, you’re off the roster for forty-eight hours because the confees
couldn't keep it together, and you're saying we should live and let live?"
Grimm nodded as energetically as he could, wincing as the ache in his head
increased. "They're here for the same reason we are - to kill the Nephilim.
We need their help and any other help we can get."
“In other words, shut up and soldier, soldier.” The hard-featured major
smiled faintly. “Message confirmed, sir. Any further orders?"
"Yes," Grimm replied, trying to ignore the gentle mockery in Lynch's voice.
"Can you get me a chip with the data on the Nephilim fighters? If I can't be
on the roster or in the sims, I can at least study them."
"Bloody workaholic," Sandra muttered, then let the humour fall from her
voice. "Okay, Tony, I'll do it. But if you don't get enough sleep to speed
your recovery, then you won't be back on duty by the time the bugs come
The convalescing pilot nodded weakly. "I won't let you guys down," he
murmured as he watched his comrades leave. Closing his eyes he relaxed and
reflected on the conversation. Then a thought occurred to him. Lynch had
mentioned their anger at the Confederation for attacking ‘one of us’. One
of us, he thought with a touch of wonder. The Scrappers had accepted him as
one of them.
It felt good.
Flight Deck, BWS Sicily
1415 hours, 11 February 2681
"Do you have a problem Lieutenant?" the Confederation major asked icily as
he subjected Alex to a cold glare. The young Border Worlder didn't flinch.
He'd had so many people try the old ‘glare holes through him' trick that he
was almost immune.
"Not with you, Major," he replied coolly. "At least you showed up to help us
out. Not like the gimps in the other Confed fleets or the Senate standing
around waiting for us to be butchered!"
"Next ye'll be saying that loser Davidson's right and we set this all up as
a plot to invade the Border Worlds, right?" the other Confed pilot, a short
wiry man with a shock of dark hair, jeered in a broad English accent. Alex
looked at him and let a faint grin creep across his face.
"Davidson's a paranoid asshole sir. Some people say I'm paranoid and some
people say I'm an asshole, but not many people say I fall into both groups."
His smile faded as he continued. “Besides, if the Confederation did want to
knock over the Border Worlds they’d have one of the other fleets ready to
move in as ‘reinforcements’. Once the Border Worlds Navy’s gone they could
sweep through the UBW to ‘secure vital systems.”
The Confederation captain’s eyes flashed with anger. “Anyone ever tell you
ye’ve probably flipped yer lid, Lieutenant Morgan?” he asked tightly.
Morgan nodded. “Plenty of times, Captain. But this was the same thing Confed
tried in Circe eight years ago. They ordered the Melbourne in to supposedly
protect democratic rule and assist in removing the illegal Border Worlds
government.” He snorted contemptuously. “They ignored a few little details,
like the fact that only a minority of of Circe’s population wanted to
remain part of the Confederation or that the pro-UBW government was elected
by the people. Like they ignored other minor things like freedom of
association and speech.”
“Bullshit,” Reid replied flatly. “We had a free press - “
“Like hell,” Alex growled. “If you take a dog that’s been on a five-foot
leash for years and suddenly put it on a ten-foot leash, it doesn’t change
the fact that it’s still on a leash. To quote a twentieth century actor, law
enforcement is like circumcision - you either go all the way or you fucking
forget it. If a society or a nation starts picking and choosing which of its
laws it enforces, then it’s kind of difficult to trust that nation when it
sends armed forces onto your territory and says ‘Hi neighbour! We’re here to
help you!’ There's a bit of a credibility gap.”
“Don’t feel mucked around just because Confed hasn't sent you more help,”
Carruthers cut in. "It seems they haveta give whoever we're fighting a big
advantage. It happens all the bloody time - the McAuliffe massacre, the
strike on Kilrah, the Battle of Terra. You'd think the wankers in the Senate
do it on purpose."
"Wouldn't surprise me," the young Border Worlder commented wryly. "But we
shouldn't accuse them of malice when incompetence and selfishness explain it
so much better."
"No worse than the Landreich Parliament," Reid shot back. "Remember the
political infighting during the Goliath affair? Kruger almost wound up
impeached over it."
"That was different," Alex objected hastily. "Kruger slammed a lid on
reports of the Vorghath as soon as he found out about it - "
"But the pollies knew the Kats were raiding other systems even before Kruger
tried bringing that old carrier back on line," Carruthers shot back. "And
they were still trying to cut their navy down even further. Now if that
ain't short-sighted and selfish I don't know what is."
"Yeah well...." Morgan's voice trailed off as he realised he couldn't say
much more without insulting the Confederation officers even further. He
threw up his hands in frustration. “Ah, hell, forget about it.”
“No problem,” Reid agreed easily. “We’re all pretty scared by the stories
we’re hearing. Anyway, I’ll see you in the cockpit in twenty-five minutes,”
he concluded and turned to walk away.
“I doubt it, sir. I’m not training to fly a Bearcat,” Alex advised. “I just
thought I’d check and see how the guys who’ll be flying escort for me were
doing.” He paused and added with a malicious grin, “And I thought I’d see if
the Bearcats flying BARCAP for the confees could have nailed me when I had a
torp lock on that carrier.”
Carruthers spun to face him, surprise clearly visible on his face. “That was
you lot playing tag with us? We had you cold but the captain ordered us to
“Just as well,” the militia pilot admitted. “The way our nerves were, as
soon as a missile alarm had gone off, we’d have fired our torpedoes and
ducked back into cloak. I just hope the Bug capships are as easy targets as
your carriers were,” he concluded, unable to resist a final taunt.
“Fookin’ smartarse,” Carruthers muttered as he walked away from the smug
“And proud of it!”
Flight Wing Quarters, BWS Sicily
1417 hours, 11 February 2681
Danica Owens finished gathering her damp silver-blond hair into its usual
ponytail as she walked towards the barracks assigned to the Scrappers. Grab
the disc with the data on the Bug fighters, look over it and do a few sim
runs with John, she thought. Sounds like a plan. I bet he's in one of the
pods already, the slender young pilot thought with some amusement as she
opened the door.
Hawke obviously hadn't showered or changed clothes since the minelaying
mission. The taciturn pilot was sitting on his bunk with his cupped hands
cradled to his chest, and his icy eyes were focused on something held in
them. He still wore his flightsuit and boots, the only obvious change being
the lack of the helmet with the scarlet bird of prey blazoned on it. Dani
glanced quickly around the room and caught sight of the headgear dropped on
a nearby bunk - hers. Quietly she walked over to her bunk, shifted her
wingleader's helmet and sat down opposite him.
"John? You okay?" There was no sound aside from John Hawke's steady
breathing, then the music started. Dani looked around to see who had entered
the barracks but didn't see anyone else. That's weird, she thought, John
doesn't listen to classical music. As far as she knew, the man who was both
her wingleader and her closest friend almost never listened to any music.
Instead, he preferred to relax in the simulator pod.
"There's no time for us,
There's no place for us.
What is this thing that builds our dream yet slips away from us?"
The young pilot's eyes widened as a tear trickled down her friend's dark
cheek. She angled her head to look at the object holding his attention. It
was a circular plaque of durasteel slightly larger than Hawke's palm with a
disc of crystal set into the centre. From the depths of the crystal a
beautiful woman with chestnut brown hair smiled out, holding a black-haired
baby in the crook of one arm. The infant had the woman's other index finger
held firmly in one chubby fist and was looking with a great deal of interest
into the camera which had taken the holopic. Below the holocrystal were
engraved the names 'Angela and Martin Hawke.' Even as the music continued
John's voice blended raggedly with the singer's.
"Who wants to live forever?
Who wants to live forever?"
Tears flowed down Dani's own face as the mournful song continued. She
silently moved to Hawke's bunk and wrapped an arm around his shoulders. His
head snapped up in surprise.
"Oh! Hi Dani," he greeted her hastily. "Have you been here long?"
She shook her head. "Just a little while. Are you all right?" she asked,
studying him closely. He nodded and looked back down at the plaque.
"Just remembering my angel and my little bird boy," he whispered. At her
look of incomprehension he explained, "When Martin was born, the nurses
nicknamed him the bird boy because he had two birds in his name - hawk and
Dani nodded as he explained. Sweet Jesus, she thought numbly. That's his
family! They died when the Black Lance hit Telamon with the Gen-Select. The
music continued and the singer broke the brooding silence.
"Who wants to live forever?
Who dares to love forever,
When love must die?"
Hawke spoke even as his eyes drifted back to the picture. "I was home with
Angela before the situation with the Confederation heated up. Some friends
of ours had helped us out with some things and we were looking for a way to
thank them. Anyway, one day they were away from their home and we decided to
do their place up for Valentines Day. While we were there one thing led to
another and we decided to take advantage of the opportunity." He glanced at
his wingman and took a deep breath. "Martin was born nine months later."
"Most kids are, so I'm missing something," Dani admitted. John Hawke
returned his gaze to her.
"That was three days before Valentines Day 2672," he explained. Dani frowned
"That'd be February 11th." At her friend's curt nod she continued, "The same
"Ironic, huh? It's the ninth anniversary of my son's conception and we're
flying alongside the bastards who murdered him!" Hawke growled, anger
starting to replace the grief on his face.
"No we're not!" Dani snapped. "Confed lost a lot of pilots and civilians
fighting the Black Lance. It was just Tolwyn and his cronies who were
supporting the GEs, not the people of the Confederation." She cupped the
older pilot's face in her hands and met his bleak gaze. "The pilots on those
Confed carriers aren't responsible for what happened to Telamon. They're not
the ones who killed your wife and son," she insisted in an urgent voice.
Her sapphire eyes softened as she whispered, "And neither are you."
The Border Worlds major's eyes closed in pain and he placed his hands over
Dani's. "I still miss them," he whispered. "I should have been able to save
"You should have been," the beautiful young lieutenant agreed, "if it was a
perfect universe. But if it was a perfect universe, then it never would have
happened." She paused for several seconds to add weight to her next words.
"Now we have to fly alongside those Confederation pilots to stop what
happened to Telamon from happening to any other planet. You've seen the
footage of what the Nephilim did in Dakota. It's nowhere near as sadistic as
what happened to Telamon but it's every bit as thorough.” Danica shook her
head in frustration. “It's too late for you to save Telamon, John, but there
are other worlds depending on us. If we can't work with the confees then
we're sentencing millions of people to death."
"I won't let that happen," Hawke rasped, determination threading its way
back into his voice. Dani let a faint smile settle over her delicate
features - this sounded more like the Bloodhawk she knew and flew alongside!
"Okay. You grab a shower and meet me in the sim room in ten minutes. The
Confeds have sent us full profiles on the Neph fighters and I want to
practice against them as a team."
"As a team," John repeated. Dani smiled reassuringly.
TO BE CONTINUED