Chapter XIII - Homeward

Quarto

Unknown Enemy
Here it is. The final chapter (and the Epilogue) of Book 1, which unfortunately still hasn't got a proper name
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XIII. Homeward.
“Javelin?” Lawrence heard himself shouting. How could he leave now, with those two Drakhri approaching? “Dammit, not now!”
“Oh, I’m sure you can manage without me.” Javelin’s mocking voice came back towards him.
“Damn you!” Weaver replied, staring at the disappearing Ferret, and again at the Drakhri. They were so close now…
And suddenly, a pair of Broadswords appeared out of nowhere, charging at the Kilrathi ships.
“I told ye I’d come back!” Weaver heard Paladin’s voice.
“Nhath h’all arr likh Jhavhelinh!” Rhe’dhi added.
Lawrence grinned. “Let’s attack, people!” He punched the afterburners, his Ferret hurtling towards the two Kilrathi fighters at break-neck speeds.
With friends like this, he would always be safe!
* * *
“Time to wake up, Lieutenant.”
He opened his eyes, and frowned, seeing a brightly-lit ceiling above him. “Where am I?”
“Onboard the TCS Concordia.” The Duty Nurse told him.
“Concordia?” Weaver asked, surprised. He twisted his head in all directions, as if expecting a sign somewhere in the long, bed-filled room that would confirm this. “How did I get here?”
“Well, we brought you in from the Lancelot yesterday.” She explained to him.
“Yesterday? How long have I been sleeping?” Lawrence demanded, staring at the nurse.
She smiled at him, counting something off on her fingers. “Oh… I think about twenty-eight hours. You were completely unconscious for a while, after that crash landing.”
“The crash…” Weaver said slowly. Yes… it was somewhat vague, but he remembered it. Cautiously, he raised his arms. Nothing broken. He pulled himself up into a sitting position, looking down the bed at the rest of himself. But nothing else looked – or felt – broken either. The only pain he felt was in his shoulders, and they didn’t seem to be broken either.
“There’s nothing wrong with you.” The nurse told him, barely suppressing her laughter. “Actually, we drugged you after you first came about, so you could get some sleep.”
“Oh.” Terry replied. And indeed, for the first time since… since he left Krieger, he felt rested. And hungry. Yes, most definitely hungry. Starving, in fact. “Could I get something to eat?” He asked.
“Yes… I suppose I could bring you some of our… wonderful… health food.” She answered with a wink. “But of course, you could just go to the mess hall. The food on this ship may not be too great, but I’ve never heard of anyone complaining – not after eating med-bay food.”
Lawrence grinned. “Well, I didn’t think I’d be allowed to leave this fast, that’s all. So… I can go?”
“Yep. You’re all clear. Your uniform’s right there,” she said, pointing to the clean, folded uniform lying on the bedside table. “But you might consider getting a shower first… you stink.”
“I what?” Weaver stared at her in surprise, but she was already moving towards another patient. Cautiously, he sniffed his arm… she was right. Terry shrugged. It had been a while, so he was entitled to stink, really. And, he thought as he ran a hand along his cheek, I need a shave.
He got up, wincing as pain shot through his torso. Nothing broken – but his whole body felt like it had been crushed by a piano. Or rather, by a Scimitar, he grinned, picking up the uniform. Well, a shower would make him feel a lot better.
Just as long as it doesn’t take too long, he added as his stomach emitted a loud rumble. Weaver moved towards the bathroom door, his head spinning a bit. He felt a bit odd, without the tough flight suit encasing him, and without a helmet. It was so strange… to feel safe.
* * *
The nurse had most definitely been right; the food onboard the Concordia was not great – or at least it looked positively horrid. But after his ordeal, Weaver found he couldn’t care less about how the food looked or even tasted – as long as it was food, he’d eat it.
His tray loaded with enough food for three, Terry faced the mess hall, looking for a place to sit. There was a small table in the corner, completely empty.
With force of a long-standing habit developed in Krieger, he headed for this empty table, ignoring the curious looks from the others in the hall.
“Lieutenant!” Someone called out behind him.
“Huh?” Lawrence stopped, cautiously looking around. They didn’t mean him, did they?
“Over here!”
He turned towards the source of the call. At a table almost on the opposite end of the hall, was Talon and Rhe’dhi… and another Kilrathi.
Weaver frowned. Even from this distance, he could plainly see that this second Kilrathi was wearing a Confed uniform. Whoever he was, Terry concluded, he was probably worth talking to. Besides, he reminded himself, I’m supposed to try and get to know other people now.
Carefully angling his way between the tables, Weaver continued looking curiously at the Kilrathi. Unlike Rhe’dhi and Hharak, his fur wasn’t of a single tone. The face and forehead were tawny, with brownish flecks throughout; his muzzle and mane were a pristine white interspersed with thick black stripes. There was about him a certain air of authority. This peculiar aura had been noticeable around Hharak, too – only about this stranger it was much stronger. Whoever he is, Lawrence thought, he’s used to being in command.
“I know this is the mess hall, Weaver, but we only bite food – so there’s no reason to avoid us.” Talon admonished him with a grin.
Terry grimaced. “Well, old habits die hard, you know.” He put his tray down opposite the strange Kilrathi, and sat down. “I can’t even remember when I last willingly had company while eating.”
“Yeah, but you also never flew with a wingman – and that didn’t work out too badly, did it?”
“No, it worked out great, actually.” Lawrence replied, grinning at Rhe’dhi. “In fact, I think I’m going to request a transfer to combat status. Hopefully, I’ll be able to contribute more to the war effort… and my friends… than just testing Epees.”
He turned again towards the stranger. It was no wonder he bore that air of authority, Weaver realised. He’s a Colonel. But why is he in the Confed Space Forces? Rhe’dhi and Hharak both remained in their own Armed Forces, even though they flew for the Confederation.
“Oh… uh, this is Colonel Ralgha nar Hhallas, callsign Hobbes.” Captain Burkheimer told him, suddenly realising that he forgot about making the introductions. “Colonel.” He added, looking respectfully at the Kilrathi. “This is Weaver.”
“These young cubs has just been telling me about the Krak’ni’hra’s recent exploits, and yours in particular, Lieutenant. I am most pleased to meet you in person.” Ralgha spoke, astonishing Weaver with clear, unaccented English. Only the deep, purring tone gave any indication that this was not a Human voice.
Lawrence looked at Hobbes with even greater curiosity. How long has this Kilrathi been serving the Confederation? Thus far, Weaver had not noticed any way to accurately guess a Kilrathi’s age just by looking at him. But if Rhe’dhi’s respectful behaviour was any indication, then this Hobbes must be as old – or older – than Hharak had been. Indeed, Rhe’dhi seemed more than a bit awestruck in Ralgha’s presence.
“So you’re going back into combat, are you?” Talon asked.
Weaver nodded, busy shovelling food into his mouth. It turned out to taste a lot better than it looked. Not great, but acceptable… though he still couldn’t figure out what exactly it all was. The white grains were quite obviously rice, and while he couldn’t tell what animal it came from, he was quite certain that the reddish-brown stuff was in fact meat. It was the green stuff that defied all identification however – if they were vegetables, they were of a kind he’d never seen before. But of course, the Confederation got its supplies from such a wide range of planets that one couldn’t possibly expect to know what it all was. The green… objects… could even be some sort of fungus. Whatever they were, though, they seemed quite edible. With his fork, Terry picked up as many as he could at one time and crammed them into his mouth.
“Colonel Taggart will be very happy about that. The Admiral would probably kill him if you didn’t transfer.”
Lawrence stared at him, trying to swallow the food faster than his throat would allow. “What?” He finally choked out.
“Well, it took quite a bit of effort to get Admiral Tolwyn to let the Lancelot go out to look for you. Two hours of repeating various promises, to be precise.”
“Promises? Two hours?”
“Well, not quite two hours, and he did repeat himself a lot.” Burkheimer chuckled, shaking his head. “But you should’ve heard them. I think all he really promised in the end was that you would return to combat flying… but the threats…” he exchanged an amused glance with Ralgha.
“Threats?” Weaver exclaimed.
“Oh, you’d have to have been there to believe it, Weaver. We did mention a Kilrathi strike force bearing down on the jump point a several times, but…”
“Colonel Taggart made up a Kilrathi strike force?” Lawrence asked, disbelieving. That wasn’t exactly a harmless lie, and he was amazed that Paladin would go that far.
“What do you mean, made up?” Talon replied with wide-eyed innocence. “There was a Ralatha and a Drakhri – that constitutes a strike force. I’m not sure if Tolwyn would have been willing to commit the destroyer even then, but Paladin got some of his friends to put on a little show of support.” He glanced meaningfully at Ralgha.
“But you don’t even know me, Colonel!”
Colonel Ralgha inclined his head in acknowledgement. “I do know Colonel Taggart, however. I have known him for ten years, in fact. If he says that you are worth risking a destroyer – I do not need to know you to believe him.”
“Well, whatever your reasons, sir, thanks. But I must say, I am curious as to how you and Colonel Taggart got to know each other.”
Ralgha turned away, as if his eyes could actually see into the distant past. “When I… joined… the Confederation, in fifty-five. Together, we coordinated the strategies of the Confederation with the actions of the Kilrathi Rebels on Ghorah Khar. And we had worked together many a time since. I would trust the Colonel with my life.”
“So would I.” Weaver said without any doubts – much to his own surprise. Then he grinned. “Come to think of it, I already did.”
* * *
“Come in.” Colonel Taggart said, without looking up.
The door opened, admitting Weaver into the room. Seeing that Paladin was busy, Terry waited quietly, looking about the room curiously. Fancy, he decided.
Over-done, he soon corrected himself. He wasn’t quite sure what sort of visitors these temporary duty offices usually had, but the place was distinctly un-military. If it wasn’t for the fighter patrols flitting past the window every once in a while, one could even think he was on a luxury liner of some sort. And that just didn’t seem right to Weaver. On a carrier, everything should look and feel military, he thought. Well, maybe not exactly ‘should’. But the place shouldn’t pretend to be a luxury liner, either. It just seemed utterly pointless.
“Sir?” He finally asked after two or three minutes, with Paladin still giving no indication of having noticed him.
“I know you’re there, lad.” Colonel Taggart replied in an amused tone. “Just give me time ta finish this, will ye?”
Terry shrugged, and waited as Paladin continued quickly writing on a sheet of paper. Lawrence turned towards the window, gazing out into the star-lit void. Far in the distance, he could just make out a pair of fighters charging away from the Concordia. Much to his surprise, he found himself longing to get back out into space.
That was quick, he thought with a smile. Wasn’t it yesterday that I never wanted to see another fighter? Actually, he realised, it wasn’t yesterday. As a matter of fact, he slept through all of yesterday. And things always look better in the morning, he concluded with a wide grin.
“There.” James said as he signed the paper and finally looked up. “I hate paperwork, so I always try to get it out of the way quickly… what are ye grinning about, laddie?” He asked, frowning suspiciously.
“Oh, nothing, sir.” Weaver blinked, and turned away from the window. “Just thinking about flying, that’s all.”
Paladin raised an eyebrow. “Already? That was quick. But don’t you think you should first decide where you’ll be flying?”
Terry grinned. “What’s there to decide, sir? You already promised the Admiral that I’d request a transfer into combat… I’d hate to disappoint you.”
Colonel Taggart frowned at him. “I see ye’ve been talking to those three scamps, eh? Look, I don’t want you to transfer just because of a promise I…”
“No, it’s all right, sir.” Lawrence interrupted him. “I’d already decided that I would do so even before I met them.”
“Ah.” Paladin grinned. “Well, that’s the best news I’ve heard all day. I’m glad to see that at least in that aspect, the mission wasn’t a failure.”
Weaver nodded thoughtfully. “In that aspect, it was more of a success than you could possibly imagine, sir. I’ve figured out exactly what I’m going to do now.”
“Oh?” James asked, his right eyebrow shooting up again as he heard fervent notes ring in Weaver’s voice.
Terry grinned widely. “I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise. You’ll find out when Admiral Tolwyn does.”
“Well, just be careful, lad. The man does outrank you… quite a bit, in fact. You can request anything, but what he grants you is an entirely different story.”
“I know, sir. But if he doesn’t grant me this, I… I don’t know what I’ll do.”
“Och, I don’t like the sound of that. It seems like the Admiral has a bit of a surprise coming.” Colonel Taggart said, rubbing his beard with one hand. What is the lad up to, he wondered. “But first, you’ve got some talking to do.” He finally said, changing the topic. “After all, I’m not the only one with reports to write. And I think you could start off by telling me exactly what happened out there.”
“I’m not sure if you’ll believe me, sir… because I don’t believe it myself.” Lawrence said quietly, moving towards the window. His gaze fell upon the distant stars as his thoughts flew back to Epsilon Prima. “After you jumped, I decided that I might as well get some sleep. And that’s exactly what I did. When I woke up though, I found him staring at me.”
“Him?”
“The Drakhri pilot. Actually, I didn’t just wake up – he woke me up. He could’ve killed me… but he woke me up instead.
“It only gets more unbelievable later on. I told him that I was waiting for someone, and that I would like to wait until you arrive before fighting him. And… he accepted that.” Weaver half-turned, staring at Paladin. “So I fell asleep again. Would you believe that? I fell asleep with a Kilrathi just metres away from me.”
The Colonel stared back, wide-eyed. “Well, I never thought I’d see the day… go on.”
“There’s not much else to tell, really. He woke me up again when the Hha’ka – that’s the name of the Ralatha – contacted him. The deal we had was that if his ship came first, I would have to fight even if you hadn’t shown up yet. So, I made myself ready… got some good advice from him, too. Anyway, that was when you finally showed up. Just in time, too.”
Paladin looked very thoughtful now. “I think you’re going to have to omit some of the details from the written report, lad. Confed HQ would have a collective apoplexy if they heard that their pilots take advice from the Kilrathi. Oh, what did he tell you, by the way?”
“Well, it’s sort of private.” Weaver replied with a thin smile. “But mostly, we discussed the psychological implications within the Kilrathi Creed of Service. You know, sir, I’m actually starting to understand them… a bit, anyway.”
“The Kilrathi?” The Colonel asked, looking at him quizzically. “Don’t you think you should give Humans a chance first?”
Lawrence shrugged. He was willing, but he wasn’t sure that he’d have time to do that. “We’ll see how it goes.”
James looked at him silently. What was that kid up to? He glanced at his wristwatch. “Well, whatever the case, we can discuss things later. Right now, we’ve got an appointment with the Admiral.”
“Let’s go then.” Terry replied. He was rather nervous, but also very eager. So much depended on this meeting…
Paladin opened the door, and they left the room. The corridor outside was rather empty – but then, it usually was. People only moved about in between shifts, so with the exception of the occasional pilot returning to the barracks after his flight, the Concordia seemed deserted right now.
“I’ll tell you, Weaver, I was damned relieved to see ye alive, though. When I saw that destroyer outside the window, I thought you must already be dead. And I still can’t believe how it was that you survived.” Colonel Taggart told him as they swiftly moved along the hallway.
“YOU were relieved?” Weaver replied with a slight grin. “I can’t even begin to describe how relieved I was. Had you come five minutes later, I would be dead, you know.”
“Aye. And given all the delays we had, it really is amazing that we managed to get there in time. It seems to me that everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. Did Talon and Rhe’dhi tell you of the engine troubles we had on our way to the Concordia? No?” Paladin continued when Terry shook his head. “Well, they nearly gave out on us. It’s just lucky that the Concordia had Broadswords patrolling the jump point – they pulled us along on their tractor beams. Not to mention that we wouldn’t have found the Concordia in the first place, if they hadn’t been around.”
“It seems to me, sir,” Lawrence said thoughtfully as they waited for a lift to open up. “That this whole mission was one spectacular failure.”
“Don’t ye go thinking like that, lad.” James admonished him. “It’s true that we didn’t find any survivors… but there probably wasn’t any.” He sighed. “I’m afraid the Admiral was right – there was no point going out there. But we did it, and we did it damned well. Certainly, the Kilrathi aren’t too pleased about the amount of damage we inflicted. That Ralatha especially, is going to bother them a lot. So, even though we didn’t rescue anyone, we might have helped avenge them.”
“Yeah, maybe… but we lost Hharak. It’s strange – you know, I saw a man die right before my eyes on that very day when I got Admiral Tolwyn’s message. He’d been flying on my wing. I didn’t give a damn. Hell, I don’t even know his name. But now, with Hharak… I do care.”
“That’s good.” Paladin replied. “You’re supposed to care. Maybe that makes his sacrifice worth it.”
“It was so close, though. If those Drakhri had come a few minutes later, we would have all jumped out safely.”
James patted him on the shoulder as they exited the lift. “But they didn’t. There’s no changing it, so try not to think about it. You know, I’ve been a pilot for more than twenty years… I’ve seen my fair share of casualties. At first, I used to wonder like you are now – what if it had happened differently? What if that laser missed, or what if that missile had been just a bit slower? Eventually though, I finally realised that it’s pointless to think like that. You can’t change things.” He grimaced. “It’s war, so everyone eventually loses someone they know. Everyone goes through these thoughts. The funny thing is what happens when they finally realise what I just told you. Many people at that point decide that they’re better off forgetting about that person altogether.” He shook his head. “It doesn’t work that way though. Remember that – or rather, remember Hharak.”
“I wouldn’t even think about forgetting him.” Lawrence replied. “I mean, I didn’t know him very well, but he was a noble person. Did you Rhe’dhi tell you what Hharak’s last words were?”
“Aye, he did.” Paladin told him. “I was surprised a bit, to tell the truth. But really, I shouldn’t have been surprised. The Kilrathi Rebels have chosen our side, and they are as loyal to the Confederation as the other Kilrathi are to the Empire… maybe even more so.”
Weaver nodded. “I think so too. What I want to know though, is if the Confederation will be loyal to them.”
“Now that Deneb’s gone? Yes, I’m also worried. If the Kilrathi attack the Vega sector, I’m afraid Confed HQ won’t see much point in protecting the Rebels. Hopefully, Admiral Tolwyn will, though.”
“I certainly hope so.” The Lieutenant replied with an odd look on his face.
“Here we are.” James told him, pointing to a door ahead of them. He grinned. “Are you ready for whatever it is you’re plotting?”
Lieutenant T E Lawrence closed his eyes, taking a deep breath. He opened his eyes again. “Ready.”
“Well then…” Paladin shrugged, and pressed a button beside the door.
“Enter.” Said the unmistakeable voice of Admiral Geoffrey Tolwyn. The door slid open, revealing what seemed to be the very anti-thesis of the opulent temporary duty office. Everything here was as military as it could be. Except perhaps the messy pile of papers on the desk. Clearly, the Admiral was a busy man, Weaver decided as he looked around. Papers on the desk, shelves full of disks, several status displays on one wall, including what appeared to be the Concordia’s radar display. This wasn’t just Tolwyn’s office – it was his very own headquarters.
The man himself was standing at the window, gazing at the stars. With his tall, stiff frame and close-cropped grey hair, Geoffrey Tolwyn looked and moved like the archetypical Admiral. That is to say, while most people have their spines made of somewhat flexible compounds, his was clearly built of steel. Managing to look regal even in his plain duty uniform, he seemed oblivious to their presence. He continued to look through the window, his hands clasped behind his back – and his body as motionless as a statue would be.
“Ah, Colonel.” Tolwyn finally spoke without turning, and Weaver now realised that the man wasn’t looking at the stars, but at their reflections in the window. “And Captain Lawrence. Right on time.” He spoke with a distinctly British accent that sharply reminded Weaver of home.
“Uh, Lieutenant, sir.” Terry corrected him, at the same time performing a somewhat belated salute.
The Admiral turned, flashing Paladin an amused look. “You didn’t inform the young man, Colonel Taggart?”
“Well, I figured that it would sound better coming from you, Admiral.” James replied, his eyes glittering with merriment.
“Very well then.” Tolwyn inclined his head slightly, and turned towards Terry. “While modesty is a virtue… Captain… Lawrence, I can assure you that it is quite unnecessary in this particular case. You have been promoted, as of eleven hundred hours – yesterday.”
“Thank you sir.” Captain T E Lawrence replied, smiling inwardly. Personally, he didn’t much care for rank. It made dealing with his superiors easier though, and that was all to the good.
“Anyway. Colonel Taggart has already informed me of the outcome of his mission.” Tolwyn continued. “And he mentioned that you are considering combat duty. As you may recall, I was… rather… displeased when you asked for a transfer to the position of a test pilot. Needless to say, if you were indeed to request a return to combat, I would be more than pleased to approve such a transfer.”
“Yes, sir.” Terry replied. In fact, Tolwyn had made himself very clear on that point the last time they talked – back when Weaver first moved to test piloting. “And the Colonel is quite right – I would like to be a combat pilot again. But…” he paused, taking a deep breath. Here goes, he thought. “There is an additional request I’d like to make.”
Admiral Tolwyn raised an eyebrow, his eyes betraying the merest hint of curiosity. “Continue.”
“I’d like to… choose… my assignment.” He said, stressing the ‘choose’. Pilots were in fact almost always asked about where they wanted to be assigned – and their reply was almost always ignored. This time, he wanted to be sure of what he was getting into. He had to be.
“I see.” Tolwyn replied evenly. “As you know, rank gives certain… privileges. One such privilege for me is that I have the final say on anyone who is officially a part of the Fourteenth Fleet. Which you are. That being the case, I will not promise that you will get the assignment you want – but I am willing to give it special consideration.” He gave Weaver a slight smile. “Anyway, out with it. What particular assignment do you ask for?”
“K’arakh.”
Silence covered the room like a thick blanket. Lawrence gave Paladin a sidelong glance, and was pleased to see complete astonishment. There was something else though, shining in James’ eyes. Terry got the feeling that the astonishment wasn’t quite as honest as it seemed.
Admiral Geoffrey Tolwyn, however, did not look at all astonished. In fact, his face remained moulded into that expressionless mask. “I’m not sure you know what you’re asking for, Captain.” He said thoughtfully. “We have no military presence on K’arakh – it is defended by the Kilrathi. And they have their own military structure. What that means, is that if I grant this request – you will be completely under their jurisdiction. Are you certain you want to live on a planet populated solely by the Kilrathi?”
“I’m looking forward to it, sir.” Weaver replied. For a split second, he thought he saw satisfaction in Tolwyn’s eyes. Was he being tested? “Admiral, the Kilrathi have sent you their ships when you needed them. And now that Deneb’s been taken by the enemy, they are in grave danger. I want to go to K’arakh, because I don’t think Confed HQ is about to send a fleet there.” Terry blurted out. This wasn’t the best way to talk to an Admiral – but this seemed like the best time to be honest.
“I see.” The Admiral responded – and this time, the note of satisfaction was fully audible in his voice. He paused for a long moment, turning back towards the window. “You’ll have your request.”
Lawrence sighed with relief.
“And more.” Tolwyn continued. “As a Captain, you should be a wing commander – in charge of three or four other pilots. This… you will also get – temporarily.
“You’re quite right, you see, that Headquarters is not planning to dispatch any further assistance to the Rebel planets. I, however, would like to send them at least a shipment of fighters. What we will do then, is send you and three other test pilots from your squadron at Krieger to K’arakh to train the local pilots in the use and maintenance of these fighters.
“After three weeks, your wing will go back to Krieger. You can stay on K’arakh then – if you still want to, and if the Kilrathi will let you. Which, you should know, is doubtful.”
“Thank you sir.” Weaver replied quietly, not altogether sure he could trust himself to speak more just then. It took enough energy to resist the urge to somersault about the room. “But…” he finally added. “What about my wingmates?”
The Admiral smiled. “They’re not the ones that want to live on a Kilrathi planet, remember? I don’t see how I could possibly order them to stay there for more than three weeks.”
“Well, sir, I mean… what if they want to stay? Would you then grant their request?”
“Don’t you think you’ve been brazen enough already, lad?” Colonel Taggart threw in, almost bursting out with laughter. He had been listening to the exchange intently, hardly believing what he was hearing. In fact, Paladin was quite surprised that Tolwyn considered all this at all.
“I think this one I can still grant, Colonel.” Tolwyn replied with a smile. “Deal. If any of those pilots are willing to stay with you – and again, if the Kilrathi will let them – then I’ll be quite happy to approve their transfer on a more permanent basis. Now then. Have you any further requests?” He asked, but his tone indicated that even if this was the case, they weren’t about to be granted.
“No, sir.” Captain Lawrence answered, saluting the Admiral once again.
“Good. So tomorrow, you’ll go back to Krieger. After all, if you’re going to steal three of my test pilots – and yourself as well – then the least you can do is complete the latest Epee tests first. And I’ll send you a list of the pilots and equipment that you’re going to be taking. Dismissed, Captain.”
With a third and final salute, Terry turned and left the room. Paladin grinned widely when – after the door had already closed – they heard a muffled shout of victory. He turned to Tolwyn, who was basking in satisfaction. Taggart frowned.
“Something wrong, James?” The Admiral asked, noticing his frown.
“Just the way you gave in to Weaver’s request, that’s all. Far too quickly for my comfort.” Paladin said, raising an eyebrow. “I’m actually wondering if you didn’t by any chance manoeuvre him into this.”
“You really are getting old, my friend.” Geoff replied, all formality gone the moment Weaver left the room. “I mean, to suspect me of that? I was as surprised as you were – or rather, as surprised as you looked. And how could I have possibly predicted what he would go through out there? But,” he added, grinning smugly. “He just solved an enormous problem for me. Those Rebel-held systems are absolutely vital, even if HQ doesn’t see things that way. But had I sent any reinforcements there, they would have instantly ordered me to desist. If Lawrence goes out on a field testing assignment though, – that’s what I’m planning on putting down in my monthly report, at any rate – nobody will even bother to check where he’s going. And if I send a bit of equipment along with three other test pilots – well, who would care?” He sighed. “But the next time I decide to persuade a test pilot to transfer into combat… remind me to keep you away from him. What was it that you promised? That he would request a transfer to the Concordia… yes, I believe that’s what you said. Damn it, he would have made a great addition to the air group here!”
Paladin just smiled. “He’s better off where he’s going.”
* * *
Weaver glanced anxiously at the time display inside his helmet. They’d better hurry, he thought. The shuttle to Krieger would be departing in thirty minutes. He had no choice but to board it when the time came, of course – but he didn’t want to miss this, either. Hharak had been a good comrade, and Terry felt that he simply had to be present at the funeral to pay his last respects to the Kilrathi officer.
He looked at the coffin positioned near the end of the runway, under the star-lit horizons of space. It was purely symbolic, of course – Hharak’s body was instantly incinerated when the missile exploded. That was usually the case with these ceremonies – only rarely was the body of a dead pilot or gunner recovered.
The burial ceremony was supposed to have started at least fifteen minutes earlier – indeed, it ought to have finished by now. He looked at the time display again. In fifteen minutes he would have to get to the shuttle, whether the ceremony was finished or not.
He turned to Rhe’dhi, who was beside him. The two of them were standing a few metres closer to Hharak’s symbolic remains than the other officers that were arrayed in two rows on either side of the coffin. He tapped his wrist lightly when he finally caught Rhe’dhi’s attention.
The Kilrathi nodded, immediately understanding Weaver’s signal. “I knhowh.” Rhe’dhi told him over the suit’s comm system. “Bhat whe promiss’hedh Khoronhelh Ralgha tho waith. Hhe sholdh bhe hheer nhow. Fivh mhorr minhutss?”
“All right.” Lawrence agreed. “I guess if this takes too long, the shuttle will simply have to wait a few minutes. Hopefully, they can do that much, at least.”
“They hhav tho.” Rhe’dhi replied. Which was true, in a way. Traditionally, the commander of the air group presided over the burial ceremonies. But Colonel Devereux had asked him to add a few words of his own because she had never met Hharak. That is to say, she asked Rhe’dhi – but he didn’t feel his English was good enough for such a ceremony.
Weaver turned back to the coffin. Tomorrow, this would all seem so surreal, when he was back at Krieger. But not for long. He had been informed that great progress had been made with the Epee tests. A week at the most, before the “D” version of the Epee was officially completed.
And then… K’arakh.
He blinked. At the very edge of visibility, a small speck had appeared – or at least he thought it did. The speck was only marginally brighter than the black vacuum around it. Whatever it was though, seemed to be moving towards the carrier, because it was rapidly becoming bigger and brighter.
“Fhighthers.” Rhe’dhi told him. And indeed, as the speck – or rather two specks – got closer, it became obvious that it was simply two Rapier class fighters returning from a mission.
Lawrence sighed with relief. Colonel Ralgha was back from his patrol.
The two fighters must have been flying on afterburners, for it only took a few moments before Weaver could actually see the Concordia’s lights reflecting on their green-painted surfaces. Finally, the two ships decelerated, veering towards the second of the ship’s two runways.
The first Rapier swept past, heading into the hangar. Moments later, the second ship followed its leader. Terry thought he saw black scores on the fighter’s wings as it charged past them – which would amply explain Ralgha’s delay.
And finally, they saw a suited figure emerge from the hangar and quickly move towards them. The figure’s size dispelled all doubts – the Kilrathi officer was here at last.
“Very well.” Said Colonel Devereux, her voice blurred not only with a thick Belgian accent, but also with emotions. “It is time to begin.” She sighed. She had been the commander of the Concordia’s air group for several years now, and prior to that she had commanded the air group on a different carrier – but this was the one aspect of the job that she never managed to get used to. Saying farewell to someone, consigning them to the vacuum of space, wasn’t easy even if one didn’t know the person.
“We are here today to bid farewell to a fine and noble warrior.” She continued. “I cannot claim to have known Hharak nar K’arakh, the Khantar aboard the TCS Krak’ni’hra. But I do know that he had always performed his duties flawlessly. Even in his death, he acted to save his comrades from a similar fate.” She nodded towards Weaver, who took a step forward.
“There is only one person here who knew Hharak nar K’arakh for any proper length of time.” He said, glancing towards Rhe’dhi. “But he has asked me to speak in his stead.”
Terry stood silent for a moment. “I think what I will remember the most about Hharak is his final words.” He continued. “‘Ek’rah skabak erg Nak’tara’ – ‘For the glory of Earth’.”
He paused again, looking at the soldiers standing near him. “Never did I think that I would hear a Kilrathi say that. But Hharak was as much a soldier of the Confederation as any of us – perhaps even more so. I will do everything I can to ensure that his sacrifice is not wasted.”
Now comes the part that’ll shock them, he thought with a wry smile. Or at least would shock them, if they understood. He turned to Rhe’dhi, who nodded. Together, they stepped up to the coffin. Of the other officers present, only Ralgha nar Hhallas, Paladin and Colonel Devereux knew what they were planning. And only Ralgha truly understood. Then again, Weaver thought, Talon will probably understand too. Or at least, he might.
Standing side by side, less than a metre away from the coffin, they sank to their knees.
“Do you remember?” Rhe’dhi asked, broadcasting the words on an unused comm frequency.
“Yeah, I remember the words. Let’s do it.” Terry replied, feeling the eyes of the crowd on him. He switched his suit’s transmitter back to the main frequency.
“Nhe’k ka, adh nhe’nara maks nhe’rakh ek hha’ka, Baka Hharak nar K’arakh.” They said in unison, Weaver rather relieved that he managed to make his pronunciation at least similar to Rhe’dhi’s. He’d been practicing all morning, under Rhe’dhi’s supervision. “N’ikh, n’hakh uta maks ka rah nhe’rakh.” They concluded, lifting their heads up – exposing their throats in the traditional Kilrathi gesture of utter and complete submission. Symbolically, they were offering their lives to Hharak – or rather his memory. It was thus that the Kilrathi traditionally honoured their fallen heroes.
Finally, they lowered their heads again. Slowly – reluctantly – they got up and walked back to Colonel Devereux.
“His death is the Confederation’s loss.” She said quietly once they had returned to their places. “This warrior is not the only one who has died in the line of duty. Death is a fear that each of us must face, every day aboard this ship – and indeed, everywhere that this war has reached. But we cannot forget why we are here, or what we are fighting for. Many fine people – not only Humans – have given their lives for our cause, and we will continue to fight… in their memory.”
As her last words vanished into silence, the coffin rose ponderously on its anti-grav units. Slowly, it drifted out beyond the carrier.
Somewhere behind them, seven Confed Marines lifted their rifles to their shoulders, and fired off a blast. The tiny streaks of energy fled into the void, far beyond the lonely coffin.
A second round followed the first. Terry could hardly see the coffin now.
The third, final round of fire came speeding above them. Like one, the Marines turned and marched off the runway. It was odd to see them like that, walking soundlessly in perfect formation.
Another minute passed, and the other officers now walked away towards the hangar. Terry looked at the time display inside his helmet – he was late. He tapped Rhe’dhi on the shoulder. For the last time, they turned their backs upon Hharak, and marched away.
* * *
“Weaver!”
Terry turned around, stepping back off the shuttle ramp.
“You fool, you realise what you just did?” Captain Burkheimer demanded. He didn’t seem angry though – just curious.
“Yeah, I do.” Lawrence replied. “I think it was rather appropriate to give Hharak that honour, after he gave his life for us.”
“That ceremony is a lot more important than you think, Weaver.” Talon explained patiently. “It’s an oath. You swore to fight anyone who would insult Hharak’s memory.”
“Yes, I know.”
“And,” Burkheimer continued relentlessly. “Because he was the master of his family – you essentially swore to help his family whenever they need you!”
Terry couldn’t help grinning. Did Talon really think that he would swear an oath in a foreign language without first checking what he was actually promising? “Yes, Rhe’dhi and Ralgha explained the ceremony to me in great detail. I knew exactly what I was doing.”
“And they explained that short of the Oath of Allegiance to the Clan, this is the most binding oath you could take?”
“Yes.”
Talon grinned. “Well, as long as you knew what you were doing. Well done.”
“Thanks.” Captain Lawrence replied with a smile. “Now if you don’t mind, I’d better get going. I can hear the shuttle pilot preparing to explode in there.”
He turned and ran up the ramp, sitting down in the nearest seat and trying to ignore the irritated looks shot at him by the other passengers.
“Better strap yourself in good, kid.” The pilot yelled from the cockpit as the main doors closed. “Cause I’ve gotta make up the lost time.”
Moments later, the shuttle burst out of the hangar, tearing away from the runway. For a minute or two, Terry looked at the screen above his head, watching the TCS Concordia rapidly disappearing into the vast horizons of space. Then he sighed contentedly, leaning back into his seat. Lulled by the quiet hum of the shuttle’s engines, he didn’t take long to fall asleep.



Epilogue
Good pilot, Weaver thought as he turned the page. He was sitting in the bar at Krieger Station. Having just arrived an hour ago, he was tired, but certainly not sleepy. His exhaustion, however, had dissipated the moment his squadron commander – soon to be his former commander – handed him a packet of documents that had been prepared even before he got to Krieger. Apparently, when Admiral Tolwyn decided to do something, he did it quickly.
And so it was that Captain Terry Lawrence found himself sitting now in the nearly-deserted bar, looking at the files of the officers that would be going with him to K’arakh. The files were considerably shorter than they should have been – which didn’t surprise Weaver in the least, given his low rank – but still provided enough information to give him an idea of whom he would be dealing with. It was a curious experience, though. These pilots were all from Terry’s squadron, and he knew that he must have flown with them a hundred times over, if not more. Yet the names meant nothing to him. As far as he was concerned, these might have been people he’d never seen, people that had lived somewhere on the other end of the universe.
That was one of the reasons why he was glad that Tolwyn made him come back to Krieger first, before going to K’arakh. Spending a few days here – getting to know people he should have already known well – would help him fill in the blanks that had formed in his memory over the years.
He flipped another page, and raised his eyebrows in surprise. A Captain. He wasn’t expecting to be in command of anyone higher than a Lieutenant – it didn’t seem to make sense, to be in command of an equal. Yet, here she was. A test pilot for over three years now, she seemed to have an exceptionally broad range of fighter qualifications. Light fighters, bombers… she’d flown them, and everything in between.
Ah, that explains it, he thought as he read on. Apparently, she had also tested two captured Kilrathi fighters. Yes, she would be useful on K’arakh…
The door opened, and a young woman entered. She looked exhausted, barely managing to get up to the bar and sit down beside Weaver. She was dressed in a well-worn flight suit, dirty enough to make Terry wonder how long she had been in it. And yet, somehow she looked familiar. Though her long, black hair was now tangled and matted with sweat, and though her delicate face bore only that bleak look of someone who remains conscious through sheer willpower… there was still something familiar about her.
He frowned, trying to remember if he’d met her before. It was no use, of course. His memory was completely blank when it came to Krieger.
The bartender handed her over a drink, which she sipped gratefully without even noticing Weaver – and in fact, without noticing the bartender.
“Tough day, Captain?” Lawrence asked, noting the rank insignia on her flight suit.
“Yeah, Weaver. Of course it was a tough d… Weaver?” She blinked, staring at him in surprise. “Where the hell have you been?”
“Well, it’s nice to see you too.” He replied, taken aback.
“Sorry.” She said with a rueful smile that – almost – restored some life to her face. “It’s just that since you disappeared, it seems like I’ve been living in those bloody Epees. We’re getting there, though. They say that they’ve found that glitch in the control system… but too late. Much too late.”
“There was another… accident?”
“Yep.” She replied, her tone indicating that she didn’t expect him to give a damn. Slowly, she took another sip from her glass. “Biggest one so far. Seven people died – the Epee pilot lost control as he flew into the hangar.”
“Sorry to hear that.” Terry told her.
The Captain frowned, surprised by his candid tone. She took another look at him, and frowned again. There was something different about him, she realised.
“So where have you been?” She finally asked, noticing that he wore a Captain’s insignia. Wasn’t he a Lieutenant, the last time they met? Yeah, of course he was.
“Oh… here and there. If it makes you feel any better, I spent the last few days flying a broken Ferret, and a Scimitar which was probably older than me.”
“Yeah. Well, at least you didn’t have to test that death trap.”
“But they… they don’t shoot at you when you’re testing fighters.” He replied quietly.
“You were in combat?” She looked startled.
“I was.”
“Then I guess you were worse off than me. Why’d they take you into combat though?”
“They had their reasons, Captain…” Lawrence paused. “Hey, listen. What is your name, anyway?”
She rolled her eyes. Twenty-ninth time I’m telling him, she thought… but he’s never actually asked about it before – usually, she just told him, exasperated by his inability to remember. “Captain Sophia Alberdi.”
Terry blinked. He looked down at the paper in front of him. Yep, that’s the one. He looked back up, at her. “Well… then… I’m really glad to meet you, Captain Alberdi.”
And he truly meant it.

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I want lots and lots of comments this time
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. In fact, this would be a very good time to comment on the story as a whole.
 
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Dralthi5

Spaceman
A good way to end a good story, Quarto. The "cameos" of Hobbes and Angel was neat, too. And I did like the way the ending paralleled (sp) the beginning, with what's-her-name entering the bar and talking with Weaver. And you gave her a name, finally, I see.

You did a good job of transforming Weaver's character, making him more three-dimensional.

I liked it a great deal, but now I need to go work on my story. I'm far from done.
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If I'm locked on, there's no such thing as evasive action!
 
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klaus

Spaceman
This was one good story.
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Now you have to be careful that someone doesn't copy and paste it into an anthology book without giving you proper credit.
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And laddie, get on with that second book!
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The WC Source Code Release Project needs you!

"This matter winds itself ever in new riddles.", Faramir - The Lord of The Rings

"...we follow the sun, we follow the sun, we follow the sun..."
 
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Quarto

Unknown Enemy
I don't think they could do that, Klaus
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. Mainly because this would be at least 250 pages, in print. Thus, it wouldn't fit into any anthology book. Besides, no one wants to make anthology books about WC stories
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Yes Dralthi5, she finally has a name. Took me a good few minutes of prowling through the Spanish version of Yahoo! to find one that I liked
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Thanks for all the comments, guys
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Dralthi5

Spaceman
Is that how you come up with names?
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I just make up my names (that is, when I haven't name my characters after someone I know or have known).

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If I'm locked on, there's no such thing as evasive action!
 
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Quarto

Unknown Enemy
Oh, I come up with names in all sorts of ways. Sometimes they just *pop* into my head and I use them. For example, when Weaver first ran into Rhe'dhi, the feline was supposed to say I h'amh rhe'dhi (as in, I am prepared) - and suddenly, the feline had a name
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.
Other times, I look around me, at newspapers, at the internet and so on, and if I see one I like, then I use it. Sometimes I even take the ones I don't like, just for good measure
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Other times still, my character names are based on historical people names. This option however, is used only rarely. In this book, once.
 
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Dralthi5

Spaceman
Historical? Really? Who in this story?

I, sometimes, use historical names, as well. In T&C, Sertorius is named after a famous Roman soldier (I believe, he may have been an orator or a politician) while Admiral Halsey in BOB is named after William Frederick Halsey, an American admiral during WW2.

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If I'm locked on, there's no such thing as evasive action!

[This message has been edited by Dralthi5 (edited July 16, 2000).]
 

Quarto

Unknown Enemy
Well, who do you think?
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I mean, how many characters did I create for this story? Sophia's name came from the 'net, the Kilrathi have Kilrathi names, Javelin and Browning are both traitors (and I don't waste time on traitors
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), and the crew of the TCS Lancelot are really just decoration. That doesn't really leave much choice, n'est-ce pas?
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JoeyRP

Spaceman
Quarto: Will there be a sequel?
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Very well done, indeed!



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<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Arial">quote:</font><HR>Turn me loose, Colonel.
This is what I live for!
<HR></BLOCKQUOTE>
 
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Dralthi5

Spaceman
Ah, Weaver. I see.
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Lawrence of Arabia. Gotcha.
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If I'm locked on, there's no such thing as evasive action!
 
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Dralthi5

Spaceman
Shaddup
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.

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If I'm locked on, there's no such thing as evasive action!
 
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Quarto

Unknown Enemy
And with that information, you should be able to guess what the title of Book 2 is
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Dralthi5

Spaceman
Uh... I should?

Didn't T.E. Lawrence write The Seven Pillars of Wisdom and Revolt in the Desert? There's my guess. Half-assed, I know, but that's the American way!
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If I'm locked on, there's no such thing as evasive action!

[This message has been edited by Dralthi5 (edited July 20, 2000).]
 
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Quarto

Unknown Enemy
Nah, don't be silly. Think biographies. What is the usual title for T.E. Lawrence biographies? You mentioned it before.
 

Dralthi5

Spaceman
Well, I told you before it was a half-assed guess!
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If I mentioned it before, then it's gotta be Lawrence of Arabia, although I don't see how'd that make sense in a Wing Commander story. I'll just have to wait and read it, I suppose.
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If I'm locked on, there's no such thing as evasive action!

[This message has been edited by Dralthi5 (edited July 21, 2000).]
 
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Quarto

Unknown Enemy
You're just plain lazy, aren't you?
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Why was it exactly that T.E. Lawrence was called Lawrence of Arabia?
 
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Dralthi5

Spaceman
Yes, I am lazy! Bear with me, I'm only 15!
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BTW, I have no clue what Book 2 will be called.
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If I'm locked on, there's no such thing as evasive action!
 
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