Devil's Claw

Part III of Wolf's Bane

By Thalia Drogna

This story can also be found at www.airwolf.org

Disclaimer: I don't own these characters, I'm just borrowing them.

****

"And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon;" Revelations 12:7

Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick boom.

The bomb had been well placed. It had been left in a briefcase in the entrance way to the Firm's headquarters, carefully hidden so no one would notice it until it was too late. Michael Archangel watched the firemen putting out the fire and then the forensics team raking over the remains of foyer. He persuaded them to let him look at the scene of the explosion and he was standing in the remains of the entrance hall when Stringfellow Hawke and Dominic Santini wandered in.

"You been redecorating, Michael?" said Hawke, taking off his aviator sunglasses as he entered the dark interior of the former entrance way. Everything around them was soaked with water and charred black from the explosion and fire.

"Very funny, Hawke. I suppose that's your idea of humour," replied Archangel.

"What happened?" asked Hawke.

"Someone thought it would be a good idea to send me a message," said Archangel. "Two agents are dead and six people are in the hospital." It was only luck that meant that Archangel had not arrived at the office at the usual time that morning, otherwise he would have been walking through the foyer at the very moment the bomb went off. There had been an accident on his usual route to work so his driver had taken a longer way round.

"Some message," said Dominic. "Don't they know how to pick up a telephone?"

"Apparently not. What are you doing here anyway? I'm assuming that this isn't a social call," said Archangel.

"We came shopping for the Lady," said Hawke.

"Give your list to Marella, she'll make sure you get what you need," said Archangel. "Was there anything else?"

"You didn't tell me that you were the one who brought in Kira Krischkov," said Hawke. Archangel stopped looking at the bombsite and turned to glare at Hawke. "Marella told me," said Hawke, interpreting Archangel's look correctly.

"Well, she shouldn't have. It's my problem, I'll deal with it."

"I guess Marella thought you might be able to use our help," said Hawke.

"You offering me help, now that's a new one," said Archangel. Hawke said nothing; he just looked at Archangel. "You're still not meant to be flying, how are you going to help?" asked Archangel.

"Dr Kingsley gave me the all clear this morning," said Hawke.

"Its just as well, I need him back at work," said Dominic.

"I don't think you can help me on this one, Hawke," said Archangel.

"Hey, you've got to be kidding," said Dominic, "this has to be Kira's Army again, and you're telling me you can't use some back up from the Lady?"

"There's no proof that it was Alia Kirschkov who did this, Dominic," replied Archangel. But he had immediately wondered if Kira's Army had anything to do with the bomb when he arrived at the scene that morning. He wasn't the only person in the building who a criminal held a grudge against, but this had the feeling of Kira's Army about it. It was meant to send a message. The Firm was not invincible, it could be broken, it could be destroyed, it could be infiltrated. A bomb was indiscriminate, it didn't care who it killed, it may have been targeted at him but they knew it would kill others too.

"Yeah," said Hawke, "no proof, but you know who it was. Just like you knew it was Mannen who hacked those files."

"And Alia likes her bombs," said Dominic. He was remembering how Kira's Army had blown up a Santini Air helicopter, killing Everett who was working on it at the time.

"I can't take a hunch to the committee," said Archangel. "I may have brought Kira Krischkov in but I also sat through her trial and sentencing. She had her day in court and everything was completely legal, East Germany was pleased to be rid of her."

"Well Alia and Richter don't see it that way," said Hawke.

"They've got some guts to attack the Firm, that's for sure," said Dominic.

"We have our agents working on it," said Archangel in that impenetrable way he had of telling people when they had got all the answers from him that they were going to get.

"You know where we are, Michael," said Hawke.

He turned to leave and Santini shrugged and followed Hawke back into the daylight. Marella was outside talking to some of her fellow agents but broke off when she saw Hawke and Santini approaching.

"You've seen Archangel?" she asked. Hawke and Dominic nodded. "We'll certainly be revising our security protocols after this," said Marella.

"I've heard that before," said Hawke.

"Yes, after someone stole one of our helicopters," said Marella looking straight at Hawke. Hawke just smiled.

"How's El Blanco taking it?" said Dominic in a hushed tone, indicating Archangel with a thumb.

"Not well," said Marella. "The two agents were in Michael's section. I went through training with one of them. Michael knew both of them well. It's hard when you're sure it was meant to be you lying on the slab in the morgue."

"Do you think it was Kira's Army that did this?" asked Hawke.

"Archangel isn't the only one with enemies, but it was timed to go off when Michael would usually be arriving at the building. I think it's a strong possibility it was meant for him," said Marella. Typical, thought Hawke, never expect a straight answer from an agent of the Firm. It was the closest that he was going to get to a yes.

"We need you to get us some things," said Hawke and handed Marella the list.

Marella read the crumpled piece of paper that Hawke had handed to her, "Are we expecting world war three?" she asked.

"I don't know. You tell me," said Hawke as a reply.

"I'll arrange this for you. You can come and pick it up tomorrow," said Marella.

"Come on Dom, let's go home," said Hawke.

"Yeah, some of us have real work to do," said Dominic. Marella didn't rise to the bait.

Hawke and Dominic walked back to the jet ranger painted like an American flag that belonged to Santini Air. It was sat next to one of Archangel's white helicopters and looked slightly garish beside the monotone of the white aircraft.

"So are we expecting world war three?" asked Dominic.

"Maybe," said Hawke as he climbed into the helicopter and put on the headset. "I know one thing, I'd rather be prepared for it if we are."

"I'll be pleased when we can forget about all this stuff and get back to the business of making movies. At least when people shoot at us on the set they're firing blanks," said Dominic as Hawke started up the engines and lifted off.

"What's the matter, don't you like flying Airwolf?" asked Hawke, half teasing, half serious.

"Sure I like flying her, she's our baby, but she attracts trouble every time we take her up," said Dominic. "I just prefer it when people aren't shooting at us."

"That's the nature of the business, Dom. Its just a job like any other," said Hawke.

"Yeah, well we'd better get a move on or we won't have any other job to go to," said Dominic.

****

The stunt wasn't going well, which annoyed Hawke as it was his first job since officially being allowed to fly again. Hawke was making the helicopter do things that for anyone else would have been impossible, but something always meant that the director wasn't happy. Either the helicopter didn't quite look right or Hawke was too much in the shot or he wanted something done slightly differently. Dominic could see Hawke getting more and more fed up with it as the takes went up. In a situation like this he could read Hawke perfectly, and he knew he was about to do something stupid to alleviate the boredom. Dominic always knew that Hawke's talents were wasted on doing stunts for the movies, but it was a living, and at least it was flying. Flying Airwolf was definitely something worthy of an ace like Hawke, but Dominic couldn't help thinking that life would have been easier for all of them if Airwolf had never existed.

Dominic watched as the director radioed Hawke once again to tell him to do it over and waited for the inevitable. Hawke performed the stunt perfectly for the hundredth time and then sent the chopper into a steep nose dive towards the waiting camera crew. The camera men and director fled as the helicopter came speeding down towards the ground, but Hawke pulled out of the dive before he was anywhere near hitting the fleeing people and brought the helicopter in for a neat landing on the concrete. Dominic waited for Hawke to shut off the engines before he went over to the helicopter, closely followed by a seething director.

"What the hell was that?" asked the director.

"Mechanical trouble," said Hawke. "Collective jammed. Just pulled her out in time."

"Oh," said the director, fazed by Hawke's calmness and sincerity. He didn't even know what a collective was.

"We need to check that out before we can do anymore filming," said Dominic.

"Yeah, I don't think we'll get it up in the air again before tomorrow," added Hawke.

"We're behind schedule already," said the director, "this is really going to set us back."

"Hey, I'm sorry, but if String says it needs an overhaul before flying again then that's the way it is," said Dominic.

"Sure, sure," replied the director. "I guess we could do something with the stuff we already have. We'll do the chase scene tomorrow."

The director wandered off to see to other things on the set and sort out the film from the day's shooting.

"You want to knock off early?" asked Dominic.

"Nah, I'm just fed up with his whining. He got what he wanted on the third take, all those others were just because he's new at this," said Hawke.

"We're not paid to make the decisions, you and I. We're paid to fly helicopters," said Dominic.

"Yeah, well I've had enough for one day," said Hawke in a matter of fact tone.

"Okay, okay, let's go home," replied Dominic. "Just remember it's our paycheck that you're eating into."

He didn't really mind Hawke playing around; it was nice to see him back to his old self. Two months ago he'd either been too ill to fly or too tired. Flying Airwolf in Dragonville had really taken it out of him and he'd been completely drained when he came back. He had slept for most of the next week. Hawke had absolutely refused to admit that he needed more recovery time and the following week he'd turned up at the airfield for work. Dominic had told him to go home, and when he wouldn't had plonked a large pile of paperwork in front of him. Including the insurance claim for one chopper, destroyed by a terrorist bombing incident (Archangel had promised to help get that one through, Dominic didn't think the insurance company would believe him otherwise).

Hawke hated paper work, but he was determined to do something useful to help Dominic while he was unable to fly. Hawke had known that Dominic had expected him to go home when he saw the pile of papers to go through, but he was too stubborn to give in so easily. Dominic reasoned that at least if Hawke was at the hanger then he could keep an eye on him and make sure he didn't get into any more trouble. So for the next few weeks Hawke flew a desk, helped out with the maintenance, answered the phone and made coffee. He didn't enjoy all of it, but he didn't hate it as much as he thought he was going to.

This morning had been his final medical with Dr Kingsley. He had hoped that today she would give him the all clear, but had almost expected her to disappoint him. The blood tests had all come back negative, the virus was now completely dead and he knew he was feeling better in himself. His lungs had returned to normal after the pneumonia and the constant ache that came from breathing was gone. The most important thing as far as he was concerned was that he no longer felt constantly tired. He waited for Dr Kingsley to tell him what he already knew.

"Okay, you can fly again," said Dr Kingsley. Hawke allowed himself a small smile. "But I strongly recommend that you see a psychiatrist."

It was an old topic. When Hawke had been in the Firm's hospital he had been woken by bad dreams constantly until Dr Kingsley had prescribed sleeping pills so that he could actually sleep. She had told him then to seek professional help, but Hawke had refused. Later she had raised the subject again when Hawke went home, but he had been even less receptive then, thinking that the dreams would go away when he got back to his own home. They hadn't and they even seemed to be worse, happening almost every night now.

"Maybe you're right," said Hawke, defeated, "But can you find me someone who won't spout mumbo jumbo at me about repressed childhood trauma?"

"I don't know about that, for all I know it could be repressed childhood trauma, especially with your background. But I can find you someone who's good," replied Dr Kingsley. "The Firm has someone that they use on special cases like yours. She has a very high success rate and a top secret clearance, but doesn't take many patients. I'll see if she can fit you in."

Over the past few weeks Hawke had come to respect Dr Kingsley and he knew that she would do her best to help him. If anyone could find someone suitable then it was her.

Dominic flew Hawke back to his cabin, and left Hawke there to continue mending his porch. Three weeks ago some terrorists in a heavily armed helicopter had decided to play target practice outside the cabin, and while Archangel had arranged for the immediate repairs to be made, there was more that needed to be done. Hawke was reasonably handy with a saw so had taken on the repairs himself. He didn't like the idea of having anyone else at the cabin that he didn't know, especially someone who wouldn't understand why there were bullet holes in the boards he was replacing.

While he was working his ears picked up the unmistakable whirr of helicopter blades. He stopped sawing and watched as a white chopper came in to land at the lake. It hovered over the dock and executed a perfect landing. He had noticed that the helicopter only had one occupant and he waited for Marella to get out. However, when the pilot did get out it wasn't Marella. The woman wore a white flight suit and Hawke immediately recognised her.

"Elissa," said Hawke, surprised, when the pilot stepped onto the semi- mended porch. She had been the Firm agent posted to Dragonville and had helped get him and Airwolf out of a couple of scrapes. "Archangel has you running errands now?" asked Hawke.

"No, Dr Kingsley. She thought I might help you with your nightmares," said Elissa.

"She had no right to tell you about that," said Hawke, suddenly defensive.

"She had every right, you told her that she could," replied Elissa.

"Then she must have a different recollection of the conversation than I have," replied Hawke. He threw his saw down onto the new board he'd just laid and turned to go into the cabin.

"You asked her to get you a psychiatrist. Well I'm a psychiatrist. You remember, back in Dragonville I told you my first job was as a profiler for the Firm."

"A profiler shuffles papers and analyses figures. That isn't what I need," said Hawke.

"I'm fully qualified," said Elissa.

"Yeah, but when did you last have a real patient? One who bled and hurt?" he asked her, angrily.

"I have several real patients, referred to me by the Firm's doctors. People like you who can't talk through their problems with anyone who doesn't have a top secret clearance," said Elissa.

"I think I just changed my mind about seeing anyone," said Hawke. "What guarantee do I have that you won't report everything I say straight back to Archangel?"

"Patient confidentiality still applies. Face it, Hawke, you're just making excuses. I know you don't want to talk to a psychiatrist and this is just another game that you play so you don't ever have to reveal anything to anyone about what might be going on in your head. You're not a superman, you hurt and bleed and feel, you're human like the rest of us." Elissa wondered if she had got through to him, she hoped for his sake that this hadn't been a wasted journey for her.

"Tell me about it," said Hawke sarcastically, but suddenly calm. He turned around and went into the cabin. He hadn't told her to go away so Elissa took this as an invitation to come in. Hawke went to the bar, pulled out a bottle of red wine and poured two glasses. He offered one to Elissa, which she accepted.

"So do I lie on the couch?" asked Hawke.

"No, let's just sit beside the fire," said Elissa, she wanted this to seem as much like a chat between two friends as possible.

They sat down in the two armchairs beside the fireplace. Hawke sipped his wine and tried not to look in Elissa's direction. It was as if he had something to hide, thought Elissa. Easy questions first, she'd get to the hard stuff later. "Tell me what happens when you go to sleep at night," she said.

"I get into bed, I fall asleep, I wake up screaming the place down. That's it," said Hawke.

"Tell me about the dream," she said.

"Look, it's a dumb nightmare. I'm wasting your time here, I'm sure Archangel needs you for something," Hawke protested.

"Archangel gave me the day off so that I could see you. Don't make this a wasted journey for me, Hawke," said Elissa putting some annoyance into her tone.

"Okay, okay," said Hawke, he took a sip of wine and related the circumstances of the dream, how he'd be chasing Mannen and it would all happen just as he remembered it, when suddenly he was choking, suffocating and dying. He would try to cry out for help and no one would be there. Elissa listened without interrupting as he told the story.

"Hawke, the nightmares could be a symptom of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. There are things I can do to help you get through this but only if you're prepared to talk to me."

Hawke looked into his glass of wine as if he was trying hard to find something at the bottom of it. Elissa waited patiently for him to say something, sometimes psychiatry was about silences and Hawke was someone who needed silences. Finally he spoke.

"I've had nightmares ever since I came back from Nam, and a lot of my buddies out there came back with more than nightmares to deal with. Hell, some of them never came back." He paused, took a deep breath and continued. "St. John never came back," he said more quietly. "I can deal with a few nightmares." He took a gulp of wine from his glass. "And I can deal with them on my own."

"What I'm telling you is that you don't have to," said Elissa. "If this refusal to seek help is some sort of self-inflicted punishment for the fact that you came back and St. John didn't, you don't need to do it anymore. There isn't anything for you to beat yourself up over."

"You don't know what you're talking about," said Hawke. "We're brothers, we're supposed to be there for each other and I wasn't there for St. John when he needed me."

"That's not the way I heard it," said Elissa. "The file says you tried everything to pull your brother out."

"What does this have to do with Mannen and my nightmares?" asked Hawke crossly.

"Everything. You were searching for St. John when Mannen attacked you and put you in hospital. It was as if you were abandoning St. John all over again. You couldn't help it anymore this time than you could in Vietnam, but your brain fell back into old patterns of guilt. I need to snap you out of that guilt and then the nightmares will go."

"That's ridiculous," said Hawke. "This is about Mannen trying to kill me. That's all there is to it. This has nothing to do with St. John."

Elissa opened her mouth to correct Hawke's misapprehension, but as she was about to speak a beeping sound loudly interrupted them.

"Archangel," said Hawke.

"You'd better answer it," said Elissa.

Hawke nodded and put his glass down on the table. He went to a cupboard and retrieved the Firm's scrambler briefcase and opened it on the coffee table. He picked up the receiver and pressed the correct sequence of buttons to open the channel.

"Archangel, this is Hawke. What do you want? I'm kind of in the middle of something." He didn't bother to hide the irritation in his voice.

"Do you have Elissa with you?" asked Archangel.

"Yes, she's here. Why?" asked Hawke.

"I should ask you the same question, but I don't have time. Put her on," said Archangel. He sounded worried and tired, as if he was having a long day.

"Okay," said Hawke and called Elissa over to the phone.

"Yes Michael," said Elissa. She listened to what Archangel had to say. "I understand, sir," she said and then a bit later, "yes, sir, I'll come back immediately." She put the phone down.

"I've been recalled, I'm sorry but we'll have to continue this another time."

"What's going on?" asked Hawke.

"Firm business, talk to Archangel," said Elissa.

Hawke couldn't believe how easily she had managed to switch from the caring psychiatrist to the hardened Firm agent that he had met in Dragonville.

"It would have to be pretty important for Archangel to call you personally," said Hawke, fishing for information.

"You know I can't tell you anything," replied Elissa.

"Elissa, Michael sounded worried, and he never sounds worried about anything. I've seen that man go through global crises and he never once sounded anything but calm," said Hawke with conviction.

Elissa was gathering her things up and getting ready to go. "Its Marella," said Elissa. "She's missing."

"What?" said Hawke.

"All I know is that she was flying out to meet a source and we lost contact. She didn't send a May Day signal and there is no sign of her at her last known position."

Hawke knew that Marella was a first class pilot, she wouldn't have ignored radio protocol or ditched her chopper without good reason. Hawke grabbed his jacket.

"What are you doing?" asked Elissa.

"Coming with you," replied Hawke. Over the past couple of years Marella had done plenty to help out him and Airwolf, he owed her a favour he figured. At the very least he owed her for a lift home from the hospital.

"Archangel isn't going to be pleased when he finds out that I've told you."

"Archangel can go to hell," said Hawke.

Elissa flew them back to the Firm's headquarters. She had expected Hawke to want to ask her more questions during the flight but all he had asked was whether Archangel had started a search pattern yet. He had, but she didn't know the details. She guessed that Hawke was too busy working out how to explain his presence to Archangel and whether Alia Krischkov was involved in this. Elissa would bet her life on that. It was an obvious ploy to lead Archangel into exposing his hand or even drawing him into the field where they could pick him off. She knew she had to stop that at all costs, even if it meant putting Hawke in danger in Michael's place. Deputy Director's of the Firm were hard to come by, Stringfellow Hawke could be replaced. Not easily, but there would always be someone who could be trained to fly Airwolf. Maybe not to Hawke's precise affinity with the machine, but so that they could fly the aircraft into combat with little trouble.

Elissa landed the helicopter and they were met by Archangel.

"What's he doing here?" asked Archangel angrily, pointing to Hawke.

"He insisted," said Elissa.

"And there was me thinking that you were trained in anti-interrogation techniques," replied Archangel, sarcastically. "Or did I waste all that special training on you?" He was angry; Elissa didn't need her psychology degree to tell her that. She also knew that Archangel wasn't really angry with her, more his anger was at himself for allowing something to happen to Marella. It was one thing sending an agent into the field, it was another thing when that agent disappeared performing a routine task.

"We could use his help Michael," replied Elissa.

Hawke hesitated. He had been about to chew Michael out for not telling him what was going on. Anything to do with Kira's Army was his business as far as he was concerned, he had a score to settle with Lorenz Richter. He owed him at least a couple of good punches. What stopped Hawke was how Elissa behaved towards Archangel, the relationship wasn't that of employer to employee. And Hawke had never heard Marella call Archangel "Michael" to his face.

"What's the story?" asked Hawke.

"Two hours ago Marella failed to check in on time. About ten minutes before that she dropped off radar in an area called Devil's Claw and we don't know why," replied Archangel. "There was no May Day call and no indication that she was in trouble of any kind, she just disappeared."

"Even agents of the Firm don't just disappear," said Hawke.

"Marella did," said Archangel. "I've got my people out there looking now but all reports are negative so far. Elissa, you and I are going down there to supervise the search."

"We could do with Airwolf's scanners, Michael," said Elissa.

"Okay Hawke, you can join the party," said Archangel.

"I'll get Airwolf and meet you there," said Hawke.

****

Hawke borrowed one of Archangel's white helicopters and flew to Santini Air. He left the white helicopter at the airfield, picked up Dominic and Caitlin and they flew down to the Valley of the Gods in one of Dominic's American flag jet rangers. Even now Hawke didn't trust Michael not to plant a homing beacon in the helicopter so that he could find Airwolf.

"So what happened?" asked Dominic.

"I don't know," said Hawke. "There was no May Day, they haven't found any wreckage yet and she wasn't anywhere on the course that she filed."

"That doesn't sound like Marella," said Caitlin. "Its really strange."

"Yeah," said Hawke.

"Well she can't have vanished into thin air," said Dominic.

"We'll find her," said Caitlin.

"Okay, we're coming up on the search area now," said Dominic.

"Get Elissa on the radio at the search control station for me. She can assign us a search pattern. Keep those scanners peeled Dom, we don't want to miss anything."

"In this baby? Not a chance," said Dominic laughing. The terrain was rugged and arid, it was no wonder it had been given the name Devil's Claw. Dominic radioed the search control station and asked for Elissa.

"Hawke," said Elissa. "Glad you're here, we've got nothing so far. Hopefully Airwolf's scanners will have more luck." Elissa gave Dominic the co-ordinates for the search pattern.

"We'll do out best," replied Hawke. "Airwolf out."

"Okay, they're programmed in," said Dom, "we're good to go."

"Descending to search height," said Hawke. "Caitlin, keep your eyes on that camera feed."

"Yes, sir," replied Caitlin.

"Dom, I want you to monitor the IR scope," added Hawke, although he knew it was unnecessary. Dominic understood what to do.

"On it, String," said Dominic.

Hawke was flying close to the ground so that cameras and scanners would have the maximum chance of picking up any signs of a crash. The black shadow of the helicopter flashed across the ground underneath them on the sandy soil of the desert terrain. The last time Marella's chopper had appeared on radar she had been in this area and it was the most likely place to look for her until they had some other evidence for where she might be. They swept the search area until it became too dark to see and the cameras became useless. After that they continued on infra-red heat sensors, but Hawke was worried that they could be missing something that the sensors couldn't pick up.

"We're not going to pick up wreckage with the IR," said Hawke. "Let's head back to base and see if anyone else turned up anything."

"We're giving up?" asked Caitlin, incredulously.

"No, we're just going to wait until the light gets better," replied Hawke.

"I bet Archangel's giving everyone a hard time over this," said Dominic, "I'm not sure we want to be hanging around anywhere near him."

"We did our best, the other search teams reported in over two hours ago when the light went. He can't say we didn't try," said Hawke and took Airwolf up to a more sensible height for normal flight and turned her around to head back to the search control station. He radioed ahead to let Elissa know that they were coming in and when they landed they were met by Archangel.

"Did you find anything?" he asked as Hawke climbed down from the cockpit.

"Nothing but a few startled jack rabbits," said Hawke. "We would have radioed it in if there had been anything."

"Yes, yes, I know," said Archangel. "But I had to ask."

"We got everything on film though," said Dominic, handing Archangel a CD in a case. "Just in case these tired old eyes missed something, you can get your boys to go over it too."

"Thank you, Dominic," said Archangel. "I'll see what I can do with this tomorrow. All the search aircraft have given up for the night, I suggest you do the same. We'll start again at dawn tomorrow. Elissa has collated all the pilot's reports and will be briefing everyone on where we go next."

"Anyone else get anything?" asked Hawke.

"A few pieces of metal that could be from a helicopter, nothing conclusive and too widely scattered to all be from the same craft. Basically, we've drawn a blank. She has to be out there somewhere," said Archangel with frustration.

"She's out there, Michael," said Hawke.

"Yeah. I would offer you the use of a couple of tents for yourself and your, erm, crew, but I'm assuming you don't want to leave your precious helicopter anywhere where I might be tempted to reclaim it."

Hawke folded his arms across his chest. "You got that right. We just came by to drop off the disc. We'll see you in the morning."

"I hope that breakfast is going to be on the Firm," said Dominic. "I'm too old for this camping out stuff."

"Hey, I think its fun," said Caitlin. "Sleeping underneath the stars, cooking on a campfire, it's so..."

"Barbaric?" asked Archangel. He was no stranger to camping out but these days he preferred a proper bed.

"I was going to say romantic," replied Caitlin indignantly.

"Come on, let's go and leave Michael to his Firm issue field rations," said Hawke, climbing back into Airwolf and putting his helmet back on. He pulled the door shut and went through the main engine start sequence. He didn't take Airwolf far away, he just put enough distance between himself and the Firm outpost that he felt comfortable. They landed and unpacked the camping gear.

Hawke found wood and built a fire. Dominic and Caitlin set up a couple of tents and rolled out sleeping bags. They sat around the fire, drinking coffee, eating and not saying much. All three of them knew that spending a night out in the desert alone was cold and dangerous. They didn't want to think about Marella crashed in the middle of nowhere, possibly hurt and probably without food or shelter. Every hour that passed meant that it was less likely that they would find Marella alive.

All of them were tired so they turned in for the night. Dominic and Caitlin climbed into sleeping bags while Hawke decided that he would spend the night in Airwolf.

"You'll never get any sleep like that," said Dominic.

"I'll be fine," replied Hawke, "I've done it before."

"Hey, if you want to wake up all stiff in the morning its none of my business," said Dominic, who headed into one of the tents.

"Night, Hawke," shouted Caitlin from inside the other tent.

"Night, Cait," replied Hawke.

In reality he knew that Airwolf wouldn't be as comfortable as being able to stretch out in a tent. But he also knew everyone else would get a better night's sleep if he and his nightmares were shut in Airwolf's sound proofed cockpit. He grabbed some blankets and made himself as comfortable as he could across the front two seats. He rolled one of the blankets up into a ball, put it behind his head, closed his eyes and slept.

He was in the warehouse, there were two terrorists on the stairs, they fired, he fired back but he was pinned. Glass flew everywhere, Airwolf had blown up the ammunition store outside and he ducked for cover. One terrorist was down, he'd shot him. Everything was happening so fast, he thought that he shot the other terrorist but it was a blur. He was at the top of the stairs, opening the door and Mannen was there laughing at him. Smoke filled the room and then he couldn't breath, he called out but no one was there. It hurt, his body was on fire and his lungs couldn't draw breath. He felt the life being pulled from him, he screamed. And he woke to the dark interior of Airwolf, the computers hummed at him and lights from the panel glowed. He wondered where he was for a moment, but then he remembered as the familiar surroundings impressed themselves upon him.

This was the safest place in the world and he was still afraid. Maybe Elissa had a point about guilt. His complete life revolved around finding St John. He was sitting in another part of that search for St John. From what he remembered about his time in hospital, he had been worried that Dominic would give Airwolf up to Mannen in exchange for his life. Hawke didn't care about his own life, he only cared about finding St John. Of course, he couldn't let Mannen have Airwolf because of what he would have done with it, but there was a deeper reason, he couldn't give up Airwolf without finding St John. If he died before that happened, who else would look for St John. Even when he'd been lying in the hospital he had asked Dominic to take Airwolf and find Mannen, because he couldn't do it. Because he was too ill, because he was dying without finding his brother. Deserting him again, as Elissa thought?

"St. John, why'd you have to let me go without you?" said Hawke to the blinking lights. "Why weren't you there when I came back for you?" He felt tears well in his eyes and he blinked them back in the darkness. They had promised to look out for each other and he had let his brother down. Mannen had let him think that he knew where St John was, to keep Hawke interested so that he would bring Airwolf to him. Archangel's investigations had turned up nothing in East Germany about an American prisoner of war named St. John Hawke. Everything had been a lie, but Hawke couldn't shake the feeling that he was missing something. Mannen had known a lot of information about the Hawke brothers, and Michael was still investigating whether he'd been right about which prison camp St. John had been in.

Hawke rearranged the blankets that he had kicked off during the dream and settled back into the pilot's seat again. He shut his eyes and tried to clear his mind. He dozed on and off for the rest of the night until the light of dawn began to creep over the horizon. He threw off the blankets, climbed out of the cockpit and started to rebuild the previous night's fire. He had managed a total of 4 hours sleep he estimated, that should be enough to keep him going, although he was going to pay for it later.

Caitlin stirred when she heard Hawke moving around. "Is it that time already?" she asked, poking her head out of the tent.

"Yeah," replied Hawke. "As soon as the light gets better we need to be out searching."

"I feel like I just fell asleep," she said, pushing her mop of red hair into some semblance of order. "In fact, I feel as bad as you look. You manage to get any sleep?" Both Dominic and Caitlin knew why Hawke had shut himself in Airwolf for the night but both knew better than to try to get the real answer out of him. Caitlin and Dominic had spent a night up at the cabin on Eagle Lake a month ago and had found out then that Hawke was having trouble sleeping. Caitlin knew he didn't like to talk about it, but she felt that she at least had to try.

"Some," replied Hawke, noncommittally. "Wake Dom will you?"

"Hey, Dom!" shouted Caitlin.

"I could have done that," said Hawke. He put the coffee pot on the camping stove and waited for Cait and Dom to join him beside the fire.

Dominic eventually emerged from his tent and complained about the early start, and then the hard ground and finally he poured himself a cup of coffee, noticed how bad Hawke looked and shut up. When everyone had had coffee, Dominic doused the fire, they packed up and stowed the gear in Airwolf. Hawke started up the engines, which only complained slightly due to the cold and they flew the short flight to the Firm's base of operations.

Elissa was waiting for them with new search co-ordinates and the data gathered from the previous day's search. Archangel stood poring over the map on the table.

"So far we've covered this area here," said Elissa, pointing to the map. "We checked out all the wreckage sightings but none of them were our missing helicopter. So we're back to square one."

"We can't have nothing," said Archangel.

"I'm sorry, Michael, but even Airwolf didn't find anything. Either we're looking in the wrong place or." said Elissa.

"Or what?" asked Archangel.

"She's not there to find," said Hawke, finishing Elissa's sentence.

"Are you saying that she didn't crash?" said Archangel.

"No May Day signal, no sign of a crash. Maybe she didn't," said Hawke.

"Then where is she?" asked Elissa.

"I don't know," said Hawke, "but there has to be something out there that will help us."

"Did you go over the scans from Airwolf?" Archangel asked Elissa.

"Yes but there wasn't anything there to help us," said Elissa.

"That was when we were looking for a crash site," said Hawke.

"You're right," said Elissa, nodding, "we should check the pictures again."

"Okay, you do that, I'm taking Airwolf up again to see if I can spot something we missed the first time around," said Hawke.

"I'm coming with you," said Archangel.

"The hell you are," replied Hawke. "If it is Alia and Richter who've got Marella, that's exactly what they want."

"Don't lecture me Hawke, you're the one who nearly got yourself killed after you ignored my advice not to go chasing after Mannen. Well it's my turn to be irrational and stubborn. I arranged the budget for that damn helicopter and I'm entitled to fly in it once in a while," replied Archangel, angrily.

"Michael, you'd be walking into a trap," said Elissa. "You know the standing general orders, Deputy Directors are not allowed to put themselves in harm's way. Let me go instead." She opened her mouth to add more but stopped herself before she gave away something that she shouldn't.

"Elissa, I need you here co-ordinating the search. It's me that they want. Just let me do this," said Archangel.

Hawke could see the genuine worry in Michael's face, and his eyes had the look of someone who was carrying a lot of guilt. Hawke could identify with that. Archangel couldn't let anyone else look for Marella any more than he could let anyone else look for St John.

"Okay, Michael," said Hawke. "Caitlin, stay here and help Elissa."

"Right, Hawke," replied Caitlin. "We'll go through the film we took yesterday and let you know if we turn anything up."

"I don't like this," said Elissa.

"I know, but if we want to get Marella back alive, I don't have any choice," replied Archangel.

"Dominic, find a flight suit for Michael," said Hawke

"Sure, String," said Dominic, "I think we've got one in just your size," he added to Archangel.

Hawke went down the checklist while Michael was kitted out in a flight suit. When everything was ready Hawke climbed into the pilot's seat and started up the engines. The rotors began to turn slowly building up speed until they were a circular blur.

Archangel and Dominic strapped themselves in and prepared for Hawke to lift off. Archangel knew from experience that Hawke didn't worry about his passenger's sensibilities when he was flying. He was prepared to hang on for dear life if necessary. Hawke was a professional though and he never used an ounce more power than was necessary for any manoeuvre. Today the take off seemed almost leisurely compared to some of the ones that he had pulled in Airwolf when he needed to get off the ground quickly. Caitlin waved to them from the ground before going back into the tent to go over the film they had taken yesterday.

"We've got a lot of ground to cover, let's hope we turn something up," said Hawke.

"Amen to that," said Archangel.

He guided Airwolf on a search pattern across an area that they hadn't searched the previous day. It seemed like hours before the radio beeped and it was Elissa.

"Caitlin and I think we may have something," said Elissa. "Devil's Claw Mine. Its disused now and there's no reason for any one to be going up there. Yesterday there was jeep parked up there. Its worth checking out anyway, it could be nothing or it could be just what we're looking for."

"Thanks Elissa," replied Hawke. "We'll check it out and let you know."

Hawke kicked in the turbos, which made the familiar roar as they ignited, and flew Airwolf towards the mine. It only took a couple of minutes to reach the mine. When they arrived Hawke disengaged the turbos and hovered over the obviously disused wooden shacks and mine shafts. Airwolf's scanners reached out into the buildings, searching for anything out of the ordinary.

"Nothing here, String, I'm drawing a blank," said Dominic. There certainly weren't any vehicles anywhere near the mine now.

"Likewise," added Archangel. "No one has been here for sometime. Elissa must have been wrong."

"Then why are there fresh tire tracks on the road?" asked Hawke.

"There are?" said Archangel, he played with the cameras for a moment trying to get a better resolution. "Got them, damn it you've got good eyes. Should have known better, Elissa is never wrong about anything."

"You sure know how to pick you agents, Michael," said Hawke.

"I thought he just picked them for their looks," said Dominic, laughing from the back of the helicopter.

"Don't let Elissa hear you say that," replied Archangel.

"I'm taking her down," said Hawke. "There's not much more we can do from up here. Dom, radio Elissa and let her know we're landing."

Elissa's reply was less than polite. "No, you are not to land. Let me get some agents to you before you set down."

"Every second counts, Elissa," replied Hawke.

"You're putting Michael in danger, Hawke," said Elissa.

"He put himself in danger," said Hawke. "He'll just have to take whatever comes with the rest of us."

"I can take care of myself, thank you," said Archangel.

"Very well, it's your call, Michael" replied Elissa.

"Yes, it is," said Archangel, pointedly.

"Just be careful when you land, some of those shafts have caused subsidence in the area," said Elissa.

"I'll set her down real gentle," said Hawke. "If we see anything, then we'll call you. Airwolf out."

Hawke deployed the landing gear and carefully set the helicopter down in front of the mine shaft. "What do the scans look like, Dom?" he asked. Airwolf had seismic sensors on board as well as the usual array of cameras. He didn't shut down the engines, if the ground wasn't safe then he might need to make a quick take off.

"No ground tremors, I think we're safe," replied Dominic.

"Okay," said Hawke and turned off the engines. "Let's go." He pulled out his gun from its holster and checked the clip. It was fully loaded, so he replaced it. He was expecting trouble and wanted to be prepared. "Dom, bring the first aid kit just in case," added Hawke.

The three men climbed out of the helicopter and walked towards the mine. They knew that the buildings were empty, Airwolf's scans had proved that, unless someone had found a way to fool the scanners, which Hawke doubted. That only left the mine. Airwolf couldn't scan very far into the ground, especially when the soil contained a sprinkling of iron ore as it did here. The metal deflected the scans. If Marella was here then she had to be in the mine somewhere.

"Why do I feel as if we're walking into the belly of the beast," said Archangel.

"An overactive imagination," replied Hawke, striding past Archangel into the gloom.

The mine was dusty and dark. The ceiling was supported by large wooden beams but they had been erected some time ago and were now exhibiting signs of age. They hadn't gone far into the shaft before they had to pull out the torches to see more than a few feet in front of them. A few metres into the shaft they came to a split in the tunnel.

"Which way now?" asked Dominic.

"I guess we flip a coin," said Hawke.

"Wouldn't it be easier to split up?" asked Archangel.

"You heard Elissa, she's going to flay me alive if anything happens to you. We're safer if we stay together," said Hawke.

"And who's going to look after you?" asked Archangel.

"I can look after myself," replied Hawke.

"So can I," said Archangel, "that's what I keep trying to tell you people."

"And I suppose that eye patch is a fashion accessory," replied Hawke.

"Okay, okay, we won't split up," said Archangel putting his hands up to show defeat.

Dominic shone his torch towards the right. "Looks like that shaft is boarded up further down, they can't be that way. Left is our only option."

"I guess we go left then," said Hawke.

The passage way continued down to the left for a short distance before it turned a corner. None of the three noticed that as they rounded the corner they passed a motion sensor. To one side of the passage way was a large room that had been cut out of the rock, and inside was a table with some chairs and a bed. On the bed lay a figure in a slightly dirty white flight suit.

"Marella!" said Archangel, moving as quickly towards her as his bad leg would allow. She lay on the bed tied up and gagged. Hawke drew his gun, he couldn't believe that Alia and Richter would leave Marella lying here for them to find without some sort of trap for them.

"Michael, wait!" said Hawke. "It's probably a trap." But Archangel was already at the bed and was reaching down towards Marella to remove the gag. And suddenly Marella had rolled over and was sat up with a gun pointing in his face. It was not Marella.

"Alia," said Michael, surprised but immediately recognising the dark haired terrorist. She was wearing Marella's flight suit and she reached up with her free hand to take off the fake gag. "What have you done with Marella?" he asked.

"Put your guns on the ground, Mr Hawke and Mr Santini," said Alia. "Unless you want to see the deputy director of the Firm loose his head." She swung her legs over the side of the bed and onto the ground and indicated for Michael to back up. He obliged until he was stood next to Hawke and Dominic against the back wall of the room. Hawke dropped his gun on the ground and Dominic followed suit.

"Lorenz," said Alia, loudly. "I have them."

"People know where we are. When we miss our radio check, they'll come looking for us," said Hawke.

"By the time they miss you, you'll be dead and we'll be long gone," said a voice from behind them. It was Lorenz Richter.

"Where is Marella?" said Archangel again.

"We'll take you to her," said Richter. "This way," he said indicating the direction they had just come from with his gun. Alia shoved her gun into Archangel's ribs and pushed him in the same direction. They walked back down the mine shaft and at the split in the mine shaft they went right and found the real Marella lying on a bed, bound and gagged, in a room off the main shaft.

Archangel ignored the guns that were pointed at him and went to Marella. He undid her gag.

"You shouldn't have come," said Marella. "It's a trap. Why did you come?" She was hot to the touch, and obviously ill.

"What have you done to her?" asked Archangel angrily.

"One of Franz's concoctions, it's a shame we couldn't salvage everything he created from the flames," said Richter. "However, we were sensible enough not to keep all of our stocks there."

"You really are the dregs of the earth, how dare you do this? She isn't important in this. It's me you want!" shouted Archangel. He undid the ropes around Marella's wrists and took out a handkerchief from his pocket to mop her forehead.

"I had to let Lorenz have some fun," said Alia.

"This game is getting old," said Hawke. "Give us the anti-viral and you can take Airwolf, she's parked outside."

"We have no interest in Airwolf, Mr Hawke, we mean for you to die this time," said Alia. "Slowly and painfully, for what your country did to my sister and for killing my friend, Franz Mannen. Archangel is coming with us, back to East Germany. He will stand trial there for his crimes against my country and my sister. I'm sure my government will be very pleased with us if we bring them Archangel."

"And I can tell you, Archangel, that East German prisons are not pleasant places," said Richter.

"I remember," said Archangel.

"We're running out of time, Lorenz," said Alia.

They pushed Archangel through the door and out into the mine shaft. Lorenz Richter covered Hawke and Dominic and backed out of the room with Alia.

"Goodbye, Mr Hawke," said Richter, and slammed the door and bolted it behind him.

The terrorists made their way out of the mine and were greeted by the sight of two helicopters coming in for a landing. Michael recognised them, it was Marella's white jet ranger and a Hind helicopter similar to the one Mannen had flown against Hawke, the Hind was armed to the teeth. The pilot of the Hind helicopter landed, jumped out and ran over to Alia. She gave him orders in German that Archangel didn't understand and then the man ran back into the mine.

"Richter, you'll fly the Hind and I'll take Archangel with me in the jet ranger," said Alia indicating the two helicopters.

"What about Airwolf?" asked Richter.

"Destroy it," said Alia. "We can't afford for Airwolf to come after us. Not now we know what it's capable of."

"It's not the machine you need to worry about, it's the pilot," said Archangel.

"Hawke won't be following us," said Richter.

"I wouldn't bet on that," said Archangel.

"Quiet, its time for us to go. Put him in the helicopter," said Alia, "and wire Airwolf with the explosives."

***

When the terrorists had left, Hawke immediately went over to Marella.

"Marella, what did they do to you?" said Hawke.

"There was a distress call, I answered it," she said only half paying attention. "It was Alia and Richter. They brought me down here. I tried to escape and I don't remember what happened after that."

"They got us, hook line and sinker," said Dominic. "That's what happened."

"Yeah," said Hawke. "You got that right." He turned to Marella. "Marella, is this the same virus that I had?"

Marella nodded, "they were talking, they said they'd lost most of the biological weapons that Mannen created in the fire Caitlin and Elissa set. They only had that left, Mannen called it Hawke's Bane."

"Marella, am I immune?" said Hawke, holding Marella by her forearms. She was the only one of the three of them that had anything other than basic medical knowledge, she was one year away from finishing her medical degree and becoming a full doctor. "Marella, am I immune?" asked Hawke again, louder this time.

"Yes, you should be," said Marella, she was trying very hard to stay awake but she didn't know how long she could hold on for.

"And Dominic?" asked Hawke.

"There's a chance that he's already infected," said Marella. Hawke looked around at Dominic.

"You mean I'm going to get sick too?" said Dominic.

"Yes," said Marella, "very probably, but we won't know for 24 hours. May be Michael too."

"Well there's nothing we can do about it here," said Dominic. "Let's get out of this place."

"Sure Dominic. Give me the first aid kit," said Hawke. Dominic undid his backpack and took out the first aid kit. It was better stocked than the average first aid kit, and was standard Firm issue. Hawke was well acquainted with it and he always hoped that he would never have to use it.

If he had to use the first aid kit it meant that something somewhere had failed.

From outside in the main shaft there was a huge explosion. Dominic and Hawke hit the ground and Marella curled herself into a ball and covered her head with her arms. The dust the explosion created permeated the air and all three of them coughed from the huge amount particles they were breathing in. Hawke went to the door when the explosion had died down, his lungs had only recently recovered from pneumonia and they were complaining about the amount of work that they had to do. He looked out through the small, square barred window in the door. He could see the end of the shaft where they had entered was now blocked off, but the door was clear.

"Cave in," said Hawke. "We're not getting out that way."

"They must have rigged the entrance with explosives so we couldn't follow them," said Dominic. "Elissa and Cait will have a hard time finding us too."

"They got what they came for," said Hawke. He moved away from the door. He'd worry about that in a minute, for the moment he needed to help Marella. "Give me the painkillers from that kit, Dom," said Hawke.

"Sure, but why?" asked Dominic.

"Because this virus hurts like hell and Marella's going to need them," said Hawke, remembering what he had gone through vividly. He'd been lucky enough to be in a hospital with all the resources that the Firm could provide to make sure he got well, Marella was stuck in a mine shaft until they could get her out. He took out the field syringe and filled it with the recommended dosage of painkiller, he found a vein on Marella's arm and injected the contents of the syringe. He hoped it would help but to be honest he wasn't sure. It did seem to, as Marella dropped into a feverish sleep and although restless she didn't seem to be in pain.

"Let's get out of here," said Hawke.

"You got my support," said Dominic, "but how do we do that exactly."

"This door look solid to you?" asked Hawke.

"Sure, solid, but a bit old. Kinda like me," said Dominic and laughed. He shut up when he saw String's expression. Two seconds later Hawke was flying towards the door in an attempt to get it to give way. It took both of them but a couple of kicks later the door fell outwards in a heap of splintered wood.

"What now, String?" asked Dominic. "We can't go back the way we came."

Hawke reached into the top pocket of his flight suit and found a lighter. He thumbed the wheel and sparks ignited to form a flame. It was a tiny light in the otherwise pitch black of the mine and it flickered gently.

"There's another way out," said Hawke. "That breeze has to be coming from somewhere."

"Great, all we have to do is find it," said Dominic.

"We better get started then," said Hawke. He set off down the shaft in the direction the breeze seemed to be blowing from. "Marella should be okay for a while."

"Yeah, the sooner we get her and us out of here the better," said Dominic in reply.

They wandered along the passage way looking for any sign of an opening, but the path continued down and showed no signs of getting near the surface. They were about to give up when the shaft turned a bend and split into two. One shaft continued down the other rose towards the surface slightly. They followed the rising shaft until they hit a dead end.

"What now?" asked Dominic.

"We go up," said Hawke.

"And just how do we do that?" asked Dominic.

"Look above you," replied Hawke. Above them was a hole in ceiling and clear blue sky showed through the opening.

"Well, that's not much use, we're never going to get through there."

"We're in a mine, there have to be some tools around here that we can use to dig ourselves out," said Hawke. He looked around and found a piece of wood and started trying to make the hole in the ceiling bigger. "This is going to take forever," said Hawke.

"I'll see what else I can find," said Dominic and went off to have a look around. He came back with a couple of picks and a shovel. "Now this is more like it," said Dominic as he handed Hawke the shovel. The two of them dug at the opening and after about 20 minutes of concerted effort, their arms hurt but the hole was looking big enough to get a person through. Hawke went back to the room where they had left Marella.

She had a high fever and was murmuring in her sleep, she didn't look good. Hawke picked her up gently and carried her back down the mine to where Dominic was waiting.

"We need to get her to a hospital, and soon," said Hawke, lying her down on the ground carefully.

"Yeah, she's not looking good. If this is what you had..." said Dominic and let the sentence trail off. He didn't have to finish, they both knew Marella couldn't last much longer.

"You first," said Hawke. "I'll pass Marella up to you."

"Me first, huh? And how am I supposed to get up there?" asked Dominic.

"I'll give you a leg up," said Hawke, putting his hands together ready.

"Okay, here goes," said Dominic. He put a foot in Hawke's hands and pushed himself off with the other. He grabbed for the edge of the hole, got it and transferred as much of his weight to the ground as he could. He scrabbled for purchase on the sandy soil.

"I wish you'd cut down on the hamburgers, Dom," said Hawke from below.

"Ah, shut up and give me a push," replied Dominic. Hawke obliged and sent Dominic sprawling out of the hole. "Made it," said Dominic dusting himself off. "Pass up Marella."

They had a bit of trouble with Marella. She was limp, unconscious and couldn't give them any help. Even someone as slim as Marella became surprisingly heavy when they were being lifted above shoulder height, Hawke discovered. Eventually they managed to get her out through the hole and Dominic laid her back down on the ground.

"Come on String," said Dominic and reached down a hand. Hawke grabbed it and Dominic pulled him up until he was able to get a grip on the edge and pull himself up.

"Let's go get the Lady and get Marella to a hospital," said Hawke, dusting himself down.

Hawke carried Marella and they walked back towards the opening of the mine. Airwolf sat waiting for them as they walked over the ridge.

"There's a sight for sore eyes," said Dominic.

"It sure is," replied Hawke. They walked down the hill and towards Airwolf. As they neared the aircraft a huge explosion engulfed Airwolf, knocking down Dominic and Hawke, who was still carrying Marella.

"Mama mia, they blew up Airwolf!" shouted Dominic, picking himself up from the ground.

Hawke checked Marella before he pushed himself up off the ground. He went to survey the damage without saying anything in reply to Dominic. A fire was burning around Airwolf. He reached through the flames and pulled open the door. He jerked back his hand quickly, it was hot around the helicopter but he tried again. He reached inside and pulled out the fire extinguisher and applied it to the flames.

"Damn it," said Hawke, shaking his hand which had got slightly too hot. He walked around the outside to assess the harm to the machine.

"What's the damage?" said Dominic, approaching the helicopter.

"The explosives weren't enough to do much damage, she's tougher than that. We can repair some of it," said Hawke. He sighed. "I think she'll still fly, but I can't guarantee the landing. The landing gear's shot and I haven't checked the internal systems yet. For all I know the computers could be fried as well."

"Oh be optimistic why don't you," said Dominic.

"Come on, let's go down the check list," said Hawke.

They put Marella in the co-pilot's seat and went to work on the helicopter. It was pretty much as Hawke had suspected. The landing gear had taken the main force of the blast; the right side and front gear were practically destroyed. Airwolf sat at a lopsided angle on the ground. Some of the more sensitive wiring had been toasted but most of the flight systems were okay. She'd fly but maybe not all that well and not for very long before she'd need a complete overhaul and some of the Firm's money. They made as many repairs as they could and Hawke sat in the pilot's seat and looked at Marella.

"We have to go," said Hawke. "Whatever condition the helicopter's in, we have to get Marella to the hospital now."

"Okay, but how are we going to land?" asked Dominic.

"I'll think of something when we get there. Get Elissa on the radio, we need to tell her what's happened and get them looking out for Archangel."

Hawke started up the engines, the blades began to rotate, they cycled up to speed and he lifted off. Most of the systems were working after a fashion. Dominic put through the call to Elissa.

"Hawke, this is Elissa, what the hell is going on?" she said. "You've been out of radio contact for hours."

"Alia and Richter got the jump on us," said Hawke. "We've got Marella but they took Archangel. I'll fill you in on the details later. I need to know if there was any air activity in the vicinity of the mine over the last few hours."

"What are you going to do?" asked Elissa.

"I'm taking Marella and Dom to the hospital," said Hawke.

"What happened?" asked Elissa.

"Marella's sick, and Dom might have it too from being in contact with her. I have to get them both to the hospital," said Hawke.

"And you?" asked Elissa.

"I've had it before," said Hawke.

"You've had it before? It's the virus Mannen engineered?" Elissa said in disbelief, with worry in her voice. She was probably the only other person who knew just how deeply Hawke had been affected by his illness.

"Yeah, most of his biological weapons were destroyed in the fire you and Caitlin set at Dragonville. Seems they saved some of the virus Mannen used on me for Marella," said Hawke. "I'm taking them to the Firm's medical complex. Let Dr Kingsley know to have the isolation room ready, and tell Caitlin to get herself down there."

"Okay, will do. Anything else I should know?" asked Elissa.

"Not at the moment, just find Michael for me," said Hawke.

****

Hawke flew Airwolf to the Firm's medical complex. They had increased the oxygen content in the cabin in the hope that it would help Marella but she didn't seem to be getting any better. He was nearing the helipad for the hospital and he still hadn't come up with an idea as to how he was going to land without any landing gear.

"The way I see it we've got to set her down on her belly," said Dominic.

"I don't know Dom, she can be pretty sensitive and a belly landing could jar something loose. We can't risk it," replied Hawke. "I'll just have to hover while you and Marella get out."

"Okay, but you'd better hold her steady," said Dominic.

Hawke arrived at the hospital and Dominic jumped out. Hawke undid Marella's harness and Dominic lifted her out of the cockpit. They were met by doctors wearing masks who helped Dominic into a bio-suit and put Marella on a plastic covered litter. Dominic waved to Hawke. He wasn't worried about Dominic, he knew Dr Kingsley would take care of him and even if Dominic had contracted the virus he'd got him to the anti-viral in time. Marella was another matter, she was very ill, but Hawke had done all he could for her, he just had to hope that the anti-viral worked for her too.

Caitlin was waiting for him and she ran out from the hospital when the medical team gave her the all clear. She stopped to hug Dominic, even though he was encased in a plastic bio-suit.

"Take good care of him," said Dominic.

"I will, don't you worry. Just you concentrate on staying well," said Caitlin.

"I'm too tough to get sick from any virus," said Dominic. Caitlin looked at Dominic, she was remembering Hawke sitting on the bed and repeating to them that he was fine, even though he had known by that point that he was sick. She hated déjà vu and hoped that the echo that was running through her head was wrong.

"He's waiting," said Caitlin, knowing she had to leave before Dominic picked up on her misgivings. "We'll see you when we get back." She ran towards the hovering Airwolf, pulled open the door, climbed into the cockpit and slid into the engineer's seat.

"Ready?" asked Hawke, as she strapped herself in.

"Yeah," said Caitlin. He pulled back on the collective and Airwolf rose into the sky.

"Did Elissa track any Aircraft out of Devil's Claw?"

"Yeah, there were two helicopters. It must have been them. Elissa gave me the projected course," said Caitlin. "Hey, what happened to Airwolf? I'm showing several systems with red lights back here."

"Alia and Richter tried to blow it up, but they didn't damage anything important," said Hawke.

"Important my ass, the landing gear's shot and at least two of the weapons systems. No counter measures and the computer is misbehaving. Our stealth ability has been seriously compromised too."

"Yeah, I heard," said Hawke, he'd already had the full list from Santini.

"We can't go into combat like this," said Caitlin.

"I'm sure as hell going to try," replied Hawke. "We're just going to have to fly this chopper the old fashioned way."

"Okay, it's up to you how you fly this thing. I'm laying in the co- ordinates for the helicopters that Elissa picked up."

Hawke glanced back at Caitlin. "Let's go get Archangel. We okay to use the turbos?"

"Turbos are okay but don't push your luck Hawke," said Caitlin.

"Pushing it is okay, it's breaking that I'm worried about," said Hawke. He pressed the button on the stick and felt Airwolf slam him back into his seat.

****

Michael Archangel sat in the back seat of Marella's jet ranger, with one of Alia's henchmen covering him with a gun. Alia sat alone in the front of the helicopter, discussing details of their exit plan with Richter over the radio.

"He's coming," said Richter in the Hind over the radio to Alia.

"Who?" said Alia.

"Hawke," replied Richter. "Check your radar."

"I see it. Incoming and fast," replied Alia. "The explosives should have been enough to knock out all of Airwolf's flight systems. How did it survive that?"

"Obviously Moffet didn't tell Mannen everything about Airwolf," said Richter.

"What did you expect? Moffet was using Mannen like he used all the rest of us," said Archangel.

"As usual, Archangel you have it the wrong way around," said Alia. "It was Mannen who was using Moffet, he just didn't realise it. We have learnt so much about Airwolf over the past few months that I think we could begin building our own, and I think that my government would forgive us all our past sins if we were to bring them an Airwolf."

"On the contrary, Alia, Moffet knew Mannen well enough to know that he would come after anyone who had Airwolf, if Moffet lost control of the aircraft. Moffet used Mannen's ego to turn him into his own personal hunting dog," said Archangel.

"I don't have time to debate the past with you," said Alia. "Hawke is closing," she added to Richter over the radio.

"What do we have to do to kill him?" said Richter.

"Try harder," replied Alia. "We have the advantage of numbers and Airwolf must have sustained damage, we can use that to our advantage. Mannen underestimated him once and it got him killed, I don't intend to do the same again."

"Airwolf is an exceptional machine, but it remains to be seen if the pilot is worthy of the machine," said Richter.

"Hawke is more than your equal, Richter," said Archangel. "In any machine."

****

"Two minutes to target," said Caitlin.

"How does the board look," asked Hawke.

"Lit up like a Christmas tree," said Caitlin. "Turbos are overheating but they should hold until we get there."

"Got an ID on those choppers yet?" he asked.

"The computer isn't sure, it keeps cycling through the helicopter idents but hasn't picked one. Program must have got screwed up in the fire," replied Caitlin. "I've tried everything I know to kick it back in, but nothing seems to be working."

"Dom would hit it," said Hawke.

"You got to be kidding me," said Caitlin.

"Hey, it worked," said Hawke, and then added, "sometimes."

"Well I ain't hitting a million dollar piece of machinery, if I break it Dom will probably take it out of my paycheck," said Caitlin.

"Okay, we'll have to do without," said Hawke. He was just beginning to realise how many of Airwolf's systems he was going to have to do without. They had been very lucky that Airwolf's hull had deflected most of the heat and none of the weapons had got hot enough to explode. If that had happened then there wouldn't have been much left of Airwolf to fly. Even so, he couldn't help wishing that they had a fully working helicopter with which to go up against Richter and Alia.

"You should have a visual on the two helicopters in a few seconds," said Caitlin.

"I've got them," said Hawke. He could see two dots that were slowly turning themselves into two helicopters. "I'm cutting the turbos."

"Re-engaging rotors," said Caitlin.

"Give me the radio, Cait, maybe I can persuade them to set down," said Hawke.

"You got it," said Caitlin.

"Alia, Richter, this is Hawke. Set those helicopters down now and I'll let you get out of this with your lives."

"You're in no position to be issuing orders Hawke, the wolf is wounded. You couldn't take us down even if you wanted to. Remember that we still have Archangel," said Alia.

"Didn't anyone ever tell you that a wounded animal is more dangerous," said Hawke.

"Go home now, Hawke, before I blow you to kingdom come," said Richter.

"Give me Archangel and I'll go home," said Hawke.

"Archangel is coming with us," said Alia. "And the only way to stop us leaving is to shoot us down, which I don't think you'll do while we have Archangel with us."

"Everyone is allowed to be wrong once in a while," said Hawke. He cut the radio circuit and turned to Caitlin. "Give me the chain guns."

"You're not going to shoot at them with Archangel on board?" said Caitlin.

"Chain guns, Caitlin," repeated Hawke. Caitlin knew that when Hawke used her full name he wasn't fooling around.

"Chain guns ready," said Caitlin without another word.

Hawke aimed carefully and fired to the left of the helicopters in front of him. Just as he fired the warning shot though the Hind moved away from the white jet ranger and pulled off to the right. Hawke assumed that Archangel would be in the jet ranger and the Hind was flying escort. However, he knew that the Hind would be carrying missiles that could damage Airwolf and was easily the most dangerous of the two aircraft.

The Hind had pulled an Immelman and was suddenly behind Airwolf. It let off a missile.

"Incoming, String," said Caitlin. "The computer still won't identify." Even without the computer, Hawke could guess what the missile on their tail was. The NATO designation for the air-to-air missiles that a Hind typically carried was Atoll but they were very similar to sidewinder. Hawke pulled Airwolf to the left, slowly, making sure that the missile was still following them. The last thing he wanted was for a stray shot to hit the jet ranger. Once he was confident that the missile was following him, he pulled up sharply and watched as the missile shot past underneath him.

The Hind however had followed them in the turn and it fired again. This time Hawke pulled to the left sharply and the missile shot past to their right, missing them by inches. Luckily this batch of Russian Atoll's heat sensors were less sensitive than the US version, something which Hawke could use to his advantage and made it possible for him to shake the missiles by pulling sharp turns. Except he knew that Richter would now be manoeuvring himself into a position which would make it harder for Hawke to dodge. Richter was well aware that Hawke couldn't dodge towards the jet ranger in case a stray missile hit Alia's helicopter and Archangel. However, that still left up and down, but Richter was doing his best to push Hawke down so that he could only go up or towards the jet ranger.

"Give me the turbos," said Hawke.

"I can't, they're overheated. They need time to cool down," said Caitlin. "He's launched another missile."

"Damn," said Hawke. "What about a sunburst?"

"Still malfunctioning," said Caitlin. "What are we going to do Hawke?"

"The best we can," said Hawke. He pulled Airwolf slowly round to the left and back towards the oncoming Hind. He flew straight towards the Hind pulling the missile behind him, but Richter realised what Hawke was doing and pulled up just as Hawke jerked himself right and watched the missile sail past on his left.

"He's good," said Caitlin, from the back of the cockpit.

"Yeah," said Hawke, "but is he good enough." Hawke pulled Airwolf into the steepest turn and climb that he could. He heard Caitlin gasp from behind him at the sudden change in direction. He located the Hind and turned Airwolf so that they were coming at the gunship from behind. "Give me the sidewinders," he said. He kept Airwolf's speed down so that they didn't overtake the Hind.

"You got them, but the automatic targeting is down, you'll have to do this on manual," said Caitlin.

"Got it," said Hawke and pressed the fire button on the stick. He watched and held his breath as a missile shot towards the Hind. Richter left his turn too late and the Hind became several hundred pieces of flying metal as fire engulfed it. Only when he was sure that the helicopter was destroyed did he breath again.

"Good shooting, Hawke!" said Caitlin, "I can't believe that you did that without the computer."

"Yeah, well that's how we used to do it," said Hawke. He swung the helicopter around to look for Alia; she had taken advantage of the dogfight between the two gunships to put more distance between herself and Airwolf. However, most of Airwolf's radar equipment was working perfectly and it didn't take them long to pick her up again.

"Alia," said Hawke, "this is your last warning, set that chopper down or I'll do it for you."

"I don't think you'll do that with Archangel on board," replied Alia.

"Try me," replied Hawke.

"I will, I'm calling your bluff, Hawke. I want safe passage to the nearest port, and if I don't get it you can say goodbye to Archangel now," said Alia.

Hawke cut the radio. "Caitlin, give me the chain guns."

"You got them. But what are you going to do, Archangel's on that helicopter," said Caitlin.

"Shoot carefully," replied Hawke. He turned Airwolf around so that she was coming at the jet ranger from the side and aimed very carefully. He shot one burst of the chain guns at the tail of the jet ranger and suddenly it was in a lot of trouble. Hawke had shot out the tail rotor with surgical precision, the rest of the craft was completely undamaged. Without the tail rotor the torque of the main rotor pulled the craft round and rendered it incapable of normal flight.

"Damn you Hawke," said Alia in the cockpit of the jet ranger. She wrestled with the unresponsive controls and realised that she had no choice but to go in for a landing. She managed to set the jet ranger down and Airwolf landed on its damaged landing gear very gently along side. Caitlin and Hawke jumped out with guns drawn and quickly ran over to the jet ranger to pull Alia from the cockpit before she had a chance to do anything. Caitlin had Alia covered. Michael Archangel disembarked from the helicopter at a more leisurely pace, pushing the second terrorist in front of him. He had made use of the distraction of Alia wrestling the helicopter to the ground to disarm his captor.

"You took you time," said Archangel.

"Yeah, we had some problems," said Hawke.

"I can see that," said Archangel. "How's Marella?"

"We got her to the hospital, I don't know if it was in time or not," said Hawke.

"I guess that's all I could expect," said Archangel.

"Dr Kingsley would like to see you too, you were in contact with Marella," said Hawke.

Archangel nodded. "If you'll cover these two prisoners then I'll get on the scrambler and tell Elissa to send us some back up."

"God damn you, Hawke," said Alia. "Why couldn't you just lay down and die?"

"Because it's what you wanted me to do," said Hawke.

Archangel let a broad grin spread across his face. If there was one thing you could expect of Stringfellow Hawke it was to do the exact opposite of what you wanted him to do.

****

Some Firm agents turned up to take Alia and the other terrorist into custody, she was still spitting venom at Hawke and Archangel but it had somewhat lost its sting. Archangel hitched a ride back with the agents so that he could go on ahead to the hospital and find out how Marella was. Dr Kingsley was waiting for Michael to test him for the virus when he got to the hospital. Hawke and Caitlin flew the crippled Airwolf back to the lair, picked up Santini's jet ranger and they flew back to the hospital. Both of them were anxious to find out how Dom and Marella were doing.

They needn't have worried about Dominic, he was sitting up in bed, enjoying the attention that he was receiving from the Firm's nurses. Dr Kingsley explained that they had been able to catch the virus before it could turn into full blown influenza and once they'd run a few more tests, Dominic could go home. Archangel had been given the anti-viral too and had shown no signs of being infected. Marella was starting to show improvement too, she'd been lucky, there was no pneumonia and none of the complications which Hawke had had with his run in with the virus. She had begun to improve immediately once they had administered the anti-viral. She was young and in good shape and Dr Kingsley's opinion was she would only take a couple of weeks to fully recover. Caitlin and Hawke walked by Marella's room to find Archangel standing outside staring through the plate glass observation window and Elissa sitting inside holding Marella's hand while she slept.

"I didn't realise Elissa and Marella were so close," Caitlin said to Archangel.

Archangel looked at Caitlin, "Elissa is Marella's sister," he said. "They joined the Firm together and they've always looked out for each other."

"She let me fly down there when Marella was missing, and she never said a word," said Hawke. He looked at Elissa and saw for the first time that she and Marella both had the same dark hair and eyes.

"Elissa is a true professional. She isn't very pleased with me at the moment for letting myself get kidnapped, but she'll forgive me." said Archangel. "She was smart enough to know that we needed your help on this one. I owe you for that."

"Well you can start by ordering new landing gear for Airwolf," said Hawke.

Archangel laughed. "I should have known you'd take me at my word. Okay, I'll arrange that for you."

"Come on Cait, let's get Dominic and go home," said Hawke.

****

Elissa visited Hawke the next day at his cabin. Dominic had given everyone the day off and shut up shop, after their adventures he thought they needed it. Hawke was taking advantage of the day off to finish repairing his porch. He heard the helicopter coming in for a landing before he saw it and he immediately knew it was Elissa. She landed on the dock and Hawke went out to meet her.

"I thought that you'd still be at the hospital," said Hawke, as Elissa got out of the helicopter.

"Marella's doing well and she needs to get some rest. She wouldn't want me to drop everything to stay with her anyway," said Elissa.

"Always the Firm agent," said Hawke.

"That's my sister," said Elissa. "And I promised we'd finish our session."

Hawke nodded. "I guessed that I couldn't get rid of you that easily." They walked to the cabin and Hawke put a pot of coffee on.

"So do you want to tell me what Michael wouldn't," said Elissa.

"What's that?" asked Hawke.

"Just how close my sister came to dying," said Elissa.

"I thought you wanted to talk about me," said Hawke.

"No games, Hawke, just tell me," replied Elissa.

"It was close, and she was lucky," said Hawke. Elissa nodded, took a deep breath and sighed. Hawke handed her a mug of coffee. "Why didn't you tell me you and Marella are sisters?"

"It's not something a lot of people know about, even within the Firm. Michael recruited both of us, he knew our parents." The two of them moved out onto the porch and Elissa leant on the railing around the porch. "In our line of business you don't tell anyone you have people who care for you. You saw what happens when you do, they get used against you."

"So you push everyone away," said Hawke, knowing that Elissa would pick up on her own words to Hawke a few days ago.

"Touché, Hawke. I guess that's the business that we're in," replied Elissa.

"I'm not in the business, remember," said Hawke.

"But you still push people away," said Elissa.

"They're better off without me," said Hawke. "I'm like a lightning rod for bad luck."

"You don't get them killed, Hawke, you have to believe me," she said, reminding herself why she had come to the cabin. "St. John didn't go MIA because of you, you had nothing to do with your parents' death or Gabrielle's. They all knew what they were doing." Elissa paused and waited for Hawke to say something, but he looked at her, as if he expected her to continue. "And it wasn't my fault that Marella nearly died. Her big sister joined the Firm but she didn't have to follow me."

And unexpectedly she felt tears in her eyes and when she looked at Hawke she saw the beginnings of tears in his eyes too. She had nearly lost a sister and Hawke had lost his brother. It was a topic too close to both of them not to elicit an emotional response.

"I miss him, Elissa," said Hawke, trying desperately to blink back the tears.

"I know, Hawke, but it isn't your fault he's not here," she said wiping away tears hastily. This was not how a Firm agent was supposed to behave. She reached out a hand to Hawke's shoulder and looked out across the lake. "How are you sleeping?" asked Elissa.

"Better," said Hawke.

****