Thirty-six hours later
"Doing two totally separate drops instead of one was brilliant! Totally insane, but brilliant. I mean, who'd run an infiltration with a team of one and no backup within a mile? I wouldn't."
Jason grinned. "They think you did."
"Even Spectra notice patterns. Like who you pair, and it's never the Swallow and the Swan. So when they see very obvious red and yellow…"
"and mysterious glimpses of white wings emerging from the shadows," put in Princess, mischief in her tone.
"..they scatter, shouting 'Eagle! Run!'" Keyop completed, looking very pleased with himself.
"In other words, they have no idea you're hurt. And since Keyop and I were setting charges on random doors as we passed, and were remote-detonating each other's whenever we needed to draw the troops off, they probably think we had all five of us in there."
"You were doing what? That's nuts!"
"Yeah, we just played Russian Roulette and hoped we only detonated ones we'd already laid…Idiot. We numbered them beforehand, laid them in order and pinged each other every time a new one was set."
Mark raised his eyebrows. "I don't remember that being mentioned at the debriefing."
"Like you always tell Anderson when you do something unorthodox." Jason's eyes flashed.
"I'll make you a deal. I won't tell anyone, provided I get to use it sometime."
Jason looked at the floor without saying a word, but Mark got the distinct feeling that just for once he'd said the right thing.
Princess carried on enthusiastically. "So we fought our way out and blew the place to hell. That was one big explosion. I've never blown up a whole asteroid before. They won't be putting anything else on that particular stable jump-point for a while, that's for sure."
"There's so much dust round there now, no-one's ever going to be able to calculate a jump-solution there again."
"On an entirely different note," Tiny put in, "you have any news on when you get to lose the metalwork?"
Mark sighed. He'd managed to forget about it for at least ten minutes. "All they'll say is 'not yet'. People can be in these things for months."
"People who don't have cerebonic implants. You are still sleeping fourteen hours a day, right? Where do you think that energy's going?"
Mark made himself relax again. Tiny had a point. Anyone else with his injuries would be in far worse shape than he was. He could put up with the inconvenience for a while longer. A week or so. Longer than that and he'd be climbing the walls again.
"Tell you what," Tiny added, presumably seeing the look on his face, "give it a fortnight and I'll bring you a nice big pair of pliers myself."
Princess's look changed to complete horror. "Pliers – Tiny, don't encourage him, please!"
Mark exchanged an amused look with the big pilot, clearly the only one who knew anything about this form of orthopaedic treatment. "How did you think they'll get this stuff out of my leg?"
"I imagine they'll put you under and operate…" Princess's voice trailed off at the broad grin her commander was wearing, "…and you're serious, aren't you. They pull those wires out right through your leg? Ew."
"There's a reason everything's external. Once I'm mended, they undo all the bolts, pull the wires out and basically that's me back in training."
Jason looked up again. "And till then, you'll fill in for Anderson, right?"
Mark took a deep breath, locked eyes with his second-in-command and shook his head. He'd learnt a lot about base control – mostly that he wasn't cut out for it. "Grant's a good base controller. He knows what he's doing. His wording sucks, but that's something you have to deal with. Now he's ready to talk through the problems you two have had. I'll help, but I won't take his job. I was a joke, Jason. I couldn't cope. Grant rescued me from making a complete fool of myself. He deserves better."
Jason looked unconvinced, but Mark did at least seem to have persuaded him he was serious. "No promises. But I guess I can talk to him. Hopefully we won't have to test it anyway."
It was just possible, Mark supposed. He might conceivably be back on the team inside a month. They'd taken out a serious assault on both themselves and Riga – they might get that long before the next Spectran attack. In the same sort of timescale, Anderson should be back. There was only one certainty: he was never taking that base controller's chair again.