Up on the Bridge of the Sibertooth, Flint was acclimating herself to her new surroundings. She knew that if she was going to make this work, she was going to have to rely heavily upon General nar Sienac. Fortunately for everyone, General nar Sienac was being very helpful during the transition. As Flint looked out the main window to watch the transfer of ConFed personnel over to the Sibertooth continue, General nar Sienac moved up to stand beside her. "I have a report," he said to her as he stared out the window with her.
"Let's hear it," said Flint.
"Final preparations are underway as we speak," said General nar Sienac. "The Sibertooth should be able to proceed within three hours."
"Very good," said Flint as she turned to face General nar Sienac. "Your crew should be commended for their efforts under these circumstances."
"They do only their duty," commented General nar Sienac. "Just as you and I do our duty. However, I shall pass on your words to them. They will be pleased to hear that you approve of them."
"Tell me honestly," said Flint. "Do you think we'll pull this off under the circumstances?"
General nar Sienac let off a low growl of contemplation. "Success or failure," he said to her. "It will make little difference."
"Why do you say that?" asked Flint. "I think the difference between success and failure will mean significant things for both our people."
"I say this as what matters most is the fact that we go forward now when hope seems lost," said General nar Sienac. "Such a display of bravery and honor makes us worthy of remembrance."
Flint smiled as she came to understand what General nar Sienac meant. "We save face," she said. "If we are willing to have the courage to press forward even in the face of almost certain death, whether we win or lose doesn't matter so long as we at least try."
"YES!" shouted General nar Sienac. "You understand the Kilrathi way!"
"Yes," said Flint with another smile. "I think perhaps I do."
Below deck, Goblin and Tailgunner were setting up a makeshift Pilot Country. Tailgunner noticed that Goblin was drinking almost as much alcohol as he was putting on the shelves.
"This sucks," said Goblin as he downed another shot.
"Yeah," said Tailgunner. "Where's the Maestro with the good booze when you need him?"
"No, retard," snapped Goblin. "I mean this whole situation. It sucks. We should be going home right now on a ConFed ship, not hitching a ride in this Kitty-Kat Cruiser."
"If it means anything," replied Tailgunner. "I know how you're feeling. I lost two wingmen on my first tour of duty."
"Yeah," said Goblin. "But were those wingmen also your friends? Were they your family? That's what Wyvern and me had. We were like brothers."
"The only pilots that I can say that I've got that kind of rapport with are Elf and Heart," admitted Tailgunner. "And so far, the three of us have always come home."
"Do you think that'll always be the case?" asked Goblin as he downed another shot.
"I sure hope so," said Tailgunner.
The door opened and Sieagan the Younger and Captain nar Eloy walked in. When he saw Goblin and Tailgunner, Captain nar Eloy looked puzzled. "Something bothering you, fluffy?" said Goblin.
Sieagan the Younger growled at Captain nar Eloy being called "fluffy."
"Well spit it out if you have a question," said Goblin.
Captain nar Eloy walked up the makeshift bar and gave it a thorough look. "What is this for?" he asked.
"We're setting up a Pilot Country in here," replied Tailgunner.
"What does that mean?" asked Sieagan the Younger, who had also become interested in what was going on. "What is a 'Pilot Country'?"
"It's a place where we pilots come to kick back and blow off some steam," answered Goblin.
Sieagan the Younger and Captain nar Eloy looked at one another in confusion. "What does this 'kick back and blow off some steam' mean?" asked Captain nar Eloy.
"Y'know," said Goblin. "Unwind after a rough shift of flying and fighting?"
Sieagan the Younger and Captain nar Eloy still looked a tad puzzled. "Dense," said Goblin.
"It's a place to come to where you can rest and relax once you're duty shift is over," said Tailgunner plainly.
Sieagan the Younger and Captain nar Eloy both smiled as they finally understood what the Humans were talking about. "Forgive us," said Sieagan the Younger. "Many of your Human phrases are not known to the Kilrathi."
"Sorry 'bout that," said Tailgunner. "I guess language is a barrier our two people still have to overcome."
"It would appear that way," said Captain nar Eloy. "Though I have doubt that it will remain so for very long."
"Would the two of you care for a drink?" offered Tailgunner.
"That would be noble of you," said Captain nar Eloy.
"Please," said Sieagan the Younger.
Tailgunner opened a bottle of tequila and poured shots for both the Kilrathi and himself. Goblin looked on in mild disgust for a few moments then stormed out.
"Have we offended him in some manner?" asked Sieagan the Younger.
"Don't worry about him," reassured Tailgunner. "He thinks the war between our people is still going on. He'll get over it."
"We desire no conflict with him," said Captain nar Eloy.
"Like I said," said Tailgunner. "Don't worry about him. So come on, let's make a toast and drink up."
"A toast?" asked Captain nar Eloy. "What does this mean?"
"It's a pleasant wish or a happy sentiment that you make before drinking," replied Tailgunner. "Here, let me show you. To new friends!"
With that, Tailgunner raised his shot glass to the two Kilrathi and then tossed back his shot. Sieagan the Younger smiled and let out a low chuckle. "I believe I understand," he said. "I shall try. May our enemies not triumph over us!"
"You got it," said Tailgunner as Sieagan the Younger drank his shot down. "Captain, do you wish to make a toast?"
"I shall do so," said Captain nar Eloy. "May the memories of those no longer here remain with us always."
Tailgunner felt somber for a moment and quickly poured himself and Sieagan the Younger another shot. "I think that's a toast we can all drink to," he said before clinking glasses with the others.
"Why did you just do that?" asked Captain nar Eloy.
"It's another way to express camaraderie," said Tailgunner.
"It will take some time to become accustomed to your customs," said Captain nar Eloy. With that, the three of them downed their shots to conclude Captain nar Eloy's toast.
Back aboard the Cerberus, Spyder and Captain nar Hhallas were working together to prepare a torpedo for remote detonation.
"Colonel Spyder?" asked Captain nar Hhallas.
"Please," responded Spyder. "It's just Spyder. You don't have to call me Colonel."
"But should I not show deference to your higher rank?" asked Captain nar Hhallas.
"No," said Spyder plainly. "Because I don't consider myself above you."
"Why do you feel this way?" asked Captain nar Hhallas.
"I feel that way because we're each other's wingman," said Spyder. "Now, what did you want to ask me?"
"I wanted to ask you if you knew Sword," said Captain nar Hhallas.
"Sword?" asked a confused Spyder. "I don't understand what you mean."
"When we learned of this mission," began Captain nar Hhallas. "We were told that the Human known as Sword killed the Heart of the Tiger."
Spyder thought for a moment. "Oh," he said at last as he figured out what Captain nar Hhallas was talking about. "Rapier. He's known as Rapier. It's a kind of sword."
"I believe I understand," said Captain nar Hhallas. "The translation between our languages is not always precise."
Spyder smiled for a moment, then looked a bit sad. "You want to know if I know him?" he asked his counterpart. "Yes, I know him. What would you like to know?"
"Is he considered one of your great Chakta?" asked Captain nar Hhallas. "He must be if he defeated the Heart of the Tiger in battle."
"Rapier is a good pilot," said Spyder. "And I think it would be best said that he has the makings to be one of our best 'Chakta' as you put it."
"I do not understand your meaning," said Captain nar Hhallas.
"Rapier is a rookie pilot," said Spyder. "It was his first tour of duty."
"How did he defeat the Heart of the Tiger?" asked Captain nar Hhallas with a look of disbelief.
"Honestly?" asked Spyder.
"Please," responded Captain nar Hhallas.
"He let Rapier do it," said Spyder bluntly. "Christopher Blair could have easily killed Rapier and his entire team, but he chose not to."
"I do not understand why he chose to do this," said Captain nar Hhallas.
"I think it was because Blair was able to take control of his own mind long enough to make the decision to not be used any longer by the Nephilim," said Spyder. "However, I really don't know. But I think that's what most of the pilots who were there that day think."
"I find this revelation to be sorrowful," said Captain nar Hhallas.
"Me too," agreed Spyder.
Down in the briefing room, Catscratch and Sieagan the Elder were looking at star charts. "This whole area crawls with bugs," lamented Catscratch.
"I concur," said Sieagan the Elder with a nod of his head.
"Y'know it's too bad we can't cloak the Sibertooth the way you can cloak your Strakha fighter," said Catscratch.
"That is indeed too bad," said Sieagan the Elder. "Have you any other ideas on how to deal with this circumstance?"
"Our best chance would be to try and lure them away from certain key positions," answered Catscratch. "But how to do that."
Sieagan the Elder thought for a few moments. "There might be a way," he said finally. "Though the danger will be high."
"I'm all ears," said Catscratch. "Tell me what you got."
"Why do we not use the Cerberus as a decoy?" said Sieagan the Elder. "We send out a continuous distress call on open communications frequencies that the Nephilim monitor. When they intercept the call, they come here."
"To a deserted ship rigged and ready to explode," added Catscratch. "And when they get close enough, we detonate."
"Yes," said Sieagan the Elder with a nod. "Though the explosion will not kill many of them, it will still cause them chaos."
"I like it," said Catscratch. "I think it will work. We should tell the Captain your plan."
"My thanks to you for your faith in me," said Sieagan the Elder with a bow of his head.
"If you think this is thanks now," began Catscratch. "Just wait until we pull this off. Come on. We have to get to the Bridge."
"Lead and I shall follow," said Sieagan the Elder as the two of them headed off to the Bridge.
Down on the Flight Deck Roulette, Heart, and Elf were flying in the last of the ConFed fighters. As the canopy of her Panther opened, Elf looked over at Heart. "What a tight fit," she complained.
"We've got no choice," replied Heart.
"Coeur is very correct, Elf," added Roulette. "Without the Cerberus, our options become limited and concessions must be made."
"I know," said Elf. "But it still sucks."
"Well," began Heart. "Think of it this way. Once we get underway and get done with what we have to get done, it'll suck less."
"Amen to that," said Roulette. "Now, mes amis, I do not know about you, but I require coffee. Anyone else?"
"I could use a cup," said Heart. "Jane?"
"I think coffee would be great," said Elf. With that the three of them moved off to find coffee.
On the crew deck, Deathsong, Deathshadow, and Deathclaw were seated in a circle staring at one another in contemplative meditation. None of them moved, none of them blinked. To the casual observer they might have looked dead, however that was definitely not the case. After a few more minutes, Deathclaw was the first to move. "I can smell the Humans," he said to his companions. "Even in here."
Deathshadow shook his head to bring his thoughts to the present and then he looked at his friend. "It shall indeed prove difficult," he said before giving off a great yawn. Then the both of them looked at their wing leader. Deathsong remained as he was, seemingly unphased by his wingmen's conversation.
After a few more silent minutes, Deathsong finally moved. Beginning with a shake of his head and a great yawn, he slowly got up from his sitting position. "I do not think that we have anything to worry about from the Humans," he said to join the conversation. "They will perform their duties with much vigor."
"How do you know this?" asked Deathclaw.
"It is simple," said Deathsong. "The more efficient they are at performing their tasks, the faster this mission will end."
"I think," began Deathshadow. "I can speak for us all, that that is something that will not come rapidly enough."
"You may speak for me on that thought," said Deathclaw. All three of them laughed.
"Attention," said the voice of Flint over the COMM. "All pilots to the briefing room at once. Repeat, ALL pilots to the briefing room."
Deathsong looked at his two wingmen. "I wonder what this is about," he said to them.
"We shall discover when we get there," said Deathshadow.
"I do not like this," said Deathclaw. "Something smells wrong."
"That is just the Humans that you smell," said Deathshadow. The three of them laughed again.
"Come," said Deathsong. "We must go and see what the Flint desires of us."
To be continued…