So, this was a ten minute prompt, it was done and finished... and then JustAReader pointed out that it really shouldn't have happened in the first place (thank you!)... and then I started thinking about whether it would just be laughed off. I mean, it would in canon, Keyop's a complete liability there. But in a world where he's regularly responsible for the lives of millions and screwing up has consequences? Maybe not so much.

So it got another chapter.


Well before full dark, a set of distinctive Skyline headlights came over the brow of the hill, slowed as they passed him, and turned neatly to pull in behind him.

Keyop took a deep breath and got out of the car. Jason was already heading for the filler cap, gas can in hand.

"Don't say it," Keyop said.

"Here? Not going to."

Oh, that doesn't sound good. Jason's face was impassive. Condor mode, very much not a friend helping out. So who was the second-in-command of G-Force going to report his junior officer's mistake to? Anderson? Mark? Ivanov? Grant?

Why oh why hadn't he checked the damn fuel gauge before leaving ISO? Why hadn't he checked it when he left the launch site? Why hadn't he at the very least checked it when the engine first started to hesitate, just as he'd been passing a gas station, for goodness sake?

He stood there and felt useless while Jason tipped a minimal amount of fuel into his tank, and didn't dare ask if he was sure it would be enough.

"See you back at base," Jason said when he was done, and returned to his own car without so much as a backward glance.

He did at least wait long enough to be sure that Keyop's car started - first time, of course, once it had something to actually run on - before accelerating past up the hill as if the pool car was a pushbike. Mindful of just how little fuel he had even now, Keyop followed more slowly, up and over the brow of the hill, and then the long straight run downhill, the lights of the ISO complex clearly visible in the distance. The Skyline's taillights disappeared away down the road. Before Keyop was half way there, the Skyline's brakelights flashed briefly, and it turned left into the main ISO entrance.

Keyop followed at the same fuel-conserving steady pace. He probably should make a big deal of this. Pool cars were supposed to go out full. Someone else had screwed up. He was also fully aware that, for him, blaming someone else could never be the answer. He'd made an absolutely basic mistake. If he'd done something like that for real, in the Phoenix, they'd probably all be dead. Being teased was the least of his worries.

He pulled into the base entrance, presented his ID at the kiosk, drove back round to the pool office, still not sure what to do or say.

"Much left in the tank?" the supervisor asked as he handed the keys over at the desk, and he had a moment of realisation as to why Jason had put quite so little fuel in.

"Almost nothing."

"Where'd you go? Launch site?" The man typed something and compared screen with paperwork. "Nowhere you weren't supposed to, I'll give you that. Lucky you got back at all. I'll have words with whoever signed it off as full - and next time, you check too, before you sign it out."

"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir." He had a suspicion he'd been tested, and didn't know whether he'd passed or failed.


Office hours were long since over, but Anderson still answered when Keyop knocked on his door.

"Trouble, G-4?" he asked as Keyop handed the document pouch over. "I was expecting you back rather earlier."

"Identity checks." Occasionally, just very occasionally, his stutter was an advantage. And it wasn't a lie.

"I did wonder if you might have problems. Next time, we'll make sure they're expecting someone who looks younger." He turned back to his desk, pulling out the documents, and Keyop took that as a dismissal - and a success. 'Next time' meant he'd be asked again.

Relief was short-lived. Jason leant against the wall outside Anderson's office, arms folded, legs crossed at the ankles, face as impassive as before. When he pushed himself to vertical, for one horrible moment Keyop thought he was going to talk to Anderson right now. But he turned to walk alongside Keyop rather than heading for the office door.

Just the chewing out, then. Keyop steeled himself. An unimpressed Jason was scary even when he wasn't the target. But they walked down the stairs, side by side, one flight after another, and the shouting didn't start, and finally he couldn't take it any longer.

"You're going to yell at me? Just get on with it, Jason. I know I screwed up."

"And took half an hour out of my evening."

Oh man, I hope he wasn't with a girl. "I didn't check something I was responsible for checking. Half an hour and a pint of fuel, this time. But on a mission?"

He couldn't even look at the other, and he hoped his voice sounded steadier than it felt.

There was an arm round his shoulders. "I'm not going to yell at you. I don't need to, do I?"

"No." He had to sniff.

"Okay. So imagine what I would have said to you, what Anderson would have said to you, and don't do it again. Other people screw up all the time, Keyop. We have to be the ones who don't."

They'd reached the bottom of the staircase. Keyop mumbled, "Sorry," and turned to go, but the hand tightened on his shoulder.

"Second thing. You screwed up on something easy. You got away with it. It's over and you won't do it again. And now you're not going to hide in your room reliving it. Let it go. Mark and Tiny are watching some horrific bromance flight movie in the ready room, and you and I are going to go poke holes in it."

Keyop took an unsteady breath. "Top Gun?"

"Heck no. One of the Iron Eagles."

He felt himself start to grin. "They're awful."

"Yup."

"And none of the planes are right."

"Yup."

"And when they are right, the paint jobs are wrong."

"You got it. Save it for Mark." He headed off down the corridor, and Keyop followed him, the tight knot of unhappiness in his chest untwisting. It was over and no, he wouldn't do it again. And, once Jason was sure of that... he'd probably get teased mercilessly. But not today.