Chapter somewhat rewritten after Nephedra put her finger on what it was that was nagging me about the last section - thank you!


A bang, a jolt, the shriek of protesting steel and the smell of scorched paint. And they stopped with a jerk. Right way up. Still intact.

"G-5, we're in," he heard Mark say, utterly calm. "Close the ramp."

He opened his eyes to the cargo bay. of the Phoenix. Greenery littered the floor, failing to hide the scrapes from hatch to back wall, where they'd stopped. Several unidentifiable chunks of metal lay among the leaves. The transport had done its job, but Jason doubted it would fly again.

"Nice work," he said to Keyop, who had folded his arms on the console and dropped his head onto them.

"Not much margin for error." The kid's voice shook.

"None at all," said Mark. "G-3, G-4, I want the cyborg secured, and I mean secured. If it has any self-repair capability at all I do not want it loose on the ship. G-2, you and I will help Juan to the flight deck. I want his advice on what to do about the base."

It was only twenty yards from the cargo hold to the flight deck, but Juan was finished by the time they reached it. His breathing had gone back to unsteady shallow gasps, and as they entered, Tiny turned and was out of his seat and straight over to them.

"He needs to be in the medical bay, G-1 - he's not fit to be here."

"He's the source of our information. Juan, I need to know if there's still a reason not to blow that base to hell."

Juan tried to answer, caught his breath hard and sagged against Jason. There really wasn't a good way to support someone with that many broken bones, and Jason knew he was hurting him. Less than letting him fall to the floor, though.

"Back," said Tiny. "Sit him down." They lowered Juan into the nearest jumpseat, against the back wall of the flight deck. His eyes were closed and he was clearly fighting for self-control.

"G-5, I need him conscious and lucid."

Tiny glanced at Jason, then back at Juan, concern all over his face. Jason knew what he was thinking. Conscious and lucid meant hurting. Right now, letting him pass out was far and away the kindest thing they could do, and Jason disagreed about the medical bay - fractured ribs hurt even more lying down than sitting up.

"Ribs and collarbones," he said to Tiny. "Maybe more." They simply didn't have time for a discussion, much less an argument. Just the bare facts.

Tiny nodded, acknowledgement that this was his call. "G-2, IV painkiller. G-1, watch the screens." Tiny didn't give orders often, but when he did, Jason listened. When he gave orders to Mark, everyone listened.

.

Jason came back with the syringe - labelled with both 'painkiller' and a generic drug name he didn't recognise beyond it being a modern opiate - to find Keyop flying the Phoenix, Princess alongside him in Mark's seat, and Mark not quite dancing impatiently at the door. Don't you dare criticise me for taking so long, he thought. I'd lay money you wouldn't be able to put your hand straight on it either.

Tiny said nothing either. He had an injection site near the left elbow already swabbed. Jason gave him the pre-prepared syringe and took a firm grip on Juan's arm above and below it. The man was massively beyond his pain threshold, that was clear, and at that point you didn't rely on someone's ability to keep still no matter how tough they'd shown themself to be.

"Here we go," said Tiny, and inserted the needle smoothly and easily, straight into the vein.

Jason expected him to inject maybe half if it - the doses they carried were intended for the team in an emergency, where the first thing any drug had to do was get past the filtering effect of the implant. But Tiny didn't stop until he'd emptied the entire syringe. There's no way Juan will stay conscious, he thought. Tiny's made a mistake. Then, No, it wasn't a mistake. It was deliberate.

"You'll feel a hell of a lot better quite quickly," Tiny said, in a clear, medical professional tone that Jason barely recognised. "Juan, is it?"

"Yeah." His eyes opened. "Yeah...that's pretty quick-acting. Sorry, Commander - you asked me something? I didn't..."

"Don't apologise," Tiny said easily, not giving Mark a chance to get involved. "Did you recommend not destroying the base initially?"

"Yes." There was some professionalism back in the tone. Not being in agony did that for you.

"Is that still your recommendation?"

"I don't know." Professionalism, but also a losing attempt to fight against the drug. Shock on Mark's face as he realised what Tiny had done. No surprise at all on Tiny's.

"Let's take this one step at a time. Do you recommend we go back in, and if so, why?"

"No. Got everything you need, swallowed..." The eyes were closing fast, and the voice slurring, and it was pretty darn obvious that he wouldn't be answering any more questions.

Mark stared at Tiny as if he'd just dropped from the sky, before visibly pulling himself together. "Your recommendation, G-2?"

Jason grinned - this was much more like it. "The one person who said we shouldn't just blow the place up now says we shouldn't infiltrate. He's got a shedload of information on a memory stick in his gut, I expect you and Princess have a pile more, and we have a deactivated cyborg in the cargo hold. I say we blow it sky high."

"I agree. Arm weapons. G-5, we'll discuss this later. Now I'd like you at the helm."

Tiny had a finger on Juan's pulse. "He needs someone watching him to check he keeps breathing."

Mark raised his voice. "G-3? Come take care of our passenger for a while. Is that good enough, Doctor?"

He's really teed off. As the closest thing the team had to a qualified medic, Tiny had a medical override, but Jason was struggling to think of a situation where he'd used it at all. Let alone blatantly and deliberately done something completely opposite to what Mark had asked.

He'd never had to get between these two. Now, for five seconds, he genuinely thought he might have to. Then Tiny gave a curt nod and headed for his seat at the front, Mark followed him, and a wide-eyed Keyop and Princess got out of the pilots' seats in a hurry.

Jason took his own seat, arming the weapons Mark had asked for. Two standards and a Super, a full load. The base plan superposed itself on his vision at a thought. The Super was for the research labs, where the supersoldiers would be based, made, stored, whatever you called it for cyborgs. One standard missile in the vehicle centre, one centred on the armoury. If that didn't look like enough chaos, there would be time for a reload, but he suspected it would be plenty.

"Take us in slow," Mark said. He sounded like himself again; confident and in command, Tiny's insubordination forgotten for now. Jason focused on the job at hand. He knew where to put the missiles within the base. Now he just needed to know where the base was.

He'd barely opened his mouth to ask when target markers appeared on the viewscreen at the front, superposed over the endless indistinguishable trees. Four points forming a rough rectangle. If that defined the corners of the base, basic extrapolation told him where to aim within it.

"One minute to target," Tiny said.

"Ready." Fingers over the controls, watching the crosshairs slowly come together over his chosen targets, he waited until the perfect moment.

Rather disappointing, he thought. A bit of a shudder in the treetops from the Super, even less of an effect from the standard to the vehicle compound. Nothing at all from the third. And then the whole area rippled, as if a huge wave had passed through the earth, and moments later the Phoenix rocked as the shock hit. Even in the flight deck, they heard a thunderous boom, and a whole series of secondary explosions followed.

"Nice one," Mark said almost a minute later, when the Phoenix finally steadied.

"That was the armoury. I guess they had something good in there."

Keyop left their gun camera trained on the base as they headed away. It looked different now. Smoke curled upward, and Jason had the impression that the trees would have been flattened except that they didn't have enough room to fall over. Yes, they'd had something good in there. G-Force had blown up a lot of bases. It was rare that anything went up violently enough to shake the Phoenix.

"Okay," said Mark finally, as the smoke receded into the distance. "That'll do. Tiny, do we need to detour to a hospital?"

That was about as close to 'I've realised you did the right thing' as Tiny was ever going to get, and thankfully Tiny had the common sense not to comment on it.

"Better to get him back to ISO. If Spectra realise we extracted him and he's somewhere they can get to..." There was a pause. "Mark, are you okay?"

Tiny was flying the ship, and didn't have time to play medic. "Watch my screens," Jason told Keyop and headed to the front to check on whatever Tiny was reacting to.

"I'm fine," Mark said as Jason knelt alongside his seat. But his face, what was visible of it below the visor, was very pale.

"Like hell you are. How bad did that thing smash you up?"

That got a grimace. "Bad enough to be sore tomorrow, and I think I broke my hand on its neck plating. Misjudged where the joint was when I went for the wiring. And no, I'm not detransmuting to show you. Birdstyle's holding it in place just fine for now." The hand lay supported on his left forearm. It didn't look too misshapen, which was probably good enough. He'd been using it only a couple of minutes earlier, though, and functioning a whole lot better than he was now. Which meant...

"Implant out of juice?" That would explain the temper, too. It wasn't much fun when the mental equivalent of "two percent battery remaining" appeared in the corner of your subconscious during a mission, suspecting but not knowing just how rough you were going to feel when the implant hit zero.

"Pretty much."

"We're an hour from home," Tiny said.

"I know. I'll cope."

And in the last twenty seconds you've gone from being fine to coping. Jason locked eyes with his commander. "You rest. I'll take it from here."

Mark didn't argue, which said a lot for how banged up he was and how little the implant was now helping, and Jason returned to his seat. Step on it, he sent to Tiny's console as soon as he sat down.

Already did. ETA 45.

No fool, their pilot. But still - this could have gone a lot worse. They'd extracted the man they'd been sent to extract. They'd discovered what was going on at the Spectran base. They had a complete deactivated cyborg, which was definitely a bonus. And the base had to be in ruins after an explosion that size. One broken hand was minor beside that. Mark would sleep it off in a couple of days once his implant was recharged and doing its job, and then he'd be back to normal. And in the meantime...

In the meantime, Mark's second-in-command would have to give the verbal report at the debrief, and would doubtless be expected to produce the written report on the mission too.

The sun came up over the Caribbean as the Phoenix streaked north, and Jason glared at the viewscreen, barely even seeing it. Some missions just sucked.


Author's note:

So what did I actually dream, you're (probably not) wondering. Well, it was the spiralling freefall down out of the Phoenix (which, to be honest, my subconscious almost certainly borrowed from the opening credits), them all having dark variants on birdstyle, and the section in the transport, from the cyborg realising something dodgy's going on up to the point when they're all back on it and accelerating away but can still hear that they're being followed. Sadly, my alarm then went off. I'd have liked to see what my subconscious thought the conclusion should be.

How does Juan know who Mark is? He's one of the (unnamed) sparring partners from Black Belt - I feel like he's one of the last two.