Tana was in the canteen sipping bad tea when the call for pilots sounded. She tossed her tea aside, grateful for a reason to waste it, and headed for the bay. The call had been unexpected. Usually they had some warning of trouble in a sector.
Krisin caught up with her at the bay entrance. Their Catchin team mate Lisel already prowled, around the craft. His long pointed, furry ears twitched with agitation. People snarled his way as they passed; few people trusted Catchins.
Other fighter teams darted around the bay, but her craft would be the first one out. Maybe not wise, but at least it gave her more options before everyone else got in the way. She was a scout. They did not fly formation.
"Any idea of what's going on?" Lisel asked.
"None." Tana climbed into the pilot's seat. Krisin got in behind her at weapons and Lisel took the copilot's spot. He began to automatically key on the systems while she checked the engines. A green light flashed to her left. "Odd. We already have the okay to launch."
"Very odd," Lisel agreed and his cat-like ears went almost entirely flat to his head. "They always want checks before clearance. This doesn't look good. Do we really want to be the first out?"
"Why get wise now?" Krisin asked.
Even Lisel found that one amusing. Tana keyed the pad down and they took the quick drop from ship to the launch bay and then to void. She didn't see anything. Was this some sort of new drill? They didn't usually waste fighter resources --
"Behind us," Krisin said softly.
Tana glanced at the screens but couldn't make sense of the spots. Her mind refused to believe, until she spun the craft around and faced --
"How the hell did they get that many werecraft this close without notice?" she demanded, suddenly more angry than afraid. That was her own personal insanity.
Other fighters had begun launching but all she heard was the jabber of panicked voices. She cut out that commline.
"We can clear out," she said, glancing at Lisel. Krisin made a little sound, but she couldn't tell what it meant. "Because the reality is --"
"Real," Lisel said and suddenly began to run his long fingers over the controls. His claws were out and they made clicking noises against the board. "What if they aren't real?"
"They have to be real. We can see them out there and on the scanners!"
"We're seeing something on the scanners," Lisel said. "But they aren't reading like wereships."
"Some kind of change in configuration of the craft?" Tana asked. "Is that how they got so close?"
Tana keyed a commline straight to the main ship's control deck. "Information, please," she said, keeping her voice as light as possible. "How the hell did these things get so close without any warning?"
"We're looking into the possibility of in-ship systems failure," someone answered. "They just suddenly appeared."
"Thank you," she replied and probably sounded insanely happy as she keyed back off. "Okay, Lisel: real or not?"
"My guess would be not exactly what they appear to be. They are something, but -- no weapons coming up. And they're holding pattern far too well."
Tana studied the data, then looked back at the craft before them while still moving in closer. "Makes no sense. Why would they bother?"
"To hide something else," Krisin said. He was suddenly sounding anxious. "If this is mostly illusion, then there might be something back behind it. Like a werecraft mothership."
"Oh hell," Tana her hand pulled back from the boards. "Lisel?"
"The configuration could hide a craft that large. If you don't turn aside in the next two minutes, I think we'll be getting irrefutable confirmation on all answers."
"Should we turn back?"
"No," the other two chorused.
"What is everyone else doing?"
"Deploying around the Belgium," Lisel said. "Wise, probably. We could be wrong."
"Weapons ready?" Tana asked.
"Ready," Krisin answered. He sounded anxious, but not worried. "I'm going to clear a path straight ahead of us. If there is something else out there, we'll know soon enough."
"It's not picking up on the scanners," Lisel pointed out. "But maybe that's part of the illusion."
Tana knew she was crazy to keep going. She almost turned aside . . . but the werecraft were not coming after them like they normally did. This was not right.
Krisin's first shots took out six of them -- just flashes and gone. Tana kept going while taking side shots. They were doing well until two things happened; the real werecraft showed up and they reached the mothership.
"Maybe we should have had a plan," Krisin suggested.
"Friendly craft following us in. We need only stay alive for three minutes and 11 seconds before we have help."
Those were a damned long three minutes, especially after they lost one engine. However, they had the chance to see what no other humans alive had ever seen: a werecraft mothership up very close.
"I'm not impressed," Krisin said. "Big, but ugly."
Big was an understatement. It could have held a hundred Belgiums without any trouble. How many of these ships did they have?
"Weapons coming up," Lisel said with another tap of claws. "Aiming at the Belgium, which is closing in for the kill."
Tana saw the hot spots. Her fighter couldn't move fast enough to take up the battle with the smaller ships again, but they could target the mothership weapons. They were close enough that the larger ship couldn't aim at them. In the end, the only problem they had was getting clear before the Belgium blew the larger ship to hell.
They had been the first out of the ship; they were the last back in, limping to safety. They'd done the impossible and everyone knew it. For once no one glared at her Catchin crew member.
The three went to the canteen and had something stronger than bad tea.
For more about Tana and her team read: