Skeeter

All posts tagged Skeeter

 

The discharge of the carbine was a sharp bark, and it echoed long enough that the sound joined the clink of the empty casing as it hit the ground. Downrange, a neat hole appeared in the center of the standing target. If it had been a real rabbit, they’d have carted that bitch out in a bag. Not exactly a difficult shot, but to Folk not used to shooting, the whole thing seems magical.

I flicked the safety and ejected the magazine. A quick swipe of my paw saw the chambered round ejected and flying through the air. It hit the dirt and rolled. I laid the weapon on the table and turned to face the small crowd of Folk that had come with me to the range.

“That’s all there is to it,” I told them.

“It’s loud,” said one of them.

“That it is. There are quieter weapons, I’ll give you that. One of our scouts has a suppressed handgun that makes little sound at all.”

“So why don’t all of them do that?” asked a tall dog. He wore some kind of letter jacket and had the half-shaved-head look that was going around with the youth. It was a little odd the first time I saw that, but I’m used to it now. Fashion is weird. I remember when I was a pup it was all about the heavy boots that clomped when you walked. Every cub and kitten for miles had the damned things.

“Suppressors are another piece of equipment that gets dirty, breaks down, and has weight. I don’t need it. If I’m in a fight, I honestly couldn’t care less if it makes noise. I’m gonna do what I gotta do to come out the other side.”

With my luck, of course, winding up in a fight happened far more often than I liked it to.

“So for now, we can assume you all know how to use that weapon, right?” called Sergeant Sharn. There was a murmur of sound as Folk tried to decide if they would respond. I took the onus off of them after letting them squirm for a moment.

“You don’t! Just admit it. No harm here in admitting you don’t know what you’re doing. The harm comes in pretending you do and getting somebody dead for it.”

A paw raised. It was the fox that had earlier stated the carbine was loud. I jerked my chin at her.

“What ya got?” I asked, trying to keep the tone friendly. If they wanted harsh or sharp, they had Sergeant Sharn for that. Even at his best, most of the Folk on the colony didn’t know what to make of the vicious badger.

“Why are there so many?” she asked, pointing to the table. I looked away from her long enough to scan the inventory. There were indeed a few items there.

“Most of these you won’t ever deal with,” I said. “We want you to see them in operation more than anything else. You won’t be spending time behind the butt of a machine gun or a grenade launcher. But our standard carbine and the singles we issue to every household? Yeah. You’re all going to know how to load and fire those.”

“Everyone?” she asked again. “I mean, I’m just a clerk.”

“You a Tolean?”

When she shook her head, Sergeant Sharn responded.

“Toleans have been excused if they request it. Religious abstention and all. You’ll note that several of them declined that and are here for the familiarization process anyway. Everyone else on colony needs to at least know the basics. Even if you never fire a weapon after today, your duties here might leave you in contact with them and we don’t want you afraid of an object that has no will of its own.”

“Excuse me, Sergeant?” called a grizzled old hound from near the back. “If we had militia training back home, uh…”

“We’d rather you hung around in case we have something you’ve not used, but you can bolt if you need to. Come by our office some time, though, if you do. Give us a chance to talk to you about your capabilities.”

“Good enough. Just wanted to know,” the hound said. I was pleased to see he stayed.

“The administration has tasked us with making sure everyone gets a feel for this,” I said. “So here we are. My name is Mitchell Gerhardt, but you can all call me Mag. The badger to my right is Sergeant Sharn. He has requested that you refer to him as Zeke. If you forget our names, that’s fine. You can always just -”

“Please, don’t call me sir,” Sergeant Sharn interrupted. He shook his head in mock sorrow.

“Well, I was going to say ‘call us sir’, but that idea is out the window. Just raise a paw if you need us and we will come to you.”

No one seemed to have any questions or want any other information, so I stepped a couple paces to the side and gestured to the weapons arrayed on the table.

“We will be showing you how each of these operates today. You will be firing many of them. Tomorrow you may well be bruised and aching. That part we can’t help. You will, however, have gained valuable knowledge.”

“I don’t see why it’s so important.”

The dog with the suppressor questions. Who would have guessed? As I figured, Sergeant Sharn beat me to the response.

“Well, ignoring completely the fact that the Administration and the Team Leader believes it is necessary, there are several reasons why you might want to know. Let’s start with the fact that we’ve already stopped more than a dozen attempted invasions or attacks. If you find yourself caught up in the middle of something horrible, would you rather take a chance shooting back or be taken captive? We’ve all heard or read the stories of what the toothies do to prisoners.”

Some of us have more than that. After that snatch team got in and took Zinnia Worth and her two cubs, Frayker was the first to volunteer for the recovery trip. We all expected it, what with him having lived through their particular hell. Diem and Tristan took off with him and two other speed demon types. Between the five of them, we figure on a confrontation within two days. The gun bunnies are gonna lose that one, and we will be getting Zinnia Worth and her cubs back — hopefully still functional. Gann only knows what’s happened to them thus far.

“We’re not asking you to pick up a weapon, in anger or otherwise,” I told them. “Chances are you never will, with the possible exception of your HotShot.”

I hefted one of the long-barreled pistols that every house was issued (excepting the Toleans, of course). They don’t actually have a name beyond their technical designators, but some civvy started calling them HotShot shortly after we issued them and the name just stuck. Single shot pistols chambered for the same rounds in our carbines, they’re pretty much an “Oh shit” kind of weapon.

“This ugly, mass-produced piece of shit here,” I said. “There’s a switch on the left side that says, ‘OPEN’. It does just that. Push it in and the barrel hinges down. You slip a live round in there and snap it closed. Pull back the hammer and squeeze the trigger. Boom. It’s that simple. Every house gets one, Folk, along with a box of twenty rounds. You want more ammunition, come see us and we will issue it.”

“What good is that against those laser guns?” asked a thin bodied civet from the front row.

“First off,” Sergeant Sharn said, stepping forward and squaring his shoulders to the crowd, “we aren’t asking you to repel an invasion or save the planet with a HotShot. This planet has life forms on it that aren’t necessarily polite. You might well come across them in your garden, your back yard, or even inside your house if you forget to secure a door. If they’re bigger than a backpack, shoot them. A security team will respond to any gunshot to make sure you Folk are safe. If you’re just dropping the native wildlife, we’ll pat you on the back and go away. If it’s something big, we’ll take over. If you’re doing something stupid, we’ll cart you off for questioning by the Team Leader. It’s that simple.”

“So we just kill them?”

“Sure. Some of ’em make mighty fine eating,” the Sergeant said.

I waited until the civet finished nearly puking at the thought of eating the scaly reptilian things that wandered the area.

“Look, Folk, we’re here to help you all stay alive a little longer should something untoward happen. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be able to respond than just stand there and get a few new holes.”

“Why do the rats use lasers?” asked a short gray cat. She was holding the paw of a white-furred fox who wore some kind of leather longcoat despite the heat.

“Several reasons,” Sergeant Sharn said. “First off, they like shiny, flashy things.”

“My mom told me that was a myth,” interrupted Front Row Civet Girl.

“Your mom a sci-tech? Rodent researcher?”

“No.”

“Well, that’s where our info comes from. Scientific studies have shown that the toothies in general like things that are shiny and bright.”

“We’ve used that to our advantage in more than a few ambushes,” I added. “But back to the question. Empire Rodentia as a whole uses what works, but you’ll almost always find the energy weapons in the paws of their rabbits and occasionally squirrels – especially strike teams and first-wave attackers. The sound of a zap gun is disheartening. Scares Folk quicker than a simple gunshot. They’re tuned to a frequency of sound that grates on the nerves. We’ve got a saying when it comes to the kind of tech they employ: ‘Toothies like toys.’ They would rather use electronics and gadgets that make Garan priests shake their heads just to lock a door when all they had to do was shove a chair under the knob.”

“But they work good?”

“Zap guns? Oh, yeah. I’ve seen more than my share of Folk with las-holes in them. It ain’t pretty.”

“So how come you don’t use them?”

I chuckled. “It really is a good question. They’re effective, I’ll give you that. Plus, given time and equipment, you can recharge the power packs in the field. Not that anyone bothers to do that, mind you. They just detach and drop, slot the new one and keep firing, just like we do. Recharging from fusion packs or even solar is possible, but it’s a complex process, and not the kind of task a line shooter wants to have. You’re usually busy trying not to get dead.”

I held my carbine above my head. “This is a standard pattern Victor Model. The stocks are wood or synthetics, and the frame is milled steel. It’s capable of a clean hit past five hundred meters, though it’s recommended you keep it within three.”

Or you could be me and just take any shot that comes up. Most of them are nowhere near as far away as you’d want, and the number of them that got closer to me than my prom date is way too damned high.

“Sights are simple. We showed you in the classroom how to use them, and this one is no different. Some folks have fast-acquisition devices, scopes, or even laser designators on theirs. Me, I’m an open sights kind of dog. Get used to them, and everything else is an enhancement.”

“The lasers, you’ll note, all have optics,” Sergeant Sharn said. “Like Mag said: Toothies like toys.”

I tossed the laser at the jaguar on the furthest point of the group. He caught it with a slight fumble and hastened to point the muzzle into the sky. At least he paid attention to that part of the safety lecture.

“Take a shot,” I invited, gesturing down range. “Safety is on the left. Push it forward until the red spot shows up. Then sight it and squeeze.”

He slowly tucked the butt of the rifle into the pocket of his shoulder and breathed out through his nose. Pretty much like I figured, the whole place went silent. Everybody waited to see if he could hit the target. We had set them at twenty meters so they wouldn’t be daunting. The sharp whine of the weapon discharging was lost in the scream of coherent light splitting the air. Gann, I hate that sound. Twenty meters away, a hole appeared in the target. Low and right, but in the ugly bunny pic.

“Nice shot,” I told him, and he flushed with pride.

“Thanks.”

Sergeant Sharn extended a paw and the big cat laid the rifle in his grasp. The badger expertly stripped the power pack and powered down the weapon.

“This is the main reason we don’t use the zap guns,” he said. He whirled on the heel of one booted foot and the rifle went over his head, held like a club. He brought it down with all the force he could muster, right at my head.

The carbine, gripped in both my paws, blocked the descending rifle with a crash of sound. The force of the blow took me by surprise. I’m glad I knew what was coming, because he almost put me to my knees. If I hadn’t been ready I’d already be on the ground with a busted skull. He repeated the strike twice more, each time with the same power behind it. On the third hit I staggered a bit. He is deceptively strong.

“Now you’ll see,” he told the group, turning away from me and the stinging in my paws. A clicking sound as he inserted the power pack was eclipsed by the ratcheting of the charging handle. He sighted in on the target.

“Straight between the eyes,” he said. The shrieking sound rent the air once again. The target acquired a new hole, fully a hands-breadth above the eyes and nearly off the head entirely to the left. A tiny tendril of smoke drifted from the hole.

“Mag?”

I nodded at his invitation, already loading my carbine by feel and charging the chamber. I snapped the short weapon up and fired two rapid shots, calling out my targets a second before piercing the centers of both eyes in succession. Two more, spiking the base of each ear.

“Lasers are good weapons,” Sergeant Sharn said as the echoes died away. “But they are nowhere near as rugged as our weapons. That difference in my shot at twenty meters would be the difference between a kill and a wounding shot, and at fifty it would have missed entirely. The optics went completely off target and the weapon is not designed with a backup system.”

“We’ve seen zaps come out of hand to hand unable to even fire,” I added. “I can drop mine off a landing craft and it will still work. I know because I have.”

Technically true, although I didn’t mention to them that I was holding it at the time. Typical luck for me, which is to say, shit.

“So you just carry that?” asked the fox in the longcoat.

“This is my primary weapon here,” I said, leaving everything else open to interpretation. “We have specialists who carry other things: long, accurized rifles designed for distance shooting, machine guns, grenade launchers, and so forth, but the one thing you will find is that every one of us can run a Victor platform like we were born to it.”

“Why did you choose it? Why not a machine gun? Just mow ‘em down,” Longcoat asked.

I chuckled, seeing the old hound in the back doing the same thing. Beside me, Sergeant Sharn started to reply, but fell silent at my sidelong glance.

“How much can you carry, cub?” I asked.

“What?”

“How much weight? Twenty keys?”

“I… I guess.”

“Our MG comes in at ten keys with two hundred rounds attached. Add in another kilo for every hundred rounds, basically.”

“So I could carry…”

You could actually see the cub calculating, his eyes rolling back.

“Let’s ignore reality for a second and put you with a thousand rounds,” I said. I held up a single carbine cartridge. “One thousand of these.”

“That machinegun can run seven hundred out in a minute if you let it,” called the militia hound from the rear of the group. “Standard firing practice makes it about two to three hundred, but you see how quick that thousand is gonna disappear?”

“You a gunner?” I asked. He nodded.

“Trained to the GH460.”

“Good model.”

The cub was looking back and forth at us as if we had grown horns. I smiled down at him.

“We’ve got a gunner who can carry a lot more ammo than I can, and some of us still carry spare belts for him.”

“What happens if you run out?”

“Pistols. Knives. Axes. Claws,” Sergeant Sharn said. His tone was dark and his eyes distant. “We get in among them and we tear them apart.”

I’ve seen him lost in it. When it comes to getting close, he’s the one I’d want on my crew. Drenched in blood from the top of his striped head all the way down to the steel-capped boots, cutting and tearing. I truly think that’s where Sergeant Sharn belongs, but I’m not telling him – or this crowd – that.

The crowd fell silent after his words and I am about to try and add something to break the sudden tension when the tall dog with the half-shaved head stepped forward a full pace. He looked Sergeant Sharn in the eyes and a little smile quivered his muzzle.

“I’d like to try the Victor, if that’s okay with you,” he said.

“You’re welcome to, Rory,” he said.

When he handed the weapon to the cub, I saw a flash of pride in his eyes. It was almost as if he was teaching a cub of his own.

I started gesturing the crowd into a couple of ragged lines when the setter squeezed the trigger. A small cheer erupted from a few throats in response to the shot, and I grinned. Once they start having fun, it gets a lot easier. This could turn out to be a fun day, after all.

“I’ve lived upon the edge of chance for twenty years or more” – Del Rio’s Song, Imaginos album, Blue Oyster Cult

+++++

“Sometimes life ain’t easy,” Tristan said. He flipped the thin-bladed stiletto in his paw, extending it hilt-first to Skeeter. “Take it.”

The matte black hilt seemed darker than ever against the snowy white of Skeeter’s fur. He picked it up and held it, looking at the play of light along the gleaming blade. He hefted it, testing the feel.

“No real weight,” Tristan said, crossing his arms across his chest and leaning against the wall. “Couple dozen grams is all. Once you get used to it, you don’t even think about it being there, ’til you need it, and then it’s in your hand and you’re going to work.”

“You mean, you’ve…” Skeeter began, his words trailing off as he looked with new eyes at the device in his hand.

Lean of weight as Tristan had said, the blade was reinforced by a stiffening spire of steel down its length, lending it a triangular aspect. Much like the leopard who carried it, the weapon seemed purpose built for getting in and back out of a situation.

“Yeah.” The word was delivered with a straight face. There was no braggadocio, no need to inflate past deeds. It was the simple declaration of a lifelong warrior.

Skeeter held it back to Tristan, but the leopard shook his head. A thick claw protruded from his paw and tapped on the long blade.

“First time was on Hephaestus IV. Big rat. About my height, but wider and more muscled. He was guarding an ammunition depot. Took him in the ear. Straight through the head. Guy named Yuri was with me, and he took out the other guard.”

Skeeter swallowed and his gaze became a little glassy.

“If we didn’t get that depot, the rats would have kept shelling our guys. So our unit worked its way forward until we got close. Yuri and I went in at night, all quiet-like. Opened a door for the sappers and lit the sky.”

Tristan recovered the blade from Skeeter, spinning it in his fingers like a drummer at a concert. It vanished into a sheath a few seconds later.

“So like I was saying, sometimes life ain’t easy. You gotta take a chance. Step up and give it a shot. Hell, pup, I lived my life taking chances. One after another.”

“But what happens when you take the chance and it goes wrong?” Skeeter asked. Tristan chuckled, a deep sound akin to a growl.

“Shit happens, you know? Some gambles don’t pay off, but some do. I ain’t ever had anything major go wrong. Missing a toe, got a few scars, and a chunk of my tail is gone, but for two decades kicking rat ass that ain’t much of a price.”

The door opened, letting in a wave of heat that made Skeeter wince. He turned to see Diem step inside. The expression of warmth at seeing Skeeter turned into exasperation when he saw who the young fox was speaking to.

“Gara, pup,” he said, invoking the goddess with his usual casual manner. “You haven’t been listening to this old reprobate, have you?”

“I needed some advice.”

“I was helping him,” Tristan said.

Diem laughed aloud. He unslung his rifle and propped it against the wall, and then went to the refrigerator to pull a beer from its cool confines. “You were telling war stories again.”

“That’s helping!”

“How?”

“He asked about bravery. About fear. I answered.”

Diem cocked his head for a moment and then nodded. “True. You do have that covered,” he admitted. He spun the top from the bottle and upended it, downing half of it in one prodigious swallow.

“I’m not sure how much of it really applies, though,” Skeeter said. “I mean, I’m not going to war.”

“So what’s the situation?” Diem asked. Skeeter looked at the floor and fell silent. A glance up at Tristan revealed nothing as the other warrior shook his head.

“Somebody picking on you, pup?” Tristan asked.

“You tried to give him advice without knowing for what?” Diem asked. He took another drink of his beer. Setting the bottle on the top of a counter, he leaned backward to sit on the table. His foot drifted forward in a lazy kick that served only to get Skeeter’s attention. When the fox looked up, Diem grinned.

“It’s Miranda,” he guessed. Skeeter’s head jerked up and his eyes met Diem’s.

“Who’s Miranda?” Tristan asked.

Diem made a vague gesture of direction. “Little kitten from up the road a ways,” he answered. “The one you always see Skeeter here hanging around.”

Tristan threw his hands up and howled with laughter. Skeeter shot him a dirty look.

“It’s not funny!” the fox barked at him.

“Oh, no doubt!”

“What’s the situation?” Diem asked again, dropping down until he was close to Skeeter’s height.

“I want to ask her out,” Skeeter admitted.

“I take it back,” Tristan said, waving his hands. “Not funny at all.”

Diem glared at him for a second before realizing the veteran had blanched and was serious. He put a friendly paw on Skeeter’s shoulder.

“It sounds weird, but you were right. Tristan can tell you more about fear than most anyone here. He’s lived through shit that most of us only see in our nightmares.”

“This isn’t war, though!” Skeeter repeated.

“It’s worse, pup.”

Skeeter looked up, his ears perking. “What do you mean?”

“I can roll into a firefight any day of the week. Three possible outcomes: I get dead, I get hurt, or I come out clean. All I’m risking is my life. That ain’t shit compared to putting your heart on the line.”

“You’re not helping,” Diem said.

“Just telling him like I see it. Girls are a whole ‘nother thing.”

“He needs someone to tell him it will work out.”

“And what if it doesn’t?”

“It’s Miranda!” Diem yelled. “She’s head over heels for this little mook!”

Skeeter’s head snapped up once again, eyes widening. “She is?”

Diem reached out and picked up the winter fox by his shoulders, standing him on a chair so they were eye to eye. He leveled a gaze on the youth that had seen enemy troops run in terror.

“You tell her I said anything and I’ll plant my foot up your ass,” he warned. “Now you listen to me. You swallow that fear and go ask her.”

“But what if -”

In a blur of motion, Diem flicked a claw against Skeeter’s forehead. The dull thwack sound echoed in the room. As Skeeter rubbed at his forehead, Diem pointed at Tristan.

“Twenty years he’s danced with fate. He’s dumb and a bit of a dick, but he’s still here. Fear is all that’s holding you back. All you can say is ‘what if’. Well, what if she says ‘yes’, dumbass?”

“I would die.”

“So would I,” Tristan said, ignoring the dramatic tone Skeeter used. “If she says, ‘yes, dumbass’, I’ll die laughing.”

<<<END>>>

So today’s prompt was “fear”. I didn’t know where to start when it came right down to it. I knew I was probably going to run something in the anthro setting (I have really got to figure out a name for this…) but I didn’t know what to address. My background music gave me the quote at the top of the tale, and I rolled with it. The character of Tristan fell into place – a warrior who relies on his luck even more than his skill, and has done so for an incredible amount of time. I pictured the fear he might have experienced through his years, and then decided to twist it so that it was not the story of his fear that was the focal point. Making him a mentor seemed a good angle, but taking out the idea of him mentoring a younger soldier kept it fresh. Bringing my old friend Skeeter into the mix just added a touch of fun. Hope y’all liked it. Drop a note and let me know if you’re digging these stories.

TMM

 

Miranda wondered if her eyes had ever been this wide before.

Skeeter was dangling from the elevated grasp of the shipboard marine and the marine was staring down at the youth as if he was little more than prey for the terrifying teeth and claws that he was displaying. Skeeter looked panicked and embarrassed at the same time, as if getting caught was worse than the threat of raw violence exuded by the lion.

“You don’t belong here,” the marine rumbled. The words were deep baritone notes, forced from within a barrel chest. His teeth clacked together like graveyard bones when he spoke.

“No shit,” Skeeter managed. His eyes were fixed on the tawny-furred paw that held him aloft. Tangled in his longcoat lapels, the paw was almost larger than Skeeter’s own head.

“It’s my fault!” Miranda said, waving her own paws to get the marine’s attention. “We were playing hide and –”

“Stop talking, miss.”

The order came not from the enormous lion in his starched jumpsuit, but from behind Miranda. She whirled in place, still with her arms above her head. She had seen it on the vid – you were supposed to keep your hands in the air, right?

Standing there was a long, lanky leopard with a strange hat that seemed to hang down over one side of his head. He wore a different uniform. Sand-colored and spotted in a manner that mimicked the leopard’s own coloration instead of the drab grey of the marines, the shirt had no name or insignia attached. He also, as opposed to the marine, carried no weapons.

“Sir, I’m –” she started. He shook his head and gestured for her to be silent, holding a finger in front of his mouth. As the words died in her throat, he nodded and smiled. He used his other hand to gently push her arms back down by her sides, winking at her as he did so.

“This isn’t your place,” the lion said. The leopard half-shrugged, letting his cocked head drop toward the raised shoulder.

“I know, I know. I’m colony security, and this is your ship. It’s cool, brother. They just got outta the controlled zone, is all. I’ll take them back and you can go on your way. You wanna put the kid down?”

The marine shifted his gaze from the leopard and back to Skeeter.

“You’ll keep ’em corralled?” he asked.

“Count on it,” said the leopard.

The paw opened and Skeeter tumbled free. His legs did not set well when he landed, and he fell backward onto his haunches. He winced as he knew his tail would bruise from the impact, but even that was preferable to the grinning maw he had been staring into a moment before.

“About time,” he said, standing and smoothing the lines of his jacket. He tried to look defiant. The paw that fell on his shoulder flashed a series of wickedly-pointed claws for just a second as if to tell him to consider his next actions carefully.

“You be quiet, too, kid. Grown-ups are talking here.”

“Hey, pal –” Skeeter began. The leopard’s paw wrapped around Skeeter’s mouth and held his muzzle closed. He didn’t have to work hard to keep it closed. It seemed more an exercise in simple restraint.

“I appreciate you helping me out,” the leopard told the marine. “I’m sure you can imagine how this shit is gonna make me look.”

“Like an idiot?”

“Yep,” the leopard said with a throaty chuckle. “I’ve got them from here.”

The lion shook his head. “Stupid ground pounder,” he said with a sneer as he pointed them to the entry door.

A ripple of muscles ran across the leopard’s muzzle, and one edge of his mouth peeled up and back, exposing a fang. He placed a paw on the back of each of the kids and urged them on toward the door.

“Nobody can just accept a friendly word these days,” he said as the door closed behind them. “Always gotta flex that extra little bit.”

“What do you mean?” Miranda asked.

“That last comment was to see if he could piss me off enough to take a swing at him.”

“Why didn’t you?” asked Skeeter. “Too tough for you?”

The leopard looked askance at him and then laughed. “Yeah, kid. We’ll go with that.”

“My dad told me you guys were supposed to be some kind of super fighting machines,” Skeeter pressed.

“We do okay. When we need to.”

“Well if I was that good, I would have jumped him.”

“And that’s why you won’t get to be that good. That’s the kind of mistake a kid fresh outta boot makes. Thinking that they taught you everything you need to know to get by in a fight, and you wind up in some dive bar with a chip on your shoulder. Some idiot mouths off about your branch and you go to pound him just the way you’ve been taught. Boom. You wake up in a sickbay with half your teeth broken. Rookie mistake, kid. See, if I’d tagged that big motherfu — Oh, sorry, miss,” he said, looking down at Miranda with a friendly smile.

“It’s okay,” she said, giggling.

“If I had hit him, the marines on board would have all been within their rights to thump any of our guys anywhere they saw them. After that it would have escalated ship-wide. Far easier for me to swallow my pride and escort you to back to the controlled zone. A little humility goes a long way.”

Miranda and Skeeter both smiled at the leopard. “You’re pretty smart,” she said.

“Still,” Skeeter said, brushing at his lapels yet again. “I wish you had kicked his butt.”

“I notice you didn’t do anything either,” said the leopard.

Skeeter shrugged. “I was ready. If he had held me up there much longer I was gonna pee my pants at him.”

 

END