Coming Home I: Swing Low, Sweet Chariot by Maureen S. O'Brien (email@example.com) [Of course Airwolf doesn't belong to me! It belongs to String. Or the Firm. Okay, Bellisario and/or Universal. But everything that doesn't belong to them belongs to me. Spoilers for the episode "Horn of Plenty". Takes place after the 3rd season; the 4th never happened.] ------------------------------------------------------------ Swing low, sweet chariot, Comin' for to carry me home.... --- Traditional African-American spiritual from the days of slavery. ------------------------------------------------------------ "Tobit said, ...Though alive, I am among the dead. I can hear a man's voice, but I cannot see him.' Raphael answered, 'Take courage! God has healing in store for you, so take courage!'" --- Tobit 5:10 The cell wall had as many days tallied on it as the prisoner had scars. But the important number was kept inside his head. 18 years. He had been moved 11 times from prison to prison. The war was over, he had heard. Most of his fellow POWs had been sent home years ago. But some had not. The ones who knew too much, or had been hurt too much, or had somehow been forgotten. He had the roll call in his head -- they all did. But it got shorter every year. But somehow, he knew his brother had not forgotten. Sometimes he dreamed that String was talking to him,telling him he was coming. Telling him to hold on. He held on. They all did. They shared their memories, thoughts and dreams in the slow network of tap-conversations that passed from cell to cell. But the roll call got shorter every year, and wrinkles grew deeper, and everyone wondered if anyone outside still cared. They prayed often, but there no longer seemed much hope in praying for freedom. Freedom was when the list got shorter. Three taps on the wall meant "Listen up!" He waited eagerly for a message to begin. Nothing. But then he heard it: the chatter of some kind of machine gun, the closer sound of the guards' weapons. A whoosh like a rocket launcher. And above it all, a eerie howl oscillated through the air. He didn't have a window to look out. From the sound of the fight, that might be lucky. He crouched down behind the door. If the guards decided to kill the prisoners, he wanted a chance to overpower them and escape. The guns went silent. The howling continued. Damn, it reminded him of something. But what? The closest he could get was a jet engine, but that was ridiculous. The guns chattered briefly again; but the guards' guns stopped first. Then the guns began again. The door shot open. A low hiss. "Come on!" In English. A Texan! Some short guy in black peered cautiously around the doorway, an Uzi in his hands. He saw String behind the door. "If you can walk, c'mon! If not, tell me and I'll help." "I can walk." He grinned. "I can walk all the way home, if you want!" "That's what I like to hear!" His voice went up an octave before he realized, made a shushing motion, and slipped out the door to the next cell. St. John raised an eyebrow as he followed. A teenager? Awfully short guy, too. And the way this guy walked down the corridor, he wasn't a guy at all! A woman Green Beret? He smiled slowly as he joined her out in the hall. He'd let the other guys figure it out by themselves. He didn't want their rescuer mobbed. The chatter of guns was growing closer now. The woman hurried them from cell to cell as the line of freed prisoners following her grew. Those who could not walk fast enough leaned on others who were stronger. St. John tapped his fingers nervously against his leg. They were going too slow. Someone would catch them. Someone behind him cleared his throat. "You know, you can use your voice for that." St. John was bewildered for a minute. Then he looked down at his fingers and laughed. It sounded a bit rusty, but it was a laugh. They came to the end of the corridor and the woman hushed them. "With any luck, the guards are all fighting over on the other side of the building." The guns cut in again. "When you get outside, head toward the patch of jungle up ahead. Your transport's hidden out there. If the guards catch on, I'll cover you; but let's make sure they don't catch on." She looked at them, making sure they understood. They did. Then she slid out the door and found cover, and they followed, one by one. St. John waited in line. He'd never met a woman like her before. It should have seemed strange to take orders from a woman, to be protected by her. But she didn't act like it was anything special. The world sure must have changed while they'd been in here.... He was coming to the head of the line now. He could feel the adrenaline flow. Just a few short yards and he'd be halfway home. He peered from behind the door as the man in front of him scurried across the open ground and was swallowed up by the jungle. Now it was his turn. He tried to run as quietly as he could, but he couldn't help hearing the noises he made. Despite all the exercises he'd done in his cell, it hurt to run. The bumps in the muddy ground made him stumble. But he kept going until he crossed the treeline. He panted and walked a little further into the jungle. Then he saw it. A line of parked trucks. In front of them stood another woman, and a man with a cane and an eyepatch; both also wore black. As they motioned him over, he couldn't help chuckling. Ooh, action attire. Must be the Agency or the Firm or such. He trotted toward them, then did a doubletake. That woman was black. How'd she get hired as a spy? How was she senior enough to get put on an dangerous mission? He mentally shook his head. The same way a woman just saved your butt, stupid! The times, they have been a-changin'. "I'm Marella. This is Archangel. And you are?" Any other day, St. John would have thought codenames were stupid and pretentious. Today they seemed appropriate. "Lieutenant St. John Hawke, USAF. Need my serial number, miss angel?" Marella raised her eyebrows and tapped on a boxy device on the hood of a truck. "Not at all. We know all about you, Lieutenant." "Because I was doing a spook mission when I got captured?" "Because your brother's been on my back about you for years," Archangel said. "Unofficially, you may have heard him swooping around up there." "String's here?" Archangel took St. John's arm and steadied him. "Yes, and you'll see him soon. Right now, though, you should get in the back of that truck." St. John got in the back of a truck. They were painted with Laotian Army markings, and the drivers wore Laotian uniforms. "Are they just gonna drive us outa here?" one of the POWs asked. "I mean, won't somebody suspect?" The last person got in, and the back of the truck banged shut behind him. "Not if they don't see us," somebody answered. St. John wasn't sure he liked it. He'd been transferred between prisons in trucks just like these. Maybe that was the backup story, if anyone caught them. The driver opened up a little window from the cab and counted noses. "We're leaving," he told them. He spoke with a sort of California-Laos accent. "If the border guards realize you aren't prisoners, use what's in the crate. Keep them hidden till then." St. John was sitting next to the crate. The top was loose. He lifted it off and looked inside. "M-16's," he reported with wonder. "Loaded. One for everybody. "We really are free." ------------------------------------------------------------ It had all started on a clear morning at the cabin on Eagle Lake. Stringfellow Hawke was at his kitchen table, cleaning fish. Tet pretended to relax at his feet, secretly determined that no fish guts would fall without his immediate attention to them. String shook his head and whispered to Tet, trying not to wake the whole house. "Raw fish is no good for you, old hound. Wait till it's cooked and cleaned, like the rest of us." "Rut I ron't rant to rait, Ring!" String looked up, startled. Cait grinned at him and dropped her doggy voice. "Mornin', Hawke. Just sayin' what Tet's thinkin'." "Well, Tet can _think_ about it as much as he wants," String answered in a low voice. "You're pretty wide awake for someone who hasn't had coffee yet." "Sun woke me up. It's gonna be a hot one." She grinned again and went looking for a mug. "I swear, if it gets as hot again today as it did yesterday, you're gonna see me skinnydipping in the lake!" He watched her walk across the kitchen and stretch to pull a mug down from the cabinet. The view was good from here. "I don't want you to encourage tourism." But Cait was facing the stove and didn't see his expression. Her mouth twisted. "Yeah. Uh-huh." She poured herself a cup of coffee and sat down. Then she smiled, though it was a little more subdued. "So what's on the agenda today, o Master of the Revels?" "Fish for breakfast. Cold cuts for lunch. Hot dogs and hamburgers for supper. Fireworks and music afterward. Michael should show up around dinnertime; he's good at that. That's about it, Cait." "Sounds good," she said sincerely. "Happy Fourth of July, Hawke." He smiled at her. She sat back and drank her coffee, and a ray of sunlight touched her hair and made it glow like flame. He seldom saw her this still. Even now, he could tell that she was busy drinking in everything the morning could offer. He turned his eyes back to the fish, confident that Caitlin O'Shaughnessy was Having Fun. A few fish later, Le Van walked in. "Morning, Uncle String, Cait. Is it breakfast yet?" "It will be. Put some butter in the skillet and turn on the stove." Cait raised an eyebrow. "Real butter? Living dangerously, Hawke?" "No! Don't make me remember that makeup woman!" Le Van looked confused. Cait stepped in. "Yeah, be glad you didn't meet her, Half Pint. She took one look at your Uncle Dom's lunch and nearly blew a gasket! 'Too many calories. Too much oil. Too much this. Too much that." She laughed out loud, then caught herself and lowered her voice. "So Dom informed her that _his_ family came from a little town in Italy where no one ever had a heart attack and they all lived to be a hundred. And that Italian food was the healthiest kind of food there was. And that even if he died young, he'd have more fun in a day than she'd have in a million years! She stalked off, and even the vegetarians on the crew clapped. I thought I'd die laughing!" "I don't see why she got so worried about it," Le Van said after a moment. "Food’s food, and any food’s better than none." String closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Cait took her mug to the sink and managed to pat Le Van's shoulder as she did. "Let's see how the skillet's going. Hm. Butter's starting to bubble. Turn it down just a little and I'll get the fish!" She washed the mug and her hands and went to get the plateful of fish from String. He shook his head and stood up. "My turn to cook." He walked over to the stove. "At least, I'll get it started. I'll need you to watch so the fish don't burn, Half Pint." He washed the fish one last time and prepared to put them in the pan. "No problema." Le Van smiled. Uncle String was teaching him to cook and do all kinds of things. He already had earned a bunch of camping merit badges and stuff, and he was able to teach the younger kids in the troop, too. He'd stayed at home last summer and this one, because Uncle String wanted to get to know him; but next summer he was going to camp. And in a few years, he could even go to Philmont! Dom walked in, rubbing his eyes. "Coffee! I need coffee!" Cait gave him a cup of coffee and a look of dubious sympathy. Dom rolled his eyes, but he drank the cup with gusto. "Ah! Red, you just saved my life! You have my eternal gratitude!" String rolled his eyes in turn. "That and a quarter will get you another cup of coffee, Cait." Cait chuckled and shook her head. "Where in this city?" "Right here." Cait got her purse from the closet, dug out a quarter, and slapped into String's hand. "There! You now have Dom's eternal gratitude and my quarter. Where's the coffee?" String ceremoniously poured her a second cup, into his most impressive mug. He knew she didn't really want it, but it would be a shame to waste the shtick. She took it from him with an equally ceremonious manner, raised the mug into the air, and prepared to say something silly. But he would never know just what, because he heard something just then and stiffened. "Chopper. Sounds like Michael. What's he doing here this early?" "Bringing more bad news, of course," Dom snorted. Cait sighed. "Well, at least we won't be the only folks working on a holiday." "Whatever he's here about, I think this batch of fish is almost done," Le Van interrupted. They smelled smoke. "Um, well done." Michael Coldsmith-Briggs sauntered toward Hawke's cabin. Hawke waited at the door. "Come to meet me?" he called, a bit surprised. Then he saw smoke rising from a skillet in Hawke's hand. "Or did you start the fireworks a bit early?" "Neither. Breakfast is gonna be a little crispy today, that's all." String waved a final bit of smoke away from the skillet and turned back inside. The fish hadn't actually caught on fire, but he really didn't want the cabin smelling like burnt fish. Michael followed. Hawke didn't invite him to eat with the rest, but someone had put out an extra place setting, and there seemed to be plenty of fish coming. Not to mention the rest of the food. Michael took a seat and found himself relaxing. For a would-be recluse, Hawke was suspiciously good at hospitality. Dom gave Archangel the hairy eyeball. Why wasn't he telling them why he came? Maybe that was a good sign, and it wasn't that urgent. But in that case, why didn't he wait for a reasonable hour? Hell, maybe the guy just wanted to mooch a decent meal. He sure was putting it away. Dom checked out the others' plates. They all had appetites this morning. Le Van was his really good eater. Good thing. Kid needed some meat on his bones. String was cooking the last of the fish, but he kept snatching bites when he came over near the table. And Cait had stopped that silly diet she'd put herself on. Hmph. Eating rabbit food and half-starving wasn't the way to get String to notice her. No matter what she did, she was too strong to turn herself into one of String's broken- winged birds, and she was too smart to be one of his bimbos. Besides, String didn't keep either type of girl around for more than a little while. He was gonna have to tell Cait, one more time, that she should just be herself. Especially since String had stopped going out with most of those girls last year, when Le Van moved in. Dom looked up. String had finished cooking the fish, but he was still standing by the stove. Dom shook his head. "Hey, String! Your fish are getting cold." String stopped staring into space. "Coming." With satisfaction, Dom watched him sit down and start eating. Dom grabbed himself a third slice of toast and coated it with mulberry jam. No sense letting good food go to waste. When the meal was over, Archangel still didn't seem in any hurry to tell them his news. Dom decided to corner him. “It's my turn to do dishes. But since you showed up late, Michael, you wash and I'll dry." Archangel didn't even blink, dang it. He just took off his white jacket, rolled up his immaculate white sleeves, and started running water. Dom, disappointed, started bringing him dishes from the table. Cait (whose turn it really was) shrugged and made herself scarce, as did Le Van. String walked off somewhere. "So," Dom asked, "what brings you here? And don't say the Fourth. Even you wouldn't bring a briefcase to a barbecue." "There's no job," Michael assured him. "Just a briefing for Hawke. The rest of you will probably want to be present, but I'd appreciate it if Le Van was out of earshot." "Huh." Dom was still suspicious. "Changing the subject, has there been any progress to report in the matter of your other project?" "What other project?" "Your little matchmaking scheme." "It's not a scheme!" Dom said indignantly. "You have schemes. I just have...plans." "Yes," Michael agreed. "Schemes are less obvious. At least, obvious to you, me, and Le Van." Dom took his meaning. "Yeah, you could throw a bomb at those two, and they still wouldn't notice. I thought that kinda thing only happened in soap operas." Michael smirked. "Perhaps you should adopt some of their strategies. Let's see. Should you get them lost in a blizzard, or just housebound in one?" "You seem to know an awful lot about the soaps. Must have a lot of time on your hands," Dom smirked back. "I just thought that if I had Cait and String spend more time together at work...." "That's work. Hawke and Cait are hardly going to hit on each other there. Away from work would be better." "They do spend time together away from work! Here they are! But do you see anything romantic going on? Noooo." Dom sighed. "At least neither of them have dated any psychos or corpses-to-be lately. Maybe I should take Le Van up on his plan, though." "What'd he want to do?" "Start asking String if Cait could be his aunt. I told him he was a little too old to do cute." Archangel chuckled. "True. Well, String's problem is that he thinks he's jinxed. But what's Cait's? She seems to know how she feels about String. She certainly read me the riot act back when Horn kidnapped String." "Wish I knew. Most women just go after String. Cait just sorta looks at him, when he won't notice, and keeps the rest to herself." "Not then, she didn't. Now there's a plan. Get Hawke kidnapped, brainwashed, and half-killed again, and maybe you'll be getting somewhere!" Dom groaned. "If they keep this up much longer, I may take you up on that." If it'd been up to Michael, he'd've just done the briefing when the boy was out playing. But Hawke called Le Van over, explained that they'd be discussing something he wasn't cleared for, and asked him to go for a walk. And the boy went. It didn't seem like proper child behavior. When Michael'd been young, he would complained about it. Or gone and then snuck back. But come to think of it, his parents had never just told him they didn't want him to hear something; they'd played some elaborate but easy-to-see-through game of getting each other aside. Maybe if they'd been as open about it as String, he wouldn't have minded leaving, either. Michael opened his briefcase, drew out a folder, and handed it to Hawke. "This is very recent intelligence, and it wasn't easy to obtain. But it's been verified." Hawke started to read it. At one point, he stopped in his tracks. Then he flipped back to the beginning, started reading more carefully, and read all the way to the end. Then there were photos. New photos. He looked at them with equal attention. Cait and Dom watched this whole routine, puzzled, while Michael maintained a careful stone face. Finally, Hawke closed the folder and set it on his lap with infinite care. "So you're saying you've found St. John." Cait and Dom held their breaths. "Well, we've been wrong before. But that's what it looks like." Michael paused. "Please don't tell your nephew yet. I would hate to disappoint...." Dom grinned. "So that's what you didn't want Le Van to hear! You big ol' softy!" Michael sighed. "Please. Operational security really should have demanded that I not show any of you the information until after St. John was home." "You were going to run an op and not let me in on it?" String was not happy. "The Firm was going to run an op, and not even let _me_ in on it. The Committee is, shall we say, more than a bit embarrassed by its previous failures at filling its side of our bargain. But fortunately, one of my sources clued me in, and I had enough time to put together a case for making Airwolf part of the plan." String shook his head. "I want to go inside the prison and get my brother out." "Out of the question. We'll have Firm field agents handling the assault. You can best support us from the air." "I don't want to hear afterward that somebody made a mistake." Cait bit her lip and then spoke up. "I hate to say it, Hawke, but you can't go in. You've got Le Van to think of. If anything went wrong, he wouldn't have you or his father." String winced. "Okay. But I need somebody down there I can trust to look out for St. John!" "Then I'll go," said Cait. String's mouth took on a very stubborn line. "I wasn't talking about you." Michael grimaced. "Don't look at me, Hawke. I had to fight very hard to get in charge of getting them safely away. Hm. Now that you mention it, Cait does have experience with this kind of mission. She got you and Dom out of Horn's fortress two years ago." "Besides, you're our best pilot," Cait pointed out. "You ought to be the one in the air." Hawke chewed it over. The worst thing was that they were making sense. But Cait.... He gave her a look. "These days, I'm not best by much." Cait turned pink with pleasure. "Why, that's the nicest thing you've ever said to me!" Michael sighed. If she was getting that good, he'd have to find her a raise. Dom grinned. It was true. But String had brought it up rather conveniently. Cait caught on, and looked at Hawke with suspicion. "Flattery will get you nowhere. I'm still going." Hawke glared at her. "Fine. Now that you people are done planning the mission for me, I'm going to fetch Half Pint." He stomped off. Cait glared after him. "Fine. Be that way!" She stomped off in the opposite direction. Michael laughed. "Well, Hawke said there'd be fireworks...." Dom just shook his head. "They'll be back. They'll apologize, and pretend it never happened. And then they'll get back to the usual little looks at each other. Allll night." "Well, you could always kidnap 'em, strip 'em naked and lock 'em in a room together." Dom gave him a look. "Okay, maybe not just now...." "It's not funny. They're tearin' themselves apart over this, and that's not real survival-oriented. But if I sat 'em down and talked about it, they'd just deny everything and then go do something stupid." He sighed. "Maybe kidnapping's not such a bad idea after all." ------------------------------------------------------------ So there Cait was, dressed in a black field suit just like the folks from the Firm. Waiting to get picked up. And waiting. And waiting. Finally, she heard the Lady's banshee keen. The guards shot at the big black helicopter. The bullets bounced off, and they cursed with frustration. Then Airwolf fired back. The guards cursed again, and retreated as Airwolf settled towards the ground, firing sporadically. "What took you so long?" Cait called into her radio. "The angels flew off five minutes ago!" "We had company," String answered. "Come on out." Cait sprinted towards Airwolf. Halfway there, the guards noticed that the helicopter had stopped firing. So of course they started firing at her. She zigzagged a little, wondering whether it would help or if she'd just zag into a bullet. Then the door was open and Dom was pulling her in as Airwolf rose beneath them. "Mama mia, that was close!" Dom wiped his brow for effect. "You okay, Red?" Cait came forward, buckled into the copilot's chair, put on her helmet, and pointedly counted her limbs. "Two arms, two legs, one head -- I guess so!" She paused. "Not that I need a head to work for you, Dom. Right, String?" Hawke didn't say anything, didn't laugh or even grunt. Cait sighed. He was afraid to ask, so he didn't. Typical Hawke. "I missed you guys. I missed talking. On the way over here, all those Firm people didn't want me to know who they were. So all we could talk about was the weather. And baseball. Endless, in-depth analyses of baseball. I mean, not that I didn't want to learn the entire history of the Boston Red Sox and the long-term plans of the Toronto Blue Jays, but sheesh!" She buckled into her seat, wishing she could sit beside him or see his face. "I found your brother, Hawke. He was fine," she hurried to add. From what she could hear over the radio, String still seemed to be holding his breath. She struggled to fill the silence. "He looks a lot like his picture." He looks like hell, she thought. But I can't tell Hawke that. "Michael says he got on the truck okay. They're on their way across the border now." She heard Hawke let out his breath. There was a long silence again. "Cait?" "Yes?" "Take the controls." Neither Cait nor Dom said a word. Cait was tired, but she took the controls and carefully did not notice Hawke switching off his radio. They all knew what he was doing. It's hard to fly when your eyes are blurred with tears. It was almost too easy. The border wasn't a problem. They crossed it in a village too small for guards. The villagers didn't want the Army to stop there, so they asked no questions. Then they were in Vietnam and safe. Vietnam? Safe? Strange way to think. The trucks stopped about 5 klicks further on. The spooks in black gave them some clothes to change into, now that the POWs were no longer in danger of being shot as spies if they were caught out of uniform. "You want us to wear...suits?" "They're tropical weight," Archangel assured them. "And they should fit, even if they're a bit loose. My tailor estimated your measurements from your records." "But why?" "From here to Ho Chi Minh City, you are all Australian businessmen," Marella explained. "Socialist planned economies are a great way to starve, so Vietnam's government is opening up to capitalism. You're here looking for investment opportunities." St. John felt his jaw dropping. Marella smiled at him. "Yes. Even though we lost the war, we won." She looked at Archangel. "Now, if you'll excuse me, sir, I'll go to the minivan to change." A couple guys whistled after her. The rest just started to change into their suits as fast as they could. But St. John had a question for Archangel. "What on Earth is a minivan?" Cait turned her mind back to the mission. "How far to the Vietnam border, Dom?" "Twenty miles, Red. Michael said he'd need a good fifteen minutes distraction to get back across and onto the suits' itinerary." "Well, we've given them a good ten already. Okay. We'll head over toward that army base and distract." "Uh, Red...." Dom broke in, "I think the distraction's coming to *us*." Three MiGs. Just what a girl needed to make her day complete. "Hawke, did you want..." "All yours, Cait." His breathing was easy now, and he sounded too damn cheerful for Cait's taste. Like he was offering to let her lick the beaters after making a cake. Well, maybe it was that easy for him. Not that she couldn't do it, of course. These were older fighters, the best Laos could afford but not the best she'd ever faced. Hawke had spent some of the ammo and missiles, but there were plenty left. The difficulty was that, ideally, they were supposed to get out of here without wreaking _too_ much havoc. They weren't declaring war on Laos, even if it had been keeping Americans prisoner for umpteen years. Considering the situation, Hawke was not real concerned with Laos' feelings. Maybe she wasn't either. And yet -- it didn't seem fair to shoot down a bunch of poor suckers in peacetime, especially since the Lady was a much better craft than those obsolete MiGs. But even as she thought this, Cait was sending her mind to the still place it lived when she was dogfighting. Her eyes on the sky and her instruments, her hands on the stick, the feel of her craft, the information that came through her ears, and the calculating thoughts that told her how to move, how to evade, how to kill. She did not leave that place until her enemies no longer were a threat. She took a breath. Now she could think about what she'd done and how she'd done it. Objectively, she'd done well. She'd flown skillfully and defended her craft. But there had been people in those MiGs.... Archangel sent them the signal that told them he was safely into Vietnam. They flitted over the border of Laos, through Vietnam, and back out over the Pacific. Finally, Cait asked, "How many ejected?" "Two." Santini didn't add anything. There wasn't much else to say, was there? Cait didn't say anything in reply. She just flew on, steady as a rock. Yeah, right. String silently cursed himself. He should have spared her the death. But how could he? They were in a dangerous business, and Cait was good at it; taking over the controls would have been an insult. But as far as they knew, she'd never killed anyone before. "You're probably calling yourself a murderer right now." Cait's hands clenched, and String felt the Lady tremble just a hair. Good. He'd broken her out of that shell. "I know the feeling. I know how it feels to have blood on your hands. But they didn't leave you any other choice. If you weren't so good, you and Dom and I would be dead right now, and you wouldn't feel anything at all." Cait put the Lady on autopilot. Then she took off her helmet and whirled on String. "Dammit, don't you think I know that?" "I think you need to be reminded." Hawke barked out something that sounded like laughter but wasn't. "It doesn't get any easier." Santini spoke up. "Ain't that the truth." The sky was blue and so was the ocean. Whitecaps sprung up underneath Airwolf's wake, then smoothed themselves back into the sea. Cait watched Hawke fly the Lady, hoping her mind would settle too. It turned out that the spies were from the Firm, and that minivans were not some kind of super secret spy machine (though they looked futuristic enough to be one). Instead, they were a new way to pack the kids (or in this case, the spies and POWs pretending to be Aussies) into the car. There were a lot of spies. No wonder the guards had been so busy during their escape. The Firm's California Laotians drove the trucks off, planning to abandon them 50 klicks away just to muddy the trail. The M-16s went with them, but would not be abandoned. Waste not, want not. St. John's suit turned out to be a natty dark blue pinstripe. He wasn't sent to a minivan to watch _Crocodile Dundee_ on a automotive VCR. Instead, Archangel informed him that he was riding in the Rolls. St. John's eyes widen with delight. "I won't argue! But why?" "Because your brother would kill me if anything happened to you. And with Hawke, that's not just a figure of speech!" He sighed. "I know it's a bit paranoid. We're on the homestretch now. But we haven't had even one major screw-up yet, and that worries me." Archangel limped over to the car. Marella opened the door for him. She was sitting inside, sipping a drink and wearing a summer dress. She looked beautiful. She looked normal. St. John just looked at her. She smiled. Nice to know that one of the Hawkes noticed her. "Hello again, angel. Do you work for him, or do you have your own cloud?" Dumb, he thought. Boy, was he out of practice. Marella didn't seem to care, fortunately. "I used to work for Michael. I transferred to another department, a few years back. But he asked me to be part of the field team for this mission, and I accepted." "Why?" "Because I was part of the Airwolf Project from the very beginning, and I wanted to see it out to the end." She thumped her leg. "Considering how much it almost took from me." Archangel looked grim. "Indeed. Well, enough war stories. String asked me to brief you on the Airwolf Project so you'll know what's been going on. Here is an oath of secrecy for you to sign before we begin." "Paperwork." St. John looked at the clipboard, form and pen with distaste. "The only form of torture we were spared back there." Archangel signaled that the convoy was in Saigon, heading for the safe house. There the POW's would get fake ID and airline tickets to South Korea. Archangel would reveal their true identities to military authorities there, and they would come back home in triumph. The prisoners were almost free. Meanwhile, the Airwolf crew would fly up to South Korea and refuel on an otherwise deserted airstrip. Then they'd head back down the coast to keep an eye on things till Archangel signaled that they'd taken off from the airport. But in the middle of refueling, Dom saw String tense. "Michael and St. John are in trouble." Dom didn't bother to ask how he knew. "Cait, we gotta get out of here!" Cait didn't bother to leave things nice and neat. She just cut off the fuel and raced for the Lady. Hawke didn't bother to curse. His face took on that set look that promised trouble. They took off. He turned the Lady toward Saigon. Archangel and Marella had deliberately worn rare metals that the Lady could detect. In case something went wrong, he didn't mean to lose St. John twice. But even as they reached Saigon and headed for the safe house, someone called them on the radio. "Hawke, this is Archangel." Broadcasting in the clear? "We've been captured by Horn." String felt his gut clench. "So he told you to radio us." No sense using a special frequency or the codes, then. "Yes. He says to tell you that we're in the old city. Let me give you the directions." Archangel read them off slowly. They were insultingly clear. "He says that he won't trade for any prisoners unless all of you leave Airwolf and come inside. He says this time that means Hawke, Santini, _and_ O'Shaughnessy." He paused a moment. "Angela Horn sends you her regards, Caitlin." Hawke glanced at Cait. She was wearing a very unpleasant smile. "She remembered!" she fluted. String's lips twitched. Then it was time to get back to business. "Is anyone hurt? How are they treating everyone?" "We're fine so far." "Good. Tell Horn I want to talk to some of the POWs." "He says he knows perfectly well who you want. He's going to put St. John on." There was a bit of noise as the microphone was laid down or passed to someone else, and a stir of whoever was standing around it. "String?" In spite of everything, Hawke grinned and couldn't stop grinning. "St. John! Long time no hear!" Okay, it'd been stupid, String thought. But St. John was laughing, and that was good. "No kidding, little brother." Horn let them snarf at each other a moment. Then St. John sobered. "Horn says you know what he wants. He says if you try anything funny, he'll kill me first." Santini muttered, "Think of a new one, Horn." "He says to tell you you should appreciate the golden oldies, Uncle Dom. Guess everyone's a comedian," St. John added derisively. There was a little more noise in the background, and then St. John came back on. "Or a heckler.... String, he's making us sign off for now. See you in a while." The radio clicked off. Cait looked at Hawke. His face had been so alive while he talked to his brother. Now, just for a moment, she could see fear for St. John in his eyes. Then the impassive mask came back down. Dom said what they were all thinking. "We can't let that maniac have the Lady. But we can't let him kill St. John and the others. We need a plan." "We can lock the Lady so he can't get in -- that'll stall him for a while. Or leave one of those nasty surprise programs Archangel made us. Serve him right." Cait grinned. "Yeah, and leave a homing beacon or something to trace her by. Or better yet, just run around the corner when we've got the prisoners and then run back." "It could work," Cait said seriously. "Sometimes simple plans work best." "They work for you, Red, 'cause you get just as singleminded as String!" "We'll do all of the above," String decided, before the nervous byplay could get out of hand. "We can get rid of all our little surprises quickly, but Horn can't. And he won't expect us to try to get her back right after we leave." "Then what are we waiting for?" Dom asked. "Let's go get St. John!"