“Strike, Saber One Zero Five. Seven zero miles northeast with four, released from BARCAP, state seven point zero.”
“Saber One Zero Five, roger.” The strike controller then cleared Alex’s formation of F-18s inbound to his ship and directed him to switch to marshal frequency. He switched, checked in, and the voice of the ship’s controller came over his radio.
“Saber One Zero Five, marshal. You’re cleared to marshal on the two seven zero radial, angels fifteen.” There was a slight pause, then, “Expected approach time four five. Altimeter is three one point zero two.”
Alex led his formation in compliance with the directions, then the controller said in a conversational tone, “No excitement this trip?”
Alex snorted behind his face mask, a harsh sound of mild disgust he’d picked up in Scotland, then keyed his mike. “Nope, the bad guys are fully cowed today.” Today’s barrier combat air patrol along the Iraq-Iran border had been uneventful, and that was lucky for him. After two years on the ground, in a place and time where the fastest transportation on the planet was a galloping horse, the supersonic speed of the F-18 had taken getting used to again. Not the least like riding a bicycle. The plane Lieutenant MacNeil flew was the Navy’s top-of-the-line speeder, and acting fast was the only way to keep it from smacking into things. He’d been rustier than all hell on his return from the past, and it had taken him a while to feel truly comfortable again with a stick in his hand.
His preoccupation with Lindsay didn’t help matters. There had been a time when he’d taken his reflexes for granted, but no more. Coming up to speed without letting the Navy know he’d gone two years without a hop had been a tense, dangerous thing, but he’d pulled it off. His trap scores weren’t up to his previous standard, but at least he was still flying. Not dead yet.
The controller then said, “We’ll see you on deck. Got some news that might perk up your day.”
Alex frowned, wondering what news. Then it hit him, and a charge surged through him. “What news?” He knew what it had to be. It was time.
“Belay that, Lieutenant.” The other voice was a lieutenant commander also working in marshal control. A guy named Bannister. “Make your trap and never mind.”
“What? Is Lindsay all right? The cat’s out of the bag. It’s Lindsay, am I correct?”
“Your wife is fine. They’re both fine,” said Bannister.
“Both.” A wide smile pressed against Alex’s mask, and a loud laugh burst from him. “What is it?” When there was no reply, he added, “Seyeth ye freeleh; I moot ken.” He bit his lip for having lapsed into Middle English again, and though nobody laughed on the frequency, he figured they were all sniggering behind their mikes now. The guys thought it was British slang he’d picked up from Lindsay, but the truth was sometimes he used archaic vocabulary without realizing it.
He pressed the controller again for news, and translated his lapse. “I wish to know now, sir.”
“A boy. She had a boy, MacNeil. He’s healthy, she’s healthy, so don’t worry about them; get yourself onto the ship in one piece.”
Danu had been right. She’d told him months ago it would be a boy. A son. He was the father of a baby boy. He let out a whoop and a long, hearty laugh that contained not a little relief. A son. Now he couldn’t wait to get back to the ship.
Contrary to the fears of the controllers, Alex’s recovery was perfect. Screwing up and killing himself now was just not thinkable. Once on deck, he climbed from his cockpit and took his helmet off to tuck it under his elbow. Some pilots on their way to the catapults stopped to applaud and slap him on the back. The guys from his patrol and his own Guy In Back joined them, voices all loud and cheerful, but their eyes betrayed their real thoughts and Alex couldn’t stand to see them. The congratulations rang false — were false — for none of them believed Alex was the father of Lindsay’s baby. And there was nothing to be done about that. As far as they knew, he’d only met his wife three months ago. There was no way he could tell them about the two years he’d spent with her, a year of it married and a year of it as knights fighting for Scottish independence under Robert the Bruce.
How nuts would that sound? To be sitting around a table in the wardroom, telling his buddies he’d once been whacked on the back of the neck by the flat of a broadsword blade, and by that action had become a member of medieval Scottish nobility. Later on, he’d been made knight banneret in the midst of the most famous battle in Scottish history, and after that battle had been handed over an entire island in the Inner Hebrides. At the very least it would sound like bragging, but more likely the Navy would take a dim view and send him to a shrink if he uttered such a story. That would certainly be it for his career.
No, better they should think he was a cuckold than a nutcase. Instead of protesting, he pretended he couldn’t hear the hint of scorn or pity in their voices. He had faith he must be the baby’s father, and that was enough for him. Lindsay had been his wife longer than he’d known some of these pilots, and had proven herself to him more times and more fully than any of them had. So he thanked them all, ignored the odd looks, and walked away to the ship’s island and the escalators to the wardroom.
Behind him he heard one of them say in an exaggerated accent that may or may not have been meant to mimic Alex’s own slightly Southern speech, “That there boy is off to get hisself some phone.”
Alex grinned. That much was true. After his debriefing, Alex headed straight for a pay phone in the wardroom and called London. The hospital where Lindsay had planned to have the baby. It seemed to take forever for the call to go through, but Alex had patience, for he knew what it was like not to have a phone at all. Had the baby been born while he was deployed by King Robert, more than likely he wouldn’t have known it until the boy was several months old. He could wait a minute or so to hear Lindsay’s voice through a wire.
The patched-through call was not a good connection, and an annoying delay caused them to interrupt each other with false starts, but Lindsay’s gentle voice calmed Alex’s soul. Still wearing his zoombag and sidearm, looking like a well-used rag and feeling the motion of the ride from which he’d just returned, he leaned his forehead against the bulkhead and pressed himself to the phone as if he could hug his wife through it. He wished he were in London.
“Is he — “
“Where are — “
Alex tried again, and this time was able to get out an entire sentence. “Is he healthy?”
There was a pause, and he let it ride for the delay to pass. Then came, with a slight echo that emphasized the distance between them, “He’s perfect.” Even with the crappy connection Alex could hear the joy in her voice. “I didn’t get a very good look at him, and was fairly drugged up at the time, but he’s absolutely beautiful.” She still sounded a little drugged up, speaking slowly, almost haltingly. But her joy made him grin wider.