Always on Call Part Seven

Dingo wasn’t sure what kind of distraction Gecko had tried to create, but slinking through the long grass he couldn’t hear anything out of the ordinary.

He paused upon reaching an indent in the shrubland. It was man-made, the grass clearly flattened by boots. The coarse grass gave the roughly circular space a bumpy appearance.

Dingo eyed it with suspicion, it would be an easy place to trip or lose one’s footing.

He knelt down on one knee as he took in everything around him. On the other side of the clearing Dingo could see the small, stagnant pond. Not far to the left of it his young partner, Gecko was bound.

Dingo swore softly. The Unician, his dark, yellow-tinted skin still distinct thanks to his Canine night-vision, was no longer conscious.

Taking his focus from the young man he studied the Sarpien lounging on the grass in the very centre. Dingo noted he looked bored.

Ever so slowly, Dingo took the radio from his belt and turned the volume on the side to the lowest it would go without muting it. ‘You seeing this?’

‘Yep. The Sarpien bashed Gecko in the head when he started talking.’

‘Great. Now what do we do?’

Owl remained silent a couple of seconds. ‘You think you can take that Sarpien by yourself?’

‘Why? Do you have something better to do?’

‘Nice. Without Gecko we’re a tiny bit outnumbered. With a bit of luck they’re not expecting me though. If you can deal with him, I’ll ambush the others.’

‘Are they close?’

‘Ish. Don’t worry, I’ve got an idea to keep them out of your way.’

Dingo gave a silent sigh and put the radio back on his belt. Well, might as well get this over with.

He stood and marched through the remaining grass into the clearing. Blue Chameleon raised his head as he approached.

The heavy-set warrior didn’t seem too bothered by the extra company. Dingo noted he was expecting trouble, if he was already in his thick blue plates. Chameleon’s bug-eyed helmet was an ugly affair, and stopped Dingo from seeing the man’s face.

Dingo noted with distaste the man’s bared left arm, revealing a winding blue snake – the mark of those loyal to the sclithe known as Sharglin. A female, he’d heard. Dingo had no idea what kind of difference that made, and didn’t really want to ever find out.

‘You took your time,’ Chameleon drawled. ‘I was starting to think Tigermoth had actually managed to scare you off.’

‘Sorry to disappoint.’

‘Oh, I’m not disappointed,’ Chameleon stretched and got to his feet. ‘I’m glad you had the guts to come find me.’

‘It’s not you I’m after, Chameleon. Give me my partner back and I’ll let you walk away from this.’

A deep chuckle escaped the Sarpien’s helmet. ‘Where’d be the fun in that, Dingo? I get bored a lot here in South Sector, not that much goes on. About the only fun to be had is aggravating the fellow blue warrior in the area…that’s you, in case you were wondering.’

As Dingo watched Chameleon pull the longsword from its sheathe on his back, his hand travelled down to the sword at his waist. This wasn’t going to go well, Chameleon was hard to match one-on-one.

He drew his shortblade anyway. As he circled at a slow pace the small clearing with the Sarpien, Dingo reminded himself Chameleon used a hand-and-a-half, not just an average longsword.

‘No buildings for you to get upset about this time, Dingo,’ Chameleon mentioned.

Dingo barked a short laugh. ‘No, just your boring conversation.’

There came a nearby shriek of surprise followed by flurried wing beats. Dingo took the moment, rushing forwards in the Canine Slash, sword lunging in a diagonal stab.

Chameleon leapt backwards out of range of the thrust before advancing again, swinging his longsword through the air, chest-level.

Dingo allowed himself to fall backwards and initiated the Talon-Kick, avoiding Chameleon’s attack and taking out the Sarpien’s feet.

Rising back up, he didn’t bother to launch right into another move since Chameleon had rolled backwards to the other side of the clearing.

The Reptile warrior’s breath whistled through the slits in his helm. ‘Avian again, Dingo? You catch me off-guard with that every time.’

‘I’m glad you liked it.’

‘A Canine your size has got no business pulling stunts like that.’

Dingo grinned, Chameleon actually sounded offended. ‘I’ll practice Avian more often, Chameleon – just for you.’

Chameleon growled and launched forwards. Dingo met him, parrying his blade and spun into the Alpha Sweep, knocking the long blade from the Sarpien’s grasp with the spinning kick.

Another growl bubbled in Chameleon’s throat and a bright aura sphere began to glow in his hand.

Dingo made a strangled sound, realising he was too close to evade. Knowing there was only one course of action at this point, he created an aura sphere of his own and threw it, letting it collide with Chameleon’s before the Sarpien could hurl it in his direction.

The two azure balls of energy impacted into each other and ignited. Dingo gasped as the force blew him off his feet and into the long grass.

He groaned, rolling over onto his front with some difficulty. Stumbling unsteadily to his feet, Dingo made his way back into the clearing, wondering how exactly he’d managed to keep hold of his sword.

Looking about, he noticed Gecko was still more or less in the same place. Hearing an angry growl, he bit back his laugh when he saw Chameleon dragging himself from the pond.

When the Sarpien stood back on the grass, his blue armour covered with slimy algae, he rushed to his sword. The area lit up as it blazed blue in his hands.

Dingo planted his feet, allowing his shorter blade to sizzle with the same powerful aura energy. This wasn’t over yet.

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Always on Call Part Six

Dingo shook his head, this couldn’t be happening. He glanced at the small digital display in front of him, for the third time noting almost an hour had gone by. It would be nightfall soon. The lavender sky was already growing darker, with deeper shades of pink mixed in. Soon the second set would begin, when the sky gradually changed from its pink hue to dark cobalt.

‘He’s only nineteen.’

‘He’s a warrior,’ Owl disagreed. ‘Yes, he’s still a little clumsy in his use of the Power, but he’s very good. Don’t underestimate him, he would never have been assigned to Steiron if he couldn’t handle the danger that comes with it.’

Dingo nodded. He knew his friend was right, working on a daily basis with Gecko though, it was sometimes easy to forget.

He grunted, picking up Gecko’s familiar aura signature. ‘Found him, he’s not far in front of us.’

Owl peered through the window. ‘The Backwater? Why would he be here?’

Dingo shrugged, looking down at the overgrown weeds, almost man-high. The small stagnant pond which gave the disused backend of South Sector its name was barely visible.

‘We’ll stay put for now,’ Owl decided. ‘We have to wait for Bison to give us the all-clear.’

‘But Gecko might be in danger!’

‘He may be, but he’ll be in even more if we bludgeon our way in there and the site’s surrounded by Sarpiens.’

Dingo gritted his teeth. He couldn’t bear the waiting, but Owl was right.

‘Give me an aura count.’

Casting his mind out Dingo swept the area. ‘Four, including Gecko.’

Owl sucked in a breath and began tapping a finger on his armrest. It seemed to Dingo that his captain was weighing the situation.

‘If we go in there,’ Dingo suggested, his voice quiet. ‘It’ll be an even match once we get to Gecko.’

‘Providing Gecko is actually conscious.’

Dingo scanned the area again, focusing more closely on his partner this time. ‘He is.’

‘Then we just need to worry about whether he’s bound.’ Owl’s phone rang so he said no more, answering it immediately. ‘Yes? Excellent news, I’ll handle things my end.’ Ending the call, Owl put his phone away and activated his medallion. ‘Take us down a few streets away.’

Dingo nodded and veered the hopper around. ‘Owl, Tigermoth threatened to kill everyone if I didn’t cooperate.’

Owl remained silent a few seconds before he spoke. ‘I wouldn’t worry. I think Tigermoth is bluffing.’

‘What if she’s not?’

Owl’s smile was hard as stone. ‘The Sarpiens never attack our bases because the Steiron Council would have no choice but to raise the threat level of the city, allowing the Dakkonin Equatham access to the streets.’

Dingo nodded. That was right, the Dakkonin hunting units known as the Equatham were the best warriors in the world. The cities tried to limit their movements because the Equatham didn’t really pay much attention to any people or buildings that got in their way.

‘Yeah, the Sarpiens really don’t like them, do they?’

‘The Sarpiens are careful to never cause too much trouble at one time. They don’t want one of the hunting squads to show up. You don’t have to raid a base or temple to get noticed though. An entire unit getting assassinated tends to grab their attention as well.’

‘So you’re saying Tigermoth won’t dare retaliate in force?’

‘Not a chance. She’d endanger her position here in South Sector. The warriors from North Sector were really the only danger. Now we know they’re safe, it’s time to take steps.’

Dingo nodded. He spotted a good landing site nearby – a nice, open cul-de-sac. He glanced at the terraced housing as he lowered altitude and prepared to land, didn’t seem to be any kids about.

The hopper landed with a satisfactory clunk and Dingo cut the engines. ‘How do you want to do this?’

Owl squinted up at the sky. ‘We’ll wait a few more minutes. This close to dusk, it’d be a shame to waste the darkness.’

Dingo grinned. ‘You’re attacking from the sky, I take it?’

‘That was the plan. You go in alone, with a bit of luck the Sarpiens won’t see us coming.’

‘I’ll be able to contact Gecko using telepathy once we get closer too,’ Dingo added.

‘The sooner he knows we’re here, the better.’

Dingo watched the sky gradually darken, impatient for the pink to fade. The sky blazed scarlet for a few minutes as the giant red Kaliij sank low in the sky. Everything was cast in eerie blue as Hunoth was left to shine by itself.

‘Good enough,’ Owl stated. ‘Let’s go.’

Dingo unbelted himself from the chair and together they left the hopper. After taking a moment to ensure the vehicle was secure, Dingo turned and nodded at his friend.

Owl nodded back and unfurled his great, noiseless wings. With two great flaps he was airborne. Dingo directed his gaze back to the street, his Canine vision seeing through the growing murk.

He plodded along as quietly as he could in his heavy armour until reaching the edge of the scrubland.

Gecko?

Dingo? Thank the Light! You’ve got to help me!

I know, don’t worry, we’ll get you out of this. Can you tell me your situation?

Gecko gave a sheepish laugh. I was kinda caught with my pants down.

What?

Well, not literally. These Sarpiens showed up and…I wasn’t in armour, sorry.

It’s okay. We can’t be in armour all the time. Are you tied up?

Yeah, right next to a really thorny bush. They’ve taken my medallion, a big Reptile in blue armour’s got it.

Blue Chameleon?

Yeah, that’s who he said he was. You know him?

We’ve met.

They’re waiting for you, Dingo.

What?

Chameleon said he wanted to use me as bait before taking me in. I don’t think he likes you very much.

The feeling’s mutual. Can you make a distraction? Give us time to get close without being seen?

I’ll try.

Good. Keep your head and take your chance when it comes.

You bet, time for some payback.

Always on Call Part Five

Owl stared out the cockpit window, silent. Dingo couldn’t read him at all, but that wasn’t unusual. The Avian captain had a reputation for stone-cold resolve and an unflappable serenity when put in dangerous situations.

‘Who’s Kingfisher?’

‘What? Are you serious?’

Owl shrugged. ‘Just don’t recognise the name, that’s all.’

‘He works in North with Kestrel and Buzzard.’

Owl scratched at his blond hair. ‘All right, try to calm down and tell me exactly how this came about. You were supposed to be off-duty.’

‘I was!’ Dingo breathed. ‘So I met with the guys and we had a drink. Then this girl took an interest in me and I went to talk to her. It was a set-up though, she was only there to get me away from the others for Tigermoth – then she killed her!’

Owl sat straight in his chair. ‘Tigermoth? The Sarpien general?’

‘Who else?’

‘Calm, Dingo, remember? Tigermoth killed the woman who baited you?’

Dingo gave a single nod of the head. ‘She was scared, I think Tigermoth was blackmailing her too.’

Owl was grim. ‘When this is over I’ll look up her family. If Tigermoth’s involved then this is serious. We need to alert the Dakkonin.’

‘We can’t! If we do Kestrel and the others will die!’

Owl paused for a moment. ‘I’m getting the feeling you’re missing something out.’

Dingo nodded and took a couple of deep breaths. ‘Tigermoth said she wasn’t interested in me, she wants Gecko. She said that if I don’t bring him to her tonight then she’ll kill the guys.’

‘And the reason we can’t bring in the Dakkonin?’

‘Because they’re being watched, so was I till I managed to get us to the hopper. You know how many stealthers Tigermoth has.’

Owl nodded. ‘One of the reasons Tigermoth wants Gecko I suppose.’

‘As well as him being a green.’

Owl’s face didn’t change but Dingo was pretty sure his brain was working overtime.

‘If Tigermoth made a point of mentioning the Dakkonin then we have to assume she has Sarpiens watching them as well as us.’

Dingo nodded. ‘Even if she’s bluffing we’ve got no choice but to act as if that’s the case.’

Owl raised one finger. ‘She can’t be watching everyone though. Her stealthers would be stretched far too thin. If she has people watching the three warriors from North Sector then she needs to dedicate a fair amount. In the event any of them got wind of it before they struck the Sarpiens would have a difficult fight on their hands.’

‘I guess so, but I don’t see how that helps us.’

‘It helps because there’s a very high chance Captain Silver Bison isn’t being watched.’

Dingo found himself staring out the window, surprise making him pause a second before he started to laugh. ‘And that’s why you’re the captain and I’m not.’

Owl grinned. ‘I can make the call from here, and even if Bison is being watched, he’ll be able to come up with some reason to pull his warriors back to North.’

‘So we’ve won then! If Kestrel and the others return to North Sector, there’s no reason I need to show up to meet Tigermoth tonight.’

‘Don’t start celebrating just yet. We’ll need to wait for them to get back to the North Predgarian Centre and for Bison to tell us they’re safe and were unfollowed.’ Owl touched his medallion, deactivating his armour. When the light faded from him he dug in his trouser pockets for his phone. ‘I’m worried about where Gecko might be though.’

The captain made the call. Dingo held his breath, waiting for his partner to pick up. Owl’s face remained impassive as he put the phone back in his pocket.

‘Gecko’s always checking his phone and radio,’ Dingo murmured. ‘He gets nervous he’ll miss some action.’

Owl snorted. ‘I’d say something about young Predgarians, but I wasn’t really any different when I was his age. Track his location on the radio.’

Dingo nodded and took the device off his belt. He quickly pulled out the tracking monitor from the bottom and keyed in Gecko’s radio code.

‘It’s not online.’ Dingo turned to Owl, trying to keep a lid on his growing fear. ‘I don’t understand. It can’t be the Sarpiens, why would they attack him if they were getting me to do it?’

‘They wouldn’t, unless this whole thing was a ruse to keep us distracted and out the way while they made their strike.’

Dingo stared at him. ‘Would they really go that far?’

‘Would they really put in action such a convoluted plot? With Sarpiens you can never be sure.’ Owl took out his phone again. ‘We still need the North Sector warriors out of harm’s way, just in case. Fly low, Dingo, aura sweep the area till you find Gecko.’

Always on Call Part Four

The wind blew the door shut with a loud bang, but the noise didn’t unglue Dingo from where he stood. His thoughts were racing so fast he couldn’t catch hold of a single one.

He eventually managed to stop the whirlwind of emotions and tattered, wispy ends of panicked ideas and solutions.

Dingo made his feet move, every step feeling leaden. Slowly he bent down and laid a hand on the lifeless body of the girl who had led him on.

If only he’d stayed sat with the others, he shook his head. No, she would’ve failed her task and Tigermoth would’ve killed her anyway.

He reached into his jeans pocket and pulled out a small phone. Finding Kestrel’s number he dialled it quickly.

‘Hey,’ his childhood friend picked up after a couple of moments. ‘How’s it going? I saw you disappear in the back with your new friend.’

Dingo’s eyes closed unhappily at Kestrel’s cheerful tone. ‘It didn’t work out.’ He paused, fighting against the urge to tell him everything. He couldn’t, right now Kestrel, Buzzard and Kingfisher were in terrible danger, and one word from him might get them all killed.

‘You okay? You sound a little-’

‘I’m fine. I just got a call from my captain. I’m needed back at the Centre.’

‘What? Thought you had the day off?’

‘Hey, you know what it’s like, sometimes stuff happens. You guys go enjoy yourselves.’

‘Yeah, okay. Guess we’ll catch up another time.’

Dingo winced at Kestrel’s disappointment. He’d make it up to him. ‘Yeah, see you.’

Putting his phone away, he pulled his medallion from beneath his shirt and activated, letting the bright azure light envelop him. Now encased in his heavy plate armour, his face shielded by his bulky, Canine helm – he sent his thoughts out in an aura sweep.

As he’d suspected there was a stealthed warrior in the room with him. Dingo glanced once more at the girl. He hated leaving her there, but telling someone now would only alert his friends to there being something amiss.

He left by the back door, deciding to let the pub staff find the body in their own time.

Dingo made for the Predgarian Centre, it was only a short walk from town. As he strode at a hurried pace, he tried to keep his thoughts from spiralling out of control. He watched the cars zoom by on the street, glanced at the people he passed, studied the tiny birds in the bushes – any distraction would do.

Dingo eventually made it back but as he laid a hand on the door handle became hesitant. What was he going to do? Telling anybody might get Kestrel and the others killed.

He opened the door, unable to stall any longer. It was almost certain he was being watched.

Owl? Dingo asked using telepathy.

Dingo? The captain returned immediately. I thought you’d left.

I’m coming to see you in the office. Go along with whatever I say as if we’d already planned it, and whatever you do, don’t reference this conversation.

I don’t think I like the sound of this.

I’ll explain when I can, just act normal, please.

Dingo pushed forwards, his plan now in motion. He by-passed the high reception desk and strode straight through into the corridor leading deeper into the building.

Dingo held in his sigh of relief though, another aura sweep revealed his watcher was close behind.

He walked the length of the hallway, his eyes barely seeing the familiar grey carpet and white plaster walls. Without pause he opened the door to Owl’s office and stepped in.

Owl had changed his clothes, Dingo saw immediately. The captain’s casual but smart black trousers and clean linen shirt were his preferred office attire. He liked to be presentable in case Area Commander Martial Eagle or one of the other captains came calling.

Sat behind his desk, Owl was taking the situation seriously, pen in hand as if he hadn’t been expecting company.

‘Dingo,’ he greeted. ‘You’re back early.’

Dingo ignored the gnawing question behind those words and gave a small shrug. ‘Things didn’t really work out. Since I am back though, why don’t we get that hopper sweep you wanted out the way?’

Owl made the pretence of thinking about it and looked at his watch. ‘Might as well.’ He stood and activated his medallion.

Dingo waited as his friend disappeared briefly in a solid grey pillar of light. When it faded, leaving the captain in his light-plate grey armour, owl half-mask and pair of large feathery wings, Dingo turned on the spot and led the way back up the corridor until he reached the intersection and turned right.

Not slowing until he reached the garage door, he glanced over his shoulder before entering, the thin carpet giving way to rough cement.

Dingo briefly surveyed his hopper. Painted in the deep green of the Predgarian Order, the nose of the vehicle was emblazoned with a simple black circle, a golden griffin standing in its centre, reared on its hind legs with emerald wings out-stretched.

He ducked under the nearest of its two wide wings, running one hand over the laser cannon nestled securely beneath it. After placing his hand on the ID recognition pad, the hatch on the side of the vehicle slid open, the short ramp extending downwards.

Dingo gestured for Owl to enter and sent out another aura sweep. The Sarpien was close. As the unseen enemy made a move to sneak on-board, Dingo moved, keeping his movements casual, barring the entrance with his body. The Sarpien was forced backwards quickly to avoid collision.

Dingo stepped up the ramp and punched the large button at the top to bring it up again. He stayed poised at the top, giving no room for the Sarpien to sneak past.

The hatch door slid closed and Dingo breathed a sigh of relief. He joined Owl in the cockpit and sat down in front of his controls.

‘Dingo, what-?’

Dingo raised one hand. ‘In a minute.’ He started the engine and flicked on the navigation system.

‘We’re actually going somewhere? Gecko and Magpie are out, there’s no one in the Centre.’

‘We’ll have to take the risk.’

Dingo initiated the lift-off thrusters.

‘Dingo, you haven’t opened the gate,’ Owl reminded him, his voice strained with growing alarm.

‘No time.’ Dingo pressed a few buttons, keying in a random co-ordinate pattern for a low altitude above South Sector. Without pause he activated the hop, staring out the cockpit window as the world fell silent, everything being clouded by a startling white light.

Owl uttered a strangled oath. A few seconds ticked by, then it ended and the whiteness was replaced by the lavender sky, the houses of South Sector seeming peaceful and untroubled beneath them.

Owl turned in his seat. ‘That was an illegal manoeuvre, Dingo! A hopper is only allowed to use the teleportation engine when clear of all obstacles!’

Dingo turned to him. ‘Save the lecture, Owl. We’ve got bigger problems.’

Owl took a deep breath, ‘fine. From your actions I’m assuming we were being monitored?’

‘By a Sarpien, yeah.’

‘What’s happened?’

‘Gecko’s in danger and if we don’t hurry, Blue Kestrel, Buzzard and Kingfisher are going to die.’

Always on Call Part Three

Dingo stumbled through the doorway. He groaned as his back thudded against the hard tiles of the floor. His own breath sounded loud and harsh as his eyes shot upwards, glimpsing the bright ceiling of the hallway above. The sounds of the pub room became muted as the heavy door clunk shut.

Dingo sucked in a breath and started to sit up, what happened? Was he pushed? He stopped in an upright position, back rigid, his throat inches from a small but sharp blade.

Dingo met the hazel eyes of his would-be date, his blood running cold as he saw the droplets of tears beginning to flow.

I’m sorry,’ the words were so quiet Dingo could barely hear them.

‘You don’t need to do this,’ he told her, trying to sound calm. ‘I can help you.’

She shook her head violently. ‘You can’t, they’re everywhere, they’ll find me.’

The girl cut off with a frightened squeak and a moment later Dingo could hear the ringing of steel boots against the polished tiles.

‘Well done, Arysh,’ a languid female voice came. ‘You’ve earned your reward, come here.’

Arysh. So the girl had been an Ischaclappe Islander, he’d thought so, his offer to buy her sikaca had hit the nail on the head. Not that it mattered.

As Arysh quickly stood and scurried past him, Dingo turned over, his heavy shoes slipping on the tiles slightly.

He grunted upon seeing the Sarpien down the hallway. Dingo would know her anywhere. The woman stood tall in close-fitting silver plates, her face half concealed by an unattractive moth mask. Her mottled silver and black wings were unfurled and her blonde curls hung about her shoulders in a fashion Dingo would’ve found lovely on any other person.

The Sarpien’s bright eyes held his as the girl timidly walked towards her. Dingo gaped, barely holding in his strangled gasp as the warrior pulled out one of her silver daggers and thrust deep into the scared girl’s chest.

‘Don’t bother,’ the Sarpien drawled as Dingo took a single step. ‘She was dead before she hit the floor.’

Dingo gritted his teeth as he watched her kneel down to clean the blade on the dead girl’s clothes. ‘What do you want, Tigermoth?’

‘Well,’ she replied, sheathing the long knife and standing once more. ‘You’re expression was to die for.’

Dingo shuddered, trying to contain the rage coursing through him. He clamped down on everything he was feeling, he’d never get to his medallion before she struck.

Tigermoth stepped towards him leisurely. Dingo swallowed but didn’t move. Right now she had the advantage, she’d be far too fast to outmanoeuvre or even flee from.

‘Look at that,’ she whispered, her mouth inches from his. ‘So upset over the death of a stranger. You Predgarians really are pathetic, aren’t you?’

‘Wait,’ Dingo told her, his voice so dry it came out a growl. ‘One day soon it’ll be your turn.’

Her lips curved upwards. ‘Me? I’m a Sarpien general, Dingo. I’m not going to die for a long time, and certainly not by your hand. Now listen carefully, my heavy-footed Canine, if you co-operate you might live to see the suns set.’

Dingo’s jaw creased as he tried to hide his utter disgust. ‘I will never aid a Sarpien.’

Tigermoth gave a soft laugh. ‘You sound like the Dakkonin. I’ve lost count of how many have sworn to kill themselves before sullying their honour.’ The smile slid from her face. ‘You have friends in the room behind you, Dingo. Is your honour worth their lives? I have Chameleon, Wild Cat and Weasel watching them, one word from me and they’ll be three more dead bodies for you to cry over.’

Dingo stared. She could be bluffing, Tigermoth could be alone. The three Sarpiens she’d mentioned were all stealthers though, they could be stood next to him and he wouldn’t know.

‘What do you want with me?’

‘With you? Nothing. That partner of yours though, is far more interesting.’

Gecko, so that’s what this was about. Dingo couldn’t let Tigermoth anywhere near him. He forced a smile to his lips. It was hard to do when everything within was screaming for him to punch her in the face and run. Dingo didn’t respond to her words, he did his best to scrub all emotion from his face, simply returning her gaze.

Tigermoth placed one gauntleted hand against his chest and began to trace an obscure pattern with one finger. ‘I hear the Green Gecko is young, still a teenager.’

‘Barely.’

‘He’s very good for nineteen. Strong, fast – and he can stealth. At midnight tonight you will bring your partner to the car park behind Caban’s Lounge.’

‘No.’

Tigermoth’s hand shaped into a claw, her fingertips pressing against Dingo’s chest. ‘You can gift Gecko to me, or I can gift you three dead Predgarians. Which would you prefer?’

Dingo’s breath caught, unable to stop the heat boiling in his veins being exposed in his glare.

Tigermoth turned and slinked away down the hall. ‘Don’t be late with your delivery, Dingo, I’ll be waiting. Do not involve your friends in this, the knowledge will kill them.’ She stopped at the other end, opening the back door. ‘And if you try to involve the Dakkonin, I will personally come and kill you and every Predgarian you’ve ever spoken to. Behave for me, I have eyes everywhere.’

Always on Call Part Two

‘There you are, I thought you weren’t going to show.’

Dingo flashed Buzzard a grin as he weaved his way through the small throng of drinkers by the door and into the central room of the pub.

He tried to ignore the drifting haze created by the dozen or so lit cigarettes in different parts of the room. ‘Hey, I wouldn’t miss this for anything.’

There came a snort to his right. Glancing away from the heavy-set Buzzard, whose presence seemed to diminish the room, he found his old school friend leant over the pool table, sizing up a shot.

‘I didn’t know you were coming-’ Dingo cut off before he spoke Kestrel’s name. He knew the Avian warrior’s real name, but that information was personal and the tall dark-haired man might not have given it to the others.

Kestrel took his shot and gave Dingo a wry grin, obviously aware why he’d stopped short.

Buzzard chuckled and folded his muscled arms, watching as the shortest of the four of them, a man Dingo didn’t recognise, strode the length of the table, studying it now Kestrel had taken his shot.

Dingo took the moment to look him over. He didn’t have the muscled form of Buzzard, nor the height of Kestrel. He seemed very…average. He reminded Dingo of Grey Owl, in fact. His blond hair was a little messy, his round face open and friendly.

Dingo moved his study to the other two. Kestrel was the same as ever, his black locks brushed and conditioned, his clothes carefully picked out. Dingo felt woefully underdressed as he glimpsed the small, shiny red logo on the pocket of the black and grey checked shirt. Streetwolf, damn, that must’ve cost a lot.

Kestrel wore a plain black vest beneath it and freshly ironed trousers. As Dingo glanced down at them he got the hunch they were Streetwolf branded as well.

At least Buzzard and the other one were dressed more like him. The man playing pool with Kestrel had chosen some basic brown trousers and a white button-up shirt, whilst Buzzard had taken the extreme casual route, sporting some grey nomadic trousers – the legs positively teeming with buttoned pockets, and a thick, white hooded sweater.

Buzzard laughed as the yet un-named man missed his shot. Dingo glanced at him, once more noting his strange blond hair – it almost bordered on a light orange. He couldn’t think of anywhere in the world that had hair like that.

Kestrel took his place at the table again and quickly cleaned up.

‘Well, that’s that,’ the young blond man sighed. ‘What now?’

‘Let’s get a drink,’ Kestrel suggested. ‘Then we can decide where we want to go.’

‘You guys sit, I’ll sort it,’ Buzzard offered.

Kestrel waved Dingo over to a round table in the corner of the room.

‘How are things?’ The tall, handsome man asked. ‘I haven’t seen you in a while.’

Dingo let loose a sigh. ‘Don’t ask, Bloodrunner’s acting up again.’

The short man winced. ‘Ouch, that can’t be fun. We don’t hear much from him in North.

Kestrel leant close and gestured to the man. ‘This is our team mate, Kingfisher. He spends most of his time helping Bison in the office so we decided to drag him out with us.’

Dingo sent Kingfisher a grin. ‘Don’t worry, I’ve been dragged too.’

Kingfisher returned the grin with a nervous smile. ‘I’m not very good at drinking.’

Dingo laughed. ‘You’ll be fine, just don’t let Buzzard bully you.’

The large Avian returned bearing four pints of beer. Dingo was about to ask what kind it was but since Buzzard and Kestrel began to guzzle the stuff right away he decided not to. Shooting another friendly grin at Kingfisher he picked his glass up.

‘Think you’ve got an admirer, Dingo.’

Dingo paused. Glass still raised to his lips, he turned to glance at Buzzard.

The man nodded with his head towards the bar. Dingo pinpointed the lady right away.

Her face was youthful, her ash-blonde curls held back with a green headband. Her round face had a few freckles, just in the right places. Dingo found her quite cute.

He studied her knee-length pea-green skirt and short-sleeved white top. The neckline dipped, not exposing her cleavage but definitely defining it.

For a second Dingo considered it, she was pretty, her eyes lively and fun-loving. He turned away. ‘I’m not interested.’

‘What?’ Buzzard exclaimed. ‘She’s into you, you should go for it.’

Kestrel gave a small snigger. ‘He’s still pining for White Dove.’

‘White Dove?’ Buzzard asked. ‘The White Dove? From West Sector? Man, she’s way outta your league.’

Dingo glowered at them both. ‘I’m not pining after anyone.’

‘White Dove,’ Kingfisher spoke up, his tone reverential. ‘Isn’t she like, really old?’

‘She’s not that old,’ Dingo objected. ‘She’s…’ he tried to grope around for an age but he had no idea how long she’d been a Predgarian.

Buzzard placed a heavy hand on his shoulder. ‘She’s old enough. Look, everyone who meets White Dove fancies her for a while, I did too. You gotta let it go though. She’s been working here for almost ten years – she’s married to her work. She doesn’t get personally involved with anyone.’

Dingo glanced over his shoulder, the woman was still at the bar. He froze as she returned his gaze, her hazel eyes piercing him. He knew the guys were right, he was never going to get a shot with Dove. She could have any man in Steiron, none of them would turn her down. There’s no way she’d ever pick him.

He slowly got to his feet and downed the rest of his pint. Still meeting her gaze he wandered over.

She flashed him a small playful smile. Stood next to her, she seemed so small, not like Dove at all. He shook the thought away. He had to stop comparing every girl he met to the beautiful healer.

‘Hi,’ Dingo said, instantly wanting to kick himself for sounding so awkward.

She didn’t reply but the playful grin broadened slightly.

‘Can I buy you a drink?’

‘If you like.’

Dingo once more noted her very light hair and made a guess. ‘What do you say to some sikaca and juice?’

The lady lowered her eyelids. ‘A man after my own heart.’ She leant forwards, ‘but why don’t we mix it up a little?’

Dingo swallowed, trying to ignore the curvature of her breasts. ‘Oh?’

She turned towards the bar. ‘Two Mountain Condors.’

Dingo inhaled sharply. Light, he was going to die.

Always On Call Part One

Blue Dingo let the door to the garage swing shut behind him. He deactivated his medallion, letting the deep azure flood over him.

He stretched, straining his arms up, his fingers nearly reaching the plain plaster ceiling above. Finally, he could relax.

Dingo strode up the narrow corridor and into the main hallway of the South Sector Predgarian Centre. He shook his head, unable to put aside all the things that had happened.

With a sigh he stepped into the kitchen and opened the fridge, pulling out some orange juice. Dingo caught his reflection on the gleaming steel kettle and patted down the thick midnight mess his hair had become, before running one hand through his short beard. He glanced down at his clothes, but the baggy jeans and old purple t-shirt looked no different.

He turned back to the fridge, peering about for a snack.

‘Don’t touch Magpie’s eggs.’

Dingo scowled over at his captain. The lean man bore a tight grin upon his freckled and pale face.

‘Owl, I’m not touching Magpie’s prized eggs. I haven’t touched them, I wasn’t planning on touching them and if one more person tells me not to touch them, I’m going to touch them just to spite you all.’

Owl snorted and took the orange juice from him. He took a long swig before handing it back.

Dingo sighed at his friend’s expression. Owl could always tell when there was something bothering him. Guess that’s why he was a captain though. Dingo studied him as he put the bottle back in the fridge. He’d been in the training hall if he was wearing his old white shirt and slate-grey tracksuit trousers. His short blond hair was sweat-soaked too.

‘Sorry, Owl. Guess I’m wound a bit tight.’

Owl leant back on the doorframe. ‘What happened? Swallow said you just up and left the temple in Central Sector.’

Great, trust Swallow to call it in before he got a chance to explain. ‘I went to West, Wolf needed a hand.’

‘Wolf? A hand? As in on-duty?’

‘Yeah.’ Dingo let out a long breath, Owl was a relaxed individual most times. He had a reputation for keeping his head under extreme pressure. Dingo decided his friend was definitely annoyed now though.

‘You didn’t think to call? You’re not assigned to West – you should’ve asked me first!’

Dingo raised his hands. ‘Hey, I’m sorry. I didn’t have a lot of time. There was major trouble going down in West. Jackal and all of his Elite were out and the Dakkonin were missing. You know Lion’s unit is as understaffed as us.’

Owl’s breath was almost a hiss. ‘And why haven’t I heard anything from Captain Golden Lion?’

Dingo shrugged. ‘I don’t know, I only just got back but I have a hopper. Not to mention they’ve got their hands full with the aftermath.’

‘Aftermath?’

‘Yeah, the Sarpiens kidnapped a boy and almost killed a civilian.’

Owl sighed heavily. ‘Fine, I’ll wait for him to call, it wouldn’t have killed you to get a message to me though.’

‘Sorry.’

‘So what’s bothering you?’

‘Everything. What happened today in West was bad. Felt like a real battle, you know? The kind of thing you expect the Dakkonin to handle.’

Owl nodded. ‘Well, you’ve got the rest of the day off. I suggest you make the most of it – and this time stay off duty.’

Dingo saluted and gave him a wide grin. ‘Yes, Sir.’

Owl shook his head and left. Dingo chuckled, his old friend despaired of him most days, he was pretty sure of that.

Dingo fully intended to make the most of his free time, so headed upstairs for a shower and change of clothes.

Picking up his usual minty shampoo and shower gel, Dingo was in and out of the shower in record time, wanting to be away.

He kept the thick deep-blue jeans and heavy work boots but traded his purple shirt for a black buttoned one with a fiery design down one side.

‘Right,’ he whispered, examining his freshly brushed wet locks, reaching just past his shoulders. ‘I can do this. Just another day, saving Steiron and now – I’m going to have a good time, and find a date.’

Dingo exhaled, his shoulders slumping. ‘Who am I kidding? Every inch of me screams medallion warrior. Why did I agree to this?’

Trying to summon up his courage, Dingo turned and left, meeting up for some drinks couldn’t be any worse than fighting Sarpiens, right?