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“Jaeger” by Anhedral (part 2 of 2, read by Crimson Ruari)

Cooper, our werewolf hero, is locked in aerial combat with The Red Baron. The outcome may change the very course of history itself. 

Today’s story is the second of two parts of “Jaeger” by Anhedral, a musician and writer whose short stories have appeared in ROAR and in Werewolves Versus. Most of his work can be found at http://www.furaffinity.net/user/anhedral/

Last time we left Cooper, our werewolf-hero and a skilled pilot, coerced into fighting in a human war he'd much rather avoid. He's destroyed a squadron of enemy planes on the ground, but now he's locked in deadly combat with the dreaded Red Baron high above the fields of war-torn France.  Things are not going well...

Today’s story will also be read for you by Crimson Ruari, the Mountain Smith.

Transcript
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You’re listening to The Voice of Dog.

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Today’s story is the second of two parts of “Jaeger” by Anhedral, a musician and

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writer whose short stories have appeared in ROAR and in Werewolves Versus.

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Most of his work can be found at http://www.furaffinity.net/user/anhedral/

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Last time we left Cooper, our werewolf-hero and a skilled

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pilot, coerced into fighting in a human war he'd much rather avoid.

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He's destroyed a squadron of enemy planes on the ground, but now he's locked in

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deadly combat with the dreaded Red Baron high above the fields of war-torn France.

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Things are not going well...

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Today’s story will also be read for you by Crimson Ruari, the Mountain Smith.

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Please enjoy

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“Jaeger” by Anhedral, Part 2 of 2

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Glossary of German terms

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Jasta, or Jagdstaffel — a German fighter squadron.

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Luftstreitkräfte — the German Air Force, founded in 1916.

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bedrückt — literally, ‘depressed’.

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Today, we’d probably recognize Boelcke’s condition as

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post-traumatic stress disorder.

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Kofl — abbreviation for Kommandeur der Flieger; basically the German

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equivalent of Hugh Trenchard as commander of the Royal Flying Corps.

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I cannot shake the Baron.

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We've danced for fully thirty minutes.

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I have the better plane, I know I do, and I've tried every trick I know

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– but dammit all, I cannot shake him.

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He's right up underneath my arse again.

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Will those Spandaus never run out of ammunition?

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My port wing-strut takes a brutal hit.

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How much more punishment can my poor girl take?

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And then, quite suddenly, his guns are silent.

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I need to get a better look.

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I ease the stick hard right to bank around, and for once I have

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no trouble closing up on him.

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In fact, he's not manoeuvring at all.

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No, he's standing in the cockpit, stick between his knees, frantically

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working the charging handle of his guns.

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His guns have jammed.

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It's a gift, and one I cannot squander.

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It's hardly possible for me to miss.

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The flyer's body dances in the optics of the Aldis, growing ever

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larger, the first chance I've had to get a half-decent look at the man.

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Thumbs to the triggers.

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I'm about to murder the best bloody pilot I've ever come across

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– Long, pointed muzzle.

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Large, soft-peaked ears atop a furry face.

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No man at all.

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Shit.

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My thumbs slip from the triggers.

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Never, ever, harm a wolf.

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Benumbed, I overshoot him, only avoiding a collision by a

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last-moment twitch of the stick.

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And then, as I start to circle back around, I pray by all the gods of wolves

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and men that those damn guns of his stay jammed for just ten more seconds more.

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Turns out eight is all I need to get alongside him, and really, really close.

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There’s no doubt that he can hear me, but he's still messing with the feed

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belt and declines to glance across.

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I let off a six-round burst from my top-wing Lewis, just to force to issue.

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Two pairs of amber eyes lock with one another, not thirty feet apart,

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high above the blood-drenched fields in that bale and dreadful dawn.

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I reach a paw over the cockpit's rim, slipstream ruffling my fur,

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and jab a finger at the ground.

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Land.

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He hesitates for but a moment, then nods back in reply.

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Our descent, it seems unending.

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I can't stop my paws from trembling.

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Did Trenchard know he was sending me to fight a wolf?

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Did Trenchard know?

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******* "I don't think he can have known.

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I've only been like this," the Baron says, gesturing to his pelt of mottled tan and

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grey, 'for, oh, just over three weeks now.

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My superiors kept it pretty quiet, and – no disrespect – we don't think Trenchard's

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spies ever really got that close."

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Amazingly enough, we'd found a quiet spot to set down our craft before our fuel

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a smallish field, but smooth and level enough, surrounded on three

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sides by dense copses of beech and birch.

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We made a low pass to scatter the resident sheep, landed side by

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side, and wheeled the planes out of sight beneath the spreading boughs.

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What followed was a perversely idyllic scene, just two fellow wolf-aviators

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leaning back against the wheels of their respective machines, swapping

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stories like old friends to the gentle tink, tink of cooling exhausts.

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The rumble of an ongoing barrage, perhaps twenty miles away, rolled around

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us in a harmless, muffled thunder.

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"Why...?"

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I stammer.

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"How?

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Did you...

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did you find another wolf to bite you?"

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The Baron doesn't respond right away.

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He takes a swig from a little silver hip-flask, then tosses it across to me.

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"I think, perhaps, the why is the more important part.

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Let me ask you, Cooper...

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how long have you been in the military?"

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"Ha!"

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I take a sip from the flask.

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Cherry brandy, no less, and it's even the low-alcohol variety

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brewed especially for wolves.

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The Baron has a refined palette.

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"I never was a military man, even before I became a wolf.

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I was just good at flying, and, um.

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Our side – the humans, that is – they found a way to

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make me do what they wanted.

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They threatened my mate.

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And our cub."

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"Scheiße!

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I am sorry."

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He stares up at the sky, and sighs heavily.

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"My own story is a little different; I was always for the services.

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Cadet at eleven, and then the cavalry, and finally the Luftstreitkräfte.

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I was a singularly poor pilot at first, but, well, I did improve."

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He reaches a paw to his furry chest, and then hesitates, and laughs.

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"See that?

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Going for a cigarette.

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Some of the human ways die hard."

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Not for me they didn't, I think – but of course, by the time of my

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transformation I was already long lost to a pair of shining golden eyes.

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I toss the Baron his flask of brandy.

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"Well," he goes on, sipping, and then putting out his long

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wolf tongue to wipe his lips.

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"It was all pretty exciting at first.

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The rush of speed, the freedom of the sky – I'm sure you know.

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But those times didn't last.

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The war bogged down, I started losing friends.

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We all did.”

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The Baron’s words tumble faster now, and his English, hitherto impeccable, starts

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to clog with a dark Teutonic misery.

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“I saw Boelcke go.

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He was the best of us, but he got so wrung out, so… bedrückt.

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He kept flying anyway.

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Clipped a friendly craft mid-air, bashed his head in when he

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crashed, a stupid, pointless death.

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Next day Schimmer's fuel tank took a hit at three thousand feet; he

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bailed out, already burning, already screaming, and I watched him fall like

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that all the way down to the ground.

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I'd given a speech at his wedding, just the week before.

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He was twenty-one years old."

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His muzzle quivers.

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He makes as if to uncork the flask again, thinks better of it, and tries

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to set it down; it topples over anyway.

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He gives another shuddering sigh.

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"Naja.

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It just kept going on like that.

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None of us could see any end to it – although I suppose the way I

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organised the Jastas helped a bit.

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But then the Kommandeur came to me one day, with a proposition.

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I suppose he'd heard how good wolves could be, up in the air; he

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thought there was a chance for air superiority, for a decisive blow.

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It might shorten the war, he said, if only he could find the right

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wolf for the job – but of course, the German wolves had all said no.

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Declined to do the work themselves, declined to bite any of the human flyers.

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But the Kofl, you see, he'd gotten hold of this secret stash of serum..."

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"Ah."

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"Ja.

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He knew me all too well, you see.

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He knew I'd carry on fighting, even as a wolf – anything, to help end the war.

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And here I am."

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I blink and lean back on my plane, the struts of the landing-gear

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reassuringly firm against my haunch.

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The Baron's Kofl had been wrong.

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He hadn't shortened the war at all.

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He'd just opened up a new front, a brand-new arms race with wolves sucked

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in and at its lethal cutting edge.

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The clean separation of the wolf and human worlds – it was blurring.

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The wolf sitting just across from me had killed a score of Allied airmen

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in a span of three short weeks.

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I myself had just despatched one of the Baron's fellow fliers.

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"The man that I just killed," I whisper then.

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"You must tell me...

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who was he?"

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"Oh."

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The other wolf shifts uneasily.

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"Poor fellow.

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He was actually one of the older ones of us – these days,

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if you get to twenty-eight like he did, you're a veteran."

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He raised a paw to run along the nosecone of his plane, as if he

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might find some small solace there.

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"A sweet-tempered man, never a harsh word, and he loved to

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see the other pilots learn.

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A fine, fine flyer, but no real temperament for the kill.

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His name was Gassinger."

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My vision blurs.

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I feel my ears fall flat, I feel my body shake.

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I can't hold back the tears, and once they start they just don't stop.

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I feel for the goggles lying by my side, still smeared with my dead

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instructor's blood – and fling them as hard as I can away from me.

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"Ah.

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You knew him...

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before...

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oh.

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Oh, lieber Gott.

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Oh, Cooper."

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Silence falls between us; how long it lasts, I couldn’t say.

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But eventually, and very quiet:

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"If only a handful of the human's leaders could be werewolves, nein?

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Less fighting, more talking, everybody wins."

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I blink, and blink again, and feel my ears come slowly up.

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******* Whitehall, London

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June 23, 1917

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2-11 am

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"Trenchard."

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"...urrrrr..."

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"Trenchard.

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Wake up, man."

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"...urrraahh – AARGHH!"

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His reaction to my wolfish form looming close above his face is not unreasonable,

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but I can't be having any antics.

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As he tries to squirm away I clamp one paw across his mouth and use the other

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to pin his chest firmly to the bed.

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"...urrrgh..."

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"Not gonna kill you.

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Not gonna hurt you.

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You understand?

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We need to talk, and now, and I don't want any screaming.

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Got it?

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Nod if you understand."

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London's under blackout against the air-raids, but I catch the whites of

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his eyes flashing up at me anyway, wide in the meagre starlight.

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Eventually, he nods.

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"Righty-oh.

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Going to take my paws away now, so just remember what we said

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about the screaming, right?

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And don't even think about trying to get away from me.

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I know you're down a lung already, that old war injury of yours.

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You know you couldn't take me, let alone my friend over there as well."

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His eyes flick across the room, and I feel his body twitch as he catches the eyeshine

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of the other wolf, who's currently leaning quietly against the door.

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Slowly, Trenchard's scent shifts from panic to puzzlement and anger.

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I release my paws, and with that Trenchard grits his teeth and snarls.

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"Cooper, I don't know what you think you're doing, but right now you’re

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looking at a very nasty court-martial that'll probably wind up with you hanged!"

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His voice drips with indignant venom, but I'm in way too deep to care.

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And so I keep the smile in my voice when I reply.

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"Except I'm not actually under your command, now am I?

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I never was – not officially.

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Wainwright over there...

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well, he might be a different case.

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But now that he's a wolf, I'd say that was a pretty grey area, legally."

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"We thought you were dead!

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We found your plane

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– " "Ah.

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Yes.

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Sorry about that.

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A terrible shame to burn her."

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"You burnt your own plane?

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Why, in heaven's name?

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Do you have any idea how short we are of SE5s?”

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"Yes.

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Yes, I do.

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Acutely aware, in point of fact; it's one of the reasons why so

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many British airmen are still dying in France, week after week.

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But it was a necessary deception.

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If it's any consolation, the Germans are down a plane as well.

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We burnt the Baron's vee-strutter, right after my SE5."

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"The Red Baron..."

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Trenchard is properly incredulous now.

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He's silent for a moment, before deciding to try a different tack.

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He's ballsy, I'll give him that.

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"Do I even have to ask about the half-dozen MPs who are supposed

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to be guarding this facility?"

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"Oh.

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Oh, yes, I should have said.

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They're temporarily...

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unavailable, I'm afraid.

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Don't worry, they're unharmed, but when they wake up they'll find that all their

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sidearms are mysteriously missing."

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"Cooper," Wainwright growls at me.

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"The time, the time..."

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"Oh.

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Right.

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So, Trenchard, here's the thing."

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I put a paw upon his shoulder, and move my muzzle very close.

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"Werewolves didn't start this war.

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But we are going to be the ones who end it."

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That's just too much for him.

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His lip curls, and he scoffs.

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"What, just you and...

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Wainwright was it, over there?"

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"No.

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It'll be me and Wainwright and about thirty thousand other werewolves

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who've been rotting in your damned Facilities all across the country.

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You let security get pretty lax; too many fine young men dead in Flanders

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fields to guard us properly, I suppose.

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It was actually more straightforward than you'd think, to plan all this."

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I brush the backs of my fingers along his jugular, letting

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him feel the nudge of claws.

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"And to co-ordinate with what the Red Baron's up to right at

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this moment, across in Germany.

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From the Kaiser down."

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He sucks in a sharp breath, apprehensive now.

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"What?"

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"New leaders.

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Ones who think talking about our differences is a strength and

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not a weakness, ones who are just as sick of the blood-letting as

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all the poor bloody infantry.

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We're targeting the top-end military, the House of Commons, House of

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Lords, even the royal family."

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Trenchard sets his jaw.

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"What you'll get," he snarls, "is civil war."

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"Maybe."

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I shrug my broad wolf shoulders.

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"Possibly.

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But on balance, I think not.

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I think you underestimate just how much all of those poor sods in the trenches

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are done with mud and slaughter.

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How many towns and villages across Europe would like at least some of

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their young men returned to them.

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Oh, and besides, we're also taking charge of all the capital ships,

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and all the major arsenals."

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That shuts him up, for a few seconds anyway.

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"There'll be no tyranny, Trenchard.

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Wolves just aren't wired up that way.

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But we also won't be used – not anymore."

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"'Targeting'," he mutters at last, "is what you said.

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But 'assassinating' is what you meant."

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I blink; spooking him was never part of the plan.

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"Sorry.

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Poor choice of words."

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I take a step back from him.

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"I meant it when I said I wasn't here to harm you, Trenchard.

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You've always treated me with courtesy; time for me to do the same for you.

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I'm offering you a choice tonight, right here, right now."

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He squints at me, shaking his head minutely.

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"A choice?"

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"Sure.

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You can walk out of here a human – in which case, please understand that I won't

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be running any errands for you anymore.

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But I'd much rather work with you, try to make this world a better

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place, for men and werewolves both."

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Trenchard is silent, staring.

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He hasn't understood what it is I'm offering.

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Eventually Wainwright pipes up, exasperated.

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"He means as equals.

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As wolf and wolf, together.

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I assure you, sir, it won't hurt all that much.

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His teeth are very sharp."

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Trenchard gasps, his nostrils flaring.

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His scent is richly layered with doubt and possibility.

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I take another step away, letting him consider.

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Perhaps I should have let Wainwright handle the talking from the start.

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Werewolves didn't start the war.

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However – one way or another – we would be ending it.

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******* This was the the second of two parts

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by Crimson Ruari, the Mountain Smith.

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As always, you can find more stories on the web at thevoice.dog, or find the

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show wherever you get your podcasts.

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Thank you for listening to The Voice of Dog.

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