"He seems an interesting choice." Murdoch said, laying the file down on top of his desk. Air Commodore Gordon smiled in reply.

"Very tactful Murdoch. I would say that he seems an awful choice!"

"Your words, not mine." Murdoch said.

"Indeed. Keep that just now. I'll collect it later." he said, pointing at the file.

"Its confidential. Personnel files are not just supposed to be given out willy-nilly."

"I've forgotten that I left it here! Goodbye Group Captain." Gordon swept out of Murdoch's office with a wave and shut the door before Murdoch could say anything else. He shook his head, picked up the file and started to study it once more.

His replacement was apparently going to be Wing Commander Ethan Blane. He was being re-assigned from H.Q and appeared to have little experience of bases that were stand-alone, like Silverwood. He had been promoted fairly recently and had experience as a senior officer, although command of large numbers of actual people did not appear to have featured a great deal in his resumé. He did have significant experience in finance however.

His photograph revealed a man eight years Murdoch's junior. He had short fiery red hair, green eyes and a pale complexion. The expression that was usually worn in such photos was always unflattering but there seemed to be a definite hard edge to the stare in this particular picture. Murdoch noted that there was a psychological assessment in the dossier. He leafed through it and focused on the conclusion. The overall opinion seemed to be that Blane was somewhat paranoid, euphemistically phrased as 'trust issues', but had a higher functioning level of reasoning and high I.Q. Murdoch closed over the cover of the dossier again and sat it on top of his filing cabinet. He settled back down to work and tried not to think too much about the next three days.

Three days. That was all the time he had left as O.I.C of Silverwood. Stanzi had been fairly non-committal about his move. His kids however had been devastated. All the guys seemed to be uptight and jumpy. The Air Commodore had been constantly in a state of anger. Murdoch got up from his desk and walked over to the window, looking out towards the runways. The nervous knot in his stomach was getting bigger and now it was starting to seriously impede his ability to concentrate.

"Come in!" he called as he heard a knock at his door.

The door to Murdoch's office opened and J.J walked in. "Knock, knock!" he said as he walked over to Murdoch. Murdoch shook his head and sat on the sofa, stretching his legs out in front of him.

"I'm really worried about what's going to happen."

J.J sat down on the sofa besides Murdoch. "You don't have to remind me. Time is short, I get that. Why hasn't somebody done something?"

"Because there's nothing that can be done!" Murdoch snapped. He looked at J.J then frowned. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean that."

"It's okay. Everyone's jumping at their own shadow just now."

"I don't want to leave Silverwood. I keep looking at things and thinking that it's the last time I'll see that, or the last time I'll do the other. I just want to know what I've done! What have I done that's so terrible that I have to be punished like this?" Murdoch stood up and wandered back over to the window. He stood in front of it and let his head fall forwards, resting his forehead on the cool glass and closed his eyes.

J.J stood up and walked over to his C.O. "This is really going to happen isn't it?"

Murdoch raised his head off the glass and slowly nodded. He looked at J.J's reflection in the window and saw the worry in his face. "I tried to get someone at H.Q to speak to me. No-one would call me back. I did get a phone call on my mobile phone last night."

"Oh?" J.J stepped forward and stood right behind Murdoch.

"Yes. I can't remember his name. I've spoken to him before in the dim and distant. He told me that no-one in H.Q appears to know what's going on. It appears the order came from on-high but no-one can find out any details."

"That's strange isn't it?"

"Yeah. He said that there is only so much he and most of the others at his level in H.Q can do - officially. He did tell me that word on the grapevine is that someone very highly placed is gunning for me. He hadn't managed to find out who, or if the rumour was even true. The fact that he bothered to call me himself kinda tells me that he was treating it seriously." Murdoch turned around and faced J.J. "I think that we have to face up to the fact that this is going to happen. On Friday afternoon at 16:00hours I get on a plane and I'm out of here. The Seven are broken up and it's over J.J."

J.J swallowed and shook his head slightly, "But not between us...right?"

Murdoch put his hand out, wrapping it round the back of J.J's head and pulling him in close to embrace him, "No, not between us. It'll never be over between us." He felt J.J slip his arms around his waist and they held each other tight.

After a time they broke their embrace and J.J sat down in Murdoch's chair at his desk. The chair revolved around a central stem and he gently swung the chair from side to side. Murdoch sat on the edge of his desk and watched him. "I know who's taking over from me." he said. J.J stopped mid-swing and looked at Murdoch.

"Who?" he asked. Murdoch placed the personnel file that the Air Commodore had left with him on top of the desk. "He sounds awful!" J.J said, handing the file back to Murdoch. "I'll have to work out how to get rid of him." He went back to swinging the chair.

"What if you could?"

Again J.J stopped swinging and looked at Murdoch. "Get rid of him?"

"Yes."

"Other than peeing H.Q off, why would I want to do that? I mean it wouldn't be guaranteed that we'd get you back...we could get someone worse!"

"That contact from H.Q told me something else."

"What?" J.J stared at Murdoch.

"He told me that Wing Comander Blane was nominated to replace me with no competing claims."

"What are you talking about?"

"Normally, positions like mine are fought over, tooth and nail. Being in charge of such a large Base all on your own is really unusual nowadays. Blane won out in a contest with just one contestant."

"So what?" J.J shrugged.

"That means that no-one was nominated to run against Blane. That just doesn't happen, unless someone at H.Q wants it to happen."

"You smelling a rat?" J.J asked.

Murdoch nodded. "I think so. Someone at H.Q wants me out and they want Blane, and only Blane, in. I think that if we can find out why Blane or this other person wants Blane to be here so bad, we can probably blow the lid off the whole thing. Provided we can get proof that something is amiss and get it to the right people at the end of the day."

"And who are the right people?"

"Air Commodore Gordon would be able to sort it out. He knows people."

J.J raised his eyebrows. "The same people that can't or won't help to stop you going in the first place?"

"That's different J.J. If we can get evidence then they will help. Those in the higher echelons don't like it when one of their own tries to get one over on the others, especially when there's proof of that deception." Murdoch stood up and walked over to the window again. J.J stayed sitting in the chair. He looked over at Murdoch and realised that the cogs were turning in his C.O's brain. He sighed in resignation.

"What do you want to do?" He sat forward in the chair, "You've got a plan, haven't you?"

"Kinda." Murdoch said. He turned around to face J.J and then walked over to the sofa. He sat down in the middle of the sofa and stretched his legs out on the floor in front of him. "I'm just wondering if there is any way that we might get close enough to Blane for him to let slip what's really going on?"

J.J considered the statement for a few moments, "You mean any way that I might get close enough? You're sure as hell not going to be in a position to do much from wherever it is they send you." Murdoch nodded in agreement. "There's another couple of problems with that plan also." J.J leant forward over the desk. "Number one is the fact that I'm buddies with you and number two is the fact that we've both got another five buddies in our team. He's not going to trust me as far as he can throw me, nor anyone else on the team for that matter. The only way he might even begin to entertain me is if he thought that I hated you and I cut loose from the rest of the guys."

Murdoch crossed his ankles and sat back in his seat with his hands behind his head. "Would you do it?"

"What? Be his new best buddy? Try to find out what's going on?"

"Hmm hmm."

"Yes. If I thought that we could really get you back that way."

"We could do it J.J!" Murdoch sat forward in his seat. "We've been on the con before. You're good at getting people to trust you."

"Yeah, but getting people to lend us their car or give us free food when we've been out on missions isn't exactly the same as what we're describing here. Anyway, how do we fall out? It'd have to be something really convincing."

"Hmm." Murdoch shrugged, "I don't know. Why don't you ask the rest of the guys?"

"No, we can't have them in on this! It's too risky. The more people who know about it, the more scope there is for something to go wrong. There's too many variables. If this guy becomes suspicious...at the very least, if I get caught snooping around I could be censured."

Murdoch shifted in his seat. "What would be convincing?"

"For us to fall out over?" J.J considered the possibilities, "The most likely would be the green-eyed monster."

"Jealousy?"

"Yeah. They all know I'm second-in-command to you. What if I use your going away to assert my new found authority over you? I'd still have to be pretty horrible to you though, on a personal level, to make it more believable."

Murdoch considered what J.J was saying. It made sense. There had been an element of competition between J.J and he for quite a number of years when the Group first came together. They were known to be close and good friends during that time, but the competitive edge had remained. It had only properly fizzled out after they had come back from the Prisoner of War camp and their relationship with each other had moved on. Through the years the guys had always favoured Murdoch being in charge and they would probably be quite shocked if J.J started using the situation to push him around for a change. "It makes sense." Murdoch agreed.

"Yeah, I know it does." J.J frowned. Murdoch looked down at the floor. "Now spill whatever it is that you're not telling me Group Captain Kershaw!" J.J picked up a pen from the holder on Murdoch's desk and tapped it twice on the top of the desk.

"How did you know?" Murdoch asked.

"Because I'm psychic and I know you!" J.J put the pen down.

Murdoch sighed. "Okay." he shifted in his seat again and looked up at the ceiling. "My clearance codes have been downgraded from today. I'm pretty sure that they're going to be keeping an eye on what I'm up to at my new Base. It's normal for a senior officer who is being relocated. It is also usual for those who are being monitored to have their personal calls and correspondence snooped on as well - at least for a while."

J.J blinked as he processed what Murdoch was telling him and realised its implications. "You mean that because they'll be listening to your calls and spying on your mail, that we won't be able to communicate with each other at all if we go through with this?" J.J's tone was flat.

"Yes. If they realise that we're only pretending - the game's up." Murdoch looked across at J.J. The other man locked eyes with him.

"And is there anything else that you'd care to share with me at this juncture also, or is that it?"

"That's it, I swear."

J.J nodded then shook his head. "So, if I choose to accept this mission, I will have to arrange to have a very dramatic, messy and public falling out with you. I'll lose all my friends, everyone will hate me on the Base and I won't be able to communicate with you in any way probably for a number of months?"

"That's about the measure of it J.J, yes." Murdoch said.

"Oh good - I can't imagine why on earth I would refuse to go through with it!" J.J folded his arms across his chest.

Murdoch smiled and walked over to him. "I know I'm asking a lot. I know that you'll be the one having to go through it all, but I will also be on my own and I won't be able to speak to you either. It's up to you, are we going to do this, or not?"

A disgusted look crept across J.J's face and then he sighed and held his hands up in surrender. "Sure, why not? I like to keep my life interesting!" Murdoch leant down and held onto J.J's hands before kissing him softly.

"Thank you." he said, as their lips parted.

J.J raised his eyebrows and shrugged. "Why do I get the feeling that this is a really bad idea?" Rather than answering him, Murdoch kissed him again.

 

Stan Luncarty

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