Characters: Terry Hale, Fleet Captain Freise, Katia Santiago, Dr. Kim Matsumoto
“Another meeting?” Kim murmured questioningly to no one in particular as she turned from her work and headed directly for the conference rooms. Her new assistant, Robert Stadler, tracked her exit but didn’t question. Answers would come it time, if there were any to be had.
Kim entered the Conference room, this time among the last to arrive. And apparently among the last to know about a few changes. Like the woman that was sitting at the head of the conference table.
The Rangers had no pins or bars to mark their rank, but it was unnecessary in this case. Kim could guess well enough, having heard a few scant words from Margaret about the White Star they’d met. This was Captain Hale.
“That’s everyone?” Hale said, tossing her question in the vague direction of Commander Shaver and Fleet Captain Freise. “Good. Well, if the word hasn’t raced to you all yet, let me introduce myself. My name is Captain Terry Hale. I hold command of the White Star 21 and now for this brief time, I will be your Captain aboard the Phoenix.”
Not the best of starts, but not the worst, either… Hale thought as she watched their reactions. As she new, they’d already had an announcement of the same nature just four days previous. It was beginning to look like a sad game of “hot potato”.
“I know until now you have all been kept under a veil of secrecy, and I will do my best to explain it now,” Hale said. She stood and paced toward the wallscreen and activated it. “Bear with me as I bring this tale from the start. And let me stress one thing… not a breath of this can go beyond the hull of this ship. You may brief those under you in your respective departments, but you will remind them as well of this condition.
“For about a month now, I –and others on patrol along the borders– have been picking up signs of activity within Vorlon Space. Jumpoints were detected, and the particle trails of ships,” Hale said, and then directed their attention to a star chart. The middle was a dark, unknown hole. Still on the charts, a number of points were marked with glowing triangles. A few trailed lines like a comet to mark a path. “These are the sensor readings of the past month. And this last one here is where we reached when we were attacked four days ago.”
Hale took a breath and then turned back to them. “Until now, we feared it was perhaps raiders, or ‘grave diggers’, so to speak, but this attack… well, it was more within the level of something like the Drakh, or worse.”
There was a definite murmur now, and she could almost see the same conclusions forming that others had already come to. “As you must guess, we cannot stand by while there is a possibility that potentially deadly technology –that no one is meant to have– may be falling into the hands of our enemies. We all hope that the Vorlons took precautions for this, and destroyed what was left, but we haven’t the luxury to sit back to wait and see. We must be active in dealing with this, and so we must go into Vorlon Space ourselves.”
“And what about Captain Narsh? Where is he?” Someone asked.
Hale turned off the wallscreen and returned to her seat. “I don’t know. I only just got my ship back online today from the hit we took. Finding him and the crew of the White Star 24 is now another facet of this mission. It is my hope that by returning to the place where we encountered this force we will find and rescue them all. Whatever it was did not kill. It is entirely possible his ships systems were knocked offline like ours was briefly.”
Or it’s quite possible they’re all dead, Hale thought, but like the rest in the room, didn’t give voice to it.
“Are there any questions?” Hale asked into the grim silence that had fallen.
Hale stood watching as Commander Shaver, the various Department Heads and Freise left for their duties. Freise she’d meet again as they shared a shuttle over to the WS21, and Commander Shaver she’d have to meet as soon as possible — in private. Hale was just about to leave as well for the shuttle bay and her last trip, when she noticed one woman hanging back.
“Is there something I can help you with…?”
“Santiago. Chief Engineer Katia Santiago,” the woman introduced and approached Hale directly now.
“At your service,” Hale encouraged.
“Captain… I was wondering something. To be blunt, we are dangerously understaffed in my department, especially for a mission such as this… I mean, we have been okay up to this point, but we have had no major confrontations to deal with. I think things are going to be different with this one. I am running with 54% staff at the moment, and that is if you include the new crew we received when we were at B5… Would it be possible to transfer some help from your ship?” Santiago asked tentatively. Hale frowned, and Santiago immediately took it for a negative. “Unless of course it is impossible with the condition of your ship… we can manage I am sure….”
“No, I think it would be possible. I can’t give you my ship’s chief, of course, but I think it would be possible to spare an assistant engineer, and a few technicians. Will that do?”
“It’s more than I hoped for. Thank you, Captain.”
“Your welcome,” Hale said automatically, and followed the younger woman out of the conference room and through the bridge.
Katia walked over to the Engineering console on the Bridge and glanced at the readings there. All seemed to be functioning at 99.8% of normal, which was good. She felt like jumping up and down, she had finally gotten a few more people for engineering. It seemed like the Rangers were awfully short of good Engineers. Maybe they could remedy that for a while on the Phoenix, she hoped.
The Chief Engineer glanced up and saw Commander Shaver watching her and became a little disconcerted, she knew that under the circumstances he bore watching, with them entering Vorlon Space, and that worried her. No one else on the ship knew except her and she would be busy elsewhere. But, that was something she would worry about later. Katia knew the one person who could throw her over the edge of her knew found peace was the XO. And, she intended to stay as far away from him as possible.
Santiago glanced over at the new Captain, er, temporary Captain and saw her watching her as she watched Shaver and decided it was time to beat a hasty retreat back to the safe quarters of Engineering. She hurried to the lift and entered.
Hale watched with curiosity and concern as Santiago rushed out of the bridge. Some personal problem, or was this the distrust Freise had mentioned? Hale sighed inwardly and after a quick word with Shaver, left him in charge of the bridge. She had a shuttle to catch and Freise would be waiting. She could only hope that whatever it was with Shaver could be addressed before it threatened to endanger the mission.
After the meeting, Freise left for his temporary quarters to pack up his stuff to take over to the WS21. He had enjoyed his time in command of the Phoenix, but they really needed a Ranger, and Captain Hale would fit right in. Anyway he had his own ship to work with as well as a wedding to plan. He had spoken every night to Jenny and missed her. Finishing his packing, which wasn’t much, he went to the computer terminal and activated the recorder. He began to record his final log entry before leaving the ship.
“Captain’s log, final entry. I have given command of the Phoenix to Captain Hale, a capable commander and will be taking her ship back to Babylon 5. I have heard that Captain Sheridan has begun the attack to free Proxima 3. I will be contacting him shortly about the command change and the reason. I will be glad to get back to my own ship even though the Phoenix is a great ship. Once this mission is over and Captain Narsh is back in command, Captain Hale will be returning to the WS21. I want to say one thing for the record: this crew has been great even with the changes and having a non-Ranger in command and I recommend commendations for all the crew and officers.”
Freise deactivated the recorder and he sent a copy of his recommendation to Captain Hale and Commander Shaver.
Then picking up one bag, he left, letting the crew member that had reported to him take his bags to the shuttle heading over to the WS21.
“I should go with you, Captain.”
Hale glanced up from her packing and smiled slightly at Arienn. “I appreciate that, but you know it’s not possible. I need you here to take care of the ship.”
Arienn frowned, but didn’t comment. If she couldn’t find the ground to argue from, it wasn’t there, as far as Hale was concerned. The Minbari was a hell of a Devil’s Advocate and one of the best Rangers she’d ever worked with, and she regretted the separation more than she could admit.
Hale straightened with a single pack slung over her shoulder. Clothes, a few data crystals and her computer… not much else she needed. She almost opened her mouth to tell Arienn what to do with the rest, but refrained. She’d already started to act like she wouldn’t be coming back.
“Oh, Arienn, did you see that an engineer and as many technicians as we can spare be sent over to the Phoenix?” Hale asked as she led the way from her quarters.
“I did, Captain. Ranger Awenata, and….” Arienn proceeded to list five other names.
“Good… is Freise settling in?”
“Apparently so. He’s on the bridge making use of the view screen to connect with Captain Sheridan. It is taking some time to connect with the Fleet.”
“They’re already on the move?” Hale asked with some surprise. Her information was days out of date.
“Yes, and engaged to take Proxima in just a few hours.”
Freise, after getting use of the view screen on the bridge, waited until the connecting between WS21 and WS2. It was a tedious wait, but necessary for the level of security needed around the movements of the fleet. Then the connection came up and he saw Sheridan on the bridge of WS2.
“Mackey, how’s it going?” Sheridan said, then seeing the background of the bridge of the WS… “Wait a second, what happened?”
“John, there is a lot to tell you, but right now I need to let you know that we have met up with Captain Hale and the WS21. WS24 has not been found. Captain Hale has told me about what happened, but it is too lengthy to explain here. I will be sending you my report on the situation. I have given command of the Phoenix to Captain Hale since she has more knowledge of the situation and I will be taking the WS21 back to Babylon 5. It is the only thing to do since the WS21 is not fit for duty,” Freise said.
“Well, I will take your judgment of the situation. I would have preferred you to stay along with Captain Hale, but I see what you mean,” Sheridan said.
“I see that you have engaged Clark’s fleet, so I will not let you stay on for too much longer. And just to let you know, the Phoenix crew, when they heard that you were going there without them, were disapointed but they understood that this mission was a more important,” Freise continued.
“Good, good… well, I look forward in seeing your report,” Sheridan said.
“You should have it now, John.” Freise said after looking at the Minbari at Ops.
Sheridan looked over at the Minbari on his ship then back at Freise. “I have it. I will read it later… ” he said when his ship rocked. “I will have to go so I will see you later back on Babylon 5, you still owe me a drink,” Sheridan said smiling, then signed off.
Hale entered the bridge just as the channel closed. For a moment she was unnoticed by her crew, then in ones and twos, heads turned toward her. Hale pulled up a smile, and met each glance in turn, but when she spoke it was to Freise.
“Captain…” Hale laughed inwardly, self-mocking. She could find a single meaningful thing to say. A moment later, the ringing collapse of a beam down the hall saved her… sort of. Ranger training could do many things, but Hale’s sense of humor was beyond hope. “Captain, I give you command of the White Star Swiss Cheese. Clear Skies.”
There were as much quiet laughter as there were confused glances, the former being the human members of the crew, and those few aliens that had a fair grasp of the maddening language. Hale could imagine the round of cultural discussions that would ensue in the galley that night. And she wouldn’t be there to see it.
Freise offered his hand and Hale shook it briefly. “Good luck, Captain,” Freise.
Hale gave the bridge and her crew one last glance, then turned away and headed for the docking bays, and the Phoenix.
An hour later a jump point formed a few hundred miles off the starboard side of the Phoenix. Dull, scarred but stubbornly operable, White Star 21 maneuvered slowly toward the gate, one forth of the mission team already lost to the vagaries of Fortune. It hung before the bright vortex a breathless moment, and then with a snap it was gone.
And then there were…. three?