A Gathering of Wings
Ayeshalan arrived in Desell Squadron’s briefing room a few minutes early. She checked over the hologram generator at the center of the long, narrow table, and did a quick count of the chairs to make sure there were enough for her people and those of Storm Squadron — this was to be a combined briefing.
Sitting at the head of the table, she brought up the control console and called up her notes, glancing over them one more time before the pilots began to arrive.
With one hand, she traced the edges of her headbone, thinking about the traces of ink that remained there. Were it not for the time needed in training, her son and his wife might be one of the pilots about to come through that door. She smiled. It was just as well. Leading a group of Minbari, humans and other aliens was challenging enough without having to cope with Terron’s fractious nature as well.
The first pilot to arrive was Ferran, showing Minbari punctuality by arriving before the mark by a few seconds. He bowed to his superior in the time-honoured fashion and proceeded to the assigned space for Desell two, waiting in a meditative state for the members of Storm Squadron to arrive.
G’fen had been exploring the many parts of the ship, and decided to stop in and take a look around. Ayeshalan bowed to him as he entered. “Good day, Anla’shok G’fen,” she said. “Have you come to join the pilots, then?”
G’fen gave the Narn gesture for greetings. “I do have experience in piloting, but I really just came in to give the place a look around.”
“I hope you will find it enlightening,” Ayeshalan said, and turned to greet the remaining six members of Desell Squadron as they filed into the room. The five Minbari and one human greeted her and took their places.
As she took a seat next to Ferran, the human bowed over steepled fingers to him. “Welcome aboard, Anla’shok Ferran.”
Under the cover of incoming pilots, Tomás Darquin slipped into the briefing room with his ubiquitous datapad. He smiled as he recognized faces.
“Hey, G’fen,” Darquin said, bowing his head as he set his fists on his chest in Narn greeting. “Lookin’ good.”
He smiled gently and placed his flattened fingers over each other, thumbs together and standing at attention as he spoke in warrior caste dialect. “Senmar’e, Roin Na Ayeshalan. I’m not late, am I?”
“Almost, but not quite,” she replied, smiling back. “And it appears the same would be true for the rest of Storm Squadron,” she added with a glance over his shoulder. The other pilots were filing into the room — humans, one Narn and one Markab.
Ayeshalan bowed to her counterpart, Cat Rosha, as she entered. After returning the bow, Cat sat down with a smile and turned her attention to the Minbari.
G’fen greeted Darquin. “Are you a pilot as well?”
“Yup, got my wings in Earthforce. I was assigned to Storm Squadron when I first got here. I don’t get as much flight time these days, except for shuttles. And in my book, they don’t count.”
“I had a lot of experience in the Narn fighters back home. And a little in the Minbari fighters due to Ranger training.”
“The Minbari ones take some getting used to, huh?” Darquin said to G’fen. “Sorta like riding a motorcycle on your stomach–”
He stopped as he realized Ayeshalan was calling them to order. G’fen gave a short chuckle, and gave his attention to the Minbari.
Ayeshalan tapped the tabletop, and the murmur of conversation quickly faded to silence. She looked around the room. “Most of you have served here before, but for those who have not, my name is Ayeshalan. I fly Desell One.
“We still have several days until we reach our destination, but I wanted to have this briefing now. It is quite possible that we may run into trouble in transit.
“Are there any questions before I begin?”
Darquin raised a hand. “Before we get into the details, can everyone schedule some test runs? We got new people here, and I was hoping we could see each other’s moves in the simulators before we ride fire.”
“A very good idea,” Ayeshalan said. She turned toward Ferran. “Please coordinate with the rest of the squadron. I am available anytime you wish.”
Looking over to Cat, she said, “Anla’shok Rosha, you should coordinate with your people. This is a first priority for all of you, except for Darquin and G’fen — but I would expect they will make themselves available.”
Cat looked over at the other Storm Crew members and got a nod from each of them. They were ready to do anything when she was. Cat then spoke up. “We’re all ready,” she said to Ayeshalan.
“Excellent,” Ayeshalan replied with a nod. “It will be a pleasure flying with all of you.”
She ran her hand over a recessed control on the table, and a starfield map sprang into existence over the center. “We will be in transit to Quadrant 37, through points in Minbari, neutral and Narn space.” As she spoke, she indicated the waypoints, each sparkling with a brief flash of light. The final flash zoomed out to fill the hologram. “Our mission is to patrol vital jumpgate routes along the Alliance and Centauri borders, in coordination with other Alliance ships.”
G’fen raised his hand to speak. “I have considerable experience in this area of space, I’d be happy to help in any way possible.”
“Good,” Ayeshalan said. “I suggest you consult with our navigator, Anla’shok Carlacci. I am certain he will be able to make use of any information you have.
“You may have heard that Centauri warships have begun to escort their freighters through Alliance and even in neutral space,” Ayeshalan continued. “Something that you probably have not heard — but now very much need to know — is that the Centauri might not be using their standard battle tactics.”
Centauri ships appeared within the hologram, hovering near the jumpgate. “Their raids have been carried out entirely by capital ships, without fighter support. We should expect to encounter two or more ships, most likely Vorchan-class cruisers, like these.
“When we arrive in Quadrant 37, the Phoenix will remain in hyperspace, locked on the jumpgate signal, while we stand sentry in normal space. In the event Centauri ships engage allied forces, we will defend them — and ourselves.” She flashed a fierce smile. “Questions? Comments?”
Darquin shrugged. “Only what I said before–” He glanced at the back of his hand as his link chirped. “Damn…gotta go. I guess I’ll meet everybody later.” He got up to leave and headed for the door. “I’ll send info as it comes in!”
“I look forward to hearing anything we learn,” Ayeshalan said.
“You got it! See ya!” he added as he rushed out.
She looked around the room. “If there are no other questions, dismissed. I will see you in the simulators.”
“Before we all leave,” Ferran said, “I would like to schedule times in the simulator for both Desell and Storm squadrons. Please would all the pilots contact me with times when it would be convenient to make Tactical Recon Videos as per instructions.”
The pilots began to move from their seats, congregating in two groups centered on Ferran and Cat Rosha. Cat escaped from her group for a minute. “Ferran!” she said. “I can be in the simulators any time at all.” Then she moved back into her group.
The first of the Desell pilots to speak to Ferran was the human woman who had been sitting next to him during the briefing. “My name is Manaar Rashid,” she said, “I am Desell Three. I can be in the simulator any time except between 1500 and 1930 — I’m on kitchen duty then.”
Ayeshalan said to Ferran, “I am going over to the simulator suite now to program our runs. I will see you there as soon as you get the schedule for our pilots set.” She gave him a quick bow and threaded her way through the other pilots and left the room.
Copyright © 2002 Jamie Lawson, Chris Bullard, Catie Dwinal, Joe Medina, and Nick Wistner. All rights reserved.