Acquiring Intelligence

Characters: Margaret Morgan, Ayeshalan

Carefully compare the opposing army with your own, so that you may know where strength
is superabundant and where it is deficient.
– Sun Tzu, "The Art of War"

As she led her wingmen on another pass, looping between the Abbai 8 mining colony and the disabled raider ship, Ayeshalan allowed herself a brief smile. The engagement with the raiders had been lightning-quick and a complete success.

When the Phoenix had jumped out, leaving Ayeshalan and her three wingmen behind, the raider captain had briefly threatened to resist boarding. When his ship, already without most of its engines, had its carrier harness sliced off in four neat pieces, he quickly changed his mind. Now all she had to do was escort the boarding vessels being dispatched from the mining station, and await the Phoenix’s return.

“Desell Three to Desell One.”

“Go ahead, Desell Three.”

“I’m getting some unexpected sensor readings on the raider mothership. Suggest you record and double-check me.”

“Good idea. Desell One to Desell squadron: alter formation for a full sensor sweep. I want that whole ship covered. Relay all data back to me.”

The four sleek Minbari ships flew away from one another like sparks from a torch, then skimmed around the surface of the raider ship. As they pulled away, Ayeshalan watched the results on her head-up display, her single eye flickering back and forth as she took in the scrolling Minbari script.

“Desell Two to Desell One. Jump point forming, twelve-o’clock high. It’s the Phoenix.”

“Not any too soon,” she murmured before activating her comm. “Acknowledged, Desell Two. Squadron dock at earliest opportunity.” Then she sent an urgent message on the scrambled channel, direct to the Phoenix’s Tactical station.

When the signal indicating a scrambled message appeared on her board, Margaret Morgan didn’t hesitate, but began decrypting it immediately. She blinked slowly with surprise as she read:

 Ayeshalan to Morgan.  Please meet me in the docking bay as 
 soon as my squadron docks.  Urgent developments.

She called for one of her juniors to take over the Tactical board and walked quickly to the lift. She was just entering the bay, and paused to watch as the sleek shape of Desell One settled into its cradle. Immediately, the hatch opened and Ayeshalan vaulted out in a swirl of black and brown robes.

The tall Minbari woman scanned around with a wide turn of her head, and spotting Morgan, headed toward the bay entrance at a brisk pace. Morgan nodded an acknowledgment as she approached. “What do you have?”

Ayeshalan made a brief bow, then handed over several data crystals. “We did a sensor scan of the raiders’ mother ship while awaiting Phoenix’s return, and found … a few unexpected details.”

With a brief glance at the crystals, Morgan gestured for Ayeshalan to follow her, out into the corridor where it was quiet. “Summary?”

“That ship was a lot better equipped than any raider vessel I’ve ever encountered. Weapons, engine systems, armoring. If they had not been so overconfident at our initial encounter, we might have been seriously challenged.”

Morgan sighed, a dangerous sound. “Speculation?” she asked, though she had her own ideas.

The Minbari thought for a moment, letting her gaze fall to the deck. “They have acquired some additional backing — another criminal organization, another government, is hard to say.”

Morgan nodded, expression grim. “That’s my thought too.” She looked at Ayeshalan for a moment before asking, “Anything else?”

“We had to give the raider captain an additional … demonstration … after the Phoenix left. He settled down after that, and we let the Abbai authorities take charge. But if we can, I believe we should keep an eye on that ship, and whatever happens to her crew.”

“You’re right,” Morgan said with a nod. “Would you like to handle it? Duties allowing, of course.”

Ayeshalan acknowledged the assignment with a small bow. “As always, I am honored to serve.”

“Give me regular reports, and don’t hesitate to call if something happens. Even if I’m in bed,” she added with a wry grin.

“Understood.” She paused, looking over her shoulder toward the docking bay. “For the moment, I believe I should remain close to my fighter, in case there is need for our services as we return to Abbai Prime.”

“Agreed, of course. Just, in Valen’s name, be careful.”

Abruptly, Ayeshalan smiled and winked with her one eye. “Always,” she said, turning to leave.

Morgan couldn’t help chuckling. “Why do I bother? You could be doing my job,” she said, still amused.

Still smiling, the Minbari said, “As you could do — and have done — mine. We all serve in whatever way we are called, at that moment. Valen walk with you, Anla’shok Morgan.”

Morgan bowed. “And you, Anla’shok Ayeshalan.” She watched for a moment, shaking her head, as the Minbari walked briskly back toward docking bay. Then she quickly turned to the lift. There were others she needed to see.

© 2000 Leslie McBride and Jamie Lawson. All rights reserved.

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