It was nearly midnight, yet the sun was still bright in the skies near Abbai 4’s south pole. It reflected cold light from the glacial fields surrounding the Furuum’tla mines and glittered off the sheen of new snow that dusted the mine station buildings like powdered sugar on chocolate icing.
Most of the raiders who had laid siege to the mines were sleeping, and the two sentries keeping watch for an Abbai breakout had long since learned to ignore the sun’s glare.
Thus it was that they saw nothing of the twin Thunderbolts that dropped out of the sky like the Furies themselves, until the cannon fire began exploding around them.
“G’day, bitsers!” Brenda Mawarra sang out, as Storm Four plunged toward the outpost. “Time to clear out!” Behind her, D’val kept firing, vaporizing the guards and half of a wall on the building they were running for.
As Brenda pulled the Thunderbolt up and around, she called over the com, “Storm Four to Storm Three. Go for the airfield — we’ve got things covered here.”
“Roger that, Storm Four,” answered Eddie Kriechbaum, as his craft burst through a cloud of steam and streaked past Brenda’s fighter toward the camp perimeter.
A dozen kilometers above, the Eshnat accelerated, descending out of Abbai’s upper atmosphere toward the action. The mottled blue and grey of its hull was almost luminous in the sharp polar sunlight.
“Furuum’tla to Nemesis Leader, come in!” The female voice was breathless, the Abbai accent becoming sibilant with excitement as it sounded over the Eshnat’s comlink.
“Nemesis to Furuum’tla, reading you,” Margaret Morgan answered from the co-pilot’s chair. “Can you confirm contact?”
“Affirmative! Your forces have engaged — we can hear the firing!”
“Good.” Morgan allowed herself a quick wolf’s grin, exchanging a glance with Ayeshalan, sitting next to her. “Stand by, and sit tight — don’t move yet. We’ll contact you again when things are clear. Nemesis Leader out.”
Storm Three sped across the snowfield to the Furuum’tla station’s small airfield, crowded now with wedge-shaped raider fighters and an old but heavily armed battlewagon.
“Let ’em have it, Lazaret,” Eddie said over the Thunderbolt’s intercom. “Looks like an old Hurr patrol cruiser in between the wedgies. And try to avoid the Abbai ship on your three — it probably belongs to the miners.”
“Understood, Kriechbaum,” the Markab replied. “I will need two, perhaps three, passes.”
Within moments, Storm Three’s fireworks blossomed from the airfield, joining the firestorm that Storm Four had already unleashed.
The Eshnat settled to earth in a shower of dirty snow, as Storm Three and Four moved into a patrol pattern overhead. A pair of Abbai, almost cocooned in cold-weather gear, hurried up as the hatch opened.
“How many are you?” Ayeshalan asked.
“There are four here badly wounded. They need to be evacuated at once,” the first answered, her deep peach colored skin bleached almost white by the cold.
“But there is another group, twenty or so, and half of them are sick or hurt,” the other Abbai added. “They’re trapped — a few of the raiders made it into the mine and are holding them hostage.”
Ayeshalan pulled at her lip, thinking quickly. Then she tapped her link. “Storm Three, come in for landing next to us. Storm Four, continue your patrol. We have raiders here holding hostages — they might be calling in reinforcements. Be ready.”
She nodded at the pilots’ quick acknowledgments, then turned to Morgan. “We’ll get the ones we can onto the Eshnat, and one of us will fly them out. The other will take Kriechbaum and Lazaret and take out the raiders holding hostages.” Morgan nodded. “Which job would you prefer?”
She thought, knowing there wasn’t much time for a decision. If the raiders did call in reinforcements, the Eshnat could well be under fire as it returned to the mines. And it had been a long time since she’d done combat flying, and never in a Minbari shuttle.
“I’ll lead Storm Three,” she said. “You know the Eshnat better than me, what she can take — and dish out.”
Ayeshalan’s reply was lost in the scream of Storm Three’s engines as the Thunderbolt landed. The pilots vaulted out of the cockpit quickly and came to stand beside Morgan.
“Come on,” she told them. “We’ve got to get some wounded out, then we go hunting in the mines.”
More Abbai began running out of the mine, some carrying wounded comrades, others working to quench the fires started by the Thunderbolts’ bombing.
The four Rangers hurried to assist the Abbai, and within minutes the four wounded miners were stowed, as comfortably as could be managed, aboard the Eshnat.
“I should be back within two hours,” Ayeshalan called from the hatchway. “If I’m not, call for backup from the Phoenix. Get the rest of the wounded out of here, and then come looking for me.”
Morgan nodded. “Good hunting,” she called into the wind as the hatch closed. Within a minute, the Minbari shuttle was rising into the sky.
She gestured to the pilots, and they followed an Abbai into the mine. The air was warmer underground, as the miners had managed to keep most sections climate controlled. Their guide paused once everyone was inside. She’eryn had escaped the raiders and was prepared to lead the Rangers to where her comrades were being held. “What are their weapons like?” Morgan asked.
“PPG rifles, mostly. They all had at least one,” She’eryn said. “A few of them had knives and slug-thrower pistols, too.”
“Cute,” murmured Eddie.
Morgan glanced at the other Rangers. PPG pistols and pikes. This shouldn’t be a problem. “Ready?”
“All set, boss,” Eddie said.
Lazaret added soberly, “I’m ready.”
Morgan gestured to She’eryn, to lead. The Abbai nodded and set off down the tunnel. The passages were well wired, but only a few of the lights were operating, leaving pools of light surrounded by wells of darkness. “We will have to travel about four hundred meters,” She’eryn said quietly.
Morgan nodded. “Keep me posted on the distance.”
They moved swiftly through tunnels and galleries, turning, ascending and descending. She’eryn called out the distance regularly, and paused when she had reached twenty meters. “This next passage runs along the upper edge of a large gallery,” she said, keeping her voice low. “The raiders are holding our people at the bottom, about nine meters below.”
Morgan stopped, looking at the others and considering her plan. Eddie grinned at her, his pike already drawn and extended. She gave him an answering one. “Suggestions?”
Before answering, he asked the Abbai, “How do you get down from the passage to the gallery?”
“The passage ends in a stairway leading to the gallery,” she answered. “About ten meters along.”
“Though jumping in woud be… dramatic,” Morgan murmured.
Eddie turned back to Morgan, ruffling his flaming hair. “Suppose one of us takes the stairs down, and the other two take some of the line I have and come down at the other end? Could jump in while all their backs are turned.”
Morgan looked to Lazaret, for input. “I’m not quite as agile as our friend Kriechbaum,” the Markab remarked, his lipless mouth actually beginning to form a smile. “But I can be very good at drawing attention to myself.”
“Down the stairs, then,” she said, nodding. “And we have a plan?” She didn’t want anyone unsure before they committed themselves.
The two pilots nodded, and She’eryn said, “I will wait at the entrance to the gallery. I wish I could help you more, but I have no weapons.”
“That’s fine – your help already is enough.” Morgan turned to Eddie. “Rope?”
“Right here, boss.” He shrugged, letting the coil of lightweight line fall off his shoulder and into his hand, offering it to Morgan.
Ayeshalan was halfway back to the Furuum’tla mines when her flight computer announced, “Contact on intercept trajectory, distance forty kilometers and closing.”
“Show me,” Ayeshalan said, her eye flickering up to the corner of the cockpit screen where the scope display resided. She was rewarded with a view of another Hurr patrol cruiser, almost identical to the one Storm Three had destroyed on the ground.
She checked her other scopes. The Eshnat was at the peak of its suborbital trajectory, just skirting the edge of Abbai 4’s upper atmosphere. The cruiser was slightly further out but descending. These Hurr ships should be atmosphere capable, but just barely, she recalled from training. “About as manuverable as a rock once you’ve thrown it,” her instructor had said.
She could simply dive lower, outflank and outrun it, she thought. But that wasn’t the way. Not her way, not the warrior’s way — and not the Anla’shok way.
Her comm abruptly came to life. “Ranger shuttle, back off or we will destroy you.” It was the raiders’ cruiser. “This will be your only warning.”
“Negative,” she replied, her eye flashing. “It is you who must back off or be destroyed. We live for the One. We die for the One.”
“Contact on collision course and accelerating,” the computer said.
“Power up weapons systems,” Ayeshalan answered.
The passage skirting the upper edge of the gallery had a heavy rail running along its outer edge. Morgan moved over to it, as Lazaret crept past, keeping low to stay out of the view of the raiders and their prisoners below.
Crouching down, Morgan took a look across the room. The gallery, mainly used as a switching station for ore carts, had been converted to a makeshift hospital for the miners wounded in the siege. Twenty Abbai lay on the floor, as four raiders paced in between them. No one was looking up.
Lazaret reached the end of the passage, and looked back toward Morgan, waiting for a signal.
Morgan waved Eddie up, then secured the rope. She watched the guards a moment longer, then motioned to Lazaret.
The Markab ran about halfway down the stairs, letting his extended pike clatter against the rail, then dropped back to a crouch. “Drop your weapons and we’ll all come out of this alive,” he called.
Morgan held the rope with one hand, drawing her PPG and holding it ready with the other, watching the guards. They reacted almost at once, turning toward Lazaret and sending a barrage of PPG fire toward the stairway. It all passed over the Markab’s head as he slid, prone, toward the gallery floor.
Morgan tapped Eddie on the shoulder, then jumped up and over the rail, rappeling down the gallery wall, face first. She touched down lightly, then made another leap to land in front of a startled Drazi. “Hello,” she grinned at him, then smashed her PPG butt into the side of his head.
With a banshee cry, Eddie followed, dropping off the rope and landing in a fighting crouch, pike in both outstreched hands. The nearest raider, frozen in place by the sudden appearance of three Rangers, had his feet swiftly knocked out from under him.
Lazaret reached the bottom of the stairs, rolled, and came to his feet just in time to engage in a hand-to-hand with another Drazi raider carrying a long, ugly knife. Several thrusts and parries were exchanged before a solid blow to the raider’s head sent him senseless to the ground.
Morgan turned, looking for the last. She held her PPG ready and extended her pike in the other hand, just to be prepared.
The raider, a human in flying gear that had seen many better days, met her gaze for only a moment before dropping both his stare and his PPG rifle. “That’s it for me,” he said, raising his hands.
She bared her teeth at him. “Smart.”
Eddie and Lazaret quickly moved in to tie him up, along with the three unconscious raiders. Before they were finished, the cries of gratitude from the Abbai had become almost deafening as they echoed and re-echoed across the gallery.
Morgan seemed embarassed by the thanks. She covered it quickly by organizing the able-bodied miners. Before long, the wounded were carried out, and the raiders bundled into a processing building to await the Abbai police.
The Eshnat was waiting for them, its hull marred with several scorch marks, but otherwise intact. Ayeshalan came up to Morgan and Eddie as the Abbai began loading wounded miners onto the shuttle. “I found their reinforcements and dealt with them,” she said. “They will not be coming back here.”
Eddie grinned at Morgan. “Damn good day’s work, if I do say so,” he said.
“You did,” Morgan joked, stretching. “But ie. I need to get out more.”
“You’re welcome on Storm Squadron anytime,” he said.
Copyright (c) 2001 Jamie Lawson and Leslie McBride. All rights reserved.