Changing of the Guard

Characters: Terry Hale, Fleet Captain Freise

“Captain, I think I found the Phoenix!”

Hale turned in her seat, looking back to her tactical officer. She wasn’t excited yet. The sensors had come online an hour early in a manner that was more a fizzle than a spark. “Sort of” defined all the ship’s systems at the moment. It took a while, but they finally found out where they were… knocked clear back to where they’d started, at the edge of Vorlon space. Then they’d detected a Jump gate an hour earlier, but no ship. Hale was half-waiting for some mysterious alien attack. Lightning can strike twice.

“So what’s the verdict, Ethon?” Hale asked.

“That is a confirm. We have detected the Phoenix. No Hellfire, as of yet.”

Hale turned forward again and contemplated the scar on the viewport. She was doing that often while on the bridge. “That first Jumpgate? I think that may have been the Hellfire. It is a modified ship, probably with a cloak of some kind,” she said almost to herself. “At any rate, let’s get this poor thing moving and keep sending a hail to the Phoenix until it gets through.”

Fleet Captain Mackey Freise sat on the bridge of the Phoenix and did his best to conceal his discomfort. This wasn’t his ship, or his crew, and they all knew it. His unease was not with his ability to lead — he was well proven in that field — but any good leader knew you had to have the loyalty of your crew or you were lost from the get-go. And there was no time to create it. They had just exited hyperspace a day from the Vorlon borders and were about to head in to met the White Stars 21 and 24.

And in a matter of minutes, he was about to tell all to the crew. That’ll make me even more popular, he thought sarcastically. He didn’t need to be a telepath to see that tensions were high over the mission as it was.

He was about to call the meeting from his chair controls when Morgan turned to him from her station at Tactical. “Captain, we’re receiving a hail. It’s WS21,” she said, a frown darkening her face. “She’s way off her planned course and the transmission is a mess….”

“Put it on screen, and see if you can boost for them,” Freise ordered, facing forward.

“Aye, sir.”

With a practiced manipulation of the controls, the viewscreen shimmered down and the ragged bridge of the White Star 21 came into view. Freise blinked in surprise and instant concern. A dozen questions were running through his head. Where was Narsh’s ship? What had they gotten into? On and on…

Hale smiled wryly from her bridge, the healing cut on her cheek dimpling. She looked perfectly well composed, considering that there was a sheaf of cords hanging behind her like some technomancer’s idea of a festive garland and bare beams where wall coverings had been destroyed or removed for repairs.

“It’s a relief to see friendly faces, Captain. As you can see we ran into some problems. It is imperative I speak with you privately… and in person,” Hale said briskly, just like the last time they had met not too far away from where they were now.

“Of course, Captain. On our way.” As the channel closed, Freise looked to Alaneil at Helm. “Bring us on intercept course, best speed. And Morgan? Inform the Hellfire in our change of position and warn them to be on highest alert.”

Captain Hale stepped out of her personal shuttle and despite the gravity of the situation, found herself looking about with honest curiosity. The docking bay was huge! The ship’s complement had to be at least twice the normal White Star Class just to keep it running.

And it was seething with activity. As she left under the escort of a Minbari toward the bridge, Hale noted the techs working on the various shuttles — likely even more busy a deck below in the fighter bays — preparing for the worst. In the halls, Security was running readiness drills, and maintenance crews were performing their own routines of checking the emergency supplies and the state of the ship, deck by deck. It was both comforting and disturbing to see the level of activity and growing readiness.

A brief lift ride and then she was brought out on to the bridge of the Phoenix.

The same man Hale had had a less than genial meeting with –was it really only a week ago?– for the first time not far from the very space they traveled was sitting in the Captain’s chair. Hale watched as Fleet Captain Freise rose to greet her and Hale did her best to return it. Under the circumstances, she wasn’t particularly successful.

“Captain,” Freise said simply and waved graciously back toward the conference room. Hale nodded and preceded him, trailing a few curious glances from the bridge crew. The tension was an almost palatable presence, and Hale knew she was part of it’s creation. It was well past time to end the mysteries.

“Captain–” Both Hale and Freise said simultaneously as the doors closed behind them, and there was a faint chuckle from Freise as he subsided to let Hale speak first.

“Captain, I’ll be as brief as I can, and can only hope it will make sense. Four days ago, after our last status transmission to you, we were struck by an unknown force. Captain Narsh is missing, along with WS24. Only just today was my ship brought to any kind of repair to move, but we are far from capable to deal with this new threat. I wish there were more I could give to this alliance than reports of a blinding flash and the near destruction of my ship. And worse…” Hale took a breath, “for the sake of my crew, I cannot lead them into this confrontation. We can be of no help, and very possibly a hindrance. There are also several wounded that will die without the care they can receive at Babylon 5.”

Freise sat back in the chair he’d taken and digested the information with a grim face. After his first sight of the battered White Star, he wasn’t surprised it was just as bad as he feared, but he rather wished he could be wrong about these things once in a while.

“Captain Hale. On seeing your ship, I couldn’t agree more about it needing to go back to Babylon 5, but let me suggest a slightly different arrangement,” Freise said. “I will take your ship back to Babylon 5.”

Hale blinked with amazement. Freise couldn’t blame her in a way. He couldn’t have imagined himself saying that even two years ago, but he’d come to know a few things over the years. And one of them was about picking your battles. This path wasn’t for him, and more importantly, wasn’t the best for this crew.

“They need a Ranger to lead them, Hale. Something I am not or will be any time soon,” Freise explained. “A commander needs the trust of his troops, and of the two of us, you’re ‘it’, as they say. Besides, you’ve been in there, and know as much as anyone does right now. You need to go; I don’t. I’d have done it, but now….”

Hale sat and stared at the table top thoughtfully. “But– are you certain? Surely with their XO to help you lead–“

“The crew doesn’t particularly trust Commander Shaver, for some very old reasons give new life by this mission.”

Hale chuckled faintly and waved a hand, taking in the space about them, beyond the walls. “You are beginning to sound as cryptic as a Vorlon. An affliction of proximity?”

“If that’s so, then how are you feeling, Hale?” Freise joked, then grew serious again, “It’s all in the crew files, Captain, and it’s better for them to speak for Commander Shaver, or better yet, the man himself, rather than hearing it from my mouth.”

“If you say, Captain.” Hale frown thoughtfully, worrying over all the new problems, but finally she lifted her head and nodded. “Very well, I’ll do it. I put the White Star 21 in your care and I will go on with the Phoenix.”

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