Characters: Dr. Kim Matsumoto, Margaret Morgan, Katia Santiago

The waiting time was shorter than they expected, and even more surprising was the personal appearance of the captain to deliver their mission data. Katia crept forward from her place on seeing Captain Narsh, but missed hearing the few murmured words that were exchanged. With a flicker of red light the captain was gone and Kim was slotting a data crystal in the shuttle’s port.

“What is it?” Katia asked, coming up behind the two women’s seats. Data scrolled up the shuttle’s main screen.

“Our mission,” Kim answered distractedly, then she drew in her breath with a moment’s surprise. “Resistance headquarters…. Behind the lines.”

Margaret nodded once without discussion and Katia looked easily at the tactical officer. It took a few seconds for what Kim said to register and Katia gasped. They would be going into territory held by the Warrior Caste.

“This will be difficult….” Katia sighed.

“That it will. Hope you wore thermals. We’ll be seeing some weather,” Kim said almost lightly, and there was nothing to be seen beyond the mask of dry amusement that took hold. Margaret’s expression was unreadable.

In the moment’s silence the chime of Katia’s link was startlingly loud. Katia tapped the link quickly. “Santiago….”

“Uh, Katia, right?” Came an unfamiliar voice, “I’m…. This is Security Chief Darquin.”

In the long pause that followed, Kim stiffened in her seat and Katia did her best to hide her unease. Margaret’s eyes flickered over them both.

“I know we’re close to launching, but could you help me make sure all the shuttles are good to go? You know, a walk around all the spacecraft,” Darquin finally asked.

Katia looked a bit surprised, but answered readily enough. “Sure. Hold on.”

Kim watched Katia step out, then resolutely looked back to the screen. Margaret was quiet for a bit, then, “I could kill him, if you wanted.” She was joking… mostly.

Kim let out a shaky sigh that might have had a hint of laughter. “No, he’s doing his job.”

Margaret folded her arms dubiously. “Ie.”

“And more slack than some would give in his place,” Kim added and turned back to mission data. “Here are the codes and signs we need to memorize….”

Visibly shaken, Katia climbed back into the shuttle a few minutes later. Margaret’s eyes flicked up then down again, ignoring the Chief Engineer. Kim was just pulling out the data crystal and she glanced up at the entrance. Unlike Margaret, her eyes didn’t drop. Katia met the Science Chief’s eyes briefly and then her gaze dropped uncomfortably. She sighed quietly, wishing she could go back in time and undo what she had done.

After a pause, Kim held out the crystal and a data reader to Katia. “Study this as we head out. Should anything go wrong, you need to know this too,” she instructed.

“Understood,” Katia answered, doing her best to sound businesslike.

Kim dismissively turned her attention to Margaret and lifted an eyebrow at her friend. On the screens and beyond the viewports they could see that one shuttle and its escort was already leaving. The docking bay was alive with light and noise —

“Just waiting on clearance, Cyfeilles,” Margaret answered the glance.

Kim nodded and made the final checks. She tightened her flight harness touched the holster of her PPG. The contact was more wary than comforting. She didn’t like or use them well, but there was little choice. Optimally the wouldn’t get into a firefight, but then the universe was rarely so considerate.

Katia took her seat and fastened the harness. Through the hull they could hear their escort launching and Margaret was soon talking with the bridge, coordinating their departure. Kim watched the screens, relaying any information needed. Soon done with studying the data, Katia found herself with nothing to do and was finding it hard to relax. She was used to having something, and of all times, this was the worst to be empty handed.

After a while there was at least something to look at beyond the docking bay. Smoothly the shuttle Silencer was piloted out into space. As thrusters fired and they maneuvered for their descent, there was a momentary glimpse of the Phoenix out the portside. Then they arrowed away and the enormity of Minbar filled the viewports.

“Planetary security is a mess, I’m not picking up any scans or beacons,” Kim reported, sounding vaguely disappointed, though it was a boon to them. Margaret grunted an acknowledgment and set the flight path into the nightside of Minbar. Her eyes flicked warily over the screens, watching for opposition.

The fighters took the planetfall with them, a brief glow over their sleek hulls as they slipped into atmosphere. Night and heavy cloud cover enveloped them, moisture slicking over viewports too hot for ice to form. Gravity embraced them with a hard grip. There was a tense minute where they could see nothing at all and the shuttle was buffeted by the winds, then suddenly they were below the clouds. Through falling snow the fighters’ lights could be seen winking.

Kim adjusted the readings and frowns over the panels. “Getting local positioning signals now. You finding your way all right?”

Margaret was concentrating on the controls, and muttered a distracted, “Ie, ie.”

The storm was proving resistive to their landing. Katia gripped the datapad hastily before it fell as the shuttle banked sharply and the thrusters firing trembled through the hull. The cargo rocked in the webbing and the harness drew tight against their bodies. With a jarring thump and a short skid on ice, the shuttle touched down.

When the vibrations of their landing faded away, the trio finally threw off their harnesses. Margaret was the last to, her attention sharp on the scanners to be certain they had landed unnoticed. Relaxing fractionally she sent the signal and their escort retreated to standby positions. They were on their own now.

Kim pulled out three black bundles from her pack and tossed one each to Margaret and Katia. Minbari robes, the color favored by the Warrior Caste, unraveled in their hands. In silence they slipped into the voluminous robes and drew down the hoods. Kim pulled on gloves, and eyes slit in anticipation she cracked the hatch open. A harsh, cold wind gusted in, carrying snow with it.

Taking only as much gear as they could carry in one hand, their PPG’s in easy reach of the other, one by one they stepped out into the storm.

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