Sapphire

Characters: Dylan Shaver, Validenn, Tomás Darquin

Tomas Darquin sat among the lockers beside the fighter bays, stung silent with the knowledge that his memory had been changed long ago. He came down to the fighter bays to check on his Starfury, but couldn’t concentrate. He’d take the proverbial walk around the aircraft, trying to make himself do the visual inspection, only to find his thoughts wandering off. So now he was perched on the edge of a bench, thumbing the controls on the datapad and scrolling through the files of a data crystal from the Science Lab, wishing he could shoot at something. He cursed. He couldn’t concentrate on lab data either.

Popping a new data crystal into the handheld reader, he wandered out into the fighter bay, heading for his Starfury Thunderbolt. “Let’s see…we got some Beatles, some Foo Fighters. Hm, some Neil Marsh would be cool–“

Klaxons and sirens came to life, flashing blue and blasting warnings. “Clear fighter bay. Incoming ships. Clear fighter bay….”

Instinct sent Darquin running deeper into the fighter bay, turning to the first gathering of techs and pilots he saw. A few of them turned away from the wall-mounted monitor, little more than a life-like hologram shimmering in front of the wall, when he called them.

Oye! What’s happening!”

A human tech in overalls answered him. “We jumped right into a firefight.”

“But we’re over Mars!” The tech nodded with wide insistent eyes. Darquin whistled in amazement. “So who’s coming in–“

Realization kicked in. The rest of the command crew sans Kim Matsumoto; she was still on her way to Valnaria. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw other members of his squadron racing to meet a pair of battle-scorched Starfuries that were being rolled back to the landing area. Darquin ran for the crowd full tilt, bumping into the other pilots just as they were into each other while breaking to a stop at the edge of the platform.

Together they watched three people, sweating and staggering away from the fighters. Darquin edged himself farther into the crowd, leaning past the others to get a better look. A pilot to his right answered his most obvious question. “The new Exec and the Tactical Officer. And Storm Leader.”

“They look like hell.”

A loud collective gasp hung in the air as the whole hangar deck bucked, and one of the other pilots threw in a response while they were all trying to stay on their feet. “Hell? We’re in it!”

Darquin tapped his link. “Storm Squadron to Bridge Officer. Requesting confirmation. No orders to scramble yet?”

“Correct, Storm. Stand by.”

“What the hell for? Someone’s firing on us!”

A tech in the distance piped in more info. “Psi Corps!”

The whole deck had the words “Black Omega” on their lips, shocked, as Darquin got another response on his link: “Because the Captain said so, dammit! Out!”

Darquin ground his teeth, turning to the other pilots as the link went dead. “The fire must be too heavy for launching right now.”

“We can’t just wait around–“

He raised a hand to stop the pilots’ retorts. “One thing at a time, okay? Let’s check the external view first. We need to know what they’re doing out there, either way.”

The whole squadron huddled around the miniature holo-images blurring back and forth across their view, following the battle as the Phoenix ran through the heart of the lacquered Starfuries, twisting away from the red planet below them. And they waited for their chance.

“There’s gotta be another capital ship coming.”

Darquin turned to the pilot who said it, then back to the battle. “Yeah. The fighters are trying to pin us down.”

“Buying time till someone shows up?”

He nodded. “Wouldn’t you?”

A sudden flurry of movement behind them got the squadron’s attention. Minbari personnel were huddling around another of their kind, a new member of the crew that Darquin had yet to meet. Validenn, probably.

“Desell Squadron?” he said.

“You got it,” another pilot told him. “They’re getting ready for something too.”

Darquin watched the way the Minbari spoke to each other, eyes intent on one another but nervously looking about the deck, before they broke up their group and went toward the Zen’Thas fighters. “I think they’re the same spot we are.”

Validenn stopped and met Darquin’s eyes, the sort of awkward tension that often happens when a human and a Minbari meet each other for the first time, that appraisal of potentially hostile intent. Now they were testing each other, trying to judge the conspiratorial look in each other’s eyes.

And they smiled before going about their business.

“I need a wingman,” Darquin said.

“You got it!”

The two humans bolted for the fighter bays.

Far behind the spreading web of Zen’Thas fighters, two Starfury Thunderbolts blasted away from the Phoenix, rolling around the ship like dueling birds. The enemy fighters had begun to scatter, spiralling up to the stars and away from the new combatants. Sapphire-blue plasma bolts soared through the void and past the speeding ships, burning.

Inside his helmet, peering through the translucent heads-up display across his canopy, Darquin glanced out into space at the blurring tangle of ships ahead. Alien fighters darted about the fiery blossoms of dying Starfuries. His memory might have lied in tatters onboard the Phoenix, but here, everything was exactly the way he remembered them. Pushing the T-shaped joysticks this way or that fired his thrusters and took him far from the turmoil of his life. His heart was racing.

“Storm Three, stay close and check your Black Light.”

“I copy, Storm Two. So what’s the game plan?”

“Distract those fighters till the Phoenix is ready to book. Harass ’em. Computer? Set zero reference to Phoenix.”

As displays realigned each grid and axis to follow the Phoenix, Darquin pulled his Thunderbolt into a sailing spin over the mothership and activated the forward thrust. The g-forces broke like water over his body. Tapping his foot pedals, he cycled through the objects on his targeting computer. Three enemy fighters shot below the battle proper and began closing the distance between them.

“Storm Two, we got company.”

“Lead ’em behind Phoenix, then break and attack.”

Pulling and twisting his control sticks, he rolled his ship onto its side as he flew away from the engines of the Phoenix as his wingman dove underneath him, pouring on speed to carry their fighters around their opponents. Pirouetting in the darkness as they shot past them, they hit their thrusters to brake and spun around to face them. The tables now turned, Storm Squadron chased their enemies over the skin of the Phoenix and finally across the face of Mars.

“We’d better finish this quick,” Storm Three said over Darquin’s channel. “Desell Squadron has gone after a frigate, and I’m not sure how many enemy fighters are left!”

“Do it, then.”

A rapid volley of plasma bursts already began their assault on the fighters in Darquin’s sights. As the fighter graphics planted themselves in his line of fire, he locked his missiles on their thruster packs and set loose his own barrage. The enemy Starfuries collided with each other as well as the resulting hits, writhing and crashing into each other like mad snakes as thrusters disintegrated into blinding sparks.

“Boom-CHA! Splash three, splash three! Let’s rendezvous with the Phoenix and prepare to dock.”

“What if we get more fighters on us?”

Darquin pursed his lips, looking out at the growing forest of debris and ejected cockpits. “You really think Earth’s dumb enough to send any more?”