“What’s that all over your shirt?”
Before Eddie could answer Brenda’s question, she answered it for herself. “It’s cat hair! You’ve been playing with Yoshino’s cat again!”
He shrugged. “Yeah. She likes hanging out in the ready room, and always begging for attention. So sue me.”
Brenda grinned, as she futilely tried to brush the clinging white hair away. “Naah. Not worth it. Still, it’s a little silly. They invented fabric that’ll stop a bullet two hundred years ago, but they still can’t come up with something that cat hair won’t stick to.”
“So you got D’Val and Lazaret?”
“Yeah, they’re on their way,” Brenda said, giving up on the shirt and pulling out a chair at the briefing table. Pulling a comb from her pocket, she quickly ran it through her long, tawny hair and started braiding it with practiced fingers. “Who’s giving the briefing?”
“She Who Must Be Obeyed? What happened to Storm One?”
“He nearly got splashed down on the planet yesterday. In Medlab now.”
“Oh my God,” Brenda said. The hair she was braiding tangled, and she had to undo several plaits to fix it. “Is he gonna make it?”
“They think so, but it was close.”
As Brenda finished tucking her quickly braided hair into a rough knot at her neck, three other pilots entered the room in a body. The first two were their copilots, and expected. The third brought Brenda and Eddie to their feet.
Brenda was the first to speak. “Anla’shok Morgan,” she said, trying to maintain a calm demeanor for the Phoenix’s Executive Officer. “We didn’t know you were a part of this mission — we were expecting Anla’shok Ayeshalan.”
“She’ll be here shortly,” Morgan said. “I’m … a late addition to the roster.” She pulled out a seat at the table and dropped casually into it, thus encouraging the others to do the same. She expected the respect due a superior officer, but for this, she was just another pilot.
A minute later, Ayeshalan strode into the room, taking her place at the head of the table. She looked first at Morgan. “I trust you were able to find your flight suit, then,” she said softly. To the others, she said, “Thank you for being so prompt. Our mission is an urgent one, and circumstances have caused us to lose much time already.”
The tall Minbari woman looked at the others around the table. “I am not as familiar with Storm Squadron as I ought to be,” she said, “so let me make sure I know all of your names.” She pointed to Eddie. “Storm Three — Anla’shok Kriechbaum.”
“And your co-pilot, Anla’shok Lazaret.” The corner of the Markab’s lipless mouth twitched upward as he nodded.
“Storm Four,” Ayeshalan went on, pointing toward Brenda and the Narn behind her. “Anla’shok Mawarra, Anla’shok D’val.”
They nodded, and the Minbari smiled. “Good. Let’s begin.” She leaned forward, touching a control on the edge of the table. The holographic display at its center blinked into life, showing the slowly rotating globe of Abbai Four. The image slowly zoomed in toward the planet’s south polar regions as Ayeshalan began to speak.
“We have been asked to assist a group of miners in the southern polar zone,” she began. “This planet still has a small reserve of Quantium-40, most of which is located around the poles. The remoteness of these mines, combined with the great value of the material they produce, has made them a prime target for raiding parties.
“The miners have done their best to resist invasion, to the point of taking up weapons to defend their land and livelihood.”
“Good on ’em!” Brenda cried. Abruptly realizing she had spoken aloud, she blushed and slipped down a little in her seat.
Unperturbed, Ayeshalan simply nodded. “They have been quite brave, and tenacious. However, they are penned in, having had to retreat to the mines themselves for shelter. Their food, water, power — and ammunition — are all critically short. Further, they have several sick and wounded in need of medical attention. So they have called on us.”
The hologram had zoomed in fully, revealing a small cluster of buildings surrounding several mine shafts. The earth had been made transparent, allowing those around the table to see the upper galleries of the Abbai mine as well as the refineries, storage buildings, and living quarters that surrounded it.
“Our primary objectives are to eliminate the raider presence, and evacuate the mine personnel in need of medical help. Our secondary objective is to follow any retreating raiders and locate their main base. We think it may be quite close to these mines.
“Storm Three and Four will make the first attack run. The raiders have already occupied the outer complex, so if it is necessary, those buildings can be bombed. Raider vessels should be eliminated. Anla’shok Morgan and I will follow in the shuttle Eshnat. Storm Three and Four will cover us.” She looked around the table. “Questions?”
“If we are dropping bombs, what about the Abbai in the mines?” Lazaret asked. “Couldn’t it cause a collapse?”
“Possible, although I’ve been informed remote,” Ayeshalan answered. “Nevertheless, we will send warning to the Abbai on a coded channel immediately before we strike, and they will withdraw to the lower levels. Even if one or two of the upper entrances are blocked, they will be able to escape through the others.”
The Minbari looked around the table, waiting for any other questions. When there were none, she nodded. “Good. Get to your ships, then. Good luck.”
Copyright (c) 2001 Jamie Lawson and Leslie McBride. All rights reserved.