The Phoenix had been traveling through hyperspace for nearly two days when the pilots of Storm Squadron got the call. “Pilots Rosha, Rashid, Kriechbaum and Lazaret, report to Chief Darquin in the pilots ready room for briefing immediately.”
Cat was sitting in her quarters reading a novel on Minbari history when she heard the call. It startled her so much that she fell off the table she was sitting on. She stood up and put on some shoes and ran out of her quarters to go meet the others.
The other three pilots met her near the door of the ready room. Eddie Kriechbaum greeted her with a grin and a cheerful, “Hi, boss!” Lazaret opened the door and led them all inside, where Chief Darquin was already waiting.
“Okay, people,” Darquin said, “take your seats. We’re on the clock.”
He tapped codes into a crystalline pedestal. On the wall beside him, a matrix of hexagons shimmered, forming star charts on its surface. “Here’s the scenario. We’re jumping out to take some new bearings. Radiation bursts from a nearby sector are interfering with our navigation data, thanks to this fella.” A tactical holo-map appeared, revealing a star trailing a steady stream of glowing plasma into space. “This is the source, an x-ray binary. It’s probably a black hole munching on the star. That’s where you guys come in. We need Storm Squadron for some recon.”
The close-up of the x-ray binary shrank into the starfield, replaced with silhouettes of the Phoenix and Starfury Thunderbolts. “We’ll jump into normal space at Sector 522 by 89 by 40. It’s the farthest jump we can safely make, and clear of hard radiation. Phoenix will hold position there.
“You will take two Thunderbolt Starfuries into this area, Sector 522 by 90 by 42. Get comfy before launch. It’ll be a long flight. Activate your Blacklight cloaks on launch, as soon as you hit space. Then proceed to the mission area. Pilots are responsible for short-range threat detection. Range-Intercept Officers in each fighter will do the long-range scanning. Assume you’re in hostile territory. We probably are.”
Cat sat and nodded her head at every sentence Chief Darquin said. She then looked at the other three pilots sitting around. “A stealth mission…interesting.” She had only done a few of these in training, but she figured it wouldn’t be too hard.
Kriechbaum put up a hand. “So we’re fairly sure the Blacklights won’t bother the hostiles we’ve been following?”
“I’ll be straight with ya,” Darquin said. “We’re not sure of a lot. But history’s on our side. When we encountered the Vorlon servants a year ago, our Blacklights seemed effective against them. And their tech was more advanced.”
Darquin pointed to the star chart. “One more thing. Our probes picked this up near the mission area — a big patch of infrared radiation. We can’t make out the source. It’s not your main objective, so don’t sweat it. Use long-range scanners in short bursts. Do not approach.
“Remember, this is a recon mission. If you encounter anything, head for home and hit the afterburners. Do not engage. Do not make contact. Record and return. None of the ‘Furies have Vorlon tech, but sooner or later, the enemy is bound to trace your fighters back to us. Stay cloaked. Keep the radio chatter down. Stay sharp.”
“Chief,” said Rashid, “if they engage us before we can get clear, what do we do?”
“Defend yourself, but do not pursue. If they want a fight, do a quick hit-and-fade. Back to the barn ASAP. Got it? Above all, get that recon info back to us.”
Rashid nodded, turning to face Cat. The other pilots were looking at her as well.
“Anything else, boss?” Eddie Kriechbaum asked her. “Or shall we just head to the ships?”
Cat pondered for a moment. “Remember to keep chatter down, and stick together unless we are ambushed, emergency maneuvers if necessary. I can’t think of anything else.” She looked back at the pilots, then at Darquin. “Are we all set, Chief Darquin?”
He nodded. “As soon as you do your pre-flight checks, you’re good to go. Make sure your Blacklights are working before launch. That’s all, people. Report to the fighter bays.” He grinned. “And stay awake.”
The quartet of pilots got up and headed for the lockers, where they quickly started changing into their flight suits. “Since we can’t chatter after we hit space, I guess I gotta do my yakking now,” Kriechbaum said with a grin. “I’ve been wondering about this — it seems pretty obvious these hostiles have it in for anything that’s even remotely Vorlon. Anyone got any bright ideas as to why?”
Cat stared at the floor for a minute and pondered. “Can it have something to do with that area? Maybe an argument over it? Or maybe there is something in these hostiles’ history that makes them hate Vorlons.”
“Now that’s an intriguing thought,” Lazaret said. “A little over a year ago, the Phoenix ventured into what used to be Vorlon space, and encountered a race which had once served the Vorlons. They sought to carry out the wishes of their masters, though the Vorlons were gone.”
“Maybe these aliens were servants too, but are angry at being abandoned or something like that,” Rashid said.
“Hhhmmm, that is very interesting,” Cat replied. “Revenge is a very interesting thing.”
“But never pretty.” Kriechbaum slapped suit integrity seals into place. “Guess we better get to it.” Grabbing his helmet, he headed for the docking bay.
“I’m with you on that,” Cat said, grabbing her helmet also and following Kriechbaum to the docking bay.