Episode 24 – Prologue

“Blacksheep Flight, this is Axanar, anything to report?”

“Negative, Axanar, we’re clear out to at least four light years. Nothing’s moving out there except debris.”

“Roger, Blacksheep Flight. Stay frosty.”

Flight Lieutenant Eva ‘Stick’ Morales shut the comm-channel down, and switched over to her wingmate’s. “Can you guess the old movies they must be showing in the officer’s mess?”

“More of the XO’s twentieth century classics?” Stick couldn’t see her partner in the two-fighter Combat Air Patrol, but she could imagine Flying Officer Tor ‘Bluebell’ Hark, a thousand klicks away, taking his hands off the controls and making air quotes with his fingers.

“Yeah. It’s getting the flight controllers all macho – actually, it’s kinda cute.” She kept the tone light – she was senior officer on the CAP, so morale was just as much her job as monitoring her flight space – but she didn’t take her eyes off the sensor panel in front of her. Beyond her cockpit window, the swirling gasses of the Rolor Nebula effectively obscured her vision, but short range passives could pierce the veil to show a reasonably accurate picture of space beyond.

It was nearly two weeks since they’d witnessed the last stand of Seventh Fleet, and parts of the sector were still hot zones from the fight. At last reckoning, at least 450 vessels – from both sides – were destroyed in the fighting, and if the smaller jar-head* attack ships didn’t leave much behind, the larger capital ships certainly did. And there was enough debris still hot from plasma fires, core breaches, and general radiation that tracking the drifting clouds of shattered debris was relatively easy.

Flying CAP for the Taskforce Axanar – the last survivors of the Seventh – was for the moment a sobering experience.

The fizz-pop of her comm-panel – she’d have to get Chief Torak onto that – drew her out of her reverie. “Yeah, Bluebell? Say again?”

“I said, do you know if the rumours are true?”

Stick could guess what he meant. “What rumours?” But it wasn’t wise to let the junior ranks know that even officers listened into the ship grapevine.

“That the Old Man isn’t going to wait for a recovery op?” There was a hint of something fragile in her wingman’s voice. “That he’s gonna make the run for Federation space?”

That was indeed what Stick had heard. When her CAP had launched, she was nearly dazzled by hundreds of points of stuttering light throughout their makeshift fleet. Welding arcs, in the hands of vac-suited engineers and techs, all making repairs to the battered ships of the taskforce. From her cockpit, she had been able to make out the sense of urgency, the pace of the work. Even without the scuttlebutt around the flight deck – that Captain Lombardo was indeed not planning on sitting still – it was obvious that plans were being made to get every ship cleared for action.

“Haven’t heard a thing, Blue, and wouldn’t believe it if I did,” she lied. “And neither should you – probably frayed nerves and synthehol, nothing more. We’ll know when we know – focus on your job now, not tomorrow’s, right?”

“Right, LT.”

Stick could still hear that wavering fear, though. “But I’ll tell you one thing, Flying Officer Hark, and you listen up good.”

“Yes, LT?”

“If the Old Man does make a move, you can bet he’s going to do it with a mind to getting it *done*, and kicking Dominion ass. Don’t you worry about that, Blue.”

She paused, realising that she actually believed it, too. “If the old man goes to war, the jar heads won’t know what hit ’em.”


 

* jar-head: Pejorative term used by MACO and fighter crews to refer to the Jem Hadar. Marine staff find the term amusing, but don’t use it.

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