Rocks tumbled across the expansive viewport at the head of the bridge, occasionally smashing into one another in displays of exploding meteors. The asteroids spun through the void, hiding what lay further in from the physical eyes of the crew members. It was a good staging area, if you didn’t know what you were looking for. The crew of the Nighthawk though, they knew, and they were beginning to grow annoyed with the field of planetary debris.
“We know they’re bloody in there, Commander, why can’t we get a karkin’ ping on ‘em?” asked the Captain, growling at his Sephi second.
“Sir, we’re covering the field as quickly as we can. Without support reconnaissance fighters we are at a bit of a disadvantage.”
“Course we are, Rulvak, we’re the bloody Hawk. We get to do everythin’ by our bleedin’ selves.”
“Sir, if we could get a few of the more adept Force Sensitives on board to focus, we may have a better chance of finding them.”
“Tried that already, Commander.”
“Wait, what? I mean, when, Sir?”
“Doesn’t matter, whomever is runnin’ this little fleet op out here knows better. Likely usin’ skeleton crews till they’re good and ready, then gettin’ a proper crew on board when they leave. Bloody shuttles zippin’ about throughout the belt as well as fighter screens, trackin’ the fleet down via the Force has been a headache.”
“I do find the fighter squadrons curious, they seem to come out of the field at random points and patrol areas around the asteroids.”
“We’re dealin’ with a bloody traitor, Commander. They know full well about our girl here. The Nighthawk don’t show up on sensors so well even without the cloak active. She’s bloody near undetectable when it is up, eh?”
“Sir, the cloak should keep us from being detected by any conventional systems at all, or the Force for that matter, considering it’s make up.”
“Aye, the Stygium bit is clever like that, but it’ll still bug any Force users that get to close. A ‘disturbance’,’ spoke the Ryn, air quoting with his fingers. “Besides, no matter how good the stealth systems be on our girl here, we’re still flyin’ bout in a metal can in a vacuum.”
“Well, yes Sir but–”
“The fun bit there, we generate heat, Commander,” the Ryn kept speaking, in lecture mode. “Life support, gravity systems, heating especially. Everythin’ that makes the Hawk a livable habitat, generates excess heat. Ship’s built to shed it, sure, and it does a bloody good job of it, yeah. But one of them patrols gets close enough and they’ll pick up somethin’.”
“I see, you think the patrols were designed specifically to locate us, Sir?”
“Wouldn’t put it past the old Sleemo to be thinkin’ of us, Rulvak. Never was to fond of him, nor he of me. Even if we’d not been given this mission, I’d have volunteered us for it.”
“Really, Sir?” asked the Sephi in an incredulous manner. It wasn’t like the Captain to go looking for work.
“Bloody huge threat to security, that one is. Knows the ins and outs of the Fleet and every ship in it. Told Blinky we shoulda shot him when we had the bleedin’ chance. Hmm, ya know that’s a thought, pull up what we got so far from the fighters we’ve spotted and send it down to my ready room, eh?”
Kordath turned away from the central holo display that dominated much of the bridge, head down in thought as he walked out. A few quick steps took him to the small stairway that lead down to the lower deck of the Nightawk’s forward section. The stairs opened directly into his ready room, where he could go over intel and make plans without the distracting noise of the bridge itself. A glance towards the door that would lead to his personal quarters was longing, he’d rather have a drink and a nap to think things over but now wasn’t the time.
Settling behind the desk with a sigh the Captain rubbed at his eyes and leaned back in his chair, wondering when he’d last had a proper night’s sleep. Probably the last time he was on leave. It seemed there was a constant stream of issues popping up fro Arcona recently and the Nighthawk was becoming a catch-all problem solver. Which meant he’d spent far more time on the move, getting shot at, and chased all over the bloody place lately. With a sigh the Arconan keyed on the display on his desk, bringing up a map of the Teagon belt that they’d been scouring for the past few days.
A beep brought up the data he’d asked from Rulvak, providing profiles of what they knew of the fighter craft they’d detected thus far. Newer model X-wings, a few B-Wings and TIE Advanced had been spotted. Pulling what data he could on the craft from the Nighthawk’s own databanks, he started trying to work up some kind of flight projection.
If I can just determine how far out this lot can patrol, factorin’ in the whole ‘don’t hit the bloody asteroids’ for maneuverin’ I should be able to narrow our search down. Constantly runnin’ about tryin’ not to hit the rocks ought to eat up more fuel. So this is where we first spotted ‘em. Take into account rotational spin of the asteroid field itself…
Kordath punched away at the keyboard, staring at his numbers and projected possible flight paths, and started eliminating swathes of the asteroid field as possibilities. More annoying than all the rocks providing cover for the staging area, was the discipline the Taldryan pilots had managed to maintain. The Nighthawk hadn’t even picked up encrypted communications from the fighter squads it’d seen, nor open chatter. It was irritating the Captain to no end, he was under the impression that fighter jocks liked to banter as they flew, at least that’s what he’d seen in all his holo-shows and books about them. The lack of communication amongst the pilots was getting on his nerves, they didn’t have the good grace to give away any information. It was insulting.
A tone played from a small speaker set in his desk, someone was requesting entry to the lower deck. Tapping a key brought up a display on his holoscreen showing a pale skinned Iridonian staring directly at the camera at the top of the stairs. With another sigh Bleu keyed the entry button, unlocking the passage. His Master didn’t make a sound as she descended, which didn’t surprise the Ryn one bit. She’d always managed to show up and scare the living hell out of him when he was practicing meditation techniques, it was disquieting how silently she could move at times.
“Master, I mean, blast it all. Miss Voth, what do I owe the pleasure?” Kordath chastised himself for falling into the old routine once more. It’d been over two years since his apprenticeship to the woman had ended, she was a subordinate now. Despite the change in position, the dynamic never felt as if it had shifted for the Ryn. She was a formidable and powerful woman, the kind that made Bleu uneasy for any number of reasons.
“I was curious as to how long we would be wandering around looking at rocks, Captain.”
Kordath gestured at the display on his desk, turning the screen so the ship’s Interrogator could get a good look at it. Large chunks of the Teagon belt had been blacked out, leaving an area about a tenth of the size behind.
“Hopefully not long. I’m sorry you got stuck on this mission, Nath. I know it’s not exactly your kinda thing, eh?”
“I didn’t intend to question my role in this mission, Kordath. True, my talents would be better off if we we’re to take a prisoner, but as you explained in the initial mission briefing we’re to remain ‘dark’ for this task.”
“Aye. I’d love to give ya somebody to play wit’ down there in the interrogatin’ chamber, I would. Make all our lives bloody simpler if we could snag a pilot or two.”
“So why don’t we?” asked the Iridonian woman, looking at him with her black eyes intently.
“The odds are against us, me thinks. They’d have to crash out in the asteroids, where we could get one of the assault ships to scoop ‘em up.” Kordath sighed and rubbed at his eyes again. “Believe me, Nath, I’ve been hopin’ against hope that one of them slips up and wrecks, I have. Still, we gotta get a visual on the supposed fleet. Gotta get a count.”
Nath nodded, “Perhaps an accident could occur.”
Bleu looked up at her from the display, “Eh? Wot you got in mind, Master?”
“Still slipping up on that one, hmm.” she spoke, one brow lifting in as close to an expression of mirth that he’d likely get out of her. “There are those on board skilled on the more…mental applications of the Dark Side.”
“You suggestin’ makin’ one of them fly into a bleedin’ rock, Nath?” he asked in a thoughtful manner.
“I believe it’s possible, but they would have to be closer than we’ve allowed them thus far.”
“Close enough that they’d pick up on the Hawk’s heat signature, eh?”
“Most likely. I’m talented in this sort of manipulation, Captain, but we all have our limits.”
The Ryn sat in silence for a moment, before nodding. “I’ll give that some though, Nath. After we get a count on the fleet and observe them for a spell, eh?”
“Of course,” she nodded, “that is the primary mission. Do you require anything from me, Captain?”
“Not a thing right now, Nath. Oh! Actually, go and tell one of the pilots to prep up, just in case we get…lucky.”
“Of course, Sir.” The woman turned and headed back to the stairs. The lack of salute or even a minimal bow didn’t bother the Captain, if it had he couldn’t have done much about it anyways. Instead he stared at the holo display before him over steepled fingers.
“Where the blazes are you, Traitor?” he muttered to himself.
“Any luck, Commander?”
“Sir! Your calculations narrowed things down quite a bit, I think we’re closing in. The number of fighter patrols we’re encountering is increasing at least.”
“Then they’re only half listenin’ to our ‘old friend’, Rulvak.”
“Sir? How do you figure?”
“He’s an advisor on this, mark me. If he was in charge the patrols woulda kept being sporadic across the belt. They’re listenin’, but they don’t got a lot of reasons to trust him yet, methinks. I wonder…”
“Sir?” the Sephi looked confused as he spoke again, watching the Ryn stare into the bridge’s holo display.
“They ain’t hittin’ an Arconan target, Commander. Bet. They’re up to somethin’ else. Testin’ him, that could be it. Or…oh bollocks.”
Kordath smacked himself on the side of the head and turned to glare out the forward viewport. One of the officers at a nearby station slowly pulled a bucket out from under his console, the Captain’s condition when it came to open space was well known. Nobody liked cleaning up the mess.
“It is a bleedin’ test. They’re fishin’ for us, Rulvak! Bloody hell how’d we not see this comin’? A traitor from our Clan with a bleedin’ fetish for naval warfare defects, and we suddenly hear about them givin’ him a fleet for some kind of excursion?”
“You really think this is a ploy to catch the Nighthawk, Sir?” asked the Sephi, incredulity clear in his voice.
“Not just us, or not even us, maybe. They might be usin’ his knowledge and experience but they’re bloody well fishin’ for moles. Everybody spies on everybody else, Rulvak, that’s just part of the paranoid nature of the Brotherhood, eh? So they took in a long standing bastard from us when he ran out, and figure we’ll be lookin’ for any info that pops up.”
Rulvak nodded slowly, “The DIA would have earmarked anything having to do with him, that’s true. So they hope to get a sighting of an Arconan vessel on the hunt, then they can backtrack through who knew about the expedition.”
“Aye, and that way they can narrow down the pool of Arconan sources. It’s a bloody false flag op! Or they’re usin’ it as one anyways, who knows, they may still be plannin’ on doin’ somethin’ unkind.”
“Sir!” came a voice from the crew pit below. “Sensors have picked up multiple signatures, sending them to the holo now!”
“Very good,” spoke the Commander, nodding to the officer. Kordath turned away from the forward view port, his anger having started to run out and the shakes setting in. He took a few deep breathes as the display shifted and began forming a partial image of various spacecraft.
“With the asteroids in the way, our sensors can only pick up what’s more or less in line of sight, Captain.”
“Aye, we’ll have to set up an orbit around this area, try and get a more complete picture. Huh.”
“What is it, Sir?”
“Well, the profile’s ain’t complete yet, obviously, but I’m recognizin’ a lot of support ships from the Tal-naval list we’ve got. I’m almost sure that big one there is their Vindicator, but I don’t see nothin’ bigger. A Heavy Cruiser and a half dozen smaller ships, eh? Looks like a Lancer and a couple of gunships as well. Hmmm.”
“They can’t be planning to hit anything too well defended with just that, Sir. Ah, smaller craft moving between vessels, Sir. Look to be shuttlecraft?”
“We pickin’ up any comms?”
“Ah, no, no we’re not. So they’re still trying to keep quiet.”
“Blast it,” growled the Captain before turning from the display and moving to the edge of the command platform. He crouched to speak quietly with Karth, the Helmsman whose station was situated just below the holo display, “Mate, gonna need you to plot us an elliptical course around the belt, get as many angles on that wee fleet as ya can, dig?”
“Yes Sir, making with the loop.”
“Good on ya, how long do ya estimate?”
“Sir, I’d project about ten hours at our present course, if we’re attempting to maintain stealth and avoid detection.”
“Bloody hell, alright, make it so, Karth.”
Kordath stood back up, turning to Rulvak, “Get some rest, Commander. We’ve found ‘em, now we just gotta watch and log.”
“And not get caught, Sir.”
“Well we’re a bleedin’ stealth ship, ain’t we?”
“Sir.” replied the Sephi, in a very neutral tone.
Kordath sighed and stared at the holo display once more, listening to his Executive Officer walk away.
Ten hours. Ten more bloody hours. Ah well. At least I can try and identify the blasted ships while we do this.
Approximately 2300 Hours
“Sweep complete, Captain,” came the tired voice of Karth from the helmsman station.
“Great,” mumbled Kordath, clutching a mug of caf and gazing blankly at the holo map. “Shouldn’t shift change have happened by now, Karth?”
“Sir, we delayed it due to the nature of the mission.”
“Bugger that, get your relief up here and get some rest, no good to us if ya fall asleep down there.”
“Yes Sir,” came the thankful reply.
“Before ya go, Karth, plot us a course away from here, along the lines we came. Make sure it’s near one of the more remote fighter patrols we detected, eh?”
“Umm, yes Sir.”
“Don’t worry about the why, mate, just take care of it, eh?”
“Yes Sir, sorry sir.”
“You’re certain this is a wise idea, Captain?”
“Not at all, Rulvak, but all we got is a head count, as it were, of the ships. We got no comm chatter, nothin’ tellin’ us where they’re bloody well goin’. We need more intel.”
“Do not worry, Commander. I am fully capable of performing this action.”
“I’m not worried about you being able, Miss Voth, I’m just worried that we’ll be compromising our position.”
“Sir! We’ve got vapor trails in the field. Sensors indicate three sets, chemical composition matches that of X-Wing class fighters.”
“Thank you, mate. Alright, Nath. You ready to do this?” asked the Ryn, walking with his old Master to the forward portion of the bridge. As they stopped before the wide viewport she simply nodded. He sighed and sunk to the floor across from her, both settling down to meditative poses. Nath was very, very good at getting into people’s heads, but Kordath was far better at finding things than she’d ever been. Together, he figured, they had a better shot at this. The two former Krath entered trances almost simultaneously, the Iridonian’s training of the Ryn obvious as they’re breathing patterns matched.
Kordath felt the cold, firm, yet reassuring presence of his Master reach out and touch his own mind. A few moments later he reached out, and felt her own awareness tagging along with his own Senses. Reaching out into the cold void of space with his Force attuned senses, he sought out the mental presence of the three X-Wing pilots. Dim lights in the darkness, the Captain felt a brief moment of elation as he determined they were mundane. Force Sensitive pilots would have made this far more difficult, but that didn’t mean they wouldn’t have good discipline of the mind. With a firm fix on the trio of pilots, the Ryn handed off control to his Master, letting her use him as a focus for aiming as it were.
He felt…something from the Iridonian woman, and suddenly one of the lights winked out. The other two became brighter, seeming to convey panic and shock before steadying a bit. In the background, in the physical world he could just barely hear a report of a fighter colliding with an asteroid. A brief flash came from another one of the lights before it dimmed and broke away from the remaining one. Moments later the third simply disappeared.
Kordath felt like retching as he came up out of the trance but fought it back, looking towards the command deck.
“We’ve already dispatched one of the assault shuttles to pick up the EVA pilot, Sir.”
“Great, great. What happened to that last one?”
The Ryn turned to look at his Master. “Should I even ask?”
“You already look pale, Kordath.”
“I shall extract further information for your report from the survivor. Do you wish for him to be functional when we return to the Dajorra system, Sir?”
“You mean alive, right? I’m sure I’ll be bawled out for this when we get back anyways, might as well have a prisoner to hand off. Might calm ‘em down a bit.”
“Very good, Captain,” she spoke, the barest twitches of a smile showing. Kordath wasn’t going to ask further questions about that.
“Hopefully he’ll tell us where they we’re headed, eh?”
“Oh. He will.”
The Ryn shook his head and headed towards the exit of the bridge, nodding to Rulvak. He’d been awake for three days, it was time to bloody sleep.