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[2379] USS Diamondback - Baptism by Fire

[Ens. Talia Al-Ibrahim | Personal Quarters | USS Diamondback | 2379]

Ensign Al-Ibrahim, personal log; stardate 56845.7 – two weeks into our deployment to support the Titan with their diplomatic mission to Romulus, we have been re-tasked. Rumors abound, but I’ve never held any stock in hearsay. Commander Rendon has called the squadron to the briefing room at 1400 hours, where I will be headed upon completion of this log. This briefing will be the first time I get a look at all the other Vipers; and they’ll be looking at me. I’m anxious to find out what the mission will be – flying CAP out here along the RNZ seemed prudent, if Intel is to be believed. Time will tell. As for the Diamondback, my time here thus far has proven…difficult. Most of the senior pilots have extensive combat experience and although I feel I can hold my own with them, I can’t help but feel unproven. This isn’t about glory or accolades; its just another hurdle I need to negotiate. I need to know that – when the time comes – I’ll be okay pulling the trigger. I’m also faced with the same old difficulties integrating with the others…just like Omega. Morrow and I seem to click; I’m thankful for that at least. My RIO seems to understand my difficulty with people somehow. I intend to set aside time to get to know him better; when I can.

Talia sighed heavily as she ran her fingernails along her scalp, tossing her mane of sable hair over one shoulder. I’m overthinking this, she mused as she stood from the small cot, tossing the PADD away to land on her pillow. The junior officer quarters aboard the Diamondback were tight; barely ten cubic meters, but she didn’t mind. Her roommate – whom she had never met, as they were assigned opposite shifts – matched her need for tidiness. Everything she owned fit inside her designated locker or twin drawers housed beneath her cot. She pulled on her duty jacket and checked the chrono: 1329 hours. On the surface, she looked much like she always did on duty: calm, confident, collected. Inside her mind however, was another story altogether. Her blood was up – she could feel her pulse as it throbbed in her limbs and up her neck. Her thighs trembled as she gave her jacket a tug, avoiding her reflection in the glossy black surface of the shared work terminal.

Stop it - just breathe, she told herself as she closed her chocolate-colored eyes. With a deep inhalation she felt her face settle to a mask of professionalism. Exhaling for a count of four, she snapped her eyes open. Yallah, enough, she growled to herself, forcing the anxiety down with a burst of anger. It was always like this; before anything new, or any interaction: her mind conjured up these irrational scenarios of embarrassment, ridicule, or failure. She hated it – hated the way her mind worked – hated the way she constantly crippled herself. Basically, you just hate yourself, she thought. She took another huff of air, forcing herself to relax. From the corner of her vision, she saw herself in the monitor: small of frame, skin like burnt honey, dark hair to match her dark eyes. Why are you like this?

She knew why, but that knowledge never helped her. The woman in the reflection never spoke, only glared at her.

Sucking her teeth with an audible tsk, she turned and left.

[A few moments later, Port Turbolift, Deck 18]

A boulder of a man blocked most of the access beyond the sliding turbolift doors when they opened, which didn’t surprise Talia at all. He stood with his muscled arms clasped behind his back, thick chest out, shoulders squared. The lights adorning the corridor gleamed off his meticulously shaven head. Blue eyes blinked at hers as he offered a cordial nod in greeting before stepping aside for her. The two made an odd pairing – one standing nearly head and shoulders above the other.

“Mr. Morrow,” Talia returned the nod as she left the lift, setting a brisk pace. At only 5’4”, she was used to working twice as hard to keep up with taller people. “Were you waiting for me,” she asked, jerking a thumb over her shoulder. The warrant officer had an odd swagger in his movement as they walked, like he was strolling casually while Talia was marching. She extended every stride as far as she could and it never bothered him one iota. I hate being short, she seethed at herself.

“I was waiting for the lift to go find you, actually,” the thickset man replied matter-of-factly, “not sure why I bothered though,” he added quickly under his breath.

15 minutes early means your 15 minutes late,” they chorused, in half-serious mockery of the immortal military axiom. As they entered the flight deck proper, both of them scanned the scene as they walked along the demarcated ‘safe zone’, staying clear of the work crews. The deckies were in a frenzy; they looked to be prepping all 16 of the Vipers for action. Talia’s eyebrows cocked up at the sight and she noticed Morrow hesitate for a step. “Something’s up,” she said what they both were thinking. Her RIO didn’t comment, only quickened his pace to rejoin her side.

Talia’s eyes sought out her bird on instinct – tucked into berth along the far side of the deck with the rest of Bravo Flight. Ordinance teams were loading her up as she watched. This feels different, she thought, why aren’t we at yellow alert? What the hell’s going on?

“Missed you at the card table again,” Morrow spoke up over the cacophony of noise that assaulted their ears, breaking her reverie. Nothing made more racket than an entire squadron’s worth of fighters being readied for a mission.

Talia winced as a particularly shrill shriek of metal on metal nearly drowned her RIO’s voice out. “I don’t play – don’t know how. Seems redundant to me anyway,” she hollered up at him, lifting a shoulder. They altered course around an ordinance sled making its way across the deck as they conversed.

“How so?”

She waited to answer until they were past the transparent blast shielding surrounding the flight deck; rounding the corner to the briefing room at the far end of the hall. Once the noise receded to more tolerable levels, Talia sighed audibly. Allah, my ears!  Walking abreast of him, her eyes lingered on the activity of the crews beyond; it amazed her how much effort and coordination went into supporting the squadron. The logistics alone made her head spin – how many man-hours went into just maintenance? And all the paperwork? Ugh – pass. Her attention snapped back to her RIO after she realized it had drifted.

“The point of gambling is to earn money, or something of monetary value, yes,” she asked as she rubbed the ringing out of her right ear. “Or end up naked,” she muttered under her breath. “I don’t see the rationale, so it doesn’t interest me,” she concluded neutrally.

Her RIO grunted beside her. “I see,” then he shook his head. “That’s not why we play,” he paused, pursing his thin lips for a second. “It’s a gentleman’s game,” he finished with a shrug. “Nobody loses their fingers or anything – hell most of the time I lose my ass after three hands, but it’s not about the money – it’s…a social thing. We sit around, play cards, talk shit.” He gestured with his meaty hands as he talked, his tone casual but slightly halting – like he was choosing his words very carefully.

Talia didn’t notice – the nuances of tone and body language lost on her. It wasn’t that she didn’t pay attention to people; when she actually engaged in a conversation, she did. The trick was getting her to engage.  “Sounds like you’re not a very good gambler,” the thought raced out of her mouth - like it often did - without her ability to stop it. Her facial façade of neutrality broke for an instant as a wince of embarrassment. “That…I didn’t mean – “Talia flustered with the start of the apology, only to be interrupted by her RIO’s laughter.

“Never said otherwise, ma’am,” Morrow shrugged again, making his thick neck look even thicker. “It’s just,” he paused, slowing his step as he checked to see if anyone else was in earshot. He held his hand out in a knife-edge to slow Talia, but kept a respectful distance from her. “Listen,” he lowered his voice slightly as those steely blues swept up and down the corridor once more before he continued: “you’ve been here what, three months,” he asked rhetorically. “People know you, but nobody knows you, ma’am. You’re a no-factor. That doesn’t mean we don’t have your back; it just means that people need to know each other – know what I mean?”

She watched his blunt features shift through several states as he talked; incredulousness, concern, others she didn’t pick up. Talia appreciated what he was doing, and how he was doing it: anyone could call someone out in full view of the public; it took a special type of individual to realize that rarely ended positively. Despite all that, she felt her stomach turn in knots. It was just like Omega, all over again. Faced with putting herself out there to people, she buried herself in any other activity to avoid socializing – and now people were starting to talk. She dipped her head back slightly with a silent groan. Damn it all, she hissed at herself. He’s not wrong, and he shouldn’t be the one who had to tell me; this was bound to happen because you’re so fucking terrible with people.

He must have picked up her signals, because he instantly raised his hands up in a placating gesture. “Look, it’s not a big deal – “

“What time,” Talia interrupted, running a hand through her hair. Better just get it over with, she blinked slowly, refusing to show her trepidation.

“Uh,” Morrow blinked, face twitching as he recovered. “1900 hours, usually.”

“That’s my gym time,” Talia huffed, folding her arms under her bust, unable to keep her brows from touching.

“So, skip a day,” her RIO shrugged as he cocked his head, frowning at her posturing.

Talia’s face screwed up - a look that questioned his sanity - before she asked that very question.

“Okay – okay,” the big man laughed, “I’ll see if we can push it to 2100,” he rubbed his hands together. “That work better for you ma’am?”

Yallah, enough of this, she thought as she nodded. “Let’s get to it,” she let her arms fall as she marched off to the briefing room, satisfied to move away from the subject. She took a deep breath as she walked in an attempt to vent her growing irritation. Why are you like this?

“On your six, ma’am,” she heard the grin in her RIO’s voice behind her. She shot him a look then: one that plainly demonstrated her dislike of flirtatious banter on duty. To her surprise, the RIO’s eyes weren’t on her ass – nowhere near it in fact. He was tapping away into his PADD, grinning like an idiot. “What are you doing,” she asked, incredulous.

“Setting the game up,” Morrow frowned at her, confused at the question and her look of contempt. “You know how hard it is to organize people as crazy as we are? It’s like herding cats.”

She allowed herself a small smirk at that, glad for the mistake in her assumption, but felt it disappear after a few steps. Am I crazy, her mind started picking the sentence apart – what he meant by it, exactly how he said it, on and on and on. Once her imagination took over, developing scenarios and arguments with people that didn’t even exist, she balled her hands into fists. The tactile contact, the sensation of her nails digging into her palms, recentered her. You need to relax, she told herself. Why can’t you just relax?

They were the first team into the briefing room by 15 minutes.

*Al-Ibrahim – (Uhl-Eb-Ruh-hEEm), son of Ibrahim, denotes family lineage.
*Yallah – (Yuh-LAAH) means “quickly”, “hurry up”, “C’mon” – an expression of impatience
*Allah – (Uh-LAAH) means “God”, “Creator” – used with non-reverence in this context; more akin to someone who grew up in a Christian religious household using “God” or “Jesus” when they stub a toe

Re: [2379] USS Diamondback - Baptism by Fire

Reply #1
[Viper Squadron Briefing Room | USS Diamondback | 1400 hrs]

Talia couldn’t stop her leg from shaking up and down as she sat, but forced herself to maintain an outward look of absolute calm. She never liked crowds and even though she wanted to look around at her fellow flight crews, the possibility of making eye contact and inviting conversation only added to her anxiety. No - no, don’t want that, she sighed inwardly. So, she sat bouncing her heel and busied herself by reading through her non-existent personal correspondence. You realize how ridiculous you look, right, she fought the urge to roll her eyes. Packed inside a room with this many people brought up all the wrong kind of feelings in her. Ramallah was a lifetime ago, she told herself, like always. It never helped. Mercifully, she didn’t have to dwell on it long.

“Attention on deck,” someone called out, and everyone jumped to their feet in a chorus of rustling uniforms. From her peripheral, Talia watched as Cmdr. Rendon made his way down the center aisle towards the tactical display that dominated the front of the room. Tall, dark, and brooding, Tyson Rendon cut an impressive figure in his uniform; naturally athletic, well groomed, almost graceful in his movement. She wasn’t exactly smitten with the man – not that she could or would act on such feelings regardless – but she had to admit, he was attractive. On his heels marched Capt. Jordan Musgrave; the skipper wore his years well, and held himself upright with all the confidence of his formidable experience in command. Taller than Rendon but slimmer, his dark skin a few shades paler, Musgrave’s bald head wrinkled as his eyebrows rose – his dark chestnut eyes raking over the assembled squadron.

“As you were,” Musgrave offered a lopsided grin as he chewed on something, then gestured to his squadron CO to begin.

“As you might have pieced together by now, we are no longer anywhere near the Romulan border,” Rendon began as Talia and the rest of the Vipers found their seats. After activating the tactical display, which showed the Diamondback as a solitary Starfleet insignia and a blue line delineating its direction of travel, he clasped his hands behind his back. “Six hours ago, the Diamondback received new tasking directly from command to Coridan Prime, in response to the following transmission.”

As he activated the viewscreen, it flickered to life revealing an aging male Coridanite; his brow armoring coated in a sheen of sweat as he fumbled with something out of view. Dressed in a drab-colored suit of slightly reflective material, Talia cocked her head as she watched his eyes dart about. This doesn’t look good, she thought, leaning forward to rest her elbows on her knees, all anxiety forgotten as she focused intently on the screen.

“I am Chancellor Durov of Coridan Prime, and this is an official planetary distress call to the Federation,” the Chancellor began, folding his hands before him as he struggled to compose himself. Like most politicians under stress, he was doing a poor job of hiding the fact that everything he said was being read from a prompt. “As of the time of this message we have come under planetary assault by marauders, backed by malicious thugs of the Orion Syndicate. They have crippled our meagre defense grid – which was still in the process of being rebuilt after the Dominion War – and are slaughtering our people, as well as helping themselves to our natural resources! Is it not enough that the Federation failed to protect us from the Dominion? Must we endure piratical attacks from space-faring criminals as well? As a founding member of the Federation, I demand action! Coridan was guaranteed protection under interstellar law when we joined this stellar body – yet we are left to fend for ourselves time and time again. We will not – “

The image froze as Rendon paused the transmission. “I think you get the idea,” he nodded to his squadron. “Captain?”

Captain Musgrave cleared his throat as he took the podium. “Good to see you Vipers,” he grinned at them as his fingers danced across the podium controls. Behind him, the image of the Chancellor vanished; a tactical display of the Coridan system took his place. “Now,” Musgrave clasped his hands together. “What our Coridan friends gave us in terms of tactical intel isn’t much; we know there’s a flotilla of at least four Orion corvettes in geo-sync orbit providing cover for their…acquisition operation, let’s call it, of dilithium,” the captain gestured to the map as he spoke, and the third planet of the system grew in size. Enemy markers popped into existence beyond the mud-colored world’s atmospheric envelope. “We also know the ringleaders of this little heist, are here,” he jabbed the map with his hand as a knife-edge, “400 kilometers from the capital, out in the blasted middle of nothing-but-rich-ass-deposits of Coridan prized dilithium.”

Talia found herself smiling at his mannerisms, the way he conveyed critical information to them in a casual way. It bled the tension from the room, while making them all appreciate it’s presence.

“What we don’t know,” Musgrave’s eyebrows rose as he rocked on his heels, “is how large their ground crew is, or what other forces they brought to the party – or how long this party’s gonna last.” He paused, pacing the length of the viewscreen as he ran his hand over his mouth. “We’re beatin’ feet to Coridan Prime at maximum warp, ETA in less than two hours. Our objective is to neutralize,” he made a meal of the word, “all Syndicate hostiles, liberate any civilian hostages, and capture or kill this joker.” The screen switched again, revealing a particularly smug-looking male Orion dressed in outlandishly dramatic chained leathers. “Decurion Laust,” Musgrave identified the man with an audible distaste in his tone, all levity forgotten. “Wanted by multiple systems for a laundry list of all kinds of heinousness. This clown needs a cell or a toe tag in the worst way, ladies and gentlemen,” his dark eyes looked at each of them as he spoke, then nodded back to Rendon. “Commander.”

Rendon jumped right in. “Laust and his crew are confirmed planet-side overseeing the dilithium grab,” he paused as the image changed back to the tactical view of Coridan Prime. “Unfortunately, he’s crazy not stupid, and has surrounded his freight vessel with transport inhibitors. Our role, once mission is confirmed go – codeword Francine – is as follows: Alpha flight will launch and engage hostile vessels in orbit, with Bravo flight on alert 1 in case they need back-up. With the Diamondback retrofitted as the meanest ship in the Quadrant, we anticipate cleaning their chronos,” he paused as everyone chuckled, casting a glance at Musgrave, “but the Skipper’d be mad if they ruined the paintjob.”

“Damn right Commander,” Musgrave clasped his hands before him as his mouth chewed, looking utterly serious before grinning mischievously.

“Can’t have that,” Rendon smirked. “To get to Laust, a strike-team led by Lieutenant Cyrion,” he gestured to the stoic Vulcan security officer that stood at the rear of the room; Talia glanced with everyone else as the SCO continued: “will deploy via runabout Argosa to the surface, escorted by two birds from Bravo who will provide CAS and ground support if needed.” He cast his eyes over the left side of the room as he folded his arms over his chest. “I need two crews to volunteer.”

Talia bit her lip. This is it, she thought, as the prospect of actual combat set her limbs into sporadic ticks. To her surprise, she wasn’t exactly afraid – it was closer to anticipation, or maybe just adrenaline. Whatever it was, it forced her to her feet; behind her, she heard Morrow follow an instant later. From the corner of her eye, she saw another crew stand up and turned quickly to see who it was. Vayne and Deveraux, the other rookie team on Bravo. Two nugget crews, she almost snorted. Rendon won’t go for that.

Talia waited, watching Rendon’s eyes calculate the risks, then flicked her gaze quickly to Musgrave. The captain stood impassive, just chewing, for a few heartbeats. “Viper 7, Viper 9,” Rendon’s tone surprised her by naming their teams as if he was placing a bet during a horse race. “Unexpected, but I approve,” he looked to Musgrave, who simply nodded. “Alright,” Rendon turned to look directly at Talia. “Viper 9, you have the lead escort – coordinate with Lt. Cyrion and update tactical with your flight plan – but the Lieutenant has overall command once on the ground, understood?”

“Yes sir,” Talia nodded, proud that she kept the tremors running through her body out of her voice. Fuck me sideways, she groaned at the sheer amount of paperwork in her immediate future.

“Ok. I think that’s it,” Rendon nodded, then turned to Musgrave. “Skipper?”

The captain cocked his head to the two crews still standing. “Make sure an bring my team back in one piece,” he winked at them, before addressing the entire group. “Make sure all of you get back in one piece. Good hunting, Vipers.”

Re: [2379] USS Diamondback - Baptism by Fire

Reply #2
|Viper Squadron Female Locker Room | USS Diamondback | 1530 hrs]

Talia sat on the bench before the row of lockers, re-reading her flight plan and attempting to braid her absurdly long hair at the same time. She was running behind schedule thanks to dealing with that Vulcan over every iota of the mission ad nauseum. Her uniform lay in a pile at her feet, leaving her in naught but her issued panties and sports bra. Burnt-umber eyes flashed up from her PADD to the chrono as her fingers moved deftly along the long stretch of her hair. Really need to just cut this shit off, she huffed. Patience had never been one of her virtues. She finished just as the other female drivers and RIOs started to file into the room, stepping around her pile of discarded clothes as they passed.

“Hey,” one of them sat next to her, “what was your name? You’re the nugget from Bravo, right,” she paused to open her locker and started pulling off her uniform. Talia recovered her own from the deck, then stood to toss it in her own locker before glancing at the woman; red hair, almost dark as blood and shaven close to her scalp. Pale skin, dotted with miniscule freckles along her cheeks and shoulders. Bright green eyes and soft, gentle curves in all the right places. Allah be merciful, Talia prayed silently. If ever there was a woman to tempt her, she was certain that she would look like this one. Ugh, redheads!

“Talia Al-Ibrahim,” she answered quickly, averting her gaze as she started to pull her grey body-glove on.” Yep, that’s me, she grumbled mentally, and you have no idea how much I’d love to jump your bones right now – but I won’t – because I’m late, and a coward, and that would make me a hypocrite. She couldn’t go around awkwardly humping people with her words or eyes when it went against her own feelings on the issue. Maybe I am crazy. Of course, she kept all this internal conflict firmly under-wraps; her expression never flinched from its mask of neutrality. It was a skill she’d developed over a lifetime of keeping people at arms-length.

Her neighbor giggled, kicking her boots off. “That’s a mouthful,” she paused to pick up her boots, and Talia noticed the woman watching her struggle into the skin-tight undergarment of the Exo-suit. She wasn’t being subtle about it. Yeah, I’m crazy alright.

“I’m Lt. Jolene Anders, but you can call me Jo, or Firefox,” the redhead shrugged as she stood back up, grinning lop-sided. “Pretty bold of you to jump on that escort op,” Jo nodded to her, “good for you.”

It was something in her voice – an accent that she had never heard before, that really did the trick for Talia. She wanted to ask her where she was from, or offer some witticism that might express her interest. Instead, Talia fought the urge to sigh. I don’t have time for this. “Appreciate it,” she deadpanned, zipping up the rest of her ‘glove with a grunt. “Nice meeting you. Good hunting LT,” she added quickly and headed out to her Suit storage. Exit, stage right, Talia grumbled silently. Allah, I’m never getting laid again.

“Heh, you too – we’ll try to leave you something to shoot up top,” Jo called after her.

Talia didn’t know how to respond to the jab, so she didn’t. Probably better off that way anyway. Her suit storage container opened with a tap of her finger, the circular door rolling into the bulkhead behind it. She stood there for a few seconds, trying to prepare herself mentally and physically for what was about to happen. I know as soon as I put this damn thing on, I’ll have to pee, she glared at the suit. I hate this part of the business.

[Minutes later]

She stomped from the locker, flushed face hidden behind the blue visor of her helmet, tapping into the comms channels on her wrist PADD. Still have to get through pre-flight – *ya ibn el sharmouta! As her comms clicked live, a low whistle greeted her ears.

[Twelve minutes to spare, ma’am - that’s almost unheard of], Morrow chuckled in her helmet.

She paused in her stride, cocking her head as she walked across the flight-line towards her bird and the RIO idling in the pit within. [That damn Vulcan slowed me down], she shook her head as she made a circle gesture with her right hand. [Yallah, lets get going with preflight – we’ll be dropping out of warp in less than thirty], she spoke as she climbed up into the cockpit.

[I assume that means ‘hurry’ or something], her RIO snorted, [I speak two languages, English and bad English].

Talia smirked behind her visor. Smartass. [That’s affirm]. She wasted no time booting up the cockpit as she settled; her fingers and eyes moved by rote, having repeated this particular ritual so much that it could be done in her sleep. She worked the tension out of her neck as she went, flexing her muscles against the insulating liner of her Exo-suit, when her RIO spoke up. [Music?]

Talia thought it over as she pulled up her checklist on her left wrist PADD. Screw it, why not, she shrugged. [Send it, just…keep it down so we can hear each other.] She heard him chuckle, before her helmet erupted mid-chorus to The Final Countdown by Europe, one of the RIO’s favorites.

[Shit], he swore after lowering the volume substantially. [My bad].

Talia sucked her teeth in irritation. [Let’s get to work]. She rattled off her access code to the on-board computer, followed by Morrow, then initiated the first of a dozen systems checks. One by one the Valkyrie’s systems came on-line, verified by both driver and RIO with a “check” or “hold”. Then Morrow hauled himself out of the pit behind her to do his walk around, verifying the craft’s flight control surfaces as Talia activated them.

[Attention – all hands, this is Captain Musgrave. Yellow alert, prep for hostile arrival into target system in twenty minutes]. Cmdr. Rendon’s voice crackled to life in her helmet seconds later, ordering all crews to their birds. [Viper 9, Viper Actual], he hailed her directly, as the hangar lights shifted to pulsing yellow.

[Send it, actual], she answered as Morrow climbed back up into the pit with a grunt, mumbling about something. [I reviewed your flight-plan with CONN – see me when you get back so we can have a chat about it], he paused briefly. Why the hesitation? Did I do something wrong? [It’s a solid plan Viper 9, just see that you stick to it. Actual out]

[The fuck was that about], Morrow wondered aloud.

No idea, Talia thought, listening as he keyed into the escort mission’s designated coms-channel and hailed her wingman, Viper 7, and the Argosa, as The Final Countdown ended. Talia found herself missing the song’s presence, until it was replaced with Eye of the Tiger by Survivor. She couldn’t stop her head from nodding to the beat. When she first flew with Morrow and discovered his penchant for passing the drawn-out periods of silence mid-flight with music, it didn’t sit well with her. Guess he’s rubbing off on me, she frowned with the realization, surprised at herself.

[Lima-Charlie Viper 9], Deveraux’ voice crackled back instantly, followed closely by Cyrion’s dry Vulcan drawl. [Loud and clear, Vipers. This is Argosa, confirming mission readiness]. Less chatter, pointy, Talia huffed to herself. She didn’t have anything against Vulcans, quite the opposite; in her extremely limited experience interacting with them she rather enjoyed their strait-forwardness. But that guy, she shook her head, that man just likes the sound of his own voice.

[Cut him some slack], Morrow laughed at her irritation. [He’s used to polishing his pips and rifle all day].

She couldn’t help but laugh at that, instantly clamping her mouth shut afterwards. Her laugh, much to her embarrassment, sounded somewhere between a donkey and a dying elephant. [Please don’t do that again], she heard her RIO whimper between his own belting laughter.

[*Kol khara], Talia grinned, [that means shut up], she lied.

[Uh huh], Morrow wheezed, [Sure it does].

Talia cleared her throat and forced herself to recenter as she closed the canopy around them, the Valkyrie’s engines vibrating into her with a resonate hum. [Now we wait], she breathed, all humor forgotten.

[Yep], Morrow agreed, [livin’ the dream], nodding his head to Rock you like a Hurricane.

Talia settled in for the wait, drumming her fingers on her thighs. Her thoughts drifted back to the redhead in the locker. Shit, what was her name? Ugh, you’re so dumb. She wanted to let her imagination fly – but nothing good would come from that. I need to get laid, the mental admission struck her cold; she hadn’t had sex since the Tyson, before Omega. Almost two years. [Fuck], she whispered.

[What], her RIO asked, instantly alert.

[Nothing – nothing], she answered, knocking the back of her helmet against the head-rest. You get back from this, she told herself sternly, you’re humping someone – and that fucking vibrator doesn’t count!

She heard Morrow snort. [Nobody swears like that over nothing].

Talia let her eyes close before answering. [Just…realized how long I’ve been alone, that’s all.] Not that I have anyone to blame but myself, she thought bitterly.

[Heh, welcome to the club], he paused, then mumbled: [Don’t look at me either, we aren’t playing for the same team].

That made her perk up. [Really? I never noticed]. Damn, how did I miss that? Oh fuck, did I really just say that?

Morrow chuckled. [You really have a way with people, ma’am].

She sighed loudly, wincing with embarrassment. [Drop the ma’am. Call me Talia, or Tee, or whatever. And I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be so…], her voice trailed off as she couldn’t even articulate what her problem was. Stupid? Insensitive? Fill in the blank?

[It’s fine. I’m a big boy], her RIO mumbled, [you just need to loosen up a little. Pun intended].

They both laughed then; the nervous, halting laugh that held nothing of humor. The awkwardness lingered.

[Hey, Tee,] Morrow hissed and she felt him tap her armored shoulder and point. Her eyes followed the direction to one of the Valkyries across the launch deck, and two individuals in Exo-suits milling about there. [See that guy there? That’s Peppe – biggest card shark on the boat]. Talia rolled her eyes, but watched the named figure inspecting his bird. Looks tiny, she remarked silently as Morrow continued. [He’ll be at the game. If you see him start to lick his lips habitually, fold – that’s his tell].

Talia cleared her throat. [Okay, thanks, but I have no idea what you’re talking about], she deadpanned.

[Oh yeah], Morrow mumbled. [We’ll get you squared away after the op], he promised. [Once you understand the fundamentals it’s all mental – and that heavy RBF will definitely give you an edge]. 

Talia screwed her face up in confusion. [RBF?]

[Oh, that’s Resting Bitch Face], he answered dismissively.

She didn’t know if he meant it as a compliment or not.

* ya ibn el sharmouta – (yah-eben-al-shar-moo-tah), means “son of a bitch” but…nastier. Its complicated.
* Kol khara – (kol-Kqha-rah), means “eat shit”, or “eat some shit”, but also “shut up and eat shit”….in this context, Talia told him to eat shit.

Re: [2379] USS Diamondback - Baptism by Fire

Reply #3
[Viper 9 | Coridan System | USS Diamondback | 1641 hrs]

The Diamondback had dropped from warp into the Coridan system twenty minutes ago, still primed for action at yellow alert. Talia had been listening to her RIO detailing the drama which unfolded following his most recent relationship while they waited for launch. It all sounded overly messy to her; the pick-up at a dive bar, seething with red-flags, followed by the weeks of halting communication. Morrow, for his part, seemed like a guy that went out of his way to be up-front with people. She was confused why he would engage with someone who clearly didn’t reciprocate. Pot calling the kettle black, she chided herself.

[…and then, I find out he’d been fucking around the whole time], she heard him shrug as he sighed, [Told myself that’s the last time I’d get roped into monogamy].

Talia tilted her head at that, chewing on her bottom lip. [What does that mean, exactly], she asked as she re-checked her tactical feeds uplinked to flight-ops. No change. The Diamondback was holding orbit around Coridan Prime, staring down four Orion frigates of substantially smaller size.

[You don’t know what monogamy is], he asked incredulously, near laughter.

Talia sucked her teeth in annoyance – three rapid fire tsks. [No, *ya kalb, I meant what else is there? Not having a relationship at all?] She let more than a hint of venom into her tone — irritated at his presumption — despite the fact that she could count her experience in intimate relations on one hand. And you don’t need more than two fingers, she sighed. [Look, never mind], she rolled the tension out of her shoulders. [Let’s just-] The amber lights of yellow alert raged to crimson as Captain Musgrave’s voice interrupted her.

[Red Alert! All hands – battle-stations], the captain paused as a series of shudders permeated the ship. [I guess negotiations are over], he sounded bemused, smacking his lips together. [Let’s go to work, people].

[No shit], Morrow laughed. [Didn’t get all dolled up for nothing].

Talia lifted a corner of her lips in amusement, but felt her legs trembling. Here we go, she thought, running her eyes over her instruments. The IFF markers for the Orion ships all flashed red, and were converging on the Diamondback.

[Listen up Vipers], Commander Rendon’s baritone replaced Musgrave’s. [Francine, I say again: Francine. Good hunting.]

Talia watched as Alpha flight taxied onto the flight line in staggered columns of two; beyond the blue-tint of the force field at the far end of the deck, the stars wheeled slowly as the Diamondback pulled evasive maneuvers. Her heart-rate was elevated now, adrenaline coursing through her veins. Her quads wouldn’t stop twitching inside the armored sheaths of her Exo-suit. She flexed her hands rapidly, feeling the sweat on her palms; it was turning her fingers cold within the armored gloves. Steady – focus, she inhaled deep. You got this. Its just adrenaline. Your fine. Everything’s fine.

[I got your back, Tee,] Morrow told her, and she blew out the breath that she didn’t realize she’d been holding. [Thanks, Jay,] she whispered, as she watched Alpha flight launch: two birds at a time, accelerating rapidly down the deck and clearing the ‘field before lighting their thrusters up to full. The auto-tractor kicked in at that moment, and the Valkyrie jolted into movement, forcing her to blink rapidly and focus. She pushed her emotions down as her hands took the stick and throttle assembly. Time to put up or shut up.

[Got something lined up for launch], she asked, scanning her fighter’s envelope beyond the cockpit – her left hand squeezing the throttle hard enough to make the servos purr. The odds of running into anything before launch were near zero, but this was just another ritual – muscle memory that couldn’t be forgotten. It also gave her something to focus on, other than how shit-scared she was. Courage is knowing how scared you are, and pushing through.

[Hell yeah], the RIO laughed.

As the Valkyrie lined up in the chute, Talia looked off to her right, making direct eye-contact with launch control. She raised her fist in a thumbs up, followed by a quick salute. Good to go. With another quick breath as she settled back into her chair, her bladder made its presence known. Great.

[I gotta pee], Morrow mumbled as Blitzkrieg Pop by the Ramones started.

Despite it all, Talia laughed, which didn’t help her own bladder issue. As they hurtled into space the flight deck passed in a blur of motion – and they were out. Her left hand pushed the throttle up to full; less than a second later, the Diamondback’s shields lit under fire as she cleared the nacelles, rolled to port, and threw a quick glance over her left shoulder for Viper 7. Her wingman launched with her, and was right where he was supposed to be.

[Pushing 80 mark 5 to rondy], she told Morrow, sweeping her eyes over her readouts. Despite the speed she was flying, it seemed like they were sitting still; all the objects for referencing distance were behind her. They were heading out and away from the main engagement to rendezvous with the Argosa, before looping around in a wide arc to the dark-side of Coridan Prime for insertion. With luck, no one would notice. We hope.

[Copy. Escort inbound, 7 has visual. 30 to form-up], Morrow’s voice had cooled as much as Talia’s did, all business now despite the punk rock in the background. They spoke in the abbreviated manner required by combat – where things happen quick and information needed to be just as fast. Clear, concise communication was vital; so was trust. In her head, she could see the Argosa pulling up into formation, sandwiched between the pair of Valkyries at 200 meters, as per the flight plan. Morrow was in constant contact with it; that was his role as RIO. He talks, I fly. She fought the urge to crane her neck around and see for herself. Trust the people you fly with – let them do their jobs. She kept silent, listening to her own breath and pounding heartbeat as the seconds ticked by.

[Formed up], Morrow announced, telling her the Argosa was in position.

[Copy, pushing to 1] Talia spoke as she rolled the fighter over onto its starboard wing and pulled back on the stick, a gentle turn that brought the mud-ball world of Coridan Prime into view. What a shit-hole, she thought. If not for the dilithium, who would live there, she wondered. It didn’t come close to Earth, and certainly wasn’t Risa. Not that she’d ever been to Risa, but she’d seen pictures. Off to the right, she knew the Diamondback and her squad-mates were in the thick of it – but that wasn’t her mission right now. [Six mikes to 1], she told Morrow – six minutes to waypoint one – meaning he had that much time to gather tactical intel before they hit the engagement zone. Well, “assumed” engagement zone, she reminded herself that they didn’t know exactly what they were going up against. AA turrets, ECM jammers, auxiliary attack craft – could be anything.

She busied herself by verifying her weapons status while she waited – activating her TVD and syncing up with the twin mass driver turrets mounted beneath the impulse drives. Giving her head an experimental pan, she watched as the turrets followed her motions. Love this shit! Satisfied, she reset the turrets to the default forward facing setting and cycled her torpedo ordinance. The loaders activated with a thud under her feet. Locked and loaded. Pulse phasers were primed; safeties off.

Out beyond the canopy, Coridan Prime had grown a lot bigger, rapidly.

[Bubble status, red; dust-storm at insertion], Morrow called out the atmospheric conditions: red was less than ideal. Dust storm sounds fun, she thought dryly. [Ceiling at 11 angels, windspeed 640 kph], he added.

Talia could see it. 11,000 meters. Hell of a storm, she sucked her teeth. How the hell did we miss that? She was going to have to alter the flight plan mid-mission to compensate. I’m going to hear about this when I get back, that’s for sure. [No-factor; push new route to Escort and 7: up and over], she ordered as she rolled the Valkyrie to port, offering the bird’s belly to the world below. She assumed Morrow was already prepped to do what she said – it was the only option they had – other than aborting. Or flying through a hurricane.

[Copy, sending].
Talia felt the corner of her lips lift. No hesitation. That’s when you knew you had a good flight team. Her smirk widened as she watched the nav readout before her eyes adjust course, and pulled back on the stick to compensate for the new entry angle. Now instead of flying into the storm, they would skim over the top of it to reach their objective on the far side. [In the pipe, 5 by 5], she told him. Ace of Spades by Motorhead started up as the first shudders of atmospheric entry shook the bird around them; her fist tightened around the stick. [Three mikes to 1], she added.

[Shields holding].

Talia took a deep breath as they crossed the terminator into night, the shields flickering into life as a haze before her. Sparks and flames grew as she watched, bathing them in an inferno of plasma. The Valkyrie bucked in her grip as it bounced across the thickening atmosphere. [In for some chop], she warned. She didn’t miss the continent-sized cyclone they were plummeting towards; it looked like a cancerous growth, churning slowly, lit from within by ionic discharge. Fuck me that’s a big storm, she shook her head as the flames obscured her field of vision completely, trusting in her instruments. The jolts grew rougher then as the Valkyrie plowed down, coming in waves of heavy turbulence.

[Scanners offline], Morrow called out, unsurprisingly. Surrounded by those extreme temperatures and glowing with EM interference, sensors were useless.

[Copy], she answered anyway. Soon as we clear the soup, they’ll be fine, she knew. [Sixty seconds], her face screwed up as she squinted into the inferno, blinking rapidly as her visor polarized against the glaring light. [Standby]. She was sweating now, teeth clenched as she held the stick steady. She’d done countless atmo-entries in the simulators, and a dozen or so training ops for real – yet this felt different. I missed the storm’s severity…did I miss something else, her mind raced through the mission plan. Stop it – she told herself. Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever did, her uncle told her that. She pushed the memory aside before it could fully manifest. Not the time, she ground her teeth together. Focus.

Gradually, the tremors around her and in the stick eased as they punched through, leaving trails of vapor instead of flames as they slowed. Talia eased off the throttle to match the Argosa’s top atmo-speed, glancing over her right shoulder to verify the runabout was where it was supposed to be. Thank Allah for that, she sighed; the runabout cleared a dense bank of clouds, visible in the darkness briefly as its shields flickered with the last of the heat from entry. Her left hand left the throttle for a second to tap a key on her tactical display, cycling through visual wavelengths. She settled on Infrared and the darkness of night lit up with mono-chrome heat signatures. 

[Scanners up], Morrow paused, [tracking new intel].

[Send it], she murmured, eyes flicking from her TVD to her tactical display. A three-dimensional image of what looked like a mechanical tick rendered, dug into the surface. A single hard-point located on its bloated dorsal hull highlighted. [Disruptor turret. Shields], she asked.


*Allah yil’anek, she cursed with feeling. Nothing for it now. [Push 7 to target. Coordinate with Big D. They pop, we hammer], she told him, glancing off her starboard wing at her wingman. [Escort, standby]. With 7 engaged, it’s on us to cover Argosa till that thing’s taken out, she told herself. She could only hope it wouldn’t take long to drop that ugly transport’s shields, then she could shred that turret with her mass drivers easily enough. Timing is everythingDiamondback’s ordinance will have to hit it after Seven’s pass to wreck the shields. Then we can mop up. She trusted her RIO and the tactical officers on the Diamondback to get this right. If the skipper goes for it, that is. Might be overkill, but we want this done quick-like.

[Copy, sending traffic].

In the silence that followed, she almost started humming along with Celebrity Skin by Hole. Weird name for a band, she mused. Good song though. She blinked sweat from her eyes as they flicked to her tactical readout. The twin Valkyries and the Argos were in a stable holding pattern, 12,000 meters AGL (above ground level), clock-wise turn relative to the target at 10 kilometers lateral. Why aren’t they shooting at us, she wondered. Her eyes moved to the target; her TVD zoomed in automatically. In the infrared image, it glowed whiter than the rough, craggy landscape around it. Nothing was moving. Off to the sides of the transport, the mining facilities looked wrecked, with visible structure damage and evidence of fires still smoldering. What the hell?

[Green light], Morrow huffed, his voice strained. He wasn’t cooling his heels back there; RIOs – especially talented ones – were hard to come by and guarded jealously. I’m keeping this guy, she nodded to herself.

[Painting target], she announced, and the target reticule in her TVD glowed crimson. All she had to do was keep within line of sight of the target and track the time of flight for the Diamondback’s torpedoes. Synced up with her turrets with a tap from her left index finger, she felt the slightest resistance in the stick as they swung over into position. She compensated with a bit more power and some lateral thrust, keeping her angle steady. [Acquired].

[Copy], Morrow paused to relay status to the Diamondback’s CONN. [Big D in position, 7 rolling in].

Shit, this might just work, Talia smirked as she watched Viper 7 boost its thrusters and bank away into the darkness. [Good hunting], she murmured.

*ya kalb- (yah-ka-lib), means “you dog”, a derogatory term for someone filthy or immoral - used in this context is more like calling someone an asshole or prick.
*Allah yil’anek- (not gonna tell you how to say it because this is a really, really, bad curse) also, not gonna say what it means. Its bad. Trust me.

Re: [2379] USS Diamondback - Baptism by Fire

Reply #4
[Viper 9 | Coridan Prime | 1702 hrs]

Talia’s eyes narrowed as the Orion bulk freighter came to life; running lights winked into existence as several dorsal hull plates opened to extend point-defense cannons. Smaller than the main disruptor, which had swiveled and was tracking as it powered up, the PDCs were an unwelcome addition that should have been caught by a deeper tactical scan. No time to fuss over that. She zoomed out her field of vision to track Viper 7, but kept her reticule on the freighter. Yallah, move your ass, she clenched her teeth as she watched the PDCs and the Disruptor open up at her wingman.

[7, hotboxed], Morrow announced, telling her what she already knew: the Valkyrie rolled defensively to port, turning its attack run into a lateral spiral as they closed distance. Spaghetti strings of incandescent energy looped out towards her wingman like ropes of silly string. She prayed that whoever was aiming them didn’t know what they were doing.

[Copy, standby for evasive], she told him as she ran an eye over her instruments. If they ended up getting pinged, they’d have more time to maneuver – yet she doubted that clunker had the range to do serious damage to her or the Argosa.

[Wilco], her RIO mumbled back, then added [7, engaging], as her wingman opened up with its pulse phasers and a quad salvo of micro-torps. She checked the range to target, dark eyes flickering back and forth between tracking her own flight path and instrumentation. Five kilometers, she pursed her lips, not exactly procedure, she mused. Then she considered reload time and nodded her understanding. Smart, firing two spreads in one pass. Not something she would have considered, until then.

[Traffic from Big D], the RIO reported, as the shields on the freighter lit up under Viper 7’s assault in a shimmering barrier of energy. All four torps hit near simultaneously; their impacts significantly brighter than the stream of pulsing phaser blasts.

[Send it], she murmured, utterly focused on keeping her bird where she needed it to go while maintaining her lock on the disruptor; not an easy thing to do, given the best of circumstances. Skipper picked an odd time for a chat, she growled to herself, irritated at the distraction.

[Listen up Vipers,] Musgrave’s voice was strained, rapid; he sounded like he was on the verge of losing his temper. [Our boy Laust has packed that freighter with hostages – honest workers just trying to live. I want those inhibitors disabled yesterday. Make it happen].

[Wilco], Talia’s face hardened after the channel closed, swearing a long and elaborate curse as she reassessed her options. [Shield status], she asked, as Viper 7 dropped its second salvo. The Valkyrie drove on for a few more seconds, phaser cannons wide open, before it relented its run and climbed up and over the target. Vapor trails and enemy fire traced after it as its boosters burned bright, accelerating out of range. Talia watched the second salvo hit, wincing against the light.

[80 percent], Morrow answered.

Not enough, she cursed. [Big D, full spread, on my command], she ordered, watching the range and time of flight data from her wingman and the Diamondback collate before her eyes. The math had to be perfect, otherwise Viper 7 could be caught in the blast. She blinked rapidly, lips muttering as she counted for several seconds. [Fire].

[Copy, shot], Morrow replied, telling her the Diamondback’s torpedo spread was incoming. Her eyes glanced to her tactical display; the freighter was prepping for launch, quad engine housings powering to life. I don’t think so, fucker, she blinked sweat from her eyes as she returned to the target. The time-of-flight counter for the torps ticked down as Viper 7 banked hard to port, 11 kilometers out, to re-align for another attack run. Yallah, move your ass, Vayne! She didn’t know him very well, other than he was new to the squadron, like her. She could see the spread now – four minuscule lights – falling hard for the surface. The freighter’s guns opened up on Viper 7 again, only this time the Valkyrie fired its own cannons at much greater range. What’s he doing, she almost screamed. He’ll drain his cannons at that range!

[7, hotboxed and engaging], Morrow announced but Talia ignored the report, biting her lip to keep from saying what she was thinking. It wouldn’t help anything in the moment. She glanced over her shoulder at the Argosa and wished it could just go somewhere so she could do some – Stop it, she told herself. Stick to the plan, like Rendon said. Irritated, she returned her focus back to the objective. Her eyes watched the flight counter for the torps then flicked to Viper 7 as it fired off another spread of torpedoes, spiraling in. [Splash in sixty], she warned, checking her angle before she pulled the stick back gently into yet another slow bank.

[Copy, shields at 60], Morrow grunted.

Every fiber of her being was screaming at her to do something. Talia shifted in her control seat; fighting her growing anxiety. This is taking too long, she fumed as her eyes darted back to the display of the freighter. It was retracting its gang ramps, minutes away from lifting clear of the devastation around it.

[Hold tight boss we got this], Morrow mumbled, forcing her to nod. He’s right. If I go off-mission, it might make things worse. She ground her teeth and nodded again. [Copy], she acknowledged. I’d murder for a damn cluster bomb right about now, she seethed, as her dark eyes fixed once again on the objective. Viper 7 was firing everything it had, phaser cannons sputtering out as their power drained. It managed a third salvo of micro-torps this run, letting fly at the last possible second before climbing hard and burning away to evade. From above, the spread of quantum torpedoes from the Diamondback fell.

She watched as the first torp slammed into the barren earth, missing the freighter entirely but detonating in a flash of white-hot brilliance. The second, third, and fourth slammed home, over-powering the vessels shields after the third impact. The fourth torpedo clipped one of the engine housings, shearing it from the vessel’s flank in a burst of twisted metal and fire. Fuck me, Talia swore as she armed her mass drivers.

[Engaging], she warned as she pulled the trigger. The turrets opened up in staggered bursts, vibrating up her legs and spine as they roared to life. Through her TVD she watched the firing arc, making minuscule adjustments in her aim. Her first rounds sailed over the target as the disruptor swiveled in her direction. Don’t threaten me with a good time, she snarled. The second burst hit true, crunching into the turret; the rounds ripped through the junk armor with ease, shredding the coil housing and coolant chambers. The third burst pierced the spindle mount, wreaking havoc on the internal motorized systems. The fourth and final burst sheared the primary power couplings completely, spitting sparks and debris as the disruptor canted to the side, completely disabled.

[Good hits], Morrow confirmed.

[PDC status], she asked.

[Inop], he answered, telling her the target’s defenses were either neutralized, or inoperative. [Power readout unstable. Push to objective?]

[Push Escort to target], she nodded. Let’s get this asshole and help who we can. She rolled the fighter to starboard and pushed the stick in as she throttled up, letting her cannons stay synced with her TVD.

[Copy], the RIO sighed, sounding just as relieved as she was.

She watched as Viper 7 circled in to rejoin her wing. Vayne gave her a flash from his running lights, which prompted her to roll her eyes. We’re still in a hot-zone, she shook her head. As the Argosa slowed and dropped altitude to land near the base of the smoldering freighter, Talia leveled off and fell into a tight holding pattern. Now it was up to Cyrion and his ground crew to sweep the ship for Laust and recover the hostages.

[Escort at target], Morrow droned, [and they better be quick ‘cause I’m bout to piss myself back here].

Talia snorted as she shook her head. [For real], she agreed, watching the runabout settle in the crater left by the first of the Diamondback’s torpedoes; two groups of ten armored individuals stormed out towards the freighter in staggered lines, flanking the objective. [IR strobes], she murmured. Cyrion should have checked them before deployment. The strobes served a vital purpose: they would illuminate only in the infrared spectrum and allow her to track the movement of friendly forces – and from her vantage – anyone not blinking was a potential hostile.


In the darkness, seconds later, both teams of ten started blinking out of time to each other. She watched them rush up on opposite sides of the hull through the pall caused by the dust and grit coughed up from the first torpedo. Two brief flashes signaled the demo charges on the doors, and then both teams charged inside.

Light flashed within, escaping from the few viewports that dotted the rusted hull.

[Ground team in contact], Morrow reported.

[Copy], she acknowledged as she killed her lateral thrust and hauled the nose of the fighter around, then powered up again. The Valkyrie skidded into the turn as it fell, earning a grunt from Morrow. [Going VTOL over objective], she warned him, scanning with her eyes narrowed for Viper 7. Where is he? [Push 7 to five klicks out, eyes up], telling her RIO she wanted her wingman to circle the objective wide, searching for aerial threats.

[Affirm], Morrow mumbled as the lateral thrust eased, replaced by ventral thrust as the Valkyrie hovered over the objective, strafing left to track along the hull for any sign of the strike teams or hostiles. [You do realize we’re sitting ducks here], he added seconds later.

[I want them shooting us], she whispered, [not Cyrion and his teams].

[7 has traffic], Morrow blurted before Vayne’s clipped german accent filled her helmet: [Nine, Seven – tally on multiple convoys converging on objective. Sending tac-data]. Shit, Talia cursed, thrusting vertical to gain altitude as her eyes flicked to the tactical display.

Three convoys of beaten-up mining sleds, probably stolen, she guessed; they had emerged from their own mining shafts and were bearing down on the freighter post-haste, all from different directions. Two vehicles in two of the convoys, three in the last. [Marking convoys alpha through charlie], Vayne continued. [Eyes on multiple foot-mobiles on Charlie – looks like small arms and ore].

[Copy 7, standby], Talia huffed. [Push sitrep to strike team and Big D, advise], she told Morrow. Fuck this just got complicated, she shifted her armored weight as she licked her dry lips. Her mouth felt dry, her legs wouldn’t stop shaking. Keep it together.

[Sending], her RIO grunted as she panned the craggy landscape, searching for the convoys. She eased the nose of the fighter to port and returned to full lateral thrust, disengaging from VTOL. There; her TVD blinked with a yellow icon, off to her left, reading Bravo – last reported sighting sent by Viper 7. Zooming in, she could see the two ‘sleds, and at least a dozen occupants, barreling down a twisting valley towards the freighter. The sleds themselves were little more than over-powered ore carts held aloft by repulsor emitters. They blasted a cone of dust in their wake.

[Strike team still in contact – searching for the last inhibitor. Traffic from Big D], Morrow reported before her ears crackled with an additional frequency. [Viper Nine – you know the ROE – do what you need to do to; period], Musgrave’s voice was beyond agitated, well into full blown anger. Talia shook her head, but kept her silence. I know the rules of engagement, she snapped at herself. Stupid – stupid! You’re wasting time!

[Push 7 to Charlie then Alpha], she ordered as she exhaled, [neutralize, then push to holding. Nine will take Bravo]. As Morrow acknowledged and sent the traffic to her wingman, Talia banked hard to starboard and throttled up – opening the distance between the Valkyrie and her prey. She checked the range from the convoy to the objective; Less than three minutes, her face pulled into a tight frown at her lack of options. If I don't take them out in time, Cyrion will be outmanned and outgunned, trapped inside a transport inhibitor bubble. Fuck! [Get ready to pull some G's], she warned her RIO.

Re: [2379] USS Diamondback - Baptism by Fire

Reply #5
[Viper 9 | Coridan Prime | 1720 hrs]

The maneuver was called a “Split-S”, under basic fighter maneuvers; nothing flashy, intended to preserve speed and energy while altering the fighter’s direction of flight by 180 degrees. Talia watched the distance to her target increase as she lined it up due aft, giving her the optimal angle of attack once she completed the roll and dive. In the void, it would be as simple as killing her forward thrust and flipping the bird on its nose using RCS thrusters; the fighter would bleed some speed but continue in the same direction and she could engage whatever was previously on her tail. In atmosphere, things were a bit different. She took a breath, flexing her muscles in anticipation. [Brace], she warned Morrow, as Got the Time by Anthrax played in the background.

The Valkyrie snapped over in a half-roll, belly to the stars. Talia pulled in the stick, groaning as the G’s increased to 3, then 4, then 5 as the fighter plummeted to the ground. She eased off the throttle as gravity pulled them down, her eyes narrowed as she watched her altitude scrolling down rapidly. This is going to hurt, she grimaced while she counted along with the readout. At four thousand meters she rolled again, then hauled back on the stick to start the hard pull out of the dive. The G’s increased rapidly, red tinting into her vision as she flexed and breathed out in quick, tight ‘hics’; 6gs, 7, then 8 as the Valkyrie leveled out.

[Fuck], Morrow grunted behind her. [That was fun], he mumbled sarcastically.

Talia blinked rapidly as she lined up her guns on target, closing distance with the junk haulers. At three klicks out she opened up with her pulse phasers as the targeting reticule blinked red. [Engaging], she murmured, firing off two micro-torps to finish the job. Payload delivered, she pulled up and boosted to full, standing the fighter up on its port wing to offer the slightest target as they passed. She watched as the twin streams of phaser fire chewed up the worthless dirt directly ahead of the carts – that veered in opposite directions to evade – before all aboard ditched at full speed. Bodies slammed into the dust, rolling and cartwheeling away as the few final blasts hit the lead cart. It blew in a small detonation of fire and metal, chunks of it slamming into the second cart as it dug itself a small grave into a dune along the valley wall. The torps hit next, blasting two small craters into the valley floor, adding to the pall of dust.

[Target suppressed. Foot-mobiles are bugging out], Morrow huffed. [Guess they had a change of heart].

Talia flexed her left hand into a fist, trying to stop it from shaking. Firing on the turret was one thing – this was different. Keep it together. [Copy], she answered as she completed her roll and swung the nose of the fighter around in a tight bank to regain visual on her wingman and the main objective. Viper 7 was strafing bothof the other two convoys, streaking through the night sky like a blazing comet. [Ground team status], she asked while she watched her wingman’s ordinance hit, lighting up the night in flashes of white-hot brilliance. So much for your backup, Laust, she shook her head.

[Traffic from Cyrion], Morrow grunted after a few seconds.

[Send it].

[Vipers, this is Lt. Cyrion; operation success. We have Laust, and the hostages – all inhibitors neutralized. Beaming casualties to the Diamondback as we speak. Thank you for your efforts. Cyrion, out].

Talia breathed out a long sigh as she watched the Argosa power up its thrusters in a cloud of dust. [Well, I guess that’s that], she nodded over her shoulder to her RIO.

[Yep, RTB?]
[Affirm], she sighed again, legs twitching from the adrenaline and pressure from her bladder. [Form up on Escort. Let’s go home]. She tuned him out as he sent the traffic to her wingman and escort, pulling back on the stick to point the nose of her fighter to the stars. It felt like she’d been awake for days, as the adrenaline slowly bled from her system. In its absence she felt exhausted, nerve-wracked, hollow. Plenty of time to reflect later, she knew; the AAR alone would take a few hours as every crew replayed their part in the sortie. It was a good way to learn from others mistakes and achievements, giving the entire squadron a chance to review and critique everyone’s performance. Despite her aversion to social settings, Talia felt a keen desire to hear and listen to what they had to say. It all played to the professional in her; knowing where she stood with her peers was important.

[Formed up], Morrow announced as Don’t Fear the Reaper by Blue Oyster Cult started.

Talia glanced over her shoulder, nodding to the runabout and Viper 7 as she opened her thrusters up to full. Yallah, before I make a mess in this armor, she grimaced as they climbed, leaving the smoking ruin of Laust’s freighter and ore carts behind.

[Two hours later…]

Her flight team had been the last to go. She stood at the podium, watching the squadron review the tactical data recorded by her flight systems – her dark eyes lingered on Commander Rendon; the squadron CO stood off to the side of the room, arms crossed as he nodded subtly. Talia reviewed what she’d said aloud in her head while she waited, trying to make sure she hadn’t omitted anything relevant. Movement in her peripheral caught her attention; catching Morrow give her a quick thumbs up. She fought the urge to smirk at the gesture.

“Solid execution overall,” Rendon’s baritone called out as he pushed himself off the bulkhead, “with a few things to note,” he gestured to the rest of the squadron. “Anyone?”

“Atmo conditions overlooked, obviously,” a lean, dark-haired male piped up. Talia recognized him from Alpha flight: Lt Simmons, “Spawn”. “Storm like that could’ve severely limited your options,” he shrugged, “but you dealt with it easily enough. Still, that’s something to consider more thoroughly in the future,” he concluded, nodding to her and Rendon.

“Agreed,” Rendon returned the nod.

“The PDCs,” another pilot, a dark skinned Andorian with bright piercing eyes spoke up. Scha’Vaahn, Bravo flight, Talia identified him. “After those came into play, I would’ve ordered the escort to egress the AO while both elements engaged. Once you knew aerial threats were null, why waste the engagement opportunity to remain with it?”

Talia took a breath before answering. “I didn’t judge the risk to the escort acceptable at the time, Lieutenant. In hindsight, that seems a more efficient option,” she nodded to him.

“Risk assessment is a constant, in any combat situation,” Rendon nodded. “Doesn’t mean it always happens or that we always have time to do it. Still – something for everyone to consider; aggression has its place,” he gestured to the Andorian before nodding to the display screen. “So does prudence. In this case, given the mission objectives and time-sensitive nature involved, I can go either way,” he paused to face Talia fully. “At the very least, I’d have held off until a thorough tactical scan showed exactly what I was engaging. Enemy intel is critical, Ensign – this could have gone a lot worse,” he stared at her.

She met his gaze evenly, nodding once. “Yes sir.”

Someone cleared their throat, and Talia’s eyes moved to the source; the pretty red-head, Lt. Anders. “So, where can I get that playlist,” she asked with a grin, winking non-too-subtly at her as the room chuckled. Mhm, keep it up, Talia felt her eyes narrow back at her, lips curving ever so slightly. Morrow turned to face Anders then, jabbing a thumb at his barrel chest. “That’s my playlist, thank-you-very-much,” he grinned at her.

“All right, secure it,” Rendon growled through a smirk. “We’ll talk about that later, mumbles. Anything else? Or can we wrap this up – only so much heat we can throw at her for sticking to the escort like a damn shadow.”

“Hmm. Mumbles and Shadow,” Anders tapped her index finger against her full lips. “Sounds like our nuggets have their callsigns,” she grinned.

Rendon’s eyebrows shot up as he glanced between Talia and Morrow, a thoughtful frown pulling on his features. “Shoe fits,” he crossed the air before him with two fingers. “I dub thee thus,” he grunted in finality. “Good work, all of you. Dismissed,” he nodded to them all.

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