: “ Angels Walk Amongst Men ”


On approach to BWS Freedom
The Landreich System, Leo Sector

A single pair of F/A-43 Intruder-class medium fighters silently cruised toward their new home. The exhaust from their engines glowed a fiery blue, and maneuvering jets flared briefly as they adjusted course. Sunlight gleamed off the cockpit windows, casting another small, bright point of light into the cosmos. The pilot of one of the Intruders looked up from his control panel to the Freedom, off in the distance.

“There she is, Vaughn, our new home. They call her Freedom,” said Commander Jarin “Strife” Beleforte.

Lt. Commander Will “Diablo” Vaughn looked over at his wing leader and long time friend's fighter. “She’s a real prize, or so I hear. Not as fine as the Valeria but still a good ship.”

“Yeah… hard to believe they’re still building those old Ranger-class ships after all these years. Looks like we’ve got another ten minutes left on this ride. Let's keep it tight, I don’t want to look bad on my first day of work.”

Strife and Diablo tightened up their loose formation and once more turned their attention to the Freedom. The rest of Battle Group Valkyrie was already in clear view, holding formation around the Valeria. The CAP fighters also came into view, hanging off to either side of their charges. A pair of Intruders peeled away from the Freedom and angled towards Vaughn and Beleforte.

The fighter at the point of the echelon formation radioed the two new arrivals and said, “Attention, Intruder-class fighters, this is 1st Lieutenant Jeanette Johnson, BWS Freedom. Please identify yourselves.”

Jarin responded, “This is Commander Jarin Beleforte, here to take command of the VF-78. My wingman is Lt. Commander Will Vaughn, the new squadron executive officer.”

There was a moment of silence before Johnson responded. “Roger that, Commander. Welcome to your new home. You’ll be expected to brief the squad’s pilots aboard the Freedom in two hours, and the pilots aboard the other ships the next day."

“Roger, Lieutenant. Well, Vaughn, my boy, let's bring it in.”

Jarin throttled his Intruder back and let Vaughn head in first. As soon as he was aboard, the LSO gave Jarin the all clear to land. Jarin brought his speed down to 100 KPS as he lined up on the Freedom’s hangar. As he came within 500 meters, Jarin cut his throttle back to 25 KPS. Moments later, the Freedom’s tractor beams snagged his fighter, gently tugging it towards the deck. He pressed the button lowering his landing gear, then slid his hand over a bit and disabled the system which automatically ejects a pilot when the ship's power and shielding systems fail. Another moment later, after passing through the magnetic containment field at the end of each side of the deck, his ship set down with a thump.

Glancing down at the control panel, Jarin watched the status-giving lights within his cockpit wink off one by one as his fighter powered down. Gears whined as they turned, his cockpit opening as Jarin pulled off his helmet. He held it in one hand as he stepped down the ladder that had been wheeled up to his cockpit. As his boots hit the deck, he took a long look around the large bay.

The fly-through bay loomed around him. The sound of technicians scurrying and moving equipment rolled around him. Jarin watched as a small cart backed up to his fighter, the tech in the back hooking a cable up to the Intruder. The cart’s motor whined loudly, pulling the fighter towards its repair area. Jarin tucked his flight helmet under his arm and strolled over to Vaughn, who was doing a slow inspection of the flight deck. “Will, I’m going to need you up in the briefing room in two hours... on time, preferably.”

“Jarin, I’m shocked! There is no way I could possibly be late,” Vaughn said sarcastically.

“Let's see. Need I mention Silenos, Masa, Lennox, Ymir, and Kurasawa?”

“Okay, okay, I get the point. Besides, those weren't my fault! There always just happened to be a lady around who needed my company, but who didn’t know it yet.”

Jarin just shook his head and chuckled. “And each time you got knocked on your ass. Seems they didn’t really need you after all.”

“Oh, come on. They just didn’t take the time to really know me.”

“And if they had, they’d have been thrown into a mental institution. You just have that effect on women.”

“Whatever, man. Anyway, I’m gonna continue taking a look around down here, and see if anyone needs my company,” he said with a wink.

“You never quit, do you, Will? Anyway, remember: in the briefing room, two hours.”


BWS Freedom; Flight Wing Briefing Room
Two Hours Later

Jarin leaned lightly against the podium at the front of the room, listening to the idle chatter of a couple of the pilots who had already arrived. He scratched his neck lightly, bringing up the squad’s bio list on his datapad. The first pilot, a dark haired woman with green eyes, was Ensign Alexa “Shade” Sheldon. The other one, Ensign Jimmy “Orion” Collins, was somewhat shorter, with brown hair and eyes. Jarin noted both pilots were on the skinny side of the wire. He set the datapad back down on the podium and tuned himself in to their conversation.

“Well, the way I hear it is that the furballs are grabbing every gun they can get. Makes me wonder what they’re up to. Probably nothing good, considering that Cynium mess a while ago,” Sheldon commented.

“Come on, Shade, the Kilrathi Assembly is friendly with the Terrans. Why would they gear up for another war?”

Alexa shook her head. “Sure Confed is on good terms with the Assembly, but I’m talking more about the shit on the Feudal Planets. The Kilrathi Empire is still alive and well on them - what is it they're calling it now, the Tenth? - plus they’ve been raiding Confed and Border Worlds colonies since the war. And don't forget the Cult of Sivar. Those zealots are going to cause trouble, mark my words.”

“With what? They’ve only got capships that have been around since the first war, and half of them willingly dismantled their warships under Chancellor Melek. They couldn’t help to contend with what the Border Worlds and Confed would throw at them. I say let them kill each other off and only bother them if they’re in our territory.”

Jarin chuckled and shook his head lightly, thinking to himself that the ensigns were slightly off their rockers. Sheldon took notice and looked over at him, studying Jarin’s slightly heavy build, and noting his eyes had blue, green, brown, and a hint of yellow in them.

Then Sheldon said, “Sir, you think the Cats aren't up to something? You can’t deny the rumors that they are building more and more ships.”

Looking back at Shade Jarin replied, “Look, we don’t know what the Cats are up to. My bet is they’re just gearing up to blow each other away to see who becomes top dog in their food chain. Why not let them? Besides, we’ve beaten them twice now... the Kilrathi aren't stupid enough to try again.”

Yet, sir. I say we have to keep a look out on them still, and nuke anything that even looks in this direction.”

Another reply was forming on Jarin’s lips when the rest of the pilots quickly filed in, still in their flight suits after their CAP mission. Jeanette, the first in, slid into the chair next to Shade. The rest of the pilots filed in quickly, taking their seats in the second row. Then Vaughn came in, half running as he took a seat.

Jarin shook his head, saying, “Now that everyone has decided to arrive, let's get this show on the road. Now, as many of you may or may not know, I’m Commander Jarin ‘Strife’ Beleforte, your new squadron commander. Our tardy friend in the back is the squadron XO, Lt. Commander Will 'Diablo' Vaughn.”

Will half saluted and smiled wryly as the rest of the pilots turned to take a look at him.

Jarin shook his head again and continued. “I want to keep this short so we can get back to our jobs. I only have a couple rules. If you have a problem with the way things are being run, or if you have a question, come and talk to me. Don’t waste your time bitching and moaning behind my back, it won't get anything fixed. And Number Two, do your jobs as best you can. It may sound cliché, but the fate of the Border Worlds may depend on it someday. That’s pretty much it, unless someone else has something they’d like to add to this.”

He paused for a moment to give the squad time to ask questions. When none came he said, “All right then, next up on CAP duty are lieutenants Mueller and Heston and ensigns Carey and Collins. Enjoy your flight, people. Dismissed.”

Stepping back, Jarin leaned against the bulkhead and watched the pilots file out of the briefing room. In a few moments the place was empty, save for Vaughn and himself. “Hey, Strife, I think I’m gonna go stretch out on my bunk for a while if you need me. I’m still reeling a little from an unappreciative techy shooting me down in flames.”

“Shot down? Wow, there’s a surprise. Anyway, enjoy yourself, Will. I’m heading up to the lounge to get some chow.”


BWS Freedom; Officer's Lounge                                                                                                  

Slightly slouched back in his chair in the wardroom, Jarin scanned over the news files on his datapad as he finished off his sandwich. Sometimes it amazed him how "peacetime" duty could be so astoundingly boring.

Well, he thought to himself, If the fuzzies really are rearming we could be in for some action. I don’t think they’re going to be ready for anything for a long while… besides, Confed will go knock some sense into them if they try anything.

His thoughts were interrupted by a tap on his shoulder. “This seat taken, sir?”

Jarin turned his head to see Jeanette standing beside him. “Nah, go ahead. Not like anything important is about to happen or anything in that particular chair.”

She sat down and smiled. “Well, you never know when the random black hole will appear right above a chair in the lounge.”

Laughing, Jarin straightened up and set his datapad aside. “So tell me, Lieutenant, what brings you up here when you should be sleeping?”

“It gets hard to sleep when that fool you brought aboard with you snores louder than a chainsaw running next to your ear.”

He laughed again. “It’s not really that bad… usually. Once he gets used to the air aboard it’ll be manageable. Vaughn always snores loudly his first couple days on a new ship.”

“What an annoying little habit. Maybe I should just break his nose so he won’t be using it to breathe.”

“That really won’t be necessary… besides, no need to get the barracks all bloody. So, Lieutenant, I was wondering… since you were acting squad commander until my arrival, what's your appraisal of the people aboard the Freedom?”

“You’ve read our bios by now, Commander. They should show it.”

“I’m not looking for the opinion of the Brass on your performance. I want the straight deal from a pilot familiar with the people.”

“All right, then. The two ensigns aboard, Alexa Sheldon, and Jimmy Collins... they’re fairly new. Haven't had enough time to get a good handle on their abilities. They look good from their sim scores, but then again, those are just sim scores.”

“Okay. What about the other three lieutenants?”

“Them I know really well. We’ve been through more than a couple scrapes together. Jack ‘Prophet’ Mueller you’ll know in an instant. Big guy, no brains, but he gets the job done very well. He can get too focused on anything he doesn’t wax quickly, so someone always has to be sticking to his back,” Jeanette paused to take a drink of water, “Now, Terri Heston, she’s definitely one of the best aboard. Crack shot and an ace pilot. Plus, she has an unnerving tendency to shoot out the cockpits of enemy fighters. Personally, I think it’s a little messed up that so many of her shots hit there… I’m beginning to think she does it on purpose.”

“Youch… how’d she get a callsign like 'Jolt' anyway?”

“The way she tells it is she was at the Academy and stuck her finger in a power outlet trying to get her computer terminal up and running.”

Jarin smirked. “That can’t be good for your health.”

“Damn near died.”

“There’s one more pilot, Andrew Carey. What's your take on him?”

“Dasher? Well, he lives for speed. He regularly flies with extra power to his engines. He’ll also do absolutely anything to get him even more. He’s a fair pilot with his fair share of kills.”

“Great. And what about yourself, Huntress?”

“Oh, calling me by my callsign now, sir,” she said, winking. “Seriously, though, it’s a good practice to get in to so the squad feels they can get to know you better. As for my skills... well, ask Heston or Mueller. I wouldn’t give a fair assessment.”

“Fair enough, Huntress, fair enough,” Jarin said, stretching. “Tell you what -- let Carey, Mueller, and Heston know that I’m going to be heading out with them on the CAP tomorrow. I want to get a firsthand take on my pilots.”

“Will do next time I see them.”

“Great. Well, I had best be getting some rest about now, so I’ll talk to you later.”


BWS Freedom; Flight Wing Barracks

Jarin kicked his boots off, setting them at the head of his bunk before lying down. He stared up at the plate metal ceiling, letting his mind wander.

Well, looks like after all that time bouncing from ship to ship, this might be a place you’ll stay in. And besides, who knows if it’ll just be boring down time? There are still pirates, rogue Kilrathi, Retros, and all other sorts of undesirables to find and blow up. Assuming the Cats are rearming and their purpose isn't just to blow us to bits, maybe we’ll be going up against whatever's spooking them... if it's anything at all. You never can tell with the Kilrathi. Odd little buggers, never can decide whether to be our friends or eat us.

Of course, maybe they are detecting that race called the Mantu and are getting geared up in case they come-a-knockin' on what's left of Kilrah’s door. Who can tell? This is a mystery that I have a feeling will be solved soon enough, and maybe not for the better. I just can’t shake this feeling that a lot of people are about to die… no, I’m just imagining things.

Nothing out there has a reason to be hostile towards us. We haven’t done anything… but that might not mean anything. Didn’t mean anything to the Kilrathi in 2629. Nobody can really tell now, so I guess all I can do is wait and see. Time will tell, though… time always tells…