Federation Fleet Carrier U.S.S. Christopher M. Pike Strike Group: Zarias System, Federation Occupied Zone (Cardassian/Tholian Border)
Katie shifted in her flight suit as looked up at the briefing room’s holoscreen. She read the words, “F/A-297 Tiberian Bat: Space Superiority Fighter.” Below was a list of performance statistics that impressed her. She looked around and saw a large wooden plaque bolted into the bulkhead on the far side of the room. The top read, “Lancer Bandit Board.” Below was a list of names. At the very top of was “LT Phil “Saber” Lexington” with six Cardassian emblems and a ketracel-white tube painted next to it.
“Pride of the Federation Starfleet, and you’ll get a great view from the Sizzo’s seat,” Captain Miller said enthusiastically bringing Katie back.
“Sizzo?” Katie raising her eyebrows.
“S-S-O,” Phil said cutting in. “Sensor Systems Operator. Usually the rear seat is for the one who runs the fighter’s long range navigational and targeting systems. We shorten it to Sizzo.”
“You fighter jockeys just have a cute pet name for everything, don’t you?”
Miller and Phil chuckled.
“It’s just a short little patrol today, so Saber can run things from the pilot’s station,” Captain Miller said with a reassuring grin. Katie was still having problems remembering that no one on this ship called her friend by his real name.
“Who’s our flight lead?” Phil asked the captain.
“I am,” came a woman’s voice from the back of the room. Phil froze like he just heard a ghost.
“Saber,” the female Trill said with a devious grin that caused the two short, red pigtails on the side of her head to bounce. A lanky Rigellian also dressed in a flight suit followed close behind her.
“Wildcard,’ good to see you again as well,” Phil said.
“Sab,” the Rigellian curtly responded.
“I guess you two know each other?” Katie said with a little more annoyance than she intended.
“Lieutenant Asha Neman,” the woman said holding out a hand. “Everyone here knows me as ‘Daredevil,’ though. This is my Sizzo, Wildcard.”
“Lieutenant Katie Stone,” she replied politely shaking Dee’s hand. “Daredevil? How did you get that callsign?”
“People say I’m a little wild on the stick,” She looked over at Phil who looked off at the bulkhead. “I’m guessing you’re with Sab, on the Pershing?”
“Yeah, I’m the Chief Tactical Officer.”
“I guess Saber had his fill of pilots…”
“Oh, we’re not together,” Katie said nervously.
“Nope, just friends,” Phil chimed in. Katie awkwardly tried to change the subject.
“Neman? Is that the name of a symbiont?”
“Nope, never went for the whole ‘joining’ thing. I only like one foreign object in my body at a time…” Dee grinned again as she put a pair of aviator sunglasses over her spots.
“Oh, God…” Phil muttered putting his head in his hands.
“Pre-flight’s in ten, Saber,” Dee said shifting her flight helmet under her arm. “Cat shot’s in fifteen…that is if you still remember how to really fly, Busdriver.” she added as she walked out the door.
“Busdriver?” Katie asked confused again.
“It’s what fighter pilots call regular starship helmsmen…” Phil said still looking down at the deck.
He let out a deep breath as he climbed to his feet.
“What the hell did she mean, ‘you had your fill of pilots?” Katie asked as she picked up her borrowed helmet.
“I was rated number one in the squadron and got picked up for Fighter Weapons School on Tellar Prime. Dee was rated number two. However, when they approached me about serving on the Pershing, I accepted and she took the slot. She was angry that she got it because I declined.”
“Is that all,” Katie kept prying. “There seemed to be a bit more than that.”
“Yeah…” Phil said rubbing his head. “Before I transferred out of the squadron…we used to date.”
Ten minutes later, Katie followed Phil into a cavernous hanger deck. Two T-Bats were already prepped and waiting for them. Dee and Wildcard were already at the far fighter checking the flight surfaces and weapons mounts. Personnel in different colored pressure suits were running around in a frantic, yet practiced ballet. A giant mural of an ancient Earth Knight standing on an asteroid was painted on the starboard bulkhead. The words beneath it read, “VFA-151: Lancers: Space Superiority Squadron. No Compromise!” She didn’t want to admit it, but it was a little overwhelming to Katie. She had never seen any like this before in her Starfleet career.
As a fuel technician in a purple pressure suit disconnected a hose from the fighter’s belly, Phil began running his own hands over their spacecraft. Katie uncomfortably stood off to the side. She found herself staring at the giant Federation emblem painted on the side of the T-Bats’s delta wing and the word, “STARFLEET,” in black along its port impulse thruster.
“You ready, Saber?” Dee yelled across the deck as she fastened her helmet over her head. She didn’t wait for his response before climbing a ladder into her cockpit.
“Katie, you ready?” Phil said from behind her. She snapped out of her daze.
“Yeah, yeah…I’m just not sure how to put this thing on right.” Phil smiled and grabbed her helmet. He put it over her head and fastened the airtight collar around her neck. He quickly made a few practiced adjustments to the panel on her chest. Soon, she felt oxygen starting to circulate.
“You got enough, air?” he asked supportively. She nodded in reply. He fastened his own helmet and then started to ascend the ladder on the side of the fighter. Katie paused for a second until another crewman in a green suit gestured for her to come forward. He pointed up the ladder and she started to climb. By the time she reached the top, Phil was already making adjustments to the T-Bat’s controls. Katie braced herself against the back of the pilot’s chair and squeezed into the Sizzo’s seat directly behind.
The Pershing’s tactical station was extraordinarily complicated, but Katie had never seen so many buttons and switches crammed into such a small space before. Suddenly, Phil’s voice sounded in her helmet.
“You got me, Katie?”
“Yeah! Yeah, can you hear me?”
“Loud and Clear.” All she could see was the back of Phil’s helmet directly in front of her. She was slightly startled by the crewman in the green suit when he appeared next to the cockpit. Without so much as a word, he grabbed the harness behind Katie’s seat and buckled her in. He pulled the straps so hard, it nearly cut off circulation to her arms. He flashed her a thumbs up before sliding down the ladder and pulling it away from the fighter’s side.
“Is this thing supposed to be this tight?”
“Trust me, you’ll appreciate it in a few minutes,” Phil replied with a chuckle. “Canopy coming down.” The transparent tritanium bubble dropped around them and sealed with a magnetic click. Katie looked up and saw two large holes in the ceiling about fifty meters above them.
“Is that the flight deck up there?” she asked.
“Yeah. It’s open to vacuum. Elevator will take us up there.” Suddenly, two circular column force-fields activated and the two T-Bats were carried upward. Katie could see Dee and Wildcard’s heads moving back and forth in their cockpit as both craft emerged onto the flight deck. Katie gasped.
It looked like a shuttlebay, but almost four hundred meters long. Dozens of ground crew in their sealed, colored suits ran around making final preparations for the launch. Katie became aware of the growing whine of their impulse engines as they started to warm up.
“Lancer 4-3, Shooter, Comms Check.”
“Shooter, Lancer 4-3, Lima Charlie,” Phil replied. “Hey Katie…”
“I don’t mean to sound condescending, but you see that control panel in front of you?”
“Please don’t touch anything.”
“Lancer 4-3, Shooter, I have you second in line.”
“Acknowledged,” Phil replied without looking up from his controls.
“Ok, I need you go ahead and check impulse engines and mike tangos.”
“Impulse engines stable, maneuvering thrusters active…” The whine of the impulse drive continued to grow. Katie looked down at two crewmen in green suits on either side of their wings. Both flashed a thumbs up. “Ground confirms.”
“Give me a weapons and countermeasures check.”
“Initiate HMD visor.” Suddenly a crosshair display appeared in Katie’s helmet. In her peripheral vision was a menu with all the T-Bat’s tactical systems. “Pulse phasers spinning up…” Phil continued talking to whoever was on the other end of the comm system. “Looking good. Bringing up micro-torpedo guidance. Guidance systems active. Checking shields and plasma flares…green lights across the board. Master Safe On. Weapons and Countermeasures check complete.”
“Final Engine Check.”
“Got good highs, good lows, good ends, no out-lights. Ready in the back! Lancer 4-3 REDCON 1.”
“Ready for what?” Katie said nervously. The whine of the impulse drive was almost deafening now.
“Finally, Busdriver,” Dee’s voice echoed through Katie’s helmet. She looked over to see Dee flash a thumb’s up to two more ground crew, this time in yellow suits. She followed it with a crisp salute and then grabbed a handle on the side of her canopy.
“Ready for this…” Phil said trailing off. She couldn’t see, but it sounded like he was grinning.
Suddenly, the entire flight deck shook as Dee and Wildcard’s T-Bat catapulted forward, accelerating at several hundred meters per second. Faster than Katie could think, they disappeared off into the blackness of space.
“WE’RE GONNA DO THAT!?!” Katie screamed in her mind. She looked down to see the two yellow suits run over to the nose of their fighter. One of them raised his fist into the air. Phil repeated the thumbs up and salute to the ground crew. Katie fumbled for the handle next to right hand.
The lead yellow suit waved down the flight deck, and then dropped to one knee.
Without warning, Katie felt her body crushed into the back of her seat. The flight deck disappeared in a streak of light, and then there was nothing around them but stars and black void.
“Good Engines. Good end speed. Gear up.” Phil said calmly. Katie looked backward to see the Christopher Pike growing smaller in the distance.
“Lancer 4-3, Turn heading 190 Mark 4, Angels 3.”
“Heading 190 Mark 4, Angels 3, Roger.”
Katie felt her stomach press down to her boots as Phil raised the fighter’s nose and turned sharply almost 180 degrees.
“Doesn’t this thing have inertial dampeners?” she asked trying to catch her breath.
“It does, or else your insides would be liquid right now. However, you wanna feel some acceleration when you dogfight or else it would be almost impossible to keep your bearings.”
“Lancer 4-3, this is Lancer 4-2, leveling off on your starboard,” Katie heard Dee’s voice again.
“Lancer 4-3, Roger.” She saw the silhouette of the other T-Bat appear from overhead and take position directly off their right wing, its impulse engines glowing red in the blackness.
“Lancer 4-2, this is Heavy 2-1-2, contact 100 nautical miles. I have you Heading 190 Mark 4 Angels 3. Turn Heading 180 Mark 0, Maintain Angels 3, and pass by our port side.”
“Lancer 4-2, Acknowledge.” Dee replied. Suddenly, Katie saw one of the Pike’s escort frigates pass by on their left. It looked so close, she thought she could reach out and touch it.
“Lancer 4-2, you have passed outer defensive perimeter. Cleared to arm weapons.”
“Roger, Heavy 2-1-2, we’ll see you on the way home. Master Arm On. Good light.”
“Master Arm On. Good light,” Phil echoed.
“Ok, Sab, full impulse. We’re heading for the gas giant at heading 023 Mark 4. Try to keep up.”
“I’m right beside you, Dee.”
Katie looked out of the canopy toward the planet a few hundred thousand kilometers from their nose. She was soaring through the stars like never before and it took her breath away.
“What?” he said through the intercom.
“I get it now.”
The two T-Bats raced through space toward a huge yellow planet surrounded by a ring.
“What do you think, Sab?” Dee said. “A little ring around the rosey for old time’s sake?”
“Don’t you think we’re a little old for games like that?” Phil replied through the comm.
“You’re only as old as you feel, Saber.”
“Well, then lead the way.”
The two fighters approached the ring of the planet and started skimming just a few meters above the chunks of rock and ice.
“Who’s breaking?” Phil asked calmly.
“I guess it’ll be me,” Dee responded. “Ready? In three, two, one…”
Suddenly, Dee slammed on her breaking thrusters, pitched the nose of her T-Bat up vertically, barrel-rolled, and turned one-hundred eighty degrees in the opposite direction. Katie looked backward to see her disappear around the far side of the planet and following the ring like it was a racetrack. Phil continued on the same direction.
“What are we doing?” Katie asked nervously.
“It’s just a stupid game we used to play to practice tight maneuvers. Nothing to be worried about.”
“Then why am I worried?”
“Hey Dee,” Phil said through his comm system. “Remember, I got a rookie in the Sizzo seat back here. Let’s not get stupid.”
“That sounds like a ‘you’ problem, Saber. You know how I like to push things.”
“That’s the problem, Dee. I’m serious.”
“What’s the matter? You’re suddenly too good for us one day and now you expect me to play it safe because you’re trying to impress your new friend with a joy ride?”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
Katie suddenly felt very uncomfortable.
“Take it for what it’s worth, Busdriver.”
The silhouette of Dee’s T-Bat appeared around the edge of the planet. Both fighters were now screaming toward each other at several thousand miles per hour. Dee was still accelerating.
“You’re gonna break first, Saber. I can feel it, you’ve lost your edge.”
“Calm down, Daredevil,” Phil said cautiously.
“Oh, I am calm,” Dee said mockingly. “It’s you who’s gonna chicken out.”
The two fighters were now on a collision course. An automated warning appeared in Katie’s visor display.
“What are you doing, Phil?” Katie said very concerned.
“It’ll be alright, Katie, but let me concentrate here or things could get a little rough.”
“You’re gonna break, Saber.” Dee said again, this time actually sounding a little angry.
“Alright, Dee, enough. Let’s pull out.”
“You’re gonna break.”
“I’m not playing anymore, Dee. Are you going left or right?”
The warning in Katie’s visor started to be accompanied by an audio warning from the onboard computer.
“Warning: Collision Imminent. Alter Course!”
“Phil!” Katie screamed. Memories of the Trinity’s last moments started pushing their way back into her mind.
“Dee! Left or right! We break opposite ways, we’re gonna hit!”
“Why don’t you figure it out, Lancer 4-3?”
“PHIL!” Katie screamed in panic.
“Collision in five seconds.”
Katie grabbed the handles on the side of the canopy and held her breath.
Both pilots slammed their sticks hard to the right, The two T-bats missed each other by less than two meters.
Phil heard the sound of Katie’s hyper-ventilating in his intercom.
“Katie! It’s alright. We’re alright. Dammit, Daredevil!”
He was only answered by the sound of her laughter.
The rest of the patrol passed in near silence. The friendly banter was gone, replaced only with the curtest of official transmissions. It was obvious to Katie that Phil was furious. Before she even realized it, they were on approach back to the Pike.
“Lancer 4-3, you’re parking first,” Dee said.
“Lancer 4-3, Acknowledge,” Phil replied through gritted teeth.
Katie saw the aft nacelles of the Pike glowing blue in the darkness. She noticed he was lining up the nose of the T-Bat to approach the rear opening of the carrier’s starboard flight deck.
“Lancer 4-3 you are approaching on glide path, 50 miles out,” a voice from the Pike’s Flight Control Center said in their helmets.
“Lancer 4-3, Acknowledge. Hook Down.”
“Lancer 4-3, got your hook down, looking good. Call the Ball.”
“Got the ball, bringing her down.”
“Quarter Impulse, On the Ball.”
“Forty Miles….30 Miles…20 Miles…”
“5 miles out.”
“Right on the ball, bring her down.”
Phil expertly piloted the T-Bat through the aft opening on the flight deck. As soon as the wheels touched, his tail hook engaged the tractor field and the craft quickly decelerated to a dead stop in less than a hundred meters.
Katie slammed forward her harness and then back into her seat. Her heart was still pounding in her chest. She was vaguely aware of the T-Bat taxiing over to an elevator and then descending back down to the hangar deck. When the lift stopped, and the column forcefields disengaged. Phil immediately unbuckled his harness.
“Canopy coming up, breaking comms.”
Phil removed his helmet and popped out his seat. A green suit ran up with a ladder and attached it to the T-Bat. He was starting to climb up to them when Phil waved him off.
“I got her,” he said as he unbuckled Katie’s harness and quickly removed her helmet. “Are you alright?” he asked with genuine care in his voice.
“I’m fine,” Katie managed to get out.
“You don’t look it,” he muttered. “Come on, I’ll help you down.”
He grabbed Katie under her shoulders and hoisted her out of the Sizzo’s seat. When she felt his firm grasp, she finally started to calm down.
Slowly they descended the ladder until they were on the deck.
They looked over to see Dee’s T-Bat come down right next to them. Her canopy raised and she descended the ladder to the deck.
Her feet had barely touched ground when Phil was already charging over.
“What the hell is your problem!?” He screamed as she removed her helmet.
“My problem, Saber?” she said incredulously. “I could ask you the same question.”
“You almost gave Katie a damn heart attack!”
“Phil, I said I’m fine!” Katie hated being talked about like she wasn’t even there.
“Are you sure you two are just friends?” Dee said flashing Katie a look. “You’re pretty protective of Blondie over there.”
“Oh, it’s on leopard face!” Katie yelled.
Katie rushed towards Dee with every intention of dropping her to the ground. It was bad enough Dee gave her a near-death experience, but now she was getting a little too personal.
Phil grabbed Katie just in time to prevent her from taking a swing right at Dee’s head.
Wildcard managed to get a hold of Dee just in time to prevent a brawl from breaking out.
“Hey! Hey!” That’s enough!” Phil said. “Jesus, Asha, I thought you were over us.” Katie was still tensed and ready for action, but Dee suddenly relaxed and shook her head.
“Is that what you think this is about, Philip?” When Katie heard her refer to Phil by his full name, she relaxed as well. “You think I’m some heartbroken little girl pining over an ex? I got news for you, hotshot, you were never that good in the boyfriend department.”
Phil suddenly looked very embarrassed. Katie pretended not to notice.
“No, what I’m pissed about was that we were supposed to be a damn team! We were wingmen, one and two! Do you know how proud I was of you? You had exactly what we all dreamed of! Then some stranger shows up and offers you a job driving around a bunch of starship fleeties and you just walked away without even talking to me first!”
Phil paused and looked away.
“I’m sorry, Dee,” he finally managed to get out.
“Well, I suppose I should be grateful,” she said sarcastically. “That’s a hell of lot more than I got when you disappeared last year. C’mon, Wildcard,” Dee said turning to her Sizzo. “I’ve got an after mission report to file.” She stormed off with Wildcard in tow.
Phil rubbed his eyes.
“I’m sorry about that, Katie, I wanted your first ride in a fighter to be fun.”
Katie placed a hand on the shoulder of his flight suit.
“It’s ok, Phil. I can certainly tell you it was memorable.”
* * * *
Phil sat in his guest quarters. Katie walked over and took a seat next to him. She handed him a glass of beer.
“Thanks,” he muttered. His mind was somewhere else. Finally, he looked over at Katie. “I’m sorry…”
“For what?” she asked.
“There’s a lot of history here that you shouldn’t be wrapped up in. I asked you as a guest and instead you’re watching me battle some unresolved issues.” Katie laughed.
“After all the help you’ve given me, I’d be a pretty terrible friend if I didn’t return the favor.” Phil didn’t respond. “You know, it occurs to me you’ve never told me the whole story about how you ended up on the top of that plaque in the briefing room.” Phil took a long sip of his beer.
“It was the First Battle of Chin’Toka,” he began. “The Lancers were assigned to escort the heavy starships trying to punch through the Dominion lines. The U.S.S. Avenger had taken heavy damage in the first engagement from a Cardassian cruiser. They’d fallen back from the formation to try to reach the recovery area.
Dee was on my wing when we ran into a mixed fleet of Jem’Hadar and Cardassian Fighters. They were everywhere. Weapons fire was all around, people screaming on comms. Then I noticed a group of Cardassians and a Jem’Hadar ship was heading after the Avenger. There’s was no way they would survive a direct attack like that. Dee saw it too. It was like we were connected and instantly knew what to do.
She kept going after the main group of fighters while I broke off to protect the Avenger.
I’d never flown like that before. I knew she would keep them off of me and I took out each and every one of those bastards one at a time. I can’t tell you if it was fate or just dumb luck, but I don’t think it was skill.”
“I think you’re being uncharacteristically modest, right now.”
“It’s not modesty, Katie. The only thing I could think of was getting that starship back to the rear of the line safely. Once I got the kills, I escorted Avenger all the way back to the recovery area. By the time I made it back to the Pike, my deuterium tanks were running on fumes. It could just as easily been Dee that fought for that starship and then got picked up for the Pershing. Then, maybe I’d be the angry one. She’s right, we were a team and then I left.”
“If you felt so much at home with her, why did you leave?”
“Because I realized that I could have very easily failed, and two hundred Starfleet personnel could have lost their lives on that ship if I had. When Captain Tigranian offered me a chance to fly the ship that could end the war, I couldn’t refuse. I knew the Dominion had to be stopped.
I also knew Dee wouldn’t understand, so I didn’t have the courage to tell her the truth and have her talk me out of it. All she got from me was that I had to leave and that it was over between us. So you can see why she’s a little upset.”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“It’s alright, Dee was a great wingman, but I knew she wasn’t long-term in the relationship department. It’s not her style. I just wish I ended things better with her.”
Katie flashed him a smile.
“If it makes you feel better, I think you’ll be great in the boyfriend department to the right lady…”
“Don’t!” he said abruptly. “Please…don’t.”
Katie looked at him confused. He paused, choosing his next words very carefully.
“Katie, we both know that I wish we were something more, but I understand that’s not what you want. I’m absolutely satisfied being your friend, but it’s very hard for me to be happy when you say things like that.”
“Phil…” she said shaking her head.
He instantly realized he shouldn’t have said anything.
“Katie, it’s late and I’m tired. Do you mind leaving so I can get some sleep?” She looked like she wanted to say something else, but stopped herself.
“Sure. Sleep well.”
“Thank you,” he said turning away.
She nodded before standing up and heading out the doors.