[Fighter Squadron hovering between Charon and the 'SpaceDragon']
Lt. Leon Athalla yawned as he lightly drummed his gloved fingers across his fighter's throttle controls his mind elsewhere than on their mission. At the moment there was nothing to do.
The 'project' he and others had worked on with much enthusiasm was finally providing a return on investment. And what a return. In honor of their current mission someone suggested that their first batch of homemade hooch be renamed to starshine. With unanimous agreement those assembled drank to that. A toast was then made to celebrate their ingenuity and resourcefulness. They drank to that. The Charon. Another drink. Friends and family. Another. Captain Rehu heck they even drank to her. The toasts and drinking continued leaving an empty still and several impaired crewmembers with varying degrees of intoxication ranging from hammered to positively trashed.
It had felt good to get away with a minor crime and reap the rewards. With the Charon in harm's way to record the final moments of a dying star and the appearance of an unknown alien being or race it was anyone's guess what the future held. Pilots in particular were keen to live for and in the moment with the knowledge that such times may not come again.
He had lived the moment all right and was now paying for every second of it as he sat quietly in his cockpit trying to ignore a dull, throbbing headache. Being dragged out of the sack for escort duty after a night of heavy partying wasn't exactly how he had planned to spend his day. Sleeping off the night before was a much more attractive proposition however despite his irritation he couldn't exactly tell his superiors he was unfit for duty due to ingesting large quantities of an illegal substance.
Thus he found himself sitting doing nothing which all in all was not too bad. The fighter escort had been ordered to stop leaving the shuttles free and clear to do whatever it was they were going to do near the giant 'space slug' as one of the pilots had blurted during the mission briefing. If anyone was crazy out here it was the ship's scientists willing to put themselves and others on the line for a chance to learn something about the serpent coiled before them.
Yawning again, Leon pulled his helmet's visor down as it clicked into place with a snap before leaning back and closing his eyes. Still slightly hungover, tired, with a few shuttles to babysit there was little to do other than chatter over the comms to pass the time or in his case catch a few winks.
He could just make out the supple curves and glowing skin of an attractive and seemingly familiar Vulcan clad in an all too revealing bikini when the comm channel suddenly exploded to life in his ear snapping him from his vision of blissful perfection.
Leon shook his head clearing the fading cobwebs of sleep. Looking past his HUD he could make out the massive serpent and dozens of miniature objects emerging from its hull, skin whatever. Someone quickly nicknamed them 'tadpoles' over the comms. His sleepiness and headache soon faded as a shot of adrenaline kicked in. Finally, something interesting was happening.
He engaged his sensors but not before charging his weapons and raising his fighter's shields. Such behavior was purely driven by habit and instinct. During the last war he had learned the hard way on several occasions it was better to play things safe than sorry.
Thirty seconds later the 'tadpoles' closed in on their positions yet he was ordered to remain in formation. Suddenly one of their shuttles was struck by one of the bogeys and soon afterwards came a mayday call for help. Athalla had an itch for some target practice, but something about the tadpoles wasn't quite right. They didn't seem to be overtly hostile and their movements and positions were not what a pilot would expect from a coordinated attack force.
"George Two, Leader is breaking off. Formation is yours. Engage the friendlies, distraction only."
Command. She had gone and given him command of the squadron. What deity had he insulted last night to deserve this? Complaining wasn't going to get the job done and Athalla had learned long ago to simply roll with the punches life dealt.
"Roger George One. Assuming command", he replied with a strong, clear voice. Assuming these bogeys weren't hostile this distraction might actually prove entertaining.
"Alright you jokers settle down", Athalla shouted over the comm. "Authorization granted to engage current friendlies as a distraction only. The use of force has NOT I repeat NOT been authorized. Engage and attempt to distract targets so that rescue and recovery efforts can commence near our damaged shuttle. I reckon its time we see what these little tadpoles are capable of. Let's go."
=/\= Just a little later ... =/\=
The sight was certainly memorable. Extraordinary was a rather fitting word as well, and if ever there was a time when 'fascinating' was appropriate, now would be it.
Shielded from the merciless light of the blazing sun by her helmet's opaque visor as much as by the grace of her heritage, the Vulcan was able to make out every razor sharp shadow, every shimmering green-golden scale on the elongated bodies zipping around the other fighters.
And the Valkyries themselves were no less marvelous a sight, their gleaming hulls bathed in gold, adorned with the jewels of their glowing impulse engines and cheerfully twinkling running lights. Every turn, every roll let the star's light stream over sleek wings and beak-like prows, delighting the young dragons to no end or so one had to assume for they did not tire of giving chase, circling the odd strangers, poking their noses at shields that flared in showers of diamond light.
Never enough to hurt though Sakarra noted a few more instances of 'sneezing' motions or to tax the fighters to any significant extent, but certainly enough to make the little creatures even more inquisitive. And the Valkyries obliged, dancing in and out of formation, drawing the attention of at least ten 'tadpoles' to their antics leaving the other two to hover near Charon's unmoving, almost serene presence while a lone fighter returned to the gaggle in progress.
Evidently, the pilots were having fun.
The question was, how long they would be able to keep this up and more importantly, how long the young serpents would find this more entertaining than say, paying a visit to their new friends' 'mother'.
One step at a time.
Now they were here, and closer to the magnificent space dragon with its unfurled wings than they had managed even with their cautious, polite approach. And still the massive serpent seemed to take little more than a kind of mildly puzzled interest.
"George Two, say your state."
"That would be Wisconsin, George One", Athalla replied with a wry grin as he playfully banked his craft into a roll while two of the tadpoles followed suit into the maneuver. He doubted the Vulcan would appreciate or even comprehend the humor but there was always a first time
"May I derive then that your callsign is 'Badger', Mr Athalla?"
Vulcans are not prone to nostalgia. Still, for a split second Sakarra was grateful no one was able to see the minute expression on her face.
Was the Vulcan joking with him? Athalla smiled. He didn't realize the commander had it in her. "Ah negative on the callsign commander, but excellent logic nonetheless. State is in fact nominal. I believe the squad is enjoying keeping these tadpoles busy. For space slugs these things have some fancy moves and speed." Athalla quickly pitched his nose up into a tight loop and nudged his throttle forward bringing the Charon and the shuttles back into view once again.
"Keeping these guys entertained is quite the experience commander, however when should we disengage? Most fun I've had in awhile, but I'm not sure we have the stamina to tangle with these larvae all day." Athalla cringed as two pilots swung their craft far too close to one another. He suddenly shouted over the open channel at the pilots.
"George group, loosen up and watch your proximity sensors! Fun does not include flying into the tadpoles or one another! Let's keep the acrobatics and showmanship to a minimum!"
Athalla cut back to his channel with Commander Sakarra. "Apologies commander. We appear to be having a bit too much fun. How is the shuttle that was struck?"
"According to the ground crew there is no need to 'throw a nickel on the grass' just yet, George Two. However, they are suitably vexed by the damage. Charlie time estimated at minimum zero point five three hours, not counting FOD walkdown."
Which gave them at least another forty five minutes to take as many scans as their limited equipment would allow.
And the Vulcan strongly suspected the pilots were positively itching to get a closer look at the massive 'mother' as it was.
"While I agree 'all day' might be overdoing things, your current orders are to procure as many scans of the serpent creatures as possible. The adult is to be approached with due caution but if your course carries you close, the opportunity should be seized."
A bit too much fun indeed. As a seasoned combat pilot Mr Athalla might be aware the dragon would likely not appreciate an enthusiastic bounce. Might. And then do it anyways.
Predicting fighter jocks was a science that could drive even Vulcans to despair. Fascinatingly enough, that included their own pilots as T'Meni had repeatedly pointed out.
Three of the young dragons followed Sakarra's fighter into a lazy Cobra Turn, apparently having already picked up on the principle of formation flight. Most interesting.
Pure imitation? Or more indication of reasoning skills?
And was the mother creature's complete failure to react due to the fact she deemed the fighters no threat to her offspring ... or were they being observed by a sentient creature as curious about them as they were, as unable to interpret their behavior
Only one way to find out.
Following one of the 'tadpoles' for a change, the Vulcan's fighter coasted towards the gleaming shape with its massive wings, every sensor trained on the green golden scales.
"Roger that Commander. I think we can manage a few scans that is if these jokers decide to wake up and do some actual flying as opposed to thrashing around out here like first year cadets."
With his sensors engaged, Athalla ordered the squadron to begin taking high intensity sensor scans and to relay their data back to the Charon for analysis. Playing with the miniature slugs had indeed drawn them closer to the massive coiled serpent before them. Its probes or babies or whatever they were had paid them a visit Athalla was all too eager to return the favor given their closing proximity.
"Keep a sharp eye out pilots. Let's try not to do anything to provoke the snake. Much as I like the ambassador, I doubt he is equipped to handle a diplomatic incident if he's been snakebit. He's already a bit high strung so let's do him a favor and help keep his blood pressure down."
[To be continued ?]
Lt Leon Athalla
Throw a Nickel on the grass the appropriate way to respond when hearing of a fellow pilot's Final Charlie. Taken from a deeply spiritual song which involves many Hallelujahs and saving a fighter jock's well, it rhymes with grass.
Charlie the letter C in radio comm.. Also: Charlie time - scheduled arrival at carrier. Final Charlie is the one to be avoided at all cost. See Nickel on the grass.
FOD (Rhymes with "god.") Originally "Foreign Object Damage" caused by "Foreign Object Debris" meaning stuff that will bounce and scratch your shiny vehicle or bust your engines. Bad. Deck Chief will be annoyed.
FOD walkdown removal of said nuisances by having many many people walk across the deck to pick up loose screws and whatever else might lie around after a shuttle has just made a cut grade. Meaning, crashed a shiny craft on a formerly spotless deck.