"Secure from Yellow Alert." Douglas ordered.
He could see Clanwellin lean in close to his console and relay the order to the rest of the crew.
"Six days and no sign," muttered Douglas.
"Give Lennier a little more time," replied Ivanova. "It takes a while to get to Mars and back."
"I'm not worried about Lennier doing his job," returned Douglas pleasantly. "I was wondering why we've had no enemy contact yet."
Ark Royal had patrolled the outer reaches of the Black Hole system as quietly as she could. Douglas had ordered full stealth protocols as soon as they'd dropped into the system. However, this meant that using the active sensors were out of the question and that left the passives.
In the last six days, there hadn't been anything that could be interpreted as a jump point or even a moving ship. Not even a single energy spike. Both Ivanova and Douglas had expected an overwhelming enemy presence and had been taken by surprise by the lack of activity.
"Perhaps White Stars can't navigate in this high gravity environment," suggested Kelly.
"Yes they can," replied Ivanova. "They've got the highest power to mass ratio of any ship I've seen. Apart from Garibaldi's test ships."
Kelly said nothing and turned backed to her station. There was no comeback, no sarcastic comment and it was worrying. Douglas had noted that Kelly had been getting more agitated over the last few days. It appeared more evident when Ivanova was around. She'd also completely closed her mind and seemed different when off duty. He promised himself to have a word with her when he could.
"I'm getting a tight beam transmition," announced Smith. "It's from Lennier."
"Put him on," ordered Douglas.
A small communication window opened on Douglas' display. However, it wasn't Lennier's face that appeared. It was a bald human with alert eyes and a cynical expression.
"This is Captain Douglas of the CVN Ark Royal, please identify yourself."
"Michael Garibaldi," the face announced. He turned to face off camera. "Lennier? What's the password?"
The Minbari came into view and, looking embarrassed, said "Cheezy Puffs!"
Ivanova slowly turned to Douglas. "That's your idea of a password?"
"Would you have guessed?" retorted Douglas with a small smile.
"Susan?" Michael called. "I can't see you."
Ivanova moved closer to Douglas so she could get into shot. So close, she was practically touching. Douglas noticed Kelly staring at them.
"Cosy" she muttered and endeavoured to stare at her console closer.
"Hi Garibaldi," said Ivanova." Glad you could make it."
Garibaldi smiled, "When one of my friends has extreme sanction ordered against her and I receive a visit from our ex-ranger here. I just had to see what mess you'd got your self into."
"You couldn't resist could you," replied Ivanova with a smile.
"Well, it was this or a shareholders meeting."
"You are the solitary shareholder."
"I get bored talking to myself."
Ivanova groaned inwardly at the joke.
"This is Captain Douglas. He's our escort."
"Lennier has explained the situation. I'm dubious about this whole missing colony thing but if Delenn's down there and you're on side." He paused. "Hey, I'm here ain't I?"
"Captain," called Clanwellin. "Jump points forming."
"That you Mr Garibaldi?" asked Douglas.
"Nope, we're holding off for the all clear."
"They could have picked up our transmition?" offered Kelly.
"Smith, what have you got?"
"I'm not sure but it might be six or eight black stars," Smith replied. "There are a couple of asteroids about 2000 k from here. I could use them for cover."
"If you could be so kind," Douglas affirmed.
"They could still detect us if they get close enough," said Clanwellin.
"Not if we shut down all systems," retorted Kelly. "We shut down and they can't tell the difference between us and those rocks."
"And how are we supposed to fight them from there." Clanwellin began to sound angry.
"Settle down you two!" Douglas raised his voice. "How long to power up after a shutdown?"
"45 seconds," reported Kelly.
"Confirmed," Announced Smith. "All Eight are headed this way. ETA two minutes. Reckon they'll spot us in 1 minute 30."
"Kelly, once we're in position, commence shutdown. Everything except internal comms. What effect would a disrupter missile have if we're shut down?"
"None." She paused, "Erm. There shouldn't be but I'm not 100 sure."
"Are the disrupter warheads compatible with a seeker mine?"
"I dunno," She replied. "No-one's ever hotwired the two systems before."
"Well, you have a minute to find out, once we're shut down."
"Clanwellin, Go with her and get ready to launch it on my command. Twenty Second Fuse. Kelly, you get back up here as soon as you're done. We'll need a quick restart."
"In position," reported Smith.
"Right, execute orders."
"Aye Aye Sir." Both officers left the bridge.
"Bit of inspiration from your Captain Sheridan, I believe." Douglas said aside to Ivanova.
"Well, it will prove that these ships aren't flown by Rangers," commented Ivanova. "One of the first things John trained them to do was to avoid this very trap."
They turned their attention to the viewports. As the power had gone, the only thing they could use was they're eyes. The asteroid, that Smith had parked the ship next to, span lazily. In the distance, stars and a nebula could be seen quiet clearly. Every variation of the colour blue cold be seen swirling in the distance.
"It's amazing to find something so pretty when your life is in danger." Ivanova said quietly.
"We have no time to stop and stare…" quoted Douglas.
"That was easy," Kelly's voice announced from the intercom. "I'm coming back. Clanwellin is waiting for the word."
A shadow began to block out the Nebula. They could all make out the silhouette of a black star. It slowed in, lighting up the local area with what looked like a search light.
"Active sensors on narrow scan," explained Ivanova. "They certainly think someone is here."
"We know they're right." Commented Douglas, "I just hope they don't think they are."
Kelly ran back onto the bridge and sat at her station. Another shadow joined the first.
"When?" asked Ivanova nervously?
"When I decide." Replied Douglas, as a third black star silhouette joined them.
A tense few minutes followed as the first three was joined by another five.
"Eight!" whispered Smith, "I think that's it, sir."
"OK. Clanwellin Launch Seeker," whispered Douglas, "and get up here double time."
"Aye Aye Sir," he acknowledged. "Seeker away!"
"Kelly, start the count and system restart at detonation plus 1 second."
"15 seconds sir."
"Nobody look out the view port, this is going to be bright."
"You don't have sun shields?" asked Ivanova.
"They need power."
Kelly reached into her pocket and pulled out a pair of shades. She turned and smiled at Douglas.
"That's forward planning for you." commented Douglas wryly. "Remind me to issue a demerit for improper uniform."
Kelly just grinned back, "ten seconds"
Clanwellin burst into the bridge and threw himself into his seat.
"Fire in the hole." Douglas called ship wide.
"One's got us." called Smith. "They're turning to lock."
"Cover your eyes, don't look!"
There was a blinding green light. Ark Royal shook as the shockwave hit. There was an audible click as the disruptor took out the internal communications. Douglas opened his eyes.
"Restart in 40 Seconds."
There were all eight Blackstars floating front of the ships, blue and green lighting sparking off their hulls. Two of them, gently bumped into each other.
"How long till they restart?" Douglas asked Ivanova.
"I dunno," she replied. "Never seen that happen before."
"Kelly, place priority on the PBC, then thrusters. Shields last."
"25 seconds to PBC." She reported, watching the console.
"Clanwellin. Set for Rapid Fire PBC as soon as you have power," ordered Douglas. ""
"The one at the far left, it doesn't seem to be affected as bad as the others," reported Smith. "I think it's going to try to run."
"PBC Online." said Kelly.
"Fire," ordered Douglas. "I don't want any of them left!"
Ark Royal's forward gun opened up. At this range it was like shooting fish in a barrel. Ship after ship was racked with plasma, each in turn exploding under the onslaught.
"We have thrusters," reported Kelly.
"That last ship is moving off," called Smith.
"Got the rest sir," said Clanwellin.
"After him Smith."
Ark Royal jumped forward like a greyhound after a rabbit. The Black star was obviously damaged but appeared to be pouring all its power into its engines.
"Fire Seeker Missile."
Ark Royal shook as the projectile left the magazine. The crew could make out the vapour trail as it homed in on its prey. There was a small explosion in the distance.
"Gotcha!" called Clanwellin.
"That's a confirmed kill." reported Smith.
"Did they get any messages away?" asked Douglas.
"Not that I could detect," replied Kelly. "Shields are now online."
"No jump point activity though."
Douglas turned to Ivanova, "What do you think?"
"Might as well." replied Ivanova, she keyed the link. "Michael! Now!"
Three yellow jump points formed as the prototype ships came through. They were ugly things, three times bigger than Ark Royal. They consisted of one huge engine and a control centre. They turned ungainly for the planet.
"Ask for permission to dock," asked Douglas. "I would like Lennier back on board."
Ivanova nodded and relayed the request.
"Sure, no problem," replied Garibaldi. "Are you coming over to us?"
"No," replied Ivanova. "I want to see how this plays out."
"Ok, we're on the centre transport."
Ark Royal, pulled closer to the centre ship. She pulled onto her back and docked her dorsal port onto the bigger ship. Both Ivanova and Douglas were at the port when it was opened. Lennier clambered through and nodded to Douglas as he came on board. Garibaldi appeared at the docking hatch.
"Last chance?" He said to Ivanova.
"Michael, I can't risk going anywhere near Earth Force or the Alliance." explained Ivanova. "Not until they rescind that extreme sanction order."
Garibaldi grimaced and then nodded in understanding.
"One last thing," called Ivanova. "Don't tell Delenn that Lennier was here."
He signalled an affirmative as the hatch door closed.
"Disengage Dock." Douglas ordered over the comm.
They all walked back up to the bridge in silence. Douglas observed that Lennier looked a lot less tense than when he originally met him. It appeared that this little adventure had raised his spirits. He was no longer the brooding, paranoid individual he'd first met.
The Bridge was quiet as they entered. It was just the usual bleeps and whistles from the command consoles Douglas sat down with the two guests either side of him, strapped into the VIP seats.
"We hold position here," ordered Douglas, "Kelly, full power to the sensors and everyone keep your eyes peeled."
The three huge ships made their way towards the planet. They were following the beacon signal that the rangers were broadcasting.
"Transports are entering the Black Hole's Gravity Well!" reported Kelly.
The three ships turned a strange angle and fired their engines.
"They'll have to do that till they almost land," commented Ivanova.
"Now, all we can do is wait," said Douglas.
Delenn had cleared everybody into the caves. The code from Ivanova had come though about ten minutes ago. She's done her best to keep the flagging morale up over the last week; she was quite relieved that it was almost over. Almost a couple of weeks on those damn roots was enough to drain the vigour from anybody.
Looking into the sky, she could see three small lights. She reckoned that they were the rescuers. They slowly grew in size over the next couple of minutes. It was only when they were close did she recognise them.
"In valen's name." she muttered, as the first of the three of the Victory Test ships landed in the next valley over. Even here, the noise and the heat from the landing was almost unbearable.
She quickly organised the rangers and they made their way over to the landing site. The going was tough; the ships had kicked up a lot of dust. Everyone was tired and quite as they made their way through this dirty cloud.
"Entil Zha?" called a voice.
"Over here," she called back.
A human ranger came into view. He bowed as soon as he saw her.
"Could you follow me?" he asked. "Mr Garibaldi would like you to join him on the lead ship."
"Michael?" she sounded astonished.
The column of rag tag rangers made their way to the first ship and the crew-members of the ships welcomed them aboard. Delenn allowed herself to be guided to the bridge.
Garibaldi was sat, feet up on a control desk, at the rear of the ship.
"Oh Michael," she said, "Am I so glad to see you."
"And you look like you've been dragged through a hedge backwards." He replied.
"So what's the plan?"
"Well, we wait until we've got everybody onboard and then if Ivanova says so, we make a run for it."
"What ships is she using? The enemy can disable White Stars far too easily."
"Our White Star's are not going to be the problem. It's the ones that they use."
"I suspected they were after the ships themselves."
"You don't know the half of it. They've been used for piracy and they're focusing attacks on an unknown system on the rim."
"Does John know?"
"As far as I know, no," he replied. "But the situation is a little more complicated than that."
"We have time," she said. "Let's start at the beginning."