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Susie did her best to aid the station security staff, calling on long forgotten "Introduction to Conversational Drazi" and "Fundamentals of Brakeeri" to give instructions and hollow words of reassurance as she circulated through the station's shelter. A small group of young Rangers - too young, Susie thought - was discussing the situation among themselves and looked worriedly at Susie as she approached.
"Can they win?" Susie asked bluntly. One of the Rangers shrugged.
"We don't know. That maniac has the Entil'zha, so they have to be careful not to destroy the ships. They have to disable them instead."
"That's assuming they aren't blown out the sky first," a second Ranger supplied helpfully. The first Ranger shot him a withering glare, painfully reminding Susie of her godmother.
"And the odds of them getting blown out of the sky?"
"Well, I wouldn't lay money either way just yet, but . . ." Unable to the find the words, the Ranger just shrugged. Susie murmured a thank you, sighed, and drifted off.
"Here, sit and have some coffee." Someone pressed a cup into her hand and Susie smiled gratefully as she sat down on the edge of a bunk. An elderly monk sat down beside her and waited while Susie took a grateful gulp of the black synthetic liquid.
"I've been watching you since I came in . . . quite extraordinary, really. You haven't taken a single moment's rest for yourself. It's entirely stupid and entirely admirable," the monk observed. Susie smiled.
"I suppose that was a compliment. Thank you for the coffee . . . Mister?"
"Brother Edward. And you are Dr. Franklin, are you not? It's been a long time since I've heard that title. You don't look much like your father, but you have his eyes. They reveal the same drive, the same passion, the same concern for life as your father had, but also the same stubbornness that made you want to knock some sense into him. He never knew when to take a break for himself."
"You must have been here a very long time, Brother Edward, to have known my father all those years ago. Did you know him well?"
"Not really, no. But our work often overlapped and I admired the way he fulfilled his calling. How is he, by the way?"
"He's very well, thank you . . . still off chasing diseases when he should be home enjoying his retirement."
"Well, isn't that the way of things? After all, you should be sitting, worrying about your friends on those ships outside, but you're the kind of person that rarely does what you should do. It must be genetic," Brother Edward observed with such stern disapproval that Susie could not repress a laugh. Brother Edward smiled in satisfaction and rose to go.
"There now. I have done what I came to do, so I shall not trouble you any more." He paused for a moment, then added, "A long time ago, someone once observed (and don't ask me who, I'm too old to remember such details) that those who do not know how to weep with their whole heart don't know how to laugh either. Good day, Dr. Franklin."
Susie pondered the old monk's words, still smiling. With a renewed faith, she returned to her rounds, finally settling down to tell stories to a group of children.
Outside, Morden fumed. The sneaky little Rangers had disabled the jump engines of Gold Star Three. She had underestimated the new technology and she wouldn't make the same mistake again. Time to uneven the odds.
"Gold Stars Two and Three, fall into formation and target White Star One!" she said, her eyes narrowing. Carver watched the three enemy ships approach in standard "V" formation, weapons charged. The two other White Stars were alongside the enemy ships, intercepting fire. Counting the seconds off in his head, Carver tightened his grip and braced himself before giving the order to move. The White Star increased speed, heading directly for the oncoming fleet.
"Hold steady!" he called, watching the approaching ships. The moment the two White Stars broke away, Carver threw the ship into a barrel role, careening out of the line of fire, and firing the port and starboard gun ports continuously, sending out a rain of fire in all directions.
Morden blinked as the White Star suddenly disappeared from her line of sight. Before she could consider this new development, the shock waves of multiple hits battered the ship.
"What the hell happened?" Morden demanded of the two Rangers commanding the Gold Stars.
"We weren't expecting that!" the first said defensively, while the second just looked nervous.
"Damage Report!" Morden snapped.
"Minimal damage to Gold Star Three, but Gold Star Two has lost main power. Auxiliary power is on line, but we're pretty drained. Another good hit and we'll lose power completely."
Morden's scanners suddenly registered three jump points forming and the White Stars disappeared. Caught off guard for the second time, she stared for a moment in disbelief. A slow smile spread across her face and she returned her attention to the raiders. "Prepare to carry out main assault on Babylon 5." She straightened her jacket and settled into the captain's chair. "On my mark, gentlemen . . ."
"We've got 30 seconds before that psycho attacks
the station. Its time to find out what these ships can really do!
White Star Three, open a jump point above the station and target Gold Star
Two. White Star Two, you will join white Star One in opening a jump
point below the station . . . we'll come up around it and attack from the
rear. Target engines and weapons systems only! Let's move!"
Three Rangers stood over Morden's unconscious form.
"What shall we do?" Jacob asked.
"Wait," Susan replied.
"What?" he asked in disbelief.
"They're doing well. We'll draw them away from the station and let them finish the job. Have a bit more confidence, gentlemen. After all, you trained them. Or is that why I should be worried?" She turned her attention back to the view screen as the three White Stars catapulted out of hyperspace.
Carver could not repress a surge of triumph as one of the Gold Stars fell dead in space after a few hits of the White Star's superior fire power, sending back a signal of surrender.
"White Star Two, target the remaining Gold Star. White Star three, you're with me . . . let's take out Gold Star One."
"Gold Star One is breaking off attack! They're making a run for it, sir!"
"Automatic targeting system. Stay with them!"
Ivanova had always been a pilot at heart, and as she nimbly dodged the oncoming weapons fire, she was pleased to know she hadn't lost her touch. It felt good to have the controls of the old ship beneath her hands and she was determined to give the young Rangers a good run. If they were going to win, they would have to win without any help from her.
"Hang on, gentlemen," she warned, her eyes gleaming.
"Hold fire!" Carver ordered as the Gold Star skimmed along the station, using it as shield. "Can you stay with them?" Cramer asked his pilot, who frowned.
"I can try . . . whoever is piloting that ship is a hell of driver."
"Do your best," Carver encouraged, but his stomach was in knots. Babylon 5's defenses were still off line and White Star Two had taken some damage. "White Star Three, try and get ahead of the Gold Star. See if you can cut them off. We'll drive them to you."
"Acknowledged. I hope this works."
"So do I!"
Ivanova saw the White Star ahead of her and smiled in approval at their team work. She would have to remember to compliment Montoya, but she wasn't going to be caught that easily. At the end of the station, she fired a shot before making a 90 degree turn downward over the edge.
"White Star Three has lost weapons capabilities, but automatic repair systems should have them restored in approximately six minutes. White Star Two has lost engines and weapons, but so has Gold Star Three. It's down to one of us and one of them!" Jacob reported.
"Nice shot," Montoya added.
Ivanova simply nodded, her mind busy planning her next maneuver.
White Star One pulled up, narrowly missing colliding with the oncoming White Star Three, which had ducked down to follow the Gold Star. Carver swore under his breath as the damage report came in. "All right, just stay with the Gold Star . . . auto targeting systems. We have to take this lunatic out!"
"Mr. Cole, power up jump engines!" Ivanova ordered. Jacob raised his eyebrows, but did as he was ordered. "Open a jump point on my mark."
Well matched in speed, it was only a moment before the White Star caught up to them. Both ships careened through space at full speed, the White Star at point blank range.
"Now, Mr. Cole!"
The jump point opened and Ivanova pulled the ship up sharply, executing a 180 degree loop. The White Star attempted to pull out, but went flying through the jump point.
Montoya and Jacob fell in a heap as the artificial gravity attempted to compensate for the sudden shift in motion. Ivanova, safely strapped in, simply grinned in satisfaction as she guided the ship to a slow stop over the station.
"Hail the Gold Stars. Make sure the crews are okay and the raiders secured. Then hail the White Stars . . . I expect White Star One to be appearing any moment."
The White Star came cautiously out of hyperspace to find itself the primary target of the Gold Star.
"The Gold Star is hailing us!"
"On screen," Carver said grimly. He stared in surprise as the Entil'zha's face appeared.
"This is Entil'zha Ivanova. Surrender or be destroyed. Do you surrender?"
Carver stared in shock, unable to say anything. Ivanova raised an eyebrow.
"I assure you, gentlemen, I am not an impostor. Mr. Morden and his associates have been apprehended. The exercise, however, is not concluded until you surrender. Mr. Carver, you are in command of your fleet. Do you surrender?"
Carver surveyed the damage on all sides and decided to yield. The unexpected jump had fried some of the White Star's circuitry and the Entil'zha had already proven that she could outrun them. He gave small bow.
"We surrender, Entil'zha."
Ivanova smiled. "You put up an excellent fight. My compliments to yourself and crews. You will receive a full debriefing once we've docked. Fall in formation, gentlemen." The view screen went blank and Carver smiled ruefully.
"How long do you think she's been in control?" someone asked. Carver shrugged.
"Long enough to kick some serious butt," a crew member observed. The Minbari pilot looked at Carver for an explanation, but he simply shrugged.
"An Earth phrase. Let's get these ships docked."
*****LATER THAT EVENING*****
Susie stood with Susan and Jacob, surveying the damage to the ships.
"Can they be repaired?" she asked.
"The White Stars, easily. And there is, of course, the rest of the fleet back on Minbar. These three were brought simply for the exhibition. But the Gold Stars . . . we're just going to let them rest. It was a good way for them to go. Your Rangers put up a good fight, Mr. Cole. You should be proud," Ivanova said.
"I'll leave you now. Susie, I will speak to you tomorrow morning. The captain has asked us to speak to the crowd. We'll need to prepare something."
"Of course. I'm glad you got back safely. Good night, Susan." Susie kissed her godmother, who embraced her warmly.
"So am I . . . I'm getting too old for things like this! Mr. Cole," Susan nodded sharply to her subordinate and walked off.
"It's the strangest thing . . . every day she grows more distant from me, but sometimes I see her looking at me as if . . . well, as if I'm someone else, or if she wishes I were someone else," Jacob said.
"You remind her of someone she lost long ago," Susie said softly.
Susie watched her godmother disappear around a corner and smiled sadly.
"Nobody you'd know," she replied and was saved from further explanation, since a swarm of Rangers chose that moment to escort Morden off the Gold Star. She smiled at Susie with that irritating smug grin which Susie itched to smack off her face.
"So we meet again, Dr. Franklin. You know, you were very poor company on the flight here . . . maybe if you'd been a bit more congenial, this could have been avoided."
At that point, Susie did smack Morden, surprising both of them. Morden just raised an eyebrow.
"Careful now, Dr. Franklin. You haven't seen the last me. Mr. Cole," Morden nodded in greeting, and Jacob just glared.
"Enjoy your flight, Mr. Morden," he said and jerked his head. The Rangers escorted her away and Susie sighed.
"It's been a long day, Jacob."
"Yes. I don't know about you, but I could use a drink."
"Definitely . . . I have some bourbon my quarters . . . care to join me?" she asked with a smile. Jacob grinned.
"Say 'please'!" he teased. Susie laughed.
"Never! If you don't want any, you can just sit here by yourself!" Susie turned and headed out and Jacob watched her go, suddenly realizing she was serious. His grin widened and he ran to catch up with her.
Morden sat in the brig of the prisoner transport ship and fumed.
"It isn't my fault," she complained to her infuriated associates. "It was your idea to put the three Rangers together. I said it was a bad idea, but you wouldn't listen. You never do!"
One of her associates screamed angrily at her.
"Oh, quit whining and shut up! It's not as if every idea of yours has worked! Now are you going help me get this door open or not? It's not that long a trip to earth and I'd prefer to be gone before we get anywhere near the planet . . . and it's defense systems," she added pointedly. Her associates growled, but said nothing more.
As Morden worked on the door's electronic mechanism, she was busy planning her next soiree to Babylon 5. Jacob Cole and Susie Q. Franklin hadn't seen the last of her. She would make sure of that.
You can bet Morden will make good on her promise.
Can she and Susie Q. Franklin ever be friends? Watch for more exciting
follower chapters in Gwyn's The Followers Stories!