Bird of Fire
Katya had barely slept. She had spent the entire evening on her new craft, the Fire Queen, gifted to her by her mothers and the Sisters of Anh. It was one hell of a craft - agile and swift, the manoeuvrability of a bird in flight. And it packed a hell of a punch; a beam of intense energy erupting from a central canon, much to the Paradise Chief's pure delight. Katya had been learning the controls and inner workings of her new vessel for several hours - a kid with a new toy that she could not put down. The fact that it had been given to her by her mother made the gift extra special; reconnecting her to the home world she felt forced to abandon years ago. Her 'Malka' gave her the Fire Queen out of pride and respect for the leader Katya had become.
After another successful run in her new ship, Katya sent a message to her dear friend Qaraq, so that she may show-off the toy to him as well.
Qaraq was grateful to Katya for giving him permanent quarters here on Paradise for situations like the one they faced now. Being here often, it had become his home away from home. He had just finished a call with his wife, letting her know he would be there a while longer, but he had sent Rognerek back to Delavi to help her with the bar while he was away. He had also told her about his time with Ensign Sh'vastarth and the oath they shared, which was why he had to stay for a few more days, to make sure the Pandora reached Federation space safely. Of course his wife understood completely, and was glad for the addition to their very large family.
Seconds after their call had ended, another call from Katya came up on the screen.
"Your Majesty," Katya said with a smile, "I have something to show you. It's... amazing."
"I'm on my way," Qaraq replied. Within minutes he arrived at one of the docking bays and was waiting for Katya to arrive, excited to see what she wanted to show him.
In the bay window behind him, the dark red and black fighter silently floated into view in the space outside of the station. Two sharp wings jutting out forwards from a long body with a short tail at the end; the craft looking like a bird on a hunt. The central canon in the centre glowed hot with bright red magma. Katya sat in the cockpit, looking through a view screen with a smirk.
A voice came over the station's intercom, connected to Katya's ship. "Behind you." She called out.
Qaraq did a one-eighty and his eyes nearly bulged at the beautiful shining fowl. Had he been raised on Earth, it would have reminded him of a scorpion. But to him, it appeared as an enormous and dangerous bird, with blades for wings. At first, Qaraq was almost terrified.
"Is that you, Katya?" he said, his voice booming with amazement.
"Yes, what do you think?" She called back with a slight laugh. "Come on through to dock forty two and I'll let you onboard!"
Qaraq grinned as he entered the transport cube that took him to the docked ship. It was about the same size as the Delavi-1, but much more sleek and intimidating.
While Katya was now leader of the Resistance against the Alrakis Pact, Qaraq and the Delavi system itself had taken a neutral stance. In many ways, Qaraq played both sides as they suited him, much like a folk hero of his youth, who pitted two sides of warring clans against each other, manipulating the situation to his own benefit. Eventually the clans ended up slaughtering each other, with the hero the only one left standing.
He knew an allegiance to Katya's cause was inevitable, and the time had come. In the end, he could never turn his back on Katya. And with the Pact opposing his friends on the Pandora as well, he had decided to swear himself to the Resistance. It was a choice he did not make lightly, nor without caution. Business on Delavi would resume as normal, and in his absence his family was more than free to help whomever benefited them most. Delavi was far away and not in a strategic location. The lines between adversaries were permanently blurred there. He rested easy, knowing his family could manage without him for a while.
"This is incredible!" he bellowed as he met Katya at the entrance. "Where did you find it? I hope you didn't have to slay any clients of mine to acquire it..."
Katya giggled as she stood back and allowed her friend to take in the internal gallery. Red and black metal panelling reminded her of the corridors of her home world, a soft orange glow in the lighting echoing the volcano pits and magma rivers of Anh'Iran. In the main cockpit, a main standing platform was located in the centre of the room for the captain with two spherical pods at waist height on either side of the platform. Around them were a set of six sitting stations; two at front, two directly on either side of the captain's stand, and two just behind her. There were two Anh'Iran woman sitting in the forward stations, at the navigation and weapons controls, awaiting orders with placid faces.
"Of course not." Katya said as she took her place in the centre platform. "I need every one on our side, remember. The ship was a gift from my mother, Malka. She arrived with a delegation of warriors from Anh'Iran and pledged their support to our cause. The Sisters of Anh all pilot these ships, the Fire Birds. They are magnificent and destructive fighter craft. Malka gave this one to me directly, for my personal use. It is called the Fire Queen."
Qaraq walked from station to station, smiling as he examined the whole bridge. "This is a mighty ship," he said. "Truly worthy of a Queen!"
Katya laughed, "That title has become rather synonymous with myself of late. I thought it was a fun reference, something to make the Federation take notice of me but - it has gained wider recognition. Many believe it to be true." She gave unbothered shrug. "Not that I am complaining. Let them think of me as Queen. Even thought we are aware that it is entirely possible for anyone to truly rule the Expanse."
"The Alrakis Pact would like to think that," Qaraq said, practically spitting the words. "They don't understand that the Expanse belongs to all of us misfits and outcasts. If I were a greedy man, I would simply buy the Expanse! But the Expanse should be free to everyone. We do not need to join a larger Federation, and we won't be ruled by some pact! If you ask me, the Expanse is the last free place in the galaxy!"
"No, I agree. The Federation will have their uses, but I have no intention of wearing those... jumpsuits." Katya quipped as she moved to stand at the captain's platform. "You've gotten quite close to them, yes?" She asked nonchalantly as she pressed buttons on her side console.
"Two of them," Qaraq said with a shrug, matching her nonchalance. "There was the Admiral I told you about, named Gordon Francis. I also met an Aenar by the name of Aenardha. I felt very... comfortable with her. She seemed like someone I might have known in a past life. A very old soul. There was also a charismatic Fesarian who needed my help and seemed to be a decent person, or at least decent for a Fesarian. I've already forgotten his name. Still, if there are more like Francis and Aenardha in Starfleet, I think a relationship would be a valuable thing. But I would keep it at arm's length." He turned to look at Katya. "You've had more contact with them than I have. What is their Captain like?"
Katya titled her head, "The Admiral we met, Milne, was far more typical of the Federation. Good with words, but very calculating." A navigation map was project in front of her, she started pushing at locations, searching. "The Captain of the Pandora helped us immensely, it is the only reason I would return the favour to Milne. I believe our debt to them has been repaid. Right now, we are focused on our mutual enemy - the Pact."
Qaraq snorted. "I wonder how long that will last. From what I can tell, the Federation is all about diplomacy. Diplomacy is all about what's best for business. They'll be with us against the Pact until it suits them to be otherwise. The Pandora are our friends, yes, but the rest of them seem to be fully against us. Their own intelligence is even working with the Pact. Did you know this 'Stop the Pandora' signal originated right from their own station?"
"That awful signal?" Katya looked to him and cocked her head further to the side. "From the Federation? This must be the internal forces Admiral Milne mentioned. It seems not everything within their organisation is as clean as they portray."
"It seems that way," Qaraq nodded in agreement. "But it's that very reason why I believe the Pandora is worth defending."
Katya looked to him tenderly, a smile on the corners of her mouth. Qaraq would always be a business man - a titan of his trade and resource empire - but he cared about people, too. He saw the right from wrong in the Expanse and stepped in when necessary. There was a reason he was so respected throughout the region; why so many would gladly follow his lead and seek his counsel. Katya was one of those people. She was one of those he had once helped; and he was one who she would gladly follow. Realising she was staring a moment too long, Katya cleared her throat and nodded. "And defend her we shall."
The navigation map showed a slight blip in the top corner and Katya turned back to it with a satisfied smirk. "There. A Breen scout ship. They have been orbiting our outer perimeter for weeks. They are performing reconnaissance for the patrols. The scout appears, then the patrol comes soon after. Always the same."
"Then it is very likely they know where the Pandora is." Qaraq sighed. "We must inform them. We've run out of time."
Katya frowned, "Perhaps. They don't know that we plan to send the Pandora through the Rentara Nebula, which will give our friends a considerable advantage in distance. But you are right, if the scout alerts the rest of the Breen fleet to the Pandora's path, that plan will surely fail." She tapped upon the two silver orbs that were positioned at either side of her station. The top half split open and revealed a bowl of bright, flowing orange energy inside. Katya tentatively slid in her hands into the energy, the sound of her hardened skin sizzled against the intense heat within. The ship came to life - all of the stations around her in the bridge snapped to alert immediately as the engines began to hum.
She looked to Qaraq, "I wanted to show you what my ship could do. How about we deal with our little problem ourselves?"
Qaraq grinned and took the seat beside her. "Sounds like fun!"
Other Anh'Iran crew members came through the doorway and sat at their seats in silence, as Katya pressed down into the control matrix causing the ship to move away from Paradise. With a twist of her wrist, the Fire Bird turned and slowly drifted away from the station. Katya pulled her fingers gently into a fist and the engines sprang to life, propelling them forwards at greater speed. The tighter she gripped, the faster the ship moved until they were at full warp.
"She handles like a dream." Katya smirked, feeling the power of the engines in her very grasp. With a slight tilt of her hand, the ship banked to the left and began to head towards the glowing blip on the map.
Qaraq eyed the display as the blip got closer. "I hope your shields and weapons are adequate to take them out... if we need to, of course."
"I don't know, to be honest." Katya replied, still staring ahead. She moved her hands forward and the ship went even faster. "Let's not give them a chance to find out. They're in our territory, right? They are attacking our ships, right? Surely I have clearance to attack?"
The blip got closer and closer and Katya did not relent on the speed. Soon the Breen scout was in view distance; if it noticed the Anh'Iran craft rapidly approaching, it certainly didn't care. The scout continue in its journey, not bothering to change direction.
Qaraq eyed the display with increasing skepticism. "I'm not sure if that's a good idea, Katya," he said in a careful tone. "Something isn't right here..."
"What's not right is this ship flying in my territory!" Katya growled. She dug her hands further into the energy and they began emitting and intense light. Katya's skin glowed red hot as the canon below the ship powered up. "No more!"
The Fire Queen's weapon fired a blazing stream of Ultra-Plinian plasma towards the Breen Scout, which struck the enemy vessel hard on the port side. The beam cut through their shields and bore a fiery hole straight into the hull, causing the ship to detonate very quickly. Katya released her hand and the canon stopped; though the temperature in the room had raised significantly.
"No survivors." Reported the Sister at the front consoles. "But also... no bodies."
"It was empty?" Katya asked through deep, panting breaths.
Qaraq furrowed his horn-rimmed brow in confusion. "Why? Unless... was this perhaps a distraction? How far are we from Paradise Station?"
The Sister frowned, staring at her screen. "Not too far but - wait. Three Breen cruisers have just dropped out of warp. They are scanning the region."
Katya's eyes withered as she dug her hands into the energy matrix. "We shall cut them down to size."
"Katya," Qaraq boomed. "It's our one ship to their three! Once they destroy us the Pandora and more importantly Paradise Station will be next! I urge you to return to the station and warn the Pandora." He put a hand on her shoulder. "You'll taste Breen blood soon enough. But right now we must go back!"
Katya felt the hand on her shoulder and flinched. Every inch of her soul wanted to burn the Breen for everything they had done, and everything they intended to do. She was feeling the power of her ship tingling through her body and the need for revenge was so strong and deep. But Qaraq's voice was just as insistent; his loud tone reaching into her stubborn thoughts. He had touched her shoulder, which would not have been easy with the fiery energy running hot across her skin - just to get her to stop and think for a moment. He was a stalwart ally; one of the few in the Expanse she would actually listen to.
With a downbeat frown, Katya released her grip from the control orbs. Immediately her skin stopped glowing and the ship itself responded by standing down the engines and cannon. There was a drop in the energy and heat in the Bridge as a calmness resumed.
"You are right." Katya admitted. "This is not the time." She turned to look at her friend, "But when it is, I hope you will not try to stop me then, Qaraq. I cannot allow myself, or my station, or the Pandora, to fall into the Breen's hands. We cannot allow it."
"The Breen will never take Paradise," Qaraq replied. "The next time, we will fight them together."
Katya nodded, "Very well. Let's head back to Paradise. The Pandora must leave immediately."
Dipping her hands back into the control matrix, the ship illuminated once more. With a burning light, the Fire Queen streaked back towards Paradise Outpost, carefully avoiding the Breen patrol now closing in.