Location: The Briar Patch
The two craft moved through the murky expanse of the Briar Patch, moving through the gaseous clouds like wraiths stalking their prey. Both craft had their power systems turned way down, and any unnecessary systems and devices were powered down in an attempt to mask their energy signature.
But would it be enough?
Adria knew the risks they were taking from the moment she'd first been given the mission. Because of that she was being extra cautious. Scanning her HUD and keeping her companion ship in view. To better hide them they were running mostly radio silent unless it they absolutely had to communicate something.
Silence suited the mission, equipment, and the pilot of the Arrow just fine. It had taken an immense amount of concentration and effort to get to this point. Even the metal bearing upon which the pilot's chair spun about dared not make a sound, even as Eliana spun lazily around. All of her senses were on alert. The slightest abnormal sound or vibration would provoke an immediate response, but no such stimulus had occurred. Yet.
For her part, Rosaleen simply sat staring out the cockpit window. She was very apprehensive about the upcoming contact. The Ba'Ku were already suspicious of off-worlders, and for good reason. The news she brought would just make things worse. And as for her identity...
There was absolutely no telling how they would respond to that bit of news. It had been centuries since the last contact between the Ba'Ku and Ka'Bu, and that had not been the most pleasant of circumstances.
"T minus ten," Masters spoke in a low voice.
Rosaleen simply nodded, too nervous to trust herself to speak too much, although knowing that she needed to give Masters the landing plan. She watched as the gaseous clouds billowed out and around the window, pushed aside by the ships navigational deflectors. It was starting to thin though, announcing that their trip was about to draw to a close.
"We need to come in slow over the horizon from the community, then run silent to a landing point within a decent walking distance." She reached up on the panel and input the landing coordinates of a couple of locations she had looked at in the mapping system, then cross fed it to Eliana's nav system monitor. "One of these will do nicely if you can use them."
"I'll take a look," Masters replied. Quickly, she overlaid a map of the current weather on top of the geographical locations that had been chosen. Winds aloft, cloud cover, the angle of the sunlight - any possible advantage that they could use to remain undetected had to be considered. Of course, the Arrow's latest avionics suite would facilitate a safe arrival, but the circumstances were sufficient to quicken the pulse nevertheless.
"Okay, this is going to work," Eliana highlighted the southeastern location. "Two hundred foot ceilings and just awful visibility, basically, a good day to be a Ba'ku duck. We'll approach from over here," she pointed towards a mountain range, "and that should be enough to keep everything quiet."
A few button presses and user-defined waypoints later, Masters sent a rough estimate of the flight path to Desoro. It would take some work to stay in formation without any practice, but fate dealt the hand to be played.
They would just have to make the best of it.
Adria acknowledge the message silently. It would be more difficult to stay in formation with the Arrow but not totally impossible. They couldn't afford to get distracted especially now.
A brief vibration reverberated through the cabin as the Arrow entered the upper atmosphere. The environmental system compensated for the wind noise and turbulence as they descended into denser air. Cloud cover provided the physical obscuration, and Masters was hoping that nearby convective activity would make their energy signatures. All indications pointed to a successful outcome, or at least as successful as it could be.
Rosaleen used the time to start preparing herself mentally for the upcoming contact. She honestly did not know how the Ba'Ku would react to her. Would they welcome her like a long, lost family member? Or would they resent her presence and everything she stood for...so many ways this could go. She was fairly certain they would not resort to violence.
Fairly certain...but not completely.
"Hold on," Eliana looked over at Rosaleen.
Rosaleen visibly gripped the armrests tighter, but said nothing. She was still trying to prepare herself for what would come after they touched down.
"Okay, two second burst out of the maneuvering thrusters to arrest the descent rate on my mark," Masters broke the radio silence. "Three, two, one, mark!"
The Arrow's thrusters roared to life, working hard against the force of gravity. In order to keep a small energy signature, both pilots had elected to leave the engines idling during the descent. This, of course, meant that they were traveling close to terminal velocity as they approached the ground, so the thrusters needed to deploy at precisely the right moment for precisely the right duration in order for their approach to work out.
"Two hundred meters, one hundred, fifty," the onboard computer began to call out altitudes while the inertial dampeners fought against the immense gravitational forces involved with the maneuver.
"Struts are deployed and locked," Masters called out.
Visibility was poor, but that was done on purpose. Eliana and Rosaleen sat quietly for a moment, the former still not quite believing that the her first atmospheric approach and landing had gone as successfully as it had appeared to. Exhaling a deep breath of which she had no recollection of holding, Masters looked across and shrugged nonchalantly.
"Exactly how we drew it up, right?"
Rosaleen was already freeing herself from the restraints. She stood and walked over to Eliana, giving her a soft kiss on the cheek and a quick hug. "I always feel safe with you at the controls." She quickly made her way into the aft cabin area to finish her preparations.
Adria landed her fighter near the Arrow. Now it was time to wait until they were given further orders. Hopefully she could at least stretch her legs a bit until they knew more.
Both pilots completed their checklists and waited for the next move. Masters left the Arrow in a ready-standby mode, just in case they needed to make a hasty departure. Looking across at her counterpart, she knew it was likely that her counterpart was doing the same. The two of them were never going to be able to shoot their way out of any serious situation, but Eliana still felt better knowing her friend was flying by her side.
"What do you want us to do?" Masters asked.
Rosaleen returned to the flight deck. "Just wait for my call. I will instruct you further at that point. I you have not heard from me in twenty-four hours, you are to return to Taranok immediately." She sensed Eliana's response before it even took to the air. "No arguments, my friend. You must do as I ask."
Masters sat frozen in her chair. It took every bit of mental willpower to keep out the thought of losing Rosaleen again.
Finally, Eliana rushed forward and squeezed Rosaleen tight. Burying her face into her shoulder, she pulled away to check to ensure the shuttle had depressurized.
"I don't suppose giving an order would change anything, would it?" she smiled softly. "Don't answer that. Be safe."
Rosaleen looked at Eliana for a silent moment, then did something that her friend would have never predicted. Placing a warm hand on her cheek, she leaned up and gave Eliana a brief, soft kiss. "I'm not going anywhere. One just has to plan for any scenario."
For her part, Masters remained frozen in the moment. Eyes closed, she took a deep breath before she dared to open them again. When she did, Rosaleen was already gone.
Lt Commander Rosaleen O'Donnell
Chief of Staff
Commander Eliana Masters
Director of Flight Operations
Lieutenant Commander Adria "Tempest" Desoro
Commander Air Group