Na'Tiel and Na'Tal sat in the bar of their carrier, chatting to each other. They were feeling pleased with themselves - they had managed to get rid of the rookie. It didn't take much persuasion to get him to practise in the flight simulator. The kid was hardly more than a pouchling, whilst they had more than five years combat experience between them and so were far superior.
Ta'Bon was very enthusiastic and, to Na'Tal and Na'Tiel's minds, overly confident. He was also very, very good in the simulator. Better than either of them, and they weren't shabby. Still, it was only a simulator and not the real thing. You don't really die in a simulator.
"He reminds me" commented Na'Tiel, "of one of those Earther creatures, umm, what do you call them? Four legs, a tail, floppy tongue, jump around a lot. Ducks?"
Na'Tal looked at his sibling and frowned a little. "No, no, not ducks. Err, give me a moment..."
"Puppy." "Dog." they said simultaneously. Their eyes met and they grinned at each other. "Puppy" Na'Tiel confirmed.
A fanfare burst from the simulator accompanied by an announcement of "New high score!" Na'Tiel and Na'Tal looked at each other and sighed. The puppy was very very good, but he had a long way to go.
The simulator's cockpit cracked open and Ta'Bon emerged. He was grinning from ear to ear. "Beat that! Pretty damn good, eh? Just too good!"
Na'Tiel caught a wink of Na'Tal's eye. He obviously had some scam about to start, undoubtedly at the puppy's expense.
Na'Tal slapped Ta'Bon on the back. "I'm real impressed. You realise that anyone who makes a new high score has to buy the next round of drinks," he raised his voice "-don't they?"
The bar cheered and Ta'Bon looked around. His face clouded briefly as he saw how many people were in the bar. Then his face cleared "Next round's on me!" He turned to Na'Tiel and Na'Tal. "What do you guys want?"
They placed an order for some fairly innocuous stuff. They were flying a mission in the morning and couldn't afford to drink much.
Na'Tal nudged Na'Tiel's arm. "Worked a treat! This ought to be good for a few drinks! We might as well make the most of him hanging around us." He was so pleased with himself that Na'Tiel had to laugh. Na'Tal had made the whole scam up.
"You've been trying to cadge drinks out of me all night."
"Yeah." Na'Tal grouched. "And you won't buy me any. What use are pouch sibs if they won't buy you a drink?" He couldn't hold the annoyed appearance for long.
"So you're getting Ta'Bon to get the drinks instead. Sounds good to me. And we don't even have to repay the favour!" Again they shared a look.
Not many beings shared a bond like these two, which was all the stranger for Na'Tiel and Na'Tal were Narns, a race with no natural telepaths. They were twins, brooded together in their father's pouch and inseparable from then on. They had distinct and complimentary personalities, Na'Tiel tending to be impulsive and aggressively forthright and Na'Tal more thoughtful and conciliatory. Despite these differences, they usually thought and acted as one. More than once their father had been heard to comment "The left hand and the right hand working together make a thing of beauty."
They had joined the military as cadets, following in the footsteps of their elder brother, Na'Tol. Unlike Na'Tol, whose aspirations were bound to the earth he trod, the pair were found to have excellent aptitude as pilots. Top guns, in fact.
The Narn military machine tried to separate them time and time again, but they always managed to worm their way back together. Eventually, it was generally understood that the two worked better together than they did apart. More than one CO commented that it was uncanny watching them in the simulation tanks. No Narn were telepaths, yet these two seemed to know where the other was and what they would be doing. They weren't the best pilots the Academy had ever produced, but they were the best team. When they graduated, only the very elite could outfly them in the tanks, and after 15 hours of real combat, no wing could touch them in training runs.
The puppy dumped their drinks down on the table. "What will we do now, guys? Come on, let's have some fun!"
Another look flashed between the pair. Each knew that the other was wishing Ta'Bon would push off and annoy someone else. His youthful exuberance and brashness were too much to deal with. He was straight out of flight school and so very immature.
"Hey, Na'Tiel, buy you a drink?"
Oh, no....Bo'Nar. A great bruiser of a Narn. Flight technician, second class. Obviously attracted to Na'Tiel, as were various of the crew. Only her sharp tongue and her devoted champion in Na'Tal saved her from more attempts at decidedly unmilitary liaisons. Bo'Nar, however, was just too stupid to understand that he never had a chance and never would.
"Why thank you, Bo'Nar -" Na'Tal's ear heard the sarcasm dripping from Na'Tiel's tongue "- it seems that I already have one. One drink is enough. I'm flying later."
"Aww, come on, Na'Tiel! I checked. You ain't going anywhere for at least ten hours. Another won't hurt." Bo'Nar's words were mild, at this stage, but would not remain so for long. Na'Tiel had had previous run-ins with him. She rolled her eyes at Na'Tal and lifted an eye ridge, pleading for rescue. She didn't want another brawl erupting. She had nearly been busted for the last one, and she considered it mighty unfair to be blamed for some idiotic brawl starting just because she was female and desirable and therefore had to protect herself from unwanted advances.
Na'Tal smoothly stepped in between the hulk and his sister. "Ah, Bo'Nar! I've been meaning to ask you about that amazing manoeuver you did in training the other day. I'd like you to show us how you did it. Come, Ta'Bon will buy you a drink - he's the new high score champ."
Bo'Nar's irritation was soothed by Na'Tal's glib tongue. The chance to show off in front of Na'Tiel, and the rest of the flight crew, was irresistible. So was the offer of a drink. Only problem was that Ta'Bon's account only had two credits - not enough for a drink or two - and Na'Tal had lost his pay in a card game. Na'Tiel quickly slipped her chit into Na'Tal's hand whilst he kept up a distracting patter. He lubricated Bo'Nar to the point of insensibility - Na'Tiel thanked G'Quan that this was one Narn who could not hold his liquor - and praised Bo'Nar's skills, as a pilot, to the skies. Under such admiration, Bo'Nar could not help but display his ability. Drunk as he was, he climbed into the simulator to show off.
Na'Tal looked across at his sib and nodded towards the door. He saw her smile - no other would detect it - and they both left the bar.
"Thanks, Na'Tal. I am sick to death of him trying to come on to me. That was smooth work. I wish I could manage people the way you do."
Na'Tal smiled. "We've left behind the puppy too, you realise."
They shared a dorm barely bigger than a (shoebox). Na'Tal had wrangled the room out of a CO - an used storeroom big enough to put a double decker bunk and two lockers into. It was a haven from the Bo'Nars and Ta'Bons of the world. Even still it wasn't long before someone pounded on the door.
"Hey guys, let's do something!"
They looked at each other and sighed. Na'Tal opened the little flap in the door. "It is time to sleep, Ta'Bon. See you in the morning." He bolted the flap shut.
Na'Tiel was setting up a letter to their parents. The pair always wrote before going on a mission. They sat on Na'Tal's bunk and chattered eagerly for the recording. At the end, Na'Tal popped the data crystal out of the comm unit and put it in his utility belt ready to be sent the next morning.
The next stage in the evening was Na'Tiel's nightly stretches as part of the Then'Sha'Tur discipline. For this she would strip near naked so that she could feel at one with the air and universe around her, then move slowly through a number of poses. Na'Tal lay back and watched. His sib had a good body - strong and well-formed, graceful in movement and at
Tonight she extended her exercises. Join me, said her gestures. Be at one with me and the universe. Like this, she was irresistible. He shed his confining uniform and joined in with the flow of movement.
Again, in this tiny enclosed space, they worked as one. Na'Tiel's approval was overflowing. She loved it when her brother practised with her. Her awareness of every last detail expanded enormously as their bodies described intricate patterns. They finished off the last movements and collapsed onto Na'Tal's bunk. Relaxing as it was, the art was physically rigorous.
Na'Tiel shifted her weight so it leaned comfortably against Na'Tal. She chuckled deep in her throat. "You know it is only a couple of weeks until our next shore leave."
"Mmm - should be good. Remember the last one?"
Na'Tiel grinned. "He was fabulous!"
"I know - heard," Na'Tal smirked.
Hey - I thought you were busy with that bimbo you found!"
"Yeah, but I'd know your voice anywhere."
"Well you shoulda seen the size of his pouch! It was amazing! Bigger 'n yours."
"You were drunk. You couldn't tell."
Na'Tiel poked Na'Tal in the ribs. "Hah! Biggest I've ever seen!" She climbed up to her bunk before Na'Tal could make a retaliatory strike. "Bigger 'n yours!"
The morning's briefing was thorough. They were to shadow a Narn freighter as it passed through a region of space favoured by raiders. It had been put around that this ship had a variety of highly sought after products. The raiders would undoubtedly strike it.
The plan was simple. Four medium-weight fighters, as preferred by Na'Tal and Na'Tiel, would tail the freighter. They would stay in the freighter's wake, using positional thrusters only, no engines. The wake should hide most of the fighter's emissions. Heavy fighters would wait in ambush. When the raiders struck, the medium weight fighters would engage and distract them whilst the heavy fighters came in to mop up. They were to take some of the raiders alive so that they could be interrogated.
Tailing a freighter was boring work made worse by not being able to have radio communications. Na'Tiel and Na'Tal did away with need for radios, however - they were flying close enough to communicate visually. They played their favourite games and generally goofed off, pulling horrible faces and playing fasten then zip and eye spy. Their CO ignored them - this was their way of dispelling the tension and boredom of waiting. Once they were needed in combat they would be ready in an instant.
"Heads up - raiders entering at point 110."
Four raider ships came in over the freighter, strafing it, and fled. The four Narn ships split into two wings. "Stay with the freighter. I'll take Ta'Bon and pursue." Their CO peeled off with his wingman and made chase.
As soon as they were out of immediate range, another four raider ships appeared from nowhere and began strafing the freighter. Na'Tal and Na'Tiel were moving to intercept as the captain of the freighter harangued them. Na'Tal took out one of the raiders, but another, in some of the craziest flying ever seen, managed to hit Na'Tal's ship.
"Number two engine gone."
"Can you lock it down?"
"Not a problem, I'm just not able to pursue."
The remaining raider ships were fleeing.
"Na'Tal - do you have your ship under control?"
"Yeah, I'm ok."
Na'Tiel gunned her fighter after the raiders. They took some catching. Na'Tal kept up a steady stream of talk, reassuring Na'Tiel that everything was alright. Na'Tiel destroyed the raider ship that had damaged her brother's fighter. "Oops, we're supposed to bring 'em back alive. Oh well, next time."
The sounds of an explosion echoed tinnily through Na'Tiel's cockpit. It wasn't from her ship, or the one she had just destroyed. The other Raider ships were nearly in range.
"Umm, Na'Tiel, I've got a problem. You'd better get back here."
Na'Tiel broke off her pursuit. Nothing in the universe mattered more than Na'Tal. She would disobey a direct order if the order would hurt Na'Tal. She turned her ship and pressed back to the freighter.
The fuel tank of Na'Tal's fighter had blown. Na'Tal was trying to ascertain what was still functional on his ship when he noticed something crucial.
"Na'Tiel, I'm losing oxygen. Real fast." His oxygen reserves were well below what they should be and dropping as he watched. He knew that Na'Tiel couldn't reach him in time.
"Hang on, Na'Tal - I'm coming as fast as I can." Na'Tiel changed channels. "Freighter Rokiri, can you assist?"
"Negative - this is a combat situation! We're not going EVA!"
Na'Tiel cursed them and pushed her ship harder.
Na'Tal tried to eject his cockpit module from the ship - if he could go EVA, he had a chance of reaching the freighter. Maybe. The latch was jammed. He tried booting the cockpit open but the hatch was jammed. He was going to die. Out here, alone. Worse, he was going to leave Na'Tiel alone. He knew, if their positions were reversed, that he couldn't live without her.
Na'Tiel was cursing in a steady stream. Na'Tal heard the desperation and fear in her voice. His oxygen was running low. 10% and dropping. 5%. He tried to slow his breathing down, but nothing was going to make a difference. He couldn't induce a hibernation under these circumstances. 2%.
"I'm sorry. Love you. Bye."
His body sucked desperately at the last of his air. He couldn't see Na'Tiel's ship come into visual range. His hearing was filled with roaring. He gasped and retched trying to breathe air that was effectively vacuum. He convulsed, then relaxed. Na'Tiel's wailing filled the cockpit.