Captain’s log, stardate 78179.36.
We have reached Arriana Prime and now have assets on the ground. Alpha team have secured the landing site for civilian extraction, while Bravo and Charlie team’s are operating under guerilla warfare conditions to halt the Jem’Hadar advance on the capital.
We have secured non-starfleet resources to help in the evacuation and are now attempting to contact what remains of planetary forces. Infrastructure and all kinds of public services are shot to hell, which is hampering efforts to reach survivors.
We have… sustained casualties of our own, but nothing so far that will prevent us from achieving our objective. I anticipate this may change when we encounter the main bulk of the Jem’Hadar forces, who have so far kept themselves beyond our reach. I have no doubt they are planning something. What, however, remains to be seen…
Mason cut the recording and stood for a moment, rocking his weight between his heels and toes as he surveyed the scene before him. The first of the Morningstar’s rafts had dropped and even now was loading frightened civilians. They’d been fortunate enough to find that at least some government officials had remained at their posts rather than fleeing to try and save their own skins. They were a large part of the reason so many civilians that were or had been in the Jem’Hadar’s destructive path were now being lifted out of the line of fire.
His gaze swept over the field, past the big raft, to the tents that had been erected for the dead. There were far too many of them. His jaw tightened, gaze narrowing as he fought down anger. So many lives lost and why? Because wraiths from the past had decided their war was not over yet?
Sighing, he shook his head and turned, heading towards where his yeoman was speaking to the raft pilot. Reese-Riggs… Commander Reese-Riggs… that name rang a bell in the back of his mind somewhere but he couldn’t place it.
“Hi,” he said over the roar of the loading door motors, and offered his hand. “I’m Reese-Riggs. You must be Rennox?”
The man coming toward him was tall and broad-shouldered with a shock of brown-red curls that whipped around his face like medusa’s serpents. Rennox nodded as he gripped the taller guy’s hand and shook it firmly.
“I am,” he yelled back, only to realise that the roar of the transporter raft doors had cut out. “Sorry, didn’t realise how loud that was.”
Reese-Rigg’s lips quirked slightly and Rennox found himself with serious envy over the guy’s mustache and the swagger to his walk. “Don’t worry, you get used to it. You wait until I bring the engines online to take her back up. Your grandkids will feel that noise in their souls.”
Rennox chuckled, something about the older man’s easy manner that relieved the tension of the situation. He could almost believe that they were just chatting in a beer garden somewhere, rather than holding an evac point against Dominion forces.
At that thought, his gaze flitted to where he’d last seen the captain, only to find Mason walking toward them. He had what Rennox was calling his ‘captain’ face on, that focused, determined look that hid the man he’d seen during the fights with the dominion.
“Jeezuz…” Reese-Riggs murmured, the easy smile slipping for a moment. “That’s Mason? He’s fucking huge.”
“Yeah.” Pride swelled in the center of Rennox’s chest at the formidable picture the big captain made as he stalked toward them. “He’s Llanarian. They’re all big like that.”
By this time Mason had reached them, his pale eyes flicking over both of them before settling on the Morningstar pilot.
“Reese-Riggs? Glad you made it down in one piece,” he said, offering his hand to shake. Rennox found it amusing that that very human gesture was so common place. Or perhaps llanarian’s shook hands as well.
“Call me RJ,” Reese-Riggs replied. “And thanks. There’s a knack to it.”
Mason flicked a glance to the gargantuan raft behind them. It looked like they were about a quarter of the way through loading the civilians. “I’ve combat dropped in things not even half the size of that and seen it go very, very wrong. Takes real skill to set one down.”
“Thank you,” RJ nodded, that confident smile back on his face as though his little wobble when he’d seen Mason hadn’t even happened.
Rennox narrowed his eyes slightly. As far as he knew, the two men had never met before… so why had RJ looked like he’d seen a ghost?
“It’s a good job we were so close, or we never would have got here in time.”
“A good job indeed,” Mason nodded, his gaze sharp as his attention moved from the new guy to sweep around the edges of the area again. Checking the team on perimeter watch. He’d spent so much time watching the captain, he could see when the war-guy looked out through his eyes. It was chilling, to say the least. Especially when that version of the captain was still there when he looked back at RJ.
“How many drops do you think it will take to clear the numbers here?” Mason asked. “We have a team holding this area, but we’re stretched. I’d like to keep this as short as possible so we can pull back and hunt the main dominion force out there.”
RJ pursed his lips, pulling a small padd from his thigh pocket. It wasn’t Starfleet issue and was surprisingly old-fashioned tech. From the way he walked and talked, and the gold chain that peaked out from the open neck of his jumpsuit, Rennox would have expected the latest, expensive civilian tech.
“These numbers, with humanoids being the same average height and weight as… subtract time for herd mentality, add time for intelligence because people never follow directions…” he muttered to himself, then looked up.
“The drops are quick, getting them offloaded… with these numbers, at least six hours. Think you can hold this location?” he asked, his expression suddenly becoming harder. “Because if there’s any doubt about that, we’re going to need to add two hours.”
Rennox frowned, but the captain beat him to the punch.
“Why the additional?” Mason asked, hands resting lightly on the rifle he carried as easily as if it was an extension of his hands and arms.
RJ folded his arms, the shipsuit pulling across his chest. “Because my sister is the other pilot and I am absolutely not letting her drop into a hot zone. If there’s a chance of that, I’m piloting on all the drops and it’s going to take longer.”
Oh shit. Rennox froze. There was no way the captain was going to take that lying down, surely? Even though RJ was also a Starfleet commander, Mason was the captain on the ground, this was his op… so he had command.
“RJ Reese-Riggs, you say?” Mason asked suddenly.
“Yeah… Ryder James,” RJ replied, then frowned. “Why?”
Mason just shrugged, war-guy dark in his eyes. “We’ll hold this location for six hours. If it looks like we’re compromised, I’ll give you prior warning so you can change out pilots.”
He offered his hand again, then, when RJ took it, yanked him forward. For anyone looking from a distance, it would look like the two men were old friends as Mason clapped RJ on the back. But Rennox saw the tension in Mason’s grip and the panic that flared in RJ’s eyes.
“I know exactly who you are,” Mason growled by RJ’s ear. “Don’t get yourself killed because when this is done? You and I are having a chat.”