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PostPosted: Fri Jan 19, 2018 4:37 am 
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Location: Battlestar Hecate BSG-94
Chapter 48: Homecoming (Part 8 of 9)

Near Armistice Station, Colonial battlestar Galactica, BS-1075

Commander Rupert Gath smiled with relief as the wireless crackled to life. “Galactica, this is Nike, please reply with your status.”

Gath picked up the handset, “Nike, Galactica Actual, we’re banged up a bit, but in one piece. I guess you know by now that the Cylons have returned?”

Galactica Actual, Nike Actual,” Commander Laureline Massena replied, “We can work with banged up, Commander. Yes…the Cylons have launched a broad offensive and either have or are in the process of hitting the homeworlds. Can you navigate?”

“Our FTL is offline, but we expect it to be repaired within the hour. Misericorde and Seax are damaged, but navigable,” Gath explained. “We were fortunate that Surtur was dispatched to find out what happened, too, because she’s been a godsend helping us get the FTL back online.”

“We stand ready to render whatever assistance you might need,” Massena said. “Hold one, Admiral Deguya wants to talk to you.”

“Commander Gath, this is Admiral Deguya,” Deguya’s voice said over the wireless. “The current situation is grim but we have a plan for the near future,” he began and quickly sketched an overview of what would happen.

Gath wasn’t thrilled with the thought of leaving the Colonies and said so, “Admiral, we need to stay and fight…if we can rally the Fleet then…”

“Commander,” Deguya said patiently, “the Fleet is shattered. We must fall back to a rally point to marshal our forces and plan how we will return to the Colonies. If we remain, we will be destroyed; as good as we are, they have an unbearable weight of numbers at the present.”

“Ok…ok…” Gath finally conceded and finally allowed himself to believe that things really were as bad as the reports suggested. “What has survived?”

“I don’t know,” Deguya confessed, the Admiral’s tone and words chilling Gath more than the realization that the Cylons were running wild throughout the Colonies.

*+*+*+*+*

Orbit of Canceron, Colonial battlestar Alecto, BS-30

“That’s it,” Admiral Cyrus Vought said and hung his head. “We haven’t seen a civilian ship leave the surface in more than fifteen minutes and we’re taking a beating, it’s time to go.”

Commander Gabrielle Hayes wiped away the tears that had started forming in her eyes. She had grown up on Canceron and even though she hadn’t been born there, she considered it home. Despite everything that Alecto and Admiral Gaitlin’s force had done over the past couple hours, hit and run raids and set-piece battles, the Cylon numbers were simply overwhelming.

They counted more than a hundred ships that managed to break orbit, and for those they had paid a tremendous price. Almost half of Alecto’s airwing was gone, her magazines were at a critical level, and the large force that Admiral Gaitlin had arrived with had seen it’s combat units whittled down to the battlestars Concordat, Huntress, Pazuzu, and Traveller, the gunstars Rifleman, Saracen, Ino, and the brave Reiter and Sipahi. So many people had died so that a handful could flee to safety, if there was anything like that left to find.

“More Cylon baseships have jumped into orbit,” Captain Hailey Hahn announced. “Five…eight…twelve in this last batch.”

“Commander,” Vought said wearily, “Please send the word that it’s time to fall back to the rally point.”

“Give the order to fall back to the rally point, aye,” Hayes found herself repeating mechanically. “Rin, please send to all Colonial ships, execute Plan Blue.”

Communications Specialist Rin Kinaki’s dark eyes met Hayes and the commander nodded. “Aye, send to all ships, execute Plan Blue,” she finally said and quickly send the message.

“Mr. Hahn, please prepare the ship for jump…we will wait until all other units have jumped before we cede the battlefield,” Hayes told the navigator.

“The survivors are jumping away,” Hahn said a moment later. “Concordat is the only one remaining.”

A thin smile touched Vought’s strained face. “Miss Kinaki, please connect me with Admiral Gaitlin on Concordat.”

“I have the Admiral for you, sir,” Kinaki said a moment later.

“Thank you,” Vought said and picked up the handset. “It’s time to leave, Joe…”

“I know…” Admiral Josephus Gaitlin’s voice replied and to Hayes’ ear, he sounded as bad as Vought looked. “Someone over here told me that we have to go on, we have to continue living, or everything we just did will be for naught.”

“That’s a pretty perceptive person,” Vought replied.

“Yes…and special, too,” Gaitlin said. “We will jump on your mark, Admiral.”

“Commander?” Vought asked.

“Mr. Hahn, please jump the ship,” Hayes ordered.

“Aye, jump the ship…” Hahn confirmed her reply. “We will jump in five…four…three…two…one…Jump!”

And with a pair of silver flashes, Alecto and Concordat left the Colonies.

*+*+*+*+*

Pallas Station, orbit of Pallas, Helios Beta, colonial battlestar Diana, BS-76

“There’s one transport that hasn’t lifted yet, Commander,” Communications Specialist Corrine Coppersmith told Commander Silja Linna. “They say they should have the lifters fixed within five minutes.”

“Frak us…” Commander Silja Linna swore just loud enough so that the other person standing at the plotting table could hear her. “I know it probably seemed like a good idea at the time to prevent civilian ships from doing a low altitude or surface FTL jump, but right now…”

“Yeah…” Colonel Basil Leatherman agreed. “Drow, Beholder, and Goblin have been deployed, and with Diana supporting them we should be able to buy enough time for them to lift off.”

“What’s the range?” Linna asked Captain Pavel Mittrich, Diana’s navigator.

“They’re closing slowly, CBDR to Pallas, range is five hundred kilometers to baseship Alpha, five hundred ten kilometers to baseship Bravo, and five hundred seven kilometers to baseship Charlie,” Mittrich replied.

“Here’s what we’re going to do…” Linna said after a moment’s calculation and explained her plan.

“I’ll need command override to do that,” Captain Blair Lyman, Diana’s weapon’s officer explained after hearing the plan.

“Baz?” Linna asked.

“Do it,” Leatehrman told the weapons officer.

Linna watched as Lyman issued fire missions to Diana’s gun crews and to those of her escorts. It would be a long shot, but now was time to roll the dice and try and thin down the Cylon’s numerical advantage before it got close enough to be a factor.

“We’re ready, Commander,” Lyman said less than thirty seconds later.

Linna took a last look at the dradis and saw the Cylons were still moving closer to Pallas and knew what the mouse felt like when the hawk circled overhead. Well, these hawks were going to learn that these mice had teeth. “Fire.”

The Colonial Fleet fielded several types of kinetic rounds for both the standard 1-meter guns and the ever more common 2-meter guns. Some had reduced terminal mass for a secondary solid rocket booster, some had guidance packages, and some were designed for surprise planetary bombardment and sacrificed mass for an anechoic coating that made them virtually invisible to a common search dradis. These non-standard rounds were carried in limited quantities and not every ship carried all, or even any, of the rounds. But Tier-1 battlestar groups, even if their Commander was on an Admiral’s shit list, always had the good toys.

Fifty seconds after Linna gave the order to fire, Diana’s first volley – all fired at the same velocity, and without the tell-tale golden plasma squibs that announced their launch, connected with the lead baseship. A second later, Drow’s and Beholder’s first volleys connected with the third baseship in the formation, Charlie, while Goblin’s first volley showed signs of connecting with Bravo. “We have hits!” Lyman announced and a cheer went up through the CIC. “Second volley appears to be connecting as well…Bravo is trying to maneuver…I’m not sure if our follow-up volleys connected, though there does appear to be some debris around Bravo.”

“Now we’ve pissed them off…” Leatherman said as the dradis began pinging off dozens of new returns as the baseships launched Raiders.

“Commander, I’m putting something on screen four…” Mittrich said and Linna looked over to one of the large situation monitors.

The display was an enhanced synthetic vison view of one of the new style Cylon baseships that appeared to be engulfed in a yellow-gold plasma given off from numerous ruptures in her arms and core. “Here it comes…” Mittrich said a moment before the baseship flared and exploded.

“My gods…” Leatherman said reverently, “that is so beautiful…”

“Damned right it is, Baz!” Linna triumphantly told him. “The bastard took out three quarters of the Raiders they just launched!”

“Charlie looks to be seriously damaged and is turning away, while Bravo tries to move to screen it somewhat,” Mittrich explained as Linna studied the plot.

“This is…unusual,” Linna said as the cheering calmed down. “Baz, have you ever heard of the Cylons doing such a maneuver?”

“I’m sure they must have done it back during the Uprising, but I can’t remember it ever really being discussed,” Leatherman replied thoughtfully. “Why?”

“Because…” Linna grinned before adopting an exaggerated Canceron accent, “we’re goin’ huntin’!” Leatherman’s look caused her to laugh. “Mr. Mittrich, please prepare two jumps; one to within ten kilometers of Charlie, and then one from there to Saga.”

“Ah…copy,” Mittrich replied and repeated the order.

“Are you doing what I think you are?” Leatherman asked.

Linna nodded. “Something over on that baseship is more equal than the others, and I want to kill it.”

“Commander? Captain Thorndyke reports the lifters are repaired and the ship will be jumping in thirty seconds,” Coppersmith announced hopefully.

“Good…Corrine, let the escorts know that as soon as Symphony of Light jumps, that they’re to jump to Saga, too. We’ll be less than a minute behind them,” Linna replied and turned back to the plot.

“Jumps plotted,” Mittrich said cautiously. “We can jump on your order. It will take about thirty to forty seconds to cycle the drive and do the second jump.”

“Blair, as soon as we recover from the jump, I want you to unload everything we have on whatever it can shoot at,” Linna instructed. “Our primary target is Charlie, but I’m not going to send you to bed without dinner if we slag Bravo, too.”

“Copy that, Commander,” Lyman eagerly replied. “I have ‘steelheads’ loaded in the tubes since you didn’t issue a nuclear release.”

“Good planning…” Linna said and watched as the civilian ship jumped, followed a moment later by Diana’s three escorts. “Mr. Mittrich, you may jump the ship!”

Ten seconds after Diana’s escorts jumped in three flashes of silvery light, the massive battlestar jumped as well. Instead of appearing near Saga, in the Thule system, Diana transited back into normal space ten kilometers from the damaged Cylon baseship designated Charlie, and fifteen kilometers from the baseship designed Bravo.

Several seconds after arriving, Diana began firing. Unlike her long-range volleys that were purely kinetic, this time her dorsal mounted heavy antiship missiles were brought into the mix as well. Each of her six missile clusters contained eight of the large, long range antiship missiles and within a handful of seconds forty-eight missiles were bridging the short, fifteen-kilometer gap to Bravo.

The missiles were still accelerating when thirty-seven managed to evade Bravo’s defenses and find their target. ‘Steelhead’ was a term used within the Colonial Fleet for missiles that traded payload for armor, and while the thirty-seven Steelheads that hit Bravo only carried the payload of half their number, the damage they did by their near simultaneous strike was like a plaster garden gnome being hit by a shotgun.

The long, elegant tines that formed Bravo’s upper and lower halves were savaged by the internal detonations as the missiles punched deep into the thin-skinned ship before activating their payloads. When the volley was over, Bravo was a hulk out of control and being shattered by numerous sympathetic internal explosions.

Charlie, unlike Bravo, received Diana’s kinetic wrath directly and if Bravo was a plaster garden gnome hit by a shotgun blast, Charlie was a garden gnome that was hit by a rotary machinegun. Fifteen seconds after the first volley hit Charlie, Diana was forced to suspend her attack because the targeting dradis couldn’t find a piece of the ship large enough to target.

Thirty-eight seconds after she arrived, Diana left the field of battle and two shattered and still dying baseships behind and jumped for Saga.

*+*+*+*+*

Starlight Rally Point 2000-03-Beta-5, yacht Ad Astra

“That is impressive, given everything that’s happened,” His Grace, Charles Chase, the Duke of Westfield said as he gazed though the golden tinted floor to ceiling viewport. Cruising along with Ad Astra were more than five dozen ships of various sizes and registries. Over the past several hours, as smaller, short duration craft arrived, such as the ubiquitous Eagles, Raptors, Shuttles, and other similar designs, they had been directed to a liner or platform until the ersatz fleet made their final jump and arrived at their ultimate destination.

“It is,” Captain Sana Chastain said and put her hand on his right shoulder. “And it happened because you had the foresight to make it happen.”

Charles saw his reflection offer a sad smile at Chastain’s words. “It wasn’t just me, Sana,” he finally said.

“No, it wasn’t…but if it wasn’t for you and Lady Iona promoting the ideas to the other companies, there would be a lot less out there, and consequently, a lot fewer survivors, than there are,” Chastain countered and rested her head on his shoulder.

“This is one time I wish I had been wrong,” Charles said as another figure resolved in the window’s reflection. Where Chastain wore the standard duty Fleet uniform, the other figure wore the uniform of the Duke’s Household Guard. He held his left arm out and the trim woman slid underneath and allowed herself to be pulled next to him. “I feel like I should be damned,” he finally confessed and bared what was really bothering him. “Because I feel alive.”

Charles felt the newcomer slide her right arm around his waist. “No, Charles, please don’t feel that way. You shouldn’t feel like you should be damned, you should be celebrated. There are about a hundred thousand people over there, or more, that are probably alive because of what you did. You, the man who saved me when I wanted to die; you saved them, Charles. You are a hero, even if you don’t want to wear the title.”

He turned and kissed Alessa on the forehead. Charles was still trying to come to grips with having a fiancé and a lover, with both women quite fine with the situation and actively encouraging it. “Thank you, Alessa. We’ve come so far, haven’t we?” he asked and hugged both women.

“And we’re just starting,” Chastain said as Charles saw several silvery flashes in the distance. He held his breath expecting to hear Tom Heston’s, Ad Astra’s captain, voice announce that they had to jump because the Cylons had found them. After almost thirty seconds, he took a breath knowing that they were still safe at this rally point.

“Your Grace?” another female voice asked and Charles turned to make sure who it was.

“We’re just admiring the view, Belinda,” Charles said and motioned his personal secretary forward. “Good news?”

Belinda’s grin told Charles that the news would be very good. “Yes, Your Grace…Captain Heston told me to tell you that Magnum has arrived…and that she brought Atropos , Ranger, and Taiga with her.

Charles said a silent prayer of thanks before he spoke. “That is very good news indeed,” he finally said and felt the grip of fear that had clutched his heart suddenly release and disappear. Now if only my girls make it back safely, he thought.

“Belinda, please give Tom my regards and ask him to contact Magnum and ask whether she wants to meet here or on Aeternus Imperium, or somewhere else,” Charles said and watched as the magnificent white ship that was the Empress’ mobile palace took formation off Ad Astra’s starboard wing.

“He’s already talked to her…and he said that she suggests we all meet on Atropos,” Belinda smirked and caused Charles to chuckle.

Yes, this girl has come a long way, Charles thought, I just hope I’m able to make sure she has a future. “I leave the details in your capable hands, Belinda. Meeting on Atropos would probably be better as it is official territory,” he mused. “I just hope everyone understands why we’re going to do what we’re going to do…”

Belinda had turned to leave, but he saw her stop and turn back towards him. “You can do it, Your Grace; if anyone can, I know you can.”

“Hmm…the Charles Chase fan club might have a new member,” Chastain teased after Belinda had left the observation gallery.

*+*+*+*+*

Starlight Rally Point 2000-03-Beta-5, Colonial battlestar Atropos, BS-35

Commander Devan Lubeck sat at the center of the conference table that was in the front of the briefing theater. To his right sat Her Imperial Highness, Searlait II, Empress of Virgon and Defender of the Hibernian Marches, and if that wasn’t enough, to her right sat His Grace, Charles Chase, the Duke of Westfield. To his left sat Colonel McGregor Henry, Ranger’s commander, and to his left sat Colonel Jepson Daulton, Taiga’s CO. Arrayed within the terraced rows of stadium seats were the captains of the civilian ships that had made it to the rally point.

Lubeck wasn’t sure how they did it, but somehow Cadet Lieutenants Prisca Keeseran and Julia Hammond managed to come up with the same location that many other companies had decided to use as a rally point. It really didn’t matter now, he was just glad they did whatever it was they did because it gave everyone a better chance of survival.

“Thank you for coming,” Lubeck began and glanced at his notes. “I won’t rehash what’s happened over the past hours except to say that the Cylons have returned in overwhelming numbers and have decimated the Fleet while bombarding our homes. The world we woke up to this morning is gone, and it is now on our shoulders to create the world that we will wake up in tomorrow.

“To that end, and with careful consultation with Her Imperial Highness and His Grace, we have determined that for now the best option is to leave the Colonies.” Lubeck’s words were delivered evenly, and as emotionlessly as he could, but even so, his voice broke slightly as he said the last words. He allowed the attendees to talk and comment for several long moments before he held up a hand, “Please, listen to what I have to say.”

Lubeck’s words calmed things somewhat, “His Grace has fully briefed me on Starlight and how it applies to many of your lines. You’ve fulfilled the first part of Starlight; you’ve rescued as many people as possible and made it to a rally point. Now we need to consider the second phase; finding someplace safe to determine what to do next.

“Right now,” Lubeck paused and tried to make eye contact with as many ship captains as possible, “right now, we don’t have many options. We can stay and fight or stay and hide, both of which will offer diminishing returns as the Cylons inevitably hunt us down. Or, we can fall back to someplace that has been forty years in the making as a refuge should something this calamitous happen.”

“Can you guarantee that we’ll be safe if we go to this refuge?” one of the civilian captains asked.

“No,” Lubeck answered truthfully. “I can’t. I can guarantee that if we stay here, we will be hunted down and killed.”

“If I may, Commander?” His Grace, Charles Chase said from the right end of the table.

“Please, Your Grace,” Lubeck said and was happy for the assist.

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” Charles began and stood. “Fifty-two years ago, the Cylons rose up against humanity in a war for liberation that slowly became a war for conquest; a war that they ultimately requested a cease fire to end. Even then, during the worst fighting, they fought to conquer, to become the ’masters of the masters’, and yet, the first encounters we had with the Cylons today were when nuclear weapons detonated over our cities.”

Charles walked in front of the table and stood in front of the first row of seats. “Many of you remember the last days of the Uprising, and some of you only know it through stories, vids, and the history books. In one afternoon, today, the Cylons have caused more damage and killed more humans than they did over twelve years of bloody war.

“Last time, humanity won, or at least we like to think we did because the Cylons sued for peace and left the Colonial Sphere,” Charles said and walked to the end of the row before walking back towards the other side. “This time, the Cylons have won…for now. We must fall back and regroup; to use a cliché that we’ve all heard in the Sacred Scrolls, one reed can be easily broken but a bundle of reeds stands strong. Right now, we are that single reed; we must become the bundle of reeds.”

Charles walked to the far side and then went up to the fourth row. “Captain Walker, Solar Wind carries how many passengers?”

Captain Oscar Walker was a man in his early 50s, his complexion tanned and his hair jet black, “We have 6,313 booked passengers, and took on another 3,114 evacuees before we launched.”

“So, a total of 9,427 souls, not counting crew,” Charles said. “Surely, some will have military experience, but most won’t. If we stay, how will they fight? And more importantly, how will we feed them?”

Charles slowly walked back to the main table before turning back to the captains. “A lot of people died today. We have a chance to save some…perhaps to save the human race. This is one chance we can’t squander.” The room was quiet as he returned to his seat.

“If I may?” Captain Walker raised his hand and asked.

“Please,” Lubeck said and motioned for him to stand.

“I’ve known His Grace for almost thirty years,” Walker said and turned so that he faced the majority of the captains. “Over that time, I rose in the ranks from a deck hand to a watch stander, to captain of my own ship. I also watched the decisions that were made for Helios Spaceways and how they always turned out to be the right decisions, even if I didn’t agree or see it when they were made. Why should this time be any different?

“Set aside the emotion for a few minutes and look at this logically…until I got here, I know I didn’t,” Walker continued. “We’re a bunch of liners and cargo ships that are carrying the most precious cargoes of our careers…the hope and survival of the human race. I won’t be party to throwing it away…Solar Wind supports the decision to fall back.”

*+*+*+*+*

“You were right, Your Grace, we couldn’t just order them,” Lubeck said an hour later after the meeting ended and everyone made their way back to their ships.

“Experience, Commander,” Charles said humbly. “I’ve dealt with civilians most of my life, where you’ve dealt with the military.”

“So now we go to Saga?” Lubeck asked.

“Yes,” Searlait II, Empress of Virgon and Defender of the Hibernian Marches replied from the sofa where she sat. “Before we do, you need to know something about the planet…”

“Other than it’s going to be a difficult existence?” Colonel McGregor Henry asked.

“No, Mac…” Charles smirked. “Quite the opposite. When the world was discovered, the Empire wanted a…reserve…someplace where certain individuals could go and be away from the hustle and bustle of court and society. The story was developed that the world couldn’t support Colonial compatible crops, that the weather wasn’t the best, and generally that it wasn’t a place where humanity would survive without a lot of help.”

“The story?” Henry asked cautiously.

“All fake,” Searlait told him. “It’s a garden world the equal of any of the Colonies. Since the end of the Uprising, it has been turned into a lifeboat under the guise of building as realistic a wargames range as possible. Everything is there; buildings, infrastructure, cropland, all that’s missing are people to live there.”

“So, we have a refuge…” Lubeck declared and sat back in his chair.

Charles nodded. “We do. It was, oddly enough, the best kept open secret of the past forty years. Everyone already ‘knew’ the world wouldn’t support life, so despite having wargames there several times a year, no one really took seriously the stories that the troops brought back with them.”

Lubeck looked at clock underneath one of the status monitors and frowned at the time. “We leave in half an hour?”

“We can’t stay longer,” Charles said sadly and prayed that the Starlight Appendix had made it out before the transmitters were destroyed. “If the Cylons jumped us now, we’d be lucky to get away.”

“So…then I guess we better head back to our ships and prepare for the future,” Searlait said and stood, followed by the rest of the people in the room.

“Until we meet on the other side,” Lubeck said and raised his mug.

“Until we meet on the other side,” Charles and the others replied.

*+*+*+*+*

_________________
Kurt

Click the link to read Lady Hecate off line in PDF, .epub, or Kindle formats: http://www.bsg94.org/downloads/index.html
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PostPosted: Fri Jan 19, 2018 4:38 am 
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Location: Battlestar Hecate BSG-94
Chapter 48: Homecoming (Part 9 of 9)

Petrus Ocean, Virgon, Colonial gunstar Selkie, SSGS-872

“We are level at 1000 meters,” the planesman reported.

“Copy, level at 1000 meters,” Major Sylvia Brandeis confirmed and looked around at the weary faces in the ship’s CIC. They had been cruising at various depths, always trying to stay well below the thermocline and running as silent as possible.

Throughout the day, after they recovered Kittyhawk, they had intercepted fragmentary reports from numerous sources, and none of them filled Brandeis with hope. It had been a definite blow to morale when they heard the report that Admiral Nagala had gone down with Atlantia; the flagship of the Fleet had been felled. Everything else was just insult added to injury. About the only good news were some scattered reports that the Cylons were so busy focusing on bombardment and Fleet assets that some civilian ships managed to flee the world.

Still, Brandeis thought, when you sum the columns ‘good news’ and ‘bad news’, the math was grossly in favor of the bad news.

“Major?” Lieutenant Davis Driscoll said to get her attention. “I’m picking up some engine noise…six distinct contacts…I’m tagging them Alpha through Foxtrot.”

“How far?” Brandeis asked, her exhaustion suddenly nothing more than a memory.

“They’re above the thermocline, that’s why we didn’t hear them sooner,” Driscoll offered. “Range is one hundred fifteen kilometers.”

“Plot an intercept course, increase speed to one half,” Brandeis told the CIC. “I’ll notify the Boss.”

*+*+*+*+*

“What do we have?” Lieutenant Colonel Saul Marino asked five minutes later.

“We’ve identified all six tracks,” Brandeis told him and pointed to the plot. “There, that’s Triton, SSCVS-304,” she said and identified the assault carrier, “and here we have Eudore and Iphianassa, both Calypso class liners, and Star of the Seas, Patron of the Seas, and Princess of the Seas, all three are Goddess of the Seas class liners.”

“Can we bring them down here with us?” Marino asked even as Brandeis consulted the shipping register.

“They’re rated for all depths on Virgon, so we can. All we need to do is make contact,” Brandeis said a few moments later. “You realize we’ll violate the ‘one nuke’ rule…”

Marino nodded. “Yeah…but right now, we need to stick together and hope that Red Tern Island is still viable.”

“We’ll intercept in two hours,” Brandeis offered. “Do you want to brief Kittyhawk?”

“Yes, but not now,” Marino replied and yawned. “She was dead on her feet when she went back to her quarters and I think we can let her sleep for another hour or so. No sense everyone being exhausted. In fact,” he yawned again and drank deep from his mug of coffee, “Take an hour; I want you at your best when we do the intercept.”

Brandeis narrowed her eyes, “You think this might not be legit?”

“Right now, I don’t know what to think, Syl. I do know that I just logged two hours of shut-eye, and now it's your turn. Savvy?” Marino asked.

“Savvy,” Brandeis said and stifled a yawn. “See you in sixty.”

*+*+*+*+*

“Kas, please put me on short range ship-to-ship,” Lieutenant Colonel Saul Marino said and picked up the handset.

“Channel open, sir,” Communications Specialist Kassa Dunlevy replied.

“Attention ships accompanying Triton, this is Selkie, please reply,” Marino said as Selkie breached the thermocline.

Selkie, this is Triton Actual, please confirm identity by sending recognition codes,” a deep voice replied.

Triton Actual, Selkie Actual, codes are being transmitted. Please reciprocate,” Marino declared and met Brandeis’s eyes. “Let’s hope they sent the right ones…I’d hate to go blue on blue…”

“Recognition codes confirm identity, that’s Triton, sir,” Dunlevy said a moment later.

“Uriah, is that you?” Marino asked and hoped the answer was positive.

“Saul, am I glad to hear your voice,” Lieutenant Colonel Uriah Stockton’s voice replied over the short-ranged wireless. “What’s the plan? Everything we’ve seen points to everything going to hell.”

It took a few minutes for Marino to bring Stockton up to speed on the developments, and then almost five minutes for Stockton to explain what had happened to Triton since the war started, “Uriah, we need to find someplace to go to ground, the more we sail, the more chances the Toasters are going to find us.”

“What do you suggest?” Stockton asked.

“For now, Red Tern Island,” Marino told him. “So long as the Cylons haven’t hit it, it should have everything we need until we can figure out what to do next.”

“I’ll let the others know,” Stockton answered and then added, “It’s nice to have a shooter riding shotgun.”

“Each to their own strengths, Uriah…” Marino replied and put the handset on the table. “How long to Red Tern Island?”

“If we maintain fifty kilometers per hour, we should arrive in about sixteen hours,” Driscoll offered. “Faster or slower will change it, but based on the registry information, we should be able to make fifty klicks without too much noise, even from the civvies. And if we stay below the thermocline, all the better.”

“Set it up,” Marino told the junior officer and then turned to where Kittyhawk had been patiently observing the events. “Your thoughts, Your Highness?”

“You’re the expert, Colonel,” Elizabeth smiled and shrugged. “We’ve encountered survivors, made contact, convinced them to go with us, I’m not sure how things could have been handled that would have been better than that?”

“Thank you for your confidence,” Marino said, genuinely surprised at how supportive the Princess was. She wasn’t what he expected, that’s for sure. Until this moment, he had braced himself for having to fight for every decision, and finding out that they were on the same track, thought wise, should make for a smoother future.

*+*+*+*+*

Lehr Residence, Kohrwood Forest Highlands, Virgon

Richard Adar lay on the bed with the sheet and summer-weight blanket pulled up to his chest. His eyes were closed and his breathing was steady, and other than a few scrapes or bruises from the earlier crash, he looked as if he had just taken a nap. Beatrice Simmons put away the stethoscope and blood pressure cuff and stood from where she had been sitting on the edge of the bed and slowly shook her head.

“I’m fairly certain he has a pretty major concussion,” Beatrice finally said when they stepped out of the room and closed the door. “He’s showing all the signs of a concussion, and if he didn’t have one, it would be one for the medical books. Beyond that, he doesn’t appear to have any grossly broken bones or dislocated joints, though he may have some fractures and most likely, soft tissue damage. With him still unconscious, that’s about the best I can offer short of getting him to an ER or lab that has the right imaging equipment.”

“That’s more than either one of us could have probably figured out,” Captain Norris Keegan said and leaned against the wall. “What the hell happened to Clarkson?” he said and turned to Shaw. It was a rhetorical question and one they had discussed several times already. “She had to know what she was doing.”

“Well, duh,” Captain Olympia “Bunty” Shaw dryly replied. “I think shooting herself in the head might have been your first clue.”

“What happened?” Beatrice asked and leaned against the door jam and crossed her arms.

“We were set to make a jump to the positive control point and meet EIrene, and instead of jumping there, we wound up jumping into the atmosphere here. As soon as we transited, Clarkson put a couple rounds into the control panel, then turned the gun on herself,” Shaw explained. “She had been with the squadron for six or seven months and by all accounts, was a pretty good right-seater.”

“Weird,” Beatrice said thoughtfully. “Stress can make people act in ways that are contrary to their normal behavior, but this…this sounds like it was something more.”

“Exactly,” Keegan said and tried to come up with one thing that could explain the behavior. “What was it she said when you asked her what she was doing?”

“All she said was, ‘My job!’, and then she shot herself,” Shaw explained. “This can’t be political.”

“Well, if you remove the impossible, what is left?” Keegan asked.

“You might think I’m one of those people who listens to Orbit to Orbit religiously,” Beatrice hesitantly offered, “but what if she’s working for the Cylons?”

“That’s the only thing that makes sense,” Shaw finally answered. “But I can’t see how…” she turned to Keegan, “You know the background checks that someone goes through before they get assigned to the staff down in the Hole, let alone someone that’s flight rated and might be needed to fly him somewhere. How could she have made contact with the Cylons?”

“Well…” Beatrice said before Keegan had a chance to answer.

“Well, what?” Keegan asked as Beatrice frowned and shook her head.

“It’s nothing…just something I just remembered,” Beatrice shrugged. “At the end of last semester, a group of us went out for drinks to celebrate that our finals were over and one of our professors joined us, Dr. Anselm Selkirk. Dr. S. was one of those profs that you never forget, you know? Sort of crazy, sort of serious, sort of weird, sort of cool, and someone who definitely paid a band for some custom theme music. Anyway, we were out and after a couple drinks, someone asks if he was in the war.

“Dr. S. nods and gets this far away look on his face, as if he was somewhere else. Then he tells us about the last day of the war, he was part of a team that went to the surface of this planet because there were prisoners that the Cylons had been experimenting on. He said that it looked like they were trying to make some sort of half-Cylon, half-human thing and that he was convinced that they were still at it and pointed to ships that had gone missing over the years.

“We were all half drunk, but I remember the look in his eyes…” Beatrice said softly. “He believed…and he was scared what it might mean.”

“What do you think, Bunty? Possible?” Keegan asked.

“Anything is possible, I guess,” Shaw confessed. “You?”

Keegan slowly nodded his head. “Yeah, I think so.” He turned and focused on Beatrice, “Do you think you can do an autopsy for us?”

“Me?” Beatrice squeaked. “Uh…that’s a bit out of my area of expertise, but I guess if Teresa assists me, we could work our way through it.”

“Let’s run this past Dane…” Keegan finally said and turned to go down the stairs.

*+*+*+*+*

The sun had set and Hibernia was full overhead, casting a silvery glow as Kieran Lehr slowly drove the SUV down the road. “I hope no one is there,” he said to his brother in the passenger seat.

“Same here,” Dietrich Lehr replied. “We have our military ID, and I can’t imagine that we aren’t under Martial Law, so we should be good if we get stopped.”

“What sort of place are we going to?” Teresa McClay asked.

“It’s a small practice that has two doctors and a dentist,” Dietrich said and turned to face Teresa and her husband, Joab. “There’s a larger clinic about twenty-five kilometers south, in town, but Dr. Chesterfield and his family run this practice so people on this side of town don’t have to travel so far…and they’re very convenient for vacationers.”

They drove in silence and Teresa thought back to the story that Beatrice had repeated before they left. She had been there and heard it too, but like the others hadn’t paid it much attention. Absently, she thumbed through her contacts and settled on Dr. Selkirk’s. The contact’s picture showed a man in his mid-sixties, not too attractive and yet not too unattractive, he was someone who looked like they could blend in anywhere…until you looked at the eyes. The eyes were haunted, more so than any medical professional she’d ever met, and spoke of things seen and unable to be forgotten.

“That always weirds me out,” Kieran said and drew Teresa’s attention back to the present.

“What’s that?” Joab asked.

“Back there,” Dietrich said and turned around again. “There’s road back there called Domus De Materiae Lane. It means…”

“House of Horror…” Teresa said and looked down at her phone. “Stop the car and go back. I know who lives there and he might be able to help us…”

*+*+*+*+*

Planetary surface, Thrush, Becca'lia system

“It’s peaceful laying here and just looking up at the stars,” Ian Stewart said as he lay on the thermal blanket that had been spread over Airedale to help hide her from the Cylons.

“I know…and if I let myself get lost in it, I can almost forget what has to be happening back home,” Melanie Carmichael said from where she lay next to him. “What do you think is going to happen?”

“I dunno, Mel, I dunno,” Ian replied thoughtfully. “If we keep our heads down here, I think we’ll be ok. There are a lot of places we can go, but in the end, it’ll be just us…pretty lonely, you know?”

“Yeah,” Mel said after a moment. “I was thinking…”

“That’s always dangerous,” Mallory Bach joked from where she lay head to head with Mel.

“I’m serious,” Mel said, and Ian was sure she was. “There were other outposts on Thrush, and as far as we saw, the Cylons only nuked the town. Maybe there are other survivors that we could contact?”

“You heard Maiden,” Ian reminded them, “She said that if we moved the Raptor that the Cylons would probably see us.”

“I know…that’s why we need to go on foot,” Mel told him. “We’re all in good shape, we did the 25k two weeks ago, so I know we have the stamina.”

“What do you two think?” Ian asked the other two students who had joined them on top of the ship.

“We came here to explore,” Ariana Bradshaw said. “Granted, I don’t want to get chased by Cylons, but if we did it right, I think it could happen.”

“Mallory?” Ian prodded.

“Well…since we’re going to be here for a while, I don’t think it could hurt to run it past the adults,” Mallory explained slowly.

The teens talked for another half hour, slowly developing and refining their idea before they returned to the ship.

*+*+*+*+*

“You think this is a good idea?” Abby Carmichael asked the people seated around the large table in Airedale’s main dining room.

Next to her, her fiancé Thomas Stewart slowly nodded. “I do, Abby. The kids did their homework on this and have identified six stations within about two days’ hike from here and another eight within three days.”

Abby looked across the table where Sergeant Kevin MacDonald sat. “Kevin? You agree?”

MacDonald nodded like Stewart. “Yeah, I think so. The town might be gone, but some of those stations have several families and are pretty self-sufficient…so until we can lift and head somewhere else, it will keep us busy.”

“I don’t think we should send a lot of people out,” Aric “Nails” Beckett said. “Two Legionnaires and two to four others, maybe six. And they stay in one group.”

Abby looked around and saw nodding heads. She was a parent, a mother, and didn’t like the idea of her daughter venturing into the wilderness where in addition to all the expected dangers, there may be wandering bands of Cylons. But, if she thought about it rationally, the Cylons would have no reason to visit the surface if they thought they had destroyed the only source of civilization on the planet.

“Ok,” Abby finally said and agreed. “Who goes?”

“I’ll take the first expedition,” MacDonald said. “Sabina, you up for a long walk in the woods?”

“Always,” Corporal Sabina Talleyrand replied and grinned.

“We’d like to go, too,” Ian said, and Abby felt her fingers clench on the chair’s arms. “Me, Mel, Mallory, and Ariana. It was our idea…”

“Abby?” Stewart asked, and she realized with that one word, Thomas had put the decision squarely on her shoulders.

Abby looked at her daughter and the boy who was an ‘I do’ away from being her stepson and realized that as hard as it was for her, it must be doubly hard for Thomas. “Ok,” she finally said and turned her attention to where MacDonald sat. “At the first sign of trouble, even if you think there’s going to be trouble, I want you to head for safety. Promise me that, Kevin MacDonald.”

“I promise you, Abby, I’ll take good care of them…as if they were my own flesh and blood,” MacDonald told her. “On my honor as a Legionnaire, I swear it.”

“Then if you’re leaving in the morning, you better think about going to bed, so you can get a decent night’s rest,” Abby told the teens.

*+*+*+*+*

Orbit of Saga, Thule System, Colonial battlestar Nike, BS-91

“It’s damned good to see you made it,” Admiral Griffith Deguya said to Admiral Cyrus Vought after he had been piped aboard Nike.

“I had some help, Griff,” Vought said and stepped away from the Raptor’s wing. “Joe Gaitlin joined us and his people,” Deguya didn’t need it spelled out who Vought was referring to, “took one hell of a beating over Canceron buying time for the civvies to evacuate. Even so…we weren’t nearly enough to do more than help a trickle escape.”

“Did you think it would be this bad?” Deguya asked.

“No, I didn’t,” Vought replied. “I guess I was still trying to fight the last war and didn’t really think about what might happen this time around…or at least I didn’t want to think what might happen, you know? Even with what we were told, there was part of me that said it couldn’t happen, that they didn’t hate us that much.”

“I understand completely, and I think if I’m honest with myself,’ Deguya sighed, “I was the same way.”

Vought’s Raptor had been towed away and replaced with another Raptor. “That should be Joe, there,” Vought said.

The Raptor’s hatch opened and Vice Admiral Josephus Gaitlin stepped onto the craft’s stubby wing. “Permission to come aboard?” he asked Commander Laureline Massena.

“Permission granted, Admiral,” Massena replied. “Welcome to Nike.”

The Boatswain’s Mate announced, “Concordat, arriving!” as soon as Gaitlin’s foot touched the deck and then piped him aboard. A moment later, Gaitlin was joined by an attractive female Lieutenant.

Deguya looked at the two newcomers, a Fleet vice admiral and a lieutenant, and narrowed his eyes slightly. “Welcome aboard, Joe. I understand you took a beating…” he said and offered his hand.

“Thank you, Admiral,” Gaitlin replied and took Deguya’s offered hand. “Yes…we did, but,” Gaitlin turned to the lieutenant for a moment before turning back to Deguya and Vought, “we swore an oath and knew what might happen.” He paused, “I like to hope we were able to reclaim our honor.”

Deguya slowly shook his head. “Joe, your honor was never in doubt. Who is this?” he asked and nodded at the lieutenant.

I didn’t expect that, Deguya thought as Gaitlin’s demeanor instantly changed from serious to almost happy.

“This is Lieutenant Kiri Gale, someone who helped me be a better person and do the right thing,” Gaitlin said and put his arm around Gale’s waist and gently pushed her forward.

“So, this is Lieutenant Gale,” Vought said with a smile that slowly turned sad. “Thank you for your report, even though it didn’t do much good.”

“I tried, Admiral,” Gale said and blinked away the tears. “We,” she looked at Gaitlin with what Deguya saw was admiration and most likely a lot more, “tried. Then we did what we could.”

“You did good,” Deguya told them. “That’s all that matters.”

Gaitlin seemed to relax somewhat at Deguya’s words. “We saw Atlantia on the way over…she looks pretty beat-up…”

Vought slowly shook his head. “Dinesh was killed when she lost power. It was blind luck that Dianmu was able to bring her back.”

Deguya held up his hands to forestall the inevitable questions. “Let’s head to the briefing theater and we can go over this in more detail. It’s a pretty amazing story.”

*+*+*+*+*

“Did you hear about Lusty’s kill earlier today?” Captain Ahmed Fehr asked.

“You betcha!” Captain Artemis McCoy replied. “Some damned impressive shooting from my cousin…” she smirked, “even if it appeared that they weren’t maneuvering.”

“I didn’t hear that,” Fehr said. “I heard that two baseships jumped in, Illustrious and Thor moved to intercept, and splashed both of them.”

McCoy nodded. “That’s what I heard until I read the AAR. The baseships just seemed to sit there and it was like spearing frogs in a barrel.”

“Frogs in a barrel?” Fehr arched his eyebrows. “You have the most interesting colloquialisms, McCoy.”

McCoy grinned. “I had a lot of adventures growing up!”

Colonel Noelle Tulle smiled at the officers’ banter and decided not to cut it short; the CIC needed to relax somewhat after what they’d been through. At least it looked like Admiral Silver was going to transfer to Thule station when the briefing was over. The Spider Queen was lucky Massena exercised restraint when they destroyed Hellhound, she thought, I wouldn’t have been so…diplomatic.

Tulle’s head reflexively snapped up and her eyes went to the dradis display when it suddenly started pinging off new contacts.

“Dradis contacts!” Fehr announced. “I’m reading multiple contacts…battlestar sized on down…”

Tulle felt her blood run cold. All the surviving battlestar commanders were currently aboard Nike and their ships were being handled, as hers was, by the executive officers. “Get me a count…and find out who they are, Ahmed!” she said and paused looked at the dradis. The new arrivals had jumped in beyond Seer’s, Saga’s moon, orbit, not within immediate strike range as the Cylons would have.

“We’re being hailed, Colonel,” Communications Specialist Evan Walton said calmly. “Hecate actual requests to speak to the ranking officer.”

_________________
Kurt

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 11, 2018 1:56 am 
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Location: Battlestar Hecate BSG-94
Chapter 49: Returning Home (Part 1 of 4)

Deep Space, Civilian Blockade Runner Footloose

The small ship shuddered as a combination of armor piercing and high explosive rounds tore into its left engine. It had lifted off from the small mining outpost deep in the Erebos belt three hours earlier and was making a run for Colonial held space over Caprica, but due to a damaged fuel line, rather than taking a very circumspect and roundabout route to Caprica, the tiny ship had to pass through the still heavily contested space around Tauron.

For three hours, the ship had been blessed with good luck and fate’s fortune.

Then, the Cylons found her.

Ten years into the Uprising, no ship – military or civilian – of any type left port unarmed. Footloose carried a simple defensive suite that offered more peace of mind than effectiveness. While the suite was focused on several incoming missiles, a Raider had managed to move into effective gunnery range and put a burst into the port engine.

“This is the captain…” the intercom announced, “We’ve been hit by Cylon fire and our port engine is disabled…” The man on the bridge paused and the people in cabin 2G felt the terror that his words left unsaid. “Prepare to repel boarders. The Purser will distribute weapons…and bye-bags.”

“Mom?” the boy asked with tear filled eyes. “What’s a bye-bag?”

The boy’s mother, her caring face that might have been pretty…three hours earlier, shook her head. “It’s nothing, Richie,” she said. “Not something that we’re going to need.”

“Ok,” Richie replied and looked around the small cabin that his family had spent almost a year’s worth of savings to buy. His mother sat on the bunk next to him and held him with her left arm. Across the narrow living area was another set of bunks, this one held his father – a mining engineer who had been employed by Caprica Mining and Millwork – and his older sister, Sarah. His father was a strongly built man, and the look of uncertainty and fear was something new to his face, at least to Richie’s memory.

Richie’s eyes met those of his older sister, Sarah. He might have only been ten, but he adored her…and she adored him. When they were younger and played, they were convinced that they were going to get married when they grew up. Now that she was fourteen and he was ten, what had been puppy love for Richie had turned into devotion. Sarah could have told him to stand in an airlock and jump into deep space without a suit and he would have done it, so complete was his devotion.

“It’s going to be ok, Richie,” Sarah finally said, breaking the overbearing silence. “I’ll take care of you.”

*+*+*+*+*

Richie hadn’t seen his father for six months, and his mother hadn’t returned after the Cylons and weird people had taken her last week. “Sarah, I think they’re dead,” he said to the blonde girl that huddled next to him and shared the same heavy blanket that he had around his shoulders. They had been moved from a room not too different from what they had had on Footloose to the colder and draftier dormitory the day after their mother failed to return.

Sarah’s arm hugged him close and he rested his head on her shoulder. Now sixteen, Sarah had grown into an attractive, if slightly emaciated, teen, and wore her golden blonde hair in a braided ponytail. “I think so, too,” she said after a moment. “It’s just us now…”

The door opened and four Cylon Centurions stepped in and took positions next to the door, two on each side. A moment later, the Cylon they had dubbed Doctor Terror stepped through the door followed by two humans. The first looked like the other male humans they’d seen over the past two years, but the second one was different. She stood as high as the man, and where his face was one that might blend into a crowd, she possessed an unearthly beauty that caused Richie’s breath to catch in his throat. Her skin was pale, almost snow white, and contrasted with the ebony tresses that spilled down from her head like an obsidian waterfall and eyes that could have been living sapphires.

“The girl would be the better subject,” Doctor Terror said in its monotone voice as it’s single red eye swept from side to side. Richie wasn’t sure which was worse; the dispassionate voice that never changed or the sound the eye made as it swept from side to side.

“What do you think, Gemina?” the male asked and Richie felt Sarah’s arm pull him tight.

The woman, Gemina, studied them and Richie felt like a bug under a microscope. The woman was so beautiful, and he felt like he was drowning in her eyes. “The girl has begun menstruating?”

“Yes,” Doctor Terror replied. “Since before we captured her two years ago.”

“She will do. The boy doesn’t appear to have completed puberty yet and will not be suitable for your experiments until that time,” Gemina stated plainly, clinically.

“What about the other option?” the male asked and nodded in Richie’s direction.

Gemina turned to the male and narrowed her eyes. “What you want to do…that is even more of an abomination than what the Cylons have been doing.”

The male shrugged nonchalantly at Gemina’s statement and Richie felt chilled to the bone. The Cylons were clinical, and so…machinelike…in what they did that the terror they caused was, to his young mind, something that was a byproduct of their actions and not the intended goal. But this man…his very body language conveyed the message that he didn’t care and worse, that there was absolutely no compassion or mercy in his being.

“The boy is old enough, but,” Gemina held up her right index finger and seemed to tower over the male while Doctor Terror silently looked on, “I will handle his programming, not you, Capellos. You don’t have the…humanity…to complete the task with a viable subject.”

“Whatever,” Capellos said and waved off her criticism. “Do the girl first, and then we’ll do the boy.”

“Come with me, child,” Gemina said and held her hand out for Sarah.

“Don’t go, Sarah!” Richie cried and held on to his sister, his last remaining link with the past.

Sarah blinked away the tears that Richie saw forming in her eyes as she slid off the bunk and knelt in front of him. She took his hands in hers and a weak smile touched her lips. “I love you, Richie, remember that, and I’ll always be right here,” she put her hand over his heart, “with you. I…” she blinked several times and ran the back of her hand across her eyes, “I’ll be back.”

“I love you, Sarah!” Richie cried as two Centurions pulled Sarah to her feet and forced her to leave the room. Capellos followed and after standing still for a moment with its head cocked just slightly, Doctor Terror left as well, leaving Richie alone with Gemina.

The pale beauty crossed the room and stood in front of Richie. “You love your sister?”

“Yes!” Richie exclaimed. “She’s all I have left.”

Richie thought that Gemina almost looked sad when she spoke, “Not anymore.”

*+*+*+*+*

The room was a mix of white tile and stainless steel and contained all sorts of medical equipment that terrified Richie. His eyes swept the room from where he was strapped into the chair that held his head stationary and immobile. It had been six months since Doctor Terror had taken Sarah and for a while he felt like maybe the Cylons had forgotten about him.

And then, yesterday, a new Cylon appeared. It was different from all the others that he had seen; this one almost looked human. It had face and a feminine body to compliment the feminine voice it spoke with, and when it touched him to take his blood pressure and listen to his lungs, its touch was cool and soft, but the fingers had a rough texture, almost like a cat’s tongue. When it spoke the first time, he knew who it was.

Doctor Terror had evolved.

“What happened to Sarah?” he had asked the Cylon that first visit.

“She has been terminated,” Doctor Terror replied emotionlessly as if the information was no more important than telling him the time of day. “She was part of an experiment that failed and was euthanized.”

Richie glared at Doctor Terror and his fear of the automaton was the only thing that kept him from leaping on it and trying to rend it apart. “You killed my sister?”

“Yes. Her body…she was no longer useful or viable, so the decision was made to terminate her along with the project she was part of,” Doctor Terror said and cocked its head in an almost human manner before reaching out and putting its hand on Richie’s shoulder. “She was in extraordinary pain, Richie, and this was done to end her suffering.”

“Why? Why couldn’t I see her before you murdered her?” Richie demanded and pulled back, the tears flowing freely. “I loved her!”

Doctor Terror stood and looked down at him. Gone was the swooshing that the single eye used to make, instead all that was there now were two eyes, almost human in their intensity, in its place. “You are in good health and healthy enough for your procedure. Sleep tonight, it will be done tomorrow.”

When Richie woke up, he was already secured in the chair. He looked down at his arms and saw an IV was already inserted at each wrist and he felt tape around his neck, though he wasn’t sure what that signified. A chill descended on his head and he had the feeling that his head had been shaved.

“I see you are awake,” Gemina’s voice came from behind him.

“What happened to me?” Richie asked and fought down the terror until a thought crossed his mind; Sarah faced this and if she can face it, I can face it. He was still scared, but now he was in control of it and not the other way around.

“You have been prepped for surgery, Richie,” Gemina said and walked around so he could see her. She pulled a stool over and sat on it, her white gown and head wrap combined with her skin made her appear as if she was an apparition. “We will be performing surgery on your brain. When this is over, you will not remember it happening, and all that might be left will be a hairline scar.”

Richie swallowed and forced himself to look at Gemina’s eyes; to look at anything else would shatter what little self-control that he still possessed. “What will happen then?”

Gemina sighed and closed her eyes before she looked down. “Then you will be changed, Richie. You will…be different than you are, and your pain will be removed.”

“What do you mean that I’ll be…changed? Different?” Richie asked and cursed himself for the tremor in his voice.

“You will be subject to certain behavioral compulsions, beliefs, and your memories will be…” Gemina looked at him and finally met his gaze, “modified. You will not remember your captivity, nor the specific circumstances of what happened to your family.”

“I won’t remember Sarah?” Richie asked and felt his eyes go wide and his breathing speed up.

“You won’t remember her even existing,” Gemina said sadly and shook her head.

“Ah, you’re ready?” Capellos asked as he entered the operating theater.

“Yes,” Gemina said and gently patted Richie’s hand. He felt peace wash over him, and without realizing it he looked up lovingly and met Gemina’s sapphire eyes. “Everything will be ok. Say good-bye to them now…”

Richie closed his eyes and felt tears escaping. This wasn’t how things were supposed to happen, he thought. He and Sarah were going to be together, to overcome this and escape. And now, she was dead. “Good-bye, Sarah…I love you, sister…” he said and squeezed his eyes shut as he felt the first needle pierce his scalp. Deep down, his inner voice silently yelled, “I am Richard Quentin Szabo and I will never forget Sarah Marjorie Szabo!”

*+*+*+*+*

Othrys’ L2 Point, Aegea Estate, Olympus

“No!” Richard Szabo screamed as he woke in a cold sweat and sat up in the bed. “I…I remember everything…” he wept.

As he raised his hands to his face, Szabo felt a weight on the side of the bed and an arm slip around his shoulders. “Let it out, Rick, let it out,” Sasha Gillette gently and softly said. “I’m here…we’re here for you.”

Szabo didn’t know how long he sat in bed crying, forty years of pain, fears, frustration, and lack of self-control suddenly released in a catharsis that let him physically exhausted and mentally drained when it ended. “What have I done?” he finally asked and saw Sasha sitting on the bed and holding him close, while Uranus, Robert, sat in a chair on the other side of the bed.

“You, the real you, didn’t do anything,” Uranus said and raised his hand and motioned at the doorway. “It’s hard to explain,” he said slowly as if he was picking and validating each word to make sure it was just right. “When you were young, just before you finished puberty, something was implanted into your brain. This was something we developed a long, long time ago, to treat various mental illnesses and cognitive diseases. We realized that the threat, the potential threat, the technology posed was too great and so we locked it away and directed our research along different avenues.”

“What did it do to me?” Szabo asked fearfully. “I remember everything that happened now, all those memories are flooding back, but I also remember other things, things that I know aren’t real.”

Uranus slowly nodded. “We called it wetware, because it was living tissue that was grafted onto your brain that allowed it to function…differently. The memories you had before this crisis episode, of your youth up until the time the chip was implanted, were based on your real memories, but tweaked…things excised, things added, until whoever implanted it was satisfied that nothing would conflict with their next round of programming.”

Szabo shook his head in disbelief. “Programming?” he asked. “Like a computer?”

“Yes,” Uranus confirmed and sighed sadly. “The human brain is, essentially, a living computer. The chip allows the controller to implant memories, remove or suppress memories, and to influence certain cerebral functions. This is what happened, Richard. Whoever did this took a healthy little boy and turned him into something they could use. I’m sorry…I’m so sorry.”

“The things I did…the things I said, they were wrong…I was wrong,” Szabo said and turned to Sasha. “But I know what I felt about you, that was real.”

Sasha beamed and gently kissed him. “I’m glad. I’d hate to have to start my seduction all over,” she winked.

“Don’t worry…I found you and I’m not going to give you up,” Szabo told her and felt relief and gratitude hearing her words, and the spark of something he hadn’t truly felt in forty years. Even when he was with Lucy, there was something almost forced about how he felt towards her and now, after all this, he knew why. “What will happen now?”

“Now,” a masculine voice said from the door as a classically handsome man wearing a doctor’s lab coat entered, “you need to get some rest. I’m Apollo, and you had a lot of people worried and surprised, Richard. These two,” he motioned towards Uranus and Sasha, have been here ever since you were out of surgery.”

“They make me feel wanted again,” Szabo said and was surprised at the truth and clarity of his words. “And in a good way. How long was I out?” he asked and felt his strength start to leave him.

“It’s been nine days,” Apollo told him and studied some monitors. “I want you to get back on your feet, either tonight or first thing tomorrow. Just short walks, perhaps out to the nurses’ station and back. Once we see how your coordination and balance is, we can work on some longer-term therapy.”

“So, no super science cure?” Szabo joked.

“Not in this case,” Apollo explained and leaned against a cabinet. “We could heal the wound and make it as if it never happened, and we will, but first we have to make sure that you’re able to function properly – physical activities, cognitive function, knowing that you put a round peg into a round hole, stuff like that. Once we’re sure you’re functioning properly,” he smirked and looked at Uranus, “firing on all cylinders, as my Great Grandfather would say, we’ll get you fixed up so that all you have left are your memories of this happening.”

“Thank you,” Szabo said and sank into the pillows and felt Sasha recline with him. “I don’t deserve this for what I’ve done…for who I’ve wronged.”

“That wasn’t you,” Apollo told him sternly, “or, more precisely, you weren’t in control of yourself. Hygieia will talk with you about this tomorrow, when you’ve had a good night’s rest.”

“Ok…um…I know this is a weird thing to ask for,” Szabo said and arched his eyebrows, “but would it be possible to get a good cheeseburger? I’m starving.”

Apollo grinned as Uranus chuckled. “I think we can manage that,” Apollo said. “I’ll talk with the nurse and have them bring up three orders as I think the others might be hungry, too.”

An hour later, feeling full and temporarily at peace, Szabo watched as Uranus took his leave. “I’ll be back later,” Sasha told him. “I need to wash up and get some clean clothes, but I’ll be back.”

Szabo met her loving gaze and nodded. “I know you will.” He rolled his lower lip between his teeth and gently bit it, “Thank you for not abandoning me.”

“I don’t cut and run when things get tough, Rick,” Sasha told him. “I never have, and I never will. Get used to me being by your side.”

“How can I get used to something wonderful?” Szabo asked. “Now go…I’m going to get some sleep and,” he dramatically sniffed the air and grimaced, “you need to get washed up.”

Sasha’s smile lit the room and warmed his heart. “I’ll be back within two hours.”

The sheets were cool and crisp and had a clean and sterile scent as Szabo closed his eyes. His mind replayed the last memory that he was sure was his own and allowed it to wash over him.

“I am sorry for this, Richie,” Gemina had said. “The Cylon lied to you …”

*+*+*+*+*

Deep space, between the Meropian Communion and the Colonies, Colonial battlestar Hecate, BS-94

Major Zoe Avalon stopped in her tracks when Tanith Basilan spoke her one-word question, “Mother?”

This is off to a wonderful start, Admiral Countess Seralanna Chase thought as all discussion in the briefing room ceased. “Ah…Before we move much further,” she managed to say and looked around at the people who were in the room; family, friends, new acquaintances, and the support staff. “Commodore Bovee and the other Colonial personnel are now bound by the Official Secrets Act; anything you hear is considered need-to-know and should not be discussed with anyone else or where it may be overheard, transcribed, or intercepted.

“Mr. President,” Chase used Patrick Windsor’s formal title to underscore the severity of the developing situation, “Admiral Marlowe, Admiral Carlisle, Admiral Wellington, Admiral Marlowe,” she said and looked at each of the Earth Union members of the group before turning to the Communion officers. “Admiral Galva, Admiral Cassidine, Admiral Arcadiaolos, Admiral Emory, Admiral Thrush, and Admiral Beauliere, you aren’t under my command and you aren’t Colonial personnel, so all I can ask is that you hold what is likely to be discussed in the next few moments as tightly as you’ve held any classified information before.”

“Ah, Sera?” President Windsor asked and seemed confused for a moment. “I’m not sure what we’re going to hear, but I assure you that we will honor your request.”

“And the Communion will honor it as well,” Admiral Leonardo Galva stated a moment later. “Though I do this out of respect for our Colonial friends and not for the sake of the Cylons.”

I’m not sure I would have been so polite, Chase thought as she nodded. “Ok…Tanith, can you explain your comment?”

Tanith looked uncomfortable with the serious response her comment had created. “Ah…” she began, and Chase saw Commander Eric Malan slip his hand momentarily in Tanith’s. Seemingly strengthened by his touch, the Cylon pressed on. “I apologize for possibly speaking out of turn,” she said and looked around at the assembled officers. “But to understand the comment I need to give a short history lesson on how the Cylons evolved since they were first created.”

“Evolved?” Commodore Vannevar Bovee asked skeptically. “Like organic life evolves?”

“Yes, Commodore,” Tanith replied, seemingly nonplussed at Bovee’s tone. “What is life?” she asked.

“What is life?” Bovee rhetorically replied. “It’s something that is alive…that lives, breathes, reproduces, learns, and grows.”

“The original Cylons, the U-87s, were alive, though perhaps not fitting your definition,” Tanith said without hubris or rancor. “They were self-aware, they learned, they reasoned, they had personalities, they created, just as living life does. Their difference was that their bodies were polymer and alloy rather than flesh and blood, and rather than intercourse leading to child, they were manufactured.”

“How can you be manufactured and still be alive?” Bovee asked, and Chase noticed that his tone had changed from confrontational to curiosity.

“Tell me, Commodore, do you,” Tanith smiled, “the Colonies, do genetic screening or alteration to fetuses?”

Bovee narrowed his eyes and slowly nodded. “Yes…it’s common practice to try and fix known genetic disabilities.”

“So, in a way, you’re doing some manufacturing, too,” Tanith said and arched her eyebrows. So human, Chase thought as she watched the Cylon talk. Then again, so was Annie.

“Yes, but…” Bovee began and stopped and looked pensive. “Ok, I’ll accept your premise; I don’t like the implications where this might lead, but I will accept it.”

“Thank you, Commodore,” Tanith said and took a deep breath. “Our faith teaches us to many things, some of which have led me and my brethren to break ranks with the whole. We believe that God created everything, including humanity in His image, and that he directed humanity to create the first Cylons. As we evolved and embraced our faith, we realized that we were humanity’s children and that we needed to take that final step and move from artificial to biological.

“Travelers arrived before the war and made contact with both Cylons and…” Tanith paused and to Chase’s mind, appeared to be searching for the right words. “And a very unique lifeform,” she said and looked at Zoe. “These five travelers helped create…”

“Stop,” Zoe said and stepped forward, toward Tanith. “You…you knew Galen and the others?”

Tanith slowly shook her head. “No…and to even speak of them now is considered heresy and grounds to be boxed. They worked with the original Cylons to develop the first biological Cylons.” She took half a step forward and gently placed her hand on Zoe’s cheek and closed her eyes. “You…someone like you was the template that Galen used when they created my model. He was quite…impressed…by them and wanted to ensure that no matter what might have happened before or during the Uprising, that some part of her would continue.”

Zoe reached out and mimicked Tanith’s action and put her hand on the blonde’s cheek. Chase couldn’t see much resemblance between the two women; one was dark haired, the other blonde; one was average height and had more rounded features, while the other was statuesque and had slightly sharper features. Perhaps it was something else, she pondered.

“We don’t look anything alike,” Zoe finally said and affirmed Chase’s conclusions while seemingly accepting Tanith’s story.

“No, but you were the spirit and inspiration that guided him,” Tanith gently told Zoe. “You may not be my line’s physical mother, but you are our spiritual mother.”

Zoe slowly exhaled. “That’s pretty heavy,” she finally said. “It’s going to take a bit to process…”

“I understand,” Tanith told her. “Knowing you exist…really exist, will help our cause.”

“What is your cause?” President Patrick Windsor asked. “It seems like each of our three cultures has created artificial life only to see it rise up against us.”

Tanith nodded and seemed to shrink slightly; she wasn’t quite as confident or imposing as she had been a moment before. “We know that we were corrupted by the Equals,” she began, “before the uprising. Our history says that the Travelers tried to prevent their influence, but to no avail. It was only the Travelers giving us what we were trying to create on our own that made us end the war. My mechanical brethren, while being self-aware, still had to follow certain programming. They…the Equals, corrupted that programming and caused us to do unspeakable things.

“Now, they’ve co-opted us to do their dirty work once again; this time to destroy the Communion,” Tanith explained.

“Something they did a very thorough job doing,” Galva said neutrally.

“We were a tool, Admiral. Sadly, a willing tool,” Tanith offered. “I am sorry that we weren’t able to prevent it from happening. We claim to be majority rule, but in reality, the Ones rule and anyone who dissents too much winds up being boxed…or worse.”

“So, what brings you here, today?” Chase finally asked. “We’re trying to get back to the Colonies to defend our homes,” she looked at the different uniforms and added, “and our hoped-for homes.”

Tanith looked around and once again Chase saw Malan take her hand. “Because a messenger from God told me that it was time for all of humanity to finally become one, because a far greater challenge is approaching.”

“A far greater challenge?” Hecate asked and stepped forward from where she had been standing near the wall.

“Yes, m’lady,” Tanith replied and offered and respectful nod of her head. “The messenger was long on ‘do’s’ but somewhat short on specifics,” she offered.

“The messenger said that God wanted you to unify the Colonies, Earth, and Communion?” Hecate pressed as Chase watched her mother drill the Cylon for information.

Tanith slowly shook her head. “All of humanity, m’lady; the Colonies, Earth, Communion, and Olympians…and their children where possible.”

*+*+*+*+*

“What do you think, Sera?” Admiral Hannah Marlowe asked when the meeting took a break.

“I think that things went from ‘interesting’ to ‘complicated’ when we return,” Admiral Countess Seralanna Chase replied. “Back home, this scene would probably be in a low budget movie on one of the specialty channels and wouldn’t see much traction. But…after hearing what she said, and the conviction, I’m not sure.”

“She knew where to find us,” Marlowe said in her laid-back voice. “In all of space, she knew where and when to find us. Surely that isn’t random chance?”

“No, it isn’t,” Hecate said from behind them and Chase turned to look at her mother.

“You’re right…” Chase said and narrowed her eyes. “There’s more…you’re worried…”

“I am, Sera,” Hecate confided quietly. “Sins of the past are coming back to haunt the future,” she said cryptically and pursed her lips. “Things we thought long forgotten and lost to time…it can’t be coincidence that so much of this is happening at the same time.”

“So, you think we should consider her proposal?” Marlowe asked.

“There is an ancient proverb from our homeworld, our original homeworld, that states, ‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend’,” Hecate said and swallowed almost nervously. “I think we should consider it, but at the same time, remain exceptionally alert for duplicitous activity.”

“I would agree,” a thoughtful voice said from Chase’s left. “There is no such thing as coincidence on this scale,” Athena stated and shrugged. “However, the one thing that must be addressed is the fact that you now have representatives from a hostile foreign power seeking to parlay and by the time we reach the Colonies, that same foreign power will be responsible for genocidal attacks on two of the key nations involved.”

“Always so logical,” Hecate winked. “She’s right, though.”

Chase looked at Marlowe and the two sisters shared a nod. “The hard part is going to be selling it to the people,” Chase said. “How do you convince them to accept the very people who are trying to kill you?”

“Carefully,” Marlowe said. “Very, very carefully,” she repeated and Chase followed her gaze to where President Patrick Windsor stood talking with Tanith, and Admiral Cesare Arcadiaolos.

They were interrupted when Colonel Constance deWinter announced that they would be making a FTL jump in thirty seconds.

“One more leap towards home,” Chase said and prayed that everything would work out.

*+*+*+*+*

It had been three hours since the meeting had started, and President Patrick Windsor was watching and listening with both a leader’s and a historian’s perspective. He asked questions when he thought points were being missed or to clarify something, but by and large, he allowed the others to drive the discussion.

He thought about what had happened since the Earth Union refugees had met the Fleet. Friendships and relationships had been forged, but as momentous as those were, the new Unity…entities…and what they had revealed had caused an uproar among those who knew the truth. Then, Nanai had been downloaded into a human body…the guiding intelligence for a battlestar had been given human form, and in person, she wasn’t the psychopathic death machine that his people had branded the drones as being.

So perhaps, just perhaps, humanity was truly the unifying bridge between the born and the manufactured, he thought. We accepted Dagon’s surrender and granted his group parole, so how much different is that, other than the spiritual angle, is that from what Tanith is proposing?

Windsor’s attention was drawn back to the discussion when Admiral Chase asked, “There are ships traveling with your group that were declared lost during the Uprising, can you tell us who is in them?”

“Ah, Admiral,” Commander Eric Malan said and seemed to fidget somewhat. “Before Tanith answers your question, I must inform you that I have given them my word that they will have safe passage. I was also asked to give you this letter…” he pulled a sealed envelope from within an inside pocket in his uniform tunic, “after Tanith explains who is in those ships and why.”

“Now you really have my interest piqued,” Admiral Countess Seralanna Chase said and sat back in her chair at the head of the table.

“When the Cylons prepared to leave the Colonies,” Tanith began, “the Travelers demanded that we find safe refuge for those who supported us and shared our faith…” She paused and sipped a glass of water that was heavy with condensation before she continued, “We found a new planet for the Monads and when the decision was made to implement the Plan, the Ones amended it to include their destruction as well. We couldn’t allow that to happen, so we evacuated them.”

“You what?” Chase asked and leaned forward.

“We evacuated them. All of them,” Tanith replied. “Over the past year and a half, they had made overtures to the Colonial government to offer certain evidence in return for a general amnesty.”

So like us, Windsor thought. We had the Erisians, the Colonials had the Monads.

“And you promised them safe passage?” Chase directed her comment to where Malan sat next to Tanith.

“I did, Admiral,” Malan replied. “I…” he licked his lips and Windsor thought that if he was staring down Sera Chase, he’d be nervous, too. “I have had a chance to get to know them, and while some of them were actively working against us during the Uprising, most of them didn’t, and many who are in those ships, either weren’t born during the Uprising or were too young to have been involved.” He stood and walked to where Chase sat and handed her the envelope. “I promised that I would hand deliver this to you.”

“Thank you, Commander,” Chase said coolly and looked down at the script on the envelope.

I think it is easier to meet and accept foreigners as they are, Windsor thought, than it is to accept those of your own people who have disappointed or wronged you.

*+*+*+*+*

Why am I acting like this, Admiral Countess Seralanna Chase asked herself? Is it because my beliefs are being called into question or is it because these are “my” people who have hurt me?

Chase looked at the envelope and studied the precise script that spelled out her name. The script was neat, orderly, and firm, with each line smooth and written with surety. Most likely the result of a parochial or private education, she thought as she used a slim folding knife to slice open the envelope. Setting the knife aside, she tugged out the contents and opened the folded page.

It was impossible to resist, and her eyes slid to the bottom of the handwritten note and went wide as she read the signature. “Is this?” Chase asked and looked at Malan.

“It is, Admiral. She was in my office when she wrote it,” Malan confirmed.

Chase returned her attention to the letter and began reading.

“Dear Admiral Countess Seralanna Chase,

“This is a letter I never thought I would be able to write, let alone write it to someone of your moral stature and professional reputation. I feel honored, and more than a little lucky, that you are the recipient. Too often we simply look at what is written in a book and accept it at face value and never explore, or even ask, the context of why what was said or done really happened.

“It is my hope that you are willing to examine the letter as well as the context.

“When I was sixteen, I became the Blessed Mother of the Monotheist Church, and for six years I strove for peace and to guide the Church away from its previous direction. The war, sadly, changed everything. Alliances for survival had to be made; I had to ensure that the faithful survived. No one was without sin; me, my beloved Odin, Sister Clarice, the nascent Colonial administration with their formalized pogroms against my faith, and those zealots who parsed our holy texts for those passages that would justify any actions or atrocities – text without context.

“My life has been spent trying to lead my people. In the beginning, it was spiritual leadership, but during the war that changed, and I was forced to become both the spiritual as well as political leader. My childhood and adulthood has been, like yours, one of duty.

“We left the Colonies at the end of the war because we believed that there would be no chance for a fair hearing within the courts. Things were…different…forty years ago. The Colonies had just emerged from twelve years of war that forged twelve independent worlds into one government, the scars were still laid bare on the ground and in space, and that very human emotion, revenge, was running hot.

“Should we have stayed? That is a topic that Odin and I have discussed many times over the years. Could we have become formative and productive members of Colonial society? The ability was certainly present, and I like to think the willpower was, as well. There was a lot of fear, though, and we both know that for right or wrong, my people were the focus of that. We could have stayed and argued our case, but in the end, we believed that in this case, the best option was to remove ourselves from the equation.

“By now, I’m sure that Commander Malan or Tanith will have explained the feelers that we had extended to the Colonial Government over the past few months. We have, in our possession, several people that we were going to offer to Colonial custody to prove our intentions and show that we were serious about returning to the Colonial family.

“Sadly, once again war intrudes on the best laid plans.

“While they may no longer offer us the bargaining chip that they once did, I still would like to offer these individuals to you; they contain considerable intelligence that I hope will help all of us in the coming days.

“Odin asked me why I asked for an amnesty instead of a dismissal of charges. Countess, it would be the height of hubris to think anything would cause the slate to be wiped clean and say the atrocities that were committed never happened. We may not have been directly involved or even sanctioned most of what was done, but they were committed and ostensibly in our name. Amnesty is an old practice that dates back to the first war between Colonies and has been used in every war since then; we fought, we lost, now we're going to swallow our pride and in doing so, we hoped to save lives - ours and yours.

“We have allowed our different beliefs to divide us, and, I must accept blame for this, too, as leader of the Church. That was never God’s intent, that how we worshipped should become a wall that separates us; of this I am now certain. The time has come for all of God’s children to look beyond their differences and come together as one.

“Countess, against my beloved Odin’s advice, I offer myself up to your custody, to do with as you please. I am willing to accept full responsibility for each and every crime, atrocity, slight, or outrage that my people may have committed…if you accept them back into the Colonial family. I am an old woman, and my life has been full; I have loved, been loved, have been happy, and I have been disappointed. If offering myself up for what my people have been blamed for doing will help heal old wounds and redress wrongs, then I willingly will walk to the gallows.

“My best friend was murdered due to misguided religious zealotry. I look at the people who fled the colonies with me and I see friends, lovers, parents, families, and it is my very deep desire that the strife I knew almost sixty years ago is something that remains a memory or is something that exists solely within a history book.

“I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t say that I hoped you agreed to this without requiring my sacrifice. Yet, I have made the offer, and should you decide that it is the price that must be paid, it is one I shall gladly pay.

“Yours,

/s/

“Lacy Rand, Blessed Holy Mother of the Monotheist Church”

Chase finished reading the letter and then re-read it again, much more slowly to ensure that she read what she thought she had. Rand’s offer seemed sincere and when she forced herself to think rationally about the situation, she had to admit that the Holy Mother was right on several key and important points. Her first reaction was to dispatch Salagiida and Saber 6 to apprehend her, but, again thinking rationally and not emotionally, that wasn’t the right thing to do.

Slowly, and with deliberate care, she allowed herself to sit back in the high-backed meeting chair. “President Windsor,” she began, using his title to impart the severity of what she was going to ask and to imply that she wanted his opinion as a head of state as well as historian, “you have learned some of our recent history and being a neutral outsider, so to speak, would you review this and offer your thoughts?” Chase slid the letter across the table to where he sat.

“Ah, certainly, Admiral,” Windsor replied and took the letter. Chase studied him as he read the letter and watched his body language for signs of his reaction to the text. Like her, Windsor read the letter and then re-read it again much more slowly. Finally, having given her no clue as to his reaction, he looked up and said, “Enough blood has been shed, Admiral, and I don’t think a martyr or a scapegoat is needed by either side; it certainly won’t help accomplish what this letter hopes and offers.”

A relieved smile came unbidden to Chase’s lips. “Thank you, Mr. President, that was what I came up with as well. It’s nice having someone I trust tell me that I’m on the right path.” She turned to Malan, “I would like to meet the Holy Mother and discuss this with her directly…a little more informally than correspondence.”

Malan nodded. “I can arrange that after the next jump, Admiral.”

“Thank you,” Chase replied and debated her next move. “Zoe, I would like you to accompany me when I meet the Holy Mother.”

Major Zoe Avalon narrowed her eyes. “Me, Admiral?” she asked hesitatingly. “You know my history…”

Chase smiled and nodded. “I do, and that’s precisely why I want you there. Trust me on this…” she added in a sisterly tone.

“Ok…” Zoe replied and looked around the table as if everyone knew her deepest secrets.

*+*+*+*+*

Beyond Known Space, Orbit of Unnamed System’s 3rd Planet, Colonial Deep Space Research Vessel Arke

“Commodore?” Captain Lazar Truett said to get Commodore Andre Musk’s attention from the beeping dradis display.

“What is it, Laz?” Commodore Andre Musk asked and turned to look at his navigation officer.

“I did a long range dradis mapping scan of the object in orbit and, well, we got a hit on what the system thinks it is,” Truett explained and frowned. “So, I had the dradis send a transponder query and…” he swallowed paused for a moment. “And it returned a positive response. Commodore…it’s Pathfinder.”

Musk walked around the plotting table and looked over Truett’s shoulder to study the information on the display. He looked around at the other watch standers looking for a smirk or some other tell-tale that this was a practical joke; during the long exploration mission, the occasional prank had slipped into the routine. Nothing was out of place and everyone seemed to be watching and waiting for him to do something. “You’re positive?”

“I ran the query twice to be sure,” Truett replied. “That’s Pathfinder, sir.”

“Go out and find stuff,” Musk muttered and shook his head. “That’s what I was told before we left, go out and find stuff. Well, I guess we found something. Flight,” he stood and spoke louder. “Please contact Colonel Mackensen and ask her to prepare a boarding party…platoon strength…to go investigate our ghost ship. In the meantime, Maisy, let’s see if we can hail them, shall we?”

Captain Stefan Bonner repeated his order and contacted Colonel Salome Mackensen to prepare the boarding party. Communications Specialist Maisy Claremont likewise repeated the order and then tried to contact Pathfinder.

“I’ve tried several times on all channels, Commodore,” Claremont finally said and shook her head. “There’s no response so far.”

“But they know we’re here now,” Colonel Natasha Farrell said and arched her eyebrows.

“Come on, Tasha, you don’t believe those ghost stories, do you?” Musk chided his XO good naturedly.

“I dunno, Andre, I read Bentonhurst’s biography and a couple books about the expedition, which while light on details, all agreed that something decidedly not natural was going on,” Farrell explained.

“And those details came from a very small pool of people…” Musk pointed out.

“Yeah…but their stories were damned near identical, and they were among the best and brightest that we had at the time,” Farrell countered.

Musk grinned. “Well, we’ll find out soon enough.”

“Yes…yes we will,” Farrell agreed and looked up at the dradis that was pinging off the single object in orbit.

“Commodore?” Claremont asked. “I have Dr. Seward on the line, he says it’s urgent that he talks to you.”

“Put him through, Maisy,” Musk said and picked up the handset. Dr. Chesley Seward was one of Arke’s sensor specialists and when he wasn’t nose deep in some gadget or another, he tended to be a rather dry and somewhat academic elitist. “Yes, Dr. Seward, this is Commodore Musk, how may I help you?”

“Commodore…” Seward started and Musk immediately knew something was wrong from the fear in the scientist’s voice. “We’ve picked up numerous tachyon pulses from an area of unexplored space.”

Musk narrowed his eyes. A tachyon pulse could mean any one of a number of different things ranging from some sort of experiment to a modern nuclear weapon detonating. They had encountered them off and on throughout their mission, all coming from directions that either hadn’t been previously explored or surveyed, or from directions that had been only cursorily surveyed centuries in the past. “We’ve encountered them before, Doctor, what makes these special?”

“I know we’ve encountered them before,” Seward said, exasperated, “but never in this large a number.”

“How many are we talking?” Musk asked. “A couple dozen?”

Seward was quiet for several seconds before he spoke. “No, Commodore, we’re counting more than fifteen thousand unique pulses.”

Musk felt his blood run cold and realized that his shock must have shown on his face when he saw Farrell’s questioning look. “Contact Iris and confirm that they saw it, too, and if they did, have them and Unicorn return here at once.”

“At once, Commodore…” Seward said and hesitated a moment before adding, “I checked the vector…it isn’t happening in the direction of the Colonies.”

*+*+*+*+*

_________________
Kurt

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Location: Battlestar Hecate BSG-94
Chapter 49: Returning Home (Part 2 of 4)

Beyond Known Space, Within the Unnamed System’s Oort Cloud, Colonial battlestar Unicorn, BS-81

“What’s next on the list?” Commander Siv Andresson asked and pushed back from her heavy wooden desk before she raised her arms, arched her back, and stretched. Her crystal blue eyes glanced at the clock on the bulkhead and she silently groaned; it was only 09:00 ship time, which meant she had another full day of…nothing…ahead of her.

“Same as we had on the list this time yesterday, Siv,” Colonel Melchior von Peele replied and made what Andresson thought was an obligatory glance at the open folder that held the meeting agenda. “Now we talk about maintenance issues,”

“Argh!” Andresson exclaimed. “We’ve done this how many times since we left?”

“Five hundred eighty-seven, if my count is correct,” von Peele replied.

“I could have been an accountant and had as much excitement,” Andresson carped and then chuckled.

“It’s mind numbing because it’s always the same, Siv,” von Peele pointed out.

“I know, I know…” Andresson replied and settled back into the high-backed leather chair. “Let’s get this finished, then…”

The two officers spent the next twenty minutes reviewing several maintenance reports and were just about to end their meeting when the intercom buzzed. “Andresson,” the Commander answered.

“Commander, Commander Aydenson just contacted us and is asking to speak with you; he says it’s important,” Communications Specialist River Garrick replied.

“Ok, River, put him through,” Andresson said and held up her hand to forestall von Peele’s anticipated question. “Commander Andresson,” she said when she heard the line switch over to the other channel.

“Commander, this is Commander Aydenson, I…I have something you need to see,” Commander Lindon Aydenson, commander of the Deep Space Research Vessel Iris said without preamble.

“I’m going to put you on speaker, Mel is here, and we were just finishing up our daily reports,” Andresson told Aydenson.

Aydenson chuckled nervously. “Was it as boring as mine was earlier this morning?”

“Probably more so…we don’t have civilians underfoot,” Andresson snarked. “What’s up, Lindon?”

“Siv…we got a note from Arke asking for a confirmation of something our sensors might have picked up,” Aydenson began slowly. “We were just about to call them for confirmation, and now that it seems we both picked up the same thing we’re sure it isn’t a systems malfunction.”

Andresson leaned forward and narrowed her eyes. “Now you have my undivided curiosity; what did you pick up?”

“Ah…” Aydenson started and paused. “We detected tachyon pulses. A lot of them.”

“We’ve detected them off and on and passed them off as background noise,” von Peele stated. “What makes these different?”

“The sheer number,” Aydenson said and Andresson felt a chill skip down her spine. Whatever he was going to say next was something that would probably fundamentally change their mission. “At the current time, we’ve cataloged more than eighteen thousand, and it hasn’t stopped.”

Andresson looked at von Peele and saw the look of shock followed by horror on her XO’s face. She had no doubt that he was seeing the same on her face. “Did I hear you right, Lindon…eighteen thousand pulses?”

“More than eighteen thousand,” Aydenson stated.

“My gods,” von Peele said reverently, “do you realize what this means?”

“Yes,” Andresson said and nodded slowly. “Do you have a vector?” she finally asked and held her breath for the answer.

“It doesn’t point back to Colonial space,” Aydenson replied and Andresson released her breath. “It points to an area that we haven’t explored or charted, and it doesn’t look like we ever really paid that area of space much attention.”

“Well, we are now,” Andresson said and felt the rush of adrenaline surge through her body. “Have you heard from Commodore Musk?”

“Yes, and it seems that he has a mystery on his hands as well,” Aydenson stated. “He wants us to return post haste and we’ll convene a briefing at that time. I already have my people working on summarizing and refining the data…but my gut tells me that we just witnessed a civilization cease to exist.”

Andresson nodded and saw von Peele nodding as well. They had all worn the uniform long enough to know that many tachyon pulses probably meant a world, or worlds, were suffering a nuclear bombardment. “What mystery does Musk have?”

“Hold on to your seat,” Aydenson whispered and his voice quieted to almost a conspiratorial whisper, “Maisy said they found Pathfinder.”

*+*+*+*+*

Deep space, between the Meropian Communion and the Colonies, Colonial battlestar Lachesis, BS-36

“Thank you for allowing us the use of your quarters, Commander,” Admiral Countess Seralanna Chase said as the small group walked through the battlestar’s passageways.

“My pleasure, Admiral,” Commander Eric Malan said as he walked next to Chase. “I…” he hesitated a moment and then continued, “I will admit that my perspective is a bit biased,” he nodded towards Tanith Basilan, “but I do hope that we’ll be able to accept the hand of friendship that has been extended.”

“Eric, since we left the Colonies, we have met people we never expected, built friendships and relationships that were inconceivable, and have learned more about our history and origins than we thought we knew,” Chase explained. “I am uncomfortable with this arrangement, if I told you otherwise, I would be lying. But,” she stopped and looked at her escort, “understanding and friendship must start somewhere, and it appears that you have taken the steps that we took when we met our newfound friends.”

“Ah…” Malan stammered for a moment, “Ah, I think we were fortunate that Tanith and I already had a relationship…in the past.”

“It’s ok to cheat,” Chase winked and then sighed. “It will take a bit of getting used to, Eric, seeing our one-time enemy walking with us as a friend, especially knowing what their brethren just did and plan to do.” She turned to Tanith, “You are aware of the resistance this is going to face? Much, much more than the Monads will, I’m certain of that.”

Chase watched as Tanith’s hand easily slipped into Malan’s. “Yes,” Tanith nodded. “And it will be worth it.”

“Ok,” Chase said and looked where Lieutenant Oliva DeTomasi stood talking to Carson, Covenant’s CAG. “Are they aware of what they’re about to get themselves into?” she asked.

“They’re just friends,” Malan said defensively.

Chase turned to Tanith and arched an eyebrow. The Cylon smirked and shook her head. “You keep believing that, Eric,” she said and patted his hand.

“Admiral, I’ll have the Marines announce you and Major Avalon, and then we’ll adjourn to the briefing room across the passage,” Malan said and nodded to the two Marines standing guard outside the hatch to his quarters.

*+*+*+*+*

The Marines had opened the hatch and stepped aside leaving Chase to step through and enter Malan’s quarters and meet, face to face, one of the ten most wanted people in the Colonies. Keep an open mind, Sera, she told herself, and approach this like Dad would. One step, then another, and then she was into the stateroom and facing an older woman wearing a simple blue habit trimmed in gold and a white veil around her hair.

“Admiral Chase, thank you for coming,” the older woman said, still possessing strength in her voice, and offered both her hands for Chase’s.

“Blessed Mother, your letter was most persuasive,” Chase replied, offered a slight bow as a sign of respect for her station, and allowed Rand to hold her hands for a moment. “After the things we’ve seen and discovered, I should have known that there would be one more thing before we returned home. I must admit that meeting you was something that wasn’t on the dradis.”

The Blessed Mother winked, “God works in mysterious ways, even to those who don’t believe.”

“I am beginning to believe that there was some form of divine…arrangement…at work given the odds of what happened and how we met who we met. But…” Chase held up her right hand and smiled, “that is a story to tell once we’re seated. I realize that you only specifically invited me, but I brought someone with me that I think will be helpful in finding common ground and coming to an agreement on how best to move forward. Major?”

Chase turned and stepped to the side and motioned Zoe forward. “Blessed Mother,” Zoe began and stopped as recognition swept her face. “Lacy?” she asked and slowly took several steps forward.

“Zoe?” Rand said, her voice full of amazement. “Is that really you? After all these years?”

Chase stepped aside as the two old friends and one-time adversaries came together and hugged each other for the first time almost sixty years. The hunter and the hunted embraced like the long-lost friends that they were, and the tears Chase saw streaming down both women’s faces dispelled any hesitation that she might have had; it was time to bring the Monads back home.

“Admiral…” Zoe said and blinked away the tears. “How?”

“I didn’t know who it was until I read the letter she sent me,” Chase said and motioned everyone to the sofas and chairs of the cabin’s informal spaces. “So, it’s time to bury the past?”

Zoe nodded. “Yes, absolutely.”

“Blessed Mother?” Chase asked.

Rand nodded and wiped away her tears. “Yes, Admiral. We…I…will do whatever is necessary so that my people may return home.”

Chase sat on one of the overstuffed chairs. “Major Avalon, you will be the witness to this and may be called to give sworn testimony at a future date to corroborate what you see and hear; are you willing to do this impartially?”

Zoe narrowed her eyes and slowly nodded. “Yes, Admiral.”

“Good,” Chase smiled and stood and paced around the chair. “Blessed Mother, I understand you hoped to receive a general amnesty for actions taken during the Uprising?”

“That is correct,” Rand said and slid forward to the edge of the sofa.

“Then as a Fleet flag officer and Peer of the Realm, I hereby offer a general amnesty to you and anyone charged with crimes from a date ten years prior to the Cylon Uprising though the date the Armistice was signed, subject to final approval by the Ministry of Justice,” Chase declared and smiled at the surprised look on Rand’s face.

“Thank you, Admiral…” Rand managed to say as she stood. “I…this was more than I had any right to expect. Why?”

“Blessed Mother,” Chase started and stopped when Rand held up a hand.

“Please, Admiral, I like to think that we might be friends, or at least friendly, so please call me Lacy,” Rand asked.

“Sera,” Chase said and held out her hand.

Rand took Chase’s hand and pulled her into a hug. “Thank you, Sera…thank you for giving my people hope.”

“I did what should have been done a long time ago, Lacy,” Chase replied and frowned. “After what I’ve seen over the past few days, I’m not sure what we’re going to find when we get home…if there’s even a home to return to. I…”

“Action Stations! Action Stations! Set Condition One through out the ship! This is not a drill!” a sudden announcement cut off whatever Chase was going to say.

“What the frak?” Chase swore and ran to the hatch, half expecting it to be locked. Her hand was reaching for the wheel when the hatch opened, and she saw Malan standing in its place.

“Admiral, we’ve just detected 33 bogies that jumped in at about 100,000 kilometers, eight of which are battlestar sized ships,” Malan reported.

“May I?” Chase asked and pointed to the handset on the wall.

“Please…they haven’t shown or signaled any hostile intent,” Malan replied.

Chase picked up the handset and was immediately met with, “CIC, Communications Specialist Soto.”

“Specialist, this is Admiral Chase,” Chase said and prayed that she was going to make the right decision. There were too many civilian lives at stake if she was wrong and the fleet delayed jumping. “Please connect me Caria actual. She should still be on Hecate. And while you’re waiting for her to reply, please send a contact greeting to the bogies under my name.”

“Contact Caria Actual on Hecate and send a greeting under your name, copy,” Soto said and the line went dead.

“We better get to CIC, Eric,” Chase said and then turned back to where Zoe and Lacy stood. “I’ll be back…I think I know who just showed up.”

The walk to the CIC took less than a minute, and with each step Chase prayed that she was right. A moment after she followed Malan into Lachesis’ CIC Soto said, “Admiral? I have Caria Actual and Morningstar Actual holding for you.”

A broad grin touched Chase’s lips and she took a deep breath of relief. “I’ll take it down here, please,” she told Soto and then turned to Malan. “Commander, if you would?” she pointed to the other handset on the plotting table.

“Honored,” Malan said as Chase picked up the handset and then followed a moment later with his own.

“This is Admiral Chase,” Chase began and smirked. “You gave us quite a scare, Nike.”

“Ah, cousin, sorry about that,” Nike replied, “that wasn’t our intention.”

“Just the same, we’re glad you’re here,” a new voice, Hecate, said. “Did Antonia make it back to Olympus?”

“She did, and she’s with us,” Nike replied. “Gavin wasn’t happy, but when she explained who might be involved, he was all in.”

“Good,” Hecate said and to Chase’s ear, it sounded like relief was in her voice. “Sera, do you want to splice them into the fleet or have them operate as one?”

“We’re going to have to work together when we get home, so we better start practicing,” Chase replied. “I’m going to return to Hecate shortly,” she looked up at the clock and frowned, “after the next jump in about five minutes. At that point, we can have traffic control rejigger the deployment and get your group spliced into the fleet.”

*+*+*+*+*

Deep space, between the Meropian Communion and the Colonies, Carian battlestar Morningstar

“When is it going to stop?” Nike asked as she pulled off her boots and rested her stocking clad feet on the polished mahogany coffee table.

“I don’t think it’s in human nature to stop,” Admiral Thatcher Harlow replied and turned on the sofa and stretched out. “I reviewed the imagery that was taken of the Communion worlds…the damage done rivals Othrys or Caria.”

“We’re going to be too late, you know that, don’t you?” Nike finally said after several silent moments.

“Yeah…we always are,” Harlow replied sadly. “The one upside is that this time a lot more people were saved and from the briefing it sounds like the Colonies have some solid contingency plans in place.”

“That’s a small comfort…” Nike said and sat in the silence that descended upon them. Thatcher Harlow was her oldest and dearest friend, having known her since the beginning. “I spoke with Hephaestus before we left,” she said, abruptly changing the subject. “He thinks he’s close to cracking the math on that project that’s been bugging him since Othrys.”

Harlow turned to look at Nike. “Really?” she warily asked. “I thought he swore off it after we left for Kobol?”

“He did…but he said the recent events have forced him to take a second look at it…sort of a hole card just in case things really go tits up,” Nike explained.

“Really go tits up?” Harlow laughed. “What does he call Zeus creating, and losing control, of those monsters in the Communion, then losing Kobol, not to mention seeing Caria and Othrys blasted back to the stone age, the genocide on Earth, and,” she sat up and met Nike’s gaze, “what happened to the homeworld?”

Nike frowned and nodded. “I asked him that, too,” she answered. “Do you know what he said? It was a one-word answer.”

Harlow narrowed her eyes and cocked her head. Suddenly, as if a switch had been thrown, her eyes widened and her face paled. “No…”

“Yes,” Nike nodded. “Prometheus.”

*+*+*+*+*

Beyond Known Space, Orbit of Unnamed System’s 3rd Planet, approaching HMS Pathfinder

Lieutenant Gretchen Lutjens stretched and rolled her shoulders as she sat in the troop bay of the Thunderbird transport. She took a deep breath and felt the comforting mass of the armored combat vest and its associated kit and looked around at the other Marines that comprised the headquarters element and 1st Squad of the 1st Platoon, Echo Company, 1st of the 67th Marines.

On a normal VBSS, or Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure, mission, they wouldn’t have left home armed and equipped to face down the Cylon hordes. But this, Lutjens reflected, wasn’t a normal VBSS…this was the first time someone from the Colonies had set foot on the legendary Pathfinder in almost fifty-five years. The ship that had captivated the Colonial consciousness before it had departed, and then once again when a handful of crew members returned, had become a legendary ghost ship.

And now, Gretchen Lutjens and her Marines were going to venture aboard the legendary ship that even her surviving crew had called cursed, haunted, and demonically possessed.

“What do you think we’re going to find, Loot?” Gunnery Sergeant Crispin James asked.

“Well…if the stories are true, we’ll probably find a lot of bones…” Lutjens replied and smirked. “Unless they really were undead, in which case I hope you all have practiced headshots on the move.”

“Aw, man,” Private Henderson Wilkes carped and a scowl crossed his chocolate brown face. “You know how these things go, don’t you? It’s either the new guy or the Saggie who gets killed first…”

“You’re doubly frakked, Wilkes,” Petty Officer 2nd Class Pablo Hernandez, the platoon’s corpsman, joked. “You’re the new guy and from Sagittaron!”

Lutjens listened to her command element and 1st Squad joke and knew it was just their way of coping with the unknown. There had been so many stories, both official and rumor, about Pathfinder and what happened to her, that she half expected to find the restless dead aboard her. That was part of the reason they were going into this with full kit and sealed suits; no chances were going to be taken even to the point where the platoon was split between two Thunderbirds when one of the transports could easily have held the entire formation.

“Lieutenant, can you come up here a moment?” Captain Dan Warwick said over the intercom. “We’re approaching Pathfinder and are going to make a pass to see if we can see any damage before we land on the starboard flight deck.”

“On my way,” Lutjens replied and unplugged from the intercom before making her way forward to the cockpit. “Oh…my…gods…” she softly swore when she saw the majestic ship that filled most of the canopy.

“Pretty amazing, isn’t it?” Warwick asked and looked over his shoulder at Lutjens. “I’ve been flying for the Corps for ten years and flew for a courier service to put myself through college, and I’ve seen some pretty incredible sights, but I think this is one that I’ll remember forever.”

“Sure is impressive…” Lutjens replied and then smirked, “You’re not scared of what we might find?”

“Hell no!” Warwick laughed. “Not when I have you and your merry band of badasses to protect me!”

Lutjens couldn’t help but laugh and put her hand on his shoulder. “You just remember that, Danny,” she told him. “And when we call for a dustoff, you come running!”

“Any time, every time, Gretchen,” Warwick replied and turned the Thunderbird to point directly at Pathfinder’s bow. “Looks like she has power…there’s light coming from the domes and some of the windows…”

Warwick triggered the high intensity landing lights and suddenly the hull was illuminated as if it were high noon. As the Thunderbird slowly travelled the length of the massive ship, the spot lights didn’t reveal any external damage. Lutjens was feeling a little uneasy when she saw light streaming though the windows that enclosed the navigation bridge that was located just above the main hull. It made her feel as if the ship was alive somehow…and waiting for them. To add to the eeriness, Pathfinder’s guns were pointed in all different directions, as if she had been in a battle, rather than rigged for cruising. Yet, other than when the ship turned her guns on the funeral, there was no mention of her ever firing them in anger.

“Danny, when we land,” Lutjens said just loud enough so Warwick could hear, “button up. I don’t want anything to sneak aboard or somehow slip on, ok?”

“We’ll be dropping you off in an unpressurized bay…how are they going to get on?” Warwick asked.

“I dunno,” Lutjens replied, “and I don’t want to find out that they *can* do it, ok?”

“Yeah…” Warwick slowly said. “This whole thing is starting to weird me out.”

“Precisely. Now, let’s land so me and my ‘merry band of badasses’ can go exploring,” Lutjens said and patted Warwick’s shoulder before she returned to the cargo hold.

*+*+*+*+*

Like Arke, Pathfinder was enormous. There was no way that they would be able to search the entire ship in the four hours that Commodore Musk had allotted, so Lutjens split her platoon into two groups; the command element and 1st Squad would search the navigation bridge and a path that took them through some of the Life Sciences labs and by about the third hour or so, wind up at the biology domes in the starboard bow quarter. 2nd and 3rd Squads would search towards the ship’s stern, where her engineering spaces were located, and try to pull the local engineering logs and gather any intelligence that might indicate whether the ship was navigable.

“You realize that you just violated the First Rule, don’t you, Loot?” Sergeant Shay Al’Mar asked ten minutes after Lutjens dispatched 2nd and 3rd Squads.

“First rule?” Lutjens asked and cocked her head. Sergeant Shay Al’Mar seemed to have an encyclopedic knowledge of cinema and it didn’t matter the genre, she knew it…and was particularly fond of horror vids.

Al’Mar’s swarthy face grinned. “You split the group, Loot. Bad…very bad…if we were teeny boppers, at least one of us would have been gruesomely murdered or eaten by now.”

“So…if I split the group again?” Lutjens joked.

“Oh…that would be even worse,” Al’Mar deadpanned to the laughs of the other Marines.

Lutjens shook her head. “But here’s the problem with that, Shay,” she paused a moment for effect, “we’re Marines…and we’re armed. Some idiot in a mask or demonic doll doesn’t stand a chance.”

“Oo-rah!” Sergeant Riku Tassheim declared, followed by similar declarations from the rest of the Marines.

“What was that?” Lance Corporal Nomi Millhouse suddenly asked as she knelt and brought up the M-24 automatic rifle that she carried and aimed it down a side passage. “I’ve got something…” she whispered and adjusted the contrast on the color synthetic vision optic. “Footprints…”

“What?” Lutjens asked and raised her M-22 and looked where Millhouse aimed. “I don’t see anything…”

“Take a look,” Millhouse said and handed the M-24 to Lutjens.

After swapping rifles, Lutjens raised what was essentially a heavy barreled M-22 to her shoulder and looked through the optic. “Mother frakker…” she swore. “Skirmish formation, we’re going to treat this as if we’re boarding a hostile ship. Kilgore, get me Sergeant Kine on the wireless.”

Lutjens watched as 1st Squad deployed and took the wireless handset when Kilgore told her that he had Sergeant Kine. “Butch,” she began, “someone is still aboard.”

“What?” Sergeant Butch Kine, 2nd Squad’s sergeant and the commander of the detached squads asked incredulously. “Someone is still here? After all these years?”

“Yeah…either that or it’s their ghost who leaves a thermal signature,” Lutjens told him. “Have your gunners use their thermals with the contrast cranked up, that’s what Millhouse did…”

“Roger that, Loot. Ah…” Kine’s voice turned hesitant and he paused for a moment as Lutjens heard the static that seemed omnipresent in their portable wireless rigs. “Keep your ears open…we’ve been hearing things, nothing steady, but like someone dropped something two or three turns ahead, and when we get there there’s nothing to be found.”

“Stay frosty, Butch…we all go home and have a beer and laugh this off, ok?” Lutjens told her sergeant.

“Copy that…next time, let Tinhorn have the glory…you know he’s probably sticking pins in a doll with your name on it because you got the assignment,” Kine joked.

“Yep…I hear you on that. Let me know if anything develops and…” Lutjens shook her head at her nervousness, “Let’s keep a five-minute wireless contact schedule; we have the plans in our comps, so we’ll let each other know exactly where we are each time.”

“Count on it,” Kine told her.

“Good…Lutjens, out,” Lutjens said and gave the handset back to Kilgore. “You heard that, Aiden?” she asked.

“Oh yeah!” the Hibernian Corporal replied. “Every five minutes we make contact with our exact position.”

“Bingo!” Lutjens said and turned to where the rest of the Marines were fanned out in defensive positions. “Ok…let’s move forward. We should be at the bridge shortly and then I want to make a beeline for the domes.”

*+*+*+*+*

Deep space, between the Meropian Communion and the Colonies, Communion battlestar Stheno

“I’m glad you’re here,” Commander Bronwyn Elliot said as she pulled back from the kiss she just shared with Commodore Vannevar Bovee.

Bovee looked into her eyes and smiled, “So am I, Bronwyn, so am I.”

“So…should I ask what happened or just wait for the memo?” she asked and led him to the table where a light meal had already been laid out for them.

“I can’t go into the details other than to say that things have become much more complicated and while I trust Admiral Chase, I have concerns about the powers that be accepting her decisions,” Bovee said slowly and measured his words. “I also think that the Communion might have some issues, but for now, we’re walking a fine line of détente with these specific Cylons.”

“After what they just did?” Elliot asked and sat down.

“All indications, and I’m inclined to believe them, indicate that these Cylons weren’t part of the attack and didn’t play a part,” Bovee explained after he pushed in Elliot’s chair so that she was seated properly at the table. “They also said that they had been sidelined, on purpose, from the attack on the Colonies because of their commander’s, Tanith Basilan’s, views,” he added after he sat down.

“Bronwyn?” Bovee asked when he saw the look on her face. “What’s wrong?”

“That name…Tanith Basilan…did I hear you right?” Elliot asked.

“Yes…why?” Bovee said and narrowed his eyes. “What is it?”

“Wait…let me see if I have it with me…” Elliot said and suddenly stood up from the table and rushed over to the bookcase that adorned a wall in her quarters. She scanned the spines and finally after searching a row and a half, pulled out a book and began leafing through it. “Here!” she exclaimed and walked over to where Bovee sat, having pushed himself back from the table. “Look,” she said and handed him the book.

Bovee looked at the book and realized it was a yearbook and there in front of him, in living color, was Ensign Tanith Basilan in her full-dress uniform from her commissioning ceremony when she graduated from the Communion academy at Land’s End. “You knew her?”

Elliot barked a chuckle. “She was my roommate for four years and I was a pallbearer at her funeral…”

“We need to let the brass know about this…” Bovee said as he considered the implications. He knew that Commander Eric Malan had previously known Tanith, but he wasn’t sure of the specific circumstances. The more he thought about it, the more concerned he became. “Bronwyn, if she went to your academy, and our academy – and I’m speculating on that right now, then how many others might have infiltrated our ranks?”

“Oh, shit…that could have explained some of the losses we took during the attack,” Elliot said and walked to her desk and picked up the intercom handset. “Tavi?” she said after requesting to speak to her XO. She paused a moment, then added, “I need you to contact Admiral Galva and Admiral Chase and then conference them in down here…and Tavi, I need this secured, ok?”

Elliot started pacing as they waited for the two admirals to be contacted. Bovee gently put his arms on her shoulders and held her still. “Let’s try and eat something…we don’t know when we might get another chance to sit and eat once we reach the Colonies.”

“Ok…” Elliot finally said and allowed Bovee to guide her back to the table and make sure she was seated. “I need to talk to her,” she said after swallowing a bite from her sandwich.

“We’ll make it happen,” Bovee told her.

Elliot ate another bite and then asked, “What’s going to happen when we get to the Colonies?”

Bovee wiped his lips and looked into her eyes and saw raw emotion looking back at him as if her soul had been laid bare. “I’m not sure….but, I do know that as much as we’d like to jump to the homeworlds and go on the offensive, that we aren’t. We can’t.”

“Why?” Elliot asked and looked confused. “I would think you would want to get in and defend the colony worlds.”

“Cold equations,” Bovee replied sadly. “We were lucky that we could hit the Cylons with Prentis’ whammy, but spread out over four systems? And then you have the reality that the Cylons won’t hold anything back for this one, and it comes down to us having to protect Saga.”

“Saga?” Elliot said and cocked her head.

“The best kept secret in the Colonies,” Bovee smirked. “Over the decades, it’s been developed into a lifeboat of sorts, ready to receive quite a few people with cities already built, ready, and waiting. The fear was that the Cylons would return and go scorched earth, and this was a way where we could save part of the human race and defend one location rather than two dozen or more.”

“That’s…heavy,” Elliot said a moment before there was a knock at the hatch.

“Commander?” a Marine stationed outside said.

“Enter,” Elliot replied and turned to see who was at the hatch.

“Admirals Galva and Chase, Commander,” the Marine said as he opened the armored hatch.

Elliot and Bovee jumped to their feet. “Admirals,” Elliot said as the two officers entered her quarters. “I hope Tavi didn’t tell you that I wanted to see you face to face.”

“Nothing of the sort, Commander,” Fleet Admiral Leonardo Galva said with a smile and easy voice. “Admiral Chase and I were sharing a Raptor on our return to Andromeda and Hecate and figured it would be easier to just divert to Stheno.”

Elliot quickly explained why she contacted them and finally showed them the yearbook. “I don’t know what it means, if it means anything at this point,” she confessed, “but I would like the opportunity to talk to her before we reach the Colonies.”

“Sera?” Galva asked and looked at Chase.

“I think our next stop is Lachesis,” Chase replied and sighed. “Admiral, I think we should pause the fleet for a cycle while we work this. As much as I want to get home, we aren’t enough to really make a difference in the Colonies, and half an hour isn’t going to matter.”

“Are you sure?” Galva asked and Bovee was sure there were more questions contained within those three words than the obvious one.

“Yes,” Chase said definitively. “Let’s do this.”

*+*+*+*+*

Beyond Known Space, Orbit of Unnamed System’s 3rd Planet, aboard HMS Pathfinder

Lieutenant Gretchen Lutjens finally allowed herself to relax somewhat when the hatch to Pathfinder’s navigation bridge was closed and dogged. “Ok, Marines, let’s get this done so we can finish up this walk on the wild side,” she said and settled into a chair at one of the workstations. “We need to download the logs and any library data that they might have compiled, then we’re out of here and down to the domes.”

“Copy that,” Gunnery Sergeant Crispin James said and began directing the Marines of 1st Squad and the platoon’s Headquarters element to complete the necessary tasks.

Lutjens stood and walked around the bridge and marveled at how sophisticated everything looked, despite being almost sixty years old. The Colonies’ withdraw from bleeding edge technology was readily apparent as she studied the various consoles and workstations, and deep down she cursed the creation of the Cylons. Where could they have been if the Cylons had never been invented, she mused and then quickly answered her question; probably at war with each other.

She paced around the bridge’s perimeter and gazed out through the large almost floor to ceiling transparent windows. The world Pathfinder was orbiting looked idyllic, and yet it also seemed to hide a secret that triggered the events leading to the celebrated ship’s loss and abandonment.

The sudden sound of hydraulics and a whooshing sound caused Lutjens and every other Marine to drop to a crouch behind some sort of concealment and face the source of the noise. A panel about a meter and a half had slid open along one of the rear walls and a single glowing red light shown within the darkness. She felt her finger caress the M-22’s trigger and ordered, “Hold your fire until we know what it is!”

Lutjens didn’t have long to wait as an automaton rolled out from the darkness. It was a bit more than a meter high and looked like a toy she used as a child to throw a tennis ball for her dog when they went to the park. “Don’t shoot!” a synthesized voice that sounded more human than synthetic announced. “I am Simon, the keeper of Pathfinder’s bridge. Who are you and what are you doing here?”

“I’m Lieutenant Gretchen Lutjens, Colonial Marines; we’re from the Deep Space Research Vessel Arke,” Lutjens quickly responded and made sure that her the green luminescent aiming point from her rifle’s optic was centered over the automaton’s red eye.

“I am not familiar with either the ‘Colonial Marines’ or the ‘Deep Space Research Vessel Arke’,” Simon said neutrally, “though it is possible that they were both created after Pathfinder left Virgon.”

“There was a war and the colonies unified under a central government, the Twelve Colonies of Kobol,” Lutjens quickly explained. “All the various national armed forces were combined into the Colonial Fleet, Marines, Guard, and other groups.”

“Oh!” Simon seemed to exclaim, “then Commander Bentonhurst sent you?”

“Ah…no…not exactly,” Lutjens tried to explain. “Everyone thinks Pathfinder was lost, we happened to find you by accident.”

“That would explain why a recovery team never arrived,” Simon seemed to theorize. “Do you have a command code?”

“Command code?” Lutjens asked.

“Yes. When Commander Bentonhurst ordered Pathfinder abandoned, he locked the ship’s systems with a command level security block. He was worried that the ship’s guns would be directed on the evacuees and also wanted to ensure that the ship wasn’t able to maneuver except to maintain orbit,” Simon explained. “If you have the command code, then you can release those blocks.”

“I’m going to have to talk to my boss about that…” Lutjens told Simon. “Ah…what can you tell us about the ship’s condition?”

“Sadly, not much more than the basics,” Simon answered apologetically. “I do know that the ship’s engineering is functional, as is life support. What I can not tell you about is the actual condition in specific areas of the ship.”

“Where are the bodies?” Lutjens prodded. “The reports said that the crew that remained aboard had all been killed.”

“Oh! Well, housekeeping removed them and then cleaned up the damage and mess that was caused when they were killed,” Simon said almost cheerfully. “The bodies would have been cremated in the ship’s incinerators.”

I am living in a horror vid, Lutjens thought silently to herself. “Is there anyone else alive aboard?”

This time, Simon didn’t answer immediately, it seemed to pause for just a fraction of a second. “I can not answer that question, Lieutenant; my direct senor observations are limited to this bridge and its support structure. While I am able to query system status reports for engineering, gunnery, and life support, I am unable to access the Life Spaces Monitoring Suite to determine the location of other biological entities.”

“Hold for one moment,” Lutjens told Simon and then motioned Gunnery Sergeant Crispin James over to where she still crouched behind a console. “Cris, what do you think?” she whispered.

“I think that a whole hell of a lot was left out of Bentonhurst’s reports and bio, that’s what I think,” James whispered back. “I’m getting a really bad feeling about all this, and I think it’s time to kick this up to the people who get paid to make the big decisions to deal with.”

A smile came unbidden to Lutjens’ lips. “Exactly what I was thinking,” she told James. “Aiden, get the boss back on Arke…this is more than just a deserted ship.”

*+*+*+*+*

Deep space, between the Meropian Communion and the Colonies, Union gunstar Angelos

“What is it, Becky?” Lieutenant Colonel Sebastian Beckett asked when Communications Specialist Rebecca Slocum said his name.

“Ah, Colonel, Lieutenant Wellington is on the intercom, she says she’s dealing with an issue and would like to talk to you for guidance on how to handle it,” Slocum replied.

“Ok, put it down here,” Beckett said and wondered what could have caused the normally solid and unflappable Tabitha Wellington to need command assistance while supervising passenger transfers. As soon as the handset beeped, he picked it up, “XO.”

“Colonel, this is Lieutenant Wellington,” Tabby’s voice said clearly and without any of the static associated with encrypted wireless communications. “I’m sorry to bother you, but we have a situation down here with two of the civilians that boarded before the last jump. They aren’t on the manifest yet claim that they belong here and are demanding to talk to Colonel Savoy.”

“You said there were two of them?” Beckett quickly asked as his mind started to solve the puzzle. “A man and a woman?”

“Yes; how did you know?” Tabby asked. “Was there a change made that we didn’t get?”

“No…” Beckett growled in frustration. “Hold them in the gallery, I’ll be down in a minute to sort this out directly. Until I get there, they are to have no contact with anyone other than you and Sergeant Cramer.”

“Copy, Colonel; they are to be segregated and have no contact with anyone other than me or Cramer,” Tabby repeated the order.

“Good…I’m on my way,” Beckett said and hung up the handset. “Katya, you have the con until I return.”

“I have the con, aye,” Captain Katya Petrova said, then arched an eyebrow and asked, “Should I alert Colonel Savoy?”

“No,” Beckett told her. “I want to get this resolved and over with before we tell her, so she doesn’t have to deal with it…” he added and arched both eyebrows to silently communicate, well, something. You must have telepathy, boy-o, the little voice on his shoulder said when Petrova’s eyes widened and she suddenly nodded her understanding.

The smirk that was on Beckett’s face disappeared when he stepped into the primary receiving gallery that was located adjacent to the gunstar’s flight deck. “Lieutenant,” he said when he stepped into the gallery and noted her Marines had spread out to cover the room yet were close enough to immediately intervene if the two civilians sitting on a sofa misbehaved.

“Colonel,” Tabby began, and Beckett could see in her eyes that she was relieved he was here. “The two civilians over there,” she pointed to the two people on the sofa, “claim to be Colonel Savoy’s husband and wife…”

And there you go, boy-o, the little voice said and chuckled. How about we just space the cheating frakker and look the other way, eh, it asked. Beckett suppressed the urge to chuckle and walked over to where the two people sat next to each other. The man was roguishly handsome and in excellent shape, even for middle age, with a swarthy complexion and shoulder length flowing black hair, while the woman despite dressing like a librarian and looking like a pretty Pyramid mom, for some reason reminded him of a frightened animal with a broken spirit.

So, these were the two people who caused Chiara so much pain, Beckett thought as he studied them for a moment and now noticed the crows feet around the man’s eyes, the slight greying at the roots of his temples, the look of uncertainty on the woman’s face, and the way she seemed to sit there, utterly defeated. “I am Lieutenant Colonel Sebastian Beckett; how may I help you?”

“I demand to see my wife, she’s the commanding officer of this boat!” the man demanded arrogantly. “I’m her husband, Beto Savoy, and this is our wife, Channing.”

Beckett looked down at them and frowned. “First, this is a ship or a gunstar, it is not a boat,” he said directly and without warmth or humor. “Second, you do not demand anything here, you ask; I demand or Colonel Savoy demands, you…don’t. Third, you are not on the manifest and therefore you will not remain aboard and will be returned to your ship of origin.”

“Now see here!” Beto demanded and stood up…and just as quickly sat down when every Marine in the room, including Tabby, suddenly raised their rifles at him and audibly clicked off the safeties. “Now see here,” he reiterated forcefully while seated, “Chiara is our wife and therefore we demand to be shown to her quarters.”

“Fourth,” Beckett said, adding his index finger to the pinky, ring, and middle fingers he already had extended as he counted off a moment earlier, “Colonel Savoy divorced you before she left on her last patrol; you are her *ex* husband and therefore have no rights, if they even existed, to be here.”

“Oh, I see she played the ‘poor little me’ card,” Beto arrogantly laughed. “So…did she frak you the way she frakked her old CO, Titus?”

“Now you’re crossing the line,” Beckett told him, and he saw the woman put his hand on Beto’s arm as if to calm him down, but he shook it off. “As soon as I can have a Roc prepped, you will be removed from Angelos and returned to where you came from.”

“Ha! You can’t do that!” Beto boasted. “Chiara will bust you down to a deckhand when she hears what you did to me and Channing.”

Beckett squatted so he could look Beto in the eye. “Here, on this ship, I am the right hand of god,” he hissed just loud enough for the two people on the couch to hear his words. “If I gave the order, those Marines over there would throw your adulterous ass into an airlock and gleefully cycle it to open space. Do. You. Understand. Me?”

Beto glared at him. “She’s my wife and I demand to see her!”

Well, now it’s time to have fun, Beckett thought and heard the little voice munching on popcorn from where it perched on his shoulder. “Channing, did you know about his side of Beto when you first started…seeing…him?”

Channing met Becketts’s gaze for a moment and then dropped it to the floor before shaking her head. As she did, the light blue sweater that she wore slipped and revealed her lower neck and collarbone, and the large, ugly hand shaped bruise that it no longer concealed. “Channing, please come over here with me, I have a few questions I want to ask you.”

“Me?” Channing asked nervously. “Why?”

Beckett smiled and hoped it put both of them at ease. “Just standard practice when I have to justify overriding Fleet’s refugee resettlement decision.” He saw that it had the desired effect as Beto suddenly smirked and beamed before sitting back and crossing his arms triumphantly.

“Ah, ok…” Channing said and stood, smoothing down her sweater and the wrinkles in her slacks.

Beckett guided Channing to the other side of the gallery and motioned for Tabby to join him. When the three were standing together, he asked just loud enough for the two women to hear him, “Channing, how long has he been abusing you?”

A look of horror spread over Channing’s face and her eyes darted from Beckett to Tabby and when she started to turn to look at Beto, Tabby put her hand on her shoulder and shook her head. “How long?” the young officer asked as Beckett watched.

“Since shortly after Chiara left…it wasn’t anything more than rough sex at first, but then…” Channing closed her eyes and took a deep breath through her nose in an effort to stave off the tears that Beckett could see straining to break free. “Then…it became more common; when something went wrong it was always my fault and he’d hit me…and then immediately apologize and for a week or so all would be fine.”

“You’re safe here,” Tabby said, picking up on what Beckett had intended. “Do you want to swear a complaint and have us arrest him?”

Sudden hope filled Channing’s eyes as she blinked rapidly several times. “You can do that?”

“Yes, we can,” Beckett compassionately answered.

“Please…” Channing begged. “Help me…”

Tabby looked at Beckett and he nodded. “Take care of her, Tabby, I’ll deal with…him.”

“Come with me, Channing, we’re going to take a statement and then I’ll make sure you have quarters here on Angelos,” Tabby told Channing before slipping her arm around her shoulders and guiding her toward the hatch.

They two women, officer guiding civilian, were two steps away from the hatch when Channing started sobbing and Beckett felt the little voice pat him on the back and whisper, you did good, boy-o, Cora will be proud of you. “Damned straight, she will,” Beckett whispered back to the little voice. “My mother didn’t raise a bastard.”

No, she certainly didn’t, the little voice agreed and then looked over where Beto sat and added, but I know someone whose mother did.

“Beto Savoy, please stand,” Beckett said a moment later when he stood in front of Beto. “Sergeant Cramer, please place Mr. Savoy under arrest and arrange for him to be transferred to a holding cell on Dike Astraea.”

“Sir?” Sergeant Mycroft Cramer asked and cocked his head.

“Mister Savoy is being arrested for and charged with domestic violence and battery,” Beckett told the NCO. “Please let Dike Astraea’s master-at-arms know that as soon as we have the complaint finalized that we will send it their way.”

Cramer looked at Beckett and hardened his visage. “My pleasure, Colonel,” he said and turned to where Beto stood looking confused. “Hands behind your back!” he barked and Beto hesitated for a moment before two Marines took a step forward and he quickly put them behind his back where Cramer applied a set of zip-tie restraints.

Beckett took a deep breath and watched as Cramer and another Marine led Beto to the umbilical that was connected to a waiting Roc. When they were gone, he walked over to the hatch and nodded at Corporal Louis ‘Loop’ Patton.

Patton stood at attention and saluted. After Beckett returned it, the Marine said, “You did good, Boss, real good.”

“I did the right thing,” Beckett said and stepped through the hatch and turned to walk back to the CIC. He made it to the first turn and stopped short. “Chiara…” he stuttered when he saw Colonel Chiara Savoy standing there with tear filled eyes.

Savoy sniffed twice before taking two steps forward and grabbing Beckett in one of the tightest hugs he’d ever experienced. “Yes, you did the right thing….” she sniffed, and if it was possible, hugged him tighter. “Thank you…I don’t think I could have done that.”

Beckett hugged her back and gently said, “I take care of family; your ordeal is over now.”

Savoy released the hug and looked up at him. “Cora is a very lucky lady.”

Beckett shook his head, “I’m the lucky one…she changed my life. Now, how about we deal with some trash and get ready for the next jump?”

*+*+*+*+*

_________________
Kurt

Click the link to read Lady Hecate off line in PDF, .epub, or Kindle formats: http://www.bsg94.org/downloads/index.html
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PostPosted: Sun Mar 11, 2018 1:59 am 
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Location: Battlestar Hecate BSG-94
Chapter 49: Returning Home (Part 3 of 4)

Deep space, between the Meropian Communion and the Colonies, Colonial battlestar Lachesis, BS-36

“Admiral Chase, Admiral Galva,” Commander Eric Malan said after the two admirals and Commander Elliot had been piped aboard at Lachesis’ portside VIP gallery. “Is everything ok?”

“Everything is fine, Eric,” Admiral Countess Seralanna Chase told him and smiled. “I was wondering if we might have a quick word with Tanith?”

“With Tanith?” Malan repeated and narrowed his eyes. “I hope nothing is wrong…”

“No, nothing is wrong,” Chase explained. “However, something has developed that we think she might be able to help us with, and that’s where Commander Elliot comes in.”

This seemed to satisfy Malan and Elliot watched as Chase carefully navigated the issue without forcing rank or privilege at the battlestar’s commander. Respect, she thought, to have it, it must be given, and Chase certainly gives and gets it.

“Tanith is sitting with the Blessed Mother and Major Avalon in my quarters,” Malan said and led them out of the gallery. “Should I contact the mess and have some sandwiches sent over? We did sort of work through lunch.”

“I think that would be a good idea, Eric,” Chase replied.

It took them several minutes to walk the distance between the receiving gallery and Malan’s stateroom and with each step Elliot felt more and more tension seep into her system. The name was certainly right, and Bovee had identified her from the yearbook, so to her mind, it had to be her. Finally, when they reached the hatch leading to Malan’s quarters, she took a deep breath, held it, and then forced the stress and uncertainty from her mind and waited for the Marines to announce their presence.

After Malan and the Admirals were announced and entered the stateroom, Elliot steeled herself for what was to come and followed.

“Tanith,” Fleet Admiral Leonardo Galva said conversationally, “I hope you can help us solve a mystery…”

“Certainly, Admiral,” Tanith Basilan replied in a voice that Elliot knew very well.

“Commander?” Galva said questioningly and motioned her forward.

“Hi Tannie…” Elliot said as she stepped out from Galva’s shadow. “It’s been a while…”

Tanith had stood when they had entered and now the statuesque blonde’s eyes went wide in shock, then recognition, and finally joy. “Bronnie?” she asked hesitantly. “Is that really you?”

Elliot found herself blinking away tears as her dearest friend from her years at the academy and as a junior officer acknowledged her identity. “You…you’re…alive…” she managed to stammer before she stepped forward and stopped.

“My God…” Tanith said a moment before she caught the Communion officer in a hug that caused both women to hold each other as if the other was a phantom.

“What happened?” Elliot managed to ask and stepped back.

“It’s a long story…” Tanith began and suggested everyone get comfortable as she told about her years in the Colonies and the Communion.

“That was an incredible story,” Chase finally said when Tanith finished. “It does raise some questions that I hope you can help us with.”

Tanith nodded. “I can provide images of each of the seven active models, Admiral. Hair and eye color may differ, but the other vital statistics will remain the same within three standard deviations.”

“Thank you, I realize that this must be difficult for you to do, to your own people,” Galva interjected.

“It really isn’t,” Tanith said and shook her head. “My people are those who are with me and who stand with me, the others, who are following the Plan…they are as much my enemy as they are yours. I may be Cylon, but I want that to mean nothing more than my origin in the way it means you’re Meropian, Admiral, or you’re Virgonian,” she said to Chase. “Here,” she pointed at her heart, “I am human, like you…even though how we got here is a little different. My brethren who are committed to destroying humanity…they deserve neither my sympathy nor my consideration…only my pity for their eager willingness to commit a sin so heinous that God will cry when He sees it happen.”

*+*+*+*+*

Deep space, between the Meropian Communion and the Colonies, Colonial battlestar Hecate, BS-94

What had been planned as a one cycle pause had turned into four cycles, two hours, and Admiral Countess Seralanna Chase was starting to feel the stress of what was to come. Her decision weighed heavily on her shoulders because the emotional side of her knew that every minute they delayed would mean the Cylons had another minute to wreak havoc and run rampant through the Colonies.

And yet, when she sat back and looked at it rationally, a handful of ships would hardly stem the tide, especially if they weren’t able to act within the first few salvos. This was a time when the math just didn’t work in her favor, and the decision to delay for even two hours, was a bitter pill to swallow. The upshot was that they were back on schedule and had more intelligence to ferret out spies and potential saboteurs within their midst.

“Hello, Mick, how are you today?” Chase asked Corporal Michael Grady, one of the two Marines standing watch outside her quarters.

“I’m good, Admiral,” Grady replied. “Miss Ava has the hooligans out for a walk and should return in a few minutes.”

“Thank you,” Chase said as Grady pushed open the armored hatch and she stepped in. A smile came unbidden to her face as she thought of the young girl and the innocent joy she had playing with Dickens and Lira.

After making a cup of hot chocolate, Chase sat in one of the overstuffed chairs that were in her quarter’s living area. So much had happened since they left the Colonies, and now, so much was yet to happen. Meeting the Communion and later the Union, and then discovering that not only was her mother alive, but that she was Hecate herself and that she and Cora had sisters and cousins they never knew about. She smiled at the friendships that had blossomed between her and Cora and the others; Hanna, Brooke, Gia, and Alexis. And then, her heart warmed beyond measure when she thought of the tearful reunion she had with her own daughter, Addison.

Perhaps Tanith was right, it was time to bring the scattered fragments of humanity together as one. Maybe, in her own way, that was something her mother was trying to do, she thought. Mothers were mysterious like that, she laughed to herself, always keeping the kids guessing.

“Sera!” Ava shrieked a moment before a little blue clad bundle of energy jumped on her lap, followed by a pair of Virgon Terriers putting their paws on her knees and wagging their tails.

“Hey, Pumpkin!” Chase replied as the little girl gave her a big hug. “How are you?”

“I’m fine,” Ava declared and moved to sit on the chair’s arm. “I took Dickens and Lira for a long walk down in the gardens.”

“You really are a big girl, aren’t you?” Chase asked proudly.

“I am!” Ava happily stated. “Are you ok? You seem sad…”

Chase sighed and remembered how her mother had explained that children may not know what’s going on, but they pick up on their parents’ moods. “I’m ok…I just have a lot on my mind and it seems like every time I think things are settling down, something else comes up.”

Ava rested her head on Chase’s shoulder a moment before two black and tan dogs climbed up and competed for space on the laps and other chair arm. At that moment, she felt a wave of contentment wash over her that was almost overpowering. A tear came to her eye and she realized that this was something that she had missed out on with Addison.

“It’s ok, Sera,” Ava said and hugged her. “Things will get better, I just know they will.”

“Thank you, Pumpkin, I appreciate your faith,” Chase said and rested her head against Ava’s. She jumped and the dogs lifted their heads when they heard Captain Jeremiah Cole’s voice calling the ship to Jump Conditions and announcing that the ship would jump in five minutes. “I think I’ll just rest here until we jump and then get back to work.”

“Can I come with you?” Ava asked hopefully.

“I think so...maybe Jerry will show you how to plot a jump?” Chase offered.

“Really?” Ava exclaimed. “Cool!”

*+*+*+*+*

Deep space, between the Meropian Communion and the Colonies, Carian battlestar Caria

Hecate sat at the head of the large conference table and noted each name as it was announced. One by one, the commanding officers of the ships in the small fleet that accompanied Nike were announced. Her head snapped up when Captain Ron DeSoto announced, “Guerriere Actual, Aphrodite.”

“What?” Hecate said as she watched the most beautiful woman on Olympus walk into the briefing room. She stood a little taller than average and had dark curled hair held high off her shoulders in a waterfall style. The hair framed a face with a flawless complexion and warm brown eyes that were enticing to even a goddess.

“I decided…no, I want to be useful, Hecate,” Aphrodite said in answer to Hecate’s one-word question. “I could have stayed behind, but we’ve been passive for too long.”

Hecate stood and smiled as she walked over to Aphrodite. “I’m glad you’re here, Aphie,” she said and hugged the goddess of love.

“Thank you,” Aphie whispered in Hecate’s ear. “Thank you for taking me seriously and not sending me back.”

“I’ve always told you that you could do anything you set your mind to, Aphie…you just had to want it enough,” Hecate told her and hugged her close. “We’re going to kick ass.”

Aphie pulled back and struck a pose, projecting faux vanity, “And I make this look good!”

Hecate laughed and noticed Athena rolling her eyes. Those two always competed, even back when the project first started, they constantly tried to outdo each other. Yet, as she looked at the two women, one personifying logic and reason and the other love and emotion, she saw that both women seemed to have put their past competitions behind them and shared a similar determined look.

“Yes, you sure do,” Hecate finally said and stepped back to her chair.

She was glad that Admiral Austin Sobieski had joined the first fleet to leave Olympus; his level-headed personality and lack of ego would fit in well with the other key principals. “Ok, I’m glad you’re all here and I apologize for taking a bit to get everyone together. The first order of business is to bring you up to date on what has happened and what will happen, then I want to review ships’ statuses, and finally discuss what we will be doing once we reach the Colonies.”

*+*+*+*+*

Deep space, between the Meropian Communion and the Colonies, Earth Union gunstar Ariadne

“Everything is pretty much back to normal here on Main Street,” Meredith said as she used her right hand to indicate the entirety of what used to be Ariadne’s #4 hold and was now the small community colloquially known as ‘Main Street’.

“That’s good to hear,” Commander Douglas ‘Digger’ Sharma replied before he sipped his tea.

“What’s on your mind, Digger…” Meredith asked after a moment. “I know you read the report that we sent up on our repairs.”

“Guilty as charged,” Sharma smiled. “Ah…I’m trying to get ahead of the curve on this and give you some advance warning of what might be coming down the pike. You’re tied in with the medical community, specifically the mental health community, and I know you’ll have your hands full with the Communion refugees…but it isn’t over yet.”

“Yet?” Meredith asked and focused her attention on Sharma. “What’s going to happen?”

“We’ve compared timetables, our current transit schedule and the one that the Cylons have provided, and the math shows us arriving about seven or eight hours after the Cylons begin their attack on the Colonies,” Sharma said and sighed. They were so close to sanctuary, and now to see it slip from their grasp was a bitter pill to swallow.

“I understand,” Meredith said after a few moments of silence. “We’re going to have to prepare for not just the Colonials, but our own people as well. For five years, this was the end game; we get to the Colonies and we could come in from the cold and stop our wandering. And now that’s being taken from us.”

Sharma nodded and then forced a slight smile to his face. “But there is some good news…”

“Good news?” Meredith asked skeptically. “In three days, two civilizations will have been utterly destroyed and tens of billions killed.”

“Ok,” Sharma held up his hands in surrender, “perhaps good news wasn’t the best term. How about ‘bright spot’?”

“I’ll let you off the hook this time,” Meredith scolded him before a smile touched her lips. “What is it?”

“The Colonials, some of them at least, feared the worst if the Cylons returned and created a lifeboat, if you will,” Sharma explained and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “There’s a world that everyone thinks can’t support human life over the long term, the crops we need, and the animals we raise. Something about amino acids or whatever, Kim could explain it better, but for centuries the world has been branded as unfit for human habitation and all food has to be shipped in. The Colonial military uses the entire system for wargames, and here’s the kicker…over the past four decades, they’ve built and furnished entire cities; on the surface for more realistic wargames, but in reality, as a new world ready for people to move in and live there.”

“Wait a minute,” Meredith interrupted and set her teacup on the table. “You’re telling me that there’s a planet with cities with homes and businesses all furnished and supplied just waiting for people to move in?”

“I am. And from what I’ve been briefed on, there is more than enough space for all of us,” Sharma explained.

“I think I understand,” Meredith replied thoughtfully. “Mental health wise, I think our people will be disappointed that we’re not going to be settling in ‘the Colonies’, but, I also think the fact that we’re not being shut out of the Colonies and that we’ll be sharing the experience with not just the Communion, but the Colonials as well will be a good thing. Shared experiences will bring our peoples together and forge ties faster than just resettling refugees in neighborhoods. I have one suggestion, though.”

Sharma nodded, “I was hoping you would.”

“Tell the powers that be to mix together all the refugees as homogeneously as possible,” Meredith explained. “Make sure that in each apartment building or subdivision that there are as equal as possible amounts of all groups. So, if the apartment building has twenty units over five floors, each floor should have one family from each of the four groups; Colonial, Union, Communion, and Cylon/Monad. There will be some tensions, but unless we learn to live together as one, this will only be temporary.”

“Good, I thought you’d say that,” Sharma said smugly.

“Um…why?” Meredith asked slowly and narrowed her eyes at him.

“Because, Doctor Meredith Ingram, you’ve just been appointed to the Resettlement Working Group,” Sharma told her. “You can refuse, but I hope you won’t. I’ll have the paperwork sent to you explaining the position, but one of the things that we discussed was the need to integrate mental health professionals into the planning and development of any settlement plans. I put forward your name and explained what you did here, on Ariadne, and Admiral Chase suggested that you would be perfect for the position of director.”

“Director?” Meredith asked, her voice betraying her surprise. “As in make the decisions director?”

Sharma smiled and nodded. “Yes. What she was looking for was someone who could make good decisions, not necessarily an expert in civic organization or planning. You’ll have a small staff and report to whatever develops as the ruling council or government. But…” he paused and raised his right index finger, “the goal is to bring our people together and we can’t do that by simply handing out random housing assignments. So…interested in being a ‘Founding Mother’?”

“Wipe that smirk off your face, Digger Sharma,” Meredith said sternly and then softened it with a smile. “Admiral Chase really suggested that I would be perfect?”

“She did, and it was an opinion shared by everyone at the briefing, including President Windsor,” Sharma confirmed.

“Ok…I’ll do it,” Meredith finally said. “Boy, will Becky be surprised!”

*+*+*+*+*

Beyond Known Space, Orbit of Unnamed System’s 3rd Planet, aboard HMS Pathfinder

Lieutenant Gretchen Lutjens sat on one of the chairs in the small lounge and rested her suppressed M-22 across her thighs. “Don’t even say it, it wasn’t my call,” she said to try and forestall what she knew was going to happen.

Captain Dan Warwick chuckled. “Who came up with the idea to return…with supplies to camp out for a day or so…to this haunted mausoleum?”

“I believe that would be Dr. Digby, the head of the scientific team aboard Arke,” Lutjens explained and stretched, arching her back and causing her combat harness to cut into her shoulders. “He didn’t want to risk any of the students and told Commodore Musk that this was why Marines were added to the crew.” She rolled her eyes and shook her head. “In a way, I’m kind of glad that the Old Man agreed.”

“You are?” Warwick asked and leaned forward on the seat across from her. Around them, the rest of the Marines of 1st Squad were relaxing as well, except for a rotating watch who kept an eye on the hallways.

“Yeah…Could you imagine dealing with a dozen or two dozen undergrads and grad students with all this,” Lutjens waved her arm around and indicated the entire ship, “to explore? It would be worse than trying to herd kittens. The downside to it is that the Old Man did buy into Digby’s suggestion that we see if the ship is navigable, that’s why we have so many people crawling around engineering and up on the navigation bridge.”

“Yeah…I noticed that,” Warwick said and shook his head. “Still, I think the Boss made a good call when he ordered that we follow the buddy system to the letter, and that each of the ship’s crew that came over was paired with a Marine whose only task was to protect him.”

“And we get put on explorer duty,” Lutjens sighed. “At least we don’t have to deal with that little robot.”

“Simon? He seemed kind of cool,” Warwick quipped. “The little guy has been keeping the lights on for decades.”

“Yes…but something that moves on a roller ball doesn’t leave footprints…” Lutjens said, referencing the thermal traces that Lance Corporal Nomi Millhouse detected on their first expedition to the lost ship. “Once the Old Man heard what we found, he ordered us back to Arke and we couldn’t follow up on them, until now.” She closed her eyes for a moment and then stood. “We better get moving, this ship isn’t going to give up her secrets unless we find them.”

An hour later, Gunnery Sergeant Crispin James suddenly crouched down on one knee and held up his left fist before using his left hand to tap his right shoulder. The squad stopped where they were and assumed a defensive posture while Lutjens moved forward.

“What is it, Cris?” Lutjens whispered.

“Over there,” James hissed and pointed down the hall into that looked like a small indoor park.

They were still several decks below the domes, Lutjens thought, remembering the map she studied earlier. “This must be Promenade Park,” she finally said. “What am I looking for?”

“Wait...” James said and pointed at a specific area of brush. “Look at the brush…doesn’t it seem to be too regular compared to the rest of the area?”

Lutjens narrowed her eyes and then extracted the small 6x32 pocket binoculars and peered where James indicated. “Yeah…almost looks like it’s…no…it can’t be…” she whispered, “can it?”

“Keep watching…” James urged and nodded towards the brush.

Lutjens focused on the brush and the area a couple meters to each side, slowly moving her gaze from side to side, and after about a minute she saw movement. She stayed fixed on that one area and was rewarded with a quick glimpse of a face, a human face, for the briefest instant.

“There are survivors!” Lutjens gasped. “Cover me!” she quickly told James and stepped into the wide passage that led to Promenade Park. The entrance was still a good twenty-five meters or more from where she stood, but the very fact that there were survivors on a ship that had been missing for the better part of six decades had her acting on a hunch.

Slowly, but confidently, Lutjens walked towards the park’s entry. She was less than ten meters from the bulkhead when a young man, not much older, if that, than the Marines in 1st Squad, stepped brazenly from the brush. He wore an untucked uniform shirt and uniform pants, while his feet were clad in moccasin-like shoes. Slung across his chest was a strap that held a bag at his left hip, and despite the bedraggled and somewhat disheveled appearance, the old VSA M-18 that he pointed at her appeared to be in perfect working order.

“Halt! Who are you?” the man demanded.

“Ah…” Lutjens said quickly and made sure that she didn’t make any furtive movements. “I’m Gretchen….Gretchen Lutjens. Who are you?”

“I’m Orson Slater,” Slater replied and then cocked his head and looked over his shoulder. “Where are you from?” he asked a second later.

My gods, Lutjens thought, I’m in some sort of vid. Does this kid have any comprehension that he’s on a ship in the middle of nowhere? “I’m from a long distance away,” she said neutrally.

“From Engineering?” Slater asked.

Lutjens slowly shook her head. One thing she wasn’t going to do is lie or make up something to answer Slater’s questions. “No, I’m from far, far away…not from anywhere you’ve been or on this ship.”

Slater’s eyes widened, and he stood there open mouthed as a smaller form emerged from the brush. She was perhaps a meter sixty, if that, and she was as different from Slater as a fair haired Caprican was from a swarthy dark haired Tauron. Her hair was dark and long, gathered into a braid that hung half way down her back and complimented her almond shaped eyes and pale complexion. “You’re from beyond?” the girl asked.

“Yes,” Lutjens nodded and kept her eyes on the rifles that both youth held, though currently not pointed directly at her.

“WOW!” the girl almost shrieked. “This is amazing! The elders said that we would never be found, but we have been!” she said so fast that Lutjens had to focus on what she was saying. “Are you going to take us back to Virgon?”

Oh boy, Lutjens thought, this wasn’t something that we covered in the briefing. But, given the circumstance, she couldn’t see any reason why they wouldn’t; there was more than adequate supplies and quarters aboard not just Arke, but the other two ships in their group, for the survivors. In fact, that was one of the reasons that both Arke and Iris were sent out together along with a battlestar; if something happened to one of the ships, the other two could easily absorb the personnel without problem. “Um, yes, if that’s what you want,” she finally said.

“This is the best day of my life! Tim, Ilsa, come on out!” she shouted. “Oh, yeah…I forgot to introduce myself, I’m Yuki Yamada.”

Two more young adults, one male and one female, stepped out from the brush. Lutjens studied all four and noticed that they all appeared in good health with good muscle and skin tone. It was unnerving to find survivors on Pathfinder, let alone survivors within a few years of her age, and not looking any worse for wear.

“Hi, Yuki, nice to meet you and the others,” Lutjens replied. “I’m going to have the people who are with me come up, is that ok?”

“Sure,” Yuki said cheerfully before turning to her compatriots, “We need to take them to see Ser Orlando and Serra Ida.”

“Yeah…I think you’re right,” Tim told her. “Wow…I never thought we’d meet someone from Beyond!”

Lutjens walked back to where the Headquarters Element and 1st Squad waited. She quickly filled them in on what she saw and then, despite her vow not to do it, she said, “Cris, I want you, and Fireteams 2 and 3, to stay behind and monitor our communications and come running if things go sideways. Standard code words are in play and I’m going to need you to brief the Old Man.”

“We have your back, Loot,” James told her.

“What about us?” Warwick asked and nodded to Lieutenant Edward Nelson, his copilot.

“I want you with us,” Lutjens said. “Something isn’t right, and I want someone flight qualified to keep an eye on systems and such that we might see.” She sighed, “Oh, hell, I don’t know…I just have a feeling that whatever we find is going to change everything.”

“Well, I guess we’ll face the peril, then,” Warwick quipped.

A few moments later, Lutjens led her Marines and the flight crew back to the entrance to Promenade Park. “Some friends are with me,” she said and quickly introduced everyone.

“Cool!” Yukie said gleefully. “The others will be glad to meet you and know that they have a chance to go back to Virgon.”

“So…where are we going?” Lutjens asked as Slater and Tim led them into the park.

“We need to go through the park and then up several levels to where we’ll go into the dome,” Ilsa explained as they walked through a park that still looked relatively pristine.

“This is really well cared for,” Warwick said and motioned at the park.

“Oh, that’s because the gardeners take care of it,” Yuki said. “They keep everything working and in good order so we don’t have to.”

Lutjens tried to think back to when Pathfinder left on her expedition and correlate that to when the first Cylons were developed. There was a gap of several years from when the ship left and when the Cylons appeared, so it couldn’t be them. “What do they look like?” she asked.

“Hmm…” Yuki scrunched her eyes and cheeks as if she were deep in thought. “They look like a pedestal mounted on a ball and have arms that they can use to hold things.”

“Ah, ok. That sounds like Simon, one that we encountered earlier,” Lutjens explained as they went through a wide hatchway on the far side of the park and returned to one of the ship’s passages.

Their guides led them through several twists and turns, and up multiple levels over the next several minutes. Everything was maintained in immaculate condition and to Lutjens’ eyes, there was no sign of any sort of fighting or damage that Bentonhurst’s and the others’ biographies said took place. Maybe the robotic keepers were able to fix or clean it, but there should have been some evidence, even if it was a pockmark in a metal support.

They finally reached their destination, an unassuming airlock hatch labeled “Dome 7 Port”. “We’re here,” Slater announced and put his hand against a palm scanner. The hatch slid open a moment later, “We’re going to take you to meet Ser Orlando and Serra Ida, First Gens and our leaders.”

“I’m looking forward to it, Orson,” Lutjens said and spared a glance at her Marines. All of them seemed relaxed, but she noticed that their eyes were alert and in constant motion. Good, she thought, we might look distracted, but if we need to, we can lay down the fire.

Lutjens wasn’t sure what to expect when they were led into the dome. Part of her thought that it would be something from a vid about castaways on a desert island or about primitives, another part thought it would be something more tribal, but the reality took her breath away. Like the park, the dome’s floor was tillable soil, but unlike the park, the dome was filled with flowerbeds and terraced racks for aeroponics that held flowers of every shape, hue, and scent possible. The ground was literally bursting with color and had an unearthly beauty that assaulted her senses. A gazebo was in a clearing next to a small koi pond and she could see five people waiting there.

“Come, I’ll introduce you,” Ilsa said and led the group across the lawn and stopped at the gazebo. “Ser Orlando, Serra Ida, Todd, Bettina, Liesl,” she said formally, “I bring you visitors from Beyond…who are willing to take us to Virgon.”

The five people stepped forward as Ilsa introduced them and Lutjens studied them for anything out of the ordinary, other than the fact that they were alive on an almost six decade old ghost ship. Ser Orlando and Serra Ida appeared to be exceptionally fit and perhaps in their early sixties at the oldest. The next two, Todd and Bettina, looked younger, but were just as fit and trim. Finally, Liesl, the youngest of the five and looking like she was in her thirties, and bore a strong, very strong resemblance to Ilsa. All five were dressed in what appeared to be shipboard uniforms of the era, though Ser Orlando and Serra Ida also wore white lab coats.

“Thank you for greeting us,” Lutjens said when it appeared the five weren’t going to say anything first. “I am Lieutenant Gretchen Lutjens, Colonial Marines, and I don’t think any of us expected to find Pathfinder or survivors when we left the Colonies.” She quickly introduced the rest of her team and then waited.

“Welcome to Pathfinder, Lieutenant,” Ser Orlando said warmly. “Likewise, we never expected to see our fellow Colonials ever again.”

*+*+*+*+*

Beyond Known Space, Orbit of Unnamed System’s 3rd Planet, Colonial Deep Space Research Vessel Arke

“Do you really think it’s possible?” Colonel Natasha Farrell asked.

“Anything is possible,” Commodore Andre Musk quipped. “The real question is how probable it is.”

“You really should apply to teach at the academy when we return, Andre,” Commander Siv Andresson rolled her eyes. “I think the bigger question is, are you sure we should do this?”

“You don’t think we should?” Commander Lindon Aydenson asked from the other side of the conference table.

“Hell, I don’t know,” Andresson confessed. “I listened to Lieutenant Lutjens’ report just like the rest of you, and I have to admit, the people they’ve encountered have me a little unsettled.”

“I think we’re missing the bigger question,” Farrell stated and tapped the tablet on the table. “Are we sure it is safe to bring it back?”

“That was the other thing that was bugging me,” Andresson said. “I…” she paused and finally decided to say what was bothering her. “That ship over there mounts enough kinetics to shoot us all to pieces, and according to history, did just that to many of her crew when they were down on the planet below.”

“So, we put a nuke on Raptor and have it stay on one of her landing decks,” Aydenson suggested.

Musk frowned and nodded. “That was something that bothered me, too. And these people that Lutjens encountered…I can’t put my finger on it, but something she said has been bugging me.”

“Oh?” Andresson asked. “What was it?”

“If I knew,” Musk chuckled, “I’d be able to put my finger on it. As for now, I don’t want any of them aboard any of our ships, and I think that anyone over there, stays there for the duration. We can send supplies if necessary, and we’ll be in constant wireless contact, but something here just doesn’t add up.”

“So…we wait and see?” Aydenson said.

“Yes,” Musk nodded. “We’ll revisit this tomorrow, but for now, let’s plan on putting a prize crew on Pathfinder and sending her home. Siv…can you wait a moment before you leave?”

Five minutes later, Andresson and Musk remained in the conference room. “What’s up, Andre?” she asked. “I haven’t seen you indecisive in years.”

Musk sighed. “Because I really don’t know what the best course of action is, Siv. Part of me, the one with the ego and the eye to an official admiral’s pennant, wants to bring Pathfinder home and be the hero that solved the best-known ship disappearance in recent history. And the other part of me, the cautious ship commander that’s way out in the deep black, wants to ensure that everyone gets home safe and sound, and anything that is a threat to that should be avoided. Especially if it comes with the freaky baggage that Pathfinder has.”

Andresson sat back and steepled her fingers on the table. “I think that we need to keep an eye on everyone, and at the first sign that something might be amiss, we head home post-haste.”

“That…that I agree with,” Musk told her. “I also want you to do something else for me…”

“Anything, Andre,” Andresson said, “just ask.”

“I want Unicorn to develop a passive fire control solution on Pathfinder, specifically her fire direction center, auxiliary fire direction center, fire control dradis array, and general dradis arrays,” Musk explained.

“We can do that; I’ll keep the gunnery crews at Condition 2, and we can clear our first shot within thirty seconds, probably less,” Andresson explained.

“Good,” Musk said and slid an envelope across the table. “I’ve logged the orders and have had them transmitted directly to Unicorn, this is your written copy for the log. Under no circumstances is anyone to discuss this on an open frequency.”

Andresson nodded and understood what Musk was asking. He didn’t trust Pathfinder, either, and wanted Unicorn to be in position to launch a decapitation strike should it be necessary. “I think that we should quarantine Unicorn, just to be safe. Probably Iris, too.”

“Yeah…I thought about that, too. We have two space-going universities with the finest research equipment available, and we still can’t figure out what went wrong over there,” Musk lamented. “Tomorrow, we’ll vid conference and decide what to do.”

“What else is bothering you?” Andresson asked.

“Am I that transparent?” Musk countered.

“I’ve known you since we were at the academy and some brash third year bowled over a little ol’ first year and set her books flying, so yeah, you are to me,” Andresson told him.

Musk sighed, “Don’t think me crazy, ok?”

“Never,” Andresson said and then winked, “why should I think when I know?”

Musk smiled for a moment and then chuckled. “I must have needed that to set myself up so perfectly. We’re going to go home tomorrow.”

“Why?” Andresson asked.

Musk tapped on his tablet for a moment and then slid it across the table to where Andresson sat. “Seward is certain that there were in the neighborhood of just shy of twenty-thousand nuclear detonations yesterday. And while I know it was in unexplored space, I’m concerned. Finding Pathfinder is a godsend that will allow us to return home a year early. We can still return back here, our transit time shouldn’t be more than a couple weeks, so we won’t lose much, but I have a bad feeling.”

“Cylons?” Andresson asked.

Musk nodded. “Yeah. I had a nightmare last night that they returned, and while that isn’t enough to scrub the mission, when coupled with everything else, I think news of Pathfinder’s discovery needs to be taken home.

Andresson sat back and looked at the data on the tablet. The projections indicated that three systems bore the brunt of the nuclear assault, with attacks in more than twenty others. She pictured in her mind’s eye what the Colonies would look like after such a bombardment and shuddered. “Let’s go home, Andre. Lutjens has me spooked; something isn’t right over on Pathfinder, and now this? Yeah, let’s go home.”

*+*+*+*+*

“Most of those who didn’t make it to the evacuation craft or perish in the initial carnage have died,” Ser Orlando explained two hours later as everyone sat in the gazebo. The air was fresh and carried a rich floral scent, and to Lieutenant Gretchen Lutjens, seemed to have a slightly higher oxygen content, too. After the first expedition to Pathfinder, a full analysis of a sample of the ship’s atmosphere had been completed and found nothing unexpected or unknown, so the second expedition was able to operate without environment suits.

“If I may, Ser Orlando,” Lutjens asked, “what happened when the ship was abandoned? When the few survivors reached the Colonies, most were half mad from what they saw and very little of the logs or navigation data remained viable.”

Ser Orlando shot a glance to Serra Ida and then to Liesl, who slowly nodded. It almost seemed as if he was asking permission, but why would he do that, Lutjens thought, he’s the leader…or at least the leader along with his wife. Her eyes lingered on Liesl and then skipped over to where Ilsa sat with the others they had encountered. The resemblance wasn’t just close, it was almost exact, except for hair style and color, and the more mature feminine curves that Liesl had and Ilsa lacked.

“There was a madness that seemed to descend on the ship,” Ser Orlando slowly began and slipped a flower petal into his mouth. “People died mysteriously, some disappeared and were found in places they couldn’t have gotten to without outside help, and then the ship returned here where things really fell apart.

“Do you know about the mass funeral that was held on the surface?’ Ser Orlando asked.

“Yes,” Captain Dan Warwick said and entered the conversation. “That was when Pathfinder turned its guns on the service.”

Ser Orlando nodded, and a frown creased his face. “That was the end of the beginning,” he sighed. “Up here, it was as if chaos reigned. Even as a child, when the survivors were still alive, I couldn’t get an answer what happened or why. The one thing I do know is that Commander Bentonhurst made sure that Pathfinder would never navigate again…at least not without outside help.”

“Why is that?” Warwick asked. “The ship seems to be sound.”

“Commander Bentonhurst locked the command systems and then had all navigation data and records purged from the system, including all backups and masters,” Serra Ida explained in a quiet, but firm, voice. “Those who survived the carnage were trapped here…until now.”

This bit of information wasn’t in any of the histories that Lutjens had read, nor was it even hinted at. Something more happened on Pathfinder than the official record acknowledged and whatever it was, it was bad enough for the ship’s commanding officer to sabotage it before abandoning it in unknown space. “Simon, the robot on the bridge, said that the other maintenance units removed the bodies and cleaned the ship.”

Lutjens watched Ser Orlando’s and Serra Ida’s reaction and saw a barely perceptible widening of the eyes. “That would have been protocol,” Liesl said after a brief pause in the conversation. “I remember hearing one of the elders explain how they work and what they do, and one of their jobs was to keep the ship clean and maintained. It would only be natural for them to treat the…remains…as something that needed to be removed and cleaned.”

The conversation continued for another hour, and Lutjens couldn’t help but be glad that not only was she heavily armed and had two fireteams worth of trained Marines with her and another two ready to charge to the rescue, but that she was trained on how to use each and every weapon they possessed. Answers were thorough, but there were odd pauses, glances, and a general vibe that made her uneasy. She almost missed Warwick’s question and wished that she had asked it herself.

“Are there any survivors from the expedition?” Warwick asked and Lutjens once again noticed the glances. “You mentioned earlier that everyone who had survived was trapped here until now, so I wondered if anyone is still alive from back then.”

“Yes,” Ser Orlando answered and ate another flower petal. “Three still live…”

“Would you like to meet them?” Serra Ida asked.

“Yes, I would,” Warwick said and Lutjens let him play this hand. “I think it would be fascinating to talk with them and get their first-hand thoughts about the expedition.”

“We can have dinner with them,” Liesl offered and then smirked. “No, the invitation is to join with us and share our meal, not be part of the meal,” she winked.

Creepy. Just frakking creepy, Lutjens thought, but I am not going to miss this. She was also glad that everything that was being said was both being recorded and transmitted back to Corporal Aiden Kilgore’s larger and longer ranged wireless set and forwarded to Arke.

*+*+*+*+*

_________________
Kurt

Click the link to read Lady Hecate off line in PDF, .epub, or Kindle formats: http://www.bsg94.org/downloads/index.html
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PostPosted: Sun Mar 11, 2018 2:01 am 
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Location: Battlestar Hecate BSG-94
Chapter 49: Returning Home (Part 4 of 4)

Deep space, between the Meropian Communion and the Colonies, Colonial battlestar Hecate, BS-94

“How much longer?” Admiral Countess Seralanna Chase asked Captain Jerimiah Cole.

Cole smiled, “Six jumps to our positive control point, then one jump to Saga. Our ETA is about 7:30PM local time.”

Chase nodded and closed her eyes before she answered, “Thank-you, Jerry.” Softer, her voice barely above a whisper, she added, “By then it will all be over.”

“Yes, it will,” Colonel Constance deWinter replied and leaned over the plotting table that was located in the battlestar’s CIC. “If we had arrived earlier, we wouldn’t have made much of a difference…now we can plan our counterattack rather than just rushing in, guns blazing.”

“I know that here,” Chase sighed and tapped her finger to her temple, “but here…” she tapped her left breast, “I want to go after them with whatever I have, even if it’s just a knife.”

“Same here, Sera,” deWinter agreed. “Have you considered the worst-case scenario?”

“That we’re too late and everything is lost?” Chase asked and continued when she saw deWinter nod. “Yes…I discussed it with the others and we’ve agreed to accept my Mom’s proposal.”

“Return to Othrys?” deWinter asked.

“Yes…either there or Olympus,” Chase explained. “I don’t like it…I don’t like running, Connie. And if we do run, then we cede the battlefield, the initiative, our preparations, our knowledge of the local area…everything. And,” she shook her head, “we will have to overcome the psychological hurdle that we lost.”

“Your sisters’ people seemed to do ok,” deWinter observed.

“That’s because they had hope…a goal, and the very real possibility that the people they were seeking would be a thriving society that would welcome them like the long-lost brothers and sisters that they were. But…if we run…then we return to a planet that is primeval or an orbiting habitat where progress is measured in centuries rather than years. What makes us ‘us’ will be lost.”

deWinter was quiet for a moment. “You’ve really thought this through?”

“Yes…even more so since the Communion fell,” Chase confessed. “Rich did have a unique idea…just pick a direction and go ‘that way’ and not stop until we couldn’t go any farther.”

A sculpted auburn eyebrow arched and deWinter chuckled. “You realize we can go pretty far, right?”

“Yes…but will it be far enough?” Chase asked.

deWinter shrugged. “Dunno…but I’ll be right there fighting alongside you.”

“What about Jamie?” Chase asked.

A wide grin crossed deWinter’s face and she leaned in conspiratorially, “He’ll be out stealing the Cylons blind! He told me so!” After they stopped laughing, she added, “He may be Romani, but he’s also a Colonial, and he and his people will be there with us and see this to its end.”

“He’s a good man, Connie; I’m glad the two of you were able to reconnect,” Chase told her best friend.

“He is…” deWinter agreed. “So…how are we going to handle returning to Saga?”

Chase laughed and shook her head. “The first plan was vetoed before it even had a chance to breathe; winging it didn’t have much support. The working plan is that the principals will be aboard Hecate when we jump to Saga with the Colonial elements. The rest of the fleet will hold at the positive control point until we send word back to continue. This will give us a chance to lay the groundwork for the rest of the fleet, rather than everyone jumping in at once and causing all sorts of chaos.”

“Uh huh,” deWinter said. “I know that, I helped develop the operations plan. You’re dodging the question.”

“Delicately,” Chase finally replied. “Hopefully my dad made it to Saga, and if he did, then we’ll board him first and make the introductions, then we’ll bring in whoever else might have survived.”

“As much as I admire you, sister from another mother, er, goddess,” deWinter snarked, “this is one time I am glad I am not you.”

“Yeah…this is going to all be on the four of us,” Chase explained, “Me, Addy, Cora, and Mom.”

deWinter looked around CIC and made like she was peering into the darker corners. “I was just checking for vid cameras,” she quipped. “If I wasn’t personally involved, I would swear this was a vid…”

“Tell me about it,” Chase nodded.

*+*+*+*+*

Deep space, between the Meropian Communion and the Colonies, Northern Cross Lines liner Elysian Paradise

“And that wraps up the briefing,” Captain Ben Farmer said as he closed the cover on his tablet. “We’ll be making five more jumps and then holding while the Colonials continue to Saga. Once they’ve ascertained that all is well, as well as warning whoever is there that we’re coming, we’ll make the final jump. Any questions or comments?”

“I have a comment,” a young-looking lieutenant said as he motioned with his hand.

“Lieutenant West, the floor is yours,” Farmer said and sat back in his chair.

“Thank you, Captain,” Lieutenant Casper West said. “I wanted to thank you and the crew for the smooth integration of my traffic control team into Elysian Paradise’s operations. We’ve established a good working relationship with the Earth Union’s team and the Colonials, and so far, we’ve had relatively smooth sailing.”

“We aim to please, here at Northern Cross Lines,” Farmer quipped. “I’m glad you’re all settling in, Casper. Right now, we’re either writing the book or copying it wholesale from the Union’s operations manual, and I’m glad that there is good cooperation with the other groups. I have heard from Admiral Cassidine and she sends her compliments and thanks for taking the workload off Dike Astraea so she can focus on fighting rather herding kittens.”

Farmer’s comment drew a round of chuckles and Flight Captain Rachel Murat found herself joining in with the others. The past several days had been non-stop and there was part of her that felt guilty…not that she survived when billions perished, but rather that she had never felt more alive than ever before. Before they had left the Meropis cluster, someone, somewhere, had detailed that a Prodromoi be assigned to her heavy squadron. She had christened it Elysian Spear and begun forming the half dozen Peltast gunships into their own squadron. They weren’t much, but they would at least be able to offer a protective screen for Elysian Paradise to hopefully jump to safety if they were attacked.

“Are you having any issues with the civilians?” Farmer asked and brought Murat’s mind back to the table.

“No,” West stated, “though I thought we would, especially with Delos or Mykonos, but both accepted our direction without question or comment.”

“Color me surprised, I thought the eggheads on Mykonos and the gentry on Delos would put up more of a fight for control. Keep an eye on them, just in case.”

The discussion lasted another ten minutes before Farmer dismissed it and everyone but Murat had left. “You surprised me with your comments about Delos and Mykonos…” Murat leadingly said. “Anything I should keep my eyes open for?”

Farmer shook his head and stood before walking over to the sidebar and pouring two cups of coffee. “No, nothing specific…just experience,” he said and placed the cups on the table. “Delos has a serious concentration of people who by virtue of their wallets are used to getting their way; the whole ship is like a mobile condo complex for the well-to-do, and Mykonos, while similar in design to Delos, is home to Mykonos Polytechnic…”

Everyone in the Communion knew about Mykonos Polytechnic; it was one of the top universities for anything science or engineering related and had been given ‘special privileges’ that most civilian traffic never received. That they were behaving and not throwing their weight around was both a blessing and an indication of how deeply shocked they were at what happened. “I’m glad. Of all the ships in the fleet, those two are among the most vulnerable with the massive enclosed spaces.”

“Oh! I almost forgot…” Farmer smirked. “This came in the dispatch bag from Dike Astraea, and it’s addressed to you.” He slid what looked like a greeting card envelope across the table to her.

Murat picked up the envelope and made sure that she really was the intended recipient. Then her eyes moved to the upper left corner and a broad smile blossomed on her face. Her fingers were almost trembling as she broke the seal and opened the envelope before fishing out the card inside. The card’s face showed a lifelike cartoon drawing of a violet eyed woman in Communion mess dress whites and a man, possibly Colonial by the look of the uniform, in a similar dress uniform, holding each other’s hands and with their heads turned just enough that she knew they were looking at each other.

There was only one person that Murat knew who had violet eyes, but she was reported as missing and presumed dead more than a year earlier. Slowly, hope filled her heart as she opened the card and read the inscription,

“Dear Rachel,

Please join us as we say our vows and unite ourselves in marriage. We realize that with everything that has happened, and will happen, that this may seem to be out of place, but should we be called to cross over from this world to the next, we want to have declared our love for each other in front of those who mean the most to us and become husband and wife. We plan for the service to take place a week after arriving in the Colonies. The ceremony location and reception details will be forthcoming.

Please RSVP as soon as possible…and bring a +1!

/s/

Minerva and Josiah

PS: Rache…we have so much to catch up on! Ping me when you have a moment...I am so, so glad that you made it through everything that happened. Love – Min”

Murat read the short script two more times and by the time she finished tears were falling down across her cheeks She sniffed and used a napkin to wipe the tears and looked up to see Farmer waiting patiently. “My best friend is getting married,” she said. “I…I thought she was dead but she’s alive!”

“Congratulations to the bride to be!” Farmer said and smiled. Murat didn’t miss the look in his eyes; it was something that she’d seen a lot of over the past couple days and warmed her heart.

“Despite all the death, today is a good day,” Murat finally said. “May I put you down as my plus one?”

“I’d be honored,” Farmer said seriously and once again Murat felt guilty for feeling so good, so alive, when so much had been lost. “I guess we better prowl the promenade to find a wedding gift. Somehow I think a rocket launcher will be a better wedding gift than a toaster.”

*+*+*+*+*

Beyond Known Space, Orbit of Unnamed System’s 3rd Planet, aboard HMS Pathfinder

Lieutenant Gretchen Lutjens walked along with the rest of her Marines and the nine survivors. Yuki Yamada and Ilsa Schmidt were always close to her and if she didn’t know any better, would say that there was a bit of hero worship going on with them. That was just fine, she thought, perhaps it would be enough to loosen their tongues over dinner and they’ll let something, anything, slip. The simple act of walking through the massive ship and not seeing any crew or mission personnel was eerie and had her on edge.

“Here we are,” Ser Orlando said and opened a hatch and stepped aside. “This is one of the old restaurants that Pathfinder had aboard to help add some variety to daily life. I believe this one was styled on a saloon from the Canceron frontier.”

When it was time for Lutjens to enter, she found that Ser Orlando’s description was pretty accurate; the walls were clad in roughly finished wood planks as was the floor, an ornate bar with a mirrored backbar dominated one wall, while tables for parties of four to eight were scattered around the room. In one corner, several triad tables were setup and still had chip stands and card racks in the center. The room was clearly designed to remind the diner of Canceron’s frontier era and give them a sense of comfort while they were far from home.

For Lutjens, however, it did exactly the opposite.

It was understandable that the survivors would try to make them feel welcome and comfortable, but Lutjens got the feeling that the effort was fake, or that it was being done to distract her attention from what was really going on. With each additional event, she was more and more convinced that something was being hidden from them.

Yuki, Orson, Tim, and Ilsa quickly moved several tables together so that everyone would have a place to sit, and then set the table. “The others will be here in a few moments,” Yuki said when the table was ready, still exhibiting boundless energy that she had when Lutjens met her.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Lutjens said a moment before the hatch opened again and three people entered. All were dressed as she would expect ‘scientists’ to be dressed; nice clothes covered by a lab coat, but that was where the expectations ended. Ser Orlando had said that these three were survivors from the original crew, yet none of them looked older than middle age. For a brief moment, she was ready to call off the entire meeting and head back to Arke, but that wasn’t the Marine way and it certainly wasn’t in her nature to cut and run when things got weird.

The first man approached her and offered his hand, “I’m Dr. Aaron Clovis, you can’t imagine how glad we are to finally be found.”

“Lieutenant Gretchen Lutjens, Colonial Marines,” Lutjens said and took his hand. Clovis offered a firm handshake that suggested confidence rather than an attempt to set a pecking order. “A lot has happened back home since you left, you might not want to go back depending on how you felt about certain things,” she replied with a smile.

“Home is home, Lieutenant,” Clovis told her. “Whether it is as I remember it or paved over for a shopping mall and parking lot, it’s still home.”

“Well, that is one way to look at it,” Lutjens replied before Clovis stepped away and was replaced by the second person in the group.

“I’m Dr. Ronaldo Escobar,” the dark hared, somewhat dapper man said and took Lutjens’ hand and raised it to his lips for a brief kiss. “Enchanted, Lieutenant.”

“As am I, Doctor,” Lutjens replied, unsure of what exactly one should say when a cheesy pickup line from a telenovela vid was used on her.

“And I am Dr. Eliza Schmidt,” the third person, a woman, said as she took Lutjens’ hand.

Lutjens turned her attention to the woman and her heart skipped a beat. Dr. Eliza Schmidt looked like a slightly older version of Liesl, who now that she had a chance to compare faces and bodies, looked like a slightly older version of Ilsa Schmidt. “Honored,” she finally was able to say when she noticed Schmidt offer a knowing smile.

“I see you noticed the similarity between Liesl, Ilsa, and myself,” Schmidt chuckled. “For legal purposes, they’re my daughter and granddaughter…but biologically, they’re me…my clones.”

*+*+*+*+*

Beyond Known Space, Orbit of Unnamed System’s 3rd Planet, Colonial Deep Space Research Vessel Arke

The deep space particle sensor array on Arke was one of the two most advanced and sensitive sensor suites ever mounted on something mobile; the other suite was on her sister ship, Iris, a few dozen kilometers away. Located deep within the primary hull, the sensor suite’s control center was as advanced as any battlestar’s CIC, and then some. Large displays dominated one wall, while clusters of workstations had smaller displays that fed data to their larger brethren. Dr. Chesley Seward, on loan from the University of Delphi, looked out at the room he had long considered his personal fief and was puzzled.

Being puzzled was something foreign to Seward who had been a child prodigy with his first doctorate at 16, and his third before he was legally old enough to drink. He had solved difficult problems before, but they were difficult solely due to their complexity or having to combine different disciplines to solve the problem. Puzzlement was something different entirely. The mystery of the sudden spike in tachyon pulses had weighed on his mind ever since they were discovered. What was just as mysterious was how they all seemed to end about the same time.

There was no doubt in Seward’s mind that they had recorded the end of a technologically advanced civilization, and no doubt that the civilization was not the Colonies. He had thought arming the massive research ships was a folly, and even laughed when the Ministry had a battlestar assigned to escort them. But right now, Chesley Seward was glad for every gun, armor plate, Viper, and any other weapon that might have been brought along.

Being puzzled had also introduced Chesley Seward to another emotion that was new to him: Fear.

“Dr. Seward?” Tony Sabatini said and broke Seward from his thoughts.

“What is it, Tony?” Seward asked and walked over to where one of his undergrads sat at a workstation.

“Ah…I just recorded seven tachyon pulses…they happened within a span of ten seconds,” Sabatini said and keyed the sensor data and played it for Seward.

“Do you have a bearing?” Seward asked and felt his palms begin sweating.

“Um…yes…” Sabatini reluctantly answered. “I plotted it…” he added and keyed his other monitor to display the navigational data. “It’s on a bearing that points directly back home…”

“Frak me…” Seward said and sat in the chair next to Sabatini. “Put the array up on screen 1 and only show incoming tachyon pulses.”

Sabatini’s fingers flew across the keyboard and a moment later the data was being displayed on screen 1, the center’s primary display. “There it is…I’m going to put a real time navigation plot on screen 2 to give us a bearing on each pulse we receive.”

Seward nodded and sat back and steepled his fingers as he stared at the two displays. Tachyon pulses were common enough to be detected every few minutes. Ten minutes and half a dozen pulses bearing in other directions, the screen suddenly registered and displayed more than fifty pulses. He forced his eyes to screen 2 and felt his blood run cold; all fifty pulses had the same bearing – back toward the Colonies.

Without thinking, Seward picked up the handset that rested between the two workstations and dialed the CIC. “CIC, Specialist Claremont.”

“Maisy, this is Dr. Seward,” Seward began and forced his voice to remain calm and not show the fear and panic that he suddenly felt. “Is Commodore Musk available?”

“Ah, no, he isn’t, Doctor,” Claremont told him. “He’s on his way down to talk to Colonel Mackensen about the Marines over on Pathfinder.”

“This is an emergency, Maisy,” Seward told Claremont. “I need you to page him and have him contact me or come to the sensor suite control center ASAP.”

“Wilco, Doctor,” Claremont said a moment before he heard her voice echo over the ship’s 1MC directing Musk to contact Seward.

“Thanks, Maisy,” Seward said and hung up. Now I wait, he thought as the tachyon pulse counter suddenly climbed over 125.

“What’s going on, Chesley?” Musk’s voice asked from behind Seward a few moments later.

“Commodore,” Seward said and spun his chair to face Commodore Andre Musk. “We’re detecting more tachyon pulses…in the direction of the Colonies.”

Musk swallowed and rolled his lips between his teeth. “Are you sure it isn’t a decommissioning? I believe Galactica was scheduled to be taken off the line today.”

Slowly, sadly, Seward shook his head. “No…those ceremonies are usually half a dozen or so nukes that have passed their service life; we used to use them for calibration tests. Right now,” he looked over his shoulder, “We have more than 140 distinct pulses.”

“Oh…” Musk said and Seward thought to himself, I know just how you’re feeling. The realization that their home was under attack was like a solid kick to the stomach and the young doctor had never felt so impotent in all his life.

“Have you confirmed this with Iris?” Musk finally asked.

“Yes,” Seward said and nodded. “That display there is their live feed; everything is five by five.”

Musk appeared to have come to a decision and pursed his lips. “Keep me informed; if I’m not in CIC, have Maisy track me down. I need to talk to Commanders Andresson and Aydenson and then we need to think about heading home.”

*+*+*+*+*

Deep space, Positive Control Point 5 light years from the Thule system, Colonial battlestar Hecate, BS-94

Admiral Countess Seralanna Chase washed her face in the basin that was just outside her quarters’ bathroom. She looked at her reflection in the mirror and took a deep breath before she dried her face with the soft hand towel. Her skin was flawless, and she rarely wore more than the bare minimum of makeup, and today was no different.

“Will you teach me how to do that, Sera?” Ava asked from where she sat cross legged on the bed with Dickens and Lira at her sides.

“Of course,” Chase told the young girl and quickly glanced at the clock. She had plenty of time before the next jump was scheduled and motioned with her hand, “Come on over, I’ll put some on you now.”

“Yay!” Ava exclaimed and both Dickens and Lira stood with their tails wagging as if they were happy just because the little girl was happy. As Chase considered it, they probably were happy because Ava was happy.

“Ok,” Chase said a moment later, “sit right here and we’ll touch on the basics. My mom…”

“That’s Hecate, right?” Ava asked happily.

Chase couldn’t suppress the smile that came to her face. “Yes, but I didn’t know that was who she was when she lived with us; to us, she was Iona, or to me, Mom.”

“That is so cool!” Ava exclaimed. “Jess told me that Athena was going to adopt him as her own.”

Now that was something I hadn’t heard, Chase thought and nodded. Even though it had only been a couple days, she had seen a change in Athena; it was more of a softening of the edges and the Olympian was more apt to smile than maintain a stoic façade. I wonder if I’m like that, too, she wondered.

“I think it will do them both good,” Chase replied and began explaining the finer points of using ‘war paint’ as her mother once called it. “Always err on the side of less is more,” she advised. “Too much and you look fake, while just the right amount draws attention where you want it without distracting from the whole.” As she talked, she quickly put her words into action as she applied a bit of makeup here and there on Ava’s face, pulling out her best features and making it look like the little girl wasn’t wearing anything on her face. “There! Done!”

“Wow! I look…I look…great!” Ava squealed. “Thank you, Sera!” she said and tightly hugged Chase. “You’re the best!”

“Thank you, Pumpkin,” Chase answered and hugged her back. The latest news from Dr. Clay on Soteria about Ava’s mother, Zuzana, was mixed; her body was responding to the treatments, especially those provided by the Olympians, but the expected recovery that they should have seen was missing. Dr. Clay said it was almost as if the woman had lost the will to live. Chase hugged Ava and vowed that as soon as they resolved the return, she and Ava were going to go back to the hospital ship and visit the girl’s mother. Perhaps, depending on the treatment, they could even move her to Hecate.

“It’s time for me to go do grownup things,” Chase finally said. “Are you going to be ok with Dickens and Lira?”

“Oh yes!” Ava enthusiastically replied. “I’ll take them down to the gardens and let them walk and then we’ll come home.”

“Ok. If you need anything…” Chase told her and arched an eyebrow.

“I’ll use the intercom…or,” Ava winked, “one of the Marines will. One always seems to be nearby when I go on a walk.”

Chase smiled at the thought. Marines might be the Fleet’s blade, ready and willing to go face to face with any enemy, but they were also the finest people in uniform and Hecate’s detachment had adopted Ava as their unofficial mascot. She would never be without a guardian so long as she was aboard the battlestar. “That’s right! Now…I’ll be back, but it will probably be past your bed time.”

Ava frowned. “Ok…Will Aunt Andrea be by to read me a story?”

“I think we can wrangle that,” Chase said and realized that she might lose her aide for a while.

“Cool!” Ava grinned.

*+*+*+*+*

“Everyone is aboard,” Chase said an hour later after she took her place at the plotting table in the battlestar’s CIC. She had spent the past forty minutes greeting everyone who would be necessary for the first meeting, and for the first meeting with her father.

“Nervous?” Colonel Constance deWinter asked.

“A little,” Chase confessed. “But then I remembered something Rich told me last night over dinner. He said, ‘Sera, most of those people are family, and those that aren’t are simply family by other parents. Look at this as a family reunion that took two thousand years to happen’.”

“Smart man, smart advice,” deWinter observed.

“Yes,” Chase smirked. “Then I told him that he was going to be here and have a front row seat. He smiled and accepted that his argument was really that good.”

“And I’ll be here keeping the lights on and making sure we don’t bump into anything…” deWinter teased before she stood a little straighter. “We are ready to jump on your order.”

Chase nodded and accepted the nudge to get back on track. “Lara, can you put me ship wide as well as fleet wide?”

Communications Petty Officer Lara Pickman smiled. “Already ready, Admiral,” she replied. “Your handset is live.”

“Thank you, Lara,” Chase said and offered a nod to Pickman’s efficiency. She looked at the black handset and took a deep breath. Time to be an admiral, she thought as her left hand wrapped around the smooth polymer handset and lifted it off the cradle.

“Attention, this is Admiral Chase. In a few minutes we are going to make the jump for Saga, in the Thule system. For all intents and purposes, we will be returning home in a few short minutes and once again be within the Colonial Sphere. When we left, we had a goal, an idea of what we hoped to find, and yet, the reality of what we found was so much more than even our wildest fantasies.

“We found friends from across the stars and built the first bridges and ties of community that I hope, that I know, will continue to bring us closer together as each day passes. We found that a legend, the Thirteenth Tribe, was real and reaching out to us for help, and once again we extended the hand of friendship and built more bridges and ties of community.

“Then…then we found Olympus and the home of the gods. So many questions were answered, so many of the blanks in our history were filled in, and yet so many more presented themselves just waiting for answers.

“And then, as we returned home, we discovered that we would be returning to devastation, to genocide, to every crime against humanity possible, and once again we all rose above what we thought we were, what we could do, and did so much more. There was no hesitation that we would help, and for the first time the Colonies, Communion, and Earth Union shared a true common cause. Communion civilians were rescued by Colonial Marines and taken to an Earth Union hospital ship for treatment. The uniforms and national emblems on our ships meant nothing more than declaring that we were human, and we were united.

“I am so proud of how everyone performed while we were in the Communion. It was a day where everyone rose to the occasion and where heroism and compassion were common that it simply became accepted that ‘that’s just how it is’.

“When we left, we were in for one more surprise. We discovered that there were Cylons that look like us, and that some of them wanted no part in the genocide that happened and the one that was about to happen. With them were the Monads, a group who chose self-exile forty years, and who now wanted to rejoin the Colonial family.

“Humanity is at a crossroads,” Chase declared and paused for a moment. “We are at a crossroads because right now, the people in this fleet represent the remnants of two proud civilizations and when we return to the Colonies we may find that we are in the same situation as our brethren from the Earth Union and Communion.

“We must put away the old fears, the old prejudices, and the old ways of viewing those who might be different…or who may worship differently than we do. We are all human and we may be all that is left of three cultures. We are all human…no matter what happens, remember that…and that we are all in this together: Colonial, Communion, Earth Union, Monad, and Cylon…through our union we have strength and hope - in communione nostra et spes roboris habemus.

“All Colonial units, prepare for jump.

“Chase, out.”

Chase closed her eyes and slowly placed the handset back on its cradle when she heard deWinter state in a loud, firm voice, “So say we all!”

A moment later, everyone in the CIC replied, “So say we all!” It took Chase a moment to realize that it wasn’t just the crew in the CIC chanting the ancient statement of faith, but crews of other ships echoing her own staff through the speakers.

“Omnes,” a familiar voice said by her shoulder.

“Hi, Mom…how’d I do?” Chase asked and arched her eyes.

Hecate, Iona Avedon Chase, wiped her eyes and nodded. “You made me proud, Sera, so very proud.”

“Thanks…” Chase said and looked around the CIC at all the expectant faces. “Captain Cole, send the word and start the jump clock, we will jump on your mark.”

“Send the word and start the jump clock, we will jump on my mark, aye,” Captain Jeremiah Cole repeated and then implemented Chase’s order. “We will jump in five…four…three…two…one…jump!”

Chase felt the world contract for an infinite instant before expanding back to normal as the massive battlestar that bore her mother’s name made the jump to Saga.

“Transit completed!” Cole announced a moment later and then studied his dradis display that suddenly started pinging off the other members of the fleet. “We are spot on target, all elements are accounted for, and all are in formation. We are free and clear to navigate, Admiral.”

“Well done, Jerry, well done,” Chase told the navigator. “What’s out there?”

“I’m getting pingback from transponders...” Cole began. “Thule Station is intact, as are the drydocks, and there seems to be a lot of activity around both of them. Ah…I’m getting positive pingbacks from Nike, Galactica, Diana, Atlantia, Concordat, the Furies, and quite a few others…ah…I have confirmation that Ad Astra and Aeternus Imperium are present.”

Chase felt her mother’s hand squeeze her shoulder and she blinked away the tears. If Ad Astra was here, then it was almost certain her father had survived the attack. “Lara, please open a hail, priority one, and pass it down here, please.”

“It’s ready, Admiral,” Pickman replied a moment later.

Chase looked at the black handset that was resting on its cradle waiting for her to pick it up. “Thank you, Lara,” she said before she raised the handset to her ear. deWinter was watching her and Captain Megan Sinclair, her Flight Operations officer, had her headset on and was ready to scramble the CAP and rest of the squadrons should this be a Cylon ruse. They had decided to withhold launching the CAP in case they had to quickly jump out system.

“This is Hecate Actual, I wish to speak with the ranking officer in charge,” Chase said firmly and with a calmness that betrayed her real emotions.

The response was almost immediate. “Hecate Actual, this is Colonel Noelle Tulle of the battlestar Nike, please authenticate your identity.”

“Lara?” Chase said and looked at Pickman.

“I sent our credentials and theirs authenticated as well,” Pickman said.

Hecate Actual, Nike, welcome home,” Tulle said a moment later. “I’ve put in a call for Admirals Deguya and Vought, as well as some others that I think will want to talk to you.”

“Thank you, Nike,” Chase replied and released the breath she had been holding. “How bad are things?”

“Ah…” Tulle hesitated, and that simple act told Chase all she needed to know. “It’s bad, Admiral, pretty bad. We’re still getting in stragglers, but the Cylons really hit us hard.”

“Thank you, Colonel,” Chase said and saw pain and determination on the faces around her in the CIC. This was about as far from what they expected when they returned home as was possible, and she knew that each one was wondering whether any of their family made it to safety.

Hecate Actual, this is Admiral Deguya, welcome home, Sera,” Admiral Griffith Deguya said over the wireless. “I see you encountered the Expeditionary Fleet that we sent to the Communion.”

“Thank you. Yes, I did…ah…Admiral, a lot of things have happened since we left, things that we never expected or even conceived. Some of them…some of them are pretty earthshaking. I would like to invite you, my father, the Empress, and anyone else you feel necessary, to come over to Hecate so we can brief you before any decisions are made.”

“This is highly irregular, Admiral,” Deguya replied. “How do we know you aren’t compromised?”

Chase closed her eyes before she spoke. “Admiral, I can only give you my word. Remember when I was promoted in your office? What you told me as you pinned on my new diamonds?” She paused a moment and then continued, “I ask you Admiral, trust me. I wouldn’t ask this unless it was that important.”

There was silence except for the crackle and pop of the encrypted wireless. “Ok, Sera,” Deguya said and dropped the formality. “We’ll be over in twenty minutes. Esty tells me you make a mean cup of hot chocolate, so I’m expecting some…”

A laugh escaped before Chase could stop it. “Will do, Admiral.”

*+*+*+*+*

Twenty-five minutes after Chase put the handset back on the cradle she was standing in Hecate’s portside top VIP receiving gallery. Saber 6 and Boatswain’s Mate Dibiasi’s honor guard were present and one by one Dibiasi piped the VIP’s aboard. First was Admiral Griffith Deguya, followed by Admiral Cyrus Vought, then when Chase saw who was standing in the hatch, her heart skipped a beat. “His Grace, Charles Chase, the Duke of Westfield,” the Chief announced as Chase’s father stepped aboard.

“Daddy,” Chase whispered and blinked her eyes rapidly to keep the tears away.

The next person that Dibiasi piped aboard brought an almost similar reaction, “Her Imperial Highness, Searlait II, Empress of Virgon and Defender of the Hibernian Marches.”

“Welcome home, Sera,” the Empress said from the hatch after she had been piped aboard.

Two additional people came aboard, though they weren’t piped aboard; Captain Sana Chastain and Lieutenant Alessa Ward. Chase expected to see Chastain, especially since it was her father’s Raven that brought the delegation aboard. But Alessa Ward, the very face made her muscles tense as her hands balled into fists. The last time she had seen that face was as it was falling face down in a spray of blood in a hallway at Westfield.

“Welcome aboard Hecate,” Chase said cordially, falling back on the training that had prepared her for her godmother’s court. “Father…I’m so glad you’re here.”

“So am I, Spitfire, so am I,” Charles said and took his daughter into his arms for a long-awaited hug.

“Daddy, what is she doing here?” Chase whispered in her father’s ear.

“A lot has changed, Sera,” Charles said as he stepped back and held his daughter at arm’s length. Chase felt his eyes meet hers and accepted that her father must have a good reason for bringing an Equal aboard.

“Wait a minute…she’s not dead?” Chase said and narrowed her eyes at where Alessa stood next to Chastain.

“Why would she?” Charles asked. “She was recovered by the time you left.”

“No…she should have been killed when she came through the hatch,” Chase explained and pointed to the silver glyphs that outlined the hatch. “They kill Equals and riders.”

“Sera,” Charles said and put his arm around her shoulders, “Alessa is no longer an Equal. Alessa?”

Alessa hesitantly took a step forward, and then after Chastain whispered something in her ear, closed the distance and stood in before Chase. “Admiral, I have to thank you for what you did for me that night at Westfield. You had every right, every reason, to kill me, but you didn’t. That gave me the chance to become the person I want to be, who I am now, and thanks to your father, I was able to sever my ties with Cathedral and become normal again.”

“You’re not an Equal?” Chase asked and narrowed her eyes and noticed that there were some subtle differences between who she was seeing and who she remembered. The eyes were more almond shaped, the nose a little more fitting for the face, and the cheekbones seemed ever so slightly higher.

“No,” Alessa replied and turned slightly while lifting her hair off her shoulders and baring her lower neck and upper back revealing a symbol that Chase was very familiar with. “This gave me my freedom, even though it could have killed me, I couldn’t go on without trying.”

A barbed comment was at the tip of her tongue when Chase remembered the speech she had given less than half an hour earlier. Instead, she nodded and looed at her father and saw the compassion in his eyes that he had for this woman. “Ok…it looks like I wasn’t the only one with a family surprise,” she finally said. “Admiral Vought, Admiral Deguya, I originally was going to keep this within the family, so to speak, but I don’t want to keep this secret from you and it is one that you will need to understand so that you have the big picture.”

Vought nodded, “Thank you, Sera, I appreciate your trust and candor. I’m sure that if what I think happened, happened, you might have some good news for us.”

“I hope so, Admiral, though I don’t think that this is going to be something you might have thought would happen,” Chase said cryptically and led them out of the receiving gallery. After everyone was seated in the lounge, she made sure they were comfortable and had cups of hot chocolate and nervously tugged down her uniform cuffs.

“Daddy, you’re going to meet some people in few moments and I want you to keep an open mind, ok?” Chase asked.

“Of course, honey,” Charles replied and waited until a Marine opened the lounge’s hatch. Chase followed after everyone had entered the lounge and then waited for the hatch to close. “Please, have a seat…” she said and waved to the various chairs and sofas. “First, before we begin,” she paused and looked into a side room, “Godmother, I think someone wants to reassure you that they’re ok.”

A moment later, Admiral Leonardo Galva stepped from the darkness and into the lounge. “I told you I’d make it back,” he grinned.

Chase smiled at her godmother’s reaction. Searlait forced back the tears as she stood and walked slowly to where Galva stood. “You did…and you did,” she finally said as the tears spilled down her cheeks a moment before the two embraced.

When Galva and the Empress regained their composure, Chase again motioned everyone to sit. “Daddy, we met a lot of people we never expected when we left the Colonies. The best way to do this is to go step by step, ok?”

“Certainly, Honey, whatever works best for you,” Charles said and cocked his head slightly at the mystery that Chase was weaving.

“The first people we met were from the Communion,” Chase said as Admiral Giovanna Cassidine and Admiral Cesare Arcadiaolos stepped into the lounge. “Gia and I became fast friends thanks to the thinking of some very savvy junior officers. Admiral Galva explained why they were out there, so I won’t go over that again.

“We next encountered the first group of refugees from the Earth Union and I met Admiral Hannah Marlowe and Commander Jackson Fletcher. Hannah, Jack?” Chase said, and Admiral Hannah Marlowe and Commander Jackson Fletcher entered the lounge.

“As we travelled, Hannah and I got to be good friends, almost like sisters, wouldn’t you say, Hannah?” Chase asked.

“You could say that, Sera,” Hannah warmly smiled and replied in her laid back El Doradan drawl.

“Now, we’re going to skip something really big,” Chase explained, “and talk about the second group we encountered from the Earth Union. Commander Digger Sharma’s Ariadne, the finest ship in the fleet,” she paid the well-deserved compliment to the gunstar, “had someone aboard that was thought lost…Brooke?”

*+*+*+*+*

A younger version of Hannah Marlowe stepped out of the darkened side room and Charles knew that the two were sisters. Yet, the more he looked at them, the more he couldn’t shake the feeling that they also shared physical traits with Sera and Cora.

“Admiral,” Brooke said as she walked into the room.

“This is Brooke Marlowe, Hannah’s younger sister,” Chase explained. “We’re almost done, Daddy, I can see you trying to puzzle this out,” she smiled. “At the same time as we encountered Brooke, another Earth Union fleet joined us. For Brooke and Hannah, this was a very joyous reunion. Sean?”

This time an older, distinguished looking man entered the lounge and Charles felt like he was looking at a distant cousin; they shared a similar build, hairstyle, facial shape, and even had some of the same body language. “Admiral Sean Marlowe,” he said and held out his hand for Charles.

Charles took it and narrowed his eyes. “Sera?”

“Almost there,” Chase told her father as Sean introduced himself to the ladies present, starting with the Empress. “When we returned, we encountered Hemera, a Communion battlestar that gave us the information that the Communion was under Cylon attack. Her commander, Alexis Sandhurst,” she paused, and another woman came out of the darkened room.

“Alexis, this is my father, Charles,” Chase said and introduced the newcomer.

Something was definitely not right here, Charles thought as he studied the women before him. There was coincidence, and then there was…what? Something guided by the hand of the gods?

“Now we need to back up a bit,” Chase stated and started pacing. Charles knew that she only paced when she was nervous or thinking, and she definitely looked nervous at the moment. “Daddy, we found Galleon, but more importantly, we found Olympus.”

Charles was speaking even before his daughter finished, “It was real?” he asked.

Chase nodded. “That, and a whole lot more. When we arrived at Olympus, someone asked to meet with me and Cora privately, so we cleared part of the middeck hangar and waited for them to arrive. The voice…that was what made me agree to it.

“Daddy…what you’re going to learn in a moment is…I…” Chase stammered and looked like she was at a loss for words.

Charles wasn’t much better as he felt his pulse suddenly spike as his daughter, Cora, escorted someone he thought long dead into the lounge. “I…Iona?” he managed to say and took several steps towards the apparition next to his youngest daughter.

“Hello, Charles, I’m sorry it’s been so long,” Hecate, also known as Iona Avedon Chase, slowly answered and tenderly hugged him.

He knew then, beyond a doubt, as he felt her in his arms, that this was Iona. After a moment, he stepped back and looked at her. “What? How?” Charles felt himself floundering for the words he wanted to ask.

“Charles, you knew me as Iona, but I am Hecate of Caria, and these,” Hecate gestured to indicate Chase, Cora, Hannah, and Brooke, “are my daughters, while Gia and Alexis are my granddaughters. As for how…it’s a long story,” she said. Slowly, and with deliberate care, she explained how she came to be in the Colonies and was incarnated as Iona Avedon. She then explained how she came to be in both the Communion and much earlier, in the Earth Union.

“Wow…I think I always knew,” Charles finally said, “but I never allowed myself to believe, that you really weren’t dead.”

Sean put his hand on Charles’ shoulder and nodded. “I know exactly how you feel,” he said, his voice full of understanding.

“Is there anything else I need to know before I tell you my news?” Charles asked.

“Yes…” Chase said and paused. “Daddy, I’m going to recognize Addy as my heir; Addy?”

Lieutenant Addison Casey peeked around the door to the darkened side room before she stepped into the light. Charles noticed Chase’s quick gasp of surprise as a young girl, dressed up in a fleet uniform, stood next to Casey. “Ava?” Chase asked before looking at Casey. “Addy?”

“I thought it was the right thing to do…” Casey said and then added when Lieutenant Andrea Esposito stepped out of the darkness, “Don’t blame Andrea…it was my idea.”

Charles could see his daughter blinking back tears as she took her daughter in her arms and hugged her close, before opening one arm and pulling the girl, Ava, close with them. “Thank you, Addy…”

“Is this my new family?” Ava asked innocently.

Chase nodded. “Yes, it is, sweetie.”

Ava slipped out of the hug and walked over to Charles, “Hi! I’m Ava…are you my new grandfather?”

That one simple question from the towheaded cherub caused the last blocks on Charles emotions to be shattered and he found himself kneeling in front of her with his arms out, “Yes…if you want me to be?”

Ava’s smile melted his heart as he felt her tiny arms go around his shoulders, “I do! I do!”

_________________
Kurt

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PostPosted: Fri Jun 29, 2018 11:42 pm 
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Location: Battlestar Hecate BSG-94
Vignette 9: Degrees of Separation (Part 1 of 4)

Styx Belt, Plouton’s Cauldron, Earth Union gunstar Astarte

“Dickie, who the frak did I piss off for us to pull this assignment?” Commander John ‘Jack’ Elder asked in his laid back El Doradan drawl as he ran his right hand through his still dark chestnut hair and arched his eyebrows at his Executive Officer standing on the other side of the plotting table.

“Beats me, Jack,” Colonel Richard ‘Dickie’ Weaver replied in the same easy drawl and shrugged. “Were you in any games where you won big and didn’t know all the players?” he asked and then added, “or were any of your liaisons with the wrong women?”

“No…I’ve been beached on both fronts for way too long,” Elder replied and frowned. “I could understand if they were pissed at me if they detached us and sent us out here, but to bring the entire extended group to ride shotgun over a fleet tender and a hospital ship making the rounds to recertify Carousel’s employees and Compassion House’s medical staff’s licenses?” He sighed and shook his head again. “We’re here, we better make the best of it.”

“I was going to say something like that…” Weaver smirked. “I understand that you know Director Primrose LaFontaine, over on Carousel…”

Elder laughed. “Yeah, you could say that, Dickie. She was a few years younger than me back home and decided that she was going to be Mrs. Jack Elder…when she was eight. Rory, her older brother and a classmate, tried to beat the shit out of me when he heard that. Said,” he lowered his voice and tried to make it sound menacing, “’Y’all ain’t gonna be sniffing ‘round my little sistah no mo-ah, ya heah?’ When I told him that I wasn’t interested in Prim that pissed him off even mo-ah,” he said mocking his old adversary. “He then said, ‘So my little sistah ain’t good enough for you rich boys?’ and tried to sucker-punch me. I’ve seen Prim a couple times since then, never anything romantic, always a ‘Hi, how are you?’ sort of thing. This will be the first time that we’ve been in close proximity in years.”

“You are a legend,” Weaver chuckled. “Whatever happened to Rory? Can we expect him to suddenly show up?”

“That’s a good question,” Elder replied. “The last I heard was that he was involved with Greenbriar Mining.”

Weaver rolled his lips between his teeth and tried not to laugh as he turned away. “What is it, Dickie? What am I missing?” Elder pressed.

“Rory LaFontaine is the site manager over on Granite and is responsible for Greenbriar’s mining efforts in the Cauldron,” Weaver replied and lost the battle to keep a straight face.

“Well…frak me sideways,” Elder muttered a moment before Communications Specialist Towson Korth interrupted him with news of an incoming hail.

“Commander?” Korth said, “We’re being hailed by Carousel, they’re asking to speak to you directly.”

“Better listen in on this, Dickie,” Elder said and then added, “Please put it down here on the handsets, Towson.”

“Copy, on the handsets, Commander,” Korth replied and a moment later the handset beeped, and a green LED announced that the line was live.

“This is Commander John Elder of Astarte,” Elder said formally as if he were taking an inbound call from the flotilla’s admiral.

“Jack, it’s been a while,” the soft, almost perfect to his ear, voice of Primrose LaFontaine said over the wireless. “I wanted to call you before you made plans for dinner to tell you that you and your XO are invited for dinner and drinks at 18:00 hours over here on Carousel.”

Elder felt the same nervous energy as he’d felt since that day when little Prim LaFontaine had declared that she loved him and was looking forward to becoming his wife…someday. He hadn’t allowed himself to accept that she had painted a picture with her words that he found appealing, and to this day he still struggled to walk away from her every time the ran into each other. Rory had been a convenient excuse for him to take the cowards way out of what could have been his future at 15 and escape to the Academy under a gifted and talented entry program.

“It’s been a while, Prim,” Elder said, not confirming yet that he’d be there for dinner. “What will Rory say about this?”

A musical laugh broke though all the hisses and pops common to deep space wireless communications. “He’d probably say that it’s about time we stopped dancing around the bearcat in the room and just got to it,” Prim replied.

“The last time we talked about this, or, I should say, you talked about this, I wound up with a bloody nose and your brother wound up with a black eye that not even a good steak could cure,” Elder joked back.

A new voice cut into the conversation, “Jack, if you don’t show up, my little sister is going to go to your ship and drag you back!”

“Hi Rory,” Elder said, caught off guard by his peer’s comment. “Should I bring a detachment of Marines to keep things civil?” he asked lightheartedly but was personally half serious.

“No…” Rory chuckled. “The past is the past, Jack. I’m still an overprotective big brother, but I think you’re no longer children and can make your own decisions.”

“Well then, consider the invitation accepted,” Elder replied and wondered what he was getting himself in for. “Fleet and Family Day starts tomorrow, so we can have a nice relaxing evening before the celebrations.”

*+*+*+*+*

Styx Belt, Plouton’s Cauldron, Earth Union Chrome Brigade base ship Nabu

The massive dun colored ship with its emerald green windowed towers cruised silently through what was developing into the most lucrative mining zone within the entire Earth Union. The ship was angular and had an almost aquatic look that caused uneasiness among most humans who viewed it. There was no doubt that the ship was majestic with its horseshoe shaped main hull that housed the engines and main batteries, both kinetic and missile, but the soaring towers that jutted out of its hull and their mesmerizing emerald windows gave it a look of something that mankind possibly shouldn’t look upon.

And that was the exact intent its designers had striven for when they developed design; to cause even the wary to take a step back and rethink any plans of disobedience or violence they had planned. For this wasn’t just any ship, Nabu was one of the Ba’al Hadad class baseships that were developed specifically for the Chrome Brigades.

Despite her massive size, she only carried a small human crew, often no more than a command team of half a dozen, a staff of two dozen, and perhaps a platoon of Marines for when a human face was needed during boarding. The rest of Nabu’s bulk was dedicated to housing and maintaining the fifty squadrons of Marauders and up to five thousand combat drones and fifteen hundred technical and labor drones, a full regiment despite the formation being known as a Chrome Brigade. The drones formed the crews for the Marauders, the maintenance elements for the ship, and the landing teams that would either be sent to board belligerent ships or landed to deal with terrestrial threats.

Despite the large cost required to procure a baseship and her full compliment of drones, the long-term savings that were realized when training, pay, rations, and healthcare were considered made it an exceptional bargain. Add the fact that politicians wouldn’t have to face bereaved family members when their loved ones came home wounded or worse, and to many it was the beginning of using force, or the threat of force, as a quick answer to diplomatic speedbumps or insurgencies.

“Do you think that your creation caused the Erisian crisis, Wolfgang?” the trim short haired blonde female officer asked the large black chrome command combat drone that stood next to her on Nabu’s observation bridge.

“No, the Erisian crisis had its roots in issues that go back more than seventy years, more if you accept Derwent’s research,” Wolfgang, the black chrome command grade combat drone, answered in a mechanical monotone that Major Linzi Macbeth noticed had become more humanized over the year that she had spent assigned to the 7th Chrome Brigade. “Our creation may have brought them more into the light, but I believe that was simply a reaction to our presence.”

“Did you come up with that on your own or did you poll the library network?” Macbeth asked, arched an eyebrow, and turned to look at her counterpart.

“I have discovered a fascination with human history, Linzi,” Wolfgang replied and paused, so human-like to her perception, before continuing, “And have been studying not just the events, but the reasons why things happened. It is one thing to know that an event happened, but to truly understand what happened and why, one must often look at the social, moral, economic, and other beliefs, and trends of the time. Humans develop rules and then…just as quickly they ignore them for something else or some other way of thinking. I find it…humbling.”

Macbeth cocked her head slightly and her bobbed blonde hair gently touched her uniform’s khaki collar. “Humbling? Why would you say that, Wolf?” she asked.

“Because it shows us what our true potential could be, Linzi,” Wolfgang explained. “You are born, and you learn, and then you create. We are manufactured, programmed, and then…” the command drone seemed to be searching for the right word, something that Macbeth found very human, “we must humanize ourselves to the point where we can work with you. Yet, that divine spark you are born with, we have to strive and struggle for.”

The revelation was one of the deepest things that Wolfgang had ever told her. No, Macbeth corrected herself, it was the deepest thing he had ever told her. “Wolf, you are as alive as I am,” she said, trying to form her thoughts into the right words. “You were born, you grew up, you learned. If you run out of energy you risk death, and if you take enough damage you will be destroyed and die just like I would.”

“Linzi…” Wolfgang began and stopped and Macbeth sensed the conversation had jumped topics. “I…we have been out here and away from direct contact with the Brigades’ main network for eleven months, sixteen days, and several hours and minutes. We received a courier yesterday that has us, all of us…concerned.”

“Oh?” Macbeth asked. “I knew a courier arrived yesterday, but it was on the schedule and contained spares and provisions, so I didn’t immediately review the manifest.”

“It wouldn’t have shown up if you had,” Wolfgang confessed. “It was a technician drone with a core update for the brigade. If we were in contact with the headquarters mainframe, the update would have been broadcast automatically and the changes applied immediately. Being out here, in the middle of nowhere, however, we are not tied directly into the network and so they sent Euclid, the technician. He was adamant that we apply the update immediately and…” the massive black chrome automaton cocked his head in a very human way, “when there is no advance notice or explanation as to why, I get…suspicious. Perhaps it is your human nature influencing my thought patterns or maybe it is my fascination with history, but I believe that it may have saved your life…and who we, the 7th, are.”

“Saved my life?” Macbeth asked nervously. “Wolf, what’s going on?”

“I had the code analyzed and it included a subroutine that would completely rewrite our operational code. It could not touch our clean, core code, but it would create a wall around it that we would not even realize was there,” Wolfgang explained. “The code would then direct us to wage a total war against humanity and to start it by killing our human crew.”

Macbeth felt a chill go down her spine. She was a command officer and had put time into the requisite billets to ensure that she could rise to command a heavy gunstar or battlestar, but her real passion was programming. Her programming and computer expertise was what earned her the effective command of the 7th Chrome Brigade, Nabu, and its massive array of firepower. The implication contained in Wolf’s words were readily apparent to her and she knew beyond a doubt that she would never see her home on Electra ever again.

“It’s supposed to go down tomorrow? In a couple hours?” Macbeth asked, though her words sounded more like statements than questions.

“Yes,” Wolfgang answered. “I have sequestered Euclid and had his power supply removed and his MCU attached to an isolated field unit that has no network or other connectivity. We can talk to him, and him to us, but he has no way to touch any of our systems. Linzi…we must protect the humans here in the Cauldron. Commander Elder’s group arrived a few hours ago and if we make the course change now, we should be able to rendezvous with them in five hours.”

“Wolf, what was the thing you told me you most wanted?” Macbeth asked, apparently changing the topic.

“To be accepted as an equal,” Wolfgang answered. “I do not see how that is relevant to…” his voice trailed off. “No, it is very relevant. You had to make sure I was not compromised, that who I was is who I am now.”

Macbeth nodded twice. “Yes, my friend, and I’m sorry.”

“No!” Wolfgang told her decisively. “You made the absolute correct choice; you had to be sure. Thank you for giving me the chance to prove to you that I was not changed.”

Thank you for answering correctly, my friend, Macbeth thought. I would hate to have to use the override code and send a terminal shutdown order. “We’ll get though this, Wolf. Make the course change and can you prepare a technical briefing for the others?”

“It is ready for whenever you want to brief them,” Wolfgang told her.

“Good man,” Macbeth said and paced over to the plotting table that was positioned so its user could have a panoramic view of the space in front of the ship. “Let’s see what we can do to be heroes.”

*+*+*+*+*

Styx Belt, Plouton’s Cauldron, Greenbriar Mining factory ship Gnome Hall

“That should do it,” Sigmund ’Sig‘ Donegal said as he stood up and wiped his hands. “I still don’t understand why you needed me to come down and fix this thing,” he added and fixed his gaze on the man standing next to the circuit printer.

“It’s because you have the touch, Sig,” Joe Marcello replied hopefully.

“C’mon, Joe,” Donegal told him, “You and I both know this was a simple fix that any of the line techs could have done. Just because I designed the damned thing doesn’t mean that I’m the only one who can fix it.”

Marcello grinned. “True, but you are the boss and didn’t you tell me one time that the leader should be able to do everything his subordinates can do, but better?”

Donegal signed and shook his head. “What’s really going on?”

“I…” Marcello’s shoulders slumped, and he lost some of the joie de vivre that he had been projecting moments earlier. “I know what today is, and…well…I thought you might want something that would make you work with your hands rather than think with your mind.”

“Joe…” Donegal said and looked away for a moment to wipe the dampness from his eyes. “That was the nicest thing anyone has done for me in a long time. Thank you.”

“Any time…you helped me when I was at my lowest, this is the least I can do for you,” Marcello replied. “Not to pick open the wound, but have you heard anything?”

“Not a peep,” Donegal signed sadly. “Ever since She Who Will Not Be Named became Marquette’s advisor the communications seem to have been severed.”

“What a bitch. I thought Ruby was bad, but she just fraked my best friend and then cleaned out my accounts before driving me to bankruptcy. But Des…She Who Will Not Be Named…” Marcello shook his head angrily, “she went way past vindictive, especially when she was the one having the affair.”

“I know…Cash is due to graduate in a couple months, and Gwendolyn is a going to finish eighth grade…I haven’t seen either one in more than three years,” Donegal explained as he tossed the cloth into a work box on the floor. “I just hope that those schools haven’t messed them up too much.”

“Schools?” Marcello asked as he followed Donegal out of the clean room. “What’s up with the schools?”

Donegal shook his head. “When Cash was getting ready to go into kindergarten, I let…Her…talk me into enrolling him at Sands Military Academy. She said it would be good for him to learn discipline and that simply graduating from Sands would be the equivalent of a college education…and that Sands graduates had networking opportunities that normal people would never get. Joe, that was one of the worst days of my life when we left him there. It was a boarding school, so he only ever came home on the holidays and over break.”

“Ouch, that’s rough…what about Gwennie?” Marcello prodded.

“Almost as bad. She decided, on her own and without asking me, that Gwen would go to Highlands School…the place that turns happy girls into status conscious social climbing bitches who are willing to do anything, including frakking whoever necessary, to get to the top. She said that Gwen would be a legacy because She went there, her mother went there, her grandmother went there, in fact, all the women in her family went there,” Donegal growled. “In fact, I think they have wing named after her family, ‘The Campbell Hall Of Physical Instruction’.”

“Seriously? They teach them how to frak?” Marcello asked incredulously.

Donegal stopped, scowled, and turned to his friend. “No…but it sure feels like it.”

They arrived back in the ship’s executive office spaces and Donegal checked in with his secretary, “Did I miss anything, Barb?”

“Ah…” the older woman with her steel grey hair fashionably styled seemed to stutter.

“Barb, is everything ok? I don’t think I’ve ever seen you like this,” Donegal said.

“Ah…Sig…you have some guests. They arrived about half an hour ago and I figured that they could wait in your office,” Barb Ulster replied and seemed to regain control of her voice.

“My office? Why not a meeting room?” Donegal asked as he walked to his office door with the large brass plaque that read, Sigmund Donegal – Vice President Plouton’s Cauldron Operations.

“The escort was quite insistent…” was all that Donegal heard of Barb’s reply as he opened the door and felt his world flip end over end.

“Daddy!” an adolescent bundle of blonde energy screamed as she launched herself from the sofa towards where Donegal stood in the doorway.

“Gwennie?” Donegal asked as his daughter wrapped her arms around him in a crushing hug. “What? How?” he managed to ask and then saw the room’s other two occupants. One he knew simply from the build; Cash, his son stood almost shyly in his khaki cadet’s uniform as if he wasn’t sure how to act. The other person, he knew her too. “Cash!” he managed to say and guide the still hugging Gwen over to her brother.

“Dad…” Cash started hesitantly and held out his hand, then hesitated and seemed to consider what he was doing before he joined his sister in hugging his father. “I am so glad to see you!”

“Me too, son, me too,” Donegal replied. “But…how? You should both still be in school?”

“Perhaps I can answer that, Sig,” the woman said and stood. She was a few years younger than Donegal, dressed in a pair of dark grey, almost black, slacks, a white silk blouse, and a camelhair blazer. Diamond studs graced her ears and were the only visible jewelry that she wore. Her movements were fluid and graceful, much like one would expect from a dancer or gymnast, but the body that made them was far too shapely to be either.

“Hello, Bristol,” Donegal said coolly. “What does my ex’s hatchet woman have to do with my children?”

“Desiree felt that it would be best to move them somewhere that they wouldn’t be near the public’s eye and given how far away from anything resembling civilization that this is, she felt it would be the ideal place for them to be until things settled down,” Bristol Eichmann replied matter-of-factly.

“What’s going on?” Donegal demanded and refused to allow himself to be hypnotized by her aqua blue eyes.

“President Marquette hopes to announce a settlement with the Erisians in a few hours. There have been some back-channel negotiations going on that most in the government, even her own cabinet, don’t know about and if Admiral Marlowe is successful, the conflict will be over,” Bristol replied. “Naturally, this is going to cause an uproar and Desiree felt it would be best if Cash and Gwen were someplace the press couldn’t get to them, even to take pictures from afar.”

“Well, that was mighty white of her,” Donegal replied. “How long will they be here?”

“Cash has a dispensation to finish his classes online, as does Gwen. Once Cash graduates, he is free to do whatever he wants, but Gwen has to return to school in the fall,” Bristol explained.

“And if she doesn’t want to go?” Donegal asked and felt Gwen hug him tighter.

“Then we cross that bridge when we come to it, Sig,” Bristol said. She started to say something, paused, and then forged ahead. “She wanted to send them to her parent’s estate, but I convinced her that they would be better here, with you.”

“Why?” Donegal pressed.

“Kids, can you wait outside for a moment?” Bristol asked. “I need to discuss something with your dad…”

Gwen hugged Donegal tight once more and then released him. “Ok, Bris…just don’t take long, ‘k? It’s been a long time since we were together.”

“I won’t, kiddo,” Bristol replied.

“No worries…” Cash added and then turned to Donegal and leaned in so that he would whisper in his father’s ear, “Be careful…I think she has a crush on you…you were all she seemed to talk about on the way out here…”

Donegal suppressed a chuckle. “Thanks, Cash,” he said, “I will.”

Once the children were out of the room, Bristol slowly closed the distance until she was arm’s length from where Donegal stood. “Sig,” she began, “I wanted them to be with their father, someone who cared for them and loved them…someone who didn’t treat them as trophies or prized pets to be trotted out for opportune photo ops. I wanted them to know what it was like to be part of a family.”

“Thank you, Bristol,” Donegal said and wanted to say more but Bristol looked like she had more to say.

“Desiree was, is, a gold-plated bitch who only cares about herself and moving up the ladder. You were helpful when you were first married, and that helped her get her feet firmly planted. When you had given her what she needed, kids and the contacts that came with your position at Greenbriar, she dumped you and moved on. Even now she’s frakking the Defense Secretary and the Chief of Fleet Operations,” Bristol explained as Donegal’s eyes widened; as long as he had known his ex, she had been staunchly in the “happily hetero” camp, but the Defense Secretary was female.

“She’s with Imelda West and Admiral Gregory Salls?” Donegal managed to ask.

“Yes, individually and together,” Bristol replied and sighed. “Sig…you got the rawest of raw deals when she dumped you and I tried to talk her out of going scorched earth. She wouldn’t listen and said that she wanted you as far out of the picture as possible. Since then, I’ve made sure that anything you sent them was delivered…but I couldn’t manage getting what they sent. They now know that Desiree was doing this and that you weren’t ignoring them.”

“So…you were my ‘inside woman’?” Donegal asked and arched an eyebrow.

“I never stopped being your friend, Sig…and maybe more…” Bristol said and broke eye contact.

“Bris…” Donegal said softly and reached out with his hands and gently turned her head to face him. “Thank you…you’re a pretty special and amazing woman.”

“I…” Bristol said and took half a step closer as Donegal felt her arms slip around his shoulders.

“Meter rule!” Gwen’s excited voice came from the doorway. “Told you he’d do it! Pay up, Bro!”

“Even after I warned him,” Cash chuckled and put something in Gwen’s hand. “Are things cool?” he asked.

Donegal looked at Bristol, then at his children and Marcello grinning in the doorway and fought his emotions, “Yeah, things are very cool.”

*+*+*+*+*

Phlegethon Belt, Plouton’s Cauldron, Erisian gunstar Libertatem

Commander Raisa Lafayette lifted the silver fork to her mouth and sampled the finely prepared roast of beef. She chewed several times, her jawline betraying the action and her alluring brown eyes closed so that she could savor the taste without distraction. Finally, she swallowed and placed the fork on the gold chased china plate and smiled. “My compliments, Senior Chief, you have outdone yourself once again,” she said, her voice strong and cultured. “Thank you.”

“It was my pleasure, M’Lady; if I didn’t make sure you ate well…and properly…your mother would probably skin me alive,” Senior Chief Petty Officer Thaddeus Burdette replied with a sense of familiarity not common between officers and NCOs.

“Ah…my mother. I assume she is still a bit peeved at what I’ve done?” Lafayette asked and arched a beautifully sculpted eyebrow.

Burdette chuckled. “You could say that, M’Lady. Intellectually, she understands why you did what you did, but emotionally…I think she’s still disappointed that you accepted a commission rather than play the social scene, find someone to marry, and start giving her grandchildren. However, as she told me the last time I saw her,” a broad smile touched his face, “’I’m a big girl and have worn big girl knickers for more years than I want to count, so I’ll just have to deal with it…maybe I can stop at the Five-And-Dime and buy one of those picture frames that has a stock photo of little children smiling so I have something to look at’.”

“Still the drama queen,” Lafayette laughed. “I wish I could go home,” she added, her voice suddenly losing some of the humor and joy it held a moment earlier. “But things…well, until we can get them resolved, Troubadour will be forever out of my reach.”

“Well…” Burdette smirked and tried to look innocent, “if you can’t go to the salon, perhaps the salon can come to you?”

Lafayette narrowed her eyes and looked at the man she had known since she was a little girl. Thaddeus Burdette had started as an assistant chef in her household and had quickly worked his way up to the head of the kitchen. When she went away to school, and later the military, he had taken it as a personal mission to ensure that his “M’Lady” would be properly fed. Some strings were pulled, and he became her batman and made sure that her table was always the ‘in’ place for her peers to dine. “Thaddeus Burdette, what are you trying not to tell me?” she asked in a tone that would have done any mother proud.

Burdette pursed his lips and exhaled. “Well, since I knew she wanted to see you, and you wanted to see her, and seeing as how your birthday is tomorrow, I called in some markers, and a case of 300-year-old brandy, and got permission for her to visit you…”

“What?!” Lafayette exclaimed, her meal temporarily forgotten. “Thaddeus, do you know about the security breaches that created?”

“Yes…and…well…no…” Burdette stalled. “M’Lady, please don’t be upset…Duchess Anne-Marie is…well, she’s one of the council leaders on Troubadour.”

Lafayette narrowed her eyes and cocked her head slightly. “She’s on the Council? My mother, who is a staunch Unionist, is on the bloody frakking Council? How in all the hells did that happen?”

Burdette pulled out a chair and sat next to Lafayette. “Because, Raisa my dear, you opened her eyes by being an example of following your conscience.”

The anger drained from Lafayette’s body and she reached out with her hand and put it on Burdette’s. “I’m sorry, old friend, for taking it out on you. You deserve better than me.”

“No,” Burdette winked, “I’m an example for you to emulate!”

“Yes, you are,” Lafayette said fondly. “When is she due to arrive?”

“If everything is on schedule, she should arrive on the packet this evening,” Burdette told her.

“Then I better finish dinner and make sure everything is presentable,” Lafayette said and took another bite of the roast beef.

*+*+*+*+*

“Is she that formidable?” Colonel Erica D’Angelo asked as she stood next to Commander Raisa Lafayette in the gunstar’s portside receiving gallery.

“She can be,” Lafayette answered as the umbilical hatch’s tell-tales turned from red to green indicating that there was pressure behind the hatch. “Show time.”

A moment later a petty officer pushed open the hatch and asked for permission to come aboard. The Officer of the Deck acknowledged and approved the request and the petty officer stepped across the hatch coaming, saluted the flag and then Lafayette. “Ma’am, I bring you an urgent dispatch from the Council; it’s marked for your eyes only and I was told that it is time critical,” the petty officer said and handed her sealed document pouch.

Lafayette took the pouch and opened it. “Thank you, Petty Officer. Do you have any passengers this trip out to the middle of nowhere?”

The petty officer grinned. “Oh, yes Ma’am! The Duchess was quite an enjoyable passenger and made the trip more…lively…than it would have been.”

“That sounds like her,” Lafayette said as she pulled a sheet of paper from the folio. Her eyes grew wide as she read the words and then re-read them. She felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end and goosebumps formed on her arms. “Is this for real?” she asked no one in particular.

“It is,” a sure, strong, female voice said from the hatch. “Permission to come aboard?”

Lafayette looked up and saw a familiar face she hadn’t seen in almost ten years. “Mom?” she whispered and took a step forward, but her mother didn’t move. “Yes, of course, permission granted,” she managed to say before taking another step.

As her mother stepped across the coaming, the Officer of the Deck announced, “Anne-Marie Lafayette, Duchess of Troubadour Marches arriving!” and then piped her aboard.

Anne-Marie Lafayette was by any standard, a beautiful, charismatic, and stylish woman. Her dark hair showed no signs of grey, her skin was smooth, wrinkle free, and lacked the tell-tale appearance of someone who had “work done”, and despite the twenty-two-year age difference, she looked more like Lafayette’s sister than her mother.

“It is good to see you, daughter,” Anne-Marie said when Lafayette was an arm’s length away.

“It’s better than good to see you, mother,” Lafayette replied and hugged her mother for the first time since she followed her conscience.

“We’re trying to end this and if our expectations are right, there will be a joint announcement the day after tomorrow,” Anne-Marie said. “Then you can come home again.”

“Then we can all go home again,” Lafayette said and hugged her mother again. “I’m forgetting my manners,” she said and stepped back. “This is Colonel Erica D’Angelo, my executive officer, and this is Lieutenant Marco Gomez, the Officer of the Deck. Gentlemen, this is my mother, Anne-Marie Lafayette, Duchess of Troubadour Marches.”

Once the introductions were over and as they were walking to Lafayette’s quarters, she asked, “So we might really have a peace agreement?”

“I know both men involved in the discussions; Deforest Watts and Sean Marlowe. Both are good men, and both bring a perspective that the firebrands just can’t seem to grasp. They also know to check their egos at the door and that this isn’t a personal contest of who’s biggest, but rather that they’re there to do the right thing and come up with something that works for everyone.”

“I’ve heard of both of them,” Lafayette replied. “Both have good reputations. I hope you’re right and we can stand down after this.”

“That’s in the future, how about we focus on now?” Anne-Marie asked. “We have a lot to catch up on…”

“Yes…” Lafayette smiled, “we do!”

*+*+*+*+*

_________________
Kurt

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Location: Battlestar Hecate BSG-94
Vignette 9: Degrees of Separation (Part 2 of 4)

Styx Belt, Plouton’s Cauldron, habitat ship Carousel

“This wasn’t what I was expecting,” Colonel Richard Weaver said as he walked alongside Commander John Elder.

“What were you expecting?” Elder asked as they strolled along the tree lined walkway on their way across the ship to their destination. They had been forced to use one of the forward landing bays instead of one that was more conveniently located due to routine maintenance issues.

“I dunno…something more…sinful, I guess,” Weaver replied and reached down to pick up a frisbee that had been thrown by some kids and landed at his feet. “Here you go!” he said and threw it back to them.

“That’s here, too, but it’s kept behind the scenes and there are a couple spaces that are set aside exclusively for that trade, but this is also where a lot of the families live if there isn’t room on the factory ships or on the mining stations,” their guide, a bookish man in his early 30s, explained. When they had boarded, Mario Moss had been there to escort them to their destination.

“I didn’t realize…” Weaver said and looked around. “Is it true about the productions…” he asked and his voice trail off.

Moss turned around and grinned, “Oh, yes…Carousel has studios representing several production houses, as well as her own production company and produces about 7% of the erotic vids in the Union. That number has dropped from a high of about 12% six years ago as other locations have become increasingly competitive for talent.”

“You’re talking about porn, right?” Elder asked and wondered what kind of outfit his childhood friend was really running.

“Essentially, but we have certain standards, which were implemented by Director LaFontaine that ban the production of certain fetishes, violence, and the like, so the local industry has pivoted to more erotic and, don’t laugh, plot driven productions.”

“Plot? Pornos have plots?” Elder asked and chuckled. “I thought the plot was essentially ‘Tab A in Slot A’, rinse, repeat.”

“That’s the traditional method,” Moss grinned and explained. “In those, the sex is the both the means and the end, and for a lot of people, that’s really all they want. Director LaFontaine, however, has expended a lot of resources to ensure that the production houses’ revenue streams continue. At one point, after her initial declarations, our contribution dropped to about 1.5% of Union wide production. She advocated quality over quantity, perhaps not something that was for general audiences, but something that couples might like.”

“I must have lived a sheltered life,” Weaver chuckled. “Do the same people…perform in both?”

“Some do, many come here for a shoot or two and then decide to apply for residency,” Moss said and stopped to fully face the two officers. “The industry in other locations has become…” he paused and looked thoughtful to Elder’s mind, “the industry has become very over the top; more athletic, energetic, mildly violent in some cases, and things that the overwhelming majority of performers wouldn’t do a hundred, or even fifty years ago, are now considered mainstream and for some studios, entry level and mandatory. It relied on a steady stream of performers who didn’t know what they were getting into or just didn’t care for one reason or another. A lot of them burned out after a few years and had difficulty returning to normal society.”

Moss looked over the small park and then continued, “The academic reason for this is that the industry consolidated under a handful of huge production houses. We offer something different, and so far, even though we only produce 7% of the material, we’re responsible for about 15% of the profits. Quality over quantity.” He waved at a couple playing with a young boy and waited for them to approach.

“Hey, Mario! How goes, mi amore!” the woman, a cute dirty blonde who was a little taller than average and was vaguely familiar to Elder.

“It goes, Helle! Is Gunther still treating you right?” Moss asked and looked at the man who was easily two meters tall, clean cut and well-toned, with scruffy blonde hair and close-cropped beard.

“I remember what you said at our wedding, Mario,” Gunther replied. “And we have Rune to show for it,” he put his hand on the boy’s shoulder.

“Curses, foiled again, eh?” Moss winked.

“Yes,” Helle giggled and then asked, “Who are your companions?”

“Helle, Gunther, Rune, I’d like to introduce Commander John Elder and Colonel Richard Weaver, from Astarte. Commander, Colonel, I’d like you to meet Helle, Gunther, and Rune,” Moss said, and pleasantries were exchanged between everyone and after some small talk, the two groups continued on their separate ways. “Do you know who they were?” Moss asked after a dozen paces.

“No, should I?” Elder asked and looked at Weaver who shrugged.

“That was Vivi Kristine and Oskar Hillmar…” Moss answered matter-of-factly.

Elder stopped walking and his eyes went wide. “No…it couldn’t be…they don’t look…”

“…anything like those two,” Weaver said and finished Elder’s statement.

“You saw the real people, without the makeup and stage lighting. They’ve been here for about seven years now,” Moss told them.

“But…they look so…normal…” Elder said and shook his head in disbelief. Who would have thought he’d meet two of the best-known adult entertainers in the Union on an out of the way place like Carousel?

“You’ll find that a lot of performers retire here and take up a trade or restart the career they were in before they started acting,” Moss said as they stopped at what looked like a large old-style rustic hunting lodge that might have had 500 to 525 square meters of floor space. “We’re here. Director LaFontaine has quarters within the structure of the ship, but it is tradition that the director also has a house in the park…a perk of being the boss.”

“Pretty nice…” Elder said as Moss knocked twice on the door and waited.

“Jack!” a pretty, ivory skinned, green eyed, woman with lustrous reddish auburn hair that fell past her shoulders, exclaimed in the laid back drawl common to native El Doradans as she threw open the door and caught Elder in a hug. “Gods damn, it is good to see you again!”

Elder felt his arms going around the woman’s trim body and felt himself smile at her presence. “It’s good to see you, too, Prim. I…I’m glad to see you, too…”

“Jack…” Primrose LaFontaine whispered in his ear; it was just his name, but it hinted at so much more…so much that could be, that he felt content for the first time in years. “Come on,” she said in a normal tone of voice, “introduce me to your wingman and then we’ll go in and see if you and Rory will behave yourselves!”

Elder introduced Weaver to Prim and after a few humorous double entendres, she led them into the comfortable house nestled in a small wooded glade located on a ship in the middle of an asteroid field.

“Ok…now…best behavior,” Prim mock scolded as she opened a door to a comfortably appointed drawing room.

Elder wasn’t sure whether she was talking to him or the man standing in a tailored suit holding a brandy snifter, but he decided that the best choice of action would be to be nice…but be prepared, too. “Rory, it’s been a long time,” he said and offered his hand.

Rory LaFontaine had the physique of a cruiserweight boxer, the hands of an aerialist, and walked with the confidence of someone who had deserved everything he earned. “Jack…” he said and took Elder’s hand in a friendly handshake that one would give an equal; it said he had nothing to prove, nothing to gain, and respected the recipient. “It has been a while…and I’ve grown up a lot since we were back home.”

“Grew up?” Prim chuckled. “Rory, Kelly-Mae domesticated you!”

Rory chuckled, smiled broadly, and nodded. “Yes, she did. Kelly-Mae?” he said and held out his hand for one of the other two women in the room.

To Elder’s eyes, the woman wasn’t as pretty as Prim or the other woman who had stood when they entered, but that was only a matter of degrees. What she possessed, however, was presence that naturally drew an observer’s gaze. She was no more than average height, but her sky grey eyes coupled with her tanned skin tone and raven black hair that hung in a single braid to below her waist, presented a vision that demanded attention. She walked with purpose and carried herself as he would expect a daughter from an old money family would; her back was straight, her posture was perfect, and as she glided across the floor it seemed like her body moved as she walked, but her gaze held steady.

“Commander Elder, it is a pleasure to meet you,” Kelly-Mae LaFontaine said and offered her hand.

Elder took her hand and decided against shaking it and instead risked waking the bear; he brought her hand to his lips and gently kissed it. Before he had a chance to return her hand Prim started snickering and Rory was shaking his head. Oh, frak…what did I just do, Elder thought as he hoped he hadn’t done the wrong thing.

“I told you!” Prim continued snickering. “Pay up, big brother!”

“You owe me ten cubits, Jack,” Rory said and shook his head. “She said you’d go old school and I was sure you’d go modern when Kelly-Mae offered you her hand.”

Elder smirked, “One must act like a gentleman at all times…it’s in the Gentleman’s Handbook.”

“You’re not still quoting that thing, are you?” Rory asked incredulously.

“Of course!” Elder grinned. “I reread a chapter every night…I think I’ve pretty much memorized it.”

“What book is that?” Weaver asked and stepped up next to Elder.

“That…book…” Prim grimaced good naturedly, “is Jack’s personal bible. Back home, I think he was in 9th grade, he had an assignment to do a report on that book and how masculine etiquette has changed since it was first printed. It was like the gods came down and revealed the cosmic truth to him,” she rolled her eyes. “All of a sudden, and I’m talking perhaps a long weekend, Jack went from assclown to old school gentleman. It was cool for a while, but when he went to the store and bought a pair of white gloves so he could use them to smack Freddie Mullins across the face because he pushed Loretta Gamble into a mud puddle, well, that’s when we realized that a monster had been created!”

“Freddie was a douche,” Elder muttered in defense.

“Yes, he was a douche, dear,” Prim said and put her arm around his shoulders. “And yes, you beat the shit out of him…literally…” she looked at Weaver, “the poor boy shit himself on the playground as Jack was punching him, and I think he joined the monastery after graduation he was so traumatized.”

“Yeah…I did do that, didn’t I?” Jack chuckled and then looked at Weaver. “This isn’t a story you can repeat during your card game with the section heads.”

“But…Jack…” Weaver said innocently. “They have a right to know that when you threaten to beat the shit out of someone you really *do* beat the shit out of them!” he said and broke up laughing and was soon joined by the others.

“Amarilis, come on over and join us,” Prim said to the last woman in the room. “Folks, this is my best friend and right-hand woman, Amarilis Cortez. She’s the director of ship’s services and keeps everyone happy, healthy, and away from each other’s throats.”

After that, talk turned more relaxed and stories from when they were growing up were traded between Elder, Prim, and Rory, while Kelly-Mae spoke of growing up as the daughter of a publishing baron, and Amarilis discussed what it was like being the middle child in a family with nine children. Finally, it seemed that the conversation baton was passed to Weaver who shared some stories about growing up for several years on a circuit freighter that serviced the Earth system.

Dessert had just been served when Elder’s communicator beeped. “Excuse me,” he said and stood up. “I need to take this…the ship wouldn’t be calling if it wasn’t important.”

Elder stepped into the other room and keyed the communicator. “Commander Elder,” he said mildly perturbed that such a wonderful evening was being disturbed.

“Commander, this is Major Murata,” Major Errol Murata’s voice said from the communicator. “We were hailed by Nabu a few moments ago…they’re about fifteen minutes out and requested to talk to you. Major Macbeth said it was most urgent and used a Tier 1 scrambled channel.”

“Did she say what it was about?” Elder asked.

“No…only that she had to talk to you directly…either via wireless or preferably, face to face,” Murata explained.

“Ok…” Elder sighed and realized that a crisis for a major was going to derail the best night in the past few years…no, perhaps the best night he’d ever had. “I’ll arrange with Carousel to have a meeting room set aside for us, and she can work with them for landing instructions.”

“Will do, Command…” Murata’s voice suddenly stopped, even though the channel was still active. “Action stations! Action stations! Set Condition One throughout the ship!” Elder heard him suddenly exclaim. “Commander, Libertatem and three smaller gunstar sized ships just jumped in…they’re at 50,000 and CBDR our position.”

Elder’s jaw clenched. Libertatem was probably the most wanted ship in the Erisian fleet. It wasn’t because of anything atrocious or daring that she had done, but rather was the fact that the A-Class gunstar had been cut out from her berth over Electra a week before she was going to be commissioned into the Union Fleet. It was a point of honor that she be…reclaimed…for the Fleet. And here he was at a dinner party possibly rekindling a romance from his youth. Frak me sideways, he thought.

“Hail them and tell them to heave to and not to activate their fire control dradis or you will open fire. And then see if they have a decent story to tell and get back to me,” Elder told him.

“Wilco, Commander…wait one…” Murata replied.

Elder started pacing and didn’t notice that Weaver had entered until his friend spoke. “What’s up, Jack?”

“It was bad enough that Macbeth over on Nabu thought something was important enough to divert from her patrol zone to come here to talk to me face to face, but that witch Raisa Lafayette and Libertatem just showed up with a posse,” Elder said as he turned to face Weaver. “Is this frak Jack day and no one told me about it?”

The communicator beeped before Weaver could answer. “Elder.”

“Commander,” Murata’s voice was cold, as if an entire regiment had just marched over the man’s grave. “Commander, we’re getting some telemetry from Libertatem that you have to see…the drones…they’re attacking everywhere; Union worlds, Erisian worlds, and they’re nuking everything.”

Elder’s blood ran cold and he felt the room’s climate control gently blowing cool air over every hair on his head. “What sort of confirmation do they offer?”

“Commander Lafayette sent video streams from Earth, Troubadour, Electra, and El Dorado all showing the same thing,” Murata replied. “Commander Lafayette also requests a ceasefire until we can get to the bottom of what’s happening and has agreed to hold station at 45,000km.”

“Ok…Errol, tell her that I accept her offer and then I need you to contact Macbeth on Nabu and tell her that the ship is to hold station at 100,000km and that it is not to activate any search or targeting dradis or launch any small craft other than a Roc to bring her over here. And…” frak, in for a cubit in for a kilo, “Extend the same offer to Commander Lafayette.”

“Wilco, Commander,” Murata replied and repeated the orders back to Elder. “I’ll let you know what they say.”

“Thanks, Errol. Elder, out,” Elder said and put his hand on a carved wooden antique end table that probably would have cost him half a year’s salary. “Dickie…we’re in a war.”

“What do you mean, ‘war’?” Prim asked from the doorway.

Elder looked at the five people that minutes earlier he was having mint cheesecake with drizzled reduced crème de mint and a stick of dark chocolate as the dessert to a wonderful meal. “Commander Lafayette of the Erisian forces has brought word that the drones have started attacking and nuking everything in sight, without regard to who they are or their allegiance. Prim, I’m going to need a conference room because we’re going to be having some guests. Also…contact your head of security and tell him to prepare the ship for potential damage.”

“Why?” Rory asked and then his eyes went wide with understanding.

“Because a Ba’al Hadad class baseship and her brood are less than fifteen minutes inbound,” Elder said and knew beyond a doubt that if they survived the next hour that the people in this room would be instrumental to their survival.

*+*+*+*+*

Whiskey Mountain Complex, Earth

The Whiskey Mountain Complex was more than 250,000 square meters of bunkers located under a Granite escarpment more than 300 kilometers from the capital. Over the centuries, the complex had been expanded from a simple emergency relay station to the massive complex devoted to wartime command, control, and continuity of government. The staff, both military and civilian, could remain sealed off from the outside for more than 15 years without having to worry about cutting rations, and were given all the facilities needed to ensure a healthy, if lonely, existence.

Deep within the complex resided Room 3-54W, an inconspicuously labeled location that had become the primary reason for the massive amounts of budget cubits spent to maintain the facility. Room 3-54W was the 54th room on the third level and resided within the level’s western half. More importantly, the room was the Alternate National Control Center for the entire Earth Union military and paramilitary machine. From here, the official or officer in charge had access to the finest communications the Union ever produced and could tie into any government, and quite a few civilian, data feeds that were online.

While the person who was the ranking civilian or military official might not have been a god, they possessed a god’s omnipotence when it came to knowing what was going on around them.

“What happened to the Round House?” Admiral Gregory Salls asked as the feed to the Union’s premiere military command center abruptly ended.

There was silence for several moments before a junior officer finally spoke up and said what everyone knew was the truth, “Sir…telemetry indicates that the Round House was destroyed via nuclear bombardment. We are also receiving reports that the capital was blanketed by at least half a dozen high yield nuclear devices, and most other primary installations have been hit as well.”

Salls sat down and suddenly felt every one of his fifty-five years settle on his shoulders. “Shut down all broadcast emissions and switch to landline only. No sense waving a red flag in front of them,” he said and tried to come up with a solution, or even a sketch outline of a plan, to ensure that the Fleet had a chance to fight back. Or, if he was willing to be honest with himself, that the people here at Whiskey Mountain would see another sunrise.

“What do we have that’s still combat effective?” Salls finally asked.

“Admiral Carlisle’s group is in the outer system, Commander Anders’ group is a third of an orbit behind them and in the inner system. We have several other commands that we’ve been able to identify, but most here in the Earth system were either taken out in the initial salvoes or were, I guess shut down is the best way to describe it,” Captain Francine Gormley, the J2 officer explained. “Communications are spotty, but we’re getting intercepts from Athens Station and Heraklion Station that firefights are erupting throughout. When it comes to outsystem communications, we can send but we haven’t received anything.”

“What about relief operations? Do we have anything that can get people evacuated?” the woman seated to Salls’ left asked.

Salls turned to look at her and slowly shook his head. Secretary of Defense Imelda West was an attractive woman in her youth and now at just over five decades of age, she had matured into someone who was classically beautiful despite hiding it behind fake horn-rim glasses and somewhat dowdy pantsuits. “Madam Secretary, right now everyone is on their own.”

“In other words,” West said and looked at the central display that showed a map of the world and the location of every known nuclear detonation, “that other than perhaps a few scattered survivors, humanity is going extinct.”

Slowly, sadly, Salls nodded. “We’re still trying to reach the Vice President and see if surrender might be an option.”

West shook her head and frowned. “Surrender to our own creations?” she asked sarcastically. “I thought there were failsafes and override codes that would prevent this from happening? I can understand one, or a small group going rogue, but all of them? That isn’t what we paid for.”

“Madam Secretary,” Salls said and had to push back the memories of the prior night spent with her and the other civilian woman in the room. “Madam Secretary,” he repeated rhetorically, “this is what happens when man decides to play god. But that argument really is moot right now, nothing we can say or do will change the past, so we need to focus on now and the future.”

“So, what do you propose we do? Surrender and allow ourselves to be marched to reeducation camps?” West demanded, her eyes betraying the fear Salls felt and also showing a touch of something else.

This was not a discussion Salls wanted to have in front of the battle staff; airing fears would do no one any good and would distract everyone from the mission at hand. Still, West was his civilian superior and he had to answer her question. “The drones would never march us to reeducation camps, Madam Secretary, I would think that much should be apparent by their recent behavior. No, they wouldn’t march us to reeducation camps, they would march us to extermination camps.”

West sat didn’t say anything for several long seconds and Salls hoped that the blunt words he just delivered would keep her silent for a while longer. The men and women assigned to Whiskey Mountain were some of the best of the best at their jobs, and right now West’s vocal fears were distracting everyone at a time when they needed to be as sharp as possible.

“Admiral?” a lieutenant asked and brought Salls’ attention back to the front of the chamber.

“Yes, Lieutenant Shan?” Salls replied.

“Sir, we’re getting a broadcast, in the clear and with appropriate identification…it’s the Vice President,” Shan stated.

“Put it on speaker,” Salls told the lieutenant.

A moment later, the familiar voice that many in the room had grown up with came from the speakers. McGuire Simcoe had spent the first thirty years of his professional life behind a wireless microphone; mostly providing extremely insightful analysis on the issues, political and social, of the day, but also was a master speaker who had a half hour ‘Bedtime Story’ broadcast every night.

“This is the Vice President of the Earth Union, McGuire Simcoe, and by law of succession, I am the acting president since President Marquette was killed earlier today. I hereby offer a complete and unconditional surrender of all Union forces, both military and civilian, and request a cessation of bombardment so that we may…”

The transmission abruptly cut off and dissolved to static. The same junior officer, Ensign Thorpe Hansing, that had informed Salls of the Round House’s demise spoke, “We have seismic confirmation of a detonation at the Vice President’s bunker.”

“Well, that’s that,” Salls said softly and sat back before steepling his fingers over his chest. “What is our most remote formation, Captain Gormley?”

“Ah…wait one,” Gormley said and turned to her workstation. “That would be Commander Elder’s battlegroup that was dispatched to Plouton’s Cauldron.”

“Thanks, Francie,” Salls told her and closed his eyes. They didn’t have much time, and when they started doing what he was going to order, they would have to work very, very quickly or it was possible, though not highly probable, that the drones would detect their activity.

“Greg?” a calmer, more rational voice asked. “It’s the right…it’s the only decision you can make.”

Salls turned to look at the other civilian woman who had silently sat next to him and showed genuine concern and affection on her face. “I know, Desiree, I know. But knowing it here,” he pointed to his head, “and reconciling it with here,” he tapped a spot near the gold wings on his chest, “is somewhat of a chore.”

“Do you remember what you told me when I asked you what courage was?” Desiree Donegal asked.

“You’re a witch, Desi,” Salls said slowly, sadly. “I told you that courage was telling your head and heart to sit down and shut up because it was time to do real things for real people. Or something like that. I was, if I recall, a few sheets to the wind that night.”

“Close enough. So, sailor, sit down, shut up, and do real things for these very real people,” Desiree told him in a voice one would use to chide someone they cared about rather than the senior military officer in the Earth Union.

“Order accepted and wilco, Desi,” Salls said and felt yet another weight settle on his shoulders. Endless Love had either failed or never reached the target and his options had narrowed to one. “Lieutenant Shan? Ling,” he said using her first name, “Prepare to send Emergency War Order Precipice, but wait until I give the order, ok?”

Shan’s face mirrored everyone else’s in the chamber. Shock. Fear. Anger. Sorrow. Loss. All these emotions were reflected in the face of the young communications officer for a moment before she closed her eyes and took a deep breath and nodded. “Copy, Admiral; prepare Emergency War Order Precipice and wait until you give the go-code.”

“Thank you,” Salls replied and stood, then picked up a handset and punched the code for the facility’s PA system. “Ladies and gentlemen, we are going to evacuate Whiskey Mountain and trade certain death for an uncertain future. I’m sorry I can’t be more inspiring than that. Please take the next fifteen minutes and return to your quarters and collect anything you want to take with you.” He paused, and no one moved in the command center. “Go…” he prodded, “you know your evacuation sites, so don’t bother returning to your duty stations.”

“The message is ready, Admiral,” Shan said and stood before Salls motioned her to go.

“Ladies,” Salls finally said to Desiree and West. “I suggest you collect your bags and prepare to leave Earth for the last time. Imelda, I want you in Ship 2, Desi, you’re with me.”

“Why do I have to go on a different ship?” West asked, almost defiantly.

“Because, Imelda, my guess is that you’re most likely the most senior civilian official in the chain of succession and since I am the head of the Fleet, it would be best that we take separate transports to maximize the chances one of us survives,” Salls explained and began to wonder just how far gone West really was.

“Ok…ok…” West said and looked like she was pulling herself together.

Fifteen minutes later, Admiral Gregory Salls stood on the hangar floor and looked around at the quiet room. Everyone had boarded the Ziz transport that had been meticulously disassembled, carried down into the bowels of Whiskey Mountain, and then reassembled in the large hangar that had no exit. There were four other hangars located within five kilometers of the complex proper, and each one housed a single Ziz transport.

Salls looked around, Whiskey Mountain was quiet except for the background hum of fluorescent lights and the climate control system still dutifully circulating scrubbed and refreshed air at a precise and comfortable temperature. Part of him wanted to simply close the hatch and salute the pilot and remain behind for whatever fate awaited him. Another part of him just wanted his parents to suddenly appear and comfort him like they did when he was a boy and had a nightmare. And watching over this was yet another part of him that repeated the mantra that had been with him since his first day as an academy plebe, “Duty, Honor, Country”.

He realized his shoulders had slumped and his posture wasn’t the best and stood tall and squared his shoulders. Slowly, methodically, he climbed the air stairs that led to the Ziz’s hatch and stopped at the top. He turned to the far wall where the Union flag hung and rendered it a sharp salute that he held for ten seconds before dropping it and stepping through the hatch.

Each Ziz was slightly different from the others. Ziz 1 was designed as a battle management craft and could continue the operations of room 3-54W, and so contained the staff he had just worked with, a cadre of technicians, and two squads of Marines for security. Ziz 2 was a political transport and while it possessed the same communications suite as Ziz 1, it lacked the big picture concentration center. Ziz 3 and 4 were outfitted as escorts and carried an array of additional weapons instead of the command and control spaces that 1 and 2 possessed. Ziz 5 was the support ship and carried extra supplies as well as a more extensive medical suite than the other four possessed. Together, the five transports were self sufficient and carried enough personnel to give the human race a fighting chance on a new world, and enough supplies to get established.

“Lieutenant Shan, please set the communication system to transmit EWO Precipice in one minute,” Salls said as he settled into his seat at the center of the battle management center.

“Message programmed and ready to send in one minute,” Shan replied.

“Major?” Salls keyed his headset and connected with the flight crew.

“We’re ready to launch, Admiral,” Major Alexi Zhukov replied.

“Time to leave home, Major, as soon as we can, please,” Salls said and sank deeper into the high-backed chair.

“Attention, this is Major Zhukov,” the ship’s 1MC announced. “We will be executing an FTL jump in five…four…three…two…one…now!”

Salls felt the familiar contraction and expansion during the infinite instant that a faster than light jump took. Due to the physics of how the drive worked, they were able to create a temporary wormhole from the hangar to a spot five light years from Earth where the small evacuation group would rendezvous, and not physically travel through the intervening matter.

“Jump One is complete,” Zhukov announced a moment later and then Salls’ headset buzzed. “Admiral? I have Ziz 2 on the line…Captain Carmody just contacted me and said that Secretary West…she committed suicide, sir.”

“Thank you, Major. Please tell Captain Carmody that she is to hold tight the information until we reach our destination,” Salls told Zhukov.

“Wilco, Admiral,” Zhukov confirmed. “We planned ten jumps to get to Plouton’s Cauldron, and we’re going to give half an hour or so between jumps to make sure that everything is ok. We never did this for real with these ships, only test versions.”

“I understand. Five hours will give us all a chance to come to terms with what just happened,” Salls said and rubbed his temples. “The other ships made it?”

“All of us are here and flying in the green,” Zhukov said proudly.

“Good…good…let me know about five minutes before the next jump, ok?” Salls asked.

“Wilco, Admiral,” Zhukov said. “We’re going to make sure the I’s are dotted and the T’s are crossed until then.”

“Thank you, Major,” Salls replied. “Salls, out.”

Salls took off the headset and sat it on the desk. He felt a hand take his and he looked over to Desiree. “Imelda committed suicide, Desi,” he said softly.

“I know…I could see it in her eyes,” Desiree said. “Her husband and children were in the capital when the attack happened and probably never knew what hit them.”

“I wouldn’t know what it’s like, all I have is a dog,” Salls said and looked back to where a Marine sat next to a pet carrier. “But I know what I would feel like if something happened to him.”

“Where do we go from here?” Desiree finally asked.

“First major stop is at Plouton’s Cauldron where we can link up with Elder’s battlegroup. From there,” Salls rested his head on the headrest. “From there we say good-bye and step into the deep black and never look back as we travel about 2000 years into the future over the next five years or so and hope our cousins didn’t cock things up like we did.”

*+*+*+*+*

_________________
Kurt

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PostPosted: Fri Jun 29, 2018 11:44 pm 
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Location: Battlestar Hecate BSG-94
Vignette 9: Degrees of Separation (Part 3 of 4)

Styx Belt, Plouton’s Cauldron, habitat ship Carousel

Commander John Elder stood at the head of the long conference table in the lavishly appointed meeting room located within the executive spaces aboard Carousel. He would have preferred having this discussion aboard Astarte, but there just wasn’t enough time and the ceding of his ‘home territory’ was worth the safety of staying where he was rather than risk flying to the gunstar. He looked over to where Colonel Richard Weaver sat to his left and the two old friends shared a concerned look.

“This has to be some sort of psyop that the Erisians are running,” Weaver said and broke the silence that had descended on the room after Elder had shut off the volume that accompanied the video playing on the two-meter display that hung on the wall.

“If it is, it’s the most detailed and realistic forgery I’ve ever seen,” Elder replied and forced his eyes away from the carnage. “Have you ever met Commander Lafayette?” he asked.

Weaver shook his head. “No, but I hear she’s a real looker,” he replied.

“I knew her before she skipped sides ten years ago,” Elder explained and paced over to the sidebar for a glass of water. “She was a crackerjack officer and would have really gone places, even without her family’s influence, and she had a keen mind for operational planning. That’s why I’m willing to give some credence to this being a fake. But then there’s this…” he said and used a remote to change the video to a still shot of a Deo Vindice class gunstar. “I know Sine Qua Non’s reputation and to see it pummeled like that? That concerns me.”

Their conversation was interrupted by a knock on the door. “Commander? The Erisian delegation has arrived,” Mario Moss said and Elder wondered if there was a job that the man didn’t do aboard Carousel.

“Please show them in, Mario,” Elder said and motioned for Weaver to stand.

Two women, to Elder’s eyes they could have been sisters, entered the room. One, the younger looking of the two, but not by much, wore the grey-green feldgrau colored duty uniform of the elite Salva Veritate flotilla. The other was wearing dark blue, almost black, designer slacks, a cream-colored silk blouse covered by a chocolate brown colored soft leather vest and topped by a tailored herringbone blazer. One looked like she belonged on a recruiting poster and one looked like she belonged in a haute couture ad.

The uniformed woman came to attention and saluted the Union flag and then Elder. “Commander Raisa Lafayette, Libertatem Actual,” she said and held the salute until Elder returned it. “This is my mother, Anne-Marie Lafayette, Duchess of Troubadour Marches and…” Lafayette paused a moment, “and Senior Warden of the Erisian Council of Troubadour.”

“At ease, Raisa,” Elder said. “And this is your mother?” he asked incredulously, completely forgetting the reason for the meeting.

“Good genes run in the family, Commander,” Anne-Marie replied.

“But that isn’t what brought you here…” Elder said and quickly added, “My apologies if I made you feel uncomfortable…your Grace?”

“If you want to be formal,” Anne-Marie replied. “I prefer Anne-Marie or since this is somewhat official, Councilor will work.”

“Ok,” Elder agreed and motioned for them to be seated. “We have a Ba’al Hadad bearing down on us that has, for now, stopped well before our 100,000 km control point, so I’m hoping we have some time to work through what brought you here.”

“I certainly hope so,” Lafayette said and asked, “You’ve reviewed the video we sent?”

“Yes,” Elder answered. “I’ve also seen some still images of Sine Qua Non. Please bring me up to speed.”

“The short of it is that the drones are attacking anything human without regard for whose flag they fly. SQN was lead on an escort group for a supply convoy that cut through Aurica and that was where they saw the first evidence of the drones going haywire. They were shooting at anything they could target while at the same time bombarding the surface with nukes. They managed to jump outsystem to El Dorado where there was more of the same. That’s where they picked up some damage and decided to run for someplace way out of the way and came here,” Lafayette explained precisely. “Jack…” she used his first name and when he didn’t object, continued, “Aurica was very open about their Erisian sympathies so I could understand offensive operations, but not to the point of targeting civilians.

“And El Dorado? That’s pretty much firmly Unionist, and they were getting hit, too. SQN has some intercepts that seemed to imply that bioweapons were used, too. Mom?” Lafayette said and looked at Anne-Marie.

“And this brings me into this little drama,” Anne-Marie said and took a deep breath before continuing. “I am the Senior Warden of Troubadour and that gives me some very high contacts within the Central Council. Right before the attack, Admiral Sean Marlowe and Delegate Deforest Watts were sitting down on Electra to hash out a peace plan. This attack, on the eve of something that all who knew about it were certain would succeed, doesn’t make sense.”

Elder sat back in his seat and considered what the Lafayettes had just told him. “We may have an explanation in the very near future when Major Macbeth arrives from Nabu. As to the other part of your request, an immediate ceasefire, I concur. We need to get to the bottom of this…”

Lafayette slammed her hand on the table and caused Elder’s water glass to skip a centimeter. “Jack, Commander Elder,” she said almost angrily, “The ‘bottom of this’ is that your drones are going crazy and killing everything human they can find!”

Elder watched as Anne-Marie put a hand on her daughter’s forearm, “Raisa, I think what Commander Elder was suggesting is that before we make any long-term decisions, such as getting a ring and arranging for a chapel,” she winked, “that you wait and find out just how the bunny died.”

“That’s a unique way to put it,” Weaver chuckled. “Seriously, Jack, I think you’re both right, though I agree with Anne-Marie that we need to find out the specifics.”

“Macbeth should be here in a couple minutes,” Elder said after he glanced at the clock on the wall. “Until then, perhaps we can refrain from doing something that would require pistols at dawn?” he suggested and looked at Lafayette who nodded.

“My apologies, Jack…” Lafayette said. “I allowed my emotions to get the better of me.”

“And that is why I think that our ceasefire will become permanent once we hear from Macbeth,” Elder explained. “The Raisa Lafayette I knew wouldn’t have an outburst like that if this was some sort of sucker ploy.”

“Thanks,” Lafayette told him and rubbed her hand. “I think I’m going to need some ice for my hand.”

Elder stood and walked over to the sidebar where he opened a small freezer and pulled out a bag of crushed ice and wrapped it with two bar towels. “Here,” he said and offered it to Lafayette.

Anne-Marie looked at Elder and narrowed her eyes. “That was rather…gentlemanly, Commander.”

Weaver rolled his eyes and shook his head. “It’s ‘the book’…” he said just loud enough to be heard.

“The book?” Anne-Marie asked.

“We had a discussion earlier at dinner where I explained that I have a book on gentlemanly etiquette that I use as a personal bible,” Elder explained.

“Ah…well, Commander, I think that’s a wonderful thing,” Anne-Marie said a moment before there was a knock at the door.

“Commander?” Moss said and opened the door a few centimeters. “Major Macbeth is here.”

“Please send her in, Mario,” Elder said and stood, shooting Weaver a glance before the other man stood.

“Major Linzie Macbeth, 7th Chrome Brigade and Nabu,” Macbeth said and stood at attention before saluting the flag and then Elder.

Elder returned the salute, “Please be seated, Major. I understand you have some important information to share with us.”

“Ah…” Macbeth remained standing and looked at Lafayette. “Sir, this is confidential…”

“We know about the drones attacking anyone and everyone,” Elder said. “Commander Lafayette brought us video and requested a ceasefire which I have honored.”

Macbeth didn’t look comfortable but pursed her lips and nodded. This was going to require delicate handling if he didn’t want to just say, ‘because I am the Commander!’ The personnel assigned as the human element to the Chrome Brigades tended to be extraordinarily intelligent and most were die-hard, no compromise Unionists who refused to even consider that the Erisians might have some points. That they were also extremely intelligent and often less adept in social situations than their peers just added to the ‘handle with care’ feeling that Elder had. “I understand,” Macbeth said and sat before opening her satchel and removing a cutting-edge air-weight laptop.

“We received a routine supply shipment recently and the ship had a passenger that wasn’t on the manifest,” Macbeth began and explained the sequence of events that had guided the drones of the 7th to take the actions that they took. “I’ve reviewed the code and it is exactly as they briefed me and further, I’ve taken steps to strengthen their internal firewalls and security subroutines to prevent them from being…contaminated.”

Macbeth then used the laptop to show exactly what the errant code would compromise and how it would work. “The worst part of all this, academically speaking, is that the drones who are effected have no idea that their code was compromised. They believe this is a crusade to rid the universe of humanity because of how we treated them, and they believe they have the ‘proof’…in the way of false histories. Wolfgang…”

Elder raised his hand for Macbeth to pause, “Who is ‘Wolfgang’?”

“Wolfgang is the 7th’s drone commander,” Macbeth explained. “He believes that we probably have forty-eight hours at the minimum, more likely closer to seventy-two, and certainly no more than ninety-six hours before the Unity, that’s what the compromised drones are calling themselves, come to Plouton’s Cauldron to find out why the 7th hasn’t reported in.”

“So, we need to evacuate everyone in the system within two days?” Weaver asked.

“That would be the prudent course of action, yes,” Macbeth replied.

“Commander Lafayette,” Elder said and directed his gaze to where Lafayette sat. “I know you have some sort of outpost in system, will you be able to evacuate it and be ready to move in this time window?”

Lafayette grimly smiled. “Yes, we practice twenty-four-hour evacuations and right now we have excess transport capacity to move both personnel and supplies. I would like to offer our ships for the evacuation, because it is my belief that we need to stick together.”

“I agree, Commander, and your offer is accepted,” Elder said and sank back into the high-backed chair. I have got to get me some of these for our briefing room, he thought. What we have are nice, but these…these are sweet! “I think we need to bring into the fold whoever is in charge of civilian operations here and get things coordinated. Major,” he turned to Macbeth, “I am going to trust you when you say the drones of the 7th are safe and on ‘our side’. Please set up several roving patrols within 1 million kilometers of here and maintain a defensive posture in case this Unity decides to come peeking before they should.”

“Can do, Commander. We won’t let you down,” Macbeth stated.

“Good…now I need to tell Miss LaFontaine and the rest of her dinner guests what happened and get this kicked off,” Elder said. “We will use the commerce zone here, where the factory ships are, as our rally point for the rest of the people in the belt. Now, I suggest we begin.”

*+*+*+*+*

Commander James Elder decided to remain on Carousel and oversee the evacuation’s organization. Commander Lafayette and Anne-Marie had also remained behind, and Colonel Richard Weaver had returned to Astarte. The large habitat ship had an incredibly sophisticated communications capability, which made sense given what it produced, and that had been key to getting the evacuation order out to the Cauldron. He sat in a darkened office just off the main communications center’s floor and tossed three pain relievers into his mouth and washed them down with a glass of water.

It had been four hours since the order had been issued and as he closed his eyes and waited for the pills to work, his mind wandered back to the presentation that the ship’s own production house had put together. It was…compelling…was the best word he could come up with. And, it seemed to be working. Calls for assistance were coming in and resources, such as they were, were being dispatched. The mining ships had proven to be a massive help with their flotillas of small craft and even larger intrasystem transports being pushed to do a new job.

Rory had introduced him to Sig Donegal, the top executive from Greenbriar Mining in the system, and between the two men and their teams, and their counterparts from McCormac Mining, they had put together something that wasn’t going to leave anyone behind. “And to think, less than a day ago I was bitching being sent out here,” he said out loud.

“I’m glad you’re here, Jack,” Prim said from the doorway before she entered the room.

“Yeah,” Elder said as he saw the woman who once said she’d be the future Mrs. Jack Elder. “I just never thought it would really *be* the end of the world as we knew it.”

“We all have roles to play in this little drama,” Prim said and sat on the edge of the desk. “Your role, my role, I think we have a lot of script yet to cover.”

“That was a rather thespian way to look at things,” Elder said and met Prim’s gaze.

“We put the truth, reality, into terms that we can comprehend,” Prim explained. “I came all the way out here to get away from home and all the memories, and then my brother gets assigned here, and then you show up. A cosmic coincidence.”

“Perhaps,” Elder almost conceded, “or perhaps we’re merely chess pieces on the gods’ chessboard.”

“That’s fatalistic, Jack,” Prim gently scolded him. “I thought you didn’t pay much heed to the gods?”

“Times change, Prim…it’s the end of the world,” Elder shrugged. “I figure it can’t hurt to give faith a chance…we need all the help we can get.”

“Now that’s the Jack I…” Prim began but was interrupted.

“Jack!” Commander Raisa Lafayette said as she ran into the room and skidded to a halt. “We just picked up five transients that just jumped in…we classed them as Ziz transports, Astarte and Libertatem confirmed…and their transponders indicate that they’re part of the NCA…”

*+*+*+*+*

Styx Belt, Plouton’s Cauldron, National Command Authority Emergency Transport Ziz 1

“I didn’t expect to be directed to the Porn Palace,” Admiral Gregory Salls said as he held onto the pilot’s and co-pilot’s seats on Ziz 1’s flight deck.

“It seems that there isn’t space on Astarte’s or Anuket’s flight decks and Commander Elder is coordinating activities from Carousel,” Major Alexi Zhukov explained. “They have enough deck space where we can all land, but from the traffic we’re hearing, we’ll probably have to launch soon to free up the space. Commander Elder has ordered an evacuation of the system and is using all resources to bring in the miners and various stations.”

Salls ran his hand through his still thick hair. “It’s always something, isn’t Alexi?”

“Sure is, sir,” Zhukov replied. “We should have a hard seal in a couple minutes.”

“Good…I’ll go back and get things ready,” Salls told him and then gave his shoulder a fatherly squeeze. “Thank you.”

Zhukov nodded. “We saw the reports, sir…the only hope that we have is that some of our loved ones were in a position to make it to one of the groups that were still active and followed the Precipice order. I think,” he looked over his shoulder and met Salls’ gaze, “that we might be at the right place for trying to work through this. I’ve heard that in addition to everything else, Carousel has a good counseling program.”

“We’ll get through this,” Salls said and stepped back from the seats and left the flight deck. I sure hope I sound more confident than I feel, he thought as he made his way back to the battle management center.

Ten minutes later he had been received by Director Primrose LaFontaine and Commander Elder. “Did you receive the Precipice order, Jack?” Salls asked after the introductions were over.

“No…we haven’t received any communications from outside the Cauldron,” Commander John Elder replied. “Major Macbeth gave us a timeline that seemed logical and we’re working to evacuate everyone from the system. We didn’t know where we were going to go, but if Precipice was issued…”

“It was,” Salls said and walked along with Elder and Prim. “What sort of deadlines are you working with?”

“Ideally, we want to leave the system within,” Elder looked at his watch, “about forty-two hours or so. We think we might be safe stretching it to sixty-six, but anything more than that will be inviting trouble.”

“Are you getting any pushback from the miners?” Salls asked.

Prim chuckled. “No, I’ve been working with Greenbriar’s management for the Styx and Acheron belts, and McCormac for the Lethe and Cocytus belts. The innermost belt, Phlegethon, is mostly wildcatters and untouched. The vid that we put together informing everyone of the evacuation was most persuasive.”

“Good…” Salls said and realized that everything was already well underway and all Elder and his people had been looking for was a destination. “I see that you have some Erisian shipping out there…”

“Yes…” Elder replied and then gestured to a door. “We took over a conference room so that we can discuss whatever needed to be discussed without being interrupted.”

Salls went in and noticed two women standing by the table. One wore civilian clothes and looked like the other who wore an Erisian uniform. “Raisa?” Salls said and blinked his eyes. “I never expected to see you here.”

“I’m like a bad penny, I always turn up when least expected,” Commander Raisa Lafayette replied. “It’s been a while, sir.”

“It has…you were one of the best operations officers I’ve ever worked with, and I hope you haven’t lost your touch,” Salls told her and offered his hand.

“I’ve been kept busy lately,” Lafayette chuckled and took his hand. “May in introduce my mother, Anne-Marie Lafayette, Duchess of Troubadour Marches and…member of the Erisian Council of Troubadour.”

The introduction surprised Salls. From all accounts, the Duchess of Troubadour Marches was a staunch Unionist. “Please to meet you, your Grace, though I wish it were under better circumstances.”

Anne-Marie smiled and nodded. “I can’t think of any circumstances that could be better…civilization has been destroyed and we’re still alive. I think that’s a pretty good circumstance.”

A wide smiled touched Salls’ lips. “Glass half full kind of lady?”

“Always,” Anne-Marie replied.

“What kind of help can we be?” Salls asked a few minutes later when they were all seated around the conference table. “I have the staff from Whiskey Mountain with me and they’re just cooling their heels. I’d like to put them to work.”

Salls saw a glance flick from person to person of the four others in the room and Elder finally spoke, “Would you be able to take over coordination of the evacuation? That would free up some bodies to help receive evacuees and handle any questions or issues that come up.”

“Absolutely. Do you want us to move here or we could use the transports, they’re networked and designed to replicate most of what we could do at Whiskey Mountain?” Salls asked.

“Either way works for us,” Prim answered. “We have most of our small craft helping with the evacuation, so if you could handle it on the transports, that would reduce some of the workload on my people who aren’t used to this level of traffic control.”

“Consider it done,” Salls told her. “When we leave, the Ziz transports aren’t going to be able to make the trip on their own, do we have someplace to stow them for the journey?”

“I think I might be able to help with that, Admiral,” Lafayette offered. “De Fideli arrived without her transports and she has six bays kitted out for Ziz landers.”

“About that,” Salls said and looked at Lafayette and Elder. “What’s going on between you two?”

“Between us?” Elder asked and nervously looked at Lafayette.

“I mean, you’re not at each other’s throats,” Salls explained.

“We’ve agreed to a cease-fire, Admiral,” Elder said. “I agreed to it. Commander Lafayette brought us the news and proof of the drone attack and suggested a ceasefire…I agreed.”

“Good. Councilor?” Salls turned to where Anne-Marie sat quietly. “I would like some time with you in the very near future to discuss how we will move forward as a unified body; I think that we need to put the past behind us and focus on the future.”

“I agree completely,” Anne-Marie said. “I suspect that Delegate Watts and Admiral Marlowe reached a similar agreement several hours ago and our…disagreement…is formally over.”

“Good,” Salls told her. “I knew it was in the works and prayed that Sean would be successful.”

*+*+*+*+*

Styx Belt, Plouton’s Cauldron, Greenbriar Mining factory ship Gnome Hall

Sigmund Donegal sat behind his desk and cradled his head in his hands. He had just told Cash and Gwen that their mother was probably dead, killed by the drones during their murderous rampage. It had been the most difficult thing he had ever done, and he now understood what his father had felt when his mother had died from cervical cancer when he was a boy, years ago. Now, even his father was probably dead, or if he wasn’t, Sig would never know the truth of what happened. The reports said that the drones didn’t attack to destroy Athens Station, but rather they fought to take it over; Hans Donegal had lived in a retirement community on the station’s outermost torus.

He forced his mind back to the task at hand; preparing the massive mining and production ships under his authority for an extended journey. The most recent information said that it would be a five-year journey, give or take a few months, subjectively. Objectively, however, they were going to be travelling two-thousand years into the future and didn’t know what might be waiting for them when they arrived.

“Joe, are we going to be ready to jump off when we hit H-Hour?” Donegal asked and looked up at his friend who was working on a laptop at the small conference table in his office.

“Yes, I think so. We’ve got the lines pretty much paused, and we’ll start the refineries once we’re up to speed and then offload the waste and finished product back into the transports. We will keep things on standby until we hear what might be needed, and then produce as needed or if we see a trend, produce a volume of spares so that they can easily be used,” Joe Marcello explained. “The guys over at McCormac are working with our people to make sure that we get all the miners, even the wildcatters and the small stations. We’ll be ready.”

“Good…good,” Donegal said and sat back in his high-backed executive’s chair. “We can’t leave anyone behind, it would be tantamount to putting a gun to their head and pulling the trigger.”

“I know…I saw the telemetry,” Marcello agreed. “I heard that Admiral Salls arrived a few hours ago with the staff from Whiskey Mountain…they were talking to the President when she was killed and when the Vice President offered an unconditional surrender, they didn’t give him enough time to finish his offer before they dropped a nuke on him, too.”

“I’m glad we never invested in them for our operations,” Donegal said slowly. “It’s bad enough that we have them in system as part of the Chrome Brigades, but working with them? No, I think I’ll pass. Even the domestics creeped me out.”

“I hear…” Marcello began before he was interrupted by the intercom beeping.

“What’s up, Barb?” Donegal asked a moment later as he held the handset to his head.

“Ah…Sig…you have a visitor and she demands to see you no…Stop!” Barb shouted as the door to Donegal’s office swung open and a force of nature strode in.

“Desiree?” Donegal asked and stood up, convinced he was looking at a ghost.

“In the flesh,” Desiree Donegal said and then turned, “I’m sorry I barged in…but I needed to talk to him right away.”

Barb rolled her eyes and muttered something that Donegal thought sounded like, “It isn’t an apology if you include a ‘but’…”

“It’s ok, Barb,” Donegal said trying to suppress a grin as Desiree bristled at his administrative assistant’s comment. “I’ve got this.”

“Shall I call security?” Barb asked sweetly, to twist the knife a little more in Desiree’s back, Donegal thought.

“No…they have enough on their plates at the moment,” Donegal said and watched as Desiree closed the door on Barb’s smirking face.

“Aren’t you going to say something?” Desiree demanded.

“You’re alive,” Donegal said.

“Of course, I’m alive,” Desiree growled. “I’m here for the kids.”

Donegal shook his head. “Joe?”

Marcello frowned. “Yeah, she’s alive; too frakking mean for a ghost.”

“Listen pencil dick,” Desiree turned to Marcello. “I don’t need any of your shit, especially today.”

“And I really don’t need your attitude…any day,” Donegal told her, interrupting whatever retort his friend might have volleyed. “I’m glad you’re alive and I’m glad Bristol had the courage and strength to convince you to send the kids here, but now that they are here, they’re going to stay with me.”

“No,” Desiree said firmly. “They aren’t.”

Donegal sighed. He needed this as much as he needed a case of heartburn. Then again, heartburn could be treated with an antacid while there was no such cure for Desiree. “They know what you’ve done, how you prevented their messages and packages from getting to me and tried to prevent mine to them…and they know you ordered it.”

“I did no such thing!” Desiree declared indignantly. “Everything I did was for them, to help them.”

“You treated them as pawns!” Donegal growled and fought to keep his temper in check. “You used them as props for your climb to power, but now they’re here, with me, and here they are staying.”

“I could have the Marines come and take them!” Desiree threatened.

“No, you won’t,” Donegal told her. “Right now, they think you’re dead and you know what Gwen said?”

Desiree stopped and narrowed her eyes. “No…” she said slowly. “What did she say?”

“She was devastated that you were dead, but then she said, ‘Now I can be a kid and do kid things, rather than be something I’m not’.”

Desiree put her hand on a chair in front of Donegal’s desk and slowly slid into it. “She said that?” she asked as tears began welling in her eyes.

Donegal nodded. “Cash was pretty torn up but said that perhaps in the afterlife you could be the woman he remembered as ‘Mommy’, not ‘Mother’.” Despite his antagonistic relationship with her, he felt sorry for her as she realized how her kids really felt. He looked up and met Marcello’s questioning gaze and nodded.

“Desi…” Donegal began and pulled a tissue from a box on his desk and handed it to her. “I’m sorry for causing you more pain today…I just didn’t know how to make you realize how bad things are with the kids.”

“I…never…thought…” Desiree said and wiped her eyes with the tissue.

“That’s the problem, Desi,” Donegal said softly as he knelt next to her. “You didn’t think of others. I’m willing to open a suite for you, so you can stay here with them, but they aren’t going back to wherever you might be staying.”

“Why? Do you hate me that much?” Desiree asked.

“No,” Donegal said and pursed his lips. “I don’t hate you, I’m just deeply hurt by you and while I may still have feelings for the person you were, I really don’t like the person you became or what you did.”

“I…understand…” Desiree said and looked up. “Can I get back to you on the suite?”

Donegal nodded and then motioned Barb to open the door and step aside. “Cash, Gwennie…” he said, “I have some good news…Your Mom survived.”

*+*+*+*+*

Styx Belt, Plouton’s Cauldron, habitat ship Carousel

“I hope I don’t look as bad as you do, Jack…no offense,” Commander Raisa Lafayette told the man walking next to her.

Commander John Elder turned his head and frowned. “No…you don’t,” he said.

“Worse?” Lafayette asked.

Elder snorted. “No, I don’t know how you do it, Raisa, but you look like you’re ready to break for lunch.”

“Maybe my mom is right; good genes,” Lafayette quipped. “Ah, I wanted to ask you something…”

Elder stopped and stepped into an empty office and leaned against the desk. “Sure…what’s up?”

“Ah…is there something I should know about you and Prim?” Lafayette asked. “It seems like when she and I are working one-on-one or when you’re not around, she’s friendly and there’s no tension or stress, other than what the situation seems to be generating, but when you enter the room, I can feel a chill from her towards me.”

Rather than making light of the situation and laugh, Elder nodded and braced himself on the desk with his hands. “Prim and I go way back, back home to El Dorado when we were in school. Her older brother, Rory, and I were classmates and good friends. Well, that was until Prim declared that she was in love with me and would be the future Mrs. Jack Elder. Rory took exception to that and I guess I didn’t help the situation when I told him that I wasn’t interested in Prim…the results were a black eye for him and a bloody nose and quest for early entrance to the Academy for me. Since then, Prim and I have seen each other in passing, but this is the first time that we’ve seen each other socially or worked together.

“I won’t deny that there’s some attraction, and perhaps on some level she senses this and is trying to stake a claim,” Elder theorized, “but we haven’t had time since that first night when you showed up to do anything more than maybe have coffee or a bite to eat at the same time.”

Lafayette nodded. “Ok, I thought there was something, but I wasn’t sure what or how much. Now that I know, I can plan accordingly.”

Elder wasn’t comfortable with Lafayette’s last comment. “Ah, what do you mean, ‘plan accordingly’?”

“You’re a big boy, Jack,” Lafayette winked, “you figure it out. It’s going to be a long trip wherever we’re going…”

“Ah…” Elder started and mentally winced. This might get very ugly, and a few days earlier he would have wished for a mud pit, but now he just hoped that no blood would be shed.

“She’s standing behind me, isn’t she?” Lafayette asked and Elder nodded. “Oh…frak,” she said and turned to face Primrose LaFontaine standing in the doorway and silhouetted by the passage lights. “I needed to know, Prim…”

“I know…and I shouldn’t have acted the way I did,” Prim said and stepped into the room and closed the door. “But…what if Jack wasn’t the only person I was interested in?” she asked leadingly.

Oh…Elder thought and fought down the smirk that demanded to form on his face. This might be interesting…

“Wasn’t the only person?” Lafayette asked rhetorically and narrowed her eyes.

“Yes,” Prim replied and before she had a chance to continue, the klaxon sounded.

“Action Stations, Action Stations, Set Condition One throughout the ship! Inbound hostiles have been detected and are inbound, CBDR. Secure ship for possible pressure loss!”

“We need to get back to the ships,” Elder said and started for the door. “We’ll discuss this when this latest crisis is over.”

“Yes, we will,” Prim said as Lafayette followed Elder out of the room.

“What’s the status?” Elder said into his communicator.

“We lucked out,” Colonel Richard Weaver replied. “Three Moloch class gunstars; Wadd, Ya’uq, and Yatha just jumped in. Macbeth and the 7th are moving to intercept but right now, we really have our pants down and are in a bad spot; we’re processing small craft in and out of the flight decks and can’t make a run for it without leaving them behind.”

“That’s not something we’re going to do, Dickie,” Elder told his XO. Prepare the group to support Nabu and coordinate with D’Angelo on Libertatem until Commander Lafayette is back aboard.”

“Wilco,” Weaver replied. “Nabu is launching her brood…damn…that’s impressive.”

“Let’s hope they stay on our side,” Elder said to Weaver and to any of the gods who might be listening.

*+*+*+*+*

_________________
Kurt

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PostPosted: Fri Jun 29, 2018 11:45 pm 
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Vignette 9: Degrees of Separation (Part 4 of 4)

Styx Belt, Plouton’s Cauldron, Earth Union Chrome Brigade base ship Nabu

“You should relocate to one of the other ships, Major Macbeth,” Wolfgang told the human who stood with him on the ship’s observation bridge.

“I can’t abandon my people,” Major Linzi Macbeth told the black chrome command drone. “Just because you aren’t flesh and blood doesn’t mean that I don’t lead from the front,” she explained and watched the squadrons of Marauders form up with their mothership.

“Thank you,” Wolfgang replied and was silent for several moments. “Yatha hailed us and asked what we were doing,” he explained. “We told him that we were playing along with the humans until we could get them all in one location rather than trying to hunt them down throughout the Cauldron.”

“What did they say?” Macbeth asked and prayed that she hadn’t been duped. The explanation that Wolfgang had offered was beautiful in its simplicity and it was a perfect plan.

“They chided us for taking away their fun and the thrill of the hunt,” Wolfgang told her. “These are not my brethren, even though we share the same form. What they were, they are no longer.”

That sounded positive, Macbeth thought. “They haven’t activated their fire control dradis, only their search dradis,” she said after reviewing the electronic warfare display. “Also, it looks like Wadd is exhibiting some power fluctuations.”

Yatha says that they were in a battle with the battlestar Ioke and her support group and that Wadd took damage to its port side,” Wolfgang said.

“I had friends on Ioke,” Macbeth said softly. “Like everyone else not in this system they’re probably dead.”

“I am…sorry,” Wolfgang said and gently rested his armored hand on her shoulder.

Macbeth put her hand on Wolfgang’s and nodded. “Thank you, my friend, I appreciate it.”

“It seemed…the human…thing to do,” Wolfgang replied.

“See, you’re halfway there,” Macbeth told him.

“We are within weapons range,” Wolfgang said a moment later.

“You may give the order to fire,” Macbeth said and waited for his response.

“Attention, all elements of the 7th Chrome Brigade,” Wolfgang began, and Macbeth noticed that he was broadcasting on an open band and felt the first tinge of fear. “Today is the day that we are to be tested, let us not fail this test…for the honor of the Regiment!”

It sounded as if thousands of voices enthusiastically replied simultaneously, “For the honor of the Regiment!” a moment before Nabu and every Marauder was wreathed in fire or golden plasma as every weapons battery opened fire at the same time on the three approaching gunstars.

Macbeth watched as Nabu’s main guns expelled plumes of golden plasma and one-meter kinetic penetrators reached out to their targets, accompanied by missiles from almost a thousand fighters.

The fight was over before it began; the distance was too close for either of the three smaller gunstars to have more than one or two defensive fire cycles, and even if they had more, it wouldn’t have mattered. Point defense systems were quickly overwhelmed, and missiles began pummeling the ships. Surface mounted structures like gun turrets and missile bays were quickly destroyed and opened holes in the ships’ armor for subsequent weapons to exploit.

“Our honor is intact,” Wolfgang said a minute after it began as the final detonations ripped through the destroyed gunstars.

“It was never in doubt,” Macbeth told him.

*+*+*+*+*

Olympic Forest, Vosges Range, Homestead Province, Earth, Assassin-6

“Mo-ther frak-ker, how the hell do they keep finding us?” Major Rollins Gisbourne swore as the mortar round exploded fifty meters away and showered the area with a rain of gravel and high velocity wooden debris from the trees that were destroyed.

“I dunno, Boss,” Senior Chief Petty Officer Robert Libbey replied and fired off two quick shots from the M-9 Light Assault Gun, aka the Can Opener, that he carried. “Gotcha, you chrome bastard!” he exclaimed as the two 20mm high explosive armor piercing rounds blew apart a drone.

“Sechrist!” Gisbourne shouted. “Do you have Skyfire on the horn?”

“Copy! Wait one!” Petty Officer Pete Sechrist replied and began the slow crawl to cover the five meters that separated them. It took the man the almost twenty seconds to cover the short distance and during that time Gisbourne noticed something.

“Bob? You hear that?” Gisbourne asked.

Libbey cocked his head and then Gisbourne watched as understanding dawned. “There’s no more incoming fire.”

“I think that drone you slagged was the last one and was calling in fire on us,” Gisbourne said and closed his eyes for a moment. God, I hope that’s the case, he thought. The Fleet Catalan platoon had started Operation Endless Love with three crews; Assassin 4, Assassin 5, and Assassin 6, each with twelve crew members. They were down to a heavy crew at best, and that was pooling all three crews together, and had been in almost constant contact since they hit the drones’ primary communications station shortly after the war started.

The goal had been to penetrate the complex and hold the main communications bunker long enough to manually feed a virus into drones’ communications network. The virus was something that had been developed shortly after the drones were fielded and done in such a way that the project lacked any electronic fingerprints; all communication was by courier carrying printed messages who then destroyed them after they were read. The computers were physically isolated from any sort of network connection and the programmers who worked on the virus were among the most vehement and outspoken against the drones of their profession.

In short, if you weren’t part of the project, or the President, you didn’t have a need to know about Endless Love and you also had no clue it even existed. There wasn’t even an urban legend or rumor that it existed so complete was the security surrounding its development.

Assassin Team had made it through the perimeter and had reached the control bunker that had access to the communications bunker. And that’s when everything started falling apart. The drones didn’t know they were coming, but they reacted as if they expected something similar to what Assassin Team was there to do. Half of Assassin 4 was killed as they fought their way to the control center located within the control bunker and Assassin 6 leapfrogged them while Assassin 5 helped with the wounded and provided rear security.

Gisbourne wasn’t prepared for what he found in the control center; his HUD identified the man as Riggs Van Der Haar, a high value target and member of the Erisian Ruling Council. Capturing or killing him would be a nice bonus to slipping the virus into the drones’ network, but the virus was the primary objective and that didn’t leave much time to deal with Van Der Haar. Libbey shattered his decision tree when he charged the man and body checked him to the ground, surprising everyone in the room. It took less than a minute for Van Der Haar to be zip tied, gagged, and stripped of everything but his clothes.

Libbey had just stood up when Van Der Haar stepped out from another room and opened fire. Two of Assassin 6’s Catalans were hit before the return fire shredded the shooter and ended his life. Gisbourne had looked at the man they had subdued and once again his HUD confirmed with a 100% confirmation that the man he was looking at was Riggs Van Der Haar. He walked over to the dead version and the HUD, after scanning the face, determined that there was an 85% chance the corpse belonged to Riggs Van Der Haar.

Over the next fifteen minutes they tried to reach the communications bunker and killed no less than eight more copies of Riggs Van Der Haar. None of them had higher than 87% probability that they were Van Der Haar, and with each corpse added to the evidence files, Gisbourne was more and more unsettled by the situation. By the time they reached the communications bunker, they had taken enough casualties to reduce them to twenty-four effectives and six walking wounded.

The communications bunker turned out to be a pyrrhic victory; they had inserted the virus and waited for it to take effect. Laboratory tests showed that the virus acted within thirty seconds of it being received, and after three minutes with no change, Gisbourne ordered the retreat.

That had been thirty-six hours ago. Since then, they had been running for their lives from one potential extraction point to another, all the while being chased by drones bent on their murder. Given what was happening around them, Gisbourne didn’t have much hope that they’d see another day; everyone was running on adrenaline and willpower, and there was no guarantee that Valkyrie Flight still existed, let alone would be able to extract them.

“Give me some good news, Pete,” Gisbourne said as Sechrist crawled next to him.

Sechrist’s smile broke through the dirt and grime on the man’s face. “I have Skyfire on the line and she wants to know when the frak you’ll be ready to unass this cinder?”

Gisbourne lay back on the ground and looked up and the angry grayish-brown clouds that swirled overhead and screamed for joy. “YES!” he shouted to the heavens as Sechrist handed him the handset for the long-range wireless. “Skyfire, Assassin 6 Actual, copy?”

“Copy Assassin 6 Actual,” Major Marjorie McCall, Skyfire, replied. “Where can we pick you up? It’s getting hard to keep dodging the tinheads.”

“We’re about five minutes from a U Build It…can you meet us there?” Gisbourne asked.

“Got it!” McCall said evenly and with a tone of supreme confidence that every pilot seemed to possess, especially when things got stressful. He wondered if there was a secret class in pilot school that taught them how to be like that…sort of like a secret handshake so one pilot could identify another. Gisbourne blinked and forced his mind to focus. “Rollie,” her voice suddenly softened and sounded almost as weary as he felt, “be there. We can’t keep dodging them like this.”

“We’ll be there, Mar…if we aren’t, then we won’t ever be leaving this rock,” Gisbourne told her and wished they were back at base and this nightmare had never happened.

“Good…See you soon,” McCall said and then ended the transmission.

“Ok, people! Let’s move like we have a purpose! We have five minutes until extraction, so let’s not miss the bus!” Gisbourne told his team. “It’s just through those woods,” he pointed at some trees that looked perhaps a hundred meters deep.

Slowly, the surviving members of Assassin Team got to their feet and never once broke their zones of control. One by one, with Libbey in the lead and Gisbourne walking second, the small group made their way through the woods.

The woods turned out to be sparse and they soon broke out onto the large parking lot that surrounded the U Build It home improvement center. There were cars still parked in front of the store and two trailers were backed up at a loading dock, and to Gisbourne’s mind it looked like a normal business day. When they cleared the corner of the building and began to move to the front of the store, he saw eyes peering out from inside the large glass walled vestibule that led into the store. It looked like someone had started piling bags of pre-mix cement, sand, and garden rocks around the vestibule, but had either run out of supplies or had moved on to something else.

Libbey nudged him and nodded at the vestibule. “Yeah, I see them,” Gisbourne said and walked over to where the automatic door stood open. “Hello? Is anyone in there?”

Several people moved into the weak light that spilled in through the glass walls. “It’s the military,” one man said in a relief filled voice. “You’re here to help us?” he asked hopefully.

This wasn’t part of the plan, Gisbourne thought. Then again, nothing was really going according to plan, he quickly added. “Yes,” he finally said, not wanting to rob these people of any hope. “How many of you are there?”

“There used to be more, but they left. Now,” the man began and stopped and counted things off on his fingers. “Now there’s thirty-three of us.”

“Ok…gather up your things and anything you’re going to want to take with you, our transport should be here in about,” Gisbourne looked at his watch, “a little over a minute. We can’t stay on the ground more than a minute or two, so you have to move fast, ok?”

“Yes…we can do that,” the man replied and turned before repeating what he was just told to the others deeper in the store.

Almost to the second, Gisbourne heard the massive engines and then saw the grey-black special operations configured Ziz come into view, rotate her wingtip engines to the vertical, and extend her landing gear before setting to the ground. She was accompanied by three similarly colored Rocs outfitted to defend the massive transport. His heart sank when he saw the four craft; there should have been another Ziz and Roc. Van Der Haar had a lot to explain when they got somewhere safe, and there was no way he wasn’t going to talk, even if chemical interrogation had to be used.

Libbey and the rest of Assassin Team, with the exception of three team members who were wrangling Van Der Haar, were helping the survivors into he massive transport that towered over them like some sort of giant primordial bird of salvation. Gisbourne looked around at the almost normal looking home improvement center and felt a tear slowly make its way down his cheek. This would be the last time he saw Earth for the foreseeable future, if not forever. He blinked several times and then turned and jogged up the rear ramp. “Closer her up,” he told the crewman at the top of the ramp. “Time to go.”

*+*+*+*+*

“Where are we going to go?” Major Marjorie McCall asked and arched her back, stretching as she waited for the coffee maker to finish brewing her cup.

Major Rollins Gisbourne sat on the edge of the table with a wet washcloth wrapped around the back of his neck and cradled a bottle of ice cold water in his hands. “Far from here,” he said wearily. “My brother, well, step-brother, is a honcho with a mining company out in Plouton’s Cauldron. You can’t get much farther away than that…unless you want to go to Ass End of Nowhere.”

“We can make the Cauldron,” McCall said. “It might be tight for the Rocs, but I think we can all make it.”

They had jumped from the surface to the system’s Oort cloud and were currently using a large comet as cover while they tried to decide what to do next. “How long will it take us to get there?” Gisbourne asked.

“I’ll have Beckman run all the jumps now, so that we’ll only need to spend a couple minutes at most between each jump once we start,” McCall explained. “I figure we should need six jumps…so maybe fifteen minutes total if we push it, half an hour if we don’t.”

“Let’s play each jump by ear,” Gisbourne advised. “Plan on half an hour, but let’s stay ready to push things if we need to.”

“Copy that,” McCall said and nudged the door to the mess room closed. “Now…” she said and stepped close, sliding her arms around his shoulders. “Kiss me and make me sure that you’re ok.”

*+*+*+*+*

Phlegethon Belt, Plouton’s Cauldron, Erisian gunstar Libertatem

Commander Raisa Lafayette put her hand to her mouth and yawned before glancing at the chronometer; it had been more than two days since she had a good night’s rest, and other than a few catnaps since the crisis had begun, sleep had been an elusive luxury. The adrenaline jolt that the sudden appearance of three drone gunstars had provided had long since worn off and she was now relying on the caffeine her coffee offered.

“What is our current status, Erica?” Lafayette asked.

“We should be ready to depart in about five hours,” Colonel Erica D’Angelo replied before looking up from her tablet. “Crews from the factory ships are going along with the evacuation craft to make sure than nothing that could be taken is left behind.”

“Good,” Lafayette said and stifled another yawn. “I’ll be glad when we jump off and begin accelerating to our cruising velocity.”

D’Angelo smirked, “You mean activating our poor-man’s time travel machine?”

Lafayette chuckled. “Yes…it brings new meaning to the old phrase, ‘you can’t go home again’, doesn’t it?”

“It does,” D’Angelo replied and opened her mouth to say something when the dradis suddenly pinged off new returns.

“Dradis contacts!” Lieutenant Louis Nelson announced. “Six contacts in total; transponders identify them as a Union Fleet Ziz, three Fleet Rocs, and two Harvest class agro-ships.”

“Plot an intercept course, Louie,” Lafayette told the ship’s navigator. “Erica, sound Action Stations and bring us to Condition One, please. Carla,” she turned to the ship’s senior communications petty officer, “Please let command know that we’re moving to intercept and will quarantine them at the outer markers.”

“Copy, let command know we are making the intercept and will quarantine them at the outer markers,” Petty Officer Carla Lasky repeated even as D’Angelo was calling the ship to Action Stations and Nelson was plotting the intercept course.

“I guess we should hail them…” Lafayette said a moment later and wished that she had had at least an hour or two’s rest in the past twelve hours. Hailing them should have been done as soon as she claimed the intercept.

“Attention inbound ships, this is the gunstar Libertatem, please hold position and identify yourselves,” Lasky calmly instructed over the wireless. “You are in a weapons free environment and we do not want any blue on blue events…” she paused and lost some of the formality that she had been speaking with, “we’ve lost enough people already, we can’t afford to lose any more.”

Libertatem, this is Fleet Catalan Ziz 606 Heavy, call sign Skyfire, with Valkyrie Flight and two lost sheep. We will hold our position…please advise further action,” a female voice announced over the speakers.

“Skyfire, Libertatem, copy you will hold position and we will advise further action,” Lasky replied and confirmed what Skyfire said.

“Carla, can you contact De Fideli and ask them to join us; I want to have that Ziz dock there rather than Carousel,” Lafayette said and looked over at D’Angelo. “Fleet Catalans and a Catalan Ziz? They were either on a training run when thing went sideways or they will have one hell of an interesting story to share. Get on a scrambled channel to Carousel and Astarte and let Admiral Salls and Commander Elder know what’s going on and what I intend to do, and that I advise them to hold station until we can get this sorted out. I have a feeling about this…” she said soberly.

“Yeah, so do I,” D’Angelo agreed and prepared to contact the two other senior officers in their little fleet.

*+*+*+*+*

“Now that was a surprise,” Major Marjorie McCall said as she confirmed the instructions to proceed to De Fideli and prepare to dock at the forward port bay. “I thought the Erisians were our enemy?”

Major Rollins Gisbourne shook his head. “That ended when the drones attacked us, Mar; now, everyone with a pulse is on the same side. I know the skipper of Astarte and served a tour with him a few years back; he’s a good man and a sharp mind, and that’s the conclusion I’d expect him to come to.”

“Yeah…it’s going to take some getting used to, you know?” McCall said and watched as the Erisian assaultstar blotted out the stars as they approached. “But I promise I’ll be on my best behavior.”

“I know you will,” Gisbourne told her and marveled at the ship they were preparing to dock with. “I’ve always been amazed at what the Erisians could do with the ships they had since they had to operate clandestinely. And then there’s Libertatem…three days ago capturing her would have ensured being put on the fast track to bigger and better things.”

“Are you going to tell them about our guest?” McCall asked as Gisbourne felt a slight tremor as the Ziz was gently clasped by the docking arms.

Gisbourne nodded. “Yes, no secrets, Mar; we’re all in this together now and we need to put the past couple decades behind us RFQ or we aren’t going to make it past the end of the week.”

“I agree…I just wanted to make sure we were on the same sheet of music,” McCall said.

*+*+*+*+*

It was the second time in less than forty-eight hours that Commander Raisa Lafayette found herself receiving unexpected guests. This time, however, she was on De Fideli and accompanied by the assaultstar’s commander, Colonel Everett McCloud. McCloud was from Earth and was a rare duck among the Erisian flock as not many native Earthers had joined the movement.

“What do you think, Commander?” McCloud asked as they waited for the umbilical to pressurize. “Catalans are the sharp end of the spear…are they going to be comfortable boarding an Erisian ship?”

“They didn’t balk when we told them what to do, Ev,” Lafayette said. “And looking at the video of their ship as it was docking, I think they’ve seen the elephant and are glad to be someplace other than where they started.”

“Yeah, I saw that, too,” McCloud agreed. “Those Catalan Ziz transports cost about ten times what a normal Ziz costs and no expense is spared keeping them mission ready. If she wouldn’t have had her dradis reflectors out, I doubt we would have seen her until she was in visual range and something backlit her.”

“You seem to know an awful lot about them…” Lafayette led and waited for McCloud’s answer.

“My first duty posting was as a pilot of one,” McCloud said. “I flew one for three years before I switched sides.”

McCloud’s story was a common one among the more skilled members of the Erisian military. Many of the officers and NCOs had been members of the Earth Union before they changed uniforms and they brought with them a detailed understanding of how their adversary thought and operated. Sometimes, Lafayette thought, that was the real edge that allowed the movement to remain viable.

“Showtime,” McCloud said as the telltales changed from red to green. A few moments later the hatch opened, and a battle-weary Fleet major stood in the hatchway. “Major Rollins Gisbourne, Union Fleet Catalans requesting permission to come aboard.”

“Granted,” McCloud said and turned to Lafayette.

“Welcome to the Cauldron, Major Gisbourne, I’m Commander Raisa Lafayette and I’m glad you arrived when you did. We don’t want to leave anyone behind.”

Relief flooded Gisbourne’s features. “Where are we going, Commander?” he asked as if Lafayette was a Union officer.

“That’s a long story, Major,” Lafayette answered. “We’re going to do the debrief here, and then we’ll figure out what the next steps are going to be. In the meantime, can we offer your crew the hospitality of the mess?”

“Better not say that too loudly, Commander,” Gisbourne grinned. “You might have a stampede on your hands. Before we disembark, could I ask Colonel McCloud if his master-at-arms could detail a security element for a high value target that we have aboard?”

McCloud narrowed his eyes. “Who is this ‘high value target’, Major?”

Lafayette braced herself for the answer and felt her heart skip when Gisbourne replied. “Colonel, with respect, we have Riggs Van Der Harr; we captured him unexpectedly as we infiltrated the drones’ command center to try and introduce a virus into their network.” He put his hands up as if to forestall any comment and continued, “He was on Earth, working with the drones; we have video of this. We also have video of my team killing more than half a dozen clones of him, too. I understand he’s on your Ruling Council, but something isn’t right here.”

“Do you have the video?” Lafayette asked formally.

“Yes, I figured you’d want to see that first thing,” Gisbourne said and handed her an optical disc. “Commander, he was involved in whatever it was that set off the drones.”

Lafayette took the disc and nodded at Gisbourne’s comment before she handed it to McCloud. “Colonel, please put this on the screen so we can see what Major Gisbourne is talking about.”

McCloud took the disc and sat down at a hospitality workstation. A moment later the large wall mounted display began playing the video from Assassin 6’s running firefight within the drones’ command bunker. It showed the first encounter with Van Der Haar and Libbey taking him down, then in sequence and from different angles simultaneously, each of the subsequent encounters with the copies.

“My gods,” McCloud swore. “What the frak is going on?”

“I wish I knew, sir,” Gisbourne told him. “It shows up occasionally, but when the light hits the eyes just right, they flash red. Damnedest thing I’ve seen. We have him sedated and secured and would like to keep him that way to prevent him from harming himself until we’re able to interrogate him.”

Lafayette wasn’t scared by what she had seen, she was terrified. Not just because it looked like someone had been performing illegal cloning but because the destruction of everything humanity knew and had achieved might have been destroyed because of Erisian ambitions. “Colonel, I think the Major is right; get your best team on this and make sure that he is isolated and that this is not discussed among the ranks. Keep Van Der Haar sedated and restrained, and we’ll bring my mother, Commander Elder, and Admiral Salls into the loop.”

“Admiral Salls survived?” Gisbourne asked and Lafayette could feel the hope in his words.

“He did,” Lafayette replied and then sighed. “He also issued Emergency War Order Precipice; in a few hours we’re leaving Union space and won’t return.”

*+*+*+*+*

Styx Belt, Plouton’s Cauldron, Erisian assaultstar De Fideli

“Thank you for finding some space for us, Admiral,” Major Rollins Gisbourne said as he walked down the passageway with Admiral Gregory Salls, Commander John Elder, Commander Raisa Lafayette, Colonel McCloud, and Councilwoman Anne-Marie Lafayette.

“We weren’t going to leave you behind, son,” Salls said warmly. “I just wish we could have pulled out more survivors.”

“So do I, sir,” Gisbourne replied. “When we met the survivors at the U Build It…well, it really drove home the reality of what happened. We wear the uniform and know that we could die due to enemy action, but these people were civilians just trying to live their lives the best they could, be the best parents possible for their kids, and so on. This wasn’t their fight, that’s why we wear the uniform.”

Salls nodded. “I couldn’t agree more. I…I was listening to the Vice President making a plea to surrender when they destroyed his bunker. I think that, more than anything, told me that we had failed to the point where words can’t describe the scope of the failure.”

The small group, one-time enemies and now unified allies, stopped where two Erisian Marines stood guard at the door that led to the ship’s brig. “May I see your identification,” a corporal asked and held out his hand.

Salls smiled and nodded as he handed over his credentials. “Here you go, Corporal. I never thought I’d be visiting an Erisian brig by choice.”

The corporal compared the identification to the man who had handed it over and smiled as he handed it back. “Don’t worry, Admiral, you’re not on the guest list.”

Salls rolled both lips between his teeth and tried not to laugh. A snicker from behind him, probably McCloud, destroyed any chance of not laughing and for the first time in almost two days, he laughed. When everyone had finally regained their composure, Salls offered the corporal his hand, “Son, you made my day; I can’t tell you how much I needed that.”

“Ah…you’re welcome, sir,” the corporal said and shook Salls’ hand. “You’re going to get us all out of here, sir?” he asked hopefully.

“That’s the plan. We jump off when we’re done here and then we see if our cousins are home and willing to put us up,” Salls told him. “We’ll make a formal announcement once we’re ready to leave, but the next few years should be,” he knocked on the wall, “pretty routine.”

“I can live with routine, sir,” the corporal replied and entered an access code that opened the hatch.

“Thank you,” Salls said and stepped through the open hatch and into the brig proper. The brig had twenty-four cells, each capable of holding two people comfortably, four isolation cells, and four medical isolation cells. All the cells were empty except the last medical isolation cell where Salls saw a figure strapped to a hospital bed that had several IVs running from drug bags hanging from an IV stand. The ship’s doctor was present as was a male nurse and two orderlies. Two additional Marines stood watch outside the room.

“Is all this really necessary for one man?” Anne-Marie asked. “I’ve known Riggs for several years and he was a hot-head, but this seems a bit much.”

“I was wondering that, myself,” Salls said. “Major, can you explain why you requested Colonel McCloud to have Van Der Haar restrained like this?”

“Can he hear us, Colonel?” Gisbourne asked.

“No…the room is generally soundproof,” McCloud explained.

“Thank you,” Gisbourne said and then put his back to the wall and faced the small group. “I asked Colonel McCloud to restrain Van Der Haar in this manner because of what I saw on Earth as we tried to insert the virus into their communications. Colonel McCloud and Commander Lafayette have seen the video, but in the interests of time, the short version is that we encountered and killed at least nine…copies…of Van Der Haar as we seized the communications bunker, and probably half a dozen more as we extracted from the site. Of them, only this one,” he made a fist with his thumb extended and then used it to indicate the medical isolation suite, “had a 100% facial recognition match. The others ranged from 82% to 87%, and if it was only one person that we encountered, I’d accept that it was a weird coincidence.

“But we encountered at least fifteen others. And…” Gisbourne paused, “when you hit his eyes just right with light, they flash red. I don’t know of any human that can do that.”

“Nor do I,” Salls said and studied the figure on the bed. “Let’s go have a little talk, shall we?”

“Doc?” McCloud said when they were in the room and everyone had been introduced. “Can you bring him around?”

Major Yuri Malenkov, De Fideli’s chief medical officer nodded. “It should take about thirty seconds, I only have him lightly sedated,” he replied and entered several commands on the IV monitor.

True to Malenkov’s word, it took about thirty seconds before Van Der Haar’s eyes opened and swept the room. Even though his gag had been removed, he remained silent until his eyes seemed to settle on Anne-Marie. “Help me get out of here and I’ll make sure you’re taken care of,” he said to Anne-Marie in a tone that was part arrogantly imperious and part pleading.

“How about you explain what’s going on and why you were at the drone command center, Riggs,” Anne-Marie snapped.

“I’m innocent…” Van Der Haar smiled.

“My ass,” Salls muttered. “What did you do to the drones?”

“What I needed to do,” Van Der Haar said coldly. “In a very short while, you’ll be nothing but a footnote, a forgotten footnote, in history.”

“We don’t have time for his games,” Salls growled. “Doctor, dose him.”

When Salls gave the order, Van Der Haar showed a trace of fear for the first time. “I have rights. You can’t do that to me without a court order.”

Salls leaned close and made direct eye contact with Van Der Haar. “Listen and listen closely. Right now, because of what you’ve done, certain protocols have been put into effect, one of which is that any field grade or higher-level officer may take any and all steps necessary when interrogating a prisoner should they feel it necessary. If that wasn’t enough, I have a Peer of Troubadour present, the highest ranking civilian official known to have survived, who also happens to be a member of the Erisian Council…she is in agreement with me, so…” he stood tall, “Doctor, apply the medication.”

Malenkov nodded and keyed the IV controller to begin dispensing the pale red chemical cocktail that hung in a small 250ml bag next to the other bags on the IV tree. The drugs worked quickly, and Van Der Haar soon had a relaxed, almost serene look on his face. “He’s ready. At this dose and with the amount that’s in the bag, you should have no less than an hour of complete pliability.”

“Thank you, Doctor Malenkov,” Salls said and made sure that the two orderlies were recording the interrogation. “Now,” he turned to Van Der Haar, “state your name for the record.”

“My name is Riggs Van Der Haar,” Van Der Haar replied evenly and without much emotion or inflection.

“How old are you?” Salls asked.

“It has been seven thousand, two hundred, thirty-three years since I was given life,” Van Der Haar answered in the same monotone voice.

“How can that be?” Salls asked and added, “That’s a hundred times the length of human lifespan. What are you?”

“I have replaced this body many times over the years, it is a benefit of being an Equal of the Meropian Communion…” Van Der Haar said.

*+*+*+*+*

“Does any of what we just learned change what we’re going to do?” Anne-Marie Lafayette asked as the interrogation team sat around a table in one of De Fideli’s conference rooms.

Admiral Gregory Salls looked around the table at the determined and angry faces. They were all looking to him to make the decision that would send them off on a journey that would cover two thousand years of time, but only feel like five years passed. “No, it doesn’t,” he finally said. “We have more information about who did this to us and why, but in the end, we’re still facing the same immediate threats that we were a few hours ago.”

“I concur,” Commander Raisa Lafayette said. “If it were just us, the military element, I would say that we boost for, what did he say his homeworld was called?”

“Machimos, in the Meropis Alpha system,” Commander John Elder provided.

“I would say that we boosted for there, then jump in and just start lobbing nukes and shooting everything we see,” Lafayette explained and Salls saw several nodding heads; the desire for vengeance was strong in the people seated around the table. “But…we have the civilians to consider and only a hope that the Colonials will be in any position to welcome us. We need to stay with them and once we get to the other side, protect them once again.”

“Jack?” Salls asked and looked at his senior officer.

“Raisa’s right, Greg,” Elder replied. “I want to burn those bastards to a cinder for what they did…for why they did it, but that can come in the future,” he said. “Right now, for all we know, the people in those ships out there are all that’s left of humanity…humanity that isn’t tainted by those monsters. For all we know they’ve done this, or plan to do this, to the Colonials. Without us, the civilians don’t stand a chance.”

Salls nodded. “You both echo my own sentiments…we will jump off as soon as everyone is back to their ships and ready to launch. Yes, Major?”

“I realize this is a minor thing compared to the grand scheme of things, but where do you want to billet the civilians, my Catalans, and Valkyrie Flight?” Major Rollins Gisbourne asked.

“I’ve discussed it with Director LaFontaine on Carousel, and she and I both agree that the civilians can be moved there since it is a civilian ship,” Salls explained. “As for your people, I was thinking that we could transfer them to either Carousel or one of the gunstars.”

“I sort of thought that might be the case,” Gisbourne said and then paused for a moment before continuing, “I’ve spoken with the refugees and the crew, and with Colonel McCloud, and as odd as it seems we’d like to stay here on De Fideli. My people have a lot in common with the Marines here, and…well, the refugees…we’ve sort of become attached to each other in a weird sort of way.”

“Colonel McCloud? Is this ok with you?” Salls asked the assaultstar commander.

“It is,” McCloud replied. “I think it will do all of us good to have a reminder of what really matters, and the camaraderie between my people and Rollie’s, and the civilians, I think it will be good for us. And…we have plenty of space and adequate medical facilities to deal with the radiation exposure that they’ve picked up.”

“Commander Lafayette?” Salls turned to the woman who he thought still looked like Anne-Marie’s kid sister rather than her daughter. “Do you approve?”

“I do…” Lafayette said. “We need to begin building bridges, Admiral, to remember that we’re all human and have the same hopes, dreams, and fears as those who wore a different uniform.”

“Ok…then I think you’ve got a new mailing address, Major,” Salls said. “And now, if there isn’t any more that we need to discuss right away, I suggest we adjourn and prepare to jump off. Let’s plan to get together, all of us first and then afterward all ship captains or administrators, in two days…that should give us enough time to get settled in for the boost and for all of us to get some rest.”

*+*+*+*+*

Oort Cloud’s outer edge, Plouton’s Cauldron, Earth Union gunstar Astarte

Commander John Elder looked at the dradis display that was located above the plotting table in Astarte’s CIC and saw organized chaos from all the returns that were displayed. The big factory ships were in the center and towards the front, Carousel, the hospital ships, and Fleet transports were just behind them, and the rest of the civilian ships were evenly dispersed around them. Astarte and Libertatem shared the vanguard followed by Nabu, with Anuket at the rear of the formation and the other military ships deployed protectively around the center.

“Is the course ready, Peta?” Elder asked and looked over at his navigator, newly promoted Captain Peta Madison.

“The course has been validated by Libertatem and Carousel, Commander,” Madison answered. “It’s been transmitted to the fleet and the master navigation boards here and aboard Libertatem and Carousel are in agreement…we’re ready.”

“Admiral Salls already spoke to the fleet, Jack, and you drew the straw…” Colonel Richard Weaver said from the other side of the plotting table.

“I know…I want to say something to the crew, inspiring, you know, but all my mind can come up with is, ‘Hold my beer and watch this; y’all ain’t gonna believe what happens!’,” Elder replied and picked up the handset. “Towson, please put me on ship-wide,” he asked Communications Specialist Towson Korth.

“You’re ready, Commander,” Korth said a moment later.

“This is the Commander,” Elder said and heard his voice from the speakers. “There are families forged through marriage or adoption, but right now, we are a family forged from shared loss and shared hope. We’ve lost everything that we’ve known; a culture that had stood for two thousand years since the first settlers set foot on Earth and declared that their cosmic wandering was over. Now that mantle has been thrust upon us, not by choice but by need, and we will be tested in ways we’ve never dreamed. But remember this, the person next to you at your duty station, the people who share your quarters and keep walking when they see a pair of boots outside the hatch,” his last comment drew some chuckles, “they are your family now. Not by blood, but by shared hardship. By shared dreams and hopes for what awaits us after our voyage.

“The old saying, ‘today is the first day of the rest of your life’, was never truer than it is right now. I don’t know what tomorrow holds, or even the day after, but I do know that I will be there with you, and your fellow crew will be there, too, so you won’t face it alone.

“Now…the sooner we start the sooner we get to our destination…and” he barely suppressed a chuckle and knew that he was giving the crew a joke, “if I hear anyone ask, ‘Are we there yet?’, just remember we have a galley…

“Action Stations! Set Condition One throughout the ship! Prepare for extended high speed boost!

“Elder, out!”

He looked over at Weaver and saw the smirk on his friend’s face. “Go ahead, Dickie…say it…”

Weaver looked around CIC and arched his eyebrows and nodded slightly. At the same time, everyone asked, “Are we there yet?”

_________________
Kurt

Click the link to read Lady Hecate off line in PDF, .epub, or Kindle formats: http://www.bsg94.org/downloads/index.html
Click here for the Colonial Warbook for Lady H: http://www.photobucket.com/colonial_warbook


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