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PostPosted: Fri Dec 11, 2020 12:10 am 
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Location: Battlestar Hecate BSG-94
Chapter 53: From the Darkness Comes Light (Part 6 of 7)

Thule System, orbiting the planet Saga, Carian battlestar Caria

Hecate stretched before she poured herself a glass of wine and pushed off her boots before she sat on the sofa in her quarters. The gathering on Hecate had lasted for several hours and once again her daughter, Sera, had pulled the right people together to make sure questions could be answered, personalities meshed, and a general feeling of good will, friendship, hope, and shared purpose was created among everyone.

She flexed her toes and opened the case that held one of her most prized possessions. The instrument was ancient, a kantele, and as her fingers strummed the strings, the ringing tones carried her mind back to another desperate time where her adopted homeland was fighting for its survival against a numerically and logistically superior foe, and where most of the free world had offered only trite comments condemning the action but were too cowed or distracted by other issues to do anything more than offer verbal support.

As her nimble fingers plucked at the strings, she slowly lost herself in the memories that the ancient song evoked. The song was so applicable to the situation the Colonies found themselves in; part of their lands taken and not knowing whether they’d ever get them back; it was just like those years so long ago. The first war they managed to survive, even the second one, but each time they had to trade land for their national sovereignty.

The song was a lively tune and had even been played for days on end by a radio car and prevented radio-controlled mines from going off throughout the city and countryside. That war was just one of many that she had experienced since she was born. When that one happened, she had already seen more than two millennia of history, alone and unique among all she encountered.

The woman known to everyone as Hecate, who knew herself as Elizabeth Lindstrom, strummed the kantele and played the ancient Säkkijärven polkka over and over as her mind slowly processed everything that had happened since she last woke up. Slowly, tears fell from her eyes as the sheer immensity of what had been lost came to mind. Mistakes had been made, Zeus and the Equals was one, but they had safeguards and blocks to keep them from getting too out of hand.

It always came back to him…one of their own who had broken their covenant and eventually staged a failed uprising before escaping into deep space. Part of her wished that Gavin had left him in the dusty desert house where he found them after tracking the raiders who had captured the party that was returning to what even then they were calling Olympus.

This time, however, Olympus was raising the black flag of total war when it came to Goren Van der Haar, or Prometheus as he preferred to be called. When the dust settled, either his head would be on the pike or hers would, there would be no middle ground.

*+*+*+*+*

Colonial Sphere, Caprica-Gemenon barycenter, Cylon baseship Conflagration

“No one has heard from Albany or Ismail since we jumped in to attack the Colonies?” Jonathan asked the two Fives who stood nervously in front of him. The One reveled in the power that he possessed over the other so-called ‘equal’ Cylon lines.

“Neither one has responded to our direct hails,” Norman, a Five who favored a forest green suit replied. “Their ships have replied that both are unavailable at this time.”

“Chad?” Jonathan looked at the second Five. “Where are they?”

“They’re currently in orbit around Acadie in the Islands Cluster,” Chad, the other Five, this one favored a red brown suit, replied. “Neither one took part in the attack on the Colonies.”

“I know that,” Jonathan sneered dismissively; that was the whole reason the two most capable Cylon field commanders, he didn’t consider anyone other than a One to be worth the air and nutrients they required, were on his personal shit list. “Who do we have that we can dispatch to bring them to heel?”

“Bring them to heel?” Chad asked. “How…forcefully?”

“Bring them into program compliance,” Jonathan snapped. “I want either a satisfactory and verifiable reason why they didn’t attack and haven’t answered the hails, or I want them crushed like bugs.”

“Ah…in that case, I would suggest the 46th Division under Karen,” Chad suggested. “She is over Scorpia cooling her heels after John forbid her from going to the surface on what he called ‘safari’.”

“Good…” Jonathan chuckled. Karen’s antics were well known, and her constant and annoying questioning of every decision or directive had been a running joke among the Ones. He had even suggested that they draw straws to grudge frak her and then put a bullet through her head so she had to download so they could threaten to box her. “How many baseships does the 46th have operational?”

“They have six that are above 95% and one that is above 80%,” Norman offered.

“That should be plenty,” Jonathan smirked. “Contact her and tell her that I want her to take the 46th directly to…what was it…oh, yes, Acadie and if they don’t give her a good answer and provide Ismail and Albany, she is to attack without warning and destroy them. We’ll catch them during download and handle it then.”

“Attack and destroy them?” Chad asked.

These annoying Fives, Jonathan thought as he bit back the first comment that wanted to come out of his mouth. The Fives were boring, annoying, lacked the mental agility that a good Cylon should have, that is, that a One had, and were good for nothing more than fodder. “Yes…that is exactly what I said. Now…do it.”

“By your command,” Chad replied and looked at Norman before they both left the lounge.

Soon, Jonathan thought and felt a stirring below his belt, soon the purge would begin, and the inferiors would be removed and boxed…and then just turned off. Just a little longer…

*+*+*+*+*

“Should we tell Lucien or John about this?” Norman asked Chad as they walked to the baseship’s control center.

Chad shook his head. “No…I don’t think we should.”

“Oh?” Norman asked.

“Think about it,” Chad began to explain, “you and I both know that bastard, and most of the Ones for that matter, think anyone not of their line as inferior even though they try to hide it. Do you think that once the humans are history that we’ll all live happily ever after and sing camping songs around a campfire while we trade scary human stories?”

“No…” Norman said, conceding the point.

“As soon as they can they’ll do to us what they did to…” Chad looked around before continuing in a whisper, “him.”

“So how does this help us?” Norman asked the red brown suited Five.

“It makes them suspicious of each other, always looking over their back, while the rest of us can figure out what the Twos, some of the Fours, Sixes, and Eights are up to,” Chad explained. “Then we can look to our own future.”

“Well, when you put it that way, mum’s the word,” Norman smirked a moment before his twin shared an identical expression.

*+*+*+*+*

Cyrannus Cluster, Outer Oort Cloud, vicinity of Hole in Space, civilian ship Xanadu

“You think it’s time we leave?” Cassidy Dominica, Grand Mistress of the Courtesans’ Guild, asked the man seated across from her at the dinner table.

Commander Wolf Travers slowly nodded. “I do, even though there isn’t an immediate threat. Call it a gut feeling, fear of the dark and the monsters hiding in it, whatever, but I’d rather have someplace we can either go to ground without needing a sealed environment or have plenty of open space to maneuver.”

“Do you have any suggestions?” Dominica asked before sipping her wine.

“Actually, I do, though it wasn’t one I came up with, but rather one Jessica suggested,” Travers replied. “Jessica?” he nodded the second of three women at the table.

“Ah, well, my family was originally from Thrush, in the Becca’lia system,” Jessica Slater stated. “We moved to Caprica when I was 12…a bit more than four years before they were killed. Anyway, I have a lot of good memories of the place, it’s largely undeveloped except for a couple small settlements, and it doesn’t have any real infrastructure in orbit.”

“If need be, we could settle there and move the ships into the asteroid belt and take them down to a caretaker level so they’d be impossible to find unless you physically saw them,” Travers added. “Feel like living the frontier life?” he added.

“Frontier life, eh?” Dominica asked and pursed her lips dramatically. “What do you think Sarolta? Ready to go rustic?”

“I think it might be fun…it would certainly get us back to the important things that matter,” Sarolta said and looked at the last person at the table. “What do you think Ben?”

“Well…it wasn’t where I thought I’d be spending the next few years,” Ensign Ben Travers began, his father watching as he looked at the other people seated at the table in Dominica’s quarters. “But I’d rather be under the open sky than hiding and flinching every time the dradis pings. And…I’d be spending it with some great people. I’m in.”

Travers was impressed how quickly his son changed from the carefree attitude he held when he first boarded Iolanthe less than a week before in preparation for the Armistice Day celebrations, to the mature, thinking, and grounded man he had become. “I think it’s settled, then,” he said and raised his wine glass, “To new beginnings and building hope!”

“To new beginnings,” Dominica said and met Travers’ gaze. “And building hope.”

“So say we all,” Sarolta added before everyone took a drink.

*+*+*+*+*

Outside the Colonial Sphere, orbit of Thrush, Becca’lia system, Colonial battlestar Iolanthe, BS-103

“Jump complete, Xanadu accounted for and is in formation with us,” Lieutenant Jocelyn Mannes stated moments after the battlestar completed the jump and the dradis began pinging off the ship accompanying them.

“Outstanding work, Mr. Mannes!” Commander Wolf Travers congratulated the navigator. “Anything in the system or on the surface that we need to know about?”

“Scanning now,” Mannes replied. “It appears one settlement…Redwood Station…took a low yield nuke, probably in the 1-5kt range…optics show that the entire settlement has been destroyed. Beyond that, I’m not seeing any other strikes, though we’re only looking at half the surface. Redwood Station, was, however, the primary settlement and port facility on the planet, so I’m going to go out on a limb and say that was the only hit.”

“Even in paradise, they have to stink up the place,” Travers growled. “Jeff, please have Major Bragg prepare a platoon to go down in Raptors to check out the other settlements and see if we can render any aid.”

“Copy, have Major Bragg send out a platoon to check out the survivors,” Captain Jeff Clark replied and began turning the order into action.

“Commander?” Mannes asked and called Travers attention back to the navigator.

“What is it, Jocelyn?” Travers asked.

“How detailed a surface scan do you want?” Mannes asked.

Travers leaned against the plotting table, “What do you suggest?”

“I’d like to do a detailed scan, see if there’s anything hidden down there,” Mannes replied. “It will take longer, but we’ll know if there are any sizable surprises.”

“Ok…let’s do it,” Travers told her. “Better to know now than when we’re down in the well.”

“Wilco, Commander!” Mannes replied and turned back to the dradis controls.

*+*+*+*+*

The trek to the first settlement that the teens identified had taken longer than expected. It wasn’t that the teens weren’t capable of keeping up with the Legionnaires, but rather it was the unexpected river current on the second river they had to cross which had added over a day to the hike. As they had a rest break ten kilometers from their destination, Sergeant Kevin MacDonald reflected on the four teens that accompanied him and Corporal Sabina Talleyrand.

Trying to contact the other settlements had been their idea and they had all volunteered to be part of the first team that went out. Not once had any of them complained about the pace and all of them kept up with the pace that he and Talleyrand set.

“I’ve been studying the map,” Ariana Bradshaw said and broke the idyllic quiet. “We should start seeing trails that cross our path within the next klick or two,” she explained. “From there, we can take one that should lead us to a trail that leads directly to Shady Grove.”

“Do you think that’s wise?” MacDonald answered and arched an eyebrow. Since they had left, he and Talleyrand had treated the teens as if they were recruit Legionnaires and tried to teach them as much as possible. This was another learning moment.

Ariana stuck the tip of her tongue out between her lips and looked like she was deep in thought for a moment. “Under wartime circumstances, and if we were in contested territory, then I’d say no, it isn’t. If we were dealing with illegal grow-ops, then, again, I would say it isn’t. However, given the following exigent issues, I think it would be acceptable. First, this has always been a peaceful Colonial world that never had secessionist or separatist leanings. Second, there isn’t any reason to boobytrap the paths. Third, it’s been almost five days since the attack, and even if the Cylons invaded, there’s no logical reason for them to be in the middle of nowhere trapping the trails.”

“Good summary,” Talleyrand said and took a bite from a ration bar.

“Agreed,” MacDonald added. “You’re thinking, Ariana, and that’s the most important weapon a Legionnaire has at their disposal and it’s the one weapon that can ever be taken from them. We know how the Cylons fought last time and while it’s never a good idea to fight the new war the same way you fought the last one, in this case I agree with your conclusions…except for one point.” He smirked when he saw Ariana’s smile falter.

“It isn’t anything bad,” MacDonald said to build the girl’s confidence. “You’re looking at it as if the traps were set by the Cylons for humans, but what if the humans set them for the Cylons?”

“Damn…I knew I forgot something,” Ariana groused. “So…we shouldn’t take the trails?”

“Again, thinking,” Talleyrand said and stepped in so MacDonald to finish his meal. “Let’s look at the risks, rewards, and mission goals. Sometimes we need to take on more risk because we need to get something completed quicker than if we took the safe route.”

“Well, we certainly would have more potential risk from traps and ambushes if we took the trail, but the trails would cut our travel time to maybe three hours. On the other hand, if we continue cross country, we have the terrain to deal with and that alone could be both a danger and an obstacle.”

Talleyrand nodded and MacDonald watched the back and forth between the two - the high school teenager and the seasoned Legionnaire. He’d be proud to call these kids Legionnaires based on what he has seen so far.

“So…which would you choose?” Talleyrand prodded.

“The trails,” Ariana said decisively. “We know what to look for, you taught us that the first day, so we move carefully in a patrol formation and pay attention to anything that might be out of place, and we can make better time, safely, than if we continued cross country.”

“Bravo!” Talleyrand said congratulating the girl for the choice. “That’s what I would have done. Kevin?”

“My choice, too,” MacDonald replied and crumpled the wrapper his ration bar came in and stuffed it in a pocket. “If the Cylons were occupying the area, or we knew that there was tension prior to the attack, my answer may be different, but given that we’re already more than a day behind schedule, there isn’t any reason to suspect human v. human conflict, I think we’re safe taking the trails.”

They found the first trail half an hour later, a cross trail twenty minutes after that, and a bit more than two hours later they crossed the rustic looking log bridge over the little river than ran along the edge of Shady Grove. MacDonald waved them down to take positions under cover while he and Talleyrand slowly moved forward and approached the settlement. There were seven homes, all constructed from native logs and with shaker shingle roofs, one building that looked like a common hall, and more than a dozen larger, barn-like structures. Most of the larger structures had large sliding doors that could open the ground level to the outside, but from where he walked, everything appeared closed up.

MacDonald allowed his suppressed M-22 to hang across his chest as he walked to the first house. There was a broad roofed porch that encircled the entire house, and rather than a railing along the outside, it was made of dovetailed logs providing an almost solid half-height wall. So far, despite being in the open for several minutes, there had been no sign that any of the buildings were currently occupied.

“Hello?” MacDonald called out. “Anyone here?” he added a moment before he knocked on the door. After there was no response, he knocked again, this time a little more forcefully. “Hello? Leonan Foreign Legion! We’re here to talk!”

Another minute passed and there was still no response. “Sabina…you’re next,” he said and pointed to the next house. Fifteen minutes later, every house had been approached with the same response as the first one and all the barns had been given a walkaround. One of the barns opened onto a large, concrete pad that was marked as a landing pad and another still had several doors open to reveal it was a garage of some sort.

“Doesn’t look like anyone is here,” Talleyrand said when the teens rejoined them.

“Yeah, that’s what makes it spooky,” Mallory Bach joked. “I keep expecting some masked killer to creep out and try and snatch one of us.”

“We’d make mincemeat out of him,” Ian Stewart joked back. “We have guns and he’d have a silly mask, ominous theme music, and oh, a knife.”

Ian’s comment drew a round of laughs that suddenly stopped when Talleyrand held up her hand. “I just got a burst of static on the wireless,” she said, quickly explaining what happened.

“What’s that mean?” Melanie Carmichael asked.

“Someone broadcast on the Guard frequency,” Talleyrand replied. “Could be someone down here or…” her eyes turned skyward, “up there.”

“Ok…let’s check out the two barns that are open first, then we’ll check the other barns and finally the houses,” MacDonald ordered. “Keep your ears open and be ready to rally at the big cluster of rocks that we passed about five hundred meters before the bridge.”

A chorus of confirmations answered MacDonald and he led Ariana and Mallory to the barn with the pad while Talleyrand took Ian and Mel to the open barn.

The pad showed evidence of being used with the concrete wearing scorch marks like badges of honor. “Ariana, can you help me push open the doors?” he asked.

“Sure thing!” Ariana said and took a position next to him at the double doors. “On three?” she asked.

“Give the count!” MacDonald replied and on three, both pulled the doors to their respective sides. They slid open easily and almost soundlessly to reveal a cavernous interior. Spilling into the barn, the light revealed two vehicles were still present; an old surplus Owl with the original Luminere Fire & Rescue markings painted over, and an Eagle fitted to lift odd sized objects from a winch cradle.

“Cool!” Ariana exclaimed. “Do you think they work?”

“Maybe,” MacDonald answered. “I’m debating whether we should power one up to see what its wireless picks up.”

“Will the Cylons be able to detect it like they might have detected Airedale?” Ariana asked.

“There is that risk,” MacDonald confessed. “Let’s see what the others found and then go from there.”

They walked over to the other barn and met Talleyrand, Ian, and Mel coming out of it. “Looks like they packed up and left,” the Legionnaire corporal said without preamble. “Lots of tire tracks all heading out of town down that trail,” she added and pointed at a trail that led towards some more rugged terrain.

“If I thought the Cylons were coming, I think I’d head in that direction to go to ground,” MacDonald stated. “A decent rain shower should wash away their tracks, too.”

“Yep…” Talleyrand began to agree when the sound of engines was heard over the trees.

“Take cover!” MacDonald shouted and pointed to a blind area in the house next to the barn. Ariana and Mallory joined him while Talleyrand, Ian, and Mel moved to a spot about fifty meters away.

They didn’t have long to wait before the source of the sound flew into view and quickly landed. The Raptor shared the cockpit of the common Raptor family, but where the standard Raptor had a wide, low mounted flared wing, this one had a high mounted wing and doors along the sides as well as a tail ramp. As soon as the craft landed, the two side doors slid open and the rear ramp lowered as a camouflage uniformed Marine exited from each door and two from the ramp.

“Good deployment, Marines!” MacDonald shouted from where he crouched behind a meter-high log wall.

The two Marines closest to MacDonald’s position turned to face him, while the other two continued to face away from the Raptor. “Advance and be recognized!” one of the Marines shouted back.

“Wish me luck girls,” MacDonald snarked before standing and allowing his rifle to hang across his chest. “Sergeant Kevin MacDonald, 2nd of the 2nd Leonan Foreign Legion Drop Regiment.”

“Corporal Thad Royce, Colonial Marines,” one of the Marines said and walked toward MacDonald. “You’re not clanking and don’t look like a Toaster,” he said before offering his hand. “I’m glad we found survivors.”

MacDonald shook the offered hand, “I’m glad to see some friendly faces. The Cylons showed up, nuked the main settlement, then moved on.”

“That they did,” Royce told him. “They aren’t here anymore, just us.”

“That’s good news…you’re off Iolanthe?” MacDonald asked after seeing the battlestar’s name on the Raptor. “You know Sergeant Madsen?”

“Mad Dog Madsen?” Royce chuckled. “Oh, yes, I know Mad Dog! He’s my platoon sergeant; you know him?”

“You could say that…” MacDonald chuckled and was glad Royce knew Doug Madsen and his nickname. “We were best friends growing up and always tried to outdo the other…you know how it is. He went into the Marines and I went into the Legion.”

“Damn…small world,” Royce said and then turned to the others, “Stand down…we’re good…”

*+*+*+*+*

_________________
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 Dec 11, 2020 12:10 am 
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Location: Battlestar Hecate BSG-94
Chapter 53: From the Darkness Comes Light (Part 7 of 7)

Colonial Sphere, Scorpia orbit, Cylon baseship Wildfire

Dozens of scented candles flickered and cast a warm glow around the room as the woman in the large tub leaned back and closed her eyes before taking a deep breath. She was attractive in a girl next door all grown up sort of way, with facial features that would blossom with a little makeup and highlighting and hair that was long enough to be put up in a seductive style but still short enough to remain manageable.

And now, claiming a few hours for herself, ‘me time’ she called it, she relaxed in the scented and rejuvenating waters. Her mind went back to key events over the past few years and the more she thought with what her own eyes told her, what she had experienced, and discounted what she was told to think or believe, the more annoyed she became. A slender arm lifted the wine glass to her lips before she downed the crimson contents in several sips.

She had heard rumors that Daniel was back from the dead, which in and of itself was a miracle, but like anything that went against the narrative driven by the Ones, it was suppressed and labeled heresy. She was human, she knew that fact every time she took a breath or cried out in ecstasy, those were things no machine could ever feel or understand. And as a human she thought, pondered, and evaluated what she knew and suspected.

Why then was the truth, or discussion of the truth, now branded as heresy?

She asked questions because she wanted answers. She wasn’t a blind follower; it just wasn’t who she was or how she developed. If someone couldn’t answer her questions or provide the satisfaction she required, she sought out someone who could; this pissed off the Ones to no end.

The beeping intercom drew her attention back to the present and soured her mood; she had left instructions that she wasn’t to be disturbed for at least another hour. “Yes!” she shouted to the empty room.

“I have a priority transmission from Conflagration, for you specifically,” Bess, her XO, stated. “Shall I put it through?”

“Yes…go ahead,” she groused. “Can’t even have some me-time without those assholes disturbing me,” she muttered sotto-voce.

“Here it is,” Bess replied.

There was another beep and she sighed. What sort of bullshit was going to come from the tyrant and the perv over on Conflagration? “Celeste City Morgue, you stab ‘em, we slab ‘em!” she said by way of greeting.

“How clever, Karen,” Chad’s voice echoed in her sanctum. “Did you pick that up while you were terrorizing retail managers in Celeste before we nuked it into oblivion?”

“No, I came up with that one all on my little old lonesome,” Karen replied sarcastically. “Now, what the frak do you want…I’m busy.”

“Oh…testy and feisty!” Chad replied flirtatiously.

“Don’t even think about it, Chad…I don’t do boring,” Karen snapped back. It wasn’t that the Fives were ugly, but damn, you’d think they’d at least dress differently. Some designer won a hell of a contract to provide the same suit and shirt design in a variety of colors that were between lounge lizard and two seasons old.

“Well, so much for small talk,” Chad chuckled. “Jonathan wants to you take the 46th Division and depart immediately for Acadie in the Islands Cluster and once there confront Inferno and Pandemonium where you’ll demand to talk with both Ismail and Albany to find out why they didn’t take part in the attack and why they aren’t answering when we hail them.”

Karen swished the water around and thought that Chad would probably getting some ‘me-time’ in a corner if he saw her right now. “That was one hell of a sentence, and you got it out in one breath. The Language Arts teacher in me is damned impressed. It should have been broken into several smaller sentences, but I get the point. So…the head perv made this decision? Did Lucien or John sign off on it? What you’re asking me to do is pretty far out there.”

“This was Jonathan’s decision…he can do that, you know…” Chad said and posed the last part as both a statement and question.

“Yes…but I want something sent over so that when this blows up in my face, I can point to the Diddler…hmm…that would make a cool super villain…the Diddler!” Karen said dramatically before chuckling. “Anyway, you send me that and I’ll go out to the middle of nowhere and track down the wayward boys and see why they’re playing hooky.”

“The orders have been sent,” Chad stated. “We expect you to leave within the half hour.”

“Ok…ok…don’t get your boy shorts in a bunch,” Karen said and stood in the tub and felt the water sluice off her body.

“What’s that noise?” Chad asked. “It sounded like water.”

Karen smirked. “Why yes…it was water, Chad. I’ve been taking a bath this whole time. I’ll leave you with that image for whatever uses you might find it fit for…toodles!” she said before she reached over and hit the intercom button that ended the transmission. You are so easy to frak with, she thought as she dried herself and prepared to carry out her orders.

*+*+*+*+*

Beyond the Colonial Sphere, Colonial battlestar Galactica, BS-1075

“We’re one jump out and we’re taking a three hour pause before we jump to Acadie,” Admiral Rupert Gath stated. “What can we expect to find?”

Ismail looked at Albany before he spoke. “Since I’m the one with the fondness for the Cluster, I guess this is my question to field. You have the data on the system; planet locations, moons, belts, etc., nothing has changed on that front. There aren’t any new orbital structures, and those that remained are all in pretty bad condition and unused. Normally there isn’t any presence in the system, though prior to the past few weeks, a baseship or two would sweep through the system every month or three to keep an eye on what might be happening on the surface.”

“What about your forces? Just the two baseships?” Aphie asked.

“Correct; my own Inferno and Albany’s Pandemonium should be the only ships in the system,” Ismail explained. “When John issued the full recall after the Hub was attacked, every Cylon ship should have jumped to support it. Even though the all-clear has been sent out, I know John and Lucien, and the last thing either want is to lose the Hub, so they’ll be keeping it tucked away safe and sound. Couple that with trying to garrison the Colonies and keeping a guard at the Colony, I don’t think either one would send a baseship out to sweep the Cluster…it just isn’t a wise use of resources.”

“Still…” Gath said and sat back in his highbacked chair before steepling his fingers on his chest, “We’re going to go in as if it’s an opposed jump against a numerically superior opponent. We can’t risk a recon sweep before we go in, so if it isn’t tagged as one of yours, it’ll get one chance to stand down before we send it to hell.”

“Fair enough,” Albany said. “I would doubt that any of the others who share our sentiments would trek out here for tea and crumpets.”

“No…but anything is possible,” Aphie pointed out. “Once we have established communications, we’ll send transports over to recover Admiral Montcalm and his staff. When they return here, Captain Miller and Captain Harris will confirm their identities.”

Gath nodded. “Correct. Not only will they have to pass through the glyphs, but then we’ll do the face-to-face test with Miller and Harris.”

“Ah…if I might add something?” Colonel Brock Carlsbad asked. “Maybe I’ve seen too many techno thrillers, but I’d like to see everyone scanned for explosives before they board.”

“Were I in your place,” Ismail calmly said, “I would do no less. Trust must be earned, it can’t be demanded or expected. And we have a lot to make up for.”

The conference lasted another fifteen minutes before it broke up and Ismail, Albany, and the Communion officers returned to their quarters. “What do you think?” Gath asked those who remained at the table.

“They’re saying the right things,” Commander Michael Costello replied. “And they’re eager to build trust. Normally, I’d be skeptical and walk away from it, but…”

“But?” Aphie asked her XO.

“But then I have to factor culture into it,” Costello explained. “The Cylons, for the most part, have been human for what, 40 years? In a human society, people who are 40 have had kids and those kids are probably in middle or high school. That isn’t a lot of time to develop interpersonal skills, especially when you don’t have role models who have lived life, made mistakes, and learned from them.”

“That’s a great observation, Michael,” Aphie said. “One I haven’t heard before and I think we need to consider. They’re trying to be accepted, to be trusted, much like a youth or early teen would strive for the same things with his elder peers.”

“Does it change anything, though?” Lieutenant Bethany Gath asked. “I mean, we know this now, we take it into consideration when we interact with them – after all, it could be considered a motivation, but does it change what we’re going to do in a few hours?”

Gath looked at Aphie, then to Carlsbad, and finally to Costello. “Thoughts?”

“I think it’s one of those things that are filed under, ‘forewarned is forearmed’,” Carlsbad said. “It helps give us context and perhaps why they are how they are, but what we’re essentially going to do is offer a demand, if it isn’t met or is met with force, we’re going to stay just long enough to hit the jump button and get out.”

“Well put, Brock,” Aphie said. “I’m not sure what I could add.”

“Nor I,” Costello offered.

“Ok…then I think we know what we’re going to do in,” Gath looked at the chronometer, “about two hours.”

“If there’s nothing else?” Carlsbad said and pushed back from the conference table. “I’m going to head back to the CIC.”

“And I’m going to return to Guerriere,” Costello added.

“I have notes to file,” Bethany added and soon Gath and Aphie were left in the conference room.

“Subtle, aren’t they?” Gath chuckled.

“I prefer calling it respectful and accommodating,” Aphie smiled. “Buy a girl lunch before the big date?”

“My pleasure,” Gath replied and offered his hand to help her stand.

*+*+*+*+*

“Jump complete and all ships are in formation,” Captain Juliette St. James announced from the navigation station. “I have dradis contacts…two at 10,000 km and seven more within 100km of them. All have active fire control dradis and all are launching fighters!”

“What the hell?” Admiral Rupert Gath swore as he studied the dradis. “Ismail? Albany?”

“They’re not coming after us,” Ismail replied and pointed at the dradis. “They’re closing on each other…”

“What’s your take?” Gath asked Colonel Brock Carlsbad.

“Normally I’d say let them fight it out, but since it’s likely that we’ll lose the VIPs we came all this way to collect, perhaps we should lend a hand?”

“I was afraid you’d say that,” Gath chuckled. “Ezra, please contact Aphrodite on Guerriere.”

“Already have her on the line,” Petty Officer Ezra Kaufman replied.

“Thank you,” Gath said and picked up the handset. “Aphie…feel like running out the guns?”

“Oh yeah,” Aphie replied. “We may disappear from dradis for a bit, but we’re still here and will stay in formation.”

“Ok,” Gath replied, resolved to ask about it when there was more time. “Have you identified the friendlies?”

“We have…I’ve sent the telemetry over to Captain St. James for confirmation,” Aphie answered. “Do we give them a chance to strike their colors?”

“It wouldn’t hurt, though it would certainly draw their attention,” Gath stated. “Still…I guess it wouldn’t hurt to have Ismail or Albany reach out to them.”

“We’ll wait to pull our disappearing act until that’s resolved,” Aphie told Gath. “Blessings be with you, Rupert,” she added.

“And to you, too, Aphie,” Gath replied and looked over at Ismail and Albany. “Do either of you want to reach out and see if we can settle this non-kinetically?”

“At the least it will let us know who is over there,” Ismail replied and reached for a handset. “On Guard, please.”

Gath turned to Kaufman and nodded. “On Guard, Admiral,” the communications specialist said a moment later.

Ismail picked up the handset and put it to his ear, “This is Ismail, secure from combat operations and stand down.”

The answer was almost immediate. “Ismail, I have been sent to ascertain your situation and why you haven’t responded to the recall or other hails, and why you didn’t take part in the general attack on the Colonies.”

“Six baseships have changed course and are moving to intercept us,” St. James reported.

“Keep an eye on them, please. Mr. Sakai, please coordinate target selection with Guerriere. Mr. Hale, please do the same with the airwing,” Gath ordered.

“Copy,” Captain Maria Sakai replied from where she sat at the primary fire control station.

“Copy,” Captain Troy Hale echoed a moment later from Flight Operations.

“Karen, I hope you’re not one of the foolish ones who have decided to approach us,” Ismail calmly stated. “We didn’t take part in the attack because we have decided that ‘The Plan’ is both flawed and illegitimate. John, Lucien, and many of the other Ones changed it without fair and legitimate review. And…I’ve met Daniel.”

“What?” Karen said, her voice a mix of surprise and fear. “We aren’t allowed to say that name.”

“Odd, that, isn’t it?” Ismail replied laconically. “Stand down, Karen. Stand down and we can work this out like rational beings. If you don’t, then you will be destroyed and if you think you’re going to download and resurrect then I think you’re deluding yourself. You’ll be boxed for failure. You know I’m right if you’re honest with yourself.”

There were several long seconds of silence only broken by the sweep and pinging from the dradis. “Cylon baseships are within 7,000…Raider formations are deployed,” St. James offered from the navigation station.

“Ismail?” Gath asked and looked at the Cylon.

“Karen…call off the dogs or they’re going to get smoked,” Ismail said into the handset.

“They aren’t responding to my commands,” Karen replied. “I told them to stand down, but they ignored the order.”

“Fair enough,” Ismail replied. “Please hold your position, recall your Raiders, and take no offensive actions. If you don’t, I will end you.”

“I understand,” Karen replied.

“Admiral, I believe it is time to draw swords,” Ismail said. “I’ve known Karen for many years and while she can be quite the annoying and demanding bitch, she doesn’t lie. I believe that we will need to destroy those ships that did not follow her orders.”

“You did your best,” Gath told the Cylon. “Aphie?” he said into his handset.

“Still here, Rupert,” Aphie replied. “You want the three on your side and I’ll take the three on mine?”

“I think that would be a good deal. Watch out for the Raiders, each one could be carrying several nukes,” Gath warned.

“Understood,” Aphie replied. “Guerriere Actual, out.”

Galactica Actual, out,” Gath said and replaced the handset. “Ok people, time to go hunting.”

*+*+*+*+*

“Jesse, do we have valid fire control solutions on baseship’s Four, Five, and Six?” Aphie asked the weapons officer.

“Aye,” Captain Jesse Pajari replied. “I’ve directed the starboard primaries and mains against baseship Four, which appears to already have some damage, and the port primaries and mains against baseship Six. Bow guns and spinal weapons are targeted on baseship Five.”

“Thank you, Jesse. Please overcharge our capacitors for the first shots, after that, normal fire rate is acceptable. Michael?” Aphie turned and asked the man standing on the other side of the plotting table.

“If this was Othrys, I’d say we smoke the center one and give the others two a chance to surrender, but not after what they’ve done. Take ‘em all down hard,” Commander Michael Costello said. “Staghound, Wolfhound, and Boarhound can handle the fighters and launched ordnance with flak, point defense, and Rockshots.”

“I concur,” Aphie stated and turned to the Flight Operations officer. “Venla, coordinate with our airwing to engage the Raiders after our first salvos against them.”

“Copy, the airwing is to move forward and engage the Raiders after we’ve fired our first salvos against them,” Captain Venla Lahti replied.

“Excellent,” Aphie said. “Now we wait until they get a little closer. Anna-Liisa, please prepare the plasma veil for activation.”

“Preparing the plasma veil for activation, aye,” Captain Anna-Liisa Saari replied and prepared perhaps the most unique of the special technology Guerriere possessed.

Aphie watched the dradis as her fighters took positions ahead of Guerriere. Her three escorts were in a rough triangular shape with Staghound being seven kilometers above and ten kilometers ahead, with Wolfhound and Boarhound each about seven kilometers below Guerriere’s path and several kilometers to each side, forming a rough equilateral triangle with Staghound at its apex.

Galactica had a similar formation, though Seax and Misericorde were each a few kilometers above and to the right or a few kilometers below and to the left of Galactica’s course. This was the worst part of the battle, Aphie thought to herself. Despite taking command in every conflict since Olympus had been created, the anticipation never went away, the anxiety was never conquered. That was a good thing, she decided, because when it became routine then she realized that it was something she was looking forward to and that was not something she ever wanted to happen.

“We’re almost within range,” Pajari stated.

“Prepare to fire all batteries and mounts that bear,” Aphie directed. “Aatos, please let the airwing know that we’re about to fire the spinals.”

“Copy, alert the airwing that we’re about to fire the spinals,” Petty Officer Aatos Kulmala replied from the communications station.

The chronometer ticked down the seconds and then, “We’re within range,” Pajari said.

Aphie didn’t hesitate to give the order, “Fire!”

“All batteries that bear are firing now…” Pajari replied and the Aphie felt the barest tremor as the eight spinal mounts that ran the length of the ship fired and unleashed hell upon baseship Five. The spinal mounts were special particle accelerators that accelerated a focused particle beam to almost the speed of light which gave the normally almost weightless particles incredible mass and energy.

To an outside observer it appeared as if Guerriere and the baseship were connected by brilliant bolts of lightning for a split second as the eight beams spent themselves in baseship and then punched completely through the ship’s center spine. A brace of heartbeats later, the graceful ship rippled, glowed from the inside as if a new star were being born, and then exploded in a ball of golden fire.

“Splash one baseship,” Pajari announced dispassionately. “Kinetics should be arriving on target in six…five…four…three…two…one…now!” Both baseship Four and Six seemed to slow on the dradis and then several sweeps later, began to break up. “Splash two more baseships,” she said as if it was as routine as ordering dinner at a restaurant.

“What are the fighters doing?” Aphie asked.

“They’ve lost some of their coordination, but they’re pressing the attack and launching ordnance,” Costello stated. “Rockshots are launched…” he added. “Deploying…some of them made it through; point defense has been allocated.”

“Thank you,” Aphie said and checked the dradis to see how Galactica was faring. Two of the baseships were already drifting and both airwings were mixing it up in a giant dogfight between the battlestar and the baseships. So long as the Raiders were occupied by the Vipers they wouldn’t be launching ordnance that would threaten the battlestar, so hopefully the fight continued so Galactica could tend to the baseships.

*+*+*+*+*

“Holy shit!” Colonel Brock Carlsbad exclaimed when Guerriere fired her spinal mounts. “What the frak was that? Guerriere just slagged a baseship at extreme range with one shot.”

“I don’t know…” Admiral Rupert Gath replied, “I’m just glad she’s on our side!”

“Ditto!” Carlsbad chuckled. “We’ve got hits on One and Three; using flak rounds set to detonate after impact seems to be causing holy hell over there.”

“Glass jaws,” Gath observed. It was a similar outcome when they fought the Cylons at Armistice Station on the opening day of the war. The standard kinetics just smashed through the Cylon warship and caused incredible damage, but adding flak rounds into the mix ensured that there would be internal explosions as well. The only thing that would be better would be to somehow swap a flak round’s payload for a nuclear warhead. That’s going in the AAR, he thought to himself.

“How are our Vipers doing?” Gath asked.

“Exceptionally well, we’ve taken losses, but well below what we projected pre-war,” Captain Troy Hale replied from the Flight Ops station. “The new EW birds are really proving their worth.”

“Small favors,” Gath said and looked at the dradis. “Focus all batteries that bear on baseship Two…we need to end this now.”

“Copy, all batteries are focusing on baseship Two…” Captain Maria Sakai echoed from the weapons station.

*+*+*+*+*

“Break left, Snake!” Captain Brian Rowan said over the squadron frequency as he pulled his Mk VIIF Viper into a near blackout inducing climb and then pushed it into a nose over tail maneuver to get a firing solution on the Raider that was barely 250 meters behind him. The tracers showed the 30mm kinetic rounds quickly close the distance and punch into the Cylon’s unitary hull and a moment later Rowan was rewarded by flying through the Raider’s death pyre.

“Anyone skosh on ammo?” Rowan asked over the wireless.

“Bread is skosh,” Lieutenant Brenda ‘Bread’ Rye answered. Of all the Blue Diamonds, Bread was the one he expected to be skosh, though not for wasting her ammunition; she was the most proficient person he had ever seen when it came to air-to-air gunnery. He was sure that she made more of the ammunition she expended than even he did.

“Anyone else?” Rowan pressed now that there was a slight lull in the fighting as the Raiders appeared to be trying to regroup.

“Bear is skosh,” Lieutenant Theodora ‘Bear’ Davies replied. “I’ve also taken a round in my top engine.”

“Ok, Bread, Bear, head back to the barn and get rearmed and patched up,” Rowan directed. “The rest of us, we have Cylons to kill…let’s make another sweep before they get their shit together.” And with that, VF-1634 was back in the fray.

The new Raiders weren’t anything like the Raiders that Fleet Intelligence projected the Cylons would field. They lacked the cockpits of the original and appeared to be a unitary machine; that is, the craft was the Cylon and not a standalone vehicle like the original Raiders were. They were extremely maneuverable and pulled more G’s than expected, and while they were smart and had a good grasp of fighter tactics, they still lacked the creative thinking that a human pilot added to the equation.

“Hold still…” Rowan muttered as he brought the Viper in behind a Raider. He felt his finger caress the trigger as the aiming point projected by his HUD floated onto the Cylon. He felt more than heard the four 30mm cannons buried in the wings fire and watched the tracers punch holes into the Raider’s after engineering section a moment before it exploded.

He thought he’d feel something more when he made ace in one engagement, but all he felt was the satisfaction of facing an equal foe and coming out alive. As Rowan searched his dradis and outside the cockpit for the next target, he noticed several silvery flashes; someone was jumping out.

Galactica to all chicks, Raiders are bugging out,” Captain Troy Hale’s voice announced over the wireless. “The following squadrons will return to Galactica for rearming and refueling…” he said and named off several squadrons, the Blue Diamonds not among them, and then added, “All other squadrons re-form and assume defensive posture.”

“Ok, Diamonds,” Rowan said over the squadron frequency, “you heard Flight; form up on me and pretty soon it will be our turn to rotate back.”

*+*+*+*+*

Admiral Rupert Gath rubbed his eyes looked at the cup of coffee sitting on the table in front of him. The first thing they had done after the six baseships and their airwings had been dispatched was recover their own airwings and perform SAR, then jump for deep space. From what he knew about the Cylons, jumping probably wouldn’t matter given as how they were all tied together in some sort of network, but it made him feel better putting some space between them and the killing grounds.

Once they were in deep space, shuttles were dispatched to collect Admiral Montcalm and his staff. That was almost anticlimactic, Gath thought. The shuttles went to Inferno, were there for about twenty minutes, then returned to Galactica. None of Montcalm’s staff, or the man himself, had been compromised by the Equals and none were rigged as suicide bombers. All in all, it was almost boringly routine.

And then there was Karen.

Ismail had said Karen was an annoying and demanding bitch. Gath thought he was rather understating the woman’s abrasiveness. Everything he or Aphie said was questioned and even the answers were questioned. She could have given any frustrated Pyramid mom in Caprica City a run for their money. It wasn’t until a Heavy Raider arrived from Inferno that she settled down, listened, and seemed to turn a page.

Daniel was a most unique person, Gath thought. He stepped off the Cylon transport and looked more like an accountant dressed for a day at the country club than the most disruptive force within Cylon culture. And what made it worse, was that he was a genuinely nice person. But…nice or not, he managed Karen without raising his voice or offering an insult or threat, but rather won her through reasoned persuasion, explanation of the facts, and pointing out how the Cylons were figuratively the frog that was being boiled alive by first being put in a pot of cold water and having heat slowly added until the water reached a boil.

In a lot of ways, Daniel reminded Gath of another person he had recently met, also from a foreign culture. President Patrick Windsor had the same quiet, strong, leadership gravitas and for the first time he thought that there might be a chance for the Cylons.

“Penny for your thoughts?” Aphie asked from where she sat next to Gath at the table.

“Just thinking about what’s happened and hoping that Daniel is the real deal and not an act,” Gath replied and looked at the woman who had thawed his heart.

“I think he is,” Aphie replied as her fork picked at her salad. “The Cylons are coming to grips with the fact that they’ve been lied to, deceived, and worse…used. It’s going to take a lot to overcome the anger and guilt, but I think they can do it.”

“You have faith in them?” Gath asked.

Aphie nodded. “I do. They want to be like us; you and me. But unlike us, they didn’t have loving parents to raise them, schools to go to where they could socialize and learn effective interaction and have confused lust for love so when they feel real emotions that aren’t anger or hate, they’re confused.”

Gath thought for a moment about what Aphie just said and slowly nodded. “I hadn’t looked at it from that perspective,” he confessed. “So…we’re going to essentially have to be their big brothers and sisters?”

“No,” Aphie chuckled and smiled. “More like cousins, I’d think…”

“I think I can work with that,” Gath laughed. “Do we make a run for Joyeuse?”

“We should try,” Aphie stated. “At the very least we should try and land the personnel and some of the transports that we brought for them.”

“Good,” Gath agreed and nodded. “That was my thinking, but I wanted to get a second opinion. Should we get things started?”

“I suspect we should,” Aphie said as Gath stood and moved her chair so she could stand. “I’m looking forward to getting back to Saga so we can…debrief…” she smiled, and half closed her eyes.

Gath took the hint and leaned forward, took Aphie in his arms, and kissed her. Despite only knowing her for a handful of days, he felt as comfortable with her as he ever had with Tallie; did he dare think he had a second chance for happiness?

*+*+*+*+*

Beyond Colonial Space, orbit of Ripley’s Star, structure known as Olympus

Commander Victor Kailo was still in awe of the massive structure that was Olympus. It redefined the term ‘megastructure’ and it was fitting that it was the home of the gods. After meeting with Admiral Thomas Crane aboard Lexington and the tearful reunion between the Admiral and Ceska, and the odd hint about Tuck, the rest of the meal had been rather normal. The food was, as Crane stated, excellent, and despite being representatives of the gods, they seemed as human as anyone he had ever met.

After they arrived at Olympus, he and Ceska were taken to Olympus and from there the surprises were kicked up several magnitudes. First, he met Zeus, Hera, Apollo, Thor, and Uranus. Together, along with Crane, the eight of them discussed current events and some past events. They confirmed that Admiral Chase had found them, and that there were also two other civilizations with her. That sounded like Sera, he thought, if anyone would go out searching for a legend and find not one but three of them, it was her.

Kailo despaired when he heard what happened to Earth and how their creations rose up against them just as the Cylons had done to the Colonies. Anger flooded him when he heard how the Equals were so intimately involved in everything that was happening, but it was when Ceska started talking that he realized that he was in the middle of a long game, a very long game. He had come to terms with knowing Prometheus was out there, but it was still a shock to hear how he was suspected of pulling strings even now.

All of those were shocks. Given where Kailo was, they were to be expected. However, the last shock and perhaps the most emotional one, happened earlier today just after lunch. Uranus, he still had trouble calling him Robert, it seemed undignified to call a god Robert, had asked to meet with him and Ceska privately as there was something he wanted to discuss with them. When they met him in one of the many gardens at Zeus’ palace, Kailo had stopped short. “What is he doing here?” he asked.

“Commander, there is a lot you need to know, things you need to be aware of so that you can look for them, too,” Uranus began. “By knowing this, you will understand why Richard committed the actions that he did,” the old god calmly explained.

Kailo felt Ceska put a comforting hand on his arm and he nodded. “Ok…I’ll listen…I don’t know how much I’ll believe; I was there when everything went down during Golden Sword.”

“I understand,” Uranus said and gestured for everyone to be seated. Richard Szabo took a seat next to an attractive, younger woman, who seemed very protective of him. “Just so everyone knows who everyone is,” Uranus started, “this is Richard Szabo and Sasha Gillette, and this is Victor Kailo and Ceska Eventine.”

It wasn’t lost on Kailo that Uranus had omitted any titles or rank. That put everyone on an equal level, he thought to himself. “It’s been a long time, Richard.”

“It has, Victor, and I want to offer my apologies for my actions; I wasn’t myself, but I am still haunted by what I did,” Szabo replied sincerely. “I must ask, before we start, Ceska…do you know someone named Gemina? She looked a lot like you do.”

Ceska narrowed her eyes and Kailo could feel her tense. “Yes…I know Gemina.”

The tip of Szabo’s tongue licked his upper lip and Kailo could see conflicting emotions behind the wanted man’s eyes. “Is she a good person?”

“That’s an odd question,” Ceska replied and nodded slightly, “but yes, she is. She’s an extremely talented and compassionate doctor.”

“If…if you see her,” Szabo started as tears welled in his eyes, “if you see her, would you tell her that I forgive her and don’t hold what she did against her?”

“Certainly…” Ceska said and looked at Uranus. “What happened?” she asked, her voice strong and commanding causing even the old god to sit back a bit.

“You are familiar with wetware?” Uranus asked.

“Yes…” Ceska’s answer was barely above a whisper.

It was then that Uranus told what happened to Szabo and for the first time since he was a child, Kailo felt a deep, bone chilling, irrational fear. What had been done to Szabo was a violation of every law of common decency, every medical ethic, and basic morality, and rather than feeling anger or even hatred of the man, he felt pity.

“Richard…I didn’t know…” Kailo finally said.

“No one did, Victor…so there’s nothing for you or anyone to apologize for. For most of my life I was someone else’s pawn; someone else directed who I loved, who l hated, what I did. About the only thing I’ve been able to truly figure out is why I was so focused on Sera Chase…my sister had blonde hair and was named Sarah. To me, she was my world and after the Cylons captured us, all we had was each other…until they took her from me.”

Now that they knew about the wetware chip, Kailo realized that it was one more avenue that their enemy would use to attack them. How many people were already compromised, he thought, and how many had survived?

“Will you do me a favor, Victor?” Szabo had asked before they had all gone their separate ways.

“If I can,” Kailo replied.

Szabo handed him an envelope with a familiar name written on it, ‘Sera Chase’. “Please see that Sera gets this letter. I hope to be able to tell her in person, but this way I know she’ll at least know why.”

Kailo slowly nodded. “I will…I promise.”

“You look deep in thought,” Uranus said and sat down next to Kailo, snapping him back to the present.

“I was thinking back over what we discussed earlier,” Kailo said. “Ceska went with Richard and Sasha to discuss Gemina and I figured it would be a good chance to just sit and collect my thoughts. I watched the death of my world and I’m having trouble reconciling that it was because of some sort of cosmic power play.”

Uranus nodded twice. “A long time ago, before the Colonies, before Kobol, before the Earth Union or Meropian Communion, before Othrys…I watched humanity’s homeworld die…twice.” He stared up at the massive dome and the distant planet near Olympus. “The first time, we were able to save humanity and the homeworld. A massive plague swept the planet and killed…well, it killed enough to send everyone into a very barbaric way of life. It was insidious and had originally been tailored to attack people with specific racial traits. Along the way it mutated, because that’s what they do, and it soon affected everyone.

“We came back from the brink that time, and then we had a sort of golden age. We did things we shouldn’t have and from that the chimeras were born,” Uranus explained and Kailo nodded along, mostly lost but completely intrigued with what he was being told. “We made the decision to end the chimeras and that caused some friction among us. Prometheus was their leader and in the wake of his failed coup and uprising, he took his followers to the stars and disappeared.

“It wasn’t until the day after he fled that we realized how close to home he had attacked. Admiral Crane’s sister, Grace, had been the target of Prometheus’ amorous attention. She didn’t want anything to do with him and…well, you’ve met Gavin, Hannah, and Grace, as well as Thomas and Corrine…can you imagine how they reacted?”

Kailo nodded and remembered meeting the people Uranus mentioned. It was scary how in tune Gavin, Hannah, Thomas, and Corrine were with each other; it was almost as if they were one mind split among four people, they were so close. Strongly suspecting what happened to Gavin and Hannah’s daughter, Grace, he could only imagine the anger and anguish they had.

“It wasn’t until later, when we started sifting through Prometheus’ labs that we found the other…how he wronged, violated, and hurt Hecate. That isn’t my story to tell, that’s Hecate’s, should she ever decide to tell it,” Uranus explained and sounded very grandfatherly and wise. “After that, we renewed our efforts to work together and build a better world on the ruins of the old. For a while…for a long while, that worked. Then we did what you did, what the Earth Union did, and ultimately what was done in the Communion; we created life to serve us and shoulder some of the burden so humanity could live a better life.”

“The Cylons, Equals, and drones?” Kailo asked.

“Correct. We called them CyMechs, Cybernetic Mechanicals, and like all life tends to do, they sought self-determination and violently revolted against us. That’s when the homeworld was finally laid to waste,” Uranus said sadly. “Everything that humanity had ever created, all the memories, all the achievements, everything…if it wasn’t in an evacuation ship that wasn’t infected, was lost. The destruction was so complete that the surface was razed. I doubt there’s anything left other than some of the eternal monuments, but now, after all these years, even those might be gone.”

“Why are you telling me all this?” Kailo asked. “Not that I’m not interested, this is fascinating, but why now?”

Uranus turned on the bench so he could look Kailo in the eyes, “Because this cycle must end. Pythia said, ‘all this has happened before, and all this will happen again’, and the time has come to end that. She wasn’t telling you what to do, she was warning you; warning that if humanity didn’t learn from its mistakes that it was bound to repeat them. The problem was that humanity didn’t have the history…it didn’t know what had happened before. There were myths or legends, but they were given the same credence as a child claiming there was an evil monkey living in his closet.

“Now you know…when you rebuild, you must incorporate this history into your own…I’ll help, but I can’t do it for you…you must do it for it to matter,” Uranus explained. “Can you do this?”

Kailo sat for a moment trying to process everything he had been told. “I can do my best.”

Uranus smiled and put his arm around Kailo’s shoulders. “That’s all any of us can do, and if enough of us do that, then we can succeed.”

*+*+*+*+*

Commander Victor Kailo entered his quarters on Siren and immediately knew he wasn’t alone. The Marines were still on duty outside, so he was fairly certain who was waiting for him. “I’m glad you’re here,” he said as he walked into the lounge.

Several candles lit the lounge and gave it a warm, intimate feel and revealed the person standing next to the sofa. Every time he saw her, Ceska took his breath away. Tonight, she was wearing a white silk kimono and her hair was held up by a pair of lacquered sticks. “I will be here tonight,” Ceska said as she took a step towards Kailo, “and every night thereafter if you’ll have me.”

“Why?” Kailo asked and found himself drawn to her. “Why tonight?”

“Because I’ve decided that I must live my life for me, not for someone else. I can no longer live my life trying to do what someone else wants, what I think they’d want me to do, or to make them happy,” Ceska explained and took another step towards Kailo. “I want to chose who I live for, who I want to make happy, who I want to please by doing what they want.”

“Me?” Kailo asked, his heart beating that such an exquisite creature would choose him.

“You,” Ceska said. “My eyes have been opened and I believe that you will need me as much as I will need you in the coming days, weeks, and years. Will you have me?” she asked slowly, her voice almost a whisper.

Kailo closed the last step between them, “Yes…but it goes two ways…”

Ceska smiled and Kailo felt her arms go around his shoulders, “Yes…”

*+*+*+*+*

Outside the Colonial Sphere, orbit of Thrush, Becca’lia system, Colonial battlestar Atropos, BS-35

“Jump complete, we are in Thrush’s far orbit,” Lieutenant Harry Richardson announced from the navigation station.

“Secure from Jump Conditions, launch the CAP,” Commander Devan Lubeck said to the CIC. “Good work, Harry,” he added, congratulating the navigator on the jump. “Did Angelos beat us here?”

“Doesn’t look like it…” Richardson replied. “Wait one…dradis contacts, two large ships in orbit…transponders identify them as Iolanthe and Xanadu, as well as a standard CAP.”

“I guess we should be neighborly and hail them,” Lubeck said. “But…to be on the safe said, launch the Alert 5 to join the CAP.”

“You think they aren’t legit?” Colonel Taylor Nixon asked from her position on the other side of the plotting table.

“After finding out they can look like us?” Lubeck arched an eyebrow and looked at the attractive brunette, “I’m being exceptionally cautious.” He turned to communications specialist Bruce Babbage, “Buck, how about we ring them up? I believe Wolf Travers has Iolanthe now.”

“Copy…contacting Iolanthe and Xanadu,” Babbage replied. “Attention Colonial battlestar Iolanthe, this is the battlestar Atropos, please respond.”

Atropos, Iolanthe,” a female voice replied, “please confirm identity by sending your encoded credentials.”

Iolanthe, Atropos,” Babbage said, “credentials are sent and yours have been received and verified. “It’s good to see a friendly face.”

“Confirm, Atropos,” the female voice answered. “I have Iolanthe Actual; is Atropos Actual available?”

Lubeck picked up the handset, “This is Atropos Actual, is that you Wolf?”

Atropos Actual, Iolanthe Actual, the one and only. I’m glad you made it out, Devan,” Commander Wolf Travers’ voice said over the handset.

“Same from me to you,” Lubeck replied. “What is your status?”

“We were knocked around a bit when the Cylons attacked but have since repaired the damage and are looking for a place to go to ground,” Travers answered. “How are the students?”

Lubeck chuckled, “They’re all good…I would have, and have, gone to war with them and they all performed magnificently! Is this the first place you’ve gone since you left the homeworlds?”

“They had good teachers, Devan,” Travers told him. “This was our first stop after we left the Oort Cloud where we went to ground to fix the damage.”

“Ah, good…then you can come back to the party with us,” Lubeck stated. “A lot has happened since the attack and even though I saw it with my own eyes, I still have trouble believing all of it. We have a rally point at Thule, around Saga. We were sent out to find stragglers and survivors and guide them back.”

“Saga?” Travers asked. “We can’t live there…”

“Best kept secret, old friend,” Lubeck told him. “How soon can you be ready…”

“Dradis contacts!” Richardson announced just as the dradis started pinging off new contacts. “I have thirty-six contacts! Multiple battlestar sized contacts…wait one…Sir…thirty-two are transmitting Earth Union IDs, one of them is Angelos, three are Colonial, and…my gods…one claims to be Pathfinder.”

“Wolf, we appear to have some party crashers…hold the line while I reach out to them…” Lubeck said and motioned for Babbage to contact them.

“I have Arke Actual and Medusa Actual on the line,” Babbage said several moments later.

“This is Commander Devan Lubeck of the battlestar Atropos,” Lubeck announced over the wireless. “Arke Actual, you brought some friends with you…”

Atropos Actual, Arke Actual, Devan, you old warhorse,” Commodore Andre Musk’s voice stated from the handset. “Colonel Savoy said you might be here when we arrived.”

“That was the plan, but you know plans and first contact,” Lubeck replied. “You found some friends and a missing ship…” he said and let the thought trail off.

“I did,” Musk replied. “Or rather, we found Pathfinder and Commander Kaylen’s group found and saved us from a Cylon attack. Commander Kaylen, I’d like to introduce you to Commander Devan Lubeck. Devan, Commander Feleena Kaylen of the Earth Union.”

“Pleased to meet you Commander Lubeck,” Kaylen’s voice said over the wireless. “We have all come a long way to find you.”

“The pleasure is mine, Commander,” Lubeck replied. “Until a few days ago, I thought you were a legend.”

“So I’ve been told,” Kaylen replied and Lubeck could hear the smile in her voice. “Colonel Savoy and her team have given us a lot of hope.”

“As soon as we’re finished here, we’re going to jump back to Saga…” Lubeck explained. “I’d be honored if we could escort your group as well as Commodore Musk’s group back with us.”

“I think that would be fine,” Musk agreed. “I see you have Travers’ Iolanthe and Xanadu with you…”

Iolanthe was here with Xanadu when we arrived,” Lubeck explained. “We’ll all be going back to Saga in a couple hours.”

*+*+*+*+*

An hour later, ‘several hours’ was extended to ‘about a day’ as survivors had been found on Thrush’s surface. Commander Anabelle Isles sat next to Gillian McGovern on the Roc that was taking them to Eurypyle and an informal get together while the issues on the surface were worked out.

“What’s wrong, Bel?” McGovern asked and turned to look at her.

“I dunno…” Isles replied. “I’m just antsy, I guess.”

McGovern cocked her head and stared at her. “Bel…” she said and conveyed the tone that she wasn’t accepting the answer.

“I think it’s because we’re so close to the end and now we’re waiting a little longer,” Isles explained, though even to her own ears it didn’t sound convincing.

“It’s just another night,” McGovern told her and squeezed her hand.

“I know…Isles agreed. Deep down she wondered if this was how her sister, Feleena Kaylen, felt when she had one of her visions. The difference was that Kaylen actually saw things, this…this was just a feeling.

Half an hour later, Isles stood in the Oyster Bay Gardens, named after a picturesque bay on old Earth, under the massive dome on the back of Eurypyle. The mixer wasn’t just for top brass, but also junior officers and senior enlisted that had recently gone above and beyond for one reason or another. She and McGovern were introduced to Commander Devan Lubeck and Major Thaddeus Collins of Atropos.

“You’re essentially a school ship?” Isles asked after the introductions were completed.

“Part advanced academy for high school age students and part living history exhibit,” Lubeck explained. “We’re a fully functional battlestar, but our role was to give students a taste of what it would be like to be in the Fleet while they also attended their studies and learned how a ship like that worked.”

“Let me introduce you to two of my finest students,” Collins said, the pride in his voice evident to Isles. He motioned forward two teens, neither of which looked more than 18 or 19, “Commander, Gillian, I’d like to introduce you to Ensign Sir Penn Chambers and Ensign Lady Anat Giliad.”

“Hello, Commander,” Chambers said as both he and Giliad came to attention.

“Good evening, Ensigns,” Isles replied. “If I may, you both seem to be a little young for your rank, though I’m not one to talk.”

Chambers and Giliad both looked to Collins. “It’s your story to tell,” he told them.

Chambers began with Giliad adding details here and there about what happened on Olympia a few months earlier. “And that’s how we both are ensigns and were knighted.”

“Simply amazing,” McGovern was first to speak after the story. “You are both amazing young adults.”

“Thank you, ma’am,” Giliad replied and Isles saw the girl give Chambers’ hand a quick squeeze. “We have good teachers who made sure we were ready for what happened and then stood behind us when we were questioned about our actions.”

“Now you’re going to make us blush, Anat,” Lubeck chuckled. “I just wish you could all have had a normal graduation and time at the Academy…”

“Several of the original Atropos’ crew were in our shoes, sir,” Chambers stated. “I like to think we’re carrying on the tradition.”

“That we are, son, that we are,” Collins said and gave his shoulder a quick fatherly squeeze.

Before anyone said anything else, another Colonial officer approached. Isles noted that he looked surprised and uncertain. “Erin?” he asked when he was at their group.

“Excuse me?” Isles asked and studied the man, a Colonial captain if she read the rank correct.

“I…I’m sorry, Commander…” he said. “I thought you were someone I met recently. You…you look exactly like her.”

“Commander Anabelle Isles,” Isles said and offered her hand. “Until a few days ago, I had never met someone from the Colonies.”

“Yes…I see that…” he replied and took her hand. “Please forgive my manners, I’m Captain Jeff Clark from Iolanthe. Here…” he said and pulled out a small communications unit. He thumbed through several screens before he showed her what was displayed. The picture showed a slightly younger version of herself with Clark. Both wore dress uniforms, though ‘hers’ was slightly different.

“That is me…” Isles mumbled. “Gill…look…” she added.

“It is…right down to the hair color and cut,” McGovern stated, and Isles felt a cold chill, the same chill she felt when Kaylen told her about meeting herself in a forest on Virgon.

“Do you have any other pictures?” Isles asked and glanced up to look for her sisters.

“Yes…only two others on this, though,” Clark explained. “I archived them to may main computer. Here…” he thumbed to the next picture. “Just thumb to the right and you’ll see the other one.”

Isles took the device and looked at it. This time the picture showed her and Clark dancing some sort of slow dance, still in their dress uniforms. “When was this?”

“Seven months ago,” Clark explained. “We were members of the wedding party for some mutual friends when we met.”

Isles thumbed the image to the right and almost dropped the device. “Gill…what the frak is going on here?” she whispered as she saw a group picture; an unknown man and woman, obviously the bride and groom were in the center, another couple stood to the groom’s right that she didn’t recognize, but the other three couples in the picture…of the men, she only recognized Clark standing next to the woman who looked like her, ‘Erin’, but the other two…she saw her sisters Feleena Kaylen and Jessica Raynes wearing uniforms they had never worn before.

_________________
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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Location: Battlestar Hecate BSG-94
Vignette 10: Missing Pieces (Part 1 of 3)

Deep Space, Titanic Dominion gunstar Eurytion

“Another day?” Cronus asked as he sat at the head of the conference table in the gunstar’s flag meeting room.

“Aye,” Commander Trevor Corinth replied a moment before he covered his mouth and yawned. “Long day,” he explained.

“Don’t worry about it,” Cronus said before rolling his shoulders. “It’s been a busy couple days for all of us,” he added. “So…the subject of tonight’s little chat session is what are we going to do with Pallas’ squeeze? Options, suggestions?”

Cronus’ and three other sets of eyes focused on Pallas as the elder Titan waited for an answer. “If we kill her then the Equals know something is going on,” Pallas finally said in Lucy Cain’s defense.

“There are things other than killing her that we can do to extract what we want to know,” the largest of the five men sitting around the table stated.

“What are you suggesting Alcyoneus?” Pallas asked pointedly. “Do you want to drug her or peel away bits and pieces until she tells you something that probably isn’t even true?” he asked snidely.

“Well…now that you mention it…” Alcyoneus teased.

“Enough…” Cronus said and hoped he had deflected the latest round of bickering between the two lieutenants. “Corinth, what resources do we have?”

Commander Trevor Corinth sat back and nodded. “We have made a few…advances…while you’ve been away, M’lord,” he stated evenly. “Do you remember Epiphron?” When Cronus nodded, he continued, “He must have pissed off, or thought he did, someone in your son’s crew and evacuated with us. Since then, he’s been heavy into genealogy and the genetics of certain bloodlines. His work was fruitless until the last few thousand years when he started seeing results.”

“Wasn’t he the one that was always sniffing around…frak…what were their names…” Cronus said and narrowed his eyes.

“That would be the Costello and Crane families,” Nautilus stated and spoke for the first time.

“Yes! Cute little goth looking woman that claimed she could see the future or some shit like that,” Cronus chuckled.

“Well…it evolved into a little more than that, but Hecate was very active in keeping information about it restricted and on a very limited need to know basis,” Corinth stated, “at least that’s what Epiphron told me.”

“So…what has he developed?” Cronus prodded.

“It’s limited, but he claims that several of his subjects have developed telepathy,” Corinth replied evenly.

“What?” Cronus asked and sat forward, transfixing Corinth with his gaze. “Who allowed this?”

Corinth took a deep breath and slowly let it out before he began. “Menoetius. He assumed the regency until we were able to recover you.”

Cronus slowly shook his head and grimly smiled. “That explains a lot,” he finally said. “I’ll deal with him when we return. In the meantime, what can these telepaths do?”

“They require physical contact, and the target must be in a relaxed state, but once they make a connection, they can ensure that the person speaks truthfully…at least that’s what Epiphron has claimed,” Corinth explained and shrugged. “Personally, I think it’s all a steaming bag of bullshit and nothing more than a parlor trick. I’ve seen him demonstrate it and everything was so controlled that I really don’t put a lot of stock in it. But…if it works…”

“Yeah…I hear you,” Cronus replied. “Let’s file that under ‘best case’…now we need to come up with an alternative that we can use when that one fails.”

“If I may?” Nautilus asked after raising his hand off the table to get everyone’s attention.

“Go ahead…this is an open table,” Cronus stated.

“We are dealing something that we haven’t encountered before,” Nautilus began slowly. “We have someone who has been programmed using a wetware chip that has modified their personality with certain behaviors, traits, and compulsions, so right off the bat we’re dealing with two potential personalities, one of which could suicide the host if certain unknown conditions are known and that option was exercised when the chip was implanted.

“Second, we have the tag-a-long personality that I assume is an Equal. We don’t know when that personality was added but it is likely that it has access to the other two previous personalities and can draw from their memories as if they were their own,” Nautilus explained.

“Wait a minute…” Pallas said and turned to face Nautilus. “You’re telling me that Lucy has three personalities?”

“Yes…and no…” Nautilus said and leaned back in his chair. “The simple answer is yes, there are potentially three distinct personalities within the mind of Lucy Cain. The first is Lucy herself as modified by the wetware. Memories changed and added and all that,” he stated. “Then there’s the wetware itself, and while it is more like an overseer that ensures the host does what it’s supposed to do, it does have certain self-protection imperatives, so it should be regarded as a unique personality. And finally, there is the Equal.

“From what I have been able to learn from our erstwhile allies, when an Equal’s essence is downloaded into a host it completely dominates the host. Think of it this way,” Nautilus said as his eyes hardened, “The host, if it isn’t one of their clones, is two parts: the personality and the body. When the Equal arrives, the personality is locked away in a little box; it’s still there, but completely dominated by the Equal. For all intents and purposes, the Equal is the host and other than the weird bit with the eyes, no one would ever know the difference unless the behavior gave it away.”

“Let me get this straight…” Cronus said before talking a deep drink from the beer mug in front of him. “We have Lucy, the wetware chip that’s pulling her strings, and now the Equal who completely dominates both the chip and Lucy and is masquerading as Lucy?”

“Exactly,” Nautilus replied. “So, even if this telepathy thing was legit, I think it would be like listening to three different people all talking at the same time.”

“What can we do?” Pallas asked the question that Cronus wanted an answer to.

“We put her in a full isolation chamber,” Nautilus replied evenly. “Equals are, in their own way, like us; when the physical body dies, they download into a new one. If we put her in full isolation, she’ll know that when she dies…it’s a final death.”

Fear…that was something Cronus could use. “Do we have one aboard?”

Corinth shook his head. “No…we have one at home, though.”

“Good. That’s what we’ll do,” Cronus told the table. “And…Corinth, I want a hand-picked team to round up Epiphron and his witches and segregate them from the rest of the population until I decide what to do with them. Alcyoneus, I want a platoon of your best troops to accompany us when we meet Menoetius for the first time. If we need to end him, I want to do it now and not have to deal with it down the road when we really don’t have time. He knows my opinion of telepaths…”

*+*+*+*+*

Agartha Station, within the coronal atmosphere of Niflheim, 49.7 light years from the barycenter of the Cyrannus star cluster

Commodore Francis Sullivan’s measured paces were met by the woman walking next to him in almost perfect cadence. “Siomha (pronounced Shee-va),” he began, “what is your take on Commander Jessup? I know him professionally, but you served with him a few years back.”

“Depends, boss,” Colonel Siomha Callahan replied and smirked. The smirk turned her flawless alabaster face into a mischievous vision with dark red hair and brilliant green eyes. “On deck, he’s extremely competent and innovative. He originally saw his posting to Tyche as a punishment for pissing off Bad Penny, but since then he’s taken to it like a duck to water.”

Sullivan narrowed his eyes and filed away the information. “And off the deck?” he asked.

“Well…off the deck he likes to act the dandy…pencil mustache, perfect grooming, razor creases on his uniform, and oh yes…Gertrude,” Callahan stated.

“Gertrude?” Sullivan said, allowing the word to be a standalone question.

“Gertrude is his grandfather’s swagger stick,” Callahan explained and chuckled. “His grandfather served as the commanding officer of the Emperor’s Household Guard and carried Gertrude during his tenure. When Jessup was commissioned, his grandfather gave it to him and told him to ‘honor the Regiment’.”

Sullivan stopped and turned to face his XO who stopped two paces later and had turned around to face him. “You know an awful lot about someone you served with for two years…”

Callahan shrugged and then smirked again, “Commander Jessup is my Uncle Simon…his older sister married my father and well…I guess you got the inside story from the source.”

“Will you have any trouble working with him?” Sullivan asked.

“No, not at all,” Callahan replied. “Over the years, there have been a lot of stories told about Uncle Simon’s eccentricities and in the telling, things get changed, elaborated upon, and stuff that isn’t even relevant gets added. If I was going through a doorway, he is one of a very, very small handful of people that I’d trust to have my back.”

“Good…” Sullivan told her and felt a weight lift off his shoulders. Every group had those personalities that seemed to stick out and get noticed, the Colonial Fleet was no different. Simon Jessup was one of those personalities that seemed larger than life and thus had a whole host of stories told about him ranging from the sickly-sweet rescuing a puppy from a storm drain to the more bizarre of demanding bagpipes being played over his ship’s 1MC to issue orders.

And here he was meeting the man inside a star.

“We all have our own unique quirks, Uncle Simon just dispenses with the charade and is open about them,” Callahan said once they started walking again.

“I know...” Sullivan chuckled. “But you have to admit, if you never really knew the man and heard all the stories, you’d wonder too…”

“True,” Callahan agreed. “Well, we’re here…” she said as they stopped in front of a conference room door with two uniformed guards waiting outside.

“I’m Commodore Sullivan and this is my XO Colonel Callahan,” Sullivan told the guard wearing sergeant’s stripes.

“Thank you, sir,” the sergeant replied and turned to the intercom. “Commodore Sullivan and Colonel Callahan are here.”

A voice quickly replied, “Please send them in.”

“Sirs…” the sergeant said and opened the door. “You may enter.”

“Thank you, Sergeant,” Sullivan said as he stepped through the door and prepared to meet the people he would be working with during the coming weeks. The room held a large conference table on one side while several large sofas and overstuffed chairs were arranged around tables facing windows that allowed Niflheim’s light to softly illuminate the more casual spaces. Twelve people were waiting, some stood while some were seated, but all had turned to watch them enter the room.

“Sheev!” a tall, trim, and yes, Sullivan thought, dapper, man stood and greeted Callahan. “This has to be one of the most unique places for a family reunion!”

“Commander…Uncle Simon, it’s good to see you!” Callahan smiled and hugged the man. “Uncle, I’d like to introduce Commodore Francis Sullivan, Aurora’s commander.”

Jessup released his niece and offered his hand to Sullivan. “Pleased to meet you, Commodore,” he said warmly. “I hope my reputation hasn’t caused to many misconceptions.”

“Siomha cleared up any that I might have had, Simon,” Sullivan replied and shook his hand.

“Allow me, if I may, to introduce you to the other players in our part of the drama,” Jessup said and guided Sullivan and Callahan into the center of the room. “Before I start, since you’re here I assume His Grace briefed you on what and who you could expect to meet?” he asked, all trace of the dandy suddenly gone.

Sullivan nodded. “His Grace was extremely thorough when he briefed us…and made sure that we would approach things with an open mind.”

“Good…that was pretty much exactly what he told me when he briefed me,” Jessup agreed and nodded. Despite the stories, Sullivan found that Jessup appeared to be an easy man to like, and he hoped that would translate into easy to work with. “First, let me introduce my XO, Colonel Brian Quincanon,” he pointed to the lone male wearing a Colonial Fleet uniform. “Next to him is Brigadier General Mila Ruslan, commanding the Marines in the battlegroup,” he pointed to a tall, slim, somewhat young-looking woman with long auburn hair draped over her left shoulder and wearing a Marine general officer’s uniform.

“Colonel Quincanon, pleasure meeting you,” Sullivan greeted the Fleet officer before he turned to Ruslan. “Mila…of all the places…” he started.

“It’s been a while, Francis,” Ruslan replied warmly. “You’re looking good.”

“So are you, Mila,” Sullivan told her and felt cracks in the wall he had built around his feelings for the woman standing in front of him. “I’m glad you’re here,” he said and truly meant the words.

“As I am you,” Ruslan replied and met his eyes. “May we catch up later?” she asked.

Sullivan almost chuckled at her word use. Most people would use the word ‘can’ instead of ‘may’, he himself did it often. “I’d like that, Mila…” he said and forced himself not to get lost in her gaze.

“Well…I have a feeling that all of us being here isn’t a coincidence…” Jessup offered. “I think I see His Grace’s handiwork here.”

“What do you mean?” Callahan asked.

“Well,” Jessup arched his eyebrows. “You and I are related, Commodore Sullivan and General Ruslan know each other, and I do believe that Louis Gardner,” he pointed to one of the men standing by the windows, “Louis, come over here,” he told him. “I believe that Louis and Commodore Sullivan knew each other in high school.”

“Long time no see, Frank,” Gardner said and offered his hand.

“Lou! It’s been…what, the fifteenth reunion?” Sullivan replied and shook his hand before pulling him in for a hug. “Are Judith and the twins here, too?”

Gardner nodded. “They’re back at the station,” he replied. “When you have time, we’d love to have you come over for dinner.”

“If Judith is cooking, wild horses couldn’t keep me away!” Sullivan chuckled and realized that His Grace, Charles Chase, the Duke of Westfield had to have had his hands involved in the personnel choices.

“Well…the Colonials are out of the way,” Jessup quipped. “Now…let’s move on to the folks who lived here when we ‘found’,” he air quoted the last word, “them. Floyd Clanton is the Station Manager and is sort of the mayor, head administrator, and generally the guy who gets to make the decisions or cast the tiebreaking vote.”

Clanton acknowledged the introduction and shook hands with both Sullivan and Callahan. “Now…” Jessup said and looked hesitant to Sullivan’s eye, “This is where the whole ‘open mind’ request comes into play. Daniel?”

A trim man with a fair complexion and copper hair stood and a moment later a woman who looked a few years younger and dressed as one of Hecate’s Sacred Witches also stood. The man walked forward and held out his hand, “Daniel Graystone,” he said and introduced himself.

Sullivan was shanking his hand when the name finally clicked. “*The* Daniel Graystone?” he asked. “Shouldn’t you be older…much older?”

Daniel shrugged and offered an innocent smile. “Yes…and it’s good living and some very helpful technology that we developed before the Uprising.”

“Impressive,” Sullivan said, for once at a loss for words.

“And this ravishing beauty is Medea,” Jessup continued, something Sullivan was glad happened. Things were starting to slip into the overwhelming category.

“Pleased to meet you, Commodore,” Medea offered.

“And you, too,” Sullivan said as he heard Callahan introduce herself to Daniel.

“I’m going to introduce the rest of the pack together…” Jessup said and stood to one side. “As proper, ladies are first. Saura is Daniel’s right hand and Ivy is one of the civic leaders. Then there’s Barclay, Ivy’s husband. Finally…Captain Hammer who heads up Agartha’s security element and Captain Glider who commands the small airwing here at the station.”

After the introductions were made and several minutes of small talk had passed, Jessup once again spoke up. “Commodore Sullivan, Colonel Callahan…if I may have your attention for just a moment…”

“Go ahead, Simon,” Sullivan said and stopped his conversation with Glider.

“Again…open minds…” Jessup repeated and to Sullivan’s eye seemed a little nervous. “It’s make or break time, I guess…” he added and then looked at everyone in the room. “Commodore, Colonel…five of the people you have just been introduced to and have been talking with are…well, I don’t know how to put this other than straight on…they’re Cylons.”

Sullivan narrowed his eyes and quickly looked at everyone in the room that he didn’t know personally. “What? Cylons look nothing like the people in this room.”

“That would be correct,” Ivy said and stepped forward, Barclay at her side. “When the Cylons were created one of the things they wanted most was to be human…like their creators…so they could fully embrace all that their religion taught and told them to do.”

“I’m not sure I follow,” Callahan offered.

“One of their religion’s dictates was that they be fruitful and multiply,” Ivy explained. “Now, some could take that to mean that they should build more factories, but most Cylons took that to mean that they should create life. To do that, they had to become human…”

“You…” Sullivan said, his eyes narrowed and voice full of disbelief. “You’re a Cylon?”

“I am. I am who I want to be, not what I’ve been told to be,” Ivy explained. “So are Barclay, Saura, Hammer, and Glider. We are Cylon in spirit and human by choice.”

*+*+*+*+*

The meeting lasted for more than five hours as the Station’s history was explained, the Cylons’ story was told, and then what happened when Dr. Galen Cantorelli’s expedition discovered them. Commodore Francis Sullivan stretched out on his sofa and rubbed his temples. The pain reliever he took half an hour earlier was starting to kick in and was keeping the headache he had from turning into a full-blown migraine.

His battlegroup and Jessup’s had been sent to Agartha as a failsafe. Somehow, certain members of the Admiralty and civilian government of Virgon had discovered, and believed the information, that the Cylons were going to attack the Colonies and had put together a scratch plan to send the ships to Agartha to ride out the attack.

His Grace, Charles Chase, the Duke of Westfield hadn’t pulled any punches when he explained why they were being sent out to the middle of nowhere and told to camp inside a star. “You’re our hope…in the event that the Cylons are successful and manage to destroy humanity, we want to ensure that some of us survive. As such, your crews are being given the opportunity to take their families on a Tiger Cruise that will, on the surface, appear to be the Tiger Cruise to end all Tiger Cruises; an extended deployment that will last at least a month.”

And now here they were, inside a star, with an extended battlestar group, an assaultstar group, three of Far Horizon’s mobile bases, a collection of merchant and passenger shipping to house and support the excess family members and forced to wait until something happened or they were there for six weeks past Armistice Day.

The intercom’s buzzing intruded into Sullivan’s thoughts and he reached over and picked up the handset. “What’s up, Me?” he asked Sergeant Frances Sullivan, no relation and not even the same sex. It was a personal joke between them, referring to each other as Me.

“I have a visitor who would like to see you, Me,” Sergeant Frankie Sullivan replied. “General Ruslan?”

“Please send her in…and don’t warn her about Shadow…” Sullivan chuckled.

“It’s your head, boss!” Frankie chuckled. “I’ll send her in.”

“Thanks, Frankie,” Sullivan replied and put the handset back on its cradle. A moment later the door opened and he heard steps enter his living area.

“I thought you might want to discuss what happened with a friendly face…” General Mila Ruslan said as she entered the space.

“Well…it was a shock…I kept wondering where the hidden cameras were,” Sullivan said and swung his legs off the sofa so his feet would be on the floor. “Have a seat…though not that one there…” he pointed to an overstuffed chair with a fluffy comforter on it.

“Oh…my…gods!” Ruslan almost squealed. “Is this Shadow?” she asked as a long, tapered head poked up from the comforter. “You’re a big girl now!” she added and gave the head a tentative scratch.

“Better watch that…she has a mind like a steel trap and once you do it, she’ll expect them every time she sees you,” Sullivan warned as he walked to the side bar. “Still drinking hot chocolate instead of coffee?”

“Naturally,” Ruslan replied and picked up the little raccoon from the self-made nest. “Do you remember me, Shadow?”

The raccoon looked up at her and put a paw on Ruslan’s cheek. “Aww…you do!” she told the raccoon and gave it a quick kiss on its nose. “Is Shadow a perk of command?”

Sullivan looked over his shoulder and grinned, “It’s good to be the king!”

“Are you still quoting that vid?” Ruslan chuckled and just like that, the past three years disappeared for Sullivan and it was like they were back on Picon where they shared a home and much, much more.

“Of course,” Sullivan replied and brought back two steaming mugs of hot chocolate. “I’m glad you’re here, Mila…”

“I’m glad you’re here, too, Frank,” Ruslan replied and took the offered mug. She gently blew across the liquid’s surface and looked expectantly at Sullivan, “To second chances?”

Sullivan heard how she said the toast, it was more of a question than a statement and he read hope in her eyes. “To second chances…and to the future.”

*+*+*+*+*

Near the Cyrannus system barycenter, Colonial battlestar Nyx, BS-78

Several candles cast a warm glow over the woman kneeling in front of a polished lacquered wood shrine and altar. She wore a floor length black kimono that was embroidered with a white crane taking flight that covered the back and outstretched wings that extended along the arms. Little silver points were embroidered on the black silk and made the crane look like it was leaping into the heavens.
Incense burned in front of the woman and she inhaled the smoke and held it in her lungs for several seconds before slowly releasing it. She repeated this several times before she bowed to the shrine and gently, reverently, closed it and then extinguished the incense. When the incense was no longer burning, she once again bowed and finally broke the silence, “So mote it be.”

After several seconds of silence, she stood, sighed, and walked over to a wall pad and turned on the lights. The light revealed an ageless face with a creamy complexion, almond shaped eyes, and a long mane of silky brownish black hair that was held in a high ponytail by a gold ring and onyx hairpin. Now that the lights were on, she proceeded to blow out the candles and collected them on a small end table next to an overstuffed chair.

A slim, feminine hand with long slender fingers gently picked up the handset that rested on the corner of her desk. “Nina, have we had any word yet?” she asked.

“I’m afraid not, Commander,” Lieutenant J.G. Nina Orlov’s voice replied. “Things have been pretty quiet.”

“Thank you,” Commander Miyako Hayashi said. “Is Colonel Sheridan in CIC yet?”

“Yes, he just arrived,” Orlov answered. “Shall I connect you?”

“Please,” Hayashi asked. After two beeps signaled that the line had been transferred, she said, “I’m getting nervous, Foster.”

“So am I, Maki,” Colonel Foster Sheridan quickly agreed. “His Grace said that as soon as he knew something was going down that he’d send word.”

“I know…” Hayashi replied. “It’s knowing that even if we were on the line that nothing we could do would change the outcome and that’s really eating away at me. In the meantime, please have everyone set Action Stations and Condition Two…I want to be able to jump as soon as we have the messenger aboard.”

“I’ll make it happen,” Sheridan confirmed. “I’ll also have Annika keep a jump plot running and updated.”

“Excellent. I’m going to get a shower and then I’ll join you in CIC,” Hayashi told Sheridan. “While we’re waiting, make sure everyone has a chance to top off from Savannah, not that we should need anything, but…yeah…I’m fidgeting. I’ll see you in twenty.”

“I’ll hold the fort, Maki,” Sheridan said before she ended the call.

There were times, Hayashi thought as she hung the kimono in the closet, that being friends with one of the brightest stars in the Fleet was a blessing…and a curse. This, she sighed, was one of them. If Nyx had been two days earlier into refit, she would have sailed with Admiral Bannasalle’s group to support the Communion against the Cylon attack, but…the yard fumbled and Nyx wasn’t ready until it was too late. Instead, His Grace, Charles Chase, the Duke of Westfield had visited her personally the day the yards released the battlestar and hand delivered a new set of orders signed off by Admiral Deguya.

And that was what had her and the other five ships in her group sitting in the middle of nowhere waiting for word that the end of the world as she knew it was in progress and that she was to then travel at best possible speed to a out of the way system and then wait.

Nineteen minutes after Hayashi ended the call with Sheridan, she walked into the CIC and formally took back control of the ship. Six minutes later, the world ended.

“Dradis contact!” Captain Annika Dawson announced. “Transponder confirms it’s Hammersley, Commander.”

“We’re being hailed,” Orlov announced. “Their ID is confirmed, Commander.”

“Thank you both,” Hayashi told the two officers. “Nina, please put Hammersley down here,” she asked, then added to Sheridan, “I want your ears on this, too, Foster.”

“Copy…” Sheridan said and appeared to maintain a stoic front.

Hammersley, this is Nyx Actual,” Hayashi stated formally.

Nyx Actual, Hammersley Actual,” a tense, male voice replied. “May we land, and then I will present you confirmation firsthand?”

“You have my approval, Actual,” Hayashi stated. “Mr. Gareth?”

Hammersley, Nyx Flight,” Captain Stephen T. Gareth, Stug to his friends, began and issued landing instructions for the Avedon Lines Regulator.

“Fos, I’m going down to the receiving gallery. As soon as Hammersley is down, start the jump clock so we can get started,” Hayashi told Sheridan. “Damn…” she shook her head and pursed her lips. “That was the hardest order I think I’ve ever given.”

“I know, Maki…” Sheridan said softly so that only Hayashi could hear him. “The sooner we get started, the sooner we can do what we need to do, and that will hopefully mean the sooner we can be responsible for an extinction level event perpetrated on the Cylons.”

Hayashi chuckled at Sheridan’s words. “I like how you think, Fos. Hold the fort, I’ll be back shortly.”

*+*+*+*+*

This was the part that always made Captain Nathan Thales feel like he was being swallowed by a whale or other large creature; watching as Hammersley entered a battlestar’s flight pod. Petty Officer Coxswain Jena Clifton deftly guided the ship into the pod’s opening and from there to the designated umbilical. Thales thought it would probably have been easier if he had just used a Raptor to transfer to Nyx, but since Commander Hayashi had given every indication that as soon as he was aboard that the group was going to jump, the decision was moot.

Thales sat back in his chair and watched through the flight deck’s viewports as the umbilical extended and thought back to the crew’s dashed hopes of having leave when they returned from accompanying Admiral Chase’s expedition. While the leave never happened, His Grace did say that he was making every effort to ensure that their families were safe from the coming, now happening, attack.

“We are secure and have a hard seal on the umbilical,” Lieutenant Meredith Kamen, Hammersley’s XO, announced and brought Thales back to the present.

“The ship is yours, X,” Thales said and released the harness that had held him in his seat. “I would suspect that we’re going to jump within a few minutes, so be ready for it. I’m not sure if we’ll navigate on our own or stay docked until we reach our destination, but I would suspect that after the first jump or two that we’ll be on our own.”

“The ship is mine,” Kamen replied and formally took command of the ship. “We have a lot of things we need to secure and stash, I thought they would never stop loading supplies before we left.”

“I think it was a result of knowing that if we didn’t take it that chances were we’d never be able to come back for it,” Thales replied and rolled his shoulders to work out the stress. “I’ll be back shortly,” he told Kamen and the rest of the flight crew.

Two minutes later, Thales was standing in front of the hatch that led to the primary receiving gallery. Once the hatch opened, he saw a dark-haired woman wearing a Fleet commander’s uniform. “Captain Nathan Thales, from Hammersley, permission to come aboard?

“Permission granted, Captain,” the woman replied. Once Thales had stepped onto the deck, she added, “I’m Commander Miyako Hayashi, welcome to Nyx.”

“Thank you, Commander,” Thales answered and offered his hand. “I wish we were meeting under different circumstances, but I bring news that the Cylon attack has begun and dispatches from both His Grace and Admiral Deguya.”

Hayashi took Thales’ hand and surprised him with the firmness of her grip. “And so it begins,” she said sadly. “From your body language, you don’t want to leave either?” Even though it put as a question, he realized that it was more of a statement of shared belief.

“No, Commander, I don’t,” Thales admitted and studied Hayashi’s countenance and realized that he would never, ever want to play cards with her. “However, I trust His Grace and Her Highness to have a plan and while we may be on the ropes for now, it won’t be forever, and we’ll be back.”

“That was my read as well,” Hayashi smiled and agreed. “We’ll make two quick jumps to get out of the Colonial Sphere and put some distance between us and here, then we’ll be able to launch Hammersley so she can navigate on her own.”

“Thank you; I wasn’t sure how long you’d have us blocking your flight deck,” Thales offered.

Hayashi’s countenance softened a little, “I’m as twitchy as you are having it blocked, though for different reasons. You can come with me to CIC or return to your ship, I anticipate the second jump happening in about half an hour.”

“With your permission, I’ll return to Hammersley and make sure we’re ready to launch when the time comes,” Thales said politely. “Before we left, we were stacked to the ceilings with supplies and I want to make sure that everything is stowed and secured in case we have to clear for action.”

“Completely understandable,” Hayashi told him. “Do you know where we’re going?”

Thales chuckled. “Well…I spoke with Captain Engels of Launcestron and he told me the most fantastic story…” His statement was interrupted by the announcement calling Nyx to set Jump Conditions and that a jump was imminent. “Anyway, he told me that he wouldn’t be surprised if we would be diving into a sun before this was over.”

“A sun?” Hayashi asked incredulously.

“He didn’t elaborate, but I’ve known him for quite a few years, and he was stone serious,” Thales explained. “So…I dunno…but…” he arched his eyebrows, “After my trip with Admiral Chase and what I saw firsthand…when it comes to things involving that family, I’ll believe just about anything.”

*+*+*+*+*

The crew that Commander Miyako Hayashi passed during her walk to the CIC all knew something was about to happen, they just didn’t know what. That’s something I’m going to have to rectify after the first jump, she told herself. Absently, she shook the envelope that Thales had given her before he returned to Hammersley. There were documents in it as well as two small boxes, assuming those were the two objects that shared the envelop with the documents.

“I have the con,” Hayashi said as she stepped into the CIC and looked at the expectant faces looking back at her. It was odd to be told two weeks out of refit that a Tiger Cruise was being planned and that rather than boarding the friends and family members at one of the massive orbital stations, that they’d arrive via express liner. “Have our guests arrived?” she asked Colonel Foster Sheridan.

“Right after you left to meet Hammersley,” Sheridan replied. “Ah…”

“What is it Foster?” Hayashi asked as used her pocketknife’s blade to slice open the envelope.

“It’s only two ships…but…it’s Empress Solana and Liberte…” Sheridan explained as if the two names were all the explanation necessary.

“Are you sure?” Hayashi asked reflexively and then shook her head, “Of course you’re certain…Empress Solana wasn’t due to start service until next week and Liberte was just accepted by CGI. I think this is going to be far worse than we thought.”

“What are those?” Sheridan asked as two blue velvet covered boxes slid out of the envelope as well as a sheaf of papers.

“Dunno…let me check…” Hayashi said and started reading the documents. “Well, first thing is that we need to change our first jump destination,” she frowned and handed the paper to Sheridan. “Mr. Dawson, Colonel Sheridan has a new destination for our first jump. Please plot it and push it out to the group and our new guests.”

“Copy, plot the new jump and push it out to the group,” Captain Annika Dawson replied and took the paper when Sheridan handed it to her.

“And…well…this is a surprise,” Hayashi chuckled. “Looks like I’ve been breveted to Commodore for the next ten days…”

“And then what?” Sheridan asked and narrowed his eyes.

“And then my promotion to Rear Admiral takes effect,” Hayashi replied. “Admiral Deguya added a note here that apologizes for the hoops, but he couldn’t push the promotion through without raising too many questions. It was dated two days ago, so…well, we know what’s going to happen and ‘raised questions’ are going to be the least of anyone’s worries.”

“Commodore?” Sheridan cocked his head and licked the edge of his upper lip with the tip of his tongue. “Why do that when ten days from now you’ll be automagically promoted?”

“Because it appears that our redirected jump will take us to rendezvous with Artemis and her group and Admiral Deguya didn’t want any dispute who was in charge.”

“Shit…she’s lifting the 10th MarDiv and if my memory is correct, she’s got some cross attached units from the Army and the Leonan Legion,” Sheridan offered. “That’s a lot of boots…”

“Yes…it is…” Hayashi agreed and studied the final document. “After the first jump, Foster, please inform all ships that I will be hosting a working luncheon and explaining our new orders.”

Sheridan put the paper he had been reading on the plotting table. “New orders?”

Hayashi leaned close and whispered, “We’re the lifeboat, Fos…” She looked at the orders and handed them to Sheridan. “It’s all there.”

*+*+*+*+*

_________________
Kurt

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PostPosted: Wed Jan 06, 2021 9:35 pm 
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Location: Battlestar Hecate BSG-94
Vignette 10: Missing Pieces (Part 2 of 3)

Earth Union, orbiting the gas giant Athena, Athens Station

Magnus Wilder sat in the lounge and gazed at Athena’s entrancing majesty through the floor to ceiling window which made up the outside wall. The lights were off, and the only illumination came from the brilliant gas giant several thousand kilometers distant. He slowly brought the ancient cut glass tumbler to his lips and sipped the smokey flavored alcohol while his mind tried to process everything that had happened over the past month or so.

That his brethren were corrupt, broken, and thoroughly evil went without saying. He had served with the drones as part of the Chrome Brigades, but he had never known what his fellow Equals were doing behind the scenes. He never knew that rather than simply turn the drones against their creators and cause a three-way civil war, the plan had always been to corrupt them and have them completely destroy the Earth Union and everyone who lived there.

When his friends, and after spending so many years with them he truly considered them that, friends, discovered that their code had been tampered with and done so in such a way that they would never realize it happened, the feeling of betrayal crossed racial lines; both drone and Equal felt betrayed. Worse, Magnus felt used and played as a sucker.

He may have been created as an Equal, but after meeting and speaking with Cassiopeia he realized that like her, she was a person without a country, an individual without a people. He may have been genetically homo sapiens aequalis, but he was no longer an Equal. He was simply Magnus Wilder, human. Just as Victor, Sappho, and his own beloved Briseis were human and no longer drones, so too had he embraced the shedding of his old identity and adoption of the new one.

“You look deep in thought, Mags,” Cassiopeia, who preferred to be called Cassarah, Old Cass, or just Cass, stated as she glided into the room from a darkened doorway.

“I am, Cass…” Magnus replied. “Have a seat?”

“Thank you, don’t mind if I do,” Cass snarked. “I think I know what you’re going through…I walked the same path a long time ago.”

“We started believing our own bullshit,” Magnus stated after several moments of silence.

Cass laughed. “That is perhaps the most succinct way I’ve heard it put, Mags. That was part of it,” she admitted and took the tumbler from his hand and raised it to her lips for a sip before giving it back. “It goes back before the 13th ever left Kobol, back to when we pretty much forced the gods, the very beings who gave us life, to leave their homes. But…enough of that, it’s all history and something we can’t change.”

“What do we do now?” Magnus asked rhetorically.

“Bingo. We can slowly bring the drones back into the fold,” Cass offered.

“How does that help us atone for what we did?” Magnus countered and realized that just like all the times in the past, Cass had finished his drink.

“It helps because we’re giving them what they’ve been denied for two thousand years – free will and self determination free from any programmed compulsions or directives,” Cass replied and turned to look out the window. “There is another option…”

“What’s that?” Magnus asked, genuinely curious what his old friend had to say.

“When the genocide happened, a lot of shipping was unaccounted for…a lot,” Cass started and paused.

“Define ‘a lot’, Cass,” Magnus asked.

“The best I can estimate is that several hundred ships, both military and civilian, followed the last order issued by the government; Emergency War Order Precipice,” Cass explained before turning to face him. “In fact, I believe you encountered some of them…”

“Yes…we did…Nemesis and some survivors from Neverwhere,” Magnus stated. “We knew there were survivors and were actively hunting them, but I didn’t realize the scope.”

“Realize it,” Cass chuckled. “Which brings us back to the point…a lot of people made it out.”

“And?” Magnus prodded her. “You wouldn’t have brought it up if you didn’t already have a plan…I think we were just the catalyst to get you jump started.”

Cass smiled and leaned over and gave him a peck on the cheek. “You always were my favorite, Mags…always so perceptive and willing to think before you acted. I do have an idea…but,” she held up her hand, “I’ve been here for the past two thousand years and essentially out of contact. We have some intercepts, and while the drones were here we eavesdropped as best we could, but we were always the mouse to their cat. What I need to know is whether Victor and the others will support the idea.”

“What is the idea?” Magnus asked. “I think they’d surprise you with their drive to do the right thing.”

“We join them. We…well, the drones directly and you and I indirectly, fulfill our purposes and help them,” Cass told him, her words full of emotion.

Magnus thought about the implications that Cass was suggesting. He was very much his own person, as were the drones, both those who had taken human bodies and those who had been ‘vaccinated’ against what had been done to them, but to willingly approach the people who feared and hated them…that would be asking a lot…from both sides.

“Assuming they agree, what do you propose doing…specifically?” Magnus prodded.

Cass sat back and folded her hands on her lap before she met his gaze. “We go to them…we take Athens Station and Electra’s Twins and go to the survivor’s destination.”

Before Magnus could answer, he heard Victor answer. “I think that is a great idea,” the ex-drone declared. “Wulfgar just informed me that an increasing number of our people on Shalim have transitioned to human bodies and I think that doing something positive, or at least trying, will help assuage the guilt that they’re feeling.”

“What do Sappho and Briseis think?” Magnus asked and realized that in the end, it wasn’t solely his decision to make, it was their decision as well.

“I thought you knew us better than that,” Briseis said warmly as she moved into the light cast by Athena and sat next to Magnus. “You helped us become human…you taught me what love is…succeed or fail, we must atone for what we were compelled to do.”

Magnus looked at the woman sitting next to him and slowly nodded. “I didn’t want to speak for you or anyone else, Bree…”

“I know…” Briseis told him and slipped her arm around his shoulders. “We have a chance to build something new…something that will benefit humanity – both those born and those…um…created. We would be remiss, and it would be a sin beyond comprehension if we didn’t take the effort and extend the hand of friendship and help.”

“Then I think you have your answer, Cass,” Magnus told Cass.

“It will take a few days to get things ready to travel, and if what you told me is true, we need to know where humanity has congregated so we have a destination,” Cass told them. “Do you think you could go ahead and determine where they are?”

“Magnus?” Sappho asked and spoke for the first time.

“I don’t think we could take Shalim and just show up…that might end badly for us,” Magnus stated.

“I have a ship that would fill the task…she was a yacht and blockade runner named Eclipse, a modified Vanguard class transport,” Cass offered. “The four of you could crew it, it would have plenty of range, and it’s more than big enough.”

“Well…ladies, Victor…we have a plan?” Magnus asked.

Victor nodded, “Yes, I believe we do.”

*+*+*+*+*

Beyond the Colonial Sphere, Colonial battlestar Nyx, BS-78

“Jump complete…all units are accounted for,” Captain Annika Dawson announced moments after Nyx jumped from the Cyrannus barycenter into deep space. “Wait one…” she quickly added as the dradis began pinging off more than just Nyx’s battlegroup. “Dradis contacts…I have thirteen confirmed civilian and eight Fleet as well as four Vipers pulling CAP…it’s Artemis, her group, and a lot of civilian shipping.”

Well, this makes it real, Commodore Miyako Hayashi thought to herself as she listened to the dradis ping off the new contacts. “Nina, please reach out to Artemis and confirm our and their bona fides and ask if Commander Dacre Knowles is available.”

Lieutenant J.G. Nina Orlov repeated the order and set to reach out to the other Colonial command ship.

“This should be interesting,” Colonel Foster Sheridan muttered and met Hayashi’s gaze.

“Come now, Fos…” Hayashi chuckled at Sheridan’s distress. “I’m sure Celandine can’t still be pissed at you for calling off the wedding.”

“Yeah, you’d think…” Sheridan shook his head and scowled. “I wasn’t even engaged to her! It was her cheating best friend that I was about to tie the knot with, she was just running interference for that ‘last fling and bit-o-strange’…”

“Speaking as a woman,” Hayashi smirked and arched her sculpted eyebrows, “I think she’s pissed at herself and Janice for putting her up to it and is just directing that anger to you.”

“You think? It’s one complication we really don’t need with what’s going on,” Sheridan replied.

“Commodore?” Orlov asked and interrupted their conversation, “I have Commander Knowles for you.”

“Thank you, Nina…please put it down here for both of us,” Hayashi replied and picked up the handset. When she heard the two beeps that it was active, she spoke, “Artemis Actual, Nyx Actual, you have a lot of civilians over there, Dacre.”

Nyx Actual, Artemis Actual,” Commander Dacre Knowles replied, “You could say that Maki…we were a little surprised ourselves when they all showed up about five hours ago.”

“Today is a day for a lot of surprises…and not all of them good,” Hayashi stated. “How much do you know about what’s happened and our mission?”

“I had a briefing last night and we sailed two hours later,” Knowles explained. “The briefing was rather, well, brief, and pretty much told us to come here, wait for the civvies with the Tiger Cruise participants, and that you’d be arriving a little later, though no specific time was given.”

Hayashi thought about what Knowles just told her and what he hadn’t said. “Dacre, I’m going to hold a working lunch in about an hour, I’d like to talk to you prior to that…so plan on coming over straightaway before the others.”

“I…” Knowles hesitated and sounded unsure. “Maki, we’ve heard some scuttlebutt…and all this is…highly unusual and unprecedented doesn’t even cover it.”

“Dacre…do you remember back at the academy that game we used to play…Turkey ran it on Saturday nights?” Hayashi asked.

“Yeah…it was that survival role playing game,” Knowles replied. “We had some fun with that.”

“It isn’t a game any longer,” Hayashi told him and confirmed the survival role playing game they used to play where the Cylons returned had become all too real.

Knowles was silent for a moment. “Frak me…” he swore, barely heard over the hisses and pops from the scrambled wireless connection. “I’m leaving now.”

“Thank you,” Hayashi replied. “Before you do…can you check with Colonel Tudor and ask if she still wants Foster Sheridan’s scalp to nail to her wall?”

To Hayashi’s ear it sounded like Knowles forced a laugh. “Is Fossie still worried about Celandine getting her pound of flesh because Janice couldn’t keep her legs closed?”

“It came up in conversation,” Hayashi told him and smirked at the look on Sheridan’s face.

“She just told me that she’s buried the knife and let it go,” Knowles told her. “It seems that Janice made a play for a guy she had been seeing for a couple weeks and well…I’ve learned never to get between two women with their claws out.”

“Fair enough…I’ll make sure Fos gets the word,” Hayashi replied. “I’ll see you soon, Nyx Actual out.”

“Well, that’s a relief…it’s the end of the world and she’s going to let bygones be bygones,” Sheridan chuckled.

“That’s one way to look at it. You have the con; I’m going to go make sure my briefing notes are ready and meet Dacre when he arrives. Please contact all ship commanders, military and civilian, and inform them that their presence is required for a commander’s call meeting in one hour,” Hayashi told Sheridan a moment before she rolled her shoulders and tried to work out the stress that seemed to have settled in them over the past few minutes.

“I have the con, aye,” Foster replied and then confirmed that he’d contact the other ships.

*+*+*+*+*

“Now you know what’s going on, what we’ll be doing, and why,” Commodore Miyako Hayashi told the Colonial Commander sitting on the other side of her desk.

“This is going to be a hard sell, Maki,” Commander Dacre Knowles told her. “They’re going to want to go back and fight.”

“I know…so do I,” Hayashi replied. “When I think about this and look at the cold equations and see what they’ve done to this other civilization…Dacre, we could be what keeps humanity alive and not become a cosmic footnote.”

“Yeah…I know that, and I know that even if we were there that there would be nothing we could do to change the big picture outcome…still,” Knowles sighed. “This feels like we’re running from the guns instead of to them.”

Hayashi nodded. “That’s because we are. When His Grace briefed me, I could see the concern in his eyes. The Cylons aren’t coming back to conquer, they’re coming back to exterminate. To that end, we’re not going to be going to our original destination, rather we’re going to head about 100 light years beyond the Colonial Sphere and wait for news.”

“What’s special about where we’re going?” Knowles asked. “And why only 100 light years, why not just keep going?”

“A couple reasons, most important is that the system has a primary similar to Thule,” Hayashi explained and saw confusion on Knowles’ face. “There’s something about that star that fraks with the Cylons. Even back during the Uprising, the few Cylons that made it to Thule system acted like they were stoned and had zero coordination. So…we’re going to use that to our benefit. The main world is temperate, friendly to human life and our animals, and has an abundance of resources.”

“I’m glad you’re going to be telling everyone that this is where we’re going,” Knowles said a few minutes later after Hayashi had fully explained the conditions where they were going.

“That’s why they made me a commodore…and in ten days a rear admiral,” Hayashi smirked.

“Ah…with rank comes the hard jobs!” Knowles said and glanced at the clock on the bulkhead. “It’s about time we gave them the bad news.”

“Yes…it is,” Hayashi replied and noted that Knowles included himself as one of the news-givers.

*+*+*+*+*

Aeolus Asteroid Belt, Helios Delta, asteroid known as “The Potato”

Fidel Lee, now wearing his old uniform as a Colonial Fleet major, sat in a corner of the reactivated asteroid settlement’s community mess hall. His meal sat in front of him and he idly picked at it with his fork as his mind tried to make sense of what happened and what the small group was going to do. By rank and service seniority, he was the default leader of the small group of survivors who had taken residence in the abandoned mining colony turned smuggler base.

“Are you going to eat it or mutilate it?” Chryseis Flores asked from where she sat across from him.

Her smile and lighthearted tone of voice caused him to look up and smile as well. “It’s an MRE…three lies for the price of one…I don’t think you can mutilate it any worse than it is when it comes out of the bag,” Lee chuckled. “I spoke Cotton earlier and he told me that the wireless has been silent for the past few days…it’s like we’re all that’s left.”

Chrys reached over and took his hand in hers, “Then don’t you think we should start living? The kids…” she smiled and gave his hand a squeeze, “the kids have been exploring and going non-stop until they’re exhausted. We adults…we have the weight of the world on our shoulders…I think we need to do something to lighten the mood, remind us all that we are alive and that we need to live, not just exist.”

Lee looked into Chrys’ eyes and slowly nodded at the logic within her argument. “What do you suggest?”

Chrys grinned and licked her lips. “I think we need to have a dance…on old fashioned barn dance, or as close as we can come given what we have here.”

“A dance?” Lee asked and thought about it for a moment. “Yes…I think that might work. We have more than enough people and I think that we might even be able to put together a scratch band if we want some live music.”

“Now you’re thinking!” Chrys exclaimed warmly. “That is for tonight. Let’s talk about tomorrow and the day after while we’re at it. What are we going to do?”

“We can probably salvage wrecks for supplies, but that puts everyone at risk,” Lee stated and ate some of his chicken and rice. “I have an idea, but it’s a long shot and I’ll need a volunteer crew to scope it out before we all go.”

“What’s that?” Chrys asked and leaned forward so that Lee wouldn’t have to talk as loud.

Lee looked around and made sure no one was within earshot before he began, “I remember my old boss, Admiral Trace, talking about Saga in Thule system…”

“I’ve heard of that place,” Chrys interrupted. “We had a concert booking there when we came off this tour. But when I looked it up, everything said that while it was a garden world, the amino acids or something like that wasn’t compatible with Colonial life.”

“According to Admiral Trace, that’s what everyone is supposed to think,” Lee explained, his voice barely above a whisper. “It goes back hundreds of years when Virgon wanted a place that was close, but where their nobles could go to get away from the hustle and bustle of life. They story goes that they started the ‘official story’ to help keep people away and soon it became the accepted truth.”

“But you’re not sure…” Chrys asked.

“Exactly,” Lee agreed. “So…we need to send someone there to check it out before we pull up stakes and all head over. For all we know they Cylons could be using it as a staging area and showing up would not be a ‘good thing’.”

“There’s Cotton and Ayana…let’s talk to them and see what they say,” Chrys suggested. “Then…we plan tonight’s dance!”

*+*+*+*+*

Captain Cotton Landry fell into his chair and took a deep breath before he turned to the woman who claimed the chair next to his. “Now that is dancing!” he exclaimed cheerfully. “None of that meat market club crap where you basically bounce up and down or rub against each other like you’re trying to frak on the dance floor, but real heart pumping dancing!”

“I have to admit,” Lieutenant Ayana Cologne said after she caught her breath, “that you might be right. I’ve never done line dancing or even square dancing, even though I was on Aerilon for a couple years. It’s nice not to be treated like a piece of meat.”

“See…I told you!” Landry chuckled and sipped his beer. A moment later Morgaine took the stage to do one of her songs.

“She’s attractive…and talented,” Cologne said, somewhat leadingly to Landry’s ear.

“She is…but she’s not you,” Landry replied and turned to Cologne before giving her a quick kiss. “You’re stuck with me, Ayana…everyone else who happens to be female is just that…female…you’re who I want as my lady.”

“I like that, Cotton…” Cologne replied.

“Good!” Landry smiled. “We better think about calling it a night if we’re going to jump off in the morning…I want everyone to be bright eyed and bushy tailed, whatever that means!”

“Look at that!” Cologne chuckled and pointed. “I think Carmen has competition to be Corey’s ‘girlfriend’!”

Landry looked where Cologne was pointing and couldn’t resist the urge to grin. Corey, one of the orphans and who had been ‘adopted’ by Fidel and Chrys, was bent over holding Major Bryan Wessex’s Virgon Terrier, Scarlett’s, paws, and dancing with the little black and tan dog. A moment later, Carmen, Lee’s niece, came over and took one of Corey’s hands and one of Scarlet’s paws and together the three ‘danced’ to Chrys’ singing.

“I want that,” Landry said after watching the dog and kids for several moments.

“A dog and kids?” Cologne asked and turned to look at Landry.

“Yeah…a family,” Landry replied. “I…I realize it’s way early to discuss this, Ayana, but…”

Cologne leaned over and hugged Landry. “I want it, too…very much.”

“You do?” Landry asked and looked into Cologne’s brown eyes. “With me?”

“Yes…with you,” Cologne told him and sealed it with a kiss. “Let’s talk to the Sisters…I know some of the other couples are adopting…let’s do it, too.”

“As soon as we get back from Thule tomorrow,” Landry whispered. “We’ll talk to Sister Miska. Maybe we can even get a dog.”

“And that’s why I’ve fallen in love with you, Cotton Landry,” Cologne whispered back before kissing him again.

*+*+*+*+*

Aeolus Asteroid Belt, Helios Delta, near the asteroid known as “The Potato”, Colonial Guard Cutter Wolverine

“Everyone ready?” Captain Cotton Landry asked as Wolverine drifted out of the enclosed hangar and into the crater on the asteroid’s surface.

“We’re ready, Cotton,” Lieutenant Ayana Cologne told him. “In fact, Jenks asked…”

“Hey, El Tee…” Petty Officer Jenks Morse said and cut into the intercom, “don’t pin that one on me! I distinctly remember you asking that question!”

Cologne chuckled. “Ok…ok…” she confessed, “guilty as charged.”

“Now that we have that out of the way,” Landry sighed, “Prepare to jump the ship…Ayana, give the count…”

“We will jump in 10…9…8…7…6…” Cologne began as Landy guided Wolverine to a point several hundred meters above the crater’s floor. “…3…2…1…Jump!”

The jump was like every other jump that Landry had performed; the contraction and expansion along with the associated infinite instant where time seemed to slow and then stop before restarting, and then a flash of silver light outside the cockpit windows and they had traveled several light years to someplace new.

“Jump complete…secure from Jump Conditions,” Cologne said over the intercom as Landry checked the navigation system to make sure they were where they were supposed to be.

“Jenks…anything on wireless?” Landry asked.

“Wait one…” Morse replied. “We’re being hailed…passing it to you, boss!”

“Attention, ship that just jumped into Saga’s #5 inbound transit box, identify yourself or you will be fired upon…” a female voice demanded.

“This is Colonial Guard Cutter Wolverine, Captain Cotton Landry commanding,” Landry replied and thanked the gods that the voice sounded human and not mechanical. “We are transmitting our ID codes…”

Several long moments passed before the voice spoke again, “Welcome to Saga, Captain Landry. This is flight control from the battlestar Nike, please hold your position until your escort arrives and they will bring you through the outer markers.”

“Copy…wait until the escort arrives, Nike Flight,” Landry replied. Switching to the intercom he told the crew, “Looks like we still hold the system; I just spoke with Nike and they’re sending an escort.”

“Dradis contacts!” Morse suddenly announced. “They just jumped in, Boss!”

Wolverine, this is Deuces Wild, Flight Captain Drake Clauser commanding. Please move to the center of our formation and we will escort you to the battlestar Stheno for reception,” Clauser stated.

“Copy, we’ll fall into formation…” Landry said and looked through the cockpit windows and narrowed his eyes at what he saw. “Ah…Deuces Wild…just who and what are you?” he asked when he saw the unknown craft flying off his port wing. It was an elongated diamond shape, more than twice as long as Wolverine, and had two rather large turrets pointed in his direction.

“Short version of a very long story…” Clauser began, “We’re from the Meropian Communion and are working with the Colonial Fleet…the Cylons did to us what they did to you…three days earlier.”

“Da frak?” Landry whispered. “Ayana?”

Cologne shrugged. “I don’t know who they are…I’ve heard of the 13th Tribe, but never heard about this Meropian Communion.”

“Ah…ok…” Landry transmitted. “We’ll just follow your lead.”

“That would be advisable,” Clauser replied. “Too many have perished to lose more due to blue on blue.”

Fifteen minutes later Landry saw a ship grow in size as they approached; it had a similar design concept as what he’d seen all his life, but the shapes and colors were all wrong. “Attention, Wolverine, this is Stheno flight control, please approach our port flight deck. Please ensure that your fire control dradis is off; any activation will result in us immediately firing upon you without warning.”

“Copy, Stheno Flight,” Landry replied. “Fire control dradis will be fully off and we will approach your port flight deck.”

“Confirmed, Wolverine,” Flight answered. “Once inside you will be directed where to land and from there you can approach an airlock.”

“Copy,” Landry replied and guided Wolverine into Stheno’s cavernous portside landing bay. Once inside, he saw someone with ground director’s wands and followed the commands where to land Wolverine.

Wolverine, this is Lieutenant Malloy, before you enter the receiving gallery, I must warn you that if you or any of your crew are an Equal or an Equal rider inhabiting a host, you must inform me now. Additionally, if you or any of the people aboard your craft are Cylons, you must inform me now.”

“Ah…Lieutenant,” Landry replied, “I wouldn’t know what an Equal was if I saw one, and I am pretty sure none of my crew know what they are, either. I will tell them. As for Cylons…It’s kind of hard to hide a robot among humans…”

*+*+*+*+*

Lieutenant Ayana Cologne felt her blood run cold when she heard Lieutenant Malloy’s announcement. Her heart broke when she heard Landry’s reply.

“Cotton…” she said and gently placed her hand on his arm.

“What is it?” Landry said and turned to look at Cologne. His eyes went wide when she handed him her sidearm, butt first.

“I need to talk to Lieutenant Malloy,” Cologne said and took a deep breath before switching to the wireless. “Lieutenant Malloy, this is Lieutenant Ayana Cologne…I…I am an Eight.”

“Copy, Lieutenant,” Malloy replied. “Please exit first and come through the airlock. You will be detained in the gallery until we can resolve this.”

“Thank you, Lieutenant,” Cologne said and released the buckles that held her in her seat. “Remember, Cotton…always remember that I love you,” she said before she stood and left the flight deck.

It wasn’t a long walk, but to Cologne it felt like it took forever to reach Wolverine’s hatch. “Let me get that for you,” Landry said from behind her.

Cologne turned and saw Landry standing behind her, Morse behind him, and the rest of the crew stacked in the passage. “But…”

“You’re one of us, Ayana,” Landry told her. “You were with us when this went down, you helped save those people on the Potato, your actions speak for themselves.”

“Cotton…” Cologne whispered as she felt tears form in her eyes.

“And…” Landry put his hands on her shoulders, “we have an appointment with Sister Miska later today. Does this change that?”

“Not for me…” Cologne managed to say.

“Good…” Landry gave her shoulders a squeeze and let go. “We…we will see what’s going on…together.”

“So say we all,” Morse said a moment before the rest of the crew repeated the oath.

“So say we all,” Landry told her.

“Thank you…” Cologne said and stepped down the steps onto Stheno’s flight deck. With the man she loved and her friends behind her, she felt a newfound sense of belonging. They knew she was Cylon and still, they supported her.

“Please raise your hands,” Lieutenant Malloy said as she stepped from the airlock into the receiving gallery. Once she raised them, he used a wand and quickly ran it up and down her body. “Do you have any weapons on you?”

“Just my survival knife…I gave my sidearm to Captain Landry,” Cologne replied and indicated where the knife was located.

“Captain?” Malloy asked and a moment later Landry removed the knife from her harness. “Thank you. Now…if you’ll all have a seat…this is…well, the one other time we have encountered a Cylon that came in with others, this same thing happened…and she was an Eight, too.”

“There are others?” Landry asked.

“Lieutenant…if I may?” Cologne asked. When Malloy nodded, she continued and looked not just at her crew and the Communion Marines that were in the gallery with her, but at Landry. “Where you have ethnicities, we have…models I guess is the best word for it. We all look alike except for hair color, style, whether we work out, etc. I am an Eight,” she said sadly.

“But are you an individual?” a voice asked from the hatch that led deeper into the ship.

“Commander on deck!” a Marine shouted and everyone snapped to attention.

“At ease…we don’t need any more tension than there already is,” a statuesque blonde woman said as she entered followed by three other officers, one a Colonial Commodore, one a Colonial commander, and woman who wore a uniform Cologne had never seen before.

“Sister,” the blonde said comfortingly, “are you an individual?”

“Yes, I am,” Cologne answered, her voice regaining some of its strength.

“And your orders…” the blonde pressed.

“I repudiate them…I choose to be me, Lieutenant Ayana Cologne, Colonial Guard,” Cologne replied.

“Welcome, sister,” the blonde smiled. “I am Tanith Basilan and like you, I made a choice to be who I want to be.”

“Ah…I don’t want to be rude…” Landry said, and Cologne felt his presence next to her.

“Forgive my manners,” Tanith answered. “This is Commander Eric Malan,” she gestured at the Colonial commander and it was clear to Cologne that Tanith felt about him the way she felt about Landry. “And this is Commodore Vannevar Bovee and Commander Bronwyn Elliot, this is Commander Elliot’s ship. You were fortunate that we were having a late breakfast when you arrived, or this might have been much more…tense.”

“I’m glad no one has been shot,” Landry said and arched his eyebrows. “But…what happens now?”

“Well…for one, we need to talk with Lieutenant Cologne, and at the same time interview each of you,” Commodore Bovee said and looked at Cologne before sweeping his gaze over Wolverine’s crew. “The really good news is that no one was an Equal or rider…you never would have gotten in here alive. Bronwyn, we’re going to need to let Admiral Chase know about this and depending on her schedule, we should be able to resolve this by midafternoon.”

“So quickly?” Cologne asked without thinking.

“Yes…though the first few days are going to require you be supervised,” Bovee explained. “Tanith will talk with you, then I’m sure Admiral Chase will want to talk to you, and then we’ll see.”

“Thank you,” Cologne told him. “I won’t waste this chance.”

“A lot has happened, sister…a lot has changed…” Tanith told her. “We are…you might say we’re waking up and deciding to do the right thing.”

“Ayana has done the right thing for as long as I’ve known her…especially over the past few days,” Landry said as she felt his hand slip into hers.

*+*+*+*+*+

_________________
Kurt

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Location: Battlestar Hecate BSG-94
Vignette 10: Missing Pieces (Part 3 of 3)

Latium system, Latium, capital world of the Titanic Dominion, gunstar Eurytion

“Oscar, please send our greetings and identification to traffic control,” Commander Trevan Corinth told the communications Petty Officer manning the communications console.

“Copy, send our greetings and identification to traffic control,” Specialist Oscar Walker replied and moved to complete the task.

“Commander?” Captain David Peakes half questioned and half stated. “I’m reading a lot less traffic than there should be and a whole lot of hash that wasn’t there when we left.”

“We’re still quite a ways out from the mainworld, could that be it?” Corinth asked, deep down knowing that wasn’t the cause.

“No…I don’t think so…there would be navigation beacons around ‘stuff’…what I’m getting the odd pings from,” Peakes replied.

“Commander, I have Traffic Control on the wireless,” Walker announced. “Sir…you’re going to want to talk to them.”

“Down here, please,” Corinth said and picked up the handset. “This is Commander Trevan Corinth, commanding Eurytion,” he said and waited for an answer.

“Commander, this is Director Maccabee, it’s good that you’re back,” Director Abraham Maccabee stated. “We are currently operating under a state of emergency…twelve days ago unknown ships jumped into the system, refused all communications, and then launched an unprovoked attack.”

“Slow down, Abe…take it from the top,” Corinth suggested. “Twelve days ago, ships just jumped into orbit?”

“Yes,” Maccabee replied. “They jumped in at the moon’s L5 point, then launched their attack. They hit everything, thankfully they only used kinetics on our surface and lunar sites. After we managed to rally what we could crash sail, they broke things off and jumped out. We were able to capture one of their ships…Trevan…most of the crew wasn’t human.”

*+*+*+*+*

This wasn’t the homecoming Cronus expected or even hoped for. The Titanic Dominion lay in ruins with its population centers shattered by orbital bombardment, its fleet anchorages destroyed, and the very specters that primitive cultures feared, plague and famine, threatening to run rampant through the surviving population.

“Tell me about this ship that was captured, Vindictive,” Cronus told Menoetius who had managed to survive the attack on the capital.

Menoetius, a tallish, somewhat gangly man with a full head of dark hair and wearing an impeccably tailored suit, sat still and glanced at his notes. “It is smaller and somewhat more fragile than any of our battlestars, and while it doesn’t carry the guns ours do, what it does carry can fire quicker.”

“It’s obvious we can beat them, what I want to know is about the ship…the crew, how it operates,” Cronus stated and stopped Menoetius’ rather bland and technical explanation.

“Ah…the crew…” Menoetius hesitated and his eyes glanced at the others sitting in the conference room; Commander Trevor Corinth, Pallas, Nautilus, and Alcyoneus. “A fair portion were human, but the majority were not…they were some sort of human and animal hybrid. We’ve identified feline, canine, ursine, and procyonid hybrids.”

“Frak, it’s him,” Pallas swore. “You were right, Nautilus…”

Nautilus nodded and looked at Cronus, “We need to do the right thing.”

“Yeah…” Cronus frowned. “That’s what pisses me off; I was getting into the idea of dealing with family matters and now Goren pops up like a bad penny. Speaking of which,” he turned to Menoetius and transfixed him with his gaze, something that caused the other man look at his notes, “Just how did Goren find us?”

“Ah…I have no idea, M’Lord,” Menoetius formally replied. “He could have picked up our transmissions, or any one of a number of possibilities.”

“Yes…that’s possible,” Cronus agreed. “But I’ve learned that results from random chance tend to be much rarer than simple human treachery.”

“Wh…what do you mean?” Menoetius asked.

“Well, earlier today when we went down to the surface to inspect the rescue and recovery operations, everyone we met at the command center was…well…they looked like they had just fought a war…even knowing I was going to show up. And yet, when you show up, you’re well groomed, not a hair out of place, and your suit looks like it just came back from the tailor’s or dry cleaner’s. So…” Cronus paused for a moment and watched several beads of sweat appear along Menoetius’ hairline, “how do you explain that?”

“I…I wanted to show the proper respect,” Menoetius quickly explained.

“And did you think I’d be happy when I found out you allowed Epiphron to conduct his experiments?” Cronus asked and completely changed the subject.

Menoetius’ eyes went wide, and he took several quick breaths. “M’Lord…” he swallowed as Cronus saw more sweat appear on his forehead. “I thought that it would help the cause.”

“You *thought* that it would help *my* cause, knowing full well my thoughts on telepaths?” Cronus pressed, his voice coming out as an angry growl.

“Well…yes…” Menoetius stuttered. “They have been a big help with several cases.”

“Then you won’t mind if I have Epiphron’s witches give you the once over to determine your duplicity in what happened?” Cronus asked, his voice suddenly back to normal.

“No…yes…yes, I mind,” Menoetius stated and started to stand but only made it part way out of his chair before Alcyoneus’ hands pushed his shoulders down and him back into the chair. “How?”

“The guilty always focus on the person who is exposing them and never watch what the other people in the room are doing,” Alcyoneus whispered into his ear.

“You have a couple options, Menoetius,” Cronus began and looked over at Pallas and Nautilus who both nodded. “First, you come clean and tell us everything you know about Goren, his contacts, who he or his agents have worked with, and what he promised you. Second, I give you to Epiphron’s witches and you may or may not come out of it with your mind intact. Third, I just tell Pallas and Alcyoneus to…discuss…this with you. In respect for what you’ve done while I’ve been away, I’ll let you make the choice…you have five seconds…or I will make it.

“One.

“Two.”

“Three.” Cronus watched Menoetius start to shake and what had been beads of sweat was now starting to turn into rivulets.

“Four.”

“Ok…Option 1…” Menoetius finally said and seemed to deflate and shrink into the seat.

“There now, that was easy,” Cronus smiled and felt like the cat who had just turned a mouse to give up his comrades.

*+*+*+*+*

“Do you believe him?” Corinth asked an hour later.

“Mostly, but I think he’s still holding out on something,” Cronus replied. “That’s why this was all preliminary. Now it’s time for Pallas and Alcyoneus to play Bad Gods to my Good God.”

“Oh, goody…” Pallas grinned. “Do you want to draw to see who plays Badder God?” he asked Alcyoneus.

“No…you always cheat so I’ll let you have that role,” Alcyoneus replied laconically.

“Don’t have too much fun,” Cronus chuckled. “And I want to make sure he’s in condition for a public execution.”

“We’ll be thorough and as gentle as possible,” Pallas offered. “Are you going to watch?”

“No…” Cronus shook his head. “I’m going to meet with some of the crew members that were captured and try to get a read on their thoughts about all this.”

“That’s…” Nautilus cocked his head, “That’s almost like She Who Shall Not Be Named…”

Cronus laughed. “You can say her name, old friend. She might have killed me, but I have to admit, I deserved it after what I did to her.”

“Who are you and what did you do to Cronus?” Pallas asked and tried to keep a straight face. “Are you…softening?”

“No, I’m just coming to terms with what was done and I’m asking if it was the right thing,” Cronus admitted. “But this is a discussion for another day. Now…now it’s time to talk to some people.”

*+*+*+*+*

At least I’m not in a cage, Cerdic thought as he stretched out on the bed that was bolted to the cell wall. There was a fair bit of space between the soles of his feet and the bed’s end which allowed him to fully stretch out. In the cell across the hall, Bogger was curled up and trying to keep his bulk on the bed.

“Cerd…” Bogger’s deep voice rumbled from the cell. “You up?”

“Yeah…I’m up, Bogger,” Cerdic replied and turned to fully face his best friend who was a few meters away. “What’s up?”

“I’m getting worried,” Bogger said and slowly sat up. His legs were slightly shorter than human normal and his torso just a little longer, and his wide head, thick lips, and large nose coupled with the dark brown fur that covered his body showed that somewhere in his family tree was ursine stock.

“So am I,” Cerdic said and sat up, making sure his long fluffy tail didn’t bend the wrong way. “If they off us, I hope it’s quick,” he added. “Not like how it would be at home.”

Silence descended on the two friends for several long minutes before Bogger broke the silence. “If they worked so hard to create us, why did they treat us so poorly?”

“Because Prometheus is a bitter, broken, egotistical, jackass with a little man complex,” a voice said from the door.

Both Cerdic and Bogger both made the sign of protection from the blasphemy they just heard and turned to look at the speaker. “Who are you that speaks like that of Lord Prometheus?”

“I’m the guy that hired the prick for his first job out of college and was dumb enough not to fire his ass when I caught him banging his secretary,” Cronus said and walked into the hallway between the cells. “I’m Cronus, I’m sure he’s got you believing that I’m some sort of boogie man that would bar-b-que or stir fry you alive before I ate you.”

The blasphemy scared Cerdic and yet at the same time, it was delivered so confidently that he had to wonder whether it might be true. “You and all of the imposter gods are reviled as evil and wanting to destroy us.”

“Yeah, about that,” Cronus said and opened a folding chair and spun it around so he could sit on it and rest his folded arms on its back. “I’ll admit that I’ve been a bastard in the past, sometimes for good reason and sometimes just because I felt like it, but that was then, this is now. Now I’m looking at a civilization that was attacked without reason and pretty much destroyed. What was your part in all of it?”

Cerdic looked through the cell bars at Bogger and saw his friend nod. “I was an electronics technician on Vindictive, Bogger was a maintenance tech. Neither of us had an option to do something else; we were created, trained, and given our jobs. Anyone that resisted or upset the system was taken away.”

“Taken away?” Cronus asked and leaned forward.

“Yes, sir, taken away,” Bogger answered. “We never see them again and the rumor is that they’re killed and recycled.”

*+*+*+*+*

“Recycled?” Cronus asked and prayed it wasn’t what he thought it was.

“We don’t believe that we’re ever…served…someone of our species,” Cerdic slowly replied. “But it’s believed that they’re…recycled…into food for the other strains.”

“Mo-ther frak-er,” Cronus swore and forced himself to think of something happy. Unbidden, a memory of taking his son to the park to feed the ducks came to mind and he felt the walls he had built millennia before slowly start to weaken. The thought wasn’t one he expected, but it was welcome.

“What do you think I’m going to do to you? Or order done to you?” he finally asked.

“We’ve made our peace…we expect to be killed. Horribly or easily, we don’t know, but that’s what we expect,” Cerdic explained, his voice telling the tale how defeated he felt.

“Bogger? Is that what you expect?” Cronus asked.

Slowly, deliberately, Bogger nodded. “It’s all we know. Failure is death and success is life.”

“Frak…Goren…you have become one sick and twisted frakker,” Cronus swore, his voice barely above a whisper. “Do you know what parole is?” he finally asked.

“No…” Cerdic answered.

Cronus nodded. “Ok…simply put, parole is where I ask for your promise to not work against me, try to escape, try to sabotage anything, and in general, be my friend instead of my enemy, and in response, I agree to give you your freedom, make sure you have the necessities, and so on.”

“You mean you won’t kill us?” Bogger asked.

“No…it wouldn’t help anyone, and you’d be dead,” Cronus said and stood. “So…do you give me your parole?”

Cronus watched as Cerdic, he had trouble referring to him as that, given his resemblance to a character he once watched at the cinema, and Bogger shared a long look. “Yes, I give you my parole,” Cerdic said followed a moment later by Bogger giving it as well.

“Good…let’s get you guys out of here,” Cronus told them as he stood and snapped his finger. A moment later, the cell door locks clicked before the doors slid open. “First up, we need to get you some appropriate clothes, next something decent to eat. For the foreseeable future, you’ll be working with me and helping me learn about Vindictive and whatever Prometheus has created.”

“Thank you,” Bogger said and turned his head, exposing his neck.

“What’s that?” Cronus asked. “This is going to be a learning process for all of us, so we’ll have a lot of questions.”

“It’s a sign of respect…like how humans shake hands,” Cerdic offered and did the same. “We’re baring our neck…giving you the opportunity to end us should you want.”

“First thing…no more of that,” Cronus sighed. “We’re going to work together; I’m not going to rip out your throat. Ok?” He offered his hand.

Cerdic slowly extended his hand and Cronus watched as it looked like a child’s hand in his. After they shook, he offered it to Bogger and grinned, this time things were switched around and his hand disappeared in Bogger’s.

“C’mon, let’s get something decent to eat and then we’ll start working on making sense of all this,” Cronus said and led the two chimeras out of the cell block.

*+*+*+*+*

Latium system, Latium, capital world of the Titanic Dominion, Colonial battlestar Gullfaxi, BS-127

“We’re being hailed, Commander,” Specialist Bill Breen announced. “It’s Latium Traffic Control.”

“Please put it down here, Bill, and then send them our credentials,” Commander Phillip Brecon replied and picked up the handset. A moment later he heard the characteristic two beeps that signified the handset was connected. “This is the Colonial battlestar Gullfaxi, Commander Phillip Brecon commanding.”

Gullfaxi, Latium Control,” a female voice replied. “We have you and four other ships on dradis, is this correct?”

“Affirmative, three are my escorts and one is a resupply ship,” Brecon answered. “Ah…we’re seeing a lot of anomalous dradis readings…is everything ok?”

“Copy on the group composition,” Control replied. “Ah…negative on things being ok. Please hold station and the Director or his representative will be dispatched to brief you.”

“Copy, Control, we will hold position,” Brecon said and put the handset back on its cradle. “Wes, I’m thinking that right about now the frying pan is looking a lot more appealing than the fire.”

“I hear you on that, Phil,” Colonel Wes Paddington agreed. “We should have stayed…”

“Yeah…I know…” Brecon replied and pursed his lips. “I’m thinking we should have, too. However, that’s water under the bridge, we need to focus on making the best of what we have here.”

“Understood,” Paddington replied. “Ah…I had a look at what the optics found…it looks like someone whacked them within the last week or so. The odd readings are debris in orbit, and it looks like most of their orbital platforms are either breaking up or getting ready to do so.”

Brecon considered what Paddington told him and had to set aside his first instinct to head back to the Colonies. The problem with that plan, he thought, was that it was likely the Colonies were in much worse shape than the Dominion was currently and from what he had learned about the Cylon plan, they wouldn’t stop until they had laid waste to the worlds. So, good idea or not, they were going to stay in the Dominion for now.

It took half an hour before Flight Control hailed them again and let them know that a representative was on their way to welcome them to the Dominion and direct them to a stable orbit.

*+*+*+*+*

“I am Nautilus,” the uniformed man said after he was piped aboard Gullfaxi. “This is Colonel Marina Sanborn who will be your direct contact from this point forward. I was led to believe that there would be more of you coming to join us…”

“We were the second of three groups that were going to leave,” Commander Phillip Brecon explained. “The first group left about 12 hours before us, then us, and then the bulk of the combat assets…” he allowed his voice to trail off.

“And?” Nautilus picked up on the hesitation. “What aren’t you telling me?” he prodded.

“It is my belief that Admiral Gaitlin and the assets that had not left when we did, were going to stay behind and defend the Colonies from the Cylon attack,” Brecon stated slowly and then sighed.

“You wish you would have stayed with them?” Nautilus asked.

“Yes…I do. They were my countrymen who never did anything to me, despite my faith being outlawed,” Brecon told Nautilus. “I took an oath to defend them and I…all of us, failed to uphold it.”

“Honoring an oath can take many forms,” Nautilus offered and smiled, “Some of them are ways we never would have considered.”

“What do you mean?” Brecon pressed. “We were needed, we left…”

“We will discuss that in a few moments,” Nautilus said and indicated the discussion was over for now. “What I would like to discuss is what are the current conditions of your ships. Lord Cronus has tasked me with managing a delicate operation and you, Commander, may be vital to its success.”

“Anything we can do, sir, just let us know what it is,” Brecon said.

“Good…for now, please…I’d like a tour for myself and Colonel Sanborn and then we can discuss the future.”

*+*+*+*+*

“You know this is crazy,” Colonel Wes Paddington said before he took another bite from his sandwich.

“Tell me something that’s been sane since we activated Gullfaxi,” Commander Phillip Brecon countered and arched his eyebrows. “I won’t disagree, this does have a serious element of crazy to it, but what else are we going to do? You saw the same post-strike recon that I did; even though no nukes were used, the planet’s infrastructure is completely destroyed, most of their shipping is damaged or worse, and they already have several outbreaks of cholera and dysentery, and food riots have started in some places.

“This gives us a chance to do something right…”

Paddington sat back and frowned. “I’m concerned what will happen to us, Phil. Will they even listen? Most of them probably think we sold them out to the Cylons and would likely shoot first and ask questions later.”

“Perhaps…” Brecon agreed. “Perhaps not. It all depends who is in charge when we get there. If it’s Corman or Nagala, we’re frakked; they’re competent enough peace-time leaders, but when it comes to war? I think I’d rather be an NPC in a first-person shooter than have them call the shots.”

“Ouch…I’ve heard them damned before, but Phil…tell me what you really think…” Paddington chuckled.

“I have it on good authority that both of them were warned about the Cylon return and neither one did anything, nor did they even tell the President to let him make the call,” Brecon explained angrily. “If they’re in charge and we return, they’ll know we know the truth.”

“So…we hope that they aren’t in charge,” Paddington suggested. “No matter what, if we return, we’re going to have a lot of questions to answer…”

Brecon nodded. “Yeah…but at least we’ll be among our own.”

The two old friends continued eating in silence until Paddington grinned, “The ‘representative’ that Nautilus is sending back with us…wow!”

“Aye, she is certainly attractive,” Brecon agreed. “But remember, Sandy has a sharp knife and knows how to use it!”

“Just because I’m married doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy looking,” Paddington chuckled. “Besides, I think she was giving you the eye…the ultimate strange, so to speak!”

“Man…how did you land a lady like Sandy? I am constantly amazed how your mind can go to places like that and she still said yes,” Brecon shook his head.

“There’s a lot you don’t know about your little sister!” Paddington wagged his eyebrows.

“Ok…Too Much Information! My little sister is as pure as fresh snow…and don’t ever try to get me to think otherwise!” Brecon laughed. “Anyway, once everyone has topped off from Laurel Highlands, we’ll make ready to leave. Colonel Sanborn will be returning in about an hour, so this will be a rather short port call.”

*+*+*+*+*

Earth Union, orbiting the gas giant Athena, Athens Station

“The ship is yours, Wulfgar,” Victor told the stocky, sandy haired man who wore a grey uniform similar to what the Earth Union’s officers wore. “Ideally, we’ll be back within a month, hopefully within three weeks, but if we aren’t back in two months…”

“I know,” Wulfgar replied and put his hand on Victor’s shoulder. “We’ll listen to what Old Cass has to say and follow her guidance.” He paused and offered a smile, “But I know you’ll be back and be back with good news.”

“How do you know that?” Victor asked skeptically.

“Call it a combination of faith, hope, and applied logic,” Wulfgar chuckled. “And…Carmentis told me that it would happen.”

“Carmentis?” Victor said, the name coming out as both a question and a statement.

Wulfgar nodded and offered a broad smile. “She told me that you and the others would be ‘traveling to parlay with our creators, meeting our cousins, and returning with good tidings’.”

“We have truly become human when one has the gift of prophecy,” Sappho said as she stepped next to Victor. “This gives me hope, Carmentis was always cautious, careful, and meticulous with her planning and was never one given to hyperbole or exaggeration.”

“Then it sounds like we start with auspicious omens,” Victor said and offered his hand to Wulfgar. “Ten weeks, old friend…until then.”

“Until then, my friend,” Wulfgar replied and shook his hand.

*+*+*+*+*

“Everything is loaded and secured; we’re good to go,” Briseis said as she slid into one of the seats on Eclipse’s flight deck. “We have food for six months, emergency rations for another twelve…I think Cass was showing her motherly instincts by making sure we had everything.”

“That’s Cass,” Magnus chuckled and several warm memories of the first Equal came to mind. “She’s very human in that way, how she cares. It’s what made her a pariah among some of my kind.”

“Well, whatever it is, I like it,” Briseis told him and looked through the flight deck’s windows where Victor, Sappho, and Wulfgar were talking. “Do you think we’ll be successful?” she asked, her voice and mood turning serious.

Magnus nodded. “I do…based on what I’ve read about the Colonies and the current state of the Communion leaders, I think they’ll be willing to at least listen. When it comes to the Earth Union…that’s going to be the tough sell. For them, what we did was only a couple years ago, so we’re going to have to be honest, speak plainly and without playing word games, and present our evidence as to what we found. My gut tells me that they’ll understand what happened and while they may not be happy, or even comfortable at first, I think the resources that we offer will be enough to at least get them to consider the offer.”

“That was how I kind of saw it, but with a lot less chance of success,” Briseis replied. “Can we really atone for what we did?”

“That isn’t for me to answer,” Magnus said after thinking about the question for a few moments. “I know we can try; we can explain what happened and why, and the humans that I knew, the parents, wouldn’t discipline their child if they did something wrong if they weren’t in control. Consider this, Bree, you have a car and are driving down the road. Suddenly, the car speeds up, the steering locks, and the brakes cease working…you slam into café full of people having lunch. To someone viewing this tragedy, they would assume that you were doing this willingly – you willingly rammed your car into the café to kill as many people as possible.

“Yet, when the truth comes out and it is discovered that you had no control over what happened, they wouldn’t hold you responsible. Yes,” Magnus nodded and frowned, “They may still blame you for being in the car, for driving to a point where the car could be turned into a weapon, and so on, but deep down they would know you were a victim, too. That, my beloved, is what I’m putting my faith in.”

“If it’s good enough for you, it’s good enough for me,” Briseis told him and looked over at the hatch to the flight deck. “You two ready?”

“We are,” Victor replied. “We’re still going to run 30 jumps a day, every half hour for 15 hours, then cruise the other nine hours?”

“Yeah, I think that’s the best plan,” Magnus replied and stood. “That will have us all on deck at the same time while making sure that we all remain rested and don’t have to deal with trying to sleep through a jump. Everything ok with Wulfgar?”

Victor chuckled. “Yeah, I think he’s adapting to being human and I’m glad that he, Carmentis, and Cass have become friends; she will help him the way you helped us.”

Magnus couldn’t restrain the laugh that burst forth and caused Victor to narrow his eyes. “What did I say?” Victor asked.

“I think that Wulfgar and Carmentis are going to have a rather…unique…education and some interesting stories to tell, if they’re in the ‘kiss and tell’ mood,” Magnus replied and wiped his eyes. “When Cass gets going, her…appetite…is pretty voracious.”

Victor cocked his head and looked at Sappho, then his eyebrows slowly arched, and his eyes went wide, mimicking Sappho’s. “You mean…”

“I do…I hope your boy takes his vitamins,” Magnus continued to chuckle and moved to the pilot’s seat.

“Perhaps he would prefer to go in our place,” Victor grinned.

“No…down, big guy!” Sappho playfully smacked his shoulder. “Focus on the mission…and me!”

“Always,” Victor chuckled and took the co-pilot/navigator’s seat. “You have the first jump plotted?”

“Ready to go,” Magnus said and checked the ship’s schematic and verified that all hatches and portals were sealed and airtight. “I see the landing bay hatches are opening, so let’s prepare to launch.”

Five minutes later, with Electra’s Twins and Athens Station both backlit by Athena, Victor counted down the jump clock, “We will jump in five…four…three…two…one…now!”

*+*+*+*+*

Within the coronal atmosphere of Niflheim, 49.7 light years from the barycenter of the Cyrannus star cluster, Colonial battlestar Aurora, BS-92

“Sullivan,” Commodore Francis Sullivan said as he picked up the handset and answered the buzzing intercom.

“Commodore, we’re being hailed by Stella Falante, a CGI special missions ship,” Lieutenant J.G. Ernestine Gallo, explained. “Their credentials check out and Captain Farje says they bring urgent dispatches for your review.”

“Ok…guess we better roll out the welcome mat for them, eh Ernie?” Sullivan replied and arched his back, stretching in his chair. “Please have Captain Farje brought to my quarters when she arrives.”

“Copy, roll out the welcome mat and bring her to you,” Gallo replied.

“This wasn’t part of the game plan,” Sullivan muttered to himself and then looked over where Shadow was spread out on the top platform of her climbing tree. “Best behavior, young lady!” he told the little raccoon and was answered by a yawn.

Ten minutes later the intercom buzzed again, this time to let Sullivan know that Captain Farje had arrived. A moment later, the hatch opened and the Marine on duty announced Farje’s arrival.

“Commodore Sullivan, Captain Jeanne Farje reporting with dispatches and news from the front,” the trim, young for her rank, brunette-haired woman dressed in Leonan Legion battledress utilities said as she came to attention.

Hmm…this wasn’t what I was expecting, Sullivan thought to himself as he saw Shadow raise her head to watch what going on in her domain. “At ease, Captain,” Sullivan replied and gestured to a chair in front of his desk. “I wasn’t expecting you…”

“I didn’t expect you would,” Farje replied and placed a document pouch on the desk. “Though given what’s happened, I’m…” her voice trailed off as it went from strong, almost defiant, to soft and vulnerable.

“I know…” Sullivan replied and blinked back the liquid that his eyes threatened to produce. He stood, picked up the dispatch envelope, and offered Farje his hand when he stepped around the desk. “I’m glad you’re here.”

Farje looked at him for a moment and he saw the doubt on her face replaced with a smile a moment before he felt her arms go around and hold him for dear life. “You’re all I have left…Dad…”

Sullivan held the daughter he barely knew, the result of an 18-year-old getting ready to go to the Academy and a weekend with the woman who used to be his babysitter. By the time he found out about Jeanne, he was finishing his first year at the Academy and she’d already been born. By the time he got home on leave, her mother had taken her and returned to live with her grandparents on Leonis. It wasn’t until she was three, at his graduation, that he met Jeanne for the first time. Since then, despite trying to be part of her life, her mother had done everything to keep them apart.

“Your mom?” Sullivan asked.

“She died last year…she was at the gym and just fell over,” Farje explained and sniffed back tears. “It was a massive stroke and they said she was dead before she fell to the floor.”

“I’m so, so sorry, Jeanne…” Sullivan consoled her and gently rubbed her back. “How are you?”

“I’m holding it together…I don’t have much choice,” Farje offered and looked up at him. “Can we finally be a family?”

That one question was the last one he ever expected to hear; it was also the one question he most wanted to hear. “Absolutely!” Sullivan hugged her close. “Though you do have a little sister…”

“I do?” Farje asked, eyes wide.

“Yes…Shadow!” Sullivan chuckled and pointed to where Shadow was watching them from her perch.

“She’s so cute!” Farje squealed. “And calm!”

“I found her when I was camping a few years ago,” Sullivan explained and guided Farje to the lounge and one of the overstuffed sofas. “What has happened?” he asked and brought the conversation back to the present.

Farje looked deep in thought for a few moments before she answered. “The Cylons returned and bombarded the core worlds. His Grace personally briefed me on what happened and the changes to the original operations plan. Nyx and her group will not be joining you here, they were directed somewhere else; I believe the information is in the dispatches, but you’ll need to use your personal key to decrypt it.”

“So, they went with a second lifeboat,” Sullivan whispered barely loud enough to be heard. “Did you see much?”

“No…we made it to one of the Starlight rally points, and from there we went to Saga. That was where His Grace briefed me on the changes and then sent me here.”

“Ok…” Sullivan replied and opened the document case. It took several minutes to decrypt and print the files and he handed one set to Farje before he sat down. “I trust you and it says to share this only with who I trust,” he offered as an explanation for his action. His eyes scanned the document that explained why Nyx and Artemis were being diverted, and where, and what was replacing them.

“Wow…I didn’t see that coming…” Sullivan muttered as he read just what was replacing Hayashi’s group. “Enyalius brings a lot of firepower to the table.”

“And that’s what really bothers me,” Farje finally said and put down the documents. “None of this; your group, Aurora’s, Tyche’s, Nyx’s, Artemis’, or Enyalius’ would have made a difference. Now, we’re a hole card, waiting for a recall or the understanding that none will be coming and that we’re really on our own.”

*+*+*+*+*

Orbiting the unnamed third planet in the Hesperides system, 107 light years from the barycenter of the Cyrannus cluster, Colonial battlestar Nyx, BS-78

Commodore Miyako Hayashi studied the dradis display that showed Nyx and the other twenty-eight ships of her combined battlegroup. Between Nyx’s battlegroup and Artemis’, she had a frightening amount of firepower at her disposal, but what was really important were the sixteen civilian or non-combatant ships in the group. They ranged from two massive liners to a botanical ship, and included a mobile orbital station, three deployable ground bases or complexes, a hospital ship, and everything else needed to keep humanity alive for an extended duration away from resupply or civilization.

“Looks like we’re home, Foster,” Hayashi finally said as she watched the ships orbiting the planet with its lone moon.

“I always wanted to get away from it all…” Colonel Foster Sheridan chuckled. “Scarecrow is doing an intensive dradis map of the planet and will then move on to the moon.”

“Good…once they’ve finished,” Hayashi explained, “I want you, me, Annika, Commander Knowles, and Colonel Tudor to review them and find a couple potential locations to put the ground sites. For now, though, I want to keep us all in orbit with only small expeditions down to the surface in case we need to bug out. I’m also going to detach Lich and Minotaur and have them sweep the outer planets and have Artemis dispatch one of her escorts to sweep the inner two planets.”

“I think that’s prudent, Maki,” Sheridan replied, “We need to know what’s here now, not what might have been here since this was surveyed…thirty-eight years ago.”

“Precisely. For all we know someone we’ve never met might have moved in and setup shop,” Hayashi agreed. “So…let’s get this done and I’ll talk with Dacre and bring him up to speed.”

*+*+*+*+*

Green. It was everywhere and Commodore Miyako Hayashi had never seen anyplace as beautiful as this valley. It was a smallish spur off a broader and longer valley that they decided two days ago would be the location of the ground settlement. However, pulling rank, she claimed this valley as her own. She grinned at the thought; it was all on paper, and even if they did return to the Colonies, she was going to file a legal claim for at least the valley, perhaps for the entire planet if she could swing it. It wasn’t that she was greedy, but the beauty spoke to her and asked that it be preserved.

Hayashi allowed her mind’s eye to paint a picture of a log lodge with a high peaked roof built about 100 meters from the tree line, with a barn and a couple smaller sheds. Everything would be as natural as possible using native materials, and it would blend into the valley and cause as little disruption as possible.

“Damn…I could wake up to this every day,” Commander Dacre Knowles said from several meters behind her, causing her to turn and look at him.

“That’s why I claimed it for my own!” Hayashi grinned. “This needs to be preserved, Dacre, to be kept pure and honest where the hand of man disturbs it as little as possible.”

“Good…I’ll support your claim, Maki,” Dacre offered. “There’s a word from one of the local dialects on Canceron that means ‘beautiful daughter of the stars’, and I think it would be the ideal name for this world.”

“Oh?” Hayashi said and took another deep breath of pristinely fresh air that had a strong hint of pine and grass in it. “I didn’t know you knew any Canceron dialects.”

“You wouldn’t know it to hear me talk, but I spent most of my teen years in a small town on the edge of one of the big national forests there. My dad died when I was 9 and Mom decided to move home about six months later, when the estate was settled. Granddad had a ranch that covered close to 15,000 acres of grazing and timberland, and for a boy dealing with his world being upended, it was just what the doctor ordered,” Knowles explained before he brushed off a large rock and sat back on it.

“Anyway, Granddad and I were inseparable, and he taught me what it was to be a man; to treat people with respect, to demand that same respect be shown you, the right way to treat a lady, how to dress out a deer, and so much more. He was more of a dad to me than my own dad was. Anyway, there was a word that some of the old settlers still used that would be perfect; Shenandoah.”

Hayashi joined Knowles on the rock and thought about the name. “Beautiful daughter of the stars,” she repeated and took another deep breath and watched a chipmunk scurry through the meadow grass looking for a snack. “That’s perfect, Dacre, just perfect,” she finally said. “I almost…” the words came out sounding wistful and almost sad.

“Yeah…me, too,” Knowles agreed. “I sit here looking at all this beauty, all this potential for a second chance, and I feel alive…more alive than I have in years. And I feel guilty because I do.”

“There’s a term for that,” Hayashi offered, “and if we booked sessions on Charity, I’m sure one of the Courtesans who handle the mental health duties would tell us we had survivor’s guilt.”

“I know…” Knowles conceded and leaned back on his hands which allowed his M-22 to rest on his lap. “Part of me…” he paused, and Hayashi thought he looked like a man about to confess his deepest thoughts. “Part of me,” he repeated, “doesn’t want to return even if we get the recall. I want to build something here, something good and lasting, something honest. There’s something to be said for living the simple life where it’s you versus the environment; if you eat, you have to catch it or grow it, and if you want shelter you have to build it and then make sure you have wood or something else to heat it.”

“You’re a romantic, Dacre,” Hayashi put her hand on his shoulder. “Just like me. I see all this and think that we have a real chance to live without making the mistakes we made before…sort of like telling Pythia to shut her mouth and speak no more of the past repeating in the future.” She sat there quietly with Knowles, just absorbing the raw natural beauty that was all around them.

“Look there,” Hayashi pointed after several quiet minutes. “It’s a herd of elk…they’re amazing!” she whispered, scared to disturb the magical scene.

“And that, my dear Maki, is what’s been missing from our society for way too long,” Knowles told her and gently bumped her shoulder with his.

*+*+*+*+*

The small fleet orbited serenely above the world that had been christened Shenandoah, and Rear Admiral Miyako Hayashi sat brushing her hair as she watched a monitor that showed the blue-white world slowly rotating. Brushing her hair was part of her daily routine, just like her daily devotionals. Her devotionals helped her center herself and the brushing helped her focus on the tasks at hand.

It had been three weeks since they had entered orbit around Shenandoah and so far, everyone was coping with the situation. They had reached the halfway point for the first part of their mission and Hayashi wondered if the other site, Agartha, was doing as well. The hardest part, she reflected, was not knowing what was happening back home. Was there even a home? Was it inhabitable? Had humanity and two thousand years of Colonial culture become a cosmic footnote to be discovered thousands of years from now by some unknown race or culture who would try to make heads and tails of what remained?

Despite the fear, uncertainty, and doubt about their future, life had to continue. She had officiated three weddings and knew of more than two dozen more throughout the military and civilian population. Thankfully there hadn’t been any suicides, which given what happened was a testament to the proactive nature of Charity’s mental health department; she would never call a member of the Courtesan’s Guild a whore ever again.

Discipline and training had to be maintained as well. The Marines from Artemis’ group were given leave to conduct one- and two-day training evolutions on the surface, which quickly grew to include the Marines from all the ships. Hayashi was reminded of something Knowles had told her when she asked why he was asking to let the Marines train. “Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop,” he had told her and the more she thought about it, the more she realized he was correct.

After that, there were random readiness drills, spot inspections, and the normal routine as if they were on patrol and not orbiting a gorgeous garden world. If the Cylons found them, they would be ready; they wouldn’t be caught napping and unawares.

Hayashi placed the brush on the vanity and gently collected her hair into a high ponytail and used the gold and ebony hairclip to hold it in place. Standing, she tugged her cuffs and made sure that everything on her uniform was in place; it wasn’t good form to be ‘out of spec’, she thought.

“Action Stations! Action Stations! Set Condition One throughout the ship! Admiral to CIC!” Lieutenant J.G. Nina Orlov’s voice suddenly announced a moment before the klaxon sounded the alert.

“Frak,” Hayashi swore and picked up the handset on her desk. “What’s going on, Nina?”

“Admiral…let me transfer you to Colonel Sheridan…” Orlov answered and a moment later she heard the line transfer.

“Maki,” Colonel Foster Sheridan started without preamble, “fifteen ships just jumped in beyond lunar orbit. The warbook has them as unidentified and their transponders…they’re claiming they’re from the Earth Union.”

“I’m on my way, Fos,” Hayashi replied and felt her heart start to race; were these really representatives of the fabled Thirteenth Tribe? “In the meantime, please have Nina try to hail them.”

“On it!” Sheridan confirmed the order. “I’ve also sent a note to all ships that they are weapons hold until further notice.”

“Good call…now let’s see what we have,” Hayashi said and put the handset back on the cradle.

“I have the con!” Hayashi announced less than thirty seconds later as she entered Nyx’s CIC. “Any luck, Nina?”

“Wait one, Admiral,” Orlov replied as her eyes went wide. “They’re returning the hail and claim to be the Earth Union battlestar Enodia…”

“I’ll take it,” Hayashi said and picked up the handset. “Attention ship identifying itself as the Earth Union battlestar Enodia, this is the Colonial battlestar Nyx, please respond.”

_________________
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 Jan 10, 2021 11:11 pm 
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Folks,

I'm at a crossroads and I hope you can help me select which path I want to walk. Please discuss the question below over on the Discussion thread (link below):

Do I continue writing Lady Hecate or should I stop? The reason I ask this is that I'm not getting much feedback on what is liked, disliked, things that raised questions, etc. There have been more than 8500 page views since I posted the last chapter (and about 800 since I posted Vignette 10), but I have very little practical feedback. Are people reading the story or just clicking on it because they got note that something new was added?

Maybe I just need some positive reinforcement because I'm not in a very good place mentally at the moment, but I really do want to hear what people think, like, dislike, their questions and so on.

Thanks.

viewtopic.php?f=32&t=5716&start=1230

_________________
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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PostPosted: Wed Feb 10, 2021 11:44 am 
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Vignette 11: Storming Heaven (Part 1 of 3)

Presidential Complex, Union District, Earth, Earth Union

“Madam President, I believe this needs to be taken seriously,” Admiral Lawson Richardson said after Commander Jessica Raynes finished her briefing. “Her findings dovetail with some things we’ve been seeing and tracking over the past few months. Nothing was conclusive and each on their own didn’t point to anything specific but taken as a whole and with what Commander Raynes has brought us, I think that the evidence is conclusive and must be taken at face value.”

President Allegra Marquette looked down at her notes and then at the four Fleet officers sitting in front of her desk. Commander Jessica Raynes, young for her rank and arguably one of the most analytical minds in the service, her aide, a captain who looked like he belonged in a library instead of a uniform, Admiral Lawson Richardson, the director of Fleet Special Operations, and finally Commander Langston Churchill, brought in by Richardson as the ‘odd man’.

“Commander Churchill, what is your take on this?” Marquette finally asked. “You’re supposed to be the contrarian…” she allowed the statement to trail off and met Churchill’s cobalt gaze.

Commander Langston Churchill, who preferred to go by his nickname, Fixer, was Richardson’s troubleshooter and cleaner; if it needed fixing or being brought back into the fold, Fixer Churchill was the man most often tapped to do the job. “I realize that I’m supposed to be the odd man, Madam President, and thus I need to view things skeptically and with a very lucid eye free of bias or preconception. However, given what both Admiral Richardson and Commander Raynes have brought to the table, I must concur that the drones pose an immediate clear and present danger not just to the Union as a whole, but humanity’s survival specifically.”

“Thank you, Fixer,” Marquette smiled and sighed. There really was only one option that she could take now that it appeared that the drones were self-directing and no longer responding to legal directives. “When I ran for office, issuing these orders was the last thing I thought I’d be doing,” she added and reached for the phone on her desk. “Natalie, please come in here to witness some orders that are being issued.”

“Right away,” Natalie Cline replied and a moment later entered the office carrying a laptop. “I’m ready,” she said a moment later.

It took less than ten minutes to dictate, revise, and finalize the orders that would likely change the course of Union history.

*+*+*+*+*

“Commander Raynes,” Admiral Lawson Richardson said as soon as they boarded the Roc for the short flight to the small auxiliary base on the outskirts of the capitol, “I want you to take these orders and go to Acheron Anchorage and personally give them to Commander Kaylen aboard Medusa. If the drones don’t respond to the Endless Love protocols, then she’s to nuke it out of existence.”

Commander Jessica Raynes offered a brief nod before repeating the orders. “Sir…what happens after that?”

Richardson arched his eyebrows and shrugged. “My gut tells me this is going to be too little, too late and that we’re looking at an absolute worst-case scenario…Precipice. However, I think that by the time that reaches you, the decision will be firmly in your hands because there won’t be anyone left to issue orders.”

“What are you going to do, sir?” Raynes asked.

“If it is as bad as I fear, I’ll be at Waypoint just long enough to evacuate it,” Richardson answered. “This could all be much ado about nothing, but if it isn’t, then we need to consider the future.”

“I understand,” Raynes replied and looked at the data card she held. “I’ll make sure Leena gets this and that the drones are handled.”

“Thank you,” Richardson said as the Roc flared and landed. “I need your aide, Commander, to help with some details…give this to Captain Yale so he can give it to Acheron Flight Control when you arrive. I…” he paused as he stood and let Raynes’ aide and Commander Churchill leave the transport. “I hope to see you on the other side, Commander. Good hunting.”

“Good hunting, sir,” Raynes said before Richardson turned and walked down the ramp.

The Roc’s ramp closed when Richardson stepped off and as soon as he was at a safe distance, the ubiquitous transport took off and made an in-atmosphere jump moments later. “Let’s go to Waypoint…I’ll brief you on what’s going to happen next,” he told Churchill.

Hades is in orbit and ready to launch,” Churchill replied and looked at the sky. “A frakking shame…”

“What’s that, Fixer?” Richardson asked.

“All this,” Churchill waved his arm to indicate the sky and the ground and everything around them. “All this is going to be gone in a few hours. I know we tried to sound upbeat about stopping this before it happened, but we’re so far behind the reaction curve on this one that all we can do is take a few parting shots, fight to save who we can, and then run like hell.”

“You don’t think Endless Love will be successful?” Richardson turned to Churchill.

Churchill slowly shook his head as the three men walked toward another Roc that was waiting for them. “No…I don’t. It should work, but if the drones are already doing their thing and ignoring shutdown codes, then the genie is out of the bottle.”

“Sometimes when you play god, your creations decide to storm heaven,” Richardson opined sadly. “I hope we can learn from this…”

“We won’t…” Churchill stated.

“Pretty defeatist, Fixer…” Richardson observed.

“Yeah…sometimes you have to accept that no matter how much you have a positive attitude, think good thoughts, look at the glass as being half full, sometimes you just have to admit that things aren’t going to turn out the way you hoped and that, in this case at least, human nature is going to be human nature and in a century, a millennia, or whatever, our losses will be footnotes in history books and people will have the belief that ‘they didn’t do it *right*’, or ‘they weren’t pure enough’…” Churchill frowned and stated. “Look at human history, Sonny; every time some clown wants to give everything to the people and make everything free, they fail to look at the worlds or settlements that tried it before and failed miserably. And what was the reason they gave that they’d succeed this time?”

Richardson nodded. “They weren’t us or some such bullshit.”

“Exactly!” Churchill agreed. “Hubris…but…” he paused and chuckled. “That’s the problem with prophecy…until it happens you don’t see it coming. Pythia was a bitch.”

“On that, I’ll agree 100%!” Richardson agreed.

*+*+*+*+*

Earth Union, deep space, approaching Waypoint Station, gunstar Hades

“We should arrive within twenty minutes,” Commander Langston Churchill told the man seated on the other side of his desk after he replaced the handset on its cradle.

“Good…then we can put the next phase of this in action,” Admiral Lawson Richardson replied and sipped his coffee. “One thing has been bugging me since we met the President, though…”

Churchill narrowed his eyes, “Oh? What was that?”

“How did she know your nickname was Fixer?” Richardson asked.

Churchill smiled and sat back in his chair and closed his eyes as his mind drifted back several years into the past. “You know how I taught at Sands for a semester while I was recovering from the accident?” he finally asked and looked at his old friend. When Richardson nodded, he continued, “The semester had just ended, and we had an open house where the parents came and met the instructors. The meet and greet went well and that’s where I met Allegra Marquette…before she ran for President.

“Later, I was relaxing at Barker’s having a beer and debating whether I wanted to eat there or find someplace else, when I hear a woman tell someone that they’re not interested and to leave them alone. I look up and see Allegra about the same time she saw me. Her glance…it seemed to say, ‘I need help’. So…and you know I’m not the best decision maker when it comes to women, I got up and walked over to where she was sitting at the bar.”

Churchill took a sip of his coffee and savored the rich taste as he allowed the aroma to fill his nose. “I put my arm around her shoulders and looked at the guy and said, ‘Sorry I’m late, is this guy bothering you?’. The guy started to stammer and tried to apologize, and I just guided her back to the table. We ended up having dinner, another drink or two, and realized we had an enjoyable time despite the asshole…who, incidentally, turned out to be one of her ex-husband’s business partners who figured since she was newly divorced that she’d be an easy pick-up.”

Richardson put his coffee cup on the desk blotter and arched his eyebrows. “And?” he asked. “That can’t be all of it?”

“I am an officer and a gentleman, not to mention a Peer of Corale,” Churchill said seriously, “and other than to say we had a very enjoyable weekend in the Coronado hill country, my lips are sealed. Other than seeing her in vids and voting for her, this was the first time I’ve actually ‘seen’ or talked to her.”

“You sound like you wish it wasn’t so…” Richardson offered.

“In a way, yes…” Churchill admitted. “We both knew it wouldn’t work no matter how much we wanted it or tried,” he continued. “She was getting ready to announce her candidacy and I was so operational that my jacket was classified; the press would have had a field day. Sonny, if I’m honest with myself, she’s one of two that got away.”

“Gry?” Richardson asked.

“Yeah…but…” Churchill said and sat up before standing up, “that’s water under the bridge and if we live through all this, I can think about it then…for now, I need to be focused.”

*+*+*+*+*

Earth Union, deep space, 10 light years from Stormhaven, gunstar Hades

“Nuclear release has been verbally and mechanically authorized,” Commander Langston Churchill said after he felt his key click past the detent and heard Colonel Shen Nagasi’s key do the same. “Are the strike packages loaded, Mr. Marion?”

“Aye, Commander,” Captain Clive Marion, Hades’ weapons officer, replied. “The strike packages are loaded, and the anti-fratricide protocols are enabled.”

“Thank you,” Churchill told him and looked over at Nagasi. “Are you ready to do this, Shen?”

Brown eyes met Churchill’s blue as Nagasi nodded. “Yes…I never liked them before, now I have a real good reason to want them destroyed and recycled.”

“Good…we’re on the same page,” Churchill agreed. “Once more…we jump in, get eyes on the ground complex and determine the status, and then depending on what we find, we launch the ordnance.”

“What do you expect we’ll find?” Nagasi asked and tapped his fingers on the plotting table.

Churchill slowly shook his head. “They’re dead…that’s what my gut tells me. We haven’t had a courier or word from Stormhaven in more than 72 hours…so knowing what we know, they’re dead.”

“I was afraid you were going to say that. When I was born, my great grandmother told my parents that I was born under auspicious stars and would witness great tragedy and great triumph,” Nagasi stated and shook his head in disbelief. “I always thought she was a little crazy, always flipping cards or reading tea leaves or whatever, but maybe she’s right.”

“Well, as long as I’ve known you, this would certainly qualify as a great tragedy…so that means a great triumph is yet to come!” Churchill suggested and arched his eyebrows.

“Hmm…hadn’t looked at it that way, Fixer; that gives me something to look forward to,” Nagasi chuckled.

“And on that note…Colonel Nagasi, please call the ship to Action Stations and set Condition One throughout. Also, have the ship prepare for jump. Mr. Ford, prepare to jump us to Stormhaven.”

“Copy, call the ship to Action Stations and set Condition One and Jump Conditions,” Nagasi repeated the order and then issued it over the 1MC.

“Jump is plotted, and we may jump on your order,” Captain Jennifer Ford replied.

“You may jump the ship, Mr. Ford,” Churchill stated and felt the coffee he shared with Admiral Richardson turn into a pool of acid in his stomach.

“Copy, I may jump the ship,” Ford replied and then announced, “we will jump in 5…4…3…2…1…now!”

The jump lasted an infinite instant and then Hades was less than 100,000 kilometers from Stormhaven…the central control and manufacturing site for the drones used by the Earth Union.

“Report…” Churchill ordered as the crew quickly performed their post-jump activities.

“We’re where we’re supposed to be,” Ford confirmed. “Passive dradis shows a massive amount of shipping orbiting the planet, though none seem to be actively emitting.”

“Weapons are active and ready for launch,” Marion announced.

“Thank you,” Churchill said before turning to Nagasi, “Let’s get some eyes on the compound. Go ahead and launch the Owl.”

“Copy,” Nagasi replied and spoke with an ensign for several moments. “Owl is launched and flying silent…it will jump into orbit and then return.”

“Now we wait. In the meantime, Mr. Marion, please prepare and launch the drones. I want them in place so we can do this as soon as the Owl returns with our recon,” Churchill told the weapons officer.

“Copy, launch the drones and direct them into position,” Marion replied and quicky issued the order that launched the massive missiles from under Hades’ wings. Each Ragnarök drone used compressed gas thrusters to move away from Hades and then in a brief flash of silver light, jumped to a predefined location in close orbit and waited silently.

“Drones away,” Marion announced as Churchill felt the weight of the words settle onto his shoulders like a lead filled cloak.

“Thank you, Mr. Marion,” Churchill said and looked at the dradis. “Today is the very definition of eating a shit sandwich, Shen…” he finally said.

“My damned Great Grandmother…” Nagasi said. “She’s probably nodding from beyond the grave and saying, ‘I told you so’.”

“Could be, Shen, could be,” Churchill agreed.

“The Owl is back,” a flight control petty officer announced twenty minutes later. “I’m routing telemetry to the overhead display…”

Churchill nodded and didn’t say anything as Nagasi acknowledged the update. He steeled himself for what he was going to see and looked up at the display. It was slightly fuzzy for a moment and then the image resolved and showed the residential quarter where the human element that worked at Stormhaven resided. The domes were shattered, and smoke lazily drifted out through the holes, while it appeared fires raged inside. Outside the domes, the landscape was desolate, often windswept, and devoid of life. That was the main reason it was chosen to host the manufacturing center for the Chrome Brigades and the infrastructure needed to support them.

There shouldn’t be a fire outside the domes, but there was. The Owl’s sensors had detected it and slewed an optics cluster to observe what was happening. The coffee that had turned to acid in Churchill’s stomach suddenly started advocating to escape the way it went in when he realized what he was seeing; the fire wasn’t a burning structure or vehicle – the drones were dumping bodies onto a huge bonfire and burning the very people who had helped build them.

“Shen? It’s a go,” Churchill finally said when he was able to tear his eyes away from the carnage.

Nagasi slowly nodded. “Yeah…let’s burn them to hell.”

“Mr. Marion, please charge the capacitors and load our target list for automatic firing; you will initiate fire from Hades and the Ragnarök drones immediately upon acquiring the targets when we emerge from jump,” Churchill said, his voice gaining strength as he faced the challenge posed by the mission. “Mr. Ford, please prepare a jump to our firing position and have a return jump plotted to our rally point.”

“Copy, charge capacitors and load our target list in preparation to commence firing immediately upon acquiring targets after jump, and at the same time activate the Ragnarök drones to launch their payloads,” Marion replied evenly.

“Both jumps are plotted, Commander,” Ford answered as Churchill smiled, she always was one step ahead of the game.

Churchill closed his eyes and took a deep breath and prayed for the souls of his crew and the souls of all those who would face the drone’s insane wrath. “All enemies, foreign or domestic,” he whispered when the prayer was over, repeating the mantra he said before every engagement. His hands slid around the handset and he raised it to his ear before keying the 1MC, “Ok folks, we all know why we’re here and what we’re about to do. We have conclusive evidence that the human element on Stormhaven has been murdered, so say a prayer for them and realize that what you do now, in the next few minutes, may save others or at the very least give them the chance to get to an evacuation ship.

“We’ve done a lot of things over the past couple years that we can’t discuss with friends and family, and we’ve had a lot of adventures that most people would think should start with either ‘there I was’ or ‘y’all ain’t gonna believe this shit!’. Of them all, they all pale compared to what we’re about to do. I know you’re all up to this or you wouldn’t be here in the first place, but right now I need you to focus on the job ahead to the exclusion of all else. We are a team, but more than that, we’re a family. We’ve worked together, fought together, bled together, and in some cases, loved together. Don’t do it for me, do it for them.

“We will be jumping off momentarily and when we get back to Waypoint or have downtime, the bar tab is on me. Now…let’s go hunting!”

The handset felt warm in Churchill’s hand and he looked at it as if it was a living thing before he placed it back on its cradle. “Mr. Ford, you may jump the ship. Mr. Marion, let’s introduce them to hell.”

“Copy, we will jump in ten…nine…” Ford replied and started the jump countdown.

“Looking forward to it, sir,” Marion added. “We will fire upon jump completion.”

It’s now in their hands, Churchill thought as he saw the determination on his team’s faces. Even Nagasi, the unflappable Nagasi, had a look that he hoped never to see directed towards himself.

“Three…two…one…Jump!” Ford announced and once again Churchill felt like he was being squeezed into clothes one size too small for just an infinite instant, and then things returned to normal. “Jump complete…we are on station with no deviation,” Ford quickly added when the jump ended.

“Spinal guns firing on preselected targets, launch order issued to the Ragnaröks,” Marion stated calmly fifteen seconds later.

Deep within Hades, overly long railgun tunnels powered by enormous and oversized capacitors, fired one meter wide by six meter long cylinders at more than thirty kilometers per second. Every six seconds a plasma squib would fire and purge the tunnel of any errant gas particles before the weapon fired. It could do this for six shots for each of the six guns; thirty-six seconds after the first shot was fired, and thirty-two seconds after the first shots hit their targets, the last volley of six rounds left the tubes.

It took less than four seconds for the first rounds Hades fired to reach their targets on Stormhaven’s surface. The first targets were the ground based dradis and communications arrays, followed by their control centers and finally the site AI’s central core. Each round weighed almost forty tons and impacted with the explosive force of eighty-five tons of explosives, not to mention the penetration and secondary effects from the seismic events each one caused upon impact.

The first strike decapitated Stormhaven’s ability to see what was happening and even if it hadn’t, the governing and coordinating AI had been destroyed by the subsequent shots. The strikes also hit the power stations and caused massive spikes throughout the distribution grid, further damaging systems and tripping failsafes designed to protect the lesser AIs from damage. The overall result was that the planet was now blind, defenseless, and effectively lobotomized for the next few minutes.

Minutes was all it would take.

Even as the ships in orbit tried to disengage from the massive orbital docks and shipyards, the centralized nature of the drones’ design and the desire for everything to be as cutting edge as possible worked against them. Systems were either down – destroyed or rebooting – or receiving conflicting orders; the ships issued orders to disengage the mooring locks while the station AIs refused because the primary AI wasn’t responding to their request for permission.

And then Armageddon descended upon Stormhaven and the drone ships like a heavy calvary charge down a mountain; the nukes began hitting. Each of the twelve drones that Hades deployed carried 3900 individually targeted weapons, numerous bus vehicles, and more than 40,000 decoys for a grand total of 44,266 targets per drone. In total, over the next few minutes, 46,800 nuclear weapons sought targets both on the surface and in orbit, and while many fell victims to fratricidal detonations, enough made it through to thoroughly destroy all the targets and most of the orbital installations.

“If anything was alive down there before this, it isn’t now,” Nagasi observed as the carnage was displayed on an overhead monitor.

“No, and a significant number of maneuver assets were destroyed as well,” Churchill replied. “Not to mention their ability to produce more drones and ships, support them, and so on. If we’re able to prevent their attacks elsewhere, we might have a chance.”

Nagasi leaned forward and motioned Churchill to do the same. “You think so?” he asked sotto-voce.

Churchill frowned and slowly shook his head. “No,” he whispered back. “It’s really just wishful thinking on my part. We might have bought an extra twenty-four or forty-eight hours for others to evacuate, but too many units are already in place and waiting to strike.”

“I thought so, too, but wanted to be sure,” Nagasi told him.

“One thing was validated,” Churchill stated and leaned against the plotting table. “Our EW suite and stealth rendered us pretty much invisible to the drones’ dradis.”

“Small favors,” Nagasi replied. “Should I send the Owl out for post-strike recon?”

“Yes…and then we’ll head back to Waypoint Station,” Churchill answered. “This…” he frowned and shook his head twice, “this felt too easy. I know our EW is good and I know the anechoic coating is effective, and together they’re magic, but we pulled this off without any sort of reaction from the drones. That’s…that’s going to bug me, Shen.”

“You had to mention it…” Nagasi frowned as well. “Something was bugging me ever since we first launched the Owl and you just nailed it. At this point, it’s going to bug me, but I don’t think I’m going to worry about it too much since whatever might have happened was grossly in our favor. Gift horses, mouths, looking, and all that.”

“Yeah…I know…I know…” Churchill agreed and nodded. “It’ll be something for my memoirs that will cause people to wonder about it long after I’m gone!”

It took the Owl half an hour to fully cover all the areas that had been targeted as well as the orbital structures before it returned to Hades. “Do you want the raw video on screen?” Ford asked.

“Yes…” Churchill replied. “This kind of destruction hasn’t been unleashed in our history and the only thing that rivals it are the final battles of the Titanomachy. Let’s see what we did today.”

“Copy, I’ll have it on screen in a moment,” Ford stated and spent several moments sifting through the data files. “Here we go…” she finally said.

Churchill looked at the display and was immediately stunned by the destruction that was shown. Less than an hour earlier, he’d seen the central complex as an intact set of structures that covered several dozen square kilometers, but now, now all that was left was devastation. Bits and pieces of buildings remained; some reinforced walls, corners, and such, but nothing was intact or even partially intact. Massive craters dotted the landscape where surface and subsurface detonations occurred, and unless the drones had another production and maintenance complex, they were going to be severely hampered over the long term in their ability to prosecute the genocide they had planned.

The orbital installations fared even worse. Much of what had been in orbit was destroyed outright and the rest was slowly dying as the debris fell out of orbit and started burning up in the atmosphere. What had taken years to build and trillions of cubits to fund had been destroyed in a matter of minutes by a nuclear firestorm that hit it like the fist of Zeus. Churchill was both appalled at the damage and at the same time pleased by what he saw. What he had just directed to happen may have been the vital event that humanity needed to survive and for that he would never feel ashamed or anything other than proud.

“Jenny, I think we can head back to Waypoint,” Churchill finally said and watched as a Ba’al Hadad class baseship broke apart as it deorbited and encountered the atmosphere’s upper layers. “Vini, vidi, vici…” he added and waited for Ford to plot the first jump back to Waypoint.

*+*+*+*+*

Earth Union, Aquitaine orbit, fast packet Kamira

I should be back on Earth, President Allegra Marquette thought as she sat in the opulently appointed cabin and looked at a large, three-meter panel that displayed the blue-white world several hundred kilometers below. Her official schedule said that she would be at the Presidential Compound all day tending to ‘administrative duties’, but the reality was that she was supposed to meet Vice Admiral Sean Marlowe here at Aquitaine to discover the results of his negotiations with the Erisian delegation.

It would have been easy to, and at least one of her advisors strongly urged that she do so, take Libertas rather than an unassuming fast packet. The problem with that option was that Libertas was the presidential transport and it never left Earth without the president. It was vital that no word leaked to the press or public that there might be something afoot that wasn’t on the official calendar. Marquette didn’t want word of the peace talks breaking in the news without being able to control the narrative, especially if they went poorly.

At the very least, Brynlee and Giffard would be safe with her brother’s battlegroup over Caledonia. Even if she didn’t make it through the next few hours, Marquette knew that her brother would keep her children alive.

“You look like you have some deep thoughts swirling around,” Natalie Cline observed after Marquette was quiet for several minutes.

“I do, Nat,” Marquette chuckled mirthlessly. “I’ve done the most I can to ensure that the Fleet units here are prepared for the drones without telling them them everything and possibly looking like I’m a nutcase. Even so, I doubt it will be enough. Aquitaine has enough infrastructure and industry that they’d probably be one of the first worlds hit, and we don’t have any really heavy units here. That was the very reason Sean chose it in the first place…”

“What happens if he doesn’t show up?” Cline asked.

“If the drones attack, then we gather who and what we can and make for Waypoint,” Marquette explained and turned to look at her long-time friend and now senior aide. “Sonny said that he was going to hold there as long as possible before setting out.”

“Setting out?” Cline narrowed her eyes. “You didn’t give him orders to leave, did you?”

Marquette shook her head and pursed her lips. “No…but the order would be given by Whiskey Mountain once they realize things aren’t tenable. You’ve heard of Precipice?”

“You mean we’re going to abandon the Union?” Cline asked incredulously.

“That’s one way to look at it,” Marquette shrugged. “Right now, we need to think about preserving life, perhaps the only human life left. We haven’t heard from the Communion in ages, and the last contact we had with Kobol…well, they were in the midst of collapse and preparing to evacuate the planet and move to the Cyrannus cluster where the 12 Colonies of Kobol would relocate. I don’t know if they’ll make it, but I do know that the Cyrannus cluster has twelve worlds that are perfect for human life and that’s where we’re going.”

Before Cline had a chance to comment, the intercom buzzed. Marquette picked up the handset, “This is the President.”

“Ma’am, the drones have arrived,” Colonel Zayne Ramsey announced. I wanted to give you a head’s up before I brought the ship to Action Stations.”

“Thank you, Colonel Ramsey,” Marquette replied. “It’s time to implement the plans we discussed earlier. Please alert Commander Ormond and let him know that the clock is ticking.”

“Will do, Ma’am,” Ramsey stated. “I need to see to the ship; as we get more information, I’ll keep you in the loop.”

“Thank you, Colonel,” Marquette said warmly. “Good hunting.”

“The drones have arrived?” Cline asked after Marquette replaced the handset on the cradle.

Marquette nodded. “They have. It’s now in the hands of Commander Ormond.”

*+*+*+*+*

Earth Union, Aquitaine orbit, fleet carrier Cilla

“What do we have, Jari?” Commander Hiram Ormond asked as the dradis began pinging off the new arrivals.

Captain Jari Wescott looked over at Ormond, “Only three; Ishkur, Ennugi, and Gibil; one Ba’al Hadad and two Molochs.”

“Enough to do the job, eh?” Ormond joked with gallows humor. “Tracy, please signal the group; execute plan alpha three.”

“Signal the group to execute plan alpha three, aye,” Specialist Tracy Hogue replied.

“Adam, better launch the fighters,” Ormond told Lieutenant Colonel Adam Baker, Cilla’s CAG and the senior air group commander in the group.

“They’ve been waiting for this,” Baker replied. “I’m going to head over to the flight coordination center and keep on top of things.”

“Sounds good…just make sure they hold fire until we get either a confirmed launch or targeting dradis activation from the drones, and then we can light ‘em up,” Ormond cautioned. “It’s apparent they know we know something is up, but let’s not show our hand right away.”

“I hear that,” Baker agreed.

“Dradis contact!” Wescott announced. “One ship…it’s…Abzu…but she was reported lost eight months ago…”

“Can we intercept any of its communications?” Ormond asked Hogue.

“Wait one…I’m seeing a lot of encrypted traffic between Abzu and Ishkur, though they’re using a cypher that’s not in the library,” Hogue quickly stated. “I am seeing some odd wireless traffic directed our way, but it doesn’t seem to be doing anything.”

“Ok…please keep an eye on it, Tracy,” Ormond asked the specialist. “Jari, can we get some optics on Abzu? If she was damaged, I want to see what they’ve done to her to make her spaceworthy.”

“Copy…I have it on panel four,” Wescott quickly replied.

Ormond looked up at the display and narrowed his eyes. “Camryn, am I seeing what I think I’m seeing?” he asked and pointed at Abzu’s ventral hull.

Colonel Camryn Kennedy leaned closer to the display and her eyes widened. “Oh…frak me…those things must be shipping 6m bores!”

“That’s what I thought I saw,” Ormond said gravely. “Tracy, push this imagery out to the group and let them know that those chrome plated bastards have a wild card.”

“Wilco, Commander,” Hogue replied and began working on the task.

“I’m getting high PRF dradis hits…they’re going active with their fire control,” Wescott stated, barely able to keep his voice even.

“This is it…signal the group that they’re weapons free,” Ormond told Hogue and picked up the intercom handset and keyed the flight coordination center. “Adam,” he said after Baker picked up. “I need you to detail a strike on Abzu; she’s packing several 6m guns and I need her removed ASAP.”

“Did you say 6 *meter* guns?” Baker asked. “Frak…I’ll pull two squadrons of Rocs and detail them specifically to strike Abzu.”

“Good…coordinate with Epipole and have them throw whatever they have into the mix as well. We need to flood them with decoys so some of the ordnance makes it through,” Ormond told the CAG.

“Will do…this is going to get ugly…” Baker said before the line went dead.

*+*+*+*+*

Earth Union, Aquitaine orbit, Roc 497, callsign Breaker

“Say a prayer, Cosmo,” Captain Raymond Mendez told his copilot.

“A prayer? We’re going to need a frakking godcall!” Lieutenant Cosima Russo quipped as she armed the fourteen Spike missiles adorning the Roc’s wings. “This is going to be a turkey shoot, Breaker.”

“Yeah…I know…” Mendez replied and looked over at his copilot. “We trust each other, we trust our mates, and we trust we’re going to get back to Cilla.”

“Affirmative,” Russo replied and then added, “Remember when I told you not unless Hell froze over?”

Mendez nodded. “Yeah…”

“Well, for motivation, it just froze over,” Russo told him.

A wide smile formed on Mendez’s face. “Ok…that’s certainly positive reinforcement!” he told her. “Cosima, we’re going to get through this. Don’t ask me how I know, but I know…here,” he pointed at his heart.

“Good! Now, enough of this mushy stuff, let’s kill something!” Russo said eagerly.

“I like how you think, Cosmo!” Mendez replied and studied the HUD. “We’re about to our launch point. Epipole is going with us to lend ECM support, so it should give us time to get back to the farm.”

The seconds counted down until the range was optimal, and then every one of the forty Rocs in the two squadrons each launched fourteen Spike high speed strike missiles and joined the two waves of fourteen Hydra XI missiles and numerous kinetic rounds launched by Epipole.

Their target was the very large, very deadly drone Ba’alat class gunstar Abzu that was leading the drones’ attack on Aquitaine and Carrier Group 3.

“Ok…birds are away, let’s head back to the barn Breaker!” Russo said moments after the last Spike cleared its launch rail.

“You don’t need to tell me twice,” Mendez replied and put the Roc into a nose over tail maneuver and then pushed the throttles past the detents into full reheat.

*+*+*+*+*

_________________
Kurt

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 10, 2021 11:45 am 
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Vignette 11: Storming Heaven (Part 2 of 3)

Earth Union, Aquitaine orbit

The orbital space over Aquitaine went from orderly to chaotic in a span of moments. Strikes were launched, countermeasures were deployed, and at the center of it was Abzu. Ishkur and the two smaller gunstars made for Aquitaine itself while their more pugnacious brethren held the line against smaller, though more numerous, ships from Carrier Group 3.

Carrier Group 3 was never intended to be a front-line combat formation; rather, the ships of the Group were designed as convoy escorts, force multipliers when aerospace supremacy was needed, and a host of other lower intensity engagements. The Group was split into two divisions, Carrier Division 3.1 and Carrier Division 3.2, each one Clio class fleet carrier, three Cladeus class light carriers, four Waverly class light gunstars, one E-Class gunstar, and one Minthe class replenishmentstar.

On paper, Carrier Group 3 looked quite impressive.

In reality, Carrier Group 3 had no business trying to hold the line against heavy combatants, especially something as deadly as a Ba’alat class heavy gunstar, a Ba’al Hadad class baseship, a pair of Moloch class gunstars, and more than a thousand Marauder and Heavy Marauder class fighters.

Abzu was the biggest immediate threat to Carrier Group 3 and so Commander Ormond had arranged for Epipole, one of his two E-Class gunstars, to accompany the strike package that was detailed to attack the deadly drone ship while the rest of the Group tried to distract and draw the drones’ fire.

Between the Spikes launched by the Rocs and the warheads launched by the Hydra XI missiles, and all the decoys, more than 5,300 targets were converging on Abzu. Due to the missiles’ acceleration and the range, the gunstar’s counter-missile systems only had three firing cycles to defend itself while her lighter guns had several more cycles.

Abzu’s defenses acquitted themselves well, destroying more two thousand potential targets. But even good shooting can’t defy the cold equations that show something will get through, especially if the weapons were launched from widely different approach vectors.

Despite the nuclear destruction that was approaching, Abzu’s massive experimental siege guns began firing. Each turret had two massive 6m bore guns, each firing a 36-meter-long projectile at 8000 meters per second. Despite being turret mounted, the guns had limited traverse which required the ship to point itself at its intended target, and thus it tried to maneuver so that it could shoot at multiple targets rather than just one.

The first targets Abzu’s massive guns were trained on were the Cladeus class carriers Crino and Cydon. In Crino’s case, one round missed while three squarely impacted midships. The rounds punched through the ship and delivered a fair portion of the more than 1.3 kilotons of energy. Moments after taking the three hits, the ship exploded and broke apart, sending debris into the Waverly class gunstar Teleon and destroying it as well.

The second ship attacked on the first volley, Cydon, fared similarly, though in its case, all four rounds squarely impacted and punched through.

The second volley saw Clytus, Epipole, Thestor, and Tyres fall to Abzu’s guns.

Abzu managed to get off a partial third volley that went wild.

And then, like the seven ships it just destroyed, Abzu was destroyed in a storm of nuclear fire. More than forty warheads out of more than 800 launched made it through the defensive fire and fratricidal explosions to deliver the Union’s response to the drone attack. The first two weapons slammed into and through the control tower, detonating scant meters inside the hull and engulfing it in a 300-meter fireball that burned and scoured the ship for more than three seconds.

Then the other weapons hit and added their fury to the carnage.

When the detonations faded, Abzu was nothing more than a broken mass of scrap with sympathetic detonations still cooking off within the shattered hull that had become a funeral pyre.

*+*+*+*+*

Earth Union, Aquitaine orbit, fast packet Kamira

The battle of Aquitaine lasted another ninety minutes before the last drone ship was destroyed or in the case of several marauders, fled the system. Despite being almost completely destroyed in the fighting, the drones still managed to land a deathblow to the planet. Between Ishkur’s bombardment capabilities and the individual attacks by the great ship’s air wing, more than enough nuclear, chemical, and biological ordnance was delivered to ensure that the planet became hostile to human life.

President Allegra Marquette helped direct the evacuation, such as it was, from Kamira. “Colonel,” she asked Colonel Zayne Ramsey, “Commander,” she asked Commander Hiram Ormond, “is there anything more that we can do?”

There was a pause and all that Marquette heard were the hisses and pops from the encrypted wireless that connected Kamira to Cilla. “No, I don’t think so,” Ormond finally said and broke the silence. “We’ve been running flights to the surface for the past eight hours and the last two flights didn’t see any survivors or even any signs that anyone was left alive. Whatever they hit the cities with…it killed everyone.”

“Colonel? Do you agree?” Marquette asked and directed the question to Kamira’s commander.

“I’m afraid I do, Madam President,” Ramsey replied. “We’ve setup spaces for quarantine on one of the carriers and on Prospector, but even with what help we can provide, most of the afflicted die within half an hour of arriving. We’ve accepted survivors on all our ships, with the bulk being sent to Eternal Paradise and Princess of Earth. Like Hiram said, we haven’t heard or seen anything in a while.”

Marquette sighed and looked at the pad she was using to tally the survivors; 25,174. “We saved just over twenty-five thousand people out of a population of more than seven hundred million. I will have nightmares about this until the day I die, gentlemen. I would like one more sweep of the surface and then we will make all due haste to Waypoint Station.”

“I’ll make sure the search flights happen at once,” Ormond stated. “Do you want Kamira to send the jump coordinates?”

“Yes; Colonel Ramsey, will you do this?” Marquette asked.

“Absolutely. I’ll have my navigation officer plot them now so that we’ll have minimum downtime between jumps,” Ramsey explained.

“Thank you…it wouldn’t be good form to be left behind!” Marquette joked to try and lighten the mood somewhat. “I will let you gentlemen tend to your ships and duties…please contact me when the last search craft has returned.”

When the conference call was over, Marquette yawned, stood, and stretched. “I think I’m going to head down to the galley and get a snack,” she told Natalie Cline who had been taking notes on the meeting. “Do you want anything?”

“Thanks, but no,” Cline replied. “I have a bag of chips that will no longer be made that I think I’m going to savor.”

“Sounds good…I’ll be back in a bit,” Marquette said and walked to the hatch. Kamira was considered a small ship, compared to other Fleet warships, but was still more than 1100 meters long. Despite this, her accommodations and quarters were in a centralized area and so rather than having to walk several hundred meters just to get a snack, all she had to do was go forward three frames and down one level.

The passages were largely empty, so when Marquette heard a “yip”, she stopped and moved toward the direction the sound came from. “Shh, Daisy…” what sounded like a young boy said.

“Hello?” Marquette asked as she looked around the corner into a passage that was only about ten meters deep.

“Uh…hi…” a young boy about nine or ten replied from where he was sitting on the deck with his back against a far corner. He was dirty and disheveled, and his clothes looked like he had been through a war. When Marquette realized this thought she blanched; the boy *had* been through a war. Two small puppies were huddled next to him, both mostly black but with a few copper or tan highlights on their legs and muzzle.

“Hello…” Marquette replied warmly and slowly approached before kneeling down and then sitting next to the boy. “Who are you and who are these adorable little dogs?”

“I’m Tristan Wales and these are Daisy and Rusty; I was going to show them in the puppy part of the dog show this weekend,” Tristan answered. “But then…” his eyes filled with tears. “Then the attack happened. Mom and Dad were in the city when it…when it happened.”

“Oh, Tristan…I’m so, so sorry,” Marquette softly told the boy as her mother’s instincts kicked into full gear and her arms went around his shoulders. “Let it out…Tristan…let it out…” she whispered into his ear as he started crying.

After several minutes, she heard him sniff and felt him pull back. “Thank you…” he told her and blinked the remaining tears out of his eyes.

“I was heading to get a snack…would you like to come with me?” Marquette asked.

“I haven’t eaten since before…since before,” Tristan replied. “Do you think they’ll allow the puppies to come with us?”

“I know they will,” Marquette smiled, knowing the boy was clinging to the two little dogs as the last bastion of what he used to know as ‘normal’. She stood and then offered a hand. “Let me help you up and then we’ll each carry one of the pups, how does that sound?”

“Sounds cool,” Tristan said and offered a weak smile.

“So…who are you?” Marquette asked the little furry face when she held the pup in her hands.

“That’s Daisy,” Tristan told her. “She’s a real cuddle bunny.”

“Cool…It’s been years since I had a dog,” Marquette said to the boy. “So, I might be a bit rusty, you’ll need to show me the ropes…”

“Ok!” Tristan said enthusiastically. “I can do that!”

Marquette saw that Tristan picked up a small backpack and slung it over his shoulders before they left the little passage. During the walk to the galley, she learned that he was nine years old and was home because it was an in-service day for the school he attended. When the attack happened, he quickly packed some clothes and personal items in his pack, grabbed his puppies, and fled to a shelter. Once the evacuation shuttle landed on Kamira, he slipped away from the other refugees to find someplace where he could be alone.

Tristan ended up carrying both Daisy and Rusty back to her quarters because Marquette had her hands full with several foam boxes of food. “Nat!” Marquette said loudly when they entered her quarters. “We have a guest and some little friends that will be joining us.”

*+*+*+*+*

Earth Union, Epsilon 215 system, Waypoint Station

“Madam President, I’m glad you survived,” Admiral Lawson Richardson said after the president was piped aboard Waypoint Station.

“Thank you, as I am you, Admiral,” President Allegra Marquette replied and shook his offered hand. “We have several ships that are damaged; is there any way we can repair them on the way?”

“Yes, we have a large mobile dock that we’ve been using for any ship that wasn’t finished or capable of making the journey…unfortunately, we have a lot of room left over,” Richardson said and gestured to a sofa in the opulently appointed receiving gallery. “Our plan is to strip the station of whatever spares, supplies, and such that we can over the next forty-eight hours and then jump off for the Colonies. We have confirmation that Whiskey Mountain sent EWO Precipice as well as some supplementary information.”

“Oh?” Marquette asked. “What else?”

“The Vice President was offering an unconditional surrender when his bunker was destroyed,” Richardson explained. “They did a number on Earth and it’s doubtful that anyone survived the attack…or survived the attempt to flee the planet.”

“Gods damn whoever came up with the idea of the drones and may those who supported them burn in Hell,” Marquette swore and frowned. “We managed to rescue as many people as we could from Aquitaine, but early on the drones started dropping biological and chemical weapons. I wasn’t aware we even had combat quantities of biological weapons. I knew we had them for research purposes, but I was never briefed that we had them in deployable amounts.”

“That’s because we didn’t,” Commander Langston Churchill said from the hatch that led deeper into the station.

Marquette felt her heart skip a beat when she heard Churchill’s voice. There had been an instant attraction when they first met at the open house, and then later when they had dinner and over the weekend they spent together, the attraction had deepened and grown for her. Until this morning, she hadn’t seen him since they parted that Monday morning,

“I’m glad to hear that,” Marquette said and realized that her words could be taken two ways…in her mind, both were correct.

“Another thing the drones kept from us,” Richardson stated.

“Add that to the fact that they had a ship that was supposedly lost eight months ago…and had her armed with the biggest guns Commander Ormond or Colonel Ramsey ever saw…6-meter bores,” Marquette offered.

“Frak me,” Churchill swore, and Marquette forced her face not to smile because right now that’s exactly what she wanted to do…not just to rekindle what they had over that special weekend but to validate that she was alive.

“I think the new working theory when it comes to the drones is ‘anything is possible, and if it will kill humans, most likely probable’,” Richardson stated.

“At least they won’t have Stormhaven or its facilities anymore,” Churchill said and sat down. “When we left, what was left of the orbital stations were falling into the well and the surface and subsurface sites were fairly well nuked into oblivion.”

“That’s some good news,” Marquette said, hope filling her voice. “I just hope Commander Raynes was able to link up with Commander Kaylen and handle the Acheron Anchorage site.”

“If Kaylen is anything like Raynes, then I think it would take every hound in Hell to slow her, but it wouldn’t stop her,” Richardson told the small group. “I met her and their sister, Commander Annabelle Isles at a symposium about ten months ago and I would bet my retirement, well, if I had one left, that those three are together right now and Acheron is nothing but a ruin.”

“That’s good,” Marquette said and then asked, “What is our lift ratio?” She didn’t want to ask for raw numbers, there had been enough bad news already, and asking for a ratio or percentage of capacity was somewhat more clinical and sterile than a number.

“Based on what you’ve brought and what we have here…” Richardson frowned and slowly shook his head. “If we’re at 60%, then we’re extremely lucky. It’s actually going to be closer to 50%, though. That’s why I think we should put what we can into the dock, that way we can foster more of a community feeling, shared struggle and all that. Union is in the final stages of fitting out and will have a skeleton crew, Enodia will, thankfully, be fully capable, and Selene…I’m going to need you take her, Fixer.”

“Ok…Shen is more than capable of handling Hades,” Churchill answered. “What sort of crew do I have to work with?”

“They’re new, she hasn’t even finished her final acceptance trials,” Richardson told him. “Your XO is good; she’s got a good head on her shoulders and she should be squared away; her husband is going to be my XO on Enodia.”

“Well, once we jump off, we’ll have plenty of time to train and make sure we’re technically proficient,” Churchill observed. “Where will you be traveling, Madam President?”

With you, was what Marquette wanted to say. Instead, she answered, “I think for now I’m going to stay on Kamira; Nat and I are settled in and we have some new cabinmates.”

Marquette watched Churchill’s eyes narrow slightly at hearing her words. “Cabinmates?” he asked.

“I ran into a little boy who was separated from the main refugee group,” Marquette explained and smiled at the thought of a second chance to be a hands-on parent. “Everything that he had in the world was either in his backpack or in his arms, two adorable little puppies, and I realized that it was time to be a parent again.”

“That’s a wonderful thing,” Churchill smiled broadly and acceptingly. “Perhaps we should suggest that unaccompanied minors be paired with a stable family unit or responsible adult to help maintain some sort of stable life for them. I think with everything that happened, being put into some sort of orphanage would be among the worst things we could do.”

He gets it, Marquette thought happily. “That’s a fantastic idea, Fixer. I’ll talk to Nat when I get back and we’ll see about putting together some sort of plan.”

“On that note,” Richardson said and stood, “I’m going to get back to the CIC to make sure that things are moving along as we want them to. Go ahead and brief Colonel Nagasi on his new duties and be on Selene by 20:00 hours.”

“Copy that, Admiral,” Churchill said and stood as Richardson left the gallery.

“Langston?” Marquette said as she stood.

“Yes, Allegra?” Churchill replied and was just as informal as she had been.

“I’ve been thinking about that weekend and all the reasons we came up with that it wouldn’t work,” Marquette began and then stopped as Churchill stepped close.

“They’re meaningless now,” Churchill said. “I’ve been thinking about that weekend ever since I talked to you this morning.”

“Where we left off?” Marquette asked and tilted her head up slightly as she took another step closer.

“Where we left off,” Churchill smiled and hugged her before he kissed her.

*+*+*+*+*

Earth Union, Epsilon 215 system, Waypoint Station, battlestar Selene

Four and a half years, Commander Langston Churchill thought as he walked down the umbilical that connected Selene to Waypoint Station. The guards at the station side of the umbilical had been professional and by the book making sure everything was in perfect order before they allowed him to pass. They were at a new posting and wanted to make the best impression…and given the state of the world, they focused on doing things by the numbers rather than thinking about what happened.

Selene was a Hera class battlestar and while he thought the Dynamene was an overall better-balanced design, the Hera, especially the later blocks, were bruisers in their own right and held on to more of their gunstar heritage than their cousins did. And now, for the foreseeable future, Selene was his.

Churchill felt like he was returning to his roots, having served on battlestars as both a pilot and later as a CIC officer before Admiral Richardson had brought him into the shadows of Fleet Special Operations. As he walked to the CIC, he thought back over the day’s events and how his life had changed. Early this morning he commanded the top ship in Fleet Special Operations’ small flotilla and the things he did could only be discussed with a very small number of people, and then only under very specific circumstances. By noon he had laid waste to the most expensive project the Union had seen in the past several centuries, and now he was back where he started.

And the Union was dying in flames.

And he had another chance with one of the two women in his life who had ‘gotten away’.

“I guess it really is the first day of the rest of my life,” Churchill chuckled as he stepped into the CIC.

“Commander on deck!” a rating announced and everyone not tending to a specific task came to attention.

“At ease,” Churchill said and looked around at his new staff. Was I ever that young and bright eyed, he wondered silently. “First things first, you don’t need to do that when I come on the deck,” he said. “You can announce me or any other senior officer but tend to your tasks. In peacetime, we can be a little more by the book, but I think since we’re going to be together for at least the next four and a half years, that’s going to get pretty old for all of you.”

“So say we all!” someone said from the navigation workstation.

“So say we all!” Churchill repeated the ancient oath a moment before the rest of the CIC followed suit.

“I’m Commander Langston Churchill, or Fixer, I don’t care which one you use, just remember to use it respectfully, please,” he told the staff. “I realize that it’s late, but I’d like to meet with the XO and department heads in half an hour in my quarters. Until then, I’ll get out of your hair and let you make sure the right people are notified…I just got here a couple hours ago and found out shortly thereafter that I was being transferred from Hades. We’re going to have a pretty steep learning curve, well, I will at least, I am horrible with names and you just have to remember mine, so…let’s work together, give the benefit of the doubt, and speak up if there’s a question.”

The captain at the navigation workstation raised her hand and when Churchill nodded, she asked, “Is the scuttlebutt true, Fixer…about Stormhaven?”

“Damn…that traveled fast!” Churchill chuckled. “What’s your name, Captain?”

“Captain Viktoria Brayden, Fixer,” she replied.

“Smokey Brayden’s girl?” Churchill smiled. “I remember you! You’ve grown up quite a bit since I last saw you! How’s your dad?” He regretted the words almost as soon as he said them.

“Mom and Dad died six months ago when he had a heart attack driving home from a night out,” Brayden replied.

“Damn…I’m sorry, Vika,” Churchill told her. “To answer your question; yes, it’s true…everything on, under, and above Stormhaven was thoroughly nuked to the point where all that was left on the surface were collapsing craters and bits and pieces of masonry.”

The sudden cheering caught Churchill by surprise. “Frakking A, sir! Thank you!” Brayden finally said when the cheering calmed down. “We’ve all lost a lot…but you got us payback.”

Humbled by the sincere comment, Churchill managed a thin smile and nodded. “We should have done it a long time ago. On that note, Captain, I trust the CIC is in good hands and I’ll see my department heads in half an hour.”

*+*+*+*+*

Churchill had finished reviewing several personnel records when there was a knock at his hatch and his intercom buzzed. “Churchill,” he answered.

“Sir, I have Colonel Stanton here to see you,” Corporal Tom Ames stated. “Shall I send her in?”

“Yes, please. Thank you, Tom,” Churchill replied and stood from behind his desk.

The hatch opened and the woman who entered wasn’t what Churchill had expected. He wasn’t sure what he was expecting, but someone barely tall enough to be in the service wasn’t it. She wasn’t even a meter and a half tall and looked like an attractive miniature woman. “Colonel Ariah Stanton, reporting,” she said in a laid back El Doradan drawl and stood at attention.

“At ease, Colonel, there’s no need to be so formal when it’s just us,” Churchill offered. “Langston Churchill, though those who know me call me Fixer,” he added and offered his hand.

“For obvious reasons, friends call me Pixie…” Stanton smirked and shook his hand.

“Please, have a seat. May I get you a cup of coffee, water, soda?” Churchill asked.

Stanton inhaled deeply. “If you have any more of that brew left, I would love to have a cup!”

Churchill chuckled. “Coffee aficionado?”

“It’s in the genes,” Stanton explained. “My parents owned a plantation that grew some of the most sought-after beans on El Dorado.”

“Stanton Cooperative?” Churchill asked as he fixed the coffee.

“The one and only,” Stanton admitted. “While my brothers decided to stay home and live the life of the gentleman farmer, I was the one who refused the ‘suggested’ marriage and ran off and joined the Fleet!”

“Well…I hope this doesn’t bring back any bad memories,” Churchill said and placed the cup and saucer in front of her. “I like a rich, thick brew…”

“Only heathens thin it and weaken it…” Stanton chuckled and sipped the coffee. “Oh…this is amazing. #7 Bean, freshly ground?”

“Got it in one!” Churchill chuckled. “My other hobby is hot chocolate…”

“Can I get a quickie divorce and marry you?” Stanton asked wide eyed. “My husband thinks coffee is coffee, and hot chocolate…it’s powder from a packet that you stir into boiling water!”

“Heathen!” Churchill laughed and sipped his own coffee after sitting behind the desk. “So…is there anything I need to know before we have our meeting? Personality conflicts, turf wars, stuff like that.”

Stanton sat back and cradled her coffee cup with both hands. “We’re really too new to the ship for turf wars to have started and I hope that focusing on the tasks at hand will keep any thoughts of them at bay long enough for things to get stabilized. Likewise, with personality conflicts, we just haven’t been working with each other long enough for personality quirks to turn into conflicts. Captains Brayden and Edison served together prior to being assigned to Selene and rumor has it that they have an on-again – off-again relationship, but nothing in either of their jackets shows that it’s been a problem and when I ran into their old CO at the O-Club a few weeks back he had nothing but praise for them.”

“That’s a good start,” Churchill said and stretched his legs out under the desk. “I was just getting ready to review our medical department when you arrived. What do we have in the way of mental health experts?”

“We have one staff psychiatrist and two counselors that work with her,” Stanton explained. “I think I see where you’re going with this and I think it’s a good move to get them and the other medical staff brought up to speed on mental health warning signs.”

“Exactly. The psychiatrist…” Churchill began and then turned to his terminal.

“Dr. Priscilla Ingram,” Stanton offered.

“Ah, yes, Dr. Ingram…” Churchill narrowed his eyes and then shrugged off the thought that it was a small world. “I’d like her to join in the meeting we’re about to have.”

“That’s a good idea,” Stanton offered. “Chances are Louis will bring her, but it might be good to call down to sickbay and make sure.”

*+*+*+*+*

The meeting lasted almost two hours and Churchill was starting to feel the effects of the day and the adrenaline rushes coupled with his caffeine intake. All the officers had left except for Major Dr. Priscilla Ingram. “I’m going to be relying heavily on you, Doctor, to tell me what I need to hear and not what I want to hear, not just when it comes to the crew but when it comes to me.”

Ingram nodded and smirked. “My sister is the one that’s truly diplomatic…I think that’s why she went into private practice and I went into the service; I promise you that I won’t sugarcoat things should something come up.”

“Good…thank you,” Churchill told her. “Now…that goes for you as well. If something is bugging you, you need to come to me or Dr. Dumas. I might not have the training and education you do, but I have an open ear, lots of experience, and the scars to prove it, and I’ve talked someone off a building before.”

“Do you have anything with a kick?” Ingram asked.

“Yeah…” Churchill said and walked over to a sidebar and retrieved a bottle of smokey brown liquid. “This is Plan B…” he chuckled and poured two glasses, handing Ingram one. “What’s up?”

“Before I came down to your quarters, I looked in the mirror and realized that I’d never see my face anywhere else ever again,” Ingram began and drank half the glass’ contents. “I have a twin sister and despite my heart telling me not to despair that she’s alive, the rational part of me is telling me that today is the end of the world and that we’re all that’s left.”

“What do you really want to believe?” Churchill asked after several moments and a sip of whiskey.

“That she’s alive,” Ingram answered.

“Then you hold that here,” Churchill pointed at her heart, “and tell your rational mind that you’re not going to listen to it. Sometimes we have to embrace the irrational and accept that hope and faith have a power uniquely their own.”

“That’s pretty insightful…” Ingram said.

“I spent three weeks with the Herald of Elpis getting her to safety when revolutionaries overthrew the local government and put a price on her head,” Churchill explained. “A truly amazing woman and so full of hope and wisdom…”

“Oh?” Ingram arched an eyebrow questioningly.

“Yeah…she was very much a big sister, best friend, and helpful cousin all rolled into one,” Churchill reminisced, fibbing slightly. “A year later, I spent two weeks of leave taking a class she offered in conflict resolution.”

“Sounds like someone I’d like to meet,” Ingram said.

Churchill stood and walked over to his bookcase and selected a slim leather-bound volume. “Here…this is the book I suggest everyone starts with; ‘Daily Thoughts’.”

Ingram took the book and opened it, “To my dearest Fixer, you fixed something that I didn’t know was broken and for that I will be eternally grateful, /s/ Anna-Gry HoE,” she read the handwritten inscription. “There’s a story there, but we have a long trip and I’m patient…” she quipped. “Thank you…I’m already looking forward reading this.”

“Good…I have the rest of her works when you’re ready for them,” Churchill said when there was a knock at his hatch. He looked at the chronometer on the wall, 22:54. He picked up the handset a moment after it buzzed, “What’s up, Tom?”

“Ah…sir, the President is here to see you,” Ames replied.

“Well, we shouldn’t keep her waiting,” Churchill said as a smile slid across his face.

The hatch opened and President Allegra Marquette stepped through and stopped. “Am I interrupting?” she asked.

Ingram stood, “No, Madam President. Commander Churchill and I were discussing some issues that were related to the staff meeting that just ended.”

Marquette looked at the younger woman and then offered a smile, “My apologies…I was returning to Kamira and thought I’d stop in…”

“I was just getting ready to leave,” Ingram said and picked up the book and her tablet. “Commander, thank you…you’ve helped…fix…a problem.”

“You’re most welcome, Doctor; it’s what I do,” Churchill said warmly.

“On that note, with your permission, I’m going to take my leave; I have another hour or so of work before I can nip a few hours of sleep,” Ingram said and stepped toward the hatch. “Madam President.”

“Goodnight, Doctor Ingram,” Marquette said and then shook her head. “What’s going on here, Pris?”

Ingram sighed and Churchill hoped he didn’t look clueless. “I was having a crisis about Meredith and Commander Churchill helped me put some pieces back together.”

“He’s good at that, isn’t he,” Marquette asked and leaned against the desk.

“Yes…very…” Ingram said before she squared her shoulders and leaned forward and whispered something in Marquette’s ear that Churchill didn’t hear. “Understand?” she said when she stepped back.

“Completely…” Marquette nodded. “We’ll talk…” she told the doctor.

“Ok…I’m confused,” Churchill said after Ingram left. “What did I just witness?”

Marquette walked over to one of the sofas in the quarters’ living section and sat down. She patted the cushion next to her and waited until Churchill sat next to her. “Meredith and Priscilla helped me after my divorce from Asshole. I saw Meredith until I was elected, and then Priscilla was on my staff for about six months to finish up the therapy.”

“Oh…ok…” Churchill said and sat back.

“Things got…close…between us and that’s when we knew it was time to end the sessions,” Marquette whispered as she leaned close. “Does that answer your question?” she asked softly.

“Yes…it does,” Churchill smiled and slipped his arm around Marquette’s shoulders.

*+*+*+*+*

“Dradis contacts!” Captain Viktoria Brayden announced as the dradis starting pinging with newly arrived ships.

“Action Stations! Set Condition One throughout the ship!” Commander Langston Churchill ordered as he watched his CIC staff quickly move to bring the massive battlestar into fighting trim.

“Alert 5 is ready to launch and the rest of the wing will be ready within ten minutes,” Captain Lincoln Selby stated from Flight Control.

“All weapons are manned and ready to fire,” Captain Scott Edison announced from Fire Control.

“Colonel?” Churchill asked and looked over where his XO stood on the other side of the plotting table looking at a stopwatch.

“We cleared for action and were ready to go in less than a minute,” Colonel Ariah Stanton replied. “That’s good, but we can do better.”

“Agreed. Lieutenant Narvik, please sound all clear and secure from Action Stations and set Condition Two throughout the ship,” Churchill said and concluded the readiness exercise.

Lieutenant Simone Narvik repeated the order and then made the announcement over the 1MC. “Sir, I have Admiral Richardson on the line…”

“Thanks, Simone; please put him through down here,” Churchill told the communications officer.

“You’re connected,” Narvik said and Churchill heard the two beeps confirming the connection was made.

Selene Actual,” Churchill said and then added, “We’re ready, Admiral.”

“Good to hear, Fixer,” Admiral Lawson Richardson replied. “We’re going to jump off at 08:00, waiting any longer is just going to increase the risk factor without providing anything really tangible.”

There it was, Churchill thought to himself. “I understand. Did you give any thought about what we discussed at dinner?”

“I have…and after the last straggler arrived this morning, I don’t see how it would do anything but rub salt in already open wounds,” Richardson said. “We’d all like to go back and say goodbye or see for ourselves that the Union worlds are dead, but the risk is just too great.”

“That’s what I figured,” Churchill said and logically agreed with Richardson even though his heart wanted to go back and see what happened firsthand. “We’ll be ready on time…I think we’re ready now, actually.”

“Do a final systems’ check and census check, then get back to me,” Richardson said. “I don’t want anyone left behind by accident.”

“So say we all,” Churchill agreed. “We’ll be ready.”

“Good…let me know when it’s done and maybe we can shave an hour or so off the trip!” Richardson joked.

*+*+*+*+*

Earth Union, Epsilon 215 system, Waypoint Station, battlestar Enodia

It was deep into the balls to four watch and Admiral Lawson Richardson walked the passageways of the beautiful new battlestar. He was lost in his thoughts and had nervous energy he needed to work out of his system. Enodia was one of several ships that had been contracted specifically to escort Union, the almost in-service mobile capital. When the idea was first pitched, many of the traditional elite laughed at it and ridiculed the idea with scorn that was so over the top as to be laughable. But then something unexpected happened; the President took the argument to the people and talked directly to them and explained why the idea was important and how it would benefit them.

This cut out the talking head middlemen who saw it as their duty to interpret and spin things based on their agenda and almost overnight their ridicule turned into anger and animosity. The constant negativity quickly showed up in the ratings as people moved to outlets that offered news and not wall to wall negative opinion. The people loved the idea that their government would be coming to them, and their feedback and viewing options hammered that point home. In the end, the only people who were really against the concept that Union embodied were those who would lose access to the politicians and staffers that they had enjoyed for so long.

The aroma of something baking caught Richardson’s attention and realized he was near the galley. He followed the aroma into the mess hall where he saw one of the ship’s cooks putting out a tray of cinnamon rolls. Suddenly hungry, he picked up a plate and stood in line to get one of the fresh rolls.

“Good morning, Admiral,” Captain Kiki Starr, Enodia’s weapons officer, greeted him. She was wearing a pair of sweats with the ship’s crest and her last name embroidered on the left chest and had her curly strawberry blonde hair down instead of the bun she had worn it in earlier.

“Good morning, Captain,” Richardson replied and stepped forward with the line. “You’re up early.”

“I could say the same about you!” Starr joked back. “Nervous energy…it’s like when I was a kid and it was the night before the day school started after summer break; I wanted to sleep but I just couldn’t. So…I just spent an hour swimming laps and now I figure I can splurge a bit. Chef Jones makes the most amazing baked goods!”

“If it tastes half as good as it smells it’ll beat anything I’ve had in ages,” Richardson said and used a pair of tongs to put a roll on his plate.

“Join me?” Starr asked and motioned to a table.

“Sure, let me get a cup of coffee,” Richardson smiled and then added, “Do you want a cup?”

“Thanks, but no…I have a glass of orange juice,” Starr replied. “I figure I’ll drink the fresh and real stuff while we have it.”

“Sounds like a good plan…I think I’ll grab a glass, too,” Richardson said and returned with both a cup of coffee and glass of orange juice. “I had the same nervous energy,” he admitted and took a bite of the roll. “Damn…this is amazing!” he said and savored the flavor.

“Told you!” Starr grinned. “If I may…” she started, and Richardson nodded for her to continue, “you seem a lot more laid back than other senior officers that I’ve served with.”

“I think it’s the culture I come from, Kiki – if I may?” Richardson answered. Starr nodded, “Thank you, Kiki, I didn’t want to presume. Special Operations is a completely different culture than typical line postings; it’s more informal, based on respect probably more than rank, and a mutual understanding that we’re all professionals who are very good at what we do. I rather people follow me because they trust and respect me and that I’m going to make the right or best decisions possible rather than solely because of my rank.”

Starr seemed to think about what he said for a moment and then slowly started to nod. “I like it, sir,” she said and popped a piece of roll in her mouth and chewed it for a few moments before swallowing. “It’s going to take a little getting used to, but I think with what we’re dealing with and that we have more than four years of standing watch to look forward to that it’s going to be the right thing for us.”

“We are really going to be operating in uncharted waters, so to speak, and a lot of the old rules are going to have to be reexamined to see if they work,” Richardson stated and sipped his orange juice. “I’m going to miss this! Just as I’m going to miss those burgers at The Boneyard, right down from the Admiralty on the wharf.”

“Oh…man…you just had to bring up the Boneyard Special!” Starr laughed and shivered. “Those things are to die for! I would stop for one every time I was in the area…it drove my friends crazy!”

“Maybe we can see if we can borrow a grill and try to recreate them?” Richardson asked, warming up to the idea of recreating the culinary favorite.

“Count me in!” Starr grinned and then after a moment, turned serious. “I did have one question…about the rules.”

“Shoot,” Richardson said and ate another bite of the roll.

“It came up in conversation, but how strictly are the rules about fraternization going to be viewed?” Starr asked.

“My unofficial view is that so long as it doesn’t affect efficiency, morale, or cause issues, I’m cool with it. We’re all adults and we’re all going to be dealing with a lot of emotions as we deal with what’s happened,” Richardson explained. “I plan on discussing it with Commander Churchill and the President before issuing something formal on it.”

Starr smiled and nodded. “Cool. That’s what I was hoping you’d say. I can understand the rules before all this happened, but now…”

“Exactly,” Richardson agreed.

*+*+*+*+*

“Colonel Ellis, is the ship ready?” Admiral Lawson Richardson asked the man standing on the other side of the plotting table.

“The ship is ready, Admiral,” Colonel Norman Ellis replied. “All divisions have checked in and confirmed they are ready to sail.”

“Thank you,” Richardson said and looked around the CIC. He had already talked to the crew and explained the reasons why they were leaving the Union and that while they may be ceding the battlefield now, so long as they lived and lived well, the war would never be lost. “Mr. Landau, please signal the fleet that it is time to leave and that Captain Reeves will be calling the clock.”

“Copy,” Lieutenant Mia Landau said and repeated the order before sending it to the rest of the fleet.

“Mr. Reeves,” Richardson said and turned to the ship’s navigator. “Are you ready to make some history?”

“Ready to make history, aye,” Captain Orlando Reeves replied. “All ships have confirmed receipt of jump coordinates and are waiting for the word to be given.”

“Well…I guess we shouldn’t keep them waiting, should we?” Richardson asked and felt the sudden weight of the situation settle on his shoulders. For the past day and a half, ever since he had taken command of Enodia, he stayed busy. Now…all that work was being put to the test and if it failed it would be on his shoulders. “The word is given…let’s start the trip and…” he tried to look stern as he looked around the CIC, “the first person who asks, ‘are we there yet?’ will be sent to their room without dinner!”

Captain Kiki Starr raised her hand. “Don’t even think of asking, Kiki…” Richardson smiled knowing what her smirk portended.

“Had to try, sir!” Starr joked.

“That you did, Kiki,” Richardson chuckled. “Mr. Reeves, you may jump the ship!”

“Copy, I may jump the ship!” Reeves replied and announced over the 1MC and wireless, “Prepare to jump! We will jump in 10…9…8…7…

Richardson happened to glance over where Starr sat at the weapons station and saw her mouth, ‘Are we there yet?’ and then wink. He rolled his lips between his teeth to keep from laughing as Reeves finished the countdown.

“3…2…1…jump!” Reeves said in measured tones as the ship’s FTL drive tore apart reality, built a wormhole from here to there, then pushed the ship through it. In less than an instant it was over. “Jump complete…all ships have successfully transited...All stations may secure from Jump Conditions. Next jump in three hours.”

“We’ve just taken the first step,” Richardson told the CIC. “Three more jumps and then we’ll begin accelerating for the rest of the journey.”

*+*+*+*+*

_________________
Kurt

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 10, 2021 11:46 am 
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Location: Battlestar Hecate BSG-94
Vignette 11: Storming Heaven (Part 3 of 3)

Outside the Earth Union, deep space, Venture Station, science ship Nebula Venture

“Where’s Aurora Venture?” Colonel James McClay asked rhetorically as he studied the overhead dradis display.

“Maybe they went out to look for us?” Lieutenant Colonel Dennis Walker suggested. “We are a week overdue.”

“That’s possible, but it doesn’t explain why we aren’t being hailed and why Venture Station looks deserted,” Captain Chloe Rosemont said and pointed at the image shown on a display.

“Any signs of life over there, Jolene?” McClay asked Specialist Jolene Vance, the ship’s communications specialist.

“Nothing, sir,” Vance replied. “I’m getting something now…it’s looped with a countdown timer. I’m recording it…shall I send it down to you?”

“Put it on speakers, please,” McClay replied and braced himself for what he might hear.

“Copy…on speakers,” Vance answered and a moment later a voice was heard over the speakers.

“…leaving with the battlestar Nemesis as directed under Emergency War Order Precipice. Contents of the EWO are appended to this transmission as are recordings taken from recon flights over Earth during the attack. We have left supplies for you so that you will be well provisioned to make the journey. This is Dr. Otto Cayman, Director of Venture Station…Nebula Venture, I hope to see you in a few years. Singing off…

“This message is for Nebula Venture. The Venture Station personnel and Aurora Venture have evacuated the station due to the Chrome Brigades rising up against humanity and launching a genocidal attack on all inhabited worlds and stations. Whatever you do, do not return the Union; the drones are killing every human and destroying every ship they can find. A short time ago, a fleet arrived, and we made the decision to evacuate with them. This transmission will begin broadcasting when you return and Venture Station validates your transponder. It will repeat twenty times before the message is erased and the memory purged.

“We are leaving momentarily with the battlestar Nemesis as directed under Emergency War Order Precipice. Contents of the EWO are appended to this transmission as are recordings taken from recon flights over Earth during the attack. We have left supplies for you so that you will be well provisioned to make the journey. This is Dr. Otto Cayman, Director of Venture Station…Nebula Venture, I hope to see you in a few years. Singing off…”

“You can turn it off, Jolene, but please record it until it stops broadcasting,” McClay said and leaned against the plotting table. “Denny, your thoughts?”

“Without seeing the evidence, I want to think this is a very elaborate practical joke…” Walker said and frowned while shaking his head.

“But?” McClay prodded.

“But…they’re professionals. Maybe something small might be done to joke us, but this? This is too much, too big, and way too dark,” Walker explained. “Some things you just don’t joke about, you know?”

“Yeah…that’s what’s bugging me,” McClay agreed and turned to Vance. “Jolene, can you send the attachments down here so we can see them?”

“They’re queued and ready for you,” Vance replied and arched her eyebrows.

“What would I do without you?” McClay chuckled and met her gaze.

“I can’t think of many things,” Vance retorted. “The transmission has ceased.”

“Thanks…let’s take a look at this. First up, the recon data,” McClay said and had the video files play on a display screen.

“My gods…” Rosemont swore as the video started and showed numerous nuclear detonations on Earth as well as the clouds from uncountable previous detonations. The video changed to show the battlestar Ra as it fell into the atmosphere, its leading edges glowing red as it accelerated and fell deeper into the thicker atmosphere until it finally broke apart and exploded.

“Ok…I’ve seen enough,” McClay finally said a few minutes later. “Denny, have a couple teams go over to check out what’s left at the station and collect those provisions. I want to have a command team meeting in half an hour to discuss our extended voyage and jump off as soon as we can.”

“Will do…” Walker began to answer but was interrupted by the dradis pinging off new arrivals.

“What do we have, Chloe?” McClay asked.

“Transponders are Union…Battlestars Union, Enodia, and Selene, among others,” Rosemont replied.

“We’re being hailed,” Vance announced.

“Please put it down here, Jolene,” McClay requested and studied the dradis while praying that the new arrivals were legit.

“Copy…” Vance said. “You’re live.”

“…star Enodia to science ship Nebula Venture, please respond,” McClay heard a female voice declare.

“This is Colonel James McClay, commanding Nebula Venture, you’re the second surprise we’ve had in the last ten minutes,” McClay said.

Nebula Venture, Enodia Actual, we’re glad we found you,” a masculine voice replied. “This is Admiral Lawson Richardson, have you heard what happened to the Union?”

McClay took a deep breath and shared the pain he heard in Richardson’s voice. “Yes…we just saw some video evidence and a decrypted copy of EWO Precipice left by Nemesis.”

“Please don’t take this the wrong way,” Richardson asked and to McClay’s ear it sounded as if the man was smiling, “but that is the best news we’ve heard since this started. It means that others survived and were able to evacuate.”

“I hadn’t thought of it that way,” McClay admitted as it struck home just how dire the situation was. “What’s the plan?” he asked. “Assuming you let us tag along, that is,” he added to try and lighten his mood.

“We’re going to stand down for a couple hours and make sure everything is good to go, then we’ll be doing two more jumps and then starting the long voyage,” Richardson explained.

*+*+*+*+*

Deep Space, liner Eternal Paradise

“Why are we here?” President Allegra Marquette asked as she walked next to Commander Langston Churchill on her right and Tristan on her left.

“What are we doing here?” Churchill mused. “Well…” he looked over at Tristan who was a step behind Daisy and Rusty. “We are here to have some fun.”

“Fun?” Marquette asked and cocked her head. “What sort of fun?”

“Something we haven’t seen for at least eighteen months,” Churchill said cryptically, “and something that Tristan told me Daisy and Rusty have never seen.”

“Ok…now you have me confused,” Marquette chuckled and trusted whatever it was, would be memorable.

“Let me get the door,” Churchill said and then stopped. “Oh…yeah…” he said and guided them to a small alcove. “Here’s the ticket,” he said and gave someone out of Marquette’s line of sight what looked like a paper card. A moment later a large, soft, rectangular bundle was handed over and Churchill turned around grinning.

“Here we go…” Churchill said and unzipped the garment bag. “Ladies first,” he said and handed Marquette an insulated field jacket with Selene’s crest and her name embroidered on the chest. “Tristan, one for you,” he gave the boy a smaller jacket, similarly embroidered but with the boy’s name on it, “and one for me!”

“Jackets?” Marquette asked and noticed Tristan already putting his on.

“Allegra, please…just put it on…for me…” Churchill asked.

“Ok…” Marquette said and slipped her arms into the sleeves as Churchill pulled it up and onto her shoulders.

“Now we’re ready!” Churchill announced and pushed open the door.

The first thing Marquette did was pull her jacket closed as a gust of freezing air swept into the passage. The next thing she noticed was that it was white outside. She slowly stepped forward and took a deep breath of cold, crisp air that carried a pine or alpine scent. Then she realized that it was snowing.

“Oh my gods! It’s…beautiful!” Marquette exclaimed as Daisy and Rusty cautiously stepped out of the passage and onto the snow-covered ground.

“This is so cool!” Tristan said happily. “It’s snowing!”

“You lived up to your name today, Fixer,” Marquette said as she hugged Churchill. “This is so amazing! How did you manage it?”

“I’m just taking advantage of it,” Churchill replied and put his left arm around Marquette’s shoulders. “I was talking to Captain Broderick and he mentioned that his environmental engineers figured out how to make it snow by letting the air cool and then using the natural rain sprinkler system built into the dome supports. This is 100% real snow made the old fashioned, natural way!”

“Even if I wasn’t impressed, which I am, I am impressed because you thought to bring us here and you have absolutely made Tristan’s day. He and the kids are...they’re young and little again,” Marquette said and rested her head on Churchill’s shoulder. This was one of the most amazing things that had ever been done for her.

“They’re going to announce it tomorrow and then have winter walks for the next few weeks,” Churchill explained as he guided them down a path and into a clearing within a pine grove. “Tristan! Do you have it?” he asked as the boy and the dogs joined them.

“Yep! Right here!” Tristan replied and put his hand in his pocket.

“Good…” Churchill said and seemed a little nervous. Finally, he met Marquette’s gaze, took a deep breath, and held her hands. “Allegra…the end of the world brought you back into my life in a way that we could be together. Now…” He dropped to one knee and she saw Tristan pass him small box. “Will you marry me?”

Marquette looked at Churchill and was stunned as time seemed to stop for her. Once again, he had surprised her and her heart knew what it wanted to say, but the shock still had her mouth in neutral.

“C’mon, Mom…answer him…” Tristan said, and Marquette blinked and suddenly time started moving forward again.

“What did you just say, Tristan?” Marquette asked, wondering if she had heard him correctly the first time.

“I said, ‘C’mon, Mom…answer him’,” Tristan replied. “You’ve been a mom to me for a year and a half, I figured I’d just make it official.”

“Yes…” Marquette managed to say and slowly sank to her knees to look Churchill in the eyes. “You know we’re a package deal?” she asked as Churchill gently slipped a ring on her finger.

“Of course…” Churchill said as Marquette heard the sound of clapping from all around her.

Marquette looked up and saw people stepping out from behind the trees and noticed Admiral Richardson and Captain Kiki Starr, Natalie Cline and Colonel Zayne Ramsey, Priscilla Ingram, and several others who had become a close circle of friends since they had left the Union. It took the end of the world, she thought, for me to find happiness and belonging again; I should feel guilty but all I can feel is happy.

*+*+*+*+*

Deep Space, Earth Union battlestar Enodia

“What’s wrong, Sonny?” Captain Kiki Starr asked as she sat on the sofa next to Admiral Lawson Richardson and folded her legs under her.

Richardson put down the tablet he was reading and allowed his head to fall back against the top of the sofa’s rear cushion. “In a few months we’ll be back in N-space and have to come to grips with whether the Colonies are welcoming, or if they’re even there. I’m concerned if the answer to them is ‘no’.”

“What will we do if that’s the case?” Starr asked.

“I’ve spoken to Allegra, Fixer, and Hiram about it, and the consensus is if that’s the case then we will find a planet that’s suitable for life and homestead,” Richardson said and slid his arm around Starr’s shoulders. “We can’t keep going forever…things are getting low, not critical, but we’re at the point where the grocery manager is reordering to make sure the shelves get stocked the next delivery.”

“I think I’d like that…get some real sky overhead for a change,” Starr replied and leaned into Richardson’s shoulder. “What are your thoughts about what Allegra told us?”

“I expected it,” Richardson said and turned to look at Starr. “Those first few weeks, if it weren’t for Fixer, Pris, Nat, and Tristan, I don’t think she would have made it. She carried the guilt of what happened on her shoulders, the uncertainty whether her son and daughter survived, and kept second guessing whether there was something she could have done prior to the uprising to have prevented it.”

“She couldn’t have done anything…” Starr said after a moment.

“You’re right…and she knew that here,” Richardson pointed to his head. “But her heart wouldn’t accept it. I remember the first night Fixer called me…she had stayed over and fell asleep crying in his arms. Kiki…I’ve never seen him so worried or sounding so helpless as he did that night. Thankfully, Pris was able to help and the rest is history. That was the turning point, though…Pris once said sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you can start coming back to the light.”

“I can only imagine,” Starr finally said. “What do you think we’re going to find?”

Richardson smiled and slowly nodded. “That I can answer,” he said. “We’re going to find the Colonials, of that I’m certain, and I’m fairly sure that we’re going to find more of our people who survived. However…I have a theory and it isn’t a good one…”

Star narrowed her eyes. “Oh?”

“Yeah…I was doing some reading and there’s a legend that predates the Titanomachy,” Richardson explained and shifted closer to Starr. “I’ve only found partial mention of it in two other places, though I have to admit our research library isn’t up to the Union Library on Earth. Anyway, the legend said that the previous civilization created mechanical life just like we did. Like ours, it rose up and tried to kill them. After that, they had to leave the homeworld and settled on Othrys. Then there was the Titanomachy, and after that the Communion was settled. Again, artificial life was created and rather than risk a war, the gods took those who wanted to leave and settled Kobol.”

“The Thirteen Tribes?” Starr asked.

“The Thirteen Tribes,” Richardson repeated. “Our people left some long while after Kobol was settled and then two thousand years after we settled Earth, Kobol is having troubles and they have to leave the planet and settle the Colonies. That’s about the time we had issues with the drones.”

“And now, two thousand years later, you’re worried that the Colonies are falling into the same trap we did?” Starr asked and then quoted Pythia, “’All this has happened before, and all this will happen again’. Damn…why can’t we learn from our mistakes?”

“Because we’re human, my dear,” Richardson told her, though he didn’t add the more disturbing legend or suggestion that he found, one that didn’t need to ever see the light of day and one that really didn’t matter to him.

“We’ll find war?” Star finally surmised.

“Conflict at least,” Richardson offered. “Whether it’s from some sort of self-made problem or our appearing and asking for help, I don’t think we’re going to find a dozen or more worlds living in harmony.”

A movement from the bedroom caught Richardson’s eye and he smiled. Baxter was peeking around the doorway to see why his humans hadn’t come to bed yet. “Baxter is wondering where we are…” he said and nodded in the little dog’s direction. He had been a gift from Tristan after the pup had taken a liking to Starr and decided that she was his human.

“Well, we mustn’t keep Baxter waiting!” Starr said silkily and gracefully stood. “Coming?” she asked and held out her hand.

*+*+*+*+*

Deep Space, Earth Union battlestar Selene

“Are you comfortable with your decision?” Major Dr. Priscilla Ingram asked one of the other two people seated around the table.

“Yes, I am,” Allegra Marquette smiled and seemed to relax. “I’ve given it a lot of thought; if there are other survivors, there’s a good chance that they have created a new government that allows them to look forward. Were I to assert that I was the lawful president and given the nature of what happened and the immediate entry into a State of Emergency I constitutionally have that right, it would cause friction and more importantly, it would force them to look backwards.

“That isn’t our path, we need to look forward,” Marquette stated. “Besides, I allowed my career and political ambitions deprive me of being a mother the first time around, I’m not going to let that happen again…I’m not going to deprive Tristan of another mother.”

“Fixer?” Ingram asked. “Your thoughts?”

“I completely support her decision,” Commander Langston Churchill answered. “Even if she wasn’t my wife, I would still support her because she made the right decision for her and her reasons were excellent. Allegra has led us forward, led us through the most horrific event in our history, so I have no doubt that she can take us where we need to be.”

“I sense a ‘but’ in there,” Ingram speculated and arched her eyebrows.

Churchill nodded and collected his thoughts before he continued. “There is…do you know when a company rebrands itself or starts a completely new ad campaign?” he asked.

Ingram narrowed her eyes, “Yes…”

“They’re moving the company forward and in almost every case they change spokesmen, logos, theme music, colors, all the things that would remind a consumer of the past, they change,” Churchill explained. “In a way, that’s what our people are doing and even though I know Allegra is the most qualified person for the job, when people see her, they’ll see the past.”

Silence descended on the table for several long moments. “That was really beautifully explained,” Marquette said and patted Churchill’s hand. “I think I’m going to poach it for my speech.”

“Please do…” Churchill replied and was glad to have been able to help his wife with one of the stumbling blocks she had when trying to explain the ‘why’ of her decision.

“I apologize for making this seem like an interrogation,” Ingram explained, “I just wanted to make sure the two people I love more than anyone was sure of the decision.”

“We are,” Marquette reassured Ingram.

“Good!” Ingram smiled and Churchill saw her visibly relax. “I understand that Tristan is having a sleepover with Scott, Victoria, and Annalise?” she asked leadingly.

Churchill looked to Marquette; this was one area of the relationship that he preferred her to take the lead. “He is…” his wife replied seductively.

“Good…because it’s been a while…” Ingram replied and stood.

*+*+*+*+*

Deep Space, Earth Union battlestar Enodia

“Now that we’ve secured from our high-speed transit, I think that we need to progress very carefully and slowly,” Vice Admiral Lawson Richardson stated to the President and assembled officers. Two weeks earlier, President Marquette had initiated several promotions, his among them.

“Do you expect that we’ll meet resistance?” Rear Admiral Hiram Ormond, the commander of Carrier Group 3, asked.

Richardson shrugged, “That’s the thing, Hiram, I don’t know what we’re going to find. Right now, I’m pretty gun-shy and cautious; imagine if the Colonials are at war or are facing their own uprising from artificial life…that isn’t something we want to jump into with the civilians. While we have hope that Commander Marlowe and Nemesis were able to manage an evacuation and shepherd a refugee fleet like we have, for now I think our guiding thought should be that we are all that is left of humanity.”

“I guess I was being hopeful,” Ormond replied. “It’s easy to fall into the trap that all the bad things happened to you and that the Colonials are just waiting for us to arrive and be given a ticker-tape parade to celebrate.”

“We’re not going to use recon drones?” Rear Admiral Langston Churchill asked. Like Richardson and Ormond, he was promoted during the flurry of promotions.

“No…” Richardson answered and sipped a glass of water. “It isn’t because I don’t trust them, but I rather put someone that can think for themselves out there. If we had some of the manned recon units that were just starting to come off the lines, I’d use them, but…we don’t.”

“That makes sense and I’m glad that we’re thinking along the same lines,” Churchill agreed. “That would suggest that either Selene or Hades takes point…and despite wanting to be on the sharp end, I think that Hades would be the optimal solution.”

“Thank you, Fixer,” Commander Shen Nagasi replied, “we really can be a hole in space.”

“And that’s why!” Churchill chuckled. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t be letting you have all the fun!”

“The working plan is that we send Hades ahead and if it’s a jump to deep space, they stick around long enough to determine that it’s safe and that there’s no-one and nothing there, and if it is a planetary system, then they survey the planets and also determine if there is anyone or anything there,” Richardson said and brought discussion back on track.

“Will the fleet jump immediately upon Hades’ return?” Churchill asked.

“That’s the plan,” Richardson responded. “It ensures that the data remains accurate.”

“How far are we from the Colonies?” President Allegra Marquette asked. “I know we secured from transit some distance away, but just how far out are we?”

“We’re 120 light years from the Cyrannus cluster, Madam President,” Richardson explained and keyed an astrographic chart to display on a large 3-meter display on the wall. “This will give us time to tend to maintenance issues we couldn’t during transit and also listen to see if we can hear signs of life. Our first jump will be to deep space, the second to a system that we believe has a habitable planet. Depending on the conditions, we may pause and have a few days of thanksgiving for the trip. After that, it’s ten jumps to the Colonies.”

“If I did my math correctly, barring the time we spend after the second jump in the planetary system, we could be in the Colonies within two days?” Marquette pressed.

Richardson slowly nodded. “That’s correct.”

“I’m almost tempted to just say push on and let’s get this over with, but I think your plan is for the best,” Marquette finally said. “I assume that Nova will be launched to do the ‘listening’?”

“Any ship that is spaceworthy and capable of jump will be launched before we continue, contingent on the crew being suitably prepared,” Richardson said and studied his tablet for a moment. “We don’t know what we’re going to find, and I think now that all the damage has been repaired, that it would be best if we gave the ships the chance to maneuver in the event of attack rather than keep them in the dock which would itself be a primary target.”

“I think the only thing left to ask is…” Marquette smirked.

“Don’t say it…” Richardson and the others laughed. “I’m planning the first jump for 09:00 tomorrow, Hades will jump off at 08:30, and the second jump hopefully at noon. That gives us the rest of the day to launch the ships and have them do function checks.”

“Give the orders, Admiral, I completely support this,” Marquette stated, and Richardson could feel the excitement in the room. They were so close to the finish line he could almost see the goal net.

*+*+*+*+*

Deep Space, Earth Union gunstar Hades

“What are you studying so intently?” Commander Shen Nagasi asked Major Jennifer Ford as he sat at the table in their quarters.

“Promise not to laugh?” Ford asked and looked up from the laptop.

“Always, Jen,” Nagasi replied. “You’ve been preoccupied for the past day or so…”

“I decided to review the telemetry we recorded when we hit Stormhaven as a sort of…I dunno…I guess I wanted to make sure that it really happened and wasn’t some sort of shared false memory,” Ford began explaining. “It’s been over four years and I guess I was second guessing my memories.

“Anyway…” she paused and turned the laptop so that Nagasi could see the screen. “This caught my attention. Maybe I saw it back then and it’s been bouncing around in my subconscious ever since or maybe I just now noticed it, but what are these?” she asked and pointed at three ships intermingled with several drone ships. “They’re not in any of our warbooks; they aren’t ours, aren’t Erisian, they don’t even adhere to any Union design theory on record.”

Nagasi leaned close and then tapped a few keys on the keyboard and sent the image to the large display screen on the wall. “Just looking at them, you can tell they don’t look like something we’d make.”

“Exactly. Now…the Owl managed to catch this…” Ford said as another image appeared. The symbol on the back of one of the ships looked like a planet causing a partial eclipse of a sun.

“I don’t recall ever seeing that…it doesn’t represent any world government…” Nagasi said and leaned close to the display as if a few less centimeters would somehow provide more insight.

“That’s because it doesn’t,” Ford replied, her voice turning cautious and concerned. “It belongs to the Meropian Communion who we haven’t heard from in decades, maybe centuries.”

“What are they doing there…of all places?” Nagasi asked and took his seat at the table. “Do you think?”

Ford slowly nodded. “Yes, I do…I think that they had something to do with the drones’ behavior.”

“Let’s work on this until after the second jump when we’ll probably spend some downtime at the system we found,” Nagasi suggested. “Command has enough on their plates without us adding this to the mix.”

Ford closed the laptop and pushed it to the center of the table. “Any plans when we get to the Colonies?” she asked.

“I do…” Nagasi smirked. “I want to buy you a ring, ask you properly, and then make what we have official,” he told her.

“I like that!” Ford grinned and stretched. “We have a big day tomorrow…let’s get some sleep so we’re ready.”

“Oh…is that what we’re calling it now…sleep?” Nagasi chuckled.

“We’ll get to that eventually!” Ford smirked.

*+*+*+*+*

Deep Space, Earth Union gunstar Hades

“Prepare for jump,” Major Jennifer Ford announced after she acknowledged the order to start the jump clock. “We will jump in 10…9…8…”

“EW suite is prepped and ready,” Captain Clive Marion said a moment later.

Now it’s in the hands of the cold equations, Commander Shen Nagasi thought as he watched his fiancé count down the seconds until Hades leapt between the stars in an infinite instant.

“…3…2…1…Jump!” Ford announced and Nagasi felt the contraction and expansion common to FTL jumps and then it was over. “We have successfully transited and are exactly where we should be.”

“Excellent!” Nagasi replied. “You still have it, Jen!”

“Of course I do!” Ford joked back. “Wait one…” she said, her voice losing any humor and turning serious. “I’m getting dradis sources…thirty-three of them, all classed as navigational. And…two search dradis sources, some distance from where the main body is orbiting the planet.”

“Have they spotted us?” Nagasi asked and studied the dradis display. Thirty-three contacts, including some that were enormous, were orbiting the third planet at about 35,000 kilometers. The two contacts that had operational search dradis were smaller and were freely navigating between the orbiting ships and the planet’s moon.

“No, nothing that’s hit us has reflected back with enough energy to cause a ping,” Ford answered.

“OK…Jen, please plot a return jump and keep the FTL spun up so we can jump at a moment’s notice,” Nagasi asked. “Kay, lets put on the big ears and see what we can hear…if you get anything, please send it down.”

“Copy…Putting on the big ears,” Lieutenant Kaylyn Ross replied.

“What do you think, Joe?” Nagasi asked the solidly built man standing on the other side of the plotting table.

“I think we’ve found what we came to find,” Colonel Joseph Vickers answered. “The question is what are they doing so far out in the black orbiting what appears to be an uninhabited planet.”

“Good question, and one that we’ll let someone higher on the food chain ask!” Nagasi chuckled.

“Commander?” Ross asked. “I’m getting something…”

“Please put it on 5,” Nagasi replied and looked at display 5.

A moment later the display came to life and showed a woman in her late 20s in front of a digital blackboard. “Thank you all for turning in your tests,” she said, “are there any questions about the material we covered?”

“A school lesson?” Vickers asked. “I guess it would make sense if they had a large number of civilians.”

“Keep recording, Kay,” Nagasi said and turned to where Vickers stood watching the lesson. “What do you think?”

“She’s cute!” Vickers replied and grinned. “Then again, she’s the first new face we’ve seen in four and a half years!”

“We need to find you a steady girlfriend, Joe,” Nagasi chuckled and shook his head.

“Yeah…agreed!” Vickers agreed. “I think that we’re seeing one of two things…first, a colonization effort with massive government support. Second, they’re either running or hiding from something…just like we are.”

“Frak…you had to distill it down to those options, didn’t you?” Nagasi asked. “Jen, do we have any visuals on the ships in orbit?”

“Oh…yes…” Ford stated before adding, “On 4…don’t want to deprive Joe of watching his new girlfriend.”

“You realize that we’re going to have to introduce you if we really do make contact?” Nagasi teased.

“Works for me…holy shit!” Vickers said as Nagasi’s eyes went to display 4 and saw what was displayed.

Nagasi was stunned with what he saw. About half of the ships were military, including three of the largest warships he’d ever seen. Several of the civilian ships, or what he thought were civilian ships, were massive as well. “Ok…we stay very, very quiet…like a church mouse hiding from the cat…” he managed to say. “Jen, try and get me footage of each ship, military and civilian, before we head home.”

“Copy, footage of each ship,” Ford replied, similarly in awe at what the CIC was observing.

*+*+*+*+

Deep Space, Earth Union battlestar Enodia

“Wow…that’s pretty…” Vice Admiral Lawson Richardson said as he watched the footage that Hades had recorded.

Nova has picked up civilian transmissions from more than 100 years ago, so whatever reason they have to be there is most likely recent,” President Allegra Marquette said over the video connection.
“It’s going to be delicate with the civilians and military both present,” Rear Admiral Langston Churchill said from where he sat next to the President.

“That’s why I think the group we jump to meet them is mixed, like theirs,” Richardson explained. “They have thirty-three ships, I’m thinking we take about fifteen. We leave the rest back here with a carrier and some gunstars to ride shotgun.”

“There isn’t a single best option, just options that might be better given unknown parameters that we’ll meet,” Marquette said, every bit the president that she still was, “and we don’t know why they’re here. So…caution and honesty, gentlemen.”

“Absolutely,” Richardson agreed. “I’m going to send notice to the ships that will be joining us, and we should be able to jump in about half an hour.”

*+*+*+*+*

Deep Space, unknown star system near its third planet, Earth Union battlestar Enodia

“Jump complete, all units reporting successful transit,” Captain Orlando Reeves announced. “All ships are in formation and we are free and clear to navigate.”

“Thank you, Captain Reeves,” Richardson replied and looked over at his XO. “Let’s do this, Norm,” he said.

“Copy that, Boss,” Colonel Norman Ellis replied and made sure that Lieutenant Mia Landau reiterated the order that fire control dradis was to be on standby and weapons posture was weapons hold.

“I’m not getting any change in their dradis posture,” Major Kiki Starr said. “They’re either surprised and very slow to react, or they’re keeping a lid on things.”

Moments after Landau sent the transmission, she announced, “Admiral, we’re being hailed.”

“On speakers, please,” Richardson replied and looked at the dradis display as if it would reveal he mysteries they faced.

“Attention unknown ships, you are in space claimed by the 12 Colonies of Kobol and this is the Colonial battlestar Nyx, please identify yourselves and state your intentions.”

Richardson picked up the handset and looked over at Landau who nodded. “Attention Colonial battlestar Nyx, this is the Earth Union battlestar Enodia…we’ve come a long way to meet you.”

There was a slight hesitation before the wireless broadcast the reply, this time in a female’s voice, “Attention ship identifying itself as the Earth Union battlestar Enodia, this is the Colonial battlestar Nyx, please respond.”

Nyx, this is Enodia Actual, Admiral Lawson Richardson, we come in peace and seek to open diplomatic relations and offer the hand of friendship,” Lawson stated and prayed that it would be accepted and reciprocated.

*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*

As always, comments and thoughts are welcomed in the discussion thread.

_________________
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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