Site Themes:  ColonialViperCylon
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Reach for the Stars

By Jeb Barr 

Word Count:46,095 
Date: 10/29/04
Series: One
Rating: M
Category: Action
Pairing/Focus: Original Character
Warnings
Summary: New story based upon various WWII aviation novels. This is also an attempt to write something that will stick completely to the BSG universe. This is definitely in the same timeline as Kevin Hallesy's and Dean Thomas' stories, as I've `borrowed' events from both (sorry guys but I had to). Don't worry, I'm still going to continue Flight, this is just a back burner thing that I've been working on in the periods I can't get anything to write for Flight. Inspired by Douglas Bader's life during WWII
Spoilers/Disclaimers:


Chapter 1

"Mel, the Captain wants to see you." Melissa barely noticed that Jon Searks did not bother to look at her, she had long since gotten used to that, more or less anyways. It was one of the reasons that she always worked out in front of a mirror, so that she would understand why someone failed to meet her gaze, why they so often looked away. That way she always knew what they saw. Especially in the gym, where bothering with the clumsy prostheses that she now required to walk.

"Give me a minute or two and I'll be there." Mel hand-walked up the set of parallel bars, something that five years ago, she would not even have come close to being able to do even with a physique heavily on the muscular side due to the heavier than average gravity of Leonis. Years of intense physical therapy and training had toned a body that had started as fit, into something that had not an ounce of excess flesh. A psychologist had told her once that she was over-compensating, that since she believed she was unattractive she was molding her body into something she knew was unattractive. Mel had never went back to see that Doctor, and had subsequently told every one she had to see after that just what they could do with their pet theories.

She eased herself down into a sitting position on the floor, and grabbed the towel slung over a nearby weight bench to wipe the sweat off herself. A shower would have been nice, but Mel had learned long before that when the commanding officer asked for your presence, you did not take the time for such niceties, especially when you already had a check against your future employment. There were laws against discrimination for physical impairments, but that just meant your employer looked all the harder for normal reasons to get rid of you, all perfectly legal of course.

One thing to be said about not having much in the way of legs anymore was that it definitely abbreviated the need to get dressed. After all, pulling on your pants, socks and shoes, was as easy as pulling on your pants basically. There were a few more straps and buckles needed to be done up, including the waist harness, but Mel had at least done away with the ridiculous chest and shoulder straps years ago. The doctors had recommended them for helping keep the prostheses in place, but none of them had ever worn the damn uncomfortable things.

Mel finished buckling up the straps, and with help from the parallel bars pulled herself to her feet to hitch up the pants the rest of the way and fasten them up. She continued down the hall, pulling on the long, hideously purple jacket that the Folly demanded crew to wear, wondering just what it was that the commander wanted. Ever since Judgement, there had not been much that had happened. The fleet had jumped a few times, and yet they had just made one yesterday so that must not be what he wanted from her. There was not much for a pilot to do right now, especially a pilot that had a junior crew back-up who was more than willing to sit boring duty stations. Curiosity continued to eat at her as she stepped into his office.

"Evening Mel, sorry to interrupt your exercise." Mel gave a bit of a nod to Captain Bates, but most of her attention was focused on the young, attractive Colonial Captain who was standing to the right side of her commanding officer. She gave a bit of a nod to him as Bates continued. "Mel, I'd like to introduce to you Captain Lee Adama, he's the acting CAG on the Galactica, Captain, this is the woman you asked for, our senior pilot Mellisa Schmidt."

"Captain." Mel gave another soft dip of her head, before reaching out and taking the hand that was offered to her. The grip was firm, but not overly so, and she could see the surprise light up in the Captain's eyes as her return grip was just as firm.

"Ms Schmidt, I'd like to apologize myself, I would have come at a more opportune time but…"

"But you are still running a tight schedule on the Galactica, and getting everything done in a day is a bit complex right?" Mel pulled a slight smile as she settled into a chair. "I can understand that, though I've got to wonder why you wanted to see me at all. Call me Mel, everyone else does."

"Well Ms… Mel we've been doing a lot of inspection in the fleet, and have been gathering information as well. We've been looking for sets of skills among the fleet, and in talking to Captain Bates, he mentioned you were a discharged Colonial pilot." Mel laughed softly at that and shook her head softly. It was nice to think that she might get back to piloting something a bit higher performance than a tramp freighter, but she had no illusions about being able to do so.

She had repeatedly tried to test back into the Colonial reserve, protested her medical discharge several times on the basis she could still do her duties, but the military had plenty of pilots with all their legs.

"I take it then that he didn't mention why I was discharged?"

"No, he did he mentioned it was quite a severe one as well, but I didn't notice anything wrong when you walked in." Mel had to chuckle again, which set a scowl on the Captain's face. She knew she had a limp, something that she would not have at all, had the Cylon war not happened. Even so many years afterwards things still had not returned exactly to pre-war feelings, and powered limbs were still on the strictly no list.

"Sorry, its just I've never actually heard of anyone thinking being a double amputee was something that could be written off in such a little amount of time." Mel shook her head and twisted, pulling up her pants far enough that the pseudo flesh with the titanium rod that served as a bone was clearly visible. Seeing his shocked expression she gave a soft explanation. "Left above the knee, right just below it, it was during a training accident while I was assigned to the Golden Spears."

Mel watched as Lee gave a slight nod, and she knew she would not have to go into the in depth explanation that most of her former employers had required. The Golden Spears were a strictly in-atmosphere version of the vaunted Golden Arrows, not as well known among the more advanced areas of the Colonies, they tended to do demonstrations at airshows that were far from major population centers, and too small to justify the expense of the Viper team. They flew V-TOL equipped Cobra's, a specialized version of the Colonial Military's primary trainer.

"How'd it happen?" Mel found it strange that there was none of the pity she was used to hearing in other officer's voices. Officers that still flew for the military. Surprising enough that she was willing to actually tell him, rather than just tell him off.

"It was during a landing on a grass strip, we were coming in vertical, doing a fast touch and hop, my bird FOD'ed something off the field. I lost the engine just as I was transitioning into vertical approach. Short story is, I augered in while still carrying some forward momentum with the nose down. The front gear collapsed, and pretty much mucked up the front of the cockpit too." Mel paused and looked up, meeting Lee's eyes, which was strange in an of itself, because they had none of the shifty nature that she had all too often observed in other people when confronted with her disability. "I had a recertification flight six months after the accident. I was shaky, couldn't really feel the feedback from the rudders, so they downchecked me and gave me a medical out. Luckily, civilian licenses for non-atmospheric craft are a bit less exacting when it comes to flight certification.

"It's nice that you asked, but I'm sure you have other things to do." Mel said after a long drawn out silence, one in which she had to look away from the officer in front of her. It reminded her too much of the accident, and though her voice was still steady, her nerves were anything but. It brought back everything, the sudden silence as the engine died, the screeching crunch of metal moments before she blacked out, waking a week later in a bed, and just staring and the flat sheet where her legs should have been.

"Mel, let me be frank with you. I don't care, Commander Adama won't care, as long as you can still fly. We are in a bad situation, one I'm sure you appreciate, we don't have access to the Academy anymore, we have a finite number of pilots, with no real easy way to train replacements. I've got more birds flying right now than I have personnel to put in them. I've got a Raptor we don't have a crew for, a Raptor we have half a crew for, a fleet of shuttles that are getting modified into gunships, a bunch of Vipers from Ragnar that are being put back into service and nobody to fly them." Mel looked up, a faint glimmering of hope igniting deep in her heart. The words that were said next were soft, but echoed deep within her heart. "If your willing to try, to prove to me you've got what it takes inside the cockpit, I'm more than willing to overlook the fact you might have difficulty getting into said cockpit."

"Mel, I'm sorry to see you go." Captain Bate's words surprised her, as soft as they were said, they were the only words she had ever heard spoken in such an understanding tone from the man. A tone she had never expected to hear from him.

"When, when do we leave?" Her voice was soft, so soft in fact that she barely heard it herself.

"I'm afraid that you'll have to wait for a shuttle to come over from the Galactica. Luckily this is my last ship to check this shift, so it should be here in an hour. You won't be alone on the flight, but it should give you some time to get your things together." Mel gave a bit of a nod, and pushed herself to her feet.

Without thought her body dropped into the rigid posture that had once been second nature and she snapped off a salute before she even knew it.

*****

Mel studied the woman standing before the briefing board almost as intently as she studied the board and the words of the woman herself. Everyone had heard of the legendary `Starbuck', and Mel was unsure if she should be pleased or distinctly afraid that the woman would be checking her out. She was quite sure she'd rather have `Apollo', the only other pilot doing check flights, than the woman before her. She was a living legend, especially for someone who had once aspired to be a Viper pilot.

The rumors had just started to grow in heat back before she had her accident, about the woman in front of her being the only person to have jumped successfully into the Nova Madagon and return, all on a bet as well. It was insane, just the thought of it. Now, flying with that same woman, no matter that it was a mere shuttle, was something that she was definitely not looking forwards to.

"Remember Cadet Schmidt, this is just an initial check flight. Keep yourself inside the briefing parameters, and stick strictly to the list of maneuvers you are given. Feel free to string them together in whatever manner you wish, but do not add anything outside of them. You will immediately relinquish control upon my command." Mel guilty straightened in her seat as she realized that Lieutenant Thrace was now looking, and speaking directly to her.

"Yes sir, understood." Mel gave a soft sigh of relief as the other woman gave a smile and shook her head.

"Don't be so tense either. I'm getting back into this instructor thing as much as you are getting back into the combat pilot thing. The Captain was kind enough to give me the most recent rated draftee to test first off the bat. Tomorrow I get the really interesting ones." Mel had to smile at that, and she stood slowly, still getting used to the way the Warrior flightsuit, did or did not stretch around her artificial limbs. It was one of the things she had not had time to do before her last checkflight, and even though she had been wearing the suit for three days straight in order to get used to it, it still was not second nature.

"I'd hardly think I'd be classed among the `non-interesting' students Lieutenant." Mel gave a quick wink before she continued. "After all I think I'm the only one who has `crash and burned' in the lineup."

"Oh trust me, you are. Although the others don't have quite as interesting of a record as you, we've one person who has admitted to racking up three hundred landings that resulted in maintenance to his craft's landing gear." Mel did not miss the pain that had flashed on Starbuck's face at the mention of `crash and burn' nor the cringe that came with the speak of hard landings. "My back is definitely not looking forwards to testing him out. And please, while we're training call me Starbuck, I know you went through the same flight school I did, and instructors are never known by their rank."

The next quarter hour passed with very little said, and truthfully Mel was much more concerned with the status of the shuttle they were taking out, and her preflight of it, than conversation with her `instructor'. The shuttle was ancient, quite possibly three times her age. It had been a museum piece up to a week ago, when Chief Tyrol and his maintenance crew had transferred it to the flight pod, and overhauled the old Type I shuttle. Admittedly it had its advantages as a training craft for pilots who had not flown something more nimble than a freighter or a atmospheric passenger shuttle in years. It was rugged, much more so than the newer shuttle designs, and with the oversized maneuvering thrusters, it would no doubt provide a reaction to input much more snappy than civilian craft would. It also had large fuel tanks, which would allow the instructor to keep their instructee out for a long period of time without having to take control for multiple landings, and the time for refueling.

Before she even really had a chance to realize it, they were in the designated training area and she had the controls. It was strange to be back in the business of flying something that you were supposed to do more stressful maneuvers in. It took her a long time to get used to the controls, and luckily Starbuck was respectfully quiet as she bumbled through it. The rudder controls were still hard to get a feel for, but luckily the shuttle seemed to have two rudder thruster positions, full on and full off.

"Beginning test Starbuck." The echo of her own voice, tinny and full of static almost surprised her, Mel had long since gotten used to not hearing the intercom echo.

"Understood Cadet."

There was little else to say, and Mel decided quickly to start with just the basic maneuvers. A set of of loops, half and quarter, a few rolls, an immelman, and by then she was beginning to get the feel for the shuttle. It was a lumbering thing unlike what she was used to from her prior military training, and yet it responded to the control inputs with much more snap and zest that the Folly or the other ships she had served on ever had. She was quickly putting the craft through a complex set of three dimensional maneuvers, of the type no atmospheric craft could match, but she knew that she was far from perfect or even acceptable. There was a noticed hesitation whenever she kicked the left rudder, but in the end, after an hour of flying Starbuck evidently thought it was good enough.

"Not bad for someone who hasn't flown in a while. Take her back in, we'll see if you can manage an approach and a landing. I'm hands on." Mel could not help the smile that spread across her face. She was evidently good enough that Starbuck was willing to allow her to land the craft, something that was not in the original flight profile. The smile lasted all the way to the landing deck.

Chapter 2

Mel was up early, but then again, she was always up early now. Early to bed, early to rise as the ancient saying went, but the reasons for it were much more practical than trying to become wealthy or wise. Being up twenty to thirty minutes before everyone else meant that the problems one encountered in not having legs to stand, or walk on after taking a shower in the communal bathing area were less of a problem than they might be. Nobody was around to step on fingers, or perhaps even more importantly nobody was around to just stare at her. She had forgotten the first day just how different it could be in a communal area, she had went for far too long with the only communal areas being the gym and the cafeteria of the ship. Her days had fallen into an easy cycle, early shower, breakfast followed by a round of morning flights, lunch, afternoon classes and simulator time, supper and then a hour of blessed gym time before taking to her bunk early.

Mel was quite surprised that when she emerged from the shower stall after toweling off and settling into a fresh set of regulation undergarments to find that she was not alone in the room. Still though, it was only one person, and she swung herself over to where her legs leaned up against the sink. The fact that the person actually seemed rather startled when she reached up and grabbed the edge of the sink to pull herself up into a sitting position on it was a surprise.

"You need some…" Lieutenant Thrace luckily trailed off when she realized that Mel did not need any help. In fact she looked rather impressed by the sheer strength that such a move took. "Sorry, I suppose you probably like that about as much as I would."

"Only when they complete the sentence." Mel gave Kara a smile as she went about the business of brushing her teeth. There was not much but silence for a few long minutes, a silence that Mel decided was definitely awkward. "You're up early this morning."

"Couldn't sleep, too much going on inside my head, decided to go for my run early, just get the day started." Mel gave a nod as she turned back to the mirror, brushing her hand through hair that was much more closely cropped than she had gotten used to in the past.

"Seems to be a lot of that going on," Mel caught the other woman's puzzled look and continued. "The not being able to sleep part. I thought I was dealing with all that happened rather well, don't think about it, that is what I learned from the accident.

Don't dwell, just work with what is before you. Then I move back into communal quarters, and everyone else has a different way of dealing. Some are shacking out with others, some just cry softly, others toss and turn. Kept me up half the night thinking about things I'd rather not be thinking about."

"Yeah. Everyone is just, just broken right now. People are breaking through the unbelieving numbness, suicide is becoming a problem." Mel caught another significant look from Kara, before the Lieutenant continued softly. "Its not going to be a problem for you is it?"

"I didn't resort to that when I lost my life the first time, I won't now. Getting rather used to it." Mel gave a soft chuckle and shook her head. "Who would have thought that dealing with this," she waved towards her legs, "would make dealing with all this easier."

Mel lifted herself slightly, moving closer to the edge of the sink, and reached out to drag the prostheses over closer to her. She knew that Kara was watching, could feel her gaze, but there was something different about it than usual, more of just curiosity than anything pitying.

"I have to say, flying with you it is easy to forget just what your problem is. If you don't mind my asking." The words were hesistant, and Mel gave her a bit of a smile.

"If I can get an easier checkoff by answering questions I'm all for it. I wouldn't mind a word dropped with the CAG either."

"Why don't you wear them into the shower?" There was no mistaking what them were, but the question itself took Mel so off guard that she just sat silent for a few long moments before laughing.

"Sorry, just laughing at the question, it wasn't quite what I expected." Mel fell silent for a moment, thinking of just what type of question she was expecting. The usual, what was it like, what did it feel like, this mundane question though, was tar beyond what she was expecting. "Not all that difficult to answer really. These tin legs weren't really made for walking around barefoot, and the footwear aren't exactly something you want to wear on water covered metal even if they are anti-slip. It's just easier to take them off, I'm used to dealing without them now."

"Makes sense." Mel gave a bit of a nod as she slipped carefully off the lip of the sink to stand on the floor. Such transitions were always a little tricky without having a real ankle to get information from. "See you at the briefing."

*****

"So, that's the rotation from now on." Captain Adama fell silent as he looked around the still far too empty main briefing room of the Galactica. "I know you are going to gripe, hell I understand it, I don't like it any better than you. We're still going to stand watch on, watch off back to back until we can get some new pilots up to speed. We just don't have enough bodies to fill the birds we have, guard the fleet, and give everyone off time. Hopefully the Chief will have the Raptors and the Valkyries flight certified again by the end of the week, so we can replace Viper sweeps with sentry birds."

Mel could understand the groans that came from most of the throats that occupied the briefing room. The schedule that the CAG had outlined was all but homicidal, but with the need to have constant patrolling Vipers on alert for Cylons, enough birds in a ready state for launch, and to get those needed down for maintenance, there was no other way to do things than the way they were currently. Still she was glad that she would not be pulling four hours of cockpit readiness, followed by four of patrols, and eight hours of downtime, until she was certified again. Mel had never been more glad of having the `Cadet' in front of her name, for it signified she was still in training and had no real position in the military as of yet.

"Everyone is dismissed. Check the duty roster on your way out, see how things are going to fall in place. We're starting the rotation tomorrow morning, as I mentioned earlier." The shuffle of chairs, and murmurs that followed convinced Mel to stay put for a few moments before making her way out, and it was possibly a good thing that she had hesitated for Lee singled her out. "Cadet Schmidt, if Lieutenant Thrace and I could have a word with you before you leave."

Mel knew just what they were going to say, it was going to be exactly the same thing that she had been told every other time before. She was glad though that most of the pilots had already left, and those that were still within the briefing room seemed more concerned with their individual conversations and gripes about the upcoming schedule. She made her way down between the columns of briefing desks to where the other two pilots were standing.

"I'm going to explain things a little Cadet. The Lieutenant and I have been discussing your situation, which, you must admit is unique. Our main concern is the fact that we just could not figure out how you would be capable of reaching the pod from the pilot's quarters during a scramble in the time necessary." Mel gave a bit of a nod, because in truth, she did not know how she would manage it either. There was no way she would be able to run the entire way. "Starbuck and I, we're very hesitant to lose a pilot as good as yourself, and I mean that, you are the best of the bunch of rehabs we've got in here right now. We just can't see a way to place you in Viper ops."

"I understand sir." Mel did understand, though she still did not like the fact. At least they had given her more of a chance than every other set of instructors. "I'll get my things together, thank you for the opportunity."

"I don't think you understand as of yet. We aren't going to let you go, I was just explaining why you wouldn't be flying a Viper. We have two Valkyries, and we you want flying them. At least part of the time, I figure you'll want some rest at some point in time, Lieutenant." That caught Mel's attention like nothing he had said before. Lieutenant, that mean that he was placing her back on active flight status, and the grin that slowly spread over her face threatened to split it in two. "Now, I've got to admit, I'm being a little selfish in assigning the craft to you, because we need to get these things flightchecked after the Chief gets them back together, and modified. They are bloody ancient, and none of the pilots that I can trust in older craft are either too busy, as the case with Starbuck and me, or they have no experience with V-TOL atmospheric craft."

"Sir, just what is a Valkyrie?" Mel asked the question with more than a little trepidation, for she had flown the only V-TOL equipped atmospheric craft while she was in the Golden Spears, and it was definitely never called the Valkyrie. The fact that he had called the ship ancient caused all sorts of alarms as well.

"Don't feel bad, I'd never heard of the frakking things myself, until my fath…Commander Adama took me down and showed it to me. They used them as orbital drop transports during the early years of the Cylon war, they were designed sometime between the reunification war and the outbreak of hostilities with the Cylons.

They were originally going to use them for spare parts, but Chief Tyrol found that both ships for all the time they had sat around, were pratically brand new. Neither has more than a hundred hours on the clock." Mel gave a nod to show that she was following the explanation as Kara and Lee took a seat and he motioned for her to join them. "The Chief also decided that retrofitting the shuttles with weapons was a waste of time, when we had two ships designed for weapons to begin with. Easier, he said, to tear out the jump drives and put them in the dropships than the reverse."

"You get to be the person that flies the, comes up with some sort of tactical doctrine for them in a dogfight, and train the other pilots we are going to be putting in them. Commander Adama says from what he remembers, they don't handle much different in a V-TOL approach than the Cobra's but he never logged much time behind the controls. Just a couple flights in his training shuttling them from one base to another." Mel frowned, shifting in her seat as Kara stopped speaking. There was more to this she knew, from the glances they were giving one another, than all that was being said.

"What is the real problem? There is something else isn't there?" Mel felt her frown deepen as Lee gave a bit of a nod and sighed.

"We need these ships up and operational as soon as possible.

The fleet burned a lot of fuel getting out here, and the jumps since haven't helped matters any. Reserves are running low, to tell the truth we only have a month, maybe two left." Mel could feel the blood drain from her face and she gave a soft whistle. "I don't think I need to stress how important it is for that knowledge not to leave those in this room."

"Yes sir." If the words had not made it clear, the look that Lee had thrown her way made it abundantly so. She could understand why as well, if how low fleet fuel reserves were was to become generally known, there would be riots at the least. "I take it, that we may be trying to get some fuel from the Colonies, or the Cylons themselves?"

"Hopefully nothing that drastic, the `Book' that the command staff have is out of date, but it has listings for a couple older collier stations that we hope are old, and out of use enough, that the Cylons wouldn't have bothered picketing them. Just in case though, we want to be able to land security personnel in order to secure the areas. We're still nailing down the Ops plan for the mission, which is another reason why we need to to get on the Valkyries ASAP. Without knowing what they are capable of, we can't adequately plan for the mission." Mel let that filter down through her brain, overwhelmed as she was by the fact that she was on active flight status again, and from being placed in such a vital role from the get go. The collier stations, those made sense, a holdover from back in the pre-unification days when surface fleets had relied upon coal to power the engines, the term was still in use to describe an sort of resupply and rearmament depot. The `Book' was also a familiar term, being any number of strictly hardcopy lists of collier stations, anchorages, and the like. Even in the day of increased reliance upon computers, the fleet was not completely trusting of its secrets to the machines. "I'll be honest Lieutenant, I wish I had someone who had a record of uninterrupted service to do this, but you have unique qualifications that we just can't equal even in two pilots. We were going to originally have Boomer run the mission, but after hashing out the plan, the risk to our only Raptor pilot, the Galactica, and the ground security personnel was far outside acceptable."

Mel could understand that, because the only ship in the fleet with the bunkerage necessary to haul more than a pittance of fuel was the Galatica, and the fuel refinery ship, and she was sure the Commander would not risk that ship in an unsecured location. It had to be the Galactica, if only because she could fight her way out of a situation if one occurred. The situation would undoubtedly require two ships, one to land the crew and provide ground support while the second relayed the all clear to the Galactica. It was also obvious that with any of the larger collier stations

"You've got the rest of the day to talk with the crew the Chief has assigned to the Valkyries, I believe it is what remains of Deck Crew Five." Mel did not miss the glance that Lee threw over to Kara, and things that had been just general mutters she had heard began to click into place. She found it strange that the Commander's son, would not have preferentially been his CAG before Judgement, but it seemed that the rumors that he had been only here on temporary assignment were true.

"Specialist Cally is currently leading that Deck Crew, if you can call it a crew anymore. There are only two of them from the original, and a couple replacements from refugees in the fleet."

Kara supplied, and Mel gave a nod. The Deck Crews had been the hardest hit of everyone on the Galactica, outside of the Viper squadron that had been caught in transfer.

"Cally." The word was whispered so softly, that Mel barely heard it, and she was unsure if Lee was simply fixing it in his mind, or trying to remember where he had heard the name before. "I'll expect a list of any equipment, supplies, or additional manpower on my desk tomorrow morning."

"Yes sir." Mel had not been in the military long, but she knew a tone of dismissal when she heard one. She pushed herself to her feet, and gave a salute before striding out the door with the intent of finding out just where those two birds were located.

Chapter 3

"The A-47B Valkyrie, it is beautiful isn't it?" Mel looked turned to look at who had spoken from behind her. She would not have chosen that word to describe the craft in front of her. It was large, almost as big as a shuttle, which meant that it had to use the dedicated shuttle lift and maintenance area. Finding it had almost been an exercise in frustration, and Mel narrowed her eyes as she tried to read the nametag from the distance she was standing.

"I'm not sure I would call it that. Lethal maybe, or rugged, but I don't know if beautiful fits." The ship before Mel was obviously an old design, and was centered around a primary mission that was the landing and support of planetary assaults.

A mission that had become less, and less needed as the Cylon war had quickly moved to primarily space combat. It was built for that role, and the heavy composite ceramic and tungsten armor was intended to defend the ship against threats from shoulder launched missiles.

Luckily it would work as well, if not better against the aluminum slugs that were the primary ammo for railguns.

"I'm sure she might be a bit rugged to a pilot's eyes but to a mechanic's, I assure you she's a beaut." Mel grinned at that as she stepped forwards to the other woman, who was in truth not much younger than Mel herself.

"Specialist Cally I presume?" At the woman's nod Mel held out her hand and continued. "Lieutenant Melissa Schmidt, but please, call me Mel. I'm still not used to this whole rank thing again."

"Neither am I to tell you the truth, ma'am. The Commander and Ripper were pretty relaxed on rank down in the pods. It is hard to remember to use ranks now that Captain Adama is in charge." Mel pursed her lips slightly, for that explained some of the griping she had heard in the pilot's quarters. Still, every CAG ran his group just a little bit differently, and no doubt the Captain had a good reason to insist on the useage of rank, if for no other reason than it stressed who was in charge.

"What can you tell me about the beast Specialist?" Mel decided to take her queue off the usage of ma'am instead of her name to keep things formal. You never knew, the Captain might walk in, and she needed the practice as well. "The details I got in the briefing were non-existant and I have to tell you I'm a little leery of getting into something I've never flown before."

"Well, to start ma'am, she's got the same Inversol and Mearkson hybrid turbine rockets as the shuttles. The only difference is that these have the provision for afterburners." Mel gave a slight nod, following Cally over to the troop transport. It was easy to think of it as a combat craft, the sheer blockiness of the ship, the massive weapons was in a way comforting. "Standard inspection cycles are half that of the shuttle installs, mainly due to the afterburner provisions. I'm afraid you'll also be limited ex-atmospheric to thirty second cycle bursts on the burners, the nozzle cones will be prone to heat warping or to shattering if your go much longer than that. From the specs, in afterburner she should be slightly faster than a Raptor, but slower while at full normal throttle. V-TOL capability as provided by the venting of pressurized bleed gas from the main turbines through the wingtip booster turbines. She should hover on about seventy percent throttle at max load."

"What's her combat radius?"

"About twice that of a Raptor, quadruple that if you're carrying the standard drop tanks." Mel gave a bit of a nod and motioned for Cally to continue. "There are provisions for the mounting of JATO packs for heavy planetary lift. Without them, your limited to lifting only ten thousand kilos of cargo and fuel, with them, that bumps up to a listed thirty thousand. She'll probably wallow like a pig with that sort of loading, but under the Commander's orders I've got a crewman looking at getting some bottles made up. We didn't find any at Ragnar."

Mel gave a soft whistle as she heard the lifting ability of the craft. It easily equaled that of a fuel shuttle when it came down to it, and the usage of JATO bottles to provide that lift capability meant that the designers had designed the airframe for much more acceleration stress than her normal engines could provide.

"Armament?" Mel prompted after a few silent seconds.

"The main cannon can fire the same forty millimeter standard railgun round that the Galactica's suppression guns use, with a max ammo load of five hundred rounds. It was originally meant to fire a lighter explosive round, but like the JATO bottles none of those were at Ragnar, we're trying to come up with something. There are four total wing hardpoints that are of the standard type. She's rated to lift anything from fuel pods to a Harpoon mounting a Class D warhead on the inner points. When we found these two, they had four gunpods mounted on the hardpoints. Same caliber as the Viper cannons, but slower cycling, with a higher velocity. The Chief said it was because they were designed after the Joint Munitions Initiative, when everything was standardized fleetwide."

Mel could feel her eyes widen at the mention of the ability to carry a Class D armed Harpoon. Those missiles were normally ship launched, and traced their lineage all the way back to wet navies on Picron.

She walked around the ship for a while longer, fingers trailing over the edge of a wing that reminded her of a stooping hawk.

"The Captain mentioned that they were extremely low houred, what did you end up doing maintenance wise?" Mel knew the question was perhaps an odd one to hear from a pilot, but they had been trained in the acrobatics group to take an extreme interest in their craft's maintenance logs, and the work ground crews did on them. You never knew when some small detail would throw the odds in your favor in a life and death situation.

"Well, the hardest worked one of the pair had only a hundred and twenty-six hours on it. Still they had sat around at Ragnar leaking fluid and gathering dust for forty years, and someplace else doing the same for another seven. We tore every moving part out of both of them, checked the seals, tolerances, and checked for corrosion. I'm going to admit right now, we're going to be pulling a lot of maintenance to keep these two in the air. We had to replace too many high temp plastic seals with flame retardant oil soaked fiber disks." Mel did not bother to hide the grimace that slid over her face, and she could see the distaste in Cally's face as well. "I hated using them, and Chief did as well, but we didn't use any in flight critical systems, all of those were common enough we had spares."

"Any idea how they fly?"

"Not my job ma'am." Mel had to smile at the wry amusement in Cally's voice. Cally gave her a return smile before gesturing to the cockpit. "The manuals showed that like the Raptors they come with a built in simulator system. You'll need to check out a training helmet, but as far as the checks went, everything is functional."

"You keep mentioning the manual. Any chance I can talk you out of it? I'd like to familiarize myself with the specs before I even try it out in a simulator. I don't like crashes, even if they aren't real." Mel's voice was dry, but she gave a wink to Cally.

"Sure, I've got it over in the maintenance office give me a chance to go pick it up."

"Do that, and I notice its close to chow time. Why don't we go get something to eat, and you can give me a rundown on what the most likely system failures are going to be."

*****

Mel hung from the parallel bars, a faint sheen of sweat covering her skin as she pulled out pull up after pull up. She had a lot to think about, and the rote physical work left her mind free to think, while giving her focus. So intent was she on what she was doing that she never noticed that she was not alone in the gym, not had been for a long time.

"Damn woman, you don't have to go and make me look that bad." The sudden interruption of a voice in her thoughts startled her a bit, and she glanced over to who had spoken. Whoever it was, she could understand why he was saying what he did, for there was noticeable strain on his face, in his voice, as he worked on one of the resistance machines. For his age, he was in fairly decent shape, though from the profusion of sweat, and the drawn look of his face said that he paid a hefty price to keep it that way. "You've been doing that, or some other arm exercise since I got in here, and making it look like cake."

"Don't feel too bad, it’s actually easier than it looks." Mel gave him a bit of a smile as she moved to transition into chest dips. She was, truth to be told, getting close to the end of her rote workout, and was beginning to tire herself.

"Somehow I doubt that. I don't think I've seen a man with your upper body strength, or stamina, let alone another woman." His frank look of admiration, and the fact that she was alone with a man she did not know, clothed only in her normal workout attire of regulation undergarments was making Mel more than a little self conscious. "And you are telling me it looks harder than it is."

"Well, it is. For a couple reasons really, one I'm from Leonis, and two how much do you think I weigh?" It was much harder to talk and exercise at the same time than to think and exercise.

Mel could feel the breath begin to burn in her lungs, as she fought to keep a steady even breathing cycle. It forced her words into short bursts between intakes of breath.

"Ahh, a Leonid, that explains a little then, but still what does your weight have to do with it?" Mel just looked over at the man, studying the features, the close cropped hair that had long since lost any hint of what color it had once been, the purple and green mouse under one eye that Mel could not help but wonder about. "Ok, I'll bite, One forty, one fifty with the muscle you're carrying."

"Way off." Mel said through gritted teeth, finishing reaching the point where her muscles were protesting the work. She slowly let herself down, to sit on the floor and pivoted to turn to face him. She patted her left thigh lightly before she replied. "You have to account for the fact I'm missing a significant chunk of flesh and bone. Knock about thirty percent off the higher estimation and you'll have it close enough to count. Forty, forty five pounds doesn't sound like a lot, until you're not carrying it around anymore."

Mel found it unusual that the man kept his eyes steadily locked with her own, as he leaned forwards, resting his elbows on his knees. His brow furrowed slightly as he seemed to think about that and then he gave a nod.

"Didn't think of that, makes sense though now that you've mentioned it." He leaned forwards a bit more and offered her his hand. "Lieutenant Schmidt correct? Congratulations on your readmission to flight status."

"Thank you." Mel said softly as she took his hand. The grip was firm, though she expected no less. You didn't meet as many people in the military that would limp fish you as you did in civilian life. "I'm afraid you have me at a disadvantage though, in the name department."

"Sorry about that, I guess I'm not quite as distinctive as you are, Colonel Saul Tigh." Mel must have looked as shocked as she felt, and as her hand shot to give a salute he chuckled softly and waved his hand. "We're both off duty, and I've been looking at you in a way that would have earned me another shiner from at least one of our pilots."

Mel had to laugh softly at the last, as his fingers came up to finger the mouse under his eye tenderly. Saul looked indignant for a few long seconds before he shook his head.

"Before I'd have you up on charges for that." The words were soft, and spoken with more than a little shame.

"Before?" Mel asked mildly allowing him to decide to answer on his own or not. She definitely did not want to pressure a man who was a superior officer.

"Before… before Judgement… before I stopped drinking. Before I realized what a pathetic fool I was, carrying a grudge at the world, and anyone younger, more gifted than I was." Mel gave a bit of a nod, she could understand that. She'd gone through a period like that herself after the accident. "As bad as it was… I have to say I'm glad in a way, because it’s given me a purpose again. Given me a reason to be a man, to be an officer."

"War is both the best and the worst of times." Saul started visibly and looked up at Mel's soft words.

"The Holy Scrolls, verse seventeen chapter twenty three. Its been years since I heard that quoted."

"It seems fitting, considering where we are." Mel said, looking away. She did not often quote phrases from the Holy Scrolls, because it made her feel ashamed, ashamed to let people know that she had used faith as a crutch.

"I think the last time I heard that, it was from Bill's lips." At the uncomprehending look Mel gave him he continued. "Commander Adama. He used to quote the Scrolls quite frequently back when we were still fighting the Cylons. He always could remember something opportune to say at the right times. It kept us going." It was Mel's turn to start slightly, and Saul gave a bit of a chuckle. "Surprised? You shouldn't be. Isn't the next line from where you quoted `In battle a warrior finds either faith in himself, or apathy in all that surrounds her; Faith should be nurtured for in faith we find hope of life.' It's the reason why every warrior is given a pocket edition of the Scrolls."

"The Lords were wise." Mel smiled a bit as she waited a second, letting Saul catch her eye and meaning before they continued together in one voice. "So say we all."

Laughter filled the room then, breaking the somber mood that had surrounded the pair. Mel gave a slight shudder, realizing for the first time that the air was rather chill with the absence of work, and the presence of too much sweat. She reached up and grabbed ahold of the parallel bars, and swung herself down to where her legs and towel rested. Tigh stood and followed her down.

"Do you mind if I ask you a question sir?" Mel asked as she toweled herself off.

"Not as long as you remember its Saul when we are off duty."

He gave her a wink before he settled on a bench. "Melissa."

"Mel, please. It is what I've always been called." She paused for a moment, trying to decide how to word the question. "You seem much more at ease with me than most are, and I'm wondering why Saul."

"Bill and I, we have a lot of wingmates that didn't make it through the war as whole as we are. Every time we flew, we knew we might not make it back in one piece." Mel gave a nod as he paused, and her understanding grew as he continued. "We all carried scars from the battles, just some of us carry them on the inside. If you let the exterior scars get in the way of things, all you do is lose a friend, and that makes the interior ones harder to handle."

Saul fell silent at those words, and Mel was content to let that silence continue. After a few minutes of simply sitting, Saul pushed himself to his feet.

"It has been good talking to you, but I need to be onshift in four hours. Need to get a little sleep before then." Mel smiled as she pulled herself to her feet, and offered him her hand again.

"We should do it again sometime." The words surprised her, and evidently surprised him as well. He stood silent for a long moment before replying.

"That we should." He turned to leave, only to stop and look back over his shoulder. "Oh, and don't tell Bill that I let you know, but you have a briefing with him tomorrow midshift. I think he wants to sweat you some, and see how the progress is coming on the Valkyries."

"Thanks for the warning." Mel felt her smile die with the dry words. She was definitely not looking forwards to talking with the Commander, not when her time in the simulator yesterday had led only to frustration and more than a couple virtual crashes.

Chapter 3

Mel was cursing in a mixture of languages that one either had to be a native of all twelve colonies, or a dockhand to fully appreciate.

Half the situations she was describing were physically impossible, even for a triple jointed human with cartilage for bones. The object of her ire was an innocent piece of paper that had been handed to her mere minutes earlier.

`Lieutenant Melissa Schmidt,' it said, `It has come to my attention that your flight status has recently been changed without the necessary physical examination. Since you were originally out on a medical discharge, and only back in on a provisional basis, I am afraid that I shall have to remove that flight status pending a full physical exam. Feel free to stop by at your soonest convenience to rectify this mistake. Sincerely, Commander Kylen Salik, MD, Chief Medical Officer.'

Mel was quite sure that the CMO was sincere, after all the piece of paper had come directly from the CAG's hand into her own, along with the notification that her flight status had been pulled, once again.

Now she was walking down the endless maze of hallways, trying to figure out just where the Life Station was, it was a problem that she would not have had years ago when the subtle clues that let one know where you were on a military base, be it planetside or a ship. Now the color coding of cross hatches, and the has markings beside longitudinal hatches just turned things into maze of corridors and just kept her circling endlessly back on her own path. Mel was just about ready to break down and ask for directions, yet again, when she saw the iconic image of two snakes twined around a staff emblazoned on a hatch.

"I'm here to see the CMO about a physical." Mel was proud of herself, as she was able to keep her voice level for the woman sitting at the desk in the front of the Life Station.

Lieutenant Schmidt? Doctor Salik told me to expect you in here, though I must say we thought it would be earlier. If you would have a seat, and begin filling out these forms, I'll notify Dr. Salik that you have arrived. It will be a few minutes before she will be able to see you." The stack of forms that Mel was handed were rather lengthy, inquiries into her past medical background, history, the sorts of things that would have normally been requested through other channels. Mel took a seat in the chair that was like all waiting chairs Colony wide in medical offices an extremely uncomfortable hard plastic. They were supposed to be good for the lower back or some nonsense like that. Mel always found that they generated more problems than they fixed, and gave a groan as she noticed the papers were in triplicate, without carbon transfer pages between them.

How long a time passed before she first set pen to the first form, until she was done, and impatiently waiting for the Doctor was hard to day. She did however wait another thirty minutes before Doctor Salik made her appearance, eyes with a familiar drawn look around their edges that hinted at a person managing with far too little sleep and who had far too much to do.

"I apologize for the wait Lieutenant, but I am just getting out of the operating room. I was doing a second surgery on Lieutenant Ferris." Mel stood slowly, taking care not to overstress a joint that had stiffened considerably in the time she had been sitting. It was just one of the things she had to deal with, the need to baby the joint that in truth was the only reason she was still able to walk without crutches or canes.

"I understand ma'am. How is he doing?" Mel truly did want to know, there were too many bunks back in flight ops that were empty, waiting for the wounded that were still in the Life Station to be released and reassigned back to quarters. Out of all the wounded pilots that had made it back to the Galactica after the Battle of Ragnar, Ferris was quite probably the worst hurt.

"He is recovering well, though we were not able to save his hand. As long as this last surgery does not weaken him too much, I'll allow visitors to come by next week. I would appreciate it if you could pass that along to the other pilots." Mel gave a nod as she followed along behind the Doctor as she made her way to her office. Mel looked around furtively for a moment, taking in the spare room, one that had a feel of being only temporary, then again she had heard that the CMO had only recently been assigned to the Galactica, and it had been slated for retirement before Judgement. "If you'll give me those forms, I'll take a look at them."

Mel watched in silence, having seated herself, as the Doctor went over the papers before her, muttering softly to herself as she did so. Mel could not help the feeling of deep seated fear, anticipation, worry that ran through her body as she waited. As always sitting in the office her pulse began to slowly speed up in reaction to being where she was.

"Where did they put that question…ahh…there it is. Double amputation?!" Mel is shocked into looking up at the Doctor at the sudden sharp exclamation at the end of the quietly muttered sentence. She felt more than a little guilty as she had tried, futilely she knew, to keep the explanation of that purposely vague.

Not like she was going to be able to hide it through the whole examination, but there was still hope of talking the doctor out of it. After all she had a recent flight physical for her civilian license. Soft murmuring words filled the room as she looked away and wondered just what would happen now. "Hrm, now that sounds familiar for some reason. Let me see, double amputation, pilot, medical discharge, five years ago. You were the one that was involved in that crash at the Lewis Airshow weren't you?"

"Yes ma'am." The words fell from Mel's lips softly, almost before she knew she had said them. Nervously she began to fidget with the silver ring on her finger, a keepsake from her former days as a military pilot, in truth the only physical reminder she had left of it.

"You won't remember me, but I assisted during your initial rounds of surgery." Mel looked up at that, startled as the Doctor continued. "I just want you to know, that we tried everything we could to save your legs, but there was too much tissue damage, and too much time elapsed since the accident. Had the accident happened nearer to Picon Fleet Hospital, it would have been a different matter."

“I understand ma'am. Part of my rehabilitation was speaking with the primary surgeon, we had a long discussion, and I'm under no illusions about how lucky I am to be walking at all." Mel looked up as Doctor Salik gave a sigh and shook her head.

"I still remember that day, out of all of the ones I've spent in the OR, and I'm sure that you would much rather not be reminded of it."

Mel gave a tight smile and a nod in agreement before the older woman continued. "I'll be blunt here Lieutenant, Commander Adama, has let it be known that he needs you and I should perhaps overlook some things in your case. I don't like being pressured, and I wish I had your prior medical files on record to review. Perhaps, you would care to elucidate on the reason why you were given a medical discharge in the first place?"

"I was told it was standard fleet practice. I wasn't mustered out initially, it was only after I failed my recertification flight that they gave me the medical discharge."

"In order for you to remain eligible for future disability benefits." Mel gave a nod as the other woman filled in a line that had been far too familiar in the past. "Well, if that is the case, I do not doubt that you will pass the physical portion without much problem. If you would go into the next room, through that door, and change into the examination gown, I'll be in a few minutes."

******

Mel was even more nervous now, than she had been the day previously in Dr. Saliks office. It was one thing to be dreading something you `thought' was going to end badly, and quite another to be facing something which you knew personally just how badly things could go.

Eyes scanned over a variety of gauges before her, which unlike the Cobras she had once been used to, and the civilian ships she had piloted, had almost all analogue gauges. The only digital device in the entire cockpit was the single MFD between her knees that served along with the abbreviated keyboard as a navigation computer.

"This is Valkyrie One to Launch Control, requesting clearance for departure from Pod Two, on flight plan Test Delta One." Mel was surprised at how calm her voice was, with how much tension she currently felt. It was one thing to be flying her first small V-TOL equipped craft since her accident, and quite another thing to be doing so confined even more by the bulky mass of the EEVA suit she wore over her standard flight suit.

"Launch Control to Valkyrie One, you are cleared for launch from Pod Two per flight plan Test Delta One. Be advised we currently have inbound Vipers on landing pattern for Pod One. Safe skies Phoenix."

Mel took a deep breath and disengaged the maglocks, still getting used to the new callsign. She had not had much choice in the matter, as it had been waiting for her on Valkyrie One when she arrived at the pod. Seems that word of her reposting to flight status from medical had arrived at both the flight deck and the ready room before it had in her ears. Then again, things always had a tendency to do that shipboard.

"We good to go Phoenix?"

"Two lit and green. I'm taking us out now Starbuck." The other pilot, manning what was normally the gunners position was added insurance, being the closest thing the Galactica had to a test pilot. Should Mel prove to be unable to fly the ship, or should something happen during the course of the flight that rendered her unconscious Starbuck was insurance that the ship, and the people inside it would get back alive.

"Roger that."

Mel slowly applied a burst of throttle through the lift thrusters, sending them floating slowly towards the roof of the pod. Before they cleared much more than a few feet off the deck, she cut in the maneuver thrusters to kill the upward momentum, while simultaneously applying thrusters to the main engines.

“Their harmonics rumbled through her body, her helmet, filling her ears with a muted hum that became more and more intoxicating as every moment went on. Mel took her time, getting a feel for the controls, that though similar to the simulator had a tactile difference in their feel that asked for caution. Eyes scanned gauges, finding temperatures, pressures, throttle and acceleration levels all to be normal and well within the green. She let out a sigh of relief then, for that had been her fear that something would go wrong in the first few minutes of flight, when she was still new to the craft, and it being in danger of maintenance induced problems. Atmospheric entry was still something that needed to be done to ensure everything was working correctly, but the time constraints on the fleet, imposed by a lack of fuel, meant they would be unable to test that until the actual date of the fuel recovery operation.

"Well, she certainly sounds like a fighter." Mel felt her smile grow wider at Starbuck's dry remark. "The handling leaves something to be desired. I don't think I'll be trading in my Viper anytime soon."

"Oh, I don't know Starbuck, I think there are a few things she can do that a Viper can't. I just don't want to try any of them right now.

They rely mainly upon the vertical lift thrusters, and Cally still hasn't cleared them for extensive use." No sooner than the words were out of Mel's mouth, than a warning light lit up amber, and a twin piercing tone sounded in her ear. "Looks like we'll have to cut this flight short Starbuck, there is a pressure imbalance in the fuel feed lines for the port engine."

"Understood Phoenix, I've got the same on my mirror controls. There might be a bad booster pump somewhere in the feed circuit."

"Roger that, contacting Galactica Flight Control and advising them of our situation." Mel looked at the engine readouts for a few long seconds more, watching the temperature rise steadily in the starboard engine. With a grimace she flicked the switches to shut it down completely, unwilling to risk sending the engine into overpressure failure. "Valkyrie One to Galactica Flight Control, I am declaring an emergency."

"Galactica Flight Control to Valkyrie One, state the nature of your emergency." Mel felt her nerves soothed by the steady female voice that came over the wireless channel. It was a voice with experience, one that allowed no emotion into itself while there was a problem.

"Valkyrie One to Galactica, I've got a pressure imbalance in my port engine, have shut it down at this time. Request immediate insertion into the landing pattern."

"Galactica to Valkyrie One, you have immediate clearance for manual landing in the port flight pod, emergency crews are standing by, call the ball Phoenix."

The next few minutes were tense, but with Starbuck below murmuring soft corrections, encouragements into the intercom, Mel was able to coax the craft into a good, if firm, and a bit wobbly landing. She could understand how the other pilot felt, Mel herself would rather not be a mere passenger in a spacecraft that had a problem, and the urge to take control must have been hard to fight off.

“Down and locked Galactica."

"Welcome home Valkyrie One." The words sent a surge of relief through Mel, and finally she let the tension bleed off her with a sigh.

Chapter 5

"Lieutenant Schmidt, how are the certification flights of the Valkyries going?" The voice that sounded behind her was nearly as familiar now as the soft burn that it caused to rise in her cheeks every time she heard it.

"I thought we were on a first name basis outside of duty sir." Mel replied as she looked over her shoulder and gave him a grin.

"Indeed we are Mel, sorry I forgot about that, just got out of a staff meeting with the President." Mel took in the fact that Saul was still wearing his uniform and gave a bit of a frown. It was not because she wanted to look at him, she berated herself, but just because, well all right it was because she rather enjoyed looking at him. Saul might be on the other side of the hill, and a recovering alcoholic, but he had not slid so far down either that he wasn't still in good shape.

"Not working out tonight?" Mel inquired as she turned on the parallel bars to face him. She hated talking to someone she was not looking at, to be able to see what was playing out on their faces.

"No, I have to be back up in Command in an hour for duty."

Mel could see the exhaustion that was apparent on his face. Out of all who were hit hard, and working long hours, the command staff were among the worst hit. Mainly because the Galactica had been approaching its decommissioning, as such many of the third and fourth shift staff had already departed the ship even before the ceremony for their transfers.

"Why even bother coming down then?" Mel knew as soon as she said it that it was a bad thing to ask. The brief flash of hurt that flashed across his face was as telling as the sinking feeling that had formed in her gut when she had first seen the uniform.

"For the company, outside you and Bill, I don't think there is a person aboard this ship that I'm on easy speaking terms with."

Mel had known that, it was part of the reason she found him so interesting, the fact that he was as cast away from society as she felt. He understood the loneliness that came from not being entirely accepted, or comfortable by the rest of society.

"I'm sorry Saul, it is just, I'm no longer used to someone seeking out my company. I've gotten defensive over the last few years, at least that's what the psychologists always said." She looked up, to find that he was not meeting her eyes but looking somewhat lower. It was an opportunity to lighten the mood again that Mel could not pass up. "Saul, my eyes are up a little higher."

The effect was immediate, at he colored almost immediately and jerked his eyes immediately away from whatever they were looking at, and focused intently upon hers. It was so typical, so amusing that Mel could only laugh, and nearly fall off the parallel bars she was hanging from.

"You don't have to look so guilty." Mel gave a bit of a wink. "I don't mind being looked at, at least not by you, just don't be so frakking obvious about it."

"I'm twice your age!" Saul managed to get out, after his mouth worked for several seconds like a fish out of water. That, and his following protest only served to fuel more laughter from Mel.

"Oh," she managed to choke out. "And when has that ever stopped a guy?"

"You have a point there." As her laughter trailed off she shared a smile with him before he continued. "You still haven't answered my original question, how are the checkflights going?"

"Changing the subject now are we?"

Mel gave another wicked smile, and watched Saul squirm for a bit before she let him off the hook. "Good enough. Two is down-checked again for a problem with the navigational systems. One seems to be looking good, though I don't want to fly one in a battle of any sort. They leave much to be desired in the maneuverability department."

"Sounds like the old Mark I fighters. Flying those against the Cylons and being caught in a pinwheel attack was almost a death sentence." Saul paused for a moment, and Mel watched him rub his hands over short cropped hair as an almost grimace crossed his face. "The reason I ask, is because Commander Adama is planning on moving up the timetable for the fuel run. Somehow some of the tylium we had taken on at Ragnar was contaminated, it isn't going to last as long as we thought."

"And you wanted to make sure I was ready for this right?"

Mel watched as Saul's face underwent a complex series of transformations before he finally gave a slight nod.

"There is so much going on right now, both Bill and I feel like we're playing war with a bunch of kids. The Galactica was on her last legs in deployment, we were crewed by Rooks, and people that were far too junior for her positions. It showed at Ragnar, its going to show even more in our next engagement. We're losing people we shouldn't." Mel gave a bit of a nod as she reached to pull her legs closer, somehow realizing that he was far from done in speaking. "Eighty people died when I flushed the pod, they shouldn't have. They new the rules, they were supposed to be suited up and braced for decompression, they weren't. In that single push of a button, I killed more people than I've been on speaking terms in my life."

"You didn't kill them Saul, the Cylons did."

"You are arguing semantics Mel. It was my hand that did not give them the time they needed to evacuate." Mel looked into a face that was haunted by those people, so many of them probably unknown as more than a face, more than a salute to him. She chewed on her lip silently for a few long seconds, trying to decide what to say, what to do that would bring relief.

"Would they have been any more dead if the fire killed them once it got to the fuel lines? You did what you had to do, they didn't. It would be better if they hadn't died, but we don't get to pick and choose our consequences." Mel fell silent for a moment and then continued in an even more quiet voice. "Its almost like what happened with my legs. The doctor explained, the shrinks tried to reason through it, but I still blamed those in the operating room for my loosing them, even though they did everything they could. It has taken me a long time to realize there wasn't anything more that they could do. You're just blaming yourself, instead of someone else, you won't stop until you decide to."

"I know it is just…"

"It is just hard to let it go." Mel held her peace for a few long moments, before broaching a bit of work that she wanted to know about. It was something that she figured he would know. "Have they found a weapons officer for our operation, and/or trainees for the second bird yet?"

"The weapons officer yes, the trainees, no." Mel gave a bit of a nod as she pulled her legs on, and her pants up. "You'll meet the weapons officer tomorrow. I haven't heard anything about him yet, other than Captain Adama found him while scouring the fleet.

We're going to be having a final planning meeting tomorrow. You've got a lot on your plate for that morning, test the weapons, the jump capability of the Valkyrie. If all gets a green, we're sending you out the day after tomorrow."

Mel pulled her knees up to her chest, and wrapped her arms around them, thinking as she rocked slightly back and forth. A day to test the weapons was not long at all, when the weapons officer was quite probably green himself.

"I'd best get some rest then, the Lords know I probably won't tomorrow night." She reached up to grasp the bar above her and help herself to her feet, as Saul spoke softly.

"How are things in the pilots quarters?"

"Are you asking as an officer, or just as another person?"

Mel knew that what she just said would say loads to any officer, and was not disappointed when she saw Saul's eyes narrow. He was silent for a moment as if mulling that over before he spoke.

"Both."

"Well, as a person, things aren't going as good as they could, but better than they might. People are for the most part dealing. As an officer, well, lets just say if someone doesn't end up in the brig or in the Life Station it's going to be a miracle.

Tempers are running high, and there aren't many who don't think that our CAG should be someone else. There's been talk that the only reason he has the position is because of the name." Mel looked into Saul's eyes trying to judge what was going on inside of them. Eyes that narrowed slightly before he spoke.

"Starbuck?" It was more a statement than a question, and Mel shook her head slightly.

"She's one of his bigger supporters. They get along good, which surprises me, because the rumors were flying about her before I even got medic'd out. She's the reason I expect someone in medical, she's let it be known that she won't stand people saying what they had been saying anymore." Mel was quiet for a moment longer. She was tempted to continue, and yet something made her stay her tongue about what else had been said down in pilot country.

"Well, maybe this mission will help settle them down. The Lords know morale could use a boost."

"So say we all." Mel whispered in support.

*****

Mel was watching the briefing, and yet for all the fact that she was taking notes upon entry conditions and the like, most of her mind was occupied with the enigma that was her gunner. The man had been a discharged gunnery sergeant from the marines, and had never trained on spacecraft weapons before in his life. That had not stopped him from scoring a near perfect on their weapons trials.

Evidently gunners for `Crusader' tanks that the Colonial Marines still fielded for ground based armor support were quite capable indeed. Or Warrant Officer Simeon Kock was simply an exception to the rule. At any rate Mel was glad to have him on her side of a shooting war.

"After entering the system, both Valkyrie one, and Rapter one will make a FTL jump into orbital insertion on Proximia Five."

Commander Adama paused, the sudden absence of his gravely voice making the silence ever more still. "You'll both go in, on a ballistic course, with only minimal flight systems operational. It is imperative that you broadcast no energy emissions that may be picked up during the insertion. Both for your own safety and for the success of the mission."

"Proximia Five was a fleet collier station back during the first Cylon war." Tigh pointed to a map that was tacked up on the briefing screen. "You're trajectory will bring you in over this ocean and down to nape of the earth in this mountain range. From there you'll proceed up one of these canyons to this landing area.

"Do not try to land inside the base proper. It was abandoned early in the fighting as it was far from any of the fronts on which active hostilities were taking place. The Book suggests that though it fell into disuse, there is no sign that any of the material or automated weapons stations were removed." Colonel Tigh fell silent as he looked around the very few faces that were at the briefing. Mel noticed the slight scowl that came over his face as his eyes alighted on Lt Thrace, there in her position as Lead Pilot. Other than that the room was empty except for Mel, her gunner, Captain Adama who was strangely quiet, and the commander of the ground force, a man Mel had not yet met. "You should expect that some of the tylium storage pods will have ruptured, and that any ordinance there out of date. Still, most of our weapons systems were standardized before the Cylon war, so we should be able to use anything found there. Our first priority is the fuel, secure the depot and check it for contents and mines before exploring any secondary targets. Once the fuel supply has been secured, Raptor one will exit the planet, and make a FTL jump back to the Galactica. We'll jump in, set up a perimeter, and dispatch everything we can that will haul fuel."

"You know now, how the operation is supposed to occur. How you are entering, what route we are running, but you don't know why. I'm going to turn the briefing over to Lt Valerii for a moment, she just returned a few hours ago from a recon mission into the system. She's going to tell you exactly what is in the system." Mel looked up, her interest suddenly piqued as Commander Adama stepped aside. She had figured they were running the stealth trajectory entry just to be on the safe side, or from information gained from automated probes, but it seemed they had some true `eyes on' information from the system.

"I did not notice any Cylon activity on Proximia five itself during my flyby of the planet. I was limited though to passive sensors, as if there were cylons there, we did not want to notify them of our presence in the system." Lieutenant Sharon `Boomer' Valerii fell silent for a moment before she continued. "However, while I was powering up for the FTL jump out, sensors registered an incoming jump pulse. The warbook confirmed it as a Cylon class II troop transport, escorted by a wing of the new Cylon fighters. I powered back down to observe, as they would have seen my outbound emissions if I jumped at that point in time."

Mel gave a bit of a nod, and revised her opinion of the woman up several notches. She had heard of what Boomer had done during Judgement, but in that time, everyone was doing spectacular things.

Now though, with the immediate threat of death off, anyone who did not just cut and run and actually pulled more data while drifting helplessly was one hell of a person.

"They made planetfall on Proximia five, a short distance from the ammo depot. At that point I had drifted out of sensor range.

Whether or not they were reinforcing a garrison already there, or just now checking out the planet, is uncertain." Mel gave another nod, as she made a note about changing the loadout on the Valkyrie.

She had expected to go in this run stripped down, but the possibility of ground combat meant that they would have to load up on support weapons, and that meant seeing if Cally had the JATO packs ready yet.

"We cannot be sure that the Cylons don't have a strong presence on Proximia Five. We need the fuel there though, so if it comes to a fight, we will fight." Commander Adama fell silent as he looked around the room. "I expect that there are additional Colonial survivors from that day. In order to keep the Cylons from knowing just who hit the Proximia station, we'll be using the call sign Homebase for the Galactica, Pinch hitter for the Valkyrie, Dugout will be the Raptor, Runner will be the ground squad, and Outfield will be the Viper squadrons. You'll also be going out with all squadron decals, and patches removed. We must not allow the Cylons to determine that we are still alive, and in the area, which means that we can allow noone to be taken alive as a prisoner."

Mel took a breath at those words, and saw the commander of the Marines eye's harden. All too likely if it came down to it, he would be required to end the life of one his own men. He gave a nod though, and Mel could not help but wonder if this was the first time he had heard a command like that.

"If there are any questions, see myself or Colonel Tigh in command. I'd take them now, but we've left the bridge unstaffed for longer than I would like already."

Chapter 6

The one thing Mel truly hated about being back on flight ops, was getting ready. What was no more difficult than getting dressed for most people, was all but an exercise in frustration for her. The questions asked by a few the first day had illustrated most of the problem, and allowed her to release that frustration, unfortunately nobody else had been naïve enough to ask since. They were probably scared of pulling back a bleeding stump.

You simply could not take your boots, and regulation duty trousers off, and shuck the pressure suit on, when you did not have feet, and ankles that allowed you to easily put the boots back on.

Mel knew, she had tried it once, way back when she was first trying to get back on the list. Instead she looked exactly like she was, a person with no legs. Pull the legs off, then the pants, shove the pressure holding ones down over her legs, make the seal connections to the boots. Yet the worse was to come, after getting the legs back on, one had to stand with a tottering precarious balance, one hand holding up the bottom half of the pressure suit, the other one making the necessary plumbing connections with a painful efficiency. Mel had fallen a few times, luckily practice makes perfect, and she had not done so again in the past week at least.

Mel in her civilian life had a pressure suit modified with extra seals and zippers down the sides of the legs. They were meant to allow her to get the suit on without having to take her legs off, but that civilian suit would never fit in a cockpit. Too bulky and far too heavy to even think of trying to heft it up by brute strength.

"You ready?" She asked before turning to take a look at her weapons officer, who she found had not even started putting his suite on. Mel realized with a rush of anger that he had sat and watched the entire painful, ordeal making it more humiliating than it already was.

"Sorry, it;’ just…" Mel did not bother letting him finish, she had heard it before, seen it before. That and she was far too pissed off to even try and be reasonable.

"You'll frakking well get used to it. We're supposed to be in the air in thirty minutes, and we've still got a preflight to go through. Hurry the frak up." Had she been any less riled up, she would have went and started that preflight herself, but anger and a burning desire to turn the tables made her stand there and watch him as he had watched her. There was some bit desire to make scathing remarks as he hurriedly pulled on his flight suit, face flushed red as he did so, but she managed to hold back.

Mel was silent as they exited the locker room and moved over to where Valkyrie one sat. It was a lopsided sight to her eyes, the three meter long bulk of a Harpoon missile with the Class D warhead nuzzled close to the fuselage on the starboard side, offset on the port by the much thicker girth of a dumbfire rocket pod. Mel did not like the Harpoon being there, for it said that this mission was deadly serious with the black trefoil of a radiological warning painted on the warhead. The mission profile called for the destruction of the base on Proximia five, and that warhead was what was going to accomplish that.

Mel followed Simeon as he began a check of the weapons hard points, starting with the cannon pod slung on the outer starboard slot. Dutifully she checked the connections, the slop in the automatic traversing mechanisms before pulling the second of the two safety flags. Then came the harpoon, this one requiring a little more care than the other, as the arming circuits for both the seeking mechanism, and the detonation device had to be checked. Both test lights came up green, and Mel moved around the aft of the ship, pausing to pull herself up and take a check of the inside of the engines. It was something the weapons officer did not have to do, and Mel found Simeon waiting on her beside the cockpit after the walk around.

Simeon was not the only person waiting, there was the officer, a Captain from the briefing the other day, and the fourteen other members of his team. She had been introduced to them after the briefing, but could not for the life of her remember any of their names. It seemed a bad omen for things to come but Mel pushed it out of her mind.

"Captain, everything checks out green and good to go. If you'll load up your men, we'll warm up the engines and I'll start the preflight." She took a moment to allow her eyes to wander over the team assembled. Mainly honor guard from the decommissioning ceremony, all the faces were grim, and they carried themselves, and their weapons in a manner that was quite professional.

"Lieutenant, just one question before we board. Have you ever flown ground support before?" Mel gave a slight shake of her head.

"No, afraid not sir. You shouldn't worry too much, I'm told Warrant Officer Simeon has been in the thick of things, and he's controlling almost all the weapons. I'm just along to play driver, and to shoot the big thing." Mel jerked her thumb over her shoulder towards the Harpoon on the far side of the ship. There were a low set of groans and a soft bit of muttering that came from the group assembled behind the Captain, and he wiped his hand over his face.

"Well, frak me. I guess it doesn't do any good complaining, the Commander's already said you are the best there is. Just don't bug out without picking us up first."

"You can count on that." Mel replied, as she turned back towards the Valkyrie, walking around the nose of the craft and checking out the sensors. It might have been rude considering the other man was a superior assho…officer, but then again Mel knew she had been hanging out around Kara way too much. She just could not bring herself to stand in front of him any longer. "We really don't have the time Captain, we've ten minutes for the launch window, and the warm up takes at least seven."

"You heard the Lieutenant, get aboard you lazy bums." The Captain growled out, and Mel handed the preflight checklist and the safety flags from the weapons to Cally, who was waiting beside cockpit.

"I don't think he likes you very much." The young mechanic near whispered, and Mel gave a bit of a smile as she gave Cally a wink.

"I think the feeling is mutual." Mel reached up and grabbed the edge of the cockpit and pulled herself up to a sitting position on the lip, gaining a quick look of dawning respect from Simeon, who she pointedly ignored. "Did you wire up the JATO's like we discussed yesterday?"

"Yes, the four red safety switched arms them, then just hit the turbo. They'll kick in about five seconds later, so it might be best to try and be airborne already Phoenix." Mel slipped down into the cockpit, after carefully lifting her left leg into position, and began the complex ritual of straps and connections for her suit.

Cally joined to help her after a moment going over everything a second time to ensure there was not a loose or faulty buckle. "Keep an eye on the temps during reentry, if anything spikes into the red zone, note it because we'll need to take a look at it when you get back."

"Aye aye."

Then the cockpit was sealed, and Mel was almost all alone in her own little world. She was kept busy by the need to check out all the electronics gear, and begin the lengthy warm-up process for the engines, which unlike the Viper motors were not start and go. Their shared heritage with shuttle engines required the hefty beasts to be slowly and carefully brought up to operating temperature, if that was not done, one would risk cracking a ceramic liner inside the motor.

It was something that would kill the engine and guarantee the need for replacement. She barely even noticed the fact that they were pushed onto a lift, and cycled into the pod for launch.

"Pinch Hitter to Flight Control, I've got two green and ready to go."

As always Mel's voice sounded strange in her ears, the low quality headphones, and the throat mic, giving it a strange echo like quality.

"Flight Control to Pinch Hitter, you have go for launch.

Good hunting Phoenix." Mel powered up the engines smoothly and gave a soft shudder as the velvet darkness of space enveloped them.

Fingers moved over switches as she joined up on the Raptors wing.

"Pinch Hitter to Runner, I've got your wing. Jump on your mark." Mel's bones throbbed in sympathetic virbration as the FTL drives spun up to full power. She hoped that the marines in back had cast iron stomachs, because the Valk's drive wasn't tuned quite right for her hull shape and mass, and the jump though not dangerous, was hardly comfortable.

"Jump in five, four, three, two, one, mark."

*****

The Valkyrie heaved and bucked under Mel as it did its best impression of a flaming meteorite. It had gotten quite cold in the drifting flight from their system entry point, but now as the temperature inside the ship began to skyrocket, Mel was actually beginning to miss the cold. Her ears were filled with the sounds of moans, and groans from the intercom system, it seemed that some of the people were not as hefty of a space-hand as they thought. It was hardly the worse entry Mel had ever been on, and so her eyes constantly scanned the analogue gauges in front of her, monitoring the engine temperatures, thrust levels, the ships attitude, the slowly winding clock that indicated when the re-entry program would be done.

The Valkyrie was becoming a better and better ship in Mel's eyes, as it was handling the reentry, even as steep as this one was, like a champ. Not that she should have really been surprised, it had been designed for this after all.

"Planetfall in another five minutes, coming up on ionization clearance." She spoke loudly into the mic, partly to be heard over the noise that filled the crew compartment, partly to get over the still howling song of the ships hull. Already the controls under her hands were going from rock hard, back to something that could actually be moved, indicating that their velocity was coming down from the headlong flight that it had been. "Deploying airbrakes."

Now that was perhaps the dumbest thing she had ever done.

The airbrakes did not deploy in all out manner which she had assumed, but rather in a one by one fashion. It might possibly be due to the fact that as soon as she hit the switch, the hydraulic system had started to scream a strident alarm in her ear. It set the ship into a roll, causing not a few screams of perhaps absolute terror to come over the intercom. Mel was rather glad that she had muted down the sound as she brought the ship back under control. It slowly settled back into its slow set of oscillations, and Mel slowly began bringing systems back online. She would be flying without radar for at least another three minutes, which made things a bit hairy, as they were still zooming along at a very high speed, towards mountains no less.

A bunch of mountains that were growing larger and larger in her eyesight with each passing second. Mel set the Valkyrie into a series of skew turns, using drag to bleed off more speed as she checked her course on the computer and began to plan her entry into the mountain range. Hopefully Boomer was keeping up, but she was not to make contact with the other pilot until they were grounded just over the horizon from the base.

*****

Colonel Saul Tigh looked up and accepted the cup of bret that Adama handed him. It was an awful drink, a semi liquid tapped near directly off one the yeast tanks, with more than a bit of caffeine added to it, all the calories of a full meal, with the caffeine of a cup of coffee. It had been a staple more than once onboard the Battlestars back during the first Cylon war, and even after all this time, he had still not gotten used to the clumpy stuff sliding down his throat. With the absence of coffee supplies and the lack of resupply bases, it was quicly becoming the drink, and meal of choice for breakfast.

"Thirty minutes before we should be hearing back from the Raptor Bill." Saul said softly before turning his attention back to the set of charts before him. The command center was incredibly busy as it was prepping not only for a jump, but for a scramble of its fighters. Voices hummed in the background as people passed information back and forth, and a repair crew could be seen tearing the guts out of one of the tracking station consoles.

"I see they still don't have Radar one fixed." Saul glanced over and gave a shake of his head.

"No word on an ETA as of yet either, they are going to try one more console, but the last one shorted out as soon as they plugged it in. Its either a problem in the wiring harness here, or in the emplacement on the hull." Saul shared a grim look with his Captain before taking another drink of the harsh, body temperature liquid.

"That's not good. We'll only have what, half our radar coverage on the port side?"

"Less than half. We can't rule out sabotage. I've already got a team looking over who all had access both to the hull emplacement, and to the console in the last two years. Its turning into quite a list." Saul made eye contact with Bill, the look saying more than words could, than words should on the crowded bridge.

"Sound Condition One Saul. Lets lock this bitch up and get ready for a fight." Saul gave a nod and turned to Petty Officer Duella.

"Sound the alarm, set condition one throughout the ship.

Lieutenant Gaeta begin jump prep and countdown." Saul watched a few moments and then turned back to Adama. His voice was barely audible when he spoke. "How likely do you think it is we'll be seeing action this time around?"

"Quite likely. The cylons probably have a ship in an eagle eye position, they may not be the brightest things around, but they are hardly dumb."

"You're still going through with this, knowing it's the next best thing to a trap?" Saul was suddenly glad that he was merely the executive officer, and not in charge on this one. He doubted he had the fortitude to make the decisions necessary. He already had fear gnawing in his gut for a certain pilot out there right now, it would be impossible with the lives of so many others counting on him.

"We need the fuel Saul."

Chapter 7

"Bring us around again, I missed one of the frakking Scimitars." Simeon's voice trailed off in a grunt as Mel pulled the transport up into a climb, and eventually into a hammerhead turn.

Things had been going bad ever since they had started the assault on the base, and they were steadily going from bad to worse.

"Bloody hell, there were only six of the frakking things left. Make sure you get it this time." Mel growled into the mic as her pressure suit clamped like a hand of god around her torso, keeping blood flowing to her head through the maneuver.

The new Cylons had proven to be much more adept at ground combat, and so precious seconds had been lost strafing their ground position that should have been used to nail the Cylon Scimitars on the ground. Now the Raptor was running to jump range with a Cylon on its tail, and even winning the race would mean losing it, because the ship would just jump out to the system to notify a Basestar. Luckily that one Scimitar had been the only craft with its engines at a ready state, and the others were still more or less sitting ducks on the ground.

The airframe shuddered as the wing mounted gun pods fired again, sending up explosions of dirt, and then flame as their red trails intersected that of the Cylon fighter. Mel pitched the nose of the transport up, and drove the lift jets up to full power while cutting them main engines, effectively bringing the ship to a complete stop in midair. She hovered there for a moment, pivoting slowly to allow Simeon to fire at targets on the ground. The sudden blare of the missile warning system, followed mere seconds later by the now unguided flare of a air to ground rocket streaking past convinced Mel that hanging around static was not a good idea at all.

"Pinch Hitter to Runner Actual." Mel keyed the wireless transmitter as she fed power and then turbos into the main engines, switching off the hover jets as she did so. Hanging around was not a good idea at all, and the Cylons seemed to be prioritizing their fire, as more and more light rounds from their body mounted weapons began to take the ship under fire.

"Runner Actual, go ahead Pinch Hitter." Mel could hear the distinct whip-crack sound of rocket propelled rounds going transonic after launch from the marine's weapons in the background of the transmission.

"Dugout has made return to homebase. Advise we are taking heavy fire from ground units, will not be able to provide static fire support. Cylons were able to get off a warning vessel to their fleet as well." Another scream of the missile warning system caused her to jerk the heavy ship up onto one wing, barely avoiding the warhead whose proximity head detonated it anyways. The ship heaved as the shockwave hit it, and Mel could hear Simeon cursing in her other ear.

"Frak me, hold us stead, I can't get a bead on the buggers."

Mel gave a bit of a wince as several of the heavier shells from the main cannon impacted a few hundred meters from the volatile tylium tanks, causing something to cook off in an explosion.

"Understood Pinch Hitter. I estimate twenty Cylons under active engagement. We were able to withdraw to a covered position thanks to your strafing run. Will be illuminating a target for a firing pass in thirty seconds." Mel had no time to run eyes over the multitude of gauges in front of her, and instead had to rely upon the warning alarms and lights as she pulled the transport through another shrieking turn, using the lift jets to tighten it into something impossible for all but a V-TOL equipped craft.

"I've got illumination Phoenix… bring us to port twenty degrees more." The flare of dumbfire rockets filled the cockpit, causing Mel to squint her eyes shut for the brief moment that their exhaust was all but blinding.

Seconds dragged into minutes and minutes into hours as the fighting wore on. Mel could only hope that it was going better on the ground than it was in the air. She had a half dozen amber warning lights and three scarlet damage alarms lit up in her eyesight. All were for systems that were currently running on backup, or simply were absolutely necessary to keep flying, such as the jump drive. Long range wireless was another one of those critical damaged areas, which was why the only warning she had of incoming Vipers, was the sudden flaring of additional bunkers on the ground into explosions from fire and forget missiles ripple fired into them by a squadron of Vipers.

"Angels one to Pinch Hitter, we've got top cover, you get in position for withdrawal." Mel had never found Starbuck's voice to be so welcome than at that time, and dutifully set her ship down in the finally secured area near the tylium tanks. They looked uncharacteristically in good shape for something so old, and the marine Captain's voice explained why a few minutes later.

"It looks like there has been a lot of activity here recently. We've got recent usage on the tylium tanks, where are much more full than they should be, and additional gear in the two warehouses that we've checked out. Looks like some pirates or smugglers were setting this up as a base of operations."

*****

"Fuel shuttle three has reported positive maglocks." Dualla reported and Saul gave her a nod before turning back to the plot before him. Adama was already studying the arrival of the basestar intently something of a smile upon his lips.

"How badly have they frakked themselves?" Saul asked softly as he looked at the single basestar that was visible. Adama gave a sharkish smile before responding.

"Badly, we're going to kick their ass up around their ears unless they have another ship coming." Saul gave a nod, knowing that Bill had spent countless hours reviewing the records from the action at Ragnar, learning the new ships weaknesses, their armaments, their maneuverability. The Commander was silent for a moment before turning to the maneuvering officers. "Starboard ventral ahead one third, starboard dorsal ahead two thirds, all stop port."

Saul studied the plot, not being the shiphandler that his long time friend, and commander was, before he deduced exactly what was going on. Adama was purposely giving the Cylons the starboard pod, unmanned and still currently useless as it was as a target, while simultaneously rolling the ship just enough to clear all the ventral heavy turrets for action. It minimized the amount of suppression fire that the Galactica could dish out but it did mean that fourteen of the sixteen ventral heavy turrets could be cleared for action.

"Secondary turrets begin suppression fire, primary turrets to load class D anti-ship seekers and await my order for salvo fire."

Adama turned back to the plot and watched with critical eyes as Saul turned his attention away towards damage control as the first long range missile launches were detected. The anti-ship seekers were based on the standard class-D nuclear warhead that most of the heavy explosive munitions of the fleet used as a standard, there they departed from every other useage of the warhead. These were wrapped in a half ton of tungsten and strapped to a guided solid rocket motor. They were the only anti-capital ship weapons that the Galatica had in abundant supply.

"Seal all airtight bulkheads, engage fire suppression systems. Lieutenant Gaeta spin up FTL drives one and two, and begin jump prep." The soft hum of relayed orders filled the bridge, and for the first time in a long time, Saul felt something other than despair and fear fill the bridge. There was anticipation, a hunger that he remembered from fighter ops back in the first war. "Petty Officer Dualla, inform the fuel shuttles to expedite their fuel runs."

"Sir, the Cylon Basestar is launching fighters, and is now in extended firing range of all main turrets." Gaeta's report was a bit anxious and Adama turned to him, Saul's eyes following the exchange.

"We'll wait a bit longer before engaging with our main turrets. Lets see if we can't sucker them in a little closer with the old blunt teeth trick. Signal the Vipers, engage fighters, leave the Basestar to us." Saul barely heard the acknowledgement of the order as he glanced at the time on target display for the incoming warheads. They were already suffering attrition, but the new Basestars had a huge number of launchers for the weapons, and seemingly even larger missile bunkers.

"Brace for contact." Saul reported in an even voice, before making his way over to the damage control board. This time he was going to stay on top of things, ensure that nothing got so bad that he had to kill eighty people in order to insure the life of the ship.

"Roll us another two degrees to port, engines to station keeping." Saul turned back to his plot before turning to the Petty Officer that had been assigned to damage control.

"Begin pumping all the atmosphere out of the port flight pod and storing it the emergency supply tanks. Once those are full, begin overpressurizing the rest of the ship." It was something of a risk, Saul knew, but removing the air from the flight pod which would be taking the brunt of the damage insured that each warhead would do less damage, and would keep explosive decompressions from occurring. "Flush all the fuel lines with nitrogen, and seal them shut."

"Aye sir."

"All primary turrets fire salvo one." Even the mighty mass of the Galactica could not totally absorb that massive round of firing without some sort of sign. The deck rolled under Saul's feet, and he reached a hand out to steady Petty Officer Raoul as he stumbled.

"Easy son, try and keep a hand on something until you get used to it." Saul remarked quietly gaining an appreciative look before the PO moved back to his station.

"Fire salvo two." A mere thirty seconds had elapsed from the firing of the first salvo, and already the second was streaking out to the Basestar. Faint flashes from the fighters dogfight were visible on the screens of the DRADIS. Saul found himself holding his breath as the giant rockets on the first salvo lit off, and went into terminal acquisition of the Basestar, their ranks already thinned by counter fire. One, and another died, before finally a single round made it through to imbed itself deeply into one spar of the Cylon ship before exploding in argent flame.

"That's once, lets do it to them again!" Adama roared over the cry of jubilation that filled the bridge. Saul managed a grim smile himself, even though he could not help but remember those that had died in previous battles. This time, he thought, this time you've bit off more than you can chew. It was the truth as well, for under the hand of Adama, the Galactica able, and more than willing to take on a single Basestar, or even two without being tied down in defense of civilian ships. "Fire salvo three, and then go to rapid fire on all guns, solid shot."

*****

Mel felt that they were missing something as a seemingly endless line of shuttles ferried fuel up to the Galactica. Something simple, something important, and as she looked at the littered remains of the Cylon Scimitars on the ground it finally dawned on her. She began shucking flightstraps and unplugging her flight suit as she punched on the intercom.

"Simeon, we've got a mission. I want to get all the computer looking circuits we can off those Cylon hulks. There is no telling what information is on those chips, or what we can learn from more recent examples of Cylon technology." Mel heard his surprised grunt, and then a frantic unbuckling of straps as he too realized that there was an opportunity here not to be missed.

Mel eased herself to the ground, and began moving at a steady, if not exactly fast pace towards the nearest ship checking her sidearm as she moved. The footing was tricky to say the least, and the last thing she wanted to do was take a tumble and rip her flightsuit.

Especially with the glare of what had to be nuclear explosions dotting the rapidly darkening sky. They did not have long to get anything they could, and Mel triggered her suit to suit communicator.

"Captain, you might want to have your men pick up examples of the Cylon personal and guided weapons. I don't know why we didn't think of this before, we know next to nothing about these new models." Mel heard his muffled exclamation in reply as she began tracing exposed circuitry in a piece that was more or less and intact fuselage.

"If that is the flight control system, and those are the throttle control servos, then this has to be," she mumbled to herself softly as she pulled and shoved strands of wiring out of the way. There was no time to be easy about things, and after identifying the one piece she thought would be more valuable than all else, she stepped back drew her sidearm, and set about detaching it in the Leonid way. That way namely being the application of massive amounts of firepower to all the pieces around it. A minute, and two complete clips of armor piercing ammunition later, and she was trudging back to the Valkyrie with what she thought was the flight data recorder. Time, and analysis would tell her later if that was correct, but for now, anything they could get out of any databank would be useful.

Chapter 8

"The last fuel shuttle reports positive lock sir." Saul glanced up from a damage control board that was thankfully still bright green where everything critical was concerned. The starboard flight pod had taken a hell of a beating in the opening rounds of the engagement, but now was hardly ever getting hit, due mostly to the fact that the Basestar that they were fighting had most of its teeth pulled. They had been lucky so far, none of the Scimitar fighters that had withdrawn from the dogfight had managed to jump out, so they were still facing only that single ship. He took a moment to look over at Adama who was deep in discussion with Gaeta over targeting priorities before turning back to the petty officer.

"Dispatch to all shuttles. Begin loading consumables and weapons, as long as its just us and that single Basestar, I want to begin stripping that base bare." Saul looked at the fuel levels and gave a soft whistle. They were filled to the brim, even mixing uncontaminated fuel with the contaminated supplies that had been put in tank one. That had been a last ditch reserve a tank that they were not supposed to fill unless they got everything else full up first. That fuel would go a long way to assuring survival over the next few months. "How are the fighters fuel and bullets holding out?"

"We've reports that they are getting low sir." Saul gave a slow nod and looked back at the plot. The last attempt by the Cylons to get something in atmosphere had been thirty minutes ago, and since then, they had mainly been trying to disengage from the battle in order to retreat. It was probably a decision that most would have relayed to the Captain to make, but Bill had always been one to allow officers under his command to use their judgement.

"Recall the planet interdiction squad, get them refueled and rearmed and have them relieve Captain Adama's squadron. We don't want to go from winning this, to losing this because our fighters are out of gas." Saul turned to Petty Officer Raoul before continuing with another string of orders. "I want you to dispatch damage control teams One and Six to the port flight pod, and have them form a portage chain. I want the beans and bullets offloaded from subsequent shuttles as fast as possible. Rotate teams Three and Four into the spaces of One and Six, and then get Two and Five to replace Three and Four. Tell Three and Four that they did a good job, and I want them to rest up a bit."

Saul watched a moment to ensure his orders were being carried out, before turning and making his way over to where Adama and his tactical officer cum navigator were in the middle of discussion. Saul edged into sight, gaining a look from Adama who tapped the display in front of them. A display that showed a Battlestar that was looking definitely worse for wear, but which was still definitely in the fight. Many of the missile launchers were silent now, and one of the spars was a twisted broken wreck but there was still life in the machine.

"We need the primary turrets to program a salvo of seekers to go after this join. Its where the old Basestars were the most vunerable, the join of dorsal and ventral hulls. If we can get one good round of hits in here, its possible that we can take out the ship altogether." Saul gave a soft nod of agreement though neither man was looking at him as Gaeta replied.

"To be able to target something as precise as that, we'd need better resolution scans than what we can get at this range. We'd have to send a fighter in on a telemetry uplink, and hold our fire during the run." Saul shared a look with Adama, as they were the only two people aboard the Galactica who knew what a run like that would really entail. Of all the missions they had ever run, that was a suicide mission if there ever was one. "Its going to require us to use the visual seekers as well, none of our thermal or radar guided devices have hit it since the third salvo.

"None of our fighters has enough fuel to do a run like that, not to mention they've all probably got battle damage of some sort." Saul looked at Adama as he finished speaking and cleared his throat. The Commander looked up and gave a nod for him to interrupt.

"I've recalled Starbuck's squadron from planetside for refueling and rearming. The last fuel shuttle came aboard a few minutes ago, and it has been thirty minutes since the last excursion of Cylons in atmosphere. I've got the shuttles stripping everything off the base that we can use, consumables and weapons first." Saul paused as Adama looked up at the chrono in almost shock before he continued. "Apollo and Starbuck are our only pilots that are good enough, or crazy enough to do that and live. Ten minutes from now, we can have the crazy one try."

"Do it but brief her personally Saul. Lieutenant Gaeta can pass the orders on to the primary turrets to set up acceptance of targeting data from her bird, and take over damage control." Saul froze for a second and then pulled himself a little more erect.

"Yes sir." Saul could understand why Adama wanted a personal briefing, and if it had not been for the fact that they were in the middle of a battle, the Commander would probably do it himself. Starbuck needed to know what she would be facing, and there were only two people onboard that could tell her what probably to expect, and how to possibly stay alive.

*****

Kara was definitely not pleased to see the stern face walking towards her, a man clothed only in regulation blues, where everyone else in the pod was in a pressure of flight suit. The deftness that he maneuvered through the chaos was something surprising though. It made him look competent. Not that this was the first time in the last few weeks she had to admit that maybe she was wrong to continue judging him in the same way she had before Judgement.

"What have I done this time? I don't remember hitting anyone before I left, and I got my bird back in one piece!" Kara hated being on the defensive, and yet she could tell by Saul's face that this was not going to be good, which meant that she had done something wrong that the man did not like. Probably be sent to the brig, and during the middle of a battle as well.

"You haven't done anything wrong yet Starbuck. Commander Adama has a mission for you." That jerked her up short all right. Like Bill would send, well granted it was in the middle of a battle so he probably would send Tigh down here. She gave a soft groan and pulled off her helmet, giving her head a shake, slinging sweat all of the place and earning a disgusted look from the Colonel. Kara watched as the man unrolled a flimsy of the Battlestar the Galactica was engaging. "The plan is for your squad to relieve Lee's, however Commander Adama wants to end this fight. That Basestar has seen us, and there is a possibility that they have identified who we are. In order to guarantee its destruction with the least amount of ordinance, we need a fighter to make a close sensor run of the ship for targeting data."

"Sounds easy enough." Kara said as she leaned over to look at the flimsy.

"We need you to get *close* Lieutenant Thrace." That grabbed her attention, for he only spoke in that tone of voice when she was beginning to annoy him.

"How close is close? Three, four hundred klicks? No problem."

"Actually we are going to have to use optical seekers. Their EW jamming mechanisms won't allow the standard seeker heads to be used. We'll need optical resolution down to at least a meter, which with the Mark II optical targeting systems, means sixty klicks." Kara began cursing silently as she stared at the flimsy. Sixty klicks was knife range in space, and getting that close to the Basestar, well she would be close enough they could throw the kitchen sink at her if they wanted to.

"Frak me, that is close. Why can't we use on the Mark VIIs? They have optical scanners three times better." Kara watched as Saul frowned and looked over to one of the sleek menacing fighters.

"Unfortunately in order to disable Dr Baltar's navigational program enough to keep them flying against the Cylons, we had to take out the higher level data links. Which means they have no way to relay the necessary targeting data back." Kara gave a soft groan as she looked over at the Mark II that had served her so well.

"Well, frak." It was all she could think to say. Kara had done some pretty hairy stuff in her career, but facing the Cylons the first time, alone and surrounded by mainly rooks had taken all the daredevil and hero right out of her. "If we need it done, we need it done."

"Starbuck." His voice stopped her as she turned away, and reluctantly she turned back. "We need you to do this, because you're the best we have for it. We don't have a clue what that thing mounts in the way of anti-fighter defenses, but if it doubles up with anti- missile and shell defenses like we do, you're only chance for survival is to go in hot, on full burners. Don't mess around with trying a low speed pass, just get in and get out. If this doesn't work we'll need you as a pilot, and if it does work we'll still need you as a pilot."

It was not much of a speech or of advice, but it was something, something to hold on to and psych herself up with. She pulled herself up into the cockpit of the Viper, and started to get cozy again, trying to not run the odds in her head as for the chances of making it back alive. For a born gambler, that was about as hard as not counting cards in a friendly game. Not impossible, just damnably hard.

*****

"Captain, Warrant Officer Simeon and I have collected examples, mostly whole, of all the computer equipment we could find." Mel wiped sweat off her face, and turned back to the Valkyrie where she was moving burnt wiring out of the way behind a pierced panel, trying to figure out just where the fault in the controls to the FTL drive was. They had time, and then that, now that the Vipers had been recalled, and the Galactica was easily holding off the Basestar. Orders had come down to strip everything off the base that was useable, even wiring for lights.

At least it meant it had given her time to walk through some troubleshooting tactics with Cally over a secure communications channel. Mel did not relish having to make a hasty pull out without a functioning FTL drive. Luckily it seemed the unit itself was alright, just the main data lines were toasted. She grabbed another handful of charred and melted wiring and pulled a big handful out to drop on the ground.

"Excellent Lieutenant. That was great thinking by the way." The Captain was sounding as if he was getting worried at the pile of charred wire that was growing at Mel's feet, and truth to be told, so was she. Before she had tore into this access panel she had no idea that the Valkyrie had this much wiring, which could be burnt out and still fly. "Err, this isn't a critical problem here is it?"

"Could be." She answered softly. Cally had said she could just tear out anything that was burnt, that the wiring harness would pull out at junctures up, and downstream. It did not do much to inspire confidence seeing just how bad that missile hit had damaged the craft. "According to Specialist Cally, and the telltales up in the cockpit we haven't lost anything we absolutely need yet, but I'd like to get the FTL drive back online… ahh there it is."

"Indeed, well I'll let you just… er continue with that then." Mel had to suppress a smile, as the man sounded as disconcerted about riding back up in the transport as she had about digging into this wiring mess. Cally had explained that most of it was backup and tertiary datalinks for various systems, but still, this was insane. "Wiring harness three Oh five seven she said. Hrm… there it is."

Mel made herself a promise to sit in on the repairs when they got back to the Valkyrie. She had a feeling that these missions were going to become quite popular, and she was going to be damned if she did not know the systems in the ship better by then. Playing mechanic was fine and all, just playing it with no idea of what you were doing isn't such a good thing. The wiring harness snapped back together, and she plugged the diagnostic terminal into a nearby port.

"Self test one thirteen." She mumbled softly and waited impatiently for the final buzzing ping when it tested through green. Mel gave a groan, and a sigh as she hefted the access panel back into place. Where Warrant Officer Simeon was, now that was a question, that she would like the answer to. She had not seen the man since he had brought back the last piece of the Cylon equipment, and that had been almost fifteen minutes ago, long before her call up to the Galactica. Well, there was one way to find that out, she checked her sidearm almost reflexively, and began looking for him.

The darkness was growing faster now, and Mel could smell something pungent, and quite alien in the air. Though it had a breathable atmosphere, one could hardly call the aroma's and the earlier light something soothing. That this was not any one of the colonies was readily apparent and it was with a growing sense of unease that she continued into the darkness. Better judgement slowly began to dawn on her, and she eased out the pistol from her side, while triggering her throat mic.

"Pinch Hitter to Runner Actual, come in." Movement caught her eye, movement that it took only a moment to register as not being human and Mel's gun came up smoothly tracking the onrushing shape.

Chapter 9

The distinctive whip crack of personal sidearm rounds filled Mel's ears moments before the gun in her hand bucked. The Cylon fell under the assault of the twin personal sidearms, and Mel hurriedly looked over to her benefactor as she began backing up.

"Simeon? What the frak are you doing out here?" She growled as her eyes scanned the dimming horizon for more, which there did not appear to be. Just that one armless she could now see, Cylon laying upon the ground.

"I could ask you the same question. If I hadn't seen you walking out here, that thing probably would have got you." Mel growled again at that, coming down from the high of adrenaline and not in any mood to be pleasant.

"I haven't seen you back at the bloody lander in fifteen…thirty minutes. We're supposed to be set to launch rapidly if necessary and you went hairing off. I came to find out where you were at. Had things been even a bit different time period wise, it could have been me saving you from that thing." Mel checked her weapon, and slung the safety back on before holstering it. She turned towards her weapons officer, who was still looking at the smoking hulk with his pistol in a down and ready position.

"I was… was looking for that wing that came off one of the Scimitar fighters. I had a thought I might be able to get a missile out of it." Mel frowned, as the man started to sound more shaken that she felt. He was beginning to tremble, and sweat was visibly breaking out on his forehead. She took a couple steps forwards and laid a hand on his forearm, guiding the weapon towards his holster. "Come on, I need your help to get a preflight on the Valkyrie done."

"Yes ma'am." Simeon struggled to get out, and Mel gave him a searching look before turning back towards the landing area. She looked up at the sky just in time to see an unbelievable boil of light turn night into day.

"By the Lords of Kobol, let that not be the Galatica." Mel was so involved in her reverent wish that she failed to hear the fact that her gunner did not echo it.

*****

"Outfield Two Actual to Outfield one." Kara keyed her transmitter as she entered the still boiling furball. Whatever one could say about those Cylons they were not the most tactically impressive people, because instead of launching all their fighters in one massive wave, they kept dolling them out in small enough numbers that the Vipers could keep things in a somewhat even keel. Vipers died, but those that lived were more than making up for the loss with on the spot experience.

"Outfield One Actual to Outfield Two, go ahead." Kara breathed a soft sigh of relief as Lee's voice came over the wireless. It was distracted as his voice always was when he was concentrating on something, like staying alive. That itself was welcome as well, because it meant he was not likely to be getting himself dead anytime soon.

"Orders from Homeplate Outfield One, get back to base for triple R. We're coming up to bat for a bit." Kara's squadron sleeted through the firefight, Vipers picking out Cylons as they passed through, and then splitting up into pairs, all except one, a single Mark II that suddenly found a Mark VII pulling up on its wing while the rest of its squadron peeled away.

"What are you up to Sta…Outfield Two?" Kara hit the afterburners, as she pulled her nose away from an exploding Cylon and aimed it at the Basestar in the distance. She did not need to look to know that Lee was following, and for some strange reason that knowledge warmed her inside.

"Recon run." She looked over he shoulder at the Mark VII Viper that was dogging her steps. "You're supposed to be heading back to refuel."

"Can that I'm not letting my best pilot make this run on her own. I've got enough, and doing what I think you are going to be doing is suicide without backup." Kara let a smile creep onto her face and into her voice as she replied.

"Well as long as you feel you can keep up." Kara knew Lee would not respond to that, and so she kept her finger down on the afterburner, letting acceleration pile up as they flew on what as rapidly looking like a kamikaze attack. She had it planned though, pass close enough that they could use the gravitational distortion caused by the ship, and its inertial field to slingshot them back at the Galactica.

Not exactly the course Colonel Tigh had recommended while she was hooking back up in her cockpit, but then again Kara had always been one for the exciting methods. Plus the flyby that old geezer had suggested would have been beyond insane. Even with full fuel tanks it would have been somewhat doubtful she would have ade it back to the Galactica.

"Umm… tell me we aren't going to get as close as I think we're going to get."

"Ok… we're not going to get as close as you think… we're going to get closer." Kara heard Lee's groan over her headset on the short range communications channel. The Basestar was growing larger at an almost alarming rate, and Kara finally remembered just what she needed to be doing. The controls for the optical scanner in the fighter was unfamiliar to her, being both more primitive, and more labor intensive than the ones she was used to in the Mark VIIs. It did its job though as she locked the tracking device onto an auspicious looking port in the middle of the join of the Battlestars twin hull. "Homeplate, beginning data uplink now."

Ruddy light from railgun rounds fired from behind and slightly above fighter filled Kara's eyes for a moment, and she suddenly realized that the optical device had taken up far too much of her time. She scanned the visible part of space, and then her sensors, seeing a flight of Cylons, their number reduced already by one. Kara's hand was about to pull her off the course she was flying and into evasive maneuvers when Lee's voice filled her ears again.

"Maintain course K, I've got you covered." Kara was impressed, both by the fact that like always Lee always seemed to know what she was going to do about the same time she did, and the precise fire he was leveling out. Of course that latter was due to the highly refined targeting computer on the Mark VII an item that was still quite functional after the Navigation code and networking interlocks had been removed. Another Cylon died, and a third, the fourth followed a couple short bursts later.

"Galactica to Recon flight, thanks for the eyes guys, you've got incoming ordnance." Commander Adama's voice was distorted due to the distance and the compression imposed by the scrambled burst transmission, but Kara could still hear the pride in his voice, and she knew it was for more than just her own flying. Hopefully Lee heard it to, she thought before the threat tone squealed in her ear.

"Frak, they've got us locked up with fire control!" Kara's thumb hit a switch on the side of her joystick switching weapons over to the two special packages that had been loaded aboard for this mission. These items they had far too few of on the Galactica to use anything but sparingly. "Weasel one away." The missile that leapt from the Viper was stupid, so stupid in fact that it had a brain that was not much different than the very first one used on a homing missile. It simply followed whatever signal had been imprinted into its sensors to self immolation, in this case the fire control radar that had illuminated the two Vipers.

"Who authorized you to carry that? Because I know I didn't, wasting ordinance is a capital offense right now." Lee's voice was tight, a bit put out, but still thankful in Kara's ear even as anti- aircraft rounds whipped past their ships.

"The Colonel did, take it up with him." Kara shot back mere moments before they shot around the Basestar, and back towards the Galactica, even as the Nuclear warning light lit up on their MFDs. "Ass to the blast, and ride it out."

*****

Mel was tired, and not just because she had been up for the better part of twenty-four hours, and had participated in a combat mission mere hours before. No she was tired because there had been a party thrown almost immediately after they made it back to the ragtag fleet, a party to celebrate a rather pitiful triumph, but a triumph no less.

Tired, but not so tired that she was not walking down a hallway towards the quarters of one of the few people who had not shown up for the party down in the hanger pod. Even the Commander had made a brief show, and yet, still he had not. Which was something Mel was going to ask him about, after she brought the party to him. She paused before his hatch, thinking that the wall had been rather helpful in her journey, holding her upright for most of it, been a damn long time since she had tried walking drunk with her tin legs, and truth to tell she had forgotten how hard it was. Bad enough that you did not have half the signals you needed, but then turn in a world that was spinning around you, and things definitely went topsy turvy.

"Hey Saaaauuull…" She drawled out after pounding on the door with the heavy plas bottle in her hand for what seemed like an hour.

Delectable he was, looking like she had just woken him from sleep, if not too sound a one, with his hair all rumpled, and a hurried towel wrapped around his waist for modesty. "Missed you at the… the… party… yep."

Mel tried to take a step into his room, while waving the bottle around, forgetting for a moment that that might not be the best idea. The fact that she found herself mashed up against a chest she had been admiring moments before was definitely not a bad thing however.

"You're drunk Mel." There was a bit of wry amusement in his voice, that caused Mel to look up at him and nod, as he maneuvered her deeper into his room and shut the hatch behind her. "You should go sleep it off."

"Yep!" She proudly proclaimed before continuing. "Can't go to quarters… you wouldn't believe what is happening down there right now, buncha randy goats. Anyways, you didn't show at the party…so Is… Is brought the party to you!"

"You know about my alcohol problem Mel, that's why I didn't come."

"Yep!" Mel yelped out again, as Saul eased her down into the only thing she could probably sit on and not fall out of currently, the rumpled bed. He tried to pull away, but there was not any way she was going to let him get away that easily. She tightened her grip on his wrist and pulled him down towards her, ending up with him sprawled against the bed. She held up the bottle and peered at it, before taking another swig straight from the neck. Mel frowned a bit looking at the bottle again, for it definitely did not taste like what she had been drinking for most of the night. "Which is why….why I drank most of it for you…yep!"

Saul tried to move away again, which was rather making Mel upset, and so she wrapped her arm more or less around his shoulders and pulled him closer with her not too inconsiderable strength. She slapped the bottle against his chest, and gave him a glare.

"Comeon Saaaauuull, have a drink with me, just one drink."

"Alright then, one drink, but then I'm taking you back to quarters." Mel smiled as he growled at her, and took the bottle from her hands. The look of puzzlement that was on his face after he had finished drinking what was left in the bottle was just so tempting that she could not stand it any longer. She leaned forwards and pressed a kiss against his lips, and then passed out in his arms.

Chapter 10

The first thing that Mel was fully aware of after deciding that she was really truly awake, was the fact that she was warm for the first time in being in the pilots quarters. The second was the fact that her blanket weighed a ton, and snored. That was definitely not her hand down there either, she spent a moment of trepidation trying to remember just what, or who she had done last night before cracking open a tentative eyelid.

"Oh Lords." Mel groaned softly as she saw exactly who she was sleeping with, not that she really minded. In fact she really wished she could remember exactly what had happened last night, the last she could remember was going shot for shot with Kara. That had obviously not ended well to say the least. Waking up here in the bed of a senior officer in nothing more than regulation undergarments though, that complicated things in a way Mel was not sure she wanted them complicated. Luckily he seemed to be far more unconscious than she was at the time, and trying to ignore the beginnings of a serious headache she moved to extricate herself.

Unfortunately that attempt disturbed Saul just enough that he seemingly thought he needed to get more comfortable himself. Getting comfortable mainly consisting of the facts that the arm under her neck shifted a bit, allowing his face to burrow deeper into the hollow of her shoulder and the sliding of a hand further down the junction of cloth and skin. Mel bit her lower lip, choking off the whimper that came with the sudden feel of fingers not her own on flesh so long untouched by such and that of warm breath upon her neck. A hot flush rushed through the pit of her stomach, a fluttery thing, arousal though, most definitely arousal.

"Lords Saul." She whispered softly, still not wanting to wake him, not wanting to deal with the awkwardness of the situation. One arm tightened around his shoulder, pulling him carefully closer as she arched her neck, coming slowly to the realization that he was laying with the blankets between them. Mel felt a bitter twinge of guilt before it was washed away by another flush of arousal, knowing that he had been gentleman enough not to take advantage beyond the fact of laying against her. The hand was innocent enough considering where one of her own was, and the fact that he had no doubt been asleep when it arrived where it was.

Mel chewed on her lip a few moments, lost in the feel of his lips brushing lightly over her skin with each breath, the tension slowly building inside of her before she moved again. Slowly, carefully so as to not wake him, to not destroy this dreamed of moment she shifted again, thighs spreading slightly, hips shifting to move his hand deeper. Whether it was her moan as fingers moved over damp flesh, or the sudden clenching of her hand upon firm flesh that woke him, Mel did not know. She only knew that wake he did because of one, or the combination of the two.

"Mmm…" His voice rumbled against Mel's neck before his lips placed a sucking kiss on it. She knew he had been married, hell the whole ship knew of the divorce that had finished not long before Judgement. Mel knew he probably did not know where he was, who he was with at that point in time, and yet she could not do anything other than hold her peace and hope for a few more moments to cherish during the long hours alone. She had to moan again as his fingers played idly against her, and this time it was the sound of her voice that caused him to lift his head, and look at her in sudden incomprehension.

"Mel? Oh frak." Mel had to smile at the fact that he had frozen with the expression of a daggit caught in the headlights of a landspeeder. At least he had not jerked away with the sudden revulsion and shock she had been half expecting, in fact he seemed more frightened than anything. "I'm sorry, I thought I was dreaming."

"Was it a good dream?" Mel had to ask that, the hurried way that he had tried to explain away what was happening, she had realized that he was more afraid for what she was going to do, than anything else. She slid her wandering hand into safer territory while taking advantage to remind him just where his was. She could not help the wicked smile that came to her lips at the sudden increase of panic on his face anymore than the gasp that came with it.

"Yes." She almost missed the soft sound of his voice, the simple word bringing a flush to her face as he said it, his eyes not moving from her own. His face softened with the word, his lips drifting closer to her own before he spoke again. "Yes, it most definitely was."

"You… you can keep dreaming if you want… if you don't have something better to do." Mel could not look in his eyes as she spoke, she had to look away, the heat of her blush hot in her face.

"I don't have to go back on duty for another three hours, and you have the day off, but maybe that isn't such a good idea." That combined with the easy withdrawal of his body brought Mel's face and her attention back solidly upon him. His eyes searched hers for long moments before she watched a frown cover his lips and he spoke again. "No, probably not a good idea at all."

"I won't beg you Saul." Mel said softly, following him as he sat up, and sliding her arms around his chest from behind. She leaned back a bit, keeping the tight grip, and preventing him from standing up. "Why isn't it a good idea?"

"I'm not what you think I am." Mel clenched her teeth against the self hate that were in the words, the broken sound of defeat in his voice.

"Just who do you think you are?"

"Well I'm a divorced, alcoholic broken down old man whose twice your age is what I am. Not to mention that I'm a senior officer in your chain of command."

"Well I can't argue with that." Mel said softly before she tightened her arms around him, keeping him once again from standing. She let her cheek rest against his back before she continued. "Still I don't see where that means you aren't what I think you are. I think you are a kind man who treated me as nothing more, or less than a person. Someone who is a friend to me, and who I am a friend of. A gentleman who did not take advantage of me while I was drunk and passed out in his bed, outside of a little unconscious groping."

"I can't give you what you want Mel."

"Oh? And just what do you think I want?" Mel grumbled against his back as her hands clenched against his shirt. "No, don't guess, I'll tell you. Right now, I want to feel alive, I want to be for just a moment the woman I used to be. I want a man to look me in the eyes, and see desire in his eyes, and I want that man to be you. I'm tired of it, I'm not strong enough to deal with living in quarters and seeing pity in their eyes every night. I'm tired of having every sleaze ball inviting himself into my bunk, or making a pass because he knows I have to be an easy lay."

"They what?" Mel could hear the anger in his voice, and had to smile for it. Saul turned in her arms and glared down at her, though she knew the anger in his eyes was not directed at her. "Just give me the names and I'll…"

"Oh, it has been taken care of already. Kara and I have the same way with men you know." Mel said after silencing his words with her lips. She regretted stopping the kiss so soon, as his mouth had began to warm against hers. His lips tasted lightly of toothpaste, and that taste that was human and altogether male.

"That was definitely better than last night." The sudden change of topic took her by surprise, and she frowned at him, her recollection of the evening before being more than a little spotty. Thinking back on it now, she could remember stumbling, and falling more than once down the corridors, using the wall as both a crutch and a guide.

"Oh, and just what happened last night?"

"Well, you brought me a drink of Dr. Salik's patented pre- hangover cure, kissed me and passed out." Mel felt another blush coloring her face as his eyes drifted down as he spoke, as if drawn by a magnet. Which brought something else to mind she knew that she was definitely wearing more last night than what she had on right now. Mel shifted in a manner that she knew would cause the neck of her regulation top to expose more in the way of cleavage. She could feel her nipples tightening in anticipation, her fingers sliding softly over the back of his hand.

"Oh, and I suppose I arrived dressed like this?"

"Well no, but you were a little overdressed…"

"So you took it upon yourself to undress me. Saul, my eyes are up here." Mel teased lightly as she drew his chin back up with a finger, and gave him a soft peck on his lips. The way his eyes had lingered above her waist, but well below her chin had restarted that simmering pit of heat in her stomach. After a moment's contemplation she pressed another kiss against his lips, simply because they felt good under her own. "I said I wouldn't beg, and I don't see any reason we should suffer the rumor mill for nothing."

"That's not a good reason." Mel thought for a moment about beating him into submission before deciding that there were better ways of getting him to see things her way. Ways that were not so strenuous and much more likely to leave him a condition to get what she wanted from him at that moment.

"How about because I want to feel you inside me?" She said in a husky voice licking her lips after the words. Mel was rewarded as he gave a groan and leaned against her, pushing her back down against the bed. Men were so simple sometimes, you just had to know the right thing to say, and the right way to say it. The kiss was hard, needy, and seared the final doubt that he found her unattractive from her mind. His teeth dragged at her lower lip as he pulled back, her mouth chasing after his.

"I still don't think this is a good idea Mel." She could not believe that he was still drawing back, trying to play the good guy. Maybe it was not a good idea, but it was far from the worst thing that could happen right now. She did not like thinking about how close she had come to dying the day before, and right now she only wanted to think about how alive she was right at that moment.

"You know, I never thought I'd say this, but you are thinking with the wrong head right now." Mel growled at him as her hands moved down his arms, and drew his hands to where she needed them. The touch of his hand upon her thigh seared skin, and she leaned her cheek into the palm of the other. "Less thought, more instinct."

"Yes ma'am." Not that the words brought immediate action. Mel watched as his eyes searched hers, and everything stilled but for soft sounds of breathing. She had to act, break this spell before she just sat there and looked at him for the hours that were available. His eyes held so much, pain, understanding, and a hint of fear inside them, as if he could not truly believe what was happening. Mel nuzzled the palm of his hand, and then pressed a soft kiss to it.

*****

Saul could not believe what was happening here. It had been a long time since any woman had told him he was attractive and that she wanted him, an even longer time since he had actually believed it. His failed marriage was more than responsible for that he knew, finding out that his wife had only married him to get into the rarified air of admirals and political leaders and the parties they threw had not done much for his self esteem. Now here was a woman, a wonderful vibrant, attractive woman all but throwing herself into his arms. There was some small part of him that just knew the reason she was with him was because he was more messed up than she was. That she was taking pity on him because she did not want it herself.

It was the innocence in her eyes, the fear, the look of anticipation of rejection that decided him as she pressed a kiss to the palm of his hand. Saul realized then that all he saw in her for wanting to do this was the same as she saw in him. He had seen enough of her among the pilots to know that alone he was simply Saul to her, as she was simply Mel. If that and the fact that they found each other attractive was not a good reason to be doing this, well there were worse.

Mel's lips were soft, her mouth warm and welcoming against his. The quiet desperation in the way her hands clutched at his shirt, drawing him closer helped silence the last doubts Saul had about this. Silenced that nagging voice that said she was a junior officer and that this was not a good idea. He could not help but react with her so warm and vibrant and alive under his hands, against his lips.

"Saul." He stroked a soft finger over her cheek as he pulled back from the kiss, gazing down into her eyes. He watched as excitement slowly grew in her eyes, as her teeth clenched over her lower lip as his hand drifted down over the hard expanse of stomach that he had marveled at so often in the gym. Saul brushed fingers through her hair, and gave a soft smile as his hand drifted back down to where it was when he awakened. Mel's voice was a growl as she spoke again. "You've got too many clothes on."

Saul knew if he was to get nude now, it would be over far too soon, and this was something he wanted to savor. Her hands shot an electrical like charge through his body, more so than the kisses before had done, and he brought his lips back to hers for another kiss. Saul suppressed a moan as her hands slipped around him, her hips rising to seek extra contact with his hand as fingers slid over hot, wet skin. The musky scent of sex started to fill the air as Saul drifted his lips along the line of Mel's jaw and began plying soft sucking kisses to her neck.

The sound of her whimper as he slid a finger inside of her brought him from moderately aroused to unbelievably so. That and the feel of her tight and hot around that digit, it did not take much of an imagination to understand how good it was going to feel in a short bit of time. Saul reached around and tugged up Mel's regulation undershirt even as his lips drifted down and across the neck hem.

She all but froze as his hand moved from caressing that intimate part of her, to pulling off the regulation briefs, his hand sliding down and over her thigh, meeting an abrupt end that he knew of intellectually but still had forgotten about. Saul could see the sudden fear in her eyes, the trepidation, and allowed himself to wonder for a moment as to whether or not he was up to this. Saul knew though, somewhere deep back in his mind that if he were to stop now, it would be a betrayal beyond anything else he had ever done. So instead he covered his own hesitation by quickly shoving his own undergarments out of the way and moved to nestle his hips between her thighs.

"Oh Lords yes, don't stop Saul." Saul fumbled a bit as he tried to live up to that demand. It had been so long since he had wanted it to be so right, since he had more invested in such a simple act than the mere hunt of physical gratification. The indescribable feeling as she stretched and enveloped him, her body fitting to ever ridge and bump of his skin. The look of concentration on her face as she bit down on her lower lip, not breathing as he pushed deeper inside of her, and the sudden need to look into her eyes without the shrouding eyelids in the way.

"Mel." Saul said softly, as fingertips trailed lightly over her cheek, his lips brushing lightly over hers as he spoke. "Mel open your eyes." They were there, vibrant liquid green, and suddenly it was over as quickly as it began. With a gasp of breath, and involuntarily clutching of muscles around him it was begun. Saul could not hold back, not that he truly wanted to with her eyes filling his sight, her arms clutching him to her. With a gentle rocking of hips, and a soft melding of lips the cliff receded.

*****

Unlike some, Kara had known her limits last night and had made sure to stop well short of the passing out, can not for the love of Kobol remember what happened point. In fact, she had been a long ways from it unlike Mel, and she hoped that the other woman was not regretting anything right now. Like most she had her sights set on something at the party, and she was a good enough shot that she got what she aimed at. Which was why she was feeling sated. Not content, not good, but sated, that feeling of not being able to take a single bit of extra goodness out of anything.

She propped herself up on an elbow and looked down upon the face that was almost invisible in the dim light. It had been so much different than that first time, the night that they had learned they were accepted into the Academy. No foolish fumbling, no embarrassment like that time, no this one had been nigh well perfect. Kara brushed back Lee's hair, her fingers trailing down over his cheek before lightly trailing over his lips. He was so peaceful when he slept, missing all the anger, all the pain that creased and lined his face during the day.

Oh so slowly she rubbed her leg against his, leaning over to press a soft kiss to his lips. He would never admit it, but Kara knew he needed the release as much as she did, and like her he had been brought up not to seek casual relationships. No, it had to mean something, there had to be a connection, an emotional value to what occurred or it was nothing more than mutual masturbation. Kara slipped over him, her hands framing and lightly caressing his face as she continued to ply soft kisses against his lips. He had been so tender, so sweet, just like Zak. The though caused more than a little pain, more than a little guilt, but she knew Zak would not have held this against her, not with what all had happened. He had loved her, and now with years between now and what could have been she knew he would have wanted her to be happy, wanted his brother to be happy.

"Lords, you are insatiable woman." Kara blushed, realizing that the movement of lips, and the soft grinding of her hips had woken him up, but the words were lightly spoken, and had more than a little pleasure themselves.

"Sorry." She mumbled, not feeling a bit sorry at all. Kara pushed herself back far enough to look at his smiling face, her thumbs trailing lightly over his lips.

"Yeah, sure you are. Just like you were sorry for hitting Specialist Stefani last night."

"Ok, you've got me there, I wasn't really sorry about that. She was butting in where she wasn't welcome though."

"As if she knew that. As of last night as far as anyone knew there wasn't a claim on me." Kara grimaced a bit and chewed on her lip for a moment. "Now though, I doubt anyone decides to touch me with a ten foot pole."

"Well, I guess you might be right." Kara gave a bit of a shrug before leaning down and giving Lee another kiss. "Still its hard to feel sorry for her, I didn't hit her all that hard, and she had that marine fawning all over her not thirty seconds later."

Kara gave a soft sigh as Lee just looked up at her. She knew that look, it was the Adama thoughtful glare. No more fun and games, not for a while at least, Lee was going to get all serious and try and explain to her just how things had changed and how serious they had become.

"Kara, are you sure about this?"

"Its too late now if I wasn't." She replied shortly before she gave a shake of her head. "I know what you are going to argue Lee, and a month, two months ago you might have even made sense. I probably wouldn't have done it, now though, frak Lee we might be dead tomorrow."

"I know, but still you didn't have to go and decide to choose me."

"Lee, you Adama's ruined me for any other man." Kara slipped her finger over his lips before she continued softly. "You neighbor boys always treated me like any other person you know. I was never `Kara the girl' in your eyes or `Kara that orphan', either one of you, it was always just `Kara'. You didn't try to fight my battles for me, but just took my wing in the fight. You could never understand what that meant to me after I moved in next door with the foster family. It was the first place that I actually stayed more than a month in, the first one that after a couple weeks I actually felt I belonged, and it was because of you and Zak. You just, you just accepted me, your mom was the big sister I never had."

"Kara there are other…"

"Shush Lee, I'm talking. I know there are other guys, and I won't try and tell you that you and Zak were the only ones I ever slept with. But with everyone else, all it was, was sex. Slam bam, thank you man." Kara smiled as she drew a chuckle from his lips with the modified turn of phrase. "You can't tell me that you would have been satisfied had you followed Stefani to quarters tonight, not the way you are now."

"Yeah, but Kara I don't want you to think you have to."

"I know I don't have to Lee, I want to."

Chapter 11

Time heals all wounds, that is what Mel had always been told, what had been on the tip of tongues for ages. True enough, given enough time, everything faded into mere memory, but sometimes it took more than just simply time to heal. Sometimes it took a touch, or a special set of words, or more simply just a look. She had not felt this good, this confident, this in place in years. Which might have gone a long way to explain just why she was smiling while eating the tasteless rations that the galley had been serving in the past few weeks.

"Hey, you look like the proverbial cat who at the canary." Mel looked up, and realized that the smile on her face was possibly just a little too big. Of course the one on the face looking at her was just as big.

"Like your one to talk Kara, you look like a gambler that just drew a natural Starbuck." Mel chuckled a bit as Kara looked around quickly and settled in across from her. Not far behind was another face was more than just a little familiar. "I trust you had a good night as well Sharon?"

"A good gambler makes sure to stack the deck." Kara said with a wink before pushing some of the food around on her plate. Mel watched as she poked a couple lumps of something before looking up. "Are they sure this stuff is edible?"

"Oh get over it Kara, you've said that at every meal I've ever ate with you in here." Mel gave a smile as Sharon glared at the Viper pilot before she continued. "Don't let her spoil your appetite Mel, she's always like this."

"Hey, just because I like my food to look like food, and not reprocessed reprocessings." Mel hid another smile by taking another bit of the stuff on her plate. She could not blame Kara for the seeming reluctance to eat the stuff, it was in a word horrid, but unless one liked che'i it was the only thing available to eat. The che'i protein drinks tasted better, but they were hardly as filling as the fiber laced protein cakes that was fast becoming the only solid food onboard. Mel glanced back up as Kara gave another glance around the room and leaned forwards over the table. "I just wanted you to know before you get back to quarters, scuttlebutt has that you and Tigh hooked up after the party last night."

Mel looked away, suddenly choking on the food in her mouth, and she could feel the blush rise to her cheeks. She had expected there to be rumors, there was not much right now otherwise to keep on occupied on the Galactica, but so soon?

"She did? And I thought I was the one living dangerously by skirting that fraternization line." Mel looked up at that. She had heard that the Chief and Sharon were an item, but considering that she had yet to see either of them in a compromising situation. They fought more than anything, Sharon always complaining about the mechanical status of the Raptor, not that could not be true.

"You did Mel? Lords I thought you had better taste than that."

"Just because you can't see beyond your own nose when it comes to Saul doesn't mean anything Kara. Frak, what do you have against him anyways?" Mel glared at the other woman, she really did not want to fight now, but she would be damned if she was going to let someone put down Saul that way to her face. She kept the glare going as Kara refused to look away, and she saw her own rising anger escalating in Kara's eyes. Luckily Sharon was there to defuse the situation.

"You didn't hear about that? It was the huge story back when I came on board. How the Colonel had made a pass at her and he mysteriously `fell down some stairs' if you know what I mean." Mel glanced over at Kara for further information and raised an eyebrow.

"He was falling down drunk, and I was running in the corridors when I shouldn't have been. I have to admit I was in a bad mood, half exhausted and I didn't want to run into him at that moment." Mel had a feeling that there was something more to the story, and she was going to be finding out what the next time she spoke with Saul. There had to be more considering the friction and the anger that was still in Kara's voice. "Was he worth it? Your time that is?"

"Oh yes, possibly more than Lee was worth yours." Mel could not help the return snipe after Kara's ending comment, and realized that she had scored blood by the sudden intake of breath. Once again she was thankful for the interruption of Sharon who could have probably made a killing as a talk show host before.

"Yeah Kara, you really should try someone a bit older than you sometime. You know what they say about older men. I envy Doctor Salik… imagine waking up in the morning with the Commander whispering sweet nothings in your ear with that voice of his… mmmm makes me shiver just thinking about it."

Mel could not help the laughter that overcame her at the sudden indignant look that came over Kara's face as she spewed out semi-food with choked laughter. None of the three notice that they were drawing more than their fare share of looks and whispered comments.

*****

"I've got that report you asked for Bill."

Saul was tired, perhaps more so than he had been a day earlier when he was relieved with orders to get some rest. This though was more a physical exhaustion than a mental one, and all in all he could not complain for it. The gossip he could have lived without, luckily it seemed that there was some juicy bit about everyone circulating just now, so he was not getting any more air time than any other person.

"Which report? I remember asking for two or three dozen in the last few weeks." Saul shared a smile with his old friend as he shut the hatch behind him, before his face dropped back into a deadly serious look.

"The one about the contamination of the Tylium. We've been able to narrow it down to two ships. Either the Mandelyn's Pride or the Astair, they were the only two ships to flush and fill between the times that we had no contamination and until when we did." Saul paused as he watched Bill read over the report, his commander's forehead furrowing with each additional word.

"The Astair is the ship that had the above expected fuel useage this time around isn't it?" Saul gave a nod as Bill looked up briefly before returning to the report. "Beryllium was the contaminant? Hrm, that makes sense, enough beryllium would poison the reactors with regards to their neutron flux."

"Yes, seems that the Astair had a store of Beryllium dust from the last time that they repacked their reactor shielding. A store that is no longer on the ship. We think that the saboteur contaminated the fuel tanks immediately before the flush and fill that we ran with it." Saul leaned forwards and rested his elbows on his knees. "I need to know what you want me to do with this information? We could have another Cylon in the fleet, and the Astair was one of the ships we picked up several volunteers and ex- military personnel from."

"Start an investigation. The Astair should be able to come up with a list of who had access to the necessary spaces. If we can narrow the names down to ten or so, we can keep a watch on them, or allow certain members `unrestricted' access to materials or information that the Cylons would find useful." Saul gave a nod and looked up again.

"Bait them out. I'll pass the word to the Astair's Captain and Engineering officer that we need a list of people who had access to the material and the inboard tank inputs." Saul stayed quiet for a few moments, causing Bill to suddenly look up at him again. "Petty Officer Dualla has some preliminary information decoded from the databases that we were able to piece back together and download from the equipment captured on Proximia."

"Anything interesting so far?"

"Well if you call there being other warships making things hard for the Cylon's back at the Colonies interesting, yes. They lost one of their refueling stations here in the Promar sector as well, they think we did it." Saul watched as a wolfish smile slowly spread over Bill's lips and he joined it with one of his own.

"That is interesting. Any ideas on who it could be?" Saul gave a shrug.

"Your guess is as good as mine right now. There would have to be a dozen, maybe two dozen commanding officers in the fleet cunning enough to pull something like that off. I've got Gaeta going over the records and Omega signals we received over the TAC channels now. See if we can't narrow it down a little."

"Indeed. If we can figure out who it is, we can figure out where he would be looking and or waiting for us." Saul gave a nod, and pushed himself back to his feet.

"I should get back up to Command, I left Gaeta in charge because I thought you needed to see this right away." Saul turned and made his way to the hatch, being stopped at its threshold by a soft voice.

"Saul, don't let your feeling get in the way of your job. If you do, I'm going to have to come down on you like a ton of bricks." Saul gave a nod, and stepped through the hatch, wondering on his way back up to Command just how Bill had found out so soon.

*****

"What are those wires for?" Mel was perched rather precariously on a tool cart, and peering over Cally's shoulder as the specialist was piecing the Valkyrie back together from the damage it had taken in battle.

"Tertiary control circuits for the weapons pylons. The primary ones are in armored conduits that flush against the spar. Most of all the primary circuits are run through armored conduits, only the secondary and tertiary circuits don't." Mel gave a nod, as she shifted again, trying to keep the lip of the cart from digging too deeply into her rump. Standing would be better, but long periods on her feet with no movement was incredibly tiring, and squatting like Cally was completely out of the question. "Of course, the FTL drive controls aren't set up that way, but that's because I had to use wiring harnesses not designed for the purpose. If they had been, you probably wouldn't have lost them in the first place."

Mel gave a grunt, as she watched Cally lace through the wiring with an ease that belied just how small the space she was working in was. She moved slightly to peer better around a shoulder and gave a bit of a frown before pointing over Cally's shoulder.

"Just what the frak is that, and why is it blinking?" Mel was fairly certain that the device had not been there when she was doing her emergency wiring job, and she was completely sure that there had been no blinking devices in there during that event.

"I don't know, it shouldn't be there." Mel watched as Cally pushed aside a bit of wiring to get a better look. "It almost looks like a transmitter of some sort. I know that thing isn't supposed to be there. Looks like its taking power from…"

Cally never had time to finish her sentence, as Mel's eyes grew wide when she realized just what was hiding behind the transmitter. She grabbed the back of the other woman's coveralls, and threw herself from the tool cart, dragging Cally down with her to the ground. Mel heard Cally scream a curse, before a fist of heat and sound bounced her head off the floor and everything went black.

Chapter 12

"Hold her…. Somebody get that arm, she's coming around." Mel could not figure out what was going on, who the voices belonged to. Everything seemed to be echoing down a tunnel. She struggled against the inability to move her arms, trying to figure out what happened. There had been explosion that much she remembered, being bounced off the ground. Then a light so intense burned into her eye as she pried them open against what felt like encrusted blood. Chaos filled her sight the room, people she knew she should know, but could not put names to crossed her vision. "Mel, Mel, calm down. Its ok, you are in Life Station, there was an accident in the hanger. You're going to be all right, just calm down."

Mel relaxed against the people who were holding her arms, as Doctor Salik's voice penetrated the fog of her mind. Things were clearing up, and she was beginning to remember just what happened. Everything was still fuzzy, but she remembered just what had happened in the last seconds before being knocked out. They had to know, the Commander needed to be told.

"No accident… thermal bloom grenade." It was hard to breath, and even harder to speak even with the oxygen mask over her face. Her vision swam as she looked around trying to find someone who noticed what she said, before a familiar, and all to welcome face came into view.

"What was that Mel? What did you say about it being not an accident." Mel concentrated on Saul's face, trying to gather the breath to repeat her words. She could dimly hear Doctor Salik's voice, could see the woman trying to push the Colonel back, but Mel reached out and snagged his sleeve before he could move.

"Not an accident… transmitter inside the panels… booby trapped with a grenade." Mel watched as Saul's face hardened and he gave a nod. A flood of relief went through her as his hand squeezed her own.

"I'm on it Mel, I'll let the commander know." The words were more of a relief than anything else, and she sagged back as Doctor Salik swam into view again.

"Mel, you've got a concussion. Do you feel any nausea, headache, inability to focus on things?" Mel gave a nod, speaking being beyond her right now, which caused things to swim again. She shut her eyes until things calmed down inside her head and opened them again carefully. "Difficulty breathing? Sharp chest pains?"

"Hard to breath…. No pain.." Talking was almost easier than nodding, and far less nauseating. "Cally?"

"Specialist Cally is fine Mel. A little singed but thanks to your quick acting fine. You're only worse off because you acted as a human cushion for her." Mel gave a soft sigh of relief and let her eyes drift closed as Salik turned to one of the orderlies. "Get her in the MRI chamber, I want a full scan.

*****

Saul was more than worried as he hurried back down the hallway to command. He had been going offshift when word of the accident had come in, and had taken responsibility for getting to Life Station and getting a report. It was good that Specialist Cally was going to be fine, a little singed around the edges and a little shorter of hair for a while, but fine. Saul felt a guilty relief when he had heard Mel's voice, a relief that had been replaced by a worry both greater and less than the one he had felt when her injury had become known.

"Commander, we need to speak in private." Saul kept his voice low, and met Bill's eyes steadily as the other looked up at him. He knew what his friend was thinking could see it in the others eyes before the man gave a short nod. The ready room was not far off the bridge, and it did not take long to get there and behind the welcome shielding it gave to their voices.

"Just how bad is she?" Saul heard concern in Bill's voice, even under the admonition that filled it. He knew how the other man felt, because he had felt it himself when Kara Thrace had first been brought on board. True Saul was guilty of what he had originally blamed Bill of, but that did not mean he was any less likely to do his job.

"Both Specialist Cally and Lieutenant Schmidt are going to be fine. The Lt is the worse hurt, concussed and possibly has a bruised diaphragm according to the Doctor but that is all." Saul fell silent trying to figure out how to phrase what was to come next. He could see the growing irritation on Bill's face and the incomprehension on it. "Its what the Lieutenant said, and what the Specialist confirmed that worries me more. There was what Specialist Cally thought was a modified ELB wired into the area that they were doing repairs. The Lieutenant verified this, and mentioned that it had been wired up to a thermal bloom grenade."

Saul watched as Bill's face grew thoughtful and then angry once again. This though was not the irritation anger that he had seen there mere moments before, but a bubbling hot rage. A rage he felt himself every time he thought of the Cylons and what they had done in the last war.

"Who else knows?"

"The medical staff that was there. I had Doctor Salik swear them to silence, I think that they would all die for that woman." Saul paused for a moment before he continued.

"We should have known something like this was going to happen. I want guards on the pod entrances from now on. Three minimum per access, rotate the shifts so none of them repeat more than a day with the same crew. Nobody gets in or out of that pod without checking in with security." Saul gave a nod, and swallowed the sigh that came with it. He had been looking forwards to his offshift time and now he was going to have yet more work to do.

"This almost seems to be locking the barn after the horses were stolen sir." Saul remarked quietly. Bill gave a nod and smiled a bit.

"It does, but those small craft are about the easiest to access and do something like this with. If the Cylons could disable one of those while it was on patrol…"

Saul gave a nod as Bill trailed off. He knew what the other man meant, being on patrol and just drifting out into the stars because something went wrong, that was a always present fear back in the last war. Morale would suffer heavily if the pilots had to worry about sabotage doing that to their ships.

"I'll pass on the word to Captain Kelly to set up the security measures, and let Chief Tyrol know as well." Saul started to turn, but was stopped by Bill's voice.

"We need a way to find these operatives. I'm going to lean on the good Dr Baltar some more, no matter how much the President dislikes it."

"I'll do what I can to hurry up on the reports from the Astair. It may well be that the operative there has transferred over to the Galactica." Saul paused a moment before he continued, his voice questioning. "Do you want me to have Kelly start watching those draftee's we got from that ship?"

"Yes, do that. Have Lieutenant Gaeta start planning a FTL jump from this area of space. Random direction of at least thirty lights."" Saul gave a nod to Bill after the lengthy silence, and then departed even more troubled than when he had come in.

*****

Kara had been in the pod when the grenade had gone off earlier in the day. In fact she had been not more than a single fighter away, and had been one of the first people to get to the two laying on the floor after the explosion had ripped through the pod. Which probably explained why she was sitting in Lee's chair, her feet propped up on the seat in front of her, arms wrapped around her knees, and feeling more scared than she had ever been in a cockpit confronting the Cylons. That had been far too close, and the fact that the grenade might have been put into her Viper had not escaped her notice. Had not escaped the notice of Chief Tyrol either, because he had not even waited for Tigh's words to stop echoing before ordering every Viper stripped again and checked for booby traps.

Kara really wished that Lee would hurry up and get back from his inspection of the fleet. He had been due back over a hour ago, but overruns when the ships in the fleet were in much worse condition than should be was only to be expected. That did not mean that she liked the delay when more than anything else she wanted to hold him close and assure herself that he was all right and that she would be as well.

"Set Condition One throughout the ship, this is not a drill. Set Condition One throughout the ship." The words woke Kara out of the funk that she had been in, and she was out the door and halfway to the hanger before the meaning behind them bled through to her mind. The Cylons had found them, had found the fleet. There was not time for wishing things were better, or for hoping that Lee was alright. He either was, or he was not and thinking about either way at this point in time was only going to get her killed.

"Chief, give me a Viper!" There was not time to look up on the schedule to see who was on the ready list. Kara needed to be out there, she was the best the Galactica had, or so close to such that it was impossible to say either way.

"Three fifty-seven at the far end of the line was just upchecked, it's a Mark VII." Kara threw the man a smile as he did not even break away from where he was piecing another Viper back together with haste. It might make it out, it might not, but Kara understood that people had to be doing something during the crisis.

"Viper Three Five Seven ready for launch, Lieutenant Thrace reporting ready Command." Checking in while still buckling up the cockpit straps, as crew pushed the Viper towards an empty tube, was becoming a habit ingrained by hours of drill. The ready lights came up almost all green, a single amber lighting up on the primary gimbal. She thought a moment about scrubbing the launch, and then decided not to, as she would only need that if she lived through to land. Plus it was only amber, and guns, engines, flight controls and life support were all good so there was no real reason to hold back.

"Kara, I need you to take command of the squadron while Lee transfers from the shuttle into a Viper. Set up a cordon around vector Zero One Nine by Four Two Two, our patrol Raptor spotted a patrol of Basestars headed our way, and we're jumping the fleet while we have a chance. Boomer is leading them away from the fleet, and will jump back to us before the Galactica heads out. Still the Basestars might send out patrols, and that's where they are most likely to jump in at. Hit them fast and hard if you have to." Kara listened to the Commander's briefing with one ear, using the other to listen in to the launch officer's signals. It was getting easier and easier to multitask as the days got longer, and harsher.

Acceleration crushed her back into into her seat as the magsled launched her into space. As always it was a thrill that was better than anything Kara could name that could be done properly with all your clothes on. She pulled the nose of the ship around to line up on the vector Adama had given her. The Mark VII felt almost too light, too numb through the controls after flying the antiquated IIs that made up most of Galactica's flight wing.

"Starbuck to all Galactica fighters, form up on my wing. We've got a border to guard against some intelligent toasters, lets get to it, and see to our job." Kara could not help but think about what Boomer had to be going through right now. She felt respect for that woman, having enough sense of mind, enough nerve not to turn the fragile, slow Raptor back to the fleet and run for home. Kara could only hope that the time that was being bought, was not at too high of a price.

Chapter 13

"Thrusters…. Fluctuating. Abort Launch, abort launch." Lee had to get out of the ship, and for the third launch in a row his thrusters had not been able to maintain the synchronization rate required of them. They always fluctuated in the last seconds before the launch, resulting in an abort. Though Lee in a way wished that the launch controller would just shoot him down the tube, he understood that flying a ship with fluctuating thrusters would be suicide in combat. The Viper was being pushed back once again by the maintenance crew, and Lee tore off his helmet and shoved the cockpit canopy forward. "Chief, I need to be out there."

"I know sir, but we can't isolate where the fluctuation is coming from. The Viper IIs use a manual synchronization of governors, but the VIIs have a software control mechanism. We've replaced all the sensors, but we are still having problems. It has to either be in the software or in the main processing node, neither of which is an easy fix." Lee gave a nod as he slumped back into his seat. There was no use in asking for another bird, the chief had told him the first time that this was the only one even close to flying.

"Galactica… this is Starbuck. We've got Cylon contacts closing on the fleet. Estimate fifteen minutes until intercept…. Advise you recall the Raptor Galactica… we've been nabbed." Lee thumped the rim of his cockpit with his fist. Now he definitely had to get out there. Kara's voice was barely recognizable over the static, but was still calm even as she transmitted the data back to the fleet.

"Chief, I need you to get me into the air now, we've just ran out of time." Lee tapped his rudder pedals impatiently while he waited for an update.

"Starbuck, Galactica we are proceeding under your advisement. Be wared we will need at least another fifteen minutes, the Taurian has experienced a navigational computer failure and is restarting their system." Lee grimaced as Dualla's too calm voice came in over the radio. There was a long period of silence from the comm unit, filled only by the sounds of the crew working. The next words that come in from Kara only increase Lee's sense of urgency.

"Gala..ca… Sta..bu… ex..per..g… jam…g. En……emy….orces…" Even through the static of the heavy jamming Lee could make out Kara's words. He drummed his fingers against his thigh, his heel jumping as he waited for the flight crew to finish up on the repairs.

"I think I got it Chief… the min/max intermix values were corrupted in the computer's database. I'm reflashing the ROM right now." Lee glanced back, recognizing the voice, but only just barely. The last time it had been choked with grief as she had helped him repair a Viper after the battle at Ragnar. Specialist Cally, Lee thought her name was. A thought that was verified a moment later as the Chief slapped her on the shoulder.

"Good work Cally. Come on guys, lets load her up one more time." Lee pulled his helmet on again, waiting until the Chief gave him a thumbs up before starting the preflight, as the flight crews were still putting panels back on.

"Apollo to Flight Control… I'm launching now."

"Apollo… Set your mission clock to twenty minutes. When it hits zero you'll need to withdraw back to the Galactica. We'll jump out as soon as we verify everyone aboard, or destroyed. We've got thirty plus bogies on active sensors right now." Lee gave the launch controller a thumbs up and grunted out a response as he was being flung out of the launch tube.

"Roger that Galactica, twenty minutes and then a withdraw." With the Cylon jamming as bad as it was, there was no way to get the word out to the Vipers already deployed. The jamming was a new tactic in the Cylon's arsenal. Usually the scrambler boards installed in the Vipers kept the Cylons from jamming more than one or two of the frequencies used at a time, but this time they seemed to have been able to hit almost all of them. Quite possibly they back engineered the ability from captured boards from destroyed Vipers. Only local communications even had a chance to work, that and the visual withdraw beacon that was a holdover from the first Cylon war.

Lee pulled the Viper around in a snap 180 turn, and poured on the afterburners, choosing to aim more or less at the center of the flashing dogfight in the distance. At his maximum burn, it would take over three minutes just to get there, without counting in time needed to match velocities with the center of the furball.

As he drew closer, using braking thrusters to slow his overtake on the group, he noticed Kara had decided to make the fight one big clusterfuck. There was no organization of the Viper pilots, every man to themselves as they swarmed through the fight, and Lee found himself soon encompassed by it, too busy to think whether or not she was alright.

*****

"Galactica to Boomer, come in Boomer. Galactica to Boomer, come in Boomer." Saul listened to Dualla as she continually repeated the call. They had to get that Raptor back, and no matter how good the jamming was on the Vipers, there was no way the Cylons following that ship could overpower its directional antenna. Currently he had nothing else to do. The Cylons were successfully being held well away from the fleet, and jump was already plotted, so he listened as the communications officer tried to get their wayward scout on the wireless.

"Boomer to Galactica… I've got you… sorry about the delay, I'm finding it hard to focus…" Saul stood up and moved over to the console that Dualla was seated at when those words came through. He leaned down and over and murmured into her ear.

"Find out why she's having difficulty concentrating. There could be a problem in the oxygen intermix on the Raptor. We need that ship back." The Petty Officer gave him a look, and then a nod before she keyed the microphone once again.

"Boomer… regarding your concentration difficulties… where do they stem from?"

"I'm… gods you gonna think this is crazy… I'm hearing a voice that isn't mine inside my head… it keeps telling me to power off the engines...I think… I think it might be the Cylons… It started shortly after we were hit by a few railgun rounds…Jaybird was keeping me in it… but he passed out a bit ago." Saul looked up at Bill, reaching out to cover up Dualla's microphone. The look was all he needed to assure himself that the other man had heard the pilots statement. Saul gave a grimace, for if it was what it sounded like, this was not a good thing at all. He waited, oblivious to the look that Dualla was giving him as the Commander came closer.

"I think she might be," was as far as Saul got before Bill interrupted him.

"I know, but we need that Raptor. It’s our only remote, military grade sensor platform. Baltar did say that the `dominant' personality of the sleeper agent might be able to fight things off for a time. If we can get her back with that bird before she looses the fight." Saul gave a nod and turned to Dualla, who was looking quite frightened. He laid a hand on her shoulder and said softly.

"Keep this between us for now Petty Officer. You've got a pilot out there in trouble, and Boomer doesn't need to hear any emotion in your voice. Tell her to jump back to the Galactica, walk her through setting up the jump and landing if you have to." Saul looked up at Bill and then around the command center. Even without active combat going on, all the more senior members of crew present were busy and he turned back to his commander, and old friend. Saul motioned the other man over into the ready room with a nod of his head, knowing that the bridge crew would not need to hear what was going to be said next.

"I'll have Captain Kelly put together a security detail. What do you want done with her when she gets back?" Saul watched as Bill's brow furrowed in thought. It appeared like he was going to speak a couple times before he actually did.

"It would be bad for morale of the crew if they found out that she is a cylon. Worse in fact if she turned not out to be one afterwards, it could still be anoxia." Saul gave a nod, understanding as all pilots did just what oxygen deprivation to the brain could do. Even a little oxygen debt could lead to hallucinations, and the like. "Sedate her with that concoction that Doctor Salik came up with. Put her on suicide watch in the Life Station for now, let Kylen know what is going on, but make sure that Baltar does not find out about this. That man has become dangerously unstable. I want to know how the Cylons made these things, how they control them. If we can keep any other sleeper agents from activating, or find a way to track them once they do."

"Understood. I'm going to need something to tell the flight crew." Saul looked up into his friends eyes, and saw that the other man was still struggling with the thought that one of his pilots might have betrayed them. Saul was dealing with that by simply not thinking about it. "I'll put the Raptor in a bio-lockdown, tell them that we believe the Cylons are filling the railgun rounds with some sort of nerve agent."

"Yes…. Yes that will work, probably be for the best as well. I'll speak with Dualla when I get back on the bridge, let her know she isn't to speak of what we said, what the story is." Saul gave a nod and then hurried out the hatch to round up the security squad and some bio-suits to help complete the story. He knew he would not have long to get everything arranged.

*****

Mel really, really wanted to get out of life station. The pain in her head was all but unbearable, even with the lights turned way low, and a cold compress against the swelling bump on the back of her head. Doctor Salik would not let her leave though, not unless she had someone to watch over her for the next few hours. She could understand that, she had been concussed before, what person had not? Mel knew she was not tracking well, probably would not be for the next several hours, but laying in a bed in the Life Station as people hurried around her, readying everything else for the prospective injuries that were going to be coming in soon, was quite probably worse than going out on her own. Which would be bad, as walking while concussed was probably something she should not be doing without help, as it would most likely lead to another blow to the head.

Mel definitely did not want to be here when those injuries began to pore in. It was bad enough that she had let herself be talked into speaking with some of the wounded soldiers from the previous battles. Doctor Salik had decided that it would be a good thing for her to do, would help those that had lost limbs come to terms with that loss and learn to go on by her example.

When the Doctor had decided something, Mel was quickly learning, that something got done. It had not taken long for the medical officer to get Saul and Commander Adama to see things her way. In truth, Mel had to admit, there was some truth behind her worlds. The fleet could hardly afford giving up trained military personel simply because they had no arm, and could no longer fly. There were other jobs they could be doing on the Galactica, amongst the fleet in a military persona that would free up other personnel or fill gaps that nobody was currently filling.

Mel heard Saul's voice as she laid back, her eyes closed, and trying to ignore the throbbing in her head, the piercing pain behind her eyes. She was not able to catch much of what was being said, only that it was about Sharon, and something to do with the Cylons. Too much other noise filled the room, the voices were far too low, and they were much too far away. She thought about cracking an eyelid to see just what was going on around her, but decided not too after a very short moment of time.

"Set Condition Two throughout the ship, prepare for immediate hyperlight jump." The automated siren and warning caused her to groan, the sound far too incredibly loud and tinny sounding in her ears. Saul's voice a moment later was a relief, both for the fact that it was much more moderated and much more welcome.

"Hey Mel, what do you say we get you out of here? The Doctor has indicated she's going to need the flat surface you are laying on here in a bit." Mel did crack the eyelid this time, to see a much concerned face looking down at her. She gave him a bit of a smile before speaking.

"Only if you promise not to mind carrying more than half of me. I don't think that I could stand much less walk to my room."

Chapter 14

"By the Lords of Kobol." Saul swore softly as he leafed through the report that Bill had just handed to him. Doctor Salik's findings were completely different than Baltar's. She had found no evidence of synthetic substances in hair, blood, and tissue samples from Lieutenant Valerii. Baltar however had found levels so elevated that it was almost beyond belief.

"I had Doctor Salik run the tests because the speed at which Doctor Baltar came back with the results rather concerned me. I asked Doctor Salik to retest twice, and as you can see she came up with negative both times. I had Doctor Baltar perform a retest, and you can see the results that he came up with. They are nearly identical to his previous test. What that report does not say, is that is my hair, and Doctor Salik's blood that he tested." Saul looked up as the words slowly sank in. If what Bill had just said was true, and he knew by the tone of his long time friends voice it was, then that meant only one thing.

"The bastard is faking the results." Saul said sharply as he threw the folder down on the table. He could feel his brow furrow as he thought about that. It had been bad enough that Baltar had somehow found out why they had been holding Lieutenant Valerii under supervision, but now. "Which means that.."

"I may have left an innocent man to die back on Ragnar." Saul looked up as Bill completed the sentence and he shook his head.

"I'm as much at fault as you are. Frak, we can't beat ourselves up over something that we knew nothing about in hindsight. Blaming ourselves for acting on data we thought was real in his case, is no different than blaming ourselves for not protecting the colonies in the first place." Saul gave a sigh and sat back in his chair, gathering his thoughts before he continued. "The real questions seem to be why would he do this and what do we do about it?"

"Doctor Salik heard through the grapevine that Doctor Baltar's navigation program was what the Cylons gained access to the computers through." Saul looked up startled as he thought the only people to have that information were Gaeta, Adama, Baltar and himself. "Don't look so surprised Saul. That woman has her ear to the track if nothing else, and on a ship this small, everything gets around. She thinks that his reasons are one of two possibilities. One, he's trying to curry favor by being our Cylon watchdog in order to cement his position within the fleet, because of the fact he can be implicated in the Cylon attacks."

"That makes sense." Saul said quietly, his brow furrowing in thought. He looked down at his hands for a moment before looking back up to Bill. "It might go a long way to explain why he's been acting so strange lately. Guilt, stress is building up and leading him to a breakdown."

"Possible. Doctor Salik's second possibility stems from the findings of her investigation on Lieutenant Valerii." Saul looked up again, there had been no additional findings in that report. He knew that, even though he had only briefly looked at it. Long years of paperwork, writing and reading reports had taught him to garner a lot from even a brief look. "Lieutenant Valerii has a rare genetic disorder characterized by very specific neurological chemistry. Something like one tenth of a percent of the population have it."

"What does a genetic defect have with Lieutenant Valerii hearing the Cylons?" Saul interrupted his voice conveying just how little he saw the connection. Bill only smiled back at him, and Saul's face pulled back into a grimace.

"I'm getting to that old man, if you'd give me a chance." Saul shook his head as he tried to wait patiently. It was hard to do, and keep his attention centered on what was going on. He had been awake for more than sixteen hours and on duty for fourteen of those, and was desperately wanting some sheet time. "It is one of the few genetic links that the original Cylon project identified before things went south. She also found an implant, and a web of artificial nodes inside Lieutenant Valerii's brain during the MRI scans. The implant shows characteristic Cylon circuitry design."

"You mean to tell me that Lieutenant Valerii is Cylon?" Saul was getting confused now. First she is, then she isn't, then she is. It was making his brain throb with confusion. He rubbed his temples in an attempt to ward off the headache that was already forming, both from fatigue and from mounting stress.

"No, at least Doctor Salik does not think so. She theorizes that the Cylons never actually made artificial humans. That they cloned humans with this specific genetic disorder, and implanted them with receiver that allowed them to interface and control the brain. Its all tied up in what the original project was, Cybernetic Life and Organic Intelligence, the study of the human mind, the merger of organic and inorganic parts into a singular whole, and the genome project." Saul now had enough information to jump ahead a few steps, the device that they had found on the DRADIS console, the fact that Valerii had only heard the Cylons after coming in close contact with them, the fact that she had not been affected by the radiation storm at Ragnar in any way.

"They had to have an original to clone, and if they had access to that original to do gene typing on, then they could have implanted them as well." Saul fell silent for a moment. "She's human then? Baltar might not be?"

"They are all human then. Only some don't have a personality other than the Cylon one. We're still not sure which Baltar is. The latter probably." Saul gave a nod even as Bill continued. "Doctor Salik is working with the specialists from the Lona Dell to come up with a procedure to disable the implant. They believe certain form of radiation treatment is showing promise. I've authorized the incarceration of Doctor Baltar as well."

"Have you told President Roselyn?"

"Not yet, and I'm not looking forwards to doing so." Saul could sympathize with that. The woman was dense at the best of times, and at others almost defeatist.

*****

Mel hurt, hurt all over like she had not hurt since physical therapy all the years ago. Of course that pain could be expected since she'd been bounced off the deck by an explosion. The reminder of what happened, and what could have happened was even worse. Seeing the Valkyrie sitting in the flight pod, its side gutted open, the wiring half tore out of it, and blackened by the explosion that did only superficial damage to the armored bathtub and crew quarters.

"It doesn't look good does it?" Mel glanced over to Cally who was nursing a mug of che'i. Beef flavor if the smell was any indication, one of the better flavors that was available.

"No it doesn't. Any idea on how long until its able to be flown again?" It would be weeks at least Mel figured, if the status of the Viper repairs were any indication. Cally's words moments later confirmed that.

"Two, three weeks at the earliest. We've got to build the wiring loom by hand, and that takes a lot of hours. We're going to pull the engines from this one, move them over to the number Two bird, and re-overhaul the ones on Two since they've never ran or tested correctly." Mel could not help the grin that spread over her face at those words. She was not cleared for flight in anything other than the Valkyries and the Shuttles and the latter were like driving a truck. They came close to the capability of the Valkyrie, at least in exo-atmospheric flight, but nowhere near it while in an atmosphere. "Chief's got most everyone looking over the supplies we got on that fueling run, and manufacturing components we need for Viper repair."

Mel gave a nod. Viper repair was not the only thing going on currently on the Galactica. There was yet another combing of personnel among the surviving fleet for skilled workers, and unlike the first time, this time they were looking for machinists, engineers, anyone who could design or build parts. At least there was plenty of fuel now, for a while at least. Mel was slated to go on either one of the tours, though that might change now that Sharon was laid up in the sickbay, since she had been slated to go on a resource scouting mission.

"You don't know how good that sounds to me Cally." Mel said with a smile before clasping a hand on her shoulder.

"Well, consider it thanks for pulling me down with you. If that grenade would have went off while I was still…" Mel gave Cally's shoulder a bit of a squeeze as the younger woman choked up with the words.

"Just glad to be there, Chief wouldn't have given me a new flight crew if I'd let you get hurt, and nobody else down here would probably put up with me." Mel winked at Cally before jerking her head over towards the hatch. "What'd ya say we go get something to eat?"

"Sorry Mel, I'd love to but I just came off lunch break a bit ago. The Chief would kill me if I left again without getting the engines pulled. The Commander wants the Valkyrie flight operational yesterday." Mel nodded before she turned slightly. "I'm going to go hunt up Captain Adama and see if I'm going to get put on the Raptor patrol, and get some food in my stomach. If I'm not on the flight roster I'll be back down to help you guys out."

"I'd appreciate that. Swapping those engines is going to be a chore."

Mel gave another nod before making her way over to the hatch. She hoped that she would not be on the flight operations list for a while, but knew she probably would not have the break. Staying on the Galactica for a while and recovering from the soreness that seemed to pervade her body would have been welcome, but looked like it was unlikely to occur.

There was a sobriety in the halls of Galactica that had disappeared for a short time after their successful fuel raid. Mel could feel the eyes of others on her, knew she was returning them, was that person a traitor, or that one? They needed to find whoever did that grenade, find them and let everyone know or it was going to rip the ship apart. She was so involved in her thoughts that she did not see the person in front of her until she was a step away from crashing headlong into him.

"Sorry sir," Mel mumbled as she helped herself to stand again, using both his frame, and the handhold on the wall to pull herself erect before helping him with the same.

"No, its my fault Mel, I'm half asleep." Mel looked up hurriedly and felt her face heat as the hand on her hip did not move but just gave a slight squeeze. "Are you off duty or…"

"Trying to find the CAG to figure that out. My schedule is all screwed up after the accident, and with Lieutenant Valerii out of the flightline." Mel gave a bit of a sigh as Saul's head dipped in understanding.

"If you get some time off in the next ten hours stop by, I need a friend to talk to, and the Commander has cleared me to let you in on some of the details behind the accident." Mel straightened and gave a nod to him.

"Will do sir."

"Carry on."

Chapter 15

Mel knocked on the door to the CAG's shared office and quarters. A smart pilot did that these days, as you were never sure what you would find inside if you just barged in. Pissing Kara Thrace off because she thinks you saw something, whether one did or not, is something that most people avoided doing. Just pissing her off because she decided you have jumped to a conclusion about things is something most people avoided as well. Which was why the rumor mill tended not to run when she was around, it was bad for the health if you forgot she was there. The hotshot pilot had a temper on the best of days, and Lords help you if it was a bad day.

"Come in." The reply was prompt enough that Mel knew there had been no funny business going on inside, and she entered to find Captain Adama bent over some paperwork. "Good Lieutenant Schmidt, I was just going to page someone to track you down."

"I was checking on the status of the Valkyrie sir, wanted to see the damage with my own eyes." Mel relaxed from the attentive posture, and then took a seat in the chair Lee indicated.

"How long until they are airborne again?" Lee's question drew his eyes up from the paperwork long enough for her to look him in the eyes when she answered.

"Two weeks for number one, but two should be flying again in a couple days." Mel glanced down at the paperwork that Lee was doing, wondering just what would keep him so busy in a fleet that was so drastically reduced. Pilot reviews, he pushed back as she drew her gaze back up to his.

"Either way you won't be back until they are in the air. The Commander has a mission he wants you to undertake with Lieutenant Thrace. Long range reconnaissance." Mel felt her brow scrunch up as she digested that information. Something of a duration of more than a week the Raptor would not be sent on, it did not have the life support duration for a mission of that length even with extended tanks. "Starbuck is in the flight pod going over one of the Mark II shuttles right now. I understand that Chief Tyrol is still stuffing in some specialized equipment you are going to need."

"What exactly are we going to be looking for?" Mel asked as she leaned forwards. It had to be resource scouting, there was nothing else she could think of that would require a crew to be out that long.

"The Commander wants to scout out some tylium to mine and a few other resources that the fleet needs. There's a unique star cluster that's visible on this side of the Nova Magadon that seems to match up with report one of the research team dug out of old records. Commander Adama believes it sounds promising, and I must say I agree. Anything that points us in the right direction is welcome." Mel gave a nod and looked briefly down at her hands.

"You mentioned that Starbuck was checking out the shuttle?"

"Yes, new orders, every flight that can, gets sent out with two hyper capable pilots. Since Lieutenant Valerii is down that taps you both. Kara did a short stint as a Raptor instructor in the Academy, and outside of yourself, she's the only hyper-capable pilot we have besides me. I can't leave the fleet, have a wing to look after, and all this paperwork." Mel could hear a hint of anger in that statement, and she could sympathize with Lee. She knew that he was not getting as much flight time as everyone else, partly because he could not be seen as giving favoritism to himself, and partly because his non-flight duties were keeping him so busy. "The fleet will be jumping out of this space as a precaution after you leave, and your order pack will have instructions of how and where to find us. You'd best get down to flight ops, Commander Adama wants you gone yesterday."

"Yes sir."

*****

"That frakking devious bastard." Mel looked up from the instruments as she heard Kara's soft exclamation. Kara looked up, drawn no doubt by the sudden motion, and Mel looked questioningly at the smiling woman. "We aren't going on a materials search."

"We aren't?" Mel looked from Kara's eyes to the order packet the woman held in her hand. "What are we doing out here then?"

"You remember the story about the Veracity?" Mel gave a shudder and then a nod. The Veracity story was as old as interplanetary spaceflight, back from the days before the Jump drive had been invented, when flight between the colonies had relied on fusion torch drives and coldsleep.

It had been lost, with all hands over a century ago. Nobody is sure what happened to it, it ripped through its destination system without ever slowing down. There had been multiple attempts to chase it down to find out the real truth, and they had finally caught up with it a few years back. Seemed it had ran all but headlong into a comet on its flight, and there was only debris left.

"We can't be going after the Veracity, she was found years ago, and nowhere near this part of space." Mel frowned and looked down at the packet in Kara's hands.

"We're not, we are going after her sister ship the Olympia. According to Commander Adama's briefing here, she was refit after the Veracity disaster as a colony ship by a sect of religious extremists. Seems they filled her full of her cargo and launched her on her sunward slingshot, but ran out of money or followers before they could get the crew ship launched to catch her." Mel could feel a smile growing on her face as she brought her eyes back up to meet Kara's own. "All the tools needed to build the comforts of home, without having to go home and get them."

"That frakking devious bastard, how'd he know? I never remember hearing about the Olympia before." Mel said softly as she turned back to the sensors and started to bring online the equipment that had been grafted onto the hull. Sensors that made a lot more sense if they were looking for the wavefront of a coldship.

"He had this thing for the Veracity legend. I remember the books back at the Adama house used to fill shelves. He must have seen it in one of the books there." Kara said softly, and there was an undertone of pain that Mel could easily hear in her voice.

"You went there often before?" Mel tried to keep her tone unpressing, and made sure to keep her eyes on the instruments, even though there was no real need to. The shuttle was coasting and there was nothing inside of a light day that was even close to a collision course with it.

"Yeah, whenever I could. Bill was like a father to me, and Iilya was the sister I never had." Mel gave a bit of a nod and reached out to slightly change the frequency of one of the searching sensors.

"You and Lee were always close then?" Mel winced slightly, noticing that she put more stress on the word close than she had wanted to. She shook her head a bit, and glanced over at Kara. "I had heard that you were engaged to him…"

"Lee and I were never engaged." Mel flinched at the sharpness in Kara's voice and turned her gaze most firmly back to the panel in front of her. Keep it cool, let it slide, you have got to spend two weeks in this shuttle with her, and making her mad the first day was not a good idea. At least part of the rumor mill could be ignored. "It was his brother, Zak."

Mel felt like someone had hit her in the gut with that one. She had thought she had done some strange things in the past, but this surpassed them all easily. Mel turned, and saw the challenging look in Kara's eyes and knew that the next words out of her mouth were going to get her hit.

*****

Sharon could not hear the voices inside of her head anymore, and that was a good thing. In fact she had not heard them since the Galactica had jumped away from the Cylons, and that was an altogether good thing. She just wished that she could get out of this cell, she wanted to know how Boxey was doing and she desperately wanted to see Ty. She could understand why they were keeping her locked up though, everyone in the fleet had heard the rumors about Leoben, and with what had happened to Cally and Mel it was definitely understandable.

"Sharon, you've got a visitor." It was the usual Marine on guard today, the one who would not tell her his name. Sharon could understand that as well, it was probably better not to get friendly with someone who might be a Cylon. She would rather not get friendly with herself if she was.

"Doctor Salik?" Sharon could not help the tears that came to her eyes as she saw who her visitor was. She had hoped, but had known it would not be the two people that she so desperately wanted to see. Sharon looked up as the Doctor's hand clasped hers in a grip that was far too firm, far too friendly to be offered to what everyone thought she was.

"No need to get all worked up like that Lieutenant, not when I've got good news for you." Sharon reached up with her free hand to wipe away the tears and slowly looked up to meet the other woman's gaze. "Not the best news I'm afraid, the tests did prove that you aren't what we were initially concerned you were, however they did show you have an implant inside your head that is definitely not of colonial manufacture, and which is not on your medical record."

"Implant? It is Cylon?" Sharon could feel the tears starting up again. She wished now that she had never mentioned the voices, but they had scared her so much. They had been telling her to give up, to stop running, and that they would welcome her home. Sharon had knew that they were lying, her home was dead, and all that she had left she was trying to protect, and stopping dead in space would not help all that was left of her family.

"Yes, however myself and the specialists on the Lenna Dell have come up with a procedure that should disable it." Sharon felt hope flare within her at those words, and she leaned against the the bars. "It is not a very safe procedure, and I'm not going to guarantee the success of it, but it has worked against the Cylon circuits we have tested it against. It is going to probably make you very sick for a period of time. I just want you to understand that if you don't want to go through with this now, or if you need time to think about it, you have it."

"No… no if this will make me, me, then I want to do it now, as soon as possible." Sharon gathered all the strength that she had left in her, and looked up into Dr. Salik's eyes, meeting the other woman's steady gaze.

"The Commander thought you would say that, and for one I'm glad that you have. I'm getting tired of deflecting all the attempts to get a note to you, or of people wanting to visit you, or just see you through a monitor. Its annoying, and the sooner we start, the sooner its going to be possible for you to start taking care of this yourself." Sharon could not help but smile when she heard the Doctor's words and the not so small amount of exasperation in them. The chuckle that came from her throat was a surprise, but a pleasant one, and for the first time in days she allowed herself to actually truly hope.

Chapter 16

Mel in the few moments she took before speaking, decided that it would probably be best not to blurt out the first thing in her mind. Better instead to get Kara calmed down a bit, and perhaps ingratiated a bit before saying anything else. She had meant to keep them personal, probably something that was impossible anyways considering the limited space, but she did not have many left from the two boxes she had brought over from the Pixy's Folly.

"Cigar?" There was a muted gasp of breath that Mel had to smile at as she pulled out two of the aluminum tubes from the breast pocket of her suit. Mel winked at Kara. "Commander Adama isn't the only devious bastard there is you know."

"Lords those are…"

"Coxital Ambrosia Specials. Hand rolled, from the finest of premium Libran full leaf tobacco, and then soaked for three months."

"I might have to reevaluate my opinion of your taste." Mel could hear the hunger in Kara's voice, as she passed over and had the tube all but snatched from her fingers. Mel carefully broke the vacuum seal on the tube and opened it up. Everything about these cigars had to be savored now, at least in her opinion. "I was never able to afford these on my pilot's pay."

"I picked up a few boxes with my medical compensation after the accident. Always kept them around for special occasions or when I needed a pick me up. They are all that I have left in the way of cigars though." Mel fished out the combination lighter and cutter from the same breast pocket and carefully clipped the ends of the cigar and passed it over to Kara. The circulation fans increased in volume as she edged the control higher.

"Chief Tyrol is going to kill us for what this is going to do to the filters." Mel looked over at the mumbled words from Kara and almost laughed out loud at the look of bliss on her face as she placed the cigar in her mouth and began warming the end of it.

"Oh, I'm sure we can talk Sharon into doing us a favor after she gets out of the Life Station." Mel accepted the lighter back as fragrant smoke began to fill the cabin of the shuttle, and proceeded to ignite her own cigar. She drew a long pull off it, and watched as the smoke lazily floated towards the overhead grills. "Lords, his brother, that's something I've never head of happening outside of backwoods Libra, or those romance shows on the holonet."

"Yeah, it does at that." Mel saw the flash of anger on Kara's face that preceded the words, but the words themselves held only loss and pain. Mel allowed Kara to fall silent, and concentrated instead on the cigar, holding each puff of smoke in her mouth savoring the taste before letting it go to drift in the air. It was not quite the same here in the shuttle as it was on a rain soaked Libran night, but it would do, and thinking about what she once had only lead to pain and despair. "Back then, when I first got on the Galactica, everyone just assumed that Lee and I had a big fight after his brother's death and called things off. Nobody ever seemed to realize it was Zak that I had been engaged to, they couldn't see the unbelievable Starbuck hooked up with a second rate washout like that."

Mel could not think of anything to say, so instead she just kept quiet. Truth to be told, she had heard that Lee had a brother who had died, and that was the reason for the strained feeling between the older and the younger Adama but she herself had not put two and two together when the rumors of Kara's former engagement came around.

"He should have never died, shouldn't have been flying period."

"Huh? What's that?" Mel turned towards Kara, her brow furrowed at the sudden harsh statement, so full of a pain that she knew all too well herself.

"I passed Zak in basic flight. I shouldn't have, I shouldn't have even been testing him, but it was arranged before he proposed, before I accepted, and I didn't want to ruin his chances by passing him on to another instructor. The rumors of how he was in the Academy because of his father's influence were bad enough." Mel gave a silent nod as Kara paused to turn her attention to the cigar for a moment, obviously using the time to think more than anything else. "He should never have passed basic flight, he had no feel for flying. But I passed him anyways, and when he was doing his carrier flight certification flights, he cracked up on the landing and died."

"What and you think that because you passed him you're the reason why he died? You know Kara you need to get off that frakking high horse you are always riding." Mel could see the shock on Kara's face at the words that came from her mouth. Mel herself was surprised at the vitriol in her voice. "There is what, three, four other levels of training between basic flight and carrier flight certification? You've got to amass three hundred hours of solo flight, have to pass advanced flight certification, you have to go through pod training, and only then do you go to carrier flight certification."

"But I passed him! And I shouldn't have!" Mel glared back at Kara, and when she saw the tears begin to well up in the woman's eyes finally gave a sigh and shook her head.

"Frak that Kara, you need to stop blaming yourself. Yeah, you passed him, in basic flight. Hell you know as good as I do that half the people that pass basic flight don't make it past the next level. If he was as untalented he wouldn't have made it to carrier ops testing." Mel gave another shake of her head and looked Kara in the eyes. "I probably know better than anyone else what a fine line runs between clean air and foul. I lived through a crackup on a landing, and the all I remember is one moment everything was fine, and the next I was waking up in a hospital with no legs a week later."

"You know, that's exactly what Bill told me when I told him that I passed Zak." Mel gave a snort and turned back to her cigar.

"Well now you've got a second opinion, though I'm surprised you didn't take the first one. Accident's happen Kara, and if Zak's was anything like the films of the accidents we saw in flight training there probably wasn't enough left of the Viper to get anything but an `inconclusive' from the review board." Mel gave a shake of her head and looked out to the stars. "Me, I knew from the moment they had me thinking straight again that mine was just that, an accident. Something that nobody could foresee happening, nothing that I could have done anything to prevent, it took me a long time to come to grips with that anyway."

"Yeah, I suppose so."

*****

Sharon was definitely feeling claustrophobic, and she had barely been in the device on the Lenna Dell for thirty minutes. She could not see anything except the LED lights that flashed briefly on in front of her eyes from time to time, could hear nothing but the questions that came always after the lights. The procedure had been explained to her, but explanations and actually going through it were too entirely different things she was finding out.

Sharon could not even move with the getup that security had insisted she wear during the procedure. The straightjacket was one thing, but combined with the straps that were to ensure that she could not move during the procedure and thus risk damaging brain tissue outside the targeted area was another thing. Only the hum as the equipment cycled on and off, and then the inevitable questions served to distract her from what was going on.

"Ok Sharon, last time I promise, what colors are the lights coming on in?" Doctor Salik's voice sounded as irritated as Sharon felt, and it was not the first time she had heard those words. Each time she did, she could not help the thrill of fear that ran through her.

"Red, amber, green, red, amber." It was hard to get them all this time, more than one seemed almost the wrong color, and it was getting hard to focus on more than the fact that there was something bright in front of her eyes.

"Ok, and is the tone, rising, falling or staying the same?"

"Staying the same." Sharon said after listening for what seemed like a minute but was probably barely more than a couple seconds.

"Good, we're going to try that other test again Sharon, let me know if you are feeling any pain like then." This one Sharon dreaded, the last time, and only time they had done the test she had felt like her head was splitting apart. It was no doubt why they had gone through the previous sets of tests, and the useage of the device multiple times before trying it again.

"Alright." Sharon steeled herself against pain that she knew was going to come. Nothing happened for a long time, and Doctor Salik's voice was a surprise when it came.

"Nothing that time Sharon?"

"No, nothing at all." Sharon wondered if that was good or bad, especially when Doctor Salik obviously only covered up the microphone she had been speaking into to confer with others in the room with her, rather than turn it off as she had always done before. There seemed to be quite a discussion going on, but the words were rather muffled, and she could not make anything out beyond the fact that Doctor Salik seemed to be on her side, while someone else was most definitely not.

"Ok, that's good news. We're going to fire back up the imaging system briefly, take a detailed scan of your brain again, for future reference and further analysis and then let you loose from there. Oh, and you've got a couple people that just arrived onboard who would like to talk with you." Sharon tried to figure out just who would be over to see her as she waited for the scans to finish. Probably Commander Adama, or Captain Adama wanting to finally debrief her on what had happened on that flight where she found the Cylons, as that had never happened.

Knowing that things were good was a relief to Sharon, and it made the time pass much quicker as well. Mainly she thought it was because she no longer had that gnawing ball of fear in her gut, the anxiety of not knowing one way or another. No doubt that Doctor Salik would want to do further tests, examinations in the future but she doubted that she would be allowed visitors much less out of this room had there been any indication of this thing not working.

"Easy there, your eyes are probably going to be a little sensitive, so you might want to keep them closed." Doctor Salik's voice was no longer coming in over the tinny speakers, but was rather right there, vibrant and alive as Sharon felt the bands that were holding her down loosen. "You may experience a little dizziness when you stand up, so feel free to use Doctor Miller and I for support if you need to.

"I think I'll take sensitive eyes and a little dizziness over everything else though." Sharon joked lightly as she experimentally cracked an eyelid. Yep, sensitive to light indeed, but it was no worse than a bad hangover and she had her share of those in the past. Sharon gave Doctor Salik a smile, and shared it with Doctor Miller, the specialist she had been introduced to when she had first arrived at the Lenna Dell yesterday.

"I know I would." Sharon laughed softly as Doctor Miller gave her a wink, before turning his attention to undoing the straps of the straight jacket.

"Now then young lady, would you like to see visitors?" Sharon gave a bit of a nod, trepidation coming back at the thought of seeing either of the Adama's like this, for now that she was standing, she felt as weak as a leaf. Her legs seemed to be made out of rubber, when just no less than an hour before they had been steady. No doubt a side affect of the treatment she had just completed.

"Boomer!"

"Sharon!" The dual exclamations, and the hugs that followed them blind-sided Sharon, and she nearly fell over backwards and through the door she just stepped through. If it had not been for the strong arms that surrounded her and held her up, she would have done so. These two were not what she had been expecting, and she knew that she owed somebody a thanks.

Chapter 17

"Why is it that you and Saul find each other so contrary?" Mel took a sad look at the cigar, burned past the point that she would have stopped smoking it had it been mere months earlier. The tight supply though meant that one could not be as connoisseur as was possible in the past.

"He's been on my ass since the first time I stepped foot on the Galatica. Always grumbling about how he couldn't see what Bill saw in me and why he did what he did." Mel took another puff off the cigar, clenching it between her teeth, moving forwards to look at the control panel. The sensor search was automatic, and already there were a significant number of point sources the equipment had identified as promising in the area of space. "I know that Bill had to pull a lot of strings to get me stationed on his ship, and I know that it is probably a contributing factor in why he didn't get promoted during the decommissioning ceremony, but Tigh, that drunken bastard has cost him more."

Mel could only laugh at the words and the reason that the two did not get along. It was amusing beyond belief to find out that both disliked the other simply because of their loyalty to Commander Adama and the fact they thought he was making a mistake with the other. Mel slowly regained control of herself only to look up at a very disgruntled Kara.

"Sorry, but do you have any idea how amusing that is? You don't like him because he's bad for Commander Adama's future, he doesn't like you because you're bad for Commander Adama's future." Mel snorted with laughter again, before shaking her head and leaning back in her seat. "Good Lords Kara, you've been hating a man who is a bloody mirror image of you."

"Yeah, I know, when you put it that way. It is just hard to let things go with him, I guess, I guess he reminds me too much of my real father." Mel gave a bit of a nod, content with the answer for now. At least Kara might think about why she was so contrary to Saul, and realize that she needed to get over it.

"You've heard my history, why not letting me in on a piece of your past? I've never heard of you speak of anything prior to joining the military, and the rumor mill doesn't have anything outside of you and the thing with Tigh." Mel gave a bit of a grunt, turning back to look out at the stars.

"I don't talk about it much, because I don't really like talking about it to be truthful." Mel shook her head and draw another puff off the cigar. "I suppose you'd rather not talk about your past either, so fair is fair."

"Yeah, you've got that right." Mel heard Kara chuckle softly, and the soft exhalation that added even more smoke to the shuttle's cabin. "I know you're from Libra, and you obviously had contacts there, if you've got more than a box of Coxitals to smoke."

"Yeah, I got these through my brother. I grew up in the backwoods of Libra, and when I say backwoods, I mean backwoods." Mel shrugged as she gave a nod out to the stars. "About all the good that could be said about it is the fact you could see as many stars from the porch of the cabin my family lived in as you can from here."

"Cabin?" Mel could hear the curiosity and incredulity in Kara's voice and nodded.

"Yeah, cabin. My family was part of one of the many fundamental Lords of Kobol groups on Libra. Live clean, live rightly, all that standard stuff that every fundamental group was supposed to believe in." Mel fell silent for a long moment and gave a shake of her head. "Women were not to draw attention to themselves in their appearance or their speech. Silent and sober we were supposed to be. Luckily the Libran colony was founded by a bunch of people with some firm ideas about education, and we were all required to attend the public school."

"How'd you ever get away from that? I've seen enough things like that to know that children just don't grow up and leave." Mel felt the wistful smile fill her face as she remembered back to just what did get her to leave. Lords, had it been so long ago? Had she really ever been that young?

"Oh no, hardly easy. I knew that it was possible for a woman to be more than a wife, but never really realized that I could be more. Dreamed about it sure, dreamed about it all the time." Mel gave snort and pulled a long inhalation off her cigar. "He was a brash man, that pilot who changed things. Cigar smoking, woman loving, holier than thou brash man, all I really wanted was a good roll in the hay if you know what I mean."

Mel watched as Kara reddened at the words and gave a wink.

"At first that's all I thought he wanted as well. Having me sneak out and meet him that night at his shuttle. Father would have tanned my backside if I had been caught. Lords though, what I got that night was better than any roll in the hay I had before or since. He took me up in a flight in that rusty old rattle-bucket of bolts, and when my eyes were as big as saucers, he goes and says `Would you like to fly her?', as if by then I had a choice." Mel let her voice drop off, savoring the memory of that past, such a happy one that even now after all that happened. She reached out and caressed the controls lightly, rubbing her thumbs over the worn spots in the paint, touching the few analogue displays left in the new shuttle. "For the first time in my life, I was in control of my destiny. I knew that I could do everything I dreamed of doing."

"First time flying will do that to you." Mel smiled at Kara, knowing that there was more than one unspoken thing that they could share.

"Yeah, well I never did make it back home that night. Walked straight down into the town we lived outside, and got me a ticket to the city. I knew that if I thought about it, I wouldn't be able to do anything and I'd be married off in a year, and looking haggard and worn like mother always had. Morning found me sitting outside the recruiters’ office waiting for them to come in. I signed the papers eight hours later. Only saw the family once since, they didn't understand, not a one of them." Mel could hear the sadness in her voice, and as the silence deepened into an introspective pause had to do something to get her mind off just what had become of them now. She had loved them, Lords she could do nothing else, they had never been bad.

*****

Saul felt his frown deepen as he looked at the report in his hands, eyes going back and reading the words for what had to be the fifth time. Four other small ships had been found with transmitters, three deckhands and the marine demolitions team had been injured by the booby traps that had been placed with those transmitters. Now they had a Raptor, two Vipers and a shuttle that were awaiting repair or scrapping in addition to the Valkyries. Things were only getting worse for Tyrol's crew, not better.

Trying to get guards for all the critical systems in Galactica was problematic at best as well. There were barely enough men to assign two guards to all the critical systems, plus their needed relief, with the other duties the fleet needed them for. Thank the Lords of Kobol that there had been a sizable attachment on board for the decommissioning ceremonies. Still, they were getting tired and sooner or later one or more would fall asleep on duty and the saboteur would gain a so far denied access to those systems.

How to manage the shifts and get everyone the rest required would mean more personnel would have to be found. He thought he knew where they might get those people. The Astral Queen had a large number of rather young inmates onboard, and only a few of those were what he considered `hardened' criminals. Many were in simply because of their past history of crime, petty robbery, drug use and the like, and personally Saul had always been a proponent of pushing those people through some sort of military training and getting some discipline in their lives. Now all he had to do was convince Bill that this was the best thing to do. Plus fewer prisoners meant that the few guards the Astral Queen had, supplemented as they were by a Marine contingent, would be less likely to be taken by surprise, and better equipped to deal with any uprising in the inmates. Saul would still like to convince President Roselin that they really needed a ship strictly for prisoners, one that would not put honest civilians at risk when the inevitable uprising came, but the woman just would not see sense.

Convincing Bill though meant that he had to come up with a detailed plan, one that took into account moving some of the more experienced NCOs and at least one of the officers off the guard rotation. That meant that he had to find someone to take over the duties, and with the current dearth of flight operations due to a lack of birds that were flyable, he knew where to get them. Pilots that had nothing to do were apt to get into fights and cause discipline problems, and there was only so long that Captain Adama would be able to dance around that problem by assigning them to cleaning duties. Cleaning ever surface on the ship might tire them out so much they did not bitch and moan, but sooner or later, they would just stop cleaning.

Saul pushed himself to his feet, avoiding looking at the stack of paper that was piling up in his inbox. He would have to get to that soon, but tomorrow would be soon enough. The fleet would understand, they thought Bill walked on water, and never had figured out that everything was screened by his XO, and that only a percent or two ever actually made it to the elder Adama's desk. Still as long as they got that piece of paper saying `From Galactica Command' they felt their griefs were being attended to by the man himself. Bill had enough to worry about, and taking care of the paperwork was the least thing that Saul could do for him.

The paperwork though brought up another thing he needed to work on. They needed more Specialists, people who could sort through everything, type out dictated replies, and generally take care of the common everyday requests. Secretaries, they needed to sweep the fleet again, only this time for secretaries and perhaps some lower management personnel. He had heard enough from family to know one should shy away from the upper levels of management, but those who actually worked the floor should work out.

At least the Hephaestus was finally producing some much needed supplies Saul noticed as he threaded through the flight pod, trying to find the elusive CAG. The man needed to make up some office hours, and stick to them as well as make sure he got some flight time of his own. One could not expect the pilots onboard the Galactica, as motley of a bunch they were, to grow to respect you if you did not prove to them you were every bit as good as they were. Saul would have to have Bill talk to Lee about that, no, given the still strained feeling between father and son, perhaps he should ask Bill to bring it up with Thrace after she got back. Lords knew the woman would not listen to anything he said directly, and it would be best if it came from someone Lee would not see as an authority figure, as rule bound as the CAG was.

Chapter 18

Mel swam slowly back to consciousness as the hand shaking her shoulder did so more roughly. She wondered why the person was trying to wake her up, but then the voice penetrated the fog of almost sleep.

"Wake up Mel, I need you to check these hyperlight plot numbers. We the sensors are saying they are done." Mel blinked blearily at Kara for long seconds before her eyes flashed to the clock on the wall. Three hours, barely three hours since she had lain down to go to sleep, and much of that time had been spent occupied with thoughts of a place that had once been home, and people she would never see again.

"Saying we are done? We've found the Olympia already?" If Mel had known it was going to take so little time, she would have not even bothered going to sleep. Better to be merely fatigued rather than sleep addled.

"No, not according to the information the sensors are spitting out. They want us to jump to another position at least ten light years from here so we can get a parallax reading on the more likely point sources. Probably have to do it a time or two more."

Mel yawned as she rubbed the sleep from her eyes and slowly pushed herself to her feet. She had not taken off her flightsuit and her legs, mainly because the hull of the shuttle was much thinner, and its debris scanning radar was currently silent in order to minimize the off chance of Cylon detection. Parallax information, that made sense now that she had something to put together with the movement.

The sensors could not be reading much more than the `glow' the forward shield of the coldship created as it plowed through interstellar dust and hydrogen. With a velocity somewhere between thirty and fifty percent of that of light, depending on what the drives had been programmed to shut off at, a single point source would not be able to pick the ship out of the background stars.

With a second measurement some distance away they would be able to start to judge how far away the source was, and just how fast it was moving.

"Lemme see those plot figures." Mel called up what little data they had about the space Kara had set the jump for, mainly gleaned for the sensors they were also using to look for the Olympia and gave a grunt. There was much less information that Mel felt comfortable about having but at least Kara had plotted the jump for what should be a clear area between two star systems. She rubbed her lip thoughtfully and punched in a series of equations into the flight computer, and frowned at the results that it gave back. "We need to cut the jumps shorter, given the distance back to the rendezvous point that we're going to get the information from Galactica's position on. As it is, we'll barely be able to make the point, and a jump of similar energy requirements."

"Jumping shorter range in this area of space means getting into a system, and we don't have all that much information on any of the systems here." Mel gave a nod, and pulled up the information that they had been able to gather during their scan of the local sky.

"Still jumping in system will save us fuel as well, plus we'll be able to use the short range passives to scan the local area of space and hopefully pick up some of the resources that the Galactica needs. It would help if the Promar sector wasn't so dense…" Mel trailed off and reversed her course through the sensor logs and reached out to touch and highlight a point on the screen. "Got to be a brown dwarf, only visible on the low infrared, but its massive enough to pull G13A473 out of position by a tenth of a degree or two."

"Is it far enough away though?" Mel pursed her lips as she flipped back over from the recently collected information to that brought over from the Galactica including both pre and post Judgment navigational data. She knew that Kara understood what she was thinking, the dim proto-stars had far less non-gaseous mass and a much lower chance of a post-jump emergence hit. That chance was why ships forging new routes to new stars, the Galactica and the ragtag- fleet kept to interstellar space. Much less something to hit, or emerge inside if you were jumping into interstellar space than if you were jumping into a far more crowded stellar neighborhood.

"Well if I'm reading the charts right, and the computer has the referents correct that has to be Promar-1D579. Notes say that it was first found fifty years ago. Its spectral reading is within the error margin for our distance change, and its position is fairly close to what it should be. Be about another five light years, six from where we are now." Mel looked over her shoulder and up into Kara's face, and for a moment could not help but feel a surge of jealousy for the other pilot's pixie good looks. She looked so intense when she was focused on something, and Mel could understand why there had been stiff competition among the male pilots for her favor even when that favor meant getting your jaw broke.

"Close enough to what we need, and this stellar cluster was formed from later stellar materials, could be significant amounts of needed materials in the gas belt around the brown dwarf."

"We'll take nearly ten percent less fuel on this jump as the one you had us plotted for. My recommendation Lieutenant is that we go with the brown dwarf. Kill three birds with one stone." Mel saw the scowl that crossed Kara's face as she purposely used the rank to firmly stick the problem in the other pilot's lap. Mel did not want to be the one who made the decision one way or another, especially on something this risky.

"You're the expert on FTL calculations here, so yeah, we'll go your route." Mel shook her head at the mention of expert even as she started inputting the figures into the flight computers for them to churn and calculate over.

"I don't think I'm the expert here. You're the one that jumped into the Nova Madagon." Mel was not expecting the almost outraged laughter that leapt from Kara's throat beside her ear.

"You don't think that I actually plotted that jump do you?"

Mel looked up to watch Kara shaking her head with a smile. "I never could turn down a dare, even one brought on by boasting and alcohol like that one was. Even if I was at best a mediocre jump navigator.

No, I remembered this old man who liked to drink in one of the dockside bars who would swear up and down to everyone who sat around long enough to tell, that he had jumped once into the Nova in the past. I bought the calculations off him, checked them with the Academy's big computer and figured they were close enough to get me a rock, and not get me killed."

"You're telling me, you jumped into the Nova, on the figures of some drunk, who may or may not have been telling the truth, or knew what he was doing?" Mel stared at Kara, wondering just what she had gotten herself into on this flight.

"Yeah. I know how good my own abilities are when it comes to jump calculations, and I'm crazy not stupid."

******

Sharon looked over at Tyrol with more than just a little trepidation, and he must have seen it, because he squeezed her hand slightly. She just knew that he was going to explode when she told him, and she could not blame him either. Still Sharon could not keep this secret, not when she thought that she wanted a relationship with him that involved something more emotional than just sex. Hell, who was she kidding it had been more than that even the first time, even if she had not been willing to admit it to him, or herself then.

"Ty, I've got something I need to tell you… its about the events of the past few days, it wasn't a… a nerve agent in the Cylon railgun rounds… they… they…" Sharon was trying to be as quiet as possible, mainly because Boxey was most definitely not sleeping heavily in her arms, and the boy looked like he needed his sleep. He looked as strung out as Sharon felt, and if he had truly been as worried as Tyrol said he had been. Her confession though was interrupted as she tried to gather the courage to say the rest, when Tyrol leaned over and pressed a finger softly against her lips.

"Shhhh… I know Sharon, you don't have to tell me." Sharon looked uncomprehendingly at him for a long moment, trying to figure out just what he was saying, and just what he thought he knew.

"You knew?" Fear, and anger were quickly coming to the forefront of the emotional brew roiling inside her. Sharon knew that sooner or later he would just up and leave, and now, now he was telling her he had known all along? Just how long had all along actually been? How had he found out, and how dare he not actually tell her before now? She repeated the question, putting more than just a little stress on the second word. "You *knew*?"

"Yes, Doctor Salik had to bring me in on it, when she started to have me modify one of their medical machines so that it would disable computer equipment." Sharon sat there, stunned, quiet, wondering just why if he had known he had not come to visit her in the brig. He obviously took her quiet, combined with the anger in her voice earlier as continued anger towards his answer. So he continued on with an explanation in a hurried pleading voice. "I started asking some pointed questions, refusing to continue without knowing why and on who it was going to be used. She told me everything."

"Everything? That I'm… she said… you must think I'm…" Once again the touch of his fingers on her face silenced her voice, wiping away a tear that she had fought not to let fall. Sharon could not look into his eyes, could not force herself to look at the rejection she knew beyond a doubt she would find there.

"You're so strong."

"Strong?" The description was so unbelievably unfitting that she could not hold back a burble of laughter. "I'm not strong, I could barely keep myself from turning the Raptor around when they were talking inside my head."

"She told me everything Sharon, everything." Sharon could not have looked at Tyrol now if she wanted to, as he had pulled her on armed against his chest and tucked his face into her hair. "Everything, about how you were confused and scared by what was happening in that Raptor, and how you still managed to try and lure those bastards away from the fleet. How they had found you, probably as a child and implanted this thing inside your head that was undoubtedly supposed to control your every action and make you their slave. How you fought them ever second of the way alone and afraid. It tore me up that I couldn't visit you on the Galactica, but they wouldn't let me because it would have spread word around the ship, and keeping things about what was happening was hard enough already."

Sharon heard the smoldering anger directed towards the Cylons in his voice, and the pride it held at her actions. She was glad that someone was proud of what she had done right now, because she could not be proud about it herself. Sharon could only see what she had done wrong, and could only wonder just why they had chosen her just what she had done wrong.

Chapter 19

The dull red banded shape of an almost star filled the forward viewports of the shuttle. It was a boring view, a completely and utterly boring view, one that Mel wished now that Kara was looking at instead of her. Still, she had been the one to decide she could not sleep with the high pitched pinging that filled the shuttle from the impacts of icy micro-meteorites and had told Kara to try and catch some sleep. The deep space scans had completed over an hour ago, and they had their deep space cryo-ship found, its course plotted and its velocity down to a T. The Olympia was barreling along at a mind-numbing .52 C, a velocity that nothing in today's age of FTL drives could match, and even if they could, they'd need an ice shield twin to the kilometer thick disk that protected the ancient ship.

The sensors were still churning along in their scans of local space, slowly checking off each pie shaped section of the accretion. The initial scans looked promising to say the least. There was a high enough concentration of tylium in the disk, not to mention iron, aluminum, and carbon containing dust to be worth their while. It would be a decent staging area as well, at least for a short while, for it seemed there were none of the probes, or minefields that scouts had been reporting lately.

Mel leaned back in her seat, staring up at the ruddy sun, and wrapped her arms around herself. Scarlet, sullen red the color of blood, the color she could not help but feel was fitting for what had taken place in the last few weeks. Billions dead in the attack on the colonies, and though the number was amazing, Mel knew that out of all of those, only seven really mattered to her.

Her father, as unable to understand her choices in her life, and her Mother were two of those seven. Mel had never stopped loving them, even when they had chosen not to welcome her home after she had run off to the service. A letter every now and again had come through to her, shuttled through brothers, sisters who kept in touch even if they had not understood themselves, and now, now she would see none of them again. No chance for understanding, no chance for reconciliation.

Little Sal though, Lords, Sal she was the most heartbreaking out of those Mel missed the most. Bright eyed, still looking at the world with more wonder than anything else, she would have been eight this year. Mel had looked forwards to each innocent letter, every picture that she could get of Sal, finding more than just a little comfort in being such a source of wonder to the little girl, pride even in being a hero for her niece.

The thing with Saul was only adding to the weight of depression that pressed down upon her shoulders. She needed to get a handle on things in a way that she had not had to do in years. Lords, Saul, just what the hell was she thinking that night, or that morning to do what she had done with him. Not that she had not enjoyed it or that she had been forced into anything, far from it. Still Mel knew that there was only one reason that he had done what he had, and that was not because he was in love with her or anything, it was because she was a warm, willing body. It was the same reason that she had continued on with things, let the infatuation lead her life.

At least that was what Mel had been telling herself for the past few days. She knew that it was not the truth, far from it in fact. Sometime, during those talks in the gym, seeing the main whose pain was so much similar to her own, she had fallen in love with him, or at least thought she had. He kept insisting that she did not know who the real Saul was, and perhaps he was right, but she liked the one she knew for certain. Then again, she knew despite all the effort he had made to make things good for her in those all to brief three hours, he was doing it because she had asked, and he could find no good reason to say no. Not because he truly felt anything for her beyond friendship, or a strange camaraderie between two people who had lost much.

The truth though, the truth cut Mel deep, more because she had once told herself that she would never rely upon someone like that than any other reason. She was falling in love with Saul, falling for him in a way that she had never fallen for anyone before in her life. It was such a scary feeling, being dependent on seeing his face, of acceptance and friendship she found with him. For so long Mel had fought to be simply accepted as she was, for so long she had used her disability as a fence to keep those away who could not look past it, and now that she had found someone who was willing to look past that, she did not know what to do.

The warbling alarm of the FTL emergence warning jarred Mel out of her musings, and prompted Kara sleep behind her.

"What the frak?!" Mel ignored Kara's shout for the moment, hands slapping over switches powering down systems and causing the shuttle to fall completely silent. A dead, black spot in space is all that they were, nothing more.

"FTL emergence, and damn was it close." Mel hurriedly riffled through the sensor logs, pulling up just where the emergence was calculated as being. The power spike was extremely low, probably making it a probe, but it could be a small ship as well, a fighter or a shuttle.

"Just how close?" Mel glanced over at Kara as the other woman settled herself into the right hand seat of the shuttle.

"Close enough that we can probably see it on the optical `scope, give me a second." Mel bit her lower lip worriedly as she took control of the telescope, usually used only to take positions of stars for a navigational fix, but it could be used to view nearby objects as well. Something that close, well it was doubtful that it had not seen them, because it had erupted from FTL only a few thousand klicks away, close enough to make the back of her mind squirm away from what would have happened had it been closer. "There it is…"

"Somebody has been getting creative with Raptor components." Mel looked over at Kara as the other woman spoke and she leaned closer to the monitor as well. "This is the main FTL coil for the –D Raptors, we had one on Galactica for a short time before it got transferred to an active unit. I helped the Chief pull the drive coil once."

"You mean this isn't Cylon?"

"Not unless the Cylons have started using spare Colonial parts, because the body looks like a standard sensor probe." Mel could see a sense of wonder, and a growing sense of mischief grow inside Kara's eyes, and could understand it because she felt the same way. "The –Ds used a main coil that takes twenty minutes to recharge at a minimum… you think Adama will forgive us for destruction of equipment if we come back with parts of that?"

*****

"Have a seat Saul, you're going to need it." Saul looked at his old friend, and the face alone told him the news was grim. He settled himself into the chair across the desk from the Commander.

"What happened now? We lose another five to a suicidal idiot?" Saul still could not forget that scene when he had come upon it. He could sympathize with someone who just wanted to end the pain, could understand in a way that perhaps Bill could not, but he could not understand why anyone would decide to do so by setting off a grenade in the living quarters.

"No, something that is, for you personally perhaps worse." Saul frowned, trying to figure out just what, could be worse for him personally. "We just received the final list of the survivors from President Roselin's staff her assistant, Billy I think his name is, wanted to deliver it personally but I convinced him it would be best for a friend to do so."

"You're starting to worry me Bill, I haven't a clue what you are talking about."

"Ellen is alive Saul, she's on the Intersun Liner right now. The word is that up until she recognized the patch on the officer we had with the President's group to keep order, she had been sleeping with one of the senior officers. She's claiming to still be married to you Saul."

"Frak." Saul stood up, the chair giving a shrieking screech as it moved over the floor, and turned for the hatch.

"Saul…"

"Bill, if I stay here I'm going to break something, and I'd rather not it be something that holds memories for just about the only friend I have left." Saul paused, his hand upon the door, wondering just why things had to pick now to fall all apart again, just when things were finally starting to pull together, to look as if he actually had a chance of, if not a nice and happy life, at least a liveable one. A life that he live and could be proud of, one that he could be content with. "I just need some time alone on this."

Mel was going to be destroyed by this. That was all that Saul could think of, just how badly it was going to hurt the one person he was fast becoming reliant upon. Ellen would not care, hell she would probably even enjoy the chance to rub salt in his wounds by taking away the one good thing that had ever happened to him. That it happened now, while she was away was both a good, and a bad thing.

Good because it would give him a chance to decide how to tell her the news. Frak, if it had not been for Bill's good foresight he would probably be in the brig right now himself, it would have been far too easy to hit someone else. Billy for certain would have went down before him, that kid was far too chipper for his own good sometimes, and his relationship with Dualla, or non-relationship as it were, was reminiscent of a pre-Judgement soap opera.

Saul paid no attention to where his feet were taking him, as he idly returned the salutes given to him as he made his way deeper and deeper into the bowels of the ship. Few people passed him as he went deeper, into areas that were relatively unlit and cold due to power saving strategies. Saul turned and slammed his fist into the wall beside him, initially unfeeling of the pain the exploded through it as it met with the unyielding wall.

Why did it have to be now? Had he already not done enough for that woman, did she have to take this away as well? They were questions Saul knew could not truly answered, just as he could no longer not face the questions themselves by drowning himself in drink. Not anymore, not when he had a reason to live, and hope, even if that latter was quickly dimming.

Chapter 20

Mel hooked the safety line into the grommet just outside the airlock door and looked at the probe which faded into the oblivious background at this distance. She stepped out onto the hull of the shuttle beside the airlock, her maglock boots keeping her from drifting off.

"It still hasn't seen us from as far as I can tell Mel, go ahead with the shot." Mel gave a grimace, she did not like this idea, and she would much rather be inside right now, but Kara was the one who had the touch with the controls they needed right now. Trying to maneuver the shuttle around without the feedback controls that were powered off was beyond Mel's ability. Without any other weapons onboard the shuttle outside of their personal sidearms and a single Sagat anti-fighter shoulder launched missile, there was no other way to disable the probe. Mel powered up the control and guidance systems on the missile selecting to use the optical sensor and the proximity detonation system from the myriad of onscreen options.

"Damn it Kara, I haven't used one of these since training." Mel brought the missile tube up to her shoulder, and pointed it basically in the direction of the probe and then activated the automated search system built into the weapon. Slowly the shuttle swung around as Kara nudged one control thruster and then the other, keeping the ship from tumbling by sheer seat of the pants feel.

"Yeah well neither have I Mel, and your training was not as long ago, so shut up and soldier, soldier." Mel bit her lip instead of replying as the weapons system began flashing a red arrow icon to indicate which way to adjust the aim, and with the jerky movements indicative of a multiple zoom factors being used to enhance the image. She studied the form for a bit, saw that the idiot savant brain in the control system had found the probe and went about designating it for the shot. The crosshairs went from green to red, and then began flashing to indicate the missile had been updated with the image to seek and Mel spoke softly.

"Fox three, fox three." Mel squeezed down on the launch commit button, and barely remembered to squeeze shut her eyes as she did so. The ancient hypergolic fueled rocket would have only temporarily blinded her, but still that meant she would have had to wait to use the airlock controls before re-entering the shuttle.

The Sagat was a weapon that had seen many upgrades since the reunification wars, and shortly before Judgment it had undergone extensive upgrades to its sensors and the computer power it carried. This was a shot that would have been impossible planetside, even for the hypersonic ability of the missile. It was simply impossible to target something as far away inside an atmosphere as it was in space. Luckily without any air to occlude the target the optical sensors were more than capable of finding and tracking the near Viper sized probe. Still even at the speed the guided missile was traveling, it would take nearly twenty minutes before the missile impacted their target, or missed as it were.

"Well, you might as well get back in here, our round has been shot." Mel gave a nod in answer to Kara's words, but paused for a moment to track the missile with her bare eyes. There was something about watching the thin red light disappear against the black of space that seemed to symbolize just how thin this hope was.

"Be in shortly Kara, just admiring the view out here."

*****

Lee tapped his fingers impatiently upon the console before him, watching the radar screen as it showed the shuttle slowly coming in for a docking at the port flight pod. Kara's report had been sparse at best, and he was anxious to know just how things had gone on the reconnaissance run. Things in the fleet were getting tight, as systems that should have seen routine maintenance but did not since the ship was never more than two days away from rescue started to break down.

The fleet needed the equipment that might be on that colony ship that Lee's father had just told him about the day before. He was still made that he had not been aware of the real mission from the beginning but he could understand how important operation security was. Still, things were going to far when his father did not trust his own son with the information. At least the Commander had not even told Colonel Tigh about the mission, which at least helped to moderate the anger than Lee felt.

"Fifteen minutes out sir." Lee looked over to the side, where Specialist Dualla had spoken. He gave her what he tried to make a reassuring smile. He knew what she thought, hell he knew that the whole ship thought the reason he had been on a razors edge the past few days was because Kara was gone.

It was not the reason, or at least not the complete reason that Lee had been snapping at everyone lately. He was tired of dealing with the constant gripes and complaints that the pilots were muttering about behind his back. Lee could put up with things when Kara was around, mainly because she was not afraid to let the other pilots know what she thought of something, and most of them would rather not raise her ire.

There were other reasons he wanted both Kara and Mel back. The activity by the saboteur was only increasing, and two of the three pilots he could trust were currently in that shuttle. Both had been cleared by Doctor Salik due to either recent scans, or historical ones that the Doctor had conducted in the past. Unfortunately due to the sensitive nature of the situation, and the fact that requiring extensive physicals would tip their hand, screening the rest of the pilots was not acceptable.

Lee could not even count out pilots that had only received minor injuries in the few traps that had been set up, or even the very few in number who had died. It was entirely possible that the cylon would try and camouflage its existence either by dying itself, or by injuring itself to get attention shifted away from it. It was all very complicated.

Then there was the whole problem with his father. Lee had expected things to smooth out after that first initial reaching out by the man, but if anything things had only gotten worse. Lee knew that it probably had something to do with the rumors that were flying around about him and Kara, and he also knew that if anything it was probably only going to get worse when his father found out the rumors were the truth. Lee was not looking forwards to that conversation.

"Five minutes sir, they are on final approach." Lee started as Dualla spoke once again, and forced himself to give a calm nod to the Specialist. Five minutes, well, there was no reason to stay in command any longer when it would take him nearly that long to get down to the pod. Lee turned to give Commander Adama a look, and returned the nod the older man gave him. He started for the hatch and Colonel Tigh fell in behind him.

"Bloody hell, I hope those women have some good news, they are being rather more hushed mouthed than either Bill or I expected." Lee gave a bit of a nod to Saul as the older man grumbled beside him.

"Lieutenant Gaeta you have the watch." Gaeta had been the officer on duty Lee knew, before the word about the dispatch Raptor, and the Shuttle had reached command. There had been a lot of shuffling going on in the CIC mainly in the moving of the less capable, and even less senior officers onto the shifts that Adama and Saul commanded, and the more capable personal onto third shift. It would have to work until the proposed officer training classes were set up to evaluate possible draftees from civilian bridge crews.

*****

"Well, did you find the Olympia or not?" Mel groaned inwardly as Kara gave one of her fiendish smiles in return for the harsh question of Saul. This was not going to be a good day at all. Not with the way Saul had visibly hardened up when she came into sight, and not with the visible tension that had escalated between Lee and his father when Kara had entered the room. It reminded Mel of that bad romance story that was circulating the airwaves between the ships even now, Caprican's Children. Who would have thought anyone would have wasted storage space recording that piece of drivel.

"Yes sir we did find it." Mel interrupted before Kara could say anything, earning her a sharp glance from the other pilot. Mel ignored it, she had had worse at the beginning of the mission, and right now suffering Kara's wrath would be worth the shower she could take, albeit cold, after they were done with this briefing. She had lived in her flightsuit for the past five days, and her entire body itched, not to mention her stumps were throbbing from constant contact. "We found something, or rather several somethings else as well."

"Somethings? Cylons?" Commander Adama sounded puzzled, and Mel could understand why as he looked from her to Kara. She decided to most definitely sit this part out. The ball was in play now, and somebody else could whack it around a while.

"No sir, fuel and other survivors." Kara's words were like a grenade in the small room, and even Mel after hearing them aloud, was surprised by how much she was affected. She had known what they had found, what it might mean, but it had never sunk in past the surface. Now it had, life that is what it meant, life.