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The Mailman

Chaos_eternus

Title: The Mailman
Author: chaos_eternus
Word Count: Work in Progress
Date: 08/11/04
Rating: T
Category: Action
Warnings: none...
Summary: The Mailman was sent to seek out the Cylons, to report on their activities but the Cylons were already moving against the Colonies. Now, the old First Cylon war era Blockade runner and her small band have to seek out Galactica...
NOTE: This story is in the same universe as Earthman
Spoilers/Disclaimers: miniseries

For the record: I do not own, nor do I claim ownership of characters or concepts from Battlestar Galactica

Prologue

            The mailman always gets through.

            No rain, no snow, natural disasters animals etc shall block the mailman from his duty. It's the proud boast of a service that covers every world, every anchorage and every ship be they mighty warship or planetary transport.

            And it is certainly the proud boast of my new command, the Mailman.

            This mailman may have delivered letters and parcels from home to the embattled ships of the fleet, an important task for Fleet Morale sure, but that wasn't her most important task.

            Mailman was a Cylon war era Blockade Runner, Liberty class originally but refitted so many time she is most likely in a class all of her own. Her appointed task was to deliver munitions, parts, replacement pilots and replacement Vipers to embattled garrisons or fleets. She, like all the ships of her class, was designed to run the blockade, deliver her mail whatever the enemy thought about the matter.

            Her list of medals, of commendations and of campaigns was longer then most Battlestars, even of those that fought in that bloody war.

            And now she was mine.

            Her lone heavy cannon, her twenty rail gun batteries, her twin missile batteries, her oversized and overpowered engines and manoeuvring burners, and her half squadron of Mark II Vipers.

            And I had to admit, I was curious as hell as to why.

            I was a Colonel, a pretty good one by all accounts even if I did have a tendency to tell the brass what I really thought, and despite her illustrious past, the Mailman wasn't exactly a normal command for an up and coming officer. Hell, she was the only one of her class still in flight worthy condition.

            So why had a ship, formerly on the Decommissioning lists suddenly been reactivated. Why a covert refit? Why Mark II's instead of her previous complement of Mark VIIs?

            And why in the name of Kobol was the berth of a War era blockade runner sealed up tighter than the prototype Excelsior class Battlestar in the next graving bay over?

            Well, judging by the dazzling amount of brass that just arrived on the deck on my new ship, I guess I'm about to find out.

 

One

 

            The Brass had, with unusual foresight and intelligence, specified that a punching bag should be present in the ships sole briefing room come officers mess whilst they were giving this briefing.

            Pity they hadn't specified a picture of Baltar too, ready to tack to the punch bag and use as a target.

            That… that… Traitor!

            How could a man supposedly so intelligent, so much of a genius be so mundane as to be ruled by his dick?

            The fact that the brass had known, had always known was something of a shock, it seemed unusual for the Admiralty to know before everyone else. But they told me the secret.

            The rumours of a covert Psychological Evaluation for anyone wanting a high security clearance weren't rumours. Covert so they could truly analyse the person you were, so you couldn't fake your answers and act nice.

            And Baltar had failed. His little ‘itch' had been spotted and normally he would never have been given clearance, but he was a Genius. His work was above par, usually ahead of schedule and innovative, advanced.

            They couldn't not give him clearance without many awkward questions being asked, so they granted clearance and with the full knowledge of the then President, Iblis, had ordered surveillance and background checks on any female Baltar so much as looked at twice.

            The gorgeous lady with a penchant for red dresses had not twigged any alarms until she started dropping hints about mainframe access, to assist a company she never showed any signs of associating with, until she started rewriting Baltars code.

            A Cylon agent!

            A human traitor working for the Cylons.

            Frak it! When did the Cylons reappear in our lives? How long has this been going on?

            “We don't know” Nagala commented, his voice serving notice that I had been speaking aloud, his tone telling me the Admiral wasn't angry, that he understood, “we don't even know her birth name… all we truly know is her code name, Number Six”

            “We also know” Admiral Cain, no relation to the famous Commander of the Pegasus, “that every month on the second day of the month, almost bang on 00:15 every time, a Cylon Raider of a type not seen previously drops into orbit over Caprica and receives her report… somehow. We're not sure exactly how, she never appears to use a transmitter of any kind”

            “We borrowed all five supercomputers at the R&D facility on Caprica, using the sensor data from each Raider we have picked up in the act we have been able to determine the basic area the damn thing has been jumping too every time”

            I gulped, the plan hitting me like a freight train between the eyes, “You want me to go after that raider don't you?”

            Cain smiled at me, commenting to Nagala, “Told you the kid was smart”

            Nagala just shook his head, “We want you to recon, find out what the Cylons are up to and report back. Do not cause a second cylon war unless you frakking well have to!”

            “Why me and why the Mailman sir?”

            “You were chosen because you wrote a paper on the Liberty's back in the academy and you can think and strategise. All the people we have who know this class better than that are little more than truck drivers in a Military uniform, they aren't warriors” Nagala took a sip from the glass in his hand, “as for the Mailman…

            Nagala shrugged, allowing Cain to pick up.

            “She's fast, highly manoeuvrable, radiates frak all as far as energy signature goes and is heavily armoured, her guns have also been replaced with the latest models”

            “She never was a commissioned warship so the cylons are not likely to be watching her but she can hold her own” Cain sighed, “unfortunately, we've had to do this hush hush and that means crews what we could find. Some are great, some not so, and at least one was on board for the last Cylon blockade this ship had to run”

            “Frak me” I couldn't help but shake my head in awe at that, that warrior had to be old.

            “Your holds are full Colonel” the dark haired Commander had yet to give me his name, but his manner just screamed Special Intelligence Services to me, so I wasn't in a hurry to ask. People had been known to disappear that way.

            “Food, extra fuel, spare parts, water, all the usual except for bays five and six”

            I glanced up, “spare Vipers, even spare pilots. If your launch bays could take Raptors you would have some of those as well, they would be useful for this mission particularly,” he shrugged, “as it is…”

            Cain and Nagala rose from their seats, “If we don't hurry, people will start to wonder”

            “As it is,” Nagala paused, a dark look in his eye, one which made me wonder about the rumours of seers blood in Nagala's linage, “May the Lords of Kobol preserve you Colonel, I have a feeling we will need this ship and others of her kind before too long”

            Two days after that, we made our first jump out of Colonial controlled space.

            Four months later, we would return, too late.

           

Two

 

            The First system we arrived at showed no signs of Cylon activity, but even so we ran a full sweep of the system logging planets, moons and signs of civilisation, the last part of the file simply reading none.

            This was after all a recon into largely unexplored territory, sure we had star charts but little if any detail on the systems themselves, so a quick survey of the systems we passed through would be welcomed with open arms when we returned, even provide a very useful cover if we should find nothing Cylon wise.

            We spent two days sweeping through the system before moving to thr next on our list.

            Then the next.

            Fifteen systems we surveyed before finding anything of interest, and our prize for the mission was a world that looked habitable when examined from orbit, a little cold perhaps but liveable.

            It was a breathing green jewel floating in the vastness of space.

            The Ambrosia flowed freely that night, a habitable world was a rare and extremely valuable jewel, the finder's fee just for the lowliest Crewman would be enough to buy the Mailman outright, and as Captain I would be able to buy myself a fully operational, armed and crewed Battlestar with change enough for a small tender to support her.

            Assuming of course that the follow up survey confirmed habitable status, something we were not qualified to state for definite.

            The morning after, our heads a little thick, we rigged a claim satellite and dropped it into orbit before jumping to our next target.

            The next target system was dead, literally.

            A dying ember of a white dwarf star, three rocky planets seared to a frazzle over millions of years, slowly radiating their heat into the universe and a smallish gas giant with two moons

            The only exciting thing in this system was an abandoned Cylon mining outpost, buried beneath the surface of the second moon. There was no sign that it had been used since the Cylon war ended, indeed we saw Centurion models buried under old collapsed tunnels several times, giving us a pretty good idea as to why this place had been abandoned.

            We used the opportunity to stock up on Tylium and grab a few spare parts that were hanging around and moved on, logging the location for our mission report.

            Four more systems we systematically searched with no signs of Cylon activity and morale was starting to get low, despite the fact that we had searched barely ten percent of the systems on our list the feeling that we had failed, were going to fail just because we had found no definite signs of Cylon activity.

            When morale starts to go there is little really you can do about it. Many Commanders talk of being strong for the crew, not letting their own despondency show but I wasn't one of those Commanders who kept themselves separate from the crew, I was with them, playing cards, shooting the breeze, good naturedly cursing the cooking of our chef, Petty Chief Ensley ‘grease ball' Anders.

            Therefore they knew me too well, I had no hope of hiding the fact that my own spirits were starting to get a little low too. Talk of spending finders fees for the habitable world had gotten old, discussions of the abandoned Cylon outpost were dead, rehashed to death. Even the usual card championships had little effect as we hit thirty-five.

            Two Months and five days after the mission started we arrived at the Thirty-Sixth system on our search list, already well into the cone of worlds Baltars cylon contact could have jumped into.

 

Three

 

            “There it is again!” frustrated, Omega banged at his sensor console.

            I could hardly blame him, constantly plagued by rumours of being caught with the daughters of various admirals, Omega had never been promoted above JIG despite time in service and sheer excellence on the sensors that should have him in a Captains slot at the very least.

            That wasn't why he was frustrated though.

            “Sir, if there is someone there he's trying hard not to be found. I'm getting intermittent contact only, nothing firm”

            I glanced over at the sensor data, grimacing myself, “If it's a genuine contact then he's staying deep within the asteroid belt”

            “Sir” Omega looked straight in my eyes, “Gut says he genuine sir”

            I nodded, the feeling of being watched had fallen over me as soon as we had jumped into this system, so I had a pretty good idea this was a genuine contact too.

            Trouble was, was it a Cylon contact?

            Colonial outlaws?

            Humans from a forgotten colony?

            Aliens?

            Or just an annoyingly radioactive rock, just enough to trip sensors, not active enough for us to ID it?

            I reached over, toggling the Intercom, “CAG, report to Command”

            Our CAG was Lieutenant Tobias ‘Mile High' Frost, a Pilot second only to the legendary Kara ‘Starbuck' Thrace for flying ability but with the annoying habit of getting caught giving rides to his various female friends.

            The last time he had been caught when the transmitter was accidentally clicked on, broadcasting their ‘activities' to an entire task force out of Picon, he had been stuck with ‘Mile High' since, and since he was too valuable to just court martial then dishonourably discharge, I had been stuck with him to give things time to blow over. I wasn't complaining, a Pilot of his calibre on a ship this minor on this mission?

            His skills were an edge, one I had been having him try and pass onto my other pilots, some of whom could best be described as indifferent Viper Pilots.

            But for now, I at last had a job for the ten Viper's mailman could have ‘ready' at any time.

            “Recon the asteroid belt, find out what the sensors are picking up?” Mile High commented, looking for confirmation.

            “Okay, no big”

            Five minutes later the first five Vipers spat out of the launch bays positioned underneath and halfway down the hull, followed swiftly by the next five.

            But the result of the first launch had been instantaneous.

            “Contact!”

            I admit I jumped a little at Omega's shout, the bridge isn't that large after all and it was a pretty loud shout. But I hurried quickly across as Omega continued;

            “He's moving pretty fast… attempting to acquire silhouette... he's jumped!”

            “Did you get an ID?” I asked, concerned.

            “Not a positive ID sir…” Omega tapped frantically at his console, bringing up a replay of the last minute, “Computers gives no ID…”

            Along with Omega, I watched closely as the sensor data flashed past, its timestamp showing clearly that it was replay. The results told me fighter, probably non-colonial.

            Omega didn't see that, he stiffened, “profile is... suggestive of our quarry sir. Possible Cylon Raider, tentatively identify as Scimitar Class, same as Baltar's contact uses”

            An electric shock seemed to arc across the bridge at those words, despite the tentative nature of the ID. However I was a little more pessimistic, the situation just felt like we had had the luck to drop in on a patrol, one that wasn't willing to be identified quite yet, we had seen no other indications of Cylon activity in this system after all.

            “We'll run another full sweep” I ordered, my mind made up, “have the fighters probe the asteroid belt”

            I didn't expect them to find anything, the Cylon's may be in the area, but they weren't here.

 

Four

 

            Things woke up after that.

            System after system we would drop into and there would be almost instantaneous jumps out, always too fast for us to get an ID and on one or two occasions in quite large numbers.

            We found no obvious signs of bases or facilities of any kind but if they were buried and went dead as soon as we arrived, well without taking the time for a real thorough sweep of the system we had little chance of finding them, and we didn't have time for that.

            A real sense of urgency was beginning to build; we knew these were Cylons, even if we couldn't prove it. Too many glimpses of the same familiar silhouette, known to be the class used by Baltars contacts. Too much of a bad, almost precogniscient sense of approaching danger.

            In the Forty-fourth system things came to a head.

            “Contact!” came Omega's familiar shout as we arrived in the system, we listened, just wryly waiting for the shout to tell us that they had jumped and once again we didn't have a positive ID.

            It didn't come.

            “Inbound Raiders!” Omega continued, “Classify as Scimitar class, inbounds on attack course”

            Snapping my mouth closed, I barked at my XO, Captain Atlas, to bring us to General Quarters as I strode once more over to Omega.

            “How many contacts?”

            “Thirty sir, I'm also reading what warbook says is a war era Basestar orbiting the fifth planet… masses of cylon activity all over the place, I think we've hit a hot one sir!”

            I nodded slowly, calculating odds.

            “Rig for jump!” I barked.

            We fled, leaving the system before the Scimitars closed to weapons range, one of our objectives completed. We had confirmed that the Scimitars were cylon.

            Now for the tricky part.

            We jumped back in, arriving very close to one the largest of the systems three gas giants and went silent.

            No emissions, minimal power relying on passive sensors only we were vulnerable to a surprise attack, or even just somebody stumbling onto us. Despite the vastness of the system, that was a real risk here, far too many ships were flitting about.

            We identified Raiders by the squadron, several old style baseships as well plus a few craft we tentatively identified as support craft, tenders, ore carriers, forge ships and the like.

            But it was the Raiders that had us shocked and worried. We had suspected for some time, we had seen to many glimpses not to but these Raiders didn't act like the old types we had heard about from the war, these acted like they had a human pilot aboard.

            They acted like they had actual intelligence directing them.

            This was, to put it mildly, worrying. Especially when you consider the numbers they had in this none system alone and this was undoubtedly not the only system they had control of.

            Then IT arrived, and our jaws hit the floor.

            IT was most likely a new design of baseship, and it was big, bigger than a Battlestar but spindly. The sensor silhouette showed six arms radiating from a single central point.

            A full half of the Raiders in system vanished, flocking aboard the massive ship they must have been waiting for.

            Our eyes just bugged out at the sheer volume of fighters that were crawling aboard the massive ship. Even if it just carried fighters, the sheer volume would make it a formidable opponent in combat.

            But very few ships had ever been built as pure carriers and the Cylons had not shown the inclination to build one during the last war. We had to assume that this beast was armed as well, and probably quite heavily.

            The same thought began to fill our minds, the extreme secretiveness that had caused them to jump out of every system we found them in, except here, where they just tried to destroy us. A massive basestar, loading up advanced fighters, presumably a newly constructed ship picking up its flock.

            The Cylons were building up for a war.

            This we had to confirm, then run like hell for Colonial space, to warn of the storm that we had little doubt was heading the colonies way.

 

Five

 

            Our ballistic trajectory through the system took two days to take us to a safe point to jump, two days in which we sat, recorded everything and collectively shivered at the thought of the building storm that was about to head for our homes.

            It didn't help that we had been forced to ignore radiological alarms as well; everybody and everybody's mother was packing nukes which was a shift from the last war. They had obviously overcome the programmed reluctance to use nukes, which was just one more worry amongst the thousands that were now filling our minds.

            Hearts heavy, we jumped to the next system on our list, searching for more signs of Cylon activity; of anything that could help us in the war we now felt was inevitable.

            A war the Colonies were not prepared for.

            At the next system however, our luck ran out.

            We jumped in right next to one of the new style basestars, and came under heavy fire.

            Well, when I say heavy fire I mean a torrent of fighters and nukes pouring out of the ship and flashing towards us in a suicidal yet overwhelming manoeuvre that would become far too familiar in months to come.

            Naturally, we returned fire, considering at this point that incoming fire obviously meant a defacto state of war. We didn't launch fighters however, we were rigging for jump and I wanted to leave straight away, the second we could jump. I really didn't want to have combat landings, a known issue with the Liberty class, to worry about.

            Going single-handed in a relic of the last Cylon war against a Capital ship wasn't my idea of fun either, I wanted out of there!

            The first of the nukes was just fifteen meters from our hull when we jumped, they could have detonated it their and then and most likely crippled us but they didn't, they weren't interested in crippling it seemed, they just wanted to kill us.

            I can see their point; we were after all a hostile ship that had discovered their intentions. All we needed to do was make it back to Colonial Space and their plans were ruined or at the very least set back quite a bit.

            No, they needed to destroy us before we got word out.

            Our jump placed us back in the system where we had first seen a Cylon Raider, hiding amongst an asteroid belt. It was a dead system then, it wasn't now.

            This system had been chosen as a predetermined escape point to jump to because it was far enough from Cylon space that it wasn't likely to be first on their search list and it was just within the capabilities of our jump engines.

            We failed to take one point into account however, the Cylon fleet that was amassing in the system.

            The ship shock, an almighty bang ringing through the hull as we left jump, the Dradis console flashing an OBE at us before going blank. Frantic signals arrived from all over the ship, crewmembers reporting seeing Cylon ships through the few heavily armoured windows and openings of the ship.

            Our scanners flocked with contacts, a full fleet worth of capital ships but with Dradis Overcome By Events, we had no way to grab an IFF off every ship.

            Not that we needed too, not with visual reports of Raiders and the number of contacts that had suddenly veered in our direction. The hull began to ring with impacts of Railgun rounds, like the tap of rain on a planetside window as Atlas and I frantically plotted another jump out of here, anywhere out of here just hoping the engines could take a third jump in a row despite their age.

            We had a back-up Dradis we could bring online in the hole we like to call a back up Command Centre but we didn't bother. The main unit could handle far more contacts and if that was overloaded, the secondary wouldn't have a chance. Besides which, even my Quarters were larger than that thing, you couldn't get the normal bridge complement inside without literally squeezing.

            “Radiological!” Omega's shout filled the bridge, and with a wry glance at each other, Atlas and I redoubled our efforts on the jump calculations, trusting in Omega to keep the ship safe and warn us of any more complications.

            The shuddering of the ship wasn't helping, but we made it, imputing the jump calculations into the jump computers before any nukes hit.

            Then the ship lurched, power flickering as the strange distortion of jump hit us.

 

Six

 

            Power failed as soon as we left jump, the ship rolling uncontrolled through space as radiation alarms, powered by their own back-up batteries, suddenly wailed throughout the ship.

            The sound powered phones squawked with messages of damage, leaks and high radiation levels, with several compartments failing to respond at all to calls. It didn't take a genius to figure out that we had been hit just as we jumped, and that we had still somehow managed to jump successfully.

            Unfortunately, it was a cert that we weren't where we wanted to be, and that our jump engines had been damaged in the process.

            Apart from ensuring everyone had shots the medics assured us would temporarily increase our radiation tolerance, we ignored the radiation alarms, we had no choice. We had to get to home, to warn of the Cylon build-up as soon as possible and we knew that if that meant our lives to warn the Colonial Government, that it was a worthwhile exchange. We couldn't risk leaving the ship to wait for the radiation to die down as would be normal procedure too, the Cylons were coming and all they needed to do was stumble across us unpowered and vulnerable like this and it would be game over for us and very likely for the Colonies as well.

            So, pushing all thoughts of future children from our minds we worked.

            First, DC teams were suited up and sent into the non-responsive compartments where they quickly found a massive rent in the hull, its edges melted and slumped under the extreme heat of the nuclear detonation. They didn't need to say that they found no survivors; we knew that as soon as they reported the compartments breeched.

            It also made the situation very bad for us, a major rent like that would have to be repaired before we could jump and every circuit, every pipeline in those compartments would have to be completely replaced, as the radiation would effect their function badly, hell most likely we would have to tear out the entire compartments, throw everything out into space.

            We couldn't use compartments which now had been exposed to a nuclear detonation; they were compromised and would most likely be radioactive for years. Radiation in the rest of the ship would fade, in those breeched compartments it wouldn't, not in any reasonable length of time.

            It also explained the power outage, several major powerlines were routed through those compartments and the lose of those line sin such an abrupt fashion would easily have triggered a reactor shut down, at the very least it would have tripped breakers through out the ship.

            The situation looked bad.

            Our first task was to rig bypasses for all the essential powerlines and fuel lines that passed through those compartments, which included the backup Command Centre, the enlisted living quarters, a spares store and an empty storage bay, one which had been loaded with foodstuffs. Lucky for us, we had already eaten that room bare.

            That took us five hours to complete, five hours in which we were extremely vulnerable and knew it. Then, using manoeuvring thrusters only, we had to find a place to hide, the main drive still being offline and in need of repairs.

            We had only one choice, and that was moving close to a nearby ring system around a massive gas giant and hoping if anyone came, we were close enough to be masked whilst being far enough away the crews sent to work on the hull were not at risk from being hit by debris from the belt.

            It was a tricky balance, one which we hoped we did not have to test; after all we could easily trigger a radiological alarm at the moment.

            Then came the big job, repairs. The worst job was stripping the breeched compartments; the crews were limited to a mere twenty minutes in those compartments due to the high radiation levels, and they had to strip the entire room, shove the hot debris into nets positioned outside the hull and do it all without compromising safety in twenty minute stretches, and in zero gravity.

            It was a task that proceeded slowly, very very slowly, eroding our hopes to report to Colonial space before the Cylons got there. But we refused to give up; we had to try, to do everything in our power to get warning out. After all, every one of us had family or friends of some sort still in Colonial Space.

            And there were still the rest of the repairs to consider.

            There was one bright spark to brighten up our day however; a crew inspecting the outside of the hull came across a shattered, torn Scimitar wedged into the forward hull, obviously totally dead. It appeared we had found the cause of the big shudder we had felt just before the Dradis went offline.

            We removed it, but after a quick check to make absolutely sure it was dead, netted it to a protected, out of the way section of the hull.

            We rather suspected Intel would go bananas when we dropped that in their laps.

            The repairs took five days and by the end we were downhearted, fearful. We knew in our hearts that it was to late, even if we refused to acknowledge it out loud.

            But we had our duty, and we would not fail. We might just get lucky after all.

 

Seven

 

            Five frantic jumps is what it took us to get back to Colonial space, our engines being strained all the way as we forced the drives to perform in a manner they haven't managed since the last war.

            Like the rest of the ship, they held up beautifully. But then, the Liberty class had always been known for the sheer robustness of the design, the ability to take anything and keep on fighting, keep on delivering.

            We dropped into Colonial space already at Full General Quarters, our weapons armed and loaded, our Vipers in their tubes, ready to launch.

            Our radiological alarms were triggered instantly, not by a Raider near by with nukes or a Cylon baseship or even a Colonial Warship, but by Gemon herself.

            The planet could be seen clearly from the few viewports and outside cameras we had on the ship.

            Gemon was dead.

            Habitable worlds always look like jewels from space, deep green of land mixed in with the greys of mountains, white of ice caps and glaciers and the sandy yellow of deserts, all wrapped in the deep blue of oceans and seas.

            Gemon was such a jewel once, but she certainly wasn't now.

            The oceans were a putrid mixture of greys and browns, the land an almost universal expanse of deep brown which we could see glowing malevolently on the nightside, where the light of the sun couldn't hide the radiation.

            The Cylons hadn't even posted a picket here, they had no need. They had literally nuked the entire world into uninhabitable oblivion.

            Already the surface was getting blurry as the radioactive dustclouds created by the thousands of devices that must have been detonated here were starting to be spread out by the high altitude winds, spreading the blanket of radioactive dust to cover the whole world.

            Soon, nothing would be visible; Gemon would never be habitable again.

            The sound of shots in the distance woke us from our shocked stupor, and it wasn't long before we discovered we had our second casualties of the war. Five crewmembers from Gemon had shot themselves, committing suicide at the sight.

            I had to damn them for their selfishness, we needed every human now. If the Cylons had breeched Colonial territory to the extent where they could cause this to happen, an entire world deadened then every trained warrior was needed if we to have our vengeance.

            If we were to survive.

            Mailman didn't have crew to spare at the best of times, and these weren't the best of times, not by any stretch of the imagination. Everyone who died placed more strain on those that survived, who had to take up their duties as well.

            Viper Pilots were the only people we had in excess, and they had to maintain flight status, they wouldn't be able to help crew this bird that much.

            It didn't take long for us to determine that the grand Colonial Military had been defeated, our worlds seized and nuked, though none to the extent that Gemon had been.

            It was as if they had some desire, some reason to ensure that no-one from Gemon who wasn't already offworld escaped, as if something on Gemon was a threat to be eliminated.

            They had certainly managed that.

            The only smiles we had that day was when we found Admiral Nagala's taskforce. Nagala had known that Baltar was treacherous and it seemed had managed to inform several of her Battlestars in time.

            The entire taskforce was dead, but around the five ships at the centre of the fleet was an expanding corona of wrecked Raiders and Basestars.

            They at least had died fighting, like Warriors should.

            By now, we were tired, despondent.

            We had been searching through the dead remnants of our once great civilisation for hours and had found little of value whilst dodging cylon patrols and sweeps, the only bright light in our day was the news Galactica had escaped with a refugee fleet, the information torn from the receiver of a military shuttle found floating in space, the crew killed when their computers dumped their atmosphere.

            We kept the shuttle, docking it one of our airlocks as we continued the search for information, for survivors. The ship could take the strain of a docked ship through jump, she was robust enough for the task and the extra utility of a shuttle was too valuable an opportunity to waste.

            We also scavenged for whatever other supplies we could grab from the hulks, food, water, parts, slowly filling up the holds that had become depleted by our time on mission and the rebuild we had had to perform after we were struck by that Cylon Nuke.

            On our fifth day in occupied territories, we struck gold.

            Manoeuvring into a debris belt to elude a raider patrol, we stumbled on an trio of powered down Viper VI's. Six's never achieved much use with the fleet because their manoeuvrability was abysmal, only slightly better than a Combat Shuttle, but what they did have was missile armament as standard.

            These three even had live pilots.

            Upon seeing us slipping into their hiding place, their first response was to pulse their thrusters, giving them slight thrust away from us, thrust small enough not to be noticed even by a determined short range scan.

            But the half squadron the Mailman could maintain active at any time was already in space when we had to dodge into the debris belt to fox the Cylon sensors and they quickly stumbled upon the Mark VI's.

            With ten Mark II's surrounding them, the pilots of the VI's were very happy to come on board, they were pretty ecstatic at finding more survivors, though technically we found them, and after a cursory check to see if we were genuine told us all.

            There was a second refugee fleet, one that had no true warship to protect them.

            Ten merchant ships, two of which were on Military Contracts, four of which were bingo cargo, two full tylium tankers, one bulk grain carrier and a transport loaded to the gills with MREs formally destined for distribution across the fleet.

            Even better for us, the two Military contracts were a freighter loaded to the gills with the very last operational Mark VI's, shifting the somewhat temperamental birds for decommissioning and the second had their pilots, headed for retraining to use the far more manoeuvrable VII's.

            I almost snorted aloud at that, VI pilots were the only fighter pilots in the fleet that needed retraining to use a different mark; they got far to used to their missile boats and lost the ability to handle more manoeuvrable craft.

            But as far as I was concerned, it was jackpot.

            More fighters, more pilots, fuel, food, all we really lacked was people but that would change, somehow I intended to find Galactica and link up with the main refugee fleet.

            But those bingo [empty] freighters we would have to do something about as soon as we got a look at them, got a feel for what they could carry.

            I grinned slightly, four empty freighters and tones of dead Vipers floating around, just waiting for somebody to collect them, plus raptors, shuttles of all descriptions, Battlestars just waiting to be stripped of ammunition, to give something that can be put back into the fight…

            We would never be able to damage the Cylons severely, we had no ship capable of that, especially with the big frakkers the Cylons were now using but if we could find Galactica then I am sure they would appreciate a relief convoy.

            I turned to my officers and the VI pilots who were staring curious and a little disgusted at my grin and shared the plan.

            Five minutes later we all had tight, grim grins.

            We could get back into the fight, make a difference to the survival of the human race if, and it was one hell of a big if, we could meet up with Galactica.

            The Cylons cleared the area two hours later and after another five hours to ensure it wasn't an ambush, we slowly left hiding, the ten Mark II's and three VI's flitting around the ship like overanxious guardians once more.

            At space normal it took us four hours to catch up to the fleet were it hid, powered down and dark on a ballistic trajectory out of the system. From their things moved fast, we were a Military ship and we had a somewhat viable plan out of the situation, the Civilians listened, added their comments to the plan and got to work.

            Armed with a short list of locations plus Pilots from the transport which was on the military contract, the President Monroe as Marines and if necessary, Pilots for the any craft they managed to salvage, the bingo freighters Gemon Run, Libran Voyager, Highland Dreams, and President Adar set ballistic trajectories and left nervously for their collections whilst we hovered protectively over the rest of fleet.

            It wasn't long before Omega came to me with the suggestion;

            “The Transporter of the Books is already acting as a carrier but she isn't exactly equipped for it, no launch tubes or repair bays, how difficult would it be to refit her to add those without a drydock?”

            The answer, as Omega knew, was extremely difficult and time consuming and she would still never be a warship, just a ship capable of launching fighters which would make her a priority target for the Cylons.

            But in all honesty, we had little choice. Mailman may carry far more then ten fighters, a half squadron, but she could only have ten available at any one time. Five in the Launch bays, just waiting for the Pilots to jump in and go and five in the repair bay. The landing bay could hold some in theory but the entrance to the bay was literally right beneath the main engines, a major hazard in itself and there was no way for the fighter to wave off and come around again, if they came in they were committed. Shortening the landing bay even further to store or even launch more fighters out the bay instead of the tubes would add another hazard to an already hazardous and far too short landing area.

            A definite no there.

            In order to better protect what we had, we needed a second carrier. The Transporter Of The Books, the name being a reference to a rather obscure passage in the books of Kobol, would have to do. She would lose carrying capacity, maybe even a little speed due to the extra weight and the drain of powering the extra systems but we already had far more Vipers then we could launch in any reasonable length of time and if… when the freighters got back, they would be carrying even more and hopefully some Raptors and Shuttles too, both craft Mailman couldn't support, though we were trying like hell with the one shuttle we had grabbed.

            It would take a hell of a lot of resources, I just hoped the specialized spare launch bay parts we had plus whatever the freighters grabbed was enough, let alone repair bay and landing bay parts.

            Libran Voyager never made the rendezvous.

            According to Captain Khan of the President Adar, the two ships had been scavenging from the shattered remnants of Nagala's taskforce when Libran Voyager was destroyed, caught in the explosion as a munitions dump exploded on the Battlestar they were investigating. They didn't know why it had blown, though considering the ship was still bleeding air from that sector; they assumed that it was most likely due to a fire aboard reaching the munitions.

            It was a blow, Libran Voyager was the largest of the freighters after Transporter Of The Books and had forty crew and ten Viper Pilots on board. Fifty people lost forever, each one representing one more chance lost for the Colonies to rebuild.

            But we had to leave, no time to mourn. The longer we waited the further away Galactica would get and searching for her beyond the Red Line would not be an easy task, that and the fact that Cylon patrols were increasing all the time, as they finished their tasks on the surface of the occupied worlds and were joined by what appeared to be a second wave deployment out of Cylon space.

            This was becoming an unhealthier place to be all the time and so, a full two weeks after we had first entered occupied territories, we jumped out and began our search for Galactica and the refugee fleet she protected.

            I admit that whilst I appeared confident to everyone else, inside I had little confidence at all. We had no idea how many times Galactica had been forced to jump, how far she had gone from Cylon space, even if she had survived the Cylons and their attacks.

            We had an idea she had survived Ragnar Anchorage, judging by the number of times Basestars had jumped into Occupied Territories within our sight showing obvious signs of Combat with somebody, we knew that there was Military units out their somewhere that were still in the fight but those had dropped of dramatically a while ago.

            Either they weren't in the fight anymore or they had succeeded in losing the Cylons.

            We hoped for the latter and carefully ignored any suggestions of the first. For morale's sake, I actively discouraged mention of the first possibility in fact.

            There was a suggestion that if they were fighting Galactica there would be a debris trail we could follow, which might give us an indicator of which direction Galactica was moving in.

            I ignored it that was a hopeless cause. The chances of finding enough battle debris in the volume of space we would have to search to give us a pointer was hopeless, we would be lucky to find one of their battlefields let alone the several it would need to get an idea of their direction, and even then all it would need is for Galactica to change direction and we are worse of then when we started, heading in entirely the wrong direction.

            No, we needed luck but I had a feeling that just by surviving we had used all the luck available to us for the next century at least.

            We were heading out of known space, in a relic of the first Cylon war (admittedly one that had proved itself to still be capable, if a little undergunned), with a flock of merchants under our wing all desperately searching for a fleet that didn't want to be found and had the sheer vastness of space to hide in.

            We were so frakked as to be unbelievable, I just hoped the people under my command never realised that, but in all honesty, if they didn't realise it already, they would soon enough.

 

Eight

 

            We started at Ragnar; salvaged Communications logs had confirmed this was where Galactica had begun her voyage with the refugees out of Colonial Space.

            We had little hope of finding a clue as to where she had gone, after all she had been engaged by Cylons, she wouldn't want to leave anything behind that could help us trace her but if we didn't at least look I knew we would be asking ourselves forever, what if?

            What if Galactica had left some clue behind at Ragnar?

            Would we have found the fleet faster?

            I'm sure you get the idea, so we searched and found nothing except the shattered remnants of Viper and Scimitar alike. We didn't probe the nebula itself, we didn't have the time, this area was too heavily patrolled to risk getting caught in a bottleneck like that. Indeed, a patrol appeared just as we were about to jump which included a basestar, far too big a ship for us to mess with.

Luckily for us, our countdown to jump had started and they arrived badly positioned to attack us so we were able to jump without interference.

            We arrived at our first search point, well beyond the Redline and began our sweep, the few Vipers we were able to launch with the meagre facilities aboard Mailman joined by an even smaller group from the Transporter of the Books, the bulk of their pilots having donned overalls and began work on her refit, a priority task.

            We quickly found evidence that there had been a fight in this system, shattered remnants of Vipers and Scimitars drifted close to the fifth planet, an undersized rock ball smaller than some moons I had seen.

            But there was no sign of Galactica and no sign of where she had gone and so we left quickly, no doubt the Cylons would be patrolling the areas Galactica had moved through, searching for stragglers, groups like us desperate to catch up with the mighty Galactica and the bulk of the survivors of our once proud and mighty race.

            The second system contained two Basestars, one being tended to by a massive support ship, almost bigger than the basestar itself. We jumped quickly, praisng the Lords that our fighters had found the Cylons and escaped without being noticed before the Cylons had any inkling we were there.

            For the moment, the luck of the Lords appeared to be with us but I knew better than to count on that.

            The third system was dead, no sign of Cylons or Colonials and no useful resources, we left quickly.

            The fourth system also showed signs of battle, though, we were heartened to note, there were far more Cylon Casualties floating about then human, most of the wrecks showed signs that they had run into a stream of suppression fire from Galactica's guns. Of course, we didn't know that for definite but that's the way it looked.

            The Fifth system we were jumped, a Basestar flashing into existence so close we could read the markings on her side from the Mailman.

            At this range, neither of us could fire nor launch fighters, they would just splatter straight against the other hull and most likely, damage the ship that launched them heavily in the resulting explosions. It was almost amusing to see how frantically the Cylon craft manoeuvred for distance.

            Amusing maybe, but we weren't laughing; we were spinning up FTL drives and preparing weapons systems for close combat.

            Unlike Galactica we had an ace in the hole in the form of twin missile batteries, always the primary weapons system for this type of craft, after all you cannot blow your way past a blockade with rail guns and one oversized heavy cannon.

            We kept these batteries loaded with a mixed bag, some decoys, some communications missiles but mostly the offensive Fire and Forget Saber missile.

            That was the modern recommended layout for a Liberty class Blockade Runner, but Nagala had expected us to come across heavy opposition and from their came our ace in the hole.

            Anvil class Fire and Forget missiles, with thermonuclear warheads.

            I had made the decision as soon as we had began searching for Galactica  to keep one Anvil ready in each launcher at any one time and now it would pay off.

            We fired one, targeted at the central point where all the massive spires of the Cylon capital ship connected and frantically began to increase the distance between us.

            The missile struck, dug into the hull and waited, its tiny electronic brain waiting for one signal.

            We fired first, raking the Cylon hull with fire from our rail gun batteries.

            The Cylon didn't return fire, it took it and we listened almost gleefully as those Civilian ships with outside windows reported damage, the rain of fire from the ten portside rail gun batteries tearing first into a hanger bay, battering the armoured hanger door away before pouring momentarily into the bay itself, the rain of deadly fire now crawling across the hull as fire burst from the hanger bay, followed swiftly by an explosion we felt aboard Mailman, an explosion we were told had blown the spire from the hanger bay down clear off the Cylon basestar.

            We didn't rejoice, we knew the range, knew we would soon come under fire from the basestars main guns, from Scimitars now launching from the other launch bays.

            The Civilian ships jumped and released from their constraining, slowing grasp I took Mailman to flank speed, racing to get enough distance from the Cylon that we could send the signal, detonate the Anvil buried in the Cylon hull and escape to jump.

            And we need to do it fast; we didn't want the Cylons disabling our little present after all.

            By now we had switched our railguns from the Cylon baseship to the Raiders, hoping to keep them at arms length just long enough.

            By we had switched our radiological sensors off, fed up with the sound. We already knew every Cylon out there was carrying nukes, it just made our task more difficult, and the distracting warbling we could do without.

            Today, we were lucky, making safe range just as the Cylons began their launches. We sent the signal, staying just seconds to see if the missile detonated and jumped, glad we didn't have a CAP to recover and slow our escape.

            The sensor record of the basestar shattering into pieces would keep us entertained for months.

            Joining with the civilians in the next system we began pouring over the records of the battle, passing them to everyone who knew how to read the logs. We knew something significant had occurred; it was just a case of pouring over the records to find out what.

            The Cylon hadn't expected to find us there or they would never have jumped that close, that much was obvious, but it wasn't the killer.

            It was Omega who spotted it and once again I thanked the lords that we had such a capable and observant Officer aboard and on Dradis.

            “They never fired any railguns!”

            I raised my eyebrow at this, a little startled at Omega's shouted outburst.

            “The visual reports are quite clear; the baseship never fired any railguns even when we were raining fire on their hull. If they had, at that range we would have been damaged severely but they launched raiders, missiles and fired their main guns at various points during the battle”

            Omega paused, looking me straight in the eye, “but they never fired any railguns or any other type of anti-fighter or suppression weapon from the basestar itself”

            “They must rely on their fighters for antifighter defence” I mused, my hand rubbing my chin as I considered the implications.

            If this was true and the basestars had no anti-fighter weapons of their own, then we had found a vulnerability, one we could use in time, once we finished the launch bays for the Transporter of the Books.

            Morale was sky-high, we had successfully destroyed a ship far more powerful, capable and valuable then we were but I refused to be drawn into the celebrations.

            The Raiders had shown they had jump capability, they would no doubt return swiftly to Cylon space and inform them of our destruction of the baseship and they would check their records and discover that they had been chasing us before they launched their assault and that we had been in Cylon space.

            They would consider us a threat, something to be destroyed not just because we were survivors of the Colonies, humans that needed to join the fallen but because they didn't know how long we had been probing Cylon space, they didn't know what we knew and our single-handed destruction of the basestar would just increase the paranoia.

            They would no doubt correctly assume we were trying to link up with Galactica and that they had to prevent. They couldn't allow potential knowledge of all their weaknesses to fall into the hands of the sole surviving Colonial Capital ship, it would give Adama too much of an advantage.

            No, they would be actively looking for us now. It would help Galactica's chances, the division of resources, but it wouldn't be fun for us, at all.

            We needed to hurry the refit, get the Transporter of the Books online as a carrier as soon as possible. It may make the Cylons consider her more of a priority target, but we needed those extra squadrons online and available for combat and CAPs.

            The next fortnight was relatively quiet; we jumped from system to system, sometimes finding nothing, sometimes finding evidence of Galactica's passage, sometimes running into a Cylon patrol but not once did we see any Cylon Capital Ships again, until jump 267.

            It was ironic really, there was us frantically searching for Galactica and we would find her the one time we weren't searching for her, the one time we were searching for desperately needed water and tylium to top up our greatly depleted reserves.

            It wasn't irony that placed the Cylons there first however, that I blame on Murphy.

 

Nine

            We were high above the rings of a massively oversized gas giant, collecting water and tylium from the planets moons, which was a little more challenging then doing it from a planets surface but far more fuel efficient when we started to notice that something was off.

            Actually, in all fairness Omega noted it first and had me woken up by the simple method of taking the ship to General Quarters.

            I can tell you this for free, nothing wakes a Captain up faster than the General Quarter alarm, I was dressed and halfway to the bridge before my mind joined my body in the waking world…

            The first thing that greeted me as I strode onto the bridge was Omega's rather wide eyed expression.

 

            “Sir! I've got a possible location on the refugee fleet!”

            That stopped me short, had me blinking and asking the inevitable questions of where and how, after all unless they were in sensor range a definite location was pretty much impossible.

            “Other side of the gas giant…” Omega flicked a button on his console, and the bridge filled with the strains of a Command/Control Circuit in heavy use “…and under heavy attack”

            My eyes just bulged out; we had been searching almost a month… or was that over a month? To be entirely honest, I wasn't sure anymore. But still we had been searching a long time without any indication of where they had gone and they show up and the only way we notice them is because they come under heavy attack?

            IF they had stayed the other side of the gas giant, the bulk of the planet would have prevented us from ever noticing her, we could have moved on, our goal so close and never noticed!

            Lucky for us, Omega had had a little more time to absorb the situation and was very on the ball.

            “We're picking everything up through a patch from a Red Squadron Raptor that diverted from their patrol route when they noticed some anomalous transmissions registering, they say it appears genuine”

            I nodded my mind frantically making and discarding plans.

            “I have also recalled the work teams acquiring water and tylium from the moons, ordered all squadrons to flight readiness and the fleet to General Quarters”

            “Good work…” I frowned, we really had only one option if we wanted to get into the fight, “Omega, plot us a course out of the giants shadow and into position to jump behind the Galactica, assuming it's her. Recall the Vipers, and have them refuelled while we manoeuvre to jump, and have that Raptor jump to join us as soon as we've jumped”

            I paused, keeping the thought I really didn't want to add buried in the back of my mind, ‘and hope they don't jump out whilst we're manoeuvring, they should have jumped already'

           

            Looking back on it now, I know how truly lucky we were that day despite losses, the odds that we would ever meet up with Galactica were astronomical but to meet up just in time like we did…

            Their were so many things that could have gone wrong, it could have been an ambush, plan and simple, Galactica could have fired on us, not believing our tale, only trusting of their own, she could have jumped whilst we were manoeuvring into position, leaving us under the ready guns of the cylons.

            A thousand and one things could have gone wrong, most of which could have been discounted if we knew more of what we were getting into but we didn't and we couldn't wait.

            There was a chance that our goal was not only in our reach but needed our help, we couldn't wait, we needed to move in then or everything else could have been for nothing. I really don't think my fleet could have survived that shock.

           

            It took us fifteen minutes to manoeuvre into a position to safely jump into Galactica's position as reported by the solitary, vulnerable Raptor and I saw Omega's calculations, I know how close he was shaving it to make it that quick. We could jump through the bulk of a planet but Omega was certainly taking us close, almost worryingly so.

            But we had little choice.

            We jumped.

 

            For the record, I am Colonel Tigh, XO of the Battlestar Galactica.

            Roslin has insisted that the joining of the two fleets be documented into a nice little story for future generations to read, so I have been press ganged into telling Galactica's half of the link up.

            For us, it couldn't have come at a better time.

            Galactica herself was crippled; our jump engines had been taken down for maintenance when the attack, the first in a week, occurred.

            The maintenance had been put off far too long already in the name of keeping the fleet moving but Galactica was the biggest ship, had the biggest jump drives and therefore serious maintenance, which they needed, would take far longer then they would for the civilian vessels.

            The fleet wouldn't jump without us, it would leave them without any protection and if they were found before we could finish our frantic patch work fix to get the drives back on, then they would be dead, simple as that.

            They knew that it would mean a full half hour under Cylon attack and quite frankly, surviving that was a wing and a prayer prospect. Our record, at that time, stood at twenty minutes.

            We were counting on one thing, the Cylons had never once been reinforced during a battle, not heavily, a small handful of Raiders yes, but not significant numbers of them or by any capital ships. It was as if they sent everything they could as soon as they found us, not wanting to risk us jumping away before they attacked and leaving the rest of the ships on patrol just in case there was a second group out there or we escaped again.

            Against one Basestar, we had a chance, albeit a slim one.

            The game changed entirely twenty-one minutes into the engagement, by this time, the Caprican Voyager had already been destroyed, falling victim to several cylon nukes and her sister ship, Caprican Traveller had been strafed several times by raiders that had slipped past the cordon and was badly damaged.

            The Old Lady had been damaged too; several rail guns had been caught in a nuclear blast and as far as we knew, were totally slagged. We had been forced to flip over, make an almost 140 turn on the y Axis to present our undamaged starboard hull and weapons to the cylons, whilst still allowing the topside heavy cannon to fire.

            At 21 minutes exactly, Mailman and company arrived.

 

            “New Contacts!”

            Dualla's frantic shout had us, that is, me and Adama, at the Dradis console like a shot, this sounded to us then like our worst nightmare come true, Cylon reinforcements, but that, as you know, wasn't to be.

            The first clue we had that something was off was Dualla's jaw dropping, followed by a look of pure shock directed at us.

            “Commander…. I'm reading…” she swallowed nervously, and I had to resist the urge to throttle her, new contacts were too important to tip toe about, she needed to get it out! “Colonial IFF signals from the New Contacts”

            “Frak me” was my response to that as I shared a quick shocked and incredulous look with Adama.

            Adama, as always, got his head into gear first, “Confirm that”

            The stress of keeping the refugees safe and alive had long ago added about twenty years to his face, but as he spoke those years seemed to lift from his face, a faint glimmer of what looked like hope flickered in one corner of his eyes.

            I hoped it was true, Adama was a good man, and anything that brought hope to his eyes was a good thing for him and for all of us.

            Commander!” There was a genuine smile on Dualla's face now, “I'm reading multiple Viper launches from two of the contacts… IFF says CBR Mailman and CMM Transporter of the Books

            A Blockade Runner and a Merchant Marine launching Vipers, it sounded so surreal and yet…

            Then the chatter on the Vipers frequency, always left open on the bridge whilst in combat, changed.

 

            “All Galactica Vipers, be advised Mark II's, VI's and VII's are joining you”

            I remember glancing around the Mailman's Bridge as I placed the headset back in its holder, impressing an image of the crew going about their duties, preparing to strike back with smiles on their faces, success and hope filling their eyes.

            To the Captain of what had been a largely depressed and all too often suicidal crew, it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.

            But still, there was work to be done.

            “Launch status?”

            “Colonel, Mailman squadron has launched and has joined Galactica's Vipers, Red Squadron has formed up and is heading towards the basestar, and I'm getting radiological alarms off of their Mark VI's”

            My eyebrows certainly shot up at that, I knew VI's as Missile Boats, more or less, could be equipped with nukes, I just couldn't remember it ever being mentioned that they had any.

            Captain Flynn later apologised for that, he could have sworn he had mentioned it but I knew he hadn't, I have a very good memory for details like that.

            “And Blue Squadron is waiting for their Cargo bay to complete decompression before they launch”

            That was slow, but inevitable, the launch bays weren't completed then and most of the Transporters Vipers had been forced to launch slowly through the Cargo Bay doors as usual, instead of the faster and more efficient launch bay route.

            At this point we cleared the Civilian ships and took up position above the mighty Galactica herself, we had delivered the big parcels to the Old Lady and now we had a few more messages to deliver, these ones labelled “for the attention of the Cylons”

            We opened fire, our Lone Heavy Cannon, the ten Rail Guns we could bring to bear joining the massed fire from Galactica. The missiles we kept, there were too many friendly's, too much chance of locking onto a Colonial.

            We were in the fight but we had yet to make contact and that would no doubt be the fun part. That challenge was still to come.

 

Ten

 

            The Mark VI Viper was a ship-killer.

            Nothing more, nothing less.

            It certainly wasn't at home in the furball that had swiftly shifted from Colonial Defeat to a sheer war of attrition, just waiting for the first reinforcements to arrive to tip the balance.

            They knew their place, and they were charging towards it, like an old Train Engine with a full head of steam, roaring and spitting as it charged along its tracks.

            The Cylon designers had decided a long time ago that they would use fighters as their primary anti-fighter defences and neglected to place any rail-gun batteries on their capital ships. They knew it was a weakness but they never anticipated the Colonials getting the opportunity to show them exactly how much of a mistake that was.

            Intent of making sure the basestar didn't escape; the Mark VI's continued their headlong charge, way beyond the usual release point. The main guns of the basestar shifted fire, easing the pressure on the last known Colonial Battlestar as the fighters finally released their payload, a barrage of missiles pouring towards salvoing off the Fighters missile racks.

            Each Fighter had been loaded with one Ship-killer and three Anti-fighter missiles, now covered by their comrades, half the squadron fired their ship-killers.

            10 Anvil Ship-killer missiles sped towards the lone basestar, five were Bright Anvil's, thermonuclear tips, the other five, more conventional shaped-charged warheads.

            They were joined by twenty Raven anti-fighter missiles, twenty more targets for the Cylons to attempt to pick the nukes out from.

            The Cylon Basestar had sent its entire complement of fighters charging into the furball and had no defences of its own against the oncoming missiles. The result was inevitable.

            As another Basestar kill was carefully chalked up on the kill board of the Relief Fleet, the Mark VI's moved to defend the refugees, half their missiles waiting for the next basestar to arrive.

            Frak, but I had never seen such a beautiful sight in my life.

            The bridge on Galactica just went dead quiet, everyone staring unbelieving at their screens as the basestar vanished from the scopes. We fired at her for a full minute more before we actually managed to get our heads around the fact that for the first time, we had seen a basestar killed.

            Not just damaged, not just crippled but utterly wiped out.

            Then we cheered, and boy did we cheer, Adama wasn't thinking of the effect on morale when he got on shipwide and announced it to the crew, he was just so happy he had to share it.

            I think I was the first one to regain my head, tapping Adama on his shoulder and shouting over the cheering that echoed through the ship, reminded him that we had Pilots out their dying against those raiders needing support.

            Not that I needed to worry really, the Mark VI's which had polished off the basestar had been sniping with their Raven missiles, helping whittle the Cylons down turning the odds in our favour and the Cylons had just noticed another Colonial Fighter squadron heading their way.

            They had decided discretion was the better part of valour and were showing us a clean pair of heels. God, those Scimitars had the advantage having built in jump capability and all, but by the Lords, did we make them pay for every fighter that managed to escape. A full half of those in the furball never managed to disengage, to get enough distance to jump out and those that did were mostly slaughtered by the waiting Mark VI's and their Raven missiles.

            Course, it didn't take a genius to figure out that the Cylons would be pissed and that leaving the area might be in our best interests but before that we had to meet and we had to exchange jump co-ordinates.

            And, as it turned out, we had to exchange intelligence.

            That was a dark spot on what was otherwise a bright day.

 

            As soon as the last Cylon vanished off our scopes, I ordered jump engines readied and the fighters recalled. We couldn't stay here, the cylons would most certainly be coming back and they would be annoyed.

            This battle had been won by simple virtue of the fact that the Cylons hadn't planned on us, on the relief fleet showing up to aid Galactica. Surprise and a sudden shift in numbers in Galactica's favour and for only the second time, we paid witness to a significant Cylon defeat.

            Now they knew we were here and would be prepared, we had to leave and fast. But contact had to be made or we would end up jumping in different directions, losing the contact we had tried so hard to make and most likely losing it forever.

            “Captain… Raptor Red-Two has successfully rejoined and is en-route to Transporter of the Books to land on”

            “Negative!” the word was out of my mouth before my mind had even caught up with what I now planned, “They have our current encryptions, been briefed on our mission, have independent jump capabilities just in case and…” I grinned here, “They found Galactica for us, they can have the honour of making contact”

            “Yes Sir!” Omega commented, grinning as he set up a secured channel to the Raptor.

 

            Raptor Red-Two to Galactica, request permission to land on”

            Galactica to Raptor Red-Two, Wait one”

            “Commander?”

            Dualla's call roused us from the plotting table were the two of us, Me and the Commander that is, had been discussing options for making contact with a group of ships that showed all the signs of using their own encryption set, had specialist landing requirements and would no doubt ignore anything sent in the clear.

            A difficult proposition, especially considering that our best pilot was in sickbay, very disgruntled that she had been tossed out of her Mark II again. Course, she would have been more disgruntled if she hadn't punched out, ‘cos she would have been dead and therefore unable to tell anyone and everyone what she thought about inconsiderate Cylons, but that's a different matter.

            I may not like her but I don't doubt she could land on anything should she feel the inclination, even a frakking Liberty class Blockade Runner. We had already pulled up the basic blueprints we had stored on that class and by frak, did they look a true bastard to land on.

            We had no idea of the improvised arrangements used by the Transporter of the Books and weren't even considering trying a land-on there, but as it turned out the Mailman was well ahead of us.

            “We have a Raptor, designated Red-Two requesting permission to land on”

            “What ship is she from?”

            “IFF says Transporter of the Books sir” Dualla replied.

            “Any Radiological?” Okay, so I didn't expect to be told yes but it had to be asked, it could still be an elaborate plot to get a nuke into our landing bays or Cylons aboard the Galactica.

            “No sir, no signs of nukes”

            “Permission Granted” Adama replied, before glancing across to Gaeta, a slight smile on his face, “Gaeta, I want Marines hidden in all the access corridors around the Starboard landing bay by the time that craft lands, you have the bridge”

            “Ah, yes sir”

            Gaeta, good boy that he is, had Marines rushing into position as we arrived at the bay, well ahead of the Raptors landing. Over the bays speakers, we could hear the piped sounds of the LSO's instructions.

            Raptor Red-Two, manual approach, call the ball”

            “Call the ball? Haven't heard that in months… I have the ball… I think”

            Encouraging sound that was, but considering the improvised arrangements a Cargo ship like the Transporter would have to use in order to function as a carrier, it wasn't entirely surprising, still had me and Adama exchanging worried glances though.

            Still, they landed well enough that I didn't even the slightest tremble through the deck plates; a feat most pilots didn't manage. Kara used to be able to but nowadays she didn't bother, she usually had more important things to worry about. But again, it fitted with improvised landing arrangements and being used to landing on a deck that wasn't specifically reinforced with combat landings in mind.

            Two Minutes later, we were watching as the unknown Raptor was dragged into the pressurised maintenance bays. We quickly spotted the tidily painted plaque on the side, Atlantia with a thick black border. A salvaged Raptor, maybe one whose crew had been lucky too perhaps?

            Our question was quickly answered as the Raptors hatch opened and the two warriors, each wearing Atlantia patches stepped out, pistols in their hands ready but pointed at the ground.

            “Lieutenant ‘Pheonix' Nagala, by RIO here is Lieutenant Python”

            “Commander Adama, Colonel Tigh. Welcome aboard the Galactica”

            Well, it didn't take us long from there to exchange Encryption keys so we could communicate properly across the two fleets, then we jumped the hell out of there before the Cylons returned. Questions could wait until we had reached the relative safety off a new location, unknown to the Cylons.

 

Eleven

 

            Two days it took for us to get up to date, exchanging our news, our plans and our story with that of the Galactica. Two days in which celebration engulfed both fleets, or as much of a celebration as you can have when foodstuffs and drinks are limited and rationed…

            But still, for most people it was a celebration. Humanities chances of survival had increased greatly when the two fleets had combined, the destruction of the basestar, the reinforcing of Galactica's squadron using pilots and Vipers we had spare… hell, Galactica suddenly found her Launch Bays loaded to capacity with Vipers salvaged during the Relief Fleets escape from the Colonies and with Galactica's help, work on refitting the Transporter of the Books into a carrier on the fly hurried along. Of course, as soon as the Transporter was fully operational, pilots would be an issue again but you couldn't have everything. The maintenance crews had real reason to celebrate too, the foundry ship that was part of the First Fleet had finally got their act together and were pushing out spare parts as fast as they could get the ore to work with.

            Of course, it wasn't a happy time for everyone. Baltar in particular was not having a fun time of it, having been classed as insane by the medicos of the First Fleet he now had to deal with the fact that we knew what he was, what he had done and that we had told Roslin and Adama. Even worse for him, someone had let slip, probably a loose lipped member of my crew and word had spread. Gaius Baltar was a Cylon agent, a traitor.

As a result, he had to be hastily moved aboard the Mailman before he was murdered by vengeful survivors. We at least had had time to get used to the idea and could live with him so long as he didn't bother us and he proved useful, course I couldn't and wouldn't guarantee he would have a fun time of it but he would live. That unfortunately was the crux of the matter, we needed Baltar alive.

He was too valuable a resource to just let go, especially after he broke down and told us exactly why he appeared to be insane, something that was impossible to confirm then but would latter be confirmed by a new medical scanner, the MRI. He had a Cylon on a chip inside his mind, effecting his perception of reality. That gave him a lot of information that could be valuable to us, even more so when he insisted that this ‘Number Six' had shown him how to build a Cylon detector that worked and proved it using the known Cylon, Sharon ‘Boomer' Valerri. With half of Mailman's spare Vipers shifted over to Galactica, it was easy enough to arrange a lab in one of the holds for the traitor and put him to work, he complied gratefully, not surprising considering the alternative was mob justice.

Of course, it was us, the Second Fleet who were given the biggest shock when we were introduced to three crewmembers from a 13th Colony Shuttlecraft Galactica had picked up a while back. Even more of a shock was finding out that there was now severe doubt as to whether the 13th Colony was actually a Colony and not the origin of humanity as the 13th Colony had been able to chart humanities evolution, a task the Colonies hadn't been able to manage mainly because we had no evidence of earlier evolutionary forms or even related species to look at, a consequence of being a Colony no doubt.

Of course, the dampener on that piece of good news was being informed that whilst their Computron… sorry, Computer technology was significantly advanced, their space technology was a joke. Course, they had a massive population base they could use to rapidly build up if necessary if they could all agree on it… And by massive, I mean if what I was told was correct, they had on just one world, a population equivalent to the Twelve Colonies.

Now that's a big honking population, something bound to cause problems when you pack that many people onto one world. Hell, I wouldn't have been surprised if the entire world turned out to be one city, supported by hydroponics. The Wing Commander, a Nichol Foster just laughed at that idea before hurrying back off to his research.

Still, the fleet was moving again and with definite and revitalised purpose. The conversions had been finished and we now had the general location of Earth, an area of just ten star systems to search through in fact. Then we would have the ‘pleasure' of dumping our War onto somebody else's lap. I really doubted they would ever forgive us for that, ignorance is bliss after all.

Still, the Cylons would find them in time; it was best we got there first and tried to prepare them as best we could.

Two weeks after the two Fleets combined; we jumped straight into an unknown system and found the wreckage of a Cylon Basestar, and not much of it either. It had been trashed, debris was hurtling off across space and shattered Scimitars surrounded it in an ungodly halo. But whoever had attacked them had made time to cleanse the battlefield, and there was nothing at all, no wreckage and no dud ammo floating about that could tell us exactly who or what had torn into the Cylon baseship, at least not that we could see. Knowing that the Cylons would most likely be looking for their missing basestar soon enough, we left quickly and with haste.

The next system we jumped into was clear and having found several Tylium rich asteroids, we took the opportunity to top up, filling each ships tanks and tankers before moving on.

The shattered remnants of a Scimitar patrol greeted us as we dropped out of our next jump and we started to get uneasy and as it proved, with god cause. Jump after jump we found either Cylon remains or vengeful cylon patrols. Somebody was in this area and they were hitting the Cylons hard. The Cylons appeared to blame us, but whilst we were doing a fair bit of damage and getting better at it all the time, it wasn't actually us and considering how far we still were from Earth, even if they had managed a quantum leap in space technology since the Earthmen left, and developed a fleet, it wasn't likely to be them, fighting effectively this far from your homeplate was nigh on impossible without a massive and horrendously long supply chain.

Things changed when we found a heavily damaged Viper, its pilot injured and partially asphyxiated in an asteroid belt whilst we were hiding from the three basestars that had just jumped into the system. Three against us wasn't odds we were willing to take. Strange though, this was the second time Mailman had found Vipers whilst dodging into an asteroid belt, if it happened a third time, I was going to start asking questions.

There was one oddity about the Viper we found though and it was a biggie.

It was a Mark VIII.

Two days before I had received the orders which sent me to Mailman I had observed the prototype Mark VIII flying in an Air Show over Gemon City, it was the Mark VIII's first public appearance.

There were no operational squadrons flying the VIII, and this Viper bore Markings that indicated she was from a full Squadron of VIII's. It appeared we had a mystery on our hands, and one the pilot couldn't help us with, having succumbed to an infection in her weakened state and dying without ever having woken up again.

 

Twelve

 

            Unfortunately, the mystery of the mark VIII Viper didn't clear up in a hurry. The Pilots last act had been to activate an acid bomb placed over the fighters computers, which made recovering any data a laughable concept. It wasn't long before the decision was made to refit the craft with new fighters and attempt to impress it into service, its secrets its own for now.

            It took us a while before we noticed that the Cylon's were refusing to engage us, in fact we witnessed several occasions were baseships fled as soon as they saw us. This was weird, to put it mildly. There was some suggestion that it was because the reinforced fleet was too strong for them to just attack with just one baseship, that they wanted more capital ships in place before they made their move to destroy us and aboard Mailman at least this became the debated, but generally accepted theory. Galactica had a different theory, of course.

            Still, as we moved deeper and deeper into uncharted space, the less we actually saw of the Cylons, indeed, when we actually saw Cylons they were the older models, the Harbingers of Doom and the old style basestars. It was becoming clear to us that whilst the Cylons had prepared their net, to catch any fleeing Colonial ships that they had felt the chances of anyone escaping this far to be minimal, almost non-existent.

            There was no doubt in our minds that whilst the Cylons might chase us, they would have to move ships into the area, prepare supply lines and expend a lot of resources building up for a search in territory that even they appeared not to have explored.

            For the moment we were safe, and maybe it would be time enough, for whilst the Cylons had to search for us, we had a course, a route to follow. We knew exactly what our destination was, we had our plan and if the Cylons took long enough to find us, we might even have our vengeance.

            But still, across the void we travelled, trying our hardest not to leave any signs of our passage as we stocked up on fuels, water and food where we could, even raiding asteroids for essential metals and materials needed to maintain and repair our ships, even to build new fighters and shuttles.

            On the tenth month after the combination of the Refugee and Relief fleets, the Transporter of the Books was officially commissioned as a Colonial Warship, classed as a Fleet Carrier and joined Galactica and Mailman as the convoys escort. It was a great morale boast, to have another full warship guarding the fleet and despite early expectations to the contrary, the Transporter was a full warship. The completion of her refit being delayed when the forge ships, assisted by a cowed and docile Baltar, figured out first how they could build most of the parts required by the railguns, then figured out how to build the Railguns themselves.

            Of course, the production lines were never up to the quality of those on the Colonies before they were destroyed but they worked and whilst the reject rate for the parts produced was always high, it wasn't long before the early bugs were figured out and the pass rate upped to 75%.

            Naturally, the priority for the Railguns went to replacements first, both Mailman and Galactica had lost guns off our respective batteries either due to battle, accident or lack of time to do proper maintenance during the first hectic days of our escape and their were a number of Vipers aboard Galactica which only required replacement guns to be considered operational.

            Next came Colonial One and the Transporter of the Books, both were priority targets for the Cylons, Colonial One because destroying her would effectively decapitate the Refugee Fleets government and the Transporter because her ability to launch and recover fighters made her an attractive target, especially when you consider that without those fighters, she was totally defenceless.

            After that, it was sheer politics and a dose of who could shout the loudest that determined which ship would be next to receive some defences in the form of their own Railgun batteries. After making sure the orphan ship received the next set, me and Adama just stepped aside and left the civilians to it. Those Captains with sense had already figured out that those ships with Railguns would be used as a second defensive line and had quietly withdrawn their urgent requests to be armed, deciding that being at the centre of the fleet during the attack was far safer then being on the outside, acting as another line of defence.

            The second act that made the Transporter into a full warship was the discovery that, between Galactica and us we had sufficient spare parts; Galactica's mostly acquired at Ragnar but also shipped aboard Colonial One, to build several new Heavy Cannon, the main ship to ship batteries in the Colonial arsenal. The Transporter, despite her heavy refit, was still just a Merchant hull and one that was having far more stresses placed on her then she was designed for at that, but it was the considered opinion of the Fleets best engineers and ship designers after a careful survey of the entire hull, that one Heavy Cannon, correctly placed would cause no extra stress on the hull.

Interestingly enough, and undoubtly an unusual challenge for her Captain to deal with, this meant the Transporter was the first commissioned Colonial Warship to go into battle with her main guns on what was traditionally and practically speaking, the underside of the hull. The other spares were kept just that, spare. We knew a time would come when we would need them and we hadn't yet figured out how to make them with the limited space and equipment available.

Course, it all helped when the Mystery of the Mark VIII was answered, but we were almost at Earth herself before that little surprise caught up with us.

 

Thirteen

 

            Today, we were ambushed.

            Well, technically we were ambushed.

            The Mailman had become the official scout for the refugee fleet being heavily armoured, fast to jump and capable of defending herself to a point and we were two systems ahead of the Galactica, checking the system for hostiles and resources when practically every alarm on the tactical console began blaring. Proximity, fighters, capital ships, radiological, crash start… the works was blaring in a loud screech of trouble from the tactical console, indicating to us, in no uncertain terms we were in trouble.

            Our first, instantaneous response was to freeze. It was a bad thing to do yes, but not once had we heard all the tactical alarms light off at once. Maybe two seconds we stood their shocked, and then the training took over.

            Helm began spinning up the FTL drives, tactical triggered the main cannon, the missile batteries and the railguns to go weapons free, and I shouted out loud that fighters were to be stowed, we didn't know whose capital ship it was out there, but frankly I didn't want to hang around long enough to find out, considering it was most likely cylon and certainly acting in a hostile manner. Besides which, Mailman may have painted up a few Basestar kills, but it wasn't something we wanted to make a habit off, a basestar outclassed us greatly, truthfully, any bar the oldest capital ships outclassed us.

            Then, it got weird.

            “Captain, I'm picking up chatter on Colonial frequencies, especially fighter to fighter frequencies”

            “The fleet?”

            “Negative, fleet inter-fighter communications are in the clear, these are encrypted”

            This was interesting, whilst mark VII's Vipers came with the ability to encrypt and decrypt voice communications in realtime, it wasn't generally used, and if it had been mark VII's encryption scheme, then we could have read it easily, they might as well have been transmitting in the clear.

            “Do you recognise the encryption tactical?”

            “Negative, it's certainly not the mark VII encryption set”

            Interesting, her thoughts were going the same place mine was. She would make a good CO one day, if only we survived long enough for it to become an issue.

            “Try and get an ID”

            “Yes sir”

            “Jump in five… four…”

            “Captain! Reading Colonial IFF signals!”

            “Three…”

            “Confirm that!”

            “Two…”

            “Confirmed, BSG-3015 Excelsior”

            “One…”

            “Abort Jump! Abort…”

            We jumped.

 

            “Excelsior isn't in our records” Adama pointed out, quiet calmly, more then prepared to play devils advocate for this discussion.

            “She wouldn't be; she was still in drydock when we left base for our failed probe into cylon territory, chances are she wasn't even commissioned by the time the war kicked off”

            “Then how the hell did she survive?”

            “Well, we know that at least one Admiral, Nagala, most likely more were beginning hasty preparations for the return of hostilities but obviously they didn't figure things out fast enough. All it would take is for the Commander of the Excelsior to have been briefed; maybe a few of her senior officers and you have a ship that despite having the yard boys putting finishing touches in place is somewhat ready for a cylon invasion. Being prewarned is half the battle after all”

            “Actually, it fits”

            I glanced at Roslin, a little startled at her support and more then a little worried at her condition.

            “I remember Adar commenting on how quickly the Admiralty had pushed through the Excelsior design, sacrificing a few pawns in the process. He even commented on the strangeness of the design, like the entire class was designed as a long term deep space probe but in light of Nagala and Intel's foreknowledge, could we be talking a ship class designed just to strike back should the worst happen?”

            It was Adama who asked the question, “Did he mention what kind of oddities there were in the design?”

            “More fabrication facilities then usual, including a few items that weren't normally deployed aboard a ship, he wasn't too specific”

            Adama nodded, “If that is another Colonial Battlestar, then we still have one important question to answer, why did she fire upon the Mailman, especially when her Captain would most likely have been briefed on her mission?”

            “We don't actually know” I admitted, “lots of theories, but nothing solid”

            “Then we need to try and fine something solid and fast”

 

            Elsewhere…

 

            “Frak it, frak it all to frakking hell!”

            Ashamed, and disappointed, tears coming to the eyes of many, his crew ducked their heads, eyes firmly planted onto their consoles.

            “We never even considered it, never!”

            He grunted as a familiar hand grabbed his shoulder, his wife speaking reassuringly to him but loud enough for all to hear, “the chances of survival for the Mailman were always low, we both knew that risk when we put the idea to Nagala and suggested a crew. If they survived, then they have exceeded our greatest expectations and…”

            “…and we need to find them, not only is their intelligence, the knowledge from their probe into cylon space valuable, buts its more survivors and another ship” the man sighed, finishing off his wife's sentence with the ease of long familiarity, but then he stiffened, “why here?”

            “What?” for once, his wife was startled and the man pushed aside a flash of pride and success at having finally thought of something first. But then, whist she was the quicker thinker, he was the one who never forgot anything, and he knew what the stars were like in this area.

            “the stars are spread thin, passing through here reduces their chances of finding resources and means that if the cylons know their general location, it means a lot less space to search so why here?”

            “The Colonel is a good CO, he wouldn't come this way without a solid reason” his wife backed him up, but she couldn't spot the why.

            “How far are we from…” she hesitated to say its name, but everyone in the room knew what she meant.

            He stiffened, his mind pulling up the star chart, floating the image in front of his eyes, “off the direct route but not by much”

            “They're heading for it” he glanced, nodding at his wife.

            It was their tactical officer who voiced the questions floating in their mind, “how do they know where Earth is?”

 

Fourteen

 

            “Three more jumps, and we're at earth” I commented, into the deep leaden silence that had fallen over the room.

            “Our people need food, water, supplies, we should go straight on” Tigh responded.

            “No, our three visitors from earth were quite specific; we will not receive supplies from Earth straight away. It entirely possible we won't ever receive any help, we need to resupply before we reach Earth”

            “Agreed, we also need to find out who is running around in the Excelsior, if those are cylons they need to be destroyed, if Colonials we need to try and persuade them to join forces” Adama's words caused nods to form across the room, but it was my Exec who commented next, a rare event at these meetings.

            “Either way, we need to know exactly what they are doing this close to where we believe earth to be, and why so close to the direct line between the old Colonies and Earth”

            “He's right” Tigh commented, “It's too perfect to be a coincidence”

            “Could they have attacked us because they don't know about the destruction of the Colonies and are merely following orders to keep Earth's existence and location a secret?”

            “Unlikely, you were right on that, her commander has most likely been briefed” Adama responded.

            “Commander?”

            Roslin's tone made us look up a little wary, we were all used to that tone by now, it was her ‘I have made an executive decision tone and you will listen tone' It usually meant trouble.

            “Between them, the Mailman and the Transporter can protect the fleet can they not?”

            I exchanged a look with Adama, and carefully replied, “Yes”

            “Then Galactica should look for the Excelsior whilst the Mailman and the Transporter cover the fleet. If they are Colonial, they are less likely to fire upon another Battlestar and if they aren't, Galactica will not be encumbered by a civilian fleet to protect, yet the fleet will still be covered”

            Our eyebrows shot up a little surprised; this was sound military thinking from Roslin?

            “Works for me” Tigh commented at last.

            “We'll need to arrange new rendezvous points and identification signals, just in case the fleet is forced to move”

            “Okay, so let's pull out the star charts…”

 

            Elsewhere…

 

            The Commander drummed his fingers agitatedly on his chair and wished, not for the first time, that his old mentor Cain had survived Armageddon and that he and his Pegasus was at his side.

            But of Pegasus, and therefore of Cain, there was no sign, though there was hope, forlorn though it might be. Pegasus was not on the confirmed killed list, just on the highly probable destroyed list.

            Damn it, he could really use another Battlestar right about now, especially one with an old war daggit like Cain in command, but as they say, if wishes were battlestars, then everyone would be Commanders. Even those, he thought darkly, thinking of a certain supposed genius, who certainly had no right to be.

            Still, something needed to be done.

            “Sheba?” he called across to this wife, “have the Raptors prepped, I want a picket in the Sol and Alpha Centauri systems to make contact should Mailman be heading for Earth, we will maintain position here”

            Sheba nodded, “should I have the third Raptor patrol several of the nearby systems?”

            “Yes, but keep the fourth home, we may have need of her”

 

            I would be lying if I said I didn't feel a twinge of apprehension as Galactica vanished off the tactical display, Mailman had never been left alone in charge of such a large fleet before. Okay, so yes we had Transporter with us too, but I was always conscious of the fact that the Transporter of the Books was, at its core, a converted merchantman, not a dedicated warship. That much of her crew was civilian, and that truth be told, she was of little use against a hostile capital ship of any type, she was an anti-fighter platform. And okay, so the bulk of the Civilian ships, with one or two exceptions, mounted at least two railguns each side so they were no longer totally defenceless, but still, the primary responsibility for the defence of the fleet was in Mailman's hands.

            Still, we had not seen Cylons for long enough for people to start feeling safe again but that meant little. They would follow as soon as they felt secure in doing so, and we were in uncharted space, who knew what else or who else could be hiding in these depths?

            But if worst came to worst, I knew everyone would do their duty, I prayed that was enough.

 

Fifteen

 

            Galactica is now officially overdue.

            I don't know what has happened to her, but in truth all I can do is hope and pray that she has, for whatever reason, merely been delayed, and whilst I am hoping and praying, I do the job of all Commanders in wartime regardless of who or what or even when they are, and begin planning for the worst.

            Truth be told, I cannot plan much. It isn't Mailman or the Transporter the civilians look too for guidance, for protection, its Galactica, the two warships that are primarily my command, not Adama's are not looked upon with as much favour, as much respect as the grand old lady of the fleet.

            It is entirely possible that if I order us to leave without Galactica, there may be a revolt. It would help ease a lot of our problems if they would just look upon their own civilian leadership with such favour, but a certain contempt for governments seems to be built into the human psyche, combined with the common knowledge that Roslin was way down in the line of succession means her government, despite the fact that she was re-elected, isn't the most trusted one. Respected maybe, especially since word leaked that Roslin was continuing in office despite terminal illness. It didn't help Roslin's position that Tom Zarek had an ‘accident', of the kind that truly screamed ‘accident, special forces style'

            Of course, neither Adama nor Roslin know that a few members of my crew used to be, how shall I put this, officially non-existent? Of course, its probably for the best that they don't figure that out, I would hate to have to deny all knowledge, I much prefer to look after my own, even if they don't exactly know they are being looked after.

            Hey, for your information, nobody ever said I didn't know how to be a totally ruthless bastard when I saw the need, it just needed to be done…

            And maybe if I tell myself that enough, I will be able to go to sleep at night without his face tormenting me in my dreams. Still, it did have to be done…

            Two days overdue, frak it Adama, what the frak are you up to?

 

            Three days overdue, and now the civilians have noticed and are getting antsy. Unlike Galactica, I don't have enough Marines to spare I can just assign them to help keep things quiet, and it is showing.

            There haven't been any riots yet, but its come close, fights have certainly started to appear over the slightest things. Everyone is nervous.

            Dammit already Adama, where are you?

 

            Midnight… in just a few hours Galactica will officially be four days overdue. Of course, even if she does return, she will have to start looking for us. I took the decision to move the fleet to one of the twenty rendezvous points we arranged with Galactica before she left to search for the Excelsior.

            Strangely enough, there was no argument, even from Roslin and the fleet calmed down pretty fast. Strange, I may just have underestimated how used the people have come to moving regularly, and how much they are beginning to associate not staying in one place with safety.

            Still, it's a lesson learnt and one I will remember, after all, if Galactica has not appeared by day ten, then by our agreement, I must assume she is no more, that most likely every secret of the fleet contained within has been compromised and head for Earth immediately, try to prepare them for the Cylons.

            Just in case though, I won't allow the civilians to leave their ships en-masse. If Galactica has been compromised, not just destroyed, then in all likelihood, I will not have time to prepare earth and we will be forced to flee once more.

            I truly, desperately hope that Galactica is still out there, and as a bonus, has persuaded Excelsior to join up with us, but as a backup plan, that Galactica had not in any way been compromised.

            Lords, let them be safe, and guide them home to us, please?

 

            Five days overdue.

            Five whole days….

            It is time to seriously start considering the possibility that Galactica may not return home to us, that soon enough I may be Commander of what little remains of the Colonial Military.

            I didn't want this; I didn't join up for this.

            Still, this is the hand the Lords appear to be dealing me; this might just be what I have to live with.

            Five days, frak it, where are you Adama?

 

Sixteen

 

            Five days previous…

 

            “The Raptors are back” Sheba commented softly, her hand lying with reassuring calm on my shoulder.

            Mailman could pass through easily whilst they are here; refuelling and their pilots are resting”

            “I know, but they must rest, they have proper food…”

            My eyebrow twitched, and I shot Sheba a sardonic smirk.

            She laughed, “Okay, maybe not proper food but at least it isn't what passes for rations on those crates”

            “I know, I know but I still worry, okay?”

            She smiled at me affectionately, and my heart warmed a little as she replied, “I know you worry, I couldn't love you if you didn't”

            “Geez, get a room you too…”

            I groaned, and then turned in synch with my Sheba to glare at our cheeky, young CMO, “Maddoc!”

             “Yeah, I know I'm a mad doc, so what's new?”

            I finished mouthing his usual response along with him, and sighed, “Certainly not your lines doc”

            “Well, you know me, I like…”

            “Jump Spike! Incoming vessel, grade twelve”

            Grimly, I shouted for battlestations, mentally thanking once more the newest piece of kit in the Colonial armoury and one which only Excelsior had been equipped with when the end came.

            A sensor that could read the characteristic surge of a ship about to arrive through jump that was small enough to be deployed aboard ship, the earlier models were the size of Blockade runners, like the Mailman…

            Still, all it gave us was five seconds warning and a guesstimate of size based on the power of the surge. Grade twelve meant it was large, larger than most civilian ships, and under the current circumstances, most likely cylon.

            Frak it, they hadn't shown any interest in coming this far out of Colonial or Cylon space before, why now?

            “Contact has arrived… Receiving IFF transmissions on Colonial frequencies…”

            “What?! Repeat your last!” I took me a few seconds to figure out that it was me who had blurted that out. Nothing that size had survived that was Colonial, or so I had believed.

            “Confirmed, Colonial IFF, reading now…”

            A strange sound made me look more closely at my tactical officer. Her eyes were wide, her mouth was moving but making no sound and she looked as if she had taken a direct shot to the stomach.

            “Tactical, report!” I barked, trying to remind her of her duty.

            It didn't work, and Maddoc hurried up to check her over. I saw him glance once at the tactical display as Sheba hurried to take over the position, then stiffen himself as if shot, and make a classic double take.

            “Lords of Kobol be praised!”

            His eyes shone brightly as they had not done since the destruction, the look of hope something I had not seen since the end, “Confirm Colonial IFF, BSG Seventy-Five, Galactica”

            Damn.

            Well…

            Damn.

            I shook myself awake, and hurried up to the console, to see for myself.

            Then nodded, and began barking orders.

            “Make all Vipers ready to launch but do not launch yet, XO, prep us a jump out of here and load it into the jump computers. Tactical, get us a target lock on the Galactica and be ready to fire on command, helm…” I took a deep breath, “make best speed for Galactica”

            I had to admit, not only was I surprised, but also more then a little worried. The grand old lady of the fleet may have had an advantage against the cylons as her computers couldn't be infiltrated but she would have been decommissioned when the end came, her main guns removed, most of her Vipers redeployed and one of her launch bays converted to a museum of all the frakking things, so how in the hell had she survived?

            It was entirely possible that she hadn't as such, that the cylons had decided she would be perfect bait to use in any area they suspected surviving Colonial units might be hiding, that was why I had ordered all guns readied and an emergency escape prepared. Yet, the very reason she would make such effective bait was the very reason I had to take the risk, to try and make contact.

            Another surviving Battlestar was a greatly increased chance of survival, a greater chance of one day being able to hit back at the cylons. Yet, there was a part of me that was asking one simple question and was almost giddy at the possibilities it represented.

            Galactica just happens to appear in the same system were we attacked Mailman within a day of that blue on blue incident?

            That was just too cute to be a coincidence, okay, it is possible it is just random but the probability is vanishingly low. No, Galactica and Mailman were together, yet if you think you are heading into a potentially hostile situation you don't leave a known warship like Mailman behind unless either something is wrong with the Mailman, possible, we had fired on her after all, or you had something you needed to protect.

            There were no Colonial bases in the area, that we knew for certain, which meant if they had something they needed to protect they had brought it with them. Which meant ships, and as Colonial Military vessels would not need any escort, excluding fleet auxiliaries of course, then that meant civilians, survivors.

            I gestured Sheba, who like everyone else was looking slightly bemused at my giddiness, over and explained my thought processes to her quietly.

            Seconds later, the bemused looks were being directed at the pair of us.

 

Seventeen

 

            Excelsior

 

            Galactica was quicker off the mark, their transmission arriving so quickly after their arrival, already composed that I just had to grin. It was too fast, it could only be a prepared message which meant they had an idea we were here before they arrived. Considering only two ships had been in contact with us and gotten away since we had left Colonial space, and that we had kept our destination secret from Cain knowing he had no been briefed, that meant she was almost certainly in contact with Mailman. My theory looked to be panning out, which was a very good thing.

            But, first we had to prove to each other that we were human and that no sympathisers were amongst each others crews. Or at least, no known sympathisers.

            Commander Adama of the Battlestar Galactica to Colonial Battlestar ‘Excelsior', State your intentions and your loyalties, failure to comply will be considered a hostile act”

            Well, that's what you call making your point clear. Now, could you kindly stop painting our hull with enough sensor energy to make the Passive suite go OBE?

            Not that I said that out loud of course, though I was tempted.

            “Commander Hercules, Colonial Battlestar Excelsior,” I emphasised the ‘Colonial', regardless of everything that had happened we were still a Colonial warship and we had our mission, our loyalty needed to be unquestioned if we and Galactica were going to form up, “Our intention is to carry out our mission, prevent any Cylon vessels or sympathisers from passing this point”

            Passing this point?”

            Understandably, there was more then a little curiosity in that question, but it wasn't one I was prepared to answer, yet.

            “Adama, you know the drill. Right now neither of us has much reason to trust the other yet if we are both loyal, then we have a greater chance of driving back the night, of remaking our great civilisation if we do it together”

            Agreed”

            “You prepare an inspection party, thirty people, three Raptors, no nukes, no weapons, we will do the same. In one hour, they launch and inspect the other ship and crew for obvious signs of Cylon activity. If my party goes out of contact at any point, I will consider it proof the Galactica is no longer under Colonial control. I assume you will do the same”

            “One hour”

            The channel went dead, obviously Adama wasn't in a talking mood but considering we had fired upon a warship I rather suspected was part of his Command, I wasn't surprised. He really didn't have much reason to trust me, I, knowing of Galactica's status as one of the few un-networked vessels in the fleet, probably trusted him a hell of a lot more then he did me.

            “Sheba, form a team, you're in charge over there okay?”

            Damn, I hope this goes well.

            Another Battlestar would help greatly in defending Earth and our secret within her star system. Heh, though if Mailman had been left behind to defend civilians, then I felt pity for them. It wasn't going to be pretty when they found out everything they knew was a lie. Me and mine had at least had time to get used to that. Either that, or just hadn't believed in the first place.

 

            Two days, frak, two whole days at being at the beck and call of a frakking Colonel, just to prove ourselves to Adama. Frak, I was a Commander, I shouldn't have to answer to a Colonel, but hey, it had to be done. I had to pity Adama though, Sheba may be my wife, and effectively my XO since Pierce put a bullet through his head, but she was only a Lieutenant, and Adama must really hate the hoops she would be putting him through right now.

            But, I wasn't too worried. Not once had she and her team been late for a check-in, not once had any of a few carefully selected code-phrases been used. The team hadn't been compromised, and hadn't reported any cylon activity…

            Well, actually they had but coupled with a ‘non-threat' code phrase, a ‘tell you later', and both a hint of excitement and one of fear. They had found something interesting, but not something they wished to say over the radio. It had my curiosity pegged, I had to admit. Still, it was over. Tigh was satisfied; Sheba was satisfied and apart from a Liaison being left behind the teams were returning to their respective Battlestars, ready to jump to co-ordinates of Adama's choosing.

            I pretended not to have a pretty good idea of what we would find at those co-ordinates, let Adama have his moment.

 

            Or maybe not.

            Persistent and stubborn bastard isn't he?

            Before we can go anywhere near his precious fleet, he wants Earth and her unstable political situation confirmed, up close and personal like.

            Which begs the question, how does he know about Earth? As far as I was aware, apart from those on the project, only thirty-five people knew Earth existed… err. That's excluding the natives of course.

            Oh, and yeah, how in the fraks name does he know about the situation on Earth? Frak, he's even making references I'm having to look up!

            And what the hell is so important about these ‘special consultants' he wants me to meet?

            Damn it, he had better have some good answers or this alliance might be off to a non-start. He may have seniority but I still have my mission and my authorisation to destroy any vessel, Cylon or Colonial, that may prove a threat to our little secret and our plan for vengeance.

            It's time some questions got answered.

 

Eighteen

 

            Excelsior

 

            Well.

            Talk about a hit from the left field.

            Humans from Earth aboard Galactica, and from the Tempest too, a craft that according to our sources… well, a patch on several of their backbone satellites to be honest, disappeared a full year ago.

            I didn't mention how many rules and regulations specifically designed to deal with this version of humanity Adama had broken, in the here and now, with the loss of the Colonies, it really didn't matter that much any more. Doubly so when you consider the latest reports from in-system, and by that, I mean Earth and the Colonies.

            Still, Adama needed to asses the situation for himself and he is Senior Commander, so that's what we will do, despite this strong urge I have to run to the civilian fleet, check that they are all right.

Civilian survivors… In all my dreams since confirmation arrived with the Fleet Courier that the Colonies had fallen, I had hoped and dreamed that more Colonials had survived then the meagre few warriors aboard the very few ships that knew to come here, it helped that they dragged a few comrades with them but Adama's fleet would literally double the size of the population. s

That alone was reason enough to pamper to Adama's wishes, even if it did mean leaving the Civilians without the cover of a Battlestar… unless Adama was holding out on him of course. But then, he couldn't say much if Adama was holding out, after all, he hadn't mentioned the full strength of the Colonial Forces in the area himself, just confirmed that Excelsior was the primary defence the Colonials had for the Sol system. Didn't mention that that Excelsior was only the primary outer defence and warning platform.

Sol system was being fortified, even if the Earth humans didn't know it. Though, judging by the sudden burst of activity at the various space centres and greatly increased levels of cooperation between the major governments, he suspected that they suspected.

Suspected that they suspected…. Gahhgh! He hated working with spotty intelligence, but it wasn't as if they had enough people to check everything that was placed on the Earther's internet, even by the Governments themselves, not to mention all the other possible Intel sources.

Anyway, exactly how close a look would Adama want? I mean, it wasn't as if he wanted to land and see the surface the people for himself? Oh, Lords of Kobol preserve him, surely not.

 

“This is a bad idea”

“Shut up and let Kara drive” Adama ordered, then winced as the Raptor rocked under the impact of another wave on the underside of the hull, “are you sure we need to be this low to get under their Radar?”

“Yes, unfortunately I am! I would much rather be high enough that waves aren't bouncing off the bottom of the Raptor, or failing that, come back when the weather has calmed down a little, but yes I am frakking sure!”

Okay, note to self, need to get the slight note of hysteria under control. It's not as if we were trying to land on an island, albeit a large one, in the dark, during a storm that's blinding us with alternate flashes of lightning and rain and whilst staying low enough that waves are hitting the bottom of the Raptor. Oh yes, and the cliffs in this area of town are known to be higher then we're flying. Not to forget the trigger happy nature of the locals. Silly me.

Oh wait, we are. I think I'll have the hysteria back thank you…

 

Nineteen

 

            Day Six just began, and still there is no sign of Galactica. I'm beginning to lose hope, and I'm not the only one. If Galactica isn't back before the day is out, then I will have to proceed direct to Earth, and drop the bombshell on them myself, along with the news that a potentially renegade Colonial Battlestar, the Excelsior, is in the area. I don't want to do that, because I would have to assume that, one way or another, Galactica had met her end, either to Excelsior or to the Cylons.

            Dammit Adama, get your arse back here or I will find a way to make you suffer for it.

 

            It was midday when the alarms sounded, signalling a full alert.

            It seemed threats worked far better then anything else in getting Galactica to return, though I wished he could have done it sooner, a Blockade Runner and a converted merchantman aren't exactly the best cover for the fleet if any hostiles should have arrived. But here he was, and with Excelsior at his side.

 

 

Nineteen

 

            Day Six just began, and still there is no sign of Galactica. I'm beginning to lose hope, and I'm not the only one. If Galactica isn't back before the day is out, then I will have to proceed direct to Earth, and drop the bombshell on them myself, along with the news that a potentially renegade Colonial Battlestar, the Excelsior, is in the area. I don't want to do that, because I would have to assume that, one way or another, Galactica had met her end, either to Excelsior or to the Cylons.

            Dammit Adama, get your arse back here or I will find a way to make you suffer for it.

 

            It was midday when the alarms sounded, signalling a full alert.

            It seemed threats worked far better then anything else in getting Galactica to return, though I wished he could have done it sooner, a Blockade Runner and a converted merchantman aren't exactly the best cover for the fleet if any hostiles should have arrived. But here he was, and with Excelsior at his side.

            Damn, but Galactica alone would have been a beautiful sight, but with Excelsior too? I'm sure the cheers could have been heard all the way across the fleet.

            Naturally, the first thing we had to do was the usual exchange of pleasantries… i.e. hello, are you still you or is a cylon running the show? In polite and covert militarise of course.

            Next up… ask them what the damn hell took them so frakking long, whilst just counting the seconds till the inevitable ‘not over the radio', have a time for a meeting ready before Adama has even finished speaking helps too.

            Heh, he better not figure out how much of a kick I get out of predicting him, he might just decide to be difficult on purpose then

            Now, with those two here to watch over the fleet, its time my people got some stand down time and decent rest.

 

            Okay, well that was a meeting and a half.

            Damn, I don't think he ever got around to telling us exactly how many Colonial ships were in system, but damn did it sound like a few. Unfortunately, it also sounded like there weren't that many dedicated warships.

            Still… the Liberty class Blockade Runners like my own Mailman had proven themselves solid, and as Hercules specifically mentioned that a number of them were in the Sol System or at least the area, then we would most likely be pressed into service as warships. It wasn't a role we were designed for, but we were armed, we would have to do. We would only be supporting the Battlestars anyway, all four of ‘em.

            Damn, did I like saying that, Four Battlestars survived.

             Okay, with the E&E vessels, it was more then that, but they were converts or designed from scratch for Exploration duties. I had no doubt they had some ability to defend themselves but I also had little doubt that it wasn't even close to the combat capabilities of a full Battlestar. Too much space diverted to extra sensors, science labs, the extra personnel, additional support equipment and Hydroponics so they wouldn't have to run home to restock on a regular basis.

            Still, it did leave two big questions hanging over our heads, what happened to Pegasus and Seeker? And do the Cylons know Earth's location?

            Still, those questions would have to wait, in just a few seconds we would be in the Sol system and we would be contacting the Colonial forces stationed here. Then, we would have work to do. Like, contacting Earth and telling them of the threat we had created and that was now gunning for them. Now that would be a real joy, I'm just glad I am a simple Colonel, jobs like that are a Commanders work and they could have it.

            We were probably safe for now, truth be told. Even if the Cylons did know Earths location, even going directly, it is a month long trip, bare minimum between Earth and the Colonies. Attacking over that kind of distance is impractical, they would have to work their way here, building a supply chain all the way.

            There was another aspect to the sheer distance too. In order to reincarnate, they had to somehow download the contents of their mind over a radio transmission of some kind. Now, it was pretty obvious they had used some neat tricks in order to allow that data transferral to work to the point where being light years away from their own territory didn't faze them, but we were far further beyond Colonial space then mere light years. It was entirely possible, though we had no immediate way of testing this, that we were beyond the ‘reincarnation range' of the Cylons, so to speak. That, if it were true, would make the humanoid models reluctant to move into this area of space until the net had been extended. Not to mention, the existence of several nebulas in the direct line between Earth and Cylon space, which we know for definite would interfere with their ability to reincarnate.

            It was something to hope was true, but hope is, in military terms at least, pretty meaningless. You had to plan for the alternate, for the worst case always.

            Unfortunately, considering the nature of Earths… uhm, government, worst case scenarios were probably going to be played out a lot in the coming weeks