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The Darkest Realm, Book Two: Trees in a Forest

By Kevin Hallesy

Word Count: 9,788
Date: 10/29/04
Series: Mini
Rating: K+
Category: AU
Pairing/Focus: O
Warnings:
Summary:
Spoilers/Disclaimers:


"Good evening citizens. I am Serena Quinn and this is News on the Horizon . Iím happy to report that the comm system is now up and running in the 25% of the metro-plexes that we now inhabit here on the surface of Carillon. As the other 75% is still to be restored, the Governor and the council urge all parents to please be sure your children do not go exploring into those areas that have been marked as off limits for their own safety. Tylium production and refinement is right on schedule according to our new Minster of Energy and Resources. But Mr. Debon does say that water filtration is still having problems so please continue to follow conservation protocols for the time being".

Miss Quinn, a woman in her mid twenties, sat at a desk in a newly renovated commercial building on the surface of Carillon under one of the plasti-steel translucent domes. The sound studio had just been completed and she was happy to be back in the news business for real. Until now she had to resort to on the street broadcasts that were limited to the surface alone. Now, with the finished uplink antennas she could send up to the station called Valhalla, the cutter Chymera, and the Battlecruiser Goliath as well. In one of her best suits, salvaged from one of the shops here from before the first war, and her long hair pulled back in a ponytail on the back of her head, she smiled into the video unit that hovered at eye level as she looked out at her audience.

"It was just two days ago this reporter had the opportunity to accompany a unit of Colonial Warriors that made a daring and successful raid on the surface of Sagitara itself. There under the Cylon occupation several shuttles with fighter escort landed and took away several tons of seed, saplings and other fruit bearing seedlings ready for transplanting into our still growing greenhouse facilities".

The transmission switched to a view from what must have been her mobile recorder during the landing. At first all that could be seen was the backs of a pair of marines. Then a hatch slid open on the side of the Colonial APC and the marines jumped out and ran for covering positions around the landing area. From her perspective and the cameras you could see the high warehouse walls embedded in the side of a cliff face some hundred yards away. Shuttles were doing fast landings and more personnel were coming out. Some marines. Others were the ground crew with their chief, Sirus Jack Hand in front of them. He was hard to miss being almost seven feet tall and built like a tank. The blast of the thrusters as they slowed the ships to a jarring landing shook the picture as she was rocked by the air as it swirled around her. Then the picture cleared and several marines ran up an access ramp to the main doors. One set a charge then ran back down the ramp. A small explo! sion was heard as the source of the image moved closer indicating that miss Quinn had ran up to follow the team entering the silo access.

In front of her the Chief moved to the doors that two marines were trying to push apart but couldnít seem to separate. He places his big hands in the small crack between the doors and shoved until they spread almost a meter wide. Then a crewman squeezed in and went into the dark cavern. Seconds later the doors shook and opened rather slowly. As soon as they were opened the rest of jacks crew ran in and began to power up the warehouse. Several vehicles and round tubes from floor to ceiling lining the walls could be seen as the lights slowly came on. Jack began looking in the shipping containers to find the seeds they wanted. Many of the silos were also full but as there were already several tons ready for shipping in smaller land vehicles and air trucks these were inspected first. Loaders and lifters were powered up and the bins aboard the shuttles were filled as quickly as possible. Many times several of them looked up to see if any Cylons were near.

The scene jumped ahead to the departure editing out the nearly 50 minutes worth of work of loading the shuttles. A call could be heard that everyone was to get aboard and lift off now. The cam shook as Serena ran back to the APC it was already backing up the ramp of the huge Peregrine drop ship as its engines whine drowned out everything else. The massive engines getting ready to lift them off the surface. She glanced up as she approached the arrow shaped forward hull with its duel seated cockpit extending out the front. She could see the pilot in his helmet looking down at her waving for her to hurry. Then she was aboard the APC and the hatch slammed behind her. The picture went dark then the her face was on the monitors all across the Colony once again.

" We should all be proud of the Warriors who risked their lives to bring us sustenance and bring us that much closer to being self sufficient", she stated sincerely.

"Already the agro department has reported that some crops and orchards have been planted and should begin to bear fruit in a matter of weeks. The merchants society also wants me to remind you that they are open for business both here on the surface in Dome five, six, eight and nine. And on the Boardwalk aboard Valhalla" "In his state of the Colony address last night Governor Ramius had this to say:"

The image switched to a man standing at a podium in the center of what was once a concert hall, many of the citizens filling it from wall to wall. The picture zoomed in until only Governor Ramius head and shoulders could be seen. He was an older man with white hair and beard. His suit impeccable and new. The look on his face one of total confidence, or arrogance. Some applause died down as he continued his address.

"Iím also pleased to announce the success by our Commander Hawke of the Battlecruiser GOLIATH the procurement of seeds for our growing food stuffs to feed our population for the foreseeable future", he said.

More applause.

"This raid was carried out on the Colony of Sagitara by our brave men and woman of the Colonial Warriors and Marines. To them we owe a great thanks", Ramius concluded..

The image returned to miss Quinn again.

"The pilot of the Peregrine drop ship had this to say".

The image switched again to a Warrior in pilot flight gear.

Miss Quinnís voice could be heard but she couldnít be seen as she was now recording from her wearable head cam.

"Captain Masters, how do you feel after this entry and return to the Colonies and raid of a now occupied world?, she asked.

The pilot was removing his helmet and had just climbed down from the forward hull of his ship and saw the mini cam on her head when she asked her questions. He was in his early 40's, some gray at his sideburns but rather handsome she thought as she interviewed him.

"About how you would expect I would feel Miss Quinn. Happy that our mission was a success, but regret the nature of it as well", Masters replied.

"By ínatureí you mean the destruction of the Twelve Colonies? You have been there several times in the past few weeks have you not?", Serena asked.

"Yes, Miss Quinn. Thatís what I meant, and as to my flight time I m afraid I cannot comment on that", he said curtly.

He then pushed passed her and headed for the bay access hatch. The image returned to her at her desk.

"In other news, Marshal Janek of the Colonial Marshal Service made two arrests for disorderly conduct and several more for petty theft".

The image switched to a tall blonde man in a law enforcement uniform.

"Neither I nor my deputies will tolerate lawlessness here. Theft or assault on your fellow citizens or their property will not be allowed. I remind you that we are all in this together and only by maintaining order will we survive", Janek said sternly.

Miss Quinn continued,

"On a higher note, regular shuttle service to and from Valhalla has now been set up. For flight times please contact spacedrome control on channel 177. For our sports fans the Triad court is complete and teams are encouraged to register for a tournament that will be open to the public and transmitted throughout the Colony".

A satellite image from over the colony filled the monitor. Twelve domes nearly a mile in diameter were arranged in a large clock like pattern. spread out like spokes on a wheel the large space drome at the center. Four main bays each large enough to house a battlestar but only deep enough to berth one in each. Unlike the bays on Tarturas that could hold two end to end. These were built at around the same time so were very similar in design. The massive iris hatches were closed and several smaller ones surrounded the main bays. Five of the small craft range could dock there. Over time several smaller shuttle pads had been built that extended from the individual domes. Dust could be seen as it drifted over the city. Much of the metro-plex couldnít t be seen as it was all below ground. The lights of the agro domes at the 12,3,6,9, positions in the wheel could be seen as the picture zoomed in. what couldnít t be seen and what the Commanders had been pleased to f! ind was one remaining tanker still berthed in a main bay. Its engines were completely off-line and next to useless, but its storage tanks were intact. With a lot of work, it could be made space worthy again.

Serenaís voice continued to state during the panoramic view, "Meteorology reports heavy U.V. so the domes will be dimmed to protect us. Also there are severe storms approaching with wind velocities at nearly 45 kilometers an hour so stay off the surface for at least the next day or two".

Serenaís face returned to the monitor, smiling brightly.

"This has been Serena Quinn, have a good day", she concluded.

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Captain Masters watched as the screen on the wall of the gymnasium went blank. He was still doing sit ups trying to focus on keeping count. His Co-pilot was on a treadmill jogging in place nearby.

"See there, Logan. Youíre famous", she called over to him as he leaned upward yet again.

"Fame I donít need. A fresh supply of Scarabs would be more helpful", he replied.

"Thatís what you get for firing them off like that", Sever retorted between heavy breaths.

"I hit them all, didnít I?", he replied with a mock-indignant tone.

"Yes, Captain you did. And Captain Sassinak thanked you. Despite you making her a target just so you could get behind that one squadron of Raiders", she pointed out..

"Seemed the logical thing to do at the time, Mariko". Masters retorted with a shrug.

He used her first name as they often did when off duty and working out like this. He finished his set of reps and joined her on another treadmill adjusting it to a fast run.

"So whenís our next recon?", she asked,

"In a few hours, String" - (Colonel Lance Greenlee, call sign Stringbean, often called String) - "will brief us shortly, he replied.

"So soon after the raid? that s not going to be easy", Sever objected. She sounded none too happy about returning to the Colonies so close after their attack on the Cylons.

"Iím guessing the Rabbits we sent must have found something", he said as they continued running.

The Rabbits were Viper size jump probes that jump to a certain coordinate, scan the area then jump again. They would do this a number of times scanning several sectors quickly then return to their launch point. That being the guardsman cutter CHYMERA. Its launch tubes that lined its bays were full of these as it was intended to look for and then go to any ships it found that were sending distress signals. Twenty tubes on each hanger pod still operated and had been converted long ago to house these probes. Now work was under way to reconvert half of them back into a Viper configuration. Once done it was another matter to build or find Vipers to fill them. All that could be built were now housed aboard either the GOLIATH or at Valhalla station. Many of these were piloted by the greenest of Midshipman that had been aboard Valhalla. Others by the survivors of the Battlestar Argo. Its Vipers and shuttles with some of its crew had escaped to Valhalla after the att! ack on the Colonies.

Several of the Rabbits had been sent back into and around the Cyrannus system and to other sectors as well. The CHYMERA now waited far out in the Carillon sector for the many probes return. One had jumped back into orbit to download all the probes telemetry to the GOLIATH as it did on a daily basis now. It was this latest data that had prompted the Commanders decision to send the Peregrine back into their Home worlds system. The SWA (Ship Wide Address) speakers beeped and the voice of Lieutenant Bowen could be heard echoing through the ship.

"Attention all hands, senior officers report to ready room alpha, repeat, senior officers report to ready room alpha". The address system clicked off.

Captain Masters stepped off the treadmill picked up a towel throwing it over his shoulders and headed for the hatch.

"Better finish up, we may be going sooner than I thought", he called over his shoulder as he pushed the hatch open.

"Yes Sir", she answered and shut down the equipment and picked up a towel of her own and headed for the showers.

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Masters entered the pilots ready room where String was standing at the podium. The other officers, the CAG, Captain Sassinak, and the Captains in charge of the Wild Cards and Avenging Angels were there. Chief Bishop, the Chief engineer of the GOLIATH and Chief Hand of the deck gang were there as well.

Captain Rodo of the Marine contingent stood at parade rest near the hatch. Ensign Hally sat fidgeting in her seat. The young woman still not used to being in such authority when it came to the intel and Psy-Ops section. Much of what this ship and Colony would do would be based on her interpretations and decryption of the Cylon messages. A big burden she hoped she could succeed at. Masters saluted String then sat down. Then the Colonel addressed the staff.

"Now that were ALL here, lets get down to business", he began, "A few hours ago the scheduled Rabbit sent us an update on the full compliments total telemetry. What they found is amazing. We have confirmation that the Cylons are fighting a three front war".

"Frak!", and other expletives were heard around the room, most couldnít believe it.

"One front is - of course - their hunt and pursuit of the GALACTICA, the second, us and the Valhalla, although it looks like they donít know yet about the GOLIATH itself. The third, a second Battlestar is evidently assaulting them in various locations", he said.

Smiles broke out all over the room.

"We know this for sure?" asked Captain Mantis of the Avenging Angels.

"Yes, we do", The tall Colonel answered, "Ensign".

Colonel Greenlee motioned for Ensign Hally to continue the briefing. She stood, picked up her reports and moved to the podium. String activated the rooms monitors and data displays. She fidgeted a bit still rather nervous having to address so many senior officers at one time. Then took a deep breath and made her report.

"Much of the Cylons communications are heavily encrypted, its in their own language and doesnít translate easily into a usable code key", she began.

She cleared her throat and tried to look calm and professional, before continuing, "But then I remembered Captain Mastersí report that the Cylons had used the Advanced Navigation Program (ANP) of the Baltar Corporation to disable the fleet during the attack. To do so meant they had to leave a foot print of their own codes within the program".

She smiled thinking how pleased she had been when she came up with that idea. Her smile made her look more childlike to the officers. She had Graduated less than a month before the attack, and was young even for a cadet. At only 16 It was her very high I.Q. that had permitted her entry into an advanced Intelligence Officer program. Now only two years later at 18 she was handling classified data that could keep them all alive. Or kill them if she made a mistake. Kristen Hally tried not to think about that and continued her report.

" I had Chief Hand obtain a copy of that program from one that had been removed for study from the Mark VII vipers. Using that as the template I was able to create a decryption program that works on 90% of their transmissions. Other than the general housekeeping and deployments one rabbit in the Promar sector picked this up", she stated, turning to the large view screen on the wall.

The screen displayed a large text of the Cylon intercept.

ACKNOWLEDGED YOUR STATUS. PRIORITY TRANSMISSION BEGINS: NEW DISPOSITION OF CYLON FORCES TO BE BASED ON INTELLIGENCE ASSESSMENT THAT RECENT EVENTS IN VARDON, OPTUS, AND ANOTIAN SECTORS NOT, REPEAT NOT CAUSED BY GALACTICA. INTELLIGENCE BELIEVES POSSIBLE OTHER SURVIVING BATTLESTAR - EITHER PROMETHEUS OR PEGASUS - BEHIND EVENTS IN THE AFOREMENTIONED SECTORS FOR THE PURPOSE OF DIVIDING FORCES. PRIORITY IS THEREFORE TO BE CONCENTRATED ON LOCATING AND DESTROYING GALACTICA AND ESCORTED HUMAN VESSELS. ALL BASE STARS ON DETACHED SECTOR SEARCH OUTSIDE PROMAR SECTOR ARE THUS ORDERED TO ABORT CURRENT MISSION AND TO PROCEED TO PROMAR SECTOR TO ASSIST IN SEARCH FOR GALACTICA. DETACHED UNITS ALREADY IN PROMAR SECTOR ARE TO REJOIN THEIR RESPECTIVE TASK FORCES. UNITS WITHIN CYRANNUS SYSTEM ARE TO REMAIN TO SECURE OCCUPIED COLONIES AND TO PROCEED IN DEFENSIVE OPERATIONS AGAINST HUMAN SURVIVORS FROM VALHALLA STATION FOR TIME BEING. ALL REMAINING STATIC CYLON UNITS WILL MAINTAIN! CURRENT ALERT STATUS IN EVENT THAT THE UNKNOWN BATTLESTAR MAKES IT S APPEARANCE KNOWN. MESSAGE ENDS. ACKNOWLEDGE RECEIPT.

The gathered officers couldnít t believe it, a Battlestar was out there, somewhere. Sever walked in to join the briefing and heard the report of the translated Cylon message.

Hally continued, "As per the Commanders orders, all probes are now programmed to send all their data out on Colonial Priority channel one using Gold code while making a final jump to within the Promar sector. To whatever ship may be in the Promar sector in the hopes that the GALACTICA or other Battlestar will be able to pick it up. This will give them dated intelligence as to the status of what ever our probes pick up at that time. Especially the location and disposition of Cylon forces if that data is available".

Ensign Hally finished and returned to her seat. Pleased that she had not fainted during the brief. Greenlee continued, "Our other bit of news has to do with the Home worlds themselves. The Cylons are understandably in an uproar over our attack". He paused and smiled even wider at that thought, " but one of our Rabbits found something in one of the far corners of the outer system. Nowhere near a military or Guardsman station location".

The screen images changed and a plot of one of the gas giants in the outer orbits appeared.

"Energy reading, high ones over the Cimtar Moon were picked up but ended abruptly as our scanners hit it. It may have been a false echo, but several old hulks are in orbit there for some reason", Greenlee said.

"I can tell you why Colonel", Masters spoke up, "Thatís the militech weapons test range. Its corporate property. Those are decommissioned ships that have been there for years. Been shot so many times there canít be energy from them".

Sever stood and moved closer to a monitor for a better look, her enhanced memory kicked in and a mental playback of their last strafing run played in her mind. Full recall and total detail of the hulk they sent their missiles into, and the others that rested in permanent orbit of the moon and its control facility. Something was wrong.

"Dragon, either I m blind or that scanner must be crazy", she said after a minute. Everyone was wondering what she was looking at. Then Dragon focused on the image too. Then Sever realized what was wrong.

"I may not be the brightest pilot around, but arenít there six Battlestars there?", she finally said.

"Yes, six. So?", Greenlee asked.

"There were only five when we were there on the day of the Cylon attack", Dragon added, seeing the discrepancy.

They all realized the importance of that statement. Another Battlestar was intact! And hiding among the ruined hulks of the test range.

"Best place to hide a tree is in a forest", Sever said and turned to face the officers. A big smile on her face.

The ITHACA

Commander Matthew Hawke was on the CIC going over the intelligence files they had received from the Rabbits himself, he had Ensign Hallyís report with them. The girl didnít realize it, but she was a genius. A near perfect prodigy when it came to languages and codes. Commander Flinn had requested her on his staff as soon as she graduated the Academy. Their ship, the GAUNTLET - a Corsair - was destroyed by the Cylons as it tried to fight the Basestar that attacked Tarturas. It had been there to receive its upgrades. Upgrades that included the Advanced Navigation Program. Many of the crew were on shore leave during the refit so it was these officers that ended up on the GOLIATH. The others died aboard the GAUNTLET.

Hawke looked at the Cylon intercept again, either the PROMETHEUS or the PEGASUS was kicking some Cylon ass. Whenever he lost his initiator card to his cruiser he would ask, now if I were a key card, where would I be? Now he tried to apply the same logic. if I were a Battlestar Commander, where would I be?

One post in the Anotian sector was destroyed, the ammo depot at Molecay, a tylium mine and a Base Star in a nearby sector. Another report of a minefield being entered. All seemed to point to a ship seeking resources; just as they were. He hoped word of their little contributions to the War effort were being picked up by the Battlestar as well. But which one was it?

Commander Flinn once served with Cain. He could believe from the stories Flinn told that such attacks could very well be the work of a cagey man like his old Commander. There was no way to be sure, it could be either of them. Assuming for a moment it was Cain, where would he be? Where would he go? The GALACTICA had to be well out of range by now. But he was staying near by to harass the Cylons just as he was to take the pursuers away from the civilian convoy. If only they could coordinate their efforts. Doing just that is what prompted his order to retransmit the probe data at a stop in the Promar sector. If either Commander were trying to locate the GALACTICA, it would most likely be in the last known location of Adama and his fleet.

Colonel Greenlee walked back into the CIC with a smile like a cat that just ate the canary. Hawke gave him a sideways glance wondering what was on his mind.

"O.K. String, what is it?", He asked as his friend bent over the plotting table.

"Look at these", he said and placed a set of photo readouts grid mapped out. They were the long range visuals from the probe that scanned Cimtar. He looked at them, and checked the dates.

"These are over six weeks apart? How?", Hawke asked.

"These are from yesterday, these are from the flight recorder of the Peregrine during its weapons tests six weeks ago, see a difference?" Greenlee asked.

Hawke looked closer, then he saw the bow of an extra ship just under one of the older BEHEMOTH class ships.

"That looks like a newer class, and its not in the previous set", Hawke replied.

"No Sir, it isnít", Greenlee confirmed.

Hawkeís head snapped up his eyes bright.

"By the Lords of Kobol, its one of the missing Battlestars!, how soon can the Peregrine be ready for launch?"

"Dragon and Witch are in the bay now", String answered. He knew what Hawkeís reaction would be: get confirmation as soon as possible.

"Flight Officer", Hawke called out.

"Yes Sir", Captain Winger answered from behind the tracking board near the rear of the CIC.

"Get the Peregrine launched immediately", Hawke ordered.

"Yes Sir", Winger acknowledged.

"They have their orders already, I take it String?", Hawke inquired.

"Fully briefed, yes Sir: see what and who are on board, and if its Colonials, see if they can make the return jump. If occupied by hostiles nuke it. If not return for further orders", Greenlee answered..

"Excellent. Our odds are getting better. Flight, launch a Rabbit with the recall signal and send it to the CHYMERA for immediate return to base", Hawke told Winger.

"Roger that, Sir".

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The number seven model formerly known as Leo by the humans when he had lived with them for two years was standing on the command deck of his Base Star. He was not happy to say the least. Not only did he now have confirmation that the human station of Valhalla had indeed escaped, but that they had attacked and destroyed a listening post. Worse yet, it was within the Occupation itself. Analysis of the debris showed that impact was a probable ultra high velocity projectile. Followed by a high explosive barrage. Not the weapon of choice of the Peregrine that other attacks had been attributed to.

If these reports were true, then a ship of the line had assisted in the raid on Sagitara. He still did not know what had been taken if anything. It was quite possible they were there to rescue survivors of some kind. Many troops were being diverted from the other Colonies to search Sagitara to be sure there were no more strays running around. Further reports showed that phase two of the traps were well under way. Ships had been restored and manned by a few humanoids, and several inert Centurions until they were boarded. These were being jumped out of the system to the highest probable points of contact. Distress signals would be sent out to lure any Colonials to these liners, luxury cruisers, and yachts.

The success of this plan seemed much higher as several of the Colonial jump probes had been detected in a number of sectors. They would no doubt pick up their distress calls, move in to help, then the Base Stars that waited just light minutes away would move in as soon as called or detecting the jump impulse on their scanners. Simple yet effective. ĎLive bait works bestí, his commander in the Fleet use to say on their fishing trips in the rivers on Picon.

The main problem was still there. Where was the Valhalla station, and what ship had attacked the listening post? There own jump probes, Colonials called them Grasshoppers, were searching for it. So far without positive results. He had tried to think like a human. Where would they hide a five mile long space station?

If they did have a Capital ship, with the cutters, they could be anywhere beyond the red line. So probes were their best chance of finding it. To divert Base Stars from the pursuit of the GALACTICA had been rejected by One. Cancer was now in real time comm range and would be for the next week. There was little chance of another raid during that time. By the time the planets were out of actual range the relay satellites would be in orbit. Additional raiders had also been assigned. He would not allow a repeat of the humans success.

Once this capital ship was destroyed or some of its crew captured in one of the traps, they would get the location of Valhalla from one of the humans. The success of one would lead them to the other. He just had to be patient. Then, they would all die.

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The Peregrine arrived in a flash over the Tanis moon. A desolate large rock within the Oort cloud of the Cyrannus system. This field of stellar debris was at the farthest reaches of the star group, well beyond the planets. Light from the sun took almost two full days to reach here. Almost as much time for Cylon transmissions as well. Dragon and crew shook off the effects of the long jump from within the Nova Madagon then set to work on checking their instruments.

"Iím picking up the usual comm traffic Dragon, but its old, Spook", Lt. Giles, said from his station in the rear section of the flight deck.

"Anything close by?", Dragon asked before adjusting course and moving to the inward side of Tanis. They had just passed into the light side when Spooks scanner got a positive echo behind them.

"Frakk go dark!", Spook shouted. Dragon and Witch killed power on their systems.

Witch practically whispered, "What is it?".

"A Cylon grasshopper just came out of jump behind Tanis", Spook answered.

"Did it see us do you think?", Dragon asked.

"I donít think so, its still just doing a low level scan, I think it picked up the scarring our excavation did when the GOLIATH mined some ore out of it", Spook hypothesized.

"Frak, they know weíve been here then. And are probably rechecking this location periodically to see if we come back for more", Dragon said, thinking that Hawke would need to find a new source of ore for the Mass Driver projectiles.

"Just when you find a good mall, they go and close it on you", Witch added. Spook watched his passive scanners for a few more seconds then picked up the energy spike of the probes jump. Then reported, "Its finished scanning, and made its next jump, were clear, pilot".

"Weíll have to find a new spy hole for the next trip", Witch stated.

"Youíre right about that, Witch", Dragon finished. He then powered the Peregrine back up. And pushed the throttle up to full. He sent them through the asteroid field then once clear on a course for the gas giant called Junip. In its orbit were its eight moons, one of which was Cimtar. This giants orbit was nearly half way between the Oort cloud and the inner habitable planets that were once the home of the twelve colonies of Kobol. Dragon vectored in, in what he hoped would keep them behind the giant as they approached the interior of the system. Spook kept a constant eye on his scanners looking for any sign of patrols or probes that could be flying dark, or actively scanning for intruders. So far everything looked good.

Dragon powered down as they entered orbit and the gas giant lay below them. Harsh swirling masses of gas churned in bright reds, oranges and yellows. Once over the northern pole, they sat there so the magnetic interference would hide their presence. It also made it harder for them to scan the moons, but they knew what they were looking for. Eventually the moon Cimtar was visible on the long range visual scan. The test range was held in geostationary position on the near side toward the planet. The target Battlestars moved along with it. Spook zoomed in and looked for the target ships.

"Dragon, Iíve got them", he said.

Spook punched up the image on the cockpits displays.

"Thereís still six of them. I can just make out the name of the suspect Battlestar, I,T,H, ITHACA, its the ITHACA!", Spook yelled through the comm.

"Calm down Giles, your right. That one wasnít even on the Cylons list, they don t know its intact", Dragon said.

"Or its full of tin heads waiting for some moron to come along and find them", Witch said with a smirk on her face.

"Oh, you just had to bring that up didnít you", Dragon looked back and grinned.

"Glad you two think its so funny, but your right, it did shut down power when our probe detected it. Why would a Colonial do that?", Spook added.

"Weíll just have to ask them", Dragon told Spook then did a quick burn, and coasted downward toward the moon.

As they got closer Spook slowly powered up the scanners trying to use intermittent signals to mask them for normal background radiation. He had limited success but did begin to get an accurate scan as they got closer to the range.

"It s a PROTECTOR class Battlestar all right. Very low energy. Iíd say their mains are off line. Both upper sub-light engines pods are almost completely gone. Lower ones look intact. Cant get a determination on their jump engines. Hull pitting says theyíve taken heavy fire, recently too".

Spook gave a running commentary as they slowed even more as Dragon hit his retros and placed them under a hanger pod of the most distant Battlestar from the ITHACA.

"Iíve got a good lock on them now, Dragon", Witch said as she placed her heads up gun sight on the ITHACA.

"Hold fire until we know what weíve got, Witch", He ordered.

Thatís strange. Iíd say the armor was heavier than normal in several places on the hull. Like it was meant to be hit", Spook continued. Still going over his scanner display trying to nudge the sensitivity up.

"Dragon, could she be a War game exercise target ship?", Masters asked.

"That would explain a lot. Almost no guns, the hangers look like the launch tubes are sealed. Most major systems stripped. Heavy armor", she replied.

Masters thought about it. It made a lot of sense. A ship that was used to train the larger ships of the fleet and give them a live target that could maneuver, send weapons locks back to them, and take fire from live rounds. Who ever was in command knew of the Militech target range here. Even though it wasnít a Militech ship. That wasnít unusual as even the target ships had to re-arm and often did here. The traffic control station on the moons surface also held a limited munitions depot. But he never expected it to be left intact or unguarded.

"What about life signs Spook?", Masters asked next.

"Canít tell, armors too thick", was Spookís reply.

"Do a full power scan", Masters ordered, after weighing the pros and cons.

"Sir?", Spook asked, concerned that Masters may not have weighed the risk of discovery by such a scan.

"Do it!", Hawke reiterated.

"Yes Sir, scanning", Spook acknowledged.

Spook set the sensors to full on a directional beam to limit their exposure. He got back a clear scan.

"Life signs, but faint even at full power", he said.

"Deploy the laser antenna, send the GOLIATH Fleet I.D. code", Masters ordered next.

"Roger that". Spook reached for the comm panel and hit the line of sight laser transmitter switch. Aimed it at the ventral antenna array. If it worked, only the ship being hit by the laser would be able to hear their message.

"Laser on, sending", Spook informed Hawke..

They all held their breath waiting to see if there would be a reply. After several minutes, they received one. It was the I.D. code for the ITHACA. Plus their original message. Then the ITHACA code once more. A standard Identification: friend or foe technique used by Colonials. Even so, it was suspect. Both ships could assume the Cylons had learned that little trick after examining their records.

"Frak it", Dragon linked his headset in his helmet to the laser signal.

"ITHACA, this is Captain Logan Masters of the Colonial Fleet. Do you copy?", he sent.

There was a long pause.

"ITHACA, we copy your IFF message. And are ready to board. Do you copy?", he repeated.

He tried again. Another long pause. Finally a frantic answer came back, "Captain, go dark! Go dark now!".

Dragon reacted fast and shut down all systems. His crew doing the same. A few seconds later, Spooks passive sensors picked up a spike of energy, a pair of Scimitar Raiders had appeared on the far side of the range. They slowly passed through the tight formation of derelict ships bathing them in a low power scan. The Peregrine was hanging so close under a ruined flight pod that they blended in with several large chunks of debris that had been blown off at one time or another. The Cylons passed by as they anxiously watched the screen for any sign of having been seen. The Raiders doubled back scanning the moon this time then having completed their task, accelerated then made their jump to the next patrol target.

"That was close", Witch said.

"Spook, turn the laser back on, keep dark otherwise", Masters said.

"Roger that, ready", Spook acknowledged.

"ITHACA, thanks for the warning, Request permission to come aboard", Hawke sent.

"Permission granted, Captain. Approach starboard landing bay", was the reply.

"Thank you ITHACA, stand by to receive", Masters acknowledged.

Dragon powered up the thrusters and cautiously approached the Battlestar from behind and below its starboard bay. Then pushed his control stick up to place them in line with the starboard bay to see the lights within just come on.

"Iím not detecting a weapons lock on us, but at this range they donít really need one", Witch was saying looking up and out the cockpit. The bulk of the Battlestar loomed above them.

"Be ready to lock down all systems. Pads are down, and we have solid dock", Dragon said as he set the Peregrine down on the deck. He placed them over a commercial docking hatch with an extension tube that should be able to seal over their ventral access hatch. The designers at Militech knew a bird this big would not be able to be lowered to most launch decks so was designed to be compatible with the Fleets Commercial access adaptors. He just hoped theirs was still working. A few seconds later he got his answer as they felt the touch of the docking ring clamp tight to their hull.

"Hard seal confirmed, pressure equalized", Spook said through the comm.

"Lock out all systems to your personal codes, then lets get to the hatch", Masters ordered.

The Peregrine was shut down, and they finally opened the hatch into the airlock tube. Climbed in one at a time, and slowly shut the hatch behind them that would leave their ship behind. Only the ITHACA lay before them and who, or what was inside. Once the panel had indicated the inner hatch was secure, the wheel on the inner door was turned and it swung open.

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Captain Winger gave his report, "Peregrine away Sir, bay is clear".

"Very well. Prep a shuttle for launch, and have a crew standing by", Greenlee answered.

"Aye, Sir", Winger acknowledged.

The exec returned to the plot table and looked to see what Commander Hawke was doing now. He seemed intent on the charts that were spread out over the display top.

"You know Sir, this table is beginning to look like your cabin", he lightly teased.

"It should, I spend more time here than I do there", Hawke replied, not rising to the bait.

The communications petty officer handed Greenlee another stack of reports. He looked at them and placed the priority ones on the top.

"What have you got?", Hawke looked over and asked his exec.

"Latest report from Doctor Russell. Her coma patient status is unchanged, she still hasnít figured out why that one didnít t just die like the others. Ben is still being uncooperative. But she thinks she can now screen blood samples", he replied..

"Good, have medical take samples from everyone, say its to test for pluton poisoning. Then have her run her checks. Anything else?", Hawke asked next.

"Yes Sir, Marshal Janek sent word that rumors of the human Cylons have begun spreading through the Colony", Greenlee replied, " He had to detain five people so far who were assaulting someone because they thought they might be Cylons".

"Frak. How the hell did that leak out?", Hawke asked.

"We don t know yet Sir, but the Marshal and Captain Rodo are working on it", Greenlee answered.

"That s all we need", Hawke muttered with classic understatement.

Hawke had ordered all data about the humanoid Cylons classified and compartmentalized. No one but the command staff and Doctor Russell s were to have any knowledge of it. This could put a rift in the community that could play right into the Cylons hands.

"On another matter Sir, Captain Mantis reports that five of his Vipers are down for repairs already. Seems some of his Midshipmen had a small mishap. The lack of ground crews is hampering the operations on Valhalla, so they are only able to deploy two wings (20 Vipers) at a time", Greenlee continued.

"Why so few?", Hawke demanded..

"Many of the deck gangs from Valhalla and the CHYMERA are working to restore the facilities on Carillon. The Governor has their engineers working on the surface as well", Greenlee replied..

"With as many people as we have you would think that would be enough", Hawke commented.

"Yes Sir, but most are civilians. Not many of the refugees that made it to Valhalla were Military, or trained techs. Even fewer minors so our fuel production is dangerously low. Chief Bishop has some experience in that area, so he s training those he thinks qualify that can take the mines over. Until then heís pulling double duty. Doing that and trying to keep the GOLIATHís repairs on going. Carillon can hold and maintain nearly 500,000. We have only one fifth of that on the surface, another 140,000 on Valhalla. As rosy a picture as Ramius is painting about our progress. Its not as good as he makes it sound", Greenlee warned..

"What s our weapons status?", Hawke asked next.

"Excellent. 85% of our primaries ammo, 90% of the barrage guns, 20 rounds for the mass driver. Magazines 1 thru 4 are at capacity for the secondaries. Although only 14 of those are working. Two are having problems with their auto loaders. Guns 5 and 16 are locked down until repaired", Greenlee replied.

"Did Bishop say when those would be back on-line?", Hawkeís asked.

"No Sir, he s still on Carillon in the mines", was the X.O.ís reply.

The more reports he got, the worse HawkeĎs mood seem to get. Greenlee tried to change the subject.

"So what are you working on Sir?", Greenlee asked his commander. Hawke saw his question for what it was and smiled at his tall friend.

"Trying to figure out which Battlestar is out there. It cant be the one at Cimtar. The data from the Rabbit shows too much damage to that one. It couldnít have been jumping around attacking Cylon capital ships and bases in its condition", he deduced.

Greenlee looked at the files Hawke was looking at, then asked, "If its not, then who is it?"

"That, my friend, is the question, and if its not the PROMETHEUS or PEGASUS, then which of those is out there, giving those tin-heads grief?, Hawkeís answered with the big question. Greenlee took a breath, and blurted out his theory.

"My cubits would be on the PEGASUS", he stated.

"Why is that?", Hawke asked.

"Commander Buchanan is a good C.O. Great at following procedures, but a bit lacking in original ideas. Cain on the other hand seems more the type to be able to pull off the kind of tactics these Cylon reports are indicating", Greenlee explained.

"To tell the truth, I was thinking the same thing. Lets assume it is Cain. Even if we can contact him, how do we prove we are who we say we are? The Cylons will have had complete access to Fleet records by now. They obviously had some just to carry out the attack on the Colonies", Hawke said.

"It would have to be a message that was personal. Something not in the records", Greenlee answered.

Hawke nodded his head thinking, then said, "Commander Flinn served with Cain. But I only know some old stories that he told, I don t know if any of that will help. Has Ensign Hally finished with the Personnel files for our crew yet?".

"Last report was that she had more than half the crewís files complete", Greenlee replied..

"Have her go over what she has, see if any served aboard the PEGASUS, no matter how short a time. Something may turn up", Hawke directed, with a tone of dismissal..

"Yes Sir", Greenlee acknowledged, then saluted keeping in protocol while on the CIC and the crew were watching. As good of friends as they had become, discipline had to be maintained even between them.

Never judge a book by its cover

Governor Anton Ramius lay on his belly on a massage table. arms folded under his head as his personal assistant rubbed his shoulders. Only a towel covered his backside. And she wore nothing at all. He had found and claimed one of the better housing units in the primary dome. It had been the property of the owner of the largest casino on Carillon before the First War. Large by the space conserving outposts standards. But a pale shack compared to the estate he had back on Caprica. Oh how he missed it. But things were getting better here. In the six weeks since their arrival he had begun restoring this domicile. Moving much of his furniture off his ship the Optimus Rex and having it placed here. His lovely assistant Cassiopeia had recovered from the ill effects of the stress she had felt when the Colonies were destroyed.

Now she was a picture of beauty, long golden hair, such a shapely nymph that always seemed so anxious to please him, no matter what he asked of her. He was so happy he brought her and not his wife on his vacation. Happier still that he was and is the senior official present. Governor sounded so much better than just Mayor. Still he did have a city to run, so his duties were much the same. And 100,000 people were easier to manage than 7 million. He wasnít getting as much of a commercial kick back from the shop owners as he would like, not with that Colonial Marshal Janek keeping an eye on security. But the casino was almost ready to open. Then he would rake in the cubits. It was tragic that the Colonies had fallen. A real pity. But he was determined to make the best of it.

"How does that feel Rami?", Cassie asked him as he let her work the tension out of his muscles. Frak she had strong hands for such a small woman.

"Just fine dear, just fine", he replied. Yes, life here will be good, he thought as she continued to work her magic with her fingers along his spine.

ĎWhat a doltí, Cassie thought as she rubbed the disgusting flesh of this human. How simple it would be to just snap his neck. But no, she couldnít do that. Not yet. First she had to find a way to send a message to the others. No signal would get through the interference of the nebula they were in. so a ship or probe would have to be quietly modified to send for them. As yet she didnít have access to anything that was going out to the other sectors. She planned on using her relationship with this human to get her that access. By manipulating him, an opportunity would present itself. Then she would have the pleasure of killing him with her bare hands.

Until then she would have to play along, pretend to be a mindless vain woman enamored with his power. Pleasing to him so he would do as she asked at the right time. She thought back to their arrival at Valhalla during his impromptu vacation. She had expected to be destroyed when Caprica City was, and wake in a new body far from this pathetic man. Instead she had to join him aboard his yacht. She had to stay aboard the Optimus Rex while it was docked in Valhalla. The radiation there made her sick. She told him it was due to the excitement and grief of the loss of the colonies, when she just wanted to stay as far from the reactor of the station as possible and within the shielding protection of the ship.

There she stayed until after the escape of the station and its helpers the Battlecruiser GOLIATH and cutter CHYMERA. If she had known that a Colonial Capital ship had arrived she would have tried to stop their jump. Unfortunately she didnít t realize until it was too late. They had arrived at Carillon and Ramius had taken them to the surface before she could do anything. After their arrival she begun to formulate a plan. Disrupt the settlement here as much as possible, then send for the others.

To that end she asked Ramius to let her make a home for him, in the best quarters of course. He agreed and had allowed her to shop and in doing so gave her the chance to seed rumors about their existence. The others like her that looked human. Not implicating her of course. But those in the secure med lab. Yes they must be Cylons, why else hold them there for this long, and the experiments my boss the Governor says they are performing on them. It must be true. She had told the shop keeper making sure others were in hearing distance. Yes, suspicion would lead to violence. With humans it always does. Perhaps they would do much of their work for her. Yes she would be patient.

She continued to rub his back until he rolled over with that smile on his face. She knew what he wanted. God, she couldnít t wait until she could kill him. She smiled back and led him to his bedroom.

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Felgercarb! They are human", a tall broad shouldered woman with short black hair said staring at Dragon and his crew like an apparition. Her pistol tight in her hands. Dragon saw from her insignia she was a captain.

"Welcome aboard to you too", Masters replied. Then lowered his weapon. Sever and Giles did the same.

"Iím Captain Masters, this is my co-pilot, Lt. Sever, my Ops tech Lt. Giles. Permission to come aboard?".

"Sorry Captain , yes come aboard. Detail stand down".

She ordered the team behind her to lower weapons and escort them as they moved through the ship. Down here on the hanger deck every space seemed packed with parts and supplies. Many munitions and equipment varying in use and age. Including several pallets of Scarabs Masters saw.

"Iím Captain Rena Marro, the Exec here. Our skipper is Colonel Lennox. You have no idea how happy we are to see you Captain. Even if that is the strangest looking ship Iíve ever seen".

They entered a lift and began an ascent up into the ship.

"How did you pick up that Raider patrol like that, Captain? We didnít t detect anything before they jumped in", Giles asked, a bit suspicious that perhaps these may be another line of humanoid Cylons.

"We didnít detect them, Lieutenant. Those bad boys come through here every two hours on the dot. You just happened to arrive when they did".

The lift opened and they walked down a crowded corridor. a lot of the crew seemed to be on this one deck. Captain Marro opened the hatch to the CIC and they entered. Masters looked around and saw this combat information center was nothing like the GOLIATHís. This one was a mess. One side of the DRADIS console was gone. One plot table was also missing. The flight control station had been stripped. Even the damage control room and monitors seemed to have been left in a state of general disrepair. The only really functioning stations seemed to be the helm, comm and weapons control. Some others for life support and engineering may have been working, but werenít manned right now.

At the center of this chaos was a lean looking officer in his mid thirties. He looked a bit haggard, even though his uniform was clean, he looked like he hadnít been eating too well lately. Come to think of it most of the crew he had seen didnít t look like they had either. Only the large Captain Marro looked about normal. But that was probably because of her heavy world constitution. Like his friend Sirus Jack Hand, she was from Leonis. Its gravity was almost twice that of other Colonies, so it had created some rather large framed and very strong humans. Giles and Sever had placed themselves at the sides of the hatch after they entered and stood at parade rest letting Captain Marro introduce their C.O. to the Colonel.

"Colonel Lennox, may I present Captain Masters, Captain, our C.O. Colonel Lennox", Marro introduced..

The colonel reached out his hand to Masters and he did like wise shaking hands for a few seconds, the look on Lennoxís face told him that he must have seemed like a gift from the Gods to have appeared here.

"A pleasure to meet you, Captain. Please tell me your from a unit that survived the attack, a Battle group preferably", Lennox said hopefully.

"Sorry Sir, No. nothing that grandiose. Just a single antique Battlecruiser that s holding station well outside the system" Masters told him, not wanting to divulge too much too soon. Besides, what he told him was the truth, technically. Lennox nodded. Undoubtedly he had wanted to hear better news than that.

"We had a probe make a pass over Cimtar a couple of days ago, it picked you up and we were sent to investigate",Masters continued.

"So that was your probe that interrupted our usual schedule. We thought the tin-heads had altered their patrol to see if they could catch anyone off guard. Yours very closely did". Masters noticed a sign of relief in their eyes on the CIC as he gave them this news.

"Catch you at what exactly? Your ship doesnít look like its ready to go conduct any attacks just yet. Sir", Masters asked.

"No Captain, but we havenít been idle either. Our shuttle and work bees are just fine. Weíve been stripping these old Battlestars, frigates and corsairs for every component we can. As well as the personnel and munitions from the Cimtar control facility. We grab what we can then get back inside the heavy shielding of the ITHACA before the next patrol makes it sweep", Lennox replied.

"And because your ship already has extensive battle damage, they think youíre just another target vessel", Masters finished for him.

"Exactly. We were part of an exercise over at Arieon orbit when the attack began. Task force Five went to join the fight but we couldnít keep up. By the time we got there it was almost over. The Cylons had wiped them out, 20 Battlestars and several Cruisers and Frigates. Then they saw us and some raiders made a sweeping pass at us. Half our computers went down. But only the networked ones. Others seemed fine. Among those were our jump engine controls so we made a run for itď

Lennox concluded with a regretful tone.

He looked very distressed at telling this part not liking in the least being forced away from the fight. After a few seconds of silence, he continued with his brief, with more bitterness creeping into his voice as he spoke.

"There wasnít anything we could do, we only have two working guns. The barrage guns went down with the network. We jumped to Borallis hoping to make repairs. We arrived in the system but not in orbit. It took us twelve hours to get our only two sublight engines back up and running. Then made slow progress toward the planet Borallis. As we approached, long range scan showed explosions, large ones in orbit. There were two frakking Base Stars waiting for any of us that showed up to escape there. We saw six Battlestars cut to pieces there also. We let loose with everything we had. Which wasnít much".

"And took a good deal of hits too", Captain Marro added.

"Yes we did, probably more than most can take because of the added armor. But it was no use. Two secondary guns against those? Our fuel was almost gone, no ammo, We had to jump again. So we set coordinates for here and prayed for the best, Lennox finished.

Marro spoke up again, hoping Masters had the means to assist them, " Weíve been here ever since trying to figure a way out of here. Our food is almost gone, another week or two at best. Even with only 723 people aboard. Weíve been diverting every bit of energy to the jump engines hoping to get enough to get out of the system again.

Of course, thereís the matter of jump to where? Lennox continued. Masters looked at them and smiled.

"Tell you what Colonel, Captain. For the price of a few measly Scarabs, a new home complete with hot and cold running water can be yours".

(to be continued )