Word Count: 5,619
Summary: Do all the machines hate us?
The stark, austere beauty of the stars sliding past the canopy of his Viper was indescribable. Lee had once tried to describe it to a girl he had been dating at the time. Her name was Elaina and she had been a civilian. She had only been in space on board the large passenger transports. She had never been in any kind of a smaller craft.
"Isn't it terribly lonely and cold out there all by yourself?" she had asked him.
"You're not alone," he had replied. "We always fly in pairs, so you've always got a partner with you."
"Yeah, but they're in a separate ship. You're all alone in your Viper. If something were to go wrong, there's only so much anyone else can do for you, ultimately you have to deal with it all by yourself."
"These are state of the art Vipers and we have some of the best mechanics in the Colonial Fleet working on them. Malfunctions are incredibly rare and it's not like we're at war right now," he had told her reassuringly.
"I know. It's just that, to me, space seems so... empty and lonely and... desolate. I don't know how you can stand it in that tiny, little Viper all alone."
He had smiled at her incomprehension and tried to explain the experience. "It's not empty, it's full of unexplored possibilities and... it's beautiful... When you're in your Viper, you never really feel alone. When you spend that much time in a ship, she sort of starts to take on a life of her own... I don't know. I've never felt lonely in space. I like it," he had concluded, with a lame shrug.
"Why are ships always considered female?" she had asked, with a sly smile. "You know, after what you just said, I almost think I should be jealous."
With a sigh, he had realized that he would probably never make her understand. He loved the solitude, the silence, of space. He craved it as others craved drink or drugs. He could shut out the rest of the world and think clearly when he was flying. Not surprisingly that relationship had not lasted. She hadn't understood his need to fly, which meant, she hadn't really understood him. His mother had understood that need in his father. But even she hadn't understood that the craving continued even after the flying stopped. That was a big part of why their marriage had ended. It occurred to him for the first time that perhaps she also had been jealous.
"Uh, Capt. Apollo, sir, how much further out are we going to go?" A masculine voice over Lee's wireless interrupted his thoughts.
The voice belonged to Samson, the CAG's wingman for this patrol. Samson was a relatively new recruit and this was his first long-range patrol.
"We'll continue out for another hour or so before we head back. Why?"
"Uh, just starting to get a little claustrophobic, that's all, sir."
Lee smiled to himself and shook his head slightly... rookies. "Well, just take deep breaths. You're not going anywhere for a while. And keep the unnecessary chatter down. This far out from the ship, we don't want to advertise our presence."
The blissful silence returned and Lee settled back to enjoy the rest of the patrol. Unfortunately the rest of the patrol would not prove enjoyable. After another hour of peace, Lee had just suggested to a relieved Samson that they start back, when both of their instrument panels began flashing warning lights and beeping softly. Only seconds later, two Cylon Raiders emerged from their hyperlight jump directly in the path of the two Vipers.
For Lee, instinct and honed reflexes took over even before conscious thought and he took evasive action automatically, rolling his Viper off to the right and firing off a volley from this guns. Samson did not react so quickly and his ship disintegrated in a brief, silent burst of light and debris. Lee had no time to reflect on this loss as one of the Raiders had peeled off to pursue him. He tried to shake the Cylon, but it was no use, it was locked onto him.
Glancing up and seeing the second Raider moving into position to take a shot at him as well, Lee waited until the last possible moment then slammed the throttle forward, dropping the nose of his Viper. The two Cylons opened fire together, their firing resolutions crossed and they destroyed each other. But not before, at least one of their volleys had clipped Lee's ship, taking out his number 1 engine completely and damaging the number 2. As the Cylon guns had struck the left side of his Viper, Lee had felt the ship shudder violently, heard a loud metallic snapping sound, and felt a sharp, burning jolt of pain lance through his left side.
Momentarily stunned by the sudden, intense pain, he didn't immediately figure out what had happened. When the ship had taken the damage, a metal rod had been sheered loose and had shot out like an arrow from an Ancient's crossbow. It had been propelled with enough force to punch through the wall of the cockpit, to impale Lee through the left side from behind. If it had only come through a few centimeters to the right, it would have been stopped by the back of his seat.
Looking down, he could see a ten-centimeter bit of bloody metal protruding from his flight suit, just above his belt. The rod was only about a centimeter in diameter, but it felt like he had an entire steel girder impaling his body. Reaching a shaking hand down, Lee took a firm grip on the rod and slowly pulled. It was about 30 centimeters long and by the time he finally got it out, he was almost sobbing with the pain and his vision was starting to gray at the edges. Dropping the body metal onto the floor, he collapsed back against the seat, panting and shaking with delayed shock.
After several minutes, when he had finally managed to regain control of his body, he looked around and tried to take stock of his situation. He could hear a soft, but steady, hissing sound from behind him and he turned to look at the damage. Through the small hole that the rod had ripped in the wall that separated the cockpit from the engine, he could see nothing but a blackened tangle of metal. Glancing out the canopy, he could just see a thin vapor trail being vented out into space. Feeling his stomach plummet, he turned back to his instrument panel and saw the oxygen indicator light was flashing a red warning. Frak! As he had known it was, it was his precious oxygen supply that was slowly venting out into space.
I wonder which will kill me first, he thought morbidly, exsanguination or asphyxiation. The Vipers were not equipped with first aid kits and he had nothing on hand to use to try and staunch the blood he could already feel trickling warmly down his hip, inside his flight suit. With a deep breath, he forced himself to push the pain and disturbing thoughts aside, so he could focus on his situation.
Attempting, and failing, to re-ignite all three of his engines, he quickly realized that he was going to have to limp the Viper back to the Galactica on half power. He was too far out of communications range to call for help. He would simply have to make do and hope that he could hold out until he got in voice range. Programming the ship's return course into the auto-pilot, he shifted to a position which eased some of the strain on his injuries and settled in for the long flight back.
For the first time in his military career, he was aware of the vast emptiness of space. He understood now what Elaina had been talking about. He was alone to deal with this crisis. In all likelihood, he was going to die out here in space alone and no one from the Galactica would ever be the wiser. When he and Samson did not return, they would, of course, assume the worst, but his father would never know for certain. Would that bother him? Would he always wonder if perhaps Lee was still alive out there, somewhere? Or would he accept the obvious and move on? And what about Laura?
Lee gave his head a determined shake. He had to stop these unproductive thoughts. He wouldn't let himself think about Laura. He wasn't dead yet. There was always the possibility that he could survive. He needed to survive. He needed to get back to the Galactica to warn them that there were Cylons in this quadrant. He glanced at the oxygen gauge. It was a slow leak and he still had a fair amount left. He might have enough to get him back to the ship. Pressing a hand to his side, he glanced down at the blood coating it. Wiping it on his leg, he took a deep breath and tried to concentrate on staying strong.
Only an hour or so later, he was finding it more and more difficult to keep his eyes open. His body felt heavy, sluggish, and slightly numb. Whether this was due to blood loss or oxygen deprivation, he wasn't sure, but he was afraid to relax and succumb to sleep. He was flying his father's old Mark II and he didn't entirely trust the reliability of the auto-pilot. But mostly he was concerned that if he did fall asleep, he might never wake up. But it was getting so damn hard to stay awake...
"Apollo, don't fade out on me now..." He was vaguely aware of a low, female voice speaking in his ear. "Apollo, wake up..."
Somewhere under the thick, layers of sludge that seemed to have filled his brain, Lee's consciousness slowly registered the voice... Dee? Had he made it into voice range of the Galactica? With a tremendous effort, he forced himself to claw his way back to wakefulness. Opening his eyes, he looked around. Glancing at his instruments, he saw that he was still hours out from the fleet, still quite a ways out from communication range.
After a moment, he decided that he must have dreamt the voice. It was just as well; at least he was awake again. Looking down, he saw that his left hip was slick with fresh blood. Damn, he was still bleeding. It had slowed considerably, but he was still bleeding. That was not good. Not that there was much he could do about it. He took a deep breath and forced himself to remain calm. Panicking would do him no good and would just use up his oxygen that much faster.
Minutes later, he could feel his eyelids start to droop and his head start to sink. He shook his head and forced himself awake again. It was a losing battle and he knew it, but he had to keep trying. The longer he stayed awake, the longer he stayed alive. If he could keep it together long enough to get into voice range, he could have the Galactica send out a refueling tanker, which were designed to, not only, refuel the Vipers, but recharge their oxygen tanks as well.
"Apollo, don't fall asleep on me again. I need you to stay awake," the female voice said again, as his eyes started drifting closed again.
Instantly, he was wide awake. "Who said that?" he asked softly.
"I did," the voice responded.
"Who are you? Where are you?" Lee asked, looking out his canopy for signs of another ship. "How do you know my name?"
"I am Nebula 7242 Constellation. I am all around you and I know your name, because the pilot's name, rank and serial number are programmed into my system before each flight. And the only other name, besides yours, to be programmed into my system is William `Husher' Adama."
As the voice answered this time, Lee noticed that several lights on his instrument panel had flickered in time with the voice's speech cadence. He sat in silence for a long moment... His Viper was talking to him. He knew he'd lost a fair amount of blood, but he didn't think he'd lost that much. And, while his oxygen was getting low, it wasn't that low. He shouldn't be hallucinating already, should he? He didn't remember hitting his head or anything. Was his injury worse than he thought?
"Um, w-why are you just now talking to me?" he stammered, feeling more than a little foolish and praying that this wasn't some sort of joke being played on him by Tyrol and his deck crew.
"Because there was no need to talk to you before. You were never alone before and you were always able to stay awake. But it would not be wise for you to fall asleep right now and I sensed that perhaps having someone to talk to would help you stay awake."
"Right," he whispered. This couldn't be some kind of recording planted by Tryol. The Chief couldn't have known that Samson was going to die and even if, somehow, he did, it would be bad taste in the extreme to make a joke about it. "Um...thank you."
"You're welcome. What would you like to talk about?"
"Uh, can you tell me what the status of the ship is? You know, internally?"
"As you are probably aware, the number 1 engine is useless. Number 2 is damaged. It's holding up for now, but is loosing power at a steady rate."
"Will it hold up until we get into voice range of the Galactica?"
"I think so, but that doesn't really matter. The communications array has been badly damaged. I don't believe you will be able to contact the Galactica even when we get into range."
"Oh frak..." he whispered. "Will my oxygen supply last until we get back to the Galactica's coordinates?"
With a sigh, he slumped back in his seat, but the movement jarred his wound and he gave a slight groan. He was going to die out here, in space, alone... well, sort of alone. The voice that was speaking to him did not sound like some prerecorded tape programmed into a machine. It did not sound mechanical at all. It sounded quite... human. In fact, under any other circumstance, he would have described it as sexy. It was low and warm, with a slightly hoarse undertone for added intrigue.
"So, do you have a name?" he asked, trying to focus his chaotic thoughts on something... anything.
"Name? I am Nebul-."
"Yeah, yeah, you told me that. That's your tail number. What's your name?"
"I... don't have a... name."
"My father never gave you one?"
"... I remember your father... he had such a soft, gentle voice, even under the heaviest of fire..."
"Yeah..." Lee whispered, feeling his chest tighten at the thought that he might never hear that voice again.
"That's how he got that silly call sign of his, because of his soft voice.... but I never spoke to him. There was never a need and... I don't think I could have then."
"Well, you should have a name. I mean N7242C is a bit of a mouthful. I could just call you NC, but that's kind of awkward too. You should have a proper name... Hmm, NC... How about Nancy?"
"Nancy... I... like that. Thank you."
"Sure, no problem," he mumbled, still feeling a little dazed at the thought of carrying on a conversation with his Viper. He knew of other pilots, mostly female, who named their Vipers and talked to them, but he had never heard of an instance of the ship talking back.
"Shall I talk to you, to help you stay awake?" Nancy asked. "You should probably not talk much and conserve your oxygen."
He nodded, but then wondered if `she' could actually see his gesture. She evidently could for when she continued, it was as if she had seen him.
"Shall I tell you about the time your father was shot down over Canceron's third moon?"
Lee nodded again, not having the energy to summon for speech.
"Your father and Bacchus were flying a combat patrol around the central Colonies wh-."
"Who was Bacchus?" Lee interrupted, exerting himself with an effort. He had heard his father's war stories many times, but this one was unfamiliar and he didn't recognize the call sign of `Bacchus' as one he father had ever mentioned before.
"Bacchus was Lt. Saul Tigh. He frequently flew as your father's wingman."
Tigh's old call sign was Bacchus? Lee thought and it occurred to him for the first time, that his father had never mentioned Tigh's call sign before. Lee wondered why he and Zac had never thought to ask about that. Considering the man's well-known love of the bottle, Lee understood why his father probably never said anything about it. Certain behavior that would have been considered acceptable, possibly even admirable and `manly', during their youth in wartime, was not acceptable once the war had ended and middle age had set in. But many warriors had had difficulties making that transition from wartime to peacetime.
Nancy continued with the story. "We were just rounding the tri-moons of Canceron, about to head back to Picon, when four Cylon Raiders appeared beside us. They were the advance scouts for a Cylon invasion. Husher and Bacchus engaged them and, despite being outnumbered, they managed to destroy all four Raiders, but not before I was hit. It was a serious hit and Husher was forced to set us down on the third moon, Artemis, which as I'm sure you know, has no atmosphere.
"Husher had to wait there for several hours for help to come for him. Bacchus remained in the area to offer covering fire if necessary, but they both knew that attack was imminent and Bacchus wouldn't last for long."
Whenever Lee had heard about his father's exploits during the war, it had always been from his father. So he'd always had the immediate assurances of the man himself that he had not been afraid and that rescue had always come quickly. But to hear the story from another source, particularly while he was facing a similarly perilous situation, Lee knew that his father had to have been afraid. Who wouldn't be? He had obviously downplayed the sense of danger in those stories in deference to his young audience.
Never fully realizing this, as a child, Lee had always thought of his father as being without fear. As an adult, he had thought of the man as being without emotions at all. He understood now that both assessments had been immature and completely inaccurate.
Despite this realization, he still asked, "Was he afraid?"
"Oh yes," came the reply. "He was as close to panicking as I'd ever seen. You have to remember, he was very young during the war, younger than you are now... Yes, he was terrified, but at least he had Bacchus close by to talk to."
He was about to say something else, but was interrupted by a flashing light on the instrument panel and a soft beeping sound.
"Nancy, what's going on?" he asked, trying to rouse himself enough to deal with this new crisis.
"We're about to lose power to the number 2 engine."
Lee felt his heart sink as all his hopes of survival sputtered and died along with the number 2 engine. There was no way he would make it back to the Galactica on one engine before he either bled out or ran out of oxygen. If he weren't so weak and sleepy, he would probably be panicking himself, but as it was, he was half inclined to simply let go. There would be no more boring patrols, no more constant fleeing from the Cylons, and others could benefit from his daily rations. Looking out through the canopy, he gazed at the endless array of stars laid out before him... God, it truly was beautiful.
"I have an idea for dealing with this."
"'Kay, what do you need me to do?" His words were beginning to slur together slightly.
"Nothing. I'll take care of everything. You just go to sleep. Don't give up, just go to sleep. I'll wake you when I need you."
"'Kay," he whispered. Was the machine trying to spare him a longer death by encouraging him to sleep? If she was, he was grateful. "Nancy?"
"Thank you for taking such good care of my father and I."
"You're welcome, Apollo. Now, go to sleep."
"Apollo? It's time to wake up.... Apollo?"
His sluggish mind heard the voice distantly, but he was comfortably numb and quite content to remain as he was. He didn't want to wake up. Although, now that his mind had returned to this level of consciousness, he gradually became aware that he was cold, very cold. In fact, he could barely feel his fingers and toes. His chest felt uncomfortably tight and raw.
"Apollo, I need your help now. Please, wake up."
A sudden, short jolt of electricity passing through his body brought him jarringly back to full wakefulness. He gasped and, instantly, he began coughing, as he tried vainly to drawn enough oxygen from the icy air into his raw lungs. He found he was shivering convulsively. Lords, it was cold. What happened to all the heat?
"Apollo, relax," the soothing voice spoke to him. "Take short, shallow breaths and you'll stop coughing. I'm sorry that I had to shock you, but it was the only way to wake you. I'm also sorry about the cold. I had to divert the power from all unnecessary functions to try and keep the number 2 engine functioning. That included most of the life support. I only left enough to keep you alive."
"Okay," Lee whispered, his throat and lungs felt like they were on fire and he had to fight to keep his teeth from chattering.
"We are approaching the Galactica. Look to your left. They have been trying to contact you for quite some time now. We seem to be able to receive their messages, but are unable to transmit back to them."
Glancing to his left, he saw another Viper flying very close beside his, much too close for standard formation. He could clearly see the pilot at the controls; Starbuck. Her expressive face plainly showed her concern.
"Apollo, are you alright?" her voice came over his wireless. "Can you land on your own?"
He gestured to his helmet and shook his head, hopefully indicating that he couldn't communicate with her, and flashed her a weak thumb's up signal. She seemed to understand. She returned his gesture and moved away, giving him more space. Glancing to his right, he saw another Viper flanking him on that side as well, although this one was at the standard 650-meter distance and he couldn't identify who the pilot was. Ahead of him, was the huge hulk of the Galactica, rapidly looming larger in his vision.
Lee tried to focus all of his thoughts and dwindling energies on the battlestar, but it was becoming more and more difficult. His vision was starting to tunnel down and the hand that gripped the throttle was shaking badly. He gave his head a quick shake, trying to clear his vision, but it didn't help much.
"Apollo, can you do this?" the voice of Nancy asked. "The Galactica doesn't have the auto-landing systems. I can't land us on my own."
"I'm alright," Lee insisted. "I can do this."
They were approaching the port side landing pod. He fought to keep the ship steady and line it up with the flight deck. At the back of the landing pod was the Frenell lens, or `the ball' as the pilots referred to the round lens. If the Viper was properly aligned with the flight deck for a safe landing, the pilot would see a green light from the lens. If the Viper was not properly aligned, he would see a red light.
At the moment, all Lee saw, was red. He only had a few hundred meters left before he would have to abort his landing and fly around to try again. But he knew that he probably wouldn't last long enough to try again. He needed to get his bird down and he needed to do it now. Taking as deep a breath as he was able, he forced his hand to steady and brought the Viper up to a squared position to the deck. The light flashed green.
"I have the ball," he reported to Nancy with relief.
"Thank the Lords, I don't think I could have lasted for another go around," came the soft reply.
He silently seconded that assessment and, as the ship gently touched down on the flight deck, he collapsed back against the seat, oblivious to the pain from his wound. As relief flooded his body, darkness and oblivion closed around him.
Lee gradually awoke feeling warm and delightfully numb. He discovered that he was lying in one of the beds in Life Station and as he slowly turned his heavy head to the side, he found Laura sitting beside the bed, reading a book. She hadn't yet noticed that he was awake and he simply lay watching her. For a time there, he had thought he might never see her again and now that he was, he wanted nothing more than to bask in her presence. Lords, he had forgotten how beautiful she was.
Perhaps sensing his gaze, she looked up from her book and smiled warmly at him. Taking off her reading glasses and setting them with her book on the chair as she stood up, she moved to sit on the edge of the bed beside him. Careful not to disturb the IV tube in his arm, she picked up his nearest hand and held it in both of hers.
"You scared the hell out of us," she said, in mock reproach.
"I'm sorry," he said softly, his voice coming out as a painful rasp. His throat and lungs were still quite raw.
"It's alright. I'll let it slide this time... Your father and Starbuck were here earlier, but they both had to return to their duties. They said they'd be back later, but I'll let them know you've woken up."
He nodded, but gave no response. It hurt too much and took too much effort. He was already beginning to feel sleep pulling at him again.
"You lost a lot of blood, but your father gave up a pint for you, as did Starbuck, and most of the pilots and ground crews were lining up to offer their veins as well. Most of them didn't have compatible blood types, but at least the Galactica's blood supply is fully stocked again."
He smiled gratefully, his eyes starting to drift closed.
That abrupt question brought him back to wakefulness. "Who?" he asked, forcing his eyes open again.
"Nancy. You kept mumbling the name in your sleep. Who is she?" Although Laura was still smiling, there was a slight edge to her voice.
"Um..." He had no idea how to answer that question without sounding like a complete lunatic. "I... I don't know."
She nodded, although she was obviously not satisfied with his answer. "Alright, you get some sleep and we'll talk about this later."
Striding onto the hangar deck three days later, Lee looked around for his Viper. He had been released from Life Station earlier that day, but had not been cleared for duty. He was supposed to be in his quarters resting, but he knew he wouldn't be able to do that until he had checked on his ship... on Nancy.
Seeing the scorch-marked, dented ship sitting off by herself, he headed towards her. It wasn't until he got closer, that he realized that his father was already there. The older man was running one hand almost lovingly over the ship's hull. His expression was distant and sad. Lee approached slowly, hesitant to interrupt his father's obvious reverie. But sensing the other's presence, Adama turned to look at him.
"Aren't you supposed to be in bed?" he asked with gentle reproof.
"Yes sir, but I wanted to check on... the Viper," Lee said, feeling a little foolish.
If the older man thought this a strange statement, he didn't express it at all. He turned his attention back to the ship. "She's a good bird," he said softly. "She got me through a lot of tough fights. She brought you home safely. I'll always be grateful to her for that." As added emphasis to these words, he gave the hull a gentle pat.
"Yes sir," Lee agreed softly, again wondering if his father knew anything about Nancy. He was about to ask, when they were joined by Chief Tyrol.
"I don't know how in the hell, you managed to get this thing back," the chief mechanic said to Lee, shaking his head in wonder. "Almost every internal function is fried. I don't know how this thing flew for a kilometer, let alone all the way back to the Galactica. And how did you manage to reroute the life support power to the number 2 engine from inside the cockpit? You can't do that from inside the cockpit!"
"I-I didn't," the captain said, with a shrug. He was still stunned to learn that the damage to the ship had been so much more extensive than he had originally thought. Why hadn't Nancy told him when he'd asked her for a damage report? Had she been trying to spare him from the truth? Or had she thought to try and keep his hopes up? And if the damage had been so extensive, had she felt any pain? If a machine could think and talk, could it also feel pain?
"Can she be repaired?" he asked quietly.
"No," Tyrol said, with a resigned shake of his head. "The damage is too extensive. It wouldn't be worth the effort. She'll become spare parts."
Lee felt as if someone had just kicked him in the stomach. Even though he had only been able to speak to the ship for a few hours, he felt as if he was losing a close friend. Glancing over at his father, he realized that the older man had already known this verdict and was probably feeling much the same way. Their eyes met and Adama walked over to squeeze his son's shoulder in sympathy. With one last caress of the hull, he left the hangar deck.
Turning back to look at the Viper, Lee addressed Tyrol, "Chief, is the central computer system still operable?"
"Yeah, it is and that's another thing... What did you do to it?"
"What do you mean?" the captain asked, turning to look at the chief in confusion.
"The central computer has been completely modified from the way it should be hooked up. It's connected to things it shouldn't be, it's got all this power being diverted to it, that shouldn't have... Why did you modify it like that?"
"Well, who the hell did?"
"I don't know... but it can be salvaged?"
"Okay, I want you to take the central computer and move it into my Mark VII. I want you to hook it up exactly the way it was hooked up before. Don't change anything."
"But why?" Tyrol asked. "There's nothing wrong with the central computer in your Mark VII, why do you want this one? And why do you want it hooked up like that? Don't you want me to hook it up the normal way?"
"No, I want it exactly the way it is now. Please, Tyrol, just humor me... Please..."
Having never been appealed to in such a humble and... human way by the captain, the chief hardly felt that he could refuse. "Okay," he said with a shrug. "I'll take care of it personally."
"Thank you," Lee said in sincere relief.
It wasn't until nearly a month later that Lee finally found himself back in the cockpit of his Mark VII Viper. He was once again on a long-range patrol, with an inexperienced wingman. Starbuck had volunteered to go with him, but he had turned her down, saying that he needed to do this on his own. In reality, he just wanted a partner whom he knew he could bully.
As soon as the two Vipers were outside of communications range of the fleet, Lee had ordered his partner to maintain radio silence and had turned off his own wireless, which was strictly against regulations. Vipers were supposed to maintain radio contact with each other at all times.
Now, essentially shut off from contact with everyone else, he called out softly, "Nancy? Are you there?"
There was nothing, only silence. Lee felt his heart sink. Swapping the two computer systems hadn't worked. He had lost her. With a heavy sigh, he was about to switch his wireless back on, when he heard that soft low voice drift through the earpieces of his helmet.
"Yes Apollo, did you need something?"
*This story is dedicated to those of us who name, and talk to, our cars. BTW my '98, Atlantic Blue, Ford Escort is named Elwood.