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Battlestar Pacifica

By Rain Mitchell

Word Count: 15,597
Date: 03/28/05
Series: Mini
Rating: T
Category: AU
Pairing/Focus: Original Characters
Warnings:
Summary: Original Story/Characters, following the timeline from the 2003 Miniseries, centering around several ships/crews, centrally the Battlestar Pacifica.
Spoilers/Disclaimers:


# 1

"Sashta stand you up last night?" Conners asked, looking over the blue chits for his ride. Mitchell flinched a little at the ribbing. It wasn't that he disliked Conners, the pilot was pretty typical as far as pilots went, she just had a way for getting under his skin.

"Something like that," the crew chief said.

"Hrm, what's this?" Conners asked, pointing to an entry on the sheet. Mitchell looked at it. Oh yeah. He'd seen that as well.

"We're getting a little fluctuation in number three at high RPMs. I had Ramirez look at it yesterday, she wants the onboard to gather some more stats before we pull it." Conners' eyebrow rose a bit. "Nothing to worry about sir, we just need a little more data before we pull the engine."

"Pull it when I get back Chief," Connors said, signing off on the ship.

"Well, we'll see sir," Mitchell said. He should have known better. Maybe it was the late night, waiting for Sashta, who hadn't shown. Maybe he was just tired of taking Connors' crap. Who knows, it slipped though.

"Excuse me Chief?" She asked, that tone in her voice.

"I said we'll see. Sir." Mitchell said.

"If there's a problem with number three pull it Chief. I'm not flying with broken equipment." He should have just dropped it there. It would have been the tactic of a seasoned Chief, and Lords know Mitchell should have been a seasoned Chief by now, but he didn't revert to form.

"If you have an issue with this Viper sir I'm sure we can scare another one up for you," Mitchell said in his best diplomatic tone. He refrained from smiling in her face.

"Why don't you do that then Chief?" Connors said, snatching the logbook back from him. Mitchell shot her a non-committal smile and turned to find his crew.

"Ramirez! Prep 314, Lieutenant Connors has down checked this bird!" He bellowed loud enough for the whole bay to hear. Did he really want to take her on like this? They'd been in pissing matches like this for months now. She'd come back and complain about something on the bird, something the on-boards didn't record. She'd personally raised enough of a stink for him to go through two engines and a thruster system.

Not this time. If she had a problem she could down check the bird. It was her right. It wasn't looked on very highly by the CAG though. The CAG and Master Chief Lewis had an unwritten truce. If the deck crew said a bird was flight ready then CAG took their word. The deck crew didn't question a pilot's flying ability and the CAG didn't question Master Chief's crew. If there were issues the Master Chief chewed ass faster than anyone Mitchell had seen in his two years aboard Pacifica.

He watched Connors wince, barely hid his satisfaction. That's right, I'm done being brow beaten into working on your phantom issues.

"Give us fifteen Chief?" Ramirez asked, walking over, wiping her hands of the grime that had come out of the Raptor engine she was working on. "I'm up to my ass in this re-build. We're gonna haveta move it to get 314 into place."

"You've got ten minutes," Mitchell said. He pulled Connors' pre-fli pack from 309. "Let's move it people, get this bird off the cat!" He yelled. "Sir," he said, giving Connors a salute. He hustled to help his crew move the engine that Ramirez was working on out of the way.

"I can't believe that bitch," Ramirez hissed as they pushed the engine stand off into a small bay.

"Belay that Specialist." Mitchell said. He couldn't blame her. None of his crew felt differently. He didn't need to let them think it was okay to voice their opinions though, at least not in the bay with the bitch standing just a few meters away.

The crew tractored 314 into place while Mitchell headed over to talk to the deck officer. The Air Boss would need to know of the change in assignments. Captain Lance had drawn the duty today apparently. Mitchell liked Lance. The Raptor pilot was a bit nicer to the deck crew than the Viper pilots were. Lance had stopped being a hotdog years ago. Now he was the best eyes-man the Pacifica had.

"Captain, we've got..."

"I can see Chief," Lance said, handing the shorter man a new check chit. "I've squared things with upstairs," he said.

"Thanks Sir," The crew was finishing up mating Viper 314 to the catapult by the time he had walked back across the bay.

"Here's the check chit Lieutenant," he said, handing her the maintenance log. He walked over to the Viper and inserted the pri-fli package. Ramirez shouted clear as she cranked up the start cart.

By the time he got back to Connors she'd signed off. He gave her a short salute, "You have a nice flight Lieutenant," he said.

"I will," the bitch said locking her helmet into place. Mitchell let his crew help her lock in. In less than a minute the cat officer gave her a salute and she was down the tube. Mitchell just shook his head.

"I don't get it Chief," Jones said, walking up beside him.

"What's that Specialist?" Mitchell asked.

"Well, didn't Lieutenant Ravi say 314 was having some thruster issues?"

"Yeah, yeah I think he did. Never got it written up into a chit though." Mitchell smiled. "Okay people, let's get number three out of 309!" Mitchell yelled.

#

"What have you got for me Jerry?" The Commander asked walking out of his cabin. It was Dairen's ritual to meet him for their daily briefing on the way to the CIC. The old man was never late.

"More traffic from Fleet on the SLEP, they want us into Caprica Bay on the 25th now." The Service Life refit would bring the Pacifica up to current specs, a newer radar/lidar system, updates to the ANCILE system, navigation. The project had been months in planning, now they were just working out the details. Both Dairen and Tigg would be gone by then. Tigg was retiring when Pacifica put in for refit.

"Forest is having issues with one of its engine, they want to FTL out of here and put in for repairs. I sent an assessment team over. You've got that meeting with General Yeahrly at ten hundred, he's shuttling over from the Van shortly." Dairen handed the Commander the night's comm traffic.

"Commander on Deck," the Marine guard said as they entered the CIC, snapping to himself.

"As you were," Tigg said almost absent mindedly, looking over the traffic. "What's this about the envoy's craft?" he asked.

"To Galactica. The Envoy hasn't reported in. They send 'em out in something older than me, probably a radio problem."

"Hrm," Trigg grunted. "Let me know what the team heading to Forest comes up with. I don't want to loose her with Vanguard still tagging along." Pacifica would be hard pressed to cover herself and the Vanguard in a fight. Vanguard wasn't much more than a glorified troop ship. Sure the Marines had a squadron of Falcon's, but those were more CAS birds than fighters. They couldn't look after themselves in a fight.

Dairen's wrist bleeped. He looked down at his chrono. "I've got the deck this shift," He said.

"Sure," Tigg said. "You coming by for Rachel's birthday party?" The Commander asked, still looking through the dispatches.

"I didn't think they let you down there if you weren't a pilot," It was a dodge. In truth he didn't much want to go fraternize with the pilots. His ex was close to the Commander's niece. Doubtless she'd be there.

"Oh come on Jer, she can't extract any more money from you now." Tigg said. "Rachel would be happy to see you."

"I'll... see. Sir." He said, nodding. Tigg dismissed him with a wave of his hand. She couldn't extract any more money sure, but she could pick at him. He saluted the Marine guard as he left CIC on his way to the bridge. He preferred the bridge to the CIC. There was just something about being where things seemed smaller. All they worried about here was steering the ship, keeping things moving. They didn't have to worry about patrols and task force spacing. Everyone else keyed off of Pacifica.

"I have the conn," Dairen said after the formalities of the change of the watch. He took up his place behind the helmsmen. He sighed and relaxed. At least he didn't have to deal with Yeahrly this way. He'd changed the duty roster specifically so he didn't have to be around when Commander Tigg and the little fireplug of a General had their weekly meeting. He was sure it would be a boring de-brief on the MEU's recent exercises in the asteroid belt.

"Steady as she goes Chief," he said, settling in.

#

"Ladies and Gentlemen this is your Captain speaking. We've just completed out climb out from the atmosphere and are on schedule for our FTL jump in a little over an hour now. You are free to walk about the cabin, but it is the policy of Picon Connection to keep your seatbelts fastened when you are seated. The stewards will be serving refreshments in the main cabin momentarily. Thank you again for flying Picon Connection." Rachel said over her headset. She sighed as she switched the intercom off.

"Picon 327, contact system departure on 234.325," Her headset crackled in her ear. Her co-pilot, James, responded to the instructions.

"234.325, thanks control," he said, and re-set the radios. Rachel looked over her panels, checked the FTL computers. Everything looked fine.

"You seeing Alistair when we get in?" James asked, setting the auto-pilot. "Departure Control, this is Picon Connection 327 with you on 234.325." He said at the microphone in front of his face.

"We see you Picon. Maintain course and speed. You're looking fine for your FTL point." the radio crackled.

"Course and speed roger departure." James said.

"If you must know Alistair had to cover for someone, he's on a shipping run to Virgon." Rachel said, trying to look busy with her monitors.

"Ah. Stood you up 'eh?" James asked.

"No. You know how Colonial is, play ball or you're passed over." She said.

"If you say so," James said.

"You guys want anything?" a steward asked from the door.

"I'll take a coffee," James said.

"You got it?" Rachel asked James, meaning control of the ship. She needed to use the head. She hadn't been feeling well recently. It seemed like nothing agreed with her system this last week. Maybe it was her schedule. She'd pulled the Picon to Caprica run five days in a row now.

"Yeah," James said as Rachel unfastened her restraints.

"Anything for you Rachel?" The steward asked.

"Club soda, with a cap please," She asked, skirting by the steward. The lavatory was as cramped as usual. She was beginning to think she'd seen nothing but the inside of a liner for weeks. She'd been off just last week, but it seemed like longer. He stomach grumbled. She'd have to eat something sooner or later. The club soda wouldn't do much for her. Maybe some crackers.

She splashed a bit of water on her face, rubbed her neck, the fatigue of the week setting on her like a yoke on her shoulders. Her stomach rumbled louder and then...

"Oh no," She gasped. She managed to get most of it into the small toilet bowl. It wasn't like there had been much in her stomach. She heaved for a little bit after she was empty, the bitter taste of acid flavoring her mouth. She clutched at her abdomen, shivering a bit at the effort of purging herself. She cleaned up what had splashed on the seat and looked at herself in the mirror.

What a mess. She wiped her mouth, straightened her tie, sighed and opened the door.

"You okay in there?" The steward asked quietly, so that the first class passengers would be hard pressed to hear.

"Yeah, just... long week, you know?" Rachel said.

"Yeah. You off after this run?" She handed Rachel a club soda in a resealable bottle.

"I should be. You know how it is." There was no way to know if she'd have a turn around when they got into Caprica. Picon Connection was a small carrier, if even two pilots were out for whatever reason she'd get pushed back into service.

"You should tell them you need a break," the steward said, a look of concern in her eyes. It was professional concern though. They both knew that calling in sick wasn't looked on very highly unless you were on your deathbed.

"Hopefully I won't need to," Rachel said. She got back onto the flight deck before the conversation could get drawn out any further. The last thing she needed was to be consoled by a steward on her fifth marriage.

"You ever think about going to work for Colonial?" James asked as Rachel fastened her restraints. It didn't take her long to get the five point system hooked up. She pulled the top off the club soda and tried to wash the taste of bile out of her mouth.

"Think about it? Sure. Seriously? No. They wouldn't have me," The taste was persistent.

"Oh come on, you're a good pilot." James said.

"Thanks," Rachel allowed. Her stomach growled at her. She could feel the bile welling up, but managed to choke it back. Hopefully James didn't notice. If she could just get past the jump she'd be fine.

"I'm missing that all important career point," Rachel said. Colonial somehow managed to stay out of trouble with non-discrimination suits, but it was an unwritten rule. Don't bother applying if you hadn't been 'fleet. She hadn't been.

"Oh that's just an overrated rumor. Hell, a buddy of mine got in, he was never 'fleet."

"You sure about that?"

"Yeah, of course. It's kinda hard to miss the brown suit." He said.

"I meant about him never being fleet." James made a few corrections to their course and speed. They were slowly crawling out of Picon's gravity well. They'd pass the magnetosphere in a few minutes. That always played a little bit of havoc with the nav systems.

"Oh come on, you can't be serious."

"Hey, I'm just saying, sometimes you don't know."

"I know."

"I believe you," she lied. She really didn't have the energy to argue with James. She needed to focus a bit more on the controls and fighting back her nausea.

"I'm just saying you should think about it. It'd probably be easier to hook up with Alistair if you worked at the same company." James said.

"I'll think about it," Rachel allowed.

#

"How long are you hear for?" He asked, as she pulled at her BDU shirt. They hadn't seen each other for over a week now, two wasn't it?

"An hour? Two?" She wondered out loud, throwing her shirt on the chair next to his bunk. "Long enough," she said, pushing him down onto it. He smiled up at her as she pulled off her sport bra.

"I don't know, you think that's long enough?" he teased.

"You've been without for a couplea weeks, you'll have a hair trigger," she said, tugging at his belt.

"Hey Charley?" someone asked, walking into the Goat Locker.

"OUT!" She commanded in a drill instructor's voice. The other Chief withered and left. "I want you squared away and ready for maneuvers in thirty seconds Senior Chief," She commanded. He fumbled with his pants as she stripped off the rest of her uniform.

#

"You think the old man knows?" He asked, watching her dress from his bunk. He made a move to grab at her ass, but she slapped his hand away.

"Professionally?" She asked, pulling her belt tight, moving on to her polished boots. "No. Personally? Probably. Not much gets past the General. Don't worry about it Zach, if we weren't discrete enough he'd get someone else to come over as his guard." She snapped her collar down and adjusted her beret. The silver special ops flash glinted in the artificial light in the Goat Locker.

"Hey, I just, you know, I don't want to screw this up." He said. He grabbed his own clothes and started dressing a bit more leisurely than she had. He didn't have to be on duty for another hour, whereas she could be called to leave at any moment.

"You hear anything on when we put in?" She asked, pulling the laces on her boots tight, far tighter than he would have.

"The 25th, at least that's when Fleet wants us in dock. You'll probably hit the beach earlier. I'll be here..." He shrugged his shoulders. There was no knowing how long he'd be on board getting things squared away and getting ready for the SLEP.

"It won't be long," She said reassuringly. It had been months since they'd been able to sneak away together. They'd hoped to get away while the Pacifica was in dock for the SLEP refit, but with his promotion that was looking less and less likely. "I'd better get going. No telling how much longer the old man will be."

He'd managed to get his pants on. He always felt a little inferior when he was around her. She was 'born again hard,' as the Corps said. He was a pasty Technician three. Well, he was a Sr. Tech now, with a crew of his own, but he hadn't started to think of himself that way yet. He was more accustomed to sitting in darkened rooms lit by monitors than leading a squad under the jungle canopy like she did. He seriously didn't know what she saw in him.

She gave him a quick kiss. "We should be back over next week, I'll try and give you a heads up."

"I've got ears on the LSO's crew," He said, waving his hands across the bay. All of the Chiefs bunked here. This was gossip central for the Pacifica. Maybe they should have found a broom closet rather than using the 'Locker.

"Alright, I'll see you then."

"I love you," He said quietly. She stopped for just a second on her way out.

"Yeah, I know you do," She said, not turning back.

#

"Steady on course 345 mark 80," the helmsman said quietly. Rains hated this part. The waiting. He wanted to be over with this assignment. Nothing ever happened. They came out here to listen in on anything that happened at the negotiations, but nothing ever did. This was the third year he'd been tasked to watch while the Colonial Envoy sat for several hours and the Cylons never made an appearance. It was his first as the CO though.

"EM, Conn, report all contacts," He said, pressing the appropriate intercom button.

"Conn, EM, I have civilian traffic only." the EM Officer said. Rains wanted to sigh. They were twenty days out of Geminon. His people were getting tired, antsy. They'd been on station for the better part of a week now with hardly even civilian traffic. No one came out this far, this close to Cylon territory.

"Conn aye," He said. He stood up and stretched. "You've got the conn Paul," He said, nodding to his XO. Kurtz nodded back, taking over. Rains walked the few steps to the wardroom, hunting for coffee.

"Heya Skipper," His Weapons Officer, Niel, said as he entered the wardroom. Things were pretty informal in here, as he liked it. They could be spit and polish in front of the crew. In the wardroom he didn't want to deal with it, even if Kurtz objected. Niel was watching a game that they'd recorded the night earlier. Rains had seen it live.

"That's not a pretty game," He said wincing as he poured his coffee.

"Hush, I still have my illusions," Niel said with a smile on his face, he was a big Geminon fan, unlike the majority of the officers aboard. "Aren't we about done here Skip?"

"Yeah, I hope so. Haven't heard anything from the Envoy yet." That worried Rains a bit, though those old shuttles were notorious for mechanical failures. The Athens had rescued two this year and directed Fleet to a half a dozen more when their distress signal was too weak to reach into the inner systems.

"CO to EM control, CO to EM control," came across the intercom, somewhat urgently. Rains finished filling his mug and headed for EM control.

"What have you got?" He asked waling into the darkened shrine-like nerve center of the Athens.

"Multiple contacts sir," The EM Officer said, "at the extreme range of ELINT. They look big. We're working on an ID."

"No transponder though?" Rains asked, sipping at his coffee.

"No sir, they're not illuminated by anyone yet," The Athens didn't use active sensing techniques, she just listened for stray radio emissions from others ships. If a ship was illuminated by someone else's radar though they could usually read the bogie's transponder code.

"They coming from our space?" Rains asked.

"No sir," the EM officer said a bit nervously. It wasn't the first Cylon they'd tracked, if that's what it was. They didn't usually track them though. Rains stuck his head out of EM control, raised his voice just a little.

"XO, spin up an FTL probe."

"Aye sir," Kurtz said down the small hall to EM control. If they couldn't identify the contacts in a few minutes Rains would send a probe a bit closer to see if it could hear anything. It would expose them a bit, but not too much.

"New contact, bearing 230 mark 25," one of the EM techs said, plotting the contact on the large display in front of them. "Designate contact Echo 5. No ID on contact."

"Range or velocity yet?" Rains asked.

"Negative sir, what we're getting is fading in and out." the EMO said. Rains didn't like this. He didn't like it one bit.

"I'll be in the conn," he said, heading for the control room.

"Bird one is hot and in readiness sir," Kurtz said as Rains walked the few steps to the center seat.

"Take us to condition two Paul," Rains said as he sat down and looked at the tactical map.

"Aye sir," the XO lifted the intercom and spoke into it, "Set condition two, all hands to duty stations. Set condition two, all hands to duty stations. This is not a drill," echoed through the small ship.

It took a few minutes before Kurtz could report, "Duty stations manned an ready sir."

"Very well. EM, conn, report contacts." Rains said into the intercom.

"Conn, EM. We now hold seven non-civilian contacts, Echo 1-7. We have velocity on Echo 1 and reason to believe that this is a formation with similar velocity. We cannot identify this formation."

"Very well," Rains said. "Weps, get me a firing solution. Warm up tubes three and four. Comms prepare for flash traffic." His people moved smartly, as they'd been trained to do. Standard procedure for flash traffic was to send off a tightly directed message to Fleet headquarters then move with a small FTL jump so that if their transmission gave them away they wouldn't be around long enough for anyone to localize them. That was the idea anyway.

Several minutes passed while firing solutions and better information came in. Rains managed to finish his coffee before anything significant came back.

"Conn, EM. We now have an 80% probable ID on Echo 4, 6 and 7," The voice that came back over the intercom sounded scared. "We identify these contacts as probable Cylon Base Stars." The control room went dead quiet. Time seemed to stand still. That couldn't be right. No one has seen a Base Star in over forty years. Rains' mind suddenly accelerated.

"Comms, update that flash message. XO prepare to deploy that rece bird. Navigation, plot an FTL jump that will take us back in closer to the inner systems, along the vector of those... contacts." He couldn't bring himself to say Base Stars, not yet, not until the rece bird got them a better ID.

It took another few minutes to get things ready. Rains resisted the urge to fidget. This was what they'd trained for, practiced for. They were ready. There was no way the Cylons could have seen them yet, the Athens was as electromagnetically quiet as a tomb, quieter. The carbon 12 in a tomb would release EM noise via radioactive decay. The Athens masked all EM, it was a veritable hole in space.

"We're ready Skipper," his navigator said.

"Alright, by the numbers people," He said standing. "XO, launch the rece bird." The XO gave the proper orders down to the weapons technician that pressed the button to eject the bird from the ship.

"Rece bird is away and will go FTL in thirty seconds," the XO reported.

"Flash traffic," Rains commanded. The message went out and two seconds later he felt the momentary disorientation associated with Faster than Light Travel. It only lasted a second. The tactical display changed to reposition the contacts around them, now that they were significantly further from where they had been.

"Conn, EM. We've lost the rece bird."

"Well, that's that isn't it?" Rains said to the XO. The big man's face was as white as a sheet. "Set condition one."

## Chapter 2

"I don't know. I've got nausea, stomach issues. My concentration seems a bit off," The flight surgeon looked into Rachel's eyes with some sort of instrument. She didn't want to know what it was called. When she'd had to heave again after the FTL jump James had demanded she report to the doctor at the dock when they'd landed.

"You've been flying five days straight you say?" The doctor asked. He'd moved on to her reflexes, whacking her knee with one of those little rubber hammers.

"Yeah, but I've had ten hours of down time every night." she said.

"Hrm? And how much did you sleep during those ten hours?" he asked. Damn. That was the right questions.

"At least six, eight a few nights," she admitted.

"You ever go for an extended period with multiple FTL jumps?"

"Yes. It's not like this has been an unusual week."

The doctor scribbled a few things in a chart, looked at her vital signs on a monitor.

"When was your last period?"

"What does THAT have to do with anything?" Rachel asked defensively. She was so tired of people, men, treating her like a second-class pilot just because she was a woman. That's what she told herself. More likely they treated her like a second-class pilot because she'd never been in the Fleet.

"Humor me," The doctor said, leaning against the counter in the small, cramped exam room. His expression wasn't completely smug, but she wanted to slug him anyway.

"A couple weeks."

"When are you expecting your next one?"

"I don't see what..."

"Just... when?"

"The 14th, why? What could that have to do with puking after an FTL jump?"

"The 14th you say?"

"Yes, should I look in your ears?" Rachel snapped. This was really too much. She was just as capable as any man, more so, she wasn't controlled by testosterone. It was a well-known fact that women pilots were more careful than their male counterparts.

"Rachel, today's the 20th."

"See, noth.. excuse me?"

"It's the 20th. You're six days late. Have you ever been late before?" Oh no. No, no, no, no, no. She couldn't be. She and Alistair had always been careful. They'd always used protection, well except for that time on Virgon, the Bed and Breakfast, they'd forgotten. That had been... her heart started to race.

"Ah huh." The doctor said. "It seems a little early for morning sickness, but I've seen stranger things."

"Oh no. There's got to be some other reason. Maybe I've got a tumor, some growth in my abdomen."

"It's a growth alright, but they call it a blastosist at this stage," The Doctor said. "We're not going to know for sure without a test, but I'll take from your reaction that it's a distinct possibility?"

"No," Rachel said flatly. "Absolutely not."

"Well, if it's not we'll need to run more tests. If it is I can give you something for the nausea and return you to flight status."

"I can still fly?" Rachel asked. How could this be happening? How could this happen to her?

"Sure, as long as you can fit into the restraints. We've got pilots running hauls into the third trimester."

"The jumps don't... hurt the baby?"

"Nah, why should they? Anyway like I say, if you're sure it's not a possibility..."

"It's a possibility," Rachel said. The last thing she wanted to be was grounded. She may be a mother in nine months, but right now she was a pilot, which meant she'd do anything to keep flying, even admit that she might be pregnant.

"Congratulations Mom," The doctor said handing her a packet of pills. "Take one in the morning when you get up, and another half an hour before a jump if you're still having issues."

"The Doc give you a pass?" James asked when Rachel showed back up in the pilot's lounge. She sat down and stared out the window for a few minutes, looking across the tarmac. She felt numb, detached.

"Hey, what did the Doc say?" James pressed, handing her some coffee.

"He gave me some pills and didn't pull my flight status." Rachel said, detached, distant. She was physically exhausted, and now this...

"Good, cause Sparkins' reserve squadron just got activated, they need you to head back out to Picon." Oh for the love of the Gods, Rachel thought. They could get someone else to do it. She'd been going five days straight. Now this... this... She needed a break. She opened her mouth to tell James that Picon Connection could go stuff it, but she couldn't. You never refuse a mission. Hell, it was overtime pay right? She was doing her part to support the troops.

"Yeah, what flight?" she sighed.

"Flight 548, pre-fli is at 13:40, sleep fast," He said hoisting his flight bag onto his shoulder. She didn't even have time to get off home for some quick sack time. Great. It was her own fault. She should have gotten a place closer to the starport. She should have gotten a key to Alistair's place. He was within fifteen minutes of the starport.

Alistair. What was she going to tell him? First things first. She needed to get some sack time. She headed for the small bunkroom that Picon Connection kept for short turn arounds. She could grab a few hours of sleep, maybe it would help her figure out what she was going to do. Maybe.

#

"So you guys getting a room together that isn't community property at some point?" Hemes asked as Zach pulled his shirt on. Michelle was gone, what half an hour now? Hemes must have figured that the lack or rhythmic grunting meant it was safe to venture back into the Goat Locker without risking having his neck snapped by the SpecOps babe.

"You're just jealous Hemes," Zach said, lighting a cigarette. He took a long draw, filling his lungs with the wonderfuly thick smoke, tar and other carcinogens. The nicotine and caffeine from the 'Locker coffee would get him through the day.

"Jealous? She'd probably snap my neck in the throws of passion." Not likely, Zach thought. Hemes was a prime example of a Fleet Chief Petty Officer. A good thirty pounds overweight, balding, with three kids and a shrew that screeched at him whenever they put into port. He was on shrew number two if Zach remembered right.

"Well, you'll never know will you?" Zach said taking a puff. He grabbed the duty roster from the terminal off on one side of the bay. His team was still working on getting ready for the updates to the ANCILE system, the system that coordinated the close in guns, the R/Lidar, and the interceptor missiles on the Pacifica. Their version of ANCILE was tied to their oldish ESY-2B R/Lidar, but the engineers were upgrading Pacifica up to the same -2D system that the Forest was carrying during the SLEP. That meant jumping the ANCILE software up three major revisions. Charley had been tasked to plan that upgrade.

"What's it like?" Hemes pushed. "Come on Charley, you gotta share. The last time I had anything that hot I was your age."

"Frak, Hemes. It's supposed to be quiet, you know. You're gonna jinx it."

"So gimme something to keep me quiet."

Zach took a long drag on his cigarette and grabbed his coffee. He needed to be in the Data Center in five. "Let's just say that it ain't your neck she snaps," he said, smashing his butt out on the tray next to the door. He didn't see the look on Hemes face, didn't much care to.

"Where are we at Ryan?" He asked when he found the cramped conference room that was reserved for the morning meeting with is team. It was hardly more than a broom closet. He was glad he wasn't as thick as Hemes. There was barely enough space to squeeze behind the table in here. Not that it mattered; Zach stood and paced a little.

"Lookin' good Chief. Lieutenant Masterson approved our request for more disk space. We should have it inside the week, then we can bring up the new test instance and start loading code," Ryan, his systems specialist said.

"Set Condition 3, Port flight crew report to damage control stations. Set Condition 3, port flight crew report to damage control stations," a computer generated voice said over the intercom. Condition three was a minor alert, probably a flight emergency. It wasn't unheard of, but didn't usually happen. Charley grumbled. Great, this would take all morning.

"You heard 'em folks," he said, pointing at the door. His team wasn't expressly necessary to the operation of the ship in their primary jobs, so they pulled damage control duty when any alert came in. It usually wasn't a problem, but they would get a bit behind in planning for the SLEP at this rate.

The team suited up into firefighter gear and headed for the flight deck.

#

"Report," Dairen said as condition three was called.

"My panel shows clear," the helmsman said. The intercom buzzed, Dairen hit the talk button

"Bridge, Dairen."

"We've got a control issue on a recovering Viper sir, maintain course and speed please," It was the CIC controller. She sounded a bit concerned. She should be, hitting a control issue in a Mark V Viper could be a serious business.

"Understood," Dairen said. That's what he got for pulling bridge duty, just another cog in the wheel. If he'd been in the CIC he'd have known what was going on. Was it really worth not having to deal with Yeahrly? Probably.

"Steady as she goes," he said to the bridge crew.

#

Conners fought with the Viper as she tried to line up for an emergency landing. One of her nose thrusters was completely unresponsive, alternately full on and off, seemingly randomly. The flight computer was of little use. It was as if it couldn't sense the thruster and kept throwing the bird into a spin when the thruster decided to fire. She'd turned it off a few minutes ago. She could maintain her yaw better without it.

"Pepper, you're at two kilometers, a little left, call the ball," The LSO's voice crackled in her helmet. Her wingman, Bronco, was holding back in the pattern. She saw the meatball, turning a little red from her course. She nudged the Viper to the right, dividing her attention between her hud, the meatball and the nose of the Viper, waiting for the thruster to fire again.

"Roger Ball," She said. She pulled the main engines back to idle. She had enough forward velocity that she didn't need them. They could only cause more problems for her now if that nose thruster fired again.

"Right," The LSO said calmly. It was a source of strength for her. Yeah, her bird was pushing her around, yeah if it decided to do it at a critical juncture she could end up as a tail strike, but the LSO was treating this like any other approach.

"Frak!" She said as the thruster fired. The Viper spun once before she could get opposite yaw applied. Thankfully her inertia kept her on course, but her nose was now at a 45 degree AOA, worse, that was off the primary lift vector.

"Right," The LSO said. Easy for him to say. It was a little tough to get the course correction in when she was fighting... as abruptly as it started the thruster stopped. She stopped countering it a second later, but now she was spinning lazily, still heading towards Pacifica's starboard flight deck.

"Damnit." She rolled the Viper so that her lift vector lined up with the spin, slowed it, stopped it, the Pacifica turned on its side outside the cockpit. She rolled back into line with the deck and worked on her line up.

"Steady," the LSO called. Good, she was on course for the landing. She made sure the mains were at idle. She let her eyes droop inside the cockpit for a quick scan of her instruments. All of this bouncing around had really cut into her fuel status. She was lucky that she wasn't red goo in the cockpit at this point. The first two times the thruster had locked open she'd hit eleven g's before the computer caught the error. Things had been better since she'd taken it off-line, or maybe the thruster was getting tired. One could only hope.

"Steady," The LSO called out. "One kilometer." The Pacifica filled her view now. Come on, she could do this. She'd hit the deck and the friction from the skids would hold her there even if the thruster...

"Frak!" She yelled. The thruster locked open again.

"Left," The LSO called, the model of calmness. She got things under control after two complete revolutions this time, but she was now pointed away from the Pacifica, still on vectors to taker her onto the deck.

"Straighten out," The LSO said.

"I'm frackin' tryin'!" Pepper shouted. The best she could do was hold the Viper at its current attitude. There was no way this was going to work. The thruster was just too unpredictable.

"Wave off," the LSO said. It wasn't as easy as that though. Her current velocity couldn't be changed easily at her current attitude. The main engines could slow her, but they couldn't stop her before she crumpled into Pacifica. She'd have to back off on countering the spin.

"Wave off," The LSO said again, an edge of panic seeping into his voice.

All right, here goes nothing, Pepper thought. She eased up just a bit on the stick. The Viper spun slowly around, pointing back to the Pacifica. She brought the mains up a few percent and angled the nose down twenty degrees.

"Power Pepper, you're not clear," The LSO said. She applied more power, trying to change course more quickly. The thruster stopped firing, her compensation put her in another spin, this time taking her off course. This was not good.

#

"We'd like to stage a mock raid on the Forest next week, some cross training with the crew," Yeahrly said after he'd finished the report on the exercises in the asteroid belt. Tigg wanted to sigh. Yeahrly was about as gung ho as a Marine could get. Always with the drills and exercises. He had a point, keeping the point of the spear sharp and all that. Did he have to be so tenacious about it?

"I don't think so General, I need the crew of the Forest focused on the SLEP prep. I've got engineers and specialist over here helping out. Now is not the time to test their security and reactions."

"It's the perfect time Commander, they should get a sense of..."

"No General," Tigg said. "I understand what you're saying but I just don't want the distraction right now."

"Set Condition 3, Port flight crew report to damage control stations. Set Condition 3, port flight crew report to damage control stations," a computer generated voice said over the intercom. Tigg looked at the General, hit a button on the intercom.

"This is Tigg, what's the emergency?" he asked.

"Viper 314 has a mechanical failure sir, she's trying to recover but is having issues maintaining course," the officer in the CIC said.

"Understood. I'll be there directly." He stood, the General standing with him. "Are we done here General?"

"Close enough sir. Don't let me keep you."

Tigg walked the few feet to the CIC, waved off the attention on deck call and headed to the tactical map.

"Who's flying?" he asked, meaning Viper 314.

"Pepper," the officer of the deck said. She's already been waved off once. She's got enough fuel for one more pass. After that she'll have to ditch."

"Pipe the LSO camera up here," Tigg said. There wasn't much he could do but watch.

#

"Chief, I'm telling you, we can do this!" Mitchell almost yelled. He had to get out there. Someone did. There was no way that Conners could get that bird aboard like this. Master Chief Lewis was less than impressed with his harebrained idea.

"Even if I thought you have a chance in hell of doing this Mitchell, which I don't, there's no resources. There's no time." Lewis said. Mitchell was already suited up. He'd pulled the EVA gear on when he'd heard that Conners was having thruster problems. He'd neglected to tell the Master Chief that he'd known about the issue. It hadn't been that bad for Lt. Ravi, just a fluctuation in what the thruster was producing. The flight computer had compensated for it.

"Raptor 206 is fueled and on the Cat. It was prepped for departure just before the condition 3. Chief, please." Mitchell said. Lewis looked at him. The old man was cracking, Mitchell could feel it, could see it in his stern, wrinkled face.

"Captain!" Lewis bellowed across the bay, then set off to talk to the Officer of the Deck.

"What is it Master Chief?" Lewis asked, distracted.

"Mitchell has this crazy idea Sir," Lewis said. Mitch laid out his plan as quickly as he could. They needed to decide on this now. Hell, they needed to decide on it ten minutes ago.

"You're right Chief, he's crazy," Lance said. "Get aboard. I'll call up to the Air Boss for clearance."

#

"Hey Baby, going my way?" Pepper heard over her headphones. She was on the 'downwind leg' on approach to the Pacifica, traveling to a point behind Pacifica to set up her next approach. Her wingman had trapped after her bolter and a replacement CAP had launched. She looked over to see a Raptor keeping pace with her.

"Who is that?" She asked, not recognizing the voice.

"Knight," Captain Lance. "Listen kiddo, we've got an idea we want to run by you."

"I'm all ears sir," Conners said.

"I've got Mitchell along for the ride. He wants to EVA and give your bird some medicine. What say we take two aspirin and put this thing on the deck?"

"Have you had his head checked?" Conners asked. There was no way. If the thruster fired while Mitchell worked on it he'd be blown off into space, probably killed. A life, even his life, wasn't worth a Viper. She'd put it aboard or ditch.

"Yeah, I've got his committal papers right here," Knight said. "Tell you what though, let's get you all lined up for a slow, barrier approach and let Mr. Nutty as a Fruitcake have a go 'eh? Then even if you have to ditch we might can recover a bit of that bird."

It made sense. They'd set up for a very slow approach and the deck crew would pull out a web-type barrier across the flight deck. Even if she had to eject the ship could glide into the barrier and be recovered.

"Alright. I'm two minutes to..." The thruster fired again. "Shit, ngh.." she grunted as the thruster threw her against the side of the cockpit at several times the force of gravity. She got things under control in a few seconds. This was getting really old, really fast.

"Coming up on inbound," Knight said. She could see his Raptor clearly now. He was at what should have been her eight o'clock, if she'd been pointed at her direction of travel. Well, this would make the turn to the upwind leg easier. Mitchell waved at her from the open hatch on the Raptor. The thruster burned for a minute or so, then crapped out again. Again the compensating thruster spun the Viper in the opposite direction when the bad one cut out. Pepper recovered quickly and got herself lined up for the approach.

"Viper 314 inbound," she called out to the LSO.

"Roger 314, you're at five kilometers, on flight path, say weight and fuel.

"18.34k, and..." Conners looked at her gauges. "317 kilos." She said. Shit.

"Alright Pepper, let's slow things down." Knight said, pulling in a little closer, moving to her two o'clock. She tapped the breaks, watching her velocity. 150 m/s, 100, 50. Knight's Raptor kept pace.

"Frak!" She screamed. She countered the yaw, but the thruster firing while she was breaking pushed her off course. She just wanted this to be over. She rolled the Viper's lift vector and pulled it back onto course, almost like a corkscrew while the forward nose thrusters both fired, giving the Viper a moustache. She got things lined up again and spooled down the main engines. She tapped the breaks in short bursts slowing the Viper again.

"Viper 314 two kilometers, on flight path, call the ball," The LSO said. This was insane, there was no way that Mitchell could work on the thruster this close in to Pacifica, they'd be aboard before he could even get on the Viper. She looked at the visual landing indicator on the left side of Pacifica's starboard flight deck. It looked green.

"Roger ball," She said. She looked at her speed. 15 m/s.

"Here we come," Knight said, as he pulled in close.

"You sure that's a good idea, I'm still firing here," Conners said, she was still countering the rogue thruster.

"We're out of time. Just scream when it cuts out and hope you don't slice Mitchell in two with the blow back."

"Thanks," She said as the thruster cut out. "Scream," she said quietly. It didn't take her long to correct her attitude though. She didn't even complete a full 360 degrees of spin.

"Alright," Knight said, easing in close. She could feel his thrusters buffet her ship as he got in really close. She could see him concentrating through the canopy of his Raptor. "That's as close as I'm getting Mitchell. Go." He couldn't have been more then four meters away. Conners watched Mitchell push off from the Raptor and float toward the Viper. He caught on the nose and thumped it a couple times with a wrench.

"I thought you said you were gonna have a nice flight Lieutenant," He said, a smile on his face. She was at a loss for something to retort. He got to work, moving up toward the nose of the Viper.

"Got the forward access panel open," he said.

"Steady," The LSO's voice called.

"Don't see anything particularly wrong here," Mitchell said. Just fix it you knuckle dragger, Conners thought. "I'm securing the check valve here." Mitchell grunted over the radio channel. Conners noticed that Knight's Raptor had backed off. She'd been too busy watching Mitchell to realize it.

"Frak," Mitchell grumbled.

"What?" both Conners and Lance asked at the same time.

"This is a hell of a lot easier with gravity," She watched as Mitchell grabbed the Viper with his legs, getting a hold so that he could turn the valve. It was almost perverse. "I think I got it," He said after a minute of grunting and appearing to hump the Viper's nose.

"Get out of there Mitchell," Knight ordered.

"314, you're at one kilometer, a little low," the LSO said.

"Anything you say Captain," Mitchell said, standing up on the nose of the Viper. "You try and have that nice flight Lieutenant," He said and saluted before he pushed off. Conners corrected the momentum he'd imparted on the ship by jumping. Now all she had to do was wait and hope the thruster didn't fire again. Either way, they'd know in a minute.

#

"Encoded traffic from Fleet sir," the specialist said handing Rains a print out. The Athens had stood down from condition one an hour or so after the jump, when it was apparent that the Cylons hadn't managed to track them. As it was if the Base Stars maintained course and speed they'd be appearing on the edge of EM range in an hour and a half. Rains read through the dispatch and felt like grumbling.

"You aren't going to believe this," he said, handing the dispatch to Kurtz. The XO looked at it as Rains grabbed the Intercom. "All department heads to the wardroom please," was the brief announcement he made.

"Lt. Genois, you have to conn," he said to the junior member of the fire control / tracking team.

"How do you want to play this?" Kurtz asked as they walked the few steps to the wardroom.

"This the situation, or this the meeting?" Rains asked. He held up a hand as the EMO walked up. "Give us a few," he said as he closed the wardroom door behind himself and Kurtz.

"The meeting," Kurtz said.

"I'm thinking we're going to be needing a bit more discipline than they're used to me doling out. No time like the present to start. Keep me honest Paul," He said, opening the door. Kurtz gave him a curt nod.

"We've just received an encoded dispatch from Fleet command," Rains said when the department heads had arrived and sat down in the cramped wardroom. They were all spooked enough that there wasn't much horseplay, not that there was ever much. They could have been choirboys now though. "Fleet feels that we need to confirm the identity of our earlier contacts before they'll send any help."

"What's to confirm?" Jeahle, the weapons officer asked. He hadn't been as close to the loop on this op as others at the table had been.

"EM gave us an 80% probability before the jump, and the rece bird was squashed before it could return intel," Kurtz said.

"We've been running the tapes from the contact," Heinz, the EMO said, "What we got looks like a Base Star, smells like a Base Star, but.."

"No one's seen a Base Star in 40 years," Rains finished, "they're bound to have changed. That's why we've got to get in closer and get a better id." The silence that fell across the table was telling. Kurtz gave Rains a look that spoke volumes. We're pushing this, it said. Rains knew they were. For all their training none of the crew, not even him was ready to announce a war to the worlds. Fleet was right though. They had to have a better idea what they were facing.

"I am open to suggestions short of driving to within 300k and snapping a picture," Rains said.

## Chapter 3

"Short meeting," Heron said as the General arrived on the Pacifica's starboard flight deck. He didn't look particularly happy, but then, did he ever? She fell into step beside and behind him as the little bulldog of a Marine barreled his way across the deck toward their ride. The MD-43 looked out of place among the sleeker Vipers on the deck. It was a squat, snub-nosed ship designed for one thing, putting Marines on the hulls of other ships and on the ground. That it had excelled in so many other tasks was a bonus, part of the reason that the Corps adopted it.

"Tigg's got a wounded bird," Yeahrly said, "Got called away." The old man clambered into the Duck and spun his finger above his head at the pilots. Heron closed the side hatch as the pilots got things spun up. When she turned around the General was already strapping in. No mention of her extra-curricular activities in the Goat Locker. He had to know. She wasn't that worried though. Her divorce was final, there was no way they could slap her much other than fraternization, which probably wouldn't stick. Zach was in a completely different command.

"You got the post ex reports done?" Yeahrly asked.

"Dropped them with the S3 before we came over," Heron said. Something was bugging the old man. That much was obvious. He didn't usually talk this much.

The flight back was held up while the Pacifica dealt with it's wounded Viper. They sat in the starboard pod for a good ten minutes before getting clearance to depart. Heron was going over the next week's activities in her mind. Yeahrly liked to run a lot of ex's in his command. Heron's team, being the recon squad of the Special Ops company usually got to play the bad guy in Yeahrly's little boarding exercises. It was tough to play a Cylon Centurion when you were smaller than a door, but Heron managed.

"I hear that the 5th is looking for an S2," Yeahrly said over the noise of the Duck's engines. Heron resisted the urge to roll her eyes. The General had been trying to push her out of her spot in SpecOps for over a year now. He didn't seem to get the hint that she LIKED getting muddy with the guys.

"That's General Gacey's command isn't it?" She asked back.

"Yeah, Bill called me up asking for recommendations. I gave him a short list," Yaehrly gave her a look. "A very short list."

"That's great. I'm sure that Durac will fit right in," Michelle shouted. They'd played this game before.

"Damnit 'chelle this isn't funny." the Duck shuddered, a million little 'tick's sounded as they passed through the cloud of exhaust behind the Vanguard. That meant they would be aboard shortly.

"No, it isn't. You seem to think that I need a kick in the pants as far as my career goes."

"No, I think you need a kick in the ass, a good swift one. These opportunities are going to stop dropping in your lap if you keep turning your nose up at them," The General said. Sometimes Heron wondered if he did this to his daughter as well. Probably.

"Good. I like where I'm at."

"You know," he started. The Duck's engines wound down as it thudded onto the deck. "One of these days, and it's a day that ain't too far away, you're gonna wake up and realize that your knees are shot, it takes twelve aspirin a day to keep up with the kids and there's a bright young Lieutenant gunning for your job. You oughta consider that before you tell Gacey to frak off." Heron opened the hatch. The General hopped out. She just wasn't ready to give her possition.

"I'll think about it sir," she managed to get out. No sense in bantering with him any longer. They were both busy people.

"You do that Captain," He said and walked off to see what his yeoman had for him.

#

"How about jumping in, talking a peak, jumping back?" The engineer asked. He was the most junior of the officer's arrayed around the Athens' wardroom table. He'd been in Engineering most of his career too. Rains shook his head.

"We'd have to jump in too close to them. It'd be noticed too quickly."

"What if we just started heading toward them sublight?" Weps asked. "That would bring us to IP in what, half an hour?

"That's assuming that they are still fat dumb and happy," the EMO said, "The way they squashed the rece they know someone's out here. They may even have heard our flash traffic."

"We aren't out here to play it safe gentlemen," Rains said, perhaps a bit more quietly than he'd intended. This was getting them nowhere. They'd been brainstorming the problem for half an hour. It was doing nothing but hurting morale. Kurtz's looks at Rains told him it needed to be cut off.

"How about we mine their route?" Heinz asked. Rains sat up a little bit.

"What do you mean?"

"Well, say we jump a little closer, not so close that they see us, but close enough to drop a rece bird and send it on it's merry way sub-light? Set it to flash us if it's actively pinged?" The EM officer asked. The idea had merit. They were after all still in the 'listen and gather intelligence' mode.

"They'd see the rece before it had a change to send anything back, like the last one." The engineer countered.

"Not if we're not jumping it in," Heinz said. "Listen, the whole reason the zapped the last one is that the jump is a big assed flag saying 'here I am'. If we jump outside their range and shoot the rece off at sub-light there's no reason it'll look like anything other than a bit of space junk to them." Yeah. Yeah, that might do.

"Get three birds programmed Weps. I want them ready to go in 30," Rains said, bringing things to a close. "Dismissed." The kids filtered out of the room. Kids, Rains thought, hell at most there was five years between the oldest and himself. It was so easy to think of them as younger.

"Adam," Kurtz said closing the hatch after the last of the officers left. "You've gotta stop this command by committee." The XO was right of course. Their roles really should have been reversed. Rains just wasn't the hard ass that Kurtz was. It's like mom was running the ship instead of dad. He knew it wasn't ideal but he was working on it.

"I know. I know," Rains said. "I just..." He sighed. You look so weak, he thought to himself. It was a luxury he no longer had. He'd lost that luxury when they'd sniffed those Base Stars. "Thanks Paul, that's all. I'll be in my cabin. Buzz me when those birds are ready to go." The XO nodded and left. Rains shook his head, left for his cabin.

It wasn't much to look at really. The bunk was hardly any wider than anyone else's on the ship. It was his though, as was the desk and the door. He'd never really understood what they meant when people said command was lonely before, he was starting to now. He made a few entries in his log, and then stretched out on the bunk.

"CO to the conn, CO to the conn," the intercom practically chimed just as his eyes had comfortably shut. Rains practically jumped at the sound. It only took him a few steps to get to Control.

"We've got company," Kurtz said. Rains looked at his chrono. It had hardly been ten minutes.

"Conn, EM. New contact bearing 05 mark 02. Designate contact Echo 8." the intercom said.

"EM, Conn. Say type Echo 8." Rains said back.

"Working on it sir. It's small though, whatever it is."

"XO, set condition 1." Rains ordered. The alarms sounded briefly throughout the ship. He could hear people shuffling to their stations. He looked at the tactical display. Echo 8 was at the extreme range of their sensors. They had a directional bearing via EM emissions from the bogie, but hadn't gotten anything on them with IR or visually with the telescopes. Rains didn't have any hopes of a visual. They were in interstellar space, between stars. There wasn't enough light out here to let you see your hand in front of your face on an EVA.

"Condition 1 set sir. All hands are in readiness," the XO reported.

"Very well. You have to Conn. I'll be in the EMC," Rains walked forward to find out what was going on.

"What have we got?" He asked on entering the ears of the ship.

"Looks like a jump sir, followed by some encrypted radio chatter. The radio is too weak to identify. Whatever it was it's quiet now." Rains looked at the EM displays that the operators were working. It all looked like snow to him, nothing more than the sounds left over form the big bang. They'd seen something though. He hit the button on the intercom.

"Conn, Commander, what's the status on the rece shots?" he asked.

"Wait one sir," Kurtz's voice came back. They could use one of them now to get in closer to whatever had jumped in. Too bad they didn't have any decoys spooled up. Rains would have liked to drop one and slink off.

"We have one bird in the tube sir. The other two are in programming now." Kurtz came back.

"Launch that bird down the datum line XO. Quietly."

"You get a range?" Rains asked the EMO.

"No sir. We'll localize that with the rece. If we need anything faster we'll need to get an off-axis read." They could estimate range if they could triangulate the signals they'd heard. They could let the rece be the other point of the triangle or they could move the Athens to be that second point. It wouldn't do them much good at the moment. They couldn't hear whatever was out there.

"Keep looking," Rains said, leaving.

"Nav do we have a jump solution?" he asked back in command.

"Yes sir, three." Rains looked at them. One was off-axis that would put them across the Base Stars' projected path, one away from the Base Stars... and one that went closer in. Rains tapped his finger on the last plot.

"I can have a new plot from that point in ten minutes sir," Nav said. Of course he could, they'd be jumping back to where they'd been when they'd first spotted the Cylons.

"Get me a better option 3 Nav, and plot five micro jumps from there." Rains said.

"Rece is away sir," Kurtz said as Rains turned back to the conn. The wide circle that represented the bogie on the tactical suddenly shrunk to a point.

"Conn, EM. We've got a Search radar from Echo 8. They're painting us."

"Get us out of here Paul," Rains said. "Sublight," then turned his attention to the intercom. "They see us EMO?"

"Doubtful sir, he's a long ways off. He'll probably have the rece bird in twenty minutes. He looks to be a couplea light minutes away."

"Helm, come right to 270 mark negative 30, all ahead two thirds," Kurtz ordered.

"Get the tape ready to flash EMO," Rains ordered. Fleet wanted evidence. He'd give them evidence.

"Vampire!" he could hear one of the operators yell in the EMC. A chevron appeared on the Tactical display, representing the inbound missile. It looked awfully close.

"FTL?" Rains asked.

"Spooling up sir," The Navigator said. "Three minutes to jump."

"Gimme option 2 on that Nav," Rains said. He looked at the Tactical, did the math quickly in his head. That might not be soon enough. "All ahead flank," he ordered.

"All ahead flank aye," the helmsman responded. Rains could practically feel Athens strain under his feet. That missile was launched from a long ways off. It wouldn't have much fuel left for maneuvering when it got in close to the Athens. Putting on flank acceleration would force course corrections, burning that much more fuel. It might be enough to give them their chance to FTL out of here.

"Comms, flash what we've got to Fleet. No sense in being quiet now." Rains ordered. He exchanged a look with Kurtz. There wasn't anything else to do. They couldn't get the FTL's to spool up any faster.

"Two minutes to intercept," Nav said. That was a nice way of putting it. Intercept. More like 2 minutes until we're vaporized. More little chevrons appeared on the tactical. Ah, they figured out their mistake.

"Count me down from the new contacts Nav," Rains said. They wouldn't have fired off more missiles if they thought the first one would hit. That meant that they must have been on the ragged edge of detection range when the Cylon had fired the first missile. Either that or they'd fired the first on to flush the quarry.

"EMO, paint that bastard. I want a picture." Rains said, jabbing his thumb on the intercom. It wouldn't really be a picture, but they'd have a better idea of who this Cylon was. Part of Rains just wanted to let them know they weren't just running.

"Captain, we're starting to encounter relativistic effects," Nav said. Well, wasn't that great?

"Understood," Rains said. Time was passing more slowly for them than Fleet now. That would be fun to explain, if they made it out of this in once piece.

"Conn, Engineering," a semi excited voice came over the intercom.

"Go, Eng," Rains said.

"Sir, we're thirty seconds to thermal shutdown on the port engine."

"Understood. Helm engines to idle," he said. They wouldn't be doing any more accelerating.

"New contacts, four minutes to intercept," The Navigator called out.

"FTL?" Rains asked.

"40 seconds sir."

"Time to intercept on original Vampire?"

"50 seconds. It doesn't look like it has the momentum to intercept."

"How close?"

"Sir?"

"How close will it get?" Rains snapped. The last thing they needed was a proximity-fused nuke going off near them. The Athens was fairly new. Her armor plating was good at dealing with Alpha particles, beta rays, micrometeorites, but hard gamma rays would light his crew up like Colonial Day.

"Fifty kilometers, plus or minus twenty." That was a big margin of error. Hopefully they wouldn't be around to find out about it.

"Thirty seconds to jump." The jump klaxon sounded throughout the ship. Rains stopped pacing around the center of the control room and sat down in the center seat.

"Nav, Jump once we're spooled up," he ordered.

#

"Here's to the craziest frakin' Chief in the fleet!" Ramirez said over her ale, raising a toast to Mitchell. The Chief grinned a bit sheepishly. Mitchell tried to beg off the toast, but his team and another from the same shift all raised their glasses.

"Hey, anyone woulda done the same," He managed.

"We got you a little something Chief," Ramirez said. She pulled out an impromptu speech and jumped up on the table. "May I have you attention please?!" She yelled. She held the paper up in front of her, "For performance above and beyond the call of duty and any semblance of sanity. First shift, Starboard Deck Team Charlie would like to honor you with this award," She held up an obviously painted brick of something, "The golden fruitcake!"

Mitchell just shook his head and sipped at his ale. He was tired. The adrenaline from the EVA had wiped him out but the team had insisted on this. The mess erupted with cheers. Mitchell raised his glass and tried to disappear. So far no one had said anything about the fact that Ravi had noted the thruster problem in 314. No one had said anything about down checking 309. The other shoe hadn't dropped.

Ramirez handed Mitchell his fruitcake, holding it on the bottom. "Careful, it's still wet," She warned over the noise of the crowd. He set it down carefully on the table.

"I'm wiped out. I'm outa here after this round," He said.

"Oh come on Chief! It's not every day you get to see someone pull some death-defying stunt. We gotta celebrate!"

"Wait. See? Whadda ya mean?"

"Didn't no one tell ya? They had you on the LSO camera the whole way in, humpin' on the nose of 314." Mitchell wanted to die.

"Oh, Gods," He groaned. He downed what was left of his ale. "That's it I'm outa here."

"Chief, you gotta..." Ramirez started then stopped. Mitchell's brow wrinkled. What was wrong? He looked at Ramirez, saw her staring at something. He followed her gaze to see Lt. Conners standing in the door to the mess hall.

"Ah huh," He said. "I guess I really do have to go." He walked toward the door, trying to prepare himself for what was coming.

"Chief," She said, not quite looking him in the eye.

"Evenin' Lieutenant," He managed to sound... what? Arrogant? It wasn't how he wanted to come off. He winced a little.

"I just wanted to..." She trailed off, looked down at the deck. "Look, let's not draw this out."

"Ooookay," Mitchell said. He sighed, ready to be yelled at.

"Thanks," She said, extending a hand. He stood there looking at it dumbly for a second. She looked up at him. He looked down at the hand. "Fine, have it your way." She snapped.

"Wait," He said, stopping her. "I'm sorry Lieutenant. I'm a little out of it. Uh... your welcome?" He managed. She gave him a look of semi-disgust, then walked off. What the hell had just happened? He heard someone chuckling in the corridor. He turned to see Master Chief Lewis grinning.

"Kid, you've either got big brass balls or brains of custard. I wasn't sure which until just now," The old Chief clapped him on the shoulder and laughed again. What was so damned funny?

#

"Rachel? Rachel, wake up," Someone shook her gently.

"Mrmmmm? Ali?" She asked, opening her eyes slowly. It was dark, she heard the sounds of a bustling starport outside and it all came back to her.

"James," he identified himself. Of course it was James. Ali was off planet. She blinked. "Hey slugger, we've got a boat load of cattle to get to market. Think we could spool up our bird and do that?"

"What?" She asked. She looked at her chrono. Frak! "Frak! Why didn't you call me?" She asked, sitting up on the couch she'd slept on. She was an hour to departure.

"Because an expecting Mom needs her sleep," James said. Oh no. She should have expected no less, rumors flamed through Picon Connection like wild fire. "I've pre-flighted the bird and filed our flight plan." He handed her a copy of the plan and the weather report for their clime out.

"I'm not pregnant," She said.

"That ain't what the Doc says."

"The Doc would have grounded me if I'd said anything else," She snapped.

"So why not take the grounding and find out what's up?" James asked. "What are you trying to prove Rachel? That you can hack it? That you can fly with your eyeballs detached?" There was an edge in his voice, almost as if... Of course he cared about her, they were friends but... Oh Gods, could her life get any more fracked up right now?

"I just need the money," she lied, grabbing her flight bag from under the couch. It was something he couldn't argue with much. All of the pilots for Picon Connection needed more money. That, or an in with one of the larger carriers that actually paid their pilots a decent wage.

"Here," he said, handing her a small cardboard box.

"What's this?" It was dark, but she could read the box.

"Pregnancy test," He said.

Chapter 4

"You ever get the feeling we're getting too old for all of this Jerry?" Tigg asked in his cabin. He'd offered Dairen a drink, but the XO had politely refused. Rachel's party had gotten a little out of hand. The Deck crews had been a bit rowdy. At least that's what Tigg had heard. He'd headed in early, catching up on paperwork. Dairen had stopped by for a nightcap. Well, Tigg could call it that, even if he was the only one drinking.

"No, just that you are," Dairen said, there was only a shadow of a smile on his face. The XO was right. Tigg was getting too old for this. Time for this Commander to move along so that someone younger and more eager could mold the Pacifica into their own vision of a properly running Battlestar. It would happen soon enough. He just needed to get her in for her SLEP and he'd be gone.

"I tracked down the issue on that bird today," Dairen said.

"Do I want to know about it?" Tigg asked, looking at a dispatch, shuffling it off to the 'bother me again in a week' pile.

"Let's just say that if someone comes to you thinking the kid who went out there deserves a medal... He doesn't. Dairen was leaning against the bulkhead. He didn't even look tired. The guy was a machine, Bob thought. He put his classes down on the desk.

"So, what do the little birds from the hanger deck have to say?"

"Hey, I couldn't tell you. I don't know, right?"

"You're about the most uninformed XO in the fleet," Bob allowed.

"Conners downchecked one of his birds. Kid gave her one with thruster problems. Not that anyone had written a chit on it mind you." Dairen shrugged. Tigg was less than pleased. He narrowed his eyes at the XO.

"Hey, little birds right?" Dairen said.

"That shit doesn't happen on my boat," Tigg said. He could have throttled the crew chief for putting one of his pilots in danger like that.

"Come on Bob, you think you're super Commander or what? It happens. You know better," He and Jerry had served together for a long time but... Oh. Hell. He was right. Tigg was just tired. Still, something had to be done. "You might cut the kid a little slack, he did go out and save her and the bird."

"Lewis know about this?"

"Hey, he's closer to the little birds than I am."

"Alright, Lewis can take care of his own. You got anything else or are you just hanging around making sure I get tucked in?" Tigg asked, downing his scotch and soda.

"We're due in in two weeks. Just wondering if you were working up your crew recommendations." Ah, so fishing.

"Yeah, of course I am." Tigg said. It wasn't the smoothest move, but then Jerry wasn't such a smooth operator, except when he had support, like from Master Chief Lewis. Lewis was about as smooth as they came. "You have a specific question Colonel?"

"I was just..."

"... sniffing around?" Tigg finished. He shouldn't be so hard on Dairen. Maybe it was the drink. "I'll let you know Jer, but not yet. Don't worry I'm not going to surprise you." Or maybe he was going to. Dairen's record was clean, if uninspiring. Not having wings was hurting him. Tigg got the impression that he knew it. The guy just didn't relate to pilots, which meant command of a Battlestar wasn't in his future. A support ship, sure, but not something where he'd be called on to command pilots. It just wasn't in the cards. He wanted it though.

"I appreciate that Commander," Dairen said coming to a bit of attention. They both knew that Tigg would deep six any hopes of a Battlestar. It was a small bone of contention between what was otherwise a fairly decent working relationship.

"Have a good night Colonel," he said, a dismissal. Dairen walked out and Tigg was left in his cabin alone. He'd only been aboard for two years, long for a single command really, but then he didn't have many illusions when he got here. Just as Dairen wouldn't get his Battlestar Tigg knew that a second star wasn't in his future either. He'd been passed over for the Admiralty three months into this command. After that it had just been a matter of serving out his thirty.

He'd had a good career hadn't he? Nothing to complain about to be sure. Still, he was a pilot at heart, competitive. Being passed over had stung. He'd had a while to let it settle in though.

"I will miss it," he allowed himself before turning in.

#

"Clear," Garrison's voice was quiet over the channel, almost inaudible. Edwards shuffled quietly down the corridor, ready for something to jump out. They just had to get through the berthing compartment for Bravo company and they'd be through. Edwards crept along slowly, trying to make as little noise as possible, his footsteps hardly a whisper. He looked around slowly, the room glowing green in the night vision equipment over his eyes. No one much moved in the bay.

They'd been at this for almost an hour now. It hadn't been too bad up until now, they'd known that this would be the toughest part of the Ex. They'd picked Bravo company as the ingres path because they'd been nuggets when they'd left Caprica months ago. Lucky for Garrison and Edwards they hadn't matured much in that time. Sgt. Anthony though...

Edwards crept up to Anthony's door and listened. He bet that Bravo Company's Top had broken his nose a few time from the sounds that emanated from his quarters. It could have been a wind tunnel. Deep and slow. He was out for sure. Edwards crept by, slipping into the head quietly as the fire watch came back through. Two clicks sounded in his ear as Garrison had eyes on the fire watch. Edwards flattened himself against the wall and waited. It would have been so easy to grab the kid, but that wasn't what their Ex was all about.

Time seemed to stand still as he waited. Finally two more clicks sounded. Firewatch was past. Edwards slunk out of the head and out the far side of the bay. He waited for a minute before walking through the door. There was no one outside the bay.

"Clear," he called quietly over the wireless. Garrison clicked twice to let him know that he was starting his run. Edwards watched in the NVE as Garrison made his way through the bay. Firewatch would be back in five minutes. They'd timed the kid three times through his routine before they'd decided on the schedule. Edwards had to admit that Garrison was better than him at this stuff. He could hardly see the guy slink through on the night vision. Then again, he'd taken the run that didn't have the Firewatch come through.

They linked up outside the bay and headed off for their primary target.

"What are you doing?" someone asked from behind them. They both spun around ready to pounce. Shit. Captain Heron, their CO.

"Uh... SleepEx?" Garrison offered, pulling the night vision from his head. Edwards feigned snoring.

"What the hell is going on out here?" Sgt. Anthony looked ready to chew serious ass as he stormed out of the bay, having heard the voices. He shriveled on seeing Heron though.

"Evening Captain," He said, saluting. He looked at Garrison and Edwards, noticed their gear and narrowed his eyes at them.

"Evening Sergeant," Heron said, returning the salute, "Sorry to wake you, obviously my guys are getting sloppy," She gave them a displeased look. They were so busted. Anthony looked them all over and slunk back into his bay. Heron, motioned the pair to move out.

"SleepEx 'eh?" She asked when they were out of earshot.

"Hey, we gotta keep the spear sharp right Captain?" Garrison asked. He was the braver of the two, in addition to being the quieter. Luckier too, which is why he did the talking. Edwards would only dig their grave deeper if he opened his mouth and he knew it.

"Uh huh," Heron said, not impressed. Her hair was pulled back into a tight ponytail, a short one. Edwards wondered if she ever wore it any other way. "Just a coincidence you're making a bee line for Lieutenant Gathe's quarters?" She asked. Gathe wasn't the most popular Lt. on the Vanguard, especially among the SpecOps troops.

"Gathe? Were we? His quarters are down here? We were just going to stop by the Goat Locker for a cup of coffee, honest Captain," Garrison said in his best puppy dog tone.

"Good night Garrison," Heron said, dismissing the specialist.

"Sir," He said saluting, practically running from the scene of the crime.

"How about that coffee Eddy?" She asked Edwards less formally. The Sergeant clipped his NVE to his belt and nodded.

"I am here to but serve," He said.

It wasn't the Goat Locker, and the coffee wasn't as good, but disturbing the Chiefs at this hour was not such a good idea. They found a quiet part of the Van's enlisted mess to talk.

"I'm guessing this isn't my post ex performance review," Edwards ventured, dumping half a dozen packets of sugar into his coffee. Heron made a face at his coffee abuse. He just smiled back.

"You ate those sugary cereals as a kid didn't you?" She asked.

"Hell, I still eat 'em 'chelle," He said. He took a good long sip of his sugar and sludge.

"You'll rot your teeth."

"I've got a good dental plan."

"I dunno, you seen the instruments Doc's got? I don't think he cleans 'em." Oh boy. She was worked up.

"What's got you wound up so tight?" Edwards asked. It was late, and nightowl he might be, watching Michelle pontificate could get painful fast.

"Yeahrly recommended me for S2 of the 5th."

Ah huh. It hadn't been the first time the General had tried to kick-start Heron's career. Edwards had figured that the last time had been the last though. There were only so many times you could say no to advancement. There were people scratching hard at such a position. Why 'chelle shrugged 'em all off....

"Take it," Edwards said bluntly. He'd have to break in a new CO, but hell that was a challenge. He'd happily do that if he didn't have to watch Michelle wither on the vine here. She told everyone that she liked what she did, didn't want to give it up. He knew the truth thought, well, as much as she'd let anyone know. He guessed she didn't want to find out where the glass ceiling was, didn't want to be stuck in a staff position for the rest of her career so she self-limited.

"It ain't that easy Eddy," she said, stirring her coffee. Gods she could get infuriating when she was like this, like a whipped puppy. Well, okay, everything was relative, but Edwards knew she was better than this vulnerable person before him.

"Bullshit. Tell Yeahrly yes. It's that easy."

"No. Don't you see? The 5th is stationed all the way on the other side for the colonies, about as far away from Caprica as you can get," She said.

"Yeah so?" He asked. Oh. Oh no. She had to be joking. He'd seen Charley once, while he'd been aboard the Pacifica for an Ex. She couldn't be serious. The pasty console jockey?

"You're right," She said. What did she expect?

"You've gotta be kidding," Edwards said. "Charley? Come on 'chelle, we've slogged through a lotta mud together. This ain't the guy," He said.

"What the hell would you know anyway?" She snapped at him. He should have slapped her. She had to snap out of it. He was not her girlfriend to confess to. Hell, if she wanted to do that there was a priest on board.

"Hey, I'm not the one who's dumped two up and coming prospects," Eddy said, then regretted it.

"No, you aren't are you," She said standing. Why did his foot fit so perfectly in his mouth?

"Hey, Michelle, wait," he tried to apologize.

"Sleep fast Sergeant," She said, back to her stony bitch exterior. Shit. She was gone. He just shook his head. Stop talking Eddy, less change to cram the whole frackin' foot in there, he thought to himself.

#

Dark. It was Dark. It took him a moment to realize that very very simple fact. He was alive. Wasn't he? For long moments all he could hear was his breath, then slowly, as if a deep spring fog was lifting other sounds came to him, alarms, distant. His world opened up. The darkness lightened. The black was replaced with a confusing grey. He made out images, people that he knew. He thought he knew them.

"Commander!" the man shouted in his face, barely a whisper. He looked anxious, almost panicked. Who was he? He looked familiar.

"Commander!" Kurtz screamed, Rains' hearing coming back quickly. Everything came back quickly, suddenly, as if a switch had been turned on in his mind. He blinked rapidly and sat up on the deck.

"Report," He commanded, the distant sound of his own voice strange to him. He felt his head. There didn't seem to be any pain. He remembered the explosion, the jump, being thrown to the ground.

"We've taken some radiological damage. The EMC is down right now. We jumped clear just as it went off." Kurtz helped him into the center seat. Rains' hearing slowly came back.

"Corpsman, over here," the XO said. The kid couldn't have been more than twenty-five. He touched Rains' forehead and the CO flinched back. So, he had banged something. The dullness in his head was leaving though.

"Radiological?" Rains asked, brushing the corpsman off. He needed to see a damage control map.

"Nothing concussive, thank the Gods," Kurtz said. He pointed at the DC board, which was green. "But radiological sensors picked up a spike. We've all taken a small dose. The kids in the magazine though..." He just shook his head.

"How?"

"Not sure yet, but they got..." Kurtz looked down, took a deep breath, shook his head.

"They're not dead yet?" Rains asked. Oh no. He'd heard stories about radiation poisoning. It wasn't a pleasant way to go.

"Conn, EM. We've got limited passive capability back."

"EM, Conn, aye," Kurtz said into the intercom, obviously glad to have something to get off the subject of the magazine crew.

"We need engineers in the magazine. I need to know if we can work in there. Are those kids out of there?" Rains asked, bringing them back to the subject at hand.

"They're in the showers. I detailed the bravo watch to scrub 'em down. ChEng is going over the magazine."

"Get the heads together in the wardroom in ten, get out there and be seen," Rains ordered. "Pass the word personally and let the crew see you doing it. I've got things here."

Kurtz lowered his voice, "You sure I should go?" He asked.

"Yeah. I'll do a circuit after the meeting. I need to know what's going on outside right now," Rains said. It was important for the crew to see one of them right now, but Rains needed to get a handle on the tactical situation.

"Alright," Kurtz said and headed off to gather the department heads.

"Nav, where are we?" Rains asked turning to the plot table.

"We're in the Oert clod of Picon," the Navigation officer reported. "We're at least two AU's from the closest significant body." Rains thought about that for a second. Not the best place to be. Not bad. There wasn't anything out here. They wouldn't stick out too much, except maybe their thermal signature.

"Plot me a jump into the system. I'd like to be sitting 2 million k from Jericon if push comes to shove," He said. The radiation from the system's gas giant would give them a bit more cover to hide in, if they needed to hide. "You have to Conn," He said. EMC was his next stop.

It was chaos. The techs were working with engineers restoring their consoles. Rains caught Heinz's attention.

"How goes Lieutenant?" he asked.

"We're getting there," Heinz said. "The nuke blew out damn near every console. I think the receivers themselves are okay, but the amps and gross filters... we've only got so many spares sir."

"What about the BARQ?" Rains asked. The BARQ what the heart of the EM system, taking in electro-magnetic signals from all of the various receivers on the ship and filtering things down so that the specialists could make sense of what was coming in.

"It looks fine, we've run a quick diagnostic and things check out, but we've only brought the extra-centimeter receivers back on-line so far. Filters for those weren't too bad. Above centimeter.... I don't know. Things may be too noisy for the BARQ to handle." The Chief working on one of the monitors was nodding his head as he pulled bits out of the console.

"Keep at it. Department heads getting together in," Rains looked at his watch, "Five." He headed out for the wardroom.

They'd been lucky, damned lucky. The question was how did whoever know where they were so soon? Athens was designed with stealth in mind. She didn't return much of a radar signal, she didn't give off much heat, she didn't have much of any emissions to speak of. So how had someone localized them?

"Weps and ChEng will be a little late," Kurtz said walking into the ward room, he closed the hatch behind him. "We're worse off than we thought."

Rains felt a little numb, whatever adrenaline had been in his system was wearing off. "What have you got?" he asked.

"The magazine in usable in shifts, but... we aren't going to be working in there anytime soon. ChEng has isolated the compartment to keep the radiation from spreading."

"This is all from the attack? We didn't crack one of our own did we?" Rains asked.

Kurtz shook his head, "I don't know yet. Part of the reason ChEng is gonna be late, he's still going over the magazine with a radiometer." This could be bad. If they couldn't work in the magazine they couldn't re-load the missile tubes. If they had to work in radiation gear in there it would slow reloading down.

"The crew?" Rains asked.

"Spooked. Getting Bravo shift involved in helping the magazine crew may have been a bad idea."

"They would have found out anyway," Rains motioned for the XO to open the hatch.

#

"Picon STC, this is Picon Connection 998 with you on 556.234," Rachel said as space returned to normal after the jump. The ride out from Caprica's atmosphere and gravity well had been uneventful. The pills the Doc had given her had done the job, no more barfing in the bathroom.

"Picon STC, this is Picon Connection 998 with you on 556.234," she repeated. Sometimes it took the wireless a minute to work right after a jump.

"We have local traffic at 290 mark 42," James said looking at their DRADIS. "Range, 3k."

Rachel looked out the window almost involuntarily. There was no way she'd see whatever was out there. Old habit, you wanted to get visual confirmation.

"Picon 998 this is United Heavy 436, welcome to the party."

"Say again?" Rachel asked.

"We jumped in two minutes before you. STC is unresponsive this channel," United Heavy 436 said. Aquarion United, now there was a line that paid it's pilots.

"Do we have UOR from Picon?" she asked James. She didn't see any guidance directives on her panel. Flying a manual approach from this far out was not going to be fun. Usually the UOR would give them a fix to navigate from, make things a little easier.

"Negative on that," James said. He was hunting things down now, scanning other frequencies looking for some contact with Picon. The planet it self was within visual range. It didn't quite fill Rachel's field of view, but it was close. They'd have to be on the lookout for the Geosync ring in a few minutes if they didn't get any vectors from STC. She powered on the liner's anti-collision radar. Their DRADIS usually relied on datalinks from other stations and STC to build it's picture.

"United Heavy 436, say position," Rachel asked. She didn't see them on DRADIS.

"We're in lane 3, just passing marker 4." United 436 said. Approach this far out was divided into lanes, imaginary boxs a hundred kilometers square that liners got assigned into so that they could navigate without chance of running into each other. The markers represented where you were in the lane.

"Wilco," Rachel said, "We're in lane 7, marker 2." That put them what, 10000 km behind United. So what was the local traffic? Rachel switched over to the Guard channel on the radio.

"No, left left, break!" a voice screamed over the radio. What the hell? Her heart skipped a beat. James looked over to her suddenly, his eyes large.

"Get out of there Starburst, get... Ahhhhrg bzzzzzt."