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The Pegasus: Book 7 - Undefeated and Unforsaken

By  Dean Thomas 

Word Count:26,262 
Date: 2004
Series: Mini
Rating: T
Category: AU
Pairing/Focus: Original Characters
Warnings:
Summary
Spoilers/Disclaimers:


PROLOGUE

Number One was chairing another council-of-war with other selected humanoid Cylons up on the top of the massive Virgon Space Elevator - one of the few structures that the Cylons had not destroyed in the recent war. Now that the additional defensive weaponry had been mounted throughout the upper complex on the tower, there was no further need to maintain a base star as the command ship while in the Cyrannus System.

Eight of the Cylon Humanoids were seated with her at the large desk that dominated the room. In addition, two Centurions were standing sentinel at the doorway, ready to act immediately upon any orders that Number One may care to give.

“As you know”, she began, “we have managed to decode some human communications that one of our remote probes had intercepted. From what we have managed to decode - and the complexities of this new encoding protocol has made the decoding only about sixty percent accurate, we can assume that the unknown battlestar is planning a supply rendezvous with representatives of this other remnant of humanity in approximately twenty days from now”.“The when is important”, Number Six commented, “but it sounds like we still do not know who they are, or where they are. Do we have any idea of where this rendezvous will be?”.“The humans are being very security-conscious”, Number One replied, “They are using code-names rather than co-ordinates. They have made references to points names ‘Nebula’ and ‘Polaris’, but so far, nothing further has come up that may indicate precisely where those locations are”.“So what can we do, if this new code has not been fully broken by that time?”, Number Four asked. Number One gestured to Number Seven to reply to Four’s question.“We intend to send out multiple Spartans to all of the nearby sectors around the rendezvous time. At the same time, two full task forces will be on immediate jump readiness. The moment that any Spartan detects a presencewithin the time period of the rendezvous, the probe will return. Then those task forces will make an immediate FTL combat jump to wherever the Spartan had come from”, he explained.

They all were familiar with this new class of sentient reconnaissance drone. Larger than a Raider and as well armed - if not more so - than the pest the Colonials called the Peregrine. Once the records and scans of the encounters with this advanced scout ship had been analyzed, production began on a Cylon version that would neutralize this threat permanently. Even now, twelve of them were seeking to penetrate the Nova Maddigon to confirm the status of the Horizon Tylium mine on Carillon.

“Forgive my skepticism”, Number Four replied, “but despite the number of probes at our disposal, that’s still playing the laws of probability, given the vastness of space. There’s no reason to think that the humans would use a nearby sector for their rendezvous”.

“So far, the encounters that we have had - not counting here or in the Promar Sector - have been in nearby systems only”, Number Seven said, “so the odds favor a system that is close by, but as an additional precaution,we are also sending out a larger number of raider patrols and additional grasshopper-type remote probes - in groups of two and three - to more outlying areas with strict orders for one of them to immediately jump back to base if anything out of the ordinary occurs. In that case, two base star task forces which will form our ready-alert forces will deploy to support the other two raiders and/or probes”.

“I should also remind you of our success in destroying one of the C.I.S.A.R. cutters earlier”, Number One added, “which leaves just one more of that class of vessel left, along with the Peregrine that has caused heavy losses to our fleet. The loss of that cutter will force them to commit at least one of those remaining fleet assets to the rendezvous with the battlestar. And once we destroy them, we can devote more of our fleet assets to hunting down and finally destroying the GALACTICA and her convoy”, she concluded.

The others fell silent, thinking about what One and Seven had said. The rogue battlestar and the other humans based around the remaining cutter and the peregrine gunship had really caused a lot of trouble, and resulting in stopping them from putting other ships on the tail of the GALACTICA and the human convoy of mismatched ships that the battlestar was protecting. Something had to be done soon because the status quo would - in the long run - be disastrous. Every day that the GALACTICA and it’s convoy stayed at liberty was a day closer to the humans being able to rebuild and return. They all understood - thanks to their genetic engineering - the emotion of hate and the human desire for revenge.....

CHAPTER ONE: Asking for Volunteers

The Promar Sector. Once, it was a location where only remote probes were sent to, now it harbored some of the last remnants of humanity - refugees from an implacable foe that had rendered the twelve colonies unlivable. But there were other humans there as well. This group was a survivor from the destroyed Colonial Fleet - a mighty warship - and those on board did not think of themselves as refugees. As far as they were concerned, they were not on the run from anyone. They were there to find the human refugees that were being protected by another warship, in the hope of banding together and fighting back against those who had forced their flight from their home worlds.

The Battlestar PEGASUS - in it’s quest to find the Battlestar GALACTICA and the convoy of human survivors - has had it’s share of problems since departing from the colonies, but recent events had overshadowed all of that. They had established contact with another group of survivors, who were protected by another surviving fleet warship - the Battlecruiser GOLIATH, and with that news, everybody on board the PEGASUS knew that the Cylon enemy would not know victory.

The Commander of the PEGASUS, Garris Cain, was down in hangar bay nine (starboard landing bay), talking to eighty-four of the one hundred and eleven viper-qualified pilots on board. They had assembled there at his order. The remaining twenty-seven were not present as twenty-four of them (two squadrons - one from each wing based on the battlestar) were on launch standby and the other three were flying close cover while the three raptors and the peregrine gunship were conducting deep space probes, but the twenty-four sitting in their vipers had their communicators tied into the briefing room, so that they could hear what Cain was saying.

“And there you have it, everybody”, Cain concluded to the assembled pilots sitting in chairs facing him. Cain was standing on a portable rostrum, with the two CAG’s - Eugene Syke and Lance Voight sitting behind him. With the peregrine out on patrol, there was ample space in the bay for everyone to sit and listen.

Cain had spent the last hour personally briefing them on the existence of the Battlecruiser GOLIATH and the two rendezvous missions that Syke and Tricia Cain had been on. The mood of the pilots was very positive.

“So Commander”, one of the pilots spoke up, “Are we going to join up with the GOLIATH? After all, they are giving the tin-heads a hard time back at the Colonies while we’re out here in remote space, chasing shadows”. The pilots quieted down as they awaited Cain’s answer.

“That’s why I’m talking to you all here”, Cain replied, “The colonial forces attached to the GOLIATH are under-strength, and they could certainly use our help, but I’m still convinced that until the GALACTICA is located, it would not be in the best interests of our race to abort our mission”.

“Why?”, another pilot asked.

“The GALACTICA and the ships that she’s escorting is still being pursued by an overwhelming Cylon force. If we abandon them, then eventually, the tin-heads will hunt them down and annihilate them”, Cain replied icily, “The location of the GOLIATH’s base is a closely guarded secret and for the time being, they are relatively safe from discovery”, he continued.

“So what do you propose to do, if the PEGASUS is still to remain here in the Promar Sector?”, the same pilot asked.

“I’ve spoken to both CAG’s and they are in agreement”, he began, “There will be another rendezvous coming up in a few days. This time, the PEGASUS itself will be going to the rendezvous. I am going to offer them a squadron made up of volunteers from amongst you who will fly most of the reserve vipers that we have - eighteen total - to the GOLIATH. This will be a great help to them, and it will not compromise the striking ability of the PEGASUS”.

“Are you going to pull a squadron from one of the wings?”, another pilot asked. At that, Syke walked up to stand beside Cain.

“The volunteers will be pulled on a basis of nine pilots each from both wings. It will not be one existing squadron. This will be a new unit known as the ‘PEGASUS Volunteer Squadron’, and will be attached to one of the wings that the GOLIATH has on board”, Syke said.

Cain added, “ I do have some provisos though. The pilots who wish to join the P.V.S. can not be any of the wing or squadron command staff, or have less than six months viper-flying experience. The GOLIATH needs experienced pilots to assist them. Your respective CAG’s will make the final cut from the list of volunteers”.

“How long do we have before this new squadron transfers?”, a female pilot in the front row asked next. Voight stood up and replied to the question.

“You’ll get the word. For now, those of you wishing to transfer to the P.V.S. can put your names down on the volunteer sheets which will be in your respective wing admin offices”, he said. He nodded at Cain.

“Very well”, Cain then said, “You are not to discuss any of this outside your wings. There is still a security issue here and we cannot be complacent about it. Understood?”, Cain asked.

“UNDERSTOOD, SIR!”, the assembled pilots shouted back. Cain nodded, then said, “Dismissed. Return to your duty stations”.

As the pilots filed out, Cain turned to Syke and Voight.

“We keep the rendezvous time a secret until the last minute. Until then, you both get your nine finalists selected, then we’ll start getting the new unit established. I will want your recommendations on who will be commanding the P.V.S. as soon as possible”, Cain said.

“Commander”, Voight said, “I was curious why you did not see fit to detach Black Knight Wing from the PEGASUS. After all, we weren’t originally from this battlestar”.

Cain nodded. Lance Voight had brought almost his entire complement of fighters and support ships - including one raptor - when it was apparent that his base ship - the battlestar PACIFICA - was going to be destroyed. That had resulted in enhancing the fighter complement of the PEGASUS to a level unheard of on a single warship.

“Black Knight Wing has more than proven it’s worth, Captain”, Cain said, “and given the fact that we are in uncharted space trying to find the GALACTICA, the PEGASUS really needs your wing to help Silver Spar in helping us reach that goal. The reserve ships that we have are what we can readily spare, and if this initial squadron transfer works out, then perhaps the GOLIATH and PEGASUS can start rotating squadrons on a regular basis”.

“Too true, Lance”, Syke added, “The fact that your wing is here to share the load means that our pilots are not pushed to do too much”.

Voight nodded at that. He knew that his pilots were champing at the bit - wanting to attack Cylons and to inflict more payback for the loss of the colonies and the PACIFICA, but he realized that Cain was right.

“Are you going to add a raptor to the P.V.S., Commander?”, Voight asked. Cain nodded.

“The wings can each maintain one raptor, and we have more than enough support for them. The Peregrine that we have is proving it to be more than adequate in picking up the slack. Since the first raptor that we donated came from your wing, the second one will come from Silver Spar. I will allow one volunteer crew from the PEGASUS to man it”, Cain stated.

Cain left the hangar deck to head back up to CIC. However, before he had taken but a few steps, a voice said “Father?”. Cain turned around with a faint frown.

“You know you’re not supposed to call me that during working hours, Lieutenant”, Cain said to Tricia with mock seriousness in his voice.

“Commander”, she said formally, drawing her slim body up to attention, “Do you have a minute?”.

Cain smiled at her daughter. Nodding, he gestured to a nearby room, which was a recreation lounge for the maintenance crews. It was empty, which suited both of them fine. Cain closed the door behind him and faced his daughter.

“Okay, Tricia”, Cain said, “What’s on your mind?”.

“This squadron transfer”, she said shortly, “I was wondering why you haven’t asked me to transfer over to it”.

“You’re Syke’s deputy”, Cain replied, “and the policy I set is that none of the command staff were eligible. All of you are needed where you are”.

“Considering your refusal to allow me to transfer to the PEGASUS after I graduated from the academy”, Tricia replied, “that doesn’t make sense”.

“Having you come straight over to the PEGASUS from the academy would not have been beneficial for your career, young lady. By proving yourself aboard the TRITON, it meant that your career advancement would not have been due to the Old Man”, Cain explained.

“You know, when my initial request was denied, I was under the impression that you would have regarded me as a distraction to your job, Father”, Tricia replied icily.

“That’s both unfair and uncalled for, Tricia!”, Cain replied sharply. Tricia paled, but did not avert her eyes from her father’s. Cain reddened some, but then regained his composure.

“Do you want to transfer, Tricia?”, he asked her.

“Actually, no”, Tricia replied, “Even though I enjoyed seeing old friends again, I’m enjoying my job as the Deputy CAG of Silver Spar”.

“And Captain Syke as well?”, Cain retorted, causing Tricia’s eyes to widen.

“It’s all right, my daughter”, Cain said quietly, “Both you and Captain Syke are professionals and you both keep the personal and professional separate from each other”.

“But how did you know, Father?’, Tricia asked when she had regained her composure.

“I’m your dad, and I could see it in your eyes. Give me some credit for intuition”, Cain replied with a smile.

“I thought that you wouldn’t approve”, she said quietly. Cain walked over to her and hugged her. Tricia returned the hug. For a minute, neither of them spoke, then she gently broke the embrace to look into his eyes.

“I didn’t know what to think”, she said quietly, “I thought that you’d want me on another ship so that if anything happened to the PEGASUS......”.

“The thought did cross my mind, Tricia”, Cain confided, “but before you are my daughter, you’re a Colonial Fleet officer and a competent one at that. The latter is why I endorsed Syke’s request to have you as Deputy CAG of Silver Spar, and in that capacity the PEGASUS needs you here”.

“Thank you, Sir”, Tricia acknowledged formally. She knew that her father loved her very much, but in his capacity as the commander of the Battlestar PEGASUS, he made his decision based on necessity. That deserved a formal response. Cain smiled, seeing that his daughter understood.

“You’d better report back to Wing Admin”, Cain suggested, “There’s work to do”. With that, he left the lounge and headed back up to CIC. As he did so, the PA system announced, “Peregrine Maintenance Personnel to bay, Peregrine Five returning from patrol”.

Tricia stayed in the lounge for a couple of minutes, then headed out to the administration annex - where her office was located. As she got to the entrance of the annex, she caught the smell of coffee. It was very good coffee at that, she thought as she entered. She saw Gene Syke sipping coffee from a mug. Judging from the look on his face, the coffee tasted as good as it smelled.

“How the frakk did you manage to secure top quality coffee, Gene?”, she asked him as she walked in. Gene put down the mug and looked at her.

“Hey, the CAG does have a few perks that goes with the job, you know”, he replied cheerfully, “Want a cup?”, he asked.

“Yes, please”, she said. Syke poured her a cup of coffee and offered her some cream and sugar - those last two items courtesy of the recent shipment of consumables recently received from the GOLIATH.

“Actually, this is a private blend. Logan Masters and myself enjoyed drinking this stuff when we were at VTT on Picon. A local coffee house near the base specialized in making this blend”, Syke explained, “When our tours were up, we secured a few sacks of the stuff. Mine ran out a couple of days before the war, but I knew Logan had secured a lot more of the stuff. I asked him in the last letter if he could spare some and he sent me a five kilo block”.

“This is excellent”, Tricia said after sipping the brew, “but isn’t this violating regulations against hoarding of consumables? Colonel Tolen would have you in irons for this”.

“Actually”, Tolen said as he walked in, “Captain Syke and I have already come to a little understanding about it”. He was smiling and holding a coffee mug in his hand. Tricia rolled her eyes as Syke filled Tolen’s mug.

“Gotta ration it some, though”, Syke said after he filled the XO’s cup, “Trying to keep it down to a cup or two a day. It should be good for at least a month, if no more people partake”.

After Tolen had finished off his first cup of coffee, he turned to Syke and asked, “Any progress on volunteers yet, CAG?”, as he held his mug back out. Syke refilled his mug.

“I sent Jet out with the sign-up sheet to the various squadrons in the wing”, Syke replied, “and I should have a pared-down list to send to you shortly”. Syke was referring to Ensign Vansen, who now handled a lot of the paperwork for the wing when not on squadron alert.

“Giving up most of our reserve vipers though may be a little rough in the long term though”, Tricia pointed out. Syke silently agreed. The PEGASUS had twenty-two crated-up vipers which were now being assembled by Chiefs Krag and Brubaker. After the eighteen allotted to the P.V.S. were gone, then that would leave only four reserve ships for both wings. And this was not mentioning Silver Spar’s number two raptor, which would also be part of the transfer.

“Both wings are still at full strength, Lieutenant”, Tolen reminded her, “but according to the intelligence received from the GOLIATH, they are badly under-strength in fighters. They need this squadron to share the load until their base - wherever that is located - can start manufacturing replacements. Perhaps then, we’ll be able to get some of those”.

Tricia slowly nodded. True, the greater part of their fighter reserves would no longer be available to them, but the fact that there was a full-strength second strike wing on board meant that the dispatch of the reserve fighters would not matter for the short term - especially if wherever the GOLIATH’s base was did manage to manufacture additional fighters.

Just then, the alert klaxon sounded, followed by the P.A. announcing “Set Condition One throughout the ship. This is no drill, repeat: Set Condition One”.

Muttering a brief “Frakk”, Tolen put down his coffee mug and headed out of the office. He had to get back to CIC.

“Wonder what’s happening now?”, as Tricia ran out of the room with Syke and headed down to the launch tubes.

“We’ll soon be told, Tricia”, Syke replied, “but for now, let’s make sure that our squadrons are set to go”.

CHAPTER TWO: Reminder of the realities.

The reason why the PEGASUS had been brought up to Condition One alert was because of what a raptor patrol had encountered.

Lieutenant Helo and Petty Officer Dundee were on a forward probe ahead of the PEGASUS. They had just jumped their raptor to several light-minutes ahead of the battlestar. But their arrival had been seen the moment they exited the FTL-jump..

“Frakk”, Dundee exclaimed, “we’re being scanned by two objects, incoming fast!”.

“IFF?”, Helo asked as he throttled up his sub-light engines.

“Negative IFF”, Dundee replied, “Scanning emission type is Cylon, and now I’m intercepting transmissions emanating from one of the incoming contacts”.

“Going evasive”, Helo said, “Start jamming their transmissions and see about getting a missile lock on them”.

The raptor was now turning in a series of pre-programmed snap-rolls. Helo could have jumped straight back to the PEGASUS, but the fact that two Cylon ships were in the area - in apparently empty space - raised the question of why they were out here......and they were out here to reconnoiter, after all.

“Incoming ships are confirmed as Cylon Raiders - scimitar type. They’re launching missiles!”, Dundee reported.

“Dropping decoys”, Helo replied, hitting a switch, “Stand by to fire longbows”.

The decoys dropped off from beneath the raptor and emitted a similar heat signature and EM emission that a raptor would normally emit. The decoys worked. Both incoming missiles sped in on the decoys and detonated. A split second later, Dundee reported, “I’ve got missile lock on both hostiles, Helo”.

“Fire longbows, Snoopy!”, Helo ordered. With that, two of the wire-guided ship-to-ship missiles roared out of the raptor’s missile racks and streaked in towards the raiders.

The raiders noticed the incoming missiles and commenced their jamming, but as the longbow was directly controlled by the raptor, the jamming beams did not affect the guidance at all. Both raiders wanted to continue the engagement, but - thanks to Number One - this raider patrol had new directives. One of the raiders thus immediately flashed out of normal space in an FTL- jump.

“Frakk!”, Dundee said, “One of them has jumped. It’s probably calling for help”.

“They’re getting smart. Take out the other one fast, Snoopy”, Helo ordered, “We can’t stay pinned down here”.

Dundee deftly guided both longbows onto it’s target. The single raider fired several bursts at the missiles. One of the missiles’ control wires were hit, rendering it useless, but the other one - skillfully guided by Dundee - avoided the ammo bursts and impacted onto the right ‘wing’ of the raider. The Cylon ship reeled from the detonation of the warhead and started tumbling out of control.

“Great work, Snoopy!”, Helo shouted, “now start doing a quick high-intensity active scan of this sector. Those tin-heads were here for a reason and we don’t have much time to find it”. Helo hit full thrust and headed away from his current position. He knew that when Cylon reinforcements arrived, they would jump to the position of the dogfight. The farther that they were away from it when they did arrive, the better.

Dundee quickly activated the active sensor platform. While the sensors were probing the nearby space, Dundee fed in the revised jump co-ordinates. Just as he said, “The FTL-jump co-ordinates are set and ready to go”, a large FTL-flash was noticed by the sensors. It was close to where they had destroyed the raider.

“Uh-oh”, Dundee said as he saw what the sensors had indicated, “We have FTL emergence: two base stars at bearing three-three-six.....and they’ve seen us! They’re launching raiders!”.

“Jumping back in 3.....2.....1.....now!”, Helo said. The raptor made it’s FTL-jump in a flash of light.

On the lead base star, the Centurion in command received a report from the lead raider: HUMAN VESSEL POSITIVELY IDENTIFIED AS RAPTOR CLASS RECONNAISSANCE PLATFORM FTL-ED OUT OF LOCAL SPACE BEFORE WE COULD INTERCEPT. REMAINS OF PATROL RAIDER FOUND, ALONG WITH STRAY WIRE-GUIDED SSM. AWAITING ORDERS”.

The Command Centurion knew that the Raptor was only a short-range reconnaissance vehicle, which meant that it’s base ship must not be too far from here. Perhaps it was the GALACTICA, It thought. It made a decision.

Turning to a centurion responsible for communications, It said “Have squadrons from both base stars start making limited FTL-jumps in a spherical radial search pattern from this position, and dispatch probes to the nearest task force requesting their assistance, as well as to Number One back in the Cyrannus System”.

As the communications centurion complied, the Command centurion knew that their quarry was close. These more frequent patrols were finally starting to pay off. Now if only the other squadrons had the same amount of what the humans call ‘luck’, it thought.....

“Condition One set throughout the ship, Commander”, Captain Glen Sanders reported, “All decks report battle stations manned and ready”. Helo had made an immediate wireless report of the base ships immediately after emerging from the FTL-jump. Sanders had instinctively brought the PEGASUS to Condition One.

“Very well, Comms”, Cain acknowledged, “Have the raptor probe land immediately. If we have to launch vipers, best it not get caught in the crossfire”.

“What’s the situation?”, Tolen asked as he walked onto the CIC. Sanders quickly informed them about Helo’s encounter with a Cylon patrol and two Cylon Base Stars.

“We’re going to FTL out of here, Commander?” Tolen asked Cain. Tolen was less annoyed with the news than having to put down his coffee.

Cain didn’t reply directly. He turned to Sanders, saying, “Get the FTL-drive warmed up for a jump to”, quickly looking at the chart, “point ‘Quasar’, but don’t activate until I give the word”.

“What gives?”, Tolen wanted to know.

“Part of our mission is to distract Cylon forces in this sector from the GALACTICA, so I don’t want us to jump just yet”, Cain replied, “besides, I’ll be damned if I’m going to run from just a few tin-head raiders. This is a warship after all, and we might as well start making use of those various op-plans Captain Masters devised for us to use on such occasions”.

The crewmen listening to the exchange between the Commander and the XO silently agreed with what Cain had said. They were a warship and they were in a war. The hell with running!

“Commander”, the duty officer at the Core Command Console reported, “Both Strike Wings report ready to launch. Peregrine Five has been quickly refueled and brought back up to the port side flight deck and is reporting that they’re ready to launch. Raptor Probe One has just landed”.

Just as Cain was about to acknowledge the report, one of the comscan technicians announced, “FTL-emergence fifty kicks out at bearing zero-two-eight mark four-three-one. Twelve bogies......no IFF. Correction, ID confirmed as Cylon - closing fast!”.

Cain turned to Core Command, ordering, “Launch fighters. Take them out now!”.

As Core Command issued the launch order to the launch officers of both landing bays, Sanders asked Cain, “As far as our op-plans go, I recommend that we execute CORONA, as the AVENGER is set up for it”. Cain thought about the suggestion, then nodded. Sanders went over to Core Command and picked up a headset, tuning into the direct channel to Peregrine Five.

In Peregrine Five - better known by it’s nickname ‘FLEET AVENGER’ - Lt. Hunter was listening to Sanders’ order:

“You’re cleared for op-plan CORONA. Launch immediately!”.

“Understood”, Hunter acknowledged. Muttering ‘looks like we’re expecting base stars’, Hunter quickly brought the Peregrine’s engines online. Behind him, the PSO, Lt. Sims, punched in a set of targeting commands on his computer. He knew what CORONA was about.

“The warheads are hot and ready for launch, Hondo”, Sims reported as the Peregrine lifted off the flight deck and exited the landing bay. Hunter grunted an acknowledgment as he saw the combined squadrons of both strike wings being catapulted out into space. For them, it was one heck of a quick turn-around. They had only just returned from their patrol and were emerging from their ship while the fueling was being started when the alert was sounded. The maintenance crews quickly finished the fueling while both of them had quickly gotten back into their seats and brought the AVENGER’s systems back on line. Then it was back up to the flight deck and off into space: fully fueled and packing a lot of firepower.

Black Knight Wing was heading in to intercept the incoming hostiles while Silver Spar Wing was flying close cover over the PEGASUS. For it’s part, the Peregrine was heading out to a pre-set position well away from where the majority of the vipers were heading, with two Silver Spar vipers close in for escort. The Peregrine was keeping the PEGASUS between it and the incoming raiders so as not to be seen.

The escort leader was LT jg Benson (callsign ‘Growler’). “Growler to Hondo”, Benson communicated, “We’ve got you covered. Everything okay on your end?”.

“Yeah, Growler”, Hunter replied, “Let’s hope that we attract the big fish”.

As the Peregrine and it’s two escorting vipers maneuvered, lead elements of Black Knight Wing were closing in on the incoming Cylon squadron. Voight, who was leading his wing, crisply gave the order, “Go weapons-free, fire at will!”.

With that, the dogfight began in earnest.

The automaton Cylon raider which was commanding the attacking squadron had issued orders for one of the raiders to jump back to base and report the presence of a battlestar. As one of the raiders made the jump, the remainder of the raiders engaged the incoming wing. Missiles and bursts of ammunition flashed between them as the battle was joined.

SQUADRON FOUR REPORTS CONTACT WITH HUMAN BATTLESTAR AT CO-ORDINATES ONE-THREE-NINE MARK EIGHT-NINE-ZERO. SQUADRON ENGAGING DEFENDING WING OF VIPER MARK SEVEN FIGHTERS.

The command centurion turned to the communications centurion and ordered, “Have FTL-drones relay this information to all Cylon units in this sector, and to Number One at Command Headquarters. Inform the other base star to jump with us in order to engage the battlestar, and issue similar orders to our other squadrons”.

While that was being done, the Command Centurion turned to the centurion manning the control station.

“Activate FTL-jump to a position approximately ten clicks ahead of the reported co-ordinates immediately. It seems that we have found the GALACTICA”, it said.

“Captain Voight is reporting some of his fighters damaged, but they are knocking the tin-heads out of the sky”, Sanders reported to Cain. Cain nodded, but he knew that Cylon reinforcements were coming. He hoped that Captain Masters’ CORONA op-plan was going to work.

CORONA was the code name for a close-in nuclear missile attack on any encountered Cylon capital ships. It depended upon the base stars being distracted by both the PEGASUS and the defending fighters so that the Peregrine would be free to make it’s attack run. As a base star’s defensive weaponry was designed around a direct large-scale assault, it meant that the Peregrine would have to make a close-in FTL-jump at point-blank range, then FTL-jump immediately after firing it’s missiles to any other base star present in order to do the same, then FTL-jump again straight back out after releasing the missiles. That meant getting a highly accurate bearing and position check on the base stars without getting caught up in the battle. Timing was the key to CORONA’s success and the Peregrine was the only ship that had a reasonable chance of pulling it off. As Masters knew precisely what the Peregrine was capable of, he had devised this op-plan to take full advantage of it’s capabilities.

“We’ve got emergence!”, Sims reported, “Two base stars. They’ve emerged between Black Knight Wing and the PEGASUS. Both of them are moving in to engage”.

“Plot the FTL-co-ordinates”, Hunter ordered. He would not commence his jumps though until the PEGASUS’ batteries opened up on the lead base star, thus halting it.

“Heads up, Bojay”, Tricia reported from her viper, “We’ve got company”.

Syke saw from his viper the appearance of the two base stars. He keyed his communicator and spoke to all of the pilots in his wing.

“Get away from Home Plate’s firing solution”, he said, deliberately not mentioning the name of the PEGASUS, “Engage fighters only. Execute!”. As Syke well knew that any communications would be intercepted, it was imperative to be careful on the wireless so that the Cylons would not know which battlestar they were engaging. The PEGASUS had already darkened the lights that illuminated the battlestar’s nameplates.

As Silver Spar’s squadrons headed out away from the PEGASUS, Cain ordered his gunnery officer, “Primary and suppression batteries, Open fire!”.

With that, the four topside heavy batteries started firing at the lead base star while the bay-mounted defensive artillery laid down suppressing fire. Incoming Cylon ordinance launched from the lead base star was getting blasted - though the same was happening to their artillery rounds that were homing in on the Base Star.

“Let’s keep him still”, Cain ordered as the PEGASUS and the lead base star continued trading shots. For CORONA to work, this was essential. He also noticed that Black Knight Wing was now starting to fall back to help cover the PEGASUS.

“The second base star is moving to a flanking position, Commander”, Tolen reported. The second base star was ten klicks behind the lead base star, but it was starting to maneuver around in order to have an unhindered field of fire onto the PEGASUS.

“As Masters figured. Let’s hope that CORONA works, XO”, Cain replied, “Signal the AVENGER and tell Hondo that we’re all set”.

“Home Plate to AVENGER, You are cleared to commence”, Hunter heard over his headset. Just then, Growler’s voice came over the communicator.

“We’ve got an incoming raider. Just emerged and it’s close-in. You’d better go. We’ll take care of him”, Benson reported. With that, he and his wingman - Ensign ‘Tally’ Tomlinson - headed in to draw off the incoming raider.

The incoming automaton Cylon raider that Benson had detected was a scout which had responded to the alert. It saw the battlestar ahead, but then noticed the Peregrine and it’s escort close by. The GALACTICA didn’t have a Peregrine, the automaton knew. It must be the other battlestar! But before it could sent out the information, the incoming vipers opened fire. The automaton immediately went into defensive mode.

“They’re now engaging the hostile, Hondo”, Sims reported, “and they’ve also started jamming it’s transmissions”.

“Okay, Coffin. You got the co-ordinates of the second base star locked in?”, Hunter asked Sims.

“Got it”, Sims replied, “But it’s going to be real close”.

“AVENGER to home plate, CORONA commencing. Better get your fighters back now!”, Hunter said.

Cain ordered Sanders, “Issue the fighter recall and activate radiation shields. Helm, stand by to jump to ‘Quasar’ on my mark”.

On the lead Base Star, the command centurion noticed that all of the vipers were abruptly breaking off the attack and were heading back to the battlestar at high speed. It still could not get a positive ID on the name of the battlestar as the nameplate’s lights had been darkened out, but that was unimportant at the moment. It looked like the battlestar was preparing to make an FTL-jump and that had to be stopped. It ordered all guns to increase their rate of fire.

The PEGASUS shuddered as two missiles penetrated the suppressing fire of the counter-batteries and impacted upon the hull. Tolen looked at Cain.

“Looks like they don’t want us to leave their party”, he remarked dryly. Cain rolled his eyes at his XO’s dry wit.

“Commander, Both wings are coming straight in for combat landing. AVENGER reports they’re heading in now for execution of CORONA”, the comscan technician reported.

“As soon as the last fighter is down, retract our bays”, Cain ordered. He knew that he didn’t want the PEGASUS to be anywhere close by when CORONA was sprung....

The viper wings were heading back at full throttle to land back on board the PEGASUS. Several raiders had tried to give chase, but several of the PEGASUS’ secondary batteries blasted them out of the sky as they moved to intercept. The leading fighters quickly landed and moved aside in order to make room for the others coming in behind them.

“They’re coming in on both decks now, Commander”, Sanders reported, “some losses to both wings are being reported”.

“Save it for the debrief”, Cain replied, “Start retracting the bays”.

“Retracting the bays”, Sanders replied, “the last ones are landing now”.

The vipers were crowding both decks, but that didn’t stop Syke and Voight - who were the last pilots from their respective wings - in getting their vipers down. Sanders nodded when he verified that both CAG’s were aboard.

As Hunter noticed the PEGASUS’ landing bays start to retract, Hunter quickly activated the countdown for the activation of the FTL- drive. When the countdown reached zero, Sims then activated the CORONA program which was tied into the peregrine’s navi-comp and firing control computers. As Benson and Tomlinson finally managed to destroy the raider they had encountered, the FLEET AVENGER jumped.

At the moment that the landing bays had closed, the FLEET AVENGER FTL-jumped to a position only one hundred and fifty meters from the second base star - not the one directly engaging the PEGASUS. It reappeared directly in front of the control deck.

The peregrine’s missiles were programmed to fire at the instant the FTL-jump was made. Due to the necessity of getting in so close to avoid any possibility of counter battery fire hitting either the missiles or the peregrine itself, it all had to be done automatically, otherwise there would not be enough human reaction time to get clear before the missiles detonated. As the missiles shot off the racks - two scarabs for initial impact penetration, followed by the two nukes which would make use of the hole that the scarabs made in the hull - the FTL-drive automatically activated again. Hunter could hardly take it all in. The AVENGER flashed out just as the first missile hit.

The centurion commanding the second base star was surprised (or more precisely, as surprised as a Cylon could feel) when it saw the Peregrine appear so close to his ship, but before it could order the anti-fighter batteries to take it out, It then saw four missiles launched from the Peregrine, then flash out in another FTL-jump. It was the last thing that It would ever see.

With a flash, the scarabs hit, causing a small hull breach right by the control deck. With a far more intense flash a second later, both nuclear missiles detonated. Each missile was a 10K ‘tactical’ nuke, which was small by most standards, but the close-in detonation of them both right where the tough hull plating had been weakened by the scarabs’ impact proved more than enough to inflict devastating damage onto the base star’s control center.

When the Core Command technician reported, “Multiple nuclear detonations on the second base star”, Cain ordered, “Execute jump to point ‘Quasar’!”.

The command centurion on the first base star had hardly enough time to realize what had happened to the other base star when the Peregrine suddenly emerged from it’s FTL-jump directly in front of him not more than sixty meters away from the control deck portal! The peregrine’s CORONA program quickly fired two more scarabs and two more nukes and activated the FTL-drive once more.

There was no time for the command centurion to order his counter-batteries to train in on the new threat - they were targeted onto the battlestar - which had just now FTL-jumped away from the battle. The two nuclear missiles detonated close on the heels of the scarab impacts, wreaking similar havoc onto this base star. As both base stars tumbled, out of control and heavily damaged, the FLEET AVENGER re-emerged from it’s jump at the co-ordinates where it had started. Hunter’s hands were shaking some - partly as a result of the FTL disorientation - but at the closeness to both base stars that CORONA had put them.

“Glad to see you back, Hondo”, Benson reported as his and Tomlinson’s vipers converged on his position. The vipers quickly maneuvered onto the top of the Peregrine, where portable mag-locks secured both of them in place.

“Tell me what happened later”, Sims said groggily from his station. Hunter sympathized. The effects of those so-close-in FTL-jumps was a little hard on the system. Hunter barely noticed the missiles leaving the racks before the jumps took place, but from what his view-screens were showing, CORONA seemed to have worked.

As was expected, the remaining Cylon raiders were too busy covering their damaged base stars to notice the Peregrine. The only time that any of them noticed anything was there was when the sensors on several raiders reported an FTL-jump. By then of course, there was nothing more to see.

CHAPTER THREE: Fallout and Celebration

Up in the conference room on the apex of the space elevator, Number One read the post-combat report once more. Number Seven - who had delivered the report - was watching her digest the unpleasant information contained in it. The human emotion of anger was starting to emerge as she absorbed the information from the report and she struggled to contain it:

TWO BASE STARS HEAVILY DAMAGED BY NUCLEAR MISSILE STRIKE FROM HUMAN BATTLESTAR IN PROMAR SECTOR CO-ORDINATES 139-890. BATTLESTAR ONLY SUFFERED MINOR DAMAGE BEFORE LEAVING SCENE OF BATTLE. NO POSITIVE IDENTIFICATION OF BATTLESTAR COULD BE MADE. METHOD OF DELIVERY OF NUCLEAR MISSILES UNKNOWN. ADDITIONAL FTL-JUMP NOTED FROM SURVIVING RAIDERS TWO MINUTES AFTER BATTLESTAR MADE ITS FTL-JUMP - SHIP TYPE UNKNOWN. NO FURTHER CONTACTS REPORTED SINCE BATTLESTAR LEFT SECTOR. AWAITING ORDERS.

“What is the extent of the damage to those units?”, Number One asked Number Seven. Number Seven immediately heard the undertone of suppressed rage in One’s voice when she asked the question.

“Both Base Stars were hit with at least two ten-kiloton warheads. Both were hit at the control deck. Damage repair will take a considerable amount of time”, he replied quietly, “In addition, we lost thirty-three raiders to the battlestars’ viper squadrons. We were hit hard by these humans”.

“So you know where those base stars were hit, with what, but not how”, she said, making it sound like a statement instead of a question.

“The problem is harder to solve in that a base star’s control deck is where the intelligence directorate gathers information. When the warheads took out the control deck areas of both ships, it destroyed what data they collected. The only intelligence that we could get was from several of the surviving raiders”, Number Seven explained.

“And the destroyed human vipers?”, Number One inquired,”any intelligence we can get out of those?”.

“Six viper type sevens were destroyed, judging from the wreckage found. The corpses had no identifiers on their uniforms and the fighters had all of their identifier numbers removed as well”, Seven replied, “also, intercepted wireless transmissions only provided code names - none of which we have on our database”.

One considered what Seven had said for a few minutes, then said, “Okay, this all took place in the Promar Sector, where we know that the GALACTICA and the convoy of human survivors fled to after escaping from Ragnar, so it could very well be the GALACTICA our base stars engaged, but none of the raiders reported seeing any other human ships apart from the vipers”.

“Yes, Number One”, Seven answered, “and there are other anomalies. For example, all of the wrecked vipers were of the type seven variant, and the telemetry we did secure from the surviving raiders indicated that the battlestar deployed two fighter wings - all of them type seven. We know for a fact that the GALACTICA at Ragnar used primarily older vipers of the type two variant, so if this is the GALACTICA, why were the type twos not used?”.

“You think that this could be the rogue battlestar that’s been giving us so much trouble?”, Number One asked.

“Possibly, but I’m not sure, Number One”, Seven replied, “It could be that there were a lot of type Sevens that the GALACTICA chose not to deploy at the battle at Ragnar due to our ability to shut most of them down. If so, then it would be logical to assume that their software had been changed since then so that they would no longer be vulnerable, and thus be able to be deployed”.

Number One considered what Number Seven had said. There was no reason to think that this rogue battlestar was in the same sector as the GALACTICA, but if it was the GALACTICA, then why would Adama pursue such aggressive tactics? It would leave the human civilian ships vulnerable. Plus the fact that the identifiers were gone from both the vipers and corpses of the pilots indicated that there was something that was being very carefully kept hidden from their intelligence. If indeed the rogue battlestar was in the Promar Sector, it could really cause a disruption in their hunting down of the GALACTICA. She looked at Seven.

“Recommendations?”, she asked.

“Without being positive of the identification of the battlestar, I’m loathe to suggest we detach more units in the Promar Sector from chasing down the GALACTICA in an effort to find it”, Seven answered, “Besides, the increased raider patrols from our task forces were what found them. They can find them again without having to divert additional base stars. If it is the GALACTICA, then Adama is resorting to reckless hit-and-run tactics which will not only expend his fuel and ammunition quicker, but expose the human convoy to discovery and destruction. If it is the rogue battlestar, then when it makes it’s rendezvous with this other group of survivors from the destroyed battlestar ITHACA, we can deal with it - and the peregrine - at that time”.

Number One nodded. Number Seven did make a lot of sense. But there was still something that had to be found out.

“We need to know how the humans managed to detonate those nuclear warheads at the precise location where they did the most harm, despite the counter-battery fire that those base stars were putting out. We also need to know if that other FTL-exit that our raiders detected had anything to do with it. Find out, Seven”, she ordered.

“By your command”, Seven replied.

The party in the o-club had finally died down. Most of the pilots had celebrated their recent victory in grand style over the last few hours, and now they wanted to get some sleep before getting back to the business of being pilots. Hunter had managed to get a good look at the heavily damaged ships before returning - with Benson and Tomlinson in tow - to point ‘Quasar’, which was several systems away from the battle. His images of the heavily damaged base stars made for quite a celebration.

The party had finally finished with Syke offering a toast to the absent Captain Logan Masters, whose battle plan had made the victory possible. The end result was that those two base stars would be laid up for repair for a good long time - if they didn’t end up getting scuttled, that is.

“Thanks for allowing the party, Commander”, Voight had said to Cain when the initial celebrations had quieted some.

Cain replied, “Hey, it isn’t every day that we manage to give the tin-heads hell. You all deserve to celebrate, though of course, we still have to stay alert......”, he finished off. Voight nodded. Despite the victory, they were still alone in hostile space. That meant not being complacent. Hunter and Sims were the center of attention as it was their peregrine piloting skills that had made the victory possible. Cain had thought about it all since their arrival at Point ‘Quasar’.

Earlier that afternoon, at the combined wings combat debriefing, Cain and Tolen were going over the reports of both the battle, and of Helo’s recon probe whose discovery had resulted in the battle . Helo’s data had painted a not-so-rosy picture for this sector.

“According to your scanner data, Helo”, Sanders said, “there was nothing there in that area of space. No planets, or ships of any kind”.

“I’m afraid that’s the case, Captain”, Helo replied, “There was no reason why those raiders were there”.

“Unless they are running more aggressive patrols”, Cain interjected, “because as we well know, the GALACTICA is somewhere in this sector and the tin-heads are trying to hunt it, and the other civilian vessels down”.

“Well, at least one of their task forces won’t be joining in the hunt for a while”, Syke said, “the damage we inflicted on those two base stars will take some heat off the GALACTICA - even more so if the tin-heads think we’re them”.

“Unfortunately, CAG”, one of the pilots present at the debriefing said, “that puts more of the heat on us. The tin-heads won’t be taking the loss of two base stars lightly”.

“Should we not go ahead with the P.V.S. then?”, another pilot asked, “after all, we lost a half-dozen vipers and giving the GOLIATH eighteen of our reserve ships is going to leave us a little thin on spares”.

“The P.V.S. is going ahead”, Cain said emphatically, “because the GOLIATH needs the squadron more than we do. Our remaining reserve craft will be utilized to cover our losses. True, it is a major contribution from our reserve, but we have more than enough vipers left in both wings to do the job”. He then turned and nodded to his daughter, who stood up.

“The memorial services for the lost pilots will take place tomorrow at 1000", Tricia announced, “Black Knight Wing’s will be in starboard bay five and Silver Spar Wing’s will be in Port bay two. Those of you not on standby are expected to attend”, she finished quietly.

That news quieted the assembled pilots. Four pilots from Black Knight Wing and Two from Silver Spar Wing had been killed in the recent battle. True, they had destroyed a lot more raiders, but still, it was an unpleasant facet of war.

“For those who volunteered, thank you for doing so. The final list of pilots for the P.V.S. will be announced within the next forty hours”, Cain then stated, drawing the assembled pilots attention away from brooding about their earlier losses. Ensign Vansen had brought back the volunteer list to Syke earlier. Thirty names from Silver Spar Wing were on the list. Voight had mentioned to him earlier that Black Knight Wing had twenty-seven volunteers on their list of hopefuls. That meant that both Syke and Voight would have to choose the final eighteen from the fifty-seven hopefuls as soon as possible.

After dismissing the pilots from the debriefing, Cain gestured to Syke and Voight to remain behind. When the others had all left the room, he said, “Not only will I need the final eighteen who will fly the new squadron’s vipers, but I will need to know which raptor crew will be detached, Captain Syke. Also, I will want both of you to make a recommendation on who will command the squadron once the list is finalized”.

Both Syke and Voight nodded. Cain stood.

“Then I’ll leave it in your hands. Let your respective deputies take care of the memorial services as getting the P.V.S. up and running will take priority, as far as you’re concerned. Good day, Gentlemen”, Cain concluded as he left the room.

Both Syke and Voight looked at each other and shrugged. Clutching their respective wing’s lists, they headed out and back to their admin areas to start going through the lists. Both of them knew that the new squadron would need to take maximum advantage of the time before the main rendezvous to train as a unit, hence the necessity to finalize the squadron personnel listing.

Up in CIC, Sanders was acting as Officer of the Watch when Cain walked in. Sanders saluted and quickly gave Cain a run-down of the repairs to the PEGASUS from the battle damage caused by the missile that broke through the defensive counter-battery fire. The prognosis was good as there were no critical systems damage and that there were plenty of spare parts to repair those systems that had been damaged.

Cain gave Sanders two discs. He said, “The first one is a transcript of the debrief, which I need you to go through when you get a chance. The second is a communication for Commander Hawke. Please ensure that it is encrypted and loaded into the probe’s database in time for the next dispatch”.

“Yes, Commander”, Sanders replied. Cain noticed that Sanders really did go the extra mile in ensuring that his instructions were carried out. He never seemed to get a break at all. He decided to rectify that.

“Both wings are having a victory bash down in the o-club shortly, Comms”, Cain said, “And since you played a big role in helping get CORONA set up, that means you deserve to attend it”.

“But what about the watch and the debrief disc, Commander?”, Sanders pointed out, “Besides, a lot of others played a part in the success of the attack.....”.

“Consider it an order from me to you to attend, Glen”, Cain said quietly with a smile, “Lieutenant Annan is perfectly capable of watching CIC, and you do need to take a break at least once in a while”.

Sanders knew that Cain was right, but it didn’t feel right to take a break, given his position. Still, he heard the insistence in Cain’s voice and knew that it was pointless to argue. Besides, Annan was an able officer and this would be her first watch as Senior Officer of the Watch.

“Thank you, Commander”, Sanders said.

Now, several hours later, the party had finally petered out. Everyone present - including Sanders - had relaxed and enjoyed the buffet supper set out by the catering officer. It made for a great way for the pilots and the other guests to let off some steam and relax. And Cain was right: Syke had singled Sanders out for special thanks, along with Chief Krag, Lieutenant Hunter and Ensign Sims for the success of CORONA. Several toasts were drunk to all four of them.

The party was also a dance affair. Syke and Tricia had made good use of the dance floor throughout the evening - along with Krag and Lt. Halley. The fact that these four were involved romantically was very much an open secret among the gathered pilots and other participants, but by unspoken consent, no-one chose to comment upon it. They were all professionals and everyone knew that they would do their jobs well and not let their personal feelings interfere with their responsibilities.

“Well, most everybody has decided to hit the sack”, Syke said to Tricia, gesturing to the now almost-empty club, “so I guess we’d better do likewise”. Tricia nodded. Both Syke and Voight were pleased that everyone did heed their suggestion earlier not to stay up too late celebrating. After all, they had to resume normal duties as soon as possible.

As Syke and Tricia walked out of the club along with the few others who had remained, Syke turned to the catering officer - who was now starting to clear things up with some of the mess orderlies - and said, “Thanks Brian, everyone really appreciated what you and your boys went through to make this an enjoyable party”.

Lieutenant Brian Bowles replied, “No problem, Captain. There needed to be something to celebrate. Knocking the snot out of two base stars seemed a pretty good reason to me, and thanks to the recent food shipment from the GOLIATH, there was plenty to go around”. Bowles was a former viper pilot who had been medically grounded after a bad crash eighteen months previously. He never complained about no longer being able to fly and being a former pilot meant being able to have a ‘feel’ for what the other pilots needed. Plus the fact that he was also an accomplished chef made for excellent meals at his hands.

Syke and Tricia both laughed. Saying, “Thanks again”, both of them left. While both of them would have preferred going to either his or her quarters together, they knew that Syke would have to return to duty in six hours and that Tricia would need time to get the memorial service organized.

“Have a good night, Gene”, Tricia said as she hugged and kissed him.

Syke returned the embrace and kiss, replying, “We’ll have more time together soon, Tricia. I’ll see you tomorrow after the service, okay?”.

Tricia nodded. She knew that Syke had to get the list of pilots for the P.V.S. pared down as quickly as possible, so he would not be present at the service. Breaking the embrace, she headed back to her quarters. Syke watched her go, then headed to his quarters to get at least a few hours sleep before having to return to duty.

CHAPTER FOUR: Preparations

“It never gets easier, does it?”, Tricia said to Syke as she walked into the Silver Spar Administrative Annex. She had just returned from conducting the memorial service for the two killed pilots from the recent battle.

“Unfortunately, they never put down in the rule book an ‘easy’ way to cope with losses”, Syke replied. Secretly, he was glad that he had been busy with the volunteer list. Tricia had taken pains to inform the other pilots of the wing that Syke’s absence was necessary.

It was now 1130. Already, the party and dancing of the previous evening seemed like another world away. Syke walked over to the servitor and poured a cup of the ‘special blend’ coffee. He gestured to his mug, indicating if Tricia would like a cup. She shook her head.

“So what’s happening today, Deputy CAG?”, Syke asked Tricia formally. It was his way of telling her that mourning the dead has been done and that they had to get back to business.

“Well CAG, the last of the crated reserve vipers have been assembled and once the final muster listing of pilots for the P.V.S. have been announced, then we can start getting them organized”, she replied, “and Comms asked me to remind you that the probe for confirming the big rendezvous will be dispatched tonight at 2030. If there are any messages for you to add to it’s database, to get it ready before launch”.

Syke thought about Sanders’ reminder, then nodded.

“Okay, I’ll bat out a message for Dragon. What have you got scheduled?”, he asked next.

“I’m going to be pulling some viper flight time today with Ratchet”, Tricia answered, “Jet informed me that my flight time has started to fall behind the wing average, so I thought I’d better rectify that situation”.

“That’s fine, Sheba”, Syke assented. With that, Tricia stood up and headed out the door. She had to change into her flight suit and join Halley down in the launch tubes....

Syke watched her go. He put down his list of pared-down candidates for the P.V.S. and opened a new file. He started typing out his latest letter to Masters:

From: Captain Eugene Syke, Silver Spar CAG

To: Captain Logan Masters, Peregrine One Commander

Classification: Alpha Encryption - Your Eyes Only - No permanent record.

Logan,

Thanks so very much for the coffee. I hope that it didn’t drain your resources. Hopefully, you’ll be able to have more of the blend made from wherever your base is located. Also, the food shipment was a huge boost to morale. We had obtained plenty of consumables from Molecay, but they were getting rather monotonous....

Anyway, we’ll be sending some more goodies to you at the next rendezvous. I wish that I could tell you in this letter what it’s going to be, but Commander Cain is being very security-conscious these days, so the actual ‘manifest’ will only be made available to Commander Hawke. I think though that both of you will welcome what we will be offering you once Commander Hawke lets you in on it.

What I can tell you though, is that we had a run-in earlier with two Cylon Base Stars. Your CORONA op-plan worked a treat (though both Hondo and Coffin came back rather pale-looking from those close-in jumps) and those two base stars were heavily damaged as a result. With any luck, they’ll be too badly damaged for the tin-heads to repair and they’ll have to end up scuttling them. We lost six vipers, unfortunately, but it could have been a lot worse. The tin-heads lost thirty in battle and hopefully more were turned to scrap when the base stars got nuked. If you intercept any transmissions from them about the battle, please pass the info along.

The tin-heads evidently are stepping up their patrols of this sector as it was one of these patrols that discovered one of our raptor recons - it was in empty space and well away from any systems at that. It means that they haven’t found the GALACTICA yet, which is good news, and hopefully, they’ll think that it was the GALACTICA that inflicted the damage to their base stars. It does put the heat on us for the time being however, but the other op-plans you provided us should be of some help should we be detected again.

If the rendezvous is a ‘go’, then I’ll be looking forward to chatting to you again at that time. Until then, keep the tin-heads busy. I hope that our ‘gift’ of the TRITON raptor has helped to take some of the workload off you and your crew.

Gene.

Syke quickly went over what he wrote. He activated the Alpha Encryption program, then saved it to a data disc. Removing it from his console, he turned and handed it to Ensign Vansen.

“Take this up to Captain Sanders, Jet”, he ordered, “and let him know that it’s for the probe”.

“Yes, CAG”, Vansen replied, pocketing the disc and standing up.

As Vansen walked out, Syke turned his attention back to the list. There were still a few names to go through before he could take his list of nine to Voight. It was not going to be easy detaching them from his command, he knew. It was like setting a family member adrift....

Several hours later, after Tricia had gotten a good two hours of flying close-cover patrol with members of Halley’s squadron and after Syke had finally culled down the number of volunteers, an FTL-probe was deployed from the PEGASUS. The personnel at Core Command and Comscan monitored the probe as it accelerated out on it’s pre-programmed course. At the precise programmed moment, the probe flashed out of normal space in a flash of light.

“The probe has just made it’s jump, Colonel”, The Core Command duty technician reported to Tolen. Tolen nodded an acknowledgment. He picked up a communicator and tapped in the comm code for Cain’s cabin.

“Cain”, a familiar voice sounded over the link.

“It’s the X.O.”, Tolen replied, “The probe’s on it’s way”.

“Thanks, Geoff”, Cain replied, “I’m going to sack out for a while, so I’ll leave the PEGASUS in your capable hands for a while”.

“No problem, Commander”, Tolen answered.

Clicking off his communicator, Cain stood up from his desk and stretched. Walking over to his day-bed, he quickly removed his footwear and laid down. As he drifted off to sleep, he wondered how Commander Hawke would react to the message he had placed in the probe which was speeding to the probe-to-probe rendezvous:

To: Matthew Hawke, Commander Battlecruiser GOLIATH

From: Garris Cain, Commander Battlestar PEGASUS

Classification: Double-Encryption Protocol Theta/Chi - Your Eyes Only. No permanent record.

Commander,

The PEGASUS will be personally delivering to the upcoming Point ‘Polaris’ rendezvous eighteen vipers from our reserve fighter strength, and an additional raptor. There are sufficient volunteers from both wings to form an operational squadron out of these aforementioned ships and I’m certain that you can make good use of this unit. Needless to say, you’ll need to bring the GOLIATH to the rendezvous so that you can take receipt of the ‘PEGASUS Volunteer Squadron’. Also needless to say, the less who know about the PEGASUS making an appearance, the better.

Please convey the thanks of the PEGASUS to Captain Logan Masters. His CORONA Op-plan was responsible for our successfully engaging and heavily damaging two base stars. We suffered some damage, but it was easily taken care of. We are fully operational. For your information, our little deception plan seems to be working well. Judging from intercepted transmissions, the tin-heads still are not sure who we are, which is to our advantage.

The supply of foodstuffs you gave to us at the last rendezvous was most welcome. I only hope that we’re not stripping you of too many resources. Regardless, I hope that the new squadron will go some way to alleviate the shortage of pilots and fighters that you had mentioned to me earlier. Our wings are still at full strength, so for the medium term, our operational effectiveness will not be compromised by the squadron transfer.

I am looking forward to personally meeting you and to further our plans for dealing with the Cylon threat. See you at the rendezvous.

Cain.

Down in Black Knight Wing’s administration area, Syke was talking to Voight. Syke had brought with him his list of nine pilots who had ‘made the cut’ for the PEGASUS Volunteer Squadron. Voight had already made out his listing and while Syke looked over his list, Voight read Syke’s.

“Lieutenants Hayes, Benson, and Bayrak. Ensigns Anderson, Garret, Talat, West, Appleton, and Evans”, Voight read out loud from Syke’s list, “Sure you can spare these pilots? Both Chunks and Growler are pretty able pilots”, he remarked, referring to Hayes and Benson’s call-signs.

“The squadron is going to need experienced leaders, and FYI, Chunks is past due for promotion to Captain”, Syke remarked, “If it wasn’t for the war, Chunks would have been the new CAG on the ASTORIA. The Old Man wants to promote him, and this new squadron makes a Captain’s slot available. That would also make him the pilot-in-command of the P.V.S.”.

“That makes sense”, Voight replied, “Chunks is an able leader and this new squadron should be okay under his command”.

“I see from your list that you have selected only one Lieutenant. All of the other eight are ensigns”, Syke said, tapping the list that Voight had given him.

“Axeman is the only senior officer I can spare from Black Knight wing, Bojay”, Voight replied, referring to LT jg Martin Mannix’s call-sign, “but the other eight have a good amount of flight and combat experience, despite their lowly rank. With your nine, the new squadron should acquit itself well”.

“You think Axeman should be the XO then?”, Syke asked. Voight nodded.

“So we’re agreed then. When do you think we should make the announcement to the Old Man?”, Syke asked.

“Tomorrow, I think. He’s off duty at the moment”, Voight replied, “oh, and by the way, who have you chosen to crew the squadron raptor?”, he asked.

“It’s going to be Razor and Boxer”, Syke replied, referring to LT. Dutch and Ensign Watt, “Helo and Snoopy wanted to remain with Silver Spar, and I’m sure that Dookie would agree with that”.

“That he would”, Voight answered with a chuckle. LT. Derek ‘Dookie’ Connor - the principal raptor pilot for Black Knight Wing - and Helo got along like a house on fire. They made a great combined recon team and both CAG’s didn’t want to break up that combination, particularly now that the PEGASUS was going to be down to two operational raptors.

After chatting for a while - talking about the new squadron and it’s training program - Syke looked at his chronometer.

“You know, hitting the sack would probably be a good idea at this time”, Syke said, stifling a yawn.

“Me too”, Voight agreed, “I think we can leave our wings in the hands of our respective duty staff. I’ll see you tomorrow at 0900 up at CIC. We can give the Old Man the list then?”, he asked. Syke nodded.

“Okay then, see you later, Lance”, Syke said, leaving the room.

“You too, Gene”, Voight called out.

As Syke walked over to the transporter and got in for the drive back over to the other side of the PEGASUS, he thought about his list of volunteers. It would be a pity losing Lt. Keith Hayes, Syke thought to himself, but the P.V.S. needed a leader of his caliber, and this at least got him the promotion that was so overdue. Cain was very strict on maintaining the quota of officers of certain ranks. As far as the viper wings were concerned, only the CAG could hold the rank of Captain. The deputy CAG’s and the PEGASUS squadron commanders were full Lieutenants, but since the P.V.S. was going to be detached from the PEGASUS, it gave Cain the leeway to promote.

Syke shook his head a little at that. He wished that Cain could be a little more flexible on promotions. After all, several other pilots in both wings would make good captains, but that was the prerogative of the commander.

The transporter quickly ferried him across to Silver Spar’s ‘turf’ on the port-side landing bay. After quickly checking the readiness status of the wing - Lt. Andrew ‘Shooter’ Macklin’s squadron was the one currently on alert readiness - Syke quickly checked with Vansen regarding any pressing paperwork requirements.

“Nothing that can’t wait until tomorrow”, Vansen replied.

“Thanks, Jet. I’m hitting the sack. See you tomorrow”, Syke replied.

“You too, CAG”, Vansen answered. Vansen’s relief would be here shortly and he could start getting some sack time himself as he was scheduled to get some flight time in himself early tomorrow. Wing paperwork was actually quite tiring...

Syke quickly headed up to his quarters. He was glad that Jet had managed to keep the bureaucratic part of wing operations functioning. The loss of Lt. Blanke some weeks ago was a hard blow to the wing, but Vansen and Tricia managed to fill in the void and help him keep the wing running.

When Syke got into his cabin, he found that there was already someone in there. Tricia was laying on his bed, waiting for him. She smiled when he walked in. Syke was surprised, but remembered what he had given her earlier.

“I see you made good use of my spare key-card”, Syke said by way of greeting. He walked over to the bed, leaned over and gently kissed her on the lips. Tricia returned the kiss with greater passion, which lead to more pleasant interludes for the next hour of so before they finally fell asleep in each other’s arms.....

It was during their intimacy that the probe had jumped to it’s destination co-ordinates in the Escotian Sector (which was a planet-less Red Giant star system on the edge of the Red Line between Cyrannus and Promar) and was awaiting the arrival and IFF verification of whatever was dispatched to take receipt of the transmissions. The probe had performed it’s programed security protocol of shutting down all active systems and relying on passive systems only to detect any incoming spacecraft.

At the precise time - according to the onboard chronometer - the probe picked up an FTL-emergence. A quick IFF query from it was received, decoded and verified. It then powered up it’s systems and sent out it’s own IFF response.

The new arrival transmitted READY TO RECEIVE INFORMATION ON LASER MODE. The PEGASUS probe then transmitted the encoded letters to the newcomer.

INFORMATION RECEIVED, the newcomer confirmed, TRANSMITTING NOW, it then sent.

Several encoded communications were sent out to the PEGASUS probe. All of this was being conducted by the secure direct-laser communications mode so as to avoid eavesdropping. It had been suggested at the last rendezvous that given the sensitive nature of any future communications - despite the new encoding protocols - the Cylons would eventually be able to decode any intercepts so the laser communications mode would be used on the automatic probes from here on out.

The encoded messages from Commander Hawke and Captain Masters were received by the PEGASUS probe and stored in it’s database. When the probe acknowledged receipt of the messages, the newcomer quickly FTL-ed out. After a quick scan of the local space - nothing was seen on it’s sensors - the probe FTL-ed back to the PEGASUS.

It was well that the precaution of laser communications were now in use by the probes. Both the sensors on the PEGASUS probe and the probe from the DRAGON’s LAIR were designed to detect the presence of any moving craft or active sensor emissions. It did not pick up a remote probe which was drifting in the vicinity, looking to any sensors like a drifting piece of rock. This probe was Cylon in origin and it was designed specifically for listening in on communications. It had detected both probe emergences from their respective FTL-jumps and had used it’s passive sensors to detect the IFF queries and the transmit command before the laser communications stopped any further eavesdropping.

After both probes had made their FTL-jumps, the Cylon probe quickly powered up it’s systems and made it’s jump. It was heading back to report what it saw and heard.

“So, this probe came across two colonial probes in the Escotian Sector”, Number One remarked to Number Seven back on the Virgon Space Elevator. The Cylon probe had re-emerged back in the Cyrannus Sector and had relayed it’s intelligence to Number Seven. He sent it on to Number One.

“Yes, Number One”, Seven replied, “It would seem that these probes are being used by the humans to send preliminary communications, but unlike other intercepts, these probes are starting to use direct-sight laser communications”.

“But we can copy these IFF codes that our probe did intercept, surely?”, One asked.

“Yes, but it would not do us any good”, Seven replied, “The humans are being smart in that not only are they now using laser communications, but the IFF codes do not match with the others we have intercepted, which means that they must be using one-time pad ciphers for their IFF’s”.

Number One frowned. One-time ciphers meant that unless you had a copy of the same cipher pad, using the older codes would let the humans know that the query would be false.

“So all we really know is that two human probes have contacted each other and evidently exchanged information, but we can’t find out what, or hope to use the IFF codes we’ve intercepted”, One summarized. Seven nodded.

“So what can we deduce from all of this?”, One asked. Seven did not like having to use the human trait of guessing, but that was precisely what she was asking him to do.

“We can deduce that this interchange must be a harbinger of the upcoming rendezvous between the Peregrine Human Forces and the unknown Battlestar. Either a confirmation or cancellation of the rendezvous, though owing to the very brief time that the probes were there, I would lean towards the former”, Seven said slowly, “particularly as the Escotian Sector is quite a remote one”.

Number One considered that. By using remote sectors, the Humans were evidently banking on the Cylons not having a presence out there. If the probes were going to announce a cancellation of the rendezvous, there would logically be longer communications and information transfers. With just a brief period of communications in a location where the humans were not expecting anyone to listen in, it probably was a confirmation message.

“And we’ve well-saturated the various sectors between us and Promar with additional probes?”, Number One asked.

“Yes, Number One. All are of the passive type so that there is a good chance that if the rendezvous is made in the various sectors we’ve seeded, we will be able to detect it. And we have our ready-alert force ready to engage the humans when we find out where they are”, Seven replied.

“Excellent. I want you to make sure personally that the base star commanders know that they are to deploy ready for action if any of our probes even makes a slight anomalous reading. Understood?”, she asked.

“By Your Command”, Number One replied.

CHAPTER FIVE: A New Squadron

It was early afternoon of the following ‘day’. Eighteen pilots sat in their high-backed chairs in the Black Knight Wing’s briefing room. All were listening to Commander Cain, who was standing at the podium speaking to them. Behind Cain stood Syke and Voight.

“For the benefit of those who haven’t already guessed, you eighteen are the pilots selected by the PEGASUS CAG’s to form the PEGASUS Volunteer Squadron”, he announced. The assembled pilots nodded and smiled at the announcement.

“In less than two weeks, the PEGASUS will be rendezvousing with the Battlecruiser GOLIATH. You will have until then to get yourselves trained up into a cohesive unit”, Cain continued, “The GOLIATH is short on strike fighters and pilots, which means you will be badly needed by them. I intend to make sure that you all will be a credit to Commander Hawke once the rendezvous takes place”.

“If this squadron is going to be transferred as a single unit, Commander”, Lieutenant jg Bayrak asked, “then who will be commanding it?”.

“Glad you asked, Lieutenant”, Cain replied, “Lieutenant Hayes!”, he announced. Hayes stood. The other pilots looked at him as Cain spoke.

“Upon the recommendation of Captains Syke and Voight, I am appointing you the Commanding Officer of the P.V.S., Lieutenant Hayes”, Cain formally announced, “and with that position will go the rank of Captain, which will take effect on the day of transfer”. At that, the other pilots applauded.

“Thank you, Commander”, Hayes replied as Cain walked up and shook his hand. Gesturing to Hayes to follow him, Cain went back up to the podium with Hayes behind him. As Hayes came up, both Syke and Voight shook his hand as well.

“Lieutenant Mannix!”, Cain announced next. LT jg Martin Mannix stood to attention.

“Upon the recommendations of both CAG’s, I am pleased to announce that you have been appointed to the position of Executive Officer of the P.V.S., with a promotion to full Lieutenant, which will take effect at the same time that Hayes’ Captain’s commission is activated”, Cain announced.

As Mannix thanked Cain, the pilots applauded again. Mannix sat back down. Cain gestured to Voight, who stepped forward.

“As of this moment, you are all detached from your respective wings”, Voight announced, “Your squadron’s fighters have all been assembled from the reserve strength and are now in the port landing bay. All of your training missions will start and terminate there”.

“Don’t forget that both Chunks and Axeman will be responsible for ensuring that your viper piloting is up to par”, Voight said next, “which means if either of them come to either myself or Bojay saying that one or more of you are not up to standard, then that person or persons will be dropped and replaced by someone else. Understood?”, he asked. There was no reply from the other pilots. All knew that Voight was right. All of them agreed with the choices of C.O. and X.O., given their combat experience and rank seniority, and knew that Hayes and Mannix would expect nothing less than excellence.

“Lieutenant Dutch and Ensign Watt will be the raptor crew assigned to support this squadron”, Voight continued, gesturing to the back of the room where both of them had been sitting and listening, “Thanks to the inclusion of Peregrine Five to the PEGASUS, this has made detaching the additional raptor possible”.

Dutch and Watt had been informed about their new assignment earlier in the day. That explained why Chief Krag’s technicians were giving his raptor an extra amount of servicing this morning, Dutch thought.

“Do you have anything to add, Bojay?”, Voight asked Syke. Syke nodded. He walked up to the podium.

“It wasn’t easy selecting all of you here for this squadron”, he began, “you will be missed, but the GOLIATH sorely needs you. We hope that sometime soon, you’ll rotate back to us. But for now, you must do your best for Commander Hawke. And remember to keep the details of why you are being trained to yourselves. Security needs to be maintained at all times”.

As the pilots absorbed Syke’s admonition, Syke turned to Hayes.

“Chunks, as the new C.O. of this squadron, do you have anything to add?”, he asked. Hayes walked up to the podium and looked over his new command. After about fifteen seconds of silence, he spoke.

“We’ll be commencing our squadron training tomorrow, fighter readiness permitting”, he said, “Axeman and myself will be watching all of you. If you do as well as you have done already, then we’ll be okay, but remember what Commander Cain and both CAG’s have said here. We can’t afford any false moves. That said, remember that my door is open to all of you at any time”.

Cain nodded slightly to himself. Looks like Hayes will make a fine C.O., he thought to himself. He walked back up to the front.

“I’ll be leaving you all to get acquainted”, Cain said, “Congratulations on your assignment and do the PEGASUS proud”.

“Room, Attention!”, Hayes sounded. All the pilots stood to attention. Cain walked out of the briefing room, followed by Syke and Voight. After the door closed behind them, the pilots walked over and shook both Hayes’ and Mannix’s hands. Dutch and Watt joined in the congratulations.

“Thanks, everyone”, Hayes said, “but Cain’s right: we don’t have too much time to get ready before the rendezvous”.

“What do you intend to do then, Chunks?”, Ensign Garret asked his new C.O.

“We will have to train both as a single unit”, Hayes replied, “and also in patrol sections. Axeman and I will have a roster of section assignments and section leaders ready by 0900 tomorrow”. Mannix nodded at that. Patrol sections were sub-units of squadrons each consisting typically of two senior pilots and two wingmen.

“That’s when you’ll want us back here then?”, Dutch asked.

“That’s right, Razor”, Hayes replied, “so all of you get some sack time. Starting tomorrow, it’s going to be pretty busy. Dismissed. See you all here tomorrow at 0900 sharp”.

The pilots started filing out, quietly talking to themselves. Hayes gestured to Mannix to hang back. After the other pilots had left the briefing room, Hayes spoke to Mannix.

“Oh boy”, Hayes said, “I hope we’ll have enough time to get the squadron ready”.

“Don’t worry, Chunks”, Mannix assured him, “They’re all a good bunch and they know their jobs. And the Old Man made the right decision appointing you the C.O.”.

“Thanks for the vote of confidence, Axeman”, Hayes answered with a smile, “but I’m going to have to lean on you a lot over the next few days”.

“That’s what an X.O.’s job is all about, Chunks......or should I say Captain, Sir?”, Mannix said with a smile.

“Not until the rendezvous, Axeman”, Hayes replied with a laugh, “but anyway, let’s you and I go up to the O-club and start chatting about section leaders, shall we?”

“As long as you’re buying”, Mannix answered, “after all, a promotion to Captain must mean a huge pay increase.....”.

Hayes laughed and slapped his friend on the back as they headed out of the room. Looks like things were going to work out okay, Hayes thought.....

Hayes probably would not have been so upbeat had be been up in CIC. The Comscan duty officer reported to Sanders, “We have an FTL-emergence, Captain. One of our emergency standby probes. It’s transmitting the code alert for a priority message commander-to-commander”.

“Signal the probe to start transmitting”, Sanders ordered. Turning to Lieutenant Annan, he ordered, “Lieutenant, you’d better alert Commander Cain and have the message relayed to him”.

“Yes, Sir”, Annan replied. Sending out the page for Cain, she wondered what the probe’s message was. This probe was one of four that had been sent out to pre-set positions for the purpose of receiving any emergency messages from the GOLIATH.

Cain received the page - he had just stopped off in his cabin in order to change his uniform jacket- and had the message relayed to his desk’s viewscreen. Activating the special decryption protocol - which confirmed the authenticity of the message - he quickly scanned through the contents. After reading what it contained, he activated his communicator.

“I’m heading right up to CIC, Comms”, he informed him, “Where are Captains Syke and Voight?”, he asked.

“They’re heading up to CIC now, Commander”, Sanders replied, “They’ve just told me that they wish to brief Core Command on the recent pilot meeting”.

“All right, I’ll catch up with them there”, Cain decided, “but get the conference room ready and get the duty security staff there too”. With that, he turned off his communicator. Turning off his viewscreen, he left his cabin and headed on up to CIC.

The message read:

From: Matthew Hawke, Commander Battlecruiser GOLIATH

To: Garris Cain, Commander Battlestar PEGASUS

Classification: Special Encryption Protocol Delta, Your Eyes Only, No permanent record

Commander,

Forgive my having to send this message to you through one of the emergency contact probes, particularly after receiving your intention to assign to my command a squadron of vipers and an additional raptor, but several things have occurred since the last routine communication which necessitates a change in plans.

The GOLIATH will not be able to make the ‘Polaris’ Rendezvous due to other operational requirements. However, the PROVIDER-class fleet tender WARLOCK will be there to deliver a supply of tylium as a ‘payment’ of sorts for the new squadron, which we do gratefully accept.

The new squadron will definitely come in useful, given our current overall fighter strength, but obviously, the WARLOCK will not be able to take the squadron on board given it’s size, and the excessive amount of additional time that it would take on top of the fueling operation. Our intelligence directorate has received information indicating that the Cylons may know something about the upcoming rendezvous, which means keeping things to an absolute minimum time-frame.

But as we do need those additional fighters, what I am suggesting is that after the WARLOCK has finished fueling the PEGASUS, it will then jump to point ‘Xanadu’ (Tairac Sector). The PEGASUS will then jump to that point and deploy the squadron there before returning to your current co-ordinates. The WARLOCK will remain on-station with the squadron until the GOLIATH has finished it’s assignment, then it will make the jump to ‘Xanadu’ in order to quickly take the squadron on board, before jumping back to base.

This method has the advantage of speed, plus as I have not discussed this plan with anyone, the additional advantage of secrecy. Needless to say, the fewer personnel at your end who knows about this, the better. Once again, thank you for the squadron, and I hope that not-too-long from now, we will both eventually meet.

Hawke.

Syke and Voight were chatting as they headed up to CIC, in order to brief Core Command on the new squadron and the upcoming training regimen that the new unit would require. They had briefly stopped off at Syke’s office to pick up some documentation disks that Core Command would need for the briefing.

“Ratchet wasn’t too pleased about Growler getting detached from her squadron”, Syke remarked. Voight snorted. He knew that Syke’s description of LT. Halley being ‘not too pleased’ would be a gross understatement.

“How did you manage to calm her down, Gene?”, Voight asked with a smile.

“Simple, Lance”, Syke replied, “I threatened to have Rogue detached as well from her unit. She quieted down after that”. Voight chuckled at that.

“Well, I’ll have to raise my voice some when I get back to my wing”, Voight remarked conversationally, “Two rooks in Jankers’s squadron ended up colliding with each other on patrol earlier today. A glancing blow only, Nothing that was really serious, but it’s something that can’t be overlooked”.

Syke nodded. Close formation flying was a must for all viper pilots to master, but the risk of collision was always there and was definitely not something to take lightly.

“I didn’t hear any raising of the condition alert, Lance”, Syke said. Standard procedure dictated a heightened alert status when damaged fighters came in to land.

“That’s why I’m going to be a little rough-tongued on those rooks, Gene”, Voight replied, “because neither of them mentioned the mishap, let alone declare any kind of emergency and came in to land as per normal. We didn’t know about the collision until Chief Brubaker saw the impact damage to both fighters. He told Jankers, who referred it to me”.

“Yeah, I can understand that”, Syke agreed. If those fighters had been more seriously damaged, then one or both of them could have crashed on landing, causing not only the loss of personnel, but could end up causing severe damage to the flight deck. Those new pilots needed to understand in no uncertain terms how serious such consequences could be. He knew that Voight could be counted upon to make sure the lesson would be well absorbed by those two...

When they both reached CIC, they headed over to Core Command, but Commander Cain’s voice stopped them short.

“Could you two gentlemen follow me please?”, he asked. Syke and Voight looked at each other, then at Cain, then followed him out to the adjoining conference room. The directive was politely worded, but it was unmistakably an order.

As they entered the conference room, Syke noticed the armed guards standing outside the door. The “Do not Disturb” sign was also illuminated. Gesturing to both CAG’s to sit down at the conference table, Cain locked the door, then waited until they had been seated before informing them of the reason that he had brought them in here.

“A little while ago, one of our emergency contact probes received an unscheduled message from the GOLIATH”, Cain began, “In it was a message for me, which concerns you both”.

“What did they say, Commander?”, Syke asked.

“This latest communication was a commander-to-commander message from Commander Hawke”, he replied, “and he regrets to inform me that the GOLIATH will not be at the ‘Polaris’ rendezvous, due to what he termed ‘other operational commitments’. He has stated however that the fleet tender WARLOCK will be there to deliver a full load of fuel to us, but the WARLOCK would not be able to take on board the squadron”.

“They’re turning down the squadron?”, Voight asked incredulously, “I was under the impression that they were short of strike fighters”.

“They’re not turning the offer down - far from it. But Commander Hawke stated quite clearly in his communication that the timing of the rendezvous makes the GOLIATH’s appearance there impossible”, Cain answered, “but as they do want the squadron, they are making a suggestion, which I want to run by you”.

“What is it, Commander?”, Syke asked.

“Commander Hawke has suggested that after the transfer of fuel takes place, that we then FTL-jump to the ‘Xanadu’ rendezvous position in the Tairac Sector, where we would deploy the squadron, then we jump back here. Once the GOLIATH is finished with it’s ‘commitments’, then it would jump to Tairac and then our squadron would land on board her”, Cain stated.

“That’s taking a chance”, Syke blurted out, “for if the GOLIATH for some reason or other doesn’t make the Tairac system rendezvous, then those fighters will end up stranded!”.

Voight nodded. The Tairac Sector had no life-supporting planets, was remote, and as the vipers were not FTL-capable, there would be no place for them to fly to.

“Commander Hawke says that the WARLOCK will jump to the Tairac System after it finishes fueling so as to first scout the system and to provide the squadron with supplemental fuel, and a means for rescuing the pilots should the GOLIATH not make the rendezvous. We then make our jump, deploy the squadron, then head back here to Promar”, Cain explained.

“Why not have the fighters deploy at ‘Polaris’ instead?”, Syke asked next.

“There is what Commander Hawke terms ‘a reason to believe’ that the tin-heads may know something about the upcoming rendezvous”, Cain replied, “and if there are any covert Cylon probes near the rendezvous point, then once it reports the presence of human warships, they will send everything they have against us. Most probably, the fueling would be completed before enemy forces could be brought to bear against us, but under those circumstances, leaving the squadron there without reinforcement would be signing the death warrants of eighteen viper pilots and a raptor crew”.

“That’s true”, Syke reluctantly agreed, “By not hanging around in the middle of a squadron deployment, the PEGASUS would have a fighting chance to escape, but an unsupported squadron wouldn’t last long against one or two base stars, and if we stayed to protect the squadron, we’d be endangering the PEGASUS”.

“What makes Commander Hawke so sure that this possibility wouldn’t happen in the Tairac System?”, Voight asked next?

“He told me that he came up with this plan by himself. He has not informed anybody”, Cain replied, “so if there are spies for the tin-heads who may have gotten wind of the ‘Polaris’ rendezvous, then if any Cylon probes do detect the presence of the PEGASUS and WARLOCK there, then they will assume that is it. By keeping the information about the second rendezvous solely between him, us here, and - when he leaves - the commander of the WARLOCK, we are ensuring the survival of the squadron”.

“Any idea how long the squadron will have to stay out there after we drop them off?”, Syke asked.

“No”, Cain replied, “but the fact that the WARLOCK will be there with them will be sufficient to convince the squadron that they won’t be left in the lurch”.

“You intend to let Lt. Hayes know about this, Commander?”, Voight asked.

“Not until just before the deployment. Hawke is right: there is a security issue here and until Dr. Ashley comes up with a foolproof screening method to sniff out those tin-head human look-alikes, the fewer who know about it, the better”, Cain answered.

“So in the meantime.......?”, Syke asked.

“Continue your brief of Core Command and ensure that Lieutenant Hayes gets his pilots familiarized with their fighters first thing tomorrow. They still have a job to do”, Cain ordered.

“Yes, Sir”, both CAG’s replied. Cain nodded and gestured to the door. Both Syke and Voight got the hint, stood up and walked out. Both of them silently wondered what the GOLIATH would be up to in order to necessitate such an action, but knew that this would not be the time to talk about it. Cain was right: get the squadron ready to go.

CHAPTER SIX: Honing their skills

“Sigma Five, close up on your section leader”, Hayes communicated. He was flying with the half of the squadron designated ‘Sigma Flight’ while Mannix was watching over the other half (designated ‘Tau Flight’). The training was starting in earnest and Hayes wanted to make sure that each and every pilot kept fresh in their minds the basic credo: Stay with your wingman.

“Sorry, Sigma Leader”, Sigma Five replied. That was Ensign Carol ‘Anvil’ Anderson. Hayes knew that Anderson was an instinctive pilot, but was something of a lone wolf. In one-on-one fighting, that would be okay, but if she was responsible for another pilot and zoomed off to fight a battle alone, that could spell curtains for the other.

“You each have to watch out for each other, Anvil”, Hayes said, and I like the idea of all my pilots coming back alive, okay?”.

“I’ll keep that in mind, Chunks”, Anderson answered. Hayes nodded as he saw her tuck in tightly just off Growler’s right wing”.

At PEGASUS Core Command, Voight was listening in on the inter-squadron chatter. He nodded in satisfaction at Hayes keeping close tabs on his charges. Looking at a viewscreen, he saw that Mannix was doing likewise to the pilots that he was supervising.

“Looking okay, Pointer?”, Sanders said to Voight as he walked up. Voight put down the clipboard and looked at Sanders. Normally, Voight didn’t like anyone using his call-sign when he was not flying, but realized that as the number three person in the PEGASUS chain of command, Sanders had the authority to call anyone in CIC (except the Commander and X.O.) by whatever title he chose. Still, his reply was a subtle reminder that he didn’t really care for Sanders’ choice of title.

“Everything is going well with the training so far, Sanders”, he replied politely. Sanders’ eyes widened a little at Voight’s using only his last name as a form of address. Since Voight - like Sanders - was a Captain, he did not have to call Sanders ‘Sir’, but using ‘Captain’, or his call-sign of ‘Comms’ would have been proper. Sanders got the signal loud and clear and since this really was not the proper place or time to argue niceties of forms of address, Sanders decided not to pursue the point.

“I have to keep the X.O. informed on the squadron’s progress, CAG”, Sanders explained, using Voight’s title as an unspoken apology for the unintended slight.

“I understand, Comms”, Voight replied as a tacit acceptance of Sanders’ apology, “It looks like both Hayes and Mannix will have the squadron ready as a fully cohesive unit by the due date, so Colonel Tolen should have nothing to worry about in your report”.

“Good to hear”, Sanders acknowledged, “Thanks, CAG”. With that, he headed back over to the Comscan console.

Voight watched him go, then turned his attention back to the Core Command viewscreens, and the communications monitoring of the squadron.

Touchy, isn’t he?, Sanders thought to himself. Well, as long as Captain Voight does his job....... Just then, once of the Comscan technicians reported, “Captain Sanders, Peregrine Five has just emerged from it’s FTL-jump. They are reporting no contacts”.

“Core Command”, Sanders called, “Better get the FLEET AVENGER back on board”.

On board the AVENGER, Hunter was watching Helo manipulate the flight controls. It was part of a transition training regimen designed to get the raptor crews up to par on the Peregrine’s systems. On this recent patrol, Helo was under the supervision of Hunter while Petty Officer Dundee was being supervised by Ensign Sims back in the P.S.O. station.

“This ships handles pretty good, Hondo”, Helo said, “despite it being a lot larger than a raptor, it almost feels like a viper!”

“That’s the idea, Helo”, Hunter replied. He was pretty pleased with Helo’s piloting skills. True, they had not encountered anything anomalous on their patrol - if they had, then Hunter would have taken over - but getting the raptor folk up to date on the Peregrine made for a useful diversion from the usual boring routine of reconnaissance missions.

“I’m beginning to hope that the earlier encounter we had that lead to our last battle was just chance”, Dundee commented to Sims as Helo expertly brought the AVENGER onto a course to alight back onboard the PEGASUS.

“Just because we have not encountered other patrols since then doesn’t mean that we can become complacent, Snoopy”, Sims gently admonished, “and remember that the tin-heads will want payback for our singeing those two base stars”.

“It was great of Dragon to provide us with those op-plans though”, Dundee replied, “CORONA worked a treat, and these other plans that I’ve been looking through that Dragon developed really gives us the advantage, thanks to this ship’s abilities”.

“We’re well set-up for most of them, thanks to Chief Krag. Let’s hope we never have to use them before we’re ready, Snoopy”, Sims said, “and we are out here to search out the GALACTICA first and foremost - not to fight continuous pitched battles that will wear us down over the long run”.

“Coffin’s right about that, Snoopy”, Hunters voice came over the internal communicator - evidently, he had been listening in to the conversation, “but I do hope that you are right and that we don’t get discovered by Cylon patrols again”.

“Amen to that”, Helo agreed. He knew that it was far too early to draw any conclusions for the recent dearth of contacts, but every day that there was no discovery meant another day of survival...

“AVENGER, this is Sigma Leader”, a new voice came over the communicator. Helo said to Hunter, “It’s Chunks”, then keyed his communicator.

“Go ahead, Sigma Leader”, Helo replied.

“AVENGER, we’re about to head back to Home Plate ourselves. You mind if Sigma Flight comes in with you? It will be a good chance to hone some close-in escort skills”, Hayes suggested.

Helo looked at Hunter, who nodded. He replied, “Very well, Sigma Leader. It’ll be nice to have an escort home”.

Just then, a buzz sounded from the LONG RANGE SENSOR ALARM console. Dundee and Sims quickly looked at their screens to see what had caused the alarm to sound. Sims paled as he saw the readout.

“You spoke too soon, Snoopy”, Sims said as he keyed his communicator to OPEN mode (both internal and external communications).

“We’ve got a bogey at three-five-nine mark one-one-four, Hondo”, he announced, “extreme range limit, but it’s heading this way. No IFF”.

“Frakk!”, Hunter replied, “Did you get that, Home Plate?”

At CIC, the Comscan operators quickly tuned their sensors to the co-ordinates that Sims had reported. The Warbook attached to the sensors quickly made a match.

“It’s a hostile. A Cylon Grasshopper probe”, the technician reported. Sanders quickly activated the ship’s P.A. system.

“Set Condition One. Repeat, Set Condition One throughout the ship!”, he announced.

“Comms, this is Hondo”, Hunter communicated, “We’re still armed, and we have both Sigma and Tau flights here. Request permission to initiate op-plan TOUCHSTONE”.

Sanders quickly called up the specs for TOUCHSTONE and looked it over. His eyes widened, but then smiled at the potential payoff. He keyed his communicator.

“Very well, Hondo. You’re cleared for TOUCHSTONE, but according to Comscan, you’ll need to execute it within the next ninety seconds. The PEGASUS will be within range of it’s sensors by then”, Sanders sent.

As Hunter sent his acknowledgment, both Cain and Tolen came up onto CIC.

“What’s happening, Comms?”, Cain asked.

“Cylon probe heading our way. The P.V.S. and the AVENGER are already out there and are preparing to use the TOUCHSTONE op-plan”, Sanders reported.

“They don’t have much time”, Tolen commented after looking at a status screen on the DRADIS console, “the probe is using our exhaust residue to home in on us and the second it has us in it’s sensors, you can bet your last cubit it will jump back and report our position”.

“Then we stand by to make a jump ourselves”, Cain said, “but let’s give TOUCHSTONE a chance to work. Issue a general recall for our other patrols”. Cain had taken the time to look through all of Masters’ plans and knew precisely what TOUCHSTONE was. Let’s hope that Masters is right on this plan, Cain thought to himself.

Back on the FLEET AVENGER, all of the occupants were at their battle stations. Hunter was in the co-pilot’s seat controlling the forward guns, and another weapon.....

“You got the probe co-ordinates set in the navi-comp, Coffin?”, he called.

“All set, Hondo”, Sims replied, “I hope your aim is still as good as it was”.

“Okay, Helo”, Hunter said, “we’re all ready”.

“Which is more than what I can say for myself at the present time”, Helo muttered before replying ,”Jumping in five....four....three....two....one....jump!”

As the FLEET AVENGER jumped, Hayes signaled his squadron, “Sigma and Tau flights, stand by for the word from AVENGER. If TOUCHSTONE is no-go, we’ll have to get back to Home Plate fast if bad guys start appearing”.

With a flash, the AVENGER emerged directly behind the Grasshopper probe (in it’s ‘blind’ side). Hunter immediately got a bead on it’s position in his gunsight and fired a magna pulse emitter. This sent out an intense, highly localized pulse of electromagnetic radiation, which temporarily overloaded the electronics on the probe. The probe went offline and started drifting. Next, he squeezed off a quick burst with his forward gun. The bullets were not aimed directly at the probe, but at it’s transmission array on the probe’s underside. The array’s antennas were expertly blown off the impacts of the well-aimed bullets.

“Phase One of TOUCHSTONE complete”, Hunter reported. The time between the appearance of the AVENGER and the disabling of the probe was less than ten seconds. The AVENGER moved in over the inert probe.

“How long before the probe goes back active again, Hondo?”, Helo asked.

“About five minutes. Just enough time for Coffin to deposit our ‘gift’ upon it”, Hunter replied.

Sims had moved to another control station and was sighting on the topside of the probe. As his targeting system got a lock on the probe, he depressed a trigger, sending a magnetic clamp and cable to attach itself onto the probe. The clamp had a small built-in winch, which was activated by Sims.

The winch started reeling in the cable, which had just been released from the peregrine. On the other end of the cable was a disguised five kiloton nuclear warhead. As the warhead reached the probe and attached itself to the clamp, Helo took the FLEET AVENGER away from the vicinity of the probe.

“We’re far enough away now”, Help reported.

“You’re clear to activate the package, Coffin”, Hunter called to Sims.

Sims looked at Dundee and smiled. Saying, “the tin-heads should get a real ‘bang’ out of our little gift”, he hit a control switch, remotely activating a proximity sensor on the warhead.

Dundee rolled his eyes at Sims’ pun, then asked, “What is the fuse keyed to?”

“It’s keyed to detonate when a large mass - bigger than a raider - envelops it”, Sims explained, “With our blowing away of the array antennas, it would have to be picked up by it’s mother ship in order to access it’s data banks...”, Sims explained, tailing off at the end with a very broad smile. Dundee smirked too.

“All right, guys”, Hunter said, “let’s call the calvary”. He keyed his communicator to the fighter frequency.

“Hondo to Chunks, time for you to make an appearance”, he called.

“Understood, Hondo, We’re heading in. You’d better get back to Home Plate”, Hayes acknowledged.

With that, both flights kicked in their turbos and headed towards the still-inert probe. The FLEET AVENGER quickly flashed back to the vicinity of the PEGASUS.

The probe started powering back up again, unaware of what had happened earlier. When it powered back up it’s sensors, the first thing it saw was eighteen contacts closing in fast. It’s warbook quickly identified them as human viper fighters. Under it’s new programming instructions, it activated it’s FTL-drive and made a hyper-jump back to it’s base to report upon the human presence....

“It’s jumped, everyone”, Hayes reported, “let’s scoot back to Home Plate fast. We’ll soon know if it didn’t work....”, he concluded. The eighteen vipers peeled back and headed towards the PEGASUS at high speed for a combat landing.

“Commander”, Sanders reported, “Our other patrols have landed. The AVENGER and the P.V.S. are on their way back now”.

“Very well, Comms”, Cain said, “The moment that the AVENGER and Hayes’ squadron is back on board, close up the landing bays. If any tin-heads do end up coming at us en masse, get ready to immediately jump to point ‘Horizon’”.

“Understood, Commander”,Sanders acknowledged. He noticed that the AVENGER had already alighted on the port-side landing bay and the P.V.S. were heading in fast. They would be down in moments.

The probe made it’s emergency jump back to it’s start point, which was a base star patrolling in the Borallis Sector. The base star noticed the unscheduled emergence and registered the omnidirectional emergency beacon that the probe had activated, but all commands for it to transmit it’s data had failed. The probe was now heading back to the base star on automatic control.

The Command centurion was suspicious, but the IFF code coming from the emergencey beacon confirmed that the probe was friendly. It must be a fault in the transmission/reception array, the centurion reasoned. It should not be a major problem as the probe’s data banks could be accessed once the probe was back on board, then they would be able to find out why the probe came back earlier than intended.

Still, remembering the booby-trapped tanker several weeks ago that had caused a base star to be scuttled, the centurion dispatched a raider to survey and escort the probe in - just to ensure that there were no surprises.

As the exterior of the attached warhead was shaped like an instrument package, the incoming raider did not see anything immediately suspicious on it’s initial scan. The warhead was also shielded so that no radioactive emissions could be detected by the raider when it ran a sensor scan. The raider did notice the probe’s transmitter array was missing it’s antennas, which it reported back to the base star.

The centurion nodded at this information. That explained the inability for the probe to send it’s data. And as the raider didn’t see anything else out of the ordinary, then it could be brought on board.

When Captain Masters had come up with the TOUCHSTONE op-plan, he had based it on Tricia Cain’s booby-trapped tanker plan, but he was astute enough to realize that as the Cylons would be more careful in the future, he had to think like a Cylon in order to beat them. By insisting on a shielded, disguised warhead and a proximity fuse setting for a mass larger than a raider in his plan, it would ensure that at least a sentinel post - or ideally a base star - would reap the ‘benefits’ of the plan. Masters would have been proud to see that his plan was working, and that it was a base star that was going to get the probe.

As the base star opened a receiving port and started to draw the probe inside, the warhead’s proximity sensor detected the mass of the base star all around the probe, then it detonated the warhead. The probe vaporized in the explosion, along with the hull plating around the open portal. The electromagnetic pulse wreaked havoc on the base star’s power system as the nuclear explosion lit up the area like a new star. While not as large an explosion as the one that Tricia had set up on the captured tanker, this detonation - and where it detonated - caused major structural damage to the base star. For the second time, the PEGASUS had caught a base star with it’s ‘pants’ down.

“All of the P.V.S. fighters have now landed and all of our returned patrol craft have been stowed, Commander”, Sanders reported to Cain.

“As soon as the bays are closed, execute the jump. We’ll find out sooner or later if TOUCHSTONE worked”, Cain said.

“A heck of a way for the new squadron to hone their combat skills, Commander”, Tolen remarked as the FTL-jump countdown commenced, “but it looks like Hayes will be okay as the commander”.

‘Okay’ was not a description of Number One’s demeanor as she received the report of the explosion in the Borallis Sector.

“ANOTHER base star damaged???”, she angrily inquired.

“Unfortunately yes, Number One”, Number Eleven reported, “The commander of the base star reported that they were receiving a damaged probe when the explosion occurred. Estimated in the five kiloton range, it caused moderate damage to that base star. It will be out of action for several months as it exploded just within it’s hanger bay”.

“How did this happen?”, Number One demanded, “particularly after the precautions we took after the tanker incident?”.

“Insufficient data at the moment”, Number Eleven replied, “the probe had been inspected by a raider just before the explosion and the IFF codes checked out okay. The only anomaly was that it’s transmission antenna array had been damaged”.

“And still, it exploded at the right time and with enough explosive force to disable a base star!”, Number One icily concluded, “and since that type of probe could not self-destruct with such force, what could account for it?”, she asked. Number Eleven shrugged, a human mannerism that seemed appropriate.

“Until we find out, Number One, I suggest that from now on, reconfigured raiders only will dock with our probes and extract information themselves for re-transmission, so that if this recurs, our capital ships won’t be caught off guard again”, Number Eleven recommended.

“Then do so”, Number One ordered.

“By Your Command”, Number Eleven replied.

Chapter Seven: Tender Loving Care

The remainder of the time before the rendezvous went uneventfully. After the PEGASUS had made it’s jump to point ‘Horizon’ - which was the deepest penetration made so far by the PEGASUS in the largely uncharted vastness of the Promar Sector- subsequent patrol probes reported no further hostile contacts and the P.V.S. training program resumed.

Syke and Voight were impressed with the way that Hayes and Mannix were handling their charges. The success of TOUCHSTONE - confirmed by a remote probe that had eavesdropped in on Cylon communications - was an acid test for Hayes’ command ability, and his squadron had performed ably supporting Hunter’s peregrine. Now, Hayes was making good use of the time with weapons training missions - having his pilots fire on remote drones - as well as simulated patrol formation and fuel conservation exercises.

While Hayes kept his squadron busy and Syke and Voight kept their wing patrols functioning, Cain was conferring with Tolen and Sanders in the command conference room while Lieutenant Annan took up the watch on CIC.

“If the GALACTICA is indeed in this sector, they’re doing a great job of not leaving any traces”, Cain commented.

“All of the intercepted Cylon intel, plus the information provided to us by Commander Hawke indicates that the GALACTICA and the other civilian ships that were at Ragnar did indeed come here”, Sanders replied, “so I’m wondering if either they moved on beyond Promar, or if we have overshot them when we jumped to ‘Horizon’”.

“Well, Commander”, Tolen added, “perhaps there will be further information for us at the ‘Polaris’ rendezvous”.

By unspoken agreement, none of them elaborated further on this. Apart from Syke and Voight, only those in the conference room knew about the precise details of the rendezvous with the fleet tender WARLOCK. Cain hoped that there would be some additional information that the WARLOCK could provide when they met. Given the immensity of the Promar Sector, additional leads were going to be needed.

Pointing at the wall chronometer, Cain quietly reminded them that the rendezvous time was fast approaching. Nodding, Sanders asked, “It’s about time for us to go. Shall I have Core Command issue a recall to Hayes and our remaining patrols?”.

“Do so, Comms”,Cain confirmed, “and once they’re back down, get ‘em all refueled. Send Chunks up to me once he lands and I’ll give him the low-down”, he ordered.

“Will do, Commander”, Sanders acknowledged. He left the conference room in order to head to CIC.

“You have anything else, Geoff?”, Cain asked his X.O.

“Just curious as to why our original expected guest is going to be away elsewhere”, Tolen replied, referring to the GOLIATH.

“Well, at this moment, your guess is as good as mine. I expect that we’ll soon find out at ‘Polaris’”, Cain replied. Tolen nodded.

The recall order for the P.V.S. was given and Hayes acknowledged it. Telling his pilots, “Okay, let’s make it look good, this is a simulated combat landing”, Hayes led his squadron back to the PEGASUS at full throttle. Hayes’ viper was the first one to thud down on the expanse of the starboard-side landing deck. The other fighters quickly did likewise. Lt. Dutch - who was piloting the P.V.S.’ raptor - was tailing behind the formation timing the combat landing simulation. As the last viper landed, Dutch keyed his communicator.

“Chunks, this is Razor. Your squadron just cleaved twenty seconds off the previous best time. I’m heading in now”.

“Thanks, Razor. Once you’re in, then we’ll go over the data”, Hayes replied.

“Core Command to Chunks”, a new voice came over the communicator: “you are directed to report to Commander Cain as soon as possible. Your squadron is being directed for immediate refueling and rearming. Acknowledge”.

“Acknowledged, Core Command”, Hayes replied. He waited for the Landing Officer to direct the grounded vipers to the elevators so that they could get back into the pressurized part of the landing bay. It seemed an eternity, but in a few minutes, all of the vipers and Dutch’s raptor were brought down into the hangar decks.

Tricia Cain had walked into CIC and had noticed Core Command’s directing of the P.V.S. to land back on board the PEGASUS. She also noticed that the patrols had all been recalled.

“What’s happening?”, Tricia asked the duty operator. The operator looked back at her and shrugged.

“You know as much as I do, Lieutenant”, the operator replied, “The Commander wants not only the P.V.S., but our other patrols back ASAP. I wasn’t told why”.

Tricia considered asking her father about this, but figured that if he wanted her to know, then he would have informed her. Still, it didn’t take a genius to figure out that a general recall usually meant making another FTL-jump. She decided to head back down to Silver Spar Admin, in case the wing needed to be called to alert status.

After his viper was brought down into the bay and was repressurized, Hayes jumped out of the cockpit. He walked over to Mannix, who was waiting for him just off from the bay.

“I’ve got to go see the Old Man, Axeman”, Hayes said, “So I’ll need you to run the debrief until I get back, okay?”

“No prob, Chunks”, Mannix acknowledged, “They all performed pretty well, so the debrief won’t take long. Maybe Cain wants to get an update from you on this”, he ventured.

“With the order for immediate refueling and arming, it’s probably going to be more than just that. But I’ll soon find out, Axeman”, Hayes replied, “but I’d best not keep him waiting. Chat to you soon”. With that, Hayes quickly left the scene and jumped onto a transport. As he had mentioned to Mannix: Cain didn’t like to be kept waiting.

As Hayes made the trip to the lift that would take him to CIC, Chief Brubaker started his maintenance crews on getting Hayes’ squadron ready to launch again. And while this was going on, the pilots were assembling in a lounge waiting for Mannix to quickly run the debrief. However, as they had heard the refueling order, none of them were removing their flight gear....

“Lieutenant Hayes reporting as ordered, Commander”, Hayes said crisply to Cain up in CIC.

“Actually, it’s not”, Cain replied, “It’s actually CAPTAIN Hayes as of this moment”. The crewmen in CIC applauded as Cain removed Hayes’ lieutenant’s rank insignia and pinned on gleaming new captain’s rank insignia in it’s place. Cain then shook Hayes’ hand.

After the applause died down, Cain said, “please accompany me to the conference room, Captain”, gesturing to the room just offset from CIC.

Hayes nodded and accompanied Cain to the conference room. After Hayes entered it, Cain closed and locked the door. He gestured for Hayes to sit. Over the next five minutes, Cain quickly briefed him on the change of plans for the fighter rendezvous.

“So instead of a ship-to-ship transfer, it’s going to be a deep space deployment awaiting pickup”, Hayes stated, “that is an interesting turn of events. I wonder why the GOLIATH didn’t delay the ‘Polaris’ rendezvous until they were ready to make the trip. After all, it seems like doing things the hard way”.

“Unfortunately, Captain”, Cain replied, “I don’t have all of the information on what is happening, but they have said that they want you and your squadron, and that they would receive you at point ‘Xanadu’, AFTER the PEGASUS has been refueled by the WARLOCK”.

“Do you want me to inform the squadron on this change of plan, Commander?”, Hayes asked next.

“Let your X.O. know, but as far as the others are concerned, not until we reach ‘Xanadu’, Captain”, Cain answered, “If the WARLOCK informs me of any change in plans, I’ll let you know”.

“Understood, Commander”, Hayes answered.

“We’re just about to make the jump to ‘Polaris’, hence the importance of getting your squadron ready to go. I’ve ordered personnel to pack your pilots’ personal effects into Lieutenant Dutch’s raptor. You’ve trained your pilots well. Get them ready to depart at a moments notice”, Cain ordered.

“Very well, Commander”, Hayes said. Cain stood. Hayes followed suit. Extending his hand, Cain said, “The best of luck to you and your squadron, Captain Hayes, and by the way, give this lieutenant’s insignia to Mannix. His promotion to full lieutenant is effective as of this moment”.

Nodding, Hayes took the offered insignia, then saluted Cain. Cain returned the salute and nodded his dismissal. Hayes then turned and exited the conference room. He had to rejoin his squadron. Cain watched him leave, then he headed back into CIC.

“Comms”, Cain ordered, “warm up the FTL drive. Stand by to make the jump to ‘Polaris’ at my command”, Cain ordered, looking at the chronometer.

“Yes, Commander”, Sanders said, “Core Command reports all of our patrols are back on board”.

As CIC was preparing to make the jump, Hayes quickly made his way down to where his squadron was being debriefed. As he entered, Ensign Talat exclaimed, “Frakk, it’s Captain Chunks!”.

The assembled pilots stood and applauded as they took in his new rank insignia. Raising his hand for silence, Hayes said, “That’s not the only promotion. Axeman, front and center!”. Mannix stood and walked up to Hayes.

Unpinning Mannix’s Lieutenant JG insignia, he quickly pinned on the full lieutenant’s insignia that Cain had given him, saying formally, “Under the authority given to me by Commander Cain of the Battlestar PEGASUS, you are hereby appointed to the grade of full lieutenant in the Colonial Military”. With that the pilots applauded again.

“Unfortunately, it also means that we are about to be deployed. Your packed belongings are already being loaded into Razor’s raptor. So get to your fighters and await your orders”, Hayes ordered. With that, the pilots filed out of the room. Some grumbled about not being able to have some time to have a proper good-bye to their comrades, but the necessities of security had a higher priority than personal preference.

“Axeman, a moment”, Hayes said. Mannix stayed back. When the rest of the pilots had left, Hayes quickly informed him of the change in plan.

“Well, I only hope that we won’t be forgotten by the GOLIATH when it’s finished with whatever it’s doing”, Mannix said.

“I’ve been told that the WARLOCK will be with us at ‘Xanadu’, so we should be okay, but until we are ordered to launch, we don’t tell the others”, Hayes reminded him. Mannix nodded.

“Okay, then let’s get going”, Hayes said. Both of them headed out to rejoin their colleagues. As they did so, they heard the P.A. announce, “Set Condition One throughout the ship. Stand by for FTL-jump!”.

“Well, we’re about to make our trip”, Hayes said, “let’s hope whoever we meet won’t have tin-heads breathing down their necks”. They both raced out of the room in order to man their vipers.

“Hey, Chunks!, Axeman!”, a voice called. They turned around. It was Syke.

“I just heard from the Old Man”, he said, “Sorry we can’t give you and the rest of your squadron a proper send-off. But all the best, anyway”. He shook both Hayes’ and Mannix’s hands.

“Thanks, CAG”, Hayes replied.

“You’re a captain now, Keith”, Syke admonished Hayes with a smile, “so I think you can start addressing me by my first name”.

“Thanks, Gene”, Hayes replied with a smile, “It still seems weird with the new rank and all”.

“You’ll do fine, Keith”, Syke assured him, “but we’d better man our ships. Let’s go and I wish you the best of luck”.

“Condition One set throughout the ship, Commander”, Tolen reported, “Both CAGS and Captain Hayes are reporting that their fighters are manned and ready for launch, and Comms reports the FTL is on-line and the co-ordinates for POLARIS are punched in and ready”.

“Very good, Colonel”, Cain ordered, “Activate the FTL- jump in eight.... seven.... six.... five.... four.... three.... two.... one.... execute!”. At his command, the PEGASUS flashed out of existence.

The PEGASUS flashed back into existence again in the sparseness that was the Eskedron System - location known as point ‘Polaris’. The PEGASUS immediately powered down it’s electromagnetic emissions. Using the passive sensors only, Sanders started a check of the surrounding space. He didn’t have long to detect something on one of his screens.

“We have a contact closing with us”, Comscan reported, “Warbook classifies it as a PROVIDER-class colonial fleet tender. IFF query is confirmed”. At that moment, a new voice sounded over the speakers in CIC.

“Home Plate, this is Tender calling you on short-range wireless. Good to see you”, Cain heard over the speaker. Applause broke out in CIC. After raising his hand to quiet down the clapping, Cain picked up a headset and spoke.

“This is Home Plate Actual”, he said, “Good to see you too. Please switch to secure laser communications”.

“Will do, Actual”, the voice replied. After a couple of seconds, the voice spoke again, “I think we can speak securely now, PEGASUS. This is Colonel Lennox of the Fleet Tender WARLOCK”.

“Lennox?”, Cain said, “The commander of the Battlestar ITHACA?”.

“One and the same, Commander”, Lennox replied, “though the ITHACA no longer exists. The WARLOCK isn’t exactly like a battlestar, but she’s pretty well-armed, and rest assured that the ITHACA gave the tin-heads a good dose of grief in her final battle”.

Cain quickly flipped a switch turning off the CIC speakers, making him the only person who could hear Lennox speak.

“So I understand, Colonel”, Cain replied, “but it’s good to see you have found another ship to command”.

“That’s for sure, Commander”, Lennox answered, “We’ve been here for a little while already and we’re pretty sure that there are no bad guys here. But since we don’t want to be stuck out here too long, I’d like permission to dock on your port-side hatch so that we can start transferring fuel and supplies to you”.

“The sooner, the better”, Cain replied, “I don’t want us to remain here too long either in case the tin-heads do get wind of where we are and what we’re doing”.

“I don’t think we’ll need to be worrying too much about that, Commander”, Lennox said, “because around about now, I think that they will be having something of a distraction to deal with first”.

Cain smiled. He suddenly understood what Hawke had meant when he said that the GOLIATH would be indisposed.

The WARLOCK was expertly maneuvered to the port side of the PEGASUS. A docking tube was extended from the WARLOCK. It smoothly connected to the PEGASUS’ primary docking port.

“We have contact, Colonel”, the helmsman informed Lennox, “pressurization is just about complete”.

“Maintain your station, Helm”, Lennox ordered as he unstrapped himself from his seat, “I’m heading down to pay my respects to the PEGASUS. Contact Captain Marro and have her join me at the airlock”. With that, he left the bridge. The helm officer kept a close watch on his controls while the scanning technicians monitored their screens for evidence of any visitors.

As Lennox headed down to the airlock, he nodded at his crew members getting ready to move pallets of foodstuffs and parts over to the airlock. Others were readying large hoses for transferring refined tylium from their holding tanks into the PEGASUS (the PEGASUS’ port-side hatch had receptor sockets for the fuel pipes).

“Open the hatch, please”, Lennox said to a technician at the airlock control panel. Nodding, the tech operated a control. The door hissed open, showing the access way to the still-closed hatch of the PEGASUS. At that moment, Marro joined him.

“Ready to go?”, Lennox asked her.

“Absolutely, Colonel”, Marro replied, “I happen to know the Chief Engineer of the PEGASUS, by the way”.

“It isn’t exactly supposed to be a social call, you know”, Lennox gently admonished with a smile.

“Well, I have to get certain stats from the Chief Engineer in order to help facilitate the transference of the fuel and supplies, you know......”, she replied somewhat lamely.

As he and Marro walked down the access way, followed by a couple of armed guards, the airlock on the PEGASUS’ end of the docking tunnel slowly hissed open. Standing in front of the hatch was an officer wearing the insignia of a colonel.

Lennox and Marro walked up to the officer, then saluted the Colonial seal emblazoned on the open hatch before saluting him.

“Permission to come aboard, Sir?”, Lennox asked formally.

“Permission granted”, was the reply, “My name is Tolen. I’m the Executive Officer of the Battlestar PEGASUS”. He offered his hand to Lennox, who shook it.

“I’m Colonel Lennox, erstwhile commander of the Battlestar ITHACA, now commander of the Fleet Tender WARLOCK. This is my acting Engineering Officer, Captain Marro”, Lennox said, gesturing to his companion.

“Marro?”, another voice sounded just beyond Tolen, “Is that you, Chyna?”.

“Wyatt!”, Marro replied, recognizing the voice. Chief Engineer Thyssen stepped into view. Both of them hugged for a few seconds, until Tolen lightly coughed. They broke the embrace.

“Perhaps you two should come aboard and discuss engineering matters while the others start the fueling and supply transfer”, Tolen suggested with a smile. Both Marro and Thyssen nodded - both slightly blushing - and stepped through the hatchway. Thyssen gestured for Marro to follow him to engineering. Both Tolen and Lennox quietly chuckled as they watched Thyssen and Marro depart, then Tolen turned to face Lennox.

“Commander Cain would like to speak with you up in CIC, Colonel”, Tolen said next, “I suppose your people can carry on here. We’ve got folk here to help out”, he said gesturing to several crew members behind him.

Nodding, Tolen turned to one of his crewmen and said, “Start getting the pallets aboard the PEGASUS and have the fueling techs connect up the fuel hoses”.

“Yes, Sir”, the tech replied. Tolen and Lennox let the WARLOCK and PEGASUS crewmen get to the task at hand as they headed over to a transport.

“Commander Cain runs a really tight ship, doesn’t he?”, Lennox commented as the transporter conveyed them to an express elevator. Lennox saw how clean and efficient-looking the interior of the PEGASUS and the crew looked.

“The Old Man allows no-one to forget that this is a warship”, Tolen replied, “ As far as he’s concerned, we’re fleet personnel, not refugees. We’re on a mission and we have to keep ourselves at a constant state of readiness just in case the tin-heads make another unwelcome appearance”.

“Well, I’m glad that we can assist”, Lennox replied, “hearing about your survival has been a great boost to our ‘contingent’ of colonial fleet assets”.

Tolen nodded, hearing the unspoken meaning behind the comment. Tolen knew that there were a lot of civilians being protected by the GOLIATH and the few colonial fleet assets that were with that particular ship, but from what Lennox had intimated, the existence of the PEGASUS was only being made privy to the fleet personnel. Given the ever-present threat of Cylon humanoids, that was an eminently sensible precaution.

The transporter dropped both colonels off at the elevator. The elevator quickly conveyed them both up to CIC.

“Welcome aboard the PEGASUS, Colonel Lennox”, Commander Cain said formally as Tolen escorted Lennox onto CIC. He extended his hand.

As Lennox shook Cain’s hand, the other personnel in CIC cheered.

“The folk here have just been told about all of the goodies that you’re delivering to us”, Cain explained when the cheering and applause had died down, “and I’m sure that the goodies we’re sending you in return will meet with Commander Hawke’s approval”.

“Sorry to interrupt, I just received word from the WARLOCK”, Captain Sanders reported, “They are commencing fueling now. They are estimating thirty minutes to completion of the fueling operation. All pallets will have been transferred by then”.

“Thank you, Captain”, Lennox replied. Cain nodded, then said, “We need to chat, so would you accompany me please, Colonel?”.

As Cain led Lennox over to the adjoining conference room, Tolen turned to Sanders and said, “Make sure that Mr. Thyssen is kept informed on the progress of the loading and that the WARLOCK’s loading officer is given the complete manifest of the items we’re sending to them”.

“Yes, X.O.”, Sanders replied. The pallets going to the WARLOCK from the PEGASUS contained spare parts for the P.V.S. vipers and extra scarab type III and longbow missiles. Sanders went to Core Command to instruct one of the technicians there to continue monitoring of the loading procedure while the Comscan console personnel maintained their watch of the local space through the PEGASUS’ passive sensor array. This would not be an ideal moment to risk being discovered by Cylons by using their active sensors...

After spending the first five minutes quickly filling Lennox in on recent events - namely the success of Captain Masters’ TOUCHSTONE op-plan - Cain got down to the business of the squadron transfer.

“All of the pilots are in their ships ready to launch, but I’m not sure that I’m entirely happy about just leaving the squadron by itself in the Tairac Sector, Colonel”, Cain said to Lennox in the conference room. Both were seated. Cain had poured his guest a drink and were discussing the upcoming deployment of the P.V.S.

“Speaking personally, Commander”, Lennox replied, “I can’t say that I’m overly comfortable by it either, but my orders were clear on this; you needed the supplies and fuel and we need what you can give us, hence the necessity of keeping this rendezvous at the appointed time, but the GOLIATH has had to go off on its mission and it’s unclear when she will be finished”.

“The uncertainties of war, in other words”, Cain commented.

“True, Commander”, Lennox assented, “but since the WARLOCK will be with the squadron at Tairac, then it will be a reassurance to those pilots. I will be able to support them with additional fuel if necessary and if worst comes to worst, I will be able to take the pilots on board the WARLOCK if the GOLIATH doesn’t turn up”.

“How’s the security issue?”, Cain asked next. Lennox knew precisely what Cain meant.

“We’re hunting down more of those tin-head human simulants”, Lennox replied, “and until we do, we’re keeping knowledge of the PEGASUS’ existence quiet from the civilians back at our base. While the Cylons are still unsure about who you are, it gives us an extra advantage”.

“I hope that whatever the GOLIATH is up to, it keeps the tin-heads distracted for long enough”, Cain commented next, “because being caught by base stars in the middle of fueling is not the most advantageous tactical situation for us”, he concluded dryly.

“We’ll be finished with the transfer of supplies and fuel very soon, Commander”, Lennox assured him, “but if we are detected, it would take them some time to send base stars here, given what the GOLIATH will be doing. By then, we’ll be at the new rendezvous. We were so sure that the tin-heads were expecting this rendezvous, Commander Hawke had been sending out bogus transmissions to lead them to another location, along the lines of what he had mentioned to you in an earlier message. But if despite this, they do detect us here, by then they would have already sent out their ready-alert task forces to the other location, leaving them very few assets to come here. In fact, we’ll shortly be sending an ‘accidental’ transmission to that effect on a code that we’re sure that the tin-heads have broken. Anything that will confuse them further and keep their eyes away from Tairac and the GOLIATH will be of help”.

“Deliberate bait amidst a deception plan?”, Cain asked. He thought about this angle for a bit, then nodded. “When?”.

“If neither of our sensors detect any presence of active tin-head reconnaissance probes or raider patrols, then we’ll make the ‘accidental’ transmission as soon as the cargo loading is complete”, Lennox replied, “here is the transcript of the transmission, courtesy of Captain Masters”.

Cain took the sheet of paper and looked it over. After a couple of minutes, he nodded his assent, saying, “Very well. Captain Masters helped us out with his CORONA and TOUCHSTONE op-plans, so I suppose we’re in good hands, but it still all boils down to timing”.

The message read: RENDEZVOUS WITH BATTLESTAR AT POLARIS SUCCESSFUL. LOGISTICAL AND INTELLIGENCE INFORMATION EXCHANGES UNDER WAY. PROCEEDING AS DIRECTED.

“I’ve also been ordered to give you these discs on the latest intelligence assessments of Cylon ship dispositions, communications intercepts, and other data that Commander Hawke thinks that you’ll find useful”, Lennox said, handing over a large envelope.

“That reminds me”, Cain said as he took the offered envelope, “I have this to give to you to pass on to Commander Hawke”. He took out a small envelope containing two disks. He continued, “One is a copy of the manifest of the spares and armaments packages and the other is an encrypted commander-to-commander communication. Please ensure that Commander Hawke gets the disk when you next see him”.

Nodding, Lennox took the small envelope and placed it in his satchel. Cain then gestured to Lennox’s glass. Lennox shook his head, saying, “I’d better not have too much to drink you know. Have to set a good example for the crew”. Both of them had a laugh at that. Eventually, Lennox looked at his chronometer and stood.

“I’d better get back and finish the loading, Commander. It was good to meet up with you, and I’m sure that the new squadron will be of great benefit to Commander Hawke”, Lennox said. He stood to attention and saluted. Cain returned the salute, then offered his hand. Lennox shook it.

“Take care, Colonel”, Cain said. Cain went to the door and opened it. He said to one of the guards outside, “Escort Colonel Lennox back to the loading bay, please”. The guard nodded, saluted, then gestured to Lennox to follow him. As they both left to head back down to the loading bay, Cain went back to CIC.

“Anything on scan, Comms?”, he asked Sanders.

“Comscan’s passive sensors reports negative, Commander”, Sanders replied, “Unless there are dormant probes, we’re in a quiet place for our loading. Active sensors are still powered down”.

The threat of dormant probes was what made the PEGASUS go passive the instant the battlestar had emerged from it’s FTL-jump. And while Lennox had mentioned that they didn’t pick up any probes on their sensors, it didn’t mean that there weren’t any out there, and use of the active sensors would be like broadcasting a beacon. Cain knew that the Cylons would be methodical in their probe deployments, particularly as the Eskedron System was closer to Cyrannus than Promar.

“Well, we won’t be quiet for much longer”, Cain replied quietly, “because as soon as the transfer of pallets and fuel is completed, we’re going to be ‘letting slip’ to the tin-heads of our presence”. He smiled at Sanders’ eyes widening.

“Don’t worry, Captain”, Cain replied with a smile, “It’s all part of the plan”.

Chapter Eight: From Polaris to Xanadu to a new home

“All loading completed, Colonel”, Marro reported.

“I take it that your time with Chief Engineer Thyssen was constructive, Chyna?”, Lennox inquired with a smile.

“His team, with the help of Chiefs Krag and Brubaker was excellent. All of the pallet transfers were skillfully done and the fueling had no problems”, Marro said, slightly avoiding the question. It was great to see Wyatt after so long. After going over the respective cargo manifests, they had caught up on each other - though without either of them divulging too much about matters of security. While Marro was pleased with the spares packages and the additional longbow and scarab missiles that the PEGASUS was sending to complement the volunteer squadron, Thyssen was pleased with the additional foodstuffs and raw materials that Hawke had seen fit to provide, along with the extra fuel that had now almost completely topped off the PEGASUS’ fuel tanks. It was just a pity that time constraints did not allow for extra time together....

“Anything else of interest?”, Lennox asked next.

“Unfortunately, both Sheba and Bojay are in their vipers. All of the PEGASUS’ squadrons are on launch alert, so I didn’t get a chance to say hello”, Marro replied. Lennox nodded. With the PEGASUS at Condition One, that meant that dropping in to say hi had to wait. Well, perhaps some other time....

“It’s almost time to send out our ‘message’, Chyna”, Lennox reminded her. Marro nodded. They both walked through the open airlock hatch and proceeded to head back to the WARLOCK.

“Thanks for the supplies and fuel, Chyna”,Thyssen called out to Marro. She turned and said, “Till next time, Wyatt”.

Thyssen nodded to Chief Krag, who activated a control on the open hatch. The hatch slowly swung closed. As it closed behind them, Lennox and Marro noticed their techs quickly winding in the fuel hoses. They stepped back into the WARLOCK. While Lennox headed back up to the bridge, Marro waited until their techs had finished stowing the hoses. She noticed that the pallets provided by the PEGASUS had been stowed away in the hold.

“Okay, close the hatch, depressurize and retract the walkway”, she ordered the tech at the hatch controls.

As the hatch closed and sealed, air pumps removed the air in the walkway. When the depressurization process was completed, the walkway folded in on itself, stowing itself in a folded position on the side of the WARLOCK. The WARLOCK was now floating free beside the PEGASUS.

“Stand by to transmit the message”, Lennox commanded the communications officer. He keyed his communicator to contact the PEGASUS on the laser-commlink.

“Home Plate”, he said, “we’re ready to transmit. Once done, we’ll move off first to ‘Xanadu’. We’ll wait for you there”.

“Understood, Tender”, the Core Command duty officer replied, “we’ll be watching for bad guys”.

Lennox turned to the communications officer and said, “do it”.

The officer activated the high-intensity omnidirectional communicator and sent out the message that Lennox had shown Cain earlier. Lennox’s hope that it would be picked up was confirmed. A dormant Cylon grasshopper probe approximately thirty light-seconds away picked up the transmission. Obeying it’s programming, it immediately powered up it’s systems, scanned the area where the transmission came from, and then activated it’s FTL-jump. The energy spike was picked up by the passive sensors on both the PEGASUS and the WARLOCK.

“FTL-jump reported at these co-ordinates”, Sanders reported to Cain, pointing to a map on his screen.

“We show it too, Home Plate” , Lennox reported, “Hopefully, this will give the tin-heads something to think about. We’re heading out now”.

“Understood, Tender”, Core Command replied.

“Let’s go”, Lennox ordered. The WARLOCK powered up it’s FTL- drive, then started the countdown. Just before the countdown reached zero, Lennox called, “See you in a few”.

“The WARLOCK has just made it’s jump, Commander”, The Core Command duty officer reported.

“Very well. Helm!”, Cain called, “power up the FTL drive. Stand by to jump on my mark”.

The grasshopper quickly jumped back to it’s point of origin and transmitted the following message: SUPER-FLASH PRIORITY MESSAGE BEGINS. SPARTAN THREE-NINER-TWO REPORTS ONE HUMAN BATTLESTAR IN CONCERT WITH PROVIDER-CLASS TENDER IN ESKEDRON SYSTEM CO-ORDINATES ONE ONE FIVE DASH THREE TWO ONE. INTERCEPTED TRANSMISSION FROM TENDER DECODED. CONFIRMS POLARIS REFERENCE. BATTLESTAR CURRENTLY IN PROCESS OF BEING REPLENISHED BY TENDER.

“Number One!”, Number Eleven called out, “A probe has just sent a super-flash message. We have confirmation of the human ‘Polaris’ rendezvous co-ordinates. They’re in the Eskedron System!.

“Great!”, Number One replied sarcastically, “Just as we’re dealing with this other attack at Cimtar! Very well, inform our ready-alert task forces and have them immediately engage the humans in the Eskedron System”.

“Our ready-alert task forces have already been dispatched to another suspected location which were based on decodes of recent communications intercepts”, Number Eleven said, “It will take some time to get the message to them, given the situation at Cimtar”.

“You did what?!!”, Number One screamed.

“I was about to inform you when the Cimtar attack commenced. The dispatch of the ready-alert forces was in compliance with your directive, Number One: to preempt the human rendezvous by dispatching our forces to ambush them once we get information as to the co-ordinates”, Number Eleven said.

“Those accursed Colonials! They’ve successfully duped us again! By leading away our ready-alert forces and staging this attack at Cimtar at the same time as the real rendezvous, they have split our assets and caught us at a disadvantage. Issue the recall to the ready-alert forces at once and get them to Eskedron!”.

“It will take too long, Number One”, Number Eleven informed her, “by then the humans will more than likely be away from the Eskedron System”..

Then get someone from in-system out there to deal with them, even if you have to divert, or detach a unit or two from one of the task forces coming to support us!”, Number One ordered, “we have got to intercept and destroy that other battlestar!”.

“By your Command”, Number Eleven replied.

Number One had not missed the information that there was a surviving human fleet tender. The existence of such a vessel would make supply transfers easy and quick for the humans. She hoped that whoever Number Eleven found to respond to her order would get there before the tender had finished, but why have the ready-alert task forces not responded if they had been lead away to an empty location......?

After several minutes of waiting, a PROXIMITY ALERT alarm flashed onto several screens on the DRADIS console.

“We’ve got company”, Sanders reported from Comscan, “Two Base Stars have just jumped into this system at three-seven-eight mark five-four-niner. They’re launching raiders”.

“Time for raider intercept?”, Cain asked. “One minute, ten seconds”, Sanders replied.

“Stand by to jump”, Cain said.

“Another base star has jumped into the system at nine-zero-zero mark one-one-five, Commander. Looks like they’re trying to pincer us.”, Sanders reported.

“Then let’s go, gentlemen”, Cain ordered, “As much as I’d like to give those tin-heads a dose of artillery, three-to-one odds are not overly advantageous, and we do have a job to do first”.

“Ready to go at your order”, Helm reported. “Execute Jump!”, Cain responded. With that order, the PEGASUS jumped out of the system - and away from the closing base stars.

The commander of the incoming Cylon task force registered the battlestar making it’s jump. The closest raider to where the PEGASUS used to be quickly scanned the empty space, then reported that it had found nothing.

“Recall all of our raiders”, the command centurion ordered his communications centurion, “As soon as they’re back, quickly scan the system before returning to Cyrannus”.

“By your command”, the communications centurion replied.

Elsewhere in space, far away from the Eskedron and Tairac sectors, a Colonial fleet Battlecruiser emerged from it’s FTL-jump with a flash of light.

“I guess that we can call that a job well done”, Greenlee remarked to Hawke after the effects of the jump wore off. The GOLIATH had just made it’s FTL ‘withdrawal’ from the field of battle to a preselected location several parsecs away from it’s departure point.

“Excellent work, everyone”, Hawke remarked to the CIC personnel. Hawke quickly got a status check from the Damage Control officer, which indicated that the GOLIATH was not-too-much-the-worse for it’s recent battle.

“Do we set a course for Carillon now, Commander?”, the helm officer inquired. Hawke shook his head.

“We’ve got a little errand to run first”, Hawke replied, “Set an FTL-jump for these co-ordinates”, he ordered, handing the helm officer a folded sheet of paper he had removed from inside his tunic.

The helm officer looked it over, then looked back at Hawke.

“Commander”, he said, “These co-ordinates are for the Tairac Sector. There’s nothing out there”.

“There is”, Hawke replied, “We’re quickly dropping in to pick up some guests. Get the FTL set and let’s get going”.

As Hawke turned away, Greenlee walked up and said sotto voce, “Commander, The WARLOCK would have finished it’s rendezvous with the PEGASUS well before now and should be back at base”, he pointed out, gesturing to the chronometer on the DRADIS console.

“I know”, Hawke replied, “and it’s pretty far away from the ‘Polaris’ rendezvous co-ordinates as well, but trust me, okay?”, he concluded with a smile.

What has the Old Man got in mind?, Greenlee asked himself. He saw the smile though. Hawke had it before when he sent him down to greet the newcomers on the FLEET AVENGER, not informing him that the daughter of Commander Cain would be present!

“X.O., Set Condition Two and have Core Command stand by”, Hawke ordered. Greenlee nodded.

As Greenlee carried out the instruction, the helm officer reported, “Co-ordinates punched in, Commander. We’re ready to jump at your discretion”.

“Very well”, Hawke replied. He turned to face Greenlee, who reported, “Condition Two is set throughout the ship, Commander”.

“Then let’s get going”, Hawke declared, “Execute jump in five....four....three....two....one....execute!”.

In the emptiness of deep space that was point ‘Xanadu’, The eighteen vipers and the single raptor of the PEGASUS Volunteer Squadron were slowly coasting alongside the WARLOCK in close formation . Hayes was keeping close tabs on the other pilots while Lt. Dutch kept the raptor directly behind the tender, watching the ‘six’ position.

Cain had immediately given the order for them to launch and rendezvous with the WARLOCK immediately after their impromptu jump to Tairac. Just after Connor’s raptor had left the landing bay, the PEGASUS send a brief “Good Luck” message, then jumped back to Promar, leaving them alone with just the WARLOCK for company. The period of waiting had started.

“How much longer do we stay out here alone, Colonel?”, Hayes asked over the short range ship-to-ship communicator.

“Should be any time now, Captain”, Lennox replied. This rendezvous point was completely devoid of even asteroids. When the PEGASUS had departed, it drove home the point that they had better get picked up by somebody.

“My sensors are showing absolutely nothing”, Dutch chimed in. The raptors’ sensor array was the most powerful of the ships that were there, “so I hope your people don’t forget about us as it’s a long way to any kind of planet”.

“Considering the value of this tender to the Old Man, I wouldn’t worry about that, Lieutenant”, Lennox assured him, “So be patient. As soon as Mother Lode is finished with what she has to do, she’ll be along. In the meantime, I suggest that you maintain your power conservation measures”, Lennox said. Hayes had been told by Lennox earlier that ‘Mother Lode’ was the secure call-sign for the GOLIATH, and Hayes had cautioned his pilots not to mention any but code names over the communicator.

“He’s right, Razor”, Hayes agreed, “Our squadron is needed, or else we’d be cooling our heels back on Home Plate until another rendezvous can be arranged. Let’s just keep patient”.

“I’m just glad that the tender is here riding shotgun”, Dutch replied.

The other pilots listening in nodded. With the fleet tender at hand, if worst came to worst, the pilots could be evacuated to it, although that would mean abandoning their vipers.

Just then, a large flash signaled the emergence of a large ship from an FTL-jump. Lennox saw the IFF signature on his scanner, then smiled.

“Tender to Mother Lode, Tender to Mother Lode, it’s good to see you again”, he communicated.

“Good to see you too, Colonel”, Hawke’s voice came back, “I see that our guests are keeping you company”.

“What the frakk?”, Greenlee blurted out, “That’s a viper squadron with the WARLOCK. And another raptor!”

“I told you that we were going to have some guests”, Hawke replied with a smirk, relishing the surprise on Greenlee’s face, “So let’s them on board”.

Nodding, Greenlee gestured to Comscan. After the technician reported no other ships in the vicinity, he then nodded to the Duty Officer at the Core Command console. She set her communicator to the UNICOM fighter frequency.

“Mother Lode to Honcho, Mother Lode to Honcho, Do you receive?”, she sent out. ‘Honcho’ was the generic term for a squadron commander. Hayes keyed his communicator.

“Receiving you loud and clear, Mother Lode”, Hayes reported, “Honcho’s call-sign is Chunks. Acknowledge”.

“Understood, Chunks”, Core Command replied, “You and your squadron are cleared for combat landing. Acknowledge”.

“Understood, Mother Lode”, Hayes replied, “We’re coming in”.

To his pilots, Hayes communicated, “Let’s go, everyone. Straight in fast. They don’t want to linger around here, and I’d rather use a decent washroom instead of this relief tube!”.

The other pilots laughed at that message as that followed Hayes on the approach to the now-open flight deck of the GOLIATH. As Hayes’ viper entered the large maw of the entry port, Hawke’s voice came over the communicator.

“Actual to Honcho, Welcome to your new home. Welcome home all of you”.

“Thank you, Actual”, Hayes replied, “The undefeated and unforsaken appreciate your hospitality”.

Hayes had used the new squadron motto that Growler had thought up. It was kind of appropriate. They would ensure that the tin-heads would never forget that they would never know victory while one of them still lived, and thanks to the mutual support of both Hawke and Cain, they would never be forsaken.

EPILOGUE

Tricia and Syke were enjoying some off-duty time sitting alone in an observation cubicle on the underside of the PEGASUS. Both were gazing out at the star field. They had sat quietly for some time. Both were holding hands. At last, Tricia spoke.

“I hope that Chunks and the rest of the squadron are going to be okay”, Tricia said.

“Me too”, Syke replied, “It would have been great to give them all a proper send-off before we had to drop them off. I’m hoping that the GOLIATH doesn’t forget to pick them up”.

“Well, I don’t know if Father made the right decision in giving the GOLIATH eighteen of our vipers and another raptor, despite Black Knight wing’s presence on board the PEGASUS”, Tricia said after a pause, “because we’re still no closer to finding the GALACTICA”.

“Hey, right or wrong, your father made the decision. It’s something that he has to live with”, Syke gently reminded her.

Tricia sighed, realizing that Syke was right. “Father has a huge burden to bear”, she said, “I do worry about him so much”.

“So do we all”, Syke replied, “but he got us this far, and we’re still battleworthy. All of the crew revere him and will do anything for him, so lets keep the faith, okay? Besides”, he continued with a smile, “aren’t we here for us, and to take our minds off work for a while?”. He squeezed her hand.

“Sorry, Gene”, Tricia replied, “you’re right, but it’s a daughter worrying about her father, you know”.

“I’d be surprised if you didn’t worry, Tricia”, Syke said, “but let’s just enjoy the view for a while longer before going up to the O-club for dinner, okay?”.

Tricia nodded. The extra food supplies that the WARLOCK had delivered had made Lieutenant Bowles very happy, and had enabled him to hone his culinary skills. Now the O-club had an excellent buffet which the pilots of both wings had readily availed themselves of. Also, some of the juices extracted from various fruits and vegetables had been expertly fermented by Bowles into classic ‘engine room hooch’. Making booze was bordering on breaking the rules, true. But Bowles knew how to make sure that (a) the brew was safe to drink and (b) that no person drank more than was advisable. He wanted to keep the pilots happy, not blitzed out of their brains!

Commander Cain may have been a person insisting on military efficiency, but he knew what rules were meant to be enforced, and which ones could be bent. He had quietly sampled a glass of ‘Bowles Brew Number Five’ earlier after having a meal from the o-club buffet and - after wiping the tears from his eyes after the first swallow - knew that Bowles could be trusted with his concoction. And if there was an excessive amount made, well....it could always be used as paint stripper.

He read the latest intelligence reports from Commander Hawke, courtesy of Colonel Lennox. There was nothing that indicated the current position of the GALACTICA and the civilian convoy of refugees. The only real intel regarding the Promar Sector was that the tin-heads were expanding their raider patrols and probes, which would make their mission all the harder. Still, the PEGASUS had lasted this long, and now with frequent resupply trips promised by Hawke, it meant that more effort could be devoted to the search rather than for foraging.

He smiled, remembering the emblem of the new squadron that Lt. Benson had shown him before the deployment. The motto emblazoned under the picture of a winged sword - ‘Undefeated and Unforsaken’ - was appropriate in more ways than one. It could also apply to this battlestar. Despite the loss of the colonies, as long as they survived, they were undefeated, and thanks to Hawke and the GOLIATH, they were also unforsaken. And when they finally caught up with the GALACTICA, they could start to turn things around in order to defeat the Cylons, and to provide a fresh start for humanity.

END OF BOOK SEVEN