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The Pegasus: Book 8 - Continuing the Quest (rewrite)

By  Dean Thomas  with excerpts by Kevin Hallesy and Jim Quigley

Word Count: 24,763
Date: 2004
Series: Mini
Rating: T
Category: AU
Pairing/Focus: Original Characters
Warnings:
Summary
Spoilers/Disclaimers:


PROLOGUE

“How is it that was can annihilate over ninety-nine and three quarters percent of humanity within one day, yet the remnants of that accursed race can end up inflicting damage to us out of all proportion to their remaining numbers?”, Number One snarled to the other assembled persons in a conference room on the top of the Virgon Space Elevator.

The others did not answer. The selected Humanoid Cylons that made up the Cylon High Command had spent the last few months after the successful shock offensive on the Colonies trying to eradicate the last survivors of the Twelve Worlds of Man. Instead of achieving their goal, instead, the few human survivors and the last remnants of the once-vaunted Colonial Fleet had scored several major victories on the Cylon forces. The most recent battle had hit the Cylons badly and now this conference had been convened for what the humans termed ‘painful soul searching’, in order to find out just what was going wrong.

“Well, can’t anybody here answer the question?”, Number One asked with more menace in her voice.

“The loss of the element of surprise has made these remains of humanity more alert, Number One”, Number Eleven ventured, “after all, it was their lull into a false sense of security that made our offensive so successful”.

“But given the fact that we have overwhelming military superiority now, theoretically speaking, they should not be as successful as they have been”, Number One pointed out.

“Numbers have their own special brand of perfection. As Humanity isn’t perfect, that adds an element of uncertainty into any equation regarding computation”, Number Six replied, “The scientist Dr. Gaius Baltar mentioned that statement to an earlier version of me down on Caprica. At the time, I did not think much of it, but given these humans string of military successes, it makes more sense”.

“We had foreseen that humanity’s imperfection could upset our plans, which is why we were created”, Number Two pointed out, “so we should be able to make use of their erratic behavior in order to counter them”.

“But we haven’t”, Number One spat out, “and while we are trying to counter them, they persist in their successful sorties against us. This last venture cost us dearly and the next time is likely to be more audacious”.

“Taken in context, these raids, while successful, are little more than a guerilla nuisance”, Number Five ventured, “after all, their military and manpower have been reduced so much that they can’t defeat us”.

“At the moment”, Number One replied, “but if the GALACTICA ever joins in with these other forces that have been hitting us of late, then this conflict will drag on indefinitely while the other human survivors rebuild”.

Everyone thought about Number One’s last statement. Given the human capacity for revenge, they all knew that unless every vestige of humanity was wiped out, the threat to them remained. Eliminating nearly all was not enough. Something had to be done to find and wipe out the rest of them before it was too late.

“There are still a number of us unaccounted for”, Number Eight suddenly ventured, “and most of those are in ‘sleeper’ mode. There is a chance that some of them may be with these humans, so perhaps we should send out the general activation signal and see if they can do something to expose them to us, once activated”.

“Unfortunately”, Number Three replied, “the signal has to be close at hand to the sleepers to activate them and given the probability that the humans may know about us, they will be alerted should they pick up such signals from our patrols”.

“In that case, we wait until another battle takes place. When the battle is joined and the humans distracted, then the signal will be sent out”, Number One replied, “so inform our task forces of this decision. The next move will be up to the humans. In addition, the other snares that we are building in the Promar Sector are to be expedited”.

“It’s not an entirely satisfactory solution”, Number Seven commented.

“Given their recent successes, do you have any better ideas?”, Number One asked Seven acidly.

Seven replied, “No”.

“Then carry out your orders”, Number One said.

“By Your Command”, the others replied.

As they filed out of the conference room, Number One called Number Seven back.

“Yes, Number One?”, Seven asked.

“Any further information regarding the Hatari Sector base star?”, she asked.

“From the base star itself, nothing beyond what it’s first probe dispatch had reported: that the human colony had been destroyed and that it was engaging the colonial warships that were protecting it. After that, nothing”, Number Seven reported, “that’s when we sent out survey probes to ascertain the situation there”.

“It’s been several months since our offensive. Why hasn’t there been more information forthcoming besides what our initial survey probes reported?”, Number One demanded.

“As you know, there is a large nebula between Cyrannus and Hatari”, Number Seven explained, “and the makeup of the nebula is toxic to Cylon technology, which means we cannot go through it, even on FTL. We had to send probes around, which took a lot of time. Given the recent human successes against us, plus the fact that the initial survey of the Hatari Sector by our survey probes concluded that the mission to wipe out the human presence there was successful, despite the loss of the base star, sending another base star to confirm the survey mission was not a high priority”.

“But still, we lost that base star”, Number One reminded him, “which raises the question of just how successful it was in achieving it’s mission”.

“The survey probes showed conclusive information that the last remaining human warship immolated itself when it rammed the base star at the end of the battle”, Number Seven replied, “and with the debris encountered, plus with no subsequent EMT emissions detected by our survey probes, the conclusion of total human destruction is solid”.

Number One thought about this for a minute. What Number Seven said seemed plausible. The problem was the location of the Hatari Sector made prompt confirmation of the survey probes impossible, and with her recent directives reinforcing the Cyrannus System and setting up frequent probes of nearby sectors, there was not enough spare forces to check every remoter sector out. Still.....

“Dispatch a single base star from one of the roving task forces and have it go to the Hatari Sector. The sooner that the initial survey probe conclusions can be fully confirmed, the better”, she instructed, “I don’t like having any possibility of other human survivors while we are engaged in hunting down and destroying these other survivors”.

“By your command”, Number Seven replied.

CHAPTER ONE: patrol routine upset

After returning to the Promar Sector from deploying a squadron of volunteers to serve with the Battlecruiser GOLIATH, the PEGASUS was resuming it’s mission to find the Battlestar GALACTICA before the implacable Cylon war machine could do so. Given the vastness of the Promar Sector, Commander Cain often thought that finding a needle in a haystack would be a dead certainty in comparison. Probably that was why Bill Adama chose this location to escape the Cylons, he mused.

This region of the Promar Sector was dotted with small asteroids and larger chunks of spacial debris. Despite the recent supplies of fuel and other materiel from the Fleet Tender WARLOCK, the PEGASUS still needed to find useful raw materials to sustain itself, as well as to trade at the next scheduled rendezvous - which would not be for another month. Given this requirement, Cain had ordered his CAG’s to deploy additional patrol sweeps of vipers while the lone Peregrine and the two remaining Raptors made their deep-penetration reconnaissance probes.

Flying one of these forward sweep patrols from the Battlestar PEGASUS were two vipers from Silver Spar Wing. Unlike most patrols, this one consisted of the Deputy CAG for Silver Spar Wing, Lieutenant Tricia ‘Sheba’ Cain, and Lieutenant Andrew ‘Shooter’ Macklin, the Commanding Officer of Spar Two Squadron. Tricia was getting some flight time in and Macklin volunteered to act as her wingman.

Tricia accepted the offer for two reasons. First, she knew that Macklin was an accomplished pilot, and second, it was a good way to show the junior pilots of the wing that the senior staff could pull ‘routine’ patrol duty. Besides, Tricia thought to herself, it was good to be out of the wing admin office! Being the deputy CAG required her to do more paperwork than flying.

They were close to the farthest extent of their patrol sweep when Tricia keyed her short-range communicator.

“Hey Shooter”, Tricia called out to Macklin.

“What’s up, Sheba?”, Macklin communicated back.

“Don’t the Launch Officers get confused whenever you’re ready for launch?”, she asked. She was referring to Macklin’s call-sign. Launch Officers are known in pilot-speak as ‘Shooter’.

“I used to be one of them, Sheba”, Macklin explained, “and when I made the request to the call-sign committee, they didn’t seem to object”.

“Yeah, well, it would just seem rather confusing hearing ‘Shooter, this is Shooter. Clear to launch’ over the communicator”, Tricia answered.

“Well, if the launch officers on board referred to our call-signs instead of our patrol number designations, it probably would”, Macklin answered, “but as they don’t, it’s no biggie”.

Tricia nodded. This patrol was designated ‘Omicron’ and thus were referred to by the Launch Officers as ‘Omicron Actual’ (for Tricia) and ‘Omicron Alternate’ (for Macklin).

Macklin was not the usual viper pilot. For starters, he came into the Colonial military as an enlisted person and worked his way up through the ranks. He had been originally assigned to PEGASUS launch personnel, and had so impressed Cain with his organizational abilities, he had been sent to Officer Candidate School, where he had earned his commission before being sent to basic pilot training, then VTT.

After getting his ensign’s bars, and after that, his viper pilot’s wings, he had been sent to the Battlestar INDEFATIGABLE, where he had flown in Bronze Spear Wing, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Junior Grade. Cain made a habit of keeping in touch with former crew members, and when a squadron command slot in Silver Spar wing came up, had Macklin transferred back to the PEGASUS to fill the vacancy. Macklin was glad to be back as he (a) respected Cain immensely, and (b) the squadron commanders slot carried with it a promotion to full Lieutenant.

“Ever regret not going through the academy, Shooter?”, Tricia asked next.

“A little”, Macklin admitted, “but since the support crews still regard me as ‘one of their own at heart’, plus the other pilots in Spar Two judge a person more on piloting ability than anything else, it means that I have a very loyal squadron base”.

Tricia nodded. A lot of people resented ‘mustangs’ (slang for an officer who was a former enlisted man), but others showed a high regard for those who earned their rank and pilot wings the hard way. Spar Two Squadron seemed to be made up predominantly of the latter.

Just then, her scanner beeped. She quickly saw on her screens what her sensors had detected.

“You got it as well, Shooter?”, she communicated. The scanner showed a moving target at extreme range.

“Yes, Sheba. Pretty much at the edge of our sensors. Can’t get anything on it for the warbook to analyze at this range. Not even an IFF query”.

“But I know that we don’t have any patrols out there, so we better assume the worst. Let’s change course and give a brief increase in our velocity for an intercept, then power down all but passives”, she ordered.

“Okay, Sheba”, Macklin replied, “you’re the leader”.

Both of them quickly punched in new instructions to the vipers’ autopilots. Both fighters changed course and fired their engines up for a few seconds, then shut down. They were now coasting towards the unknown contact.

Back on the PEGASUS, Silver Spar wing CAG Captain Gene Syke was in the o-club chatting with his counterpart in Black Knight wing, Captain Lance Voight. Both had decided to take some down time after the recent deployment of the volunteer squadron.

“You know Lance, I hope that Chunks got all of his pilots safely aboard the GOLIATH”, Syke said while sipping on his drink. Both were seated at a table beside a viewport looking out at the immense starfield. While Voight’s fighter call-sign was ‘Pointer’, Syke knew that Voight didn’t like anyone to use it while he was not flying. Both of them had become good friends and Syke respected Voight’s preferences. Syke didn’t mind any of the pilots addressing him by his call-sign of ‘Bojay’, but given Commander Cain’s insistence on maintaining discipline at all times, the pilots usually addressed him as ‘CAG’ when he was not flying.

“Don’t worry, Gene”, Voight replied, “With the WARLOCK keeping them company, they will be okay until the GOLIATH comes to pick them up”. Syke nodded. The fleet tender was a ship that the GOLIATH would not want to lose. And if worst came to worst, then the WARLOCK would be able to take the pilots on board before FTL-ing out to safety.

“Well, I hope that Dragon will be true to his word”, Syke said. Voight nodded.

Syke was referring to the latest communique that Captain Logan Masters had written. It had been given to him by Cain after the WARLOCK had undocked (it was part of a collection of messages that colonel Lennox had given to Cain). The message read:

Gene,

Sorry I couldn’t be at the rendezvous, but the GOLIATH and DRAGON’S LAIR had to be somewhere else. Rest assured that the tin-heads won’t be happy about it. The WARLOCK and the tylium she’s carrying though should be a welcome sight for a fuel guzzler like the PEGASUS....

Anyway, Commander Hawke had briefed me about the squadron that Commander Cain is sending to us. They will be a great addition to our forces, and should help plug the gap until more pilots can be trained from the civilian population that we are protecting. It is our hope that once they are trained, and when we can start manufacturing vipers from local sources, we can start rotating units between us.

Thanks to the donation of the raptors, it has indeed taken a load off the LAIR. I’ll have to see about getting you some more coffee in appreciation for that. Until then, I hope that you have better luck in locating the GALACTICA.

I feel like I’m being unappreciative by asking this, after all you have so far provided for us, but if you can locate more raw materials for trade at the next rendezvous, particularly the elements platinum and beryllium, it would help us immensely. Our base of operations has insufficient supplies and as you know, those metals are needed to maintain our electronic systems.

Take care, and best of luck my friend.

Logan.

Syke had shown Voight the message earlier. Voight was pleased at the prospect of getting more planes and pilots in the medium term, but was also aware of the request for platinum and beryllium. Both of them had checked with their respective crew chiefs and they had told them that they barely had enough of those metals to keep the wings going, let alone giving it away.

“Well, perhaps our fighter sweeps will locate some of those metals”, Voight said hopefully, “after all, there’s a lot of space debris and asteroids in this area of space, and given that the GALACTICA is likely wanting to get raw materials as well, if they passed through here, they should have left some traces at least”.

“Considering how big this sector is, plus the jump we made after TOUCHSTONE, that is rather wishful thinking”, Syke gently admonished, “for all we know, we could have way overshot them”.

“I try to be an optimist, Gene”, Voight replied with a faint look of disdain, “do you always have to be a pessimist?”.

“If I were a pessimist, Lance”, Syke replied, “we’d all be dead somewhere back there. But I see your point. Hope has kept us going so far. That, plus the Old Man”.

“Too true”, Voight agreed, “He’s kept us going thus far, and if anyone can locate the GALACTICA, it’s him”.

The subject of their discussion was up in CIC conferring with Captain Glen Sanders, the Comscan and Second Officer of the PEGASUS.

“With all of the asteroidal debris in this system, it’s going to make it tough to detect ship activity”, Sanders had said, gesturing to a screen on the DRADIS console.

“What do you think caused all of this debris, Comms?”, Cain asked. There was a rather large amount of floating rocks in this area of space, which was not unknown, but something about it was making him uneasy.

“Can’t make any conclusions thus far”, Sanders replied apologetically, “but Comscan and the patrols are not reporting the presence of anything unusual, and initial scans are picking up traces of useful materials inside some of these clumps”.

“That’s why we’re here”, Cain said unnecessarily. He knew about Logan Masters’ request for platinum and beryllium and if they could find an asteroid with enough easily extractable metals, then they could stock up enough to trade at the next rendezvous.

Sanders nodded and turned back to his sensor screens. Cain willed himself to relax, but his subconscious was still making him uneasy....

Cain’s uneasiness would have been more solid if he had been with Tricia and Macklin. After coasting along on their intercept trajectory, they had finally coasted to a range where the passive sensors could be utilized by the vipers’ warbook computers.

“Warbook can’t identify the type. New configuration”, Macklin said to Tricia over the laser communicator, “but it’s showing similarity in design layouts with Cylon technology”.

“Frakk, that’s all we need”, Tricia replied, “I thought we had jumped beyond their dragnet”.

“The warbook is theorizing that this ship design is not so much a warship as a freighter of some type”, Macklin said after a couple of minutes.

“It’s doing little more than guessing”, Tricia answered, “We know too little about Cylon technological advances and without using the active sensors, we can’t be sure”.

“It might not be Cylon”, Macklin ventured.

“We can’t take the chance”, Tricia replied, “and if they get a whiff of us, the entire Cylon war machine will be down on our necks”.

“Do you want to head back and report this to the PEGASUS, Sheba?”, Macklin asked.

“We’ve still got plenty of fuel, Shooter”, Tricia replied after quickly checking her fuel gauge, “Let’s shadow it for a while. As it’s on sublight, it must be close to it’s destination. Once we have an idea of what it is and what it’s doing, we can head back”.

“Okay, Sheba”, Macklin acknowledged, “you’re the boss. Let’s see where this bogey is taking us”.

With that, both settled into a shadowing formation. Tricia knew that they could maintain this configuration for at least two more hours before having to break off and head back to the PEGASUS. At the very worst, they would be able to have a better idea on it’s trajectory so that a raptor could be quickly deployed to continue the pursuit.

CHAPTER TWO: shadowing and reporting

It had now been over an hour since the initial contact. Tricia’s and Macklin’s vipers maintained their shadowing position behind the suspected Cylon ship (hopefully undetected by it’s sensors). Both had adroitly used their thrusters to gradually close the range while maintaining a powered down configuration to minimize the chances of detection. Closing with the ship enabled the warbook in Macklin’s viper to make more detailed analysis of this new type of craft. Macklin was reading off the latest findings over the laser communicator to Tricia.

“The warbook is over eighty percent certain that this ship is a Cylon freighter of a new type, so I think we can reclassify this bogey as a hostile. It appears to have an autonomous pilot cockpit of the type used in the scimitar-shaped raiders. No emissions though to indicate what cargo it is carrying - if it’s not deadheading, that is”, he concluded.

“The fact that it’s on sublight must mean that it’s destination is nearby”, Tricia replied. True to normal patrol procedure, her viper’s scanners were set to other flanking locations so as not to be surprised should any other vessels show up. She was relying on Macklin to both maintain a bead on the contact, and to compute it’s trajectory.

“I hope so, Sheba”, Macklin warned, “as we’ll have to break off the shadowing soon if it doesn’t get to it’s destination. Fuel and distance calculations show us nearing the critical point for return. In approximately thirty minutes”.

“We stay with them until that point has been reached, Shooter”, Tricia said firmly, “as the PEGASUS will need as much intelligence on this new ship type as we can give them”.

Meanwhile, back on the PEGASUS, Colonel Tolen was talking with Ensign ‘Jet’ Vansen down in Silver Spar administration.

“You know as well as I do, that Commander Cain insists that all fighter-qualified personnel need to keep up with their logged flight time obligations, Ensign”, Tolen said.

“I know, Colonel”, Vansen replied, “but I also know that senior ranking personnel in critical command positions can’t be risked. That’s a standing regulation”.

“I know that as I’m the PEGASUS’ Executive Officer, I come under that edict, but given the fact that Fleet Headquarters no longer exists, and also that a lot of our reserve strength has transferred to Commander Hawke’s command, I have discretion to waive such edicts. I’m flight-qualified, I’m not on bridge duty, and I’m asking you again to make a viper available for me to get my flight time log updated!”, Tolen said, the last part of the entreaty coming out harshly.

Vansen gulped, but before he could open his mouth, a chuckle sounded from the doorway. Both Tolen and Vansen turned to see Commander Cain walking in with a wide smile.

“So, Geoff. Trying to sneak past regulations in order to take a joy-ride in a viper, eh?”, Cain asked.

“With all due respect, Commander”, Tolen replied, “there may come a time when I’ll be needed to fly, and after all, you sneaked in a goodly amount of flight time too since taking over the PEGASUS”.

Vansen blushed without speaking. It was true: before the war, Cain had managed to fly a viper on various sorties with the wing. That was technically against regulations, but who could say ‘no’ to the commander?

“Commanders discretion, Colonel”, Cain replied, “but as my right hand man, I can’t spare you for fighter assignments. The PEGASUS needs you more”.

“As she needs you”, Tolen added. Cain frowned some at that. He didn’t think of himself as indispensable, but he knew that the PEGASUS needed a steady hand for the Executive Officer and Geoff Tolen fitted that role.

“Come on, Geoff”, Cain said, “let’s take a walk”. Tolen got the cue. Nodding to Vansen, Tolen followed Cain out of the administration office. Vansen breathed a sigh of relief. He wasn’t eager to continue resisting the desires of the X.O.

“Damn it, Geoff”, Cain said quietly to Tolen as they walked along the corridor heading toward the central core elevator, “I don’t have a gifted deputy for the sole purpose of risking his life in a viper. If anything happened to you, the PEGASUS would be in dire straits!”.

“And it isn’t already, Garris?”, Tolen replied in the same quiet tone of voice, “Even with the support of Commander Hawke, we are basically out here on a limb on a mission with no home base and a high probability of failure. Rules and regulations have a nasty way of interfering with military necessity, and I do have skill in flying a viper”.

“So do I, Geoff”, Cain answered in a neutral tone of voice, “but as I call the shots around here, I think I can judge ‘military necessity’ with a clear eye. I’m sorry, but I will not allow you to fly in vipers for the foreseeable future. I have no intention of losing a good X.O. just because you’re feeling nostalgic for the early days”.

Tolen wanted to argue further, but he clearly heard the firm tone in Cain’s voice. Both of them had been friends for a long time, and both knew the mettle of the other. Cain was not accusing him of recklessness, and Tolen knew that Cain wanted to go back to those carefree days when he was flying with Adama from the original GALACTICA back in the first war. Simply put, Cain needed him to help run this battlestar, and that was more important than flying vipers.

“What’s happening, Captain?”, Cain suddenly asked, jolting Tolen out of his thoughts. Cain was addressing Captain Syke, who was walking down the corridor with a frown. Syke hesitated before speaking.

“Sorry, Commander. One of our forward sweep patrols is overdue for return. They are still within their fuel radius, but that will be reached soon.....” .

“What else?”, Cain asked, recognizing the tone of voice.

“The patrol is under the command of Lieutenant Cain, Commander”, Syke replied, “Lieutenant Macklin is acting as her wingman. She’s been assigned this patrol so as to get her flight time log updated”.

Cain was silent for a few seconds. Logically, there should be nothing to worry about at this stage. Both Sheba and Shooter were experienced pilots, but these two were also good at maintaining a strict patrol time table. Something interesting must have been seen to divert them from their flight plan.....

“Have the ready-alert raptor prepare to head out to their last known position should the fuel limit be reached, Captain”, Cain ordered. Syke nodded, then headed past Cain and Tolen to head down to the hangar deck.

“Let’s get back up to CIC, Colonel”, Cain said, “This patrol delay is giving me some vibes”.

Tolen nodded and hurried behind Cain as he picked up his stride in order to quickly get to the express elevator to the CIC level.

The subject of their concern were still coasting behind their contact. Tricia was looking worriedly at her navi-comp. The fuel limit time was almost upon them.... “Heads up, Sheba”, Macklin suddenly said over the laser communicator, “I think I see it’s destination”.

Tricia switched her scanners from flank to forward view. She saw a large asteroid at the edge of view. The contact was approaching it and starting to slow.

“Our time is up, Shooter”, Tricia said, “get a quick visual on the telemetry feed and make a note of the co-ordinates of that asteroid. We’d better get back to the PEGASUS and report this”.

“No argument there”, Macklin agreed as he punched in the return course on his navi-comp.

The navi-comp fed new directions into the onboard computer. Thrusters squirted briefly, changing the course of the vipers in such a way as to not attract the attention of any Cylon sensing device. The vipers’ engines were gradually brought up to power. Omicron Flight was now heading back to the PEGASUS.

For the last twenty minutes up in CIC, Cain, Tolen, and Glen Sanders were watching the countdown clock on the DRADIS console. Cain - though he didn’t show it - was feeling some concern. He knew that his daughter was a gifted pilot, but what could have caused this delay?

“Commander, if Comscan doesn’t pick them up within two minutes, then they won’t have the fuel to get back”, Sanders said quietly.

“Then give the ready-alert Raptor crew clearance to launch and to initiate a search for them”, Cain ordered.

Just as Sanders turned to Core Command in order to convey Cain’s directive, a console operator over at Comscan reported, “I’ve got two contacts incoming. IFF confirms it’s Omicron Flight”.

Cain breathed a silent sigh of relief, then turned to Sanders, saying, “Belay my last order, Comms. Patch me through to Omicron Actual”.

“Yes, Commander”, Sanders replied. He went over to the communications console and flipped a switch. He nodded to Cain, who picked up a headset and put it on.

“This is Home Plate Actual to Omicron Actual, Are you receiving me, Sheba?”, he communicated.

“This is Sheba reading you loud and clear, Actual”, the reply came back.

“You’re overdue and just about at zero fuel, Sheba”, Cain stated next, “please explain”.

“We were shadowing a freighter of Cylon - repeat Cylon - type to a destination not far ahead. We’ve got the information and we’re coming in”, Tricia explained.

Cain and Tolen looked at each other. More Cylons! Evidently they were really establishing themselves all over the Promar Sector.

“Do you recommend raising the alert level, Sheba?”, Cain asked next.

“Negative at this stage, Actual”, Tricia replied, “but we’re going to need a recon mission as soon as possible to ascertain just what is out there”.

“Very well, Sheba”, Cain said, “Actual out”. He turned to Sanders.

“Comms, Clear Omicron Flight for immediate landing and then get down to debriefing. Have Captain Syke and the ready-alert raptor crew report there as well. I’ll be down there too”.

“Understood, Commander”, Sanders replied.

Cain turned to Tolen, saying, “you have the CIC, X.O. Carry on”.

“I’ve got it, Commander”, Tolen replied. Cain nodded and left the CIC. Sanders followed a few seconds later after issuing the summons to the aforementioned personnel. Tolen instructed the Comscan personnel to maintain a close watch. With Cylons in the vicinity, it wouldn’t do to be complacent. He wondered what Tricia and Macklin had found.....

Several minutes later, after Tricia and Macklin had landed back on board, both of them were in the debriefing room speaking with Cain and Sanders on their encounter and subsequent shadowing of the Cylon freighter. The ready-alert raptor crew of Ensign ‘Newguy’ Gorde and Petty Officer ‘Snoopy’ Dundee (aka ‘The Two Jasons’) were sitting with them, watching the viewscreen and taking notes. Macklin’s viper had taken plenty of telemetry during the shadowing and this was being displayed while they were talking.

“So, a new type of Cylon freighter. Autonomous, like their new raiders”, Cain said after looking at the telemetry footage.

“Looks like they have taken Lieutenant Cain’s earlier achievement to heart”, Sanders mused. Sanders was referring to an earlier incident involving a Cylon tanker, which she sabotaged and sent back to it’s home base star - where it had exploded, causing the base star so much damage that it had to be scuttled.

“It seems to me that the question is why that freighter is out here. This part of the Promar Sector is supposed to be not as far penetrated by either them, or the GALACTICA”, Syke interjected.

Cain nodded. He sent the PEGASUS way ahead during the last jump so as to see about heading the GALACTICA off, rather than chasing her along with the Cylon search-and-destroy task forces. This would lessen the chances of their getting discovered.

“Did you get any kind of reading from the asteroid it was heading to?”, Sanders asked Macklin.

“Only a quick visual image, Captain”, Macklin replied, “We were at the fuel-critical limit and we didn’t want to go to active sensors in case the tin-heads detected it”.

Cain read the telemetry assessments based on the visuals that Macklin had mentioned. Diameter of the asteroid was approximately three hundred kilometers. The report indicated it had no atmosphere and at the range of the image, no evident technology. But the freighter was definitely heading towards it. What was there? He turned to Gorde and Dundee.

“We’re going to need more information on what’s happening here. If the GALACTICA does come this way, whatever the tin-heads are doing could be disastrous for her. You have the co-ordinates?”, he asked Gorde.

“Yes, Commander. As soon as they’re fed into the raptor’s navi-comp, we’ll be right there”, Gorde replied.

“Then you’d better get going”, Cain said, “We need to know what’s happening, but whatever you do, don’t compromise yourself”.

“Understood, Commander”. Gorde and Dundee stood, then left the briefing room.

Cain watched them go, then turned to Sanders, saying, “Inform our patrols on this contact and as soon as Peregrine Five gets back here, ready her for action as soon as possible. I’ve got a feeling that we’re going to be needing her”.

“Understood, Commander”, Sanders said. He stood and headed out of the room and back up to CIC.

“That was excellent work you two”, Cain said to both Tricia and Macklin, “I’ m heading back up to CIC. You’d better work out with Captain Syke possible deployment of the wing. I’ll pass the word on to Captain Voight so that he can get the Black Knights ready”. With that, he left the room leaving Syke, Tricia, and Macklin sitting there.

“The Old Man is right. You’ll need to get back to your squadron, Shooter”, Syke suggested to Macklin. Macklin nodded and left the room. Now there was just Syke and Tricia.

“We were worried about you for a while, Tricia”, Syke said to her quietly.

“There was no need. Fuel was a little low, but we came back, and we have good information as a result”, Tricia pointed out.

“Hey, I have to worry about you too, you know”, Syke replied. Tricia stood and hugged him. Syke returned the hug. For a minute, nothing was said, then Syke broke the hug.

“We’d better get back to Wing Admin. If we have to launch a strike, we’d best get ready”, he said.

CHAPTER THREE: Interesting Discoveries

Gorde and Dundee were down in the bay preparing their raptor for launch. While Dundee was at his station punching in the navi-comp co-ordinates, Gorde was doing a quick once-over of the exterior, in particular the missile racks where Chief Krag’s deck crew had replaced the earlier ordinance and loaded on board two scarab IA missiles instead.

“Hey Chief”, Gorde called to Krag, who had been talking to a couple of technicians. Krag walked on over.

“How can I help you, Ensign?”, Krag asked.

“What’s with the IA’s?”, Gorde asked, gesturing to the mounted missiles, “I would have preferred going out with the type III’s or the longbows”.

“New orders from the X.O.”, Krag explained, “Only type IA’s are being used for the raptors from here on out. The type II, III, and longbows are being set aside for the FLEET AVENGER. She’s built for combat, the raptors aren’t”.

Gorde didn’t like that rationale. True, the raptor was a recon platform first and foremost, but if they were ever caught in a battle, the scarab IA’ s may not be enough. He made a mental note to speak to CAG about this later.

In the meantime, over in the starboard bay, Captain Voight was running a quick inspection of one of his squadrons. Voight made it a habit to conduct surprise inspections of the three squadrons that made up Black Knight Wing and this day, it was the turn of Knight Two Squadron. Accompanying him was the C.O. of Knight Two Squadron, Lieutenant Cynthia ‘Jankers’ Brady.

Both of them walked down the line of officers standing in front of their bunks at attention. Voight stopped by one young officer. The officer, recognizing the cue, spoke up.

“Sir, Ensign Roberts, Michael. Call-sign Cracker”, he stated crisply.

“Ah yes, Mr. Roberts”, Voight replied, “Stand aside, please”.

“Yes, CAG”, Roberts said as he moved aside so that Voight and Brady could inspect his bunk and living space.

Each officer’s bunk alcove had also a small writing desk, a set of drawers, and a closet. Voight nodded with satisfaction at Roberts’ cleanly arranged closet and uniforms. The items in the drawer were likewise laid out tidily, as per regulations. Suddenly, as he looked at some of the photographs that Roberts had framed and placed on his desk, he recognized one of the persons in one of them. He picked it up. It was a picture of an officer he knew well.

“This is Shaker, isn’t it?”, Voight asked Roberts as he held the framed picture in front of him. ‘Shaker’ was better known as Commander John Roberts, a well-known viper pilot from the First Cylon War, and later on, a warship commander. He had also briefly been the chief instructor at Advanced Tactical Training. Voight knew him during his time there.

“Yes, CAG”, Roberts replied, “He’s my father”. Brady nodded. She knew of Roberts’ history.

Voight did not know until now that Commander Roberts had any children in the service. As he only conducted random interviews during inspections - preferring to leave detailed information on service and family history matters to his squadron commanders - this revelation was truly a surprise. “I was a student at ATT when your father was on TDY as chief instructor there, Ensign”, Voight said, “What did he do after that? I heard he had a command of a capital ship”.

"Yes, CAG, it was the Battlecruiser TRINITY", Roberts supplied, "the last I had heard from my father, the TRINITY was on a training assignment near Leonis before the outbreak of war. Not much else I know about it."

Voight nodded. The TRINITY was one of the older Protector Class Ships; they came into service about twenty years ago as a replacement to the old mono-hull battlecruisers like GOLIATH. Voight wondered why such a gifted leader like Shaker would have been assigned command of a training vessel. As a training ship, the TRINITY was - technically speaking - off the active list and on the inactive fleet reserve. Inactive reserve ships were regarded as ‘second rate commands’ for commanders. Given the fact that Shaker was a highly decorated pilot, and a natural leader - as evidenced by his TDY at ATT - it just didn’t add up.....

Voight was about to speak to Roberts again when the P.A. system suddenly announced, “Set Condition Two throughout the ship. Repeat: Set Condition Two!”.

“That affects this squadron, CAG”, Brady said. Voight nodded.

“Okay, Knight Two. Man your fighters!”, Brady shouted. The assembled officers hurried out of their quarters and headed down to the launch tubes to man their vipers.

“By your leave, CAG?”, Brady asked. Voight nodded. Brady left to join her squadron. As Voight turned to head back to Black Knights Wing Admin, a crewman came into the room and saluted.

“Sir, Commander Cain’s complements. He requests you come up to CIC”, the crewman announced.

Nodding, Voight headed out of the room and climbed on board the waiting transporter. The crewman who had conveyed the summons got into the driver’s seat and drove the transporter over to where the express elevator to CIC was located.

At this time, Gorde and Dundee had settled into their raptor and had powered up it’s systems. As soon as he saw that the support crews had left the bay and sealed the access hatches behind them, Gorde keyed his communicator.

“Core Command, This is Recon Raptor One ready for elevating to Flight Deck”, he announced.

“Core Command acknowledges. Elevating now”, was the response. At the same moment, lights in the hangar bay flashed pulsating red, indicating that the bay was being depressurized. After about twenty seconds, the lights went solid red, indicating that the bay was now in vacuum.

The deck on which the Raptor had been placed lifted up, carrying the raptor towards the ceiling of the bay. An overhead hatch slid open, allowing the bay lift to elevate the raptor up to the flight deck. As soon as the lift had stopped moving, Gorde activated his main engines.

“Core Command transferring control of Recon Raptor One to command pilot”, Core Command announced, “Launch when ready”.

At that, Gorde used his vertical thrusters to lift the raptor off the deck. After Dundee announced, “All systems are operational”, Gorde used lateral thrusters to maneuver the raptor out of the forward maw of the landing bay. Gorde then put full power to the raptor’s sublight drive, thus speeding away from the PEGASUS.

“Navi-comp co-ordinates are all fed in, Newguy”, Dundee announced, “FTL-drive online and ready at your discretion”.

“Thanks, Snoopy”, Gorde replied. He contacted Core Command once more, announcing, “Recon Raptor One heading out now, Home Plate”.

“Thank you, Recon Raptor One”, Core Command replied, “Stay safe, Newguy”.

Several seconds later, the Core Command duty officer saw the raptor FTL out of sight. She turned to face Sanders, who was watching quietly behind her.

“Recon Raptor One is away, Sir”, she announced unnecessarily.

Nodding, Sanders turned to Cain, just as Voight walked into CIC. Cain waved both Voight and Sanders over to where he was standing.

“We’re at Condition Two until Recon Raptor One returns”, Cain informed them.

“What’s with the alert, Commander?”, Voight asked. Cain gestured to Sanders, who proceeded over the next few minutes to give Voight a quick briefing on what Tricia and Macklin had encountered earlier. Voight understood why Cain had called the alert.

“Let’s just hope Ensign Gorde can get some more solid data without announcing to the tin-heads their presence”, Sanders concluded.

“Sure that Newguy’s raptor is going to be enough?”, Voight inquired, “I can get Dookie out with his raptor to support him”.

“I appreciate the offer, Captain”, Cain replied, “but we’ll need Lieutenant Connor to stand by in case Gorde does not return. In any case, until Lieutenant Hunter returns with Peregrine Five from their long recon, I need to keep at least one FTL-capable ship on hand”.

“When will the FLEET AVENGER be returning?”, Voight asked.

“Their ETA is in two hours. We’ve given the Two Jasons four hours to report back. If we don’t hear from them by then, then we will send out Connor. Hunter’s peregrine may be needed for other things, depending upon what Gorde finds, so it will stay back here until then”, Sanders supplied.

“Your wing all ready?”, Cain asked Voight. Voight nodded.

“Lieutenants Brady and Costello have their squadrons ready to launch, according to standing instructions pertaining to Condition Two. Tate’s squadron is on standby in the event that Condition One is called”, Voight replied.

“Excellent, Captain”, Cain announced, “but I’m still concerned that you have not appointed a permanent deputy CAG to your wing”.

“Well, Commander”, Voight explained carefully, “As per SOP on the PACIFICA, I’ve been rotating that position between the squadron commanders. This week, it’s being filled by Lieutenant Brady”.

“Captain Voight”, Cain said, “I know that the PACIFICA had a different policy to ours regarding staff positions, but given the fact that you are (a), on the PEGASUS now, and (b), that your squadron commanders have more than enough to do running their respective squadrons, and that (c), I don’t want to see you burn out, I’m formally directing you to appoint a permanent deputy CAG for your wing. Lieutenant Cain has done a great job supporting Captain Syke in Silver Spar Wing, freeing him - and his squadron commanders - up for other tasks and I want to see your wing do likewise”.

Voight looked at Cain. He didn’t care to be told how to run his wing, but Cain was the commander of the PEGASUS and the final word regarding the dispositions of the wings rested with him. Besides, he knew that Cain wasn’t insisting on this to diminish his authority. He nodded his acquiesce.

“I’ll have a deputy appointed within the next few days, Commander”, he acquiesced. Cain nodded. He had seen in Voight’s eyes that he was annoyed with the directive, but Cain knew that Voight had a habit of taking on too much. He needed him alert, not tired.

“So what were you doing before we set Condition Two?”, Cain asked him, in order to slightly deflect any lingering resentment.

“I was inspecting the Knight Two squadron pilot’s quarters”, Voight replied, “I had just found out that we have a son of Commander John Roberts on board as one of the pilots there”.

“Shaker?”, Cain asked. Voight nodded. Cain knew Roberts well. Quite a pilot in the last war. Though not as close as Bill Adama, they had been regular acquaintances over the years.

“You know him?”, Cain asked. Voight nodded.

“When I was assigned to ATT, Shaker - I mean Commander - Roberts was on TDY there as Chief Instructor while his ship was getting overhauled in Tarturas dry dock. Ensign Roberts told me that he was the commander of the Training ship TRINITY when the war broke out”.

“TRINITY. That’s a battlecruiser”, Sanders said, “If my memory serves me correctly, she had been on the Inactive Fleet Reserve list for some time. Interesting command for someone as gifted as Commander Roberts”. Cain didn’t say anything. The others were looking at him. Sanders knew the look: Cain was thinking intently. After about thirty seconds, he turned to Sanders.

“Comms, you did TDY at Picon Fleet HQ, right?”, he asked. Sanders nodded. Before he was assigned to the PEGASUS as Second Officer and Comscan Officer, he did a brief temporary assignment with the Fleet Deployments Directorate at Picon.

“We know that the Cylons must have infiltrated Fleet HQ’s primary database, in order to get information on fleet strengths and dispositions, but the primary database dealt only with those warships on the active list, correct?”, Cain inquired.

“That’s right, Commander”, Sanders replied, “The warships placed on the inactive reserve list were listed on a separate database. It’s an older system, not networked to the new database as it was intended to eventually fully decommission and scrap those listed ships”.

“But we know that ships on that list were still occasionally used by the fleet. As trainers - like the TRINITY, or as target vessels - like the ITHACA”, Cain said, “which means that if the tin-heads only got as far as the primary database, they may have missed some of those inactive vessels, if they were out on assignment”.

“That’s possible”, Sanders said, “but as the inactive ships were supposed to be docked at the various fleet yards - which were all destroyed - it’s something that can’t be verified”.

“From out here, yes”, Cain said, “but we could ask Commander Hawke to check up on that possibility as they seem to be closer to the colonies than us. After all, they do have tabs on the PROMETHEUS”.

Also, Cain thought to himself, he had other items to look up. The now-dead Commander-in-Chief of the Colonial Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Hendrix, was a good friend of Cain’s. When Cain had been transferred from the GALACTICA after the war to the Battlestar ACROPOLIS, Hendrix had been at that time the Commander of that battlestar.

Hendrix had taken a liking to Cain. Eventually, Hendrix had him assigned as CAG. When Hendrix moved on to Picon Fleet HQ and Cain took up command of the PEGASUS, Hendrix kept in contact with Cain and in his frequent letters, kept him up to date with fleet news. Perhaps there was something in the last communiques from Hendrix which may shed more light on this possibility. He made a mental note to himself to look them over when he had some spare time....

While Cain mused about this theory and while the PEGASUS maintained it’s Condition Two alert, Gorde’s raptor had exited the FTL-jump at the co-ordinates that Tricia had supplied. The raptor immediately powered down all but its passive sensors.

“If Sheba’s co-ordinates are correct, Newguy”, Dundee said, “then the destination of their contact is that asteroid dead ahead”.

“Any EMT or other items being picked up on your passives, Snoopy?”, Gorde asked as he looked at the dead crater-embedded sphere.

“I’m not picking up anything......wait!”, Dundee suddenly said, “I’ve got a contact leaving the surface, heading back along the trajectory that Sheba and Shooter plotted earlier. Negative IFF. Exhaust residue shows Di-ethene traces”.

“Frakk! Sheba was right”, Gorde muttered, “definitely Cylon. Okay, let’s see if we can get a better look at this new bird”, he suggested. He briefly tapped his thrusters so that the raptor would be able to drift a little closer. With the large amount of asteroidal debris in this area of space, the odds were excellent that they would not be able to be detected by the Cylon ship.

“Newguy”, Dundee announced, “passives show a sizeable chunk of rock is drifting into the contact’s flight path. If it doesn’t take evasive action, it will impact it in twenty seconds”.

“Okay, let’s see what it will do”, Gorde answered. Either it will avoid the boulder or hit it. It’s only a freighter, Gorde thought.

What he didn’t expect was that when the time for impact reached seven seconds, the Cylon freighter let loose with a huge barrage of artillery. Multiple warheads and concentrated bursts of bullets impacted on the contact, vaporizing it.

“Frakk!”, Gorde exclaimed, “that ain’t a freighter. That’s a flying tank!”.

“That explains those weird protrusions along it’s hull”, Dundee said a little shakily, “those are concealed weapon ports. The Cylons aren’t stupid. A contact expecting easy pickings from an unescorted freighter suddenly gets blasted, and since this ship is an automaton, it’s an instant reaction to any threat!”.

“Damn straight”, Gorde said in agreement. This new type of ship was a lethal decoy to any unwary colonial ship or privateer. That amount of firepower would even give a light cruiser a pounding.

“The contact has just FTL-ed”, Dundee suddenly announced, “it did so at the threshold of the debris field. Looks like it’s FTL navi-comp isn’t accurate enough to jump directly to the asteroid”.

“That reminds me”, Gorde said, “Let’s take a look at this asteroid. If a heavily armored and armed freighter is making trips to it, there may be something important that we can use there. Start a low intensity active scan of the area where you first saw the contact”.

“That might alert whoever or whatever is down there, Newguy”, Dundee warned.

“We have not picked up any EMT or scans emanating from the asteroid, nor are there any other ship contacts. It’s worth a chance and we need to head back and report soon. Let’s get on it”, Gorde ordered.

Dundee quickly powered up the active sensor array and quickly brought the array to focus on the first contact co-ordinates. A very quick burst with the active sensors brought back interesting information.

“Newguy, what I’m picking up is an open area mine. Looks like a number of first generation Cylons around outcrops of various metals. The sensors are showing lodes of primarily exotic elements such as Silver, Gold, Cobalt, Uranium, Platinum, Titanium and Beryllium in large amounts. Apart from a landing field, there’s nothing else there”, Dundee reported.

“No defensive batteries at all?”, Gorde asked.

“Not that the sensors could pick up, Newguy”, Dundee answered, “It looks like a straightforward mining expedition, and judging from the sensor data, the tin-heads hit pay dirt”.

“That’s stuff we can use. Those first-generation tin-heads were originally designed for mining in a vacuum environment, so it figures that they are still being employed by their newer generation brothers”, Gorde said, “It looks like we stumbled upon a new raw material site, Snoopy”.

“But why isn’t it protected? I would have expected the tin-heads to have a lot of defensive armament for a mining operation with this extensive amount of minerals”, Snoopy asked.

“We’ll leave that question for the Old Man to answer”, Gorde replied, “Let’s head back to the PEGASUS”.

CHAPTER FOUR: Ascertaining and Planning

“Looks like a treasure trove”, Tolen commented after reading the hard copy from the scanned telemetry.

“That’s what troubles me”, Cain replied. Both of them were in the debriefing room talking with Gorde and Dundee. The Two Jasons had wasted no time in returning to the PEGASUS and reporting their discovery of the mine.

“What do you mean, Commander?”, Sanders asked. He had been brought down to the debriefing in order to get his input on this latest development.

“That freighter went straight in and straight out”, Cain said, “so it could not have picked up any substantial materials in that space of time, otherwise it would still have been down on the surface of the asteroid when Gorde made the jump”.

“It could have been carrying extra first-generation Centurions to help mine the ore”, Sanders ventured.

“That’s a possibility, Commander”, Tolen agreed, “plus given the fact that the mining area is not extensive, points to the conclusion that this is only a recent discovery on their part. The lack of defense installations seems to bear this hypothesis out”.

“We should also bear in mind that the tin-heads are not expecting anyone this far into the Promar Sector, Commander”, Gorde suddenly spoke up, “after all, we did make quite a lengthy in-sector jump after operation TOUCHSTONE”.

“The tin-heads do nothing without a reason”, Cain stated flatly, “and judging from that new freighter design, they are making it damn hard - if not next to impossible - to intercept their cargoes”.

“Which makes the source of their cargo - that asteroid - the logical target” , Gorde said. Other heads in the room nodded. Those materials - particularly the platinum and beryllium - were items that could definitely be used.

“And that is what concerns me”, Cain answered, “First-generation tin-heads which can be easily taken out, and an open-area mine with lots of minerals that just happen to be there for the taking. It’s too damn good to be true” , he concluded, giving voice to his suspicions.

“You think that this is a trap of some kind?”, Tolen asked. Cain nodded slowly.

“If this is a trap - and that’s what my instincts are telling me - then they are evidently expecting someone to come along and make a try for the mine as the ‘freighter’ would be too hard a target”.

“But without any defensive installations or any of these new generation tin-heads, how can one fail to succeed in getting those minerals?”, Sanders asked.

“Either this trap is just getting set up”, Cain replied, “or something is down there that our sensors did not pick up”.

“So what do we do?”, Gorde asked, putting into words the overriding question.

“Either way you look at it, we have to take it out”, Cain answered, “we can’t allow the GALACTICA to be caught”.

“Nor us”, Tolen added.

“If this is a trap”, Sanders said, “then any hidden defensive positions would be geared to fighting a direct assault from space. That means in order to find out, we’ll have to land a team on the asteroid and check it out on the ground”. Cain nodded and thought about what Sanders had said. He then went over to the wall and picked up a communicator. He punched in a code.

“Chief?”, Cain said into the communicator, “Has Peregrine Five returned from patrol? It has? Good. Have Hunter and Sims report to the Silver Spar debriefing room now”. He put the communicator back on it’s hook.

“Let’s wait until those two come in and we’ll start talking a little more about this”, Cain suggested.

The others quietly chatted amongst themselves. After a few minutes, there was a knock on the door. Sanders got up and opened the door. Lieutenant Walter ‘Hondo’ Hunter and Ensign Calvin ‘Coffin’ Sims entered the room, still wearing their flight suits.

“We came as soon as we got the word from Chief Krag, Commander”, Hunter said by way of greeting, “we had only just got out after landing”.

“How was the patrol, Lieutenant?”, Cain asked, ignoring the apology.

“Nothing worthwhile to report reconnaissance-wise”, Hunter said, “though in regards to training, both Joker and Cowboy are rapidly picking up the nuances of the peregrine”. Hunter was referring to Ensigns Steven ‘Joker’ Meade and Axel ‘Cowboy’ Hopper, who had been assigned by Syke to be trained as a backup crew to fly the peregrine so as to give both Hunter and Sims a crew to give them some relief.

“The reason I had you called in was to talk about the peregrine’s troop-carrying capabilities”, Cain explained, “We found a location and situation that may require that ability”.

Cain gestured to Sanders, who quickly filled Hunter and Sims in on what was encountered earlier. When Sanders had finished, Cain spoke about his suspicions regarding the mine.

“So you want the FLEET AVENGER to drop a team of marines onto the asteroid and to scope this installation out?”, Hunter asked.

“Scout, and if possible - to destroy”, Cain said, “I don’t want anyone falling into such a trap. Besides, there might be an opportunity to do that, and to gather up some of those minerals”.

“Judging from the size of that asteroid, we would have to come in from behind it, and if this installation is a trap, it would probably have hidden sensors to detect anything flying low in the vicinity, so we would have to set down a fair distance from the site”, Hunter pointed out, “and since the asteroid has no atmosphere, the marine contingent would have to be in spacesuits. That’s going to be a rough hike”.

“The peregrine is capable of taking and deploying an APC, is it not?”, Cain asked.

Hunter cautiously nodded, but said, “unfortunately, the FLEET AVENGER wasn’t carrying one, and I don’t believe that we have any APC’s on board the PEGASUS”.

“But we do have landrams”, Cain pointed out, “and as they are the same size as an APC and can be used in a vacuum environment, the marines would have ground transport”.

“Landrams are not armored and only lightly armed”, Hunter objected, “plus as they are not pressurized, the marines would have to wear their suits even while in it”.

“The marines can cope”, Cain replied, “besides, there is nothing else available. I want you to go back to the bay and instruct Chief Krag to prep the peregrine for a ground insertion mission, and to get one of the available landrams prepared and loaded in”.

Hunter nodded and stood. Sims followed suit.

“You’ll get the word soon on departure. Get some sack time once you give Krag the word. Dismissed”, Cain said.

As Hunter and Sims left the debriefing room, Cain turned to Tolen and said, “When we’re done, get Captain Syke, plus Lieutenant Howe and Sergeant Haig down here and give them a brief. They’ll need to get their troops ready for this assignment”.

Tolen nodded. First Lieutenant Nate Howe was the commander of the Colonial Marine contingent on the PEGASUS, informally known as ‘Nebula Force’. Master Gunnery Sergeant Robert Haig was the senior non-commissioned officer amongst the marines. Both were extremely competent and had excelled themselves some weeks earlier when they and a few marine volunteers had helped Tricia take over and sabotage a Cylon tylium tanker.

“Comms”, Cain said next to Sanders, “Get up to CIC and have Helm hold station here. No point getting any closer until it’s time. Maintain condition two alert for the time being”. Nodding his understanding, Sanders left the room and headed back up to convey Cain’s orders to the helm officer.

“All right everyone”, Cain said, “we’ve got work to do, so the rest of you return to your stations. I’ll be in my quarters. When the plan is finalized, let me know”. With that he left. Tolen gestured to Gorde and Dundee, who left to head back to Silver Spar admin and to give their report to Ensign Vansen. Tolen sent out a page for Syke, Howe and Haig to report to him. With that done, he sat down to await their presence. This would probably be the last time that he would be able to relax for a few minutes, so he was determined to take advantage of it.

When Cain got to his cabin, he headed over to his desk where he activated his terminal. He spent the next few minutes looking up old letters from Admiral Hendrix, finding out quickly what he wanted to know. He opened up a new file, then began to write his latest communique to go out on the next scheduled FTL-probe to meet up with a probe from Commander Hawke.

From: Garris Cain, Commander PEGASUS

To: Matthew Hawke, Commander GOLIATH

Classification: Your Eyes Only. No permanent record.

Matt,

Interesting things are occurring here in the Promar Sector. One of our recon patrols had encountered a new type of autonomous tin-head freighter, though this ‘freighter’ packs more firepower than a light cruiser! It was seen stopping off at an asteroid that has what is ostensibly a mine containing a lot of useful minerals, but it seems somewhat suspicious. If this is a new type of trap being set up for the GALACTICA, then it means that the tin-heads are being more creative. I’ll keep you informed on developments. Enclosed with this communique are the specs of this new ship gathered from our recon scans.

I hope that Captain Hayes and his squadron of volunteers are proving themselves useful to you. That extra fuel and supplies that the WARLOCK delivered was very well received, thank you.

One other thing of interest, I have found out that one of the pilots in Black Knight wing is the son of Commander John Roberts (a.k.a. ‘Shaker). Ensign Michael Roberts told me about his father commanding the battlecruiser TRINITY, which was interesting information, given that a person of his experience was in command of a ship on the inactive reserve list. So, I looked at the last batch of letters sent to me by my old C.O., Admiral ‘Hounder’ Hendrix (he kept me well-informed on fleet developments even after he made it to the Joint Chiefs).

According to Hounder, the TRINITY was assigned to assist the Battlestar HYPERION in escorting a new colony of settlers to the Hatari Sector. This information was not generally known and there was a lot of last-minute inclusions. This escort mission took place during the tin-heads’ assault on our home worlds. Given that the large nebula between Cyrannus and Hatari makes direct transit impossible, there could be a chance that some of this task force, or at least a portion of it’s assets could still be intact. When you send out your recon mission to the PROMETHEUS, perhaps it might be an idea for another recon to Hatari, in order to check out this possibility.

Hopefully, by the time of the next manned rendevous (point ZODIAC according to the list), there will be more information and other trade items. Until then, take care and don’t give those tin-heads a moments respite.

Garris.

Cain had the letter dumped onto a disc, along with copies of the new freighter’s specs, then paged a courier. The courier arrived two minutes later. Cain instructed him to take the disc up to Sanders for inclusion in the next FTL-probe dispatch. Nodding, the courier saluted Cain, then left his quarters.

While this was happening, Syke was in the debriefing room listening to Tolen brief Howe and Haig on the Cylon encounter, and informing them that they would need to get a contingent of marines ready for a surface deployment.

“So this is more than a reconnaissance probe, this is a raid”, Howe stated flatly. Tolen nodded.

“The scans showed only first-generation centurions working the site, which should be easy meat for your boys”, Tolen said.

“I’m well aware that those first-generation tin-heads won’t last long against us”, Howe replied, “but if this is a trap - as the Commander believes - then there could be other surprises, and if that armored freighter arrives at the wrong moment, it’s not going to be a good situation from our side of things”, he finished with classic understatement.

“That’s why Captain Syke is here”, Tolen replied, “because Silver Spar Wing will be deployed to distract this freighter should it become necessary. Black Knight Wing will fly cover over the complex once you take out the centurions and neutralize whatever other threats there could be down on the surface”. He looked at Syke, who nodded.

“Well, my boys will like the change of pace”, Howe said, “a real mission will be welcome after so many sims. Platoon strength should do. I’ll have them fully ready for deployment in eight hours”.

“That’s about how long it will take for the landram to be prepared and loaded into the Peregrine”, Tolen answered, “so take these hard copies of the raptor scans. You’ll need them to plan the fine points of your mission. Report to the peregrine crew in nine hours”.

“Understood, Colonel”, Howe said. With that, both Howe and Haig stood and saluted Tolen. After Tolen returned the salute, they left to head back to marine barracks. Nebula Force was going back into action.

“That freighter could end up doing a lot of harm to my wing”, Syke said to Tolen after the two marines had left.

“If that freighter comes at the wrong time, then those Marines are doomed”, Tolen said, “I don’t really care how you do it, but if that freighter comes, you must stop it from either getting to the surface, or jumping out in order to warn a base star or two”.

“Then I’d better look up Dragon’s book of dirty tricks”, Syke said, “given the success of CORONA and TOUCHSTONE, perhaps he’ll have an idea”. With that, Syke left to return to admin. He had to talk this over with Tricia.

Tolen sighed, then stood up and left the room. He had to get back to CIC. It looked like this mission was going to be a tough one.....

CHAPTER FIVE: Asteroidal Recon Plan

Syke had been rather less than pleased to find out - when he had returned to wing admin - that Tricia had decided to go down and man one of the fighters in 'Ratchet' Halley's squadron as part of the Condition Two alert. He immediately ordered Ensign Vansen to issue a recall for her and to have her report back up to Admin immediately.

"Damn it, Sheba!", Syke exclaimed when she came back into the Admin annex five minutes after receiving the recall, "I don't have a deputy CAG just for the purpose of sneaking out on every little alert. When I'm not present, you need to be here running the wing!".

"Calm down, Bojay", Tricia replied, "Ratchet had informed me that two of her pilots are in sick bay - down with flu - and that her squadron was short-handed. As Jet was here, I used my command discretion and made myself available".

"You could have assigned Jet instead of yourself", Syke said, referring to Vansen, "and as a matter of fact", he then said, turning to Vansen, "get your flight gear on and report to Ratchet, Jet".

"Okay, CAG", Vansen said, smiling. He headed straight out of the annex with a broad smile on his face.

"You can cease that annoyed look, Sheba", Syke said to Tricia after Vansen closed the door, "I'm going to needing you for another task".

With that, Syke filled her in about what Helo had discovered on the asteroid. Tricia calmed down from her initial annoyance as Syke outlined Cain's decision to insert a platoon of marines onto the surface of the asteroid with the FLEET AVENGER, and that Silver Spar wing would be assigned to make sure that the armored Cylon freighter-cum-warship would not be in a position to either mess up the mission, or to escape and get reinforcements.

"So you see the situation we're in", Syke said when he finished his briefing, "Silver Spar will be taking on something pretty well-armed and we'll have to come up with a plan to ensure that we don't get our butts kicked".

"Dragon may already have something we can use in his list of op-plans, Bojay", Tricia replied after a few seconds of silence. She reached for the hard copy of the op-plan lists that Masters had drawn up. She quickly scanned through the titles and drew out one of the sheets. The code-word ANVIL was broadly stamped upon it.

Syke looked through the op-plan. He saw immediately that it was geared ideally for the peregrine to use for distracting a base star, but he realized that it could be converted for a raptor.....

"Let's get Newguy and Snoopy up here", Syke said to Tricia, "I think it's time we acquainted them with ANVIL".

Down in the admin area adjoining the barracks area that was devoted to 'Nebula Force', Lieutenant Howe was already picking out the forty marines from the contingent of one hundred and twenty marines that he had available to them. Sergeant Haig nodded with satisfaction with the choices that Howe was making. As this mission would be an on-surface combat recon, they were going to need the most experienced.

After Howe had given Haig the final list, he went over to the P.A. system and issued a call for the forty marines. As the PEGASUS was on a Condition Two alert, several of them were at alert stations, but Haig got other marines to relieve them so that they could come down to the briefing room.

Within twelve minutes, all forty of the selected marines were assembled in the briefing room. Howe was at the door, checking off their names as they entered. All of them were at 'seats attention' position, meaning seated upright in their seats looking straight forward.

"Room, Attent-HUN!", Haig roared as Howe walked into the room. All forty stood to attention.

"Seats at ease", Howe ordered as he walked to the front of the room. He looked at the faces of the marines in front of him.

"In a little under nine hours, we will be deployed down onto the surface of a Cylon-occupied asteroid", Howe said by way of introduction. That got the marines' attention. Over the next twenty minutes, while Howe briefed them on the discovery of the mine and Cain's suspicions about it, a screen behind Howe displayed the sensor data from Gorde's raptor. The layout of the complex and the surrounding landscape was clear for all to see. After the data had finished displaying, Howe looked at his marines again, looking to see if they had properly absorbed the data that they were given.

"Permission to speak, Six? ", Corporal Lance Jones asked, referring to Howe's callsign of 'Nebula Six'. Howe nodded.

"Judging from this data, the size of this asteroid, plus if the commander's theory of a trap is correct, this is going to preclude a close-in drop, necessitating our landing zone a fair distance away. So how are we going to be able to get to this complex to do a comprehensive recon, given the fact that our combat space suits' mission radius is rather restricted?". Jones was referring to the fact that a combat suit was not something that a person could do long marches on.

"I was just getting to that, Corporal", Howe replied, "As you know, the peregrine will be taking us down to the surface, but there will also be a converted landram on board. The peregrine will land as close as possible, then the landram will be taking us most of the rest of the way. Our mission is more than recon. If the situation warrants it, we take out the tin-heads and render the complex safe for shuttles to pick up the mined minerals".

"That means the landram will have to take enough materiel in order to assure that we can take out the complex's defenses, and since the sensor data could not locate anything obvious, that means we have to assume the worst case and take all we can carry. That makes the landram a rather dangerous vehicle as it's not armored like an APC", Jones pointed out.

Howe really liked Jones' way of thinking. He really should have been an officer, but when he had offered to endorse a request to Marine HQ for him to attend OCS, Jones politely declined, stating that he didn't want to block the careers of more deserving officers. Howe knew then that Jones rated zero for ambition. Like countless NCO’s like him, Jones had found the ideal compromise between power and responsibility.

"Unfortunately, that is true", Howe replied, "but as the landram is being converted to be able to handle more armor protection, it gives us a better chance of surviving any hits, but since we are first and foremost a recon unit, we are trying to avoid combat until the optimum moment. This is what we all have been trained for".

The other marines nodded at this. Like Howe, they valued Jones' opinion, but also knew that Howe would make damn sure that all possible bases were covered.

"The platoon will be divided into three squads. Corporals Jones, March, and Marconi will be the squad leaders, while Sergeant Haig will be the NCO in command. I will be going down with you as well. Lieutenant Souster will command the rest of Nebula Force up here on the PEGASUS", Howe announced.

Second Lieutenant Albert Souster - the executive officer of Nebula Force - nodded his understanding, It was unsaid, but he knew that Howe would expect him to ready the rest of Nebula Force for immediate deployment should Howe call for it.

"Very well", Howe said, "Squad leaders are to report to Sergeant Haig for your squad assignments. The rest of you are to get your gear ready based on the T.O.& E requirements for this type of combat environment. Quartermaster has already been alerted and should have the items ready for us about now in the drill area. Let's hop to it people!".

"Room, Attent-HUN!", Haig bellowed. The marines came to attention. Howe walked out, gesturing to Souster to follow him. As Souster followed Howe, Haig called ,"Fall out, let's get going". The marines headed down to the drill area (a large hall used for formal parades) in order to draw their equipment.

While the marines were preparing themselves for the mission, Gorde and Dundee were up in the Silver Spar wing admin annex going over the revised ANVIL op-plan. At first, Gorde thought that the idea could only have originated from a madman, but since this same 'madman' had come up with the successful CORONA and TOUCHSTONE op-plans, he willed himself to slowly go over Masters' plan outline.

"It is feasible", Gorde said at last, "though a raptor doesn't have as much thrust as a peregrine. It's going to push things some".

"I know, and size has to be perfect to allow for both the raptor's thrust and the expected counter-fire from that tin-head ship", Syke said, "but given that the FLEET AVENGER is going to be needed down on that asteroid, we don't have many alternative options. Dookie's raptor cannot assist you either as it has to remain in reserve in case your ship gets taken out".

"Then Chief had better get some of his staff onto the raptor so that we can do what needs to be done", Gorde replied. He didn't really care to hear about the reason why the other raptor was not being employed, but with the transferring of two raptors already to the GOLIATH, that left just two raptors on the PEGASUS. One at least had to be kept safe in the event of anything happening to the other.

"That's already under way", Syke said to him, "Now, you'll be deploying one hour ahead of the rest of the force so as to find an appropriate sized target. You already have the flight trajectory data of that so-called freighter. Timing is everything. I know I don't need to remind you of that", Syke concluded.

Nodding, Gorde and Dundee stood and headed out of the annex. They had to check on the modifications that the raptor would need for ANVIL to work.

Now, eight hours later, the modified raptor departed the port-side landing bay of the PEGASUS and headed out to start the initial phase of the operation. The PEGASUS had just made a short FTL-jump to a position (hopefully) out of range of any sensors that the mine complex may have, but close enough to enable Silver Spar wing to be able to deploy to support the raptor, once it was in position.

"What do you think of the overall plan, Geoff?", Cain asked Tolen as they monitored the raptor's departure from the Core Command console.

"It's a chance. I hope that the freighter doesn't interfere with the marines' mission, but if anyone can pull it off, it's Helo", Tolen replied. Cain grunted an acknowledgment, then tapped on the shoulder of the Core Command duty operator.

"Set Condition One and give Captain Syke his orders to commence the countdown for deploying his wing", he ordered. Nodding, the technician keyed her communicator to the ship's PA system.

"All hands, Set Condition One throughout the ship. Repeat, Set Condition One", she announced as she activated the alert lights and the klaxon.

As the klaxon sounded, the technician re-keyed her mike to the command channel for Silver Spar Wing.

"Actual says to commence countdown" , she announced.

"Acknowledged", Syke replied as he and Tricia grabbed their flight gear and headed out of the annex down to the launch tubes. All three squadrons would be deployed to support the Two Jasons.

In another landing bay, the forty marines selected by Howe for the mission were filing aboard the FLEET AVENGER. All of them were wearing their combat space suits and were carrying a lot of equipment. As Ensign Sims were helping them get their gear stowed on board, Hunter was talking to Howe.

"With the landram on board, there's just enough room for your troops and your equipment, Lieutenant", Hunter said to Howe, "but the landram is only going to be able to carry half of your contingent at a time, what with all of the equipment you have".

"That's part of the plan, pilot", Howe replied, "the first trip will consist of two squads without the heavy equipment. They will be the recon squads. There should be enough room for them in that circumstance". Hunter nodded cautiously.

"And the remaining squad?", Hunter asked, "will they remain with the peregrine?"

"Yes, until the squads report in requesting the rest of the contingent and the equipment. After the first two squads are dropped off, the landram will return to be loaded up for immediate deployment", Howe explained.

"Given our capabilities, it seems to be the best option that we have", Hunter agreed, "Well, you'd better get on board. We'll be lifting off momentarily".

Nodding, Howe entered the peregrine and headed to his seat assignment. Hunter took the time to do a final external check of the FLEET AVENGER, noting that the usual array of scarab and longbow ship-to-ship missiles had been replaced by two titan deep-penetration ship-to-ground missiles which Chief Krag had placed on the main hard-points. The peregrine was going into action with a full weight load. Hunter hoped that the designers didn't mess up on their figures. After all, he had never flown a peregrine with this much weight.

He didn't let his unease about the weight show however as he entered the peregrine and headed up to the cockpit. He noticed that Sims had already taken his place at his console - Sims quickly glancing at the photograph of 'Witch' Sever that he had taped beside his primary sensor screen.

"All set, Coffin?", Hunter asked him.

"They're all settled in, Hondo. We're all set to go", Sims replied. Nodding, Hunter headed to the cockpit and to the pilot's seat. Howe was already sitting at the weapons seat just behind him. He gave Hunter a thumbs-up as he passed him and strapped in.

"Don't concern yourself about operating the weapons platform", Hunter said to Howe, "all of the defensive systems are tied in to my controls and the missiles are tied in to Ensign Sim's station".

"Understood, pilot", Howe replied, "I see what you mean about being cramped down there with everything on board. It's nice to be able to sit up here. Thanks for that". Howe was referring to the APC deck. Even with two squabs on board the landram, the remaining space to stow the equipment and the third squad meant rather close quarters (which was compounded by the fact that the third squad - like the others on board the landram - were wearing their pressure suits). Rank did have it's privileges.....

While Hunter was powering up the FLEET AVENGER's systems and preparing to get under way, down in the launch tubes, Syke was briefing the wing over the internal squadron channel. All three squadrons of Silver Spar wing - plus Syke, Tricia, and Vansen - had manned their vipers and were awaiting clearance to launch. Syke spent several minutes going over the ANVIL op-plan and Silver Spar's part in it.

"Remember, once Newguy does his bit, it will be up to use to stop that tin-head mini-dreadnaught from jumping back into hyperspace. All of you will guide off your squadron commanders. I'll attach myself to Spar One, Sheba to Spar Two, and Jet to Spar Three", Syke concluded, "so are there any questions?".

"CAG, for this plan to work properly, we're going to have to conceal ourselves pretty well amongst the asteroid field, though still being able to immediately engage the enemy", Ensign Vansen pointed out, " and considering that the entire wing is going to be deployed, the odds of at least one of us being seen is going to be pretty good".

"You maintain a fully powered-down status using small bursts of manually operated thrusters only for keeping debris between you and the tin-head ship, Jet", Syke replied, "our sensor data indicated that the 'freighter' was only using it's active sensors probing directly along it's flight path. That means that it won't be looking for us and we should be able to maintain the element of surprise".

Vansen acknowledged Syke's reply by double-clicking on his communicator. Just then, Syke's voice came back.

"Core Command has informed me that the FLEET AVENGER has launched, so Squadron Commanders, you are cleared to contact your respective shooters", he said.

Halley, Warden, and Macklin immediately contacted the Launch Officers, requesting combat launch clearance. One by one, the vipers in the tubes were catapulted into space and the next group of vipers were positioned into the now-empty tubes for their turn to launch.

Up in CIC, Sanders nodded with satisfaction as his monitor screen showed the fighters of Silver Spar wing being catapulted out into space.

"Best of luck, Bojay", Sanders said to himself, "Inflict some more payback for Tom for me".

"Who's that, Comms?", Cain said behind him. Startled, Sanders turned around to face Cain. He realized that his comment was not so sotto voce as intended.

"My younger brother, Commander", Sanders replied. Cain recognized the tone of voice.

"Back on the colonies, Glen?", Cain asked gently. Sanders shook his head.

"He was a viper pilot. Assigned with the Eagles on board the HYPERION", Sanders explained. Cain nodded. He knew the commander of that particular battlestar: Jason Tillman (call-sign 'Dodger'). He was not one of Cain's close friends, but he knew that he was a great tactician.

"Any idea what happened?", Cain asked.

"I don't, but since our intercepts indicated that the rest of the fleet - apart from the GOLIATH and the GALACTICA - were destroyed, I have to assume that he and the HYPERION are gone", Sanders replied. Cain thought briefly about what Sanders had said, and about what Admiral Hendrix had written to him in that last letter.

"When this current crisis is done with Glen, See me later on - just before we dispatch the next probe to the GOLIATH", Cain suggested, "There's something I wish to let you know, okay?". Sanders nodded. Just then, one of the Core Command technicians came up to both of them.

"Beg your pardon, Commander, but Silver Spar Group Leader is reporting that all three squadrons are on their way to rendezvous with the raptor", she reported.

"Very well", Cain replied, "Inform Black Knights CAG to get ready to deploy his squadrons".

CHAPTER SIX: Deployment

The peregrine - after taking a circuitous route to avoid any chance of being detected by the Cylons - touched down on the asteroid, in an area approximately twenty klicks from the Cylon encampment. Hunter had brought the peregrine in from the far side of the asteroid almost hugging the surface until it reached it’s landing zone. After Hunter had shut down the engines, Sims did a quick local scan of the area immediately around the landing zone to see if there were any unwelcome Cylon surprises.

Scan shows negative, Hondo”, Sims called out, “and no indications of any wireless chatter either. Looks like we got in without being seen”.

“Okay then, Coffin”, Hunter replied, “Send out the signal. Lieutenant”, he then said to Howe, “You’d better get your first contingent ready to roll”.

As Howe got out of his seat, Sims sent a single directional pulse out on his transmitter. This simply meant ‘LANDED SUCCESSFULLY’.

Back on board the PEGASUS, the signal was picked up by Comscan. The duty operator called Sanders over. “I’ve got conformation of touchdown, Captain”, the Comscan operator announced to Sanders. He nodded and turned to Cain.

“Okay, Comms”, Cain said, “let Silver Spar know”.

Sanders turned back to the Comscan operator and directed her to send out the coded signal indicating that the peregrine had landed on the asteroid.

In his viper, Syke was monitoring the status of the deployed wing when a message text came up on his screen: AVENGER ON STATION. PROCEED TO FULCRUM.

“Okay, people”, Syke announced on his short-range communicator to the wing, “Home Plate has just informed us that the AVENGER has reached it’s goal. Phase one is under way”. Even though the inter-ship communicator was very short-range, Syke still preferred using code terms. The other pilots in the wing fully understood from Syke that the FLEET AVENGER had made it’s landing.

“Bojay”, one of the pilots announced, “I’ve got Fulcrum on my sensors. ETA in approximately five minutes”. ‘Fulcrum’ was the pre-arranged code name for Gorde’s raptor for this mission. Clicking his mike twice to acknowledge the message, Syke keyed his communicator to a pre-set secure frequency - which locked the viper’s onboard laser antenna to the raptor’s location.

On board the raptor, Dundee had noticed the approaching fighters on his sensor screen. The IFF’s confirmed that it was Silver Spar wing. Dundee had immediately activated his laser communicator reception array upon the IFF confirmation. Immediately after doing so, he heard Syke’s voice over the cabin speaker.

“This is Group Leader to Fulcrum”, Dundee heard, “are you receiving me, Newguy?”. Dundee clicked the relay switch so that Gorde could talk to Syke through his communicator.

“Loud and clear, Bojay”, Gorde replied. He gave a thumbs-up to Dundee.

“Find what you need?”, Syke asked next.

“Yeah. It should do okay”, Gorde replied, “So I guess you can now deploy your squadrons accordingly. There’s lots of floating rocks you can use for cover here. Our package has already been placed in the field”.

The ‘package’ was a portable sensor array camouflaged to look like a piece of rock. This enabled the trajectory route to be scanned while keeping the raptor and the vipers under cover.

“Good to know”, Syke replied, “any contacts detected so far?”.

“Nothing, apart from all of this asteroidal debris, but the sooner we get your ships dispersed, the better”, Gorde advised.

Syke switched back to the inter-squadron communicator, saying, “Squadron leaders, deploy your respective squadrons accordingly. Expedite, I say again, Expedite”.

Halley, Warden, and Macklin had on their navi-comps the projected route that the Cylon ‘freighter’ would take. Relaying that information to their pilots, the squadrons started heading to individual chunks of asteroidal debris so that they could use them as cover from being picked up by the Cylon ship should it happen to appear.

“I’m glad I’m not down on the surface of that asteroid. Here’s hoping that we won’t be needed, Bojay”, Tricia said into her communicator as she positioned her viper behind a large floating boulder.

“So say we all”, Syke replied. He had already positioned his viper so that he would be (a) hidden from the freighter and (b) also be able to pick up sensor data from the portable package. He hoped that Chief Krag did a good enough job of disguising it....

As Silver Spar wing was positioning themselves along the ‘freighter’s’ approach route to the asteroid, down on the asteroid, Howe was down in the APC-bay talking with the marines. He had just given his squads their final instructions. After getting okay signals from the squad leaders, Howe keyed his mike to communicate with Hunter, up in the cockpit.

“All of us are now in our pressure suits, pilot. and the hatch is sealed”, Howe said, “so you can start depressurizing the bay”.

“Understood, Nebula Six”, Hunter replied. He ordered Sims to start the depressurization sequence.

Down in the bay, the atmosphere was quickly pumped out. Howe clicked on his suit communicator and requested a count. All the marines replied with their respective number, indicating that their communicators were working. The marines were now all reliant on each of their suit’s integrity. The re-breathers on their backs would recycle their air and the suits had straws in the base of the helmets so that the marines could drink water and eat a liquid meal, thus enabling them to stay out for hours.

“Check your weapons”, Howe ordered. The marines - overseen by Haig - checked their gauss-rifles one more time. The gauss rifle that the marines had was a very efficient weapon that could be fired in vacuum as well as in an atmosphere. It was like a portable rail gun in which it carried an impressive electrical charge in the stock.

This charge fired aluminum-jacketed steel slugs at an impressive speed and rate of fire. Armor-piercing rounds as well as explosive rounds were carried by the marines, in case the latest generation of Cylon centurion was encountered. Any first-generation tin-heads they come up against would not be able to withstand a direct hit from this weapon’s standard ammunition.

“Okay then”, Howe said after Sergeant Haig gave him a thumbs-up, “Squads one and two get on board the landram. Squad three stand by here and load up the moment the ram returns”.

With that order, the two squads that Howe had indicated started boarding the landram, which was virtually empty (so that the two squads had room to sit). The additional munitions and supplies would go with Squad three. Howe turned to Haig, saying, “You go with this first run, Sarge. I’ll accompany Squad three”.

Haig nodded. Squads one and two were recon and he would be needed to co-ordinate the two. Since Squad three were the heavy weapons unit, and that Howe had more experience with heavy weapons, it made sense for him to be with Squad three. Haig saluted, then boarded the landram at the front, sitting beside the driver.

The driver was Marine Private (First Class) Taggart, who had the most experience within Nebula Force with ground transport vehicles. Taggart had assisted Krag’s team at Howe’s request in getting the landram converted. Now, he was going to drive the marines into a combat zone.

“Ready to roll, Taggart?”, Haig asked. Taggart nodded and gave him a thumbs-up. Haig looked out the side window at another Marine private who was standing by a control panel as gave him a thumbs-up as well.

The private then activated a control, opening the APC bay main hatch and lowering a ramp to the surface of the asteroid.

“Let’s get going”, Haig said to Taggart as the ramp hit the ground. With that, Taggart expertly drove the landram out onto the asteroid. Howe watched the landram depart, then he turned his attention back to the members of Squad three. He wanted to make sure that they would be ready to load up the heavy ordinance and equipment and get on board themselves the instant the landram returned.

“Well, they’re on their way”, Sims said to Hunter as they both watched the landram drive away from them.

“Yeah”, Hunter confirmed, “You’d better go back and recheck our titans, Coffin”, he suggested, “we might be needing them if this mission gets compromised”.

Nodding, Sims headed back to his station to check on the status of the air-to-surface weapons. Hunter resumed monitoring his systems, making sure that the FLEET AVENGER could quickly launch to support Nebula Force.

The asteroid’s gravity was only about one-seventh of the Colonial average, but despite the inherent risks of controlling such a large vehicle in light gravity (large masses in low gravity are quite sluggish to handle, even allowing for the lighter weight), Taggart expertly drove it over the crater-pitted landscape. The marines were strapped into their seats and what equipment they had with them was secured, so nothing was flying about in the cabin.

On the roof of the landram was an attached gun turret. One marine was up there manning the light gauss-cannon. Next to the gunner, another marine was operating an optical scanner, looking ahead for any trace of Cylons. The mission depended upon the tin-heads not knowing that they were there, and because of that, the marines were taking no chances.

Twenty minutes of fast - though careful - driving later, Taggart brought the landram to a stop. “The navi-comp shows us at the drop-off point, Sarge”, he said to Haig. Nodding, Haig turned back to face the marines.

“Okay, Marines”, Haig said, “This is where we start walking. Let’s start stretching those legs of ours”. With that, the marines started egress-ing from the landram. In two minutes, the two squads were formed up. Haig went back to speak to Taggart.

“Okay, Six is waiting for you. Get back to the peregrine”, Haig ordered. Taggart nodded. Haig jumped out of the landram and watched as Taggart powered up the landram and moved off.

“Jones. March”, Haig said, “Get your squads over to their respective observation points. No unnecessary chatter, but keep your receivers on. Only respond when Six gives the word”.

Like on the vipers, the pressure suits’ communicators were extremely short range so as not to announce their presence to anyone who may be monitoring wireless chatter, but the less said, the better. Both squads had code lights, and they would rely on those until Nebula Six (Howe) ordered it. The squads moved out. Haig accompanied Corporal March’s squad. They moved out to the ‘north’, while Jones’ squad headed ‘south’.

The plan was for both squads to overlook the complex from diametrically opposite ends. As the mine was in a large crater, and that the northern and southern ends had the most cover, it was deemed to be the best places for the squads to survey the site. That plus if there were any hidden Cylon weapons emplacements, it would be easier to find from those locations.

Remembering Haig’s admonition in regards talking over the suit communicators, the squads were now relying on hand signals to communicate essential information. With one person taking ‘point’, the squads started moving out to hike to their positions, which would take about thirty minutes. Apart from their weapons and their signal lights, the only other piece of equipment being carried was a portable suit recharger.

All of them knew how serious things now were. They were on an asteroid with Cylons just over the next rise without an immediate means to escape if they were discovered. While the suits they were wearing were tough and enabled them to move with a fair degree of agility in a vacuum environment, a direct hit from a bullet in the right place would spell curtains. The basic training adage “in vacuum, remember: you’re hit, you’re dead” was on everyone’s mind as they trooped slowly but surely to their objective.

While Squads one and two were nearing their respective objectives, the landram had returned to the FLEET AVENGER. Howe had made good use of the time while the landram was away by having the members of squad three take their equipment outside the peregrine’s hatch so that te landram would not have to re-enter the APC bay. The equipment was easy to handle in the low gravity and it kept the squad members busy.

Once the landram had stopped, Howe’s men immediately started throwing in the equipment: heavy weapons and other ordinance. It was quickly done and once they were secured, Squad three loaded into the landram. Howe got into the front next to Taggart.

“Six, we’re all belted in and the hatches are secure”, Corporal Marconi called to Howe. Howe nodded and gestured to Taggart. Taggart started up the landram and headed back out to the drop-off point.

“Send the second signal, Coffin”, Hunter ordered. Sims activated his transmitter and sent out another coded pulse to the PEGASUS.

“All three squads are on their way, Commander”, Sanders called to Cain. He had been sitting at the Comscan console listening in when the second signal from the FLEET AVENGER arrived.

“So now we can expect the possibility of tin-head discovery at any time”, Cain said to Tolen, “Let’s hope that Howe can get his troops in position without tipping the tin-heads off”. Tolen just nodded. This was now the most critical part of the mission. If surprise was lost, then things would go from bad to worse very quickly....

CHAPTER SEVEN: Infiltration and Observation

The marines were well-trained. Maintaining their vigilance throughout their transit by foot, both Squads One and Two made it to their observation positions (just behind and below the lip of the crater). Thanks to the lack of atmosphere, making noise or dust-clouds was not something they had to worry about, though they kept a wary eye out for the possibility of motion sensors that the Cylons may have planted. None were detected, which meant that the tin-heads were either not expecting a surface reconnaissance, or that they hadn’t gotten around to doing it yet.

When the squads reached their respective positions, several of the marines fanned out to form a defensive cordon while three others - the squad leader, the observer, and a sniper - set up the observation equipment.

Besides their gauss-rifles and the suit recharger unit, each squad carried a sophisticated monocular for close-in observation, a shielded signal lamp, and an extra-long range sniper gauss-rifle. The sniper had his weapon at the ready while the monocular was being set up on it’s telescoping tripod.

Slowly, the monocular was raised on the tripod until it peered over the lip of the crater. As the monocular was camouflaged to look like a piece of grey rock, the chances of it being seen was very low. That still did mot mean that the observer could afford to drop his guard. Despite the fact that all the marines were wearing similar camouflage coveralls over their pressure suits, everyone knew that movement can be a dead giveaway.

Keeping strict communicator silence, the observer tapped on the screen that was connected by cable to the monocular. Sergeant Haig nodded and looked at the screen.

The monocular was focused onto the opposite lip of the crater. Haig could see that the other squad was in position. He aimed his signal light - setting it on infra-red - and flashed it quickly three times, signifying SQUAD IN POSITION. Through his helmet filter, he saw three return flashes, indicating that March’s squad had acknowledged and were in position themselves. As there was a long tube attached to the front of the lamp, it meant that only those who were directly in line of the beam could see it. As Cylon visual systems could see light wavelengths beyond the visible spectrum, care had to maintained.

Haig motioned to Jones to join him. Haig wrote on a tablet START OBSERVATION AND RECORDING. Jones nodded and gave a thumbs-up to the observer to start focusing the monocular on the complex. The sniper - ever vigilant - had already moved up to the lip of the crater. His helmet top and the rifle were also camouflaged.

While this was happening, Haig took the lamp and looked down the slope, where he could see the landram pull up with the heavy weapons squad. He aimed the lamp and flashed it quickly three times, letting Howe know that Squad one was in position.

“Good”, Howe said to Corporal Marconi after he acknowledged the infra-red signal light, “let’s get the weapons squad loaded up and in position”.

As Marconi went back to the other members of Squad three, Howe wondered if the observation squads were getting a good view of the tin-heads. There were various light-codes which would be used, depending upon the situation. Howe went back to the landram, where he helped both Taggart and the landram gunner spread a camouflage net over the vehicle. The last thing they needed was for a Cylon ship to fly over and see them...

“Squad Two have just flashed their IN POSITION code, Six”, Taggart said, gesturing to the location where March had positioned his group. As Taggart had the similar helmet filter, Howe didn’t have to look to confirm. He nodded for Taggart to acknowledge with the landram’s signal lamp.

Marconi was now overseeing the squad loading up with their weapons: primarily mortars and shoulder-fired missiles. These systems could either be aimed manually, or be tied in via laser-link to the recon squads’ monocular scopes, which in this event would automatically acquire the target. The latter depended upon being in unobstructed view of the squads, hence the position that the weapons squad was heading to. Also additional equipment for communications and scanning purposes was being taken along. It made for quite a load per person.

“Six”, Marconi said to Howe after he had finished with the camouflaging of the landram and joined him, “even with the low gravity, this is a lot of hardware for us to carry. Don’t you think we should do this in two trips?”.

“The sooner we’re set up and under cover, the better, Corporal”, Howe replied. Marconi nodded. The longer that they were exposed increased their chances of being detected, and that tin-head flying fortress that looked like a freighter could always reappear at any time. Speed was of the essence.

“Taggart”, Howe said to the driver, “you stay here with the ram and make sure that the communications relay stays operational. But be ready to move immediately when I give the word. If things go wrong, we’re going to need to make a quick getaway”. Taggart nodded. He hoped that wouldn’t happen as the landram was not ideally suited for combat, plus would not be able to take all the platoon on board in one go. He hoped that the peregrine crew would immediately respond in order to give him support should it be needed. The single gauss-cannon on top of the ram would not provide much in the way of suppression fire.

As Taggart settled back into the driver’s cab and activated the passive sensors, he watched the weapons squad plod along to their set-up position. One way or another, things would be getting exciting pretty soon, he thought. He set his attention on watching the sensor screens while listening to any incoming transmission on his headset.

Back on board the PEGASUS, Voight was giving a final briefing to his squadron commanders over the command commlink (all were in their vipers awaiting clearance to launch). Voight knew that the Cylons would be better able to put reinforcements into battle should they get wind of their presence. That would mean that Black Knight Wing would have to cover the PEGASUS while the marines and Silver Spar Wing tried to return to the battlestar.

Monitoring the conversation up in Core Command was Sanders. Apart from Cain and Tolen, only he and two other CIC officers had unrestricted access to the command frequencies. He nodded to himself in satisfaction that Voight was making sure that his squadrons knew what to do. Hopefully, they wouldn’t be needed, but this mission was a risky one and the suppression batteries on the PEGASUS may not be enough to hold off any Cylon strike force alone.

“Everything in order, Comms?”, Tolen asked as he walked up to Sanders. Sanders nodded.

“Black Knight Wing are ready to go, Silver Spar and Fulcrum are in position, and the infiltration team are in position. We should be getting some information soon. What they find will determine what happens next. Still, the ANVIL op-plan gives us several options”, Sanders said.

“What troubles me is that the tin-heads may do something not anticipated in Captain Masters’ book of plans”, Tolen replied, “Still, at this moment, we have done all that we can. Keep us informed if anything happens”.

Nodding, Sanders put down his headset and headed over to the DRADIS console. Any telemetry from Fulcrum or Nebula Force would be displayed there first. It was now a waiting game.....

Waiting was now what the pilots of Silver Spar wing were doing. All had positioned their vipers behind various clumps of floating boulders that made up the sprawling asteroid field, and now the vipers’ systems had been powered down - with the exception of the communicator. All would be able to power up and go into action the instant that Syke gave the word.

Syke’s viper was powered down as well, except for the telemetry receiver from the disguised probe, and the direct comm-line to the PEGASUS. Syke hoped that the PEGASUS would soon let him know that the marines were successful and that they could head back to base. But, if that ‘freighter’ should suddenly show up, then they would have to take it out.

Syke looked out to where the raptor was parked. He could clearly see the modification made which enabled it to be able to do the job as envisioned in the ANVIL op-plan, but the timing would have to be good. Too many things could go wrong. He decided to check in with Gorde over the secure laser-link.

“Fulcrum, this is Bojay. How goes it?”, he communicated.

“Boring”, was Gorde’s response, “but at least Snoopy and myself have room to stretch our legs. You and your wing don’t have that luxury”.

Syke nodded ruefully. The viper cockpits were not exactly roomy.

“Just be ready to move if and when we need to, Newguy”, Syke said.

“Will do, Bojay. Hang on in there. Hopefully, the ground-pounders will handle things okay”, Gorde replied.

Syke hoped that the marines would be able to do the job. Waiting was really the hard part......

Down on the asteroid, the weapons squad had reached their desired location - just behind the lip of the crater where the Cylon mine complex was located. They were in clear view of both recon positions, so that the laser-link would be unobstructed. In turn, his position was in clear view of the landram so that any intelligence could be quickly relayed back.

From this moment, there would be no talking on the suit communicators this close to the bad guys. As Marconi supervised the setting up of the mortars and portable missile batteries, Howe was getting the first relayed images from both of the recon squad monoculars on his portable screens.

The images first showed a series of terraces, like what one would expect from an open-area mine. There were a number of first-generation Cylon centurions around the area, but Howe noticed immediately that there were far too few of them to account for the effort to mine such a sprawling site. It could have been because the freighter which made the last visit had picked up others who had worked on it, but other things did not match.

“No excavation equipment operating, no ongoing collection of ore”, Howe noted to himself. He was starting to agree with Cain’s feelings about this place. He saw a close-up image from March’s monocular sowing a centurion carrying what looked to be clumps of heavy metal, but it was not taking them to the central complex - where a refining operation would be expected to be going on. Instead, Howe watched the centurion take it’s load over to a remote area of the mine and simply deposit the ore there. It then headed back to the complex. Howe quickly looked at an image of the complex from Jones’ monocular and noticed that by the landing pad was a huge pile of what looked like semi-refined metal, but the centurions were not putting it there for pickup. Instead, the centurions were moving the ore from the landing pad to various areas of the mine.

Howe knew that something really stank about the place. He moved over to one of the packs that had been carried by one of the members of the weapons squad and took out a mineral analyzer. He quickly scanned the local area around him. The analyzer only picked up trace amounts of various exotic elements.

Howe then very slowly moved up the slope so that he was looking over the lip of the crater and down onto the complex. There were no indications that he had been seen, so he slowly ran the analyzer over a part of the complex where there was no centurions present that could pick up the narrow beam from the device.

The analyzer immediately picked up large amounts of high-purity minerals in those deposited clumps of ore. Titanium, lithium, beryllium, platinum, cobalt, aluminum. Howe turned off the analyzer and slowly moved back down to join the weapons squad, who had now fully set up their equipment and were tying it into the telemetry coming from the recon squads.

He motioned Marconi over. As Marconi came up, Howe picked up a writing tablet and wrote on it: THIS MINE IS BOGUS. LOOKS LIKE A TRAP IS BEING PREPARED. STAND BY WHILE I INFORM HOME PLATE. Marconi nodded and headed back to join the others.

Howe went to another field pack and pulled out a portable laser communicator. He powered it up and aimed it at the relay antenna back down at the landram.

Due to the small size of the asteroid, the landram looked like a speck on the horizon, but that just an optical illusion.

As the communicator light turned green - signifying that the relay link was established - Howe tapped out a brief message on his keypad.

The signal was received by the landram’s relay antenna, which re-transmitted it to the FLEET AVENGER by means of a small sub-satellite that had been deployed by the peregrine before the initial landing. It was disguised as a piece of asteroidal debris so as not to attract attention. The sub-satellite then relayed the signal to the FLEET AVENGER. Sims was at his console, monitoring the receiver when the signal came in.

“Hondo, I’ve got a signal from Nebula Six”, Sims called, “Relaying it to your screen”.

“So the old Man was right”, Hunter replied after reading the terse note.

“Better let the PEGASUS know, Coffin”, Hunter directed. Sims activated his transmitter array and sent out a message.

“We’ve got a signal from the peregrine, Captain”, the Comscan operator said to Sanders. After it was printed out, Sanders quickly read the message, then went over to Cain. Sanders handed the message form to Cain.

NEBULA SIX REPORTS THAT CYLON MINE COMPLEX IS DEFINITELY A TRAP THAT IS IN THE PROCESS OF BEING SET UP. HIGH GRADE ORE BEING PLANTED NOT EXCAVATED. ESTIMATE SIXTY-PLUS FIRST GENERATION CYLON CENTURIONS IN SITE PLANTING ORE. NO INDICATIONS SO FAR OF DEFENSIVE ARMAMENTS IN PLACE. NEBULA SIX AWAITING ORDERS.

Cain looked at Sanders, then Tolen.

“Well, Gentlemen?”, Cain asked, “what do you think?”.

“It’s definitely something designed to attract attention, Commander”, Tolen answered, “sensors from a patrol ship would definitely pick up those minerals on sensors - minerals which are just the type that are needed to keep a ship functioning - than after seeing an apparently under-manned open-air mine operation, would relay back to base that such large amounts of necessary ore is ripe for the taking”.

“The tin-heads are using good bait, I agree”, Sanders added, “but to what end? According to this message, Howe hasn’t picked up any indications of defensive armaments or anything else designed to take out any potential attacker”.

“It could be that they haven’t set up the armaments yet”, Tolen ventured, “after all, we’re a lot further out than what would be expected”.

“That does not make sense”, Cain said, “You got to think like a Cylon. It’s logical to set the trap before baiting it, not after. So there must be something there. Comms, inform Lieutenant Howe to continue recon probe and to search for any hidden weapons”.

Just then, a technician from Core Command called, “Fulcrum reports that the Cylon ‘freighter’ has been detected”.

“Orders for Fulcrum and Silver Spar?”, Sanders asked.

“Let them know what’s been found so far by Howe, but let the ‘freighter’ continue to the ‘mine’ unless discovered. Perhaps it’s arrival might give Howe the information we need. Let Howe know to expect it’s arrival. Inform Syke that Silver Spar are to engage it only on it’s return”.

CHAPTER EIGHT: Surprise, Surprise.

“Frakk”, Syke muttered to himself as he read the message from the PEGASUS. Syke quickly contacted Gorde.

“You got the message, Newguy?”, Syke asked.

“Yeah”, Gorde replied, “The Old Man is taking a chance, isn’t he?”

“If it is a trap down there, we’ll need to know just what kind of trap it is. Let’s just stay quiet”, Syke said.

The other pilots wondered why Syke was not ordering them to power up as the armored tank that was the Cylon ‘Freighter’ cruised past them. All of the vipers were concealed and the ‘freighter’ gave no indication of detecting any of them. As it cruised on past and down to the asteroid, Syke quickly activated his short-range ship-to-ship communicator.

“We’ve been given orders to let it pass and to hold off engagement until it’s return trip”, Syke said quickly, “so stay cool. Bojay out”.

“Bojay”, Newguy said then over the laser-link, “the disguised scanner has picked up some interesting data from that ship. Apart from it’s large array of armaments, it’s carrying what appears to be very large bullet-shaped masses in it’s cargo area. Much larger than what a main rail gun could use. The sensors could not probe further without risking being picked up”.

“Okay, Newguy. You’d better relay that information to Home Plate. I guess our marine friends will be getting some answers very soon”, Bojay replied.

Howe had just finished reading the relayed message from Cain. So, there was going to be a visitor soon, he thought to himself. All of the teams were well-concealed and camouflaged so that this incoming ship shouldn’t be able to see them. He used his infra-red lamp to flash the code for INCOMING SHIP, STAY CONCEALED. He hoped that the recon squads would be able to get a good view of things as the ‘freighter’ came in to land.

Both Jones’ and March’s squads kept still under their camouflage as the heavily armed ‘freighter’ came in to land. The monoculars were relaying images of the landing to Howe. Howe watched as the freighter gently landed beside the central complex building that was in the middle of the mine site. He expected that. What he didn’t expect was for the complex building to suddenly fold up inside itself, exposing a large metal door embedded on the surface. Despite the increased risk of detection, Howe had these images relayed to the FLEET AVENGER.

“We’ve got real-time video coming in, Hondo”, Sims reported.

“Then let’s relay it up to the PEGASUS”, Hunter said. Sims grunted a ‘yes’ and hit the relay control. Something interesting must have been found to make Howe risk detection by using real-time video. A few seconds later, he understood.

The door was like what would cover a sub-surface missile silo, but this one was very large. It was a hundred feet in diameter and appeared to be enormously thick. Howe watched the screen as the doors slowly slid apart, exposing the barrel of what had to be the largest rail gun he had ever seen! The diameter of the barrel was at least four times the circumference of the type carried on battlestars! He wondered what Cain and the others on the PEGASUS were making from the images.

“Frakk!”, Tolen muttered as he saw the immense size of the weapon.

“That’s putting it mildly”, Cain said. This monster gun could easily take out the PEGASUS with a single shot, or with a multiple of smaller bullets, blow away incoming squadrons like shot-gun fire to a flock of birds!

“So now we know the surprise the tin-heads had in store for us”, Sanders said, “An attacking force would destroy the complex structure - not realizing that it’s a facade. Those doors are so thick, the gun would not be harmed, then the doors open and Bam!”.

“Yeah”, Cain answered, “And we sure as hell can’t leave such a thing to ambush and take out the GALACTICA. It’s going to have to be destroyed”.

“So what do you suggest, Commander?”, Tolen asked.

“Silver Spar will have to destroy that ‘freighter’. Inform him to prepare to execute ANVIL. Howe will then have his marines attack. Those doors will have to stay open for that gun to get it’s ammo: that’s evidently what Helo detected what was on board that ship. That will give Howe his best chance to take it out”, Cain replied.

“That’s risky, Commander, and it could dangerously expose them, not to mention us”, Tolen cautioned.

“You have any better ideas?”, Cain asked, “because I’m open to suggestions”.

No one answered. This trap had to be dealt with. It just could not be left for the GALACTICA or other groups of human survivors to stumble onto.

“Comms, let them know”, Cain ordered.

FREIGHTER WILL BE DEALT WITH AFTER DEPARTURE. THIS SITE MUST BE TAKEN OUT ONCE NOTIFICATION OF SUCCESS OF ANVIL IS RECEIVED. RECOMMEND YOU ATTACK WEAPON WHILE DOORS STILL OPEN TO RECEIVE AMMUNITION.

Howe read the message. He didn’t like it one bit. Those doors could snap tight before his weapons could bear on it. However, what else could be done? He had his orders. He called Marconi over and with his writing tablet, told him to have the mortars trained on the doors of the super-rail gun. The hand-held missiles and the marines’ gauss-rifles would have to deal with any centurions who tried to thwart their attack. With his recon squads separated and unable to give immediate support, it meant that the weapons squad would be on their own for the first critical minutes of the assault.

Just then, another message came to Howe: this time from the FLEET AVENGER.

READ RELAYED MESSAGE REGARDING ATTACK. HAVE SUGGESTION. Howe read the rest of the message. He thought about what Hunter had to offer, then replied, AGREED. YOU WILL NEED TO BE ON STATION WHEN ANVIL IS SUCCESSFUL.

Marconi tapped Howe on the shoulder and pointed at the screen. The armored freighter had quickly dumped it’s load of giant bullets and had just lifted off. Several centurions were now moving in to transfer the bullets into the open silo where the massive gun waited.....

“Here it comes”, Syke said to Gorde. He was watching the telemetry from the disguised sensor package. The ‘freighter’ was heading back along the route it had taken in.

He saw that the ‘freighter’ was getting nearer and nearer to their position. Still no indication of it noticing the human presence. Syke could see on the screen the red beam swishing to and fro from the ‘cockpit’ of that ship. As it passed by Syke’s position, Syke flipped his communicator and said, “Newguy, execute ANVIL!”.

Gorde immediately powered up the raptor and immediately brought his engines up to full thrust. The raptor had been fitted with a large plate at the front and it was serving as a buffer. The raptor had been parked directly behind it’s selected asteroid at it’s center of mass, and it was now pushing the large chunk of rock into the flight path of the incoming Cylon ship. The engines were rapidly red-lining as it pushed against the huge mass, but it was moving and the timing was excellent.

The Cylon automaton brain detected the movement of the large rock and instinctively slowed down it’s speed and fired a large array of missiles at it. The missiles struck the mass, but the size of it was such that the first salvo did not break it up. It fired a larger, second salvo.

As the second salvo left their tubes, Syke opened his communicator and said, “Silver Spar Group Leader to all ships, attack!”.

“Let’s get out of here, Newguy”, Dundee suggested as the second missile salvo closed in. Helo immediately hit reverse thrust and backed away from the boulder at high speed. The second salvo hit the asteroid, blasting it into lots of small pieces. The mass of debris shielded the raptor from view as it continued backing away. The ‘freighter’ had just dispatched a third salvo of missiles to dispose of the remaining pieces that were big enough to worry about when it’s sensors detected the incoming mass of ships.

COLONIAL VIPER TYPE SEVEN CONFIRMED. ESTIMATED THIRTY-PLUS, the sensors informed the automaton brain. The Cylon ship had already expended most of it’s missiles at the asteroid. It now realized that it was a trap. It had to get out and escape so as to inform Cylon Command.

“We’re jamming it’s short range wireless”, Gorde informed Syke, “so those tin-heads down at the ‘mine’ aren’t getting any warning messages”.

“Thanks, Newguy”, Syke said, “Okay people, let’s take it out. You’re cleared to fire!”.

The vipers immediately fired their guns at the fleeing freighter. With the expenditure of the majority of it’s heavy weapons, there was not too much that the freighter could do. It fired what few missiles it had left, but none scored any hits. The few vipers threatened had all deployed decoys which distracted the missiles. The defensive guns though did cause the vipers to have to fly somewhat evasively, but the Cylon ship could not get into a clear enough flight path to compute an FTL-jump. While one squadron was behind giving chase, the other two were closing from in front, causing the freighter to have to fly a constant evasive pattern.

The fighter squadrons were actually forcing the freighter to head over towards the raptor. The squadron commanders were doing an excellent job of making sure that the freighter could not escape any other way, despite the counter-fire coming from it’s guns.

“We’re herding it over to you, Newguy”, Tricia communicated, “You’re cleared to fire when it’s in range”.

The raptor had been armed with two longbow missiles. As Dundee fired the clamps that detached the buffer plate, Gorde aimed the raptor directly for the freighter. Gorde winced as a burst of fire from one of it’s guns hit the wing of a viper, causing it to veer off, but then Dundee said, “I’ve got acquisition. Whenever you’re ready”.

“Fire both missiles!”, he ordered. Dundee hit the firing switch. The longbows roared out of their mounts and bore in on the Cylon ship. Dundee was steering the wire-guided missiles, aiming for the ‘cockpit’ of the ship. The Cylon automaton brain detected the missiles boring in, and tried jamming them, but the direct-controlled missiles were not affected by the tactic. The Cylon ship then fired it’s guns at the missiles, but Dundee managed to steer the missiles away from the counter-fire.

With two large flashes, the missiles hit their target and detonated. The automaton brain was destroyed by the explosion. The remains of the freighter now drifted out of control, it’s engines offline and now no longer a threat to anyone.

“Newguy, you’d better give Dunsel a tow”, Syke said, referring to the damaged viper flown by Lieutenant JG Damon ‘Dunsel’ Seath. Seath’s viper had been badly damaged by the Cylon guns but he was still alive and breathing.

“Will do”, Gorde replied. As he headed his raptor over to where Seath was waiting to be picked up, Gorde thought that they had been very lucky. He hoped that the luck would continue for the marines....

Tricia had in the meantime maneuvered her viper over to the wreckage of the Cylon ‘freighter’ and commenced scanning. By taking out the automaton brain, the rest of the ship was relatively intact. The vessel was now a derelict, but it could still yield valuable data. She called Syke and broached the idea of salvaging the craft.

“Good idea, Sheba”, Syke remarked. He then activated the secure link to the PEGASUS. He had to get this message off before forming the wing back up for the next part of the mission.

HAMMER SUCCESSFULLY HIT BY ANVIL. HAMMER’S TIP SMASHED BUT REST OK FOR PICKUP. NO WARNING GIVEN. Cain put down the message slip from Syke and turned to Sanders.

“Let Howe know that they are cleared to strike, and have Connor dispatch his raptor to the co-ordinates given so that they can tow that hunk of junk back here”, he ordered.

So far, things were going okay. The threat posed by the armored freighter had been neutralized and there was enough left of it to perhaps glean some valuable intelligence. No warning had been given. Now it was up to Howe and his marines to take care of the ‘mine’ and it’s weapon.

“Suggest we deploy Black Knight Wing to relieve Silver Spar, Commander”, Sanders said, “Voight’s wing is fully armed and fueled and can get there quickly”.

Cain thought about it, then nodded. Besides, if the marines run into bad trouble down there, then air support would probably be needed and Syke’s ships had likely expended a fair amount of fuel and ammo.

“Very well, Inform Captain Voight that his wing is to relieve Syke’s. Then Inform Captain Syke to return his wing to the PEGASUS for refueling and re-arming.

CHAPTER NINE: Ground Assault

ANVIL SUCCESSFUL, COMMENCE ASSAULT. Howe read the message that had just come in from the PEGASUS. Good, he thought, that meant that the marines would not have to fear that flying tank of a ‘freighter’, but still....

He tapped out a message on his keypad: SIX TO AVENGER, ASSAULT COMMENCING IN FIVE MINUTES, then sent it off. When he got the ACKNOWLEDGED reply back, he raided his signal lamp and flashed it seven times to both recon positions. The code was for Haig and March to send down most of their squads to support the weapons squad. He hoped that they would get here quickly. Regardless, the attack had to start. If the tin-heads try to contact the ‘freighter’, they might get suspicious at a no-reply. Besides, the sooner they kept the initiative of surprise, the better the chance of salvaging the ‘bait’ or all that ore.

Up at the Squad one observation point, Haig un-slung his weapon and tapped Corporal Jones on the shoulder. Jones nodded. He had seen the signal from Howe and knew that it meant that the weapons team was about to attack and that support would be needed. Jones would stay up at the position with the monocular operator and the sniper while Haig would take the rest of the contingent down from the position to link up with the weapons squad.

While Haig was getting the marines alerted and ready to move, Corporal March was doing likewise with his squad. Leaving his sniper and monocular operator in position, he moved to get his people ready to head down to support Howe. As all of them knew that the target would be the massive gun emplacement, but March wondered if their weapons would be enough to disable it, given that they didn’t foresee such a weapon existed. Still, March knew that the PEGASUS - as well as the GALACTICA - would be threatened unless it could be taken out.

Howe looked at his chronometer as it ticked down the minutes. As the chronometer reached the five minute mark, he reached for his communicator.

Just then, one of his marines tapped him on the shoulder and pointed. Coming over the horizon was a ship. He quickly realized that it was the peregrine! Howe’s voice then sounded over the communicator for all the marines to hear: “Commencing attack!”.

On the AVENGER, Hunter and Sims heard Howe’s order. Sims called, “The target is acquired. I’ve got missile lock!”.

“Fire titans!”, Hunter ordered. Sims thumbed the firing control switch. The two massive air-to-surface missiles shot out of their mounts and headed towards the crater. Hunter made a mental note to buy Chief Krag a drink for having the foresight to equip the FLEET AVENGER with the titan missiles. Each of them packed a sizeable warhead, designed for armor-piercing attack.

Down in the crater, the transmission from Howe had been detected. An alert was sent out to the centurions. The centurions started to un-sling their weapons while at the same time, the gun emplacement doors started to close, but before they could close, the titans slammed into the doors, causing them to jam and buckle. The titans had exposed the barrel of the rail-gun to attack.

As Howe saw the impact of the two missiles, he shouted into his communicator, “All mortars, open fire on the emplacement!”. The mortar teams fired their ordinance, lobbing their bombs into the crater at the still-jammed half-open gun emplacement.

Howe noticed that the FLEET AVENGER was starting a strafing run with their forward guns. Several centurions were hit from the fire, though other centurions were starting to fire back at the peregrine.

At that moment, several smaller explosions started hitting in their vicinity. Howe saw on his screens that a number of centurions were heading in their direction, and were firing their weapons. They must have triangulated on the wireless transmission, he thought.

“Missile teams, you’re cleared to fire!”, Howe shouted. At that moment, the four marines who carried the shoulder-launched missiles stood and fired their weapons. The missiles were proximity-fused, fragmentation devices. As the missiles reached the vicinity of the approaching Cylons, the warheads detonated, carving a scythe through the approaching centurions. The marines quickly re-loaded their launchers as the centurions regrouped.

“Six, this is Nebula One”, a new voice sounded. Nebula One was the call-sign for the observer in Haig’s and Jones’ squad, “I’m seeing more bad guys emerging from a passageway near the gun emplacement and they’re heading your way”.

Howe quickly looked at the screen. Nebula One was aiming it at the location he had mentioned. At least another fifty first-generation Cylon centurions had emerged already and were heading their way. They were all well armed with a variety of light and heavy ordinance.

“Frakk!”, Howe said to himself. It must be either a hidden garrison or else it’s the operation and support personnel for that gun, he thought. He keyed his mike.

“Nebula Three-a and Three-b” (the sniper’s call-signs), he communicated, “start taking them out”. Haig knew that the snipers would not be able to get more than a few of them, but the odds were not starting to look good. Beyond the first fifty, other centurions were emerging and deploying.

“Nebula Six, this is AVENGER”, Howe suddenly heard over his communicator, “We’ve communicated with Home Plate for support. We have no more titans and our ammo is starting to run low. We can give you two more passes before we have to break off our attack”, Hunter reported.

Howe acknowledged by clicking his communicator twice. In order to get the maximum load from the PEGASUS to the asteroid without overloading the peregrine, it was only carrying a minimum weapons load. No other missiles apart from the two titans had been carried as a result of the weight constraints.

“Six, this is Nebula Five”, Howe heard next. He looked over to see that Haig, Jones, and most of Squad one were loping over to join them. Howe gave them a thumbs-up as the dozen marines moved to positions where they could fire down into the crater onto the approaching centurions.

“Don’t forget Nebula Four”, Corporal March said as his squad approached Howe. Howe was glad that the twenty-five marines were here.

“We’ll have to bug out before too long, Corporal”, Howe said to March, “so have six of your squad secure a flat area for an LZ (landing zone)”.

As March relayed Howe’s order, Marconi suddenly announced, “It’s Taggart!”.

Looking to where Marconi was pointing, he could see that the landram was heading up to his position. Taggart had been listening in to the communications and figured that the light gauss-cannon on top of the landram would be needed. Howe agreed silently and made a note to thank Taggart for his initiative.

“Figured you’d need some more firepower, Six”, Taggart communicated.

“You’re right about that. Okay, Taggart, get that cannon to bear on the tin-heads, we’ve got a lot of them coming this way!”, Howe ordered. He looked back over the lip of the crater where more and more centurions were approaching. The AVENGER roared over the crater, laying down a concentration of gun fire. A lot of Cylons were blasted by the bursts. Just then, Howe saw a small explosion just beneath the nose of the peregrine.

“Frakk!”, Hunter exclaimed as the AVENGER lurched from the explosion. An anti-spacecraft proximity shell fired from a Cylon had damaged the nose guns, knocking them out of operation.

“Six, this is AVENGER”, Hunter communicated, “our forward guns have been disabled. We’re heading down to pick you up. Give me a place to do so”.

“We’ve secured an LZ about one hundred yards behind our position, AVENGER”, Howe replied, “Head there”.

“The anti-spacecraft fire is getting more intense, Six”, Hunter said, “we’ll have to take a circular route. Hand on in there”.

As the AVENGER headed away from the shell-fire in order to get to the LZ, Howe radioed, “All observers and snipers fall back to the LZ immediately”. Howe saw that the number of centurions that were left would soon leave them all out of ammunition.

Just then, several explosions shook their vicinity. Just as a marine shouted, “Get down! The tin-heads are using mobile mortars”, another explosion hit near three marines. All three of them were thrown away from the explosion, their suits punctured by shrapnel.

“You’d better get down here fast, AVENGER”, Howe shouted, “We’re losing people here!”.

“There’s too many tin-heads for a gun crew, Six”, Haig exclaimed to Howe, “What have we stirred up?”

“If we manage to live through this, we’ll try and find out”, Howe replied, “But for the moment, get everyone ready to fall back”.

“Six!”, Marconi called out, “We’re at joker level!”. ‘Joker’ referred to the fact that their heavy munitions were just about exhausted. Howe saw that there were now over a hundred centurions advancing on their position. They were now climbing up the crater wall. The marines were firing their gauss-rifles down at them, but return fire was starting to find their mark. Two more marines were hit and killed as another mortar round impacted just in front of them, smashing their helmets and riddling their bodies with shrapnel.

Another mortar round smashed into the landram, knocking out the gauss-cannon and killing Taggart. Things were now looking real grim for the marines. They had to get out fast! Just then, Hunter’s voice came over the communicator.

“This is AVENGER”, Hunter called Howe, “Keep your heads down, we’ve got incoming!”.

The word ‘Incoming’ had barely left his lips as Black Knight Wing’s supporting raptor came in, supported by two vipers.

“Here’s a little gift from all of us you tin-headed toasters!”, the pilot, Lt. ‘Dookie’ Connor snarled into his communicator as his raptor fired two titan missiles. One missile landed right in the midst of the largest group of Cylons, wreaking havoc in their lines. The second titan went in the half-opened revetment doors that exposed the super-rail gun.

A massive explosion shook the area as the titan detonated inside the emplacement. The Cylons in the crater were thrown to the ground as the explosion tore through the central area. Up on the crater rim, the marines were shook up some as the sub-surface shockwave reached their position.

As more sub-surface explosions rocked the crater, more vipers from Black Knight Wing headed in, making multiple strafing passes.

“Okay, Knights”, Voight communicated to his pilots, “let’s finish ‘em off!”.

The vipers laid waste to the complex and anything down there that was moving. After several minutes, Voight called out, “Looks like we got ‘em. Break off and fly cover. We’ve got some people down there to pick up”.

As Voight’s squadrons discontinued their attack and started flying in a covering pattern over the complex, the marines moved back to the LZ. The AVENGER had just made it’s landing. Hunter clicked his communicator.

“The Commander was kind enough to redirect them, once he heard what was happening”, Hunter said to Howe.

“Good of the boss to do that”, Howe agreed, “but we’ve got a couple of things to do yet before we leave, pilot. The marines don’t leave anyone behind”.

Hunter knew what Howe had meant. Six marines had been killed. Their remains would be brought back to the PEGASUS with them. They had won this battle, but the loss of life would not be forgotten in the light of victory.

CHAPTER TEN: Aftermath.

Cain was sitting in his cabin, looking at the original message for Commander Hawke that he had typed before the recent battle. He had recalled the discs that he had given to Sanders earlier. With the outcome of the recent battle decided, there had to be changes made before the scheduled GOLIATH probe dispatch. He removed the personal message disc for Commander Hawke and called back up the original message. He blanked out a lot of the first paragraph and began re-typing:

Matt,

Interesting things had occurred here in the Promar Sector. One of our recon patrols had encountered a new type of autonomous tin-head freighter, though this ‘freighter’ packs more firepower than a light cruiser! It was seen stopping off at an asteroid that has what was ostensibly a mine containing a lot of useful minerals, but it turned out to be a front for a massive rail gun emplacement. It means that the tin-heads are being more creative in setting traps for us, but thanks to the PEGASUS’ fighters, plus a few good marines, the ‘freighter’, the ‘mining’ complex, and a lot of tin-heads got taken out. The remains of the ‘freighter’ were successfully salvaged and already it is providing revealing intelligence. What we have managed to find out so far about this new type of ship, and what it was doing, plus details of the recent battle have been included with this communique. It’s one heck of an eye-opener. Needless to say, we’ll keep you informed on future developments. We have now acquired a lot of platinum and beryllium so when we meet at the next rendezvous, there should be enough of what you need.

Cain sighed and sat back in his seat. The database of the now-deactivated automaton brain was still largely intact and it really provided a boon of information. It explained quite a lot about the asteroid, data on the disposition of Cylon forces in this sector, and what it’s primary task was in regards to the ‘mining complex’. After the marines and mining personnel had been evacuated and the fighter wings returned, the PEGASUS made another FTL-jump to an empty part of the Promar sector so that the crew could wind down some from the recent battle. The wing debriefings had all been done and the viper pilots were looking forward to the down-time.

Cain and Tolen though were present at another - more confidential - briefing after the pilots had dispersed. Sanders had briefed them both on the intelligence find recovered from the salvaged Cylon ship. Apart from information on the tin-head task forces in this sector, it provided detailed information on what the ‘freighter’s’ and the ‘mine’s’ full purpose was. It seemed incredible.

“You mean that the tin-heads were intending to power the asteroid with an FTL-drive?”, Tolen asked incredulously.

“That’s why there was so many centurions in that emplacement. They were busy boring all the way through the asteroid so that they could fit an immense FTL-drive unit in the core. It would then have become a geologically formed fighter craft which they would then be able to place in the path of any colonial ship”.

“A Cylon self-propelled asteroid”, Cain said, “How close were they to getting the drive operational? The drive unit itself would have to be immense”.

“The ‘freighter’ had made a lot of initial runs with the drive components. It was almost completed, then it appears that the tin-heads working on it were directed to get the trap set up first, in case the GALACTICA came along before the drive unit was completed”, Sanders replied, “The ‘freighter’ was intending to ship the last components of the FTL-drive to the asteroid after the ammunition delivery”.

“It’s a good thing that we found out about that gun”, Tolen commented. Sanders nodded.

“The gun itself had just been made operational. The ammunition that was in that last shipment was all that it needed. Had we been a few days later in discovering the existence of that complex, it would have been fully armed”, Sanders explained.

“Well, at least that’s one trap that the GALACTICA won’t have to worry about, or the GOLIATH for that matter”, Tolen said.

“There could well be other traps those tin-headed monstrosities could be setting up, so we shouldn’t get complacent. You know, we still should send a note of thanks to the tin-heads sometime for all that ore they left for our shuttles to pick up”, Cain ‘suggested’ with a smile. Tolen and Sanders chuckled at that. After the marines had lifted off the asteroid, several shuttles had landed in order to pick up the ore, as well as do an examination of the remains of the complex. The supply of raw materials would come in very handy for trading and refining for their own uses.

“You think that Howe thought that it all worth it?”, Tolen asked. Marines were very close to each other and the death of six of them in the recent battle did remind everybody on board about the ever-present dangers all on board face constantly from the ever-present Cylon menace.

“They knew their jobs, Colonel”, Cain replied quietly. Cain had been at the memorial service earlier and gave his condolences to the assembled marines. If they had known earlier that the gun was not loaded, then Cain would not have ordered the marines to attack. He would have sent the PEGASUS in instead to blast the complex, but hindsight is always twenty-twenty. Cain felt the loss just as keenly as Howe and the marines - and they all knew it.

After the briefing had finished, Cain took Sanders aside and told him about Admiral Hendrix’ message regarding the Battlestar HYPERION and it’s mission in the Hatari Sector when the war broke out.

“So the HYPERION was away from the colonies during the attack”, Sanders mused, “You think the HYPERION force may still be intact?”, he asked.

“Anything is possible, Comms”, Cain said, “and even though those earlier Cylon intercepts indicated most of the fleet confirmed destroyed, Commander Tillman is a person I wouldn’t put past pulling a fast one on the tin-heads, plus other ships in the HYPERION task force were listed as inactive, so they may not know about them. I’ve placed a message in the next FTL-probe for the GOLIATH, and Commander Hawke is probably in a better position to check out the Hatari Sector. It’s not a good chance, but it’s worth investigating”.

Sanders nodded. Perhaps his brother might still be alive. In any case, It was something to hope for - like finding the GALACTICA.

Cain did a last check of the rewritten note, then had it downloaded to disc. Paging a courier, he placed the disc, and the other information discs inside an envelope. There was a little over two hours before the next GOLIATH probe was to be dispatched. He was sure that Hawke would find the contents interesting....

One person found the results of the recent battle ‘interesting’ as well. In fact, so interesting, that she called an immediate council-of-war.

The summoned persons had assembled in a conference room at the top of the Virgon Space Elevator. Number One and Number Seven were there to brief them on the latest occurrence.

The Cylon humanoids watched for several minutes a video display of what a recent reconnaissance probe had recorded. It had been dispatched to the site of the Cylon asteroid after the armored freighter had been declared overdue. The pictures of the gutted complex was sobering to most of those assembled, but it made Number One extremely angry.

“Indications are that this occurred two days ago”, Number Seven said blandly as the screen turned off, “so whoever did this is long-gone”.

“That asteroid was supposed to have been in a location remote enough so that there would not be any premature discovery!”, Number One snarled, “yet it was found and taken out! If our intelligence assessments are that far off, then everything we have so far taken as confirmed can no longer be trusted! It could be either the GALACTICA, or this other rogue battlestar for all we know, if not another unknown colonial warship!”.

The other Cylon humanoids looked concernedly at Number One. It looked like she was heading towards what the humans called a ‘nervous breakdown’.

“The Promar Sector has been penetrated a lot farther in than what we had previously estimated, true”, Number Eleven said, “but the humans can’t be everywhere in the sector. It’s what they would quaintly term ‘bad luck’ on our part that it was found before it was ready”, he said, trying to be upbeat at this latest setback.

“Bad Luck?”, Number One exclaimed, “like all of the damage inflicted upon us since the end of the war? That’s ‘bad luck’ too, is it?”. She was struggling to control herself - and failing.

“It can’t change the fact that we still have a preponderance of forces and resources”, Number Six interjected, “and with that fact in mind, all we have to do to ensure final victory is be in a position to make use of it. True, our ambush asteroid has been rendered inoperative, but on the overall scale of things, it’s more of an annoyance than a major catastrophe”.

“These ‘annoyances’ are stacking up more and more. The longer it takes to track down and destroy these remnants of the Colonial Fleet, the more likely that these humans can do even more damage to us! We have got to stop them now!”, Number One spat out, slamming her fist down on top of the conference room table. She was getting paler and sweatier as she spoke.

“The best thing that we can do is to continue the pressure”, Number Four suggested, “after all, sooner or later, they will eventually make a mistake. And when that time comes, then we will destroy them”.

Number One looked at Number Four, then the others. She willed herself to calm down. These human mannerisms were overloading her synthetic brain. That would be the real irony: all of these successful human strikes causing her to deactivate.

“Then we maintain the pressure, and we will continue to develop additional means to trap them. There is no other option that we have”, she finally said, “Either humanity, or us will end up perishing in the end. Failure is not an option!”.

That same thought came to Cain after Sanders reported the return of the GOLIATH message probe from it’s dispatch of the latest data . With the loss of so much back at the colonies, the Cylons could afford hundreds of defeats while what was left of humanity could nary afford one. But in order to survive, they must prevail, and once the GALACTICA is found, then they can start inflicting more defeats upon the tin-headed menace. But until then, failure was a luxury that could not be afforded. They have to succeed to survive. Cain knew that the PEGASUS would.

END OF BOOK EIGHT