Word Count: 27,768
Pairing/Focus: Original Characters
On the Command Base Star orbiting over the planet Caprica, Number One was feeling as close to annoyed as a Cylon could. The disappearance of Valhalla Station and the loss of a base star in that operation on top of the recent destruction of Sentinel Outpost Epsilon Alpha - in the remote Anotian Sector - meant that their trap had failed and their goal was getting further away from fruition.
Number One remembered what one of the Number Six models had remarked on after their occupation of Ragnar Anchorage: "If we do let them go, then one day they'll come back and take revenge." That statement made the total annihilation of the Human Race the primary necessity. True, the colonies were now under total Cylon occupation, but that wouldn't matter if any survivors could survive and have the opportunity to rebuild. Time, which had been their ally in the war, was now their enemy, along with distance.
She had gone over the most recent intelligence, but it created more questions than answers. The destroyed vipers that had been salvaged at Anotian had their tail numbers obliterated, but one of them had another identifier number that was still intact - which thanks to the acquired colonial fleet manifest - identified it as belonging to the battlestar PACIFICA. But since the PACIFICA had been fully confirmed as destroyed over Caprica, it raised the question of how it had gotten way out there. Intelligence had reported a number of fighters from destroyed ships making it to the GALACTICA when it was at Ragnar Anchorage, so it could have been one of those, but things still did not add up.
In addition, the human corpses found with the wrecked vipers bore the insignia of the GALACTICA on their flight suits, but since other intelligence sources had placed the GALACTICA well away from Anotian at the same time, it made for more confusion. Added to that, none of the corpses had their identification tags on them so using the manifest's master personnel roster was not possible either. All that was certain was that the sentinel post was destroyed by a weapon that could only be carried by a capital ship, and that the additional use of vipers meant that it could only be a warship of a battlestar or battlecruiser type.
Not counting GALACTICA, three other battlestars were still unaccounted for. The PROMETHEUS was the flagship of the Second Task Force. It was last seen over Geminon when the task force had been attacked. The ITHACA had been relegated to support duties, though still on the commissioned list. It had been presumed destroyed at the fleet support docks on the Picon moon of Vestral. The PEGASUS was part of the Fifth Task Force. It had been presumed destroyed, along with the fleet flagship ATLANTIA over Caprica. Of the battlecruisers, the last three - AVENGER, COURAGEOUS, and GOLIATH - had been decommissioned some weeks before the attack and had last been placed at the Tartulas, Magiddio, and Vestral fleet docks to be scrapped. However, since those facilities had been totally destroyed, there was no way to determine their final fate.
That led her to send out a general alert message to all Cylon fleet assets: DESTRUCTION OF SENTINEL OUTPOST EPSILON ALPHA IN ANOTIAN SECTOR EVALUATED AS DUE TO HOSTILE ACTION FROM HUMAN WARSHIP. INITIAL ASSESSMENT INDICATES, REPEATS INDICATES, BATTLESTAR TYPE WARSHIP CALLED GALACTICA RESPONSIBLE. HOWEVER, THIS ASSESSMENT CONFLICTS WITH OTHER INTELLIGENCE PLACING GALACTICA IN VICINITY OF PROMAR SECTOR. THEREFORE, UNTIL CONFLICT OF INTELLIGENCE IS RECTIFIED, ASSUME OTHER UNKNOWN HUMAN WARSHIPS ACTIVE AND MAINTAIN CURRENT ALERT STATUS.
CHAPTER ONE: Recons and Redress
The raptor was surveying a system several light hours ahead of the PEGASUS. After the recent battle in the Anotian Sector, Commander Cain had decided to take a more assertive path in his efforts to locate the Battlestar GALACTICA. Partially, this was due to having to avoid various traps set in remoter regions of space such as the minefield encountered in the Optus Sector, but mainly, there had to be a more concerted effort to gain intelligence, and raw materials that could be used.
The recent attack, while a success and a boom to morale, had also signaled loud and clear to the Cylons that there was definitely a human presence out here. While Cain's little stratagem of planting human cadavers wearing GALACTICA insignia at the scene of the battle would most likely confuse the Cylons, for the moment, it meant that the pressure was still on them.
Helo was thinking about this as he monitored the raptor's autopilot. His RSO, Petty Officer Jason ‘Snoopy' Dundee, was busy in the rear bay monitoring his sensor platform for any anomalies. This part of the Anotian Sector had a number of star systems, judging from the readouts from Comscan's Deep Space Scanner array, so the raptors had been dispatched to various systems in order to find the least risky system to get some minerals.
Cain had decided to try and find some tylium and aluminum ore to stockpile - The PEGASUS had a limited refining ability for raw tylium, and the arsenal could form iron-jacketed bullets for their rail guns from aluminum. While they were not really short of these items, if an opportunity presented itself to properly stock up, then it should be taken.
"After the latest batch of scans, the system is still as dead as a corpse," Dundee said disgustedly. He was referring to the passive sensors trying to pick up any communications.
"If that means we can find what we want without having tin-head Cylons crashing our party, Snoopy," Helo replied, using Dundee's recently approved call-sign, "then as far as I'm concerned, that's good news."
"I think that we can start using the active sensors now," Dundee suggested. Helo nodded.
"Okay, Snoopy," he acquiesced, "but keep the power levels to a minimum. Remember, we didn't detect that Sentinel Post until we were almost on top of it."
"As if I could forget," Dundee replied. Helo smiled. Jason Dundee was a fast learner.
Helo waited while Dundee got the active sensor platform up and running. He was still not quite used to being the command pilot, so he was champing at the bit a little while awaiting Dundee's report.
"I'm not picking up any planets around this star, Helo," Dundee said at last, "some small pieces of rubble only. Looks like........!"
At that instant, Helo's proximity alarm started to beep.
"Go silent," Helo ordered. Dundee hit the POWER DOWN switch, killing the active sensors. Helo powered down the engines.
With a flash of light, an FTL-exit appeared about two hundred klicks off the port bow. A second flash followed a couple of seconds after the first. Dundee used his optical scanner from his passive sensor platform.
"Oh Frakk!" Dundee exclaimed, "It's two Cylon Base Stars!"
Helo saw the relayed picture on his sensor screen. The sinister-looking double-y shapes of the Cylon leviathans were slowly moving on sublight drive. He could see through maximum magnification that they were not deploying raiders, but they were dumping small objects. Helo knew what they were.
"The tin-heads are laying another minefield," Helo said, "and they chose a good spot to do it. With just rubble in this system, their disguised mines would blend right in."
"I'm picking up a lot of wireless chatter between the two base stars, Helo," Dundee reported.
"Start recording," Helo directed.
"I'm already on it," Dundee replied, "but this raptor does not have the decryption algorithms installed, so I can't give you any decodes."
"No worries," Helo said, "We'll get back to the PEGASUS as soon as they get to a safe distance. The communications directorate can decode it there."
"The base stars are starting a sensor sweep of the system. What are the odds that those base stars can pick us up?" Dundee asked.
"It's a good thing they're not launching raiders," Helo answered, "but as it stands, as long as we don't emit any EM, or change our course, we'll look like a drifting rock."
"I'm keeping my fingers crossed back here," Dundee answered, "because this ship isn't exactly a fighter."
"Even if this ship was a Peregrine, I'd think twice against taking on those base stars," Helo commented.
"Peregrine? What's that?" Dundee wanted to know.
"It is a prototype gunship and recon platform which was designed to replace the raptor," Helo explained,
"The fleet's testing directorate were checking out the production prototypes on the eve of the war. It is a well-armed, FTL-capable attack support and scouting ship."
"Sounds like something we definitely could have used," Dundee agreed, thinking about what it would be like to fly in one of those, "So how do you happen to know all about this new gunship?" he asked, "I read the military magazines and I don't recall any information about this new gunship in any of them."
"It was still listed as a classified project, Snoopy. Anyway, I had been on TDY from the GALACTICA for a couple of weeks just before the war in order to check out the scanning and weapons platform on the Peregrine prototypes," Helo explained, "Selected pilots and RSO's were called in to give an assessment on the Peregrine's capabilities, and I was the lucky one chosen from the GALACTICA."
Dundee nodded his understanding. Designers and engineers aside, the best judges of anything that could fly were the ones who would have to use it. Well, it was all moot now, he thought. The Peregrine prototypes were more than likely destroyed with the rest of the fleet back at the Colonies.
"Keep monitoring their communications, Snoopy,” Helo reminded Dundee, "The more intelligence for Comms to keep busy with, the happier he'll be."
Dundee smiled. Captain Glen ‘Comms' Sanders was a real workaholic. Hopefully, the two base stars would provide some badly needed intel. Judging from the level of ship-to-ship chatter, this should keep Sanders and the communicators busy for a while, and something interesting could come out of it.
It was while Helo and Dundee were busy listening in on the base stars' ship-to-ship chatter that a viper pilot on board the battlestar PEGASUS was listening to chatter of another type. His name was Lt jg. Matt Higgins and he was standing at rigid attention in front of Captain Eugene Syke inside his office. The Silver Spar Wing CAG was not in a happy mood.
"I expect all my officers to set a positive example!" Syke snarled at Higgins, "So what the Frakk were you thinking of when you buzzed the port landing bay like that, and getting your wingman to follow you through?!!"
A few moments ago, the Landing Control Officer had been in this office snarling at Syke, saying "Two of your snot-nosed pilots just did a fly-by of my landing bay coming in from one end and out the other at high speed and only ten feet off the deck!" Syke noticed the coffee stain down the front of the LCO's flight suit and drew the conclusion that Higgins' stunt had scared the hell out of him during his brew drinking. The LCO continued, "I want somebody's butt, I want it now, I've had it!" The LCO then stormed out of the office and ran right into a crewman carrying another tray of coffee. Syke has to stifle a smile as the LCO screamed, "God dammit, that's twice! I want some butt!"
Now Higgins was in front of Syke, along with Ensign Vansen.
"CAG," Higgins said quietly, "You asked me to ensure that Vansen here got the message about staying close to his wingman in all flight situations, and it seemed to be a good way to verify it, given the lack of asteroids and other debris in this area." Vansen did not comment. He was still staying at rigid attention, hoping that CAG would keep his attention on Higgins.
"That's not even funny, Rogue," Syke replied, using his call-sign, "You are a hell of an instinctive pilot, but as your call-sign indicates, you're a loose cannon. You've lost your qualification as flight leader three times, been put in hack twice - by me, and as the X.O. of Spar One. You're supposed to be giving Ratchet support, not ulcers! I'd like to have both of you grounded indefinitely, but as we're rather short on pilots, I can't."
Higgins breathed a sigh of relief. Vansen followed suit.
"I had Jet here pull some admin time while his ankle healed," Syke said to Higgins, referring to Vansen, "and I'm sorely tempted to introduce you to the niceties of administrative tasks, but since you happen to be one of the best pilots in the wing, I'm going to make use of that skill of yours for something else."
Higgins looked at Syke, waiting for the axe to fall.
"As you may know, when Black Knight Wing came over to us from the PACIFICA, they also brought over several shuttles loaded with support personnel for their wing, including a dozen midshipmen flight cadets who were on TDY from the academy when the war broke out. I've spoken to Captain Voight," Syke said, referring to the CAG of Black Knight Wing, "and he agrees that these midshipmen should resume their flying training and get qualified as viper pilots as soon as possible."
Higgins did not look happy, he knew what was coming.
"Lieutenant Junior Grade Matthew Higgins," Syke said formally, "You are hereby temporarily relieved as the Executive Officer of Spar One Squadron, and appointed Training Officer for the new viper transition training flight".
"A flight instructor?" Higgins asked incredulously.
"Consider yourself lucky," Syke answered, "as the assigned instructor will now take over as temporary X.O. of Spar One while you are away."
"But I don't want to teach those snotties how to fly vipers," Higgins objected, using the popular nickname for academy midshipmen.
"Well, you'd better get used to it," Syke said, in a tone that brooked no dissent, "and if I hear that you've put even one toe out of line, you'll be flying a service shuttle loaded with treated sewerage for the next six months!"
Higgins shuddered. Flying a sewerage shuttle was one step above being permanently grounded. While as much waste as possible was recycled, there was always some waste that could not be used. Normally, it would be flushed out into space, but since Commander Cain did not want to leave any trail of refuse for Cylons to follow, limited-FTL shuttles took the waste and dumped it well away from the PEGASUS.
"Your midshipmen are waiting for you down in hangar bay five," Syke said simply, "So change out of your flight suit and report down there to teach them basic viper introduction. Dismissed."
Higgins saluted rigidly, Syke jerked his thumb towards the door in reply, and Higgins abruptly marched out. Vansen was about to follow suit, but Syke said, "Halt, Ensign." Vansen stopped and turned to face Syke.
"So, Jet," Syke said after staring at him for a full minute, "hanging around with certified maniacs, hmm?" he asked rhetorically.
Vansen did not dare reply. He had a feeling that if he opened his mouth, he would be in worse trouble.
"Rogue's grandstanding notwithstanding, you stayed close in to him all the way," Syke said offhandedly, "so your wingman qualification is officially reinstated as of now. But first, you will report to Spar One and let Ratchet know that her X.O. has been placed on TDY to train some new pilots."
Just as Vansen thought that he would be let off, Syke continued, "Then you will return to Wing Administration and start working on the personnel fitness reports for the entire maintenance section. When they are completed, then you can resume normal patrol duties."
The maintenance section consisted of ninety technicians, specialists, and senior non-commissioned officers. Vansen knew that the paperwork would take some days to complete. A hell of away to celebrate his wingman qualification, he grumbled to himself. Thanks a frakking lot, Rogue!
Vansen saluted, Syke gestured to the door, and Vansen marched out.
"Rank does have it's privileges, doesn't it, Bojay?" Tricia Cain said as she walked through a side door into his office. As Tricia was Silver Spar Wing deputy CAG, her office directly abutted Syke's and she had heard everything.
"Want to join Rogue down in Bay Five, Sheba?" Syke asked her half-jokingly. Tricia made a gesture over her mouth indicating that she got the message. Syke chuckled.
"Well, I hope Matt teaches the snotties the right way to fly, Tricia," Syke said, "We can certainly use more viper pilots and I was really not looking forward to the idea of reassigning the raptor pilots to viper patrol work. Our raptor crew reserves are pretty shallow."
"I'm aware of that, Tricia. Hopefully, that bunch of petty officers Helo got trained as RSO's will take care of that particular staff shortage," Syke replied, "But you think Rogue got the hint this time?" he asked her.
"I'll be keeping tabs on the training flight, Gene," Tricia assured Syke, "And if he does step out of line, the sewerage shuttles will be getting acquainted with a new pilot," Tricia said with a barely suppressed grin, "but he is a good pilot and if anyone can make good rooks out of snotties, it's Matt Higgins.”
Syke nodded. And Higgins could consider himself fortunate. If the LCO had gone to Colonel Tolen instead of himself, it could have been far more serious. He would let Tolen know about the action taken a little later, but first....
"I'm heading up to the mess for lunch, Tricia," Syke said, "Care to join me?"
"Thought you'd never ask, Gene," Tricia replied. Nodding, Syke stood and headed out the door, with Tricia following him.
While those two were heading up the mess to eat, Higgins entered the crew dorm and started removing his flight suit. He was not at all happy about teaching midshipmen to fly vipers, but Syke was right: he could have been piloting a sewerage shuttle, if he was still flying at all.
After changing into a utility uniform - what were popularly known as the ‘Class-C' uniform - he headed down to bay five. That bay was used for instruction purposes and was set up as a half-hangar, half-classroom facility, equipped with cockpit simulators and viper components. Normally, it would be used for maintenance crew trainees, but now it would be used to get flight cadets acquainted with the Mark VII Viper. Syke had a crewman deliver a clipboard to him while he was getting changed, which held information about the persons whom he was going to teach. All had flight instruction taught to them in academy trainer craft and had soloed. So basic flight would not be needed. Still, a high-performance space-superiority fighter would be a big leap from a basic flight trainer.
After entering the bay, he saw a number of youngsters sitting in a classroom chatting to each other. Judging from the midshipman insignia on their collars, he realized that this was his class. Frakk, did they look young, he thought.
As he entered the room, one of the midshipmen called out "Attention on Deck!", nearly stopping his heart in surprise. All the midshipmen stood at rigid attention. He walked up to the front of the classroom, where an instructor’s desk faced the class, and stared at them for a few seconds before saying "Seats."
As the cadets sat down, Higgins sat down on top of the desk and looked them over. There were seven males and five females in total. All were aged over eighteen standard years, though some of them looked a lot younger. The midshipmen tried not to meet his eyes as he scanned their youthful faces. At last, Higgins spoke.
"I am Lieutenant jg Higgins, call-sign Rogue," he introduced himself, "and you twelve midshipmen are my training flight. I have been assigned by the CAG to introduce you to the craft that you are going to fly: the Mark VII Viper, but first, I want to make a few things clear to all of you."
The midshipmen listened intently as he spoke.
"First, this is not the academy. Standing too much on ceremonial felgercarb detracts from the purpose of turning you into viper pilots, so save it for your classes on how to be officers and gentle-persons," he said.
The midshipmen looked pleased at this statement. Time for him to bring them back down to the ground.
"Saying that, you will still address me as Lieutenant," he said, "You do not have the privilege of addressing me by my call-sign until you graduate out of this class, and you will either graduate as pilots and officers with call-signs of your own, slip up in training - in which case either you will be dead, or wish you were dead once I've finished with you, or you can quit - in which case I'm sure that Chief Krag would be delighted to have extra hands to sweep the deck."
Higgins paused to gauge the mood of the twelve trainees. Good, he had their total attention.
"You are more than likely going to hate my guts for the rest of your lives before we are half-way through the class," Higgins warned, "But don't worry if you think I'm just picking on you. I don't discriminate. At this moment in time, all of you are equally worthless to me, and the only way for you to convince me otherwise is to succeed in this crash training program. Flying a viper will take skill and instinct, and if you have the right stuff, you will do well and go back to your wing as viper pilots with shiny ensign bars on your collars and call-signs painted on your planes. But if you think that you will not be able to see this program through, please leave now and stop wasting my time."
Higgins watched the midshipmen look at each other. Some looked a little paler as Higgins' speech sank in, but no one made a move to stand up and leave. After a minute, Higgins nodded.
"Very well," he said, "Welcome to Viper transition, or in other words: how to compress twelve months of normal viper training into two fun-filled weeks." With that, he started the class. The process of turning these youths into fighter pilots had now begun.
CHAPTER TWO: Gathering of Intelligence
After a little over two hours, the base stars finally ceased laying their minefield, Helo noticed. Dundee reported that their communications chatter had ceased at the same time. That meant only one thing. Thirty seconds later, a flash of light occurred, indicating that both Base Stars had FTL-ed out of the system.
"Okay, they're gone," Dundee confirmed from his passive sensors, "and I've got a lot of recorded data from the communications intercepts."
"They've probably jumped to another local system to lay more mines," Helo opened, "Anyway, start activating the active sensors, Snoopy," he ordered, "We'd better survey the new minefield before we jump back to the PEGASUS."
"What about the possibility of sensor drones, Helo?" Dundee asked. He was referring to remote probes that would FTL-jump and give a warning if a mine had detonated.
"Scanning shouldn't activate a drone as this minefield is disguised, but there could be proximity mines as well as the normal contact types, so we'll stay well clear of it. We just need to establish the perimeter of the field, nothing more," Helo replied.
"Okay, Helo," Dundee answered, "active sensors coming up on line." Dundee noticed the screens going active as the wide and narrow field active scanners started to receive information. Dundee expertly aimed the scanners at the minefield, and as Helo ran the raptor on a parallel course, the scanner array started collecting data.
"Those tin-heads really made a big minefield," Dundee commented as the scanner's mapping software started producing a map of the field. The procedure was really quite straightforward; the scans made just before the appearance of the base stars were compared with what was coming up on the latest set of scans. The ‘extra debris' in the field were obviously mines, so this distance scan was proving to be more than adequate in charting the minefield.
"They hoped to be able to trap us," Helo agreed, " and we've been very fortunate here, but as there are other systems that may have mines already laid, we won't have the luxury of before-and-after scans for those."
"Well, at least here we were lucky," Dundee replied, "and in a few more minutes, we should have this minefield fully charted."
"Great," Helo answered, "The sooner we can get back to the PEGASUS with the minefield map and the communications intercepts, the better. Maybe the tin-heads let on something about the other systems they mined."
Their intelligence gathering was more than child's play compared with the intelligence gathering that Glen Sanders was pursuing back on board the PEGASUS. Ever since their escape from Molecay Anchorage, Sanders had been making an effort to find the individual on board who had tried to let the Cylons know where they were. After all these weeks, he could still not narrow the field down further than forty-six of the one hundred-odd civilians they had picked up from the surface of Caprica, and from small inter-system ships.
At this moment, Sanders was conferring with Doctor Wilkin Ashley, the Chief Medical Officer on board the PEGASUS. He had discretely asked the doctor to assist him in the locating of the Cylon agent, and now he was chatting with the doctor in his office. Both were alone and the door was locked.
"If there is an agent among the civilians, that person is pretty adroit at avoiding discovery," Ashley confided to Sanders.
"You've done interviews under polygraph and a number of medical examinations. Is there anything we're missing?" Sanders asked.
Doctor Ashley had, under the guise of a full medical checkup regimen, checked out the forty-six suspects. The polygraph (disguised as a medical probe) had not discovered any anomalous readings from the seemingly innocuous questions that he and his staff had asked. Blood samples had also revealed nothing.
"From the autopsy of the crewman killed at Molecay, the neck was broken by a single hand. That would take a lot of strength. That pointed me towards the possibility a Cyborg," Ashley replied, "but as all of the samples taken revealed human, not artificial, I had to discount it."
"The problem with that, Doctor," Sanders pointed out, "is that if it was a human, what would he or she have to gain from co-operating with a race that regards humanity as vermin?"
"I know. I then thought that it could be hypnosis," Ashley theorized, "and that the person is not aware of his or her actions."
"And how did you test for that possibility?" Sanders asked.
"I used the sleep enhancer" - what was used to put patients under before operations - "to put the subjects into a trance, then asked them questions. It's another form of lie detection. No one answered anything out of the ordinary," Ashley answered.
"And drugs?" Sanders asked next.
"Same results. Nothing identifying the agent," Ashley answered.
"So what we have is someone who has inordinate strength, but does not show anything unusual on medical examination - including lie detecting techniques, and who seems to be immune to truth drugs," Sanders summarized, "So what does that leave us?"
"Are you sure that the person you're after is one of the forty-six?" Ashley asked.
"Absolutely, Doctor," Sanders answered, "They were among the civilians in the vicinity of the murdered crewman at Molecay, but only forty-six of them also had access to the area of engineering that had the energizer that had been sabotaged."
"Forty-six," Ashley stated, "And at least one of them is helping the Cylons. I can't find out who it is from a medical standpoint - unless you kill them all and I take a full autopsy, and that would only be useful if the agent is not human - and judging from the evidence, it would have to be."
"I agree with you that the agent has to be non-human, due to the way that crewman died," Sanders concurred, "plus a non-human would be able to beat both the lie detectors you used, and the drugs. But how could the Cylons make such persons that could fool a medical check?" he asked.
"Probably a form of genetically engineered cloning, but clones - at least as far as we know - can be found out by medical means, and I have tried to find out if there any among our suspects. Those checks were also negative," Ashley pointed out.
"If the Cylons did succeed in making human agents, it would answer a lot of questions as to how they managed to win the war in such a short amount of time," Sanders stated, "and unfortunately, it opens a nasty can of worms. It means that there could be others amongst the ship's complement."
"I hope you're wrong, Captain," Ashley said, "but I have a nasty feeling about this. All I can say is that until you locate the one out of the forty-six, I can't even begin to find a way to screen human from Cylon. A battlestar's sick bay is not exactly as well-equipped as the medical research institute on Sagittaria, unfortunately."
"And we would have to keep the reason for these checks all quiet," Sanders said, "because the last thing we need is the whole crew getting paranoid and suspecting every other person is a Cylon because of the way they comb their hair or tie their shoelaces."
Ashley nodded. Sanders stood up and headed to the door. As he unlocked it, he turned back to Ashley.
"Thanks for your help all the same," Sanders said. He turned and left.
There would have to be some other way to expose the agent, he thought as he headed back up to CIC and Core Command, as the very existence of the agent was a knife pointed at the throat of every person aboard the battlestar. He thought about other ways to find out the identity of the agent. All forty-six were under constant watch and all were employed in non-critical areas of the battlestar. Short of disposing of all forty-six, the only thing that he could see was to try and set up an opportunity which the agent would want to take advantage of. But Sanders knew that this agent was smart. Any such trap would have to be subtle, and that would take time. He would confer with Colonel Tolen on this matter later on today.
Worrying about spies was not on the mind of Captain Syke at the present time. He had enjoyed an excellent lunch in the mess, and also enjoyed Tricia's company. Thanks to all of the food supplies that had been loaded onto the PEGASUS back at Molecay, there were ample, filling, and most of all - a wide variety of meals for the crew of the battlestar, which was good for morale. Indeed, the catering officer had worked out that what they had taken on board was good for at least a year - more likely eighteen months. Now both Tricia and Syke were heading down to the main maintenance area in order to confer with Chief Krag.
"Sometimes, I wonder how Chief can keep all the wing's fighters running, given the limited supply of spare parts we have," Tricia said.
"Easy," Syke answered, "because the Old Man would kick his butt up and down the entire length of the PEGASUS, then give him a tongue-lashing for being slack on the job."
Tricia smiled. She knew that Krag was a great crew chief and that her father had total faith in him to do his job. Just then, she heard a collection of voices grow louder around the corner of the corridor.
"Can you believe all that felgercarb that Higgins threw at us about doubting our abilities to fly vipers?" one of the voices asked.
"It's definitely felgercarb, given his reputation as a lone-wolf hot-shot pilot," another voice answered, "He's taking his frustrations out on us for all his transgressions - after all, Syke sent him to us after his fly-by stunt in the landing bay."
The voices belonged to a couple of midshipmen. As they turned the corner, they both looked in surprise at the presence of both the CAG and Deputy CAG of Silver Spar Wing staring at them. Both midshipmen popped to attention and saluted. Syke ignored the gesture.
"What are you two midshipmen doing out of class?" Syke asked.
"Uh......our instructor sent us on an errand to pick up some aids for his class," one of them blurted out.
"Okay, Snotties", Syke said to them both in a scathing voice, "You are entitled to your opinions about the instructors that I assign to you, but there is a time and a place for everything, and mouthing off in a hallway is not the place. I expect you to listen to Lieutenant Higgins," he concluded, emphasizing the rank.
"With all due respect, Captain Syke, Sir," the other midshipmen replied, "Lieutenant Higgins is not the typical instructor like we had back at the academy, and given his reputation, are we going to learning the right way to fly vipers, Sir?" he asked.
Syke looked at the young face. He appreciated honesty and the midshipman's question was a reasonable one.
"For your information, Midshipman," Syke replied in a quieter voice, "Lieutenant Higgins is a top honors graduate from ATT," referring to the crack fighter weapons school for exceptional pilots, Advanced Tactical Training, "so he knows what he's talking about. If you spent more time digesting what he's trying to teach you instead of complaining about it, then you'll be top-notch pilots, as well as officers and gentlemen."
"Yes, Sir," both midshipmen replied.
"Then I won't keep you any further. Carry on," Syke replied. Both cadets saluted him, which this time he returned, then he and Tricia continued their walk down to the landing bay.
"Hopefully, the news about Rogue's piloting credentials will reach the other snotties in the mess hall," Syke commented, "so it should make his job a little easier when they get back to class."
"You know, Bojay; I never got into ATT, despite several applications," Tricia replied, "But Rogue would have had to be one hell of an exceptional pilot to graduate with honors from that course. It's a killer from what I heard."
" ‘Fight to fly, fly to fight, fight to win' is their motto," Syke replied, "and Rogue definitely lives up to it. The problem is that Rogue knows he is in a class of his own. If it wasn't for his circus-stunt flying, he would be CAG way before now. He missed out on two promotions boards as a result of his show-boating."
Just then, his communicator beeped. He activated it, "Syke here."
"CAG, this is Core Command," the voice of the other end replied, "Helo's Recon probe has exited FTL and is coming in to land. He's reporting priority intelligence from the system he was in."
"You'd better let the X.O. know," Syke advised, "Has he transmitted his data yet?"
"Affirmative, CAG,” was the reply, "It should be ready in time for debriefing."
"Okay, I'm heading down to meet him. Syke out," he answered, turning off his commlink. He then turned to Tricia.
"Well, we'd better go down and find out what Helo and Snoopy found," he said, "Chief's readiness reports will have to wait for awhile." Tricia nodded.
At that moment, the klaxon sounded and the P.A. announced, "Set Condition Two, repeat: Set Condition Two throughout the ship."
"Tricia, you'd better make sure that Ratchet has her squadron ready to launch. I'll talk with Helo. Looks like Core Command didn't like what Helo found," Syke said.
Nodding, Tricia headed in another direction in order to get to the launch tubes. Condition Two meant one squadron from each wing had to be ready for an immediate combat launch, and three out of every four weapons stations to be manned. While not as extreme an alert as Condition One - which involved all squadrons to be on launch alert and all weapons stations to be manned, it was still something not to be taken lightly. Spar One was the duty squadron at this time and she expected Ratchet (a.k.a. Lt. Carla Halley, Spar One's C.O.) to have her pilots in their vipers and ready to launch by the time she got there.
Down in bay five, Higgins heard the alert. After his first class, dealing with the basic specifications and performance data of the viper, the midshipmen had just been escorted by a petty officer to another hangar bay where they could have a close-in look at a viper being serviced, and he was reviewing his notes for the next lecture when the alert sounded. He instinctively started to head for the launch tubes, then realized that as he had been detached from duty with Spar One, that would not be his place. He picked up his communicator and sent a page to the midshipmen telling them to report to Chief Krag for alert station assignment. For his part, he headed up to the wing administration annex in order to make himself useful.
Up in CIC, Colonel Tolen and Captain Sanders were looking at the printout from Helo's data transmission. The reported presence of the two base stars laying mines was reason enough to bring the battlestar to a heightened state of alert.
"What's the story, X.O.?" Commander Garris Cain asked as he walked onto CIC. Tolen handed him a printout. Cain's eyebrows rose as he scanned the printout.
"So, Cylon base stars doing a bit of minelaying, eh?" he asked rhetorically, "Good thing Lt. Helo saw them in the act. Well, at least that's one system we won't be dropping in to visit." Both Tolen and Sanders nodded.
"Sir,” the Core Command operator reported, "Captain Syke will be meeting the raptor crew after they land."
Cain nodded his understanding, then asked Sanders, "Anything else, Comms?"
"The raptor had intercepted a number of wireless communications transmissions between the base stars during their minelaying operation," Sanders replied, "That raptor did not have a decryption protocol loaded in, but the Communications Directorate should be able to provide us with a decoded transcript shortly."
"Very well," Cain answered, "have Helm alter our sublight course away from that system. Once the decodes are completed, we'll plot a jump for another system. Stand down from Condition Two," he ordered.
As Syke was just outside bay seven awaiting Helo and Dundee to exit their raptor, the P.A. announced, "Resume normal schedule, Condition Two is terminated. Repeat: stand down from Condition Two and return to normal routine."
"Short alert," Syke commented as he looked out the viewport at the sight of the raptor being lowered down into the bay from the landing deck above. He noticed the flashing red lights as the bay was repressurizing. When the status lights turned green, the hatchway opened. Syke walked out and walked towards the raptor, along with some of the maintenance technicians. He noticed the raptor hatch open and both Helo and Dundee emerging.
"Hi, CAG," Helo said by greeting.
"Heard you found something," Syke replied. Helo and Dundee nodded.
"We crashed a Cylon minelaying party," Helo explained, "They didn't see us, and not only did we get a good map of their field, we also got a fair amount of communications intercepts."
"Well, let's get you both up to debriefing," Syke replied, "You can give it to me in better detail there."
As Syke was escorting Helo and Snoopy out of the bay, Higgins was returning to his bay/classroom. He waited for a couple of minutes, then saw his twelve students walk in after coming off the alert. They did not look too pleased. Silently, they sat down. Higgins knew by their demeanor that something was nibbling at them, but unless he did something, they would let whatever it was fester within them, and that would be detrimental to their training.
"Okay, for the next couple of minutes, school is out," Higgins said, "So spit it out. What's wrong?"
"We are supposed to be student fighter pilots and officer trainees, yet when we replied to the alert, Chief Krag assigned us to landing bay damage control detail. That's work for enlisted crewmen!" one of the midshipmen complained. The others murmured their agreement with the complaint.
"So you think you're too good to get your hands dirty, in other words," Higgins replied acidly, "And you think that you can be officers with an attitude like that? Very well, you will all have an additional task after we dismiss for today. You are going to make it your business to know the names of the deck drew that Chief Krag is in charge of. A viper squadron's ability to fight depends upon the competence of it's support personnel and their job is just as necessary as any pilot."
"We came to fly vipers, Lieutenant," the midshipman pointed out. It was the wrong thing to say.
"You midshipmen ever display that type of snobbery around either myself, Chief Krag, or the other personnel of the wing again and I will see to it personally that the only thing that you will ever get to fly are the sewerage shuttles!" he shouted. The midshipmen turned pale at the rebuke. Higgins continued, "I may have my faults, but treating crewmates like lower forms of life is not one of them! You want to be officers? Then you'd better start acting like officers right now, or get the hell out of my sight!"
No one moved. Higgins had to get it into their arrogant little heads that their survival would hinge on how well their fighters were supported and serviced. He knew all of the deck crew personally and he took the time to thank them for keeping his viper up.
"Now that we have gotten our concerns out into the open, school is back in session. I will now introduce you to the avionics package of the Viper VII, including the warbook," Higgins said, gesturing to the monitor behind him.
As Higgins was getting his class back to their task of learning about viper flight systems, Tricia was watching Lt. Halley climb down from her viper, after it had been pulled from the launch tube. Halley smiled as she saw Tricia standing there.
"Hey, Tricia," Halley said in greeting, "How goes it?"
"Pretty good, Carla," Tricia replied, "So how did Spar One react to the alert?" she asked.
"Quickly," was Halley's short answer, "I've got them able to respond just as fast in their sleep!"
"Just so long as they don't fall asleep during a dogfight," Tricia replied with a smile. Halley laughed. Both of them watched the pilots of her squadron troop back to the ready room. They would remain there until Spar Two rotated in on ready alert duty.
"So what is it like being Deputy CAG?" Halley asked Tricia, after the other pilots had passed by. Tricia rolled her eyes.
"A lot more paperwork and a lot less flying, but at least Bojay is ensuring I get flight time," Tricia replied.
"I was a little peeved when Rogue was relieved as my X.O.," Halley confided, "but considering what he pulled with Jet earlier, perhaps his new duty teaching snotties will make him a little more responsible."
"Bojay and I had overheard two midshipmen complain about Rogue's no-nonsense approach to teaching," Tricia answered, "so I think he'll do okay."
"Yeah," Halley agreed, "but the sooner he's back in Spar One, the better I'll like it. ATT Honor Grads are a pretty rare commodity. So, where's CAG?" she asked, changing the subject.
"He's with Helo and Dundee," she replied, "He wanted to hear the debriefing personally. We think their initial information was what caused the alert."
"Well, I suppose that we'll soon find out," Halley commented. Just then, she smiled at something behind Tricia's back.
Tricia turned and saw Chief Krag walking up towards them. Tricia knew that both Krag and Halley had more than just a passing friendship. Even though affairs between officers and enlisted personnel were to be discouraged, Tricia - as well as Syke - figured that if it didn't affect their professional performance, then it was none of their business.
"I'm heading back to admin," Tricia announced, "I'll chat with you later, Chief," she said. With that, she walked out.
"Chat to you about what, George?" Halley asked after she left the area.
"The latest readiness reports on the availability of serviceable vipers, Carla," Krag replied, "It's that time of the month."
"Keeping up with paperwork after the rest of the fleet is long-gone doesn't make much sense," Halley remarked. Krag shrugged.
"It keeps the crews busy," Krag answered, "and it makes for efficiency."
"Well, I want to thank you for keeping all of Spar One's fighters on the line," Halley said with a smile. After quickly checking to see that no one was looking, she leaned in close, briefly kissed, then hugged him.
"See you at 2100 in the rec room?" she asked, after breaking the hug. Krag nodded.
"It's a date. See you then," he said, winking at her. Smiling broadly, Halley went back to join her pilots in the ready room. She hoped that there would be no alerts around that time. Dates were getting to be a rather rare commodity these days, she thought ruefully.
It was during this time up in CIC that Captain Sanders was getting the first decodes from the intercepted Cylon transmissions. It had taken the code-breaking software a while to decode it as the code was a new one, but it was nothing that the software couldn't handle. The first few intercepts were items relating to the laying of the minefield, which helped make Helo's initial survey map more accurate, but then..... He turned and called over Commander Cain. These decoded intercepts were worth a thousand times their weight in tylium!
CHAPTER THREE: Back on the Scent
"One of the intercepts is an alert message, Commander," Sanders reported, once Cain had walked up to him, "and it directly affects us!" Cain held out his hand for the printout. Sanders handed it to Cain, who read it with heightened interest: DESTRUCTION OF SENTINEL OUTPOST EPSILON ALPHA IN ANOTIAN SECTOR EVALUATED AS DUE TO HOSTILE ACTION FROM HUMAN WARSHIP. INITIAL ASSESSMENT INDICATES, REPEAT INDICATES, BATTLESTAR TYPE WARSHIP CALLED GALACTICA RESPONSIBLE. HOWEVER, THIS ASSESSMENT CONFLICTS WITH OTHER INTELLIGENCE PLACING GALACTICA IN VICINITY OF PROMAR SECTOR. THEREFORE, UNTIL CONFLICT OF INTELLIGENCE IS RECTIFIED, ASSUME OTHER UNKNOWN HUMAN WARSHIPS ACTIVE AND MAINTAIN CURRENT ALERT STATUS.
"You're right, Comms," Cain replied, waving Tolen over. As Tolen came up, Cain handed him the printout. Tolen's reaction was similar to Cain's.
"So they think we may be the GALACTICA," Tolen said, "They fell for those fake shoulder patches."
"Better yet, they're also providing us with the first firm indications of the location of the GALACTICA," Cain said with a smile, referring to the Promar sector reference.
"But the problem is that the Promar Sector is a remote sector, and one of the larger ones. If the GALACTICA is still there, then she will not be at all easy to locate," Sanders pointed out. Cain nodded and went over to the navigation table. After pulling up an astronomical society map of the Promar Sector - the best that they had to work with, Cain looked at it intently for a couple of minutes, then turned to both Tolen and Sanders.
"Bill Adama chose well," Cain summarized, "that sector is way past the Red Line, and is large. Easy to hide in, plus a large number of star systems to allow for the possibility of provisioning."
Just then, a communications technician handed Sanders another printout. Sanders scanned it, then handed it to Cain. This communications read: COMMAND BASE STAR INFORMS TRAP SET FOR VALHALLA STATION FAILED. FIVE OPERATIVES MIA AS RESULT. ONE BASE STAR DESTROYED, ANOTHER SEVERELY DAMAGED. STATION VANISHED WITHOUT TRACE, ALONG WITH TWO MEDUSA-CLASS CUTTERS DOCKED AT STATION. INTELLIGENCE SUSPECTS ASSISTED FTL-JUMP FROM UNKNOWN VESSEL CAUSE OF STATION DISAPPEARANCE. ADDITIONAL INTELLIGENCE EVALUATES BASE STAR DESTRUCTION DUE TO NUCLEAR DEVICE. DAMAGE TO SECOND BASE STAR DUE TO PEREGRINE-CLASS GUNSHIP. MAINTAIN ALERT.
"Valhalla Station?" Tolen remarked after Cain passed him the report, "that's a Colonial Intra-stellar Search And Rescue station back in the Cyrannus System."
"To be exact, it was in Libron's orbit," Sanders clarified.
"Those stations would need a capital ship to make an FTL-jump, so it is more than possible that there are other survivors out here," Cain commented.
"The Cylons seem to agree," Sanders said, passing along another printout, "and this decoded intercept makes for interesting reading."
"All of it is interesting," Cain said as he took the printout. But he could see why Sanders would make that comment after reading this message. It read: FOLLOW-UP FOR PREVIOUS ALERT MESSAGES. INTELLIGENCE STATES ONE HUNDRED EIGHTEEN BATTLESTAR-TYPE WARSHIPS CONFIRMED DESTROYED. WITH EXCEPTION OF GALACTICA, UNACCOUNTED FOR WARSHIPS OF THIS TYPE ARE ITHACA, PEGASUS, AND PROMETHEUS. IN ADDITION, THREE RECENTLY DECOMMISSIONED BATTLECRUISER-TYPE WARSHIPS DESIGNATED AVENGER, COURAGEOUS, AND GOLIATH ARE ALSO UNACCOUNTED FOR. UNTIL INTELLIGENCE UPDATES THE FINAL DISPOSITION OF THE AFOREMENTIONED WARSHIPS, ASSUME THAT ONE OR MORE OF THEM MAY STILL BE OPERATIONAL AND PLAN ACCORDINGLY.
"One warship at least, if Valhalla Station had made a successful jump," Tolen said, after reading the report, "and the Cylons are not sure that we have been destroyed or not," he finished, pointing to the name of their battlestar on the printout..
"Do you think that these communications could be a ruse to lure us into a trap either back in the Cyrannus sector or in the Promar sector?” Cain asked Sanders.
"They were using a new code protocol. It did take the decryption routines a little while to crack it. If they wanted us to hear it, they would have used an older protocol. Plus, if they knew where we were, why have two base stars seed a system with mines in full view of a scout, then play these messages for the scout's benefit, when they could have just as easily jumped to where the PEGASUS was in order to give battle?" he replied.
Cain nodded. This did not have the feel of a trap. The Cylons would have committed a large search force had they known generally where they were. Subtlety was not their strong suit.
"So it looks like there are fleet survivors back in the vicinity of our home system. At least one of the Peregrines, but in addition at least one other capital ship," Cain said, "but those messages say nothing unfortunately about where the station went to. However, with this information about the GALACTICA, we can now narrow our search some. Once we find the GALACTICA, then we can both search for this other group of survivors."
"There's something else too," Sanders said quietly, gesturing to a conference room just off from CIC. Cain nodded and he, Sanders, and Tolen walked into it. After closing the door, Sanders locked it and turned to face them.
"That report on Valhalla Station confirms what I've suspected. That reference to operatives means that the Cylons must have a number of humanoid agents,” Sanders announced quietly, "Both I and Doctor Ashley have theorized that the Cylons had infiltrated the colonies and the military with these engineered humans. We suspect that at least one of them is here on board the PEGASUS, after the autopsy of the dead crewman, and the failure by normal means to expose the agent."
"Don't you think that you and the good doctor may be over-reacting?" Tolen asked. The hypothesis sounded fantastic.
"We can't afford not to overreact - particularly in this circumstance," Cain answered, "We have to assume the worst-case scenario. So what do you recommend?" he asked Sanders.
"We are keeping a close watch on the forty-six suspects, as you know," Sanders said, "I'm trying to work on a plan where the agent will expose him-or-herself, without actually compromising the PEGASUS, but it will take time," he concluded.
"At least by keeping them under close scrutiny, it will disincline the agent to take any risks," Tolen pointed out. Cain nodded in agreement.
"Keep working on it though, Comms," Cain said, "but the sooner we can find out who it is, the better."
Cain then gestured to Sanders to unlatch the door. It was time to get back into CIC.
As the trio of senior officers re-entered CIC, the Core Command operator came up to them.
"Sorry to interrupt, Sirs," she said, "but the other raptor patrols are returning. They have reported nothing of consequence."
"Recall all of our viper patrols as well," Cain ordered, "As soon as all of our patrols are back on board, we'll be making another FTL-jump."
As the operator returned to Core Command to issue the recall order, Cain went to grab the inter-ship commlink. He keyed it, causing a humming tone, thus calling the ship's crew to attention.
"This is the Commander. As soon as our patrols return, we will be making an extended FTL jump. We have just acquired solid evidence that indicates other surviving elements of the Colonial Fleet are continuing the fight. In addition, we have also obtained reliable information pointing to the general location of the battlestar GALACTICA. The Lords of Kobol willing, we will soon find her, then we will get back into the fight as well. That is all." He then hung up the commlink.
The crewmen on and off duty flashed smiles and thumbs-up gestures to their crewmates. With that piece of good news, the personnel began to hope that they would soon find the GALACTICA.
Down in the Quartermaster department, the blonde woman thought about the commander's announcement. How would they be getting that sort of information, she wondered. Despite her desire to know, she knew that she had to tread very carefully. The recent medical examinations had not tripped her up, plus the way her brain was configured made attempts to use hypnosis or truth drugs useless. But she was still under close surveillance, along with forty-five others.
She thought that it would probably be best to wait until the PEGASUS did, in fact, find the GALACTICA. With this ship leading her to their other quarry, that would put all the eggs in one basket - to coin a human phrase. Once there, she would find some way to alert her colleagues to their location. But for now, she had to keep a low profile. Underestimating the humans could be disastrous, but if an earlier opportunity did present itself.....
Down in Bay Five, the midshipmen were exchanging smiles at the news. Higgins was in a good mood too, but there was still a job to do.
"Okay, we've had our good news," he said, "and when we make the FTL-jump, we should be closer to our goal, but I still have this little task of getting you all ready for flying vipers. Once you all prove to my satisfaction that you have understood the avionics and warbook systems, then we will arrange simulator time. I expect you all to be ready for that within two days," Higgins warned.
Most of the midshipmen rolled their eyes, but they had the good sense not to verbally object. Higgins was putting them through a crash program by compressing a twelve month course into two weeks. They all knew that this could be their only chance to earn the wings of a viper pilot, and the early commission that went along with it. There would be a lot of studying into the late hours over the next few nights, but both the wings and the ensign rank insignia made for a good incentive.
As Higgins was getting the cadets to understand the function of the warbook in conjunction with the avionics, Tricia was calling in on Wing Administration. She noticed Ensign Vansen working on a large pile of forms with the assistance of a couple of yeomen.
"Good news, huh, Jet?" Tricia said as she walked in. Vansen nodded. Any good news was something to rejoice about.
"Well, don't get too comfortable. Where the GALACTICA is, there will probably be a lot of Cylons trying to hunt her down and that means more risk of our getting discovered," she pointed out, "so we'll have to increase our wing readiness across the board. That means you and I will both have our work cut out for us," she warned.
Captain Syke thought likewise. He had finished talking to Helo and Dundee about the minefield and their tracking of the base stars earlier. Just then, his communicator beeped. Syke picked it up.
"CAG here," he said.
"This is Colonel Tolen," the voice on the other line replied.
"Yes, X.O.?" Syke answered.
"Have you finished with the debriefing yet?" Tolen asked.
"Just wrapped it up now," Syke replied, "The hard copy of the debrief should be up to you very soon."
"Okay then," Tolen acknowledged, "Put Lt. Helo on, please." Syke passed the communicator over to Helo.
"This is Helo," he said.
"Lieutenant, are you familiar with the Peregrine gunship?" Tolen asked. Helo was surprised at the question.
"Affirmative, Colonel," he replied.
"In that case, please report to CIC. Tolen out." The link was terminated as Tolen shut off his communicator.
"I heard about the Peregrine," Syke said as Helo stood, "What do you know about it?"
"I was one of several raptor personnel called in to do an assessment of it's systems a couple of weeks before the war," Helo explained, "but why does the X.O. want to know about it?" he wondered aloud.
"Well, the sooner that you get up there, the sooner you will be able to find out, Helo," Syke said, gesturing toward the door. Helo nodded, then headed out.
While Helo headed up to CIC, Syke decided to head over to Wing administration. If Tricia had not already done so, then he would need to let the administrative staff know that the closer they got to the GALACTICA, the more likely Cylon contact would be, so further contingency plans would need to worked out and implemented.
Over the next hour, the Landing Control Officers of both landing bays were guiding the various patrols back onto the flight decks. None of the patrols had reported seeing anything, which was good news. At last, all of the patrols were back aboard. Core Command got the word from both LCO's.
"Port and Starboard LCO's report all patrols back on board and secured," the Core command operator reported.
"Very well, start retracting the landing bays," Tolen ordered. As the Core Command operator activated the controls to start the retraction, Tolen turned to the Helm officer.
"Have you got the co-ordinates inputted into the navi-comp?" he asked. Hem nodded.
"Very well, warm up the FTL drive and start your countdown as soon as the bays are retracted," Tolen ordered. He then turned back to Core Command.
"Alert the CAG's of both wings to get their ready alert squadrons in launch readiness. We'll be going to Condition Two as soon as we exit the jump," he said. The Core Command operator nodded, then contacted both CAGS.
Syke got the page. He picked up his communicator and contacted Lt. Halley, saying "Ratchet, get your squadron to their fighters. We'll be going to Condition Two as soon as we exit the jump. The jump will commence in two minutes."
"Understood, Bojay," Halley replied. She turned to her pilots and jerked a thumb at the door. The pilots grabbed their helmets and ran out the door to man their vipers.
Over in the Starboard bay, Captain Lance Voight was doing likewise, directing the C.O. of Knight Three to get his people ready as well. Both alert squadrons were well-trained. By the time that the landing bays had fully retracted, Both Spar One and Knight Three Squadrons were ready for deployment.
"CAG's report ready alert squadrons in place. Landing bays retracted and locked in position," Core Command reported to Tolen. Tolen looked at Cain, who nodded. Tolen keyed the P.A. system, while watching the countdown clock steadily click down to zero.
"All hands, we are preparing to jump. FTL-entry in 6......5......4......3.....2.....1......jump!"
The helm officer hit the activation switch. The familiar feeling of dizziness and nausea hit everyone on board - except for the blonde woman, who was feigning it - as the PEGASUS made the jump.
CHAPTER FOUR: The Promar Sector
"Set Condition Two, repeat: Set Condition Two throughout the ship," the P.A. system announced just after the PEGASUS exited the jump.
As the second watch joined the first watch in getting to their alert stations, Cain looked at Sanders.
"Where are we now, Comms?" he asked. Sanders looked at the Helm Officer, who gave him a printout from the navi-comp. Sanders looked at the co-ordinates on the slip of paper, then checked the star chart on one of the screens adorning the DRADIS console.
"According to the navi-comp," Sanders announced, "the battlestar PEGASUS has emerged in the near quadrant of the Promar Sector." The crewmen who heard Sanders applauded.
"Very well, Comms," Cain replied, "Have Comscan run an initial deep space sensor sweep. I want to know what's out there."
Tolen was over at Core Command. He said to the operator, "Have both wings resume their screening patrols around the PEGASUS. Keep the ready alert squadrons in their fighters for the time being."
"Yes, Colonel," the operator replied. Tolen nodded as he saw the screening patrols launch and take up flanking positions around the battlestar. With the likelihood of Cylons in this sector, they would need to keep especially watchful.
"Comscan is not detecting any ships in this quadrant," Sanders reported after a few minutes, "but there are a number of systems within raptor FTL range."
"Anything being picked up by wireless receivers?" Cain asked. Sanders shook his head.
So. Their first good look of the Promar Sector had revealed nothing to indicate either human or Cylon, but the systems ahead could provide some clues. After looking once more at the DRADIS console displays, he made his decision.
Turning to Tolen, he said "Stand the ship down from Condition Two, but from here on out, no alert status will go below Condition Three," he ordered, "And have the comscan data on those star systems relayed to both wings. We will need to start surveying these systems immediately."
Condition Three was a heightened state of alert - though with still just one watch on duty. The difference was that from now on one squadron from each wing would be on rotating immediate launch readiness (the crews in and by their fighters, instead of the ready room on standby). Also, two in four weapons stations stayed on a rotating alert. This was deemed hostile territory, so Cain knew that going back to normal routine was out of the question; therefore, maintaining a higher state of alert was mandated. Cain knew, however, that doing this for an indefinite period would start drawing down on the crew's reserves and affect morale, though not as badly as constantly having the crew going from normal routine to Condition Two and back down again every time an anomaly occurred. The lesser of two evils, he thought to himself.
As the new General Order outlining Condition Three as the now-lowest alert status made it's way around the wings, more than a few pilots rolled their eyes. Being in the cockpit of a fighter for four hours at a time on immediate launch readiness would not be overly pleasant. Half of the vipers would have the cockpits manned, and the other half would have their pilots outside, though staying close to their ships. After the first four hours had elapsed, then each half would trade off. The ready room would be manned by the next squadron in the rotation. Being down either in the cockpit or sitting in collapsible chairs right beside their fighters would be boring. At least in the ready room, pilots could lay on their day beds or play cards.
"You get the feeling that we're not going to be the most favorite officers amongst our pilots, Commander?" Tolen asked Cain rhetorically after the General Order had been acknowledged by the two CAG's.
"The hell with that, Colonel," Cain replied, "I don't want anyone on this battlestar to love me, I want them to fight. And now we're here in the Promar Sector, we are more than likely going to be seeing a lot more action."
Sanders walked up to both of them as Cain finished his sentence. He held a sheaf of papers in his hand.
"PsyOps has given me their readiness for our subterfuge plans, Commander," Sanders announced, "and once the CAG's have been briefed, then we can implement them.”
Tolen took the sheaf of forms and quickly scanned through them. At last, he looked up at Cain.
"The pilots will need to be careful about what they say from here on out if this is going to work," Tolen pointed out, "but if they don't slip up during their transmissions, this could really throw the Cylons for a loop."
Cain looked at the list of recommendations. Now that they were in the same reported sector as the GALACTICA, they could more convincingly impersonate that ship whenever they went into action. From a distance, the GALACTICA and PEGASUS looked the same. If the pilots or communicators on board could refrain from using the word ‘PEGASUS' or anything that could be traced to the PEGASUS, then the Cylons would think that the GALACTICA was using frequent FTL-jumps in this sector. All references to Silver Spar and Black Knight wings would have to be stopped though as Cylon Intelligence would more than likely know that those wings were not based on the GALACTICA, so just using their call-signs on air, and having duty pilots remove their velcro-backed PEGASUS shoulder patches before going on patrol should also keep their real identity a secret.
Nodding, he handed the recommendations back to Sanders with a curt, "Approved. Let the CAG's know."
Sanders nodded his acknowledgment and headed over to Core Command in order to relay the new instructions.
Syke was in the administration annex when he got the recommendations. After he had gotten them from Core Command, he asked Tricia to call all three squadrons of Silver Spar wing into the briefing room. He then took out a pad and started making notes. He was still making notes when Tricia informed him that all three squadron commanders had just let her know that their pilots - apart from the ones on patrol - were either in the ready room, or tied into the ready room frequency on their vipers in the launch bay. Syke nodded. With Macklin's Spar Two Squadron on rotating alert, they had to remain in their ships.
Gesturing for Tricia to follow him, Syke left the annex and headed down to the ready room. Vansen, who was still in the annex, would listen in on his communicator.
As Syke entered, the assembled pilots stood. With a curt "Seats" command coming from Tricia, the pilots sat down and both Syke and Tricia walked to the front of the ready room.
"For the benefit of those who do not know," Syke announced, "We are now in the Promar Sector. We have strong reason to believe that the GALACTICA is somewhere in this system. Unfortunately, that also means that there will be Cylon search forces in this sector as well, hence the perpetual Condition Three Alert."
Syke paused as he let this piece of information sink in amongst the pilots of his wing.
"PsyOps have come up with a plan that should take the heat off the GALACTICA some," Syke said next, "and since we are in the same sector, this plan should have a good chance of confusing the hell out of the Cylons, but a lot of it will hinge on us."
"What's our part in this plan, CAG?" Lt. Halley asked.
"Well, Ratchet, we're going to make the Cylons think that whenever we make an attack, that we're the GALACTICA," Syke replied, "From now on, there will be no references to the PEGASUS, or to Silver Spar Wing when communicating over ship-to-ship wireless. PEGASUS will henceforth be known by the call-sign ‘Home Plate.' Use ONLY call-signs when communicating. In addition, the PEGASUS shoulder patch will be removed from your uniforms before you get into a viper and you will only put it back on after you get out. The tail numbers of the wing's fighters and the PEGASUS name on the upper fin are being obliterated by our support crews as we speak."
While Syke was filling his wing in on the new policy, Lance Voight was doing likewise to his pilots over in the other landing bay's briefing room. Voight did not like the idea of having to remove the PACIFICA patch from his uniform - unlike other survivors from the fleet now on board the PEGASUS. Voight's wing stubbornly retained the insignia of the PACIFICA on their uniforms - but realized that the plan was sound and that they had to play their part.
"Won't the Cylons seeing a PACIFICA patch confuse them all the more?" a pilot from Knight Two asked.
"It could, but the idea is to give the Cylons the impression that no other battlestars besides the GALACTICA are here in this sector," Voight explained, "Besides, the PACIFICA was known to be a part of Task Force Five and an intercepted Cylon message shows the PEGASUS as the one unconfirmed destroyed ship from that task force. If the tin-heads see anything regarding the PACIFICA, then they could draw the conclusion that the PEGASUS did survive, given the close proximity both battlestars were to each other over Caprica."
The pilots were silent, thinking about what their CAG had said. It made sense, but they still didn't like having to do it.
Back over in the port landing bay, Syke had just dismissed his pilots, but asked the squadron commanders to remain for a quick supplementary private briefing. Lt. Andrew ‘Shooter' Macklin - the commander of Spar Two - was still with his squadron sitting in his viper on ready launch alert, but had his communicator tied in on a private frequency, so he could listen and speak via the intercom on the front desk. Lt. Chester ‘Pacer' Warden - the commander of Spar Three, and of course, Spar One's Lt. Carla Halley were now sitting alone in the ready room facing Syke and Tricia. While Halley's squadron headed back to their quarters, Warden's hung around outside the ready room. They were the next squadron in Silver Spar Wing on the new rotation schedule, but until Syke had finished talking with the C.O.'s, they had to wait until he was finished with the Ready Room.
"Ratchet," Syke said to Halley, "You have any questions you didn't want your pilots to hear?" Halley shook her head.
"How about you, Shooter?" Syke said to the intercom.
"Negative, CAG," Macklin responded.
"Everything okay down there in the tubes with your squadron?" Syke asked him next.
"The newer pilots are getting the message about doing their ablutions before sitting and waiting in a viper for a few hours," Macklin replied with a chuckle. That got smiles in the ready room. While a squadron was on immediate launch readiness, pilots had to remain in their fighters, which meant that the newer hands had to make frequent use of their viper's waste disposal system, which was not the easiest thing to get used to.
"And how about you, Pacer?" Syke asked Warden.
"There is one thing that needs to be raised," Warden said slowly, "and that is planning for the possibility of capture. This misinformation plan of PsyOps is all very well, but if any of our pilots are captured, they will end up telling the Cylons everything. Bravery has nothing to do with it - no one can hold out indefinitely against Cylon interrogation techniques."
"Each pilot will be issued suicide pills," Syke replied quietly, "And if any of them objects to this policy, make sure that they are shown the dossier on that captured Cylon penal colony from the first war. I think they'll then realize that we are doing them a favor by providing these pills."
"Is Captain Voight doing a similar issue to his wing's pilots?" Warden asked. Syke nodded.
"We both had a talk about this before this briefing, then we spoke to Doctor Ashley. He had a lot of these pills in secure storage. They are quick and painless. Death will occur within three seconds after swallowing. Make sure that the pilots know about that also," Syke advised.
For a few seconds, everyone was quiet, thinking about the suicide pills. They knew that given the choice, they would choose quick and painless to slow and drawn out death, but the pilots they commanded were human after all, and may have other thoughts. It wasn't the easiest thing, telling pilots to kill themselves, but there were not any other options they could see. If a pilot faced capture and rescue was a non-option, what else could be done?
"What I need from you three," Syke then said, "is for you to meet with your counterparts in Black Knight Wing and come up with new squadron call-signs. ‘Squadron Three' may sound okay, but if Black Knight Wing has Knight Three Squadron deployed at the same time as Spar Three Squadron, it could get a little confusing. I guess that's all," Syke concluded.
As Syke, Tricia, and Carla Halley left the ready room, Lt. Warden gestured to his pilots waiting outside that they could now go into the ready room. When the next watch came up, they would head down to the launch bay to man the ready alert fighters. Until then - unless a higher alert status was called, this room would be their ‘home-away-from-home.'
"Anything you want to tell us, Pacer?" his squadron X.O. asked as the other pilots sat down in easy chairs or lay down on day-beds - pulled out from wall storage units - and tried to relax the best they could.
"All in due time," was Warden's answer. "Let's just make the best of this shift for now," he advised. They would know soon enough from the CAG, he thought. In the meantime, he grabbed some coffee from the servitor and walked over to a sofa, where he sat down and put up his feet. Might as well enjoy the comfort for as long as possible, he thought......
Back in the Cyrannus Sector, Number One was doing the exact opposite of Lt. Benson. Pacing the command deck, she was digesting a report from one of the searching task forces in the Anotian Sector. Aside from the ususal items regarding location and disposition of the task force - and their minelaying ‘collateral' mission, it all boiled down to three words: SEARCH RESULTS NEGATIVE.
Number One knew that their quarry had now long-since left the Anotian Sector. Ordering the task forces deployed there to finish their minelaying and to stand by for new orders, she went to her alcove just off from the deck and willed herself to sit down and stop giving in to the human emotion of irritation. Number One really envied the pure cybernetic Cylon models for their sterile, uncluttered minds. Of course she knew that to cultivate the human qualities and to present them in humanoid form was what made the attack a complete success, but these emotions really were bothersome.
The negative contact reports did not provide any answers she wanted. Plus the recent battle fought by other unknown human forces over Sagittaria had completely baffled their battle computers. The few human survivors from the colonies were really proving themselves to be a thorn in her side.
"Number Eleven," Number One said to another humanoid Cylon who had been silently watching her, "We have to start thinking more ‘outside the box' in regards to countering these guerilla forces. Our Battle Computers cannot come up with a precise strategy, various assets of ours are being attacked and destroyed with classic hit-and-run tactics, and getting definitive intelligence is being thwarted as a result. We were engineered to mimic human thought and emotion, so we would be able to anticipate any move the humans may make. Now the only thing that my silica brain is mimicking is anger at our incompetence.”
"Number One," Number Eleven replied, "Our operation has been over 98% successful. We control the colonies, so these handful of survivors can't do much more than hit-and-run."
"Today does not matter. Tomorrow does not matter. What matters is what will happen if any survivors prevail," Number One replied acidly (another annoying human mannerism), "So if we are to survive in the long term, all of the colonials have to be destroyed. The question is: how?"
"Our traps have so far not been successful, I agree," Number Eleven replied, "but by the laws of averages, they cannot continue to do so indefinitely."
"I don't want probabilities, I want certainties!" Number One shouted. She then stopped, suddenly aware of the raw emotion she had let out. Number Eleven was surprised too at the display of emotion, but being a humanoid Cylon as well, knew that these human emotions were not the easiest things to control.
"What is certain is that the Battlestar GALACTICA and the civilian ships it is protecting is still on the defensive," Number Eleven replied, "The recent events in the Optus and Anotian Sectors have been at the hands of at least one Colonial Warship, and that Valhalla Station had assistance of someone in order to escape. It could be all the work of the GALACTICA, but my ‘gut feeling,' " Number Eleven said with a smile, "thinks otherwise."
Number One nodded at this. She had an instinctive feeling that other elements of the Colonial Fleet had survived. The six unaccounted-for warships - not including GALACTICA - and the recent events both here and out there made this scenario the most likely.
"Very well, for the sake of argument, we assume that there is at least one - possibly two other surviving warships. But without knowing what they are, and who is in charge of them, it still leaves the question unanswered of what to do," Number One pointed out.
"I've run a check using the captured Fleet Headquarters records regarding the commanders of the unaccounted-for warships," Number Eleven replied, "The three battlecruisers, if any of them survived, would have been crewed by survivors of the initial attack, so I cannot provide answers there, but the information we have on the battlestar commanders are more concise."
"Go ahead, Number Eleven, you have my undivided attention," Number One prompted.
"The PROMETHEUS - on the eve of the attack - was commanded by Commander Justin Buchanan. His psych-profile shows him to be a very capable Commander, though more of a by-the-book person than one with real independent initiative. This battlestar was the flagship of a task force under the command of Rear-Admiral Morrow. Morrow was the commandant in charge of the Colonial Academy and was ordered to take command of the task force immediately after our attack commenced. Both of these officers working together could plan and execute a successful attack strategy.”
After pausing to ensure that Number One had fully absorbed his brief so far, he continued.
"The ITHACA was commanded by a Colonel Grant Lennox. As the ITHACA had been relegated to target duties, it was not fully operational, had but a skeleton crew, no operational squadrons, and it was not attached to any task force. In fact, it was the next ship to be scheduled to be decommissioned. Given how unprepared this ship would be, it's one I'm inclined to believe would not be involved in anything. Given the total destruction of the Vestral Fleet Yards, it's more than likely that this battlestar - which was based there just before the war started - no longer exists, despite the lack of solid evidence confirming this," Number Eleven stated.
"And the third?" Number One asked, concurring with Number Eleven's assessment of the Battlestar ITHACA.
"It's the PEGASUS. Commanded by a very able human named Garris Cain," Number Eleven answered, "Cain runs a very tight ship, but his crew are completely loyal to him. However, he is a person who is more governed by impulse than caution, so if the PEGASUS did indeed survive, I would have expected Commander Cain to make his presence well-known before now, given this aggressive streak of his. But if Cain had become more prudent in his actions, then this battlestar would be the one to worry about - if it survived that is," Number Eleven concluded.
"The PEGASUS was presumed destroyed along with the rest of the Fifth Task Force, correct?" Number One asked. Number Eleven nodded.
"When Picon Fleet Headquarters was destroyed - along with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the commander of the Fifth Task Force became the Fleet Commander. Admiral Nagala had established his command on board the Battlestar ATLANTIA. Both he and the ATLANTIA have been confirmed as destroyed," Number Eleven said, "And our communications intercepts showed that both he - as well as the commander of the PACIFICA - had sent out signals to the remainder of the fleet still in operation at the time that the destruction of the entire task force was imminent."
"That would indicate that the PEGASUS was indeed destroyed," Number One said, "but you obviously are not convinced," she added, noticing Number Eleven's demeanor.
"This is pure speculation, of course," Number Eleven said hesitantly, "but what if those messages were meant for our ears instead - sent out in order to cover the escape of the PEGASUS?"
Number One's eyes widened as she absorbed that hypothesis. A lot of the intelligence relied on wireless intercepts. Given the confusion of battle, such a stratagem would have a good chance of working.
"So, you think either the PROMETHEUS or PEGASUS escaped in the confusion of battle, took on supplies at Molecay before destroying it - and a base star in the process, and a few weeks later in the Vardon Sector, intercepted and booby-trapped one of our tankers, which had the direct result of causing another base star to be so heavily damaged that it eventually had to be scuttled - and then helping themselves to all the fuel that they could carry from one of our largest refineries before destroying it as well?" Number One inquired, "And then after destroying a minefield patrol later on in the Optus Sector and evading the minefield altogether, it turns up in another sector in which disguised as the GALACTICA, took out the Epsilon Alpha sentinel post, and leaving us false clues," she finished.
"The humans have a saying: ‘Eliminate the impossible and what is left, however improbable, must be the answer,' " Number Eleven replied, "The Valhalla Station incident's timing leads me to conclude that this incident is unrelated to the others, and given the remoteness of the Anotian Sector in relation to the Promar sector, I can't believe that Commander Adama would leave the ships that the GALACTICA is escorting totally unprotected in order to attack just a sentinel post. The benefits would not outweigh the risks."
"The humans have another saying," Number One responded, "It goes: ‘Your theory is crazy, but it's not crazy enough to be true.' Still, it's better than what we've come up with so far. Have you run this hypothesis of yours through the battle computer?" she asked next.
"I have," Number Eleven answered, "It rates the scenario possible, but not likely."
"Which is another way of saying that one hypothesis is as good as the other," Number One concluded, "so it still does not help us in deciding what to do."
"If you want to hear another human saying, there's a good one for this circumstance: ‘It doesn't matter what you decide as that you decide.' This indecision of ours is only benefitting the human refugees. It forces us to divert attention from the GALACTICA," Number Eleven answered.
"Then give me your recommendation," Number One demanded.
"We go on the assumption that one of the two most likely battlestar candidates for survival was responsible for all that had occurred in the Vardon, Optus, and Anotian sectors over the last few weeks," Number Eleven said, "We continue to concentrate our primary effort on finding and destroying the GALACTICA and it's convoy. But, we keep our current forces in this system here to cover any further attack efforts by the humans from Valhalla Station, and we keep our static forces in the remote sectors only on alert until the other battlestar is located and identified. As it's only one warship, it's damage potential is not all that high."
"The damage wreaked so far is actually quite high," Number One admonished, but she liked the plan. Tackle the certainties one at a time and that will mean a systematic - rather than piecemeal - approach. The GALACTICA first, then the PROMETHEUS or PEGASUS or whatever ship it was, then the Valhalla survivors. After a few more seconds of thought, she decided.
"Have the fleet deploy according to your recommendation," she ordered.
"By your command," Number Eleven replied. He nodded to her, then left the alcove in order to proceed to the communications area. The new protocol would be dispatched by wireless and FTL- courier drones on a priority basis. Once enacted, Number Eleven knew, this would stop the dividing up of forces both within and without the Promar Sector and get them fully committed to finding and destroying the GALACTICA. No more wild goose chases. If the other battlestar did more hit-and-run raids, let them. Distraction time was over, and once the GALACTICA had been dealt with, the others could then be similarly taken care of....
CHAPTER FIVE: Hunters and Hunted
The PEGASUS, under it's new operational status, was heading towards a nearby system on sublight drive. It had been two days since their initial appearance in the Promar Sector. Two raptors had been deployed from the PEGASUS to start an initial reconnaissance. The probe was led by Lt. Derek Connor (callsign "Dookie”) from Black Knight Wing, with Lt. Helo piloting the other raptor. Raptors were now to be deployed in pairs and all were to be armed, Commander Cain had decreed.
"Eyeball One to Eyeball Two," Connor communicated to Helo, "My navi-comp is all set for the jump. How about you, Helo?" he asked.
"We're good to go, Dookie," Helo replied. He rolled his eyes a bit at the new call-sign for the raptors, but the new standing orders meant nothing to be said that could indicate the existence of the PEGASUS. At least the call-signs used by the pilots was an in-house thing and thus not part of the FleetOps database. So if the Cylons did manage to get intelligence after occupying Picon, at least the pilot call-signs wouldn't be there for them to take advantage of....
"Okay, Helo," Connor acknowledged, "commence jump in 5......4.....3......2......1.......execute!" With the familiar gut-wrenching feeling, the raptors made their jump to the periphery of the target star system. Both raptors immediately went to silent mode with engines shut down and the sensor platform on passive sensors only. Their wireless communications were switched over to the secure direct-line laser commlink.
"Looks like a system with some planets," Petty Officer Jason Dundee reported, "Spectral analysis shows them to have atmospheres with one possibly able to support life."
"Sounds good, Snoopy," Helo replied, "Did you get that, Dookie?" he asked.
"Yeah," Connor acknowledged, "Good work, Snoopy," he added.
"Thanks, Dookie," Dundee replied. He liked the fact that rank meant nothing out here. These probes were definitely not the place for formalities.
"That planet that Snoopy locked in on," Connor said to his RSO, Petty Officer Hank "Eye-Spy" Parker - another recent trainee of Helo's, "Can you make anything further out from your platform?"
"With just the passive sensors, Dookie," Parker replied, "not much extra. There is a sizeable moon orbiting the planet - just peeked up over the terminator in fact, but unless you want to start up active sensors, we can't really see much more at this range."
"You're not detecting any EM emissions, Eye-Spy?" Connor asked next. Parker shook his head.
"At this range, only natural EM from the system's sun," he replied. Connor thought about it, then spoke to Helo.
"I think we can risk getting closer in," he said, "so get your navi-comps powered up and punch in a jump to the moon of that planet."
"Both of us together?" Helo asked.
"We've got our missiles, but as we're not exactly vipers, we will have to rely on each other. We stay together," Connor decided. Helo nodded. That was all right with him. He wished that the surviving Peregrine was here though..... He had spent some time after the last mission filling Commander Cain and Colonel Tolen on the attributes of the Peregrine. He had been quite pleased to hear that at last one of the prototypes had survived and was giving the tin-heads a hard time back in the Colonies. He would have loved to have known who was piloting the ship as he knew most of the test pilots attached to the project.
After getting the new FTL co-ordinates from the navi-comp, Helo had Dundee punch in the new figures while Parker did likewise over on Eyeball One.
"Eyeball Two reports we're set to go," Helo communicated.
"Same here, so let's commence countdown. Remember - silent routine when we reach the far side of the moon."
"Understood, Eyeball One," Helo replied. Helo wasn't annoyed by Connor restating the obvious. Out here, one could not take any chances, so reminders were the rule.
"Jumping in 5......4......3.......2......1........execute!" Connor said. The FTL trip, though shorter than the one from the PEGASUS, was no less uncomfortable. But they were quickly out of it as the raptors made their emergence on the far side of the moon from the planet. Immediately, they went into silent mode. They were now in an orbit that would shortly take them around the terminator and into view of the planet, so the more silent they were, the better.
"No EM emissions from the moon, Thank the Lords," Parker reported to Connor. Connor nodded. It seemed that so far, they were undetected.
"I'm not surprised," Connor responded, "It's just a pitted, airless piece of rock. Still, keep your eyes on your passive sensors," he reminded him.
On Eyeball Two, Helo had gotten similar information from Dundee. Now, with the raptors a couple of hundred yards apart, they were moving on their orbit and would soon come into sight of the planet.
Back on the PEGASUS, Sanders was still thinking about ways to expose the agent. So far, he and Doctor Ashley were approaching the problem from a medical standpoint and had gotten nowhere. Traditional detective work seemed to be the only way, but that would take a lot of time. Setting a trap was the best bet, but some subtlety was going to be needed so that their quarry wouldn't recognize it for what it is. Their presence in the Promar Sector was still unreported to the civilians, but given the old maxim that there were no secrets aboard ship, how much longer before the agent finds out? With the high probability of the GALACTICA being somewhere in this sector, that meant the high probability of more Cylons, which meant that this agent's presence would become a lot more dangerous.
‘Dangerous' was what Matt Higgins down in Bay Five had all twelve midshipmen write down on the palms of their hands, as part of a means to impress upon all of them the risks involved as viper pilots. A new directive from Core Command had required him to accelerate the training program, which forced him to make some training compromises. As the likelihood of more pilots being needed for strike missions had been increased with the heightened state of alert, he had kept the midshipmen in the simulators almost without a break, and it was starting to tell on them..
"Lieutenant," one of the midshipmen asked over the simulator commlink, "do you expect pilots to have to stay in their cockpits for this length of time?" They had been in the viper sims today for over six hours.
"On Condition Three status, you'll have to man your viper in the landing bay for four hour stretches, and on recon patrols, it could be for quite a lot longer," Higgins replied, "but the main reason you're stuck in these sims is not to familiarize yourselves with Condition Three or recon endurance. It's because your formation flying sucks, and being directionally unstable under those circumstances can be fatal to you and your wingman," he stated. Close proximity to other fighters meant keeping good formation.
"The automatic systems are supposed to handle items like that, aren't they?" another midshipman - one of the females - asked.
"Normally yes," Higgins replied, "but in order to earn your wings, you have to master all elements of flying on a manual basis. Very soon, you'll be strapped into a real Mark VII and then you'll be flung out the launch tube into space. What your wingman won't appreciate is for you to drift into him immediately after launch because you can't fly in formation. You don't master this sim, then you don't fly real-time, and you don't get those shiny wings and ensign's insignia. Got it?"
"Yes, Sir," the midshipmen replied in unison.
"In fighters, you forget the ‘sir's,' " Higgins admonished, "You still call me Lieutenant, like I said at the start of the first lesson, but otherwise, stay relaxed and focused."
Despite their dislike of him, the midshipmen understood what their instructor was trying to do. This program was rushed and the prospect for serious injury or death was high, but Higgins was trying to minimize this risk, and in doing so, was seeing if anyone would crack under the pressure. So far, all twelve were doing well, as would be expected from academy cadets, but Higgins knew that anyone - in the right circumstances - could succumb. Flying vipers was not for the weak-hearted.
The midshipmen were pretty proud of what they were achieving so far. They had been issued their flight suits - the initial sight of the VIPER patch took away most of their breaths, and not a few times the cadets had run their hands over the patch, and the patch on the other arm that stated BATTLESTAR PEGASUS - BSG89. It was in one of the patches on these newly issued uniforms, which had just been embroidered in the Quartermaster's Department, that the latest effort of the Cylon agent to alert her compatriots had been planted.
She had almost smiled at the subtlety of this plan. Even though her job was supposed to be non-ship-critical, and thus hard to throw a spanner in the works, it did allow for something to be done. Inside one of the PEGASUS patches was a small disc - less than a half-inch in diameter and paper-thin, which she had secreted aboard her person when she had been picked up on Caprica. She had hidden it inside her quarters just after the escape from Molecay and before Doctor Ashley had made his medical examination.
The disc itself was purely a ‘passive' device. It was coated with a compound which would react if any Cylon sensor sweep touched on it. Any craft lying inert would easily be mistaken as debris from a distance, but if this disc sensed a sensor sweep of Cylon origin, it would reflect back a highly concentrated ‘blip,' thus clearly showing up on sensors. She wanted to originally plant it on the surface of the PEGASUS, but thanks to the new security situation, EVA's were out of the question. So, she thought, how about someone taking it outside for her? With these new flight suits, that meant a pilot would be able to fly out - and if discovered by Cylon sensors - lead her compatriots back to the PEGASUS. Because she knew about the new standing order regarding insignia meant that the velcro-backed PEGASUS patch would be removed before flight - after all, she was responsible for maintaining the uniforms, she had placed the disc inside one of the VIPER patches, noticing that unlike the PEGASUS patch, it was permanently sewn on.
Now that the vipers had their tail numbers and ship identification markings obliterated, that left the PEGASUS patches. As the removal order was strictly followed and the patches would be collected and counted by the crew chiefs before the pilots could man their fighters, this was thought to be ample as not to tell any Cylons about their origin if captured or killed, but no one had thought about the VIPER patch......this omission had given the agent a means to alert her compatriots and to engage the PEGASUS.
All that was needed now was for an unsuspecting pilot to wear the flight suit with the patch and soon, the PEGASUS would be history. And if it was detected at the same time that the PEGASUS found the GALACTICA, so much the better, she thought.....
The raptors meanwhile were approaching the terminator of the moon. The raptors were still in silent mode as they crossed over to the near side of the moon, and thus getting their first clear look at this planet. The passive sensors were already recording their data.
As Eyeball Two had crossed the terminator ahead of Eyeball One, Dundee could start the initial data collection. What he saw was both gladdening and disappointing.
"Initial results shows that this planet has an atmosphere of eighteen percent oxygen content. Barely breathable," Dundee reported, "though that's better than a lot of other rocks we've encountered."
"Could it be a seeded planet?" Helo asked, referring to the long-defunct operation SEEDER.
"I'm inclined to doubt it," Dundee replied, "There's no vegetation there and very little water. No indications of surface minerals.......wait a minute," Dundee said suddenly, "There's a detection of EM emissions coming from beyond the horizon of the planet. Indications are of a ship of some kind. Running the signal through the decryption routine now."
"Okay," Helo said, relaying the information to Connor, whose raptor had just crossed the terminator. Dundee transmitted what he found to Parker. As both raptors were still coasting in orbit, and only had their passive sensors operating, they were still stealthy, but it made pin-pointing ships more difficult. It was a pity that the raptor's LIDAR could not be used under these conditions, Helo thought.
LIDAR was an acronym for Laser Infrared Detection and Ranging. It was the main detection method used in space. In short, it was a laser radar coupled with infrared detection, which unfortunately could also be easily detectable by it's emissions.
"Frakk," Dundee suddenly said. His decryption screen showed the words CYLON TRANSMISSION CHARACTERISTICS CONFIRMATION, "We've got tin-heads!"
"I read that too, Snoopy," Parker replied.
"Get an ID on the source of the transmission," Helo ordered Dundee. Dundee activated his optical sensors, and homed them in on the co-ordinates of the source. It definitely came from a ship of some kind that was in orbit.
Suddenly, his warbook, which was tied into the optical sensors and enhancement routines, came up with a match: CYLON BASE STAR - CONFIRMATION, it read.
CHAPTER SIX: Intelligence Coup
"Base Star!" Dundee shouted. Helo had patched into Dundee's screen, and with the help of the zoom, plus the image enhancement software, he could see the sinister-looking twin-Y configuration of the Cylon equivalent to a battlestar. The enhancements showed something more.
"They have three squadrons deployed. Looks like one is in a screening pattern and the other two are doing low-level sweeps of the planet," Helo communicated to Connor.
"That means they'll be deploying a patrol to this moon before long," Connor said, "Right, we hit the landing cycle. We're going to land on this moon and hide in the shadow of a crater. When this base star leaves the system, then we high-tail it back to the PEGASUS."
Both Helo and Connor briefly hit their thrusters in order to deorbit the raptors. When their new decaying orbit brought the raptors down to within a mile or so of the surface, then they would power up the engines and do a soft landing. That close to the surface, their engines' heat signatures should not be picked up by sensors.
Just then, Parker reported, "I've got an FTL-emergence on screen. Looks like a shuttle of some kind. Not in the warbook, but it definitely is not a fighter."
"Discretely get as much data on it as you can, so that we can add it to the warbook database," Connor ordered.
Just as Parker got his sensor platform aligned, he reported, " The new arrival is transmitting a signal to the base star. I'm intercepting the transmission. The base star is acknowledging."
"Is the shuttle heading to rendezvous with the base star?" Connor asked.
"Negative. Now, it's powering up it's engines," Parker reported, then, "It's jumped. No question about it."
"So, it must be a courier shuttle then," Connor theorized, "jumping to where their base stars are, sending messages and receiving reports, then jumping out to another location where there's a base star."
"Sounds logical, Dookie," Parker agreed, "Anyway, I have good data for the warbook and the intercepts are being sent to Eyeball Two for decryption.”
"Good," Connor briefly replied. Helo's raptor had just been fitted with a more advanced decryption device, so they should be able to read the messages this time.
"Estimated time to initiate landing routine in ten minutes - mark!" Parker reported.
"That'll give Helo time to get those messages deciphered," Connor replied.
Lt. Connor was right. As the intercepted transmission was of a new cipher, it took the decryption software a few minutes to decode the transmission. Dundee was glad that the updated software was proving a match for the Cylon's efforts to keep their communications secret. Dundee was also glad that the transmission was broadband rather than the secure laser communications system they used on the raptors. The former made for much easier interception.
Smoothly, at the right moment, the raptors powered up their engines and the automatic landing cycle started. The landing was still quick and hard, though, so as to minimize the chances of detection. The raptors had been brought down into a shadow of a mountain. This patch of blackness, plus the full powering down of the raptor's systems, would make detection difficult at best.
"Helo," Dundee reported, "I've got the transmission decoded. This is hot stuff," he added, passing the printout up to him.
The first part was from the base star: BASE STAR THETA FIVE REPORTING SEARCH FOR HUMAN TRACES IN SYSTEM THREE-THREE-NINER SO FAR UNSUCCESSFUL. ALL PATROLS REPORT NEGATIVE CONTACT.
The second part, however, was far more informative: ACKNOWLEDGED YOUR STATUS. PRIORITY TRANSMISSION FROM COMMAND BASE STAR BEGINS: NEW DISPOSITION OF CYLON FORCES TO BE BASED ON INTELLIGENCE ASSESSMENT THAT RECENT EVENTS IN VARDON, OPTUS, AND ANOTIAN SECTORS NOT, REPEAT NOT, CAUSED BY GALACTICA. INTELLIGENCE BELIEVES POSSIBLE OTHER SURVIVING BATTLESTAR - EITHER PROMETHEUS OR PEGASUS - BEHIND EVENTS IN THE AFOREMENTIONED SECTORS FOR THE PURPOSE OF DIVIDING FORCES. PRIORITY IS THEREFORE TO BE CONCENTRATED ON LOCATING AND DESTROYING GALACTICA AND ESCORTED HUMAN VESSELS. ALL BASE STARS ON DETACHED SECTOR SEARCH OUTSIDE PROMAR SECTOR ARE THUS ORDERED TO ABORT CURRENT MISSION AND TO PROCEED TO PROMAR SECTOR TO ASSIST IN SEARCH FOR GALACTICA. DETACHED UNITS ALREADY IN PROMAR SECTOR ARE TO REJOIN THEIR RESPECTIVE TASK FORCES. UNITS WITHIN CYRANNUS SYSTEM ARE TO REMAIN TO SECURE OCCUPIED COLONIES AND TO PROCEED IN DEFENSIVE OPERATIONS AGAINST HUMAN SURVIVORS FROM VALHALLA STATION FOR TIME BEING. ALL REMAINING STATIC CYLON UNITS WILL MAINTAIN CURRENT ALERT STATUS IN EVENT THAT THE UNKNOWN BATTLESTAR MAKES IT'S APPEARANCE KNOWN. MESSAGE ENDS. ACKNOWLEDGE RECEIPT.
The Base Star had replied: ACKNOWLEDGED. SWEEP OF AFOREMENTIONED SYSTEM CONCLUDED AND WILL PROCEED TO NEXT SYSTEM FOR SEARCH ACCORDING TO NEWLY ESTABLISHED PROTOCOL. The courier had left the system immediately after receiving the acknowledgment.
On Eyeball One, Parker was still using the optical scanner platform to monitor the base star and it's patrols, when he noticed something different.
"Dookie," Parker said, "the optical sensors are showing that their patrols are returning to their base star."
"I know, Eye-Spy," Connor replied, "and Helo just sent me a printout explaining why. What we've overheard is super-hot information and we'd better get it back to the PEGASUS."
Connor then contacted Helo, saying "As soon as that base star jumps, we high-tail it back. Get the return co-ordinates punched into the navi-comp. We jump as soon as we reach orbit."
"Understood, Dookie," Helo replied, "Looks like we hit pay dirt."
"I don't know about pay dirt, Helo," Connor admonished, "but regardless, Commander Cain needs to know about this."
Commander Cain at that very moment was in his quarters, having taken advantage of a lull in order to take a quick shower. He had just gotten his undershirt and trousers on when his doorbell chimed.
"Come in," he called. As most of his crew knew that disturbing him for a bad reason was not good for one's career, he knew that anyone who would disturb him would have a damn good reason for doing so.
Tolen entered. Cain waved him over to a chair. As Tolen sat, Cain took a towel and quickly ran it through his hair.
"You know, Geoff," Cain said, "I must be getting too old for this, because I never used to look forward to taking a shower!"
Tolen laughed, replying, "Well, Garris, at least water is not a problem for us. The recirculating and filtration plants are working fine, plus it also happens to be a byproduct of our engine combustion. Win-win there," he concluded. These quarters were the only place on the battlestar where both of them could use their first names.
"True, but we were lucky all the same. We were the first battlestar to be fitted with the recirculating system. I don't believe the GALACTICA had anything like it installed, due to it's scheduled decommissioning, so their water will have to be conserved more. Definitely no long showers. Anyway, what can I do for you?" Cain asked.
"The suicide pills are being distributed to the fighter wings. Both CAG's were reporting that the pilots are not taking very kindly to the implication," Tolen said.
"All right, Geoff, what did you end up doing?" Cain asked, noticing a certain gleam in his X.O.'s eye.
"I gave the objectors a little chat upon the niceties of Cylon torture, plus a friendly warning on a certain Battlestar Commander's torture techniques if the pills were not accepted. For some reason, they were not quite so reluctant to do so," Tolen replied with a smile.
"So you got them fearing the Old Man more than the tin-heads," Cain said with a laugh, "Well, this old man wants to take a brief nap, so can you continue to manage things for a little while?" he asked.
"No prob, Garris," Tolen replied, "Unless the battlestar is being pulled apart, I'll try to make sure that you're undisturbed."
"Okay, Geoff," Cain replied, "Thanks for letting me know. I only want to steal an hour, so wake me then, okay?"
Nodding, Tolen headed out of the cabin. Cain was lucky having an executive officer like Tolen. He was ready for a command of his own, and would have had one, if there were any other battlestars around. He stretched out on his rack and quickly dropped off to sleep. Brief showers and quick naps were about the only perks he had left, but he was determined to keep those....
It was about a half-hour into Cain's nap when the raptors finally made their move from the surface of the moon. The Base Star had quickly retrieved their fighters and had just jumped out of the system. The base star had shrewdly left a remote listening post in orbit, but by carefully navigating to the far side of the moon from the post at low altitude over the moon's surface, had avoided contact from it's sensors. Now, with the navi-comp information for the return punched in, the raptors were about to return in order to inform the PEGASUS about what they had found.
"Let's go," Connor ordered, "jumping in 5......4.....3......2......1......jump!”
With a flash of light and a wrench of gut, Recon Force Eyeball FTL-ed out of the system and headed back to the PEGASUS. Connor had Parker hit the ‘transmit' switch immediately after the jump was completed. This could not wait for landing.
"Well, well," Tolen commented when he read the deciphered intercept. The raptors made it back to the PEGASUS without incident and had transmitted their report direct to Core Command. While the raptors were proceeding to land on their respective landing bays, Tolen was taking the time to quickly read the contents.
After taking a couple of minutes to absorb what the deciphered message meant, Tolen glanced at the chronometer upon the DRADIS console. It was time. He picked up a communicator and contacted Commander Cain.
"Is that you, Tolen?" a voice came back on the communicator - along with a stifled yawn.
"Just carrying out your orders, Commander," Tolen replied, "and our raptor probe has picked up some grade-A intelligence. Just thought you'd like to know," he concluded faintly sarcastically.
"Your sense of humor may take you places, Colonel," Cain replied dryly, "but promotion probably won't be one of them. Have the raptor crews been debriefed yet?"
"Negative," Tolen replied, "They transmitted their information just after they exited FTL. They have just landed in their respective bays and should be reporting for debriefing in ten minutes."
"How hot is this intelligence?" Cain asked next.
"Magma-hot," Tolen replied.
"Very well, have the raptor crew report to the Silver Spar Wing debriefing room. I'll see you there," Cain said before clicking off the communicator.
Tolen hung up his communicator and turned to Captain Sanders, saying, "You have CIC, Captain. I'll be with Commander Cain if you need me."
Sanders nodded and walked over to the DRADIS console to stand the command watch. Tolen nodded to him, then left CIC. He knew that this information would be quite valuable.
By the time that Tolen had made it down to the briefing room, both Helo and Dundee were already there. They stood when Tolen entered the room. Tolen waved them back into their seats. Tolen then sat on a seat and waited for the others to arrive.
A couple of minutes later, Lt. Connor and P/O Parker trotted in, slightly out of breath. They saw Tolen, then saluted him. Tolen returned the gesture with a wave of his hand, then pointed them to their seats.
"Sorry for the tardiness," Connor said, "but when your squadron is based on the opposite landing bay to this one, it makes for a rather long trip."
"Look on the bright side, Lieutenant," Tolen replied, "It keeps you fit." He then smiled, indicating that he was joking. The smile faded when he saw Cain enter.
"Attention on Deck!" Tolen sounded off. Everyone stood. Cain waved them back down.
"So, Lieutenant Connor," Cain said, "I understand that you and Lt. Helo had found something of interest to me."
"That they have, Commander," Tolen said, standing up and handing to Cain the printout he had looked at earlier on CIC. Cain took the offered form, then started reading.
"So," Cain said after absorbing the information, "The Cylons are becoming more ‘intuitive,' based on this information. Well, no one said that they were stupid. Predictable maybe, but not stupid."
"It doesn't bode too well for us," Tolen said, "Their concentrating their forces in this sector means that we may end up getting into more trouble than we can handle, if we make a wrong move."
"But this message assumes that we are elsewhere and are to be ignored. As long as we are in the Promar Sector, we can still take the heat off Bill Adama and make life tough on those tin-heads," Cain replied.
"How is that, Sir?" Helo asked.
"The Cylons evidentially didn't take the bait that we had left them back at the sentinel post, mainly due to distance and timing," Cain replied, referring to the cadavers wearing GALACTICA uniforms that they had planted, "but if we continue our guerilla tactics and keep our ‘no PEGASUS I.D. policy' up, then the Cylons would more readily believe that the GALACTICA is doing hit-and-run sorties. After all, this sector is where they're looking for her, right?"
The assembled persons nodded. That logic made sense, but there was one major drawback.
"Commander," Lt. Connor pointed out, "according to the message, the Cylons will be conducting their search in task forces rather than single ships. That means a minimum of two-to-one odds. So taking on these task forces would overwhelm us and ignoring them would not take the heat off the GALACTICA."
"You're an academy person, right?" Cain asked Connor. Connor nodded.
"I remember from my academy experiences - particularly from the classes on tactics - the prime lesson: that ‘victory depends only upon the time and place for battle, and not on the number of forces,' " Cain quoted, "Which means that I will choose our battles to give us the advantage."
The others smiled at Cain's declaration. He really knew how to fight and more importantly, how to win.
"So what do you make of this reference to Valhalla Station?" Helo asked after a few seconds. After all, he knew that a Peregrine was involved there.
"It's almost certain that a colonial warship assisted the station in jumping to an unknown location, but close enough to the colonies to continue the fight there," Cain replied, "and when we find the GALACTICA, then perhaps we can find that group of guerillas, and that Peregrine gunship of yours. It could be the PROMETHEUS. Jack Morrow and Justin Buchanan would be able to pull off such a stunt. But, it could be others. Any one of those three battlecruisers that had been mentioned earlier would have had the capacity to jump Valhalla Station out of danger."
"But those three were decommissioned and in the process of being scrapped," Helo objected.
"I had status reports from the fleet yards before the war. They were sent to me by friends as they knew I like to be kept appraised of the latest developments," Cain replied, "And I did take the time to read over what they have given me. The COURAGEOUS had been about half-dismantled in the Vestral Docks, so it would not have been able to escape destruction. The AVENGER had been at Magiddio Docks awaiting scrapping, but since Magiddio was one of the first targets destroyed in the war, it is doubtful that it could have gotten away in time."
"So what does that leave us with?" Helo asked.
"The third ship mentioned by the Cylons was the GOLIATH. That ship was just starting to get scrapped when the war broke out. The facts - judging from the intelligence - show that the Tartulas base had not been initially destroyed in the opening round of the way. And when a base star sent to finish it off got destroyed when the base reactor went super-critical, I think that is too much of a coincidence," Cain replied, "Which means that the GOLIATH probably had the time to get repaired at least so that it could get away.”
"Didn't other intercepts tell us about another battlestar?" Connor asked.
"You're talking about the ITHACA. That one was not mentioned in this latest intercept so it may already be destroyed, but the ITHACA had been recently downgraded from a battlestar to a target ship, so it's offensive and defensive weaponry would have mostly been stripped. Also, it's home base was the Vestral Yards. The last I heard was that it was being used at the principal testing range, but either way, I just can't see the ITHACA as behind what it going on in regards to Valhalla Station," Cain concluded.
"So it's either the Battlestar PROMETHEUS or the Battlecruiser GOLIATH that's keeping up the fight back at the colonies," Tolen said. Cain nodded.
"Whichever one it is, they are doing a great job keeping the Cylons from feeling settled on our home worlds," Cain said, "So let's hope that they can continue to do so, until we return with the GALACTICA."
"So say we all," Connor muttered. Cain looked at him and smiled.
"So say we all," Cain echoed, "but in the meantime, let's take care of some tin-heads over here. We have that listening post in that system and if the GALACTICA comes here, that could provoke some unwelcome attention."
"Judging from the sensor logs, that post isn't armed," Tolen said, "It's like a burglar alarm, transmitting an alert and any data it can get."
"Makes sense," Cain replied, "for if the GALACTICA has to find provisions and other raw materials for her fleet, then these ‘burglar alarms' would deny Adama the time to get what he needs."
"If we send a raptor to destroy it," Helo suggested, "then the listening post will only see that it is a human FTL-ship attacking and will transmit that information before it is destroyed. The Cylons could well believe that it was a patrol from the GALACTICA, particularly if the pilots keep certain details quiet."
"Sounds good, Helo, but in order to attract enough attention to this system in order to divert a task force or two, the attack needs to be carried out by non-FTL ships, which means vipers," Cain replied. He turned to Tolen. "Contact Comms and tell him to plot an FTL jump to that planet on the side directly opposite the listening post. Then contact Captain Syke and have him ready a flight of vipers to take out this post, then to return to the PEGASUS immediately. Once they return, we jump out of the system and half way to the next one. That should divert at least one task force, and Bill Adama is going to need all the help that he can get."
Cain stood, and all the others stood up.
"Well done, Lt. Connor, and you too, Lt. Helo. Make sure that Syke has a copy of your sensor log so that he can plan his attack. Let's go," Cain said. All followed him out of the briefing room.
It was a few hours later that the briefing room once again began to have occupants present to discuss the listening post. Captain Syke was talking to Lieutenant Higgins, and three of the midshipmen who he had been busy training.
"Rogue," Syke said to Higgins, "I asked you here with the three best midshipmen that you have for a little mission."
Higgins looked up at Syke first in some surprise, then a smile. He asked, "What kind of mission, CAG?"
"The Commander needs to keep the ready-alert squadrons on board, but we need to send out a flight to destroy an unarmed Cylon listening post in orbit around a planet in the system dead ahead," Syke explained, "So you think these three are ready for some combat flying?"
Higgins nodded, considering the parameters of the assignment. It would be a simple mission, and a good introduction to the midshipmen to combat operations. He looked at the three that he had chosen. They looked pleased.
"CAG,", Higgins said, "given the circumstances, they should be able to handle it okay. I think they'll do well."
"Great, Rogue," Syke replied, "That's settled then. I'm going to dispatch Sheba with you to monitor the performance of your flight. If they do well, then I'll see about recommending them for their wings."
Syke liked the broad smiles from the three midshipmen; flattery from their instructor and a combat assignment from their CAG. That was the sugar. Now for the vinegar, he thought to himself.
"I don't like to deceive anyone here," Syke announced in a changed tone of voice, "You three are here because we need you qualified as quickly as possible, but if there is any unforseen trouble, you three are more expendable than our more experienced pilots. This is our job, and glory-hunting is not part of it. I hope that you can appreciate that."
The smiles on the midshipmen's faces faded as Syke's message sank in. Being told that you were the best of the trainees was great, but being told that you were going because more experienced pilots couldn't be wasted was sobering. But they realized that CAG was right: it was a job that had to get done, and if they were to get their prized wings and the ensign's rank that went with it, they had to do it right.
"Are there any questions?" Syke asked. One of the midshipmen raised her hand.
"Captain," she said, "when do we launch?"
"Good question," was the reply, "and the good answer is in ten hours. Rogue will run you through the simulator to check you out on the attack plan, then you'll rest up for six hours. You'll be ready to launch at 1000 down in bay two. Lieutenant Cain and LT jg Higgins will be expecting you there no later than that time. Remember what Rogue has been teaching you and you'll do fine. I still remember my first ‘real' mission, and this is one you'll all remember. Dismissed."
The midshipman who had asked the question hoped that everything would go well. She would not have felt so confident had she known about the small item secreted into the VIPER patch on the shoulder of her newly-issued flight suit.....
All of them filed out and while Higgins escorted the three youngsters back to the sim room, Syke headed back to the administration annex. He'd break the news to Tricia, he thought to himself.
"So I'm nurse-maiding a training flight, Gene?" Tricia asked CAG in a disappointed tone. She expected a little better, given her position as his deputy.
"More like chaperoning," Syke replied, "but I need you out there to help if there is any trouble encountered. As much as I respect Rogue's instincts, those three middies will need more protection if anything happens."
Tricia was still not overly pleased, but CAG had a point. Given the uncertainties of war, trouble could happen at any time. Besides, it would be a good way to ascertain their performance - and Higgins' ability as an instructor.
"So you'll be there in Bay Two at 1000 then?" Syke reminded her. Tricia nodded. It would be shortly after that time that the PEGASUS would be making it's jump, so the patrol needed to be in their vipers and ready for launch before the jump took place.
"Well, at least it gets you out of doing paperwork for a while," Syke commented as he walked out of the office. Tricia poked her tongue at his back as he left. It wasn't exactly what she had in mind.....
CHAPTER SEVEN: Combat and Discovery
The three midshipmen, freshly fitted out in their brand new flight suits, were in Bay Two a few minutes before 1000. They decided to take the time to do an external pre-flight of their assigned vipers. None of them tried to show it, but they were nervous at the prospect of launching these fighters into space, and into combat. True, the target was unarmed, but it was also a hostile target which meant that the unexpected could happen. The crewmen that were the support personnel of these particular vipers looked at the rooks with approval at their initiative.
Higgins and Tricia had met up earlier, and after getting their flight gear on, headed down to the bay. They quietly looked in to see the three midshipmen doing their pre-flight. Tricia looked at Higgins and nodded.
"Wow, Rogue," she said, "looks like you've been teaching them well. They decided to start their pre-flight rather than wait."
"Those three are very good," Higgins replied. After they were dismissed from the briefing room last night, Higgins ran them through a combat simulation. All three of them had done well. And Higgins had them hit the sack early, so that they would be fresh in the morning before the launch. Both of them waited until they had completed their pre-flight, then they walked in. One of the cadets noticed, but did not shout a call to attention, instead telling the other two that the officers had arrived.
So, Tricia thought as she watched the cadets walk up to them, Rogue made sure that they knew that formality had no place here.
"All right, Middies," Higgins said, "As there are two lieutenants here with you, you are cleared to address us by our call-signs on this mission: Rogue and Sheba. Your provisional call-signs are Mid-One for Landon, Mid-Two for Anderson, and Mid-Three for Dyer. We are known by the all-seeing, all-powerful folk up in Core Command as Probe Theta. I will be Theta Actual, and Sheba will be Theta Alternate."
As the three midshipmen quickly wrote the call-signs down on their knee-pads, Tricia spoke.
"You must not say anything on the air regarding the PEGASUS, or Silver Spar Wing," she said, "That listening post will pick up anything we say, so keep it to a minimum. We want it to see our vipers before it is taken out, but don't announce that either. Understood?" she asked. All three midshipmen nodded.
"Very well then," Higgins said, "man your vipers. As soon as Sheba and myself get our pre-flights completed, then we'll get going. And by the way, suicide pills will be given to you by the crews once you get strapped in. If there is a risk of capture, better quick and fast than suffering from the tender mercies of those tin-headed Cylons."
As the three midshipmen went over to their assigned vipers and climbed in, Tricia and Higgins were doing their pre-flight checks. Both of them noticed the support crews helping the midshipmen get strapped into their seats and powering up their avionics. One of the support crew was also collecting the PEGASUS patches from their uniforms.
At last, both Tricia and Higgins finished their pre-flights. Higgins signed off on the forms that gave him full responsibility for the flight, gave it to the senior Petty Officer - along with their PEGASUS patches, and then they manned their vipers. One of the crewmen gave them both a small packet containing a single pill as they climbed in.
After getting settled in, strapped in, powered up, and the cockpit canopies were shut and sealed, Higgins activated the short-range ship-to-ship communicator.
"Probe Theta, this is Theta Actual. All pilots acknowledge," he said curtly.
"Theta Alternate copies," Sheba replied.
"Mid-One copies," Midshipman Landon replied.
"Mid-Two copies," Midshipman Anderson replied.
"Mid-Three copies," Midshipman Dyer replied. Unknown to her, and to everyone else, the disc inserted into the shoulder of her VIPER patch was sitting there, waiting to be found.
"Theta Actual to Shooter," Higgins said to the Launch Control Officer, "Theta Probe ready for launch."
"Understood, Theta Actual," Shooter replied. The crewmen started to push the vipers into their launch tubes. Shooter had been briefed about the three midshipmen, so he knew that Higgins would launch first and Tricia would launch last.
"Shooter to Core Command," he communicated, "Theta Probe in position."
Up in CIC, the Core Command duty operator reported to Sanders that the viper force was ready, and that all viper patrols had returned and had been secured. Sanders nodded to Tolen, who turned to the helm officer.
"Commence countdown for jump to set co-ordinates, Helm," he ordered.
The navi-comp was set to jump the PEGASUS to the far side of the planet from the listening post. As the countdown commenced, Tolen activated the P.A. system.
"Set Condition One throughout the ship. Jumping into hostile territory. Repeat: Set Condition One. Jumping into hostile territory."
All over the PEGASUS, the crew went to action stations. Within thirty seconds, Sanders had the status report.
"Condition One set throughout the ship, Colonel," Sanders reported.
"Very well, lets get going!" Tolen ordered. Cain nodded as he saw the chronometer click down to zero.
"Jumping!" the helm officer announced. With the familiar unpleasant feeling, the PEGASUS made the jump to the specified co-ordinates. As soon as the navi-comp confirmed their position, Sanders ordered Core Command to inform Shooter to commence probe launch.
"Shooter to Probe Theta, power up your engines," Shooter ordered as the rear tube hatch sealed and the front tube hatch opened, exposing the five vipers to the vacuum of space. Shooter then looked at the telemetry from each viper. All were green.
"Theta Actual," Shooter said, "Control of probe now ceded to probe commander. Launching."
Higgins felt himself getting slammed back in his seat as his viper was flung out of the launch tube and into space.
"Mid-One, Mid-Two, Mid-Three," Shooter said next, "Launching."
The middies were both scared and excited as their vipers accelerated down their tubes and into space.
"Theta Alternate," Shooter said last, "Launching."
With that announcement, Tricia's viper was shot out into Space. She saw the other vipers ahead, and heard Higgins's voice.
"Theta Probe, form up on me. Go to weapons ready," he ordered.
The midshipmen double-clicked their communicators to acknowledge, and they flipped the control switch on the weapons platform from SAFETY to ACTIVE. With Higgins in the lead, the three midshipmen's vipers in a v-formation behind them, and with Tricia watching from the rear, the vipers smoothly accelerated. All were now on auto-pilot until Higgins would order them to go to manual control.
The midshipmen took the time to look both at the planet and the rapidly receding bulk of the PEGASUS. This was the moment that they had trained for, and they were all eager to do well.
Higgins watched his navi-comp for position checks. They were poised to come in over the north pole of this planet. If all went well, they would be able to make the intercept in seven minutes. More than enough time, he thought.
Unknown to Higgins, or to anyone on the PEGASUS, the orbiting listening post was sending out occasional low-energy pulses on a high frequency. It was designed to detect any passive positional discs at a long distance - the same type of disc that was in Dyer's VIPER patch. Theta Probe was about to be discovered earlier than planned.
As the vipers passed over the pole - onto the side of the planet where the post was - a high-frequency pulse was sent out. The listening post suddenly noticed a ‘return' from the pulse. The pulse was sent out again, and this time the ‘return' was closer. The ‘returns' were plotted on it's internal map and the course was worked out: it was heading directly for the post. The listening post immediately broadcast an IFF signal to the incoming ‘return.'
"Frakk!" Higgins exclaimed, "That probe has already seen us, and we're too far away to jam! All vipers, go to manual and increase speed. We've got to take it out and get away before help comes. Sheba, try to block any FTL-drone it may deploy."
"Understood, Theta Actual," Sheba replied as her viper broke formation. As it happened, this probe did not have any FTL-probes as it didn't need one. Laying dormant a light minute away were two Cylon fighters - both of the scimitar automatons. They received the signal from the post, and both of them started powering up in order to find out what had caused the signal to activate.
"Mid-One," Higgins ordered, "You're up. Take that post out now!"
“Affirmative, Theta Actual," Landon replied. As his viper bore down on the listening post, the post picked up the signals and by using it's sensors, identified the target as a human Viper VII fighter. It started transmitting the data as the viper closed. The listening post also noted other vipers boring in.
"Fox One!" Landon called as his missile system locked onto the listening post, He fired the first missile. It bore straight in and impacted upon the hull of the listening post, smashing some - though not all of it's systems.
Higgins noticed that the post was still transmitting. He had started the recording of the intercepted data, and was now watching as Mid-Two and Mid-Three were firing one missile each at the post.
The listening post was hit by both missiles, holing it and severely damaging the electronics. Higgins noticed from his data recorder that the post had stopped transmitting. He knew that the vipers had been seen by the listening post, according to the plan. Now it was time to head back to base.
"Theta Actual to Theta Probe," he announced, "Form up and return to Home Plate, and change wireless to the secure laser."
The three midshipmen and Tricia acknowledged. As they formed up on Higgins, Tricia reported that no FTL-drone had been deployed from the post.
"Theta Leader," one of the midshipmen announced, "My rear scanner is reporting an FTL-exit. Location Mark Five at Three-Ten!" Tricia immediately reversed course. She saw on her scanner what it was.
"Holy Frakk," she exclaimed, "I have two Cylon raiders incoming: Scimitars."
"Power down all systems," Higgins reported, "we'll try to ambush them. We can't lead them back to Home Plate."
The hope was that the Cylons would not immediately recognize the vipers at that distance. Hopefully, they would regard their vipers as space debris. That hope, however, rapidly diminished as the two raiders suddenly went to full power and homed in on their position.
"How the frakk did they find us so fast?" Tricia exclaimed as she powered back up her viper.
"Let's go get them, Sheba," Higgins ordered, "Mid's One, Two, Three, stand by and do not engage. Leave the hostiles to us. Switch back to combat frequency."
"You need our help," Midshipman Anderson objected.
"Stay where you are, Mid-Two," Higgins snarled back, "That is an order!"
Both Tricia and Higgins peeled off in order to attack the raiders from each side. Both noticed that the raiders were not moving to engage them. They were heading straight towards the midshipmen's vipers. Higgins noticed on his scanner that an interesting pulse of high-frequency energy - low powered, but unmistakable - was being emitted by one of the raiders toward the three midshipmen's vipers.
"I'm locked on the first," Tricia announced, "Fox One!"
The missile was launched and it bore straight in on the raider. That got it's attention. The raider immediately turned to engage, and it dropped several decoys. The missile was distracted by one of them, and it exploded harmlessly away from it's original target.
"Frakk!" Tricia muttered as she switched from missiles to guns. She fired a burst at the raider, then went evasive to avoid a return burst of fire from the Cylon ship.
While Tricia was dogfighting with the first raider, the second raider was closing in on the other vipers. Higgins noticed this and ordered, "All Middies - break away, repeat: break away."
Obediently, all three vipers broke formation and peeled off. The raider, still pulsing it's low energy burst, locked in on Dyer's viper. Higgins looked aghast as the raider fired two missiles at the viper.
"Go evasive, Mid-Three!" he screamed as the missiles homed in. Dyer went to full emergency power and flew in an evasive pattern, but the missiles - which were using similar low-energy emissions to lock in on the viper - were not confused. Even the dropped swallow decoy from the base of the viper did not detract from the missile's target.
Dyer knew that this was it. Her first mission was her last, but somehow, she didn't seem afraid. She thought about swallowing the pill, but instead she keyed her communicator for the last time.
"I'm gone, Theta Actual. It's been nice knowing you!" Dyer sounded just before the missiles hit. The viper was demolished as the missiles exploded on contact.
"Bastard!" Higgins snarled as he locked his missiles on the raider. But before he could fire, the raider suddenly FTL-jumped. Higgins knew that it was going for help, but why do so before taking out the other vipers, he thought?
At that same moment, the other raider was hit by Tricia's guns. The raider exploded.
"I got him, Theta Actual," Tricia reported, breathing a sigh of relief. Dogfighting can be tiring.
"The second hostile got Mid-Three," Higgins reported quietly, "and it jumped out of the system. It's friends will be along any time now."
Tricia activated the emergency frequency to the PEGASUS, saying, "Theta Alternate informing Home Plate that Mid-Three gone. Have ready-alert raptor come to this location to retrieve wreckage. Expedite, repeat: Expedite!" she announced.
"Home Plate to Theta Alternate," Core Command replied, "ready alert raptor dispatched."
"This is Theta Actual to Theta Probe," Higgins announced, "Let's get back to Home Plate. We don't have much time. Form back up and switch back to laser communicator."
"What about Mid-Three?" Anderson asked.
"She'll be picked up, unless a base star comes along," Higgins replied, "We can't do anything more for her, Mid-Two. Mourn her after we get back to base. Acknowledge."
"Understood, Theta Actual," Anderson sulkily acknowledged. Forming up on Higgins, the remains of Theta Probe headed back to the PEGASUS, passing a raptor that had been dispatched to pick up Dyer's remains, and the remains of her viper.
On a base star which was one of a task force of two cruising in an area of the Promar Sector, a humanoid Cylon was receiving a message from an automaton raider that had just exited an FTL-jump. This one was a female model designated Number Four.
After she had finished reading the report, she turned to a centurion that had been quietly awaiting her orders.
"Have our patrols make the jump to that system and await our arrival," she ordered, "and have that reporting raider pass on it's report to Number One. We may have found the GALACTICA," she said.
"By Your Command," the centurion replied. As it left the alcove to return to the Command Deck, Number Four re-read the report: SYSTEM THREE-THREE-NINER LISTENING POST DESTROYED BY FIVE COLONIAL VIPERS, REPEAT VIPERS OF TYPE SEVEN CONFIGURATION. TWO RAIDERS RESPONDED TO INITIAL MESSAGE. ONE RAIDER DESTROYED BY VIPER, ONE VIPER - WHICH HAD PASSIVE SENSOR DISC PLACED WITHIN - DESTROYED BY SURVIVING RAIDER. WIRELESS INTERCEPTS ATTACHED. The transcripts of the intercepted transmissions did not mention the GALACTICA by name, but in this sector, who else could it be? Number Four ordered the other base star in this task force to prepare to jump to System 339.
The FTL-capable raiders did indeed jump to the system, but all they found was the debris of the destroyed raider and the listening post. They had actually arrived two minutes too late. Cain had immediately jumped the PEGASUS - after the Theta Probe vipers had all landed - to pre-set co-ordinates. The raptor, which had quickly latched onto the largest wreckage of Dyer's viper, made an FTL-jump to the same co-ordinates. Now, while the raptor was bringing in it's grizzly cargo, the pilots of the Theta Probe were reporting to Commander Cain in the briefing room. Syke was there as well, listening to the pilots making their reports.
"It looks like the Cylon listening post, and those two raiders, succeeded in detecting you quite early," Cain said.
"Yes, Commander. They had a lock on us at quite a distance - it's like we were announcing our presence, yet our fighters were in silent mode," Higgins replied.
"I've sent your flight data recorder up to the lab for analysis - particularly in regards to this low power emission in the high EM band coming from the raiders, the listening post, and the missiles as well," Cain replied.
"The raider, then the raider's missiles were completely locked in on Dyer's viper," Tricia said, "No evasion or decoy drop even slightly deflected the missile from it's path. Dyer did all that we could expect from our more experienced pilots, but it was no good," she concluded sadly.
"You think that it's a new weapon?" Cain asked. Tricia shook her head.
"Our telemetry indicates that the missiles used were of the standard homing type," Tricia replied.
"Yet those missiles were locked on to Dyer's viper so well," Cain said. He thought for a minute, then reached for his communicator.
"Chief Krag, this is Commander Cain," he announced, "I want a sensor sweep over every piece of wreckage from that viper. Send Dyer's body up to Dr. Ashley for a full forensic check."
Cain then turned to the pilots, "We'll get to the bottom of this, I promise you. None of you are to blame. You two midshipmen did well out there," Cain said to Landon and Anderson. "Get some rest and if anything new comes up, we'll let you know," Cain suggested.
Quietly, both Landon and Anderson stood and left the room, with Higgins following. Cain and Syke watched them go.
"A hell of a way for midshipmen to learn about the hard facts in a pilot's life," Syke muttered. Cain nodded, but replied, "There is something very wrong here. Those missiles had to have been guided in from - rather than to - that viper. We have to find out how. Anyway, you have a memorial service to conduct, so make the arrangements and let me know, okay?”
Syke nodded and went back to his office. Tricia followed. After they got there, Syke closed the door and turned to face his deputy.
"Good work taking out that raider, Tricia," Syke said.
"I'd feel a lot better about it if we hadn't lost a midshipman, Gene," Tricia replied. Syke nodded sadly.
"Telling them that they were expendable at the briefing did let them know what could happen out there, but still......," Syke said, unable to finish the sentence. Tricia sympathized. She sat down and started drafting her after-action report. Syke left the annex to go to his quarters. He had a call to make to Lance Voight...
For his part, Higgins was quietly talking to Landon and Anderson as they were walking to their quarters. Landon, who had not thought overly much of Higgins, had rapidly changed his opinion of him as he spoke. They knew that Dyer's death had hit him hard. Being the leader made Dyer's death his responsibility. Higgins asked them not to talk to the other midshipmen about the incident. He would do so personally. They nodded their agreement and headed to bed. Higgins turned and went down to the sim room. Now that the PEGASUS was back down to Condition Three, the rest of the class would be resuming their instruction, with Ensign Vansen filling in.
When he got down there, the midshipmen popped to attention. Higgins waved them back into their seats. The midshipmen knew that something was wrong by the look on his face. Higgins didn't candy-coat it.
"Midshipman Dyer is dead," he said simply. The look on the midshipmen's faces turned to a mixture of shock, disbelief, and horror. Numbly, Higgins told them about the patrol, and what had happened.
"Where's Anderson and Landon?" one of the midshipmen asked.
"I told them to sack out. Leave them alone for the time being, understood?" he ordered. The midshipmen nodded. Higgins paused, then continued.
"Dyer knew the risks, as all of you do. Death is part of our creed. As the patrol commander, I have to take responsibility for her death, as you all may have to face sometime in the future if you get a command. Dyer's body has been returned to the PEGASUS, and a memorial service will be held. As you are all on TDY to Silver Spar Wing, Captain Syke will be organizing the service. Your presence will be expected. Class is dismissed."
Quietly, the midshipmen stood and filed out. Vansen walked up to Higgins, who had numbly sat down at his desk.
"You want a drink or something, Rogue?" Vansen asked carefully. If he had asked something stupid like ‘are you all right?', when he plainly wasn't, it would probably make things a lot worse.
"No, Jet," Higgins replied, "but thanks anyway. How have the rest of them been doing?" he asked.
"Okay, but Dyer's death is going to affect them some. We can't pretend otherwise," Vansen pointed out.
"Yeah," Higgins responded, "Anyway, I have the full formal report to write up on the probe, and I might as well do it now. I'll see you later on, Jet." With that, he pulled a pad out of his desk and began writing. Vansen got the hint. He left to head up to the annex. There was always paperwork to do, and work was the best remedy for any shock.
Back in his cabin, Syke had just spent the previous half-hour talking with his Black Knight Wing counterpart over the communicator. They were busy going over the preparations for the memorial for Dyer. He had just finished talking to Voight, and made another call to Commander Cain to quickly inform him of the details, when his communicator buzzed again. It was Doctor Ashley.
"Captain Syke," Ashley communicated, "Could you come up here to forensics please? I'm also asking Commander Cain and Captain Sanders to join us too."
"What have you found?" Syke immediately asked.
"Evidence," was the reply. Syke put his communicator down and headed out of the office. This could answer a number of questions.
CHAPTER EIGHT: Remembrance and Justice
"So that's it," Cain said as Ashley showed the blackened VIPER patch that had been removed from the uniform taken from Dyer's body. The body was covered in a sheet at the far end of the lab. Soon, it would be prepared for the funeral.
"That data recording of that energy pulse gave me the means to duplicate the exact same pulse," Ashley stated, "The maintenance crew down in the landing bay ran the portable scanner I rigged up for them on the viper wreckage, but there was no response. Then, I used the same scanner on Dyer's body, and then the remnants of Dyer's uniform, and it was on the latter that I got a strong reaction. This patch had a small passive sensor disc inserted inside it. It reacts with a large ‘return' when this specific frequency hits it."
"Better rig up a couple of extra scanners, Doctor," Cain said, "so that we can scan this entire ship for these discs." Ashley nodded, saying "That's already in the works, Commander."
"How did that disc get into that patch?" Sanders wanted to know.
"The patch showed no signs of tampering, so it would have had to have been inserted when the patch was first embroidered," Ashley replied.
"Those flight suits were newly issued to the midshipmen that Lt. Higgins had been teaching," Syke recalled, "fresh from the Quartermaster."
"Captain Sanders," Cain quietly said, "find out who is working in the Quartermaster’s department and check the department listing against the list of suspects. Our little spy may have just made the mistake that we were looking for."
The following morning, the entire Silver Spar wing complement of pilots was present in Hangar Bay Four for the funeral. Midshipman Michelle Dyer's body was now lying in a sealed casket on a raised podium in the center of the hangar bay. It was draped with the flag of Geminon - her birth world - and atop the flag was her flight helmet and one of her personal possessions: a small velvet pillow that had stitched upon it two patches: The PEGASUS patch she had first worn and a new VIPER patch. Sitting also on the pillow was a small box containing Dyer's academy ring. Behind the casket, the PEGASUS flag hung limply on a short pole.
As Dyer was one of the PACIFICA survivors, technically she was part of Black Knight Wing, but Captain Voight agreed with Cain’s thinking that it would be more appropriate that Silver Spar Wing should honor her memory as she had flown with them. Because of this, Voight was standing discretely to one side as the PACIFICA - rather than the Black Knight Wing - representative. As the Chaplain started his invocation, Captain Syke fingered the documents and other items that Commander Cain had given to him just before the service.
Syke noticed Lt. Higgins standing to one side with the two surviving midshipmen from the mission. Both Midshipman Landon and Midshipman Anderson were trying to hold back tears as the chaplain continued his appeal to the Lords of Kobol to watch over Dyer's soul.
"So say we all," the chaplain concluded at the end of the invocation. The assembled pilots repeated the phrase. Now Captain Syke stepped up to the podium.
"We are here to honor the memory of Michelle Dyer. From the academy, to the PACIFICA, to Black Knight Wing, and finally to Silver Spar Wing, she was a midshipman that did her job, giving her all to fulfil the mission that she was part of. She and her colleagues were told that upon their return, they would receive their wings and their commissions." With that, Syke silently walked over to the casket, and on the black velvet pillow - being careful not to disturb the box containing the academy ring - he pinned on two metal insignia. One was the stylized wings of a viper pilot. The other was a single bar denoting the rank of ensign. Beside the pillow, a rolled diploma was placed upon the casket - the document of commission.
After saluting the casket, Syke went to the two midshipmen who had accompanied Ensign Dyer. He gave them their commission diplomas, their squadron assignments, and two small cases. In each of them were the coveted wings and the ensigns bars. After saluting them both, Syke stood aside, and one of them - Ensign Anderson - walked up to the podium.
"We were taught in the academy about duty, honor, and sacrifice. Those three words were sacred in the academy. But I never truly understood them until now," he said, "Michelle Dyer had told me that she always wanted to be a viper pilot. She felt it was her destiny. We thought that with her attitude, she should have bestowed upon her the call-sign ‘Dreamer.' For me personally, she was a friend and colleague. We shared some interests, and we also had different interests. For example, she loved to quote poetry. I thought it was rather out of place here on the PEGASUS, and I never thought about poetry myself until now. So here's one for her. It's about the only one I know."
He lowered his head briefly, then raised it, speaking in a choked, but clear voice:
"From the ground below to the stars above, Lay the spaces all true pilots love, Amidst this black and starry sky, We fight to win, though some may die. This is the creed we say to all, To honor those who fight and fall. So if we become the fallen few, Please look upon the starlit hue, Then think of us before you sleep, And in your hearts, our memories keep."
The nine other midshipmen, some silently crying, then filed past the flag-draped casket and saluted it. As they left the hangar bay in single file, six ensigns - symbolizing the link between the living and fallen - took their positions around the casket. As they lifted it and slowly walked down the aisle, the chaplain intoned a prayer in ancient Kobollian.
As the pallbearers left the room, the assembled pilots began to disperse. The nine midshipmen re-entered the room and went up to quietly congratulate Anderson and Landon on their commissions. According to academy tradition, the midshipmen pinned onto the new ensigns their wings and their rank insignia. Next, Anderson and Landon transferred their rings from the left hands to their right, symbolizing the change from student to graduate.
"I thought that getting my wings would be the happiest day of my life," Anderson said, "but I don't feel like celebrating."
"Remember what Lt. Higgins told us - ‘Death is part of our creed.' We remember the dead, but celebrate life. It's the only way to do the job without going insane," Landon responded sympathetically.
"Higgins should never have put her on that mission," one of the midshipmen muttered. Anderson immediately grabbed the midshipman by his collar and pushed him against the wall.
"LIEUTENANT Higgins is a hell of a better man that you give him credit for," Anderson shouted in his face, "He did a hell of a job out there, he's just as broken up about her death, and I'm proud to have served under him! Understand?" he snarled.
"Okay, Okay," the midshipman replied, taken aback by Anderson's reaction.
"That's ‘Yes, I understand, Sir,’ to you," Anderson quietly corrected him.
"Yes, Sir. I understand," the midshipman replied in a penitent tone. Anderson released his grip. Landon nodded to Anderson and they both left the room. They now had a squadron to report to.
After Dyer's casket was placed on the transporter for it's trip to the crematorium, Syke turned to Sanders, who had been watching the pallbearers leave.
"Are we all set?" Syke asked. Sanders nodded, handing him a sidearm. Three security crewmen fell in behind them as they marched to the Quartermaster's department. On the way, they paged Doctor Ashley to join them with his equipment.
When they got there, Sanders gestured for the others to wait outside. He holstered his sidearm, then walked in and went over to a table, where a young blonde woman was sitting at a chair in front of it, working on some uniforms. She was the only person in the Quartermaster's department - all others having been discretely ‘requested' not to come in for work. She didn't look up at Sanders as he approached, but Sanders placed the blackened VIPER patch on the table. The woman stopped working on the uniform and studied the patch, then looked up at Sanders and smiled.
"So, Captain," she said, "I see that you have found me at last." Sanders blinked. He didn't expect her not to argue or deny it.
"I think your spying and killing spree has now come to an end," Sanders quietly said, moving to take his gun out of his holster.
"Not necessarily," the woman said, who with blinding speed, grabbed Sanders around the neck with her right hand. She lifted Sanders off the floor. Sanders was trying to break the grip. The woman quietly continued to talk as she continued to slowly choke Sanders.
"I'm expecting someone to break into this room any second to shoot me dead, but you see, I won't really be dead," she explained, "For when this body expires, my consciousness gets transferred to another version of me: I'm one of the Number Six models of twelve models of humanoid Cylon developed to infiltrate and report. All that I have learned here will awaken in a new body, then I will talk to my compatriots about the mighty battlestar PEGASUS, and Commander Cain, and the number of fighters you have on board. Then, you'll be hunted down and destroyed.......just like the GALACTICA will be," she taunted.
"Why........not........die.........before.....?" Sanders choked out.
"I can't terminate my own body," she explained, "it's one of my prime directives, but it soon will be terminated - thanks to one of your crewmen who will shoot me when he sees me kill you. You have made my job rather difficult over the last few weeks, Captain Sanders. But at least I shall have the pleasure of seeing you die before I leave."
"That's what you think, Cylon!" a new voice said. The woman looked in the direction of the door to see Captain Syke and Doctor Ashley walk in. Smiling, she threw Sanders across the room, where he had slumped unconscious. Then she advanced slowly towards Syke.
"So, Captain Syke," she said quietly as she got closer, "are you going to shoot me now? You'd better do so because I'm going to kill you very slowly if you don't kill me first," she purred. Syke backed up slowly to the door.
The woman reached out her arm, with the intention of grabbing Syke's neck. Just then, Doctor Ashley put up his weapon and fired. But this weapon was not a projectile weapon. It fired small darts attached to wires. Several darts embedded themselves into her body. The woman just had time to realize what it was before Ashley pressed a switch on his gun, sending variable electric pulses through the wire to the darts.
The Humanoid Cylon twitched and jerked spasmodically as the currents coursed through her system, overloading the electrical impulses being sent to and from the silica pathways at the base of the brain. After a few more seconds of twitching, the body dropped to the floor - not dead - but inert. Ashley signaled to the security crewmen - who had just entered the room - who quickly went over to the inert woman and placed a large donut shaped metallic ring around her neck. They locked it in place and then they stood back.
The woman was starting to stir. She sat up, looked at the humans, then started to say something. But what she was going to say was drowned out by a large pulse of electromagnetic energy that had been emitted from her neck ring by means of a remote control switch manipulated by Dr. Ashley. The pulse completely fried the circuits of her neuro-silicon brain, scrambling the stored memories. The woman's expression glazed over as the body terminated. Doctor Ashley sent two more pulses through the ring to ensure that any transmissions from the body would be rendered useless.
Sanders had regained consciousness. Rubbing his neck, he stood up, removing a small transceiver from his uniform belt.
"Tough lady," he said in a slightly raspy voice, "but we got the confession, and she won't be calling for help."
"Sorry about the rough treatment," Syke replied, "but it was the only way to get her to talk. And now she won't be talking any more," he concluded with satisfaction. Sanders nodded, then kicked the corpse's head - hard.
"Well, Doctor," Syke said, "Thanks for your help. I suppose this thing will be something for you to look forward to dissecting in Forensics."
"She confirmed my suspicions," Ashley said as he gestured for two of the security crewmen to get a gurney in order to take the dead Cylon away, "The older Cylon models had a means for transferring data in the event of destruction. It would therefore be logical that these humanoid models would have the same thing built into them."
After quickly making sure that Sanders was okay, Ashley followed the crewmen out of the Quartermaster's department. He had a corpse to dissect, and there should be a boon of information to be discovered.
As Sanders and Syke headed out to report to Commander Cain, Sanders said, "Twelve models of human Cylon, that's what she said. You think that there could be others - even sleepers here among us?" he asked.
"Well, let's hope Dr. Ashley can find a way to screen out the Cylons from the rest of us," Syke replied, "then we can make a through check. Until then, we keep the Old Man happy by doing our jobs."
"So long as it doesn't involve getting strangled" Sanders said ruefully. Syke laughed. True, there could be others, but the deaths of Crewman Wright and Ensign Dyer had been avenged by the discovery of their murderer. At least for now, he could sleep a little bit easier.
Number One had finished going over Number Four's report of the vipers in Promar Sector System 339. This would logically have to be the work of the GALACTICA, she thought. After all, the other battlestar - or battlecruiser - whatever it was, was last reported away in the Anotian Sector. But completely agreeing with Number Four's assessment was difficult for her to do. The telemetry from the destroyed sentinel post and the raider that had escaped after destroying one of the vipers showed that they were all Mark VII's. Intelligence indicated that there were few of those models on the GALACTICA - the rest being that of the older Mark II. So why would Commander Adama risk sending his most advanced fighter type on such a simple mission like this? Also, images from the listening post's sensor array showed that these fighters had their identifier emblems and tail numbers obliterated - just like the wrecked ones found over Sentinel Post Epsilon Alpha, and all of those were Mark VII's as well.
Well, she finally thought to herself, we still stay with the base assumption that there is only one battlestar in the Promar Sector. If there were others, they would eventually be found and destroyed by the concentration of forces there, and if this other group hiding nearby in Valhalla Station made a mistake, then they would be quickly dealt with as well.....
On the PEGASUS, Anderson and Landon were settling into their new squadrons. Ensign Anderson had been assigned to Spar One while Landon had been assigned to Knight Three. The other members of their squadrons had welcomed them in, and their respective squadron commanders had given them their assignments, but neither of them could forget the mission that got them their wings - and saw a close friend die. It was the lot of a viper pilot, they knew, but it still was something to think about. Their new call-signs had been accepted by the wing call-sign committee: Landon was now ‘Lurker,' while Anderson was called ‘Sharpie.' When they flew their first combat patrols tomorrow, then those call-signs would officially become a part of them. Until then, they would take advantage of the squadron down-time before they got the word to head to the ready room at the next watch.
In an unlit observation lounge - located in the base of the forward section of the PEGASUS, two people were sitting on a bench holding each other's hands and looking out of the window into deep space, which because of the location of the lounge was actually the entire floor. Made out of several pieces of clear dura-steel - each one several inches thick, it did take a little getting used to, but it was for this ‘attraction' that Lt. Carla Halley liked it. It was a much nicer view than from the cockpit of her viper. Chief George Krag - who was the other occupant in the lounge - didn't really care for the seclusion of the lounge, as he preferred the hustle and bustle of the landing bay, but he knew that Carla loved this place and it was private......
"I can see that you're brooding about something, Carla," Krag gently said. Halley squeezed his hand and looked at him.
"I welcomed Ensign Anderson to the squadron a little while ago," she replied, "He was one of the rooks on the patrol that had that casualty earlier. I was thinking that it was a hell of a way to introduce a new pilot to the realities of the service."
"I could repeat verbatim all of the one-liners about death being a reality for all those in uniform," Krag said, "but it will still all boil down to the adage that life must go on. One day, our young crewmen won't have to face death like they do every day out here, and they will have a future to look forward to, a place to call home, and a family to raise."
"Do you include us in that statement, George?" Halley asked huskily. Nodding, Krag leaned over and kissed her on the lips. After breaking the kiss, Halley leaned her head onto Krag's shoulder. There had to be hope for the future, even though others would lose their lives. She knew that Higgins would still brood over the loss of one of his trainees, but it would not stop him or any of them from doing their jobs. The hope that this hit-and-run quest for survival would someday end was what kept them all sane - and all going.
Lt. Higgins was talking with Ensign Vansen back in the wing administration annex about the rest of midshipmen and their training. The death of Dyer had indeed hit Higgins - and all of the other midshipmen hard - but dwelling on ‘what-if's' would not be helpful at all. It seemed rather callous, but Higgins thought that maybe some good would come out of Dyer's death. It would make the other trainees appreciate life more, and that would make them all a lot smarter. Tomorrow, they would start active flying on combat patrols. Mourning the dead needed to be done for closure, but life had to be appreciated, and viper pilots understood that very well.
Colonel Tolen agreed with that conclusion as he finished reading Higgins' report. No one could be blamed for Dyer's death except for that Cylon agent - whose corpse was yielding valuable clues as to how they could be found out. Tolen was not inclined to think that there were others left on board the PEGASUS, but the vigil would still be kept. This was a warship, and by the Lords or Kobol, they would continue to war on all those who were a threat to humanity.
END OF BOOK FOUR