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The Pegasus: Book 3 - The Cylon Gauntlet  

By  Dean Thomas 

Word Count: 20,085 
Date: 2004
Series: Mini
Rating: T
Category: AU
Pairing/Focus: Original Characters
Warnings:
Summary:   
Spoilers/Disclaimers:


PROLOGUE

The Humanoid Cylon known by the designation ‘Number One’ was sitting in an alcove just off the control center on board the command base star orbiting over the planet Caprica. She was reading the reports on the current situation. Now that it had been just over a month since the war had broken out, the final mopping up phase within the Cyrannus System was now well under way. Several patrols of Hunter-Killers had already reported eradicating small groups of humans who had somehow survived the aftermath of the nuclear attack. The reports were encouraging. It should not be all that much longer before the Twelve Worlds would be declared fully human-free.

However, Number One was still not convinced that they had indeed taken care of every human here in the colonies. Not counting the ones that had escaped from Ragnar Anchorage, there were still a handful of warships unaccounted for from the now-destroyed colonial fleet, and recent events suggested that at least one of these units - perhaps more - could have survived. The loss of a base star four weeks ago at Molecay Anchorage, then the loss of one of the Cylons’ biggest tylium refineries and on top of that, a severely damaged base star - at the hands of an exploding fuel tanker from that same refinery - in the Vardon Sector only a couple of days ago had made this supposition a very real one.

The strength of the colonial fleet on the eve of the attack was one hundred and twenty-two battlestars in commission. One hundred and eighteen had thus far been fully confirmed as destroyed. Of the remaining four, one - the battlestar called GALACTICA - had escaped into deep space taking with it a number of civilian ships. There was a concerted effort to seek out and destroy them under way. The remaining three unaccounted battlestars: PROMETHEUS, ITHACA, and PEGASUS, had been presumed destroyed along with the task forces that they had been a part of in the opening phase of the war, but so far, no wreckage from those three battlestars had been found. While this was not conclusive proof of their survival, neither was it conclusive proof of their destruction.

One of the Number Seven models on board another base star in the Vardon Sector had theorized that if there were colonial fleet survivors, it could be from a warship that was not on the commissioned list. As a result of this hypothesis, Number One had gone back through the intelligence reports (that had been taken from the computers at Picon Fleet Headquarters before the attack) in order to check the hypothesis out. There was a class of ship that had been recently been taken out of service: what the humans called a battlecruiser. These warships had only one landing bay, but otherwise was similar to the larger battlestars. The last three of this class: AVENGER, GOLIATH and COURAGEOUS, had been recently decommissioned and had been removed to various fleet facilities in order to be scrapped. The problem though was that all the fleet facilities had been throughly destroyed - including a base star when the facility on the Tauron moon of Tartulas had been vaporized (due to it’s main reactor going super-critical). That made confirming their destruction much more difficult.

She had ended up calling a council-of-war with several of the humanoid Cylons in order to come up with a plan to find whoever - or whatever - was behind the recent losses to their fleet. The decision to set up a trap using Valhalla Station as bait for any surviving warship was made and the preparations for it were now well under way, but Number One had also realized that if there was more than just one additional human warship out there staging a guerilla war, this trap may not work. It was annoying for a race that valued certainties to be confronted with something that they were not sure about, because the best way to defeat an enemy was to be sure of what you were up against. Because they did not know, then it forced them to have to divide their assets and disperse them in an effort to locate the unknown foe. That tied up a lot of base ships which could be better used in helping hunt down the GALACTICA and it’s convoy of civilian ships.

The Valhalla Station plan was a good one and she decided to wait and see what developed from it. But she would still keep several base stars deployed in the Vardon Sector - and other neighboring sectors for the time being. Even divided up, the Cylon fleet was still formidable, and once these unknown forces had been found, they would be easily dealt with. She would rely on the searching Base Stars to set a few traps of their own as well.....

CHAPTER ONE: Problem on Patrol

The rapid acceleration forced him back into his seat as the viper was catapulted down the long launch tube and out into space. Lieutenant Lyle Blanke (call-sign ‘Cooler’) was leading a two-man reconnaissance probe and it was something that he was looking forward to doing.

Blanke was the Deputy CAG of Silver Spar Wing. Unlike the three Silver Spar squadron commanders who flew as often as their subordinate pilots, Blanke had spent far more time sitting in the wing administration annex making out patrol schedules and doing other paperwork so that his boss, Captain Eugene Syke, would be free to do the serious job of supervising all of the squadrons in the wing.

A typical wing on a battlestar consisted of a minimum of forty to fifty vipers and two raptors, which in the case of Silver Spar Wing were formed into three squadrons and a recon flight. Each squadron usually fielded twelve fighters each with the remainder kept back at base as a reserve. The raptor section, which was under the command of Lt. Tricia “Sheba” Cain, would either assist any or all of the squadrons in supporting an attack formation, or be used for extensive system reconnaissance missions. Blanke had to make sure that the CAG and the pilots had everything that they needed to do their jobs.

While he was a good administrator, he really wanted to fly. Syke however, needed him to keep the wing smoothly running - especially in this difficult time. He had to improvise a lot in getting equipment that the flight crews and maintenance crews needed, which meant that he could not be spared for the flight roster. He was getting resigned to the fact that he probably would not be doing any more flying in the short to medium term when Syke had come in to the office earlier this morning.

“Hi, Cooler”, Syke said when he walked into the admin annex, “everything okay with the wing today?”, he asked.

“Yeah, CAG”, he had answered, “those two vipers from (Silver) Spar (Squadron) One that had been grounded earlier are back up and running okay. Chief Krag jury-rigged some new valves from some old tubing he found in storage. They ended up being more robust than the real thing”, he concluded with a smile.

Syke laughed, replying, “Well, that will keep Ratchet happy”, referring to the commander of Spar One, Lt. Carla ‘Ratchet’ Halley.

Blanke nodded, but Syke must have noticed something because he then said, “You okay, Cooler?”

“I’m fine, CAG”, he replied, “just a little tired”.

Syke wasn’t fooled. After all, everyone was tired. He sensed that his deputy wasn’t happy for another reason. He said, “It’s tough having to stay back and fly a desk, isn’t it?”.

“Was I that obvious?”, Blanke replied. Syke nodded.

“You’re doing a hell of a job keeping the wing going, Lyle”, Syke had complimented, using Blanke’s first name, “and I was going to ask you to find a spare pilot, but how would you like a break and run a patrol probe today instead?”.

Blanke smiled, then frowned and asked, “what about the paperwork, CAG? There are things that still need doing”.

“Don’t worry about that”, Syke replied, “as I have someone to run things while you’re away. Jet (Ensign Vansen) sprained his ankle when he stumbled out of his viper, so he’s temporarily grounded until he can walk on it again”.

“What’s the patrol?” Blanke had asked next, smiling at the opportunity. One man’s bad luck was his good luck, he thought.

“Far forward probe”, Syke responded, “It’s the usual long-duration coast to see what the PEGASUS is heading into. Your wingman will be Growler.

Blanke nodded. Lieutenant jg Peter “Growler” Benson was a competent pilot. If Jet hadn’t have injured himself, Growler would be leading the patrol. But since he outranked Growler.....

“Better get yourself suited up and head out to Bay Five. The patrol is due to start in forty minutes. Core Command will give you your vector once you launch. Have fun”, Syke said as Blanke had stood up and started heading to the door.

“Thanks, CAG”, Blanke had said on the way out of the door. Syke watched him go, then sent a page out for Ensign Vansen to report to the administration annex.....

Now, forty minutes later, Blanke was on his way. Benson’s viper followed his out of the launch tubes and formed up on his wing.

“Good to see you out of the office, Cooler”, Benson had communicated.

“Hey, Growler, this is why I joined up in the first place” he replied cheerfully. He looked out of his cockpit window at Benson’s viper. Benson grinned at him and gave him a thumbs-up.

Core Command had then contacted Blanke and provided the patrol vector. After setting the course on the autopilot, he signaled his wingman.

“Okay, Growler, let’s do it”, he said.

Both vipers accelerated to full power and held it there for five minutes. The PEGASUS rapidly receded from view as the patrol pulled further ahead. When the five minute mark had been reached, both of them cut their vipers’ engines. Now the vipers were coasting in fuel conservation mode. For the next few hours, they would be watching their sensors as the autopilot made slight course corrections on their trajectory.

At that moment, back in Silver Spar Wing Administration, the wing’s three squadron commanders and Tricia Cain had entered the main office expecting to see Blanke getting ready to hand them their squadron’s duty rosters. They were surprised when they saw Captain Syke and Ensign Vansen sitting there instead.

All four of them saluted Syke, who returned the gesture. “Where’s Cooler, CAG?”, Lieutenant Chester ‘Pacer’ Warden - the commander of Spar Three - asked after dropping his hand.

“He needed a break from the grind of the office, so he’s out on patrol”, Syke answered. While Syke was talking, Vansen passed to Lt. Warden, Lt. Halley, Tricia, and Lt. Andrew ‘Shooter’ Macklin - the commander of Spar Two - their crew rotation schedules. Macklin noticed Vansen limping and looked down at his right leg - where it was in a temporary cast.

“Grounded, huh, Jet?”, Macklin asked with a smile. Vansen nodded ruefully.

“A patrol probe is a break?”, Tricia asked Syke with an incredulous tone.

“With all of the paperwork and the other unglamourous chores that he had been stuck with since he was appointed Deputy CAG, flying a boring patrol is a break for him”, Syke answered. Tricia and the others laughed at that.

“Anyway, I don’t think the wing will fold up and die while Cooler is out on patrol, so let’s get back to our respective groups of pilots and give them their rosters, okay?”, Syke suggested. All four of them nodded, then headed out of the office. All of the squadrons in Silver Spar Wing were going to have their fair share of patrols today.

While Silver Spar’s command staff headed out to brief their pilots, the subject of their recent discussion was settling in on his mission. Blanke’s patrol was now well away from the PEGASUS and right on schedule. Both vipers were maintaining voice contact with a line-of-sight laser communications system to ensure that no one else could intercept their ship-to-ship chatter.

“I’m picking up nothing but small rocks and other natural debris so far”, Benson had communicated.

“Same here, Growler”, Blanke replied. It was the usual type of ‘returns’ on their sensors. Nothing to indicate any kind of presence by anyone here. This sector was even more sparse than the Vardon Sector.

“Why did you think the Commander wanted to jump out here?”, Benson asked, “The Optus sector is just a lot of empty space”.

“Since I’m not privy to his private coffee-and-pastry functions, I can’t really answer you”, Blanke replied faintly sarcastically.

“I can do without the humor, thank you, Cooler”, Benson answered, “but you must have some idea - being the Deputy CAG”.

“Deputy CAG is really just a nice title for the one who has to do all of the CAG’s unpleasant little tasks, so that he is not distracted from the things that matter”, Blanke retorted, “and even Captain Syke sometimes is not fully aware of what the Old Man is up to, you know that, Growler”.

“If anything happens to Bojay though”, Benson replied, using Syke’s call-sign, “you’re the one who is going to have to take over and run the wing, so you have to keep yourself informed of what’s going on, in case something does happen”.

“Well then”, Blanke answered, “let’s hope that Bojay doesn’t have anything happen to him. He’s a hell of a good pilot, and a good leader”.

“He likes to keep his distance though”, Benson pointed out, “He’s always welcome to join in on one of our bull sessions, but when we invite him, he always replies that he has other things that needs to be done. He never even joins in for an occasional game of cards, and he had a reputation for being one hell of a good player when he was on the AUSTRALIS”.

“What’s your point, Growler?”, Blanke asked Benson with a faint undertone of disapproval. Benson missed that signal entirely.

“I’m saying that I think Bojay let his job go to his head some when he was promoted to Captain and then sent over to the PEGASUS to be the new CAG”, Benson said.

“That comment was out of line, Growler”, Blanke answered icily, “The CAG has to remain aloof from those he commands. He has a grave responsibility to protect the PEGASUS with the wing and if he is called upon to send some, most, or even all of us on a mission that could result in our not coming back, it’s better that he not get too close to those he is responsible for”.

“It makes him sleep easier at night not knowing the pilots he kills, you mean?”, Benson asked acidly.

“You’d best keep that opinion to yourself, Benson”, Blanke admonished firmly, “You don’t know what you’re talking about. Just what the hell do you think we do for a living? If we have to lay down our lives in order to protect the PEGASUS, then that’s what we do, and for your information, Bojay does not sleep well at night as he cares about the wing, but also realizes his duty to the PEGASUS”.

“But....”, Benson tried to argue.

“But me no buts, Growler”, Blanke interrupted him, “If and when you get a command, perhaps you’ll have a clearer idea of what it takes to be a good leader. Anyway, let’s get our minds back onto the patrol and keep our eyes peeled”. His tone of voice had made it clear that the topic of the CAG was closed.

Benson wasn’t convinced by Blanke’s argument and was smarting some at the rebuke. Still, Blanke was the patrol commander and they were supposed to out here patrolling, not chatting. He put his attention back onto the scanner, but the conversation had created some adrenalin and he thought that maybe he should do something to work it off. After thinking about it for a couple of minutes, he keyed his communicator again.

“Cooler, with all of this debris drifting about, do you mind if I take a couple of shots at a few boulders in our flight path?”, he asked.

Blanke thought about Benson’s request. It was a good way to check the calibration of the guns. Despite Chief Krag being an expert on the computer responsible for honing the vipers’ targeting and acquisition platforms, there was really no substitute for live target practice, and it would serve to deflect attention from the recent hassle regarding Syke.

“Sure, Growler, go ahead”, he replied, “Ten credits says you’ll miss the first one”.

“You’re on, Cooler”, Benson replied with a laugh, “I’m weapons-free”, he then said as he flipped the safety switch off his firing trigger.

“Guns only, Growler”, Blanke reminded him, “because I really don’t want to have to explain to Colonel Tolen why we wasted a few missiles on asteroid debris”.

“Killjoy”, Growler replied jokingly. Their recent argument was now forgotten as Benson looked for a nearby boulder to blast. He saw one approach - what looked to be a potato-shaped rock about two meters in diameter. His targeting computer noticed that it would pass quite close to Blanke’s viper. He decided to shoot at it when it was almost at the point of closest approach so as to impress Blanke with his marksmanship. It was a subtle way to get back at him for his rebuke.

“Target located and locked”, Benson announced, waiting for the optimum moment, “firing......now!”

The vipers were equipped with multiple missile racks and two rapid-fire cannons. These latter weapons fired special-shaped aluminum bullets which were accelerated at a high rate by means of a magnetic field generator in the base of the weapon. The high fire rate of the gun and the ultra-high speed of these bullets made for devastating penetration power. However, neither of them were prepared for the result of the firing.

Both of them thought that a couple of rounds would shatter the boulder. Blanke was a little surprised at the close proximity of the rounds from Benson’s guns coming close to his viper, then he saw the now-very close boulder get hit by the rounds. The next thing, there was a massive explosion. Blanke’s viper was caught in the blast, causing his ship to hurtle out of control.

“Frakk!”, he exclaimed, “what was that?”

“I did not use warheads, Cooler”, Benson blurted out, “it just blew up!”.

“My viper’s been fried from the blast, and I’m in trouble”, Cooler replied while struggling to regain control of his viper. It was slowly tumbling, and his engines would not start up. Power levels were fluctuating.

“I’m heading over to check you out”, Benson replied, powering up his viper and heading over to where Blanke’s ship was drifting.

Benson expertly brought his viper in close to Blanke, and he proceeded to check his ship over on all sides. Blanke watched Benson maneuver his fighter first over, then beneath. He heard Benson whistle as he passed underneath.

“It looks like the blast tore out a lot of the underside of your viper, Cooler”, Benson reported, after surveying the damage caused by the exploding boulder, “How are you holding up?”.

“MY life support system is okay for the moment”, Blanke replied, “but why would a piece of rock blow up like that?”, he asked, “I’m okay for the moment, but can you take a long range shot at another asteroid?”

“Will do”, he replied, then selected another boulder of similar size - there were quite a lot in this vicinity - and targeted his guns on it. This time it was a lot farther away from them, which was just as well. The boulder exploded with the same amount of force as the first rounds fired hit it.

“What’s going on here?”, Benson asked aloud.

“Fly in close to one of those boulders and take a detailed scan of it”, Blanke ordered, “I’ve got a nasty feeling about this”.

“Me too”, Benson replied as he switch off his targeting computer and activated his high-intensity scanner. It was good for intensive scanning at close range. Another boulder came into view and Benson brought his viper in just close enough for the scanner to be able to survey the boulder, in case the scanning caused an explosion. What it reported back was a shock.

“It’s a frakking mine!”, he exclaimed. Blanke’s suspicion was confirmed. But who or what had left it here?

“Get a warbook classification on the type”, Blanke ordered. With his viper inert, he could only wait and hear what Benson had to say. The next bit of news was even worse.

“Warbook says that it’s a Cylon mine. One of the type fours used in the last war - set to explode on impact or very close proximity. Those tin-heads must have disguised them as space debris and seeded this area. What I don’t get is why? There’s no planets or any ships or bases nearby”, Benson reported.

“The why of it can wait”, Blanke replied, “The important thing is that the PEGASUS needs to know that it’s approaching a disguised minefield, so you better take a quick scan of this area to get an idea of it’s size, then head back to report this to the Old Man”.

“And what about you, Cooler?”, Benson demanded, “I don’t want to leave you here. With you adrift and the high probability of more mines nearby.....”

Blanke cut him off, saying, ”You have to. If you don’t report this ASAP, then the PEGASUS will be in real trouble. Have a rescue ship dispatched when you get back. Now you gotta go, that’s an order!”, he shouted.

Benson wanted to stay, but Blanke was right. This was no time to worry about one pilot when the thousands of lives on board the PEGASUS was at risk. Reluctantly, he punched in a plot for returning to the battlestar.

“Heading back now”, he quietly acknowledged, “and hang on in there Cooler; we’ll be back for you”.

“I ain’t going nowhere”, Blanke replied, “So get going. I’ll pay you your ten credits when I get back”.

With that, Benson powered up his engines to full speed and started back for the PEGASUS. Blanke watched him go from his cockpit window, then powered down all remaining intact systems. Life Support was going to need every drop of power that was left. He knew that the temperature would start getting real low, and hoped that Growler would be able to get help soon.

CHAPTER TWO: The Cylon Trap.

“A minefield. That’s all we need”, Commander Cain muttered, after hearing the report from Benson.

Benson had expedited his return to the PEGASUS in order to report the existence of the disguised minefield. As a result of the notification, The PEGASUS had been called to Condition One and the battlestar’s speed heavily reduced. Now, in the wing briefing room, Cain had called Tolen and Syke in to listen to Benson’s report in more detail and to make recommendations, while Captain Sanders monitored things from CIC.

“Why would the Cylons seed this sector of space with mines?”, Tolen asked, echoing Benson’s earlier observation, “There’s no trace of planets or anything for this minefield to protect, plus, we could always FTL-jump beyond the minefield and out of trouble”.

“No one has ever accused the Cylons of being stupid, Colonel. They did this for a reason”. Cain answered.

At this point, Syke, who had been looking over a printout from Benson’s last scan, spoke up; saying, “It seems to me that given the fact that the Cylons can’t be everywhere at once, they would want to cover as many sectors as possible by providing traps such as this. Those mines could very well have taken us by surprise. And if we had been damaged enough, we would stay stuck here, immobilized in this part of space until either our supplies ran out or until their base stars arrived”, Cain replied, “which either way is a pretty sound tactic on the Cylons’ part”.

“Commander”, Benson spoke up, “Shouldn’t we try to get Cooler back before we do anything else?”.

“I’m ahead of you there, Growler”, Syke answered, “a raptor crew is getting readied now to retrieve him”.

“Who?”, Cain wanted to know.

“Sheba and Helo”, Syke answered. It’s their turn on the rotation, and in any case they are the best crew that we have. Their raptor is already being fitted with a grab so that we can tow Lt. Blanke home. As soon as it’s installed, they’ll be on their way ”.

“They’ll need to be the best, and fast too”, Tolen replied, “as pretty soon, the Cylons are going to find out about two of their mines exploding in this sector and will send someone along to check it out”.

Cain looked at Tolen, then turned his attention to Benson.

“Lieutenant”, he said to Benson, “Did either of you get any indications whatsoever of FTL-entry on your sensors?”

“Negative, Commander”, Benson replied, “My sensors were keyed to that and they definitely picked up nothing”.

“Then that means that this field did not have any drones”, Cain deduced. Cain was referring to small automatic probes that would fly off and FTL to a base star to report on the detonation of the mines should one happen.

“Given that they were disguising the minefield, a drone could have been detected quite easily”, Syke clarified, “but it would be safe to assume there would at least be a periodic signal check of the mines, and when the Cylons get a signal back from the field indicating that some of them had detonated, they will be coming”.

“There has been no indication of any other ships detected on long range scan, so it will take a while for the Cylons to receive such a signal”, Tolen said hopefully.

“But relying on sub-light signals means that they can’t be all that far away, which means we have to assume the worst-case scenario”, Cain replied, “ Regardless, we have to get Lt. Blanke back. As the Deputy CAG of Silver Spar Wing, he is privy to a lot of information. If he get’s captured, the Cylons will torture it out of him and that means not only revealing our presence, but also our current disposition”.

Everyone nodded at that. Blanke had a lot of information and that made it imperative that he had to be rescued. But there was one thing that has to be asked.

“Commander”, Captain Syke ventured, “If the Cylons do intercept him before we can rescue him, what are your orders?”. Tolen and Benson looked at Cain, awaiting his answer.

“If worst comes to worst, Captain”, Cain replied slowly, “the Cylons must not be able to get any information from Lieutenant Blanke. Is that sufficiently clear?”

Syke looked ashen, but then he nodded his head. Benson had a harder time keeping stoic, because he well knew what Commander Cain had meant.

“Brief the rescue crew accordingly”, Cain said to Syke as he stood up and exited the briefing room. Tolen followed him closely. Syke turned to Benson.

“You are to mention nothing of this conversation to anyone else, Growler. Understood?”, Syke asked.

“Having to kill him.....”, Benson blurted out before he could stop speaking. He looked at Syke, whose facial expression was somber.

“Say nothing. That is an order”, Syke repeated, “you are to proceed to your action station. Condition One is still in effect”, Syke reminded him.

“Yes, sir”, Benson replied. He stood up and walked out of the briefing room.

Syke stayed for a few seconds in order to regain his complete composure, then called Chief Krag in order to have the raptor armed with ship-to-ship missiles. Once he put down the communicator, he headed out to the launch bay where Tricia’s raptor was being readied. Commander Cain’s order would have to be given face-to-face.

As Syke rode the transporter down to the bay, both Tricia and Helo were watching some of the deck crew install the magna-grab underneath the raptor’s belly. It was a device that could be lowered on a cable. When it contacted the viper’s nose, it would lock into place and the raptor would then be able to tow it back.

Both of them had been given the co-ordinates of Blanke’s viper and it’s drift trajectory. Tricia did not foresee any problems locating Blanke, but there was a problem: The minefield’s area and concentration of debris meant that an FTL-jump directly to Blanke could not be done. They would have to approach on sublight, and use manual control to avoid anything that could be a disguised mine in order to rendezvous and dock with him. Then, they would have to be just as careful in towing Blanke out of the minefield.

Tricia was musing about that problem when Helo tapped her on the arm and drew her attention to the bay access hatch. Chief Krag was with other members of the deck crew, pushing a dolly. The dolly had two high-explosive armor-piercing ship-to-ship homing missiles (referred to as SSM’s) placed upon them. Tricia frowned. This raptor was being set up for a rescue, not combat. Besides, a raptor was not the ideal craft for fighting, as it was geared more toward scouting and intelligence gathering.

“CAG’s orders”, Krag said, answering Tricia’s unspoken question, “Lieutenant Helo, I’ll need you to get the fire control panel set up to accept the weapons load”.

Helo looked at Tricia, who shrugged. Helo entered the raptor and began to power up the relevant systems, while Krag’s armament technicians began to mount the missiles on the raptor’s missile racks. At that moment, Captain Syke walked in.

“CAG”, Tricia said as she walked up to him, “what’s with the SSM’s?” . Syke did not reply directly, He gestured to an alcove at the far end of the bay. Tricia understood. Both of them walked on over there, where there was no one to overhear them.

“The commander ordered the arming of your raptor just in case the Cylons get to Cooler before you do, Sheba”, he explained, “As Cooler has information that the Cylons would love to have, if worst comes to worst, you must see to it that this does not happen”.

Tricia’s eyes widened as she realized the import of Syke’s statement. If rescue was impossible, she would have to kill the Deputy CAG herself!

“I don’t know if I can do it”, Tricia objected.

“You’re the best pilot we have. You are Blanke’s best chance for a rescue, but if the Cylons locate him, you’re his best chance to stop him from being captured and tortured, and you know what will happen if he is caught”, Syke answered quietly.

Tricia had read reports from the First Cylon War about the finding of mutilated bodies. The Cylons had a penal colony that doubled as an interrogation center. The colonials had found the facility and captured it. What they found had defied description. Judging from the few survivors’ accounts, The Cylons used horrific means to extract information. It was this discovery that had galvanized the colonials to double their efforts against the Cylons, which later on led to the armistice. She nodded to Syke, indicating that she had understood, then walked back to her raptor - looking pale.

Syke watched her go. He did not envy her task if it indeed came to that. He walked out of the bay and headed to the Launch Control area -where the Launch Control Officer, known popularly as ’Shooter’ was located - to check on the readiness status of the wing.

At that moment, while adrift in the minefield, Blanke was trying to keep warm. He had pulled out a thermal blanket from his survival pack and had wrapped it around him. With tying up almost all remaining power in his damaged viper into the life support system, the heater was off and the temperature was down as a result. As his ship slowly tumbled, he looked out for any other boulders that may be disguised mines. The Cylons - who else could it be, he reasoned - had really planned this trap well. Seeding disguised mines in a large field of debris was a deception that could have spelled doom for the PEGASUS. It was purely fortuitous that they had discovered it, although his ship got badly damaged as a result.

There were several large rocks floating nearby. Without his sensors, there was no way to know which ones were mines. He hoped that his drifting fighter would not hit one before the rescue craft made it, or that the rescue craft would be able to get to him without hitting one themselves. His life support system was still good for several hours, but he was really living up to his call-sign as the frakking cold was starting to bite. The only other thing that he was putting power to were the passive sensors. When his sensors detected a rescue ship, then and only then would he activate the TRANSMIT mode on his PSB - the personal survival beacon that all pilots carried as an emergencey locator and short-range receiver/communicator. It was currently in RECEIVE mode, meaning that it was listening for any incoming short-range communications, but so far, no signal had been received, and until either a signal was received, or his sensors picked up a ship, all that he could do was wait.

At that very moment, something else was biting, but it was something that Blanke could well do without. Commander Cain was right in his guess that there would be an alert signal sent out when those first two mines were hit, but that were no base stars nearby to quickly pick up the signal, according to the deep space scanners. But something else had picked up the signal instead.

When the base star that had laid out this disguised minefield - which was just one of several minefields in various sectors - had left, a routine patrol schedule was also set up, as an FTL-drone type of alert did stand a far better chance of being detected. Raiders in groups of two would make periodic FTL-jumps into the mined sectors in order to check on their status. If an alert signal was received from a minefield, then the raiders would check out what had caused the alert, and if it proved to be a hostile ship, they would return to their base star to sound the alarm. It was one of these patrols that had just FTL-jumped to the opposite side of the minefield from the PEGASUS’ position that had picked up the signal.

The two raiders were of the new self-aware (pilotless) scimitar configuration which had wrought so much destruction upon the colonial fleet. They had FTL-jumped just outside the sensor range of the PEGASUS. As the received signal did report the detonation of two mines, the raiders went into their pre-set investigative mode. One would remain just outside the minefield while the other would enter the field and do a methodical search. With this directive now activated, the raiders proceeded to head to the edge of the minefield that was closest to the explosions....

CHAPTER THREE: Minefield Cat-and-Mouse

“Core Command transferring control of Rescue One to command pilot. Launch when ready”.

As Tricia’s raptor left the landing bay and headed out to where Blanke was drifting, Helo noticed that Tricia was a little preoccupied. He had noticed this when Tricia had entered the raptor after the missiles had been loaded onto the launch racks. Tricia did not volunteer anything and Helo didn’t press: he saw CAG talking with her at the far end of the bay and figured that whatever it was, she would tell him when the time was right.

“We should be at the perimeter of the minefield in fifteen minutes, Sheba”, Helo said, “pity we just can’t FTL there. Cooler would be glad to see us about now”.

“I know, Helo”, Tricia replied, “but better this than FTL-ing right into a mine. It’s slower, but a hell of a lot surer”.

Helo used the next few minutes running diagnostics on the magna-grab system, the sensor platform, and the fire control system. The targeting and acquisition equipment was total state of the art, and the two SSM missiles were the best in ‘fire and forget’ technology. Programmed to fly evasive patterns so as to avoid being hit by defensive fire, these devices packed quite a punch.

“This minefield is mixed in well with the other debris”, Tricia noted as she took the time to quickly review the data obtained by Benson’s viper, “so it’ll be seat-of-the pants flying in order to avoid all that’s there”.

“So how do you want to go about this?”, Helo wanted to know, “the sensor platform is warmed up and ready to go, but it’s still going to be a problem locking on targets and telling mines from rubble while flying an evasive pattern”.

“We just do the best that we can, Helo. Cooler is relying on us to get him out, and sooner or later, there will be unfriendlies coming to see what caused the initial explosions”, Tricia answered, “sowe don’t have the luxury of delaying for too long”.

“Well, at least we have the missiles just in case any unfriendlies do arrive. These babies can deal with them”, Helo said confidently. Tricia didn’t answer, as she knew that they were not there for blasting Cylons. She put her mind back on her sensors as she closed with the minefield.

At that moment, coming from the opposite side of the minefield, the two Cylon raiders were maneuvering around the perimeter in order to get to the closest point of the explosions, whereupon one of them would enter the field and start a methodical scan in order to look for clues as to why they exploded. Both raiders were keeping their sensors trained on the minefield at the moment, which was very fortunate as had they started scanning in the opposite direction, they would have picked up Tricia’s raptor. Their EM emissions though were radiating out and it was those emissions that Helo noticed on his scanner.

“Uh-oh”, Helo announced, “We’ve got visitors. Scanner shows scanner emissions from two bogies dead ahead. Range finder indicates the bogies are at the edge of the field”.

“Switching to silent mode”, Tricia announced, “you’d better get your platform shut down. Activate passive sensors only”.

“Right”, Helo crisply acknowledged. With the sensors and engines powered down, the raptor was now drifting in silent mode. To anyone using sensors, they would look like a piece of drifting space debris, of which this part of space had lots of. Both Tricia and Helo knew that the two contacts were Cylon, even though they still referred to them as bogies (unidentified). Military habits die hard and until definitive identification was in hand, bogies they would be called.

Helo was now ‘listening’ to the emissions from the two bogies as they did their scanning of the field of mines. The passive sensors, while not as efficient as active sensors, at least allowed for some information to come through, and Helo was good at accessing the data.

“Okay, neither of them are heading this way. That’s the good news. The bad news is that one of the bogies is moving slowly into the minefield, while the other one is standing sentinel. The one in the minefield is using a narrow-field scan of the area of the explosion”.

Tricia grunted an acknowledgment. The Cylons were playing it smart: If the one in the field was ambushed, the other one would be able to escape, and vice versa. She wondered how the rescue could proceed when Helo spoke up.

“Go into a tumble, Sheba”, he suggested, “the sentinel bogey is starting a mid-range sensor sweep in this area”.

Tricia tapped a control jet briefly, sending the raptor into a slow spin. Tricia noticed on her sensor screen that the Cylon sensor sweep was closing in on her position. She hoped that their sensors would not register anything that would attract their attention.....

The sensor swept briefly onto, then past them. Tricia knew that if Cylons were suspicious, they would re-scan them, which meant....

“Phew”, Helo breathed a sigh of relief, “their sensor sweep is continuing. Thank the Lords of Kobol for all the other debris floating around here”. Tricia relaxed some at the news. Now they could close the distance on the minefield. She did wish that they could send word back to the PEGASUS, but now, any false move on their part and things would start getting a lot worse.

“Long range video zoom has a definitive ID”, Helo reported after a couple of minutes, “It’s a Cylon Raider - no question about it. It’s one of the new scimitar shaped ones. Bogies are now officially hostiles”, he concluded unnecessarily.

“How soon before the hostile within the minefield comes across Blanke?”, Tricia asked next.

“Hard to tell with just the passive sensors, Sheba”, Helo replied, “I can only estimate twenty minutes maximum, depending on how much debris is between him and the hostile”.

“How soon can you get a weapons lock on the sentinel?”, Tricia asked next.

“A couple of seconds, but the missile will take about thirty seconds to reach the target at this range. It would have more than enough time to evade”.

“And how about in fifteen minutes?”, Tricia then asked.

“We’d have a much better chance of taking it out, but the other Cylon will know what’s happening”, Helo replied, “and this ship is not exactly a viper”.

Tricia thought about what Helo said, then replied, “I can’t see any way past it. We can’t return to the PEGASUS without being detected as we’re now well within sensor range, and if we don’t do anything , Blanke will be discovered. In fifteen minutes, start your jamming and target on the sentinel bogey”, she announced.

“Okay, Sheba”, Helo replied. Things were getting rather complicated, he thought sourly.

It was about this time that Blanke’s passive sensor beeped. It was picking up an EM emission. He first thought that it was a rescue ship, and was about to activate the TRANSMIT mode on his PSB, when he suddenly realized that the EM’s audio pattern was not that of sensors used on raptors or vipers. He powered up his warbook and had it check out the EM pattern. The warbook’s video display flashed back three words: CYLON RAIDER - CONFIRMATION.

“Frakk!”, Blanke cursed. The Cylons were here and they were checking out the minefield. Judging from his sensors, he was partially obscured from immediate view by a boulder, plus as he was giving out no EM emissions, he was confident that at this moment, he was not seen by the raider. But he knew that given how methodical that the Cylons were, that would not last long. He checked his damage control display. His weapons platform was out and his maneuvering thrusters were likewise down. The only thing that he had use of were his engines, but without directional control, firing them up would be damn risky at best given that he was stuck in this frakking minefield. He could only hope that help would arrive before the Cylon raider discovered him. And judging from his sensors, it would not be much longer.

Helo agreed with Blanke’s assessment of the situation. As the raptor drifted closer to the minefield - and the Cylons - he just could not see how they take care of this crisis. It looked like the secret of the existence of the Battlestar PEGASUS was about to be compromised. But Helo knew that they had to do something, regardless. He hoped Tricia had a good idea. The timer clicked down. All that he had to do was to power up the fire control system, lock a missile on target, then shoot.

Tricia was also watching the screen, seeing them drift closer and closer. So much rested on taking that sentinel out, but would they also be able to deal with the second raider? The die was cast. It now all came down to waiting for the timer to reach zero.

Within the minefield, the raider was using the narrow-field sensor scan to methodically check every floating rock in the area. The scanned debris from the detonated mines showed nothing definitive as yet, but the directive was clear: check everything. The raider was now moving closer and closer to Blanke’s damaged ship. It was only going to be a matter of time before the viper was discovered.

CHAPTER FOUR: Battle

Blanke noticed the raider coming closer and closer. He looked out of his window and saw the sinister-looking shape of the craft - looking like a large scimitar with a helmet in the middle. He noticed the scanning red light going back and forth from the ‘helmet’. Blanke had read the intelligence reports and communications intercepts from the last war that indicated that these new raiders were un-piloted: self aware automatons in their own right. He found it a little hard to believe. Now, looking at it approaching, he knew it to be true. What would it do when it found him? Destroy him, or capture him? Remembering the academy lectures, he knew that the former would be the better fate.

His cockpit was suddenly illuminated with a red light. He knew that the raider had detected him. He noticed it coming closer, the red light still bathing Blanke and his fighter. The Raider was in a perfect firing position, but it was not firing! He saw it move above him, then stop. The Blanke saw a hatch open under the raider and then it started lowering a clamp on a cable. It was moving in to latch onto him.

At that moment, outside the minefield, the raptor was drifting closer. The countdown chronometer at last reached zero, in which Tricia ordered Helo, “Power up the missiles and take it out!”.

As Tricia activated the communications jammer, stopping the raiders from talking to each other, Helo immediately hit the activation control on the weapons panel. It immediately came up and started to acquire the raider. A green flashing light indicated weapons lock. He pressed another switch.

“On the way!”, he shouted as the first missile thundered off the missile rack and streaked in towards the sentinel raider. The raider suddenly powered up and turned in order to bear it’s weapons onto the incoming missile. It fired a burst of bullets, but the missile went into automatic evasive mode, moving out of the arc of fire. The raider started accelerating, but it was too late. The missile hit the raider on the underside, between the two engines. The raider disintegrated as the missile warhead detonated.

“We got him!”, Helo shouted. Tricia nodded, accelerating towards the minefield. This was now going to get rather hairy as her palms started sweating on the control column. She also activated her emergency transmitter.

“Cooler, this is Sheba. Are you there?”, she communicated as she started flying evasive through the minefield. Helo was strapped tightly in as the raptor yawed, pitched, and rolled past the mines.

The raider’s clamp had just latched onto the nose of Blanke’s viper when his PSB beeped, indicating an incoming transmission from a friendly close by.

“Sheba, this is Cooler”, he replied, simultaneously switching his PSB to TRANSMIT, “I’m getting reeled in by a Cylon raider. I need your help and I need it now!”.

Helo was now using his active sensors as the raptor was careening through the minefield, deftly avoiding boulders and debris in the way. He saw that the raider had latched onto Blanke’s viper and was preparing to move out.

“How are you for acquisition?”, Tricia demanded from Helo?

“All right, I’ve got a weapons lock on the hostile”, Helo reported, “the viper is about twenty meters below the raider, but it’s getting reeled in”.

“Fire the missile, we’re out of time”, Tricia ordered. Helo complied, crossing his fingers. The last missile roared away from the raptor and started homing in on the raider.

Blanke noticed that the raider had suddenly changed it’s attitude, pulling him along with it, and then it turned around. As his viper swung around with it, he saw the incoming missile. The raider was firing it’s guns at the missile. The missile detected the firing and went into evasive mode......which put it straight onto a path for a piece of debris - a mine.

With a brilliant flash marking the detonation, both the missile warhead and the disguised mine combusted. The blast radius did not reach either the raider or the raptor. As the blast diminished, Helo saw that the raider was untouched.

“We frakking missed!”, Helo blurted out. Tricia was shocked and dismayed. There were no more missiles and there was no more armament that the raptor could use - just missile decoys. Her mission had failed!

“We’re out of missiles!”, Tricia blurted into the communicator at Blanke

Blanke listened to Tricia and now realized that it was indeed the end of the line. He knew that she could no longer help him, and the raider had now reeled him in to within five meters of the raider’s underside. Now it was preparing to move out, taking him to Cylon captivity and certain torture and death. He knew that he would end up telling the Cylons everything that he knew if that happened..... and then he remembered what his flight instructor had said to him when he had gotten his wings.

He had said to him, after the graduation ceremony when answering a question about confronting death in combat, “Someday, if it happens, you’ll know when that last flight will come, and when it does, don’t complain. Just look the Lords of Kobol square in the eye and you tell them that it’s been a wonderful ride.....and you thank them for it. That’s the way you have to live, that’s the way to fly in combat”. He suddenly knew what he had meant.

“Thanks for the ride”, he mouthed silently, clutching his wings with one hand as he activated his engine controls with the other, then punched them up to full thrust.

Tricia and Helo looked with surprise as Blanke’s viper suddenly leapt forward. The raider, unprepared for the sudden thrust from a supposedly derelict human fighter, was dragged along with it. Because the viper had thrusted forward suddenly, the raider could not unlatch from the viper - the clamp had been twisted out of shape as a result of the abrupt acceleration.

Without any directional control, the viper hurtled through the minefield, dragging the Cylon with it - who was trying desperately to use it’s engines to retard the speed - which only succeeded in further wrenching the clamp into an immovable mess. Blanke was grinning like a maniac as he saw the clamp now permanently holding both ships together. Blanke then saw a large boulder ahead of him and he was heading straight for it.

“Silver Spar Forever!”, Blanke shouted into his communicator as the viper slammed right into the boulder, which was a disguised mine. The impact destroyed the viper, and the mine’s detonation took the raider with it in a spectacular explosion.

In the raptor, Tricia and Helo looked at the viewscreen in stunned silence. The mine had completely demolished both ships. They had heard Blanke’s last transmission just before the impact. For a long time, well after the glow of the explosion had dissipated, noone spoke, then Helo said quietly, “We’d better retrieve what viper wreckage we can and get back to the PEGASUS”.

Tricia nodded. There could be other Cylon patrols out there alerted to the latest explosions. She numbly maneuvered the raptor over toward the mass of debris. Helo would use the magna grab in order to pick up what was left of Lyle Blanke and his ship.

It was an unpleasant task. The magna clamp had latched onto the identifiable pieces of viper wreckage. Helo tried not to think about what Blanke’s remains must look like, but it was imperative that nothing recognizable was left for the Cylons to find. At last, the task was completed, and with the viper debris collected, Tricia gently maneuvered the raptor out of the minefield and headed back to the PEGASUS.

As the PEGASUS got within instant wireless range, she keyed her communicator to the CIC frequency.

“Rescue One to Home Base, Rescue One to Home Base, Do you copy?”, she communicated.

“Go ahead, Rescue One”, a voice came back. Tricia recognized the voice as that of Captain Sanders. Tricia decided to use code phrases as she could not bring herself to say what had happened out loud.

“Comms, this is Sheba”, she replied, “Rescue One reports Lame Duck has been...has been put out of it’s misery. Acknowledge”.

The CIC went silent. Everyone who was listening knew precisely what it meant. Sanders keyed the communicator again.

“Confirm status of Lame Duck, Rescue One”, Sanders asked.

“Lame Duck is no more”, Tricia confirmed in a choked voice, “but he took a bad guy with him”, she finished.

“Did the poachers get wind?”, he asked.

“Negative”, Tricia replied. “Please alert ground crews to receive Lame Duck. ETA is in fifteen minutes”.

“Understood, Rescue One. Home Base clears you for immediate landing. We’ll be on hand to receive Lame Duck. Home Base out”.

Sanders put down the communicator and directed Core Command to ready the landing bay. Next, after getting a nod from Colonel Tolen, he contacted Commander Cain, who was down in engineering conferring with Chief Engineer Thyssen.

“Commander”, Sanders called, “Rescue One is coming in. ETA in fourteen minutes. They are reporting that Lieutenant Blanke didn’t make it, but that the Cylons didn’t get wind of what happened”.

“You’d better let Captain Syke know”, Cain replied with a sigh. Lyle Blanke was a well liked officer and he would be sorely missed, “Stand down from Condition One and plot us a jump to the next sector. Cain out”.

CHAPTER FIVE: Remembrance and Continuance

The entire flight and ground crews of Silver Spar Wing had assembled in Hangar Bay Six in order to pay their respects to their fallen comrade. Captain Voight’s Black Knight Wing were filling in on the patrol schedule so that this service could take place.

After Tricia Cain had returned to the PEGASUS, carrying what was left of Lieutenant Blanke and his ship, the PEGASUS had made a lengthy FTL jump into the Anotian Sector. The minefield was now well behind - along with other Cylon patrols who would soon find two of their raiders destroyed. Now, one day later, when the patrols had reported no pursuit and that for the moment they were out of immediate danger, it was time to immortalize the passing of one who had given his life to the PEGASUS.

The Silver Spar Wing personnel were standing at attention in their respective squadron formations facing a rostrum. All were in their dress uniforms. In front of each formation were the squadron commanders: Lieutenants Halley, Macklin, Warden, and Cain. Emblazoned on the front of the rostrum was the symbol of the Colonies. Behind the rostrum were the flags of the PEGASUS and Silver Spar Wing.

The officers standing in front of the flags were Captain Eugene Syke, and Commander Garris Cain. While memorials for fallen officers were by tradition attended only by wing personnel, Commander Cain was here to do a special duty. But at the moment, the only person speaking was the chaplain.

“Oh Lords of Kobol”, he intoned, “Please look down upon us as we grieve and pay remembrance to our departed brother Lyle Blanke. Take him into your care as we hope and pray to you that he will be granted life eternal. So say we all”.

“So say we all”, the assembled officers replied. In the crowd, Lieutenant Benson was looking at the ashen face of Captain Syke upon the podium. He really regretted at that moment making that earlier comment about Syke to Blanke on his last patrol. He looked over beside the podium to the casket covered with the flag of the colony of Sagiterra; Lyle Blanke’s birth world. Blanke’s helmet was salvaged from the wreckage and placed atop the draped flag. Helo had managed to recover all of Blanke’s body during the viper salvage and as such, it was being honored here today in a full ceremonial memorial service before it was cremated.

Commander Cain stepped up to the podium, carrying a small case. He looked at the casket, then the assembled crowd, then started to speak.

“Attention to Orders. Lieutenant Lyle Blanke, Deputy Commander - Air Group Silver Spar Wing. In which he had led a reconnaissance patrol and discovered a Cylon minefield, in the process severely damaging his viper, ordered his wingman to return home to warn the PEGASUS. When a Cylon raider discovered his presence and tried to capture him by latching onto his damaged ship, Lieutenant Blanke immediately powered up the engines of his viper, pulling the Cylon Raider deeper into the minefield, in which both ships were destroyed when they hit a mine. His valor in avoiding capture and ensuring that no word about his presence, or the presence of this battlestar reached the Cylons was a selfless action in the highest traditions of the service, and it is for this action that he is posthumously awarded the Gold Cluster. Lieutenant Cain will accept it on behalf of the deceased”.

Tricia marched up to the rostrum and saluted Commander Cain. Commander Cain handed her the case containing the Colonial Fleet’s highest military honor. She saluted Cain, then turned to the casket containing Blanke’s remains and saluted it. Walking up to the casket, she placed the Gold Cluster atop the flag draped on top, then marched back to take her position in front of the Reconnaissance Section.

As Commander Cain stepped off the rostrum, he saluted the casket, then walked out of the hangar bay. Captain Syke stepped up to speak.

“We all knew Lyle as a person who kept this wing going. We mainly remember him as a great administrator, but he was also a great pilot, and a good friend to all of us, and it is for the latter that we are here today. He gave his life for all of us, and that more than anything else displayed the love he felt for us all. Our job is a difficult one and death is part of our creed, but though this sad fact is a part of what we are, we are still united as family. In life or in death, our family will endure, by remembering those of us who died so that the rest of us may live. Lyle did not die in vain and he will never be forgotten while this family exists. The story of Lyle’s bravery we shall teach our children, and when they ask you: What was Lieutenant Blanke like, you can say that you knew him well, that he was a good man, and that he loved us enough for him to sacrifice himself so that we could continue to live. We dedicate ourselves to the example set by Lyle, and we shall always endure whatever hardships may befall us”

Syke nodded to the chaplain, who intoned an ancient Kobolian prayer from the sacred scroll, as the squadron commanders, Chief Krag, and Syke walked over to the casket. All six of them lifted the casket up by the handles and slowly walked between the squadrons to the exit of the hangar bay, where the casket would be placed on a transported and conveyed to the crematorium in the forensics lab of Sick Bay. As the casket passed by Benson, he turned and placed a note on the casket. It read simply: ‘I’ll take a rain-check on the ten credits, Cooler. Growler’.

After the casket and pallbearers exited the hangar, the assembled officers and enlisted men silently dispersed. There wasn’t anything much to talk about and patrols would need to be resumed. Those pilots scheduled for duty went to the ready room in order to change into their flight suits while the others went over to the Officers Club. There would be a few toasts to the memory of Lieutenant Blanke tonight.

“Tricia”, Syke said after the transporter carrying the casket had left, “would you mind coming to my office please?”

Nodding to the other pallbearers, who saluted Syke and headed out in the direction of the o-club, Tricia followed Syke on the short walk to the administration annex where his office was located. As they entered the annex, Syke gestured to Tricia to sit down on a chair in front of his desk. As Tricia did so, Syke sat down behind his desk.

“Just another of the unpleasant duties that a CAG has to do”, he said quietly, referring to the recent funeral service.

“I was there, Bojay”, Tricia replied, “We could have gotten him back alive”.

“I read the reports that both you and Helo submitted yesterday, and I went over the flight recorder. There was nothing you could have done, once that second missile had hit that mine. That wasn’t your fault either”, Syke pointed out, “It was a chance you had to take, and like a card game, you can sometimes lose”.

Tricia did not reply to what Syke had said. He was right, but she didn’t feel good. She couldn’t save Blanke and that hurt, regardless of the circumstances. Syke knew that Tricia was hurting, but what else could he say to help? It was time to get back to business.

“Lieutenant Tricia Cain”, Syke said formally, “I have the honor to inform you that you are now appointed to the position of Deputy CAG for Silver Spar Wing”.

For a few seconds, Tricia could not comprehend what Syke had told her, then she started to object.

“CAG”, she said, “I don’t...... What about Helo and the reconnaissance section and the other squadron commanders?”.

“I spoke with Commander Cain and Colonel Tolen last night, after reading your after-action report. Both concur that you are the logical choice. You were about to be promoted and appointed to be CAG of the TRITON before the war messed up those plans. Plus, you are senior-in-grade to the other squadron commanders. Lt. Dutch will assume command of the reconnaissance section”, Syke answered.

“And Helo?”, Tricia asked.

“Helo is ready to command his own raptor. We’re training volunteer Petty Officers to be RSO’s and Helo will be able to train ‘em up pretty quick”, Syke replied.

Tricia knew that Syke had carefully thought things out. ‘Razor’ Dutch was a good command choice for the wing raptors and Helo was ready for a raptor command, but there was something else....

“I don’t want to be stuck in an office doing paperwork, CAG”, Tricia said.

“Don’t worry”, Syke assured her, “I’m getting in some extra admin staff to assist. While you will have to spend more time here, you will still be able to fly on a regular basis. As of now, you are to remove the raptor patch from your flight suit and put on a viper patch. You are back on vipers. It means that when you’re flying and I’m not, you’ll be Silver Spar Group Leader”.

Tricia was pleased that she was finally getting back onto fighters, but there was something else gnawing at her.

“It all seems ghoulish somehow, stepping into a dead man’s shoes”, she said. Syke looked at her for a second.

“It’s been hard for all of us, Tricia. Especially me”, Syke replied, “but we still have a job to do and we need a Deputy CAG. You’re the best candidate I have. War is a dirty business, but on the bright side, it’s quite good for promotion”, he finished wryly.

“Did you ever take a chance in a viper like in a game of cards, Bojay?”, Tricia asked. She knew of Syke’s reputation as an excellent card player.

“There was only one person who ever beat me in cards, Tricia”, Bojay replied, not answering directly. “She was with me in viper transition training when I was a flight instructor with her. Her name was Kara Thrace - better known as Starbuck. We talked about taking risks and how to explain it to our student pilots. Like her card playing, she was a seat-of-the-pants pilot, but she weighed each risk and came through every time. I like to think that I had her insight and instinct as well”.

Tricia nodded. Syke was right. Calculated risk was a part of the job and despite your best efforts, the hand you were dealt could be a losing one. She knew Starbuck by reputation, like most of the pilots in the fleet. A person who cared more about flying and fighting than promotion boards, she pulled no punches and was a frequent visitor to the brig.

“She’s probably dead now, like the vast majority of the pilots in the fleet”, Tricia replied.

“I don’t think so”, Syke answered, “because when I was assigned to the AUSTRALIS after my tour as an instructor was up, she received orders to report to the GALACTICA. I really think that she’s still alive and flying the pants off the other pilots in her wing”.

“So, what are your orders to your new deputy, Bojay”, she asked next.

“Get some sack time and report to me here at zero-six-thirty”, he replied, “Jet will be here to assist”.

Tricia stood and saluted Syke. Syke returned the gesture.

“See you tomorrow morning, Sheba”, he said as she walked out, “We have Jet’s brand new duty rosters to approve for the squadrons”.

While Tricia was heading back to her quarters, still a little stunned at her promotion, Syke leaned back in his chair. He had lost a good pilot and colleague. Despite Cain’s advice about not getting too close to his subordinates, Blanke’s death had hit him pretty hard. True, all the pilots knew the risks and the odds of not making it back, but it did not make him feel any better. He had sent Blanke out on that patrol and the responsibility for the outcome rested with him. How could other commanders deal with loses like this, he asked himself as he stood up and left the office. Regardless, he was still the CAG and he still had his job to do......and the pilots had theirs.

CHAPTER SIX: Assessing the Situation

Back in the Optus Sector, a Cylon base star was hovering just outside the minefield. Several raiders had spent some time probing the minefield and identifying the debris from the exploded mines. It was a slow process, but at last, a report had been compiled and it was sent up to a humanoid Cylon to make an assessment of the data.

“Both missing raiders have been found. One was destroyed by a missile. The other looks to have been destroyed by a mine”, a Centurion reported to Number Seven.

“What else?”, Number Seven asked.

The second raider’s docking clamp had been deployed. Evidently it was trying to retrieve something when it was destroyed”, the centurion answered, “unfortunately, there was not enough of what the clamp had attached to in order to identify the ship type, suffice to say that it was not Cylon in origin”, was the answer.

“Human?”, Number Seven asked hopefully.

“The alloy is of a type used on human ships, but there is simply not enough to be definitive”, the centurion replied.

Number Seven thought about this. So there had been someone here. Someone who had destroyed a patrol and discovered one of their minefields. He knew that whoever was responsible would have left this sector by now. He looked at a star map. It could be any number of sectors that this enemy had jumped to: Borallis, Anotian, Carillon, Atilla, Tairac, or even the Promar sector.

He shrugged - a very human response. This trap was just one of several scattered all over space. This one had nearly worked. By the laws of probabilities, this luck would not last forever. Whoever was out there was bound to slip up sooner or later. But he was somewhat at a disadvantage as he was the only humanoid Cylon in this persuit force and he was unable to talk with any other humanoid models face to face in order to form an independent plan of action, hence the frequent need to refer to Number One for instructions. He gave orders for the base star to FTL-jump to the next search area. Also, he dispatched a raider to report this latest happening to Number One. They had come close. It really was a matter of time.

The raider quickly made the jump back to the Cyrannus System in order to deliver the message to Number One on the command base star which was still orbiting Caprica. The raider transmitted the message, then awaited orders.

Number One read the latest message from Number Seven regarding the recent minefield incident in the Optus Sector. The so-far unknown foe - if it was indeed the only one out there - had really traveled a considerable distance over the past month. She had liked Number Seven’s plan to seed likely jump points in various sectors with mines and other traps, and it was pretty clear that the tactic had nearly worked.

Now, Number Seven was requesting both additional humanoid Cylon models to man the base stars already deployed, plus additional base stars to help expand the search. This request however could not be granted at this time. The pursuit of the GALACTICA, along with the current cleansing operations on what was left of the colonies, meant that Number Seven would have to make do with the current forces at his disposal - at least until the enemy had been properly identified and located. The available models of humanoid Cylons were likewise indisposed. The distances involved were now starting to stretch their dragnet. She ordered a message transmitted to the awaiting raider in order to acknowledge receipt of the original message and to relay her latest instructions to Number Seven’s task force.

The Battlestar PEGASUS, after making it’s escape from the Optus Sector, was now cruising at a slow speed in a remote part of the Anotian Sector. Commander Cain had chosen to jump here in order to assess and rethink the situation. The recent discovery of the disguised Cylon minefield back in the Optus Sector had now forced him to revise the current strategy. Why would the Cylons have placed a minefield there? What other surprises could be waiting for them out here?, he asked himself. Despite the immensity of space, the PEGASUS was in actuality running a Cylon gauntlet and one slip could spell doom for the battlestar. He decided to call a council-of-war with his XO, and the two wing CAG’s. He paged them and told them to hand their duties over to their respective deputies and to report to him in Silver Spar Wing’s briefing room.

“The Cylons are really starting to get creative”, Cain had said to them once they had assembled and sat down, “That minefield was expertly placed and it was pure dumb luck that it was found. In a way, we were damn lucky to get out of that trap with the loss of only one viper”.

The assembled persons fell silent thinking about the death of Lieutenant Blanke, but if it wasn’t for him, then things could well have gotten a lot worse. Then, the CAG of Black Knight Wing spoke up.

“I’ve been thinking about it some”, Captain Voight said, “and it seems to me that their base stars must be spread thinly out here. That minefield was intended to cover that sector of space in the absence of their capital ships”.

“True”, Syke concurred, “but regardless of how dispersed their base stars are out here, all it will take is for the PEGASUS to fall into another one of those traps and those base stars will converge on us like insects to sweetener”.

“But on the bright side, If the GALACTICA and her convoy is still intact, then forcing the Cylons to search for us and plant these traps will result in getting some of the heat being taken off them”, Tolen added, “so in a way, what they are doing is an act of desperation. With insufficient forces to properly hunt us down, they are forced to lay these traps instead”.

“But we are searching for the GALACTICA ourselves”, Cain reminded them, “and whether that minefield is evidence of Cylon desperation or not, we are facing a skilled and implacable foe. By forcing us away from empty sectors of space, they are ensuring our jumping to sectors that have more worlds. And if those worlds have a Cylon presence watching out for us, then we could find ourselves in a worse situation than before”.

“Our best hope then of finding any trace of the GALACTICA would be to survey as many worlds as possible. After all, the GALACTICA has not only to support itself, but all of the other ships it is protecting”, Syke pointed out, “plus, what’s to say that the Cylons have not set traps for them either?

“Either way, It’s a situation that does not favor us”, Cain replied, “We’ve been avoiding planets when possible because they may have a Cylon presence, but now we having to check them all out because Adama may have gone there to pick up resources”.

“Well, we have to do something, Commander. We can’t even think about going back until we meet up with the GALACTICA, and we can’t stay put”, Tolen said.

“Then we go forward”, Cain decided, “and rely on the skill of our pilots to help guide us through the Cylon dragnet and to reach our goal. We will start by deploying more raptors on patrol and increase our viper probes as well. We now start a more aggressive planetary survey program. At least with all the extra fuel we have, we can maintain such a deployment for quite a while. Let’s do it, Gentlemen. We have a lot of work to do”.

Meanwhile, back on his base star, Number Seven had just received the message from Number One. He was not all that surprised by Number One’s denial of his request. Still, perhaps the failed trap of the minefield would actually work out to his benefit. It would force their prey to avoid certain parts of space and to go closer to star systems. As several Cylon garrisons were manning planetary bases - better known as Sentinel Posts - in the neighboring sectors, this would enable them to have a better chance of finding their quarry. The next move however would be up to them, and hopefully, this time they will make a wrong move and compromise themselves....

Back on the PEGASUS, the new policy was about to be implemented. As Syke entered his wing’s administration area, he saw that both Tricia and Vansen were going over some patrol schedules, and were so engrossed that they didn’t see his entry. What he would say would make them not too happy.

“I regret to inform you two that we now have a new directive from the Old Man regarding patrol dispositions”, he announced, startling them both.

“What’s up, CAG?”, Tricia asked. She had started to settle in to her new position, but already she had been dismayed by the level of paperwork. She had hoped that Syke would have made good on his promise to get more admin staff to do all of this felgercarb, and free her up for flight duty.

“You will both need to revise the patrol schedules in order to reflect a change in policy. Commander Cain wants increased patrol coverage to commence ASAP, and he wants the raptors to be more actively employed on deep space probes”.

Ensign Vansen rolled his eyes. More work! Tricia however was more intrigued by the policy change.

“What gives?”, she wanted to know.

“Thanks to that minefield business, we have to be more aggressive in our patrol probes. As there is a likelihood of more minefields in the sparser sectors of space, we have to start going closer to star systems, which means more surveys and probes for supplies, and of course, Cylons”, Syke explained.

Tricia nodded. That made sense. Besides, they would have a better chance of getting clues to the GALACTICA’s location from surveying likely planets. It made exposure more risky, but evidently her father judged the risk to be less than the risk of encountering more traps like that minefield. She turned to Vansen and shrugged. He got the hint, and started accessing the pilot readiness list for increased patrols.

“I’m going to break the news to Chief Krag”, Syke told her, “so he’ll have advanced notice on getting more of our fighters ready. I’ll be back in an hour for the new roster”. With that, he left the office to head down to the maintenance deck.

As Tricia went back to her task, Helo walked in.

“Hello, Deputy CAG, Ma’am”, he announced, snapping off a salute. Tricia gave him a dirty look. Helo put up his hands in mock supplication.

“CAG gave me and Jet some extra work” Tricia explained as she gestured to an empty chair, “which means if you antagonize me with your rapier wit, you’ll be sharing the pleasure”.

As Helo sat down, he said, “Sorry. By the way, congratulations on your promotion, Sheba. It’s well deserved”.

“I wouldn’t know about that, Helo”, she replied, “It feels like I’m filling the shoes of a dead man. Anyway, I wanted to first congratulate you on becoming a raptor command pilot”.

“I was sure as hell surprised when Razor came around and gave me the news”, Helo confessed.

“As you know, due to a shortage of officers, we are training several petty officers who volunteered for a crash program to make them RSO’s”, Tricia said, “and I’m going to need you to help break them in quickly. I have just been given a directive from CAG to step up our patrols and survey probes, so you’re going to be dropped right in the deep end. I can’t give you an experienced RSO, so you’ll need to get the new rooks up to par. Understood?”

Helo thought about what Tricia had said. It would be tough. It was a pity that he would no longer be flying with her, but he knew that CAG needed her more here. Besides, he saw the viper patch now adorning her flight suit. It really was a drop in the deep end.

“Razor will need the new RSO’s qualified as soon as possible”, Tricia said, “You have full discretion on how to do it. You’d better get started. Your new charges are waiting for you down in Bay Four. All have come from the technical department, so they have some basic understanding of how sensors work, but they will need your expertise in order to master doing the same job in a raptor”.

Helo nodded, stood, then left the office. He had a big task ahead of him. He hoped that the rooks were fast learners.

Up in CIC, Colonel Tolen was conferring with Captain Sanders. They were looking at the results of a just-completed sensor sweep of the sector made by the deep space scanner array (housed just above the primary rail gun’s barrel on the prow of the PEGASUS).

“There are several star systems within a few light-days of our position, Colonel”, Sanders said, pointing to them on the printout, “but so far there are no indications of any planets at this range”.

“Well, Commander Cain wants to dispatch the raptors on more comprehensive survey missions. We will now be deploying them at maximum range, so you’ll need to furnish the reconnaissance sections of both wings with amended FTL co-ordinates. The PEGASUS will also be deploying patrols in flights of three rather than two so the flight plans will be changed accordingly”.

Sanders nodded his understanding. So thanks to the Cylon minefields, super-stealth was now out of the question. Well, perhaps it was time to start being more aggressive - the PEGASUS was a ship of war, after all. He walked over to Core Command in order to get the new patrol plots ready for the larger patrol contingents.

For his part, Commander Cain looked out of an observation port into deep space. This observation gallery was a favorite place of his in order to be alone and to think. Well, so be it, he thought. If the Cylons were forcing him to stay out of remote areas of space, then he would make the most of the altered situation. He would still try to remain stealthy for as long as possible, but he won’t play the Cylon’s game. If there were Cylons discovered, he would no longer avoid it and walk into another trap. This time, it would be attack!

CHAPTER SEVEN: The New Tactical Reality

‘Shooter’ - the Launch Control Officer- sat in his control booth as the viper was placed into the launch tube. The hatch behind the launch tube was shut and Shooter began his pre-launch dialogue with the viper pilot as the catapult linkage attached to the nose landing gear of the viper..

“Verify all systems check”, Shooter requested.

“All systems green. Cockpit integrity set”, was the reply.

“Opening access hatch”, Shooter said. In front of the viper, the forward hatch opened, causing the air to blow out down the now-open tube and into space.

“Verify all engines green”, Shooter next requested.

“All engines green. Thrust building up”, the pilot replied.

“You’re cleared for launch”, Shooter confirmed. The pilot gave Shooter a salute, indicating that the pilot was fully ready. Shooter activated the launch control switch, causing the catapult to release, pulling the viper down the tube. The viper accelerated and then the viper was in space.

“Lords, it’s good to be back in a viper again”, Tricia exclaimed as she took full control of the viper and gave it a quick roll.

“It’s good to see you flying in a viper again, Sheba”, Syke’s voice came over the communicator. He was up in CIC watching her from the Core Command Console.

Tricia had been reminded by Captain Syke that since she was to fly in vipers again, that she had to regain her landing and launch qualification. The qualifications required five combat landings - in a hands-on configuration - and five launches within a one hour time frame. Tricia did not have any intention of objecting to that. It was wonderful to be in the cockpit of a viper again. She expertly brought the viper around and on a course to land back in the bay.

“Silver Spar Group Leader requesting clearance for combat landing approach”, she communicated. Another voice came onto the communicator.

“Silver Spar Group Leader”, the Landing Control Officer communicated, “You’re right on the wire. Call the ball”.

Silver Spar Group Leader. She liked the sound of that. Being Deputy CAG did have it’s share of perks, she thought. The only time when flying that she would not use it would be if Syke was flying at the same time.

“Understood, LSO”, she replied. Calling the ball”. Tricia was aligned perfectly with the flight deck. She brought the viper in fast, simulating a combat landing. The flight deck seemed to rush up to greet the viper; a lot faster than a raptor landing, Tricia thought. Without automatic landing control, a hands-on combat landing took a fair amount of skill - which all pilots had to master in order to earn their wings in the first place - and to keep up the skill afterwards, but it was no problem for Tricia.

Her fighter touched down effortlessly. The viper slid forward on it’s landing gear and came to a halt. Combat landings did not allow for the luxury of a vertical landing. As Tricia’s viper came to a halt. She activated her taxiing controls, maneuvering the fighter onto a elevator platform.

With the viper’s engines still idling, the lift lowered down to the launch bay. This time, the launch bay did not repressurize. As the lift came to a halt, Tricia taxied the viper off the lift - which then elevated itself back up to the flight deck. The viper then moved into an empty launch tube, where the catapult linkage latched back onto the landing gear. The access hatch closed and the forward hatch opened as Shooter went back into the pre-launch check. One down and four more to go, Tricia thought.

Up in CIC, Syke smiled. It looked like Tricia would be back up to full qualification very quickly. It was a good way to lead by example, he thought. And bearing in mind the new patrol schedules, it was imperative that all of the pilots in the wing were fully up to par.

Both wings were now launching their patrols in threes rather than pairs. It would now be three patrols per wing per shift, which meant each squadron would have at least one patrol probe up at one time. It was a schedule that would draw on the pilot’s reserves, but given the potential threats such as the Optus Sector minefield, more aggressive patrols were required to avoid any other Cylon surprises. Any fields of debris were to be avoided, and the rules of engagement meant no more avoiding combat. The likelihood of the Cylons using such tactics to maneuver the PEGASUS into another trap made these new counter-tactics necessary.

The PEGASUS was now heading towards the nearest star system to them. While there was no direct evidence of Cylons thus far discovered here in the Anotian Sector, they could not be sure that this sector had similar traps like that earlier minefield. That’s why Syke needed to get Tricia viper re-qualified as soon as possible. With multiple flights patrolling, both he and Tricia would need to keep tight tabs on the wing, which meant that both of them would be doing a lot of flying. But first, he had to give the all-clear to the outgoing raptor probe. He took his attention off Tricia’s re-qualification flying and turned to the console operator in order to check on the status of the reconnaissance probe.

“Raptor Probe has reported their readiness to launch, Captain”, the Core Command Duty Operator informed Syke. Two raptors would launch on this probe. The probe would be commanded by Lt. Dutch. Lt. Helo would be flying in the second raptor. His raptor was taking an RSO trainee on board. Helo had persuaded Syke that this would be the best way to break the rook RSO’s in.

“Clear them for launch”, Syke directed. He sat back as the Core Command Operator activated the lifts that elevated the raptors up onto the flight deck. Both raptors were armed with SSM’s. A pity that they didn’t have Peregrine gunships, Syke thought.

Both raptors powered up and launched themselves out of the bay. Syke monitored their progress as they accelerated ahead of the PEGASUS. Then he saw the two flashes of light as the raptors made the FTL-jump.

“Now we wait”, Syke said to Sanders, who had just walked up to him. Sanders nodded. Syke turned his attention back onto Tricia as she made her third landing. So far, so good.....

The raptors exited their FTL-jump just outside the system. Dutch keyed his line-of-sight secure laser communicator.

“Everything okay, Helo?”, he asked.

“No problems here, Razor”, Helo replied. He looked behind at his new RSO trainee, Petty Officer Third Class Jason Dundee. Helo knew that Dundee had previously worked in CIC at Comscan, so he knew how to read sensors. Still, it was different being in a scout ship rather than secure in the nerve center of a battlestar.

“Okay, Helo”, Dutch answered, “Let’s start getting an initial scan of the system”.

“Start a low level scan, Jason”, Helo directed to his RSO. As Dundee was new to the world of flight crews, he did not yet have a call-sign. Dundee did a thumbs-up gesture, and activated the active sensors. The raptor started it’s survey.

“We’ve got a system that looks like it has five planets in all”, Dundee reported after a few minutes, “Three Gas Giants and two rocky planetoids. I’m punching up the co-ordinates now.

Helo looked at the data. He then keyed his communicator.

“We’ve got two targets for survey, Razor”, Helo reported, referring to the solid planets.

“Yeah, that’s what we’re reading too. Boxer”, Dutch said, referring to Jake Watt, his RSO, “ isn’t picking up any EM readings either, so they’re not looking hostile, but let’s keep things safe. We FTL jump: one to each planet and go to passive sensors. Only go active if passives don’t pick up anything. Okay?”.

“Okay, Razor”, Helo acknowledged, “I take dibbs on the outer one”.

“We’ve got the inner one. If we don’t contact each other sooner, rendezvous back at this location in four hours”, Dutch ordered.

“Will do”, Helo replied, “We’re moving out now. See you soon”.

With that, Helo punched into his navi-comp the co-ordinates for the selected planet. Helo then activated the FTL drive. As Helo FTL-ed, Dutch was getting his navi-comp ready for his jump. The survey was now under way.

The raptor exited it’s jump at about one hundred clicks over the planet. Helo reminded Dundee to stay on passive sensors until they were fairly sure that the planet had no hostiles. Helo knew that Dutch would be following the same precaution at his planet. Helo looked out of his cockpit canopy at the planet below. It was a typical airless crater-blasted sphere of rock. It was not a ususal position for him as for so long, he had been used to sitting back in the instrument bay using the scanners. It was weird having to wait on the information for a change....

“Lieutenant”, Dundee reported, “the passive sensors are detecting nothing. Shall I go to active sensors?”

“Let’s wait until we complete one orbit before we do so”, Helo replied, “because as this is an airless world, we would not be able to pick up any wireless ‘bounce’ from the other side. By the way, Jason. Formality has it’s place back on the PEGASUS, but not here on a deep space probe. Stick to call-signs, okay?”

“Okay....Helo”, Dundee acknowledged. Helo smiled. Being a teacher was actually quite satisfying.

“Uh-oh”, Dundee suddenly reported, “passive sensors are picking up EM indications on the horizon”

Helo’s satisfied demeanor faded. “Punch the sensor data up here to the cockpit”, he ordered. Dundee complied.

Frakk! Helo thought. Dundee was right. There were EM indications and as no humans had as yet come to this sector of space, that could only mean....

“We’re going on silent mode and altering our course to the north of the source”, Helo announced, “Get your cameras and EM receiver recorders ready. I’ve got a bad feeling about this”.

“I’m on it”, Dundee replied crisply as Helo made a slight course correction. Their former course would have taken them directly over the suspicious area and he wanted to make sure that no one down on the planet would see them, hence the course change. It should still allow Dundee to get good readings though.

With the engines cut off, they were now emitting no ion residue and with the active sensor platform down, no EM emissions were coming from them. To all intents and purposes, they were an inert piece of space junk. Helo watched the relayed camera feed as the raptor came closer and closer to the point of nearest approach.

As the raptor drew nearer, Helo could now clearly see what it was. It was a Cylon sentinel post! Helo saw the communications and scanning dish arrays on top of a mountain, with a number of defensive batteries ringing the complex, and there was an imense hangar door built right into the side of the mountain a couple of hundred feet below the summit. The warbook had information on this type of complex from the last war, and it said that this post would be expected to have a squadron of raiders as part of it’s defensive complement.

Helo silently thanked the Lords of Kobol for their FTL-jumping to the other side of the planet from the location of the sentinel post. That was also why there were no initial EM indications from the scanners. But now that they had discovered the post’s existence, did it also mean that they were seen as well?

“Jason”, Helo asked, “are you picking up any indications of increased EM emissions or increased wireless communications?”.

“Negative, Helo”, Dundee replied, “nothing beyond the level when they were first detected. I don’t think they spotted us”.

“Let’s hope you’re right”, Helo answered, “because this ship wasn’t built to take on a squadron of raiders. We’re going to continue to coast back to the other side of this planet, then we’ll jump back to the rendezvous co-ordinates. Finish taking your readings as Commander Cain will want to see this”.

As Dundee continued gathering the intelligence, Helo started to plot out an FTP-jump to the rendezvous. Lt. Dutch will need to know about this ASAP.

It took thirty minutes to round the terminator and get out of sight of the sentinel post, but once it was done, Helo got Dundee to do a quick scan of the surrounding airspace. Assuming that the post had a complement of fighters, there was a real chance of patrol craft.

“No other traffic in the vicinity, Helo”, Dundee said, “It’s all clear back to the rendezvous point”.

“Okay then”, Helo answered, “we’re jumping back”. After a short countdown, the raptor made the jump. Dundee did not care for effects of it any more than Helo did, but it was short-lived and they found themselves back to where they started. Now, to wait for Dutch....

Back on the PEGASUS, Tricia had finished her fifth and final combat landing, and after securing her fighter for refueling, headed back to the administration annex. Ensign Vansen was waiting for her with a hard copy for her.

“Here you go, Sheba”, Vansen said with little fanfare, “Your re-certification for combat operations in vipers. The original is already in your file. Congratulations”.

Smiling, Tricia took the form. She had really missed the feeling of flying high-performance fighters. True, the vipers did not have an FTL-capability like the raptors, but the viper was far more maneuverable, and packed quite a punch. She pocketed the form.

“Where’s CAG?”, Tricia asked.

“Ah, that’s the bad news”, Vansen replied, “He’s conferring with the other squadron commanders, which means you’ll have to stay here for the time being, helping out with all this beautiful paperwork”.

Tricia rolled her eyes. The viper flying was a heck of a lot more fulfilling than handling wing paperwork, but that’s what went with the Deputy CAG’s job, she thought wryly. She went to her desk and started going through the latest readiness reports from Spar Squadron One. The sooner this as over, the better, she griped. It was things like this that almost made her wish that she was back flying raptors.

Dutch’s raptor had FTL-jumped back to the rendezvous point where Helo was waiting. Helo had waited for a little over half an hour and had used the time to go over the accumulated intelligence with Dundee. Helo was pleased that the new rook had done well. Now, with the return of Dutch, they could finally get the ball rolling.

“Nothing useful found on our world, Helo”, Dutch reported, “how about you?”

“We’ve got trouble, Razor”, Helo replied, “We’ve found a Cylon sentinel post”.

“Send me over what you got”,Dutch ordered. Helo nodded to Dundee, who transmitted over the secure laser communicator the intelligence on the post. Both of them waited while Dutch and Watt went over the data.

“We’d better get back to the PEGASUS”, Dutch finally said, “The Old Man is going to want to know about this”.

CHAPTER EIGHT: All Out Battle

Commander Cain looked keenly at the pictures of the sentinel post. He, along with Syke, Voight, Dutch and Helo, were in the briefing room going over the intelligence that Helo had brought back. Syke had abruptly been pulled away from his conference with his squadron commanders in order to see the evidence of the sentinel post.

“Nice”, Cain said bitterly, “a perfect gauntlet. We avoid minefields and end up going near Cylon installations instead”.

Syke agreed with Cain’s assessment of the situation. “It is well placed”, Syke said, “You can see by the location of that planet that it’s well positioned to watch over this area”.

“Well, our course is clear”, Cain said, “That base is a threat and we have to take it out. Thank you, Lieutenant Dutch. You and Lieutenant Helo can go”. Both officers stood, saluted Cain, then left. After the door was closed, Voight spoke.

“We’ll have to destroy their weapons array and stop any fighters from escaping”, Voight pointed out, “and with that array of defensive weapons ringing the summit, it’s going to take nothing less than a full strength assault”.

“Also, I can’t see how we will be able to hide our existence this time, though”, Syke said.

“Maybe we can, Captain”, Cain replied, handing over to Syke a printout stamped FOR YOUR EYES ONLY - DO NOT DISCLOSE. Cain handed out another copy to Voight. As Syke read his printout, his eyes widened. He thought about what Cain proposed in the printout. If successful, this could really mess up the Cylons!

“Don’t even talk about it to each other”, Cain admonished,”Give those printouts back to me, and get your wing ready to fight, Captain Syke. Commit everything you have in order to knock out their communications and sensor array, and their defensive batteries. Captain Voight, your wing will have the task to intercept and destroy any fighters and/or message drones. The PEGASUS will take care of the complex itself. I want to see you all back here in an hour to go over your battle plan. I’ll be heading down to Quartermaster to see about the little extra items we’ll need”.

With that, Cain left. Syke turned to Voight.

“Remember, no talking about this. Lance”, he said to Voight, “I’ll go down and get my wing ready. You let your squadron commanders know what they need to do and we’ll be back here in an hour”.

“Okay, Gene”, Voight replied, “It’s good to have a proper fight for a change”. Syke nodded. They had to get back and give the squadron commanders their orders.

One hour later, Both Syke and Voight reported back to te briefing room. Cain was there, along with Captain Sanders. Tolen was manning CIC.

“You explained only what they needed to know to your squadron commanders?”, Cain asked them both. Both Syke and Voight nodded.

“Spar One will be the squadron attacking the summit communications and sensor array, while Spar Two and Three will be taking out the defensive weapons ringing the summit”, Syke explained, “And I passed the word to Chief Krag to arm the fighters accordingly”.

“All three squadrons of Black Knight Wing will be deployed covering the airspace around the complex. We will be well-placed to intercept any fighters”, Voight added, “our fighters are ready to go”.

“Remember that your prime job is to stop any raiders from escaping. If any of the enemy fighters tries to take on the PEGASUS, let the battlestar’s defensive armaments handle them”, Cain replied. Voight nodded his understanding.

“The primary rail gun is being charged up and prepared to be used against the main complex itself”, Sanders put in. The intelligence showed that the hangar door was heavily reinforced. The thickness of the hangar door necessitated using the biggest piece of artillery they had. It was overkill, but that suited Cain fine.

“What about the other items we’ll need?”, Cain asked Sanders.

“Quartermaster have gotten the items needed, and Sick Bay have provided some suitable ‘candidates’. Chief Krag has what we need as well, just in case”.

“In that case, Gentlemen, Let’s get the ball rolling. Get the crews to their fighters. As soon as we make the jump, we attack!”, Cain announced. Everyone saluted Cain and headed out to their stations.

“All hands, Go to Condition One, This is no drill. Repeat: All hands, Go to Condition One”.

The message reverberated throughout the battlestar as the crew rushed to Action Stations. Down in the launch bays, the pilots of both wings were preparing their fighters for launch. All had been armed and the squadron commanders had been given their instructions.

Tricia Cain strapped herself into her viper and looked across the deck to see Syke getting into his. Maximum effort had been ordered and that meant all available vipers were prepared to launch. Tricia was told to monitor Spar Squadrons Two and Three while Syke would monitor Spar One. A quickly rushed briefing let everyone know what they would be fighting against and the wing was now ready for action.

“Condition One set throughout the ship, Commander”, Tolen reported. He, Cain, and Sanders were up in CIC and were preparing the battlestar for it’s jump.

“Both CAG’s report that their wings are ready”, Sanders reported from Core Command, “and all four raptors are ready to go as well”. The raptors were going out with the strike force in order to jam the Cylon communications”.

“How about the primary and defensive weapons?”, Cain asked Tolen.

“All weapons are online and the rail gun is cleared for fire”, Tolen reported.

“Very well”, Cain reported as he activated the p.a., “This is the Commander. For the first time since we left the Cyrannus System, we are now undertaking an offensive operation against a Cylon sentinel post. Stand to your posts and let’s give the Cylons some serious payback! Remember the Colonies!”.

Cheers erupted in the CIC and elsewhere on the battlestar as Cain turned off the p.a. After raising a hand to quiet the CIC cheering, he turned to the Helm officer.

“Helm, Execute the jump. All personnel stand by to attack!”.

“Jumping in 5.....4.....3......2......1......jump!”, the helm officer announced. With a flash, the PEGASUS FTL-jumped to the Cylon occupied planet. The familiar unpleasant feeling had barely faded when Sanders gave the order to the ‘shooters’ in both launch bays, “Launch fighters! Execute battle plan”.

Down on the sentinel post, the Cylons manning their equivilent of the CIC on the PEGASUS were the Cylon version of surprised when they saw on their sensors the sudden appearance of a human battlestar! The command centurion immediately ordered the defensive batteries to prepare to open fire on the battlestar and to alert their squadron of raiders for launch. Another centurion went to get a remote message drone readied in case it was needed. Number One needed to know about this!

The vipers of both Silver Spar and Black Knight wings were swiftly catapulted into space. Voight’s squadrons headed out and away in order to deploy to intercept Cylon fighters. Syke’s wings were now heading for the complex itself.

“Eighty-Five viper mark sevens incoming”, one of the centurions reported to the command centurion. The command centurion knew that the incoming force was more than they could handle. He ordered his communicator to send out priority messages on sub-light to any nearby Cylon base star for assistance.

“Spar Two and Three, head in and take out those batteries!”, Tricia ordered, “Pacer and Shooter, Ratchet’s relying on you”.

“Understood, Sheba”, Lt. Macklin replied. Lt. Warden followed suit.

At that moment, the deployed raptors started their jamming of the Cylon frequencies. The jamming was completely effective as the Cylons could no longer use their communicators. It did not mean that they were not going to fight, though.

“Prepare a fighter with a report on the battlestar and request for assistance. All other fighters are to launch and attack the enemy”, the command centurion ordered. He also ordered the heavy missile batteries dotted around the main hangar bay door to lock onto the incoming battlestar and to fire when it was in range.

The defensive guns on the summit started to fire as Macklin’s and Warden’s squadrons bore in. Just outside the effective range of the Cylon guns, both squadrons released a missile barrage targeting the Cylon guns. The defensive batteries switched their targeting to the incoming missiles and several were taken out, but the majority of them used their evasive maneuver programming to evade the fire and they impacted on their targets.

“Okay, Ratchet”, Syke called to Lt. Halley, “Your squadron is clear. Take out that summit complex”.

“We’re on the way, Bojay”, she replied. Halley’s fighters headed in at full speed. Their missiles were now locked onto the mass of aerials and dish antennas that dotted the summit. With the defensive batteries now largely out of action - and those that were still firing were still trained on more missiles coming in from Spar Two and Three, it left Spar One with an unrestricted firing solution. The sentinel post was built around a defense against a single wing. With two wings employed, it was overpowered.

“Okay, Spar One”, Halley ordered, “Fire!”. At her order, the twelve fighters of her squadron released their ordinance: two SGM’s (Ship-to-Ground Missiles) each.

While Silver Spar Wing were pressing home their attack on the summit. Black Knight Wing were heading in to intercept the fifteen Cylon raiders that had emerged from the hangar bay. The Cylon ships were heading in to engage, despite their being outnumbered. That suited Voight fine. This was payback time for the PACIFICA.

“Okay, Knights”, Voight called, “Engage the enemy as they come to bear. And for frakks sake, don’t allow any of them to FTL-jump”.

The vipers streaked in to start dogfighting. The raiders first tried using their jamming beams, but with the older software retrofitted into the vipers, it had no effect. The vipers opened fire on the Cylon ships. Six of them immediately were destroyed in the opening salvo. Other vipers swooped in on the other Cylon raiders forcing them to take evasive action. Despite a couple of hits on vipers, the sheer numbers were just too great for the Cylons to handle. One by one, they were getting blasted from the sky, and none of them could get close enough to attack the raptors which were still effectively jamming the sentinel post. It was no contest. A real turnaround from what had happened back at the colonies.

Back on the summit of the mountain, Halley’s squadron had released their missiles and they were heading right onto their targets. No counter-missile fire were impeding their trajectories. The sensor and communications arrays blew apart in a spectacular detonation as the missiles impacted. Subsidiary explosions also took out the few remaining working gun batteries.

In regards to the air-to-air combat, so far, so good. Black Knight Wing had lost three fighters to the raiders, but they had eventually destroyed all fifteen raiders that had engaged them - including one that had tried to make a run for it. Silver Spar Wing had one loss from Spar Two and several others from the other squadrons lightly damaged. After ordering the damaged fighters to return to the battlestar, Syke was now watching the PEGASUS close in on the planet.

Inside the sentinel post complex, the command centurion received the news that the summit arrays with the defensive batteries had been destroyed, and that their raider squadron had been decimated. It turned and ordered the missile operator to open fire on the battlestar with the anti-siege batteries.

“Incoming heavy ordinance”, Sanders reported as comscan picked up multiple missile launches coming from concealed silos around the hangar bay door.

“Defensive batteries, lay down suppression fire”, Tolen ordered. The PEGASUS’ bay-mounted guns started firing at the incoming missiles.

“Stay out of the PEGASUS’ firing solution”, Syke communicated to the other pilots as the Cylon missiles were being intercepted by the defensive fire. Voight ordered likewise to his pilots.

The command centurion observed the PEGASUS take out the missiles. None had made it to the target and now there were no more left to use. The centurion knew that this battle could no longer be won, but surrender was unthinkable to any Cylon. It ordered his garrison to get ready to fight, as it would be expecting human marines to land and to try and storm the complex. It was an expected action, but Cain was not out to capture the complex intact.

In the PEGASUS CIC, Sanders looked at the close-up scans of the sentinel post. There were no other missiles being launched. “Commander, there are no other missiles launching”, Sanders announced, “And none of the launched ones even got close. Looks like they ran out”.

“Very good, Comms. Prepare the Rail Gun for firing”, Cain ordered, “And inform our wings to retire from the vicinity of the sentinel post”.

As Sanders sent out the alert message, The Helm officer changed the attitude of the PEGASUS so that the prow was pointing directly at the Cylon base. Helm now nodded to the weapons operator, who now took over the targeting and acquisition of the massive weapon.

“Target locked”, he announced after a few seconds, “Rail gun ready to fire on your order, Commander”.

“Fire primary weapon”, Cain ordered. The weapons operator pushed down on the control marked DEPLOY. The lights briefly dimmed as the rail gun absorbed a massive influx of power from the two energizers down in engineering. The massive ‘bullets’ in the breech of the rail gun were accelerated to a massive speed. The battlestar shuddered as the ‘bullets’ hurtled out of the barrels and headed straight in onto the complex.

The command centurion saw the rail gun fire. It was the last thing that he would ever see. The shot was dead on. Smashing through the massive hangar doors, the ‘bullets’ tore through the complex. The reactor was hit, starting a chain reaction. No Cylon got out before the reactor went critical. With a massive detonation, the entire top of the mountain blew up as the sentinel post was consumed in the explosion.

In his viper, Syke closed his eyes tightly at the flash. All of the surviving fighters were safely out of range of the spectacular fireball. This attack had succeeded.

“Core Command To Silver Spars and Black Knights”, the communicator sounded, “Come on home”.

With that, the squadron commanders got their respective vipers in order and started to head back to the PEGASUS while two of the raptors headed out to retrieve the bodies of the four dead pilots......and to replace them with others.

“I hope that it works”, Tolen said to Cain sotto voce.

“We’ve got nothing to lose by trying. Thank goodness Sick Bay had a few cadavers to spare”, Cain replied in the same quiet tone of voice.

CHAPTER NINE: Deception for the Pursuers

“So this is what you have found”, Number One said to the centurion who was in charge of investigating the loss of the Sentinel Post in the Anotian Sector.

“Affirmative”, The centurion confirmed. The centurion had recently come on board a Cylon Shuttle from the Anotian Sector and was now on board the command base star over Caprica. What it had brought back was an interesting piece of intelligence.

Number One, the centurion, and several other Humanoid Cylons were looking at the partially burned remains of a human body. It was decked out in a viper pilot’s flight suit. It had been recovered in the wreckage of a destroyed viper that was floating with other debris - mostly Cylon - in the space over the destroyed sentinel post.

It had been two days since the sentinel post had failed to report in and the Base Star that went to check on it’s status did not expect to see it destroyed. A search of the area had determined that it had been destroyed by a human force and to judge by the devastation, it would have had to have been a battlestar. The base star was now searching the immediate area for more clues while awaiting Number One’s next orders

Number One looked at the patch on the shoulder of the flight suit worn by the corpse. A lot of it was singed, but the word GALACTICA could still be made out. The GALACTICA did this, she thought?

“There have been no indications of the GALACTICA being in the Anotian Sector, yet the evidence points to the fact that the GALACTICA was responsible”, the centurion said.

“Did the other human pilot corpses recovered bear the same insignia on their clothes as this one?”, Number One asked the centurion.

“We found three other corpses. All were burned and all were in the wreckage of vipers. The insignia is the same”, the centurion replied.

“Did the tail numbers on the destroyed vipers match that with the manifest of the GALACTICA’s fighter compliment?”. Number One then asked, referring to the stolen data from Picon Fleet Headquarters.

“All of the vipers found had their tail numbers obliterated”, the Cylon answered.

“That doesn’t mean a thing”, one of the Number Four models spoke up, “because a number of vipers from destroyed battlestars did manage to find their way to the GALACTICA when it was at Ragnar”.

“Drawing definite conclusions from this recent battle will not be easy”, Number Six commented.

“We have at least one definite fact. We know that a battlestar destroyed the sentinel post”, Number One finally said after thinking it over for a minute, “and it points to the GALACTICA, but since our latest reports had placed the GALACTICA several sectors away from the Anotian Sector, either our intelligence is faulty, or something else is very wrong here. In either case, Inform Number Seven to continue his search of the Anotian Sector while the primary pursuit force continues to seek and locate the human convoy. If it was the GALACTICA that did this, then the human’s ships are being left undefended. If it’s not, then we need to continue the search for whoever it was”.

“By Your Command” the other assembled Cylons acknowledged.

The PEGASUS was now safely away from the Anotian Sector, after FTL-jumping a fair distance after recovering the fighter wings, and having two raptors plant the disguised cadavers in the wreckage of the four destroyed vipers. The few damaged fighters were under repair and the memorial services for the dead pilots - their bodies had all been recovered during the cadaver planting - had been completed. Normal patrols had been resumed, and there were no reports of pursuit.

Cain was glad that a clear offensive victory had won. It was a valuable boost for morale and it served as a reminder that they were all military personnel on a warship, not survivors fleeing and hiding. True, the loss of the four pilots was regrettable, but their wrecked ships served to be the perfect receptacles for the cadavers so thoughtfully provided by Sick Bay. The cadavers had been picked up from a wrecked battlestar when the PEGASUS had last been to Caprica. It was thought that the organs from these corpses would come in handy for transplants. Now they served to confuse the hell out of the Cylons. They might have gotten suspicious by the obliterated tail numbers - done in order not to trace them back to the PEGASUS, but regardless, it would serve to confuse the enemy, and every advantage helped.

He reminded himself to thank Lt. Helo when he next saw him. It was the GALACTICA patch on his original flight suit that enabled the quartermaster to fabricate copies which were then placed on the flight suits needed to dress the cadavers in. It was all Colonel Tolen’s idea. He was glad to have an X.O. with imagination. All of it was done secretly. The Quartermaster did the patches by himself, Colonel Tolen had arranged the pickup of the corpses, and only the CAG’s and the raptor crews had been told about switching bodies. The traitor was still somewhere on board and this little tactic needed to be kept quiet.

He looked out of the portal at the starfield. The GALACTICA was somewhere out there, he knew. And if he had to destroy half the Cylon fleet between here and there in order to meet up with her, then that’s what he would do, and he would continue to feed misinformation in the process. If the Cylons wanted war, he would give it to them!

Down in one of the civilian quarters of the ship, the blonde woman smiled. She knew that there had been a battle and that a Cylon sentinel post had been destroyed, but she reasoned that the PEGASUS would have had to reveal itself in the process. The minefield in the Optus Sector had forced Cain to take a more aggressive course of action. That meant that her colleagues were now aware of their existence and thus, a definite effort to seek and destroy this battlestar would now be under way. But the quartermaster did not let on anything about the GALACTICA patches, and she did not know about the cadavers. If she had, she would not have felt so confident...

In the administration annex of Silver Spar Wing headquarters, Captain Syke sat down in his office chair in order to try to relax. He had a bottle of water in one of the drawers on his desk and he was sipping at it while staring at the opposite wall. The just-held memorial service for the dead pilot was just as painful as the one he had held earlier for Lt. Blanke. His wing had done well in the battle, and they would be celebrating in the O-club this evening, but Syke felt more about the loss than the victory. He was still thinking about it when Tricia walked in.

“Want some company, Bojay?”, she asked.

“I’m fine”, he replied, not very convincingly. Tricia knew that the loss of another pilot was the cause of his melancholy.

“Helo just told me that the new rook Dundee did a great job as an RSO on the recent recon, and that it’s time to award him a formal call-sign”, Tricia said, in order to distract Syke’s attention from the loss of the pilot.

“Oh?”, Syke replied, “and did Petty Officer Dundee have a preference?”, he asked.

“Dundee liked using the sensors to poke around and snoop for clues, so he’d like to take the call-sign ‘Snoopy’”, she replied with a smile.

Syke laughed, saying, “nice call-sign for an RSO. Okay, Snoopy it is. Have Jet add it to the call-sign roster tomorrow. Thanks Tricia, I needed the laugh”.

“Let’s you and me go up to the O-club”, she suggested, “after all, the wing did well, and you have a right to celebrate too”.

“CAG’s fraternizing with the people they command is not exactly to be encouraged, you know”, Syke replied, “It’s a little thing called command distance requirements and all that other military felgercarb that goes with the job, you know”.

“It’s better than you sitting here alone sulking, Gene”, she pointed out, “and frakk it, you need to let your hair down once in a while. Your wing respects you. They should see you as a human being as well as their commander once in a while, especially after our win”.

Syke thought about what Tricia had said. She was right. He was human, and by the Lords of Kobol, it was something that he did want to do.

“Okay”, Syke said, standing up, “but you’ll need to steer me away from card games. Let’s go”.