Disclaimers in Part One. Remember: REVIEWS equals MORE FANFIC!
That all said, back to the Asteroid Belt…
THE LONG ROAD HOME
Book I: Promised Land
When The Blight had passed, humanity rebuilt.
Earth became green once more.
Then something was found under the frozen ground of
Something that had fallen from the skies, four thousand years ago.
Twenty years later…
0412 Hours GMT
Imaging and Signals Analysis Unit
While comparatively young for his
rank, no one could ever say Glenn Allen Collins hadn’t earned it or his
position aboard the
Fortunately Collins and his staff all lacked the sort of ego that might otherwise inflate to unbearable proportions. As with the rest of the generation born after The Blight, their work ethic was dedicated to the point of obsessive, and impersonal to the point of robotic. Small wonder given the human race had been reduced to less than a third its original number in the span of a couple years. The survivors had to pick quickly through the remains and learn keep the complex machinery humanity had come to depend upon so heavily functioning. Personal recognition, while fine, had became rather secondary to simply making sure the plumbing still worked and the streetlights turned on properly.
Collins himself had been in
uniform for barely a year, his assignment to
Or so he initially thought. Three hours in, he felt comfortable enough with the results that he finally went to comm and paged Admiral Rice. “Sir? I have the initial results ready for review.”
“Bring it to my cabin on a portable. And make sure you wipe the hard-drive of the console. This is hands-to-eyes-only.”
“Understood, Sir.” Collins settled the handset back down and returned to his workstation. The Admiral’s directive wasn’t entirely unexpected given the circumstances, so he already had a portable viewing unit ready. It was a simple matter of swapping out the hard-drive from the workstation itself and plugging it into the portable. This left the workstation an empty shell that could tell no secrets.
Locking the hard-drive into place in the portable, he quickly closed the carry case and headed out, mindful to keep his steps light and casual.
0452 Hours GMT
set chimed twice, echoing in the otherwise empty sitting room. There was giggling and splashing to be heard
in the adjoining room. By the time a
third chime echoed, a decidedly damp and harried-looking Kara Thrace dashed in,
trying to tie her bathrobe closed without tripping over it. She fumbled a moment with the handset,
clapping one over the receiver and calling over her shoulder “You stay
put!” More splashes and giggling could
be heard behind her. Kara took a deep
breath and raised the receiver to her ear.
“Catch you at a bad time, Colonel?” Admiral Rice’s voice held only the faintest trace of amusement.
“It's never good time, Sir,”
“Lieutenant Collins has finished his initial wash of your data card. We’d like your take on his results.”
“I’ll be there in, say, twenty minutes?”
“Make it no less than sixty, Colonel. Higher priorities, remember.”
Kara Thrace, who once would not have thought twice of arguing with her superiors at the slightest provocation, could only sigh and accept the unspoken reprimand. “Understood, Sir. An hour, then. Starbuck clear.” She let the handset drop back to desk and hurried back to the head. “Lords of Kobol, preserve me,” she muttered and slammed the door shut.
0600 Hours GMT
The door chime sounded, which had Kara practically sprinting across the sitting room and stabbing the intercom while simultaneously attempting to button up her uniform tunic. “Yes?” she hissed irritably.
“Lieutenant Mahn, Sir.”
Kara took a deep breath and abandoned wrestling with her tunic. She hit the lock on the door and stepped back to allow her recently-assigned aide entrance. The young woman, sporting pilot’s wings on her immaculate uniform, snapped a crisp salute to her superior. Kara returned it distractedly, fumbling again with the buttons one-handed. “Frakkin’ buttons,” she muttered as the last one stubbornly refused to poke through its assigned space. Straightening, she asked “How do I look?”
been running a marathon again.” Respectful as her tone was, there was no
missing the air of disapproval to the words, as much from the slight disarray
of her superior’s uniform as the more general disarray around them. Mahn, whose
Eurasian features occasionally caused the Colonel to call her “
“Remind me to get some clean blues when I get back,” Kara muttered, brushing herself down.
“Noted, Sir. And I’ll be sure to…convey your regrets?” Mahn asked the last with a pointed nod towards the half-closed door leading to the small bunkroom.
“You do that.”
Shan Coy Mahn
had the wisdom and experience only a mother (or in her case, elder sibling) of
children might claim, allowing her to mother-hen her otherwise uncontrollable
superior officer. There was however no
way under the Gods own stars that Kara Antigone
“Thanks, Shan,” the Colonel nodded and gave her subordinate a sharp salute. Mahn came to attention and returned it, remaining there until Kara quit the room. She then set about salvaging what she could of the wreckage that cluttered the room.
“Les enfants et leurs jouets,” she mused to herself as she worked.
She had made some headway restoring order to the sitting area and was debating whether or not to attack the piles of papers some fifteen minutes later when The Bosun’s Whistle sounded over intercom, followed by Lieutenant Samson’s voice calling out “Attention. Attention. Black Wing is to assemble in Briefing Room Able in thirty minutes. Repeating: all Black Wing pilots are to assemble in Briefing Room Able in thirty minutes. That is all.”
To which Lieutenant Mahn could only sigh “So much for a quiet night.”
Briefing Room Able
There wasn’t much to distinguish “Able” from other briefing rooms used throughout the ship. It had the standard lectern and projection screen taking up one wall, with space enough for just a single wing of pilots and perhaps a few others. What wasn’t immediately noticeable was how the room had no external data connection to the rest of the ship. Use of the room was limited to the most secure briefings. Its standalone configuration, plus the many countermeasures that were built into the walls, floor, ceiling, and even the chairs themselves, effectively minimized the chances of any external surveillance.
This was not widely known. The vast
majority of the crew believed it was just a converted closet where the Command
staff could dress down recalcitrant pilots.
That day however saw the five
pilots of Black Wing sitting in Room Able when Admiral Rice, Commander
Avery-Hunter and a decidedly unhappy looking Colonel
“At ease,” Admiral Rice ordered as he took the podium.
“As some of you may have heard,
Black Alpha encountered something a bit odd at the end of your last CAP.” He nodded over to
After an appropriate span, he reset the tape, and then let it run to 1.65 seconds, where the unknown ship first broke cover. He froze that image and turned back to the pilots. “This bogey was either spying on Black Alpha’s patrol sector or, more likely, was on reconnaissance when Starbuck and Greyhound happened across them. Imagining and Signals went over this data with a fine tooth comb to get us a silhouette of the bogey itself. This is what they came up with.”
He tapped a button on the stick-shaped remote in his hand, and the image behind him immediately zoomed in on the bogey. The tape then progressed to 2.89 seconds, when it had cleared the ‘Belt fully, freezing again as the color slowly drained from the image itself. In barely a minute it was reduced to a mass of lines and spaces that looked like some nightmarish paint-by-numbers scene. Another minute and the majority of the lines faded, leaving a vaguely rectangular-shaped form dominating the screen.
The Admiral let them all study the
silhouette as he announced “I’m going to turn this over to Colonel
Kara took the podium with a nod to her superior. “Thank you, Admiral.” She gazed at her squadron and waited a few extra moments for them to turn their attention back to her. When only Greyhound did so, she tapped the lectern and growled, “Eyes front.” The pilots and senior officers all snapped their necks about to give her their undivided attention. Under other circumstances she might have found this amusing, but now?
“Okay, to answer the most obvious
questions. No, we have no idea what this
bogey is. If it’s something out of Skunk
Works, nobody’s bothered to tell me
about it.” She managed to sound
especially aggrieved at the prospect.
Out of the corner of her eye she caught the smirk that quirked the
Admiral’s otherwise blank expression.
“If, on the other hand, it’s something the Euro-Combine or the Chinese
put together, then we’ve got trouble. here. This thing
was squawking on the low 500 wireless band.”
She fixed each of the pilots with a firm look. “I don’t
need to tell you what a serious breach that could prove to be, do I?”
One of the pilots, a bespectacled
young redhead from
Kara took a moment before answering. She looked back to the projection screen and pointed towards the presumed ‘tail’ of the ship, saying “Note the pair of raised fins on the end, near what we think are twin engines. The overall design of the bogey…notice the very straight lines of fuselage…” She ran her finger over the top and underside of the shape. “It is possible we’re looking at a heavy-class ZULU here.”
The air went still at this. ZULU was a code-sign they all knew intimately. In many ways, it was the very reason the Fleet was organized and the UN was engaged in a frantic, almost reckless crash program of construction and training to expand it as quickly as possible.
“How likely is that?” Greyhound asked a moment later, to which the Colonel could only shrug.
“The estimated length of the bogey is roughly seven to nine meters, so round that out to about twenty-eight feet. This plus the fins and double engines and overall shape more or less fits with known designs.” She took her eyes from the screen and fixed them back on her pilots. “Regardless of whatever it is or wherever it came from, the fact remains we have an unknown visitor in our patrol area who is talking on a band where they shouldn’t be.” She gave a dramatic pause, then continued with, “Which is why we are going to be going back out into that patrol area and find said unknown visitor.”
The pilots of Black Wing all shifted uneasily in their seats at this news, though none raised their hands or voices in protest. Admiral Rice stepped forward and took Kara’s place. “As the Colonel just stated, you’re going hunting for our friend here. We’ve already recalled Gold Wing and launched Jade Wing to cover CAP while your birds are being prepped.”
“Prepped how, Sir?” asked Kenneth
Williams, a tallish pilot from somewhere called ‘
“Your Vipers are being fitted with
relays that will provide real-time link between your on-boards and the main
AEGIS array here on
“We going in hot, Sir?” This came from a female pilot whose complexion was only a shade lighter than the Admiral’s and carried the call sign “Tiger” thanks to her nonstop aggressiveness.
“Full loadout,” nodded Starbuck. “This is the real deal, children,” she added soberly. “This is what you trained for.”
“Sir?” Greyhound called again, eyes specifically on Admiral Rice. “What our ROE?”
“We're staying with 'Eye-Spy' for the moment. If it turns out to be somebody's new toy, I want them corralled and brought in. Preferably with as little damage as possible.” This last was said with eyes on Tiger, who was known to be generous with the 'discretionary fire'.
“And if it’s a Zulu?”
“In that case, you call it in and get out of Dodge. If pursued, you defend yourself with maximum prejudice. We'll be at 'Watchtower' and will be launching Alert Vipers to back you up.”
Greyhound raised his hand. “Time-frame, Sir?”
Starbuck stepped forward. “Pre-flight starts in forty. Wheels up in sixty. No change in pairings or patrol assignments.” She waited a beat. “Any last questions?”
There were none, to which Admiral Rice stated “Then we'll see you on the launch deck in forty. Dismissed.” The handful of pilots filed out, followed by the CO. Starbuck lingered behind, eyes on the still-frozen silhouette on screen. Admiral Rice likewise remained.
Eventually he asked her “What are your thoughts, Colonel?”
“It’s...maybe it’s a Heavy Zee, quote unquote. I don’t know.”
“By rights I shouldn't let you in a cockpit. Especially if it’s ZULU.”
“Neither should any of those kids.”
“Most of them are older than you.”
“And I've got more time in Vipers than
all of them combined.” She pulled her
gaze from the screen to meet Rice's eyes.
“You need me out there right now.
And if you'll excuse me, I've got a pre-flight to do in forty
minutes.” Kara Antigone
Admiral Rice let her go, knowing better than to offer even the most token protest to this. Instead, he looked back at the silhouette and tried without success to convince himself it wasn't his worst fear realized.
1135 Hours GMT
Black Alpha Patrol Sector
Three Hours, Forty Minutes into CAP Eye-Spy
Twenty Minutes to Bingo Fuel
“Déjà vu all over again, huh?” Greyhound called over the ship-to-ship, breaking the silence that normally stretched between them while in flight. Despite considerable effort on her part, Starbuck’s command of Terran idiom was minimal at best. She recognized the phrase as French, at least part of it, but its exact meaning escaped her.
This was, unfortunately, an open secret amongst the Nuggets she’d trained over the last two years. It had become their subtle retaliation to the frequent and often richly deserved dressing downs she gave them to bombard her with as many clever jibes and slang words as they could safely get away with. Fortunately for them that was the extent of it. One very ugly incident early on with a trio of washouts had taught them all that ‘traditional’ hazing pranks and practices weren’t on the menu, ever.
Still Starbuck had to wonder if she’d been cutting her Nuggets too much or too little slack for it all. What in Hades name was so ‘forbidden’ about eating an apple anyway? Come to that, who this “First initial B, last name Otch” person they and others sometimes whispered about? The fact the Admiral and CO and XO all tolerated it all was the only reason she herself didn’t demand answers more often.
“Whatever,” was her only verbal reply, which evidentially her wingman took as a prompt for further conversation.
“I mean, seems like we were just here, doing this…”
“We were just here, doing exactly this, Barker.” Right then, all Starbuck did was recheck their coordinates, just for something to do. Greyhound’s meaning hit her a moment later and it was all she could do to keep from laughing. Barker was one of the better pilots she’d come across, and damned if he didn’t know how to get under her skin in a way…only one other ever had. Fortunately, years of flying alongside that someone else, who her mind steadfastly refused to refer to by name or call sign, had trained her to give as good as she got.
It didn’t hurt that Greyhound was also easily baited when it came in-flight chatter. “No, I mean, we were here when we caught…wait a sec…”
Her chuckle gave it away. She thanked the Lords her wingman also had a decent sense of humor. “Got me again, boss.”
“Don’t call me ‘boss’. Besides, no-one’s telling you to chatter-box, are they?” She felt a surge of panic at Greyhound’s silence. “Are they?” she repeated.
“Let me guess: Sausage bet you could stump me with some dumbass saying again.” Call sign ‘Sausage’, one Lieutenant Curt LeMay, had been one of her earliest Nuggets and one of the first to lip off to her, hence her giving him with so suggestive a handle. Fortunately he’d snapped into line after and actually proved a decent enough pilot.
Greyhound began with the now-standard line of “I can neither confirm…”
“Nor deny that. Try again.”
“Would you believe ‘it’s above my pay grade’, quote unquote?”
“That I’d believe, if it were true.” She let that sink in for a moment then added “What was the pool this time?”
“Um…can I claim it’s classified?”
“Depends. D’you wanna end up on double Saliva poop duty?” Saliva was a Miniature Boxer who was the ship’s mascot who, unsurprisingly, embodied his name. Assignment to clean his litter box was also considered barely a step away from getting grounded in favor of laundry duty.
“Heaven forbid.” Greyhound sounded as if he were actually debating it for another few seconds, then sighed and bowed to the inevitable. “Okay, but you didn’t hear it from me…”
“On my six!” Starbuck practically screamed, simultaneously venting the thrusters under the nose of her Viper while accelerating so she flipped her bird in a full 270 degrees. As soon as she had her nose pointing in the six o'clock position, Starbuck hit her afterburners and shot like a missile toward the asteroid field beneath them. Greyhound quickly rolled his own plane about to get a visual on what had his wingman's suddenly willing to drain her engines. It didn't take more than a second to catch sight of the dark shape she was barreling toward.
“Confirmed. Bogey on our six. Moving to intercept.”
“Read you, Black Alpha.” Greyhound barely heard the response as he was hitting his own afterburners to catch up with Starbuck. No easy task given the evasive maneuvers being engaged in right then; whoever this bogey was proved maneuverable as hell, particularly as it was fairly skimming the surface of the ‘Belt and kicking up a fair amount of dust and debris in its wake. Even Starbuck was apparently having difficulty keeping up with it as a result, though Greyhound knew her well enough to know she was likely having the time of her life.
Or so he thought until he heard the Colonel’s next bark over the comms.
He interrupted her without a second
though, the only other pilot in the Fleet to dare to do so. “
That and Colonel
“I’m reading increased
distortion,” Starbuck reported, rolling to avoid a basketball-sized meteoroid
the Raptor kicked up (more by design than accident, she suspected). “Probably spooling their
FTL drive. Dammit,
“We’re just about there, Starbuck. Try…Five-one-eight-point-seven.”
Band Five-one-eight-dot-seven now!” She quickly tapped her comms
pad at her left, manually switching the wireless band to the appropriate
setting. It was quicker this way and
“Attention Colonial Raptor.
This is Colonel Kara Thrace, call sign “Starbuck”, formerly of the Battlestar Galactica.” She spoke in Colonial Standard, her tone even and calm
despite the almost desperate energy she was putting into keeping her target in
sight right then. “I am ordering you to cut engines and respond. Repeating: this is Colonel
Kara Thrace, Colonial Fleet ID number 19800408-Kappa-Alpha-Theta-2003, ordering
you to cut engines and open communication.”
As if in response to her, the Raptor peeled to the right at a sharp angle. Whoever the pilot was they were clearly practiced enough to fly with both maneuvering thrusters and engines in concert. There weren’t many she could recall that accomplished and decided to take a risk.
“Racetrack? Is that you flying that bird? Dammit, talk to me!” She was practically shouting now as her onboard AEGIS and several other displays were going fuzzy, which meant the Raptor’s FTL drive was still spooling. If it really was Racetrack - or, gods help them, Athena - behind that stick…Kara swore she’d personally ram said stick so far up their backside…
The Raptor suddenly reduced speed, nearly causing Starbuck to careen into it. Sheer instinct had her cutting her own acceleration at the last second and rolling her Viper to the starboard to avoid a collision. Not that it mattered in the end. Starbuck couldn’t stop the cry of surprise as the Raptor jumped away barely a meter from her wing.
Her howl of frustration echoed through the comms. Even the unflappable Greyhound couldn’t help but wince.
Olympus Command and
“Dammit!” the CO cursed aloud, his normal calm gone the same instant the Colonel’s shout came over the speakers. He slapped a hand on Sorrenson’s board and grit his teeth, hard. Admiral Rice was more restrained, although he did look more than a little put out.
The Specialist took his superior’s anger as a prompt and began typing furiously into his terminal. “Uh, Raptor has jumped, Sirs. I’m afraid I can’t track it further.”
“Thank you, Specialist,” the Admiral stated before the CO could say some more indelicate. “Notify Black Alpha to return to assigned band and send it to the main desk.”
“Aye, Sir.” Commander Avery-Hunter followed close behind Rice as they relocated to the main desk of the bridge. Once there, both picked up comms handsets in unison, though it was the Admiral who spoke first.
“Starbuck? This is Rice.”
“Go ahead, Sir.”
“What’s your fuel?”
“Main tanks are dry. E Tank is down to fifty, Sir.”
“E Tank at eighty, Sir.”
“Understood. Stand by.” Rice cut the connection and looked over to the CO. “They’re what, 475 klicks out? Options?”
“480-plus. Meaning Greyhound just might make it back with what he’s got left. Starbuck?” He shook his head slowly. “No chance.”
“Tow truck time?” The two shared a dry chuckle between them. “She will love that one.”
“That’s why you’re the one wearing the Admiral’s stars.”
“I should get hazard pay for this,” the Admiral muttered as he raised the handset to his chin again. The CO held his peace on that score, having already clicked his own handset over to an internal channel and was directing the deck crew to prep a pair of shuttles. “Black Alpha, Rice.”
“We calculate you're too far out for a return burn. We're launching a recovery tow for you both. Hold position under advised otherwise.”
Greyhound responded first. “Understood, Sir.”
“Starbuck?” the Admiral asked after a moment.
Another moment before the Colonel's subdued reply of “Acknowledged, Sir. Tow truck en route. Will hold position until its arrival. Starbuck clear.” The Admiral might have had more to say if Sorrenson weren't signing for his attention right then. The CO noticed this as well and hurriedly closed his own line, quickly moving to the Specialist. The Admiral himself was only a step behind him.
Sorrenson didn't take his eyes from his terminal as he reported “Sirs, I've been picking up some increased modulation along the 500 Band again.”
“Another Raptor?” asked the CO, studying the readouts before them.
“It...doesn't appear so, Sir. Its...well...all over the place. Like we're catching a sudden jump in signal traffic.”
Sorrenson hesitated, frowning hard. “I can't tell. If it is, looks like there's a lot of chatter going on.”
The CO looked over Lieutenant Samson's station. “Comms,” he called out. “Link into the Specialist's monitor and load the translation package. I want...”
Whatever he might have said next was lost by the sudden blare of emergency klaxon that had only ever been heard in drills. Both the Admiral and CO looked over to the overhead AEGIS screens, where a new, much larger signal was now pulsing virtually on top of Black Alpha's position.
Starbuck's voice blared over the comms that same instant. “Case ZULU! Case ZULU! Cylon Basestar has jumped into zone! Repeat: Case ZULU! Cylon Basestar has jumped into zone and is launching Raiders! Initiating evasive maneuvers.”
Neither the Admiral nor ship's CO waited to hear more. The former remained where he was, eyes fixed on the AEGIS as he barked out “Officer of the Watch, rig for red. Ops, vector Black Wing to intercept. Sound General Quarters.” He glanced back to the Comms Station. “Send emergency flash traffic to Fleet HQ, reporting Case ZULU.”
His voice was nearly drowned out by the klaxon sirens and Samson's voice calmly-yet-urgently echoing through the air declaring “All hands to General Quarters. This is not a drill.” The lighting throughout the Bridge changed to a light crimson.
Commander Avery-Hunter meanwhile was back at the main desk, barking his own orders into a handset. “Launch all alert wings. Gunnery crews to batteries.” He took another look at the AEGIS and noted “Black Wing is five minutes from intercept, alert wings fifteen.”
“I am aware,” the Admiral noted flatly, both of them knowing denials wouldn't make a bit of difference to what was surely coming.