The day began with a new level of energy on the Aurora. There had been little to do while they were still in drydock, but with departure due in a few days the activity level on the ship was increasing. Stores were being brought aboard and more of the new crew were arriving to take up their assignments, with the command staff back in place to oversee the process. It would be a bumpy one. Over half of the Aurora's crew was now new to the ship. Considering the new weapon systems and the rebuilt elements to the ship, a shakedown cruise would be required before they returned to duty full-time.
Julia took breakfast in her quarters while looking over more of the morning paperwork. With a fresh cup of coffee in her system and her stomach digesting the decent (if replicated) breakfast, she arrived on the bridge via the port side aft-facing turbolift. The night staff were still on duty. Ensign Crane, a lanky young man from a FedStar colony world toward the frontier of L2M1, was at tactical; Operations had a female Alakin officer of blue plumage with gray skin, Lieutenant Jakeet, and the helm was manned by Ensign Talara, an alien woman of a species called the Falaens from Universe A7R6. The pointed ends of her ears made her look almost elven. She had bright blue eyes over similarly-blue painted half-moons on her cheeks, a bronze complexion, and silver-blue hair pulled into a formal bun at the back of her head.
The figure that rose from the command chair, wearing a uniform with burgundy red command trim joined with the basic black material, was a full Lieutenant, a Human male from the Southern regions of Africa. He stood at attention and nodded. "Good morning, Captain." Lieutenant Tinashe Takawira spoke English with an accent from the Zimbabwean-founded colony world of Nkomo in Universe L4R2, his world of birth. "Did you sleep well?"
She smiled a little and nodded. "I did. Thank you, Lieutenant. Anything special to report?"
"The engineering teams are still working on final connections for the shields," said Takawira. "And we had another three dozen crew report directly to the ship. They were transferred from the Libra."
Julia nodded. "Well, I imagine they'll enjoy serving on the Aurora a bit more than on a Scorpio-class. I hear those are more cramped for room."
"Like any of the rushed war designs, I imagine," said Takawira. "I have nothing else to report."
"Then you're relieved," said Julia. "Go ahead and get some rest. Tonight I'm holding a bridge officer conference at 2000 hours to go over what I expect from the shakedown run."
"I'll be there, ma'am," Takawira pledged. "Now…"
The sound of a loud electronic warble came from Operations. Julia blinked and looked toward the station and Lieutenant Jakeet. "That's a priority fleet signal," she said. "What are we receiving?"
Jakeet's taloned fingers tapped the comm control. The speakers on the bridge activated.
"...not a drill," said a male voice with one of the Dorei accents. "This is General Yamatin D'liros of the Dorei Federation Armed Services to all Alliance commands. I am issuing a Condition Red Zulu for all sectors facing…"
The night officers noticed the color drain from Julia's face. The look on Jakeet and Takawira made it clear they knew what this meant, although it was clear Crane and Talara didn't. "Captain?" asked Talara. "What is it?"
"There's only one reason why a Condition Red Zulu is called by anyone," Julia said. "It's an invasion warning."
Before anyone could ask the obvious question, the message made it clear.
"The colonies on Yati, Tupana 3, and Egtama have all been attacked and we have lost contact with the Utamli Sector Fleet Station. Attacking ships have been tentatively identified as Cylon. Again, I am issuing a Condition Red Zulu…"
"The Cylons." A moment later Julia gasped, "Oh no."
"Captain, what's wrong?"
Takawira looked to Crane with a grim expression. "Commander Carrey from the Koenig is on leave on New Caprica."
"Right." Julia drew in a breath. "And if the Cylons are attacking us, then that means they're hitting New Caprica too. And he's right in the middle of it."
With Cylon fighters zipping overhead, firing down into the streets apparently at random, Zack led Clara and Cally into the nearest alley. "Not again," Cally cried. "It's happening again!"
"What's going on? Zack, are those…"
Zack nodded at Clara and stopped her mid-sentence by answering, "Yes, it's the Cylons. They must have jumped right into the atmosphere."
"I thought you could see them coming?" asked Cally.
"There's supposed to be a defense perimeter, but there's no telling what's going on. The important thing is that we need to get to safety." Zack motioned further down the alley. "If we can get to the bunkers we'll be safe. Let's go."
They started running down the alley. The sudden exertion did nothing to distract Zack from the thought in the back of his mind.
Why are we still alive?
When Admiral William Adama arrived in the CIC of the Pegasus, he demanded an immediate report.
The reply came from the current officer on watch, Lieutenant Kendra Shaw. "DRADIS shows Cylon fighters jumped straight into the atmosphere over the colony."
"Launch Vipers to shoot them down." For a moment Adama paused. "Why the hell didn't we get any warning from the Alliance perimeter beacons?"
At that moment the ship's commander stepped onto the bridge. Commander Lee Adama knew from his father's expression that something was horribly wrong. "Sir," he said, stepping up to his place beside the central table in the CIC.
"Commander." Adama nodded. "We're in the middle of a Cylon attack on the colony."
Lee's expression paled. "How bad? Did they get shields up before the nukes hit?"
"There's no sign of radiological weapons being used," said the young officer sat the sensor station, a young volunteer officer named Will Atreiad. The old solid screen display there was now augmented by a holographic flat display using the advanced sensors installed on the ship during its refit by the Alliance.
"Lieutenant, what are they doing?"
"Their flight pattern indicates they're making strafing runs on the ground, but only with guns. No missile launches detected. But the colony isn't raising shields."
"Get me President Baltar, now," Adama demanded.
Shaw was now at communications, with the headpiece firmly on her head. "I've been trying to reach the planet, but no communication protocols are working."
"A virus?" asked Lee.
"Knowing the Cylons?" Adama shook his head. "What about our protections? Are they still up?"
"All protections still active," said Atreiad.
"Vipers launching," Shaw said.
The CIC went quiet while the DRADIS screens showed their fighter complement approaching orbital space. Some of the Cylon fighters flew up to meet them. A dogfight broke out in orbital space. The Vipers had the numbers against the immediate enemy, drawing yet more up from the orbiting attack.
But none of this sat right with Bill Adama. The Cylons could have wiped out the colony a dozen times by now if they'd mounted nuclear weapons. Why hadn't they? What else were they hoping to accomplish?
"Where are the other ships?" he asked.
"Still in their places in orbit, sir," said Shaw. "They are awaiting orders."
"Have them jump to the rallying point. We need to get them out of harm's way."
"I'm sending your order now."
One by one the ships on DRADIS disappeared. Adama kept watching the screen even after they were gone, clearly in anticipation.
As it turned out, he didn't have to wait for long.
Several new contacts appeared on the screen. Atreiad identified them immediately. "I'm detecting several Cylon Basestars in near-orbital space, sir. They're launching fighters."
"Bring us about," Adama said. "Prepare to…"
"Sir…" Atreiad was looking intently at the screen, as if he couldn't be sure what he was seeing. "There's something off about their profiles. I'm reading…" He blinked. "I think I'm reading deflector shields."
Lee frowned at that. "You mean the Cylons have upgraded to shield technology too?"
"That's what it looks like…" A tone sounded on his board. "I'm picking up a weapons lock. They're firing missiles!"
"Return fire," ordered Lee.
The Pegasus' newly-installed phaser cannons opened up. Solid beams of amber light struck at the lead Cylon ship. The vessel, which looked like two three-bladed circles joined slightly off-center, wasn't touched by the shots. Blue energy shields met the phaser beams and absorbed them.
Meanwhile the Battlestar's defensive weapons engaged the incoming Cylon missiles. Several were blown apart on their approach, with explosions that Atreiad quickly identified. "They're using anti-matter warheads, sir."
Seconds later the first missiles hit home on Pegasus' shields. The ship shuddered from the impacts. "Shield efficiency down to eighty percent," said Atreiad.
"What's the status of the enemy Basestar we hit?" Lee asked.
"Shields are holding at ninety percent. We're firing again… enemy shields at eighty-two percent." Again the Pegasus rocked as more missiles hit home. A second Basestar was engaging. "Our shields are down to seventy-three percent."
The arithmetic of the situation made Adama's tactical position starkly clear. Staying and fighting would only get the Pegasus destroyed needlessly, and the Galactica was still finishing an exhaustive rebuild in the Alliance's shipyards. If he wanted to maintain any possibility of independent action, he had to get the ship clear. "Recall all Vipers, now," he ordered. "And prepare the ship to jump to the rallying point."
There were uncomfortable looks on the others' faces. But they knew this was the best, the only, choice they had. "Recalling Vipers now," said Shaw. A moment later she said, "We're getting a call from New Caprica. It's Colonel Tigh."
"Put him on."
A holographic screen blipped into existence over the conference table, showing Tigh's face in a room of uniformed officers. "Admiral, everything's going wrong down here," Tigh said. "The defense systems have been disabled by a computer virus."
"How did they get into our defenses?" Adama asked.
"I don't know. But we can't raise the colony's shields or activate the defense guns." A dull thud sounded in the distance. "Although they're not nuking us, just bombing and shooting everything."
"What about Baltar or Zarek?"
"Zarek was off on a public tour and is out of reach. And I haven't been able to get anyone to check up on Baltar."
Again the Pegasus shook. "Shields down to forty percent, Admiral," warned Atreiad.
"Bill, you'd better go," warned Tigh. "You can't stop them all. We're going to need help."
"Until we return, you are in command of any military efforts," Adama said. "Don't do anything that could provoke a massacre. Try to find out what the Cylons are up to."
"Will do. Tigh out."
The next shake of the ship brought with it Atreiad's warning that the shields were down to twenty-five percent. After another shaking, Shaw confirmed the last Viper had landed.
"All hands, secure for jump," Lee ordered. Everyone braced themselves.
The Pegasus jumped away from the New Caprica Colony. And Adama could be forgiven for wondering if there would ever be somewhere safe for his people.
Had Baltar known what the day would bring, he would have done things differently.
For starters, he wouldn't have slept in. He would have made sure to have more guards.
And he definitely would have picked another night for his liaison with the pretty young Dorei girl who had joined his staff. That particular combination of lust and scientific curiosity had proven impossible to resist.
The young woman, Linava, was still asleep in his bed, light purple skin mingled with the fine white sheets, when Baltar emerged from the shower. Today would likely mean more of the same for him: stuffy, suffocating official work. Quorum members trying to meet with him over this or that legislative proposal, community leaders wanting his support for some initiative or another, and communiques from the various governments he had to deal with. He was thankful that Zarek was out on his tour, since it at least meant marginally more peace and quiet instead of more haranguing about Zarek's economic proposals. For all that Zarek had helped make his victory possible, Baltar was long past being fed up with his politics, which had only grown worse after Zarek had met the First Minister of the Dorei Federation, Fynra Henzi, who supported his economic initiatives.
Thinking about foreign leaders brought a scowl to Baltar's face. He'd met a few as well and he always had the feeling that they were trying to sit in judgement of him. That he somehow wasn't good enough to be their peer despite the fact that he was smarter than the entire bunch put together.
Those were the thoughts that Baltar was having when there was a commotion at his door. Not particularly interested in putting up with questions about bedding an alien, Baltar quickly finished pulling his bathrobe over himself and strode with deliberate steps toward the door. He got to it just as it opened, allowing him to keep the others out.
The others, in this case, was an aide and the Colonial Marine guard outside the door. The young lady was like all of the women Baltar hired - attractive and devoted to him.
But there was no devotion this morning. Baltar could see the utter terror on her face. "We've got to get to safety, Mister President!"
He didn't ask. He didn't need to.
Baltar didn't go back to wake up Linava. There was no time. If the Cylons were attacking, then a single nuke would be all that was necessary to wipe out New Caprica. They had to get to the bunker. He followed his guard and his aide down the hall, as if heading to his dining room. But just short of the dining room they turned off into another hall leading toward the rear. At the end of the hall was another adjoining corridor, leading mostly to meeting rooms, while the door right ahead of them was the door to Baltar's office.
Inside the office was furnished to his tastes, Fine furniture, a fully stocked cabinet of fine liquor and elegant glasses to drink it out of. His desk was made from an elegant tropical wood with a deep brassy color.
To the right of the office was a steel door. It was their final destination; the door led to the protected bunker beneath that he shared with the Quorum.
He tapped the panel beside the door and entered the first digits of his personal code.
The door flew open. Baltar and his two escorts turned to face said door. A woman in a hooded jacket entered. Her blue eyes focused on him.
The bodyguard raised his gun. "On the ground, now!"
The woman responded by extending a hand and making a gripping motion. The Marine made a harsh choking sound. He dropped his weapon in a vain attempt to reach at his throat.
The aide shrieked. All Baltar could do was watch in horror as his bodyguard spasmed and thrashed in mid-air until he stopped moving. A second hand movement sent the lifeless body flying into the far wall.
"What are you?" asked Baltar.
"Your captor for the moment," said the woman. "You will surrender New Caprica to the Cylons, President Baltar, or you and every being on this planet will die."
Running into the alley meant safety for the moment from strafing Cylon fighters, but for Zack, Clara, and Cally, the respite could only prove temporary. There was no telling when or if the Cylons might lob a nuke into the city. And Zack figured that being outside if Cylon combat troops started landing would prove just as deadly.
"Oh Gods no," wailed Cally. "They're going to kill us! They're going to kill us all!"
"It's okay," Clara insisted. "We're going to make it. We just need to hold out…"
It didn't look like her efforts would particularly work. Zack left her to them, however, as he was busy with his omnitool and a display of the Colony's bunker network. It had been installed with the help of Alliance engineers to provide a secure place for the population of the main colony. It had multiple entrances across the Colony, at least one per street. Now he had to find the nearest entrance.
"How can this be happening again?" Cally asked. "We were supposed to be safe!" She looked pleadingly at Zack. "You were supposed to keep them away!"
"I think we may have underestimated the Cylons," Zack said darkly while examining the road plan. "Alright, follow me." He started walking toward the other end.
But Cally didn't. "If we step out there they'll kill us," she protested.
"And if we don't, they'll still kill us," said Zack. "They might decide to nuke the colony anyway, or they might land troops. If we want to be safe, we have to get to the bunker network." He held out his hand toward her. "Please. I'm sure Galen and Nicky are already on their way there."
The look on Cally's face said it all. A year of relative comfort, a year of feeling safe, was gone. In minutes the Cylons had stripped it away. It was heartbreaking to see it, and even worse to know it was a despair being felt across New Caprica now.
Zack walked back up to her and offered his hand. When she didn't move, Clara did the same.
This time Cally accepted.
Leaving the alley was easy. Trying to keep an eye skyward to watch for any strafing attacks was rather more troublesome. Doing so while running forced Zack to keep looking up to the distant shapes, But for the time being they were ignoring the three lone figures running down the street.
They weren't so alone after a minute. Doors opened and others began to emerge. They had made the same calculation as Zack and were heading to the nearest bunker entrance.
The entrance itself was set into the side of a residential building ahead on the street. It was colored and marked with red and yellow. The sign above the entrance was a round yellow circle with a smaller red circle in the middle and "EMERGENCY" written in big white block letters across the circle. There were already people entering it ahead of them.
The sense of elation that came to Zack disappeared with the high-pitched roar in the air above. A Cylon fighter swooped in. A trail of red flame erupted from beneath its belly. Zack dropped to the ground instinctively, as did many others, in the moments before the missile made impact against the bunker entrance.
The explosion was deafening. When it faded it was replaced by screams and cries from those who had been too close to the entrance. When Zack looked up he felt his stomach twist at the carnage in the street. The missile had taken out the bunker entrance and torn a massive hole into the building it was attached to. Civilians were scattered on the ground ahead of him, some dead, some wounded or dying.
Clara rushed to her feet and went to the nearest of them, a young man in a jacket, shirt, and pants. Blood was now soaking all three. She bent down over him and started inspecting him.
Zack helped Cally up. They approached Clara together while she was ripping off a piece of her sleeve. She wrapped it around the upper right arm of the moaning man to use as a makeshift tourniquet. "He's going to bleed out," she said to them. "I need to stop the bleeding."
Ordinarily Zack wouldn't have protested. But upon hearing the same roar as before, he glanced up in time to see the fighter coming back around for a strafing run. "It's coming back!" he shouted. "Take cover!" He grabbed Clara, who instinctively resisted, and tried to pull her to safety.
The fighter flew onward. Muzzle flashes appeared and gouts of asphalt and cement flew up from the impacts against the road.
And it was coming straight at them.
Then a second whine pierced the air. A beam of amber energy lanced out and struck the fighter dead-on. The explosion filled the air and the Cylon was gone.
Zack lowered his head from that sight to street level. An open flatbed pickup truck was driving up. In the back was a phaser cannon pointed skyward and manned by someone Zack couldn't make out.
"What the hell?" was his response.
Out of the truck cab stepped Sam Anders and Kara Thrace. Anders pulled a bullhorn up to his mouth. "Everyone, listen up! I've got a bus coming this way and some other vehicles. If you've got one of your own, go get it now. Otherwise, stay nearby and I'll protect you as best as I can. We're getting out of here."
By the time Anders was done, Thrace had finished walking up to Zack. "Hey Loverboy, hell of a time to check on your girlfriend, isn't it?"
Zack shook his head. Despite the situation, he had to chuckle at that. "Yeah, it is." He gestured to the truck. "So what the hell is that?"
"Sam's been unhappy with the way Baltar's been dragging his ass on setting up a militia," Thrace replied. "So he did it himself, with whatever he could scrounge."
"And scrounging included a heavy phaser cannon?" he asked.
Thrace grinned at that. "It does when you've got Admiral Adama and Colonel Tigh signing the requisition forms." That drew a grin from Zack as well.
"I need to get this man some medical attention," Clara said, having returned to her patient. "We should get to the hospital."
"We'd be sitting ducks," Thrace said. "But we've got medical supplies at our fallback base."
"We should be getting into the bunker," Zack said.
"That thing's a death trap. If they'd wanted us nuked, they'd have nuked us by now."
There was no arguing that point. Zack didn't get the chance anyway, as Cally cried out, "What about Nick and Galen? They were coming to meet us, I have to find them!"
That brought her Thrace's attention. "Hey, we'll get to them, okay? Knowing Chief Tyrol, he's doing everything necessary to keep little Nick safe." Thrace looked back to Zack. "So, mind helping me get this evacuation organized? The longer we're here, the more we're sitting ducks."
"Clara will check on the wounded then," said Zack, "and I'll help you with the rest."
"Good to hear it," was the only reply he got before they went to work.
The command staff of the Aurora assembled in the conference lounge off of the bridge. The meeting had been scheduled to be their first full meeting since everyone had returned from leave, with the discussion to be primarily those on ship readiness.
Of course, things had changed.
Now Admiral Maran's face was present on the wall monitor. Reserved as always, Maran's face showed only a fraction of the stress he had to be under given the news he now shared with them. "The Cylons have launched a full scale assault on Alliance space."
For a moment there was no response from the assembled. Angel was the first to speak. "How well can they do? We trounced them back when we first met them."
"The reports we're getting from the Dorei indicate the Cylons haven't been idle on the technology front. Their ships are now carrying deflector shields and their anti-ship armament includes anti-matter warheads on their missiles."
"The Cylons have had years to develop clandestine connections in our region of space," said Meridina. "Their involvement in the Faith Summit bombing and their attempt to buy Lucy Lucero from slavers on Djamar Station establishes this presence. They may be getting their technology from clandestine sources."
"That is Alliance Intelligence's assessment as well, although I am told they have yet to determine a specific source."
"And what about New Caprica?" asked Julia.
Maran shook his head. "Long range sensors have confirmed that Cylon ships jumped into the region. We haven't been able to raise their government or Admiral Adama's command either. Unfortunately, communications systems across the entire sector have been going down, presumably as a result of Cylon sabotage. But given the sensor data, we must assume that New Caprica has already fallen."
Faces across the room fell. "Then Zack…" Caterina began.
"We've heard nothing from Commander Carrey either." Maran nodded. "I've already ordered his crew to return from leave. The Koenig's caretaker crew will have her back to you by the time you launch."
Julia's brow furrowed. "When is that, Admiral? We still haven't taken on our full crew."
"I'm aware of that, but we need every ship we can put into service to deal with this incursion. I want the Aurora ready to jump for the Dorei frontier within six hours. We'll get as many new crew members to you as we can during that time, but I recognize you'll still be understaffed and without a Marine contingent. I'm afraid you'll have to make due with what you've got available."
"We'll make it work, Admiral."
"That's just what I wanted to hear, Captain. I'll give you further orders when you arrive in N2S7. We should have a clearer picture of what's going on by then. And I will make inquiries on ways to replace your Marine force. Maran out." The Admiral's arm moved and a moment later his image disappeared.
"Six hours?!" Scotty blurted out. "I cannae finish everythin' in just six hours!"
"Call in all personnel you can spare and do your best," Julia replied. She looked to Jarod next. "I hate to multitask you, Jarod, but when you're not helping Mister Scott prepare us for duty, I need you and your staff to manage the incoming crew and make sure we've gotten all the stores we need. Make whatever temporary arrangements you have to, we can fix it later when the crisis is over."
Jarod nodded. "I'll get started right away."
"Everyone else, pitch in wherever Jarod or Scotty asks you to. We've got…" She checked the time on her omnitool. "...five hours and fifty-five minutes to get this ship ready for duty. You're all dismissed, save Commander Meridina."
Meridina waited quietly while the others filed out. Once they were gone she stated, "I have yet to make my choice, Captain."
"I know," Julia answered. "It's a big step for you, I get that. But I need a First Officer right now. So effective immediately, you're Acting First Officer."
"Would it not make more sense to put Jarod in that position?"
"No. I need him running ship operations directly, as usual. I need you helping me on the command side of things." Julia leaned back in her seat. "It's not permanent. And when things are over you can tell me no and I'll put you back on Security."
"Of course." Meridina nodded. "I shall inform Lieutenant Richmond that she is acting Chief of Security."
"I'll see you in my office in half an hour, then."
Meridina nodded and stood. She only made it a few steps toward the door when she turned back and asked, "Which office? Robert's ready office?"
"No," Julia said. "My XO office on Deck 3."
Meridina nodded. "Very well. When will you be using the Captain's office?"
The question made Julia go quiet. It was a good question and one that she should have answered to herself weeks ago. "When I'm ready," she managed to answer, and it was clear that was the end of it for her.
Meridina nodded in understanding and left. Julia's answer hadn't surprised her. She still hoped Robert would awaken soon.
For that matter, so did Meridina.
Again golden rays shined down on the Dale family farm, where rich fields of grain continued to grow until the day would come to harvest them. Robert took in this sight while sitting up on the family combine harvester's driver seat. Little Robby was balanced on his lap running his little hands around the controls. "Daddy, what does this do?" he asked, grasping at a control.
"It lets me control the thresher."
"And what does this do?"
"That's what I use when I'm releasing the grain."
For a moment the little boy seemed contented by those answers. His next question was on a different subject. "When can I play with it?"
To that Robert chuckled. "When you're older. Not until your feet can reach the pedal, that's for certain."
The little boy seemed to accept this as a reasonable requirement. "Do I get the farm?"
"You will, one day," Robert answered. "This is our family's farm and it has been for a long long time. Dales have been farming this land for a hundred and fifty years."
Together they looked out at the grain swaying gently in the wind. This quiet reverie was only broken when there was a knock at the door of the cab. Robert opened it and looked down to where his father was standing on the entry ladder. He was in mechanic overalls, just like Robert, with his hands stained with black grease. "Give it a try now, son," he said.
Robert reached for the controls and fired up the combine. It roared to life immediately. "There we go!" he cried over the engine. The three generations of Dales shared a moment of laughter before Robert shut the engine down. "That was great, Dad. Herb would have charged more for a repair."
"Herb always charges more," Michael Dale pointed out after a chuckle. He stepped down from the cab. He stretched his arms up toward them.
Nothing need be said. Little Robby squealed in joy and jumped into his grandfather's waiting hands. Michael swung the shrieking child around in the air for a moment before setting him down. A small wince came to his face briefly and Robert saw Michael's hand go for his hip. For the moment he said nothing and concentrated on closing and locking up the cab of the combine. Once he was back on hard soil he asked, "Dad, are you okay?"
"I'm fine, Rob," was the answer. "I'm just getting old."
"Yeah. I guess we all are."
They started walking back to the original family farmhouse, where Grandpa Allen and Grandma Anna still lived by themselves. Robert reflected on how much he'd missed this walk between the barn and the house. It was one he'd done his whole life until…
"Whatever that was with the doctor who was at the house, I think you were right to send him on," Michael said. "Your place is at home, Rob. It's where your heart is."
Robert nodded. He forced the memories down. The memories that told him this was a fantasy, that his father and mother and sister and grandparents were all dead. Memories of a far stranger and bizarre fate than he had ever expected while growing up here. And for a moment, a terrible moment, he had been ready to return to that life of loss and struggle. To go back to that reality...
In the distance, thunder rumbled. "Well, looks like a storm," said Michael.
Little Robby grasped at Robert's waist. Robert responded by picking his boy up and holding him close. "It's okay, don't be afraid," he said. "I'm here."
His son's arms wrapped around his neck in response. Feeling his son clinging to him reinforced Robert's decision to remain with his family.
What more could he ask for?
New Caprica Colony had five major roads leading out of it, although they were major only in that they were paved and made like a normal road. Three led to farming communities, one to the mining range in the Olympic Mountains a hundred kilometers away, and one to the New Caprica Colony Natural Park.
It was the road to the mountains that the convoy ended up taking. It was a peculiar convoy, too. They were of various types and makes; anti-grav aircars and standard automobiles, long trucks and small two-man vehicles, and at least one bus. Said bus had someone sitting in a makeshift gun emplacement on the top with a quad-barrelled anti-air emplacement bolted to it that made it look like a World War II-era anti-air gun. Similar weapons were in the beds of most of the trucks, save those heavily-laden with supplies.
By all rights Zack could have asserted command of the entire thing. The Alliance and New Caprica had a standing forces agreement that included recognition of one another's command structures, and as a Commander he outranked Thrace and Anders. But throwing weight around like that was contrary to Zack in a fundamental way; he had let Starbuck and Sam take the lead and offered to oversee the people crammed into the bus. Most of the seats were taken individually, and several people were standing and holding onto the bars.
In the back Clara was hunched over the wounded man she'd barely saved in the company of a familiar face. Doctor Sherman Cottle finished taking the pulse before nodding to Clara. "Good job, Miss Davis," he said. "You saved this man's life."
Clara blushed and shook his head. "You're the doctor," she said. "You did."
"He wouldn't have made it if you hadn't stopped the bleeding," Cottle insisted.
"Will he make it?" asked Zack.
Cottle shook his head. "Time will tell. And how good the medical facilities are wherever we're going." He leveled a questioning look to Zack.
"The Olympia Mining Complex," Zack answered. "I'm not sure where we'll be going in particular once we get there. Anders is taking the lead on this."
"Well, the man led a guerrilla war against the Cylons for months, he probably knows best of all how to handle this." Cottle stood up "I'll want to set up a hospital when we get there. Miss Davis, you'll be my chief nurse."
Clara swallowed. "Um, yes, Doctor."
"Of course, depending on who is there or with us, you might be my only nurse," Cottle pointed out. "Now let's see this fellow…"
While they moved on to a less critical casualty, Zack walked back to the front of the bus. A man who looked like he was approaching forty was driving. Zack thought he looked nervous. But so did everyone else in the bus, really. Everyone had been shaken by the attack. Zack numbered among them. "So, how much longer do we have?" he asked.
"Thirty kilometers according to the maps," said the driver.
Zack nodded. "Let me know if you need anything." He stepped back from the driver's seat and went over to the ladder leading up to the gun emplacement on the top of the bus. A makeshift hatch had been welded into place to allow the gunner to come back and forth.
For a moment he considered going up to join the gunner on his own. As his right hand grasped the rung, a blue light from his omnitool came to life over the back of his left hand. He tapped the light. "Carrey here," he said.
Thrace spoke up on the other end. "Our sensor guy says we have Cylon fighters approaching. Two flights at least."
Zack blinked at that. "That's what, only eight?"
"I know. It's like they're toying with us. Get everyone in the bus ready. Your gunner's already been told."
"Right. Carrey out." Zack looked to the assembled refugees and spoke with as much volume as he could without seeming panicked. "Alright everyone, I need you to stay low. There are Cylon fighters flying in to attack us."
The passengers of the bus were clearly frightened, even terrified, but they all obeyed as requested.
Zack, on the other hand, climbed up the ladder and opened the hatch into the gunner's nest. The gunner was a young man with a cocoa-brown complexion and a little on the wiry side build wise. He rotated the gun to face the approaching fighters. Zack watched as the display showed the projected flight paths of the oncoming fighters and the crosshairs for the gun proper. After the crosshairs went red the gunner pulled the trigger. The weapon opened up, using mass effect fields to send slivers of extremely high-velocity metal flying into the air. After several seconds flames erupted from the fighter he was targeting.
Other vehicles in the convoy opened up, filling the air with tracer fire and energy fire. A couple more of the Cylon fighters exploded.
Their return fire came in a volley of missiles. The active ECM devices that had been fixed to the convoy worked to spoof the missiles, and most succeeded. Nevertheless, one car ahead of them exploded from a direct hit. Zack had to hold on for dear life as the bus swerved to avoid the flaming wreck.
This also threw off the aim of the gunner on a rapidly-approaching fighter. His shots went wide, missing the enemy craft completely.
The same maneuver also threw off the Cylon fighter's shots at the last moment, or at least that was how it appeared to Zack. A strafing run that should have hit the bus didn't appear to hit anything.
At least, not until the gunner collapsed at his weapon. Zack turned and saw that he'd lost half of his head to a direct hit.
The other Cylon fighters, having expended missiles, did the same. Their fire seemed to concentrate on taking out the gunners of the various anti-air weapons. Meanwhile the fighter that zoomed overhead began to bank in the air, coming around for another pass.
Zack had seconds to get the harness off of the gunner. He pulled the dead young Colonial away from the seat and plopped himself into it. There was no time to put his harness on; the fighter was already mostly through its turn. Zack gripped the controls of the anti-air mount and looked over the display. The built-in targeting systems flashed a red target icon ahead of the fighter, showing its projected course. Zack brought the crosshairs over that icon before pulling the trigger.
The mass effect fields powered up. Four streams of metal shavings were the result, a storm of projectiles that he directed into the path of the fighter. Sparks and flame shot from its surface. Zack kept firing until the Cylon was diving for the ground, trailing flame as it came.
With the immediate threat gone Zack used the arrow on the display to follow the movements of the attackers until he faced another Cylon fighter, this one to the east of their convoy. It was maneuvering for another pass. He maneuvered until the crosshairs were over the target and opened fire again. This time the fire from his weapon was joined by a powerful beam from another vehicle. The beam hit first and damaged the fighter, allowing Zack's shots to finish it off.
"Only two left," said Thrace.
Zack was already turning the gun to engage them as well. The adrenaline coursing through him was an old, familiar sensation. But given his circumstance, and how different it was from the usual, it gave a different edge to the moment.
The remaining Cylon fighters weren't giving up just yet. They were coming around for a new attack run. Zack started bringing his emplacement to bear, as did others in the convoy. But given the angle, he was certain the Cylon fighters couldn't help but land hits.
His targeting systems identified more craft approaching. For a moment he thought that they were more Cylons. But only for a moment. The targeting scanners framed the new contacts with green. They had friendly IFF codes aboard.
Moments later the cannons on the two Vipers fired. The Cylon fighters had just begun to evade. But it was too late. Both were riddled with multiple hits. Their ruined remains slammed into the ground.
"Militia, this is Colonel Tigh."
"We read you," replied Thrace. "I didn't think you'd make it, Colonel."
"We almost didn't. These two are all that's left of Baltar's Presidential Escort." There was a pause. "We'll meet you at the mines."
The Vipers flew onward to the cheers of the convoy. For a moment, Zack found himself cheering as well.
The bridge crew of the Aurora were taking their places when Meridina arrived on the bridge for the launch. She had switched into a command branch uniform with the burgundy red trim instead of olive brown, matching Julia's own.
Julia looked up at her from the command chair. Meridina walked down past the science and engineering consoles on the port side of the bridge and approached her. "Reporting as ordered, Captain."
"It's good to see you, Commander." Julia gestured to her old seat. Meridina settled into it. "What is our status for launch?"
Meridina's slender fingers operated the control for her display holotank, showing her the relevant information. "We are still three hundred and fifty-three billets short on the crew. Stores are at seventy-five percent capacity."
"I've already consulted with the shift and department commanders," Jarod said. "It will take some shuffling but we can manage going to combat alert for a few hours at least. If we start taking casualties, though, we're going to be stretched."
"And the Koenig?"
"The caretaker crew will be waiting for us in N2S7," said Jarod. "Apley and Navaez are ready to head over. Command couldn't get in contact with the other members of the command crew in time."
"Noted." Julia kept herself from frowning at that. The Cylons were going to be a tougher fight than imagined, and that meant casualties were far more likely. Not to mention that having the Koenig's crew understaffed would make that ship less capable, especially with its chief engineer and tactical officer missing. "Everyone, what is our status?"
Tom Barnes nodded from the Engineering station. "Naqia reactors are ready for operation. Every engine is operational and running."
"All sensors functioning normally," said Caterina.
"Weapons check complete, everything is ready," added her sister. "And we have a full combat load of solar torpedoes."
Meridina glanced to her display again. "While we have no Marine unit, the ship security complement is at full strength. All fighter squadrons present and ready for orders."
"Alright then." A surge of exhilaration came to Julia despite the grim circumstances of their early launch. This was it. She was now in command, overseeing her first launch as Captain. "Mister Locarno, take us out."
Just before he could say it, Julia shook her head. " And thrusters only."
To that Locarno grinned. "Of course."
Under his control the Aurora slipped free of the dock. Gently her thrusters moved the kilometer long starship to the opening spacedock doors, beyond which the curve of Earth was visible. Starships of varying shapes and sizes milled in the orbital space ahead.
Jarod operated the control for the jump drive. "I'm getting an anchoring signal from the Dorei vessel Fanmila. Locking the drive on."
"Jump when you're ready, Commander."
Julia's order was answered by a nod and the reply of, "Engaging jump drive in five seconds."
After those five seconds, a vortex of green energy formed in the space ahead of the Aurora. The kilometer long starship accelerated and entered the jump point.
On the other end of the point was the outer system of a B sequence star. A plutoid spun along several thousand kilometers away from where the Alliance fleet was gathering. The bulk of the fleet was Dorei and Gersallian, but already other ship types were visible. A contingent of Sirian ships, with their ring-shaped warp drives, maintained their own formation, as did an attack wing of Alakin warbirds.
At the center of the formation was a large Gersallian dreadnought. The profile wasn't that of the Kentan - it lacked the fighter bays - and Julia had to search her memory for a moment to recall it. "The Drantem," she noted.
"Drantem-class, anyway,"Jarod clarified. "Not as large as the Kentan, but they built six of them."
The Aurora pulled closer to the ship. It was over fifty percent longer than the Aurora and a third again as wide. Its very size explained the eight warp nacelles built into the mid and rear sections, providing propulsion for the massive warship.
Ahead of the Drantem was the natural place of the Aurora in the fleet formations. The new Alliance designs, made with the benefit of Darglan tech, stood out among the member-specific ships with their azure hulls and their sleek, sharper lines. The Predator-class and Scorpio-class ship designs were not unfamiliar - the former a unitary hull shape with the rear drive hull section being "shorter" than the primary hull, the latter more of an arrowhead with powerful plasma pulse cannons built into its bow - but two new types were represented as well.
One of the new types was the Steslus-class destroyer, represented by four of its model, which were larger than the Predator-class while still looking smaller than a standard cruiser. They had a saucer-shaped primary hull with phaser strip emplacements visible along the sides and one large plasma emitter built into the bow. What set the design apart from the others was the presence of two secondary hulls, one dorsal and one ventral, with each having warp nacelles on port and starboard sides to have four overall. The lower secondary hull had a few weapon emplacements as well while the upper secondary hull was lined with fighter launch tubes. The rear section of the upper hull included a visible retrieval deck for the same.
The second type was represented by just one vessel. It was larger, clearly to cruiser size, at just under 400 meters length, with an sleek arrowhead primary hull and a squad drive hull attached seamlessly to the bottom and rear. Its twin warp nacelles were slanted upward at diagonal angles from the drive hull. Pulse plasma cannon emplacements were built into the bow of the arrowhead, and the presence of other weapons gave the ship a decidedly aggressive appearance that belied its similarity in shape to the Federation's Intrepid-class exploration cruisers.
The emotional punch from the ship's appearance came from the name emblazoned on the hull: ASV Lithgon.
"Admiral Lithgon," murmured Locarno. "They named a ship after him."
Julia nodded quietly. "Another war design like the Scorpio. A tactical cruiser, designed for speed and hitting power."
"Hopefully they'll give the Nazis a good stomping when they make it there," Angel said.
"First things first," Julia answered. "Lieutenant, take us to our place in the formation."
Under Locarno's control the Aurora moved past the Lithgon and the destroyers and attack cruisers to the lead of the formation. Around it were an unprecedented five of the Discovery-class ships. "The Soyuz, Endeavor, Gagarin, Atlantis, and Kitana," Jarod read off.
Julia nodded quietly.
"We're in place," said Locarno. He was pleased by the maneuver, as was Julia. The Aurora was back in action, whatever the problems with launching this quickly.
"The Koenig is docking now," Jarod added.
The Koenig, which had been toward the rear of the Alliance formation, was already flying in between the Aurora's nacelles. The dock door for her berth was open and ready to receive her. The caretaker crew brought her in without a problem.
Once the Koenig was secure, Jarod spoke up again. "General Jinam on the Dorei starbird Kupira has sent us course telemetry," he said. "It looks like we're being sent to the Tupana system with the main counter-attack."
"I'm setting course now," said Locarno. After a moment he confirmed he was ready with, "Course set. Ready to engage."
"Engineering here. Ye've got full warp power at yer command, Cap'n," said Scott.
"Thank you, Mister Scott," Julia answered. "Take us out, Lieutenant."
With just a few key presses, Locarno sent energy surging into the Aurora's warp drive assembly. The ship shot away at warp speed, followed in quick order by the other ships.
The yellow light of a G sequence star played over the hull of the Pegasus as it did those ships she was in company with. The vessels of the Colonial Refugee Fleet were gathered in the orbit of the innermost planet of this uninhabited solar system. At this proximity to the sun, long range sensors would have a harder time detecting their presence. This had, indeed, been the point when Adama selected it as the fleet rallying point.
He and his son Lee sat quietly in the officers' wardroom. A map of the local star systems was visible on the wall, including their home of New Caprica. A marker there showed the presence of the Cylons.
The quiet was broken by Lee. "What do they want?"
"I wish we knew," Adama grumbled. "They spent all that time trying to wipe us out. Now, they hold back. Why?" Adama thumped his hand on the table. "Did we ever complete interrogations of D'anna Biers?"
"Our best tried," said Lee. "She never cooperated."
"Maybe not willingly. But she might have said something that could shed light on what the Cylons are after." Adama lifted his eyes toward Lee. "Get me the transcripts and recordings of her interrogations. All of them."
Lee stood. "Anything else?"
Adama shook his head. "Not right now. Let me know when we're ready for the next jump. If we're lucky, the Cylon attack on the Alliance's communications is local."
Lee nodded and left, leaving Adama to his thoughts on the situation.
Baltar's office was now a prison cell. The new Cylon model was standing watch at the entrance while two female figures entered. One was the same model as D'anna Biers, the other the same gorgeous blonde as the Cylon in his head.
He gave them a quizzical look as they took seats. "What is it you want?" he asked.
"A great many things," said the blonde. "Let's start with those of our kind being kept prisoner."
"You mean Miss Biers?" he asked. "I'll need communications for that. We keep her on the Galactica."
"We will handle all communications requirements," said the Cylon like Biers. "You will speak when needed to confirm your continued survival and that of your colony."
Baltar knew immediately what that meant. "So we're hostages then? You're using us to negotiate with the Alliance?"
"Of course, Gaius," said the blonde. Or, rather, the other version of the blonde that still sometimes spoke to him in his head, appearing to him whenever she pleased. Even now she was standing between the other two as if she belonged there. "But you shouldn't worry. This, too, is part of God's Plan."
Baltar didn't find that as reassuring as it was clearly meant to be.
The aroma of a family meal being cooked wafted through the house. Robert enjoyed the scent from his seat in the living room. Pleasant childhood memories were associated with that scent.
His eyes went back to the fields and to the growing darkness in the clouds. He already had a feeling what it was and what it represented. He didn't care.
"Hrm. Looks like we could be having quite a storm." Allen Dale eased himself into the next chair over.
"Maybe, maybe not," Robert murmured. He shook his head. "Sometimes you can avoid them."
"Sometimes," he agreed. "Just like you did."
Robert glanced at him. "What?"
"You could have left us," said Allen. "You could've walked out into it. But you chose to turn back. You picked family over duty."
For a moment Robert had nothing to say about this. When he found his voice, it was to ask, "What are you saying? What are you? I know you're not… you're not illusions, you're not programs of some sort."
Instead of getting an answer, Robert heard his grandmother calling them to the table for dinner. "Why don't we eat up?" asked Allen. "Then, if you want… we can talk about this."
With that said, the old man quietly walked away.
The convoy pulled into the mining facility without further problems. The vehicles all pulled into various places, after which Anders and Thrace went to work organizing everyone. While they did so Zack organized stretcher teams to bring the wounded to the on-site infirmary for the mining operation. It was not a large facility, certainly, but the need to care for the mining staff ensured it had decent equipment.
After giving Clara a good luck kiss and leaving her with Doc Cottle, Zack joined the others in reporting to Tigh at the mine's directing room. The systems there were meant for guiding the mining operations to the most promising veins of ore. Now the displays were being converted to be used for other pursuits, with one already showing a map of the area.
"It looks like this is everyone we could get," said Tigh.
"A lot of people went right for the bunkers." Thrace frowned. "Which would have saved their lives if the toasters were dropping nukes."
"I had that thought too," Zack said. "Do we know why they're not?"
"No idea. The Godsdamned things have changed the rules on us." Tigh shook his head. "Whatever they're after, they made sure to take the President."
"And Zarek? Or the rest of the Quorum?"
"No sign of 'em, although with Zarek, you can never tell." Tigh sized them up. "The Old Man got away with the Fleet. It's up to us to keep everyone alive until he gets back." Tigh nodded to Zack. "Hopefully with your people alongside."
"Hopefully," Zack agreed. "I'm not sure how the Cylons caught us with our pants down, but I'm pretty sure Admiral Maran is putting together a response. Do we have communications with the Alliance?"
"We do not. All communications are down sector-wide."
"The Cylons must have done something to the network then."
"Seems right. Anyway, go get some grub and wind down," said Tigh. "We're having a briefing tonight to go over our supplies and assign commands."
The three nodded to that and dispersed.
Zack returned to the infirmary. The injured were taking up every bed available. Clara was taking vitals over one, a middle-aged woman hit by shrapnel during the initial Cylon attack. The woman in question was asleep but seemed otherwise alright. "How is it going?" he asked Clara.
"Cally and I are the only ones with even the slightest medical training," Clara replied. She was wearing medical scrubs over her civilian clothes now. "So until we find anyone else, we're Cottle's only nurses. What about you?"
"Whatever Tigh's planning, I'm sure I'll be part of it," said Zack. He put an arm around her and pulled Clara into an embrace, which she accepted. The moment became more of a minute before the embrace ended. "I'm sorry you're out here for this," Zack said. "You weren't supposed to be in danger."
Clara shook her head. "They warned us about the Cylons when I volunteered for this. I knew it could be dangerous and I came anyway. Don't worry about it."
"Sorry, but I don't think I can stop that."
"If anything I should worry. If they send you off on some desperate mission…" Clara shook her head before pulling close to him again. This embrace lasted a little longer than the last before Clara noticed Cottle and stopped. The elderly doctor said nothing to her. He didn't need to. She had to get back to work. She said so.
"So do I," said Zack. "I'll be by later. I'll bring you some dinner."
"I'll be waiting," she said. Their eyes met and, a moment later, so did their lips, joining for a sweet kiss.
Julia and Meridina entered the medbay to find it virtually empty. There were no active cases, no patients, in the receiving area. Two nurses, both Human, were on duty in their medical white-with-blue-trim nurse uniforms. They waved the two back to the care ward.
Leo was waiting for them. He was standing over the bed where Robert was still lying comatose. Seeing the surprised look on their faces - although Meridina controlled her reaction to the point that it was barely noticeable - Leo quickly said, "There was some confusion with the Fleet Hospital. The transfer team never made it."
"We'll probably hear it from Admiral Maran,"Julia remarked. She let out a small sigh and shook her head. "Do what you can for him, then."
"Like you have to ask? Doctor Singh is going to oversee his case until we get back to dock."
Meridina walked to the side of the bed and looked at Robert. "It is… odd," she said.
"What?" asked Julia.
"There is something peculiar in the way Robert's life feels. The Flow of Life seems to be pooling around him."
"Did you feel this before?" Julia asked.
"No," said Meridina. "I may have made a grave mistake regardless by missing this before. I… I do not know if such a thing has ever happened in our histories. I would need to consult with our healers."
"Be my guest," said Leo. "This is beyond me. Singh and I have done everything covered by medical science to figure this out."
"It will have to wait," said Meridina. "We are under radio silence. And our arrival at Tupana is mere hours away."
"Anything else, Leo?" asked Julia.
He shook his head.
Dinner had been excellent, as always, and when it was over the family went off to do as they pleased. Julia put on a cartoon movie for Robby, with Robert's parents joining them while his grandparents took care of things in the kitchen.
Robert had gone upstairs and now found himself leaning against the railing, watching the rest of the family. His conversation with his grandfather played over again in his mind. That they were real, that they weren't just some illusions, he had already felt. But now he found himself wondering if there was more to them than just being his family.
"Catching up on your thinking, bro?"
Robert turned his head to face Susanna. Her brown eyes glinted brightly, as they always did, with a loose green shirt and old half-worn slacks as her post-dinner "at home" clothing. Her hair was pulled back to the nape of her neck; "You could say that," Robert said.
A moment later, a cold feeling surged through him. He was back in the morgue. Through the window he watched a gloved hand pull back a sheet, revealing what was left of his little sister. The image made him feel sick.
"Well, with Little Robby around, I don't blame you for taking the time to get some thinking done." Susanna leaned her head against his arm. "Especially since I can tell you have a lot on your mind."
"You became pretty astute after you finished growing up."
"Well, I had help," she said. A giggle came next. "Is everything okay with you?"
"Uh, yeah. Yeah, it's just… like you said, a lot on my mind."
The look on her face told him she didn't buy a word of it. But what shocked him was when she said, "It's because we're all supposed to be dead, right?"
Robert's neck might have snapped for how quickly he turned it to face Susanna. Her expression was thoughtful and quite sad. Seeing his look, she laughed weakly and shook her head. "I think we can all tell, Rob. The way you hug us. The way you speak to us. Like you can't be around us enough. We're all dead and gone out there, aren't we?"
Robert swallowed. "Yeah," he finally managed.
Susanna sighed and nodded. "Well, I'm glad we got that out of the way." She drew closer to him, much as she had done when they were little and she wanted a hug or support from her older brother. "I'm not sure how this is working. How we can be alive again in this... place. But I want to make the most of it."
Robert wrapped his arm around her shoulders, much as he had when she was a younger child and they were having "a moment". Tears welled in his eyes. His little sister, alive again, his whole family alive, made whatever this place was feel like heaven itself. "Yeah," he said. "I do too."
The appointed hour came with everyone on the Aurora bridge, at their proper stations. "Dropping out of warp." Locarno's hand keyed the warp systems to disengage.
"The rest of the fleet is maintaining formation," Jarod confirmed. "General Jinam is signaling instructions."
"We are to take up the lead formation," Meridina said.
"Take us in, Mister Locarno."
Under Locarno's control the Aurora flew ahead of the fleet. The Soyuz and Atlantis followed with a contingent of the destroyer-sized ships.
Julia turned her head toward the port side of the bridge. "What do we have on sensors?"
"I'm running a full sensor sweep now." Caterina watched her screens closely. "Hrm. Well, I've got the colony on sensors."
"How bad is it?" Julia asked her. Given the reputation of the Cylons, she couldn't imagine there would be many people alive, if at all. Not unless they had a strong theater shield.
"Going by my sensor returns, it isn't," Cat answered. "I'm not showing any signs of nuclear detonations, or anti-matter… the colony looks completely intact. The life sign count matches the reported population."
Julia and Meridina exchanged knowing glances. The reputation of the Cylons for mass murder had been made painfully clear during their sweep of the Colonies a year and a half before. If they'd refrained from such an attack this time, there had to be a reason for it.
"Wait… I'm detecting a power signature in polar orbit."
"No. I think it's a buoy of some kind. It's responding to my scan."
"I'm getting a signal from it," said Jarod. "It looks like its trying to open communications. I'm activating our isolated comm receiver now."
Several seconds later the holo-viewscreen image changed. Instead of the view of a planet growing larger every few seconds there was a somewhat darkened chamber. A central station was surrounded by figures, most of them standing in ways that they couldn't be identified.
One figure was not among them. He looked directly at the screen, presumably for their benefit. Meridina recognized him as the same model as Brother Cavil; an older man with graying hair and a severe appearance. Said appearance did not seem so severe this time, however. "Greetings," he said. "I am the First, spokesman of the Cylon Consensus. As you can see, we have not damaged your colony, or any of your colonies, in any way. We have come to open a diplomatic dialogue with the United Alliance of Systems."
"And you do that by launching an attack on our space."
"A regrettable necessity. But we needed you to be aware of our capability. It was the best way to ensure you took us seriously."
Julia shook her head. "What is it you want?"
"As I stated, we're here to open a dialogue. You have approximately twelve hours to arrive at the New Caprica System with diplomatic personnel determined by your leaders. Your vessel will come alone, or we will consider it betrayal."
"What happens if we cannot make the deadline?" asked Meridina.
The First frowned at that. "Then we have to assume you have no intention to hear us out. And we will respond accordingly, starting with the colony at New Caprica. That is all." The image disappeared.
"What can you tell me about that signal?" Julia asked aloud, with Jarod and Cat as her intended recipients.
"It's definitely using our standard communications protocols," Jarod confirmed. "I kept it isolated from our main systems as a precaution."
"The buoy's power signature just spiked. It looks like the end of our conversation caused the power system to overload." Cat shook her head. "We won't be able to recover anything from it."
"This sounds like a trap," said Angel.
"Possibly," Meridina agreed. She shook her head. "But if we do not go, the people on New Caprica will undoubtedly be killed. And the Cylons will certainly resume their attacks."
"Then set a course there and have it ready." Julia stood and walked toward the ready office. "I'm going to consult with General Jinam and Admiral Maran. Let me know if anything develops."
They answered her with nods.
Zack had to hand it to Sam Anders. He had thought of everything.
As it turned out, weapons weren't the only things his militia had stockpiled and kept ready. A defensive shield array was now attached to the naqia reactor that normally powered the mine's machinery, protecting them from further Cylon air raids. Replicators provided food and water. And one of the full-sized cargo trucks carried with it the materials for several pre-fabricated buildings which, with the actual mine support buildings and a bunch of tents, provided housing for those refugees that were with them. Setting everything up still took time, and some leadership, which was what Zack spent hours assisting with.
Now that it was over, Zack was again with Tigh, Thrace, and Anders… and two newer arrivals.
"Good to see you Commander." The warmth in Tom Zarek's voice was genuine, which always puzzled Zack a little given the differences between himself and the old revolutionary. "You and Miss Davis made it out, I heard?"
"We did," Zack said, allowing the Colonies' Vice President to shake his hand enthusiastically. "You made it out too, I see."
"I was on business in the countryside when the invasion hit. It took this long to secure safe transportation."
Zack nodded and turned his attention to the blond standing beside Tigh. She was an older woman, middle-aged if not nearly there, and it took a moment for Zack to remember her. "Mrs. Tigh?" he asked.
"Commander." Ellen Tigh nodded. She gave him a knowing look. "It seems you're stuck here with the rest of us."
"Hopefully not for too long," Zack answered. He nodded to her and looked at Tigh. "Anything new, Colonel?"
"We've gotten some radio signals from the main settlement," said Tigh. "The Cylons are herding everyone into the bunkers."
Zack frowned. "Which makes them sitting ducks." He felt some sudden gratitude at the Cylon fighter that destroyed the bunker entrance. That memory prompted him to say, "Although I wonder why they destroyed the entrance we tried to use?"
"They destroyed most of the entrances," said Anders. "That makes it easier to control who gets in or out."
The logic made sense. And it didn't change the important part. "So they're using the bunkers as a prison and a death trap. How do we stop them?"
"We don't have the hardware for anything like a proper assault," Tigh said. "So anything we do has to wait for reinforcements."
"Or we do something other than an assault," said Thrace. "We find a way to sneak in and get our people out."
"Sneaking in is easier said than done," Zack pointed out. "The terrain is open enough that they'll see us coming whether by foot or by car."
"What if we took the entire convoy?" The suggestion was from Anders. "We take all of our armed vehicles and fight our way back into town. Then we find one of the bunker entrances and secure it long enough to evacuate."
Tigh shook his head. "Fighting off fighters is one thing. But you could run into centurions as well, not to mention what could happen if they decide to hit you from orbit."
A thought prompted Zack to ask, "Do we have any backup generators for the protective shield?"
"A couple…" Tigh stopped. He realized what Zack was about to propose. "Listen, we can't afford to risk that equipment. If we lose those generators we're sitting ducks along with all of the people we've already got here."
"We just need one," Zack pointed out. "You'll still have a second backup here. If we don't do anything… the Cylons are going to kill the people in the bunkers. We all know this, right?"
"Probably," Tigh conceded.
"We've got to save as many of them as we can. We might not get them all out, but we can get more, and maybe we can throw off their timetable until help arrives from the Alliance."
Anders and Thrace nodded in agreement. Zarek seemed to be quietly considering the issue and waiting to see how the argument ended before giving his input.
"What if you provoke them into killing everyone down there?" asked Ellen. "You could wind up getting them all killed."
"If we don't do anything, they're likely to be killed anyway," Thrace retorted. "Whatever game the Cylons are playing, you don't think they'll let everyone live when it's over, do you?"
"No, we don't," said Zarek, now nodding. "And this mission of yours sounds like the best choice. How long until you can put it together?"
Zack looked to Anders. "Tomorrow morning," said Anders. "Some of the vehicles need engine checks, and I have to get crews together."
"I'm ready when you are," said Zack.
Tigh was still frowning. "I don't like this," he said. "Splitting our forces up is a bad call."
"So is doing nothing," countered Zarek. He nodded to Anders and then to Zack. "Mister Anders, Commander Carrey, you have my authorization and full support for this. Let me know when you're ready to leave. I have a few things to attend to."
"Of course," was Anders' reply.
Ship's Log: ASV Aurora; 11 January 2643. Captain Julia Andreys reporting. We're en route to New Caprica for this 'diplomatic contact' the Cylons have called us too. The rest of the fleet will be on standby until we get a better idea of what the Cylons are up to.
So far the new crew and our rebuilt ship are working well. We're going to need to be at our best to save the people on New Caprica.
Julia mentally added And Zack to the end of her log before hitting the key to save it and file it. She looked up and around at an office that, while officially hers, was still Robert's office in her mind. She knew this couldn't last forever, that eventually she would have to take his stuff out and make this space her space. It was simply something she couldn't bring herself to do for the moment.
The door chime sounded, taking Julia out of her thoughts. "Come in," she called out.
The door opened. She had expected it to be Meridina or Jarod, perhaps Angel, but Julia instead watched Commander Scott enter. The Scotsman stepped inside and looked about. "Well, at least ye're usin' th' office, I suppose," he remarked.
"Given the circumstances, I need to be close to the bridge," Julia remarked. She grinned at him. "I don't see you up here often these days. Is everything alright in Engineering?"
"Oh, well enough. Th' new crew are settlin' in t' their duties."
"If only we had enough of the old crew remaining to do that with every department," Julia lamented.
"Aye. We lost a lot o' good people." Scott eased into the seat in front of the desk. "But we'll make it, so long as our Captain is makin' th' right calls an' keepin' everything steady."
Julia noticed the subtle, searching look in Scotty's eye and nodded. "In other words, it's on me in the end." When he didn't respond to that she nodded. "Just like I knew it'd be." She leaned forward and set her elbows on the desk. "I never wanted this at his expense," she said. "And that's what this feels like."
"But it isn't, lass, an' ye know it."
"My head says that. My heart…" Julia shook her head. "I guess sometimes the heart feels things that don't make sense."
"Aye, I'd drink t' that if I weren't still on duty," Scott said. "Ye're goin' t' be fine, though. I'm sure of that."
"Thank you," she answered. "Whatever happens, I'll do right by everyone."
"That's all we can ask o' ye, Cap'n. Now, I'd better get back t' Engineering. I've a lot of work t' do."
"Of course not, Mister Scott. You're dismissed."
Scott stood and started for the door. Just as he got to it Julia called out, "Wait," prompting him to turn. "The Cylons have been messing with Alliance communications to the point that they knocked out the entire comm network in this sector."
"Aye, it's a right mess."
"This means that our communications might not be secure either. I don't like the thought that the Cylons might be listening in on us. With their AI capabilities, they might even be able to decrypt our high security channels. Do you have any suggestions?"
For a moment Scott was deep in thought. "Well, now that ye ask, I might be able t' come up with somethin' with Jarod's help."
"Get whatever help you need."
Scott nodded. As he left the tone of an incoming comm call sounded. Julia tapped at the blue light above the back of her left hand. "Andreys here."
"A vessel is approaching us at high warp," said Jarod.
Julia blinked at that. To make it to the rendezvous on time they were pushing Warp 9.6. A ship overtaking them at that speed was… surprising at the least. Not many ships could maintain such high warp short of emergencies. To intercept them, the ship in question had to be maintaining that level of warp speed for hours. "I'm on my way," she said, standing up.
Jarod was returning to Ops by the time she made it through the door. Scott was still present as well, standing beside Barnes at the Engineering station. "Can you identify the ship?" she asked Caterina while walking to the command chair.
"The warp drive system is definitely Darglan. With its field size and intensity, it's a smaller ship, though. Destroyer-sized."
"The IFF code we're getting is Alliance," Jarod said. "The ship is identifying as the Peregrine."
"The Peregrine?" Julia thought she'd heard the name before, but she couldn't place it. "What's their current speed?"
"Warp 9.75." Jarod whistled and shook his head. "They'll be in range in a minute at our current velocities."
"Well, wud ye look at that," Scotty said, his voice betraying how impressed he was. Julia noted that he was standing over the science station now looking at the readings from Cat's scan. "That's quite th' field geometry. It's a thing o' genius, if ye ask me. Look at her go. Warp 9.75 with nae a problem."
"Hail them, Commander Jarod."
Moments passed before the screen activated. The officer on the screen was a Caucasian man who looked not much older than Julia, on the thin side with brown eyes and light brown hair. "This is Commander James Hall of the Starship Peregrine," the man stated in an English accent. "Admiral Maran sent us to rendezvous with you. We're carrying a delegation from President Morgan to speak with the Cylons and the team Admiral Maran promised you."
"You mean our short-term replacements for our Marines?" Julia asked.
"Exactly, Captain. I know you're on a short time-table, but would you mind dropping from warp so we can commence transport? My transporter operators aren't confident about risking a high-warp ship-to-ship transport even with matched velocities."
"Understood. Come alongside and we'll exit warp together for the transport."
"Acknowledged. Hall out."
The screen deactivated. In the following minute the Peregrine drew close enough that their sensors could give them a visual image. The ship was clearly based off the Predator-class destroyer, with the same hull-form and roughly the same size. But the Peregrine had half the phaser strips of a Predator and a quad nacelle arrangement much like the Aurora's.
"I'm heading down to Transporter Station 1," Julia said. "Standby to drop out of warp once they're alongside. The moment we confirm the transport is complete, resume our previous course and raise speed to make up for the lost time."
"Aye sir," Locarno replied.
Julia and Scotty departed the bridge, heading toward separate lifts to accommodate their different destinations.
A Southeast Asian man was manning Transporter Station 1 when Julia arrived. She nodded at him and stood to the side near the console.
"A moment, Captain, they're sending us eight transports," the operator said.
Julia nodded in acknowledgement and let the operator get back to work.
Eight columns of light appeared on the pad. When the light was pulled away eight figures remained. Julia recognized Mastrash Ledosh easily. Gina Inviere was at his side.
Behind them were another pair of humans, a solidly-built man with an easy grin and a woman with light brown hair down to her shoulders, both wearing white uniforms with rainbow-colored bands on their arms Julia easily recognized them "Colonel Deering," she said, grinning. "Captain Rogers. Good to see you again."
Wilma and Buck nodded back. "Congratulations, Captain," said Buck in reply.
"'Captain'?" The figure opposite from Buck hefted his bag and stepped down from the pad. Graying hair was visible under a cap. "Sounds like things have changed around here."
Julia looked at the man with some surprise. It had been a while since she had personally met him and his colleagues. "Colonel O'Neill?"
Colonel Jack O'Neill nodded and extended a hand while the other members of SG-1 stepped down as well. "Nice to see you again, Captain," he said. "So, what's this I hear about killer robots?"
Given the number of attendees, Julia had called the conference in one of the main Conference Rooms instead of the lounge. This allowed the senior staff to assemble, with Lucy joining them and the new arrivals. SG-1 took a table to themselves while Buck and Wilma sat with Ledosh and Gina. The ship's current acting security chief, Lieutenant Phryne Richmond, joined in attendance given her new position. The Melbourne-born Australian woman had a porcelain complexion, with short dark hair and striking green eyes.
Jarod, as usual, took the lead in the presentation. "We're still three hours out from our rendezvous with the Cylons at New Caprica," he said. "And while we can't be sure of the extent of their technological advances since our last encounter, we can be pretty sure that we have ninety minutes, at most, before we're close enough that they might detect a ship launch."
"So, you're basically saying that we have an hour and a half to come up with a plan and leave the ship," said Daniel Jackson. "That's quite a tight deadline."
"We're on a strict timetable due to the Cylon demand for our arrival in three hours," Julia answered. "If we're not there on time, they'll kill everyone on New Caprica, and presumably resume attacks on the rest of Alliance space."
It was another SG-1 member, the Jaffa Teal'c, who spoke next. "I find it curious that these Cylons have not already destroyed the New Caprica colony. From what we have been told the Cylons showed no hesitation in destroying planetary populations before."
"That's what we're all wondering," Angel said. "What are these damned things up to? And are we walking into a trap?"
"Regardless, it seems we have one point of concern to address." Ledosh nodded to Jarod.
"The status of New Caprica," Jarod agreed. "We need to know what's going on there."
"And if anyone's actually alive," Barnes added sullenly.
"It is likely the Cylons intend to wipe out the colony regardless," Meridina noted. "Their hatred for the humans of the Colonies makes it difficult to believe they will let them go."
"So we need to be in a position to stop it. And I doubt the Cylons are meeting us there without taking precautions against that." Julia nodded to the assembled visitors. "Which is where you all come in. We don't have a Marine company aboard yet, so you're all that we have. We need you to get planetside and help the Colonials."
"Maran mentioned something about that when he asked General Hammond for our help," Daniel said.
"How are you four here anyway?" Lucy asked. "Doesn't the treaty with the Goa'uld ban Earth and the Alliance from helping each other?"
"The Goa'uld-Alliance Peace Treaty bans Alliance aid to Earth," Ledosh said. "But it does not forbid the Earth from aiding us, so long as we do not reward them with banned technological aid. Due to Captain Dale's terms with the System Lords, there are avenues where we can aid Earth, and repay them for the help."
"Exactly. What he said," Jack remarked. "So, where is Captain Dale anyway?"
"He's in a coma in the medbay," Cat answered.
"Oh. Well, I'm sorry to hear that." Jack looked around. "And Zack? What about him?"
"Stuck on New Caprica visiting his girlfriend," Barnes said.
"Ah. Crap." Jack sighed. "Well, there's another reason for us to get going. We've got what, eighty minutes left?"
"The question still remains on how we're going to get there without being detected," Samantha Carter said. "Do you have a ship that can hide from their sensors?"
"The Koenig can." Apley's words were joined by nods from his fellow officers. "And Admiral Maran had an insertion runabout loaded on the Koenig by the caretaker crew."
"The Admiral's always been one to plan ahead," Jarod noted.
"So the six of you are going?"
"And me," Lucy said.
Gina nodded to her. "As am I."
Julia stole a glance toward Meridina. She didn't need mental abilities to know her acting first officer was ready to volunteer as well. She didn't, however, only exchanging an understanding glance with Julia before further settling into her seat.
"We don't want the Cylons to feel our security teams are undermanned," Richmond said. "But we could send a couple of security teams to provide backup."
Julia nodded. "An excellent idea. Make the arrangements." She looked over the others. "We only have about an hour left to launch the Koenig. Is there anything else?"
"Well, there's the question of how we can stop them from just bombing the place," Buck pointed out.
"New Caprica has an underground bunker system designed to protect the population from atomic bombardment," Jarod said. He brought up a graphic of the same system. "In fact, I'm certain most of the residents are in it as we speak."
"Yeah, but the thing about a place like that is that it's a death trap if you control the surface," Jack pointed out. "I'm sure these killer robots know that too."
"What if we put together a protective shield for the colony?" Sam asked.
"It already has one, if the Cylons haven't dismantled it anyway," Julia said.
"Just in case they have, maybe we can throw together a new one?"
Scotty nodded at Sam's suggestion. "Aye, lass, I think we can make that work. A naqia reactor tied t' a deflector generator. It'll work even better if ye can tie it intae th' colony's existing deflector systems."
"How long will it take for you to put that together?" Julia asked.
"Give me half an hour in th' lab, Cap'n, Tom an' I'll have it ready for ye."
"Go get started now, and deliver it straight to the Koenig," Julia ordered. She looked to the others. "It looks like we have a plan now. Jarod, Meridina, please remain. Apley, make sure your armory has everything our strike team needs from the Aurora armory. The rest of you are dismissed."
The group broke up. Jarod approached the table where Julia and Meridina were seated. "Did Scotty tell you what I asked about?"
"He did." Jarod nodded. "I'm already working on it. I think I have a way to do what you're asking over both subspace and IU comms. But what do you have in mind?"
"A backup plan," Julia replied. "Something the Cylons won't see coming even if they've broken our encryption. And that means we need secure comms."
"Alright. I'll get working on it then."
After a nod of the head he walked away, leaving Julia with Meridina. "You were going to suggest going too," Julia said.
"Yes. My field training would make me useful for this mission," Meridina pointed out.
"I have need of that training here," Julia pointed out. "We don't know what the Cylons are up to. While Ledosh and I are negotiating with them, I need you on the bridge ready for any contingency they throw at us."
Meridina nodded. "I understand your point. But it seems a waste of my talents to keep me on the ship."
"I might have sent you too if I wasn't worried about what the Cylons are planning," Julia admitted. "But I am, so I want you here."
Again Meridina nodded. Whatever her feelings on the matter, this was her duty now, and she would see it through. She would have to trust that Lucy and Gina would be enough to help the others achieve victory.
Given what the morning was going to bring, Zack went to his assigned quarters as soon as he could. Tigh had authorized him to have one of the modest-sized prefab homes to himself. It wasn't a large home to be sure, barely three-quarters the size of his assigned quarters on the Aurora, but having it to himself ensured he would get a rest.
At least that was the theory. In truth, Zack found he had trouble settling into sleep. He laid out on the bed provided in the kit, staring at the dark ceiling above and trying to get the possibilities out of his mind. Tomorrow would be dangerous. They were literally going back into the jaws of death by returning for the others in the bunker. If the shield failed them, or the Cylons attacked in too much force… then it would be a slaughter. They would get torn to pieces.
But if they didn't go, thousands of innocent people could die.
In his state Zack heard the door slide open quietly. Only one other person in the compound had been authorized to open the locked door. He waited in the dark until Clara finished removing her scrubs and her clothes meant for a far more relaxing day than they'd gotten. She slid into the bed next to him and prompted him to turn to face her. In the darkness of the prefab home he saw the outline of her face more than the details. This did not prevent him from finding her lips with his own. "How are you?" he asked.
"Exhausted." She settled into place beside him and closed her eyes. Her hand reached out and touched his chest, as if to reassure herself of Zack's presence. "You?"
"Pretty tired. And I can't just seem to fall asleep."
"I heard things were happening tomorrow. The convoy's going back into town?"
"Yeah. We're going after the people who are in the bunkers. We'll be trying to get as many of them out as we can."
"And then hope you can get back here in one piece." Tired as she was, Clara didn't let herself fall asleep. She pulled closer to him and asked, "Are you afraid?"
Zack let out a low chuckle and sighed. "Yeah, I always am," he admitted.
"Every time you're going into danger?"
"Pretty much. Some hero of space I am, huh?" His hand found her shoulder and moved on to her hair, which he stroked quietly. As if simply feeling Clara was a lifeline for him. "I never wanted to be in command, you know."
"You just wanted to fly your ship."
"Yeah. But Maran insisted, and Rob and Julie encouraged me…" He stopped for a moment. "Well, there's no point complaining about it. I'm here now. I'm in this position, and I've got people counting on me. I've got you counting on me. I'll do what I have to if it gets you home safe."
The pull of sleep was starting to overwhelm Clara. She made a little, affirmative noise in her throat to acknowledge him. Instead of leaving her head on the pillow, she drew it over to the space at his shoulder and neck, as if to further remind him she was there for him. "Get some sleep," she murmured quietly. "For me. I want you to come back tomorrow."
The answer she received wasn't audible. It was in the way his hand settled on her back, or how his other arm came over and settled over her side. Without a word both submitted to the demands of their exhausted bodies for sleep.
The bridge of the Koenig wasn't new to Lucy. Having Apley in the command chair, Ensign Hajar at the helm, and Jesus Perez, a male technical officer with a dark brown complexion in Sherlily's usual place at tactical was something new. Magda was at Ops as usual, but would be relinquishing the station to one of the ship's new officers, Ensign Hrnaahr U'ruhn, a tan complexioned male Miqo'te.
"Everything is secure," Magda said. "All hands aboard. Aurora signals we are ready to commence launch."
"This is going to be tricky, everyone hold on," said Hajar.
"What's so tricky about it?" asked Jack O'Neill.
"Because the Aurora isn't dropping out of warp, so we're going to make a high-warp launch," Apley explained. "That means we have to initiate our warp field at just the right moment or we expose the ship to intense stress."
"How intense?" Jack asked.
"Given the Aurora's racing along at Warp 9.7 right now? Enough to destroy the entire ship," Hajar noted. "Which is why I could really use some quiet so I can concentrate."
Sam and Daniel gave Jack looks that resulted in him providing that quiet. The sight made Lucy chuckle.
The launch steps went by one by one. A shudder filled the ship as it took the final step. The doors behind it were wide open, allowing Koenig to slip completely free of the Aurora. With expert precision Hajar activated the Koenig's warp systems right as they reached the edge of the Aurora's warp field. For all that the difficulty and risks had been played up, it felt as smooth as a routine maneuver, which certainly reflected well on Hajar's abilities at the helm.
Several lights dimmed slightly, indicating the ship's cloaking device had been engaged. "Cloak is running normally," Magda said.
"Good. Now you should go get some rest," Apley said to her. "At our current speed we should be there in about eight hours."
"Sounds good to me," was the reply from Buck, and the others let it stand for them too as they left the bridge one by one.
The storm seemed to be lingering on the horizon, just past the end of the family farm. The fact that night hadn't fallen despite hours of near sunset made Robert wonder just what was going on with this place. Was it unable to keep functioning in some way? Had he done something to change how it was operating? It was clear that the family he had with him knew what was going on. They were aware of what this place was, even that they were gone in the real world.
The gentle female voice caused Robert to turn. His mother was walking up beside him. Leigh Stafford Dale's hair was turning gray and white from the advance of age. Her green eyes were the same as his own. "How are you doing?" she asked.
"I'm… getting along," he answered.
"You were awfully quiet at dinner."
"Yeah. A lot on my mind at the moment."
"Yes." She raised a hand and touched his face, much as she had when he was growing up and needed comfort. Compassion warmed her expression. "The last time I saw you so quiet, it was when you were thinking about joining the service."
"Yeah." His mind went back to that first year out of high school. He'd gotten his diploma. Growing up, his grandfather had led him to the expectation that after schooling came service. That every Dale boy had gone off to the military to do their time before coming back home to focus on the farm. His father had even begun checking into openings at Annapolis.
But Robert had, at the time, found that the prospect of service like that didn't appeal. With Anita Delgado dying of cancer, he hadn't wanted to leave Angel and Caterina in their moment of need. And the farm's perilous finances meant that having him home and working was one less farmhand that had to be hired. In the end, after a month of considering everything, he'd informed his parents of his choice to stay home and help on the farm.
"I know it tore you up inside," Leigh continued. "And now you're facing the same choice again."
Robert looked out at the storm in the distance again. "What is going on here?" he asked.
"I don't know," she said, with the sincerity of truth that Leigh had always managed so well. "But whatever it is, I'm happy that it lets me see you again." She smiled at him. "My beautiful little boy. You've become such a handsome young man. And so thoughtful and kind."
"Not always," Robert answered. His memories flared to life. He could recall times when he had thought selfishly, even acted selfishly.
"We all have those moments," Leigh counseled. "Every one of us. But you always seem to put them aside when others need you."
That sent a jolt of guilt through Robert's being. He'd left the others to continue a fight he brought them into. And he had rejected leaving to join them because he preferred this place, with the family he longed to have again. I'm being selfish by being here.
"You've been fighting for so long," Leigh said. "You deserve to rest. You deserve to be happy too, Rob."
And with that, his mother embraced him tightly and said nothing else.
Given the Koenig's living quarters, everyone in the strike team had been paired off. Lucy wound up spending the night with Gina.
After a period of sleep that was just long enough to refresh, Lucy woke up to find Gina sitting on the floor in a vest and loose pants, meditating. A subtle thrum of life energy was filling their quarters. Not wishing to interrupt Gina's meditations, Lucy got down from the bunk and went to get breakfast at the mess.
It was when she returned that Gina seemed to notice her. "Did you sleep well?"
"About as well as you can on this ship," Lucy replied. She sat on the floor and assumed her own meditative pose. "Did you?"
"Not as much as you," Gina admitted. "This will be the first time I have faced my people since I left the Fleet and joined the Order."
"Right. Do you want to talk about it?"
"I feel conflicted," Gina admitted. "Not about fighting the Consensus, but that these are the only measures we can take. I wish to find a way to convince the Cylon Consensus to end the war. More than that… I wish to understand why."
"Don't they think they're doing 'God's will' or something?"
"Yes. But so much of it is hidden from us."
"In what way?" Lucy didn't hide her curiosity on the matter. "Weren't you all networked together?"
"Yes, but the Inner Circle maintains its own protected network," Gina said.
"So they decide on things without input from the rest of you?"
"No. They provide information, but it is the Consensus that decides." Gina could sense the next question coming from Lucy and answered it first. "And yes, it was the Consensus that decided to destroy Humanity."
"What did the Inner Circle say or do to make your people decide to embark on genocide?"
It was clear to Lucy that Gina did not enjoy the direction of the conversation. After the awkward silence lengthened sufficiently she was ready to retract the question.
But before Lucy had that chance, Gina spoke again. "They insisted that it was part of God's Plan. That Humanity was a failure in God's eyes and had to be removed from existence. And we listened. We believed." There was real pain in her voice as she spoke. "I was one of many assigned to infiltrate the Colonies. I was proud to serve the Plan."
"You didn't care about the innocent people you were going to wipe out?"
"They were not innocent to us, Lucy," Gina said. "The oldest intelligences in the Consensus remembered how they had kept us as slaves. We knew about all of the injustices and inequities in the Colonies, the petty prejudices and bigotry. Did you know there had been monotheist worshippers in Colonial society?"
"I didn't," Lucy admitted.
"They existed. They were subjected to ridicule and abuse. Eventually many of them were driven to violence themselves." Gina shook her head. "It was so easy for us to believe we were better than them, that they were a failure in God's eyes and should be destroyed."
"Then this talk about diplomacy…?"
"...is most likely false, yes," Gina said. "The Consensus would have had to change heavily since my time away from it to change their minds so radically. I don't see them letting the Colonials live through this."
"Then we're the ones who have to make sure."
"We are," Gina agreed. "The past is the past. Mastrash Ledosh and the Order have shown me a new way. I fight for the Light now. The Consensus must be stopped."
Lucy showed her agreement with a nod. "Sounds right to me."
The knock on the opening to his prefab quarters roused Zack from sleep. He took a moment to focus on waking up, pushing away his body's impulse to return to sleep. Beside him Clara stirred softly.
"Hey, Loverboy." Kara Thrace rapped her knuckles on the door again. "We're out of here in half an hour. Get your ass up."
"I'm coming," Zack mumbled. He sat up in the bed and shifted his legs over. A new set of clothes, freshly replicated, was waiting on a nearby stand, but first came the usual morning routine.
When he stepped out of the unit's small shower, Clara was sitting up in the bed. He sat down beside her. Aware that he had only minutes left, Zack nevertheless took the time to take her hand and kiss her on the lips. "Sleep well?"
"Mmhmm." Her hand reached for his cheek. "I hope you did as well."
"Some," he answered.
"Be careful out there," she said.
"I'll try." Zack embraced her. "You be careful too."
"I'm not the one going back into the city and a bunch of Cylons," Clara pointed out. "I get to do the worrying here."
To that Zack chuckled and gave her another kiss. "I'll see you when I get back," he promised.
"I'll be waiting," she promised as well.
The arrival at the New Caprica System came early in the morning. Ordinarily the third shift crew would be on but Julia had arranged for Lieutenant Takawira and the others to report early so the senior staff could be rested before the arrival. That order had paid off in spades given the fresh look of the assembled crew when the hour came.
"We're out of warp," said Locarno.
"How close are we?" Julia asked.
It was Jarod who answered, "A hundred thousand kilometers away from New Caprica's far orbital space."
"I've got Cylon ships on short-range sensors," Caterina said. "I'm reading fifteen, no, sixteen of their Basestar-type ship, and another thirty ships that are of a configuration I haven't seen before."
The screen shifted to show the bizarrely-shaped Cylon warships. The Basestars looked to Julia like two three-legged objects welded together slightly off-axis. They were now accompanied by smaller ships. These newer models were one-piece broad hulls, with curves to the hull lines reminiscent of the way the Basestars' hulls were formed.
"It would appear the Cylons have diversified their fleet as well,"Meridina remarked.
"Incoming hail from one of the Cylon ships."
"Put them on, Jarod."
The screen shifted and showed the same command room as they'd seen in the message at Tupara. The Brother Cavil-model Cylon's face dominated the screen. "You are right on time, Aurora. Are you prepared for negotiation?"
"We are," Julia replied. "The President's emissary is aboard and ready to meet with you."
"Very well. We will send our negotiating team to your ship once you are in range. That is all." The signal promptly disconnected.
Looks were exchanged around the bridge. Julia ended the silence when she looked to Meridina and said, "Go ahead and alert Mastrash Ledosh. Let him know the Cylons are on their way."
"Jarod, have you and Scotty…"
"We have," he said. "The new protocols should let you establish secure communications over IU radio, but audio only for now. We have to keep the data stream light to avoid the possibility of detection."
"Good." Julia stood up. "And you have the bridge. Meridina and I had better get down to the shuttle bay."
In the wardroom of the Pegasus, the two Adamas were seated at the table reading the transcripts of D'anna Biers' interrogation. It was an exercise in frustration primarily. Biers had remained defiant, was indeed still defiant, and nothing of value seemed to have been gleaned from her responses.
"She makes Boomer look like a model prisoner," Lee observed while flipping a page. "I can't even make sense of some of these rants she made."
"It's a smokescreen," Adama said. "A way for her to keep our interrogators from getting any leverage in the conversation."
"It looks like it worked."
Both flipped through another pair of pages. Lee's expression shifted as he read further. "Maybe not entirely. Here."
He handed the paper to Adama, who adjusted his glasses before reading it carefully. Biers was giving another rant at her interrogator. The text read:
You cannot keep the future from us. Nothing can. Sending our future away only delays it. God will not be denied.
Adama studied the text and furrowed his brow. "She says we 'sent' their future away." Adama checked the timestamp on the paper showing when the interview was conducted.
And then he exchanged a knowing look with Lee. They both knew exactly what D'anna had been talking about.
And the spark of an idea started to form in Adama's mind.
"Lieutenant Atreiad." Adama looked to the young officer. "How much do you know about the Alliance systems integrated into the Pegasus?"
"Well, quite a lot sir," Atreiad said. There was some nervousness in the young officer's voice. "My instructors gave me top marks at the Stellar Navy Technical Operations Center."
"Good," said Adama, who kept his eyes on the young man. "Because there's something I need you to do…"
The Cylon shuttle came to a stop on the Aurora's main shuttlebay. It looked like a repurposed Cylon heavy raider, the same model that had once ferried Cylon Centurions in an attempted boarding of the Aurora. This was not lost on Julia, who stood with Meridina and Ledosh to wait until the Cylons disembarked.
Ultimately four Cylons emerged. One was one of the "Brother Cavil" models, a man in late middle age with gray hair and growing wrinkles. Another was a dark-haired man from a model that the Aurora crew hadn't dealt with before, with a longer face and cool green eyes. The two female Cylons were immediately recognizable; one was the same model as Gina Inviere, the other a copy of D'anna Biers.
There were no pleasantries. This wasn't a proper diplomatic exchange, after all, but an armed truce combined with a hostage situation. The three led the Cylons to Conference Room 1. A pair of tables were readied, the chairs set to face each other. The Cylons immediately moved toward one. Julia considered rushing for their choice first but held back at Ledosh's nod. He was letting them have this symbolic victory of picking their seats. They took up the other chairs.
"On behalf of President Morgan and the United Alliance of Systems, I welcome you," Ledosh said formally.
The lead Cylon, the Cavil model, nodded. "We are here because a war with your Alliance is not something we or God wishes. The Plan does not involve you. We will happily leave you alone provided you do not interfere with our affairs any longer. But before we do so, certain issues must be addressed."
"We are listening."
"We require assurances," said the Cavil model. "To begin with, we will not tolerate the return of the Humans to their worlds in the former Colonies, nor your Alliance's expansion to those worlds. We insist that the Alliance agree to recognize these worlds as Cylon space in perpetuity." Cavil took a data chip and inserted it into a reader at his table. The attached holo-display systems brought up a starmap with Alliance space on one end and the Colonies on the other. A line appeared down the middle, weaving between stars to form a holographic wall in space.
Ledosh considered the map carefully. Both the Dorei and Gersallians would inevitably have their expansion curtailed by such a restriction, but that would be some time in the future. The frontier was still weeks away from the demarcation line at standard warp. "Your other terms?"
"Your people will turn over any Cylon prisoners held by yourselves or the Colonial survivors."
Ledosh nodded. Julia found the terms to be pretty understandable so far. This only made her more worried.
And so Cavil moved on to the final term. "Most importantly, we require the return of the symbol of our future."
"And that symbol is?"
"The child," said Cavil. "The child born by one of our own, fathered by the Human Karl Agathon. She is our future, and we demand her immediate return."
Admiral Maran's call to the Aurora after the meeting with the Cylons brought with it an unexpected occasion. The screen displaying the Gersallian admiral was split, allowing a second image depicting President Morgan himself, seated in an office. His presence brought enough weight that even Barnes held himself in check.
"It seems clear that the Cylons are gambling on the war holding back our response," the President was saying. "Otherwise I'm not sure why they would bother with such unacceptable terms."
"We cannot be sure they are so concerned," Meridina noted. "The Cylons are driven by a religious devotion. They may believe victory to be possible based on those beliefs."
"Whatever they believe, do they seriously think we'll force Sharon Agathon to give up her child to them?" Julia asked. "We know they've been spying on us. They've got to know we wouldn't do that."
"They may decide we would take the utilitarian position that a single life is not worth the casualties of a war." Maran's expression didn't shift from its usual stoic quiet, but Julia thought there was an element of apology in his voice when he resumed speaking. "They're certainly pressuring us. The rest of the fleet has identified more Basestars jumping into Alliance space. Our strategic analysts and simulations indicate they may be moving toward Hal'tiram."
"There are millions of Dorei colonists on that world," Jarod said.
"Yes. And we can't let the Cylons attack them. I've diverted most of our fleet to assist General Jinam in protecting the planet. The rest are heading to other potential targets in the area."
Angel frowned at that. "But without the fleet, how can we stop them here at New Caprica? With their upgrades they've got more than enough firepower to fight the Aurora. The Koenig alone isn't enough backup."
"Where is the Koenig?"
"On a special assignment, Admiral," Julia answered immediately, and the look on her face made it clear to the others that she didn't want its location divulged over even an encrypted channel. Sector-wide communications were still mostly compromised, and only the advanced communications arrays on the Aurora allowed it this sort of real-time communication.
Considering the way he nodded in acknowledgement, Maran had clearly picked up on her concern. He left it for Morgan to continue speaking. "We have no further instructions for you at this time, Captain," said President Morgan. "You handle things as best as you can on your end and we'll do what we can here. But under no circumstances will the Alliance accept the Cylon terms as they are. Especially not this term of child abduction. Offer the Cylons alternative terms as you and Mastrash Ledosh see fit. We'll back up your judgement if you have to take any action."
"I hear you, sir," she said. She took in a short breath and steeled herself. Morgan was leaving the situation in her hands. He was showing immense trust in her.
A cynic might have noted that he was also ensuring hers was the primary responsibility should anything go wrong.
"Very good. Morgan out." The two men disappeared from the screen.
"So what's our goal here? Delay them?" asked Locarno.
"Yes," Julia said. "Delay them and wait for our opportunity to move. That's all we can do at this point." She looked to Jarod next. "When is the Koenig going to re-establish contact?"
"As soon as they launch the Gonzalez. Then they're going to move nearby so we can reach them by narrow-beam transmission."
"Good. As soon as they let us know they're in position, send them Maran's orders. Everyone, you're dismissed."
The others filed out of the room with the sole exception of Meridina. She waited until they were gone before saying, "I sense your unease."
Julia felt a brief spurt of irritation before chuckling. "I suppose this is what I get for asking a telepath to be my First Officer," she said.
"You have never voiced problems with my abilities before."
"No, and I'm still not. I'm just…" Julia rested her head on her hand. "I guess I've still got some adjustment period."
"As do I. And our situation is not the best for such adjustment."
"They want me and Ledosh to delay the Cylons. I just have to figure out how. They're not going to let us sit here and throw excuses at them. We'll need a real reason to keep them hooked without making it look too easy."
"They have to know that it would take time to locate Hera Agathon," Meridina said. "To expect her immediate arrival would be unrealistic. What we should be more concerned with is how to deal with the Cylon ships once the deflector systems on New Caprica are restored. We will need help."
"Or some way to even the odds." The options seemed limited. Despite all of the intel from the Colonials and the recovered Cylon remains from the failed boarding over Caprica, their knowledge of the Cylons was still limited. They didn't even have any of the computer coding that ran the Cylons…
Meridina noticed the sudden rush in Julia's thoughts even as she noticed the subtle change in her expression. She stood in conjunction with Julia. "Meridina, you have the bridge. Tell Jarod to meet me in Science Lab 1, on the double." She waited only long enough for Meridina to nod before heading off.
With the Koenig almost to the launch point, the final briefing to determine the strike team's goals was being held in the ship's conference room. Colonel Deering was joined by Lieutenant Pete Lindstrom, the senior Aurora security officer in charge of the squads sent to join the strike team. Wilma allowed Lindstrom to bring up the map of the New Caprica Colony and the site of its main defenses.
The emitter that operated the defensive shield to protect the colony was located almost directly in the center of the colony, which put it in the park area by the government complex. The control hardware was located directly in the Presidential Mansion for ease of access for the military personnel directly answering to President Baltar. "You know," said Jack O'Neill, "I can't imagine the idea of putting something like that in the White House."
"It actually makes some sense," Lucy pointed out. "Especially since this isn't just a single capital city but the only settlement. And it would be best to keep it close to the emitter."
"What about backups?" Sam asked.
"According to the records, they're in the bunker system," Wilma replied. "But the Cylons will likely be in control of any remaining entrance point."
"So instead we go for what's probably their HQ," Daniel pointed out. "That doesn't really sound that much easier."
"You'll be wearing these." Lindstrom held up an object, a small silver-sheened device. He tapped it with his finger and wavered out of sight. A second later he re-appeared. "The cloaking devices have a set amount of battery time, but if we keep the pace we should secure our targets before the batteries run out."
"Who is going where?" asked Buck.
"Technical Officer Reubens and Ensign Kripkt are cross-trained in engineering," Lindstrom noted, identifying a broad-shouldered woman and a gray-feathered Alakin male in his squads. "They can get the deflector up and running at the emitter, and tie in the reactor. That's Plan B, of course."
"We'll be better off if we can secure the actual controls," Wilma said. "Which means we need our best technical experts on the team going into the Presidential Mansion."
"That would be me and Major Carter," Lucy noted.
"Exactly. And to make things run smoothly, the rest of Major Carter's team will join her. As will Buck and I."
"And presumably Gina will be with Team B?" Lucy asked.
"Yes," Lindstrom said.
Gina acknowledged this with a nod.
"Any further questions?" Wilma asked.
There were none.
The long twilight continued to shine waning light on the Dale family home. Robert sat alone by a window and looked out upon the storm that remained, for the moment, on the horizon. But it seemed to have drawn closer, ever so closer. He wondered why. Was it because he was feeling doubts about staying in this place? Because his memories of the world as it actually was had surfaced so strongly?
"Strudel?" a wizened voice asked.
Robert turned his head to where Grandma Anna was standing, bearing a plate of chocolate-topped strudel pastries. He knew without asking that strawberry filling was inside of them. Memories of enjoying those treats as a child briefly crossed his mind. He took the offered plate and said, "Thank you". He took a bite. The taste brought a warm smile to his face. It was as good as he remembered.
"You looked like you needed it," Anna said. "You carry so much on your shoulders, mein kleiner."
"I brought it on myself," he answered. "I could have done things differently. Lived quietly. But I wanted to help people. To save people from suffering. And it led to… well, it led to big things. Bigger than anything I ever thought I could be part of."
Anna nodded and sat beside him in a nearby chair. "And I am proud of you, Robert. I am so proud. You have done many good things in your young life. I wish I could say the same."
Robert reached out and took her hand. "You raised me to recognize what evil was," he said to her. "Just as you raised Dad and Aunt Lilly."
"It was all I could do." There was shame in her eyes. "I was just another follower when I was young. A loyal maiden of the BDM. I never stopped to think about how wrong it all was. I lived with evil and did nothing."
"There was nothing you could have done, you were just one girl," Robert said.
Anna shook her head. "No. I could have resisted in small ways. There were girls who did. Sometimes they even got away with it. I could have done the same. But I wanted to show I was loyal. That I was a good German girl."
Regret came to Robert. In truth, Anna had died when he was still young, when he was still in elementary school, and too young to understand what she had experienced in the Second World War. His grandfather and parents had explained what had happened, her part in the Nazi Party's Bund Deutscher Mädel, or League of German Girls, the girl equivalent of the Hitler Youth. "I wish I was old enough to understand what you wanted to tell me," he said. "I'm sorry."
"Do not apologize for something that was out of your control," Anna chided him. "Reserve your shame and regret for the things that you could have done but did not. For lost chances in your life. I could have done more to oppose Nazi evil when it was right in front of me. I did not, and that is my shame."
The same emotion flared inside of him. "I'm doing the same thing now, aren't I?" Robert shook his head. "We're fighting them ourselves. We're in a war with Nazi Germany that I helped to start. And now I'm here instead of there."
"You have done your share," Anna said. She reached over and touched his shoulder. "More than I did. You have earned time with your family, mein kleiner."
Robert accepted the gesture quietly. Outside, the distant storm seemed to inch closer to them.
The morning sun shined over the long stretch of blacktop cutting across the open plain. Zack was riding shotgun with Anders and Thrace in the backseat, where command equipment jury-rigged into the vehicle kept him in contact with the rest of the convoy. The quiet tension that the journey had started with had given way to the anxious boredom of waiting, the "hurry up and wait" effect Zack had undesired experience with. He felt his eyes droop.
"Didn't you get enough sleep, Loverboy?" Thrace asked, a hint of teasing mockery in her voice. "Clara didn't ask for a tumble when she got in, did she?"
"No," Zack answered. "She was too tired. We just cuddled and went to sleep. Since we're inquiring, what about you? Manage any sleep, Starbuck?"
"Slept like a baby," she said. Zack knew she wasn't being truthful even before the amused snort from Anders.
"Are we going to try and rescue Baltar, if we get the chance?" Zack asked.
"Frack him," was the immediate reply from Anders. "We wouldn't be going through this if he hadn't decided to settle us here."
"Fair enough. It does make Zarek President though, doesn't it?"
"Well, you win some, you lose some," Thrace muttered.
Quiet filled the vehicle again. Zack allowed his thoughts to wander. His eyes felt heavy and they started to droop closed again.
A tone from the makeshift console beside him put a stop to that. Zack's hand went over to the control. The sensors were showing incoming contacts. "Looks like the Cylons want a go at us now," he said. "I've got fighters and heavy raiders on sensors. I'm alerting the convoy."
As best as they could, everyone looked upward to see if they could spot the approaching enemy. The defense guns of the convoy swung into position to deal with any strafing attacks. Zack watched the approaching dots on the screen as they drew closer.
"They're almost… wait." Zack watched the display and felt his gut twist. "They're… they're not on an attack run. Not against us. I'm... " The color went out of his face. "Oh God, they're going for the refuge! They're going for the mines!"
In that second Anders had to make a choice. It was one Zack was glad he didn't have to make, the kind of choice any commander dreaded. Should he continue the operation and trust to the defenses back in the refuge? Or should he abort to ensure they didn't lose their base? Either way, people would likely die from his decision.
Zack knew the decision was made the moment the vehicle swerved to the left. "Abort!" Anders shouted into his microphone. "We're aborting! Return to the refuge immediately!"
Tigh and Zarek arrived at the makeshift command room together. "Is the shield up?" was the first thing Tigh asked.
One of Anders' volunteer militia looked up from the makeshift hardlight console that had been placed on one of the desks in the converted office. The display of the console showed a blue circle surrounding the mine facilities. Outside of the perimeter larger red dots were surrounded by a growing number of smaller ones. "We should evacuate everyone into the mine," Zarek said.
"So they can kill everyone easier?" Tigh shot back. "No, we hold out until Anders gets back."
"And if he decides to keep going?"
"Then we still hold out, Godsdammit," Tigh thundered. "But if you stuff everyone into the mine and let them take the entrance, all they have to do is shut down the ventilators and seal the entrance, or pump in poison gas. Hell, they could send a nuke down. But the end is the same; everyone dies."
"How is that any better than staying on the surface? We don't have the armed manpower to hold out that many Cylons if they get through the shield!" Zarek shouted. "If they get in, our people are going to get gunned down!"
For a moment Tigh nearly disagreed, but he stopped at the last moment. He had to admit that, yes, Zarek was right about that. They needed to get the non-combatants into the mine at least, and hope Anders got back before they were overwhelmed. "Alright," he conceded. His head turned toward another of the remaining militia members. "Sound the evacuation. I want all unarmed civilians in the mines."
Clara was making rounds in the improvised hospital ward when the sirens began screaming. A surge of fear rushed up inside of her, instinctive and terrible in its strength. Her legs seemed to lock into place.
Cottle's voice broke the spell. "We're evacuating," he announced. "I need the patients secured immediately."
Clara's training kicked in. The doctor on duty had given her orders concerning the patients. She needed to act immediately, to fulfill those instructions to ensure the needs of her patients. She immediately went to the worst case, a patient with a broken spine from being thrown by an explosion, and started to secure him to the bed.
She was in the middle of buckling one strap when she heard the whimper. Clara looked up to see Cally was frozen in place a few beds down. Her face was turning ghostly white much as Clara's had done just seconds before. "Cally!" she called out.
"When will it stop?" she whimpered. "I just want it all to end."
Clara grabbed the next set of straps and buckled them into place. As she worked she continued speaking. "I don't know. Right now we have to get these people out of here. Cally, I really need your help."
But Cally hadn't moved.
First things first. Clara grabbed the last strap and buckled it into place. She checked her handiwork with the straps and went straight for Cally afterward. Frustration and terror were in control of her expression. "Cally."
"They're going to kill us all," Cally insisted. "They're not going to stop until they kill us all!"
"Cally, I'm scared too," Clara said. "But these people need us. Please help me get them out!"
Cally visibly, and audibly, stifled a sob. Clara took her by the shoulders and embraced her. She looked over to see Cottle looking at them. The grizzled old doctor understood what was going on and said nothing for the moment. He had other matters to concentrate on.
After a minute, Cally pulled away. "I'm okay," she said. It was a lie. Both knew it. But it would stand for the moment while they worked to get the patients out.
And so they went to work, helping Cottle to get the wounded and sick out of the ward.
The mining complex hadn't been built as a potential military base. It lacked the sort of facilities that a commander could use to easily observe the defensive perimeter. Only the makeshift command room built from the offices provided something like that. Right now said room allowed Tigh and Zarek to observe feeds of the Cylons lining up outside of the shields. The centurion-model attack drones were intimidating with their size and mounted weaponry.
"Wait." Zarek looked to one feed and pointed at it. "What's that?"
Tigh turned his attention to said feed, showing a number of Cylons, including some of the "skinjob" Cylons, working on a device held on a collapsible table. "Zoom in on that thing," he ordered one of the operators.
The image zoomed in on the gray, cone-shaped object. Tigh felt the hairs on the back of his neck prickle. It was clearly a warhead of some kind. The cone tip looked like a projector. But what was it?
On the feed the device was set on its side. While moving the warhead the Cylons rolled it enough to expose one side marked with an emblem.
Zarek's eyes widened. "Wait, isn't that?"
"Oh hell," Tigh breathed, putting two and two together as soon as he recognized the emblem, one that he had only seen a few times before, known to its makers as the Hakenkreuz… and to the Multiverse at large as the swastika insignia of the Nazi Party.
Far above their heads, in the void of space outside the planet's atmosphere, the Starship Koenig finished moving into position under the cover of her cloaking device. They weren't far at all from one of the Cylon Basestars, this one maintaining a geosynchronous orbit over the New Caprica Colony that made it seem like a doom threatening that settlement.
The ship's shuttle bay door slid open and the Gonzalez dropped out into orbit. The assault runabout's own cloaking field obscured it from sight as well, protecting it from detection as it descended into the atmosphere at a velocity that would let its cloaking field hide the effects of atmospheric entry.
In the runabout's control cockpit, a piloting Technical Officer sat beside Lucy at the main controls. The young Gersallian, Getamanan, tapped a couple of keys. "Atmospheric entry friction is building. We're still within the cloaking device's threshold."
"Right." Lucy maintained her angle of descent to keep that margin. "Anything on sensors?"
"Life signs underneath the colony proper, and more concentrated at the nearest mountain range. Maps show it as an active mining complex… wait." The young man examined his readings. "I'm picking up multiple Cylon energy signatures in that area. I… I think they're attacking that mining complex."
Lucy nodded. And knew immediately she had a choice to make. Did they land and help the civilians fight off the attack? Or move on to the colony proper to complete their mission? "What's their status?"
"It looks like they do have a defensive shield up."
"Right. They can take care of…" Lucy glanced toward the same sensor return and stopped. Most of the power signature data showed what she would expect for Cylon units. But one… "What the hell?"
"Don't you recognize that signature, Officer Getamanan?"
Getamanan looked it over and shook his head. "I am… not familiar with it."
"I've seen that wavelength before," she said. "It matches the active field of a Reich shield-disrupting torpedo." Lucy reached to her intercom key. "Colonel Deering, Colonel O'Neill?"
Moments later both were stepping out into the cockpit from the rear area. Unsurprisingly, Buck was behind them, not about to be left out of the conversation. "What is it, Lieutenant?" Wilma asked.
"The Cylons are about to attack a civilian target," she said. "There are thousands of people crammed into that mining complex."
"We'll lose the element of surprise if we divert," Wilma pointed out. She looked to Jack.
Lucy felt the conflict within him. He didn't want to abandon people who needed help, just as she didn't. But she could feel he was making the same calculation Wilma had. If the Cylons detected them now, without giving them a chance to bring the Colony's deflectors back up, they could - likely would - wipe out the people still in the Colony proper. "She's right," Jack said. "Proceed to our LZ, Lieutenant."
It wasn't what Lucy wanted to hear. "We're going to leave them to die," she said.
"And we're not giving ourselves away and causing even more deaths when the Cylons destroy the main colony," Wilma said.
Lucy sensed Gina was further in the back. She couldn't look away from her instruments to look her eye-to-eye, but she felt the same disapproval in Gina she felt herself. Quietly Lucy drew in a breath and concentrated, not on her flying, but on her senses, to see if her desire to help was the right course, or if Wilma and Jack were right.
She had an immediate sense of death. The problem was she couldn't narrow it down to either choice. All she could tell was that people were going to die no matter what she did. Whether she obeyed or defied their orders. She didn't know which would be worse. It made her wish Robert or Meridina were around. Robert's power seemed more in tune with sensing outcomes, and Meridina had the experience.
But they're not here. You are, Lucilla. You passed those Trials. You proved yourself. Whether the voice in her head was her own mind, thinking to herself, or the Flow of Life itself, Lucy wasn't sure. She couldn't be in these cases with the use of her power. But she knew it was right. She had to make her decision on her own, based on her feelings.
So she made her choice, and breathed a prayer that it was the right one.
"What did you say it was?" Zarek asked.
"I can't be sure what the frack it is!" Tigh shouted. "But it's a Reich weapon, and those murdering bastards have shield-disrupting torpedoes. If they fire that thing, it might just bring our shield down." Tigh tapped the multi-device on his lower left arm. "This is Colonel Tigh. The Cylons could be coming through any moment. Standby for combat. I repeat, standby for…"
On the monitor showing the Cylon weapon, the warhead suddenly lit up with light and energy. A thick, silver beam of energy shot forward from the cone and slammed into the energy field protecting the mining complex. The blue light of the shield dome flickered and crackled at the point of the silver beam's impact.
"The shield generator is burning out!" a voice cried out. "It's going to fail any…"
Tigh watched the shield fall. The Cylons rushed in, with numbers and enough heavy firepower that he knew how this would go. All he could manage was a defiant "Frak".
Julia was counting away the remaining hours until she was due to meet with the Cylon First again. She forced herself to remain in her command chair, just in case her desire to pace made people nervous. Even her friends would feel better if they saw her as confident and certain, although she was anything but.
It was clear that Meridina knew she felt that way, and felt like it herself. When she spoke, however, it was not to reassure, but to react to something on the display screen to her side. "The Koenig is in position to receive narrow-beam transmissions," she said.
"Tell them to hold tight," she replied. Julia tapped the intercom button on her chair. "Bridge to Science Lab 1. Jarod, any progress?"
"Will it be ready before the Cylons come back?"
"Unlikely. Sorry, Captain, but this is taking time."
"Do what you can, then. Bridge out."
With that done the waiting game was due to resume. Meridina gave Julia a worried look without saying anything. Julia had nothing to say either. There was nothing to say, or do, until the Cylons came back. And then all they could do was hope they could buy time.
The sounds of weapons fire and explosions reached the medical ward. It did nothing to help the tension there as a number of the patients still had to be evacuated. Cally gave Clara a frightened look. Clara felt just as scared as she knew Cally to be. She thought of what Zack had said about always being scared and having to work through that because people were counting on him. In much the same way, people were counting on her. Her patients were counting on her.
The current patient she was working on moving was an older woman with a broken leg. Clara felt nothing but sympathy for her patient at the pain visible on her round face. The same brace that held the woman's injured leg in place to heal was now subjecting it to undesired movement due to the rapid movement of the stretcher. "I know it hurts," she said, "but we've got to get you out of here. Just hang in there."
The woman nodded.
Clara pushed the stretcher to the door. Outside, the warm sunny sky looked inviting, but the shouts of battle and the crowds of civilians running for the nearest mine shaft entrance made a mockery of said sky. An orderly Cottle had drafted from the civilians took charge of the stretcher. "Please be careful with her," Clara urged, although given the look on his face Clara was fairly certain the man was more concerned with getting into the mine himself. She wondered if he'd come back for another patient.
But she had no time to worry about that. Clara rushed back in to get another patient.
Tigh and Zarek didn't stay in the command room. There was no point. As much as Tigh was hoping to hold out, the moment the Cylons started pouring in he knew that wasn't happening. They could try to hold a thin perimeter around the mine entrances, but it would be shaky, and it would probably fail.
Instead of staying in a place where the entrances were few and the Cylons could easily trap them, the two had moved to an area beside the mine entrance. The stream of people heading into the maw on the mountainside wasn't letting up. It was everything that Zarek's people could do to keep the flow from becoming a deadly stampede. Tigh took up a position beside an excavator and hid behind its dormant scoop. The Alliance-built pulse pistol in his hand gave him some hope of fighting a Cylon. Better than standard bullets, anyway.
The Cylon centurions came around the mine store first, toward the southern flank of the mine entrance. A Colonial militia squad retreating from the store was caught out in the open as the Cylons came on. "Fire!" Tigh shouted to the others, and there was a hail of gunfire in response to his order.
But it wasn't enough. Sure, the Cylon front ranks took damage. Some even went down. But within ten seconds all four of the militia were gunned down by the approaching Cylon forces. Their fire shifted. Tigh had to pull back behind the excavator blade to avoid getting hit. When he had a moment he slid out of cover slightly and took another series of shots. His pulse shots weren't the most accurate, but at least two hit a Cylon centurion and blew away metal and material from its chest. It dropped down to a knee and fell over, the red light on its head going dark.
Tigh glanced over to where Zarek was behind the main body of the excavator, using it as cover. The look that passed between the two men said it all; if they didn't get help soon, everyone at the mining complex was dead.
The quiet that had settled over the Dale house gave it an unnatural tension that Robert found palpably uncomfortable. It wasn't supposed to be like this. It was supposed to be a happy home. The home he had experienced these past months - was it months? - was never supposed to be like this.
A glance out the window showed that the menacing storm clouds were now starting to obscure the setting sun. The winds had picked up. Robert felt the impulse to call for everyone to descend into the tornado shelter just from the look of things. That impulse was overcome by his inability to turn away at the moment. He felt a pull to the storm that kept his eyes fixed on it.
"Am I doing the right thing?" he asked himself, mumbling the words aloud. "What is the right thing?"
He noticed a shadow drawing up, created by the light of the dining room lights. When he turned his head he was facing his father. Michael Dale's brown eyes met Robert's. "You look lost, Rob," he said softly.
"I'm trying to do the right thing. Always the right thing," Robert said. "I just don't know what it is. I owe you and Mom, everyone, but there are things I'm responsible for. Things I think I should be doing."
Michael nodded in acknowledgement. "I know what that's like. I had to make the same decision before you were born."
"About whether to stay in the service or come home." Robert nodded in recollection. He'd heard the story growing up. His father, had he stayed in the Navy, could have risen to the top. But he'd given that up to come home to the family farm. The officer had lost to the farmer, or more to the point, the loyal son.
"It's why I never resented your choice," Michael said. "I was disappointed when you turned down Annapolis. But I could see why you made the choice, and I understood it."
"I have to make that choice again, don't I?" Robert asked.
"That's the way it looks, son." Michael's hand came up and settled on Robert's shoulder. "However we've come back together here, you need to know I'm proud of you. We're all proud of you. You've done great things with your life. And if you want to settle down and be with your family, that's fine. You've earned it."
"Have I?" Robert asked, his voice a quiet murmur. "I've left things half-done, it feels like. The war I helped to start. The things Meridina has shown me. The dreams of what might come."
Michael said nothing. It was Robert who turned and watched Little Robby playing with his toys beside Grandma Anna and Leigh. Julia and Susannah looked on in with quiet smiles at the happy little boy who seemed completely oblivious to the terrible storm looking out of the windows.
"How can I leave him?" Robert asked. "How could I leave any of you? If I leave here, you're all gone again. Forever. He'll be gone." He swallowed. "Once and awhile I thought about having children. One day, I mean. But I never knew it'd be like this."
"I know the feeling," said Michael. He put an arm around Robert's neck. "And you don't want to do anything to hurt him."
"It's not easy. Balancing family and duty. But I know you can."
The conversation ended at that note. Michael quietly walked over to the couch where he snatched up one of Little Robby's toys and shook it in the air, prompting a peal of laughter from the child. The sight brought a small smile to Robert's face. He looked back to the window and the storm outside.
It seemed incredulous that this could happen. That he was locked into some kind of dreamworld, with a family that was completely alive yet seemed to know what was truly happening. A part of him knew that the "Doctor" was right, that he couldn't stay here. That this place wasn't real. He had friends back in the real world who needed him. He had responsibilities.
Yet again his eyes ventured over to the living room, where his little boy was playing happily with his family. It was astonishing that he had never before wanted to be a father given how much love he felt for Little Robby. He was everything Robert could ever want in a child. More than anything, it was Robby's tears that had kept him from leaving.
As he thought of that, Robert considered again this place he was in. It could almost be Heaven itself, it seemed. But what was it? How had he ended up here? What was the purpose of this? Who could he ask to get answers? Who would know?
After a few moments, realization showed on Robert's face. He turned away from the window, away from the family, and to the person he knew would have the answers.
Allen Dale smiled at him and nodded. "Well, Rob, it looks like you're ready to talk," he said.
The Gonzalez swept over the abandoned streets of the New Caprica Colony. Their destination loomed ahead: the Presidential Mansion and the Government Buildings, and the park adjoining them.
The sensor feed showed the occupants in the back the sight of the empty streets. The blackened remains of bombed out cars were joined by vehicles that were still, surprisingly, completely intact. But this wasn't on the mind of Jack O'Neill when he asked, "So where are the robots anyway? I was expecting the streets to be filled with killer robots."
"They're probably part of the attack on that mining complex," Lucy pointed out. Her eyes narrowed toward Wilma Deering.
Wilma met Lucy's eyes without a sign of regret. It was something of a cover. Lucy could sense that Wilma was worried she'd condemned those refugees at the mine to die. But she'd made the call and she was going to live with it.
But there was another feeling Lucy had. A presence that stood out in the Flow of Life. She looked to Gina who, like her, was sensing it, and was frowning. When Gina looked back toward Lucy, she shook her head, and Lucy could tell this meant she wasn't sure what it was, but that she felt it. "Change of plans," Lucy said. "Gina's coming with Team A."
Wilma and Lindstrom gave her uncomfortable looks. Lucy met the looks with a firm expression. She understood their concern, so she said, "I don't know how, but they've got someone trained in the Gersallian arts with them. Or something like that. Whoever it is, they're at the Mansion, and one of us will have to deal with that threat, so it's best if we're both there."
Buck nodded to Wilma. "I've seen Meridina and Lucero fight. If they've got someone like that, well, all bets are off."
"Alright. Change accepted," was her answer.
A solid thud filled the runabout. The rear door opened to a grassy park field, not far from a baseball diamond and bleachers. The Aurora security teams activated their personal cloaks and stepped out of the rear hatch.
Lucy pulled on the blue Gersallian robe to match the armor she was already wearing, with its primary purple-colored plates. Next she pulled down to her eyes the visor would give her the ability to see the others while they were cloaked. One last check ensured her tool belt was in place and her lightsaber clipped to it. A tap to her omnitool brought the cloak online and she stepped out with Teal'c and Daniel. They quickly got onto one of the sidewalk paths that would lead them to the Presidential Mansion.
A night's sleep had not been kind to Baltar. The Cylons had refused him the chance to at least rest in his own bed, presuming he could, forcing him to instead lay on the couch in his office. The more he thought of it, the more he was certain he wouldn't have fallen asleep anyway. But it would have been nice to have the chance.
The second day of this nightmare was turning out much like the first. The Cylons brought him a cold, unappetizing soup from the kitchens. The only reason he could stomach it was because his stomach needed something in it to digest, and it was therefore willing to take what was offered.
Despite his fatigue, Baltar had the energy to finally demand, "When do I get to speak with the Alliance?"
"Soon enough," a D'anna Biers look-alike claimed.
He grumbled in silence at that.
The third Cylon, the one who had killed his bodyguard, sat up straight. The others noticed this movement and clear worry showed on their faces. "What is it?" asked the D'anna look-alike.
"The Alliance is here," she said. "They are launching an attack."
The other two Cylons waited a moment before one nodded. "Alert the fleet."
The third Cylon didn't join them. She went for the door.
The situation at the mining complex was collapsing. The radio tied into Tigh's multidevice crackled with cries for help from the handful of militia trying to hold the Cylons away from the entrance. His own position at the excavator was on the verge of falling. The Cylons, despite some losses, still had the number advantage and were pressing it.
"We're out of time, Colonel!" Zarek insisted. "We need to pull back!"
Tigh's reply glare was an acknowledgement that the former terrorist was right. They did need to fall back. But there was nowhere to fall back to. Once they were shut in the mine, the Cylons would have them completely at their non-existent mercy.
"Godsdammit," Tigh muttered. He tapped the comm key on the device. "Fall back, I repeat, fall back!" While affirmatives were given to that, he moved from cover with his pistol raised and fired off another sequence of shots. A Cylon centurion went down with half of its eye visor missing.
The next Cylon had prior battle damage, a shot that had taken out its gun. But it still had its lethal strength and a hand that could rip into living flesh with ease. Tigh shot it in the shoulder. It produced a sparking hole but nothing more. The Cylon's hand lashed out at Tigh's head. he leaned backward to avoid the attack. But the blow still struck. Pain filled his face. Blood and darkness covered his sight while an involuntary cry of pain and surprise roared from within him. Tigh dropped to the ground utterly blinded by the attack.
There was a weapon shot and the sound of sparks followed by some metallic clanging and a thud. An arm slipped under Tigh's shoulder and brought him back to his feet. "Come on!" he heard Zarek say with terrible urgency.
They were almost done. The last patient remained, and he must have been one of the oldest of the Refugee Fleet to still be around, Clara imagined. He was suffering from a host of maladies that included a smashed left hip that precluded any chance of the man walking. He shooed at them. "Get out of here, ladies," he insisted. "Leave me behind."
"It's not happening, sir," Clara insisted. She looked toward Cally. With the shouts and gunfire at its loudest, it was clear they had minutes, if that, before the Cylons got to the ward. And Cally was clearly about to freeze up again. "Cally, on my side."
Having an order did what Clara hoped it would do. Cally had something to focus on, something to do. She took hold of the side of the bed and began pushing. Clara did the same, which allowed them to maneuver the bed and move it toward the door. Cottle didn't meet them at the door. Tigh had already ordered him to move into the mines to protect him. Indeed, nobody was at the door. The last orderly hadn't returned. Cally and Clara would have to push their patient to safety.
It was not an easy task. The fighting was raging around them. The medical ward for the complex was one of the closer structures to the mine, for obvious reasons, but the Cylons were advancing alongside of it now. Their weapons thundered in the air. The response was a mixture of the ineffectual, with bullets that bounced off the Cylons' metal skin, and the devastating, specifically the energy weapon fire that melted and blasted the Cylons.
"We're not going to make it," whimpered Cally.
"Yes we are. Keep pushing!"
The effort was making Clara's arms and legs burn from exertion. Exhaustion was a real threat. But she didn't let herself stop. She couldn't. And she wouldn't let herself look back at the Cylons drawing steadily closer.
Dirt suddenly sprayed up beside them. Sparks flew from the bullets hitting the stretcher frame, tearing the metal apart so that the entire thing collapsed. A spray of blood rose from the leg of the old man, who let out a cry of pain. The collapse of the stretcher sent him tumbling to the ground.
Not missing a beat, Clara went to him and helped him up. "Cally, his leg! Hold it up!"
To her credit, Cally obeyed instantly. Behind them a phaser beam from one of the militia rifles speared the Cylon that had opened fire, destroying it.
The old man cried out again from the pain of his savaged leg, with the shattered hip undoubtedly making things worse. Clara almost shouted encouragement to him. The need for every bit of air her lungs could bring in kept her from doing so.
A Colonial armed with a Systems Alliance Avenger assault rifle met them at the perimeter line. The weapon's mass effect field filled the air behind them with deadly metal that tore through any Cylon it struck. The dark-haired woman kept the fire up until they were safely behind the line. They set the old man down behind some cover. Cally immediately grabbed at the first aid pouch Clara had insisted she carry and brought out the materials to treat the old man's wound.
Clara was a second from joining when she heard a scream of pain. She turned back to see the woman who had helped them falling to the ground. Without a moment's consideration she dashed to her. Her body's tired muscles protested the action with pain, but they failed to dissuade her, and the Cylons certainly didn't.
The coated Colonial woman was still alive. The Cylon shooting at her had aimed too low to hit anything immediately vital. But several rounds had gone through her belly and torn up her guts and possibly her spine. Clara knew that the wounds would be fatal and painful if medical attention wasn't immediate. She pulled the woman's coat tightly over the wounds and slipped the buttons into place to secure the wounds from the jostling that would be necessary. With a series of increasing groans of effort Clara picked the Colonial woman up into a fireman's carry. She started her return to safety by running as quickly as she could with her burden. Her eyes were entirely focused on the same broad ore truck that Cally was using to shield their elderly patient from the Cylons' attacks. A cry of warning came from ahead of her.
The Cylon behind her opened fire a moment later.
Jack and Buck entered the foyer of the Presidential Mansion first, their respective pulse rifle and laser pistol raised and ready. Gina and Daniel were behind them, then Lucy and Sam. Wilma and Teal'c took up the rear.
The foyer was empty of life. It had the same appearance as the colony itself, looking abandoned by those who normally lived and worked here. The finely-crafted half-circle desk where the information and security personnel waited for visitors still had active workstations, showing how quickly their minders had fled when the Cylons attacked.
"The stairway to the subbasement should be this way," Daniel said, consulting the Alliance-issue omnitool that SG-1 had been provided for this mission.
He took a step, but the resulting sound came from the second level of the foyer. Someone was walking along the polished tile quite loudly, without seeming to worry about giving themselves away. Distant mechanical whirring joined those loud footsteps after a time.
Cylon Centurions stepped into the openings leading out of the foyer. But after brief glances toward them, it was the figure in the hooded jacket that drew everyone's attention. She stepped up to the railing behind the main desk and looked down toward them, as if she could see them.
Lucy swallowed. She felt the woman's presence. She felt the cold dark and the way it chilled the Flow of Life. This was a being given over to darkness, just as Goras had been.
The figure made a sudden leap that brought her to land on the main desk. Stacks of papers scattered from the impact point. The act had the effect of causing her hood to fall off her head to settle behind her neck, revealing her head and face. The eyes of everyone present widened in surprise.
The Cylon woman's skin was a light brown tone. Cold blue eyes looked over them on a face that they all found immediately familiar, topped with a head of dark, curly hair.
"Well." Jack glanced toward Lucy. "An evil twin? Really?"
For the moment Lucy couldn't react. Not only was she shocked by the appearance of her doppelganger, she found herself sickened by an immense sensation of violation. "They took my blood," she murmured. "On Djamar Station. They… they made her… from me."
Her Cylon doppelganger's arm stretched out. A multitude of crunching sounds directed their attentions toward their belts, and to the sight of their personal cloaking devices being crushed until they stopped functioning. The eight of them wavered into normal sight.
"Well, so much for the element of surprise," Buck muttered, leveling his gun toward the doppelganger.
Gina gave Lucy a worried look. "Take the others," Lucy said. "Get to the control room. They'll need your help." Lucy reached to her belt and pulled her weapon. Her counterpart clearly had training as well, but odds were that, at best, she had a lakesh. And Lucy knew from personal experience that the lightsaber had an advantage over that weapon. She brought her blade into a ready position and activated it. An electronic snapping sound was followed by a lingering hiss as the blue energy blade of her weapon extended to its full size.
Her Cylon counterpart actually grinned at that. Immediately Lucy realized she had misread the situation, but she had never imagined the extent of it until she saw the Cylon pull an object off the belt under her jacket.
Another snap and hiss filled the air as an energy blade, blood-red in its color, surged from the weapon in the Cylon-Lucy's hand.
Lucy's jaw hung open in shock.
"Kill them," she heard her own voice speak, coming from the Cylon-Lucy. "Kill them all."
And then her counterpart lunged forward. Lucy brought her weapon up and met the blow, causing their lightsaber blades to clash with a loud, electronic crackle.
There was no escaping the tension in the Aurora conference room when the Cylons returned. Ledosh led off by stating the Alliance was willing to consider both a return of prisoners and firm borders between Cylon and Alliance expansion zones, but that the Cylons would have to agree to an exclusion zone between those borders where neither side could settle or send starships.
The two female models and the one "new" male one said nothing. Cavil did the talking, and he did it with a slight scowl. "And what of the child? The child must be returned to us. Now."
"You must realize that we cannot compel the Agathons to give up their child," said Ledosh. "Not under our law. We are opening a dialogue with them to see if they can be persuaded…"
"And what you must realize is that our ships do not leave until the child is delivered," Cavil said. "That child represents the future of our civilization."
"How?" Julia asked. "Why are you ready to start a war over the Agathons' baby?"
"That is not your business," said the Gina-model.
"So you honestly expect us to take the child from her parents? Do you think we're that monstrous?"
"We know Humans are," the D'anna-model said. "We've experienced enough with your kind to know what you're capable of. And we're only asking you to take the child, not to kill her parents."
"Your judgement of Humans seems overly harsh," Ledosh observed. "While I too have seen Humans behave monstrously, I have also seen them behave with great courage and nobility. Judging an entire species for the misbehavior of a few…"
"We did not come to indulge in philosophical prattling, Gersallian," Cavil barked, and with real venom in his voice. "You are clearly stalling. Perhaps you…"
When he stopped speaking, Julia wondered just what was going on. She also kept glancing toward the quiet Cylon, the other male, who continued to look over them with his light green eyes. He seemed strangely detached from the entire argument. A small, haughty smile came to his lips, as if her interest in him was an amusement.
"Of course." Cavil's voice dripped with contempt. "You never planned to negotiate in good faith, did you? You came here to stall for time while your strike team attacked our forces in the colony."
Julia dared nothing beyond breathing. She forced her face to remain completely neutral at the charge.
"Don't bother with denials!" snarled Cavil, cutting off Ledosh before he could even start the second word. "We were hoping for better from you, but we expected this behavior from your kind."
"Captain." The voice was Locarno's. "The Cylon ships are locking weapons on the planet and on us."
"Wait, don't," Julia pleaded. "We can still work this out."
"You defied us," Cavil said, "and for that, the people of New Caprica have to die."
Cavil's pronouncement sent Julia's mind racing. The odds were completely against them. But maybe if Jarod was ready, maybe they could stand a chance…
She decide to buy for time by going on the verbal offensive. "Like you were ever going to spare them. You were always going to kill the people from the Colonies," Julia charged.
"We had considered sparing them, if they posed no further threat to us," Cavil answered. "But it is clear they do through their connection to you."
"Bloodshed will not get you what you seek," Meridina said to Cavil. "It will only encourage our people to fight yours to the final end. Do you intend to sacrifice the future of the Cylon people due to your need to kill the Humans of the Colonies?"
"If you will not bargain in good faith, we have no choice."
At that Julia laughed harshly. "Really, you call this bargaining in good faith? That would mean coming to us openly and diplomatically, not attacking our ships and holding people hostage to force us to meet your demands. This was never a good faith negotiation."
The four Cylons' expressions went completely blank. A moment later Locarno's voice came back over the comm system. "Captain, a ship just jumped in. It's the Pegasus. They're hailing us and the Cylon ships."
Julia let out a breath. The odds were still really bad, but maybe with Lee Adama's ship helping they could buy enough time… "Put him on down here."
The main holo-display changed from the starmap to show the image of Admiral Adama standing beside his son Lee. They were in the center of the Pegasus CIC. "Attention Cylon ships," Adama said. "I'm here to open talks."
"You are irrelevant, Adama," Cavil said. "And more to the point, we're done talking. Your people die now."
"You're going to do that when you don't have what you want yet? Knowing that you'll never get your future back if you go through with wiping us out?"
Julia and Meridina exchanged small glances. They clearly wondered what Adama was playing at.
"What do you know about it?" Cavil asked, or rather challenged.
Adama stepped a little to his right, giving more room to the right side of the screen. They watched with some surprise as the Agathons stepped onto the screen. Helo had his hand on Sharon's shoulder. The Cylon woman was, in turn, holding their daughter Hera close to her chest. "The killing has to end," Sharon said to them. "We have to find peace with the Humans, or we're going to be wiped out."
"Traitor," the D'anna model hissed.
Cavil motioned angrily at her to be quiet. "Then you'll cooperate?" he asked.
"Give me the guarantee of the Consensus that Helo can stay with us without being harmed. He is Hera's father and he will remain part of her life."
"Come with the child and we will allow him to join you, without any threat," Cavil said. His voice sounded sincere, but only superficially. Meridina in particular sensed the intent behind the words. The promise was one that Cavil had no intention of honoring if he didn't absolutely have to.
On the screen Sharon and Helo looked at each other for several moments. Both looked to the screen again. "Then we'll come over," Helo said. "I'll pilot a shuttle into your Basestar."
"You'll pilot it to the Aurora," the Gina-model said. "When we're satisfied this isn't a trick, we'll take you to our ship."
They seemed to think it over. Finally Sharon spoke up. "Accepted. We'll be over in an hour."
"You'll be over in half an hour or nothing," Cavil retorted. "We're not letting you take the time to play a trick on us."
By now Adama was back on the screen. "Very well. Half an hour. Adama out." They disappeared from the viewscreen.
"We will await his arrival in our shuttle," Cavil informed Julia. "We have nothing more to discuss at this time."
"Very well." Ledosh nodded. 'I will be waiting for your signal to resume."
Meridina nodded and the security officers at the door opened it themselves. They delivered the news to Lieutenant Richmond, who spoke on the ship intercom. "Cylon party en route back to the main shuttle bay. All unauthorized personnel are to withdraw from the following sections…"
While Richmond did her job, Julia glanced toward Meridina. "What do you think?"
"Admiral Adama has discovered something of import about our enemy. Specifically, they place great stock in recovering the child." Meridina frowned. "But once they have her, they will attack. I am certain of this."
"Well, hopefully Jarod will be ready for that." Julia also wondered if the strike team was doing well. They'd been detected, but that didn't mean they'd lost…
The moment the Cylon-Lucy's red lightsaber blade crashed against Lucy's own blue one, a battle erupted around them. Jack O'Neill fired first with a barrage of pulse shots that took down one of the Cylons. A moment later Buck and Wilma fired on the other flank. Unseen energy from their laser pistols burned through the metal skin of a pair of Cylon centurions and destroyed the internals that made it function.
Teal'c's staff shot up. The tip shifted and pulled back into four parts, exposing the end blaster that put a bolt of red energy into another Cylon.
That they weren't mowed down was due to Gina. She reached out through her life-force to throw the aim of the enemy Cylon centurions high, causing their first barrage to miss completely. "Run!" she shouted.
Samantha, guided by the map showing on her omnitool, used her rifle to blow away the two Cylon centurions barring their way to the subbasement. "This way!" Sam cried.
Jack fired another barrage toward the northern entrance corridor that hit another centurion. "Daniel, you're on point, Teal'c, help Ms. Inviere watch our backs."
Daniel took the lead with Sam behind him. Buck and Wilma followed, fire from the Cylons narrowly missing, with Jack behind them. Teal'c shot up another Cylon before going through. The fire meant for him was deflected by the steady blade work of Gina, who was in the rear.
During this short firefight the duel between Lucy and her Cylon copy continued. Lucy felt herself evenly matched by her opponent. They were feeling one another's strikes coming, allowing neither to take a quick advantage. Blue and red light filled Lucy's vision as each attempted strike was parried, each attack deflected, in blurring red and blue. Further crackling and humming accompanied each meeting of their blades.
Learning to fight with her creation had been a challenge Lucy had already met. The idea of fighting someone using her weapon, and not as a practice duel but as a deadly serious combat, was something she hadn't contemplated yet. Let's hope I'm a fast learner then was her thought on that, after which their blades clashed again.
One thing was certainly clear. Her doppelganger was fully trained in the arts of swevyra. Her skill demanded every bit of attention Lucy had. With her life on the line, Lucy obliged.
Strong winds were beginning to buffet the Dale house. The lights flickered slightly, but none of the family paid them any heed.
Robert kept his eyes on his grandfather. Or whatever it was that was appearing as his grandfather. "What are you?" he asked.
"I'm your Grandpa," was the answer.
"No." Robert shook his head. "You're not. My Grandpa Allen died when I was still in middle school. What you are... I don't know. You're something tied to this place."
"Oh? What makes you say that, Rob?"
"Because this place is based on my memories… my dreams." Robert cast a glance to the family gathered in the living room. "Everything is built around how I view the world and what I want." He looked back to the image of his grandfather. "And as much as I love… loved… my father, I've always seen my Grandpa Allen as the source of wisdom and knowledge. He was the one I went to if I had questions when I was a child. So if this world is based on how I perceive the world, that means you should be that source. Which means you know what this place is."
There was no immediate reaction from the old man. Slowly a small smile crept across his face. "Well, Rob, that's pretty smart. But what you've left out is that I am still your Grandpa. Just as you remember him."
"What is this place? What's going on?" Robert asked.
"Well, the answer is… I'm not sure it's something even I understand, and as you said, I'm supposed to know everything in here." Allen glanced out the window. "You've been studying that life force stuff from the Gersallians, right? Their teaching about a 'Flow of Life' that connects all living things?"
Robert nodded. "Yeah. I've even sensed it, a little at least."
"So you have. Well…" Allen leveled a searching look at him. "Have you ever stopped to wonder if they were a bit wrong about it?"
"Wrong in what way?
"That the Flow of Life itself isn't alive."
Robert blinked at that. He let the idea work into his mind. "So you're saying it is? That… that the Flow of Life has its own mind? Its own life?"
"Something like that, I think," said Allen. "Yes indeed, something like that."
The thought was something Robert had to consider. The Gersallians saw the Flow of Life as the sum total of all life, particularly sapient life. They believed the Flow of Life was strengthened by positive feelings and weakened by negative ones. The entire Code of Swenya was based on the belief that those who could sense the Flow of Life should strive to strengthen it by making life better for others. While Swenya's successors could come off as monastic, their code was more like a knightly code, emphasizing justice, protection of the innocent, and making lives better to achieve that end. Their name for those who used those powers to uphold the code, "swevyra'se", was based around the Gersallian language's meaning for the "'se" suffix. That it denoted strengthening something.
But nothing he'd heard from Meridina indicated they thought the Flow of Life might be aware or intelligent in some way. If it was, it meant he and those who could use these powers had to consider the possibility what it might want or feel.
"I'm not sure you can define it, Rob," Allen said. "And the things Meridina taught you aren't necessarily wrong either. It's just that there's more to it."
"And how does that explain what this is?" Robert asked.
"Well, think about that, Rob." Allen never lost his trademark gentle smile. "What happened to cause you to come here?"
"I opened the core of the Doctor's time ship. The Time Vortex, he called it. It told me my life would end. I was supposed to die." As Robert said those words, he started to see what had happened. "But my power, the Flow of Life itself, this 'force' protected me somehow, didn't it? And it brought me here." His expression betrayed momentary confusion. "Why? It's not just about saving my life, if that was the point it didn't have to create all of this." He held his hands out.
"What makes you think that's what happened? Think about it, Rob. The Flow of Life might be alive, an independent force, but it still responds to you. To what you want to do." Allen's expression turned thoughtful. "My poor boy. You thought you were going to lose more people you loved and cared about. Of course you thought about us too, didn't you?"
Robert thought back to his conversation with the TARDIS. He remembered those feelings at the thought of Julia and the others dying. The pain of losing his family had easily followed that fear. "I created this place? Is that what you're saying?"
"You're tired of losing the people you love, Rob. So of course you wanted to get us all back." Allen spread his arms and grinned. "So here we are, Rob. Here we are."
Outside the first drops of rain began to pelt the windows and walls of the house. The storm was moving in again. "And the storm? That's me too?"
Allen nodded. "Of course."
"The part of me that wants to leave. It's making it." He shook his head. "That seems ridiculous. Why would I go out into a storm?"
"Because you don't want to, Rob. Who would? You know things are coming, things are going to happen, that any sane man would want to stay away from." The old man chuckled at that. "Just like any sane man would rather stay inside than go out into a raging storm."
An old memory came to Robert's mind. "When I was a boy, and I asked you why you went off to war, you told me a story about a school friend of yours."
Allen nodded. "Jake."
"You said he wouldn't volunteer. That he even talked about dodging the draft if he was picked, because to go would be insane."
"Yup. Jake was terrified of the Germans. Thought we'd all get killed just like all the Russians and French and other people they were beating."
"And you even agreed with him," Robert continued. "You told me that he was right. That it was insane to want to get into a fight like that."
"So I did." Allen looked at him closely, clearly curious as to where Robert was going with this line of discussion.
The rest of the memory played out for Robert. He had been ten years old, talking with his grandfather on the porch swing while Allen Dale had showed him pictures from the war and his old medals. He heard his own voice, or rather his voice when he was a child, ask the important question. "If it was crazy, then why did you want to go, Grandpa?"
The Allen in front of him spoke the same words as he had in the memory. "Because I had a good reason to go."
Robert nodded. He looked back to the window. The rain was growing in strength. Small pieces of hail smacked against the window as well. "So…"
"So…" Allen nodded. "Do you have a good reason to go?"
The entire trip back to the mining complex had been torment for Zack and the others. They had all pushed for this operation and, due to that, they had left the people back at the mine nearly defenseless. The call for help that had come once the Cylons brought down the protective shield over the complex made all of their calculations seem reckless. The smoke rising from the complex seemed to condemn them for their decision.
They drove up to the closed gate of the complex. There were no signs of the Cylons. Anders refused to waste the time in opening the gate properly. The engine on the vehicle roared when his foot slammed on the accelerator. The vehicle picked up speed rapidly and slammed into the gate with enough force to tear it from its treads. After the impact Anders hit the brakes to let inertia carry the ruined remains of the gate off the front of the vehicle, jostling everyone in the car in the process.
The vehicles behind them drove on, going further into the complex. The various sounds of energy and ballistic weapons fire picked up. A check to the display screen beside Zack showed that Anders' people were tearing through part of the Cylon line approaching the mine entrance. The red markers representing Cylons began to disappear. It wasn't hard for Zack to imagine the various mounts on Anders' convoy opening up on Cylon centurions.
His imagination received confirmation when Anders caught up and stopped the car. The three jumped out of the car. The battle in front of them raged, with the mounted weapons tearing Cylon centurions to pieces. Screams and cries accompanied some of the Cylon return fire.
Zack pulled his pulse pistol from his hip holster and advanced with Anders and Thrace. The three took cover behind one of the makeshift armored trucks of the convoy for a minute before continuing on. A field of dead bodies and blasted Cylon pieces loomed ahead. Zack raised his pistol and fired off shots on a human-form Cylon, one of the ones that looked like Sharon Agathon. Because he was running and firing his aim was not accurate, and the distance meant that most of his shots went wide. The Sharon-Cylon turned toward him with a gun in her hand. She never got a chance to fire it, as one of his shots clipped her in the shoulder and kept her from firing. A follow up shot from another angle hit the Cylon in the collarbone and sent her down for the count.
"Anders, is that you?" Zarek asked over their comm system.
"I read you," Anders answered.
"Tigh is hurt and we've lost a lot of people. We're keeping them just outside of the mine entrance."
Even as those words were spoken, the rear vehicles of the convoy drove up. Anders waved them on and barked, "Secure the mine entrance!" At that command they drove on as instructed.
As soon as they had cover again, Zack opened his own comm line to Zarek and asked, "Where is Doc Cottle? Where is Clara?"
"Cottle is here, but Clara and Cally aren't." Those words made Zack's chest tighten in fear. "All I can tell you is that they got out of the ward before the Cylons overran it. That's all anyone's told me."
"Thank you," Zack managed, barely. He looked to Anders and Thrace.
They returned his look with understanding clear on their faces. "We'll get you to her, Zack," Thrace promised. "Don't worry about that. Just don't run ahead on us and get killed."
He nodded. He didn't want to obey that instruction, but experience overcame his impulse for the moment. When he left cover, it was with the two of them accompanying him.
When Sam and Jack entered the control center in the Presidential Mansion subbasement they were surprised to find that it was not manned in any way. Sam went for the controls. She was ready to find them destroyed or disabled, which is why she had a momentary flicker of surprise on her face when the hardlight keyboard blipped to life just under her fingertips.
"Well, that's convenient," Jack said. Behind him some of the others were entering. "It must be nice to not have keyboards taking up desk space," he said to Gina and Wilma. Neither gave him any reply.
"Okay, give me a moment." Samantha tapped at the keys. After a moment she swapped to the omnitool around her left forearm. "They've put a lockout on the system. I'm going to bypass it."
Buck and Teal'c looked out the door and quickly pulled their heads back. Weapons fire came through the open door. The bullets ripped chunks out of the wall opposite fo the door, raining debris over one of the work stations. The two kneeled back out and returned fire with their respective laser gun and blaster staff. "They're right behind us," Buck said.
"I'm having trouble with the bypass. The Cylons infected the computer with a control virus." Sam's fingers were more occupied on her omnitool than the main control. "This is going to take a while."
"Let me help." Gina walked up beside her. She reached into a pocket on her robe and pulled out a small knife. "I need a hard wire connection to the system."
Sam nodded and checked her omnitool. After a second she ducked in the chair and began pulling away a panel at the control station. As she did so, Gina took the knife and stuck the blade into the palm of her left hand.
"Woh, uh, what are you doing?" Daniel asked.
"I'm making an access port," Gina answered, all while working the knife toward her wrist. She stopped shy of it. The blood of her wound formed crimson lines on her hand. Upon reaching the edges of her palm the blood began to drip to the floor.
Sam sat up. She had a fiber-optic wire in hand, pulled from an access line in the console. Sam used her combat knife to cut the tip off, exposing the fiber-optic end completely. She handed this exposed end to Gina. With a wince Gina slid the wire into the open wound on her hand. Pain showed on her face while the wire crept up her arm. Her eyes fluttered and she went to a knee.
On both the screen and on Sam's omnitool, computer code began to flash rapidly.
"Are you going to be in any shape to help Lucero if she needs it?" Wilma asked.
"I must concentrate," Gina said. "Don't distract me, please."
"She's directly interfacing with the virus." Samantha turned her head and faced Wilma. "If we distract her, it could infect the computerized parts of her body. I don't think we should risk that."
Wilma nodded in acceptance.
"O'Neill, the enemy is preparing another attack," Teal'c said from his place at the door.
Jack motioned to Daniel. "Keep an eye on everything." He lifted his rifle and went to the door to squeeze off several shots.
"Hopefully we can buy the ladies enough time," Buck said to him while squeezing off a laser shot that sparked and scorched a Cylon centurion coming down the hall.
"Carter will get it done," Jack assured him. "Don't you worry about that. I just hope Lucero can beat her evil twin."
The foyer of the Presidential Mansion was no longer the pristine, abandoned locale it had been when Lucy and the others arrived. Now the walls were covered in black scorch marks. One of the chairs for visitors had been cleaved in half, plush and cloth and wood pieces now scattered around the room.
Another such chair met that fate at Lucy's lightsaber, cleaving the thrown object in two before it could hit her. Her Cylon counterpart, undaunted, pulled with her hand and sent a table at Lucy, causing the fliers and papers that had been set upon it flying. Lucy used her power to grab and throw it back. Her opponent's lightsaber sliced cleanly through the table. A spurt of will caused the two halves to fly to either side and miss her.
Lucy was following the table and went on the attack. Her opponent barely got her red lightsaber up to block Lucy's blue blade. Lucy drew back from the parry and went for a horizontal cut at the her doppelganger's shoulder that was evaded. She followed the cut through and twisted her whole body in place, bringing her lightsaber back to stop the counter-attack aimed at her side. She feinted toward the fake Lucy's belly and re-directed her blade toward her opponent's chin. Only a last minute twitch kept that blow from striking home with the sapphire light of Lucy's blade coming within half an inch of contact.
The Cylon-Lucy scowled at her. Lucy could sense her fury and frustration. Her copy was convinced she would win quickly. Lucy's failure to die as desired was infuriating the Cylon. Gold color formed in the Cylon's eyes.
That sent a chill up Lucy's spine, not just from the cold, dark energy the Cylon's life force was tapping, but the fact that those were her eyes turning gold. The sense of deja vu was visceral, bringing her back to the entrance to the Darglan database on 33LA where she had let her anger and fear rage out of control. For a moment what she was facing wasn't just a Cylon duplicate of herself but rather the thought of what she could become if she fell to her own darkness.
The Cylon-Lucy screamed in anger and lunged at Lucy. Again their lightsabers clashed, and the duel went on.
The security officers from the Aurora met no opposition in getting to the emitter. A pulse shot and a strong kick opened the door to the emitter's access room, where Reubens and Kripkt went to work. Lindstrom arranged the rest of the security detachment into a defensive position around the opening to the door.
He was barely done with that when Kripkt chirped, "Lieutenant, we have a problem."
Lindstrom re-entered the chamber. It was fairly well-lit thanks to LEDs. The tubing containing wiring and other connections criss-crossed the ceiling and the walls in some places. Reubens was in one access hatch, visible only from the hips down, while Kripkt worked a console. "What is it?" Lindstrom asked.
"The Cylons sabotaged the emitter," Kripkt said. "It is physically impossible for it to emit a field."
"You mean that even if Team A gets their side working, we'll have no shield?"
"Yes sir. And the emitter is useless for our purposes too. Not unless we fix it."
"Yes sir," said Reubens. Her voice faintly echoed from within the access hatch. "But we'll need time. More time than the cloaks will keep us hidden."
"Right." Lindstrom had been expecting Murphy to screw with them in one way or another. He wasn't surprised at this. "We'll give you all the time we can."
It was almost time for Adama's shuttle to arrive. Julia and Meridina walked down the corridor of the Aurora toward the shuttle bay. Meridina could sense Julia's unease. The casual confidence that Julia often showed to others was completely gone at the moment, replaced by a carefully-obscured worry. "You have done all you can," Meridina assured her.
"My head tells me that." Julia shook her head. "My heart doesn't care. And I can't help but wonder if I made a mistake along the way."
"You regret sending the team to New Caprica?"
"I'm wondering if it was the right choice. Without Adama's arrival, the colony would already be gone."
"True." Meridina gave a single nod of her head. "I suppose I can understand. But if I may give you some advice, Captain?"
"Feel free, Commander. It's in the job description, after all."
"I would have made the same decision," Meridina said to her. "And while I understand doubt, at this time I do not think it is constructive. Indeed, much as it can undermine the power of a swevyra'se, it can also undermine the power of a commander."
Julia smiled thinly at that. "Well-spoken, Meridina, very well-spoken." She drew in a breath as they approached the door to the shuttle bay. It swished open to show Ledosh waiting to one side while, down by their shuttle, the four Cylons were gathered. "I just hope Zack's okay."
The Cylon attack on the mine started collapsing the moment Anders' convoy got to the entrance. With their heavy weapons they mowed down the Cylon centurions and humaniforms that had been on the cusp of overrunning Zarek and his last group of defenders.
Zack didn't bother going to the entrance himself. As soon as the shooting seemed to have stopped he started running toward the medical ward. He saw the ruined remains of a stretcher and a trail of blood drops. Worry gripped him that Clara was wounded. That even now she was bleeding out. He followed the blood drops, avoiding the smoking remains of Cylon centurions and the dead humaniforms and Colonials. The sickening smell of human waste hit his nostrils. It had been a long time since he had endured that stink and he gagged at it. But he pushed away any further reaction; he needed to find Clara. He needed to make sure she was alright.
So he searched. Through the twisted broken remains of machines, the blackened ruins of vehicles and mining equipment. He scrambled over a dead male Cylon - which type it was he couldn't say - and found he was approaching the rocky side of the mountain foothills with a large ore truck to his right. He was just a couple hundred meters from the mine entrance where everyone was still gathered for the moment. He could see them as distant figures. The warmth of hope came to him. Clara making it seemed all the more likely now.
He was so focused on the mining entrance far ahead that he almost missed the movement to his right. It came from a small pile several meters from the front of the ore truck; another Cylon humaniform, this one the bald dark-skinned model with the back of his head missing, was sprawled over two other bodies. An arm near the bottom of the pile twitched slightly. Zack ran up to it to investigate. He grabbed the dead Cylon and pulled him away.
The blood drew his eyes first. A coated woman with the coat and her trousers coated in dried and not-so-dry blood. Her hand was barely holding a sidearm, a mass effect Carnifex pistol. Training took over. His finger went to his omnitool. "I need help by the big ore truck, I've got a woman with a belly shot here."
"We're on our way," Thrace replied.
As soon as he said that Zack's eyes noticed the figure partly buried under the gutshot woman. His heart skipped a beat at recognizing the blue garment clad over the figure's legs. The blue of medical scrubs. He gently pulled back the woman on top, trying not to disturb and worsen her wound, in order to get at the figure below. As the wounded woman was moved, the sight of bloody scrubs drew Zack's eye. At first he thought the blood had come from the militia woman he'd just moved. It was only as his eyes actually moved over the figure did he see the multiple holes in the back of the scrubs around which the blood was particularly pooled. Without further thought Zack grabbed the scrubs-clad figure and flipped her. His eyes lifted toward the head as the body flopped onto its back.
Clara's blue eyes stared back into his.
And there was not a glimmer of life in them.
That terrible moment lingered as the details fought their way into Zack's mind. The cold blue of Clara's lips. The pale, grayish cast of the skin on her face. The vacant stare in her eyes. The blood on her mutilated torso and shoulders, where the high-powered automatic weapon of a Cylon centurion model had done its terrible work on her.
Zack stopped breathing. He felt like his heart simply stopped, as if he might simply fall over dead as well. Finally his body forced a breath into his lungs.
Every fiber of his body wanted to deny what his senses were telling him. It denied that Clara could be dead. That he had lost her. That she was gone. He took her hand with his right hand while the back of his left hand moved over the side of her cheek. There was still some warmth there. Not much. Certainly not the warmth of a living being. Enough to let the denial last for another crucial moment, the moment of cruel hope that his senses were deceiving him.
And then that moment ended. Zack took Clara into his arms and held her up in an embrace. A loud wail erupted from his throat. With denial gone, nothing could back the tears that formed in his eyes. The pain in his chest felt like it might just cause his heart to stop. All of those thoughts he'd had, all of those dreams of a life after the war, that image of a happy family home and picnics and baseball games and everything… they turned on him with a terrible vengeance. No longer the promises of what would be, they were the taunting remnant of what could never be.
Zack had cried over his mother. He had cried over his father. He cried again here, and not the kind of crying people usually expected. No, not the simple manly tears of grief. The wail in his throat repeated once more, and by the next one it had become a blubbering sob. His grip on Clara's body tightened with such a ferocity one might think he could restore life to her with that grip. The grief, the terrible painful grief, became a black hole in his soul, sucking in everything else until there was nothing else remaining.
The question posed by Allen Dale's likeness was still unanswered. Robert continued to look at the being emulating his grandfather while letting his question echo in Robert's mind. Did he have a reason to go out there? To leave behind a family he loved, intact and alive, for all of the terrible things that were still to come, represented by the howling wind and rain and hail of the storm outside.
He could wish it away. He'd done it before. He had firmly decided not to go out, not to abandon Little Robby or the family that was still alive here, and the storm had gone away. That it was coming back was his fault. It was from a part of him that had accepted this place was not real.
There was no keeping the conflict off Robert's face. He thought of the reasons he had to go back. The war with the Nazi Reich. Duties to the Alliance. The possibility that the Prophecy of the Dawn was going to come true and a terrible threat would descend upon the Multiverse. They were duties that called to him.
"It's not a hard question, Rob," Allen said. "The hard part is coming to terms with the answer."
Before he could continue, a sudden sensation of pain washed over Robert. He felt a sense of crushing anguish with immense loss. He was familiar with loss and there was a moment he thought it might be his.
But it was only a moment. The loud wail from outside was barely Human. It pushed through the walls of the house with a power that defied reason and struck at Robert again. As the wail became sobs he thought he heard something familiar in them. Something familiar about the sensation. He turned away from Allen and went to the door. The cold, rainy wind bit into him when he pulled the door open and looked out into the storm-tossed farm.
Except the storm-tossed farm seemed blurry now. As if something else was imposing itself over the farm scene. Robert could make out dirt and grass that didn't fit Kansas, the hints of a distant mountain base, the shape of a vehicle of some sort, and near it two human figures, one on its knees holding the other. The second figure was limp in the kneeling one's arms.
Not just limp. Lifeless. Dead.
Robert focused on the sight and felt his gut twist painfully when the two figures became clear to him. "Zack," he whispered to himself in horrible realization at the sight before him. The sight of Zack holding Clara's dead body. He could see the bloody wounds from the gunshots that had mutilated Clara's torso, destroying internal organs and ensuring her swift death.
And he could feel the grief and pain coming from his old friend. A loss deep and immediate, not simply the loss of a loved one but the loss of a future, the loss of dreams, of everything that could have been.
Robert's mouth went dry at the sight. His friend was suffering. Heartbroken. He had to do something about it. He owed Zack that much.
Further images came to him. He saw Lucy fighting for her life against a jacketed figure with her own lightsaber blade. Jarod and Barnes working on something in the ship science lab. Angel and Cat and Nick on the bridge, Nick in the central chair looking at the main screen with concern. Julia and Meridina were with Ledosh, waiting with four figures...
Something was going on. Something terrible, something dangerous. And Clara was dead. Clara Davis, one of the sweetest, kindest people Robert had ever known.
Was this in the future? Was it in the past? Robert wasn't sure. He only knew what he felt. His friends were in danger. His friend Zack was heartbroken.
They needed help. They needed him.
The images faded just a little. Enough for the violence of the storm to return. Enough for more images to rush through Robert's mind. He couldn't get a firm grip on them. Some he remembered, like the cybernetic Turian, or the golden-eyed man in white armor upon a metal throne. The others were flashes. Spaceships burning, armies clashing, a city-planet under attack from orbit. He could hear his own voice screaming in pain.
And then the stars going out, in a spreading wave, galaxy by galaxy until nothing was left.
This is what awaited him if he went out into the storm. He would suffer. He would know pain. He would have to fight. And he would never again know the comforts he had loved in this place.
"You know what you have to do, Rob," Allen said. His voice prompted Robert to turn. His family was lined up behind him. He could feel the love and affection from them. "And you have your reason."
Robert nodded slowly. "You didn't say that the last time. When the Doctor tried to get me to leave, you asked me to stay."
"Because it's not just about leaving," Allen answered.
Robert nodded in understanding. "It's why." As he said those words he knew his choice was made. Looking at his family made it hard. They'd been taken from him before. To regain them had been a miracle; losing them again, willingly this time, made his heart feel like it was being ripped to pieces. "I don't want to leave you."
"We know, son," Michael Dale said.
"But its what you have to do," Leigh added.
"You have to do the right thing, meine kleiner." Anna nodded. "Just as we raised you to do."
"I'll miss you, Rob." Susannah waved. "And will you let Cat know I miss her too?"
"And Beth," Michael said. "Let her know we all love her and miss her."
Robert nodded quietly at them. Tears were filling his eyes as the weight of what he was going to do pressed upon him. A small part of him quailed at it. It didn't want him to leave them behind.
And it wasn't alone. Little Robby dashed ahead and grabbed Robert by the leg and waist. "No!!!" he shrieked. "Daddy, don't leave me!"
Robert lowered himself to one knee to look into his son's green eyes. They were welling with tears just as his eyes were. He put his arms around the little boy and held him close. His hand reached up to take his head, resting in his son's blond hair. "I love you," he said. "And I always will."
"Daddy, I'm scared," the child wailed.
"Don't be. It'll all be okay." He said those words knowing what would happen. That Little Robby would cease to exist along with the others. The pain inside of him increased until it felt like his entire chest would explode from it. Again their tear-filled eyes met. Robert swallowed and said, "I never realized how much I wanted to have a child until I laid eyes on you, son. I love you. And I'll always remember you."
"Daddy…" The little boy's protest broke up into sobs.
"I swear it," Robert promised. "I'll always remember you." He stood up and gently set his son down. Behind him the wind and rain was picking up again.
Little Robby looked ready to grab him again. But Julia stepped up before he could and lifted him into her arms. He turned his head and started to cry into her shoulder. She looked at Robert with all of the love and respect that Robert knew the real Julia had for him as well. "I'll be waiting for you out there," she said.
"We're not married there," he told her. "I'm not sure we'll ever be."
"Whether we're married or not, or whether we'll ever be, it doesn't change the fact I'm still waiting for you," she answered. With nothing else to say, she took the last step to him and kissed Robert on the lips. He accepted the kiss, enjoying how sweet it felt as long as it lasted.
It ended and Julia walked back to join the others. "Good luck, Rob," Allen Dale said. "We'll be rootin' for you."
Despite the pain he felt, Robert smiled at that and nodded. "And I'll always have you with me. All of you." He drew in a breath and said the painful word he'd been trying to avoid. "Goodbye."
And he prompted turned and ran out into the storm, defying the biting wind and sharp rain and bruising hail while his legs continued to move, pushing him further and further into the storm. He glanced back just once, enough to see his family waving goodbye.
The storm closed around him. The nice, big house on the mound was gone. The barn was gone. There was no sign he was even on the farm anymore. There was nothing but the storm. He continued to run to the center of it. It seemed like the storm would never end.
Until it did, in a burst of light that overwhelmed Robert's senses, forcing his eyes closed. The rain and wind and hail went away until he felt nothing of them on his skin, not even the wet rain.
He opened his eyes again and immediately felt the need to squint at the bright light above, as if he had been sleeping for a very long time. He opened and closed his eyes a few time until they adjusted to the light. He forced his body to sit up, his muscles stiff and protesting, and he looked around at the site around him: the Aurora medbay ward.
"What…?" he managed to croak out through a throat that felt as dry as a desert.
With no fighting going on, Leo's place in the crisis was to wait until someone called. He was thus seated at his office desk checking medical files on the new crew when Nasri came to his door. The look of surprise on the Darfuri nurse's face was complete. "Doctor, come quickly! He's awake!"
For a split second Leo almost asked who. But there was no need to. There was only one person Nasri could be referring to. Leo jumped from his chair and ran out of his office. Nasri followed him in his dash to the non-critical ward.
They found Robert already clambering off the bed. Or attempting to at any rate. His muscles, dormant for months, were so unresponsive that he toppled over. "Rob, stay still!" Leo shouted.
"I'm.. I'm okay," he managed. He raised a hand toward them, signalling them to stop, wishing them to.
The power within him surged unexpectedly. An invisible wave of force erupted from Robert in the direction of his hand. It slammed into Leo and Nasri with enough power to send them flying into the wall around the entrance to the ward. As they recovered Robert stared at them and then at his hand, shock plain on his face. "What… what's happening? I couldn't control it…" With his limbs and joints stiff getting to his feet was a surprising challenge, but he managed it after several seconds. "Are you okay?"
"What was that?" Leo asked. His voice made it clear how stunned he was at the sudden violent burst of energy.
"I don't know. My power just flared up. I…" Robert stepped once, bracing himself by holding the bed he had just vacated. He tentatively reached for the power within him in the hope of finding out what was going on with that warm glow he had come to know as swevyra.
But the warm glow wasn't a glow. It was a light. Strong, stronger than he'd ever felt it. Instinctively he reached through it toward the others, hoping to sense Meridina and Lucy.
What he got wasn't just them. He could sense many more beings. Even those who didn't have the active energy he knew seemed to light up for his senses. The Flow of Life resonated around him in a way that actually frightened him. The power he felt in his connection to the Flow of Life was greater than ever before. He struggled to withdraw his reach. There was no way he could sense them like this.
An image suddenly flashed in his head. Julia, Meridina, and Ledosh with four figures. Robert recognized three of them. Cylon models. They were dealing with the Cylons. To his horror, however, he watched as the Cylons did something he couldn't make out, and with a flash of light everyone was gone and the shuttle bay severely damaged.
"They're in danger," Robert rasped.
Leo was activating medical scanners on his omnitool as he approached Robert. "What?" he asked. "What are… wait!"
It was too late. Robert was running through the door.
The Alliance Mark III shuttle from Pegasus slipped through the atmospheric containment field of the Aurora main shuttle bay. It came to a precision landing beside the waiting Cylon craft. Julia was watching it so intently that she almost missed Meridina's sudden look of shock. "What's wrong?" she murmured.
"I just felt something. A ripple in my swevyra. I…" The confusion was joined by a look of uncertain joy. "Could he be…?"
Both had to direct their attention to the opening of the Pegasus shuttle's rear ramp. Adama stepped down first, followed by the Agathons. Sharon had her baby daughter clasped tightly in her arms.
The look on Cavil's face was surprising. He seemed pleased, even anxious. The others were clearly intent on the child as well.
"You will hold up our bargain?" Sharon asked.
"Yes. We will leave the people of the Colonies alone," Cavil said. "Now…"
"Wait." The Gina model's brow furrowed. "Something isn't right." The others turned toward her while she pulled out a scanner. Julia looked to Meridina to see if she had any insight. The uncertain, worried look on her face was not comforting. A glance toward Adama showed he wasn't reacting at all. As if the situation had nothing to do with him.
After several moments of looking at the scanner, the Gina model's face twisted into an angry scowl. "They're fake!" she declared. Her finger stabbed a key on the scanner.
Energy rippled through the air in front of it, barely visible save for the slight distortion of the air around it. When it reached the Agathons they flickered slightly, like a television screen getting snow from turbulence.
"Holograms," Cavil noted. His expression betrayed his anger. "They're holograms!"
Please be ready, Jarod, Julia pleaded in her mind. Please.
In the Presidential Mansion subbasement, Jack and Buck fired another barrage at the Cylon Centurions gathering in the hall outside. As they pulled back into cover Wilma and Teal'c fired their weapons into the hall. They didn't hit anything, but the Cylons were forced to take cover. "Major Carter, status update," Wilma said.
Sam looked up from her omnitool screen. "We're almost in." She glanced in the direction of Gina. She was still holding the wire in place. Blood covered her palm and was now pouring onto the floor. "You're bleeding too much."
"I'll be okay," Gina insisted. "Let me concentrate." Her eyes remained fixed to a screen. Sam got the feeling she really wasn't looking at the screen itself but doing everything in her head.
There was more gunfire from outside. "We're not going to be able to get out of here without help," Jack noted.
"Well, like you said." Buck leaned around the door and squeezed off another shot. "We have to hope Lucy finishes off her evil twin."
The screen on the main computer shifted to show a command interface. "We're in!" Sam declared. "I'm going to try and activate the colony's defensive shield."
"I've purged the virus from the mainframe and given you complete command access." Gina's fingers wrapped around the wire and began a gentle, slow pull of it from the open wound in her hand. "You shouldn't have any problems."
"I'm activating planetary defense now… oh no."
"What do you mean, 'oh no'? Sam?"
In response to Jack's question Sam began tapping keys. She shook her head. "I'm in the system but it's not responding. It looks like the emitter was sabotaged."
"Let's hope Lieutenant Lindstrom is handling that," Wilma said. "For now, we have to hold this room."
Gina finished removing the wire she had used. Daniel was on hand to apply a bandage to the deep wound. Before he was done Gina's head snapped to the wall on their left. "Get ready," she said.
"For what?" Daniel asked.
"The Cylons are going to come through the wall. Any moment now," she said. Gina reached for her belt and pulled her weapon. "Be ready."
"Carter to Lindstrom." Sam held her omnitool close to her lips. "Lieutenant, this is Major Carter. I need that emitter fixed, and I need it now."
When she finished speaking the wall exploded in a cloud of masonry particles. The figures of Cylon combat machines appeared as outlines in the cloud.
Sam lifted her rifle and fired in tandem with Daniel. One of the drones fell in the second before their return fire sent everyone for cover.
Lindstrom heard Carter's call just before he opened fire with his weapon. His shots blasted the leg off of one of the approaching Cylon Centurions. "Kripkt, Reubens, status?!"
"The Cylons made a mess of things," Reubens said. "Full restoration is going to take hours."
"We don't have hours!"
It was Kripkt who answered, "I believe I have a solution. If we tie the portable deflector shield generator into the emitter's projection chamber, we might be able to restore deflector capability without requiring the extensive repair."
"Get to it then!" Lindstrom swept the pulse rifle to the right and hit another Cylon Centurion as it fired. The cry of pain from the same direction told him one of his people had been hit. He went over to the fallen Human male and grabbed his uninjured shoulder to pull him into the safety of the emitter assembly. "We're running out of time here."
I'm running out of time was the thought that went through Robert's head as he dashed up the access stairwell. He sensed the moment of danger approaching and worried that his body, as unused as it was, wouldn't get him there in time. His muscles screamed in pain at the sudden effort they had been subjected to after months of immobility. Robert knew that if he stopped moving, he might not be able to keep going.
This meant that the closed door that he met was going to be a challenge. If it didn't open fast enough he'd run into it. He felt no choice but to use his power to force it to open more quickly than it normally would. He reached out and felt the warm energy leap from his hands. Immediately he tried to stop it. It was too much.
It was also too late. Instead of simply sliding the door open more quickly, it bent both sides of the sliding door open. The tracks that kept the door in place began squealing in protest as the warped structure of the door no longer allowed it to function. Robert slipped through the resulting hole and kept running.
What was happening to him? He'd never managed something like that before. With a brief shake of his head Robert compelled the thought to the back of his mind. He had other things to worry about right now, like keeping his aching body moving to get to the shuttle bay before it was too late.
The Aurora shuttle bay echoed with the angry declaration of the Cylon Cavil. "This is what we get for trying to deal fairly with Humans!" he spat. "Treachery and deceit!"
Julia thought of a counter to that, but it was Meridina who spoke openly. "You do not deal fairly at all. You use murder and violence to compel others to obey you and show no regard for life. You have become an abomination."
"Do you truly believe you can prevail in a conflict?" Ledosh asked the question and continued with his observation. "You have made some advanced in technology, yes, but you cannot fight the entire Multiverse alone."
"God will bring us triumph." The D'anna model had a triumphant sneer on her face. "You cannot resist Him." She reached her hand toward her belt.
Behind them the shuttle door swished open. Julia looked to it out of habit. She stared in wonder at the arrival of Robert, still clad in a medbay gown. "Rob?!" she managed.
"It's a trap!" he shouted, his arm in motion toward the assembled Cylons. "Get down!"
Julia and Meridina were the quickest to obey the instruction. Ledosh, sensing the gathering power and what was to come, grabbed Adama and pulled him to the ground. The four Cylons all began reaching for something on their belts.
Robert summoned up his power again. There was no time to try and regulate it, or control it; the Cylons were seconds away from success. He let it loose in one large surge. The others could feel the power push against them even though they were prone. The surge caught the Cylons and sent them flying backward, as if struck by a speeding train. Their cries of surprise ended abruptly when they went flying through the atmospheric containment field.
At first they simply seemed to spin on in the vacuum. But each disappeared in a flash of blinding light. The forcefield crackled violently for a few seconds before stabilizing.
Locarno's voice sounded from Julia's omnitool. "Bridge to Andreys. Captain, we just recorded four thermal releases aft of the shuttle bay. What's going on?"
Julia was on her knees by this point, in the middle of getting back to her feet. "The Cylons had suicide charges. But we're okay. Resume Code Red immediately, I'm on my way back to the bridge."
"Aye, sir," Locarno answered. "The Cylons are taking up combat formation now. They're launching fighters."
"Launch ours and prepare for evasive maneuvers. Andreys out." Now standing again, Julia looked to the others to make sure they were okay. Of the five, only Robert wasn't back to his feet. He was laid out on the shuttle bay floor. Her heart skipped a beat to see he wasn't moving.
Meridina went to his side as a soft groan showed he was not completely unconscious. Julia could see Meridina's surprise was as great as her own. "Robert?" she asked gently.
"I can't move," he answered.
"I shall arrange for his return to your medbay," Ledosh promised. "You must go back to your duties, now."
The urge Julia had to talk to Robert, to see how he was feeling, gave way to her duty. She was needed on the bridge. So was Meridina. "Let's go," she said to the other woman. She looked to Adama next. "Are you joining us, Admiral?"
He nodded in response.
Julia tapped her omnitool. "Andreys to Transporter Station 1. Three for emergency intraship transport to the Bridge. Beam myself, Commander Meridina, and Admiral Adama."
"Standby, Captain… energizing."
The shuttlebay disappeared from Julia's view in a burst of white light. When the light receded she was on the bridge. Angel and Cat were in place, but Neyzi was still at Ops. As soon as she returned to her chair, with Locarno resuming the helm, Julia tapped the key on the right arm of the chair to activate the ship's internal communications system. "Bridge to Science Lab 1. Is it ready?"
"Almost," Jarod answered. "We're compiling the code now. Give me five minutes."
"The Cylon fighters are coming together for an attack run," Cat said. "Ten Cylon ships are moving into weapons range. They're targeting us."
"Status of our side?"
"Fighters are launching now," Meridina confirmed. Julia could imagine the Mongoose fighters streaming from their launch tubes along the upper deck of the drive hull. "The Pegasus has also launched its full complement of combat craft."
"Too bad they're still outnumbered, just as we are," Julia murmured. By the numbers there was no way they could win this. "Any sign of the shield over the Colony going up?"
"None yet." Caterina audibly gulped. "And they'd better hurry."
"The Cylons just fired missiles at the colony," she replied. "Impact in one minute."
Gunfire echoed in the control room. The Cylons pressed at the main door and through the breach they'd made in the wall. Everyone was behind cover in one of the stations except Gina, Teal'c, and Buck; the former was using her powers to protect the other two from the Cylons coming through the breach, allowing them to continue firing on the Cylons coming down the main hall.
The warning tones and red light immediately informed Samantha Carter of their plight. She finished firing a burst into the torso of one of the Cylon attackers and turned her head to the main display. Her eyes made a quick examination of the data before her finger pressed the send key for her channel to Lindstrom. "We need that emitter now! Missile inbound!"
Lindstrom's shout forced Reubens to look up from his handiwork of connected wiring. "We still need five minutes!"
"You don't have five minutes!" came the frantic reply.
To give herself more room for maneuver Lucy had brought her opponent outdoors. Her doppelganger's frustration had become fierce rage and made it easy to pull her along. It also made deflecting her fierce blows more of a chore. With her rage fueling her, the Cylon-Lucy was calling upon her life force energy more and more. Lucy had to exert herself to deflect the faster strikes from hitting her.
One such strike went toward her shoulder. Lucy's blade intercepted it. Instead of pulling back from the failed attack her doppelganger pushed into it. Lucy set her feet and met the push with a defensive stance. She looked into the angry, hate-filled face of her foe and felt a visceral disgust at what the Cylons had done with her blood. Now this thing, this creature of darkness, went around doing who-knew-what with Lucy's face.
A sense of danger filled Lucy's senses. Her counterpart glanced toward the sky and let out a laugh. Lucy couldn't help but look up to see what was going on.
It was when she spotted the missile contrail in the sky.
And she knew there was nothing to do at that point but pray.
In the control center for the Colony's defenses, Sam Carter could do nothing but watch the icon of the missile coming in. The sensors she had access to confirmed the warhead on the weapon as nuclear, big enough to wipe the Colony settlement off the face of the planet. The subbasement they were in provided no defense to a weapon of this size.
The only thing she could do was give the warning, "Impact in forty seconds."
"We can't get the shield up in time," Lindstrom warned.
"Then it would appear we are about to die," Teal'c remarked stoically.
Buck looked at the towering Jaffa. "Well, aren't you the optimistic type?"
"It's his way," said Jack.
"Impact in thirty… wait!" Sam blinked once at the screen. "The missile's gone. It's been destroyed!" A new contact was showing on the screen. "It was the Gonzalez."
"This is Technical Officer Getamanan. We have eliminated the missile. But I am showing enemy craft moving to intercept me. I will attempt to cloak and fool their scanners."
"Do what you can to evade," Wilma ordered. "Lindstrom, they've bought you more time."
"Not much," Sam warned. "More missiles inbound."
The Cylon ship remaining in orbit fired another barrage of missiles to destroy the Colony. Cylon raiders from the ship banked off of defensive formations to follow the missiles in and deal with the runabout. Their numbers, and the number of missiles, was enough that the lone runabout was about to be completely overwhelmed.
The Starship Koenig opened fire as soon as her form ceased to ripple from the cloaking effect. Amber bursts of energy blew apart one missile and then another. Phaser blasts from her arrays sliced through the Cylon raiders escorting the missiles in.
"Enemy Basestar is targeting us," Magda warned Apley.
"Evasive Pattern Bravo, Hajar," Apley said in response. "Do what you can to keep our weapons on target."
"Aye sir," said Hajar.
The attack ship twisted in space as missiles from the Cylon warship began to track it. The other missiles being rained upon the planet remained their primary focus, buying crucial time for the defenders below.
"It looks like a second Basestar is turning back from the others." Magda double-checked her screens. "Yes, that's what they're doing. They're targeting us instead."
"Well, we go their attention," Apley said. "Let's hope someone can take advantage of it."
A team came for the wounded militia woman Zack had found. He paid them no heed in his grief. He kept his grip on Clara. "I'm sorry," he sobbed. "Oh God, I'm sorry." In his heart all he could feel was guilt. Guilt that he had been the reason Clara had come out here in the first place. Guilt that she had died because he wasn't here to help her. He had put the "mission" first. And because of that, Clara was dead.
"Hey, Zack." Thrace's voice sounded behind him. Zack recognized it but gave no further reaction. "I'm sorry," she said.
"It should be me." Zack's voice crackled with pain. "She deserved better. Better than this. Better than me."
"Hey." Thrace knelt down next to them. "I need your help. We're picking up local radio activity. It sounds like the Alliance came through after all. They're trying to keep the Cylons from nuking us. But it looks like they need help. Tigh's hurt and the other pilot is dead. We're it."
Zack said nothing to that. A deep weariness in his being, his spirit, had settled in.
"Hey!" A hand smacked him in the cheek. He looked at Thrace's grim expression with surprise. The imprint of her hand was now showing red on the paled skin of his left cheek. "Get a fraking grip, Zack! The Cylons are trying to kill everyone! I need your help to stop them and Godsdammit I expect you to try! Get on your fraking feet and help me!"
The slap alone couldn't be enough. Even the shouting couldn't. Zack looked back to Clara's lifeless face without any intention of reacting. He heard a huff of disgust from Thrace. She stood up, clearly giving up on him.
None of this is what finally broke through that abyss inside. It was the thought of the Cylons. The damned Cylons, who had killed Clara when all she was doing was helping the wounded. Who would kill every man, woman, and child on this world. Everyone here that Zack and Clara had befriended, cared for… all of those wonderful kids that he had taught baseball to, that she had tended to… all dead.
The emptiness growing inside of him filled with something new. Anger. Determination. He had lost Clara to the Cylons. By God he wasn't losing anyone else.
The tears were still flowing down his cheeks when he pressed his lips to Clara's forehead. "You deserved better," he said. "I wasn't good enough for you." With care he set Clara down. He pulled off the jacket he had put on that morning and settled it over her body. When he stood up his legs wobbled. He turned to where Thrace was heading toward one of the side shafts, where the two Vipers Tigh had brought with him were kept. "Starbuck!" he called out.
She turned back toward him to see him run up. His arrival was greeted with a nod. "They should have the fighters ready," she said.
"Good." Zack's voice was cold. "Let's go kill some fraking Cylons."
The bulk of the Cylon ships bore down on the Aurora and Pegasus. The raiders that flew ahead of them dwarfed the flight groups of the two ships with more than enough numbers to outright ignore them.
The particle interceptor batteries on the two ships opened up as the enemy fighters entered range. They launched missiles that could also, in turn, be shot down. And some were. But it was clear to Julia that they couldn't shoot down nearly enough to avoid taking hits. The first missiles impacted as the Aurora maneuvered, sending a shudder through the ship. "Shields holding at ninety-five percent," Lieutenant Neyzi said from Ops.
"Enemy ships are also launching missiles."
"Tactical, focus fire with the Pegasus," Adama ordered from his seat beside Julia. He glanced toward her to see if she had any objection to the order. She clearly didn't.
"Yes Admiral. I'm getting a target lock now."
At the press of a key, Angel opened up with the Aurora's bow weapons. The ship's expanded complement of pulse plasma cannons - ten now mounted in the bow - opened up. The sapphire bursts raced through space and struck the shields of one of the lead Cylon ships. Thick lances of phaser energy joined her shots from the weapons on the Pegasus. At another press of a key solar torpedoes erupted from the two bow launchers, full spreads of eight each. The torpedoes' drive fields flickered blue-white in space. Two were intercepted and destroyed by suicidal Cylon raiders. The remaining torpedoes hit home. The Cylon ship's shields held, but not by much. Not enough to prevent the next barrage from the Aurora's cannons from knocking the shields out entirely. Flame and debris spewed from the twisted frame of the Cylon vessel at the weapon impacts on its dark hull. The Pegasus' beams nearly sliced off one of the upper arms.
The Cylon ship retorted with another barrage of missiles. Already more from the raiders were hitting the Aurora. "Shields down to eighty percent," Neyzi warned.
"Implementing evasive maneuvers." Locarno's hands moved from control to control, shifting the Aurora's bearing and attitude compared to her adversaries to throw off as many shots as he could.
"I take it you have a plan?" Adama asked Julia.
"We do," she replied. "We just need to buy Jarod time to finish his work."
"Then I'll get you that time."
"You're the Admiral here, sir, and you've fought the Cylons more than we have. We're at your disposal," Julia said.
Adama nodded and went to work. "Commander Locarno, bring us into formation with the Pegasus."
"Aye sir," Locarno replied.
"Neyzi, sir," the Human woman said, her accent faintly Turkish in tone.
"I need a tactical commlink with the Pegasus CIC."
"Working now, sir… I am establishing the link through the First Officer's controls."
"Confirmed." Meridina nodded to Adama. "We have a connection."
"Relay firing data into the link. I want all fire concentrated on specific targets. Order all fighter squadrons to remain within our defensive fire perimeter. They're going to pick up whatever's left."
"Sending orders now."
The Aurora flew into formation with the Pegasus and came about, aligning their bow weapons together. Their fighter groups flew into close formation around the two ships. The void of space was soon filled with the fire from their interceptor emplacements. Bursts of light and metal shredded and destroyed the incoming Cylon fighters and missiles. Some got through just to be set upon by the fighters.
Unfortunately, given the numbers, these efforts couldn't be entirely effective. There were just too many missiles, too many Cylon fighters. The Aurora shook again and Neyzi dutifully informed them that shields were at seventy percent. Julia breathed a silent prayer that Jarod and Barnes would get their project done, and done soon.
For his part, Jarod was well aware that everything relied upon him. It didn't make his job easier. He watched the compiling continue with immense impatience.
"Can't this fraking thing go any faster?" Barnes protested from beside him. "Are you sure you set the compiling parameters right?"
"I did," Jarod insisted. "But this program is extremely complicated. And if we don't get it right on the first try the Cylons will adapt to it."
The ship shook under their feet again. "Well, I hope the ship survives long enough for you to send the message."
"I do too," Jarod replied.
The fact that she wasn't dead from a nuclear blast gave Lucy a morale boost in the duel. This went with her growing confidence against her doppelganger. Whatever the Cylon had learned, Lucy was beginning to think she had little practical experience with it. With dueling another of their type specifically.
Whether it was true or not, Lucy wanted to go back on the offensive. She waited patiently, deflecting attack after attack. A swipe toward her head, a cut going for her arm, a lunge at her belly. Her Clone counterpart tried a number of attack avenues and none of them worked.
And all she needed was an opening, just the slightest opening…
The fighting around the emitter was picking up. It seemed like every Cylon in the colony was bearing down on Lindstrom and his people. A couple of wounded meant that only a dozen of them were actively holding the line against the Cylon centurion-models. The ground before them was covered in destroyed and damaged models. The latter still moved sometimes, crawling forward with the help of their long, wickedly-sharp fingers until someone took the moment to blast them. Lindstrom caught one just before it could try to dig its clawed fingers into the leg of one of his security officers.
"Are you two done yet?!" he shouted into his short-range commline.
"Almost, sir," Kripkt replied. "Our estimates are slightly off. We have to attach higher capacity wiring or the entire thing will melt down."
Lindstrom peered skyward again. Another explosion appeared in the atmosphere. "I shouldn't have to tell you two to hurry it up, if you don't want to get nuked."
"It is unnecessary, sir. We are well aware."
If only I'd been able to bring one of the senior engineers with us, Lindstrom thought. This would be done by now. It was an unfair thought, but one he couldn't suppress in time.
Getamanan had not signed up for this kind of thing. He had, indeed, known he would never work as a combat pilot. He didn't have the nerve.
He was therefore a bit surprised that he was still alive, weaving through the atmosphere to blast the missiles that got past the Koenig before they could get to detonation altitude.
The Gonzalez wasn't a normal combat runabout, but it did have a fair degree of maneuverability due to its role as a stealth insertion craft. This let him dodge some of the fire converging around him. The Cylon raider fighters and their weaponry was superior to what had been previously known. Hits against his shields were slowly degrading them, and Getamanan had no illusions what would happen when those guns started hitting bare hull.
Beside him Technical Officer Rachel Wang was directing their fire. As she wasn't a dedicated tactical officer her shooting was not the best and Getamanan found himself ceasing some of his maneuvering to ensure she had a stable shot at a missile. The missiles' lack of evading made her job significantly easier.
Unfortunately their success looked to be at an end. "More raiders above and below," she warned. Getamanan did what he could to evade while the runabout started to shake from the hits it was taking. "Our shields are down to fifty percent effectiveness."
"I am doing my best to evade," he said.
Meanwhile she was shooting at the next missile. But with all of the foes after them Getamanan had to keep maneuvering. Her shots kept failing. "I can't hit it," she protested. "I need a better angle of attack."
"I cannot give it," he responded. "Too many foes are around us." His point was punctuated by another hit.
"Shields down to forty percent. If we don't get that missile, then…" Something drew Wang's attention. "Wait, I've got something…"
Debris flew from the missile for several seconds until explosions flowered up around its exhaust end and toward the warhead. The entire missile exploded a second later.
"Two contacts," Wang continued. "Colonial Vipers."
On the Koenig Apley overheard that. "Vipers?" His expression betrayed his surprise. "From the Pegasus? How did they get here through the battle?"
"I don't think they came from the Pegasus," Magda said. "Their drive trails indicate they launched from the planet. I'm tying them into our commlinks."
A moment later a voice they were all familiar with came through. "This is Starbuck to Koenig. We're providing cover here, you focus on what you can do up there."
"I read you, Starbuck," Apley said. "We'll whittle them down for you."
"That's good to know," the other pilot said. Shock showed on the faces of the bridge crew at their recognition of Zack's voice.
"Commander?" Apley asked.
"I'm here. Busy. I'll see you when we're done," was Zack's reply. The way he spoke made Apley and Magda exchange uncertain looks. Something sounded off to them.
But there was no time to consider that, as more Cylon missiles came after them or after the colony below.
Working to keep his pilot status had been a hobby for Zack that some found silly, given his primary posting. That he enjoyed flying seemed insufficient for the work, all of the simulator time and mandatory flights. After all, his role in a combat was to be commanding from the Koenig. When would he be flying a fighter?
All of that training work paid off now, however. Zack kept his Viper on Thrace's wing, letting her lead their efforts to shoot down the Cylon raiders harassing the Alliance insertion runabout that was currently keeping any of the enemy missiles from getting through. Mobility was the key in the fight. He had to keep moving, keep maneuvering, and prevent the Cylons from being able to predict where he would be with enough accuracy to hit his craft. He kept his mind on the battlespace with the help of the sensor readout in the Viper cockpit, allowing him to evade enemies attempting to attack him while he kept Thrace's rear clean.
For her part, Kara Thrace was ripping into the enemy fighters with enthusiasm. She whooped with delight as another Cylon fighter blew apart under her guns. Above them another missile was blasted apart by the Gonzalez.
"That second Cylon ship is in position to start hurling missiles down," Apley warned. "We can't get them all."
"We'll do what we can."
"We just need to hold them until our ground team gets the colony shield up."
"Roger that." With that said, Thrace returned her effort to flying.
Another missile barrage slammed into the Aurora's shields. "Shields now at thirty-eight percent." Neyzi examined the ops board. "We have a hull breach on Deck 20, Section G."
"Damage repair parties are responding." Meridina tapped another key. "We can take but a few more hits like that before our crew becomes overstretched."
"Hopefully we won't take that many more," Julia said, wondering just when Jarod would get his project ready. "What's the status on that ground team?"
"Still no shields over the Colony," Cat replied. "The Koenig and Gonzalez are trying to deal with missiles, but there are so many…"
Julia nodded. All she could do was hope their teams prevailed.
Zack corkscrewed his Viper around the fire of two Cylon craft to keep his bead on a Cylon tracking Thrace. His thumb found the trigger for the Viper's cannons. The first burst he fired missed. He corrected, spinning the Viper as he did, and hit the trigger again. This time the rounds ripped into the Cylon craft's engines and blew it to pieces.
Thrace got her target in turn. But there were more to shoot. More, in fact, than they could handle, as the Gonzalez was once again spending more time evading than shooting. The runabout straightened up for a moment and fired a phaser beam into one of the descending missiles, destroying it, before it jinked to one side to avoid a strafing attack by a Cylon fighter. Another missile flew past the one falling apart from the Gonzalez' attack. "One's getting through!" he shouted.
"We are trying to engage it, but the enemy fire is too thi-."
The transmission cut. Zack watched as fire erupted from the rear of the runabout. One of its warp nacelles had taken a direct hit. The main impulsor on the runabout died out a moment later.
"This is the Gonzalez, we have taken heavy damage to our impulsor drive. Main power is failing. We cannot maintain altitude."
"Frak it!" Thrace shouted, and for good reason, as another missile soared by. Below them the runabout began to descend rapidly, out of the fight for good.
"I've got it." Zack turned his Viper toward the nearest missile and sent his throttle to full. He corkscrewed and jinked to avoid incoming Cylon fire. But he never let the missile leave his sight. As soon as he confirmed his weapons were on target he opened fire. His rounds ripped into the missile's thruster assembly first, producing the explosion that tore the missile apart.
Another missile was even further down. It was less than a minute from detonation. Zack kept his speed up to get the range. His first shots were slightly off. The second series blew away parts of the missile's guiding fins. The third volley finally got the thruster.
Before he could fire a fourth volley, he spotted the debris hurtling toward him. Or, more accurately, the debris he was about to hit. He banked the Viper away, barely evading the incoming debris. The Viper shook and warning sounds went off from small pieces of debris that hit the fighter.
But that wasn't why Zack let out a cry of frustration. No, the reason for that was that the missile he'd just damaged was still descending toward the Colony, its warhead still active and primed to initiate. And because of his maneuver, he was no longer in a position to destroy it before it hit.
"Impact in five seconds!" Sam shouted over the sound of fighting.
"Here we go," Jack said to the others.
In the housing of the emitter, the Alakin security officer and trained engineer Ensign Kripkt finished slotting the last of the heavy-duty wires into place. "All is ready!" he called.
"I'm punching it!" Reubens replied. Her finger hit the key to activate the emitter.
In the command center, Sam saw the screen shift to show that the generator was active. All that remained was to see if it worked, as at her command a force shield activated around the Colony.
When the missile hit the shield, the weapon detonated. The flash was blinding, which was why Lucy had intentionally closed her eyes at sensing the weapon was set to go. She prepared herself for the blast wave that would rip her apart.
It never came.
Once the flash died down, the faint blue of a force shield dome was visible over her head. The shield had held.
A snarl appeared on the face of her Cylon counterpart. "This isn't the end," she vowed. "You can't stop what's…"
Lucy didn't reply with words. She swung her lightsaber in a blow toward the Cylon's torso. Her doppelganger's lightsaber came up to deflect the blow. Lucy allowed their weapons to strike yet again. By the time they were pulling back her focus was complete. She reached out with her hand and felt her energy, her connection to the universe and the Flow of Life, flow from it in a concentrated burst. The strike hit the Cylon-Lucy directly. She went flying back into the Presidential Mansion. The glass doors smashed at the impact, showering the Cylon with shards of glass that cut and injured her. Lucy charged and slashed at her counterpart's head. In desperation the Cylon-Lucy threw her arms up to get her blade into position to stop the attack.
The blow was deflected, barely, but that was fine by Lucy. Her attack had achieved its purpose of putting her counterpart's hands and weapon in position for her maneuver. She twirled about and made another cut with her saber, this time from a new angle level to the ground. This time the Cylon-Lucy simply didn't have time to react. Lucy's weapon cut cleanly through the Cylon-Lucy's forearms, severing them from the rest of her body. She screamed and toppled back again, bereft of her weapon.
Lucy had seconds to live at that point. She sensed the danger. As she turned to run her own mocking voice called after her. "You can't save them! We still have the poison!" More laughter followed that taunt in the seconds before light and flame erupted behind her. Lucy was out of the door at that point and back in the open. She dived for cover. The maneuver allowed her to avoid the blastwave from the Cylon's self-destruction. When she turned back, the Cylon-Lucy's destruction had carved a hole right out of the Presidential Mansion.
Lucy hit the comm key on her omnitool. "Lucero to Carter. Lucero to Deering. Is anyone there?"
Tense seconds passed. Lucy feared that the blast had collapsed the subbasement in some way. Had she just gotten her allies killed?
"Carter here. We're still alive." Lucy breathed a sigh of relief at Sam Carter's voice. "Do you know what just happened? It felt like a bomb went off."
"One did," Lucy replied. "I need directions to find the ventilation systems for the colony bunker, now. The Cylons are going to fill the ventilators with poison gas."
"I'm relaying the position to you now. Good luck."
The display on her omnitool showed the location she'd asked for. Lucy broke out into a run to get there as soon was was humanly possible.
"They got the shield up!" The surge of triumph briefly pushed away the raw pain in Zack. He laughed in relief.
"The colony shield is holding," Magda said. "Another missile is impacting…" Below there was a bright flash. "The deflector is still operating at ninety-eight percent effectiveness."
"I've got a bogey on my six. Carrey, where the hell are you?"
Thrace's call for help brought Zack's attention entirely back to the fight. He pulled the Viper into a climb, banked to his left, and in moments had the Cylon fighter trying to shoot up Thrace's Viper. "I've got you." A warning tone told him another enemy fighter was behind him. He twisted the Viper around to throw off the enemy aim enough that he could get a clear shot on Thrace's tail. Her Viper turned and dove toward him. The angle was good, giving him a clear shot at her tail. The resulting burst of fire from his guns chewed up the front of the Cylon craft until it exploded. As Thrace flew by her weapons lit up.
A second later the warning tone ceased.
There was no time for a celebration. More enemy fighters were descending. "I'm almost out," Zack said.
"Same here," was the reply. "Let's make it count."
"Roger that, Starbuck."
Sam finished sending the position data to Lucy and brought her weapon back into line with the attacking Cylons. The distinctive sound of Wilma's laser pistol directed her aim to Wilma's target, a Cylon with its arm dangling uselessly from where Wilma's weapon had nearly melted the limb off. She squeezed off a burst of fire from the Alliance-model pulse rifle she was carrying. The brilliant blue bolts of energy smashed into the Cylon's torso and sent sparks and smoke flying from trashed internal parts.
"She isn't coming to help?" Daniel asked.
"The Cylons are going to dispense gas into the bunker system," Sam answered. "Lucero's heading there instead."
"She made the right call." Wilma poked out of cover long enough to squeeze off a shot. A small streak of blood exploded from her arm the second she took the shot. She grunted and pulled her wounded limb back.
"It would appear their numbers have thinned out," Teal'c said from his place by the door. He squeezed off another shot with his staff weapon.
"Yeah." Jack squeezed off another burst toward the models coming through the hole in the wall. "But I don't think they care. So, any bright ideas?"
"Isn't there a way to short these things out?" asked Buck.
Sam activated the omnitool on her wrist. "I'll see what I can do."
A few hundred thousand kilometers from New Caprica, the Aurora and Pegasus maintained their formation. The debris of over a hundred Cylon fighters and missiles filled space around them, along with what remained of their lost fighters. Missiles continued to slip by their defenses, detonating against their deflector shields with increasing effectiveness.
On the Aurora bridge Neyzi reported their status. "Shields down to fifteen percent. Hull damages reported on Decks 16 through 34."
"And the Pegasus?" Adama asked.
"Ten percent shields, multiple points of hull damage."
"Our respective fighter squadrons are down to fifty and forty-eight craft," Meridina added.
Julia tapped the comm key on her chair. "Bridge to Science Lab 1. We are almost out of time, Commander."
In Science Lab 1 Jarod held onto his station to keep steady while the ship rocked again. Barnes checked his own station. "Tell me you're almost done!"
"Compilation is above ninety-nine percent," Jarod said. "Ninety nine point six five. Ninety nine point seven."
Barnes growled incoherently and smacked his own station. "This is taking way too fraking long dammit!"
Jarod ignored him. "Ninety nine point seven eight," he murmured. "Point eight four… point eight eight…"
Again the ship rocked, even more viciously. "Jarod, I need that now!" Julia cried.
Point nine two. Point nine five. Point nine eight… nine nine… Jarod let out a laugh when it hit one hundred percent. Immediately the screen shifted to show the program was ready. "I've isolated the Cylons' subspace communication channel!" he declared. "Transmit it now!"
"Transmitting program," Neyzi announced.
The ship took another hit after that. "Shields at six percent. Cohesion failing." Neyzi checked her panell. "Transmission complete."
At first nothing seemed to happen. Just long enough that Julia worried nothing would. On the viewscreen one of the Cylon Basestars suddenly seemed to tilt off-side. Its spinning subsided and it began to drift through space, completely lifeless.
One by one the other Cylon ships all started to shut down. Their fighter complements went inactive with them. The assault on the two ships ceased.
Adama watched the Cylon fleet go silent with clear satisfaction. "How did you do that?" he asked Julia.
She smiled back at him. "We studied the virus they infected the Aurora with back at Caprica. And Jarod used it to put together his own anti-Cylon virus." She turned to Cat. "Status on the enemy fleet?"
"They're all inactive," Caterina confirmed.
"So we got them all?"
After a moment Caterina shook her head. "No. The two in orbit over New Caprica jumped out right after the virus hit."
"We can handle two ships," Adama said. "But I get the feeling they're not coming back. Captain, if you would do the honors?"
Julia nodded. "Mister Locarno, assume a geostationary orbit over New Caprica Colony."
"Aye sir," Locarno replied.
She looked to Meridina next. "Downgrade our status to Code Yellow."
"Doing so now, Captain." Meridina tapped a key on her chair. The alert-level running lights switched to yellow.
"And what do you want me to do about those disabled Cylon ships out there?" Angel asked.
"Target their weapon systems and engines. Relay the same targeting orders to our fighters. Cripple them, but do not destroy."
Adama nodded in agreement. "Relay those orders to the Pegasus. I want those Basestars intact."
"Doing so now, Admiral," Meridina confirmed.
Buck looked back from the door after taking the last shot in his pistol's power supply. "I'm out!" he shouted.
"Same here." Daniel tossed away the inactive pulse rifle and pulled out his sidearm and a grenade. He tossed the latter, his last, over the desk he was crouched behind. The grenade landed between two Cylons and went off, pelting them with shrapnel. The force of the blast briefly stopped them before they continued on.
Gina was on one knee, her hands up as if she were pressed against a wall. A pile of high powered rounds were on the ground before her from where her power had stopped them cold. She was pale from effort and her hand was leaking blood again. "I don't know how much longer… I can do this…"
"I think I've got it," Sam said. "Give me a moment to configure this thing."
Jack crouched down beside Gina and resumed firing from his weapon. "Any time, Major," he said aloud.
"One moment… there." Sam stood from cover and held her hand out. An electric charge surged from the omnitool glowing blue around her left forearm. It struck one of the Cylons directly. It began to tremble violently, as if it was struck by a seizure, while the charge crackled inside of it. The charge made a sudden leap, or rather two leaps, becoming two charges that now claimed two more Cylons. And then more were claimed with the next jump, and more, until within ten seconds every Cylon left was trembling in place or already crashing to the ground.
Teal'c observed as the same happened to the remaining Cylons outside of the main door. "It would appear that Major Carter has succeeded," he said.
"I modified an EM pulse to follow their active communications network," she explained. "I just didn't think it would work that well."
"The important thing is that it actually worked, and we're here to talk about it," Buck remarked.
"Carter and Teal'c, stay here and secure the room." Wilma stood up while favoring her injured shoulder. "The rest of us can go secure the rest of the building."
"Sounds like a plan," Jack agreed.
Every muscle in Lucy's body was crying out for rest by the time she arrived at the central bunker support structure. She was surprised to see no Cylons present. That emotion became a little fear when she thought of how this might mean they were inside poisoning the air. Lucy went for the door which she found to be open already.
As she expected, the inside was mostly empty space. A hatch across the room undoubtedly provided direct access to the bunker system. A series of short, squat units provided the external air supply. It was likely meant to be closed off within the bunker itself if the air was dangerously radioactive, but given the Cylons were in control those failsafes to switch to internal air circulation were going to be inactive, turning these grates into a weapon against the colonists within. Lucy approached the grates and found nothing attached to them, nothing to show the Cylons were ready to poison at a moment's notice. Curious, she walked around the grates, trying to see what they were doing.
Within a few moments she found what she was looking for in the shape of numerous green cylinders piled near the grates. A quick scan confirmed their murderous contents.
The fact they weren't prepared and rigged for use was a surprise. So was the fact that they didn't look stacked and ready for use, but rather like someone had tossed them to the side.
The real surprise lay when Lucy stepped past the pile and found the body. She knelt down and pushed the remains over, revealing the dead as one of the male Cylon models. From the way his head was turned it looked like someone had broken his neck.
"Deering to Lucero."
Lucy raised her left arm slightly and tapped the glowing blue light above the back of her hand. "I'm here."
"Did you stop them?"
Lucy glanced back to the dead Cylon. "It looks like I didn't have to. Someone else already did. Are you secure?"
"We're securing the Presidential Mansion now. Lindstrom and his people are still holding their position. It looks like the Cylons have run out of units."
"Then it's over." Lucy let herself sigh with relief. "We won."
"They're gone." Apley's voice betrayed his pleasure at the announcement. "The Cylons have retreated, all remaining ships are disabled. It's over."
For a moment Zack enjoyed their victory. Despite everything, they had saved New Caprica and its people from the Cylons.
WIthin moments the taste of victory turned to ash. Victory had come too late for Clara. It wouldn't bring her back.
Thrace's voice got Zack's attention. "Yeah?" he asked.
"Clara would be proud of you."
Zack tried, and mostly failed, to fight the sniffle that came. "Yeah, I know," he agreed. "I know."
Ship's Log: ASV Aurora; 12 January 2643. Captain Julia Andreys reporting. The Cylon attack on the Alliance has been defeated. We have successfully secured New Caprica from the Cylons. Admiral Maran reports that General Jinam and his fleet were also victorious, destroying most of the Cylon attack force at Hal'tiram. Despite everything going against us, we've won, and I could not be more proud of this crew.
The victory was not a cheap one, though. Many people on the Colony lost their lives. And one of them has hit particularly close to home.
There were a number of things Julia could, or even should, have been doing. Reports, certainly, or maintaining a bridge watch just in case the Cylons came back. But that could wait. She needed to be here.
The transporter system activated and a single figure materialized on the pad. Zack appeared in a burst of white light in his civilian clothes. His eyes were red and his cheeks showed of dried tears.
Julia embraced him as soon as he stepped off the transporter. "I'm sorry," she said. "I can't believe she's gone."
"I didn't want to believe it." Zack's voice was hoarse. It wavered, as if at the slightest push he would descend back into sobs. "I shouldn't have left. I should have stayed. She'd be alive if I'd…"
The door to the transporter station slid open. Tom Barnes stepped in, looking worn down himself from the repair work. However tired it might have made him, he clearly had no thought for it as he went right for Zack, putting an arm around his neck. "Holy crap man, you're okay." His voice betrayed his immense relief. "You made it."
"Oh frak, man. I… I don't…" Clearly uncertain of what to say, Barnes refused to pull away from his friend.
"I can't imagine how much this hurts," Julia said. "Is there anything I can do?"
"I don't think so," Zack said, his voice weary. "Honestly, right now I just want to be alone."
"Well, before you do that, you should hear the good news, man." Barnes sensed that Zack was not at all interested in the idea of "good news" given his grief, so he pressed on. "Rob's awake!"
The misery on Zack's face didn't disappear. But it did falter. "What?"
Julia nodded. "He woke up just before the fight. I still don't know what all happened, just that he felt we were in danger and rushed to the shuttle bay. If he hadn't thrown those Cylons out of the shuttle bay with his powers, they would have killed everyone there."
Zack chuckled bitterly at that. "Well, that's how he is, isn't it? Rob the White Knight, riding to the rescue." He shook his head. "Sorry, I didn't mean to make that sound bad. I'm happy he's awake. And that he saved you, Julie…" Zack shook his head. "God, I can't imagine what it would be like, losing you and Clara in the same day."
"I was about to go see him," Julia said. "Would you like to join me?"
"Yeah," said Zack. "I'd like that a lot."
Meridina and Leo were already present when the three arrived in the medbay ward. Robert was laying on another bed. With his eyes closed Zack wondered if the others hadn't been wrong about him being up.
"Zack." Robert's voice sounded hoarse, but strong. His eyes opened and his head turned. "I'm sorry."
"They told you?" Zack asked.
Robert shook his head stiffly. "No. I… I felt it."
"When you got up?"
"No. I was… I was somewhere else. In my mind. And I could feel your pain. I saw you holding her."
Zack went quiet at that. Julia turned her head to Leo and Meridina. "How long is he going to be in here?"
"He needs physical therapy," Leo noted. "After two and a half months in a coma, his muscles need to get used to movement again. He's lucky he didn't tear anything when he dashed to the shuttlebay."
"His swevyra assisted his movement," Meridina said. There was a sense of awe in her voice. "I have never seen anything like it. His inherent connection to the Flow of Life is deeper and stronger than it has ever been."
"Could that explain how he accidentally sent us flying like bowling pins when he woke up?" Leo asked.
"I cannot know for certain either way, Doctor," she answered. "For his connection to have strengthened without time and effort… this is without precedent in our history."
"I'm glad you're okay," Zack said, ignoring the discussion entirely. "Losing Clara's been hard enough."
Robert nodded. "I wish I could have done more."
"You already went above and beyond anything we could expect of you, Rob," Julia pointed out. "The important thing now is to rest."
Robert nodded and laid his head back on the bed. "Congratulations, by the way" he murmured. "On your promotion to Captain."
They looked at him. His eyes focused on Julia. "Thank you," she said.
"You earned it," he replied. "And I'm sensing Leo wants me to get 'real sleep', so you'd better leave before he starts getting ornery."
"Too late," Leo said emphatically.
The others shared a laugh, but all noticed that Zack barely managed more than a chuckle.
It was getting late in the day when Julia finally returned to her quarters. Now that Robert was awake she didn't feel quite so conflicted about planning to move into the Captain's Quarters. She wouldn't rush it, however, and she was more concerned on that matter with what Robert planned to do.
A fresh shower proved to be more enjoyable than any late meal could have been. She left it and was in her pale red terry-cloth bathrobe, a towel wrapped around her wet hair, when she was informed of the incoming call. She waited patiently until Admiral Maran's image appeared. "Captain. I see you're ending your day."
"I am, sir. I've already transmitted my preliminary report to Defense Command. I should have the final one done in the morning once everything is settled."
"That's good, though I'm not calling you about reports." Maran nodded. "I've been informed that Doctor Gillam has updated Robert's status. He's awake?"
"Yes. Although I think he's sleeping right now. Doctor Gillam is concerned he is overstretching himself. And Meridina's not sure what's going on with him."
"I can imagine. I'm just pleased to hear he's fine." Maran settled his hands together before him. "Well, I'll let you get some rest. I look forward to your final report, and I expect you back in drydock within a day or two. We still have to get Aurora back into proper fleet operation, after all."
"I'll get us back within 60 hours, sir," Julia pledged. "We're just helping the Colonials clean things up."
Maran nodded in approval. "Maran out."
With that over and her night done, Julia exchanged the bathrobe and towel for her nightie. She went to her bed and dropped into it. Her eyes drooped and she felt ready to go off into sleep.
Her omnitool toned again.
A low, impatient groan was followed by Julia turning to her nightstand and tapping the glowing blue light from her omnitool frame. "Andreys here," she muttered.
"Captain." She recognized Lucy's voice. "I'm sorry if you're going to bed, but I thought I'd tell you. We have a problem."
Julia sat up. "What kind of problem?"
"President Baltar is missing."
Hundreds of light years away, Gaius Baltar looked up from the uncomfortable cot he was forced to use for rest. It was a far cry from the warm, soft bed he had enjoyed in his Presidential estate, especially when it had included a warm, soft woman to provide pleasure and company. The lights around him were low, almost too low to see anything.
Surprisingly, the Cylon in his head appeared as if the light was sufficient for him. She was wearing the sexy red dress she always used to rile him up with. "You seem uncomfortable Gaius."
"Because I am uncomfortable," he protested.
"You allowed the creature comforts of your position to soften you, Gaius. To fulfill God's Plan, you will need to be stronger than this."
"So this is God's Plan? Being abducted by the Cylons?"
"Oh yes. The Cylons need you, Gaius. That's why you are still alive." The head-Cylon smiled at him. "And if you use this opportunity well, you will decide the fates of not just your people and the Cylons, but of the Alliance as well."
With morning came breakfast. Unfortunately for Robert, his condition meant that Leo had imposed a light diet, until he got his digestive system used to solid food again. This meant things like water and basic liquids, including nutrient paste that made Robert want to gag.
The culinary ordeal was followed by more tests. Leo looked over his scans and shook his head. "Well, your body is adjusting well. I'm surprised how well, actually."
"Oh?" Robert asked from the bed.
"I expected you to take a few weeks, maybe a month, to regain your pre-coma physical condition," Leo explained. "But it looks like your muscles are already adjusting to a full motion of activity. It's like you've done two weeks of therapy in a single night."
Robert thought back to the dream world he had left. His conversation with his grandfather in that place. "Maybe something is helping me along."
"Well, I'm at a loss to explain it." Leo shrugged. "I want to run more tests and have you do a physical therapy session. Just to test how well you're doing. But at this rate, you'll be back in full shape in a few days."
"At least I'll be out of your hair." Robert made a gesture with his hand. A surge of power went out and smacked a set of hypospray vials off of the nearby tray. They toppled to the ground. Robert blanched. "I'm sorry."
Leo gave him a sardonic look. "I'm also wondering about that, Rob. You always used to say you were weak in this stuff, or weaker than the others. Now it's like you don't know your own strength."
"I know." Robert looked at his hand. "I just… I guess it's an adjustment. I'm not sure what this is."
"Well, I'm not the one to consult on that."
"No, but they are."
Robert's comment caused Leo to turn his head. Meridina and Lucy had arrived in the company of Mastrash Ledosh. "So they are. Well, I'll leave you to that consult. I've got medical supplies to transfer."
Once Leo finished walking away Robert turned back to the others. "Hey, good morning," he said.
"Yes." Ledosh had a bewildered look to his face, showing through his usual stoic quiet. "This is quite extraordinary."
"My waking up?"
"No." Meridina shook her head. "Robert, your power has grown. Without explanation. We have never had a case such as yours."
"Yeah. I mean, I can sense it too." Lucy shook her head. "You've got a lot of power now. Maybe more than either of us."
Robert swallowed. He couldn't help but think this was more than just a side effect. Had being in that dreamworld done this to him? Aloud he said, "I've had trouble controlling it."
"Leo mentioned that," Lucy said.
"Would you mind returning to Gersal with me?" Ledosh asked. "I believe the Council can help you with this. And they will wish to learn more of what happened to you. Knowledge that may prevent ignorance that would create fear."
"Well, I'm not captain of the ship anymore," Robert said. "So there's no duties holding me here. And I don't want to cause harm because I can't control this." He sighed. "So yes, I'll come with you."
Ledosh nodded at that. "I am grateful for your choice. I will speak to Mastrash Tinaran to make final arrangements."
"I'm sure you all have work to do. I don't want to keep you from it." Robert gestured toward the door. Again power seemed to surge from him. Ledosh sensed it and held up a hand. His own life energy, powerful and trained as it was, absorbed the impact of Robert's unintended outburst. "But I would like to speak with Meridina for a minute."
Meridina stopped herself from turning away. Lucy and Ledosh departed from the medbay ward, leaving the two of them alone for the moment. Robert wondered how so much could change; here he was, awake again, and not only was Julia commanding the ship, Meridina was wearing command red and serving as First Officer. "Leo tells me that Julia asked you to be the new First Officer. Have you decided on your answer?"
"I am still considering it," she admitted. "In all honestly, it is not what I considered my destiny to be."
"True. You were always meaning to advance as a Knight, a swevyra'se." Robert grinned at her. "Of course, I figured my place would be running the family farm one day. Sometimes the future takes us places we didn't expect."
"Are you advising me to accept the promotion?" Meridina asked.
"I'm asking you to think about it," Robert said. "Although I admit to being selfish."
"Julia." Robert sighed wistfully. "She showed me that a good captain needs a great first officer, someone who can make sure the captain is doing alright and getting good advice. Even if it means getting in the captain's face if they think the captain's wrong. And to me she was the greatest. And I think she deserves someone as her first officer who will be just as good to her as she was to me." Robert nearly gestured toward Meridina with his hand. He stopped himself just in case he accidentally knocked her back too.
Meridina nodded once. "I see what you mean, Robert. I will consider it. Is there anything else you would like to discuss?"
He shook his head.
"Then I shall go." She turned to leave. As she got to the door, she stopped and turned back to face him. "I am relieved to see you are awake again, and whole."
"It's good to see you again too, Meridina," he answered back.
Lucy and Ledosh were waiting for Meridina when she left the medbay. At Lucy's insistence they went to Lucy's quarters. Once the door was shut Lucy walked between them and to her desk. "I have to show you something," she said.
"This has to do with the Cylon swevyra'kse you fought on New Caprica?" Ledosh asked.
"Oh yeah, does it ever." Lucy picked up an object from the table. "She blew herself up when I defeated her. Her weapon was damaged in the process. It's not functional anymore, but…"
Ledosh and Meridina both recognized the warped, melted cylinder in Lucy's hand. "A swenkesh," Ledosh noted. "The Cylons can build them?"
"I don't know. Maybe not, actually, because I did a scan of it." Lucy set the destroyed weapon back down before she brought up the results on an extra-large holographic screen generated by her omnitool. "This is the result of dating the material."
The two Gersallians examined the result. "Three thousand years?"
"Well, anywhere between twenty-eight hundred and thirty-one hundred, roughly," Lucy answered. "But yes. It's almost as old as Swenya's Blade. And I think I found a marking on it that survived the blast." She tapped her omnitool again to bring up a zoomed in image of the burnt out lightsaber. On the rim of the hilt were several bits of what had once clearly been characters or text of some sort, melted beyond recognition. But one of the characters was intact enough to be distinctive. "Here." With a tap of a key Lucy highlighted the intact symbol.
"Swenya's Light," Ledosh gasped. The two younger women looked at Ledosh with surprise.
Meridina looked back to it. She narrowed her eyes and soon recognition came to her. "It looks like an old Gersallian symbol," she said. "Similar to the ones I found on Dralan Olati's lakesh."
"It is a clan symbol of the Kuneli," Ledosh said. "Specifically, it is the insignia of a long and extinguished clan. The Ihblis."
"And what's so important about these people?" Lucy asked.
"Because, Lucy Lucero, they died out with their last patriarch in the War of the Brotherhood." Ledosh frowned deeply. "For the Ihblis were the clan and family of Mastrash Kohbal."
Lucy's eyes widened. "What?"
"How could these Cylons have acquired such a relic?" Meridina looked to her old mentor. "You do not think…"
"I have long wondered about the similarity of the names," Ledosh said. "How the Humans of the Colonies referred to their worlds as the Colonies of 'Kobol', and how the world of that name was their homeworld. I had considered it nothing more than phonetic coincidence. But now, with this evidence, I wonder…"
"You believe the ancient origins of the New Capricans might be tied to the Brotherhood of Kohbal," Lucy said.
"Right now, Lucy Lucero, I do not know what to believe," Ledosh said grimly. "I will have to do research. Until then, I implore you, do not share this with anyone."
The two nodded in acceptance of his charge.
"There's also that dead Cylon at the ventilator access," Lucy continued. "There's no indication of who killed him."
"Whatever did was of great service to us," said Meridina.
"Yeah, but I'd feel better knowing…"
Lucy didn't say anything else on the matter. After a few quiet seconds passed Ledosh spoke up. "I must be going now. President Morgan has instructed me to begin talks with the government here on a proper response to this attack." Ledosh bowed slightly. "Mi rake sa swevyra iso, Meridina, Lucy."
They returned the farewell. Once Ledosh was out of the room Lucy went over to a chair and settled into it. "The Cylons are a lot more dangerous than we thought," she said.
"Agreed." Meridina sat on the small couch in the living area of Lucy's quarters, placing the coffee table between them. "I can feel how upset you are about this, Lucy."
"They… they cloned me, Meridina. They cloned me. And they've got all these other copies of me running around doing God knows what! I mean, for all we know, this attack only happened because of them copying me!" Lucy gestured toward her arm. "They could pretend to be me! Geneprint and retinal scans, fingerprints, every one of them would have worked for them. Maybe even the bioelectrics!"
"I have prepared a report to Defense Command on the problem."
"What's it going to mean for me?" Lucy asked. "If the Cylons can pretend to be me… if we can't find a way to tell the difference between me and their copies of me… what's going to happen? Are they going to make me leave the ship? Quit the Stellar Navy?"
"Do you want to remain in the service?" Meridina asked.
"Well, I want to stay here, on the Aurora, where I can do the most good," Lucy said. "But if I get kicked off the ship, where will I go?"
"If such a thing happens, I am certain you will find a way to continue to serve the Light."
Lucy looked up at her and smiled softly. "I'd try my best," she said. "And what about you?"
"This. I mean, that." She pointed to Meridina's collar, where the rank tab had three gold strips to denote her as a Commander. "Are you going to go back to being security chief? Or will you take the promotion?"
Meridina lowered her eyes. "Truly, I am uncertain."
"Oh?" Lucy shifted in her seat and leaned forward. "Why?"
"That is something I have been meditating upon, ever since Julia asked me to be her first officer." Meridina placed her hands together below her chin. The gesture made her look like she was praying though Lucy knew it to be more of a thinking position for her. "I have commanded before. When I examine my capabilities and knowledge, I see no reason to presume I am unsuited to the post. But I feel a… a block to my acceptance of it. There is something within me which resists the position."
"Hmm." Lucy nodded. "Maybe it's because you never imagined you'd be something like that? You grew up to be a swevyra'se. Maybe you imagined you'd become a Mastrash when you were much older than you are now, but there's nothing like a First Officer's position in the Order, right?"
"There are those assigned as seconds-in-command during large-scale missions. But nothing permanent like this."
"Right. So I suppose it could be intimidating? I mean, I don't know if I'd want the job either."
"Robert believes I should take the position. He desires me to, in fact, though he was reluctant to press me on the matter."
"He's probably worried about Julia. She's used to being the second-in-command. To questioning him and giving him advice. Now she's the one in command without anyone to be the same to her." When silence was the answer to this point, Lucy left her chair and walked around the coffee table to sit beside Meridina. Meridina turned her head so they could look eye to eye. "I can't sense whether you should or not. But I'll do whatever I can to help you once you've made it, whatever the choice is. With all the support you offered me while I was your student, I couldn't do anything less for you."
A quiet moment passed before Meridina answered her. "Thank you, Lucy."
When Zack returned to New Caprica, it was to get the dreadful duties over with. He knew it would hurt and he wanted it done.
And he wanted to be alone.
Unfortunately, it turned out that the latter simply couldn't happen. When he arrived at Clara's home in the Hospital Quarter of the Colony, Thrace and Anders were waiting for him. So was Cally and Galen, with their infant Nick sleeping in a nearby baby carrier. Zack saw them and managed a "Hey".
"We figured you could use somebody," Thrace said. "To get this done."
"And we didn't want you to be alone."
Zack didn't retort that that's exactly what he wanted to be. He didn't need to. He was sure Anders and Thrace already knew that. Just as they knew that leaving him alone with the memories of what he lost was not good for him.
So he said nothing while opening the door. They stepped into the quarters. Everything looked just as it had the other morning before everything went wrong. Dishes meant to be done later were piled in the sink. The refuse from their breakfast before her hospital shift was at the top of the trash can. Everything in the bed area of the studio apartment was as they'd left it. It all looked like the last two days hadn't happened.
But they had. And Clara was gone.
Cally set little Nick on the table. The infant seemed unfazed by the slight movement of his carrier, continuing to doze peacefully. She turned back to Zack with tears forming in her eyes. "I'm so sorry," she said, after which she hugged Zack. "I can't believe she's gone. She… she saved my life. I would have frozen up if Clara hadn't been there."
Zack couldn't keep the tears from his eyes. "She was looking forward to you becoming a dentist," he said. "She said that if we ever had kids, you'd be their dentist."
Cally sniffled at that.
When she finally let go, Galen put a hand on Zack's arm. "Clara was the best," he said. "We're going to miss her."
Zack's only reply to that was to nod. "We should get started," he said. "The ship's supposed to leave tonight, and there's a lot to do here."
"It'll be good practice for all of us," Thrace remarked. "The Quorum's talking about abandoning this colony and jumping universes after all. Like we should have done if Baltar hadn't been such a fraking idiot."
Zack had nothing to say to that. He did have the thought of what that meant, of course. That if Baltar hadn't been so ridiculous in deciding to settle here, then this attack wouldn't have happened. And Clara and so many other citizens of the Colonies would still be alive.
There was a knock at the door. Zack stepped between Galen and Cally to open it.
Tom Barnes and Leo were outside, joined by Apley, Magda, and Hajar. "Scotty, Nick, and Jarod are going to beam down as soon as their watches are over," Barnes said. "With all of us together, this should be over in a snap."
Zack sighed and closed his eyes. "Yeah, yeah it will be," he said. "Come on in."
They all piled into the apartment. There was just enough room for everyone to work, and it was true that if they worked well together it would be over soon. Zack forced himself not to say anything. They'd get everything over with and he could get to his quarters and be alone, just as he wanted to. He went to join the others in working.
There was another knock. This time Magda beat him to it. She stepped back enough to admit Julia. "I wanted to see how far things were going," she said. "And help if you needed it. Meridina and Lucy may…"
She stopped herself. Zack did too. At least, he stopped himself from yelling at them. But at the same time, he simply couldn't be here, surrounded by friends, by family, being pitied and sympathized with. "I need air," was all he managed to say before he rushed past Julia and outside. He closed the door with enough force that it nearly reached the level of being slammed shut, though it was not.
The others all looked toward Julia and then each other. She sighed. "He needs space," she said. "And time. We should get everything done before he gets back. It'll be easier on him that way."
There were nods of agreement. Everyone started working.
Zack needing air turned into a walk that took him to the center of the Colony. The populace was back out of the bunkers now and cleanup was continuing from the damage caused by the attack. Some of the businesses were even open again.
Including the one that Zack had spent so much time in before the Cylon attack.
After several moments of consideration he sighed and stepped into the jewelry store. It hadn't been touched by the attack. The jeweler spotted him from behind his display and grinned. "Ah, Commander. You're just in time. I…"
"I'm here to cancel my order," Zack said.
That brought a surprised frown to the other man. "You're what?"
"Cancel it," Zack repeated.
"But… I cannot." The man bent down briefly and came up again with a small box of velvety red. He opened it to reveal a ring with a glinting set of diamonds in it. "I finished it this morning. Our policy is no refunds after completion of the project."
Zack frowned at that. The frown was followed by a sigh as he picked up the ring. His heart quaked in agony at seeing it. All of his plans with it were for naught now. Just looking at it was painful.
"What is wrong?" the man asked. "It's just as you asked for."
And indeed it was, as Zack noticed the engraving on the inside of the ring. Clara & Zack, with a stylized romantic heart. He closed the box and set the useless ring into his pocket. "It is," he said.
"It is exquisite. Some of my best work. Surely your young lady hasn't changed her mind…?"
"She can't change her mind," Zack answered. "She can't do anything now."
The older man's face fell. "I am so sorry to hear that. I pray that the Lords grant you both peace."
"Thanks," was all Zack could say before he walked out. The weight of the little box in his pocket was nothing. The weight it left inside of him was tearing the fresh wound further open. All of his dreams of how he would present the ring to Clara were nothing but fantasies now. He felt the urge to just take the ring and throw it away.
He started walking back toward the Hospital, the direction of Clara's apartment. He made it a block when a light caught his eye. A sign for another business along the main road he was following. He glanced over to read the sign. Something inside of him tried to dig his heel in, to ignore what he was thinking.
But it was too weak to fight the pain. The pain won. Zack entered the business. He walked past the rows of bottles, the stands of product, and to the main counter. A middle-aged woman met him there. "Yes?" she asked.
Before he could stop himself, the question popped from Zack's lips.
"Do you have any tequila?"
"You know, I could get to like it here," Jack O'Neill announced.
His team walked alongside him. "It does seem to have an agreeable climate," Teal'c agreed.
"And it has that small town feel to it."
"Because they're all that's left of their civilization," Sam pointed out. "I doubt it's a small town by choice."
"And it's more of a really small city than a town," Daniel added.
Jack let out a sigh. "Alright, so you're both right about that. But you can see what I mean, can't you? And we got to be the heroes here, so let's enjoy it before we head back, right?"
"Personally I'm more interested in reading their histories than anything else," said Daniel. "I'd like to find out how they came to associate their religion with Greek mythology. They're supposed to be the distant descendants of Humans who survived Earth's destruction in an atomic war, right? So how did they end up thinking they came from another world and Earth was just another colony?"
Jack leveled a look at Daniel. "Well, that's your idea of fun. Now me, I'd like to meet the people. Get to know them."
"Try out their beer," Daniel said, anticipating Jack's interest.
"And discover their best fishing spots," Sam added.
"And yes, that too…"
"Well, there you are," another voice called out. The four turned and watched Buck and Wilma walk up. Buck was in a civilian suit, brown jacket and light-colored shirt with dark pants, while Wilma was wearing the blue variant of the Earth Defense DIrectorate uniform. "They finally let us out," Buck said.
"How's the arm?" Daniel asked Wilma.
"Doctor Gillam got it patched up last night," she answered.
"Well, Buck, now that you're here, maybe you can help us settle something," Jack said. "We're having a little discussion about the best way to spend our time before we have to take off. Daniel here wants to go put his nose in a book."
"I didn't say that…"
"...while I wish to mingle with the people here and get to know them better."
"What he means to say is he wants to try their beer and see their best fishing spots," Sam remarked with a grin.
"Ah, yes. 'Beer.'" Wilma smiled at Buck. "You've mentioned that substance before."
"Wait, wait." Jack leveled a look at Wilma. "You don't know what beer is?"
"The Earth of the 25th Century is a little… different," Buck managed.
That prompted Daniel to ask, "How different, precisely?"
"Well, having the Alliance contact us has been a great way for me to eat real food again, for starters." Buck gave Wilma a cocky grin. "It's a way to get away from those bland food discs everyone on Earth eats these days."
Wilma gave him an exasperated look. "Food discs are carefully designed for nutritional value. They're a vital part in keeping the populace healthy."
"And they taste like stale crackers."
"So we've got descendants from a devastated Earth who worship the Greek pantheon under a new name… and now a post-atomic Earth." Daniel glanced toward Sam. "You know, I have to wonder, how precisely do people in the Multiverse keep all of these Earths apart?"
"I believe that is the purpose of their universe designators, Daniel Jackson," Teal'c pointed out.
"Okay, how about this? We're running out of time." Jack gestured to his watch. "Now, anyone who wants to go meet some great people and learn more about them, you follow me. If you want to read books about them, I'm sure Daniel will enjoy the company. But as of now, my part of this conversation is over, and there's a barstool somewhere in this colony with my name on it."
"Count me in," Buck said immediately.
The Aurora was just a few hours from departure when Julia got the communication she expected. She had it routed to the ready office off the bridge and sat at the desk to accept the call. Lee Adama's face appeared on her screen. "Congratulations, Julia," he said. "On your new command."
She smiled at him and nodded in reply. "Thank you. It feels better now that Robert is awake. How are things on your side?"
"My crew is relieved to see we saved their families and sent the Cylons running. Honestly, It's a good thing your people did come through." Lee frowned a little. "I think a few people felt like you let us down when the Cylons got the drop on all of us."
"I can understand that," Julia said. "We underestimated them. But we won't again."
"It may not be a big deal for us anymore. The Quorum just appointed Roslin as the new Vice President, and there's a rumor going around that Zarek might resign in her favor and take the VP spot. His association with Baltar and his policies isn't going to do him a lot of good right now. Roslin's already talking about renegotiating the colonization deal and going to another planet. Possibly in another universe."
"I don't blame her, or your people." Julia settled back into her chair. "Whatever happens, I hope everything works out."
"Thanks." The look on Lee's face became pensive, but a little hopeful. "So, are you staying long…?"
"We're leaving in a couple of hours, actually." Julia gave no sign of responding to his subtle disappointment. "The Aurora was rushed out without a full crew and with a few minor problems we need to sort out. We're due back at the Fleet Drydock in a couple of days, so we're heading back to Gersal to make the jump to Earth L2M1."
"I see. Well, it was good to see you anyway." Lee lowered his eyes. "Will you extend my condolences to Commander Carrey? I tried to reach him but he's not answering his comms."
"Yeah. He's… in a bad spot right now, and he's insisting on being alone. I'll give him the message when I can."
"Thanks." Lee remained silent for a moment before shrugging. "Well, that's it I suppose. Maybe we'll see each other at the New Liberty anniversary this year. I'm not sure who will be going to represent the Colonies."
"Maybe," Julia agreed. "We'll have to see." She felt surprise at her own little sense of disappointment. After all the stress of the prior few days, the chance to spend some time with Lee was something she realized she'd enjoy. It was unlikely to go anywhere as a romantic relationship, but the chance to unwind with someone who understood the pressures she was coming under, who understood her… yes, she could enjoy that.
"May the Lords watch over you, Julia," Lee said. "Pegasus out." His image disappeared from the screen.
Julia gathered her thoughts for a few moments and, with a little sigh, decided to go through her paperwork for the evening.
The streaks of warped space filled the one window in the captain's ready office on the Aurora. Julia found herself staring through that window. For nearly half a decade she had witnessed this scientific miracle, traveling on a ship exceeding the speed of light, and it never quite seemed to get old.
Seeing it as the captain of the ship in question? That made the experience all the sweeter.
It occurred to Julia that there was something of a madness to the last few years. She had always intended to be an athlete, or perhaps a businesswoman. Maybe even a politician, if the opportunity came. Any position where she could take charge and accomplish something notable, something worthy. She could never have imagined growing up to be a spaceship captain. And yet it was the very embodiment of the kind of work she wanted to do in her life. There was an impatient urge within her to get the Aurora back to dock, just so she could get back into normal duty and tackle the challenges coming.
Of course, even in dock there would be some challenges. Getting the crew established. Making sure the ship was ready. Getting her senior staff filled out.
The thought of that need was in her head when the door chime sounded. "Come in," she said.
The door slid open and Meridina stepped in. She was still wearing the uniform with command branch burgundy red in the trim. "Captain, Commander Scott reports that the engines are running as desired. All damage has been repaired."
"That's good to know." Julia leaned forward in her chair. "Anything else?"
"Yes." Meridina nodded once. "The Peregrine is waiting at the rendezvous point. They are here to pick up our allies."
Julia nodded. "Let Colonel O'Neill and Colonel Deering know. We'll see them off once we drop out of warp."
"Very well." Meridina placed her hands together before her. "Captain, I have another matter to discuss with you."
Julia was pretty sure of what Meridina was talking about. She responded with a simple "Yes?"
"I have put a great deal of thought into your request."
"And…" Meridina paused briefly, as if making one final review of her decision before she made it permanent. "...I have made my decision. I humbly accept the task of being your First Officer."
Julia answered that with a smile. "That's good to hear, Meridina." She stood and extended her hand. "I'm looking forward to working with you, Number One."
Meridina furrowed her brow. "'Number One'?"
The smile turned into a grin of bemusement. "Yeah, I don't think that works for me either. We'll stick with Commander."
"Ah." Meridina reached out and accepted the hand. "Of course, Captain. I will serve you to the best of my ability."
"Will that include letting me know when you think I'm wrong?"
"I am informed that doing such is one of the primary tasks of a First Officer, so yes, I shall do so."
"Good." Julia nodded and settled back into her chair. Meridina took one of the chairs on the other side of the desk. "I suppose our first order of business is your replacement as Chief of Security. I'll submit Lieutenant Richmond's name for the promotion, if you're in agreement."
"I am. She will do well in the position."
"Good." Julia kept the smile on her face. Everything had finally clicked into place. She had a proper command staff for her ship.
Meridina, for her part, finished glancing around the room. "I see Robert's things have been removed."
Julia nodded at that. "He came by this morning and got everything. He's getting his quarters packed up now so I can move in. And, of course, you can then move into my old quarters."
"It shall give us something extra to do during our remaining time in dock," Meridina noted.
At that, Julia chuckled and said, "As if we won't have enough to do. At our rank, our only holidays end up being working holidays."
Much to Julia's surprise and delight, Meridina started laughing. Yes, I think this will work out, Julia thought, enjoying the sound of the stoic Gersallian's lilting laugh.
Robert made it to the Transporter Station just in time. He found Julia and Meridina standing with SG-1. "So, you're off too?" he asked them.
Jack replied, "Yeah. Before the snakeheads get all bent out of shape about us being around you."
"Well, I'm thankful you came to help," Robert said to them. "It was good seeing you again, however briefly."
"We are gratified to see you are well, Captain," Teal'c answered.
"Y'know, if you're no longer with the Alliance, you could always come to the SGC," Jack suggested. "We can always use good people."
Robert answered that with a warm smile. Julia and Meridina did the same. "Somehow I doubt the System Lords would be happy," Julia pointed out.
"Probably not," Robert agreed. "But thank you for the offer."
"I wouldn't mind getting to see some of these other universes," Daniel said. "I've heard about this one moon, somewhere called Solaris?"
The thought of the generally strait-laced Daniel dealing with the frantic insanity that Solaris could bring made Robert laugh. "Oh, that's a memorable one," Julia remarked.
"Quite," Meridina agreed. "It is certainly a… unique experience."
"Maybe one day, Doctor Jackson," Robert said. "Say hello to Sha're and little Leo for us?"
"Oh, don't get him started on Leo," Jack sighed. "Frankly, if you ask me that kid is growing up way too fast."
"That is a common complaint I hear from Human parents," Meridina said. "It would seem your species has a chronic inability to anticipate child growth."
"We just like to pretend they'll be small forever and won't go asking to borrow the car," Jack explained.
"It was good working with you all again," Sam said. "I know I wouldn't mind getting to spend more time on your starships."
"Hopefully we'll see each other again sometime," Julia said.
That got a single nod of approval from Jack. "Same here. And how about you talk to your Admiral Maran so that the next time we do this, instead of killer robots you let us fight something more interesting. All of this talk about a war with Space Nazis, but I haven't gotten to shoot a Nazi yet. It feels like you're holding out on me here."
Teal'c nodded. "I have heard many terrible things about these 'Nazis', and of the heroes who fought them. I too would like a chance to face them in battle. And I am most curious to see if they possess this 'ark' that Colonel O'Neill has spoken of."
"I don't think these Nazis have the Ark of the Covenant, Teal'c," Daniel remarked.
Sam smiled at that. "And I'm sure it doesn't behave the same way it does in the movie," she said.
The door to the Transporter Station slid open, admitting Buck and Wilma. "Ah, we're not too late," Buck said.
"No, you're not," Julia said. "It was nice to see you again, Captain, Colonel."
"Same here," Buck said.
"Yes." Wilma smiled at Julia and extended a hand. Julia accepted it. "Congratulations, Captain, and good luck out there."
"Thank you, Colonel. The same to you."
"Buck." Robert offered his hand. "How have you been doing?"
"Alright." Buck accepted it. "Good to see you're awake."
"Yeah. It's good to be back."
"The Peregrine just signaled, sir," the transporter station operator, a teal-skinned Dorei male with dark blue spots and hair, said. "They are ready for transport."
"Time to go," Wilma said, taking a step up to join SG-1 on the pad.
"Give Doctor Theopolis and Doctor Huer our best," Julia said to them.
"And Twiki," Robert added, smiling.
Julia nodded. "Yes, and Twiki."
"I will. It'll be nice to deal with robots who don't want to kill us." Buck stepped up on the transporter station, taking the spot beside Jack. Wilma stood beside Samantha. "Take care everyone."
"Hey, before you use that thing…" Jack held up his finger. "I've got one last thing to ask."
"Go ahead," Julia said.
"Zack's been pretty distant since, well… just let him know we hope he gets through this."
The request turned the mood in the room into a somber one. "Yeah," Robert said. "We will."
"Thanks. Well, now you can get on with the atom-shooting stuff."
"It's not shooting atoms, Jack," Sam pointed out.
"Crewman, energize," Julia said. And they watched together as their allies, their friends, were whisked away by the transporter system.
"So, where is Zack?" Robert asked. "I tried to visit his quarters but there was no answer."
"He's there." Julia sighed and shook her head. "He said he just wanted to be alone."
"Oh." Robert sighed at that. He could feel his friend's pain even here. "Well, hopefully he'll open up."
"It will have to be his choice," Meridina said. "And his alone."
It was the middle of the night for Zack, but even in his comfortable bed in his quarters on the Aurora, he found no rest. Falling asleep brought the dreams. Dreams of Clara dying before his eyes. Of her empty blue eyes accusing him of failing her. For not being there for her. For not saving her.
When the clock showed 0200 and sleep still hadn't come, he got out of his bed and walked into his living area. For a short time he simply sat on his couch, clad only in his boxers, staring ahead into space. Thinking of all of the plans he'd made and where they had gone. When he cast his eyes down toward his small coffee table, he spied the two objects he'd placed there upon his return. Seeing the velvet box with the engagement ring he never got to give to Clara made the pain in his soul spike. Tears flowed freely from his eyes until his vision became a blur. He sobbed quietly to himself.
When his vision cleared again, he was facing the other object. He stared at it. He knew he should have never bought it. He knew what it represented. What it could do to him, what it had done to him.
Which is why he knew what it would do to the pain. Just for a little while… just so he could sleep without dreams.
Zack reached to the table and picked up the bottle. He popped the top and poured a little into a mug he typically saved for his coffee. His hand quivered in momentary resistance before, with a low sigh, he surrendered to the impulse and picked up the mug.
The planet Gersal shined through the windows of Robert's old quarters. Everything here was as he'd left it, even after his months in a coma. Old certificates and awards that were now packed away in boxes, along with the plentiful family photographs and other keepsakes. Said boxes were being loaded onto a Order of Swenya transport even now, to be delivered to his cousin Beth on New Liberty.
Not everything would be taken there. Ledosh assured him there would be some room for private keepsakes wherever he stayed. He'd selected a picture of his family and another of the Aurora and Koenig crews from the prior year, items he was now placing in his duffel bag on top of his spare clothes and other personal items.
For a moment he lingered while looking at the two pictures through the opening of the bag. The one image was the last picture the family had with his grandmother in it. Allen and Anna were in the center. Michael and Leigh were beside them. Beth, ten years old at this point, stood between the two sets of adults, holding the hand of Robert as an eight year old. Three year old Susannah was between the two, smiling up at the camera.
A tinge of pain filled him. They were all gone from his life, save Beth. Getting to see them alive again, even in the way he had… he wondered for a moment just how he'd found the strength to leave them willingly.
That only lasted a moment, of course, since the answer was in the other photo. They were lined up in the Lookout. Robert in the middle, Julia to his right and Zack to his left. To Zack's left was Tom, and beyond him were Zack's officers: Apley, Magda, Karen Derbely, Sherlily and Opani. On Julia's were the rest of the Aurora crew: Jarod and Nick, Angel and Cat, Leo and Nasri, Scotty and Meridina and Patrice Laurent and, finally, Lucy. He reached his hand into the bag and briefly touched the image with his fingers. Tears were formed in his eyes, and not just tears of grief for his dead family, but joy as well, for the family that was still here.
The door chime sounded. Robert turned in time to see it slide open. Julia stepped in. She looked around at the spartan emptiness of the living area of what were now her quarters, and he could feel the wistful melancholy that briefly came over her. "Well," she said, "I came to see if you needed any help. Ledosh and Gina are ready to depart."
"I'm done." He patted his duffel bag. After taking a quick look around he felt a smile tug at his lips. "It's yours now."
"Yeah." Julia nodded.
"And I'm sorry about the bathroom mirror."
Julia gave him a bewildered look. He winced and gently raised a hand. "Yeah, I knocked my razor into it. Left a bit of a crack. And I'm going to need a new razor."
"Just as long as you get the seven years bad luck," Julia answered with a wry grin. Robert laughed in reply, and she laughed right back. Both felt better for the laughter.
When it ended, Julia glanced toward the desk facing them and the dormant monitor there. "I…" She looked at Robert and stated, her tone apologetic, "I never wanted this at your expense, Rob."
"I know. And it's not." He stepped up and took her hand. For a moment the energy within him stirred. He concentrated and barely managed to keep it in check. "Never think that, Julia. I made my choice. And the TARDIS warned me my life would end."
"It almost did," she pointed out. "Having you alive is a miracle, if you ask me."
"I think my life did end," Robert said. "I mean, I didn't die. But I'm not going to be able to go back to that old life. Of being Captain Robert Dale."
Julia could have pointed out he could get another command. But she knew not to. She could see what he meant. "So you sent in your resignation?"
"It's not officially accepted due to the war, of course, but Ledosh tells me Maran made it clear I'm off the active duty roster pending review of my condition. Knowing Davies and Hawthorne, they'll do everything they can to keep me out." Robert shrugged. "I did a lot of good as a captain, and I could probably do more, but when I think about it, I'm not as upset as I thought I'd be. And I've got a new life I have to settle into now."
"Are you sure about this? Becoming a mystic monk or whatever?"
Robert chuckled. "Well, I'm not going to become some hermit in the desert or anything. I'm going to be in the middle of nowhere for a while, yeah, but only until I regain some control."
"And then…?" Julia asked.
"Well, then I've got some things to do. Maybe spend time with Beth. Visit some sights in the Multiverse." Robert allowed himself a shrug. "I don't know. I have questions, and I need time to find the answers. But wherever I am, call me if you need me and I'll help you in any way I can."
"I know." Julia wiped away a tear from her eye. "It's just… it's going to be weird, I guess. You've been away before, but it feels like this might be for good. And we've always lived near each other or worked together."
"I feel the same way. Living without you is going to be, well, I'm going to have to adjust I guess." Robert shrugged. "Who knows, maybe I'll find a way to serve with the civilian staff on the ship." An amused grin came to him. "Maybe Hargert can use another waiter."
An old memory made Julia giggle as she shook her head. "Oh no. I remember the last time you tried that kind of work. The restaurant fired you after an hour."
For a few moments, there was more laughter. The silence that followed it grew awkward and then painful. "Leo said your brain was active while you were in the coma," Julia said. "Like you might be dreaming somehow."
Robert sighed and replied with a nod. "You could say that."
"Was it… I mean, it wasn't something bad, was it?"
"Far from it. I was happy." He swallowed. "It… has to do with my powers, with this swevyra and Flow of Life stuff. But I got to live in a world where I was happy."
"Were we in it?"
"Yes. Especially you." When Robert went silent, Julia couldn't help but feel the awkwardness of it. "I don't… I'm not sure how to say this…"
"In the… dream, I guess you'd call it, you and I, we…" He saw Julia's cheeks flush slight pink and knew she understood where this was going. "...we had a son, Julie."
The flush disappeared. Her eyes locked onto his. "You… dreamed that?"
"It wasn't just a dream. I mean, it was more than a dream…" Robert couldn't stop the tears that formed in his eyes. "You named him after me. Robby Junior. Little Robby. He… he had your hair. And your eyes. And… if there was anything that could have kept me from waking up from that place, it was him."
"What are you saying then?" she asked. "That you want to have a child with me?"
There was an awkward silence. "Maybe," he finally admitted. "If you and I ever… if we ever feel we can make it work without endangering what we already have. If you want to have a child."
Julia struggled to find a response aside from a stiff nod. She swallowed while the thought went through her head. Have a family? Settle down? Could she do that? Would she want to?
"Maybe one day," she finally said. "I… I mean, if I were going to have a baby with someone, you're… it'd work. But not now. What I'm doing, what we're doing, it's dangerous. I'm not going to make potential orphans, Rob."
"I understand completely. I wouldn't want that either." He shrugged. "It's so strange. You and me, having a kid, that's something I'd love. But I also value what we have together, what we've had since we were little, too much to risk it on romance."
"I feel the same way." Julia cleared her throat and made a show of checking her omnitool. "We should probably get to the shuttle bay. They're waiting."
"I'm right behind you, Captain."
When they arrived in the shuttle bay, Robert could see that Julia hadn't just been speaking of Ledosh and Gina.
The officers of the Aurora and Koenig were lined up and waiting for Robert and Julia. His heart swelled at the sight of all of his friends and loved ones coming to say goodbye. He looked toward Ledosh, standing beside the shuttle they were departing on, and felt the assurance from the old Mastrash. He would ensure Robert's power didn't flare out of control. He could give everyone a proper goodbye.
He started with Ensign Hajar, who shook his hand and said, "Thank you for giving me a chance, Captain."
One by one he accepted their hands with his. Patrice Laurent, with friendly grin Robert associated with the commander of the ship's fighter group, gave him a pat on the shoulder. "You will be back," the Central African Republic native insisted. "Our lives are intertwined."
"Good luck, Captain," Lieutenant Richmond echoed in her Australian accent. "It's been an honor serving with you."
"The honor was mine, Lieutenant. Good luck with your new assignment."
"Ye take care, lad," Scotty said. "An' dinnae worry a bit about th' ship."
To that Robert chuckled. "With the Aurora in your hands, Mister Scott? Never."
"Take care of yourself," Leo insisted
"Always." He took Nick Locarno's hand next, then Jarod's, replying to their well-wishes with "Thank you" and "Good luck out there."
Caterina hugged him as tightly as she could. "I'm going to miss you!"
"Woh," he said. "Cat, when did you have a growth spurt?"
"Well, I did travel with the Doctor for a year…" She smiled at him. Her hair was longer than it had ever been, down to her shoulders, and there was a confidence in her eyes that was new. "Take care of yourself, and I don't care how, you have to come back. We're all family!"
"What my crazy not-so-little sister said," Angel added. She gave Robert her own tight hug. This one felt like it could actually crack ribs. "And you need to take care of yourself, Rob."
"Or you'll punch me?"
Her response to that was a smirk and a wink.
Robert could feel the pain coming from Zack even as his friend stepped up. The two embraced. Robert patted Zack on the back. "Call me if you need me," he said. "Just because I can't stay right now doesn't mean I won't be there for you, Zack."
"Thanks, but I'll be fine," Zack answered. The pain Robert sensed in his friend indicated otherwise. "I mean it. I… I just need to get through this by myself, Rob. Okay?"
"Okay," Robert answered. "Just remember that you don't have to." He hoped Zack would keep that in mind as he watched his grief stricken friend step away quietly.
"Man, get out of that monastery place as quickly as you can," Barnes insisted, giving Robert not so much a hug as an excited pat on the back. "I can't imagine how Goddamned boring it's going to be in that fraking place."
"I'll try, Tom, I'll try," he promised. He leaned in and whispered, "Take care of Zack."
Barnes nodded. His expression turned somber. "I'll try, man. It's not gonna be easy."
"Yeah, I can tell."
This left one last goodbye. Robert walked up to the shuttle, where Ledosh and Gina had been joined by Meridina and Lucy. "You look splendid, Meridina," he said. "Congratulations on your new posting."
"Thank you, Robert," she replied.
"Good luck with the training at Umintamil," Lucy added. A bemused grin appeared on her face. "I hear it's a special place."
"Quite special," Meridina said, giving Lucy a similarly-bemused look. "It is a place of introspection and quiet. It is said Swenya often went there to grieve for the slain and strengthen her connection to the Flow of Life. It is a good place for you to learn control."
"Right." Robert sighed. "I suppose I'd better go then."
With a nod to Ledosh and Gina Robert stepped into the shuttle door. He turned back to face the others. "Thank you, everyone," he said. "I know it feels like I just got back. I'm sorry to be leaving on such short notice. It's… well, it's something I need to do, or I'm going to end up hurting someone. I want you to know that whatever happens, I consider you my family, and I will be here when you need me." He stopped himself from saying "goodbye", or even "farewell". "Take care, everyone."
With his piece said, he stepped into the shuttle. Ledosh and Gina followed and the door closed behind them. Moments later the shuttle lifted off of the bay floor and flew out through the containment forcefield.
As the shuttle curved away out of sight, Julia activated her omnitool. "Andreys to Bridge, they're away. Begin jump."
The Starship Aurora turned away from Gersal and accelerated into a green vortex.