Picon’s prestigious flight school only accepted people over the age of 15. This rule was sometimes bent, but never broken. Until Vice Admiral Shaw brought in his daughter at the age of 13 and allowed her to sit in the back of theory classes.
“She is not enrolled in the school,” he calmly explained, “so she’s not breaking any rules.” The other instructors let it pass; as long as she didn’t sit in a plane, she wasn’t risking anyone’s life.
Three weeks later, Instructor Hersh arrived earlier than scheduled. It was a crisp morning, and the dawn was just colouring the horizon. The sky was a gentle purple; he always preferred it like this. He liked to sit on the airfields and absorb the silence.
This morning, the silence was interrupted by the loud buzz of a viper zooming through the sky and landing, slightly shakily, on the asphalt. He stared in amazement as a thirteen year-old with a long dark braid jumped out of the cockpit.
“How did I do?” She called out. Hersh watched as a man emerged from the shadows.
“6/10,” came the gruff voice of Vice Admiral Shaw. “Your landing was sloppy. You need to work on controlling your thrusters.”
When Shaw was 15 and legally allowed to begin flight training, she surpassed everyone in her class with a casual superiority, untinged by her father’s arrogance. While Vice Admiral Shaw boasted left and right about his daughter’s skill, she just flew.
Instructor Hersh called her command over the vipers ‘effortless’. “Some people were born with invisible wings attached to their back. She is one of them.”
“Invisible wings,” Control snorted in disdain. “Don’t let anyone hear you waxing poetic like that around here.”
When her callsign became ‘Wings’, Hersh wasn’t even the slightest bit surprised.
She was one of the best pilots that the force had ever seen. Quick, efficient, and unfazed by the pressures put on her, Shaw had the easy admiration of every pilot. They tried to make her teach others, before Caprica went down, but that was useless. “She just does it all so effortlessly,” Commander Adama defended her in front of the council after Shaw was submitted for military disciple.
“She nearly paralysed a student because of the difficult obstacle course she submitted him to weeks before he was ready.”
“He told her he was ready!”
“She should not have taken his word for it!”
“Shaw is my best pilot. If you take her off the force, I will resign.” Adama said icily. There was a collective sigh. If the board could have rolled their eyes at one man simultaneously, it would have happened then. Instead, they took Shaw off teaching duty and instead made them one of the lead fighter pilots.
Before the Attack being a fighter pilot just meant a lot of boring demonstrations. Looping through the blue sky of Caprica while people coo’ed and aww’ed frustrated Shaw being belief. She daydreamed about shooting into the crowd, only to invoke the correct respect a Viper deserved.
“Don’t do it,” a soft voice crackled on the intercom.
“Shut up, Pet.” Shaw growled. The only reason John knew what she was thinking was because he was thinking it too. That made it somewhat comforting.
Shaw and John were Lieutenants in the Colonial Fleet the day of the Attack. They shared the collective terror as suddenly, every day of their existence became tenuous. It was strange, but Shaw liked it. She liked it, because everything wasn’t boring anymore. She flew her viper into the dock and tilted her head as a new engineer approached her.
“Who are you?” She demanded sharply, chucking her helmet back into the cockpit.
“Call me Root,” the girl said with a secretive grin.
“That’s a callsign. Are you a pilot?”
“I was. Once. Then I got bored with it.”
“Bored? With flying?” Shaw scoffed. “You weren’t doing it right.”
“I’m an engineer now. The best, to be clear.”
“You can’t be the best engineer if you don’t understand machines.”
“I understand machines.”
“Then how could you get bored of them?”
“I never got bored with my plane. I got bored with the endless nothing. What am I meant to do with that? I way prefer fixing things.”
“My viper doesn’t need any fixing.”
“Your thrusters were slightly off.”
“No, they weren’t.”
“Yes, they were.”
“Is she bothering you?” The head engineer appeared at Root’s shoulder. He looked down at her from behind his glasses and shook his head. “Ms. Groves,” he murmured, “if a pilot does not need help, there is no need to offer it. There are better things for you to be doing.” She turned around and smiled sweetly at him.
“Harold, your pet is waiting for you.” Harold didn’t rise to the bait. But Shaw could see John patiently waiting for him. She smirked.
“Ms. Groves. Don’t mess with anything,” he snapped, and then turned away.
“Harold doesn’t trust me,” she told Shaw conversationally. “He thinks I am a cylon.”
“Well, are you?” She flashed a grin at Shaw and left.
Shaw was running laps when she realised she was being watched. She stopped and looked around. High up on one of the lifts there stood two figures. It was dark in the flight deck; Shaw couldn’t make them out. She jogged closer, and looked up. “Good Morning, Shaw,” Root murmured. Shaw squinted upwards.
“Who are you with?” she asked, suspicious.
“Daizo,” chirped a young man. “But I’m going now,” he added cheerfully. Shaw watched, amazed, as he swung himself up on the walkway. Root climbed down from her perch and grinned at Shaw.
“You always run in the morning, don’t you?” She asked.
“It’s my routine,” Shaw replied icily. Root grinned.
The next morning, she was standing near the entrance, waiting for Shaw. Shaw walked in and glanced at her. “What are you wearing?” She asked.
“I’m going to run with you.”
“I said, I’m going to run with you.”
“I heard what you said, I was just surprised,” Shaw growled. Root smirked.
“Good,” she murmured.
They ran in silence, and for the first time in a long time, Shaw wasn’t annoyed by the presence of another person.
There was a fight. The alarms went off, announcing cylons in the area. It took exactly 9 minutes for Shaw to go from her bed to her viper, but as she was running up to the machine, helmet in hand, she heard her name. “Shaw.” She turned around. Root was standing behind her, head tilted.
“What do you want?” She asked, though her tone softened the demand. Root smiled.
“Don’t get killed,” she warned Shaw. “I still haven’t been allowed to inspect your thrusters.”
Shaw hit a cylon, but it hit her back, and she lost control of her viper. As she spiralled down into the red mists of a windy planet, dragged in by its gravity and burning through its atmosphere, she wished she had let Root inspect her thrusters.
The planet was damp and cold, but the air was breathable. Shaw took a shuddering breath as she regained consciousness. She stared around wildly. Her knee burned; she looked down at her leg. It was broken. She sighed. She looked around again. Her viper was destroyed, she was stranded and all she had was one parachute and one roll of duct tape to her name.
She looked around, forlorn. Then she spotted; the fallen cylon. Only 20 paces from her.
She tilted her head and smirked.
She could do something with this.
“We can’t send another search party.” Admiral Adama head was lowered, and he looked distraught. “Too many vipers were shot down in the cylon attack. We can’t spend more time idling here as we attempt to find a pilot that most probably died.” Captain Greer’s reasoning was sound, but Admiral Adama didn’t seem to accept that. He gritted his teeth and shook his head.
“We can search for one more day,” he muttered. Greer sighed.
“One more day could kill us, Admiral,” he muttered bitterly. “Those machines already have it out for us…”
“You should go pressure your man into making sure there are none of them among us,” Adama snapped. Greer gave him a long level stare before he strode off.
“Is Collier close to discovering the Cyclone detector?” Root was sitting on Jason’s bunk, eating an apple, when the lab assistant returned to his dorm. He narrowed his eyes at her and shook his head.
“He’s not even close.”
“I thought he was a genius back on Caprica?” Jason shrugged.
“Everyone’s kind of distracted right now because of Wings’ disappearance.”
“Wings?” Root narrowed her eyes. “You mean that pilot child prodigy?”
“Yeah. She crashed on that planet. Has been missing for days. Daizo thinks she’s still alive, but he and Adama are the only ones.” Root stormed out, suddenly acutely annoyed at everyone. She knew she should have checked Shaw’s thrusters.
“Have we heard from Wings?”
“Who are you?”
“My name is Root, and you should let me help you.”
“I’m an engineer on the third deck.”
“Root!” Daizo hurried forward and grabbed Root’s arm. “Admiral,” he said quickly, turning around. “Let Root help me. She is the best engineer on the ship. She can find Wings.”
They didn’t need Root to find Shaw. Shaw appeared four hours later. Daizo tugged at Root’s sleeve. “Root,” he whispered, gesturing at the radar.
“Cylon,” Root hissed, right as the alarms went off.
“Send some vipers,” Adama shouted into the speaker. “Is he alone?” He asked Daizo. Daizo scanned all the other radars and indicators that usually predicted a cylon attack.
“Completely,” he said, his voice tinged with surprise.
“That’s unusual.” Adama looked out at the cylon, narrowing his eyes. Root agreed with his suspicion and pulled up the camera.
“Sir,” she said slowly, rewinding the video feed.
“What?” The admiral asked, hungrily. Root showed him 3 seconds of the video clip which showed the cylon rising out of the mists of the planet Shaw disappeared on.
“What’s so special about this?” He demanded.
“If that cylon hadn’t been damaged by the fall to the planet, why didn’t it leave days ago? It needed someone to repair it. Want to bet that that someone was Wings?”
“Are you saying that there is a human inside that thing?”
“I’m saying that I don’t know any other pilot who could fly a cylon.”
“Don’t shoot,” Adama barked into the intercoms. “Root thinks that might be Wings.”
It was Reese who flies under the cylon and sees the writing in duct tape: “Wings”, he breathed intercom, a smile lighting up his face. Root just nodded smugly.
“Knew it,” she said proudly.
There was a party in the barracks. It was a weird boost in morale to see someone cheat death as gravely as Shaw had done. Admiral Adama forged ahead with the convoy and drew straws. Nine unlucky souls were forced on watch, while all other pilots were allowed into the break room. Shaw even had a sneaking suspicion Adama had provided some of the booze.
“Only seven lives left.” Shaw spun around. Root was leaning against the wall, watching with keen eyes as Shaw prowled the room.
“What?” She demanded.
“Eight lives. Like a cat,” Root explained. Shaw tilted her head and grinned.
“I’m more of a dog person myself,” she said. Root smiled.
There were games. There were always games. Shaw won, though Reese did not go down without a fight. The second round, they dealt in a suave nugget called Zoe (call sign, Venus). She beat them all mercilessly, smirking happily as she did it. Root stood behind her and watched her slowly take everyone down.
“The next round we should play it like strippoker,” Reese suggested. He was looking at Zoe hungrily. Zoe smirked and looked up at Root.
“Only if I can have Root on my team,” she said, grinning up at Root.
“Two against one?” Reese raised an eyebrow. “Shaw, are you up for that?” Shaw snorted.
“I just beat death. I’m pretty sure I can beat two card players.” The crowd laughed. Zoe raised her own elegantly crafted eyebrow.
“Is that arrogance I hear, Shaw?” She asked, smiling.
“Yes, Zoe,” Shaw sneered. Root’s grin reminded Shaw of the Cheshire cat, and she did not like it. Root elegantly sat down next to Zoe; they shared one chair, and by the end of the second round they were practically sitting on each other’s laps, jeering Shaw and Reese on as they were forced to disrobe.
Root and Zoe were sitting on the bench, still completely dressed. Shaw and Reese were faring worse; Root grinned happily as she put down another winning set. “I think this means you have to for ]fit your tank tops,” she purred.
Zoe whooped as Reese tossed his off, flexing his abs. He grinned, happily. Shaw was slower about it. She maintained eye-contact with Root, slowly, steadily, peeling her tank top off her body. Root gave her a slow once over, gaze sliding over her excellent abs that were glistening with sweat. She licked her lips, and Shaw narrowed her eyes at her. She felt studied, but more importantly wanted, and it was a strange combination.
There was enough alcohol, and enough heat and haze in the room that was inevitable. Shaw needed help back to her dorm; her leg might be in one of Daniel Casey’s newly engineered subtle and slim casts, but she still couldn’t walk without help. Reese was too busy making eyes at Venus, so Root volunteered.
Shaw did not remember during what part of the walk to her bunk that she grabbed Root and kissed her, but it happened. It was hurried and rough and Root bit her lip savagely and Shaw shivered against her. She buckled against the wall, and groaned in pain as she put too much pressure on her leg. Root sighed.
“Such an invalid,” she said sweetly, offering her shoulder again.
“My bunk or yours,” Shaw growled. Root shook her head and just walked them to Shaw’s bunk.
Shaw was splayed on her back on the bed; Root readjusted the towel carefully. It was dark, and most of the other people in Shaw’s dorm were asleep anyway, but Root liked the privacy of the curtain. She settled herself on top of Shaw, straddling her waist. Shaw’s hands, oddly gentle and smooth, settled on Root’s waist. Root was still wearing her clothes; Shaw thumbed the rough fabric of her tank top, and then pulled at it.
“Take it off,” she murmured. It was more of a request, so Root smirked and obliged. Shaw traced Root’s own torso carefully with her hands. She traced the edges of Root’s utilitarian sports bra, and then lower, to the edge of Root’s ribcage. Root shuddered and she leaned forward into Shaw’s touch.
Everything about Root was violent and strange and different. She traced Shaw’s abs with a hungry reverence, and then lowered her attention with a patience predatory smirk. She had time, and she wanted Shaw to groan below her, so Root began slowly. There was something trusting and gentle in touches as she slowly peeled off what was left of Shaw’s layers of clothes. She was mindful of Shaw’s leg as she resettled herself on Shaw’s torso.
“Root,” Shaw murmured, and Root leaned down, over her. Root’s hair fell on Shaw’s shoulder, tickling her. Shaw wanted to bitterly complain, but Root kissed her slowly. Shaw sighed into the affection, settling below Root carefully. Then Root bit down on her lip again and sucked, getting an appreciative sound as Shaw’s body surged into her. Root position herself over Shaw, one hand holding Shaw’s hips down as another hand reverently trailed down Shaw’s body. She traced the bottom of Shaw’s sports bra, receiving a muffled growl from Shaw. Shaw wanted to be touched, but Root was testing and teasing her, and it was infuriating.
Root liked pushing Shaw to the limit; making her thrash and curse her, bucking underneath her as Root patiently drove her insane. When she finally (finally) placed pressure where Shaw needed pressure, it was with infuriating slow strokes. Shaw’s attempts to hurry Root, clawing her bag, tugging her hair, grabbing her ass; none of them worked. Root seemed to ascend her own physical comfort in an attempt to force Shaw to abandon her own.
Later (much later), when Root finally whispered “you can cum now,” Shaw fell apart with words of hatred and promising violence on her lips. But as she ran blunt nails down Root’s back, drawing blood with sheer force, she couldn’t voice any of those. Root, sitting above her, lips glistening red in the twilight, hair wild and eyes too bright (too electric), all Shaw could whisper was Root’s name.
Root licked her lips and pushed Shaw further; Shaw came again (and then again), and every time her body shuddered, the only phrase she could compute was a savage cry for Root.
The next morning, Shaw was exhausted. Every muscle in her body ached in that satisfying way. She woke up with Root curled up next to her, head on her stomach like a cat. Shaw pushed her away and got up. Root stretched and yawned, mouth open, showing off her sharp teeth.
“Can I inspect your viper today?” She asked, lazily running a finger down Shaw’s spine.
“I don’t think they need inspecting,” Shaw muttered, pulling on a t-shirt and de facto stopping Root’s touches. Shaw glanced behind her. Root was pouting. “But fine. If you really want to.” She sighed. Root grinned.
“Excellent,” she murmured and her grin was back.
At the end, when they were all standing on the green ground, people would ask her “how did you not know?” “How did you not know your girlfriend was a cylon?” was an easier question to shout at her than the question that reverberated back at them: how did you not know?
And even though then she said: “I didn’t know,” she doubted herself. Because loving Shaw was the only thing she was ever able to do. Shaw was her human exception.
It made sense that in the end, Shaw wasn’t human.