Oh, Brave New World
by Grey Bard
Susan Ivanova wakes up for the last time in her berth on the science vessel Celestra. Soon it will be as distant a memory as Sagittaron or her mother or Talia. She doesn't believe that Earth, if it exists, is any safer than any other planet, or that some prophetess just happens to have their salvation mystically hidden somewhere up her sleeve like a party conjurer. On the other hand, marooning herself on purpose with a pile of scientists, two thousand of the fleet's most young and fertile and a token defense force is beginning to sound a little crazy too.
It is five am, she has no idea what she's doing, and she hates mornings. On the other hand, at least none of this is surprising.
Ivanova doesn't need to listen to the briefing, she's heard it being planned for months. They have three Colonial Movers, four compact freighters, a shuttle, four Vipers, a Raptor, and a week's loan of the giant Ore Extractor mining ship and the Taurian mobile refinery. Once the mining operation ships out, contact with the fleet will be on a strictly 'Don't call us, we'll call you' basis. Commander Ivanova, specially promoted for the mission, will be left as military governor of one of the Colonial Fleet's most controversial experiments. Hopefully, the planet will be a lot more fertile with some pH balancing and a few degrees of intentional climate change. She'll have six years keep them alive and get things off the ground before they call elections.
President Roslin sounds resolute and purposeful, and you almost can't tell she sees snakes crawling out of the ceiling on a regular basis. She's really a very good public speaker for a mental case, and she pulls it off so much better than her esteemed vice president. She probably hardly talks to herself at all.
Captain Thrace is certainly paying attention. She should. She'll be riding herd on two thousand and twenty three civilians with only five military pilots and a squad of marines. It's big step up from teaching flight training, and a bigger one from getting stuck in the middle of Galactica's usual power struggles. If Kara Thrace punches Ivanova, she'll regret it. But then, Susan likes to think she isn't as much of drunken idiot as Tigh, so it might not come up.
Lieutenant Corwin looks pleased. He's obviously looking forward to taking her old XO post on the Celesta. Who can blame him? A secure position on one of the most carefully defended ships in the fleet, with plenty of on the job learning and lots of opportunity for promotion in whatever the military becomes once the human race catches its breath. He can have the job, and he can deal with that crazy bastard Baltar. Someone has to stop running.
"Sacrovir, if you're here to talk about the survey detail, the shuttles aren't back yet. They won't be back yet for another two days and twenty one hours because they just left. You can talk about the ramifications then, but for now, out." Ivanova is this close to making little involuntary strangling motions at the former mining engineer and head terraformer when Captain Thrace knocks on the door frame.
"Sir? Hey, sorry if this is a bad time, but..."
"No problem, Captain." The Commander grimaces as she shoves the engineering files out of her way, then turns back to glare at the terraformer. "Sarcovir? Out." She points to the door and he leaves.
Thrace comes in and looks straight ahead at a spot just to the left of Ivanova's head. Her hands are held behind her back, and something in the pose doesn't look right. Susan waves at the office chair irritably. "Sit, sit already. We can't spend the next six years with you looking over my shoulder for Adar's ghost."
Her new planetary defense chief meets her eyes, and the Commander feels a little shock at the wide pale-eyed stare. She's so young. Despite the uniform, the Captain looks like an academy rowdy, watching a stevedore come into the bar and wondering if she can take him. "Sir, I know you're gathering the colonists for a speech, and I was just wondering how you wanted me to play it."
Ivanova sighs. "Starbuck. Can I call you Starbuck?" The pilot nods. "Starbuck, we are going to play this like a nice normal town picnic, where the temperature just happens to be forty five degrees out and the town hasn't been built yet. Then, when everyone has finished discussing whose ship blew up and where to put the pyramid court, I'll have a nice neighborly word with them. You don't have to do anything, just mingle."
Starbuck looks unconvinced. "Sir?"
"I know Adama had you working security, and that time will come - but not yet. It's our first day out here alone, they're all volunteers, and even a Cylon won't be up for trouble after the schedule we have them on. Just keep an eye out for settlers who've gotten into the home brew a bit too hard." Starbuck raises her eyebrows at this and Ivanova shrugs with a wry smile. "Don't worry, Captain. I'm sure we'll have enough riots for you soon, just like a real city. Have fun!" "Yes sir!" Thrace says, and salutes. The Commander suspects that that's one order she won't have trouble with.
Afterwards, Ivanova doesn't really remember her speech because she had made it up on the spot the way she always does. She knows she brought up the importance of letting go of the past in favor of grabbing a dangerous future because it is real and here and full of possibilities. That got a lot of cheers. The funny thing about speeches is that they always make things sound so easy, especially if you're making the speech. When she was up in front of the crowd, Susan almost forgot that she has nightmares about the destruction of Sagittaron, even though she wasn't there to see it.
That first fall, everyone helps bring in the harvest. There will be time for fences and farm lots later, to go with the little sod houses and gardens that keep popping up everywhere. The level of technology is schizoid to say the least. Everywhere you turn, there are people trying to use homemade sickles to harvest crops grown in special computer-formulated fertilizer.
Harvesting by hand is hard work. Commander Ivanova isn't surprised that the chemical engineering team had an easier time of it designing the plant food.
"Hard work," Ivanova says, rubbing the sweat out of her eyes. "Are you holding up okay?"
"Oh, I'll live," Starbuck huffs, slicing free a bundle of oats. "Nice sweaty grunt work like this? I'll live. Now, managing that lot," she says, gesturing out at their fellow settlers in the fields. "When they aren't so busy? That's different. We aren't real cops, sir. We don't even really know how. That's going to be the real hard work."
"You've got a point," the Commander admits, grabbing another bundle of grain and bending back to her work. "I thought I was going to work exploration ships for the rest of my life, I never bargained for a whole planet. When you were their age," she asks, nodding at a knot of young pilots sitting down on the job, "What did you think you'd be doing?"
"Me?" laughs Starbuck, before bending to grab another handful of grain. "I thought I was going to be Kara Thrace, star center of the Capricia Buccaneers and play pyramid for a living. Fame and fortune and the best ball game in the colonies. Shame about the knee."
Starbuck's hair is growing out a little, and from behind, her light blonde hair reminds Susan of Talia in a way that she really doesn't want to deal with.
" One minute, boss. Hold that thought!" Captain Thrace says, straightening up and grinning, before she stalks off and goes after her slacking pilots with sadistic flair. "Move it, flyboys! Put some back into it! Are you gonna to let the groundpounders show you up? Come on, Chuckles, get up and pick up your sickle. Even some of the science-types are leaving you in the dust!"
Ivanova watches the blonde figure happily taunting her people into compliance. Thank goodness the rest of her is all Starbuck.
After a year and a half on Nereus, as they've voted to call it, the Cylons are nowhere to be seen. No Base Stars or fighters have been sighted. No supposedly innocent sleepers have been activated into suicide killers. You might think this is good news, and for the most part it is. But with no threats and a relatively mild winter between two strong harvests, people are starting to have time to make trouble.
Add in the fact that the settlement program was pretty popular with the fleet's hardscrabble, hard-done-by skeptical Sagittarons, many of them ex-convicts and the trouble starts to get ideological. Which means nasty.
"Give us the Dynamene flats! Only this land will support our traditional way of life! The life that was taken from us by decades of oppression and cruel war!" Janos Wardel yells, in front of the mob of protesters storming the terraforming labs.
"We're doing the best we can! We can't make it safe or useful for you there yet! We don't have the resources!" Commander Ivanova shouts to the crowd through her megaphone, before ducking back behind the door frame. The protesters jeer back.
"Let us retake our heritage or we will take it from you!"
"Wow, they're feeling frisky tonight, aren't they?" Starbuck asks, and locks and loads her sniper rifle. "They still don't understand the concept 'we don't got any', do they?" She signals her marine security group forward.
Ivanova shrugs and looks longingly at the weapons around her. " They don't really get 'We'll send you to jail and you'll rot there' either." She pauses, listening the protest chants. "Of course, it just doesn't have the same ring about it since that terrorist bastard Zarek went and got himself elected back in the fleet."
As they listen and the chanters get into the swing of things, the chant turns out to be an unending cry of the slogan "S-F-M! S-F-M!".
"Sagittaron Freedom Movement?" snorts Marine Sergeant Stavros. "There's nothing left to liberate! Do you think the dumb Saggies got the memo that the whole planet got blown to hell?"
Starbuck winces and shakes her head. "Sergeant," she says, tapping his makeshift riot shield with her rifle, "Maybe not the dumb Saggies, but the Commander sure did."
Stavros shuts up.
Ivanova glances out the door again and shrugs with a bitter little smile "Hey, maybe he's not wrong. I'm still dumb enough to want to kill Zarek for what he did to a planet we've both abandoned. What were they thinking, voting for that monkey? He's not even a particularly good terrorist! The man never met a military target he felt like hitting or an innocent bureaucrat he wouldn't want to blow up. So he wrote a book! Who cares?"
There isn't much anyone can say to that, so they don't.
"Hey," Starbuck says, like she's just gotten an idea. "I'm not the governor, right? I don't need to be diplomatic, right?"
The commander looks at her. "I guess not. Why?"
Starbuck drops the rifle, grabs the megaphone, and marches out the door. "Hey, morons! Haven't you heard about the giant freaking poisonous spiders down Dynamene way? Well, haven't you? Well, maybe we've got better things to do than play exterminator for you and fly out to doctor up your sick kids when they've got spider bites!
"Yeah, and have you heard what winters are like down there?" she goes on. "Dynamene is on a freaking plateau and it is high and cold, and whew! You think it's bad here? It'll be twenty years before the atmosphere modification plant does squat for you in the way of keeping you guys from being turned into icicles!"
The crowd rumbles, but some of them start to look doubtful. It isn't much, but at least they've put down the flaming torches.
"Do you have the present?" Susan asks
"Do you have the candy?"
"Are you ready?"
There is a pause.
"Is my uniform straight?" Starbuck asks.
"Yes," Ivanova says and straightens her collar for her. "Now, are you ready?"
"Yes, no," she fidgets. Captain Thrace, head of the planetary defense, squirms like a teenager. "I don't know. A baby? I mean, being a godparent, that's a big deal. What do I know about raising kids? What if I'm not up to it?"
Ivanova grabs her shoulders and makes Starbuck meet her eyes. "You have to be. Kat looks up to you and she doesn't have anybody else."
"I know, I know," Starbuck says, rubbing her forehead. "She doesn't know who the father is, her grandfather is older than dirt and back with the fleet, everybody else is dead, and I trained her up from a little nugget. But what do I do?"
"Don't screw this up," Ivanova says. "Besides, Kat is young and strong and we haven't seen any Cylons since we got here. It may never come up. Now, I came along like you asked, I promise not to let you throw up on the baby, okay?"
Starbuck nods, steels herself, and knocks on the door.
"Captain!" Kat cries, and embraces Starbuck before giving her a warm armful of baby. "Did you hear? He's a little boy, and I'm naming him Anson!"
"That's nice," Kara says and stares down at the baby. Anson. His skin is very brown and he doesn't resemble anyone that Ivanova can think of. His arms wiggle and he seems to be looking at a point just left of Starbuck's nose. He isn't very large.
"I hate to ask, but I haven't had any time since I brought him home. Could you take care of him while I go grab a shower?"
Starbuck doesn't seem to hear her, so after a moment, Ivanova says "Sure, yeah, that'll be fine," and they are alone.
"Do you ever think about kids?" Ivanova asks, to break the quiet.
"Not either way," Starbuck says and keeps staring at Anson, studying him like a strange engine. "It always seemed so far away, you know? And now, with the damn Cylons and all the radiation, I'm not sure. Maybe I can't."
"I wanted to," Ivanova admits with a deep breath. "Talia, Talia and I were planning to when the Celestra came in from the upcoming run. An XO's pay is good enough to do right by a kid, and I'd have a lot of leave coming after a voyage that long. I wouldn't have been home much, but she always did just fine at taking care of herself."
"What did she do?" Starbuck asks, looking up from the baby.
"What did she do?" Ivanova repeats, confused. "She died with the rest of ... oh. She was a psychologist. She was almost spooky the way she read people. Talia probably would have had that kid all figured out down to the last bit before he even could speak. I guess one of us had to be sensitive." She clears her throat, "So, uh. Do you have anyone you'd want to share a kid with and all that? Some young farmer you've got hidden away somewhere, someone back with the fleet you're holding out for?"
Kara wavers, colors, looks away, and then looks back defiantly. Even Ivanova can read that. Susan leans in and -
Starbuck thrusts Anson into her arms. He squawks and makes a happy little wriggle. "Not now," she says, and looks a little sick. "I work for you, remember?"
And they just stand there, just like that, baby between them, until Kat comes in.
Starbuck is in a card game when the earthquake hits, in their fourth year on Nereus. The ground just opens up and swallows houses and people alike.
The atmosphere modification plant outside of town that the scientists and volunteers had spent months building is torn in two, the giant gas vats ruptured beyond repair. The labs that they had fought so hard to protect from an irate mob has collapsed like a house of straw. The freighter that's in use as the guard headquarters, for various perfectly reasonable security concerns, is wedged into an offshoot of the huge crevasse that now runs through the center of town. Five marines, two pilots and Starbuck are trapped inside.
Silos everywhere have cracked and leaked, spewing precious grain into the open air. They only have until the next rain to save it. This is probably not the right place to rebuild.
Wardel and his happy host are crying murder that Commander Ivanova has chosen to rescue the guard ship first, but it's only logical. The abilities of the ships the guards can fly, and even the abilities of the guards themselves are too valuable to the rest of the rescue effort not to come first. Wardel's angry speeches aside, they aren't short of volunteers, and a team of former miners have been carefully clearing the engines and digging their way to the hatch all morning.
The trapped ship rises before her, dented and crotchety, blowing out clouds of dirt. It is the most beautiful thing Ivanova has seen in a long time. The miners cheer.
When Starbuck staggers off the freighter, at the head of a battered but relieved guard contingent, Ivanova claps her on the shoulder and says,"Finally! Now we can get to the real work."
During the fifth summer, after the new town is built twenty miles away from the fault line, an announcement is posted in the bars, at the market, at the temple, and in all the public places. Very mysterious, it advertises a great unveiling to be held one afternoon in the town common. There are a number of people's signatures on it - several engineers, two mechanics, and Kara Thrace. Ivanova bothers her about it, but Starbuck refuses to let out so much as a word.
The mystery turns out to be Nereus's first truck. The thing is small, crude and clumsy, but it is sturdy and easily copied now that a working model has been made. The creators of the thing barely all fit in it as it trundles out into the square. Starbuck and one of the younger engineers ride the bumper.
The first truck is going to be an informal bus and taxi service. Suddenly, with working private vehicles, the world seems like a more civilized place. Settlers with land back by the original landing site won't have to wait weeks before they have the time to go into town. Suddenly twenty miles isn't so much anymore.
After the crowd finishes marveling at it, a waiting list is taken, and the haggling begins. Buying a truck is even more of a leisurely spectator sport, now that everything has to be done in barter. Eventually, the party and the negotiations move into a nearby tavern. Commander Ivanova buys the whole truck consortium a round of the barkeep's best and sits down next to Starbuck.
"Good stuff!" Starbuck says, approvingly, over the noise. "I remember when the best most of these guys could do tasted like dishwater!"
"Yeah," Ivanova remembers. "Until someone didn't bother to open a barrel of that dishwater for a few months and suddenly it tasted great!"
They both shake their heads. "Too bad no one invented a brewery ship back in the old days," Starbuck grins. "Those are some skills we really could have used!"
And so they sit there and drink, and drink in the party. Several self-appointed musicians have started singing, but unfortunately, they're really bad at it. The truck people are the heroes of the hour, and you can tell that some of the engineers are going to get lucky tonight on a much, much larger scale than usual. Even two of Starbuck's marines are getting into the swing of things.
"It looks like the festive spirit is catching!" Ivanova says, and nods toward them.
Starbuck shakes her head in disgust "Oh, crap. Well, there goes that promotion."
"What are you talking about?" her boss asks.
"Well, Ange won't want to give up her job, so I can't exactly promote Tracer, now can I? It isn't like there's anywhere I can transfer him. It's a pity, he's a good guy." Starbuck plays with her glass.
"We aren't in the middle of a war anymore. You're basically small town sheriffs and search and rescue! Don't you think you're being a little hard on them?" Susan asks.
"No." Starbuck takes another drink and refuses to meet her eyes. "Once, when I was young and stupid, you know, back when I was a flight trainer at the Academy, I had the pleasure of training my fiance, Zac. And testing him. And I thought, hey, he's not that bad a pilot, maybe he's having a bad day, so I passed him. And gee, wouldn't you know he got himself killed because he didn't know what he was doing."
Ivanova looks back at the happy couple. "I see."
"Rules aren't stupid just because they don't let you have what you want, you know? It took a lot to make me learn that, but I did. Sometimes good stuff is a bad idea."
And with that, Captain Thrace leaves the bar.
They have been here for six years today, and happy as she is to push all the paperwork off onto someone else and just chair the terraforming project, Ivanova can't bring herself to feel anything but down. Today the grown citizens of Nereus are voting for the planetary-level position which has been renamed 'mayor' by popular acclaim. Apparently, a lot of people feel that since there are hardly enough people on the planet to make a town, fancy titles like president would just be ridiculous. That's a whimsical decision, and one that bothers Ivanova. If the voters are feeling arbitrary, maybe they'll vote for Janos Wardel. He's one of the top two candidates, and what the hell. He talks well, and people can be stupid. Ivanova doesn't want to think about it. She is going to sit here, on her bed, and wait until she hears people in the streets chanting one name or another. If Wardel wins, she is seriously thinking of becoming a hermit. Ivanova knows a nice quiet little cave thirty miles out of town, and the idea is tempting.
When Starbuck shows up, in a disgustingly good mood, it does nothing to raise her spirits. "I don't know what you're so happy about," Ivanova says. "I'll bet that idiot is going to win. He's about as useful as a three year old and has as much sense besides."
"Hey, I resent that!" Starbuck teases. "Anson has way more sense than Wardell, and he's very useful for catching lizards."
Ivanova makes a disgusted noise.
Starbuck shrugs. "Well, how bad can it be. I mean, that's why we set up our own planetary Quorum for checks and balances and stuff, right? All twelve of those guys can't be that bad too."
Ivanova shakes her head. She doesn't want to think about it, but she can't stop.
Starbuck tries again."And also, I set my boys to some very successful campaigning if I say so myself." She flops onto the bed beside Ivanova. "Offering free booze at the rally, and then everybody parading together down to the voting booths."
Starbuck grins evilly. "Wham, bam, thank you for voting."
Ivanova just stares.
"What! I bet it works!"
Ivanova can't help it. She throws a pillow at her.
Starbuck laughs in triumph."Hey, would you rather have Wardel win?"
The pillow fight starts in earnest, and goes on for a good several minutes.
Finally, Starbuck rolls on top of her after a particularly heavy barrage. "They're voting," Starbuck smiles. "You don't tell me what to do anymore." She goes in for a kiss, but Ivanova backs away.
"Are you sure?" she says. "Are you sure this is a good idea? I mean, the fleet is probably coming back eventually, and if you went with them you could go back to doing real flying. I haven't been with anyone since Talia, and I'm at least ten years older than you. Are you sure?"
Kara grabs her shoulders. "You frakking hypocrite! You've spent the last six years telling people to let go of the past and grab the future. Well you know what? You can take your own advice!" The kiss she plants on Susan is supernova in its intensity.
They never even notice when the vote is called.
The fleet comes back, three years later, bringing new settlers and old friends. News and goods get traded eagerly, and they aren't the only things moving. Nine years is a lot of water under the bridge, and a lot of people who came to Nessus at the beginning are going back. Starbuck stays late into the night on the Galactica, drinking with the pilots and trading stories with the Adamas, but the next morning Susan finds her asleep on the couch. When the fleet leaves, they aren't with it.