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.