Kara shifted uncomfortably in her dress uniform as the crew assembled. Years of hurry up and wait having failed to train the twitchy need to do something out of her. She rocked up on to the ball of her left foot a little before dropping back down on to the slightly too stiff heel of her dress boots. Just as she was about to repeat the action on her right, warmth crept through the thick blue felt of her jacket as Zak slowly pressed his weight against her. The pressure and closeness soothing away some of the frayed nerves caused by the stifling presence of too many people in her hanger bay and the coat of fresh paint that had eradicated the scent of decades of training run excitement and the subtle stench of fury and fear left over from the war.
“Breathe slowly and let some of that tension go, Starbuck“ Zak hissed under his breath at her as he slid his hand into hers. Kara slowly took a deep breath and just as she was about to use it to curse him out she sensed a shift in the crowd of civilians to their right. She let the air huff out of her nose slowly, grinding her teeth in frustration as the Minister of Education crossed the hanger that her people had crippled and took to the stage blocking the launch tube.
“They’ve crippled her, and you are all expecting me to stand in the belly of her corpse as they tear her heart out.” Kara hissed. “You want me to watch her go down in flames with a smile for the woman who claimed her as a trophy.” Zak just squeezed her hand in silent agreement as the Minister on stage put her note cards onto the podium.
"The Galactica is the last bastion of the Cylon war and the loving and dedicated care of her crew has ensured that she remains the last working un-networked battleship in the fleet. It is my greatest honour to see to it that this relic of a different time in the history of the Colonies finally allowed to rest. Finally move from an outdated training vessel to a place of education for young or old. To become a place of remembrance of those lost to our overreaching. " Kara growled faintly at the insults, a low sound far below the hearing of most people that still caused the men and women in front of her to rock away slightly.
On the stage Minister Laura Roslin continued, only the whitening of her knuckles showing that she had felt the Sentinel’s warning rumble, that her body had recognised the violent threat it carried.
"A place to remember our greatest folly, the enemy that we created, and teach those to come that if you create intelligence you must consider it's ability to turn against you. A memorial to the greatest loss humanity has ever seen."
Tuning out the minister’s next few sentences, Kara let herself rock into Zak’s solid presence breaking protocol to twist enough to press her face into his neck, trusting the security of her future Guide to protect her from the pain of losing her home and the security the old battleship provided.
A familiar but unexpected hand dropped onto Kara's shoulder and squeezed softly before tugging slightly to prompt her to return to position. As she did the Admiral released her shoulder and flicked his hand up to brush his fingers against her jaw before he stepped away and moved past her, his familiar scent lingering on her jacket and face. An unspoken promise of finding her a good fight. She slowly took a few deep breaths trying to ease some of the threat readiness out of her muscles as the Minister on stage finally wound up her speech.
"The loss of our Sentinels and the slow decay of the Guides that survived them is a horror that we must not forget. An act of war that we cannot forgive or allow to fade.“ The sound of just under two thousand people breathing was all that followed Roslin’s hollow words. The silence held for an uncomfortably long time as the minister waited for an applause. Kara looked up sharply as the Admiral stepped on to the stage and when the Minister failed to move out of his way she made eye contact with the woman, the flat stare of a threatened predator. The Minister slowly stepped back with a graceful nod to Admiral Adama as he stepped up to the podium.
"I came to the Galactica as a young man. I came with ideals and hopes. I came with thoughts of saving my people from slaughter. I came with the passion of a young warrior and the arrogance of a righteous man. I went to war assuming that I would stand behind and to the left of Sentinels and Guides as they lead us to freedom." Kara realised that she was panting slightly when the Admiral tapped a finger against the podium as he stared at her, one of the Captain at the front of the crowd breaking away from his place to come stand beside her. Zak reached across her and tugged his brother a little closer so that Kara was pressed between them. Lee and Zak Adama creating a solid wall of gentle protection soothing her even as the Admiral's words forced her to recall the memories left by the Sentinels in the Tribal Legacy. The weight of a long finished war pressing down on the last Sentinel calling her to action even as she was held back by her half online state.
"What I found was that war is foul. War is mess and blood and horror. No one is right and neither side is willing to give way to the other. I survived the war on the back of the sacrifice of the last protection we had, what everyone will forget is that is was not the Galactica that saved us. It was not the 'Fleet that saved us. It was not passion or love of mankind that saved us. It was the drive to protect. The need to preserve the Tribe. The most archaic part of our race. A sacrifice that we can never hope to repeat. A loss from which we will never recover.” Kara sighed with relief as the Admiral finally looked away, leaving her in the capable hands of his sons.
She watched carefully as he slowly looked across the room before sweeping his glasses off his face and pinching the bridge of his nose as he softly murmured “We must not forget the reasons why so many sacrificed so much in the cause of freedom. The cost of wearing the uniform can be high …” he paused, glancing at Kara again before looking away “but sometimes it's too high. You know, when we fought the Cylons, we did it to save ourselves from extinction. But we never answered the question, why? Why are we as a people worth saving?” Kara looked up seconds before the ship rocked with a mild impact. To her right the civilians gasped and began to mutter even as the crew took their lead from the Admiral, who simply spread his legs a little and braced himself with ease dismissing the nudge as debris striking the hull as he continued his speech harshly.
“We still commit murder because of greed,” Kara felt something deep inside her lock into place and shoved Lee out of the way to reach the path between crew and civilians as the ship shuddered again, the tension and unease she had been feeling through the whole ceremony came to a head.
“Spite,” Adama spat from the podium.
Kara flinched and slammed her hands over her ears as everything became too loud even as the distinctive sound of an engine winding down from Faster Than Light travel shattered through her already delicate hold on clarity and calm.
Kara hit the deck as her legs gave way and even as civilian began to turn to look at her in panic she heard the Admiral shout,
“Jealousy! We still visit all of our sins upon our children.”
Zak wrapped his hands tightly around her upper arm and dragged her to her feet, Lee neatly slotting against her other side. As they hauled her out of the hall she heard the Admiral almost sigh, “We refuse to accept the responsibility for anything that we've done. We decided to play God, create life. When that life turned against us, we comforted ourselves in the knowledge that it wasn't our fault, not really.”
Kara froze locking her self in place as he tilted her head as though looking at something through the thick plating of the hull. She broke free of Lees grip and reached past him blindly until she hit a uniformed shoulder. Without looking away from the spot she was watching she hauled her Chief of the Deck close enough that she could feel his breath,
“Get everyone who can fly in a Viper! Now!” she hissed, behind her, she could hear the crowd shifting uncomfortably. The crew preparing for action as the civilians began to panic. The Chief let her hold on to him as he looked over her shoulder at the Admiral. Kara huffed in annoyance as the Admiral almost prophetically uttered,
“ You cannot play God then wash your hands of the things that you've created. Sooner or later, the day comes when you can't hide from the things that you've done anymore.” The ship rocked heavily and radiation alarms started to sound, the large screen behind the Admiral automatically flickering to life as the Bridge staff triggered the war protocols. An image of Caprica came to life on the screen, mushroom-shaped clouds formed over golden-hued, white light before the distinctive shape of a Cylon Bayship blocked the view.
“CREW THE VIPERS!” The Chief yelled as he grabbed Kara’s shoulder and together they led the charge of pilots and Deck crew across the ship to the opposite hangar bay.
Distantly she heard the CAG shouting orders, designating command of the deck to her even as he called for the experienced Viper pilots to join him on the offensive.
Kara broke away and easily outpaced everyone else carving the way across the ship as she shoved containers and camera crews out of the way. She neatly swung herself around the entrance to the hangar and bolted to the prep room at the far end. As she flung her dress uniform off and tugged her flight gear her advanced fighter pilot trainees flooded the room and prepared themselves for the most intensive training session they had ever had. As the first few were tugging on their neck braces and stepping into boots Kara was already in the hangar face to face with the Chief.
“I need my people in the air five minutes ago.”
“Look, we’re moving as fast as we can, we spent the last 6 months decommissioning all this and getting it ready to receive civilian flights instead of launching Vipers." The distinctive sound of an engine roaring to life in the launching tube cut across him, forcing the Chief to repeat himself. "I already have a Raptor ready to launch and start recon, Boomer and Helo are already on board and changing as they wait for permission to move out.”
“Then get them out there and clear the fracking tubes so I can get in the air” Kara shouted over her shoulder as she leapt up onto the wing of her Viper as it was rolled into the prep position. As she looked back of the Chief she spotted her pilots starting to stream out into the bay and with a piercing whistle, she motioned for them to get to their ships. She gave the Chief one last glance before dropping into her cockpit with practised ease.
She flicked a hand in the air to signal for her final checks and helmet. The Viper rocked softly and Kara looked up with a frown as Zak appeared next to her, his flight suit half unzipped as he took her helmet off the crewman responsible for attaching it. He dropped to his knees on the wing and whispered,
“Settle and focus. Pull back and ride it out." Kara reached up and gripped the reinforced collar of his flight suit and tugged him towards her. Zak carefully shifted so he was blocking the rest of the Deck's view of her before leaning forwards and pressing a kiss to her lips. Kara tugged him closer and deepened the kiss for a moment before drawing back and releasing his collar to run her fingers up his neck and through his hair.
"Guide..." She breathed,
"Not yet. We do not have time for this right now. You need to draw it back and keep your head. You get back safe, we fix whatever is going on out there, and then we can give into it and become a true pair." He said quietly before lifting the helmet onto her head and carefully locking it into place. Kara reached up to knock the visor over her face, taking a deep breath and clicking her radio on to address the Deck,
“Alright, Starbuck ready to launch. Everybody get their ass in a Viper, that includes you, Priapos.” She grinned up at Zak, who rolled his eyes and muttered,
“We agreed you were going to let that drop. If that sticks as my callsign I am never going to forgive you…” Kara laughed as he hopped off the wing and she motioned for the crew to roll her into the launch tube. When the tube door closed she slowly breathed in through her nose and as she automatically flicked through the launch sequence she bit down harshly on her lip to force the Sentinel side of her back.
As she sat in the tube waiting for the rest of her team to be ready she flicked to the command channel,
“Commander? Dipper?” She asked, waiting for the CAG to reply, impatiently tapping her fingers on the stick.
“Starbuck, the kiddos are used to you best to keep them with the familiar. Be safe.” Her commander ordered as his team launched.
“Apollo?” she asked when the line crackled with a new addition,
“Packaged and ready for launch. Starbuck, this is your deck. Tell me where you need me and I’ll follow your lead.” Lee shot back quickly.
“I figured. I need you to take care of some of my baby pilots, I’m going to give you my new rotation, I’ll take the ones near graduation and go in hot. ” She ground out quickly as the override popped up and the radio switched back to the open channel so the Chief could tell her the tubes were all full and ready to launch.
Kara rested her finger over the release and looked up at the observation window to nod firmly at the Chief. As he nodded back and gave the order to launch she pressed herself back into the seat before the Viper started to move. When she reached the end of the tube she tugged the stick up and pulled up to take the lead position of the arrow head forming above the Galactica. In the distance, she could see a stream of ships launching from the planet as people responded to the evacuation order being broadcast.
The Raptor they had launched ahead of the Vipers sent a batch of coordinates marking atmospheric exit position for the Viper teams being launched from the planet,
“Let them know Galactica has room for them to land if needed.” Kara ordered as she realised that the other Colonial Fleet Battlestars were leaving orbit to defend the other planets in the Colonies, the Vipers being left behind in the scramble.
“Done…Damn….” Boomer suddenly shouted, “Fracking junk in the vents from the blast, I’m going to have to land and clear this out! I told the Chief something was up with this ancient piece of crap.”
“Fix it and get back in the air. You can curse the Chief out when you get home.” Kara ordered before tapping over to the Viper comms “Alright, Nuggets, time to play with the big boys, stick to follow the leader and fire at will when you spot a Cylon. Apollo, take team two and move to protect the Evac. Try to keep them tight, the last thing we need is civilians scattering into someone’s path.” Tapping her radio to mute her channel she looked out at the devastation littering the space between the Galactica and Caprica.
Her home planet reduced to a nuclear wasteland before her eyes and half the fleet wiped out before they even knew they were in danger. Even as she guided her team towards a defensive position, waiting for the attack to begin, she could feel a primal urge to get blood on her fists and between her teeth. “Lords of Kobol, I don’t know what your plan is but whatever the cost to me… don’t let the Cylons win.” Behind the curve of the planet she saw the Bayship turn and shift away from the planet, revealing that what she had thought was a shadow was a host of Cylon fighter ships almost on top of the team she had sent ahead.
Kara broke away from the defensive position her team were holding, trusting them to respond and follow, forcing the Viper to its maximum speed. They raced towards the other group, weapons armed and ready to fire, the chatter from Apollo’s channel changing from light-hearted corrections to positioning and reminders of battle protocols to harsh orders as he realised that the Cylon attack squad was already on them and his team were only just out of flight school and barely knew how to fire their weapons, never mind actually target something.
“Apollo, get them out of there! DROP. DROP.” Kara yelled over the radio as she watched the Cylons swarm into the trainees. Half of the squad responded, pointing their noses down and dropping towards the planet in a desperate attempt to get out of the close quarter dogfight that they were entirely unprepared for. Knowing she could give the others no more time she opened fire, trusting that her team had enough training to actually hit what they were aiming for.
“Starbuck, I still have people in there!” Apollo shouted back as the rest of her squad followed suit, the Cylon ships they targeted weaving sideways to smash into the ships closest to them hitting Cylon and Human ships alike as the synthetic brain commanding them was exposed to the vacuum of space.
“Do your job, Apollo, protect the evacuation.” She gritted as she watched one of their Vipers spiral out of the dogfight and crash towards the planet, the distinctive black staining of Viper weapon fire letting her know that it was friendly fire. “Watch your gods damned aim! Six months of practicing hitting targets and one of you is still shooting wide.” She snapped at her squad as she managed to position herself between the falling ship and the Cylon trying to aim at it. As she hit the Cylon, sending it spinning into two other Cylon ships she started to mutter under her breath,
“pull up… Pull up! Come on, pull up…” The four remaining Cylons pulled close to each other before starting to retreat, “ZAK, PULL THE FRACK UP” She yelled over the radio, finally pulling away from the fight to drop and fly next to the crashing Viper.
As she reached him she could see Zak straining against the force of the ship, trying to pull the weight of the ship out of the pull of the planet. “Nugget, remember your training. We practised this three weeks ago.” She snapped at him, realising that panic had set in and Zak wasn’t following emergency procedures. “Come on Zak, you did flight school three times, Lee and I quizzed you every night for two years…. you know how to do this…” she half shouted, half begged.
“I can’t… I don’t… ‘buck, what do I do?” He gasped, glancing up through the clear roof of the cockpit at her. The first tendrils of his panic reached her as instinct defeated training. She carefully cleared her mind and brought her Viper close enough to almost touch his, mimicking his wild spiral to keep them close. She stared into his eyes and softly began to talk him through the emergency procedures as though they were in the middle of a training session.
As he followed along, switching reverse thrusters on and 180-ing the direction of his ship, Kara felt their breathing sync and as she pulled away to give him room to manoeuvre she realised she could almost feel the stick in his hands and the pressure on his muscles. She shut her eyes and reached out, letting her mind sink into his to guide the Viper up. The strain of the thrusters failing made her arms ache, the pressure of the uncontrollable spin made her vision blacken at the edges even as the hit wing failed and golden red light flooded the canopy. She screamed as pain flooded her mind. Her eyes flew open as she automatically pulled her Viper out of the atmosphere, tearing away from the planet even as Zak spiralled away from her.
She could hear Apollo shouting over the radio and, as the fragile link to her Guide flickered away, she felt the Sentinel take over and destroy the last Cylon fighter attacking the convoy of evacuees before joining the rest of her team in guiding them towards the safety of the Galactica.
“Raptor 1? Boomer? Search and rescue when you get in the air.” She heard Apollo order the reconnaissance vessel that had been scanning the planet for the next batch of evacuees from its position on the ground,
“Sir, we won’t find anything. There’s nothing left down here except wreckage…” Boomer was cut off as the recall alarm went off. Kara looked up at the sensor readout and swore as four Bayships appeared on the far edge of the readout.
“Head home. Frack it! HOME! NOW!“ Kara ordered as she slammed a fist into the metal panelling beside her, Taking a deep breath she calmly repeated her order, “Everyone head home.” She carefully positioned herself behind the last convoy leaving the planet and radioed Boomer “Tell me you can get off the ground. One last scan for survivors and then you head back. We aren’t leaving anyone to the Cylons if we can help it.”
“All clear and ready to launch. Radiation levels are pretty crazy down here, I don’t think we need to worry about what the Cylons will do to them.” Boomer replied softly, “There's a group of people heading towards us.”
“Take as many as you can,” She paused before gritting out, “Young, healthy and useful careers first. Doctors, medics, engineers… you know the drill.” Turning her nose homewards she trusted training to get her back into her tube she reached back to the planet, searching for any sign of Zak. As she bit her already bloody lip and pulled away the faint image of a white fox flickered in and out of sight in the corner of her eye standing on the wing of her Viper before tumbling away.
- - -
Starbuck hit the Deck hard not even pausing to pull her helmet off before she began to run to the Bridge. She dodged the wreckage littering the corridor beneath a hasty patch job, leaping over the space-frozen bodies and the crew working to make the patch secure enough for FTL travel. The clock already running and counting down to the jump over the general broadcast. She hit a descent tube and with a quick shout to confirm it was clear she slid down two decks before swinging out onto the corridor again. As she reached the entrance to the Bridge she heard the Chief hissing,
“ Do you know how many we lost?” quietly enough that the rest of the Bridge could not hear but totally clear to her. She slowed to walk across the Bridge, tugging her helmet off as she moved towards the arguing pair.
“Yes.” The Admiral replied, not looking up from the display in front of him, “Set up a morgue in hangar bay three” he ordered, glancing up to nod at Starbuck as she reached the Chief’s side.
“Forty seconds.” The Chief spat through gritted teeth, his entire body shaking with the effort to hold back, Kara reached up and squeezed his shoulder warningly. “Sir, all I needed was forty, fracking, seconds and I could have had them clear!”
“You have your orders. Set up a morgue, clear the corridor and prep for the jump.” The Admiral looked the Chief dead in the eyes until the other man half snarled,
“Yes, sir” before spinning on his heel and marching off the bridge. The thud of his fist hitting the metal of the corridor wall bouncing back to Kara as she waited for the Admiral to decide what to say to her, the bridge crew scurrying around them as each of them tried to cover the positions of three people. At the edge of her vision, a small white fox trotted across the bridge followed by a low flying jackdaw. The fox paused to tilt its head and look at the Admiral before fading away, the jackdaw landed on the edge of the table display in front of them. Kara reached out a finger to stroke over its feathers, the Admiral frowning as the bird tapped twice over the image of Caprica on the display before dodging out from under Kara’s hand to hop off the table and onto her shoulder.
“We can’t go back.” He said softly,
“We haven't left yet,” Kara whispered back, stepping closer to him. “Just let me take one Raptor, I don’t even need a co-pilot. Just one ship. Half an hour.”
The Admiral ran his fingers over the marker for the downed Viper,
“We can’t risk those we have rescued for one man, one man who is most likely dead. I have my orders from Command, we protect the evacuees and retreat to the safe zone until either the rest of the Fleet join us or we are certain no-one else is coming.”
“He’s your son, FRACK IT, Zak’s your son!” Kara half shouted, flinching away from the echoes of her own voice before glancing around at the bridge crew, who carefully ignored the outburst. She carefully took several deep breaths, “I…”
“You’re online.” The Admiral interrupted suddenly, taking the helmet out of her hands and placing it on the table before carefully collecting her hands into his. “You really know how to pick your moments, Starbuck.” He said as the FTL countdown finally reached one.
“All evacuated ships with FTL have made the jump, the rest are heading to the secondary rendezvous point. Team three have disengaged from the Cylon attackers and returned to the tubes.” The XO announced from the FTL calculation desk at the back of the bridge. Kara looked up at the Admiral, silently willing him to not give the order, as he lifted the handset for shipwide comms and firmly ordered,
“Brace for jump in five, four, three, two… Jump.” Kara dropped to her knees as the sensation and sound of FTL overwhelmed her. The Tribal memory of a half dozen million jumps, ending in cheers, laughter, pain, battle, destruction… hitting her against her will before the world faded to a sharp point of buzzing.
“… Listen to my voice and focus on the feel of my skin on your skin.” Kara frowned as she took a deep shaky breath and slowly she lifted her head to blink at the Admiral, who had, at some point during her blackout, dropped to crouch in front of her. “Hey, ‘buck, you back with us?” He asked softly.
“I’ve been better, sir.” Kara muttered as she rolled her shoulders and winced at the headache the movement set off. She shifted and rolled to her feet, leaning heavily on the display next to her as she looked at the arrangement of ships in the radiation field that the Colonial fleet had named the Safe Zone after its effects on Cylons was discovered during the war.
The Admiral looked at her consideringly before asking, “How many, Starbuck, how many people are out there on those ships?” She shut her eyes and reached out to the psionic plane, connecting to it in a way that she had never managed during her training with the survivors of the Cylon massacre, the original massacre she thought wryly. She pushed away the familiar, but far stronger than before, pull of Zak’s presence and let her senses stretch and flow over the closest parts of the physical plane, using the psionic plane to cross the void of space. Without fully dropping back into the physical world she gasped,
“Forty-nine thousand, three hundred and seventeen.” She tuned out the Admiral and followed the tug of Zak until she found Caprica, she let her senses flow over the planet and then drew away. She looked up at the Admiral, “one hundred thousand survivors on Caprica alone, but falling fast… and there’s something odd, like some of them are,” she paused shaking her head before finishing, “not quite real.” The Admiral lent forwards and softly squeezed her shoulders before picking up her helmet and handing it back to her.
“Have you got control of this?” at her tentative nod he turned her around and pushed her gently in the direction of the Deck. “Good, because I need my CAG out there, doing her job and getting ready for when the Cylons catch up to us.”
“Sir?” Kara twisted back to look at him in shock.
“Dipper didn’t make it and you are next up, Captain.” He stepped close so that he was right on her shoulder and whispered, “The hardest thing in the world is the moment in battle where we have to pull away from emotional reaction and deal with the reality of our situation. I need you to go out there and be a Sentinel. Right from the start. We don’t have time to morn or figure things out. I need you to live up to your legacy. Find that strength and don’t look back until this is over.” Kara blinked a few times before slowly saluting him and leaving the Bridge in a few strong strides.
She paused just out of sight of the bridge and let herself take a few harsh breaths before sniffing, pressing her fist to the wall and starting to walk back to the Deck slowly. As she reached the Deck she cut along the outside edge one fist running along the walls, smashing into each weld in the panelling harshly, as she tried to figure out how to deal with the volatile mix of near-retirement fighter pilots and barely trained nuggets that would be waiting in the ready room. She paused at the doorway, the blood her inner sentinel had been calling for finally on her fist but it’s anger still burning. She listened for a moment as Lee stood in front of her pilots quietly reading the names of those who had not returned.
As he reached the last few names and she was about to step forwards she felt someone come to stand next to her,
“Captain,” the Chief said softly, “The Admiral just sent word, the President is dead. We’re under military law, proceed with plan six” Kara nodded, handing him her helmet with a mutter of,
“Gather your crew, they need to hear this,” before finally stepping into the room and walking quickly to the front. Behind her, the Chief whistled and all noise on the deck stuttered to a halt.
Lee stepped to one side to give her room in front of the podium and she looked at him for a second before speaking,
“Take a seat, Apollo” she paused to give him time to find one. “It is … Frack it.” She folded her arms and dropped forwards to lean on the podium giving up all pretences of being prepared for what she had to say. “The Colonies have fallen. The Cylons have won. There is no relief force coming. The Colonial Fleet is gone, there will be no new recruits to take your place if you falter. We are it. The thin line of blue between the Cylons and what is left of our people.” She paused and let her head drop a little. “May the Gods care for the souls we have left behind because our standing orders are to wait for three days, collect the weaponry in the cache here and then run until for the planet the thirteen tribes left.”
Kara looked up and over the heads of her pilots at where the Chief stood with what was left of the Deck crew, he nodded at her and as he ushered his people back to their jobs she looked down and caught Lee’s eyes.
“Everyone sat here is, as of the start of this fight, on full active duty. Nuggets, welcome to the fleet, pick your Viper and give her a name. Duty roster will be posted within the hour. Dismissed” She waited for everyone to find their feet before calling “Apollo, Boomer, Helo… A word.” She hopped down off the stand and lent against the front of the podium as the room emptied and the others joined her.
“We’ll be going to check out the cache before the Old Man decides it is time to go and collect it.” she said using the affectionate term for the Admiral. “Apollo, that means that you’re CAG until I get back. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do… Wait, no that is a really bad plan, don’t do anything… Dipper wouldn’t have done.”
"Still leaving me a lot of room to play there, Kara.” Lee replied with a grin.
“Yeah, well I’m also leaving you to make the roster.” She shot back, motioning for Boomer and Apollo to follow her as she headed out of the ready room and climbed into one of the Raptors sat in the ready zone of the Deck.
“You are good to go, cleared with command and free to move.” The Chief said, tossing Kara’s helmet back at her and grabbing the doorframe to help roll the Raptor into the tube for launch.
As the tube sealed behind them, Kara tugged the Raptor door shut and settled into one of the bench seats in the back, shifting uncomfortably before tugging a government ID badge out from the back of the seat. She glanced at the name and photo of Dr Gaius Baltar for a second, and then tossed the badge into one of the kit bins at the back of the ship.
“The coordinates should have been programmed in, look for route 6HRR54J and follow them exactly, we don’t want to hit one of the radiation pockets.” At the helm Boomer help up a thumb to let her know that she had heard the instructions. Helo twisted in his seat to look back at Kara, and tapped his radio on,
“So, What exactly are we looking for?”
“A fracking big asteroid that has been pulled into orbit around a gas giant, the radiation from which the Cylons find ‘little’ poisonous.” She said snakily before adding, “ Anything out of place or that could make it difficult to retrieve the full cache of weaponry. Collapsing walls, degrading bulkheads… damaged nukes.”
Silence fell between them as the asteroid came into view and Boomer carefully followed the directions to identify the landing point, anchoring in and ensuring that the cavern they had landed in had fully pressurised and oxygenated before she powered the Raptor down and motioned for Kara to take the lead. Kara pulled the Raptor’s external door open just as the internal bulkhead of the cache slid open to reveal a slim figure sat on a crate in the middle of the weapon store. Kara pulled her weapon out of its holster as the figure held its hands out to surrender,
“Sir?” Boomer asked over the radio as she and Helo copied Kara’s action and came to stand on either side of her. Kara shrugged as the figure staggered to its feet.
“Boy, am I glad you arrived.” The man said heading towards them, his path weaving drunkenly. “Now I’ll admit that we came here to raid the weapons and make a little money but then I got sick and my crew abandoned me here. You couldn’t give me a lift back to civilisation could you?” The man asked with a grin. Kara tilted her head and narrowed her eyes at the man then, as Boomer and Helo protested she tugged her helmet off and sniffed the air.
“Odd…” she grinned, “You don’t smell like sickness. You smell poisoned! Like someone dying of radiation poisoning, which is odd, because the radiation here? Only poisonous to Cylons but I thought that they were a little more… metallic than fleshy.”
“You shouldn’t exist. Sentinel.” The humanoid Cylon snarled as he pulled himself up straight and met Kara’s eyes coldly.
“Because we wiped out the threat to our plan before we entered the second stage. It wouldn’t do to have someone who could… detect us so easily running around.” He replied softly, looking over Kara’s shoulder first at Helo and then at Boomer.
“Detect what? That you found a way to make yourselves flesh suits… hate to point it out but a basic medical check would catch on to the lack of actual biology.” Helo laughed as Kara tilted her head and focused. She held up a hand before Helo could continue to mock the Cylon. Her blood running cold as she looked at the thing in front of them.
“He has a heartbeat… He’s sweating… breathing…” She stepped closer. “If you hadn’t been in the radiation field I wouldn’t have known. So why attack us? Why not just slot into society? Why start a war, especially if you didn’t think my kind existed any more?”
“You know why, Starbuck” The Cylon mocked stepping closer. “ Because we outdid you, we outdid humanity. We became god’s true children and if you look you will know.”
Kara slowly stepped closer to the Cylon, edging up to him until she was stood almost nose to nose with him. Finally, she pressed right into him and ran her tongue down his neck before reeling back, eyes open wide and weapon back up.
“No. You’re wrong… You are a mimicry…. FAKE. How do you know my name?” she asked without giving him time to answer “You aren’t alive. You aren’t Human” she spat,
“What am I?” the Cylon mocked, “Tell him, it’s not like we’re going to let you go home.”
Kara let her eye’s flick sideways before slowly turning her head to look at Boomer, who was stood with a confused look on her face, weapon pointed at Kara’s head.
Kara reached out like she would have for Zak, feeling for a way to connect with the Guide but finding nothing but an empty mockery of a Guide, she pulled back sharply.
“Guide. They made themselves Guides.” Kara breathed, slowly reaching out to catch the end of Boomer’s weapon even as Helo shot at the Cylon. As the Cylon dropped to the ground Kara tugged Boomer forwards and kicked the other woman’s feet out from under her, sending her to the ground as the weapon stayed exactly where she held it.
Kara watched carefully as Boomer blinked, looking over at where the Cylon had been stood after almost a little too long Boomer quietly asked,
“What happened?” Kara looked at her consideringly, levelling both weapons at her,
“You tell me, Boomer.”
“I just… I..” Boomer stuttered as Helo moved to step between the two women. “He was just in my head and I…”
“Guides can’t do that” Kara stated quietly, motioning for Helo to move out of the way.
“How do we know what they can do! It’s not like they are real Guides. They could program themselves to do anything.” Helo said desperately even as he moved out of her way.
“What happened, Boomer?” Kara repeated.
“I DON’T KNOW!” Boomer shouted, flinching into the ground and squeezing her eyes shut.
Kara slowly lowered the weapons, holstering her own before offering Boomer a hand, the other woman looked at her wide-eyed before reaching up to take it. She pulled her to her feet before tugging her close, ripping her helmet off and sniffing the base of her neck. After a few seconds, Kara let her go and offered Boomer her gun back.
“You’re right, Helo. We can’t assume that they work like real Guides. And Boomer seems as Human as ever.”
The three of them stood there for a while, slowly taking stock until eventually, Helo muttered,
“They look like us. Frack… The Cylons look like us.”
- - -
Starbuck blinked at the fox perched in front of her. She slowly reached out a hand and tried to rest it on the animal’s head, it fell straight through and she ended up pressing down on the chest of the Cylon. As the body rocked slightly, the jackdaw squawked and hopped forward to peck at her fingers, abandoning its game of trying to pluck hairs out of the fox’s tail to try and keep her from touching the Cylon. Kara glanced up at the movement in the front of the Raptor as Helo jumped slightly and twisted to look at her in confusion,
“Though I saw something out of the corner of my eye…” He muttered before turning back around. Kara flicked her fingers at the jackdaw until it puffed its chest at her and hopped into the air, moving to sit on the kit bins and watch her accusingly.
She slowly slid her hand over the Cylon’s body until she reached its hand. She lifted it slowly, twisting and turning it to peer at from every angle, letting her vision sharpen until she could see the pores of its skin before carefully inspecting for flaws or joins. She slowly exhaled, clearing her mind and drawing her senses back in as she dropped the hand. From the front of the Raptor she could hear the familiar chatter as Boomer prepared to land, she rolled to her feet and squeezed into the cockpit to press the radio,
"Let me talk to Actual." She said, requesting to talk to the Admiral, as the connection was made.
"You have Actual, Starbuck." Starbuck sucked her lip in sharply before giving on finding a way to phrase what she needed to say,
"Sir, we have a problem. The Cylons have... Adapted, they look like us." She waited, listening to the Admiral breathe for a moment, the subtle hitch letting her know that he had realised that she was holding something back.
"I'm assuming you have evidence."
"Evidence and hopefully enough data to help us figure out how to track these things down."
"You caught me a Cylon. Starbuck, you have always been my favourite" She grinned at the pride she could hear in his voice.
"Well… caught would be the wrong word." She said with a faint smile just before the comm unit clicked off as the Raptor entered landing mode, all systems switching over to focus on communication with the Galactica and the Deck crew.
As they coasted out of the tube and into the main area of the Deck, Starbuck grabbed Helo's shoulder and tugged him out to help move the body. The door opened while they were fiddling about, trying to find the best way to balance the body between them. Boomer squeezed past, hopping out of the door and rushing away without her customary exchange of insults and complaints about the condition of her ship with the Chief.
“What's got her all spooked" The Chief muttered in Starbucks ear as he took hold of the Cylon's legs and helped to heave the body out onto the wing of the Raptor before waving them both off and kneeling over the Cylon's chest to take a photo of his face.
"This guy," Kara replied distractedly as she watched a tall man with an expensive looking suit jog across the Deck towards the Raptor. She frowned at him for a second before realising where she had seen him before. Scooting backwards she reached into the kit bin next to her and snagged the soft cord connected to an ID badge, the jackdaw taking advantage of her outstretched arm to hop up to perch on her shoulder. She slid forwards and out of the Raptor just as the man reached them standing in front of the Chief. Kara held the badge out, dangling it by its cord from one finger, as she helped heave the body up to hang between Halo and herself.
"Ahh, just what I was hoping to find... Is he dead?" Doctor Baltar rattled out without seeming to stop to think before adding, "I hope he wasn't a friend. Well, I assume he wasn't a friend given the lack of ... But then you are soldiers so maybe you would just deal with it." Kara slowly raised her eyebrows as the man rambled and motioned to Helo to follow her as she stepped around him so she could see the Chief again.
"You know where we're meant to be putting this?" Kara asked the Chief, who shook his head as he replied,
"The Admiral is on his way down with the Doc. All I got told was to get a mugshot to circulate in case there is more than one of him."
"More than one..." Doctor Baltar repeated from behind them, the sound of his shoe heel grinding in to the Deck floor making Kara wince, "He's a Cylon! Gods, the Cylons look like us?"
"Shut up!" Kara hissed as the deck crew started to look around at the raised voice. "And, yes… Who exactly are you again?"
"Doctor Giaus Baltar, reputed to be one of the most gifted scientists in the colonies." The Admiral said as he arrived beside them, catching the Cylon's chin in one hand and lifting its head so he could look at it properly before softly adding, "And just the man I was hoping to find somewhere in this ragtag fleet."
"Really? And why would you be looking for me? You've been resisting putting my defence computers into your ship for as long as..." Baltar was cut off as the Admiral stepped closer.
"Yes, and refusing your networked, Cylon-hack-able, computers is probably what allowed us to escape so easily. Or at all." Kara glanced up at the Admiral in surprise, thinking of the ships she had seen floating defenceless and dead in space above Caprica. "No, Doctor, I don't need you to meddle with my ship. I need you to find a way to tell Cylon from Human." The Admiral lifted the Cylon’s arm from around Kara’s neck and placed it over the Doctor’s. “Well, someone find the man a lab.” He growled before grabbing Kara’s arm and leading her away.
The Admiral pulled Kara into the ready room, slamming the door shut and, after motioning for Lee to stay at the desk in the corner of the stage the podium stood on, simply looked at her expectantly, slowly she crumpled. First, she sank into one of the seats facing the front of the room, then she took a ragged breath in before finally letting out a sob. Once they had started she couldn’t stop them. She looked away, glancing at Lee, then the corner, then the team photos before finally rolling her head back to stare at the ceiling. Taking a few deep breaths until she had managed to win back a little composure. Her lash line damp but her cheeks were dry when she roughly ran her palms over them. She cleared her throat and sniffed before finally giving the Admiral a crooked smile.
"I… I loved him. I. I . I was so in love with him and” she looked away again jerking her head harshly to look at the floor and bite off a sob before it could fully form. Shaking voice and a moment of emotion the only weakness she was willing to show, even in front of her partner’s father and brother. “And what if I let that get in the way of doing my job? They made themselves into Guides and if I hadn’t been so caught up in.”
She closed her eyes as the Admiral dropped into the seat beside her. “ I should be able to tell a Cylon apart from a human. And if I had been more focused. If I hadn’t given in to being in love. If I hadn't given in to relying on the fact I would have a Guide if I came online... I let myself get distracted.”
Silence filled the small room, oppressive and thick like an extra presence until the Admiral reached out and tugged her sideways to rest against his shoulder softly saying,
“Love isn’t a thing we can avoid and fate rarely plays fair with it’s favoured children. Before... in the past they would have separated the two of you, would have had Zak finish his training somewhere else so you both had time to learn how to work without the other. But we learnt during the War that there was little point, in the end nothing prepared them for the loss of their Guide, so why upset you both by forcing you apart. Besides there was a hope that simply being that close to a Guide all the time would bring you online.”
Kara twitched under his arm until the Admiral let her go with a soft sigh. “How can I expect you to tell Human and Cylon apart when there is no-one left to teach you what to look for, and even if there was… how did we teach you to recognise radiation?” Kara frowned as she thought back to when her senses had started to expand, the gently drift into sentinel hood of a peacetime awakening.
“You kept exposing me to it and telling me to describe what I could feel and smell until I said something that you couldn’t smell or feel?” she replied almost like it was a question.
“Yeah, so how can we expect you to recognise something that we don’t even know exists. Never mind teach you to recognise it.” The Admiral soothed.
“He was a Guide…” she hissed “I should have known he was fake. Artificial. They. Are. Machines. They should feel wrong! Not comforting and SAFE like Zak!” Kara half-rose out of her chair as she spoke before dropping back, hard. "I had to look so deep to find a difference but I don't know if that was because he was Cylon or just not Zak."
Across the room Lee glanced up at his brother’s name, moving as though he was about to come and join them before using the motion to reach down and grab a new sheet of paper from the floor. The Admiral caught Kara’s hand and softly curled his fingers around it, tracing over the nobbles of healed breaks in her fingers and the faded scars of split skin until her breathing calmed, with only the odd shudder or half sob.
“Starbuck, we received a communication from Command while you were on the asteroid. The Corum has fallen, High Command are dead. The fleet is gone and there will be no meeting up to travel, we’re it. We need to gather as many survivors as we safely can and regroup away from the Colonies. I’ve sent Raptors to the shipyards on Scorpia and to each of the other colonies to search for ships, FTL drives, supplies and survivors. I need you to go to Caprica, with a dual purpose. Find survivors and troops left on the surface and look it to what the Cylons are doing, they seem to have their forces gathered around Caprica and Gemenon.” The Admiral said gently but firmly, letting the silence fall again as he waited for her to reply.
Kara pulled her feet up to rest on the edge of the chair, dropping her forehead forwards to rest on them.
Her head shot up as Lee jerked back from the deck with a punched out swear, half-toppling over the edge of the short platform before finding his feet a short distance from the desk.
Kara was on her feet and across the room in seconds, clearing the podium in one leap to tug Lee behind her in one smooth motion. The silence settled for another few microseconds, the three people in the room catching their breath and the snow-white fox that had appeared in the middle of Lee’s paperwork chuffing with laughter as the jackdaw that had been delicately plucking at Kara’s hair cackled. A soft thump echoed through the room as Lee dropped heavily to lean on the podium.
“Frack you, Zak.” Kara heard him mutter as the Admiral came to stand in front of them, frowning and peering first at the desk then at Lee. Slowly he looked at Kara, lifting one eyebrow at her as she wordlessly pointed at the desk and the now silent fox.
“Yes, Starbuck. An empty desk, not usually a terrifying object.” The Admiral eventually said after looking at it again before looking at his son and then Kara as though he suspected they had both finally cracked.
“You can’t see that?” Lee asked, leaning forwards so he was resting his chin on Kara’s shoulder. “You can’t see that blasted fox?”
Kara twisted to look at him as the Admiral just shook his head, “What? You can see it?” she asked confusedly.
“Zak’s always sending the little…” Lee stuttered to a halt, looking at the fox in confusion as reality hit and Kara watched his face crumple as he remembered. Eventually, he whispered, “I… I … oh gods…” as he slid down the back of the podium to sit on the floor.
“He’s real… I thought I was seeing things.” She said wonderingly as she looked across at the Admiral, meeting his eyes before firmly saying “Zak’s really alive.”
The Admiral looked at the pair for a moment before finally saying,
“And while you’re on Caprica I expect you to collect your Guide.”