"Gods." Kara shook her head and grinned around the cigar in her teeth.
At her side, Chief's eyes closed. He tried not to laugh, but this was getting old. "How many pilots does it take to land a Raptor?"
"Depends. Is Valerii one of the pilots?" Leaning back against the hatch, Starbuck snorted. One hand up, she mimicked a Raptor coming in for a landing, missing the trap entirely, and stuttering in the tube. "Boom, boom, boom."
"Lucky thing the worlds are at peace," Chief sighed. "Can't imagine her trying for a landing under stress." Looking back, he motioned to one of the deck crew. "Repairs, as usual. Let's fix those divots."
"Divots my ass." Kara spat out of the corner of her mouth. "They're frakking craters."
Chief shrugged. "Tell me something I don't know." He headed toward Raptor 312. "Godsdammit, Lieutenant. When the frak are you gonna learn how to land that thing? It's not rocket science."
Out in the darkness of space, there was nothing Sharon couldn’t do. Ever since her parents died, she’d felt a special kinship with the darkness. There was something elite and wonderful and relaxing about seeing the stars through the window of a Raptor. None of this Viper crap for her: she needed something a little less volatile for her hurtling through the stars.
312 and a good ECO, that’s what she always told herself. Helo was a constant, her perfect background vibration, at least when he wasn’t talking about that girl on Gemenon. Sharon preferred to listen to the loops and spins and swirls and echoes of deep space. Here, there was no fear of landing, of getting back to reality. That’s what kept her from making the perfect landing every time: a deep-seated understanding that she was now and had always been skating on the thinnest ice. That’s something that started after her parents died in that frakking Troy explosion. She never felt quite the same after that. Never quite as grounded. She figured once the ground had been swept out from beneath a person’s feet, finding balance again would always be a questionable proposition.
Flying in the depths meant there was no need for the ground.
Coming in for landing, she noticed Helo reflexively braced for impact. If that’s the way it was going to be, then so be it: she came in too fast and too angled and just like magic (or just like every other time), touched down one-too-fast (for her mother) two-too-fast (for her father) and three-too-fast (for poor orphaned Sharon Valerii, who never could get it right on purpose). Opening the hatch, she stepped out, defiant.
"Godsdammit, Lieutenant.” There was something like fire burning in Chief’s eyes. “When the frak are you gonna learn how to land that thing? It's not rocket science."
Sharon’s face flushed. One of these days she’d let Chief have it, exactly the way she wanted. But today Starbuck was positioned right there, and if there was one godsdamn person on this battlestar who couldn’t keep her mouth closed for one frakking second, it was Kara Thrace.
"Godsdammit, Lieutenant. When the frak are you gonna learn how to land that thing? It's not rocket science."
“Actually, Chief, it is rocket science.” Sharon shook back her hair, not giving an inch. She didn’t even give a frak that Kara stood right there, arms folded, a cigar stuck between the shit-eating grin on her face. “I’d like to see you try to land one of these things without a bump.”
Chief Tyrol gestured to the trap. “Every time, Lieutenant. Every. Frakking. Time. How long have you been flying one of these things?”
Eyes narrowed, Sharon looked at the damage—minimal—to Chief’s precious real estate. “Long enough to know your fat ass couldn’t do it, Chief.” That, she thought, ought to slow him down.
Not a chance. “If I was your CO, you’d be grounded, Lieutenant.”
“Can’t let it go, can you, Chief.” Inside her flight suit she was a mass of nerves, of sweat, of discomfort. All she wanted to do was strip out of it and grab a godsdamn shower. Why were they even running Raptor flights anyway? Rumor had it that Galactica was going to be decommissioned. There was no need for a dinosaur like this ship, not in this day and age of peace.
“Not when you keep destroying my ship.” His face was only an inch or two away from hers now, the heat emanating from it more palpable than it’d ever been. She could just take that face between her hands and—
“Your ship? Last time I looked, we were under the command of the Old Man.”
Chief turned away, the heated moment gone. “Yeah. Maybe you’d like to go talk to the Old Man about the way you can’t land your frakking Raptor on his frakking ship without frakking up.”
In the background, Kara smirked.
“What are you laughing at?” Sharon flushed, only moving aside so Helo could brush past her.
Kara waggled her fingers. “Don’t mind me, Boomer. I’m just here watching the show.”
Through his ever-present cigarette, Doc Cottle shook his head. “I’m not a psychiatrist, Sharon. I can’t tell you why you have a mental block against landing your ship.” He pointed to the scan on the wall screen. “From a medical perspective, everything checks out just fine.”
Sharon watched the smoke stream from the end of his cigarette, twisting and curling its way up into the battlestar’s stale air. She wanted to ask him if he thought everything happened for a reason. She wanted to know if he thought she would ever really get past the tragic Troy mine accident. Maybe she ought to ask for leave, go back to Aerilon, and try to pick up the shattered pieces of her past.
Or maybe frak that: maybe she just ought to get back in the air and fly her godsdamn Raptor and bring it in as hard as she always did, now that she was sure there was nothing physically wrong with her brain. “Well,” she said, standing and offering Doc her hand, “thanks for checking me out.” She knew he didn’t like to run tests without good cause, but after that last dressing down from Chief—and the kind words from the Old Man—she felt she owed it to everyone to buckle the frak down and beat this thing.
But I’m Boomer, cried the little voice in the back of her head. I earned that call sign. It was something she knew she ought to be able to wear like a badge of honor, take the ribbing about it like one of the fleet, and get on with things. By this point if she didn’t piss off Chief when she came in for a landing, she wasn’t sure what would happen.
Chief. At least she didn’t have to ask Doc to check out the rest of her system. It was working just fine. She clenched tight, down there, feeling the zing of electricity rise from the spot between her legs up to the pit of her stomach. Chief frakking infuriated her in the best possible way. One of these days, she’d have to do something about it.
“You okay?” Doc’s piercing stare came back into focus. “You’re flushed.”
Sharon laughed. “Fine, fine,” she insisted. “Just thinking about something.” A girl thing, she almost said, but bit her tongue. “Thanks again, Doc.” There was still time for a shower, her only real alone time, before taking 312 out for a spin with her favorite ECO. Maybe she could use those precious moments to work on keeping Galen out of her thoughts.
Oh, who the frak was she kidding? He was always in her thoughts.
Details, details, details. So much frakking paperwork after every Raptor trip: was that what the military was supposed to be about? She’d gone into it because she wanted to taste glory on the tip of her tongue. Not that she wanted or expected a war—the worlds had been at peace for forty years—but because she wanted some form of redemption. All her life, she’d been thought of as inconsequential. Unnecessary. Unwanted. Unimportant. Without parents to guide her, she’d gravitated toward the regimen and unforgiving routine of a member of the military. It gave her day structure, and that was something she’d lacked.
She liked the order of it all. She liked the family the military provided. She liked its rules and regulations, even though every last frakking one of them did whatever they could to at least bend those rules, if not outright break them.
Looking down at the sheaf of paper in her hand, Sharon ran through the checklist. Piloting a Raptor meant being responsible for its limited cargo and payload, and on training session days she checked and double-checked and triple-checked, laying her hand fondly on Raptor 312’s cold metal surface.
Everything was in order in a way her own life never had been. Mom, Dad, she said to herself as she always did before taking that step up into the pilot’s seat, I wish you could see the stars the way I do.
I wish I could have what the two of you had.
That would have to wait. Helo stepped up into 312, found his usual seat at the controls. Together, they ran through the pre-flight internal checklist.
Check, check, check.
“You know, Sharon,” he said, voice cool and not at all patronizing, “one of these days you’ll ace the perfect landing.” Before she could protest, he held up his hand. “I know, I know. I’m not rubbing it in. What I should have said is that your takeoffs are the smoothest of any pilot I’ve flown with. You sure as frak know how to handle a Raptor.”
With a laugh and no warning, Sharon pushed up on the throttle. Raptor 312 took off down the tube like the proverbial bat out of hell. Once Galactica fell away beneath them, she turned to Helo and smiled.
“Takeoff: I got you nailed, motherfrakker.”
A laugh filled Helo’s throat, hanging in the air between them like something viable. “You sure do. Roger that, Lieutenant.”
Flying a Raptor, of course, was the closest thing Sharon had ever known to pure, absolute, unconditional love. When she was out there, sometimes even her ECO ceased to exist. At one with the gods, she was convinced that this feeling—this absolute bliss—was her destiny. Hadn’t she been through enough hardship? Hadn’t there been enough abandonment? So what if her landings were a little bit on the rough side. She paid penance for those every time she stepped out of 312 and back onto the deck, with that snicker of Starbuck’s and the way Chief’s eyes pierced right into her soul. What was he seeing when he looked at her? Something akin to the divine?
That’s what Sharon saw when she looked at him. Why Galen Tyrol of all people was the one to make her knees weak and her heart beat faster, she couldn’t say for sure. She only knew it did. The way he needled her, the way he got right into her face after every landing: one of these days he’d take it too far and she’d either have to kill him or kiss him, and killing a fellow crew member was frowned upon even more than frakking him. Even with the inequity between an officer and a non-commissioned officer, every bit of her was much more interested in exploring the frakking path than the killing path.
Gods. She burned for him. She burned for the funny-looking imperious hard-working chubby crew chief, of all people. One day, she would make him hers.
From the dreams that kept her awake at night to the fantasies she indulged in about him, that day couldn’t possibly be far off.
“Sharon. Are you up there? What are you thinking about?”
Helo’s voice brought her crashing back to the present moment. “What, Helo? I’m here.”
“You didn’t hear a word I said, did you.”
She shrugged. “I was a little lost.”
“A little?” Helo laughed. “I thought I was going to have to come up there and revive you.”
Sharon gulped back her surprise. “I love you too, Helo, but not that much.”
Helo laughed. “Then just try to stay with us. You know, for the duration of the flight. I’m counting on you.”
“You got it, Helo. I’m taking care of you.” She made the promise. She intended to keep it. She meant every word of it.
So why was it that, try as she might, she could only think of Chief? I’m going to stick this landing, she said to herself as she brought 312 back to Galactica. There was Chief, there was Starbuck, there was that expectant look of frak us, she’s doing it again plastered on Kara’s face, the words boom boom boom easy enough to read on her lips.
Deep breath, Sharon told herself, and stuck the landing. When she opened the Raptor hatch, she wasn’t sure what to expect. Applause, maybe, or even something stronger? Adulation? Admiration? Congratulations?
“Huh.” Chief eyed the trap. “Welcome back, 312.” He turned his back and signaled the crew to start the standard maintenance.
With a shrug, like the show she’d been expecting got canceled, Starbuck walked away.
That’s it? Sharon’s eyes stung. Well, if that was the thanks she got for landing perfectly, she’d just have to make sure to never, ever do it again that same way.
The engines of 312 thrummed with music, with energy. Piloting a Raptor was not unlike conducting an orchestra or creating a vibrant and complex oil painting: all the right pieces had to fall into just the right places to be considered a job well done, or done with artistic integrity.
Sharon had long considered the entire flight to be a composition. In her mind, her fingers danced across the keys of a piano just as they danced across the Raptor’s controls. The stars were stanzas, the distances between them mere series of notes to be traversed. Although she felt as if she’d made this same flight before, Helo at her back, the universe before her, every dance was different in minute ways. Every note played brought her closer to feeling that what she had done—what she was doing—was a small slice of perfection in an otherwise bumpy and unforgiving world.
She liked that.
For a time, she even forgot what would be waiting for her: recriminations, doubts about her abilities, eyes rolling, a swathe of damage in her wake. For the moment, all things were perfect and all things were beautiful and lyrical. They made sense. They worked.
“Whoa, Sharon, hang in there. You got this—” Helo’s voice fell silent as Raptor 312 met Galactica’s interior with a loud crash.
“Frak me.” Looking to her left, Sharon saw Kara mouthing the words boom boom boom, making a crash landing motion with her hand. Frak! One of these days she was going to get booted off the godsdamn Raptor squad for this. Try as hard as she could, she could not frakking stick the frakking godsdamn landing.
Great. Just frakking great. She could hear Helo sigh behind her. Steeling herself for the inevitable, she popped the door and made her way out of Raptor 312. Just as she expected, there was Chief heading her way, surveying the damage she always left in her wake.
"Godsdammit, Lieutenant. When the frak are you gonna learn how to land that thing? It's not rocket science." Chief moved right into her space, right in front of her face, livid, eyes too bright. She could feel the heat of his words as they hit and bounced off her skin.
“Actually, Chief, it is rocket science. I’d like to see your sorry ass give it a try.”
In the corner, Starbuck snickered before leaving them to it.
“Frak you, Lieutenant.” Chief’s hand met Sharon’s shoulder, pushing her away. “One of these days you’ll be written up for destruction of military property.”
“Well, if you’d finally fix the frakking landing gear on this frakking Raptor, maybe it wouldn’t be so frakking hard to frakking land.” She shoved him back, feeling the heat of his body right through his jumpsuit.
“There’s not a godsdamn thing wrong with 312’s landing gear.” Eyes enormous, Chief frowned and got right back into her space. “Not a godsdamn thing wrong. I checked it myself.”
“I’ll bet you checked it yourself.” Sharon shoved him again, just because she could, as Helo brushed past shaking his head. “Don’t frakking look at Helo for answers, godsdammit. You look at me, Chief. I’m telling you, there’s a flaw with the landing gear.”
“You’re frakking wrong.” Now Chief was backed up against the equipment locker. “I’ll show you the frakking paperwork I signed off on if you need to see it, Lieutenant.”
“Yeah, show me the frakking paperwork, Chief. Some of us do real jobs around here.”
“Take the conversation somewhere else, you two. Some of us have work to do.” That was Cally, whining as usual. Sharon had no patience for her.
“Fine,” she snapped, opening the equipment locker and pushing Chief inside. She closed the door behind them. “I hope that makes your frakking Specialist happy, Chief.”
He didn’t answer.
What he did do, much to her surprise, was kiss the frak right out of her.
It was a dream. Like everything she’d ever wanted: the heat, the light, the song, the power, the love, the acceptance, the affection, the thrill, and so she kissed him back. Then she kissed him again.
And again, like she’d never been touched before, like she’d never been kissed before, like she’d never wanted anybody before. Before she even realized what was going on, her flight suit was halfway off.
Why stop there?
“We’d better make this quick,” she breathed. “Or people will talk.”
“Frak them,” Chief whispered. “But honestly, Boomer, I’d rather frak you.”
“Then do it.”
“Is that an order, Lieutenant?”
Oh, Chief. This is so wrong that it’s right. Sharon cupped his face between her hands and kissed him until he melted. Until he couldn’t focus on anything other than what she wanted. What she needed. What they both wanted. When it was finished—when they were done—she snapped her flight suit up again with hands that didn’t quiver in the slightest. “If that’s what happens when I frak up a landing, I’m never gonna stick it and come in smooth.”
Chief laughed. “Don’t. Don’t ever do that, or I won’t have an excuse to chase you into the equipment locker. I’ve been waiting for this for a long time.”
Grinning, Sharon kissed him again, straightened up, cleared her throat, and opened the door. “Don’t ever tell me I don’t know how to land a Raptor. And fix that frakking landing gear before I write you up.”
She didn’t laugh until she was back in her quarters, alone, feeling whole for the first time she could recall. She felt wonderful.
She finally felt like Sharon. No, like Boomer, and she liked it.