Author: BK the irregular PM
..."I'm all that's left. Me and the ship and a hold full of meds. And Pop's cigars." Written for the Common People Challenge.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Words: 2,661 - Reviews: 4 - Favs: 2 - Published: 03-29-05 - id: 2328832
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Pop was a spacer, a jump-hauler. Me, I'm a guy who gets nervous every time the airlock pumps switch on. Except that Pop and the crew were down on Scorpia when the Cylons came, and I was here on the flight deck minding the store. I spent four years on Caprica studying law just so I could get out of the family business, only ...
Only now, I'm all that's left. Me and the ship and a hold full of meds.
And Pop's cigars. Can't forget those.
"Scorp-Echo-Tango-Six-Niner-Seven, this is Starbuck. Cleared to approach; follow me in." The Viper flashes past the flight deck viewport and does a barrel roll. Showoff.
"Gooney Bird copies, Starbuck. Have pity on an old tug's dampers, willya?" I bring the Gooney Bird around to follow the Viper, feeling a shudder as the misaligned thrusters push the ship's nose around. Another thing that Pop would've had fixed days ago.
"You okay back there, short stuff? That turn looked kinda sluggish," Starbuck calls back over the wireless.
Frak. Another thing Pop would've done: he'd have finessed that turn even on bad thrusters. "Yeah, I'm okay."
She doesn't respond.
"More or less."
"Okay, the forward port quad's slid down to felgercarb. Happy?"
"Why didn't you say so before? I'll have a work gang on it soon as you land." She sounds annoyed, even concerned, and I almost believe she's worried about me. Almost.
"Anything to protect those pharmaceuticals, huh, Starbuck?"
"Oh, frak that, Gooney. Give it time, we can make more drugs."
"Scorpian cigars, on the other hand? Them, there's no replacing."
I think it's supposed to be a joke.
Before the Second War, of course. Before the Cylons came back, and we found out that it was nothing like the show or the game.
While I was running like crazy to link up with the fleet, I thought that the bombings, the orbital strikes from the cuttlefish-like base stars was as bad as it could ever get ... until the fleet started jumping every thirty-three minutes. The Gooney Bird held up its end; not one computer glitch, not one mechanical hiccup. Its pilot, on the other hand...
They told me later it was a hundred and ninety-seven jumps. I did a hundred ninety-seven jumps with the rest of the Fleet, trying to catnap for ten minutes at a time when I could, then going into the med cabinet for stims when it got worse. I was ten minutes late on jump one ninety-seven because I'd leaned back and nodded off, and then when I was huddled over the controls to get my bearings, I fell asleep and leaned into the yoke. Seeing a light freighter in an accelerating pitch-down spin is hilarious from the outside, they tell me; when you're in the middle of that spin, it's no fun at all. But it does wake you up.
They ordered me to land in the Galactica's hangar after that, then escorted me to a bed, tranqed me, and I slept through the next seventy-five jumps or so, until they finally lost the Cylons. Don't know what surprises me more, the fact that the Cylons lost the trail, or the fact that the battlestar's crew hadn't raided my hold and dumped the Gooney Bird overboard while I was sleeping.
They tell me that the pilots managed to stay awake through every one of those jumps, the Lords of Kobol alone know how.
"Not that many left," I answer, but my heart's not in it. It's not like I'm about to smoke any of them. "I think I can spare one this time, though. Thanks for the escort, Starbuck."
"My pleasure, Gooney," she answers, and I begin the slow, nerve-wracking task of maneuvering the little freighter into the Galactica's hangar.
I have to take it nice and slow; I'm no fighter pilot, and the Gooney Bird is no Viper. People keep coming in to this ship and expecting to find some old geezer at the controls instead of me, that's how slow I take these landings; they think I'm the copilot, or the boy Friday, or something, and don't believe it when I tell them that nope, I'm all there is. Even if there were pilots to spare out in the Fleet, nobody's gonna volunteer to come aboard this tub, not with a strained enviro system ninety percent out of commission pending repairs, one lousy liox-canister recharger that can keep up with me exhaling but wouldn't have a prayer with a shipmate adding to its load, and...
The irony is, we were third in line for the Scorpia shipyards to work on the Gooney Bird when the Cylons dropped by. Maybe an hour or so. The machines couldn't have waited an hour?
Oh, frak me for even thinking that. A day for Pop and the crew to get back. No, make it a year. How's never strike you? Couldn't the Cylons have just left us alone?
Landing struts down. Gentle with the reaction thrusters; remember that frakked quad. Remember the hover jets now that I'm in Galactica's grav.
And even if the ship could handle the load of an extra pilot, and one was available, how would I get someone on board? How would I pay them; what would I use for money, with the First Bank of Scorpia so much fallout in the wind, who knows how many parsecs behind us?
All I've got to bargain with is what's in my hold, and I'm giving that out in exchange for food, water, tylium, and if I'm lucky, a few minutes of a deckhand's time to work on the ship with a socket driver.
Speed down, finish with the braking thrusters, ease off the hover jets until the ship touches down. Flight Control snaps at me about taking it so slow; I ask whether they'd rather I gouged up the side of their hull like one of their hotshot Viper pilots. It's become a sort of routine.
I can see their point, though; I know people are waiting to dock behind me, but I don't dare move faster. A yawn sneaks up on me as I lock down, and when it's done, everything's blurry, there's sparkles in the middle of my vision, and I see two of everything a lot longer than I'm used to. Once it all clears up, though, the lights on the status board are almost all green.
Let's face it. The Gooney Bird's holding up better than I am.
Like Zarek and his goons ... sorry, sorry, "freedom fighters". They just got their freedom back not long ago, and already they've gone two rounds with me, trying to tell me that I'm reinforcing oppression or something by giving out my cargo where the Galactica says it's needed, instead of dumping it all in the Astral Queen so the less fortunate will have a better chance or some crap like that. First time around, the only way I got out was to announce over the wireless that Mister Zarek was threatening to confiscate Lieutenant Starbuck's cigars along with all the pharmaceuticals.
Next time I was sent over there, Tom Zarek himself met me at the lock to try and convince me. Charismatic guy, and he might even be credible except for the little problem of his blowing up the same innocents he swears he wants to defend. I saw too many of his type in law school on Caprica.
He talked my ear off, half to distract me while his people tried to pinch extra crates - it didn't fly - and half to convert me over to his cause. He even offered to send me a copy of his book, if he could get hold of one.
"I read it," I told him. "I was fairly impressed."
The great man looked like he had just seen his prize pupil succeed at an immensely difficult test.
"What really struck me was the part that warned about people who seek power just to become powerful," I added. "Pretty thought-provoking stuff. You should read it sometime."
And all of a sudden Zarek was looking at me like I had an oscillating red light on my forehead.
That look didn't make it worth it. The fact that the great Tom Zarek gave me that look and let me walk away in one piece ... that made it worth it.
Two deckhands walk in with their own handtrucks to offload some of the meds, giving me respectful nods; a rugged-looking older man follows them, stopping at the door.
"Permission to come aboard?" he asks, and I almost want to laugh at the formality except I recognize his voice from the wireless. Galactica Actual. Commander Adama. The appointed defender of the human race - all that's left of it - is asking permission to set foot inside the Gooney Bird.
"Come on in," I say, beckoning him in. I don't know how the formalities go; I remember bits from Snake Squadron, but the show was a long time ago.
"I understand you're holding something for Lieutenant Thrace?" the Commander asks.
"Sorry, Lieutenant who?" I don't know any Thrace. Or do I? They're just voices and flashes of wings.
"Kara Thrace," he says as though that should mean something special. I must be giving him a blank look, because he goes a little stern when he says, "Starbuck."
"Oh, her. Lieutenant Starbuck. Yeah, I do, matter of fact. Up in the wardroom."
He follows me, moving like Pop did, with a spacer's natural feel for the passages. I reach into a drawer and hand him a metal tube. "I still owe her for that mess when we were jumping like rabbits. Thought she was gonna shoot me down, not talk me out of that spin."
The Commander nods. "We're lucky to have her with us." He looks pensively at the cigar, then asks, "You wouldn't have more of these?"
I look sadly in the drawer: four left. "Not many." He nods in understanding, and looks more like Pop than ever.
Oh, what the hell. I hand him one more. "I can't smoke anyway. They were Pop's."
He takes it, and I swear he's handling this one a little more gently than the one that's earmarked for that hotshot pilot. Then he sits down at the wardroom table and beckons me to join him. "I've got something to ask you."
"Go ahead," I say.
"You know we had an accident a couple of days ago. We lost a bunch of good pilots."
"I heard something like that. No specifics, but word kinda percolates out."
"We need replacements," the Commander says.
I nod. "No kidding. It's getting scary out there."
"I'd like you to join us."
I rummage in the pantry, thinking that maybe I can barter some oh frak no he didn't just ask me that.
"You want to put me in a Viper? How - what - when?"
"I'm hoping to start training tomorrow. We need every pilot we can get."
"Vipers." I still can't wrap my head around the concept.
"Vipers," he confirms, and he's got a smile on his face as though he thinks
as though he thinks I want that. Lords of Kobol, help me.
"Commander, I can't."
"The Fleet needs you, son."
"Not in Vipers, you don't. You see the way I fly the Gooney Bird?"
"But you fly her. You're a pilot, and from the looks of it, a good one."
"Oh, no. No way, sir. I lean on the autopilot for about ninety percent of the piloting, I don't have the reflexes, hell, I got routinely shredded in the Snake Squad game, and that was designed to give you a fighting chance to win. Here? Out here? Against real Cylons?" That last comes out as a squeak. "Commander, you want to start a business or draft a will, that I'm good at. I'm only a pilot because ... because Pop wanted to go down to Scorpia and stretch his legs."
The Commander looks like he's about to say something, then softens. "You're sure."
"Is my telling you now that I can't do it any worse than telling you frak yes, I'll do it, and getting a thousand-passenger liner shot out from under my nose?" And it isn't until I see the look in the man's eyes that I realize I said that out loud.
He smiles and claps me on the shoulder. "Don't sell yourself short, son. And this isn't a one-time-only request, okay?" He gets up, and I lead him to the airlock hatch.
"Solid ship you've got here," the Commander says.
I answer, "The Gooney Bird's a pretty good ship, I guess. She'll go down-atmosphere and back, and she can carry a pretty good load. Won't dance with the Vipers or the Cylons, though."
"Next time around, let us know if you need any extra supplies," the Commander says. "Spare parts, air filters," he says with a nod at the sign, "software upgrades for the autopilot, anything else you can think of. I know it's hard out there. And I'll have someone look at your enviro while we're at it."
He shakes my hand, and exits the hatch with a courteous nod. "Thanks for the cigar."
Galactica Control guides me out of the hangar and back into the deep, and once the course is stable, I go back to make sure the hold's secure. A quick count: there's enough in the hold for maybe two more circuits of the Fleet. That, plus three more cigars in the wardroom.
I wonder what'll happen to the Gooney Bird when the hold's empty.
For that matter, I wonder what'll happen to the Gooney Bird's captain.