|The Farthest Ones From Home
Author: robertp6165 PM
What if New Caprica had never been discovered, creating a chain of events which lead the survivors of the Twelve Colonies of Kobol to encounter the 58th Squadron, USMC Space Aviator Cavalry, in the Procyon System in 2064?Rated: Fiction M - English - Sci-Fi/Adventure - Chapters: 48 - Words: 87,220 - Reviews: 86 - Favs: 63 - Follows: 69 - Updated: 09-02-12 - Published: 06-13-11 - id: 7078145
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
MARS ORBIT, 21 AUGUST 2064
On the morning of August 21, 2064, Captain Shane Vansen sat on one of the bench seats lining one wall of an ISSAPC (Intra-Solar-System Armored Personnel Carrier) as it transported her to the new U.S.S. SARATOGA, which was scheduled to leave the Aerotech docks in Mars orbit the next day for its shakedown cruise. The "Wildcards" of the 58th Squadron of United States Marine Corps Space Aviator Cavalry had been, since the original U.S.S. SARATOGA had been declared too damaged to be worth repairing and decommissioned several months ago, stationed "ashore" at the United States Marine Corps base at Camp Pendleton, outside San Diego. Now the new SARATOGA was nearly ready to get underway, and the Wildcards were on their way to take their places among the complement of fighting men and women who would transform her from an empty metal shell into a deadly fighting machine.
The journey would take over a day, and as the hours passed, Vansen had the opportunity to think back on the past several months. Partly as a reward for their outstanding service during the Chig War and partly because, quite frankly, the brass had nothing much else for them to do while their ship was out of commission, the Wildcards had been granted frequent Liberties authorizing them to leave Camp Pendleton and go into San Diego for R & R. She smiled. There were many things about this particular Earthside posting that she would fondly remember.
Vansen's eyes happened to alight on the handsome, boyish face of Lieutenant Cooper Hawkes, who was, at that moment, seated across from her in a bench seat along the opposite wall of the APC. Hawkes saw her look at him, and smiled. She smiled back, and then looked away, blushing slightly. Many of those fond memories revolved around Hawkes.
Vansen had struck up a close friendship with Captain Kara Thrace, one of the pilots stationed aboard the Colonial Battlestar GALACTICA. Several times, the two had been issued furlough or liberty at the same time, and they had spent much time together in San Diego. Thrace had gently cajoled her to take a chance on Cooper Hawkes, who both could see was clearly smitten with Vansen. Vansen had resisted at first, uncertain of the wisdom of pursuing a possible romantic relationship with an In-Vitro less than seven years out of the birthing tank. As she had told Thrace, in many ways, Hawkes was still just a child.
But in many other important ways, Hawkes was a man. And a very attractive one, who clearly adored Vansen. She had agreed to go out to dinner with him, and despite her initial misgivings, the evening had turned better than she could possibly have imagined.
Hawkes had surprised her by hiring a limousine to take them to one of the most expensive restaurants in town. He had been dressed in a well-tailored tuxedo, and gave her a box which, when opened, revealed an absolutely stunning black dress, in her correct size. The dress, Vansen had noted when she put it on, was cut to accentuate all her best features but without being too revealing. Vansen smiled as she remembered it. He has good taste in dresses, she thought with amusement. I wonder who taught him about that stuff? She suspected the hand of Kara Thrace at work there, but Starbuck denied it.
After a wonderful dinner, they had taken in a movie, and in the darkness of the theater, Vansen...in a happy mood after having had two margaritas with dinner...had accepted his tentative, nervous movements toward physical intimacy. He had laid his hand on her knee, and she had not removed it. Then he had looked into her eyes, and she into his. Then they had kissed, and Vansen remembered the chill which went up her spine as their lips met. He was certainly better at it this time around than he was the first time he tried it, she thought to herself, smiling again. I wonder if Starbuck coached him on that as well?
The first time Coop had kissed her was aboard the ISSAPC taking the 58th Squadron to Mars for their very first mission together as a squadron. Shane had, since she was five years old, had recurring nightmares about the A.I.'s who had killed her parents. She and Coop had been asleep in their racks, next to each other, when Shane had one of those nightmares and started shaking and moaning in her sleep. Coop had heard her and had awakened her, checking to see if she was all right. They had talked briefly, and then suddenly, Hawkes had grabbed her and roughly forced his tongue into her mouth. Vansen had given him a right-cross in return, and she had been wary of him for a long time afterward. The second time, in the movie theater, he had been gentle, brushing his lips lightly against hers, almost playfully. It had excited her so much that she had felt her own tongue dart out, almost of its own volition, seeking his out and dueling with it.
After the first kiss, there had been several others, and by the time the movie was over, they were both feeling pretty hot and bothered. As they came out of the theater, Coop had asked her if she wanted to go back to the barracks, and she had said no. There was a Holiday Inn just a block from the theater, and Coop dismissed the limo driver...after Vansen had explained to him that the driver would expect a tip. Then they had walked, hand in hand, to the motel.
Their coupling had been an intense experience for both of them. Cooper had been hesitant at first, unsure of what to do. But, in the end, he had proven the most attentive and sensitive lover Vansen had ever had, eager to learn exactly what pleased her, exactly where and how to touch her, and enjoying, with an almost childlike sense of wonder, her reactions as he explored her body with his hands, lips, and tongue. And then, when she could take no more, she had pushed him onto his back and then pleasured him in turn, taking him into her mouth first and then mounting him, stripping his virginity from him in a wild ride that left them both exhausted and completely spent.
Afterward, as they lay in each other's arms, they had talked for hours, sharing their hopes and their fears, and telling each other about their past lives before joining the Marines. Cooper had listened with fascination to Shane's stories of life with her family, something that he, himself, had never had, but which he secretly craved. Then, to Shane's surprise, Coop had opened up to her, describing the pain and horror of his own early life. He told her of his "education" at a secret "Training Facility"outside Philadelphia, where newly decanted In-Vitros were trained to become obedient, unquestioning killing machines in the service of the United States government. Hawkes had demonstrated an undesirable "defect," namely independent thought, and had been sentenced to termination...euphemistically termed "erasure"...by the Monitors who ran the facility. But Hawkes had escaped, and lived for several years on the run, where he had tried, with varying degrees of success, to fit into "natural-born" society. Then, while working on the docks in Philadelphia, his true nature had been discovered by a gang of natural-born bigots who had nearly lynched him. He had managed to get away from them, and had chased the ringleader straight into the arms of the police. The police had naturally sided with the natural born over the In-Vitro, and Hawkes had been hauled before a judge who had sentenced him to a term in the Marine Corps in lieu of prison time. By the time they both drifted off to sleep, Shane felt she finally understood Coop and why he was the way he was, and they both realized just how much each had needed this release of the tension and pain which had built up during, and before, the war.
The smile on Vansen's face faded as she remembered what had happened after that wonderful night, however. Hawkes had never revealed the full array of the intimate details of his early life to anyone, and now he felt vulnerable. He had gone on about how he had "talked too much," and despite Shane's efforts to convince him otherwise, he had withdrawn from her and a wall had gone up between them. There had been no more dates, no more wonderful nights. Vansen sighed. She supposed it was for the best. Shane hoped one day to have a family and a life outside the military. Coop, she knew, would never have a normal life. The Marine Corps was the best place for him, and would likely be the only family he would ever know. She knew she would treasure the brief time she'd had with him, and the gift of insight into his soul which Coop had given her, and would likely give to no-one else during his lifetime. They would remain good friends and comrades, but it could never be more than that, ever again.
Shane looked around the APC at her other comrades. She could see Nathan West, sleeping in his seat next to Cooper Hawkes. Nathan had spent much of his time with Kylen Celina, his pretty blond fiancée who had been captured by the Chigs during the attack on the Tellus Colony, held in captivity during the war, and then released per the terms of the treaty which ended the war. Unfortunately, West's reunion with his lost love had not gone much better, in the end, than Vansen's own liaison with Coop.
Kylen had returned from captivity a different woman. She had undergone torture and experimentation by the Chigs and the A.I.'s who served them, including use as a "breeder" whose body was used to gestate cloned human babies until they were viable enough to be transferred to accelerated growth chambers...similar to the tanks in which In-Vitros were grown on Earth...where they grew to adulthood in less time than a normal human pregnancy would have taken and then were put to work in hazardous facilities like the Tylium Mines at Kazbek.
West had known that the Chigs were cloning copies of the Tellus and Vesta survivors...he had encountered a clone of Kylen on Kazbek during the 58th's captivity there. Thankfully, for his own sanity, he knew nothing of the horrors it involved, or the other tortures the survivors had endured, as upon their return, Aerotech had forced the survivors to sign secrecy agreements forbidding them from revealing these experiences to anyone. But what West did know was that whatever had happened, Kylen had been traumatized by it. Shortly after her return, she had withdrawn into herself, in an almost autistic state, and had barely acknowledged his presence when he came to visit her at the mental health facility where she had been confined for treatment and for her own safety. Nevertheless, Nathan had stayed by her side, and he continued to hope that Kylen would eventually return to him in mind as well as in body.
Vansen's eyes moved from West to the seats where Paul Wang and Vanessa Damphousse were sitting, very close to each other, engaged in whispered conversation. Wang and Damphousse, Vansen knew, had spent much of their R&R together, and although Shane didn't know for sure, she strongly suspected that the two had spent part of that R&R time in bed.
The rest of the 58th Squadron...Colonel McQueen and Lieutenants Kelly Winslow, Tom Kelcher, Bill Lockhart, and Jack Sullivan...were all asleep in their bunks in the sleeping compartment of the APC. Bored by the quiet, Vansen turned and looked out of a porthole. She could see that they were quite close to Mars now. Five or six hours to go now, she thought to herself. She yawned. I think I'll go get some rack time myself. Getting up, she went to the sleeping compartment, found herself an empty bunk and lay down. Soon she was fast asleep.
She was rudely awakened by the klaxon announcing their final approach to the Aerotech shipyards where the new U.S.S. SARATOGA awaited them. "Attention!," she heard the voice of the APC's pilot, Captain Daniels, announce over the intercom. "We are now approaching the Mars Spacedocks. Please assume your landing positions and buckle up, people!" Vansen saw that she was the only one left in the sleeping compartment. She got up, quickly slipped her uniform back on, and went into the main compartment, returning to her seat.
She looked out of the porthole again before she sat down and buckled the safety restraints around herself. She was amazed by what she saw. The new SARATOGA was nearly twice as long as the old JOHN F. KENNEDY-class carrier had been, and it fairly bristled with weapons. She smiled appreciatively. That is one big can of kick-ass, just waiting to be opened, she thought to herself.
The ISSAPC flew into one of the landing bays of the huge supercarrier, and once the ship had set down and the bay was repressurized, Colonel McQueen unbuckled himself and stood up. "All right, 58th, let's move it!" he ordered.
The squadron quickly spilled out of the APC and lined up, at attention, on the hangar deck. To their surprise, they found Rear Admiral...formerly Commodore...Glen Ross awaiting them. Colonel McQueen saluted. "The 58th Squadron, United States Marine Corps Space Aviator Cavalry, reporting for duty, Sir!" he said crisply. "We are honored that you chose to greet us personally, Admiral," he added.
Ross returned the salute. "It's good to have you all here," Ross said. "The SARATOGA wouldn't be the SARATOGA without the Wildcards," he added, grinning. "Sadly, you're the only one of our former squadrons who were reassigned to the SARATOGA this time around." He looked each of the Marines in the face, making eye contact with each of them, then said, "At ease!"
"Thank you, Sir," Colonel McQueen said. The Wildcards assumed the more comfortable "at ease" stance while their commander conferred with the Admiral.
"Wildcards...except for you, Colonel," Ross said, gesturing to the young ensign, brightly clad in spotless "whites," who was standing nearby, "Ensign Nakamura will escort you to your quarters. Colonel, I would like to speak with you privately, if I may."
"Of course, Sir," McQueen said. Turning to the rest of the Wildcards, he said, "All right, you heard him. Dismissed!"
"This way," Nakamura, a pretty young woman of Japanese heritage, said. The Wildcards obediently followed her out of the hangar bay.
"Shall we adjourn to my Ready Room?" Ross asked.
"Ready Room?," McQueen asked, raising his eyebrows in surprise.
Ross laughed. "Yes," he said. "With all the extra space aboard the new WHITEHORSE-class carriers, the command and control island is somewhat larger and more luxurious than it was on the old SARATOGA. Some geek at Aerotech who's watched too many STAR TREK re-runs is to blame, no doubt."
McQueen smiled. He'd watched some episodes of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION in the hospital while recuperating from his wounds, before being assigned to command of the 58th squadron. He remembered the almost hotel lobby-like appearance of the bridge of the starship depicted in the series...plush chairs, deep pile carpeting, the works. He'd thought it ridiculous, but he knew that a lot of people still loved the show, over sixty years later. Putting those thoughts out of his mind, he replied, "Yes, Sir. I look forward to seeing it."
They walked together, making small talk as they did so, down the corridors which connected the hangar decks with the island, then on the elevator which took them up to the bridge. McQueen looked around at the new bridge. Much of it was familiar...Aerotech had made use of as many components as possible from the old KENNEDY-class when designing the WHITEHORSE-class...but there were a number of new consoles and equipment which he did not recognize. When he inquired about them, Ross informed him that some of them were associated with the new DRADIS systems, based on Kobolian technology, which supplemented the LIDAR sets with which he was familiar. Others were associated with the new computers which had been redesigned to be resistant to Cylon infiltration...one entire computer served no other purpose but to act as a receptacle for the highly advanced firewall program designed to block any intrusion by Cylon hackers and viruses...and which could be de-networked quickly if a Cylon virus somehow got into the system. Still others controlled the ship-killing heavy gun and laser-cannon batteries clustered together at the bow of the ship, known as the "Captain's Hand," another innovation borrowed from the Colonial Battlestars.
Ross gestured toward a door at the rear of the bridge. McQueen nodded and followed the Admiral through it. "Welcome to my Ready Room," Ross said.
McQueen smiled as he looked around. To his amazement, the room actually did somewhat resemble the Ready Room on that old TV show. A fish tank was set into one wall, and another wall was lined with framed pictures of all the vessels which had borne the name of U.S.S. SARATOGA, going all the way back to a wooden sloop in the Continental Navy, commissioned in 1780.
"I think you're right about that Star Trek geek," he said, smiling wryly.
Ross grinned, and sat down behind the large black desk which filled one end of the room. "Have a seat, Colonel," he said, gesturing to a comfortable chair in front of the desk. After McQueen took his seat, the Admiral spoke again.
"Colonel McQueen," he said, "it goes without saying that I'll want you to command the SARATOGA's air group again."
"Thank you, Sir," McQueen said, nodding. "I'm honored." He smiled again. "But that's not why you asked me here today, is it?"
Ross smiled. "No, indeed, Colonel," he said. "As Commander of the Air Group, I need to fill you in on the details of our mission."
"You mean this is not going to be a simple shake-down cruise," McQueen said, leaning forward in his chair, his interest instantly piqued.
"No, Colonel, it is not," Ross replied. "Do you recall the incident at Tau Ceti with that star liner, the Q.E. II?"
"Yes," McQueen said, nodding. "The Cylons caught the liner as it was exiting the wormhole into that system, boarded it, and killed over a hundred passengers. They also apparently abducted the captain of the vessel. The liner got a message off to Earth Forces Command in that system and the Cylon Basestar jumped away before the cavalry got there. Otherwise, based on past behavior, they would probably have destroyed the liner."
"Correct," Ross said. "Well, as it turns out, the Cylons were playing a game within a game there. We later found out that the message to Earth Forces Command was sent by the Cylons themselves, for the express purpose of bringing out a rescue mission from which they would flee, so as to give credibility to their actions in not destroying the liner."
"How did we discover the ruse?" McQueen asked.
"Well, it seems we caught a lucky break," Ross said, a grim look on his face. "The Cylons left behind several infiltrators who later attempted to enter the Sol system. One of them was stopped by an alert security officer at the John Glenn Spaceport in the Groombridge 34 system, who recognized him from the 'Wanted' posters which have been distributed to security personnel at all Earth facilities since we became aware of the risk of Cylon infiltration. Under interrogation with the truth serum developed by Aerotech, he revealed the identities of the other Cylon infiltrators, as well as which vessels they were traveling on as they made their way to Earth. Although we can't be a hundred percent certain, we think we got all of them."
"Well, that's wonderful news," McQueen said. "But what does it have to do with the mission?"
"We learned something else following our interrogation of the captured agents," Ross said. "It seems that the Cylons have established a base in this sector of the galaxy, where they are amassing supplies and building their forces for their assault on the Earth. We know where that base is." He got up, and walked over to a large star map which hung on one of the walls. He pointed at a star. "This is Alpha Reticuli, a Chig system...or at least, it was. The Cylons have it now."
McQueen whistled as he got up to stand beside Ross. Staring at the map, he said, "That's what...less than two hundred light years from Earth. With their jump engines, they could be here in a day." He suddenly looked at Ross. "Haven't the Chigs tried to retake the system?"
"No," Ross said. "It seems the Cylons did this very cleverly. The Alpha Reticuli System was a low-priority system for the Chigs. There's nothing there to warrant a large-scale presence on their part. None of the worlds there offer much in the way of resources, and none are habitable for their form of life. Were it not for the wormhole there, and the communications satellite the Chigs operated in the system, the Chigs would likely not have bothered with it at all. The small Chig garrison based on the third planet, charged with guarding the wormhole and the satellite, had only infrequent contact with other Chig forces. The Cylons came in and overwhelmed the garrison on the third planet, and left the Chig satellite intact. The Chigs never realized the Cylons had seized the system until we told them."
Ross turned and went back to his seat, and McQueen did likewise. "And therein lies our mission," Ross said, steepling his fingers in front of him. "The SARATOGA, along with GALACTICA and PEGASUS...the only three of our vessels currently with FTL jump capability...are going to rendezvous with a Chig fleet at the Kappa Reticuli Star System in three days. Since the Chig vessels will not have FTL jump capability, wormhole travel will be necessary from that point on. A wormhole will open in the Kappa Reticuli system in four days from now, through which we will pass, along with the Chig fleet. This wormhole will take us to the Achilles Region, where we will rendezvous with additional Chig fleet units. Five days later, another wormhole will open which will take us from the Achilles Region to Alpha Reticuli." Ross smiled grimly. "Once there, we will assist the Chigs in retaking the system, and ensure the destruction of the Cylon base there."
"Yes, Sir," McQueen said, nodding.
"Colonel, most of the Hammerhead Squadrons which have been assigned to the SARATOGA have never flown together before," Ross said, leaning forward and looking intently into McQueen's eyes. "They were cobbled together from the survivors of the carriers lost at Kappa Reticuli. I am going to need you to work with them intensively in the short time we have available to get them combat ready."
"I understand, Sir," McQueen said. "I'll do my best."
"I know you will, Colonel," Ross replied. "And that brings me to the second reason why I've asked you here today. With the larger air group you'll be managing here on the new SARATOGA will come a great deal more responsibility and paperwork, and I don't think those duties are any longer compatible with your retaining your post as commanding officer of the 58th Squadron. Captain Vansen has been your XO. Do you think she's ready for squadron command?"
"I do, Sir," McQueen said.
"Fine," Ross said, reaching into one of his desk drawers and retrieving a small black box. He handed it to McQueen, who opened it. McQueen smiled, and closed the box again.
"Dismissed," Ross said.
McQueen stood and saluted. Ross returned the salute, then McQueen turned and left the room. He had already been on the new SARATOGA during it's construction, and knew where the 58th's quarters were. As he approached the open doorway, he could hear the pilots of the 58th chatting about the upcoming mission.
"A shakedown cruise," Paul Wang was saying. "Sounds pretty relaxing."
"Pretty unlikely we'll run into any Cylons," Vanessa Damphousse replied. "Still, it'll be interesting to see what this ship can do."
"It'll be nice to go out on a mission and not have to worry...too much... about coming back alive," Shane Vansen said as McQueen stepped inside.
"Don't count on it," McQueen said. The rest of the 58th quickly stood to attention and saluted. McQueen returned the salute.
"Now listen up," McQueen said. "I've just learned that this is not going to be a shakedown cruise. We're going into combat. So get your minds out of R & R and focused on the mission. You'll get full details at a briefing at 0800 tomorrow. For tonight, go get some chow, then get some sleep. You'll need it."
"Yes, Sir!," the 58th chorused.
"One other thing," McQueen said. "I've been removed as commander of the 58th. I am now going to be Air Group Commander for this vessel, full time." He looked at Vansen. "Effective immediately, Major Vansen will be your new squadron C.O." He smiled, and handed Vansen the small black box which Ross had given to him. He looked at Nathan West. "West, you'll be her X.O., and a promotion will be coming through for you as well."
"Yes, Sir!," West replied.
Vansen opened the box and saw the small gold oak leaves inside. Her face split by a big grin, she snapped back to attention and saluted again. "Thank you, Sir," she said. "I'll do my best."
"Dismissed!," McQueen said, and left the room.
The other members of the 58th gathered around Vansen and West, congratulating them and slapping them on the back. Vansen pinned her new oak leaves onto her collar. She handed her Captain's bars to West, who took them and smiled before pinning them on. Vansen looked over at Cooper Hawkes, who was sitting on his bunk, watching her and smiling. He gave her a thumbs up. She grinned in return.
Later, in the mess hall, as the rest of the 58th bantered, chatting about their recent leave or the upcoming mission, Vansen made her way though a plate of S.O.S.  in silence, her mind focused on the mission to come. It had come as a complete shock to her, as it had to the other members of the 58th, that they were about to go into combat again. The fact that she would now be commanding the Wildcards made the whole situation all the more shocking. Would she be able to handle it? Well, she thought to herself, I'll do my best for them. That's all I can do. She took another bite of her less-than-appetizing meal, then sighed softly. I just hope my best is good enough.
 The events of the S:AAB episode "R&R" never took place in this timeline. The 58th never visited the Aerotech pleasure ship "Bacchus" and Cooper Hawkes never met, or slept with, the In-Vitro prostitute, Suzy.
 The rank of "Commodore" has a confusing history in U.S. Navy usage. In some cases it has designated what would, today, be called a "Rear Admiral, Lower Half," while in others it has designated a senior Captain in command of a squadron of more than one vessel. Its exact meaning in the world of SPACE: ABOVE AND BEYOND was never clarified, so I am going to claim a bit of artistic license and state that in the space service, a Commodore is equivalent to a "Rear Admiral, Lower Half," or a "one-star admiral," and a "Rear Admiral, Upper Half" would be simply a "Rear Admiral," or a two-star admiral. This would seem to be supported by the collar insignia on Ross's khaki uniform shirt as seen in the series, which, when examined closely, appears to be a single star.
 S.O.S., for those without military background who are unfamiliar with it, means "Shit on a Shingle." It is a dish of beef (either chipped beef or hamburger) cooked and served with some sort of gravy (usually a white cream gravy) over toast.