Author's Note: This chapter is dedicated to our favorite crotchety old doctor, Donnelly Rhodes, aka: Doctor Cottle. You always made me smile when you were on screen and left an impression that will never be forgotten by me or anyone who has enjoyed Battlestar Galactica. You will be missed.
To readers; sorry for the long wait and thank you for your patience, it's been a really rough year for me. The reason why this took so long isn't that I was being lazy, but was genuinely occupied with unexpectedly heavy school work and later, being evicted because my landlord decided to be a greedy, heartless pr*ck and sold the house during the most inconvenient time of year. Things are looking better now, but they haven't quite settled yet.
Battlestar Galactica: The Guiding Fire
Homecoming: Part 1
Gideon Emery as Captain James Cutter
Faye Kingslee as Ellen Anders
Courtenay Taylor as Serina
Bruce Willis as Colonel Maxwell Shaw
Joseph Gordon Levitt as Lieutenant Ward 'Warlock' Breckenridge
Aaron Eckhart as Master Sergeant Michael Bishop
MAY 13 2534 / 0321 HOURS
226 DAYS AFTER CYLON ATTACK
UNSC SPIRIT OF FIRE CFV-88
Using a power drill, Cally unscrewed the four bolts holding the maintenance panel on. It was a small but surprisingly heavy 5x2 metal plate at floor-level with five long rows of ventilation slats that cooled the electronic systems for the hallway's power distribution system to the various subsystems, which had been on the fritz according to Major Valum. Cally laid down on her back with a stubby little flashlight bit between her teeth as she scooted in to see what was the matter. Valum had been giving her little odd jobs like this ever since they'd met. Cally had said as much that she'd rather be up on the hangar decks with Selix and Figursky, but the Major had replied with the fact she didn't give a damn and that Cally would do as she was told or the Colonial deckhand would find herself learning all about the Spirit's sewage processing systems. At least here for now with the security systems disabled, Cally didn't have to worry about the Spirit of Fire's freaky cylon spying on her and she could let go of the paranoia she'd been holding onto ever since Captain Cutter came out about it. But what dismayed Cally most was that the Chief had known about it. Galen Tyrol of all people had known about Spirit of Fire's damn AI and said nothing, not even to her! If it had been Cally, she would have blabbed to the whole Fleet about it, she didn't care about their excuses, having AIs or cylons, or whatever they wanted to call them was a recipe for disaster as far as she was concerned.
Shining the flashlight's beam up, it illuminated an electrical control board and surveyed it for faults or damage. Most of the UNSC's tech was bleeding edge compared to even the computers on Pegasus. There were freaking crystals in almost every bit of hardware she'd seen and couldn't for the life of her understand how they exactly worked. Looking over the board, she didn't see anything amiss in the primary system or its three redundants, which mean the power problem was likely deeper. In the maintenance access tunnels…
"Oh, frak me." Cally sighed at the thought of going into those dark, cramped tunnels, but knew she had no other choice. Pulling herself out, Cally then closed up the access panel and placed her tools back in her maintenance vest, then began walking a short distance down the hall to a narrow door just big enough to accommodate a person and nothing else. Without any power, she had to use the hand crank hidden away behind an emergency access panel to laboriously open it up just enough that she could squeeze through, the crank's extremely stiff handle almost made Cally's hand go numb in the process.
Again, she pulled out the small flashlight and shined its beam into the void of the tunnel while a nervous tingle worked up her spine.
Cally forced herself to breathe, trying to push out the anxiety growing within her. "Alright." She said to herself and squeezed through the door.
Cally began walking at a cautious pace, in a tight space like this it was easy to hurt yourself on a low pipe or some random sharp edge jutting out. As she continued down to the T junction, the dim red emergency lights along the walls came to life, dusty red lightbars bathing her orange jumpsuit in a crimson glow and falling dark once more after she had passed. Upon coming to the intersection, Cally shined her light down both passages trepidatiously, expecting some horrible monster-movie alien to be lurking just beyond the reach of her flashlight. She hated the dark, hated the scary movies her dad loved to make her watch when she was a little girl, and she hated being by herself, so this experience was quickly becoming extremely uncomfortable for the young woman. Seeing nothing, she shined the light on a sign on the wall finding it to be written in English. She stepped closer, trying to read the odd characters while within the confines of her mind she kicked herself for not putting greater effort into the English lessons provided aboard the ship. Biting her lip in an anxious expression, Cally decided that the words pointing left said something analogous to 'power distribution control' and began walking in that direction. About ten meters down the tunnel ended with a ladder leading down into an even darker seeming level below and another sign with the same words Cally had read beside an arrow pointing down. As if it couldn't get any worse. Gods, Cally didn't want to get lost down here, she thought as she began descending the ladder. Each step felt like one too far as she continued ever downward, the ladder seeming to go on forever into the very bowels of the old ship, into the dark places no one had visited in decades, until at last, Cally's boots touched upon a solid surface. Turning about, again Cally found herself before another set of signs with three separate paths to follow. She was fairly sure the yellow and blue signs had the word 'power' in the text despite how faded they were. On intuition, she decided to go with the direction the blue sign was pointing, which had absolutely nothing to do with blue being Cally's favorite color, she told herself.
Following the faded and cracking line of paint on the floor panels, Cally walked for what seemed like minutes in the dreary maze-like tunnels, passing several more intersections as she journeyed on alone. The air was so stale down here, the thought drifted through her mind if these maintenance tunnels were even connected with the ventilation systems at all. These colony ships were originally meant to be disposable ferries essentially, so whoever commissioned the vessel might have disregarded that feature as a cost saver that was then overlooked when Spirit of Fire went in for her recommissioning and refit as a support carrier.
The end of the line finally came. Much to her own doubt, she had managed through plain luck to find the main power distribution control box! Now smiling to herself, Cally opened up the large metal box fixed to the wall and pulled out her UNSC-issued handheld maintenance computer and plugged it into the port.
The little device booted up almost immediately, and Cally searched for irregularities as to why H23 wasn't getting any power to it. In response, the screen displayed an image of the conduits overlaid on a map of the maintenance tunnels. On it, flashed the primary conduit to H23 being cut off back from where Cally had come and then down a few other passages, but at least it was on the same level as her. With little else to do than discover the source of the problem and have a crack at fixing it, Cally unplugged the handheld and closed up the control box before setting off.
Moving through the black labyrinth, Cally's eyes darted between the map on her handheld and the path ahead being gradually illuminated by the short reach of her flashlight. Gods, she just wanted to get the frak out of here…
A couple minutes later, she was approaching the cutoff point and shined her flashlight's beam on the conduit running along the floor of the right-side wall, following it along. When she saw the cause for the conduit's failure, Cally wasn't sure she knew what to think. Kneeling down, she inspected it more closely. The piping around the electrical conduit looked like it had been melted by some kind of caustic substance to expose the wire beneath which was completely absent in the gap left behind. She wanted to think that the ship had rats aboard, but rats couldn't do this and Cally dreadfully knew it. Then a reflective glimmer caught her eye and she shined the flashlight down a partly dried puddle of something she found to cover the entire area of the floor around her. Setting her handheld off to the side, Cally touched the thin film with her glove, it was tacky like glue and viscous, almost like the slime slugs secreted.
Then she heard something, it sounded like a voice, and not too far off. Standing back up, Cally followed the sound of the voice, no voices, there were two she could discern. The sounds lead her to a dead-end hallway, and at the end another access door to the tunnels, which Cally was relieved to see, but this one seemed to strangely have its emergency inner bulkheads sealed. Still there was a thin window which Cally had to awkwardly crouch down to look through.
It took a minute for her eyes to adjust to the light. The voices rose again helping her to focus on what appeared to be a pair of UNSC marines standing not far from the other side of the door.
"…Serina keep - eye on this thing? - why - hell - we here by ourselves - - duty?" Cally thought she made out.
Thing, what thing?
Then the other replied with what clearly sounded like irritation. "- - is busy keeping those Colonial - - - off. Make sure - - stick - noses where - - belong."
From the bits and pieces of what they said, it was clear they were guarding something Captain Cutter didn't want anyone from the Colonies to see, and that made Cally all the more curious as she peered past the marines. It was apparent she was looking into a very large room, likely another hangar or storage bay of sorts. Around, she saw several strange objects covered in some purple metal, each stood somehow on a single angled stilt. Cally crouched lower to try to get a better look and she suddenly wished she hadn't.
The stilted objects she had been looking at were in fact legs, the four of them leading up to an immense purple crab-like body. From its bizarre petaled head, its body sharply sloped up like a throne where atop it sat a strange vaguely teardrop-shaped object. The carapace that covered the thing had an unearthly design and bore a nature that seemed utterly alien to Cally who hadn't yet realized her hands were trembling. And then without any warning, the head lit up with four large emerald jewels that were piercingly bright. A thunderous bellow echoed inside the chamber, so loud it was that Cally felt the sound reverberate through her own ribcage and she nearly screamed.
"Hey, hey! What - fuck? How - - - thing start up?" The two marines began to quietly panic as the monstrous construct began to move and raise itself. The hull trembled as it, one by one, moved its massive legs, taking a wider defensive posture like an animal would and Cally fell backward from the viewport. She crawled backward as her heart pounded in her chest, never taking eyes off the door until she was back in the intersection. Her first thought was that she needed to tell someone about this, what the Thirteenth Tribe was hiding in their ship, Galen, the Admiral, everyone!
Cally attempted to get to her feet, slowed by her panic-stricken body that fought against her. When she finally got up on unsteady legs a strange chittering noise echoed from up ahead. Her face bearing a fearful grimace, she shined her flashlight out into the darkened tunnel, first to the floor then rising where it fell upon some creature clinging to the wall.
Cally wasn't sure what to think of it a first. It had the appearance of a bloated maggot upon uncountable writhing tendrils. Its sickly pallid and wrinkled skin bore a look of decay and infection that Cally found instinctively repulsive. It had no face or, nor visible mouth but from the thing's front sprouted a set of branch-like segmented limbs ended with red feathery growths that were pointed straight at her.
It twitched unnervingly as it made short stop-and-go advances of mere centimeters but Cally knew when an animal was about to pounce when she saw it. Still, she screamed when she threw herself to the hard metal grating as the creature sailed over her.
With terror and adrenaline running hot through her blood, Cally forced herself quickly to her feet to turn the flashlight back upon the creature to see where it had gone. Cally was now at the start of the corridor she had come down originally and the creature was on the opposite side of the intersecting corridor, already turned about, pointing those horrendous appendages like retched bony fingers reaching out at her. It looked about ready to start a chase just as Cally was preparing to run, though unfortunately, she could not rightly remember the exact route she had come from originally. It was at that moment when she was witness to the grotesque sight of long orange worms bursting up through the floor grating like so much hamburger through a grinder, dozens of slimy fat worms the length of her legs swarming over the creature who struggled to resist the growing mass of orange flesh engulfing it.
Not wanting to test her luck any further and discover what else might be lurking down here, Cally bolted back down the corridor leading to the bay the Marines were guarding. Her hand fumbled for her security badge affixed to her jumpsuit by a spring-loaded spool of wound up elastic string and pressed it to the sensor right of the door.
The sensor flashed a dismaying red, heightening Cally's already high heartrate.
"Come on you piece of crap!" she begged as she tried again to no avail.
With no other option left, Cally pried open the emergency manual override panel and pulled out the hand crank lever once more. She doubted it would open the inner bulkhead, but if those Marines were still out there, they would see the access door being slowly opened. The lever was even stiffer than the one back up in Hallway H23 but Cally threw her entire bodyweight into cranking the door open.
Then suddenly, beautiful bright light began flooding in as the bulkhead unsealed and there were the marines. They were still there! Cally couldn't believe. Both looked as surprised and panicked as she probably did to them. The one with darker skin was reached through the narrow gap and Cally took his arm. He tried to pull her through but her tools and the pockets of her work vest kept getting caught until both men took hold of her and yanked her through, sending all three tumbling to the floor.
Cally's nose smashed against the cold metal, and a dull ache filled it, stealing her breath for but a moment.
Then the floor beneath her hands quaked again and she was reminded of the titan that called this space home or perhaps, its prison. She and the two marines rose, their sight drawn to the colossus as it bent down before them.
Then upon its head, the sharp petals blossomed outward accompanied by metallic chinks and dull thuds and the marines without a word grabbed Cally by her arms and dragged her away as fast as their legs could carry them.
As she was being hauled to the nearest exit, Cally glanced back over her shoulder. The colossal machine's head was still pointed toward the maintenance corridor from which she had come and a shrill whirring filled the air, growing in pitch as a halo of green light shone ever brighter. Then at once, a frothing luminescent jade beam of raw energy was unleashed, melting metal like it were paper mâché. In a short two seconds, it ceased firing and resumed its previous posture. That was the last she saw of it as the bay door shut behind her.
MAY 13 2534 / 0645 HOURS
226 DAYS AFTER CYLON ATTACK
LONGSWORD 0798 (CUTTHROAT-07)
CYRANNUS STAR SYSTEM RECON MISSION
HELIOS DELTA SYSTEM
"Jump eighty complete." Serina spoke to Alice and Sharon in the pilot and copilot's chairs. It wasn't the complete Serina, only a fragment of the larger whole still aboard Spirit of Fire, but even just a small portion of her would be enough to help the recon team with whatever technical assistance they needed. Opposite of Alice, Sharon craned her head back toward the rear of the cabin.
"Hey! Wake up, we're here!"
In short order, Warlock and Starbuck appeared from the corridor leading to the rear of the Longsword where a set of foldout bunks meant for long-duration reconnaissance operations like this were located. Sharon stood herself from the copilot station for Starbuck to take over, knowing well she preferred being in the front seat of an aircraft. As Starbuck took the seat, she popped the vertebrae in her neck with two quick side-to-side jerks before she then tied up her hair into a pony tail.
"Damn bunks, felt like I was sleeping on a gurney." She grumbled as Kara then looked over the navigational readouts. "What the frak… Helios Delta? I thought we were going to check out Helios Alpha first. Caprica is the location of Aether Aerospace's headquarters and Picon has the main factory for Macris-Castellanos. Captain Cutter said he wanted the location FTL drives or the manufacturing data." Kara protested, looking at Sharon for an answer.
"The cylons have a deep-space listening outpost on Aquaria." Sharon answered, if with a bit of a tiredly sardonic tone as she crossed her arms. "The quickest way for us to know what facilities they have and haven't touched is for me to access the cylon data-stream there. Maybe even get some intel on other surviving resistance cells out there in the Colonies.
"What kind of numbers are we talking about?" Kara asked. "Cylons had to have left a garrison there."
There was a slight twitch of doubt in Sharon's eyes. "I can't say for certain, but they can't have more than a few dozen centurions."
"A few dozen?" Kara replied with a mocking, sarcastic scoff.
"It was my idea." Alice interrupted, bringing Starbuck's disbelieving expression upon the Spartan. "We won't get the intel we need by taking photographs from high up in orbit like a bunch of tourists, if she has actionable intel on a lead, then we need to take that risk and get on the ground."
"What about the centurions?" Kara asked, more than a bit off-put and slightly concerned that she wasn't the most gung-ho person for once.
"The captain didn't send me along to watch over you while you take pretty pictures. Spartans don't do tourism, we vacation with extreme prejudice." Alice answered. "Serina, I'll need jump coordinates for Aquaria. We'll do an aerial recon of the outpost first so we can formulate a plan."
"Alright…" Starbuck said mild skepticism but wasn't prepared to argue with a woman who could trash a centurion in hand-to-hand combat.
LONGSWORD 0798 (CUTTHROAT-07)
Just shy of an hour later, the group stood huddled over Sharon at the navigation station, looking upon the screen displaying the images of the outpost they had only just taken barely a half hour prior.
The cylon listening outpost was positioned along the rocky coast of a frozen island home to a tall but dormant volcano. The building was at least three stories high, and had a rounded shape like the basestars of the old war, so much that someone could easily be mistake it as one were it not for its much smaller size. Along the craggy shoreline stood three separate landing pads leading to the central structure. Upon the northernmost pad sat a single heavy raider with the still images of centurions offloading supplies from it.
"Alright Sharon, give us the lowdown." Kara asked.
"Okay, the three landing pads here," Sharon pointed to the screen. "These are the only routes in and out of the structure."
Warlock cocked a curious eyebrow. "Why is that?"
"Cylons had no short-term plans for Aquaria, the environment was deemed to hostile for habitation for organic models, even in the established human settlements. They were going to wait out recolonization until they could find a way to further koboliform the planet's atmosphere. This outpost here is more of a token effort to lay claim to all the domains of man."
"Fascinating." Kara responded sarcastically.
"Where is the comms array?" Alice asked.
A few strikes of the keyboard by Sharon brought up an image of a vast complex of large radomes sitting upon a narrow rocky plain close to the volcano's caldera.
"Located near the summit, the outpost is linked to the array via a pipeline of ground cables that's buried underneath all the snow." Sharon noted.
"Is there any way to get in on the outpost's landward side, a wall thin enough for a breaching charge or a cutter to get through?" Kara asked to which Sharon shook her head.
"I can't tell from these pictures, and even if I could, the cylons would still raise the alarm to the rest of the occupation fleet, and then we can say goodbye to any hope of launching a rescue op after that.
Starbuck crossed her arms. "Well we're going to need some way of getting in." she frustratingly said.
"What about the water?" Alice then spoke up. "Would they be monitoring activity under the surface?"
Sharon looked back over her shoulder at the armored form of the Spartan. "No… why?"
MAY 13 2534 / 0516 HOURS
226 DAYS AFTER CYLON ATTACK
UNSC SPIRIT OF FIRE CFV-88
"Well, can't you tell me why you suddenly got called back to Spirit of Fire?" Tory asked over the communications channel. "I only just got to the embassy when Hudson told me about it, you didn't think of calling me sooner?"
"Yes, I know Tory and I'm sorry." Ellen apologized. "But the Captain said it was an urgent situation. I would have called you at your apartment but a secure transmission couldn't be guaranteed."
"What kind of urgent situation? Does it have to do with the cylon that attacked the embassy?"
Ellen shook her head, in spite that Tory wouldn't see it and it pained Ellen that she couldn't explain to her what exactly was going on. "I'm sorry, it's… classified. This is ONI stuff that has to do with my other job on the Spirit, I can't talk about any of it."
A sigh from Tory could be heard over the line. "Well, what do you want me to tell President Roslin, you were supposed to meet with her today on Colonial One about security measures regarding the micro-fusion reactors for the Fleet?"
"Just that I was called away to Spirit of Fire to deal with a very important matter. That'll have to do."
"Anders," Cutter said from the other side of the room.
"I'm sorry Tory, I have to go." She said and ended the call.
Approaching Captain Cutter who stood with crossed arms before the one-way pane of glass, Anders observed the conversation happening inside the interrogation room between Master Sergeant Bishop and the young Colonial woman who'd inadvertently stumbled upon the storage bay where the Captain had been hiding the Covenant Scarab Red Team had captured in the battle for the artificial planet. But it seemed that was the least of their concerns.
"The creature you saw down in the maintenance hallways," Bishop said. "Did it look like this?" he asked, holding up a computer tablet with the image of one of the parasites encountered both on and inside the planet's surface.
Specialist Henderson nodded. "Yeah," she answered uneasily. "That's the thing that attacked me."
"And you said another creature attacked it?"
"No… a swarm. These giant worms came up from beneath the floor and smothered it. While they were fighting, I ran for the fastest way out and then I ran into that THING you're hiding down in that bay." She then changed to a more accusatory tone. "And don't you think that I won't tell everyone about it! The entire Fleet is going to hear about this!"
Bishop glared right back in a manner that would make the most fiery tempered person's blood run cold as only a seasoned veteran could, silencing the deckhand into a muted silence.
"What you saw down there was an experimental and HIGHLY CLASSIFIED weapons platform." Bishop lied. "And I can tell you from personal experience that the Office of Naval Intelligence very much does not like it when someone goes and blabs state secrets to the public."
Anders saw Specialist Henderson's eyes widen as she swallowed a nervous lump in her throat.
Sitting back, Bishop's eyes softened. "I'm not threatening you, miss. We're not going to throw you out the airlock for seeing what you did, but I am warning you that if one word about that machine gets out to the Fleet, there will be consequences for all the civilians out there. ONI will put every last man, woman and child on the driest most remote dirtball they can find. And let me tell you, they've done a lot worse in the past to protect their secrets."
Anders turned to the Captain. "So our little secret isn't so secret any more, and worse, the parasite we encountered is aboard the ship as well as an infestation of Hunter eels it seems. I'm guessing those came from the Scarab somehow. Captain, how are we going to explain any of this to the Colonials if anyone finds out the truth behind any of this?"
"We can explain the parasite and eels as stowaway animals that managed to get aboard and Bishop has given us cover for the Scarab by claiming it's a classified weapons project."
A tense look remained on Anders' face. "That's not going to hold up if anyone gets a picture of that thing out. Frankly, I'm amazed no one aboard has leaked any combat footage from our previous engagements."
"We have Serina and Colonel Shaw to thank for that mostly. But don't worry about any of that right now Anders, I need you to get down to the storage bay and find out what's going on with our Scarab and determine how it turned itself back on and do that before it becomes a threat to the ship. Take Bishop with you." A tense looking Captain Cutter asked of her.
"What about other parasites we may have aboard?"
"You let me handle that." The Captain answered but one more question lingered in Ellen's mind.
"And what about Admiral Adama?"
"Right now, he's probably occupied with another matter."
MAY 13 2534 / 0600 HOURS
226 DAYS AFTER CYLON ATTACK
COLONIAL FREIGHTER: GIDEON
Aaryn Tosh approached the rear of the Pelican as its engines powered down. Working as the deck officer he'd lost the novelty of having the dropships of the Thirteenth Tribe aboard. At this point, it seemed that regular cargo shipments would now be handled by Spirit of Fire, which was a great relief to the entire Fleet as the ships no longer needed to compete with each other over the limited number of the military's Raptors thanks to the Spirit's ubiquitous dropships. And as someone who'd had a front row seat to the massacre that happened in this very dock under Colonel Tigh's reign of terror, that was very much welcome.
The UNSC marines were also a good deal friendlier, even if their Caprican tended to be godawful, but at least they actively participated in the offloading process rather than stand off to the side like prison guards on a work detail.
Aaryn held a pleasant smile to greet the marines as the rear hatch pressurized, however, when the troop bay door parted open, it did not contain the cargo listed on the manifest in Aaryn's hand, rather it contained a squad of armed men he recognized from the news as the UNSC's black-armored ODSTs accompanied by an equal number of other marines. Though Aaryn wouldn't recognize it, they were clothed in a drab black and grey variant of UNSC Army uniform with the Colonial Seal emblazoned upon their chest plates and pauldrons. They belonged to those marines stationed aboard Pegasus which Kinsano had been retraining for the past month, this joint operation being their first test of their newly acquired skills.
"Move! Move!" one of them barked and the marines and shock troopers flooded out with their weapons raised. "Stay where you are, this is a military operation!" the same voice shouted.
Aaryn didn't move an inch, frozen by the memory of the massacre as the ODSTs and Colonial Marines rushed past him. A few minutes later, they returned, forcefully pushing a man in handcuffs toward the Pelican.
"What's going on?" Aaryn asked, more than a little bit agitated now that the initial shock had worn off.
One of the ODSTs tuned as the others put the prisoner aboard. "He's a cylon."
Throughout the Fleet, similar events were happening concurrently. Aboard Cloud 9, the Colonial News Network headquarters was raided by a whole platoon of Colonial Marines from Pegasus, dragging out D'Anna Biers by her arms while she decried of her unfair treatment by so-called 'dogs of the military.' And aboard the cargo transport, Cybele, a two fireteams captured the Simon who had been posing as a husband to a deckhand on Galactica and stepfather to the woman's daughter.
All were brought aboard the Pegasus and sent to the brig along with the cylon who had taken the name of John Cavil aboard Galactica. Until that moment when the other three were hauled in together, he had been adamantly protesting his treatment, but now it seemed clear to him the jig was up and he drew silent as Admiral Adama and Colonel Shaw entered the brig.
"I demand to be let go, this is in complete violation of my rights as a Colonial citizen!" D'Anna Biers shouted through the bars of her cell.
Cavil rolled his eyes. "Give it up, will you? It should be pretty clear by now they know what we are." As he finished, Cavil shot a dirty look down toward the Simon's cell who in return cast a defiant stare of his own.
"He's right." Said the Doral taken from the Gideon who had attempted to avoid being caught by growing a beard and his hair out.
"How'd they find out?" D'Anna asked.
Cavil scoffed. "I can't believe I have to explain it. Our little errant Eight sold us out, isn't that right Admiral?" Cavil asked, upturning his chin as he looked to the Admiral standing by the door with Shaw. "Seeing as she never gave us up until she stepped aboard Spirit of Fire, I'm guessing she cut a deal with Captain Cutter, her freedom and her child in exchange for our heads."
Bill only continued to scowl back at Cavil wordlessly. "Tell me, does it hurt, Admiral?" Cavil mocked. "Knowing how little she trusted you?"
Containing his emotions and brushing off the cylon's attempt at psychological manipulation, Bill slowly stepped forward at a deliberate pace. "I would be very careful with my words if I were you." he spoke calmly. "There's no resurrection ship out there to catch you if you fall, and no basestars to come and rescue you. So get comfortable." He bit with the slightest feeling of satisfaction that as-of-now, the Fleet was now completely cylon-free.
"Please!" the Simon in the cell at the end of the brig called out. "I'm not with them! He told me to blow up the Cybele, but I refused." The Simon said, pointing to Cavil.
"Be quiet you coward." The Doral demanded coldly while Biers held a sour look.
"I have a family aboard that ship, a wife, a daughter. I have nothing to do with their schemes anymore!"
"We'll deal with all you all in due time." Colonel Shaw spoke for the first time as he began pacing down the line of cells. "And if anyone gets the bright idea of staging an escape, I've stationed a marine with a flamethrower right outside." Shaw stopped and looked at Biers. "No bullets, no quick way out. They'll just cook you up like a pig on a spit roast, toaster-girl." Shaw said and there was a glimmer of fear in the Three's eyes.
Colonel Shaw smiled. "Enjoy your stay on Pegasus."
Admiral Adama and Colonel Shaw then departed the brig for the CIC where Lee would be appraised of the situation. As they walked, Shaw turned his head to Adama. "I'll have my report on the operation as well as the reports of the boarding teams to you by thirteen-hundred hours but I can tell you it all went like clockwork except for Biers' little incident at the Colonial News headquarters."
Adama glanced at a pair of Colonial Marines in the reissued UNSC BDUs and holding UNSC weapons minted from Spirit of Fire's manufacturing deck. Colonel Shaw had asked for Bill's approval before enacting the changes, which Bill was surprised at but thankful for. But still, it was off-putting to witness the changes happening in front of him. The sad contemplation at the thought of how many of these men and women would eventually become UNSC service members sparked a deep sense of nostalgia in knowing that one day, there would no longer be a Colonial Fleet or Marine Corps. They would all be under the banner of Earth and the UNSC. No more battlestars, Vipers, or Raptors cruising the stars.
"Thank you, Colonel." Bill replied, as he held in those thoughts.
"Your marines have shown great improvement in the past weeks, some of them could even pass for ODSTs given some more time. Maybe some of them will when we get to where we're going." Shaw said, perhaps picking up on the subject preoccupying Bill's mind, he certainly seemed like a smart man for a jarhead.
"You know, Navy wouldn't turn you down if you joined up and applied for a command. Probably wouldn't get any of the new Marathon-class heavy cruisers they're churning out back on Mars, but over on Reach, there's a big drive to refit and refurbish a lot of the old Halcyon-class light cruisers, and they'll need some good Captains for those."
"I'll take that into consideration, Colonel." Bill answered, but in his heart, he despaired at the thought of losing Galactica. He wasn't sure if he could ever come to terms with that in this strange future for the people of the Twelve Colonies. And the thought of not just losing Galactica, but all the people under his command he'd grown close to. Would he lose Gaeta, Dualla, and Tyrol? What about Starbuck? Running off half-cocked on some crazy mission of Cutter's. Bill was most worried about losing her, the young woman that had become like a daughter to him. Gods he hoped she was okay right now.
MAY 13 2534 / 0836 HOURS
HELIOS DELTA SYSTEM
"This is fraking crazy, even for me." Kara said as her boot kicked up another cloud of silt from the ocean floor as she walked with Alice and Sharon far below the partly frozen waves above. "Do you have any idea the kinds of things that are down here?" she asked as her eyes scanned the dark azure gloom around, looking for any ominous dark predatory forms lurking beyond the range of her headlamp.
Sharon laughed openly over the wireless channel. "You've flown more combat sorties than anyone else in the Fleet, faced hundreds of cylon Raiders, and you're worried about a few fish?"
"Hey, I'm in a Viper when I go out there, not twenty meters underwater I can barely see in."
"It's fine," Alice spoke up, the green giant practically sauntering across the ocean floor barely hindered. "My motion tracker doesn't show anything remotely near us. Come on, we're almost to the outpost and that last heavy raider is going to show up soon."
According to Sharon, it was standard cylon practice to stagger resupply missions to limit possible ambushes on the convoys, in this case it was one heavy raider every hour.
"I can't emphasize how lucky we were," Sharon said at the pillars holding up the landing pads began to appear out of the blue twilight. "A base like this gets resupplied maybe every two to three months."
"Yeah, well, I'll feel lucky once we're back on the Longsword." Kara said.
Alice came to a halt beneath the middle of the landing pad. A crimson-carapaced sea centipede the length of Kara's leg lunged at the Spartan's shin in a territorial attack, proving fruitless when its jaws met with her titanium grieve. Alice then gave it a retaliatory stomp that obliterated several of its front legs, forcing it to flee in terror into the darkness. "Alright, Valerii prepare to get topside. Starbuck, set the det-charges on the second landing pad, I'll handle the third. RV back here once the charges are set."
"Right," Sharon responded as she then pulled the string hidden under her flight suit's chest-plate to inflate the emergency life preserver to ascend to the surface.
Sharon, breached the surface of rocking waves and crashing hunks of ice near the base of one of the landing pad's support pillars. Ignoring the chunks of ice beating into her back and shoulders, Sharon pulled the grapple gun from her hip and fired the electromagnetic stud up into the bottom of the landing pad. Once the gun had been latched to her suit, she triggered the motor to haul her up, already hearing the heavy metallic footsteps of centurions over the tumult of the ocean. Several minutes passed as Sharon hung awkwardly until the telltale whine of a heavy raider's landing thrusters howled in the distance, growing ever louder until it washed everything else out. Sharon waited for the engines to cut out as she began swinging back and forth, kicking off the supporting pillar until she grabbed could grab hold of the ledge with her left hand.
When the sound finally died out, her free hand pulled off the flight helmet and latched it to her belt. As long as the centurions saw her face, they would think she was just another Eight, regardless of the uniform she was wearing. The hard part came when Sharon disconnected the grapple line and she was hanging only by the strength of her own hands, the sudden jerk straining the muscles in her arms, but still she pulled herself up on to the pad directly right of the heavy raider. Cautiously, she moved, scanning for any humanoid models who could single her out as an intruder, but found none around, only a lance of centurions now approaching the raider to offload the supplies. Looking to the other two landing pads, the heavy raiders were still there, along with at least a couple dozen centurions divided between the two of them.
Sharon entered the troop bay, moving through the tight gap between the two stacks of cargo crates that stretched back to the rear of the compartment. Approaching the cockpit with careful steps, Sharon pulled the silenced UNSC pistol she had in an under-arm holster and chambered a round as silently as she could.
Coming to the cockpit door on the right side of the bay, Sharon knocked three times, then checked around a crate to see if any of the centurions were near enough to detect anything, which she judged they weren't.
The door slid open, revealing another Eight who looked almost exactly like her. At first the Eight wore a look of boredom which abruptly changed when she saw the uniform Sharon was wearing.
"You!" was all she said before Sharon shot her in the head with a TTR paint round and the Eight tumbled back into the cockpit, unconscious. Sharon checked again if any of the centurions were reacting, but it appeared the silencer did its job.
With her entry now secured, Sharon entered the cockpit and shut the door. In a few minutes, she had stripped the Eight of her flight suit and dressed herself in it, now not even the other humanoid models would be able to distinguish her if they saw Sharon walking around.
With one thing left to do, Sharon slipped a low-profile mic over her right ear and clicked the channel open and closed twice to signal the others she was going into the outpost. The channel clicked once, confirming her signal. Taking one last clear breath, she tucked the pistol into the flight suit and set off.
Back beneath the frigid ocean, Starbuck finished setting a detonation charge on the second of the landing platform's six support pillars. She now began walking to the third pillar, coming close to the sea centipede, but it seemed the crustacean's encounter with Alice's boot was still fresh in its mind and beat a hasty retreat into darker waters when Starbuck got close enough, which was fine with her.
A shiver ran through her shoulders and down her arms, even through the suit, Kara was still freezing, and not helping her nerves in the least.
Coming to the base of the pillar, it had already accumulated a considerable number of barnacles and accompanying algae growth despite being here for less than a year.
Again, Starbuck removed the backpack and set it on the fine brown sand of the ocean floor, retrieving the third of her four charges. Removing the plastic cover on the back, she then firmly pressed it to the concrete of the pillar where the barnacles were thinnest and the adhesive would hold. When it stayed put, Kara flipped up the display in the top-right corner of the square-shaped charge and pressed the red key on the number pad directly under the simple display. The screen came alive, displaying a blue background emblazoned with the UNSC logo with the reassuring words UNARMED and ENTER CODE displayed in bold, green English letters.
"Okay," Kara said to herself as she punched in the activation code Alice gave her. 0-7-1-1, followed by pressing the red key again and switching the priming handle back into the horizontal position and the display flashed red with the word ARMED.
"Alice, I've got one left to go."
"Me too, let's make it quick and get into position for when we get the signal." The Spartan replied over the wireless.
As Starbuck put the backpack on, something moved in the corner of her eye, and her head maneuvered right to where the floor sloped down into the deeper waters. In the gloom, a shadow moved, gliding slickly through the water, weaving back and forth on long arcs so as the creature could get an idea of what it was stalking.
Kara froze, whatever it was, it had to be at least four or five meters long, likely one of Aquaria's many terrifying species of sharks. Then, curiously, little speckles of light began to appear upon the shadow, joined evermore by others until it became a dazzling aurora of shimmering white and blue light, and Kara knew with a harrowing dread what was coming for her.
Finally, all of it came into view, less than twenty meters away was a Whaler Shark, it's body matte-black like some kind of living shadow out of the depths, only its broad, triangular teeth, and the light-producing luciferase around its mouth betrayed its true form. The creature had no eyes, it instead relied on an electroreceptive pores covering its body to perceive its aquatic world during the long, dark winters Aquaria suffered through.
It was a mystery how a shark with no eyes developed bioluminescence, but regardless of that, it used this odd trait to confuse and lure other smaller fish near its maw by mimicking the flashes of a cloud of firefly krill, only for the fish to be skewered by a harpoon of hardened bone lying in the back of the Whaler Shark's mouth, thought to have evolved from a pharyngeal jaw. Once the Whaler Shark had harpooned their prey, it then retracted its meal into its jaws where the shark then mauled it into submission before swallowing the shredded remains.
Described as Aquaria's deadliest hunter, the thing gave Kara nightmares for weeks when she watched a documentary about Aquaria's wildlife as a kid. Her right hand reached up to the MA5B slung across her chest despite knowing that bullets were all but useless underwater. Why the hell was this thing coming after her? These sharks only went after fish and squid that weren't nearly as big as she was. Could it be the metal in the suit? Kara remembered that metal screwed with their electroception.
"Alice, I got a problem here." She said with a growing urgency.
"What is it?"
Starbuck tried taking a few steps back, but that seemed to intrigue the creature further. It opened its mouth, the unseen tip of the harpoon ready to spear her. "Frak!" Without thinking, Kara struck first, her thumb pressing the release for the rifle's spring-loaded bayonet set in a socket under the barrel. The shark was impaled under its nose and the harpoon launched a full meter out of its jaws, barely missing Kara's shoulder. Her finger squeezed down on the trigger as fast as she could pull it. At point-blank range, the water's mass did little to slow the bullets' speed, piercing the predator's lithe body of cartilage and muscle. Several shredded the creature's brain, causing the creature to spasm uncontrollably and Kara to fall backward as she then panting with the rush of adrenaline, watched it go through its death throes in a murky cloud of brown silt.
"Starbuck, say status!" Alice called.
"It's okay," Kara responded, her panting beginning to slow. "I'm good." She said and closed the channel.
She sat there on the ocean floor until she was sure the monstrous shark had stopped moving. "Samuel T. Anders, you gods-damned sonofabitch, I swear on the Lords of Kobol, I'm never gonna let you forget about what I did to bring back your sorry ass." She said bitterly.
Much to Sharon's relief, the outpost was designed similarly to other cylon facilities, giving her little trouble moving toward the control room at the heart of the structure. So far centurion presence had been light, having only encountered three regular patrols since leaving the landing pad, though still, she hadn't seen any humanoid models. It was highly likely there was at least one in the control room, maybe even monitoring her progress on the security feed, but that was fine, better to have their eyes on her than elsewhere so that Starbuck and the Spartan, which Sharon still didn't know what to make of, could work beneath the waves.
Walking as she normally would, Sharon entered the control room, modeled similarly to the bridge of a basestar. There, a Four greeted her in a grey sweater vest and a blue tie over a plain white shirt. Next to him at the forefront was a Six in a navy-blue spaghetti-string tank top and white jeans, with a Two on her left dressed in a dark, cold weather coat and thermal pants for whatever reason, and standing far off to Sharon's left near the wall was a Five in similar cold weather clothing. All stood between Sharon and the data stream interface stations arranged in a Y shape at the center of the room.
"What's going on? The resupply is almost finished, what are you doing out of your raider?" the Five asked, ever the cold skeptic, but the Six then addressed her with a more nuanced approach.
"Is there something wrong, Eight?"
Thinking on her feet, it was obvious she couldn't take them all out before an alarm was raised, and so chose a different route.
"I'm here on a matter that concerns the ship of the Thirteenth Tribe."
The Five crossed his arms as the Simon then spoke. "You know the Ones don't like it when we call them that."
"Well, they're human, and are from Earth, right?" Sharon replied. "I don't know how much more proof the Ones can need. But that doesn't matter at the moment, what does is with seven basestars now lost to that ship and Galactica, concerns have risen about them potentially striking the Colonies."
"Seven?" The Leoben asked, surprising Sharon that he, nor none of the others seemed to know about their recent losses. Sharon found that very unusual… and disturbing. Still, she managed to hide her surprise and keep a straight face in front of the other cylons.
"When did we lose another two?" the Six followed up, showing great concern.
"Was there a resurrection ship in range?" the Simon added.
"Three days ago, and yes, but they're still backed up with downloads." Sharon answered falsely. "The information wasn't on the network because of the threat posed by their AI, the Threes and Ones are worried that it could decode our transmissions and potentially hack into our systems entirely, so I'm here as a courier. While we did lose the basestars, we managed to uncover a way to track the signatures of their fusion drives and we can't let the humans know that." Sharon said, perhaps even slightly proud of the convincing lie she'd made up that seemed to have the four cylons in the room convinced.
"We should update our computers immediately and begin scanning the system." The Doral advised adamantly.
"Agreed." Echoed the Six and made a gap for Sharon to approach the data stream.
Walking over, Sharon carefully removed her glove, being careful to keep her palm facing up as to not disturb the trojan horse she was carrying. Now standing before the interface, she pulled the glove off completely while turning her hand over, like a card trick, Sharon's hand fell just an inch behind the crystal data chip containing Serina's fragment.
Her hand submerged in the liquid, Sharon could feel Serina spread through the outpost's systems like a hurricane. The power even this small fragment of her had was… unbelievable. Carving through anti-intrusion software and semi-sentient defense programs, disassembling them with frightening ease until Serina had complete control of the entire facility and any others directly linked to it and removing any possibility of an alarm being raised.
[Alright, my job's done. Initiating blackout, you'll have five seconds.] Serina spoke to Sharon through the data stream.
Sharon withdrew her hand from the liquid medium as the entire room fell into complete blackness.
"What's going on?" asked the Simon.
"This is a system reboot, it'll update your security subsystems and wipe any vulnerable old data." Sharon said as she pulled down the zipper of her flight suit to retrieve the M6S. When light returned the sweeping red data displays along the walls now glowed a cold blue and the digital code upon it scrolled downward in a far more organized fashion. This change went unnoticed by the Six whom upon the restoration of the room's lighting was immediately faced with Sharon pointing the pistol at her chest. She didn't get to wear the surprised look on her face for long until she was struck square in the chest with a stun round, the paralyzing paint on the cylon's bare skin providing immediate assurance that the Six would be down for a good long time. With a stony face devoid of conflictions, Sharon brought the pistol around and in quick succession, took out the Simon and Leoben with six rounds divided between the both of them.
The Doral, however, had the time to react. From behind his back the Five pulled out a pistol, and Sharon in reaction rolled back over the data stream interface, taking cover behind it just as the Doral's pistol began barking its sharp reports in reply to her treachery.
Sharon's hand shot up to her ear, opening the channel. "This is Sharon; objective accomplished, but I need backup now!"
"Standby, we're on our way." Alice replied.
Outside, Kara hung by a wire under the landing pad where Sharon had been with Alice hanging next to her. Starbuck was frankly amazed that the grapple wire could hold the Spartan's immense weight as well as the light anti-aircraft gun that Alice favored as her weapon of choice.
"This is Sharon; objective accomplished, but I need backup now!" Kara heard over her helmet's speakers.
"Standby, we're on our way." Alice quickly replied before turning back to Kara. "Go loud."
Starbuck pulled the detonator from a pouch on her chest and mashed down hard on the trigger. Then like drumbeats, the explosives triggered beneath the waters. It took a moment, but soon the supports began to complain with the sounds of warping metal and then all at once, the landing pads tipped over to one side and collapsed into the ocean, taking the raiders and dozens of centurions with them. Alice then chucked her machinegun over the ledge and the two climbed up, coming up directly in front of the last heavy raider. The two looked to each other and nodded to signal they were ready.
Alice emerged from behind the raider first, immediately unleashing a stream of orange tracers at the crowd of centurions a dozen meters down the causeway as she quickly advanced. Starbuck followed after five seconds, letting Alice take the point and the bulk of the cylons' aggression as they finally began firing back. Starbuck raised her rifle, placing the digital reticle on her HUD over a centurion on the right and fired a short burst into its chest. The cylon tumbled back from the damage the UNSC armor piercing rounds had dealt before a second burst put it down permanently. Ahead, Alice surged on nearer to the entrance to the facility, stepping over the destroyed form of the centurions she had cut down. Her shields were flaring strongly and on the verge of failure by the time she and Starbuck took out the last three between them and the door.
A brief respite of momentary silence fell as the Spartan and the Viper pilot formed up in breaching position next to the closed doorway large enough for a whole squad of centurions to pass through.
"Serina, get open the door. Captain Thrace, prep a frag."
"You two should be advised that there are a lot of centurions waiting to greet you." Serina said with a cautious tone. "I can slow them down by locking the doors in their paths, but you're going to have to deal with them eventually."
"Looking forward to it, now let's crack this can." Alice answered with an eagerness that Starbuck couldn't help but feel electrified by. Even against a hundred centurions, she felt that with Alice, there was no way they were going to lose.
The door into the outpost slid open and Kara readily tossed the grenade in, followed by a thundercrack that shook her feet.
"Give'em another." Alice said, and Starbuck threw another grenade down the blind corridor.
Following the next detonation, Alice moved around Starbuck into the outpost, and on instincts instilled in her by her training, she followed as if on auto-pilot.
The corridor was a mess of smoke and shredded centurions. Alice was on point, already firing through the haze. The tracers from her machinegun briefly illuminated the surviving cylons momentarily before the heavy rounds tore into them. Kara added her own fire into the haze as well, pulling the trigger upon seeing her reticle turn red and only stopping when it became white once more.
The centurions pushed back, by the dozens they came like a tide of chrome and hatred from an intersection of three adjoining hallways ten meters ahead. One came at the Spartan with its fingers extended into razor-sharp talons, and Alice offered the barrel of her gun to its face in return, swinging it like a battering ram. Another came before she could finish the first off. It latched onto the Spartan's weapon, trying to pry it out of her grasp or expose her for long enough for its cohorts to take advantage of. Kara couldn't quite believe what she was seeing when Alice slugged the cylon in the face, knowing that punching a centurion might as well be no different than punching a car door, but not in Alice's case. The Centurion was knocked back, its face became a crumpled mess and its eye shattered from the force of Alice's punch. As it staggered, Alice kicked it across the corridor in time to duck under the swipe of another's talons. More and more the centurions came in such density, all focused on the Spartan.
The machinegun dropped to the floor and the Centurion that had just attempted to take Alice's head off was thrown back into the growing crowd, knocking a good number over like so many dominoes. And then just as quickly, Alice drew and fired her pistol at a group of three who still stood with their weapons primed.
She followed by pulling a combat knife while Kara cut down the group of floor-bound centurions. Kara was so enthralled at the sight of one woman, one human taking on so many feared centurions on equal ground, that Kara didn't notice her ammo counter fall to zero until bullets ceased coming out of her rifle. She cursed at herself for not keeping her mind focused as she reloaded, leaving Alice alone in facing the hoard. Starbuck witnessed the Spartan's 'can-opener' in action as Alice's knife speared through the left side of a Centurion's head while three more gunshots sang out. One Centurion ahead opened fire with a spray of bullets. With her knife still buried in the cylon's metal skull, she pulled it in front of her to act as a shield and charged forward.
"I'll knock them down, you take them out!" Alice yelled as she and her improvised ram collided with more centurions. Alice threw it aside, attacking the soulless machines with nothing more than her knife and gauntleted fist. One she grabbed and slammed against the ceiling before letting it fall behind her as she pressed on, leaving it to Starbuck to finish off with a subsequent burst from her assault rifle.
Like some juggernaut of legend, the Spartan fought through the cylons, her strength and speed unmatchable by the machines, a clear rebuttal of all the cylons' self-perceived superiority. One by one, Alice tore a swath through them, leaving a trail of battered metal bodies for Starbuck to finish off.
One by one, they came, and one by one they fell.
"Traitor!" the Doral shouted from the other side of the room where he took cover. "Do you have any idea what they'll do to you after you're captured? Do you have any idea how stupid it was attacking this outpost? There are layers of security, the entire occupation fleet probably knows you're here right now."
"Maybe, but I doubt it." Sharon responded with a measure of self-assurance.
"Yeah, and why is that?"
"Probably because I just took over all systems inside this outpost, including the communications array." Serina answered with a much more obvious aura of self-assurance. "Hello there little cylon, I'm the Spirit of Fire's AI, and now thanks to you letting us waltz on in through the front door, I now have complete and total access to your entire data network in the Colonies. And as for your little skin-job friends lying about; stun rounds. Can't have any of you reincarnating and mucking up our plan now, can we?"
Sharon had to admit as a smirk crossed her lips that she would have seen the look on the Doral's face.
"Well we still have a hundred centurions that will be swarming this room any second now!"
To the Doral's right, the adjacent door slid open and what brief relief he felt quickly soured as he witnessed the disheartening sight of a battered Centurion clattering to the floor, missing an arm with narrow wisps of acrid smoke trailing into the air.
"And that would be why we brought her along." Serina answered as Alice stepped into the room.
In response, the Five model stumbled to his feet and fired a shot at Alice's head, only for it to bounce off the golden barrier of her armor's shields. He fired again and then again as he back-peddled, both shots mirroring the same result.
"Go on, keep shooting, it just pisses me off more." Alice responded as she slowly stepped forward. Two more gunshots rang from the Two's pistol, not even slowing the Spartan down.
"You might as well give up." Serina said with a certain smugness. "I guarantee you won't be putting her down, and you certainly won't be sending any distress signals to the rest of your occupation fleet with me here."
The Doral wore an anxious look on his face while in his eyes he held a pensiveness. "Then I'll tell them myself." He said, beginning to move the gun under his chin in attempt to download out of his situation.
"Hey!" Sharon shouted from across the room where she stood now, drawing the Doral's attention long enough to land a stun round to his face. "Alright, clear!" Sharon said with an exasperated breath.
A moment later, Starbuck appeared, backing in through the doorway with her rifle raised. "Are we clear?" she asked over her shoulder.
"All hostiles have been neutralized, Captain." Serina answered, allowing Starbuck to relax.
"Let's get these assholes tied up." Alice spoke up. "Then me and Valerii can go out to the heavy raider to collect our last prisoner and move the bird so Warlock can land. We can figure out what to do with it and them later."
MAY 13 2534 / 0700 HOURS
226 DAYS AFTER CYLON ATTACK
UNSC SPIRIT OF FIRE CFV-88
STORAGE BAY G-16
"Serina, what's the status of the Scarab?" Professor Anders asked as she and Bishop stood outside the door to the bay.
"Dormant at the moment." Serina answered over the intercom. "Given the likelihood that it was the alien parasite that triggered its activation, I've locked down the maintenance accessways to the general area for your convenience."
"Thoughtful." Ellen answered with mock sincerity.
Beside her, Bishop loaded a shotgun cradled in his left arm. "And what are we doing about the little bugs?"
"The Captain has dispatched Spartans Jerome and Douglas to determine what the scale of the infestation is, and Lieutenant Colonel Kinsano is being temporarily recalled from her duties aboard Pegasus to lead the cleanup operation with the hellbringers. So you worry about your own problems at the moment. The UNSC would very much not like to lose the most significant item of Covenant technology we've been able to recover thus far in the war."
"Noted." Ellen answered as she checked her tablet computer to doublecheck her translation algorithms were up to date with the computers in her lab. "I'm ready to head in now."
"Best of luck, I'll be standing by if you need me."
"Open the door." Bishop ordered to the marines standing guard.
The bulkhead unsealed, allowing the two entry into the eerily quiet bay. Ahead, the Scarab sat crouched and immobile before the melted tunnel it had blasted in order to kill the single parasite. Ellen tried not to think about how little time she would have to run for her life if it reactivated then and there, but the Scarab just continued to sit unmoving the entire walk all the way up to it.
Ellen and Bishop walked under the arch of the rear leg to get to the crew bay. Bishop hauled himself up the five-foot gap between the lip of the bay and the floor below before then helping Ellen aboard.
"Time to get to work, the control console should be just ahead." Ellen said, then taking the lead.
Moving around a partitioning wall, she found it at the front of the compartment, a bending holographic screen covered with a swath of alien glyphs that were a varied rainbow of colors.
"Never thought I'd actually be onboard one of these things." Bishop spoke out while Ellen brought up her tablet's camera to analyze it.
"So, are you going to explain the whole Spartan-I thing, or is that a topic we're going to leave on an awkward silence?" she asked while working.
"Afraid a lot of that is classified stuff ONI would rather not like me talking about, ma'am."
Ellen smirked. "More classified than artificial planets and an entirely unknown human civilization thousands of lightyears from Earth?"
Bishop chuckled. "Well, when you put it that way it does seem like small potatoes. The short of it, is that ONI wanted a to whip up batch of super soldiers to fight the Insurrection, and called it Project Orion. I was a part of one of the last groups they made. Army, Marines, special forces from all branches were brought in and given a cocktail of serums to boost our combat performance. We were good. Faster, stronger, and a lot smarter than your average grunt. But not quite good enough for the ONI spooks, so they shut down the project and reassigned those of us who wanted to reenlist back to our old branches. They only began to refer to us as Spartan-Is after Red Team and the rest of the Spartan-IIs began taking the field."
"I see." Ellen responded. "So that was why the Captain had you assigned as my protection in the Colonial fleet. The cylons are skilled in infiltration and espionage, so why not send a specialist in counter insurgency warfare."
"And it paid off didn't it? That skin-job definitely didn't see it coming."
"Ah-ha!" Ellen said, lowering her tablet and walking up to the console. "Found the power system controls, I'll initiate a shutdown sequence." She then touched a glyph on the screen and turned it counter-clockwise. The lights inside the compartment died and there was a noticeable slackening of the Scarab's legs.
It all gave Ellen a sense of relief. "That was a lot easier than I thought it'd be." Bishop said.
The lights then immediately turned back on and a line of glyphs scrolled across the holographic screen.
"You just had to say it."
MAINTENANCE ACCESS SECTION G-113
"Serina, open section G-113 and close G-114 behind me." Jerome said, standing in the cramped maintenance access tunnel illuminated by his headlamps and the flickering pilot light of the flamethrower in his hands. "Zero-Four-Two, what's your status?" he then asked as he passed through the open doorway.
"Entering section G-216 right now. I've spotted some slime left by some of those Hunter eels, and it looks like they've been eating away at some of the electrical systems, but so far, no contacts."
"Copy that Douglas, keep me informed of anything you find." Jerome finished as he continued to move on through the section.
A few minutes later, he heard Serina's voice over the radio. "Jerome, I've lost contact with one of our maintenance crews down in auxiliary vehicle maintenance bay nine. Cameras and motion trackers have gone offline as well, but I managed to put the area on lockdown." She said worryingly.
Jerome halted. "How many were down there?"
"Twenty-six in all, I'm afraid." Serina dourly replied.
With a thought, Jerome switched channels through his neural lace. "Douglas, you get all that?"
"Every word, we should double-time it down there before they spread to any other parts of the ship."
"Agreed. Serina, clear us a path to the bay, and inform Kinsano of the situation, were going to need her hellbringers if we can't contain the outbreak."
"On it, I've opened all access hatches from here to the bay, hurry."
STORAGE BAY G-16
"Okay, that's not right." Bishop said uneasily to Anders who was furiously working at the display to no apparent avail. "Why the heck hasn't it shut down?"
Ellen grunted in frustration. "It still thinks that there's a threat in the area even though the sensors are all clear!"
Ellen was then nearly knocked off her feet as the Scarab came fully back to life and stood up.
"Thinks?" Bishop shouted. "This thing is a machine, it doesn't think, it's programmed." He said, sparking an idea in Ellen's head.
"Maybe not," Ellen said skeptically as she pulled a length of fiberoptic cable from a cargo pocket on her pantleg and plugged it into her tablet and the other end tipped with an adaptive plug into an interface port on the wall.
"We've been treating this thing like it's a machine, but it isn't. This thing is swarming with the same creatures that form the Hunters the Covenant uses. It's a colonial organism and it stands to reason that at least some of the Scarab's functions are governed by them."
Bishop blinked. "You're seriously going to try to communicate with it, an alien, a Covenant alien that not too long ago might have happily blasted us into a molten puddle."
"It hasn't tried to kill us thus far, and unless you have a better plan…" Ellen trailed off as she keyed in her message.
I am Professor Ellen Anders, do you understand me? Do you have a name?
The words quickly transliterated into the triangular Covenant characters upon the holographic screen and Ellen held her breath as several seconds passed.
Ellen almost gasped as a second line of text appeared. "The missive has been recognized by us. We are the whole bestowed the war-title Armiger of Regret's Divine Ambition." She said out loud, not quite believing it herself.
"Holy shit." Bishop cursed, mirroring Ellen's verged disbelief.
Shaking off the shock, Ellen refocused her mind and began typing in another message.
"Hold on, I'm telling it to turn off its weapons." She said as her message appeared on the screen.
Armiger, you are aboard our ship, the Spirit of Fire. We need you to deactivate your weapons systems immediately to prevent any further damage that would endanger yourself and others.
"What is it saying?" Bishop asked impatiently.
"Hold on!" Ellen responded. "Total and absolute destruction of the blasphemous Flood infestation has not been finalized, and its threat to our whole persists profanely. The most impure taint must be purged with the utmost fury and righteous force. The whole will be defended with the utmost zeal, our body will never again fall prey to the eternally cursed hunger of the most unholy taint. We will not allow it." She said with a puzzled tone. The words sounded obsessive, and the way it was acting was more like an insect hive responding to a threat.
"I'm going to try to reason with it."
You cannot destroy them yourself. You are too big to leave this bay, and further use of the energy cannon will damage the ship, and if Spirit of Fire is destroyed, you will be destroyed with it. We know about the parasite. We are sending soldiers to destroy them right now, please deactivate your weapons.
"We will not." Ellen dictated with clear frustration. "The Flood persists, we must know the infestation is eradicated. Such was the plight of our confinement in conflict with the essentiality of the Flood's eradication that the creation of new wholes was called upon for the task. For, the Flood must be hunted, they must be annihilated to the last, to never again impend upon us."
"It's like it's scared." Bishop said to Ellen's surprise. "When Red Team and the assault force sent to rescue you found the Scarab, the Covenant had abandoned it to those alien creatures. My unit was deployed on Hornets for that mission and I saw this thing covered with tentacles and those little beach-ball buggers. If it weren't for us, they would have eaten this thing alive."
"You think the Scarab, the alien colony's extreme reaction to this whole situation might be built off a traumatic experience?" Ellen said, more of a statement than a question. "That makes some kind of sense. It's been fine down here for four years and only started acting up when the parasite, this Flood, came into range of the Scarab's sensors."
"So now what, now that we've psychoanalyzed a living alien war machine?" Bishop asked.
"We try to stay on its nice side, and we're going to let it work out that stress on exactly what it wants." Ellen said, putting her finger to the switch on her earpiece. "Serina, do you have an approximate location on the alien parasites yet?"
MAINTENANCE ACCESS SECTION G-548
"Serina, I've linked up with Douglas and we're sixty seconds out from the bay, do you have any new intel for us?" Jerome asked as he and Douglas moved briskly through the dark labyrinth of corridors. Though strangely, his temperature gauge had dropped by a significant margin from the average norm.
"Unfortunately, I still haven't managed to reactivate any sensor systems in the area, so I'm afraid you're going to be going in blind, sorry boys."
"We've acted on worse intel." Douglas chimed in from behind Jerome.
"There is one bit of information that I think you should be made aware of. The auxiliary maintenance bay you're headed to, I've been using it as a testing facility for prototype cryogenic weaponry applications."
"Cryogenic weapons?" Douglas said in a curious tone. "Like that bomb the Shortswords can drop?"
"Similar in principal, but the mechanisms I've been working on for the past few years while everyone was asleep are significantly more complex. The short of it is, you'll need to be very careful around them, one ruptured canister and armor or not, you'll be a popsicle as brittle as glass.
"Great, so we can't just torch the whole room now." Douglas responded to the unfortunate news.
"Flamethrowers and high-pressure canisters historically tend to not make good bedfellows." Serina remarked humorously.
"We'll deal with it," said Jerome with a determined inflection. "This ship is our home, and those things aren't going to have it."
Moments later they came to the last corridor that led to the darkened bay.
"Serina, where are the lights?" Jerome asked.
"The primary circuit has been disabled by some means and the backups aren't responding."
"They cut off the power?" Douglas asked. "How can they cut off the power, they're animals?"
"We move in quiet. Serina, keep trying to get the power back online." Jerome responded before both Spartans killed the pilot lights of their flamethrowers and turned off their headlamps to avoid broadcasting their presence. On feet far too quiet for a person his size, Jerome entered silently. He waited, his motion tracker lifeless, the air devoid of a single sound, and his enhanced vision not detecting a hint of movement.
He blinked his status light on Douglas' HUD to signal him to move up before he quietly placed the flamethrower on the ground and replaced it with the shotgun on his back, then covered Douglas as he did the same.
The bay was almost entirely pitch black, the only lights coming from large, heavily reinforced storage tanks and bits of equipment bearing a chilly blue glow coupled with a cold fog seemingly clinging to them. In spite of this, Jerome could see quite clearly whereas a normal human would have been completely blind. He could see that he and Douglas had come out behind the vehicle maintenance racks which were currently occupied with a six-wheeled variant of the warthog that Jerome didn't recognize. It had a completely enclosed front cabin and a large and complex looking dual mortar in the extended rear.
"Serina, I don't recognize any of these vehicles, and we were trained to operate pretty much everything the UNSC has."
"Judging by your entry point, I'd say you have run into my pack of Dire Wolves."
"Dire Wolves?" Douglas asked.
"My bid to fully replace the M9 Wolverine in its mobile artillery role. I extended the bed of a warthog to accommodate my one of a kind cryo mortar system that I guarantee will stop a covenant ghost dead in its tracks with a single hit. The tusked bullbar in the front I added to dispose of cryogenically incapacitated infantry without causing superficial damage to the body."
"Let's keep it moving," Jerome said and signaled to move right. While he led and kept his eyes forward, Douglas scanned around, looking for any signs of hostiles, but finding only more bizarre vehicles.
"Are those the Rhinos from the Pillar of Autumn? What the heck happened to their turrets?" he asked, seeing that the main turret was now completely absent and replaced with a fixed gun that stretched almost the whole length of the Rhino's massive chassis and had a barrel almost a meter thick. "And over there, are those Bison? I didn't think we had any aboard."
"You sure have been busy Serina." Jerome remarked.
"Well, I can't take all the credit, Professor Anders has contributed significantly to moving my designs from concept to the prototype stage, especially in recent weeks."
"Still, can't imagine ONI is going to be too happy about what you did to those Rhinos."
"I found a much better platform for the plasma cannon they had equipped it with in the Army's M400 Kodiak. I even took the liberty to install several upgrades gleaned from combat field data WE acquired for them. Besides, I needed the Rhino's chassis to mount the super-heavy cryo projector on in case the Scarab we captured ever got uppity. A pity it did before my lovely new Sabertooths were fully operational. Up above, you'll see my Frost Ravens I created from the Nightingale's airframe, it carries a similar cryogenic projector mounted in the chin and concussion missiles under the wings."
"Fascinating," Douglas noted with disinterest, "-but it doesn't-" he cut off abruptly and a flash of red appeared on the motion tracker. Jerome swung immediately around to find Douglas on his back, holding the mutated claw of an infected crewman at bay with his shotgun jammed between the pincers. He was pinned, but Douglas was far from helpless. Leveraging the strength afforded to him by his armor, Douglas wrenched the butt of his shotgun up into the former crewman's chest where the parasite had imbedded itself, breaking several already spongy ribs but not killing the alien inside, neither was this his intent as the stunned combat form's hold was loosened enough for Douglas to bring up his boot and send the thing flying back into the rear of an unfinished Sabertooth.
It croaked a retched sound as it crumpled momentarily to the floor, leaving a disgusting smattering of green-grey ichor on the vehicle. Jerome quickly fired twice into combat form's chest, destroying the infection form within and leaving the putrid, mutated host to emit a death-gurgle as it sprawled across the floor plating.
Douglas was already back on his feet and both Spartans went back to back in preparation for the counterattack. Jerome turned his headlamps back on at full power, and part of him wished he just hadn't, because there on the far wall, he saw the twisted bodies of the other twenty-five technicians and crewmen. They had bloated, distended torsos, bulging like sweating tumorous growths while their emaciated limbs had shriveled into calcified hooks that grew into gaps in the metal. The creatures began to groan unearthly noises as their bellies trembled disturbingly.
"Douglas!" Jerome called out to his teammate right as the carrier forms ruptured open, spewing dozens upon dozens of smaller infection forms, as well as a new abominable monstrosity. Born as triplets from a single carrier, they were smaller than an average human, scuttling quickly across the bay floor on spiky hind legs and two pairs of muscular arm-tentacles. It had no head to speak of, only a mass of short razor-tipped tentacles and probing antennae like their smaller brethren.
Jerome fired as one leapt through the air, catching it center-mass with extremely destructive results. Another bounded off the wall, narrowly avoiding the fate of the other as Douglas fired. Two of its arm tentacles elastically stretched forth, one wrapping around the body of Douglas' shotgun to then quickly rip it out of his hands while the other wrapped around his shoulder to throw him several meters toward the wall.
Before Jerome could react to this, another came at him, hopping from the top of a Sabertooth's cannon over Jerome's head. Like Douglas, it tried to wrench the Spartan's shotgun out of his hand, but Jerome, having witnessed the attack before held tight and dug his magnetized boots into the deck. His shields flickered from the immense pressure on his bicep while the Flood form speared its hind legs into a section of grated floor plating, creating a tug of war between them.
Jerome relaxed his right arm, letting it get drawn straight toward the creature and giving him a clear aim down the weapon's sights at his attacker. The shotgun barked its fiery breath and the monster fell.
Not wasting a moment, his free hand shot to the pistol at his side and he freed Douglas from the grip of the other trapper form with a quartet of well placed shots.
"Fall back!" Jerome ordered, seeing the oncoming tide of red on his motion tracker. He laid down a series of successive shots across a forty-degree arc, killing several of the insectoids each time. To the right, Douglas was back up on his feet again with his pistol in hand and added to the barrage. The pair performed a fighting retreat against the endless swarm of infection forms, trying to get back to where they had entered. "Serina, there are too many, we're falling back to regroup. Seal the door behind us once we're out."
Though, as he said this that very door that was their only means of escaped shut tight.
"It wasn't me!" she quickly replied. "Those creatures on the wall have somehow gotten partial control over bay's systems, I'm locked out!"
Daunted, but not outdone, Jerome looked for another solution. "Serina, we don't have enough ammo to deal with all of them, is there anything in here we can use?"
"Yes, at the far end of the bay there is a rack of prototype handheld cryo projectors, I had a test scheduled for today so they are primed and operational."
There was just one small problem with that involving the horde of Flood that stood in the Spartans' way.
"Jerome, its Anders." The Spartan heard unexpectedly. "I heard you might be in a bit of a pickle, but I think I have a solution on the way, just promise me you won't shoot them."
"Shoot who?" asked Douglas after swatting away a pouncing infection form.
The answer came as a writhing mass of living muscle appeared up through grating under a pair of partly assembled Dire Wolves. The alien eels engulfed the automotive parts and section of armor around the vehicle, turning the objects into the frames of one of the Spartan's most feared enemies, Hunters.
Though it was to the pair's surprise, that the two newly formed Hunters immediately began assaulting the Flood infection forms instead. One swung an arm made from the Dire Wolf's door low into the swarm, splattering a swath of the things while the other brought down an improvised club made from the vehicle's transmission upon one of the trappers with predictable results.
"What the hell?" a bewildered Douglas asked.
"Never mind!" Jerome stated. "Get to the weapons while they're busy with the Hunters." The Spartans moved left to the other maintenance pits opposite the Dire Wolves where the modified Bison sat, and flanking behind them while the Hunters continued to be the rock upon which the Flood crashed upon. A Trapper leaped upon the shoulders of the shield-bearing Hunter, wrapping its tentacles around its shoulders to immobilize it. The Hunter struggled to shake it off, letting out a bellowing call for aid to its bond-brother who hammered the creature off.
Ahead, the two Spartans saw the weapons rack loaded with guns bearing a very close resemblance to the Hellbringers' own NA4 flamethrowers but with some serious modifications to the weapon's body and attached chemical tanks that now bore the same the chilly-blue lights. But before Jerome could reach one of them, another Trapper ambushed him from behind, ensnaring the Spartan around the waist and his right shoulder, that jerked the shotgun out of his hands.
"Jerome!" cried Douglas.
"Go!" Jerome shouted in response then turned to face his attacker as best he could.
Douglas got to the rack, quickly yanking the weapon from the upper level with one hand and the accompanying pack below with the other. Even through his armor, the weapon was cold to the touch, as if it had been sitting atop some frigid peak for several days. When he turned about, he found Jerome in another tug of war, resisting the Trapper's coils as best he could while a small congress of infection forms had broken off from the main mass throwing themselves at the Hunters, sensing the prospect of easier prey.
As different as the purpose of this weapon was compared to a normal flamethrower, the mechanisms were remarkably similar and it only took a second to prime it. The cryo gun had a kick to it Douglas did not expect, thinking it would act more like a ray, but in effect what came out of the barrel was a spray of frigid chemicals held semi-coherent by a central vacuum energy siphon. The icy beam struck the Flood form, instantly freezing its body into a state so brittle, a firm pull by Jerome broke its tentacles off at the shoulder and its legs at the knee, causing the whole torso to fall and shatter upon the floor. Douglas then directed the sub-zero beam at the nearby infection forms, resulting in them freezing solid like macabre ice sculptures.
Jerome threw off the still writhing arms of the Trapper and moved to grab the cryo pack by Douglas, shortly thereafter freezing the severed limbs before moving up to engage the main swarm which the Hunters had done a tremendous job to cut down. The Spartan swept the cryo beam across the swarm still numbering in the dozens. The Hunter with the shield adopted a poised defensive stance, presenting its improvised shield while its brother was seemingly far less cautious and pressed the attack, shattering the frozen infection forms with ardent swings of its club-arm.
"Douglas, the wall." Jerome directed, turning their attention lastly to the disemboweled, but still living carrier forms affixed to the wall. They moved closer and Douglas engaged the once-human blisters with wide sweeps of the weapon's spray. All it took to then destroy them was a single bullet from Jerome's pistol and one by one, they died.
"Serina, all threats eliminated, let's get this bay cleaned up, full hazardous material protocols." Jerome said in a slightly tired voice. They had lost a lot of good people today.
"What about them?" Douglas asked as he warily motioned toward the two Hunters with a nod of his head.
"Let's give them space for now, they don't seem hostile toward us. But if they do start anything, put them on ice."
STORAGE BAY G-16 OBSERVATION ROOM
Colonel Shaw stood at the window, looking into the bay where the Scarab and now the two Hunters now resided, himself wearing an inscrutable mask that betrayed none of his thoughts while Captain Cutter conversed with Anders and Bishop beside the room's primary console for the cargo crane.
"Now Captain, are you sure the hazmat teams recovered every bit of biomass left by the Flood? With a species this virulent, we can't risk even a microbe surviving, think what it could do to the fleet, what it could do to a planet." Anders said with great emphasis.
In response, Captain Cutter raised his hand in an easing motion as he leaned against the back of the console. "You can relax Anders, I'm taking this threat very seriously. We're going to initiate a level four decontamination sweep on the entire maintenance access system and the affected vehicle bay, there isn't going to be a germ left alive once they're done."
"Good, I hope so." Anders said, brushing an errant strand of hair back.
"Now what about the Hunters and the Scarab?" the Captain asked both them and himself. "Anders, did you get any more useful data out of the Scarab's computers?"
"I've learned that the Hunters, Mgalekgolo, as the Covenant calls them, or just Lekgolo for the individual eels, consume various heavy metals as their diet, which we now have a consistent store of thanks to recent weeks, so keeping them fed shouldn't be a problem. As for the Scarab, I think it will be possible to place it back into hibernation now that what it perceived as its primary threat has been eliminated."
Her words caused Bishop to take on an extremely incredulous expression made all the more skeptical by the cocked arm holding his helmet at his side. "Professor, pardon me, but those things aren't animals or machines you can just lock up. That thing woke itself up." Bishop said, pointing at the window. "Proving it can do whatever it damn well pleases when motivated. And as for the Hunters, they may be the most inhuman things I have ever seen in my life, but any combat veteran on this ship can tell you, they are damn smart."
"I want to talk to it." Shaw said from his place by the window.
"Colonel, would you care to share your thoughts with us?" Captain Cutter asked.
"I'd be delighted Captain," Shaw said as he turned about and then began slowly pacing toward them as he spoke. "What we potentially have standing in that bay, is not only one of the Covenant's most powerful pieces of technology, but possibly first defectors from the Covenant. Professor, you said you communicated with the Scarab, can you do that from here?"
Anders raised an eyebrow but answered nonetheless. "Uh, yes I managed to tap into the Scarab's communication systems and build a link to Spirit of Fire. I haven't actually tested it yet, but might as well be now." She said and got into the console's chair. "Serina, get me connected."
"Connection established, miss Anders." Serina answered as the holographic screen came to life.
"Ask it when we found it, why it let us take and then use it to attack its former allies." Colonel Shaw insisted.
"One moment," Anders replied as she typed.
Hello Armiger, it's Professor Anders. She wrote. "Serina, can you plug in some text-to-speech software for me and also transcribe what we say into the translator so I don't have to type everything?"
"Easy as holographic pie, Professor." The AI answered.
"Professor Ellen Anders, our shell's instrumentation no longer perceives the presence of Flood. Has the unholy parasite been expunged?" The Lekgolo colony asked with the computer giving it an androgynous voice that was neither male nor female.
"We think so, but we're performing a full sweep of the ship to be sure." Anders said into the console's microphone, with the computer translating her message.
"A cleansing wind fills us to learn this. These feelings are not so shared by the Mgalekgolo whose spirits are still filled with voracious desire to aid in your mission to purge any remaining taint."
"That won't be necessary at the moment, we have the situation under control. There's someone here who wants to speak to you, his name is Colonel Shaw, he is the commanding officer of all UNSC ground forces aboard the ship."
"What does the Colonel Maxwell Shaw wish to query of us?"
The Colonel stepped closer. "This is Colonel Shaw, I wanted to ask why you allowed our soldiers to operate you when you were commandeered by them. The Covenant has declared all of humanity as heretics, so then why would you provide aid to an enemy against your former allies?"
"The traitorous Covenant abandoned us to the Flood to safeguard their own cowardly selves. A most undignified and tragic death was nigh certain as our fate, and where they cravenly fled, your kind fought with ardent will, shedding your blood to give us liberation from our doom. For that gift, we offer our whole and our shell to purge the Flood and hunt the traitors who had forsaken us then and now."
"And for that we are grateful." Shaw said evenly. "If your offer to join us is genuine, which I do not doubt, you have my word that we will never abandon you like the Covenant did. Both you and the two…" he trailed off, glancing at Anders for assistance.
"Mgalekgolo." She answered.
Shaw cleared his throat. "-will be taken care of to the best of our ability. Do they have names?" he then asked curiously.
There was a pause. "One is slower than the other, it is descended from the colony in the core where machine comes into congress with nerve. This whole shows greater caution and is more methodical than its bond-brother. It has been given the name: Adago Kasa Nomo. The other is descended from the colony that is in control of the plasma turret atop our sacred carapace, and so it is the more belligerent of the two and has a greater eagerness for battle. It has been given the name Rasc Kasa Farro."
"On our behalf and that of humanity, give them our welcome. I'll gladly accept new troops into my regiment, and I'll see that they're properly equipped."
"Then our accord has been struck. Glory to our future battles and woe to our enemies."
"So it has. Anders." Shaw signaled for her to close the link.
For a second, no one said a word. "Serina, Anders," Shaw began as he pulled a Sweet Williams cigar from his right breast pocket and lit it with a stainless steel lighter engraved with the 45th Marine Regiment's emblem. Two small plumes of smoke blew out his nostrils from a long opening drag before he spoke once more bearing a smile of a man enjoying his most favored vice. "-I want you and the engineers to begin reverse engineering any examples of Hunter armor we have aboard, I know we captured some for ONI and I'm now requisitioning it. I want our new recruits down there to be mean, green and looking the part for the upcoming operation. And make sure to get our Scarab a new coat of paint. I won't set one boot on that thing until it's wearing the colors."
A doubtful edge could be seen in Cutter's eyes on an otherwise neutral, if stoic face. "You really think it's wise, Colonel, to be fielding alien soldiers that not too long ago, we were fighting hard against. And that's to say nothing of that Scarab."
"I got to agree with the Captain here, sir." Bishop echoed. "Don't you think those things might be too unpredictable, too dangerous to be around our guys in a combat zone?"
Shaw performed a half-turn with his hands clasped behind his back and a slightly amused sidelong smirk on the corner of his mouth. "I appreciate your assessment, Master Sergeant, but I'd rather see for myself how committed these aliens really are. And if something does happen, Captain." He directed to Cutter. "Then those things will be far away from your ship… and at optimal firing range." He said and then departed.
MAY 13 2534 / 1744 HOURS
LONGSWORD 0798 (CUTTHROAT-07)
SAGITTARON LOW ORBIT
HELIOS GAMMA SYSTEM
"Are we sure about there being a resistance base here, we've been transmitting for almost the entire day." Starbuck said from her place at the copilot's seat, almost forgetting the assault on the cylon outpost earlier that morning.
"Both me and Serina saw the cylon reports saying that they've been tracking multiple Colonial Raptors making FTL jumps in the vicinity of Sagittaron." Sharon said with Starbuck turning around to see her.
"Serina is covering our transmissions as best she can from the cylons, but we don't have forever… And I don't like that we left her and Alice behind on Aquaria." Kara said worryingly.
In response, Sharon tried to put on a face of reassurance. "Serina being linked to the cylon data-stream gives us practically immediate access to everything they're doing, it's the best option we got, Kara, if we're going to get Sam and as many people as we can back to the Fleet." Sharon said. "I'm transmitting on all covert Colonial frequencies, the cylons never cracked those and given the presence of Raptors, the chances are that there's a Colonial officer in the group or maybe even leading them."
Warlock chose then to speak up with a mouth full of food from the chicken curry MRE held in his hands. "They probably think it's all a trick." He swallowed and then continued eating. "I mean, they've been down there for the better… or worse," he corrected, "-part of a year with the cylons dogging at their heels. Fuck, that'd make me paranoid."
"Gods, would you chew with your mouth closed, you animal! How the hell does Kick even stand to be around you?" Kara scorned half-jokingly. "And for the sake of your dignity, if you're going to curse in our language, then at least curse properly, it's pronounced frak."
"They mean the same thing, what's the big deal? Hell, they even sound the same." Warlock replied, smiling purposefully with yellow curry sauce staining his teeth.
"It makes you sound like a dumbass." Kara chuckled, echoed by Sharon in the back.
"Funny, that's what we've been saying about you, like all you Colonials sound like smartass kids saying fake curses to avoid being sent to the principal's office."
To this, Kara cackled heartily as her head fell back into the firm rest. Frak, how'd she not thought of that herself?
In a purposely idiotic voice, Warlock spoke again. "Man, Mr. Johansen is such a mean fraker, I swear I'm gonna tell him to go frak himself, you know what I mean, like for re-"
"Whoa, wait, wait, wait!" Sharon shouted. "I'm getting something, a transmission from somewhere in super-low orbit. It's a hail." She said with some surprise.
Starbuck shot up from the slouched position she had fallen back into. "Well frak, let's go! Send it up to my station."
UNKNOWN CRAFT / PLEASE IDENTIFY
She read the words on the screen, praying this was the real deal, and the look on her face mirrored her feelings as she wrote her response.
CAPTAIN KARA THRACE / S/N: T01-392-760 / BATTLESTAR GALLACTICA / CODE VERIFICATION: BS75-131-745-003-421/C183 / RESPOND WITH CODES
"Come on, come on." She whispered nervously while chewing on the tip of her thumbnail.
"Confirming code authentication." Sharon said with cautious hope as she ran the transmission against the Colonial Fleet codebook downloaded to the Longsword's computer. "Starbuck… it's real."
Kara sighed in relief. "Thank the Gods!"
"Starbuck, you can thank them when we're safe and sound back on the Spirit. Focus on saying 'hi' first." Warlock lightly chastised.
"Right, sending coordinates for rendezvous. Warlock, think you can get us here without alerting any of the patrols?" came the challenge from Kara with a goading smile, to which Warlock scoffed.
"Please. You know these toasters got nothin' on me."
Around twenty minutes after they arrived at the rendezvous, a Colonial Raptor appeared on sensors. And under Sharon's instructions, was told to dock at the hatch on the top of the vessel.
A thick sound resonated against the hull as the Raptor's magnetic seal anchored it to the Longsword like a fat remora upon the head of a stingray.
The three of them stood, hopeful, but also cautious. Months into the cylon occupation of the Colonies, there was no telling what kind of people they were going to meet when they came down that ladder.
"You should probably get your helmet on and polarize the visor."Kara suggested to Sharon. "Let's save that little surprise once we move past the 'not shoot each other' phase."
"Right," Sharon agreed earnestly, not keen on getting shot again like Helo did to her when he found out on Caprica.
Outside the hatch, the hollow hiss of the seal pressurizing could be heard, and Kara placed her hand on her sidearm in caution. There then came a knock, sounding like someone stomping their boot against the hatch.
"Open it." She told Warlock, who then pressed a switch on Sharon's console.
The hatch parted open, and now nothing stood in the way of the crews of the two ships. A pregnant pause lasted a couple seconds before a thought crossed Starbuck's mind from her time with Sam's group of resistance fighters.
"Go Panthers!" she shouted the name of her favorite Pyramid team.
"… Archers aim to win!" came a reply in a deep male voice.
Soon after, two men descended the ladder, one a tall and roguish with an unkempt mane of hair, giving the appearance of a man who'd served hard time or lived a harsh life. The other was less so in many ways, but carried himself less intensely, if more professionally and stunk of military intelligence the moment Kara looked into his eyes.
Introducing Jason Momoa and Clark Gregg
The larger man looked ready to pull a weapon hidden under his thick wool-lined jacket, the other, the Spook simply stood, unfazed by the possibility of a firefight breaking out.
"Those aren't Colonial Uniforms, and this isn't a Colonial ship, who are you?" he asked impersonally.
"Captain Kara Thrace of the Battlestar Galactica. Warlock?" she prompted.
"I'm Lieutenant Ward Breckenridge of the United Nations Space Command ship: Spirit of Fire, this is my copilot," he said motioning a hand to Sharon. "Ensign Sophia Nascimento. We're from Earth, the Thirteenth Tribe."
The larger man snorted. "That's ancient mythology, there's no Earth. You're a damned a liar."
"It's true." Kara refuted. "We have a fleet, two battlestars and a few dozen civilian ships that managed to get away when the cylons attacked the Colonies. We ran into a ship of the Thirteenth Tribe a month ago, and now they want to help get any remaining survivors off the Colonies before we head off to their territory."
"How'd you find out about us?" asked the Spook.
"We have our own AIs," Warlock answered, to Kara's concern over revealing that to their prospective allies so soon. "Smarter and minus the psychotic tendencies of the cylons. We infiltrated one of their outposts and got her into their network, which lead us to you."
The Spook's face shifted slightly. "Your lying, maybe not about that but you're hiding something."
Kara grew a scowl often worn when dealing with superior officers. "Says the guy who hasn't even offered his name." she said reproachfully.
"Major Seth Gideon, Colonial Fleet Intelligence. This is Jan Yengzev." He said, pronouncing the first name with a Y-sound. "Now who really is your friend in the helmet?"
Warlock glanced sideways at Starbuck knowingly, and she met it before returning to the Spook's and held out a pointed finger into the air in statement.
"Don't shoot her. She defected."
Sharon removed the helmet, and almost expectedly, Gideon's bodyguard, Jan, tried to draw a handgun on her. Starbuck and Warlock who had been preparing for the eventuality, had their magnums on the man before he could pull it from behind his back.
"Drop it!" Kara commanded, to which Jan scowled deeply at being beaten to the draw.
"Why the FRAK do you have a canner onboard!" he roared defiantly.
Warlock clicked off the safety. "Put it on the ground or we put you on the ground, tough guy."
The man looked ready to rip Warlock's throat out, but the threat seemed to be enough, and he tossed over his weapon, a beefy revolver with an elongated cylinder for illegal high-powered rounds.
"Defected?" asked Gideon, unphased as if the threat of imminent injury or death wasn't present at all.
"Yeah," Sharon answered.
Starbuck picked up the forfeited pistol while Warlock covered her. "Without her, we never would have known about that outpost in the first place. You have any more questions, you can take them up with Admiral Adama and Captain Cutter. Now do you want to get out of the Colonies or what?"
Gideon hummed with a light, appraising smile at Sharon. "Interesting. Fine, Captain, I believe you. That'll get you through the door."
"Through the door?" asked Warlock.
"We'll take you back to our base to discuss matters further," Gideon said to Starbuck and then looked to Sharon. "She'll have to come too. Troy will want to see this for himself."
"Whoa, hold it right there, Spook." An incensed Warlock spoke up. "You're not calling the shots on my goddamn bird, this is our recon mission and you guys are not in charge of a damn thing. We're coming to see if your sorry asses are worth saving."
"We didn't survive this long by taking risks, Lieutenant. Commander Troy will want a briefing by Captain Thrace in person."
Warlock scoffed. "Well, tell him he can shove it up his ass and pack it in with a-"
"It's alright, Warlock, I'll go." Kara cut in, albeit with a great deal of hesitation painting her voice.
"What about her?"
A sigh of reluctance and an uneager face preempted Sharon's reply. "Fine, I'll come. But I'm not being locked in another fraking prison cell." She answered to Gideon pointedly.
"Agreed, but you'll be under armed guard. Both of you." Gideon said.
"Fine, whatever. Let's get going." Starbuck responded and both she and Sharon began toward the ladder. "Warlock, if we're not back in two hours, I want you to scrub the mission and jump back to Spirit of Fire, tell the captain that there's no one worth saving on Sagittaron."
Getting closer, the thuggish Jan, held out his hand for his pistol to be returned while bearing a snidely smug face.
Starbuck stopped and then handed the gun to Sharon, much to Jan's displeasure. "If he tries anything, shoot him."
Sharon took the offered weapon and cocked the hammer. "Won't be hard to miss with him."
Starbuck climbed aboard first, keeping her M6 out and ready just in case Gideon brought along any party crashers, but thankfully, the Raptor was empty. Gideon and Jan followed thereafter with Sharon bringing up the rear. Kara took the copilot's seat, not wanting to miss any little tricks Gideon might have hidden. Anyone from grunt to pilot knew well that you never trusted a Spook. Because to them, you were nothing more than an expendable asset to either the mission, or possibly their own interests. There was nothing worse than an officer with political ambitions.
Gideon took the pilot's seat, and shortly thereafter, the Raptor decoupled from the Longsword and took off toward Sagittaron.
The rocky world looked harsher than usual to Kara, even at this distance and despite the effects of the nuclear attacks having subsided months ago. Perhaps it was just knowing what had happened that tainted its image or the other details of Sagittaron's tumultuous past on top of it. It wouldn't matter much longer though. Soon, Kara hoped, they'd be able to get everyone out of the Twelve Colonies and on their way to Earth. It wouldn't be the same. Hell, what would ever be the same anymore? Kara thought.
In spite of that disheartening thoughts, Kara remained hopeful that they would get to Earth, that there they would find a new beginning. Captain Cutter was giving her the chance that not even the Old Man and the President considered. And for that, she wasn't going to disappoint him. Already, before she and Sharon left the cylon outpost on Aquaria, Serina had identified a cylon mobile shipbreaking yard over by Scorpia next door. She supposed the cylons found it funny putting a shipbreaking yard on the site where the storied shipyards had once stood since before the First Cylon War. Recycling the wrecks of destroyed Colonial ships the cylons had destroyed helplessly and without pity. However, if there were any surviving FTL drives from the wrecks, that is where the cylons would keep them, at least according to Sharon. Depending on how things went here, the next stop on the tour would be there to grab some recon photos before heading to Caprica in search of a factory relatively untouched by the cylons where they might find the FTL manufacturing data Cutter wanted. Serina got them a couple possible leads on that front that they'd check out in time.
Kara committed the numbers to memory as she watched Gideon input the jump coordinates and begin the spin-up sequence on the FTL drive.
"You're going to want to hold on, the transition can be jarring where we're jumping to." Gideon warned with a disturbingly pleasant smile.
A second later, the Raptor jumped and the craft was jostled heavily, and Kara almost lost her composure, gripping her magnum tight, half expecting to be jumped from behind by Jan, but wasn't surprisingly. She took her eyes off Gideon to look out the Raptor's canopy, finding it strangely darker than before.
"What the hell, did we jump to the night-side of the planet?" she asked
"Not quite." Gideon answered as he throttled down the Raptor's landing thrusters, and light from below began to filter up until Starbuck could make out the vast, natural walls of stone around them.
"It's a cave?" Starbuck realized as a vast city-scape appeared from below on the cave floor, giving her better definition of the space around. The cave was tall, standing nearly a kilometer from floor to ceiling in an inverted turnip shape and stretching more than a kilometer down in a broad slope. Laying on the slope, much to Starbuck's astonishment, was a shantytown of a sort she'd never seen. Layers of structures built over each other and held together by a bird's nest of scaffolding with some of the sprawl reaching up along the walls where it was less of a vertical face. A single bare road, if it could be called that, split down the middle, leading up to a large compound of concrete buildings crowned by a set of four landing pads atop its core cylindrical building inside a courtyard bordered by a tall wall of various cobbled together materials from corrugated steel to chain-link fencing.
"This entire complex has been built inside the remnants of an ancient magma chamber dried out millennia ago." Gideon said. "We're currently under the Olympian mountain range north of the Dromos subcontinent, if you're wondering."
"How many people are down here?" she asked.
"Over six-thousand." Jan answered in a less-threatening and more somber voice as he peaked through the doorway.
"A large portion of them are Sagittaran," said Gideon. "But we managed to pull a lot off of Picon, Tauron, Scorpia, Leonis, anywhere with half-decent fallout shelters or isolated communities too small for the cylons to waste a nuke on. We also managed a few good rescue operations on cylon concentration camps on Canceron and Aerilon where the occupation force was less focused. Early on we got four whole crews off oil rigs on Aquaria, along with sixty-some engineers on a planetside repair yard for Trans-Helios Star Freight. They helped improvise the majority of the buildings out there to deal with the increased population as well as move up the timetable on repairs to our tickets out of here."
Gradually, Kara began making out more and more people traversing the virtual town constructed inside the cave. Here and there stood a make-shift greenhouse or small water tower, the buildings growing more sophisticated the closer they got to the central compound. Atop the largest building, a round keg-shaped thing sat a set of ten landing pads which Gideon was steering toward.
"How did you make all this in just a few months?" Kara asked in disbelief at the complexity of what she was seeing.
"We didn't, the majority of what you see was built more than a decade ago."
Kara looked back at the CFI Major with a raised eyebrow. "What, is this some super-bunker Colonial Fleet made and forgot to tell anyone?"
"You'll be given the whole picture soon, just be patient." Gideon answered as he landed the Raptor on top of the main compound and began cycling it down while armed security teams appeared out of two adjacent stairwells. "Mind if I get out first so they know not to shoot you or your cylon friend?"
"Be my guest."
Gideon hit the door release and stood, followed by Starbuck. "It's okay, they're with us!" Gideon shouted to the half-circle of armed marines mixed in with plain-clothes militia who hesitantly lowered their rifles.
"I'd like that back now." Jan said to Sharon with eyes motioned to his pistol. "G-man's word or not, they see a toaster with a gun, they'll put you down." He said with subtle intimidation in his voice. Though, not threatened in the slightest at the edged words, Sharon reluctantly returned the weapon to him.
Gideon and Starbuck left first, then Sharon, and lastly Jan who walked out like a buck on parade.
"This way. Jan, with me." Gideon ordered, demonstrating who was really in charge, though it seemed to Starbuck that Gideon didn't seem to care for the game of jockeying for alpha male. He seemed to be a man who naturally exuded an air of authority, living and breathing his rank day in and out as naturally as one would wear clothing in that wholly intelligence Spook way.
Starbuck followed Gideon through the compound under an armed escort towing behind, eventually ending up at one of several large cargo elevators that rode the cave wall up into the ceiling. Wordlessly, they entered and then proceeded up.
Looking through the chain-link cage, it was shocking to believe that so many people had been living in a cave for this long. Judging just by what she had seen from the Raptor, conditions weren't good. She wondered about how they had been feeding so many people under these conditions and where they were getting their water from, as well as a plethora of other questions she wanted answered.
The elevator passed up into the cave's ceiling, moving past three sublevels of a separate part of the facility looked to be carved out of the rock with only the barest forms of structural supports, open piping and uneven, harsh lighting from construction lamps. Soon though, they passed all of it and the elevator did not stop for almost another whole minute.
A loud metallic clamor of electromagnets locking the elevator in place as it slowed to a stop signaled the end of the all too silent and answerless journey. The chain-link gate withdrew upward in a noisy clatter a moment before a larger metallic bulkhead door parted open under the glare of dusty yellow strobe lights.
Kara let out a frustrated breath from her nose, turning back toward Gideon who stood with his arms clasped behind his back and face wearing that infuriatingly intelligent smile.
"Okay, I've had just enough of the Spook treatment, Major. I'm here on orders to find out how many people are left in the Colonies, and you people are way too organized for only a few months to have passed by since the attack, so I need some answers now!"
"And I appreciate the effort being taken to find us, I really do." Gideon answered. "But the complexity of our situation here requires, I believe for you to see things for yourself before I explain them." He then motioned to the open door, and for a moment, Kara thought she's stepped through a portal.
She walked out onto a hangar deck not unlike the one on Galactica. The main difference between them being that the launch tubes were placed at an angle on the outward wall, rather than a straight line. Throughout the deck, it was filled with people going about their work under utility lights strung around the place. Down in the maintenance pits sat Vipers, mostly 's but a lot of 's and even some old Mk.I's. Kara didn't know what to say
"You are in the Battlestar Perseus," Gideon said as the rest walked out behind Kara. "An old Artemis-class battlestar mothballed five years after the Cylon War and put into storage at the Mount Pyrrha Aerospace Maintenance and Reserve Facility in the Parnassus Valley where we are now. They've been trying to get this, along with an old Atlas-class Carrier and an old Marine transport ship operational for the past thirteen years."
Kara turned back to him, confounded by it all. "Who?"
He pointed to her feet where she Colonial Seal ought to have been. Instead, she found the sigil of Sagittaron ringed with the words 'Sagittaran Democratic Union.'
"The remnants of the SDU."
It took Kara a second to collect her thoughts as she tried to overcome the rush of emotions ranging from surprise to outrage and betrayal. "The SDU! The terrorist assholes that fought against Colonial Fleet during the Cylon War? Are you fraking kidding me?! Are you fraking kidding me?" she repeated, drawing the attention of a large number of people around her.
Gideon looked to his right at the assembling crowd of maintenance crew. "All of you get back to work, this is my business." He said and then turned back to Kara, fixing her with a serious stare. "I understand your concerns, Captain, both myself and Colonial Fleet Intelligence felt likewise when we started getting reports on a possible SDU resurgence, but the situation has changed drastically in the past few months. Of that, I'm sure you're aware." He paused to allow her a reply, but Starbuck honestly found trouble holding onto her initial outrage. After all, here was a Colonial Intelligence Spook amongst a terrorist organization, that they hadn't drawn and quartered him was remarkable enough to give her pause.
"Go on." She said with significant reservations.
"They now call themselves the Deucalionites after the ancient myth of Deucalion and the flood. I was tasked by Colonial Fleet Intelligence to infiltrate the group as a double-agent, someone seemingly sympathetic to their cause for about two years before the cylon attack. However, instead of trying to force Sagittaron's succession from the Articles of Colonization, their aim was to depart the Colonies altogether in an act inspired by the Thirteenth Tribe's exodus from Kobol in the Book of Pythia. To find a habitable planet the Deucalionites call Lykoreia and found a new society on it. But before Colonial Fleet could shut this whole operation down, the cylons happened. Given the situation, I decided to instead assist them in going through with their plan. I came forward to Commander Troy about my true loyalties and managed to convince him to get out there and rescue as many people as we could and bring them with us on the journey. Until you showed up today, I thought we were the only humans left alive." He finished with a smile that might have been genuine.
Starbuck simmered as she listened to Gideon's explanation with her hands cocked on her hips. To say she didn't like it, would be a gross understatement of the personal resentment she felt. She repressed it, trying to stay focused on the mission, her goal to save Sam on Caprica.
"You said you wanted me to meet him, right? Commander Troy?"
"That was the plan, Captain. Unless you have any objections you'd like to voice now, I was about to take you to the CIC."
Starbuck let silence be her begrudging answer.
"Then let's get going." Gideon then turned and began walking, leaving Starbuck and the others to follow.
Soon, they got to the bridging structure between the flight pod and the rest of the ship. Unlike the Jupiter classes like the Galactica, that meshed the structural arms of the flight pod with crew passages and cargo elevators, the three structural arms of the old Artemis battlestars had no such amenities. Cargo, crew and whatever else needed to go from and to the flight pods did so through a single tubular structure that jutted out horizontally from the inner side of the flight pod and into the main body of the battlestar. This ship was to Galactica, in technological comparison to what Galactica was to Pegasus. The group stepped upon an open-air tram used to convey cargo to and from the flight pods, the only safety measure it bore being a handrail and two waist-level gates on either side. One of the guards moved to the aged control panel, working the old analogue controls and gradually, with great initial complaint from the motors, it began moving.
"What's with the construction lights all over the place?" Kara asked abrasively, wanting to think of something else than the ugly shadow of the SDU rearing its ugly head within her life once more.
"The ship's hull is thick enough to hide the heat signatures of everyone here," Gideon said above the harsh screech of the tram's wheels. "but if we used the ship's generators to run anything, the cylons would immediately take notice of the electromagnetic spike in the area. Instead we've been getting the electricity from geothermal power piped up from down below."
"Smart," Sharon commented.
"You lost family to the SDU, didn't you?" Gideon asked Kara suddenly. "Most people don't like them, but judging by your reaction, I'd say it was something more personal." Kara, who was smart enough to figure he reasoned that out with what was probably some kind of CFI psych training, found his attempt at acting human all the more impersonal and abrasive. It was kind of funny that Sharon, a cylon, acted a great deal more human than this Spook did.
"My mom lost both of her older brothers to the SDU during the war, which didn't help her mental state when I was growing up."
"I take it that must have been hard." He replied with a sympathetic tone, that again, came off as manipulative to her.
"Can we keep the subject on Commander Troy? What can you tell us about him?"
Kara's harsh tone seemed to give the Spook pause. "Grayson Troy was born into one of the few wealthy families on Sagittaron. His father, Erasmus Troy, was the co-chair of the Acheron Resourcing Corporation and a well-known philanthropist on Sagittaron. That sympathy toward less fortunate individuals was passed down to Grayson, and he participated in several noteworthy protests from his early teens to his mid-twenties, including the one that lead up to the bombing of the Colonial Trade Center in Tawa by Tom Zarek of the Sagittaran Freedom Movement. Agents at the time investigated into if Grayson had any ties to the SFM, but their finds were inconclusive." The tram arrived at the other end of the line, and Gideon paused again as they disembarked into the main body. Looking around, Starbuck could see the inadequacies of the Artemis' old design. Less structurally sound rectangular hallways with sparser structural reinforcements spoke to how much more of a beating the Jupiter-class battlestars of the era could take. And considering how far things had progressed since then… well, Starbuck certainly wouldn't want to be on board if this thing ever went toe-to-toe with a modern basestar.
"He later enrolled into the Colonial Fleet Academy on Picon and performed well enough that the top brass decided to focus their efforts elsewhere. Grayson graduated and two years later, was given command of a patrol squadron attached to the Sixty-Second Battlestar Group under Rear Admiral Cain. Troy captained the Berzerk-class Carrier Talos and held command over two corvettes in the patrol squadron. For four years he servedwith distinctionin countering the smuggling operations of the Ha'la'tha crime syndicate."
"What happened?" Sharon asked.
"The Talos came across the freighter Jerry's Venture. The crew were illegally transporting undocumented Sagittaran migrants, hiding them among their cargo of cattle bound for Gemenon. When Troy found out, he rounded up all twenty-one crew members of the ship, including Captain Jerry Nikolos… and then threw them all out the airlock."
"Frak," Starbuck winced, knowing how unpleasant a way to go that was.
Gideon continued. "After returning to port over Caprica, Admiral Cain found out what he'd done and tried to have him arrested. But Troy had already fled, eventually linking up with the Deucalionites, which was what actually gave me my first lead to them."
"How did these people even find this place?" Sharon asked, coming up alongside Starbuck and Gideon after being mostly silent for most of the journey.
"Their leader was Eric Sinclair, a geologist and former engineer aboard an SDU cruiser, although, I didn't find out about that until I had infiltrated the Deucalionites. After the defeat of the SDU, Sinclair quietly resumed his former line of work for the next few decades. He was on a survey of a nearby cave system for Acheron Resourcing to see if there were any substantial traces of valuable ores. Instead, Sinclair found a passage into the magma chamber you saw below and plotted it to be directly under the Colonial Fleet storage facility in the Parnassus Valley. Along with some old friends from the SDU days, they began to set forth on their venture to steal the Battlestar Perseus and whatever other ships they could to depart the Colonies for a new world. And after the very public defeat of the SDU, Sinclair's group decided to act with the utmost secrecy to avoid Colonial Fleet's attention, quietly approaching disenfranchised Sagittarans selectively, only initiating them into the organization once a more senior member was certain of their commitment to the cause. Troy made for a natural fit into their plans, a trained officer who knew how to operate a small fleet and was sympathetic to their cause."
"But I'm guessing Sinclair isn't around any more or else you would be taking us to see him." Starbuck inferred.
"Sinclair was in Tawa when the bombs fell. Troy assumed command in his absence." Gideon replied evenly.
"How noble of him." Remarked Starbuck with deep sarcasm.
The CFI officer turned his head back on Starbuck, his sharp eyes locking onto hers. "More like lucky. Sinclair never would have agreed to help anyone from the other Colonies. Contrary to his beliefs, Troy knows that just because someone isn't Sagittaran, doesn't make them the enemy. It rankles the remaining old-guard, but they need him too much to incite a mutiny, and I've been making sure on my end that it stays that way."
A sardonic feeling welled up in Kara's chest, raising a smirk to her lips. "So despite being a dog of Colonial Fleet, you're one they can't put down out of spite."
If Gideon took that as a compliment, he didn't show it. "My unique skillset affords me importance to this base's ongoing operation. I keep things organized and on schedule in addition to making sure no one here does something incredibly stupid that could expose us to the cylons." He smiled in a thin snake-like way, the first genuine expression of joy Starbuck had seen from the man. "Ironic, I spend years trying to find and expose this place, and now I'm doing all I can to make sure it stays hidden."
"You mentioned that you were rescuing people off the other Colonies, what about Caprica? I got stranded there a while back and ran into a group up in the mountains north of Delphi."
Gideon shook his head. "Sorry Captain, cylons are guarding the air around Caprica too closely. We tried sending Raptors early on, but none ever made it back. The cylons seem to be using the planet as their de-facto capital."
"Damn it, there were at least fifty people left back there!"
"We did what we could," he said defensively and with a short-lived bite of desperation. "Before the attack there were only thirteen-hundred Sagittarans down in that cave. I think we've done a hell of a job bringing back as many as we could and making sure they didn't start murdering each other while stuck in a cave without daylight for months on end."
An empathetic sigh released from Kara's chest cooled her attitude. "Sorry, it's just I made them a promise I would come back for them. It's why I came back."
"Well, I'm glad you did, for our sakes." Gideon said again as his emotional defenses shored back up. "I have to admit, the plan we had before probably would have ended up with all of us dead."
Not a minute later, they entered the CIC, answering the question Starbuck held in her mind of which production block this ship was from. The early Artemis battlestars had old-fashioned bridges on the front slope of the bow, making them easy prey for the cylons at the start of the war. All subsequent production blocks moved the ship's command center to the core of the bow structure and becoming the norm for all Colonial warships from then on out.
The Persus' CIC was smaller than that of Galactica, but larger than Pegasus'. It was round and ringed half around the outside wall with rows of computer stations, broken up only by three doorways placed at the back and sides, as well as an aged tactical plot just to her left as she walked in. A massive curved viewing screen took up the front wall of the CIC, nothing more than a black sheet due to the current lack of power. Before it sat a sunken pit arranged in a one-third circle with a second smaller row sat slightly higher behind it, culminating with a wide audacious-looking pulpit that lorded over the entire CIC. There stood two men beside an aged command and control station that looked retrofitted onto the structure.
Both men turned when Gideon lead Starbuck and Sharon into the room.
"The rest of you, post here while I take them up to the Commander. Jan, you too, I don't need to break up another fight between you and Colonel Kirby right now." Gideon ordered to Jan and the guards, the former grunting in a half meant show of intimidation like a dog growling but not baring its teeth.
An awkward, too-long walk followed before any words could be said, as in order to get up to the pulpit, they had to go down into the pit and around to the other side and back up another set of stairs to get up to the pulpit. There at the top, Troy and Kirby were waiting, staring at them as they came up. One was an older man in his early forties with a closely shaved head and a short salt and pepper beard. He notably wore a brown rawhide jacket decorated with gold embroidery around the cuffs in two concentric rings as well as golden olive wreaths laid into the jacket's shoulder pads. Starbuck remembered seeing those things in her high school textbooks, it was part of the Tauron Naval uniform from before the signing of the Articles of Colonization. Where the hell did he get that old thing?
"Commander, Lieutenant Colonel," Gideon greeted. "This is Captain Thrace from the Battlestar Galactica."
"Yeah? And what's with the toaster and why isn't her brain being fried downstairs?" asked the other man who strangely wore a Colonial uniform.
A sour sideways look turned upon the face of the first man indirectly aimed at the other. "Excuse the Lieutenant Colonel's attitude, Captain, we've been under a lot of stress for the past eight months. I'm Commander Troy, and this is Lieutenant Colonel Milo Kirby of Colonial Fleet." He said tiredly with a gesturing motion of his free arm while he leaned over the station with the other.
Introducing Paul Blackthorne as Commander Grayson Troy and Alan Tudyk as Lieutenant Colonel Milo Kirby
"Sir," Kara said and saluted casually, which Kirby returned with equal informality.
"You'll have to forgive Kirby's attitude, he's on loan from Commander Kushan along with the Viper pilots she sent to help train ours up. Needless to say, a lot of people here don't care much for Colonial Fleet. Don't care much for me either, to tell you the truth, but frak'em, right?" he said with a friendly toothy smirk.
Starbuck's brow furrowed. "Wait, who is Commander Kushan?"
Troy's eyes moved to Major Gideon. "You didn't tell her?"
"Didn't get that far in the time it took to get here." Gideon replied.
"Then it sounds like she only knows half the story, but we'll get to that in a minute. Now why is this cylon standing in my CIC?"
"She says she's a defector, sir." Said Gideon, as looks of skepticism sprouted in response.
"It's true," Starbuck added, though her feelings toward this Sharon were as of yet… unresolved to say the least. "I'll give you the details later, but the short of it is, we never would have found you guys without her. She saved Galactica when we got infected with a cylon computer virus and even saved the Colonial President."
"President Adar is alive?" Gideon asked.
"No," Sharon answered. "Education Secretary Laura Roslin was appointed after all other members of the Colonial Government died in the attacks."
In response, Troy waved his hand in a halting motion. "Woah, woah, there. Stick to broad strokes. How many ships do you have? How many people made it out? How many other warships do you have available?"
"We have a civilian fleet of just over seventy ships carrying roughly forty-nine-thousand survivors. In the fleet, we have two battlestars, the Galactica and the Pegasus."
"Pegasus, is Admiral Cain still alive?" Troy asked with a hint of worry. Knowing that he'd been part of Cain's battlestar group, he probably didn't make a friend of her when he went AWOL.
"No," Starbuck answered somewhat solemnly. "She was assassinated by an escaped cylon prisoner shortly after Pegasus found us."
"Good, I'd rather not get lynched by her after surviving this long against the fraking cylons."
Starbuck swallowed as she prepared to speak. Of all the news, this was easily the most unbelievable. "There's one more ship, we encountered it just a few weeks ago purely by accident. Its name is Spirit of Fire and it's from Earth."
Kirby's eyebrows raised. "Earth, the long-lost tribe of Kobol? They're real?" he asked. "You mean the crap the Sagittarans have been espousing at me for the last six months wasn't hogwash?"
"The craft we intercepted wasn't of any Colonial design." Gideon interrupted once more. "Not cylon either, the thing was practically invisible on DRADIS for something its size."
"Good Lords, I'll never hear the end of this." Kirby muttered briefly to himself. "What kind of ship is it?" asked the Lieutenant Colonel.
"She's a support ship and carrier for ground forces, but compared to anything Colonial Fleet had, the thing's a damned dreadnaught. Spirit of Fire is finishing up a major refit of Galactica right now and the old girl will be meaner than Pegasus by the time it's all done. Together, she and the Spirit have tanked seven basestars total."
Troy nodded appreciatively at the news. "That's good to hear."
"How many ground pounders is this ship carrying?" Kirby cut in, his skeptical tone still remaining, but less pronounced.
"Full marine regiment with heavy armor support and an air wing, plus a battalion of shock troopers and two more battalions of army to back that up. And we still got the marines on Galactica and Pegasus." She spoke with confidence.
Kirby turned his attention toward Troy, holding an anxious look between cautious and hopeful. "What do you think? Between them and Commander Kushan, this might be the only real chance of getting out of here."
"Okay, time out." Starbuck interrupted. "Just who the hell is Commander Kushan?"
A short breath left Troy's mouth. "You're right, Captain, I'm sorry. Here, I'll explain everything…"
Author's Note: So a lot of stuff is happening, and fast too. In that first scene with Cally, I wanted to recreate that tension filled first time where you entered the Pillar of Autumn's maintenance access ways in the original Halo: Combat Evolved and you worried that just around the corner would be an Elite ready to smash your head in with its plasma rifle. I hope everyone was pleasantly surprised by my inclusion of the Scarab and all the other bits like the SDU reveal at the end. If you thought it was just going to be Sam's little gang on Caprica, you should have known I couldn't leave it at such a simple bro-fist humanity F-yeah level. I like my politics nice and full of competing factions and ideologies like a good BSG fan does. What does this mean for Admiral Adama or Tom Zarek? We will see. As for the new UNSC vehicles I created, the Dire Wolf and the Sabertooth, I came up with them in terms of how they would fit into Halo Wars 2's gameplay. The Dire Wolf would act similarly to how the Wolverine performed using its missile barrage capability in the first Halo Wars to attack ground targets, however, I gave it a mortar to limit its rate of fire. Speed-wise, it would be slower than a warthog, having a lot of extra weight and armor, but would maintain the ramming special ability without the drawback of self-inflicted damage thanks to the ram in front. It would be highly effective versus infantry and moderately effective versus vehicles, but completely vulnerable to air attack. Moving on to the Sabertooth, I felt the Rhino was highly underutilized in the first Halo Wars, being available exclusively in the campaign for just two levels. But being essentially a Cobra with a Wraith mortar, it did make sense balancing-wise to cut it as a buildable unit. The Sabertooth is my effort to make the vehicle work in a role all its own now that we have the awesome Kodiak to fulfill its old purpose. Well, in the Guiding Fire timeline, Spirit of Fire wouldn't have the Condor gunship to act as the Scarab's UNSC counterpart. And to be honest, I was never keen on the Condor gunship given how it meant the Vulture was now nerfed to hell. So my idea for the Sabertooth is thus; an ambush tank meant to fire across the map with a cryo beam capable of freezing any units that cross the line of fire similar to how the cryo bomb worked in the first game. When in lockdown mode, the Sabertooth can be used as an area denial vehicle, cutting off paths, or greatly hindering inbound reinforcements, or to ambush enemy formations with the assistance of a friendly unit who can act as a spotter. The beam itself would only cause slightly more damage than a Frost Raven's main weapon and stay active for only 10-15 seconds before needing to undergo a three second recharge. Not powerful by itself, but instrumental when it comes to shifting the momentum of a battle in your favor, turning the enemy's attack into your counterattack using your friendly units or leader abilities, which is why I'm calling it the Sabertooth and not the Woolly Rhino, it's a pack hunter. Speaking of hunters, the idea of the Whaler Shark had absolutely nothing to do with this: