First Cylon War
4571st Day of Combat
Orbital Patrol of Libran Colony
"Action Stations, Action Stations; set Condition One throughout the ship; this is not a drill. Action Stations, Action Stations; set Condition One throughout the ship; this is not a drill. Section heads report to Combat upon manning of Action Stations."
Commander Adrian Kelso had barely finished fastening his belt buckle when he rounded the last corner en route to the Combat Information Center. Glancing up, he deftly sidestepped around a crewman rushing the opposite direction as the Marine posted outside the CIC hatch spun the locking latch and opened it for the approaching Commander.
Pausing a moment to give the Marine a quick pat on the shoulder, Kelso stepped into CIC, glanced around at the myriad of crewmembers rushing about, and quickly made his way towards the center plot table beneath the descending DRADIS displays.
"Sitrep!" he barked as he stepped up to the main plot table.
"We just lost contact with Raptors Two-Three-Eight and Two-Four-One," replied his XO, Colonel Danielle Cole as she stepped down from the upper gallery and settled in opposite of him at the main plot table. "No distress call, no reports; they just went silent."
"All decks, all stations report Condition One; Action Stations manned and ready, Commander," called his Tactical Operations Officer, Lieutenant Theo Cullen. "Primary and defensive batteries have deployed and are standing by."
"Very well," replied Kelso simply as he looked back over to his XO. "Flight deck status?"
"Port and Starboard flights pods are both ready for flight-ops," answered Colonel Cole as she met his gaze. "CAG reports all birds manned and ready for launch."
"Abuhda's on the ball today," muttered Kelso approvingly as he turned his attention to the DRADIS display overhead. "So there was nothing to indicate a problem before our birds went silent?"
"Nothing, sir," replied Cole, shaking her head slightly.
Letting out a long, pensive sigh, Kelso attempted to steady himself against the adrenaline coursing through his system. Losing wireless contact with a Raptor didn't necessarily mean there was a problem, could just be a comm issue, but the odds of having two of their pickets lose comms at the same time was…
Suddenly, the DRADIS panel overhead let out a shrill alarm.
"Contact!" snapped Lieutenant Cullen. "DRADIS contact times two, Commander, based on signatures, two probable Cylon Baseships, CBDR at four-six-nine carom three-eight-four and two-nine-nine carom three-eight-four."
Instantly, Kelso's eyes focused in on the two icons that had appeared on the screens.
"Safe bet they're the reason we lost contact with our birds," muttered Kelso as he watched the two Cylon Baseships close in. "Our pickets must have been ambushed by their recon element."
"They haven't launched their Raiders yet, but they're plowing in at a good clip," sighed Colonel Cole as she gently adjusted her thin-rimmed glasses. "They'll be in firing position in less than five minutes."
"They've set themselves in good positions, too," noted Kelso as he gently shifted his weight from one leg to the other. "They'll have us bracketed for a cross fire from both fore and aft."
"We need to break orbit, get some room to maneuver," offered Cole as she leaned forward a bit over the plot table.
His eyes still locked on the DRADIS, Kelso mulled over his options.
The Pacifica was currently holding a high patrol orbit over Libran colony. The Baseships had spread themselves out in order to pin the lone Battlestar in orbit, robbing her of the ability to maneuver for a counterattack.
"Two against one, our best chance would be if we could isolate and engage them one at a time," muttered Kelso as he continued to watch the two Baseships stalking in.
"Trouble is, they know it," grimaced Cole. "They've deployed themselves far enough fore and astern of us that we won't be able to maneuver to the outside of either one."
"At least, not before we're within range of their weapons," muttered Kelso, his tone somewhat resigned.
"Our only other choice is to go right up the fraking middle," sighed Cole, gently shaking her head.
"That's a bad position for us to try and fight from, Dani," replied Kelso, reverting to his XO's informal nickname as he began absently drumming his fingers on the plot table. "They'll be able to hit us from both sides."
"No possibility of reinforcement?" asked Cole as she looked across the table to him.
Casting his XO a rather cynical glance, Kelso gently shook his head.
The constant flow of intelligence reports pouring in from Picon Fleet Headquarters over the last month left little doubt that the Colonial military, the fleet itself in particular, was spread perilously thin throughout Colonial territory, grappling nearly tooth and nail attempting to beat back the latest Cylon offensive.
Earlier in the week, three Battlestars had been tasked to Operation Raptor Talon, a reconnaissance-in-force mission, ostensibly hunting down some critical Cylon weapons research facility deep inside enemy-held space.
Another three full Battlestar Groups were inextricably involved with operations to dislodge a group of Cylon Basestars blockading Tauron colony. Having forced their way into orbit nearly eight weeks ago, the Cylons had landed a significant ground force which was wreaking utter havoc on both military and civilian areas alike. Worse still, reports trickling out indicated that in addition to truly staggering number of civilian casualties, the scattered and beleaguered Marine and army contingents were being overwhelmed and were nearing collapse.
Near Sagitarron, two more Battlestar Groups were providing support to another campaign to dislodge a significant contingent of Cylon Centurions besieging one of the fleet's major ground-based Forward Operating Bases and supply depots in the Hera province.
Near Virgon and Leonis colonies, several smaller fleet units were contending with a vicious series of hit-and-run skirmishes with several dozen Cylon Raider squadrons attacking some of the vital merchant shipping lines in that region.
Additional Battlestars deployed on station near Aerilon and Canceron were, at last report, caught in a decidedly unnerving game of hide-and-seek with as many as four Basestar contingents operating out of the cover of the Aerolus asteroid belt. While direct engagements thus far had been limited minor skirmishes at best, the fact that they were the only fleet units available in the theater to counter this threat meant they could not be redeployed elsewhere.
But for all the chaos being wrought by these engagements, to the higher-ups they were mere brush fires by comparison to the action taking place near Picon, home of the unified Colonial Fleet headquarters.
The fleet's remaining Battlestar Groups, including the flagship Atlantia as well as Pacifica's own detached escort element were fending off what amounted to a particularly vicious frontal assault by the Cylons. With near-fanatical fervor, the Cylons had thrown themselves upon the Colonial fleet units in orbit in a series of relentless massed-wave attacks, a brutal battle of attrition that was doubtless a precursor to landing yet another ground force on Picon itself, a critical threat aimed at the very heart of the unified command and control apparatus of all Colonial defenses.
No, there would be no reinforcement; for better or worse, the Pacifica was going to have to wage this fight all on her own.
Looking back up at the DRADIS, Commander Adrian Kelso took in a deep, steadying breath.
"Well," he sighed, scratching the hint of stubble on his chin, his tone more than a touch resigned. "Waiting isn't going to make this any easier, Dani."
With that, Kelso looked across the plot table to his XO.
"Let's get this dance started, Colonel."
"Aye, sir," replied Cole, the slightest hint of a predatory grin creeping across her lips. "Helm, execute turn a-Port, zero-nine-zero degrees, take us parallel to the enemy's overall approach axis; engines all ahead full."
"Coming around, zero-nine-zero to Port, aye," replied the helmsman, Crewman McCall, as his fingers gripped the ship's attitude controls. "Now answering zero-nine-zero."
"Engines answering all ahead full, sir," continued Crewman Barris as she pushed on the mighty ship's throttles.
"Mister Cullen," snapped Kelso as his eyes focused back in on the DRADIS screens overhead. "Ready all main batteries for salvo fire. Order main batteries to prepare two-to-one ratio HE to Armor Piercing."
As his eyes continued to follow the two icons on the DRADIS, Kelso felt the slight shift of the deck beneath him, the subtle vibration of the powerful engines ramping up output as the massive Battlestar Pacifica began her headlong turn towards the closing enemy ships.
"Dispatch a wireless communiqué to the nearest courier Raptor, message is to be delivered to Admiral Sedora aboard Atlantia, advise her of our situation, include a request for reinforcement," called Kelso, glancing over at his XO just in time to catch her somewhat sardonic grimace.
He could only shrug.
"Doesn't hurt to ask," muttered Kelso simply as he glanced at his wristwatch. "In any event, it'll be thirty-three minutes before our message reaches the courier Raptor for delivery to the Admiral. No matter how we look at it, we're on our own for the time being."
"Yes, sir," sighed Cole with the slightest nod.
"We have broken orbit, Commander, now zero-nine-zero from original course," called Crewman McCall.
"All engines report ahead full, sir," continued Crewman Barris, biting her lip slightly, her expression plainly anxious.
"Gun commanders report main batteries deployed and ready to commence fire on your order, Commander," called Lieutenant Cullen as the ship completed its turn. "Designate targets Echo-Bravo-One-Zero-Zero-One to fore-Port and Echo-Bravo-One-Zero-Zero-Two to fore-Starboard."
"They're slowing their approach," noted Colonel Cole as she glanced up at the DRADIS.
"They probably didn't expect us to try and thread the needle between them," replied Kelso coolly.
"They still haven't launched their Raiders," continued Cole, reaching up to brush aside an errant lock of hair.
"Now that is odd," muttered Kelso, shaking his head slightly. "You'd think they'd be coming in full force, fangs out."
"Should we launch Vipers?"
"No, not yet," replied Kelso evenly. "Right now the odds are two against one; let's give our gun crews a wide field of fire, see if they can hurt the bastards before we throw our own birds into the mix."
"Understood," replied Cole simply.
Overhead on the DRADIS, Kelso watched as the Pacifica continued to plow ahead on a path directly between the two Cylon Baseships.
"Enemy ships are entering our engagement zone, Commander," stated Lieutenant Cullen, the tension evident in his voice.
"Helm, long axis rotation, down fifteen degrees to Port, slow to one-half," said Kelso, his eyes never leaving the DRADIS screen.
"Answering fifteen degrees down to Port, Commander," replied McCall.
"Engines now at one-half," interjected Barris a moment later.
"Mister Cullen, order all dorsal batteries to engage Echo-Bravo-One-Zero-Zero-One, ventral batteries to engage Echo-Bravo-One-Zero-Zero-Two. Advise Combat when they have a firing solution."
"Aye, Commander," replied Cullen as he snatched up the handset on his console and began relaying the orders.
As he waited, Kelso again began absently drumming his fingers on the plot table.
"All batteries have a firing solution, reporting ready for action, Commander," called Cullen a moment later.
At that, Kelso's drumming stopped.
"Commence full salvo fire, all dorsal and ventral batteries, execute."
Immediately, the dull thuds of the ship's main guns firing began reverberating through the air, deep, rhythmic thumps; the heartbeat of a warship engaged in battle.
"Registering multiple impacts on both targets, Commander," called Cullen a moment later, his voice elevated a bit with excitement.
"All batteries, maintain rate of fire," replied Kelso evenly. "And get me a preliminary damage assessment."
"Combat assessments coming in now, Commander," called Lieutenant Cullen as the sound of Pacifica's guns continued to resonate around them. "Indications of moderate damage to primary hull sections and peripheral defensive emplacements."
"If we've got them zeroed, no point continuing to nibble around the edges, Lieutenant," called Kelso as he continued to eye the display overhead. "Have gunnery crews shift fire, target the center axis of each Baseship, try and break their backs."
"Aye, sir," replied Lieutenant Cullen.
The sound of Pacifica's guns continued to pulse through the ship as she continued cut a path between the two Baseships. Unbelievably, in spite of the damage they were absorbing from Pacifica's continued cannonade, the two Cylon Baseships continued to push through the withering fire laid down by the lone Battlestar without firing so much as a single missile in return.
"What the hell are they up to?" muttered Cole, her tone plainly suspicious as she leaned in a bit over the plot table. "We've landed dozens of hits on each Baseship and they still haven't so much as spit back at us."
As if in direct rebuttal to Cole's statement, target Echo-Bravo-One-Zero-Zero-One, the Cylon Baseship closing in off the Pacifica's Port, immediately blossomed with nearly two dozen smaller signatures that began racing in towards the Battlestar.
"Missiles off the rails, inbound from multiple vectors!" called Lieutenant Cullen. "Negative for radiological…"
"Engage ECM!" snapped Commander Kelso as he watched the smaller contacts race in towards the Pacifica.
With that order, dozens of electric pulse generators located throughout the ship began radiating highly polarized energy fields around the ship designed to overload the guidance systems of the incoming missiles.
Some of the missiles, their guidance systems hopelessly, instantly fried, careened away aimlessly or drunkenly veered around the Pacifica.
Some of the missiles, but not all of them…
A few managed to keep coming in straight and true prompting Colonel Cole snatched up a handset from the side of the plot table.
"All hands, brace for contact!"
His hand firmly gripping onto the edge of the plot table, Kelso's unwavering gaze never left the DRADIS display as the entire vessel began to quake from a series of hard impacts.
"All stations reporting in, negligible damage, Commander," called Lieutenant Cullen as the ship slowly stopped shuddering.
"Looks like the new armor package did its job," muttered Cole as she made a cursory glance around the CIC.
"For now, maybe," replied Kelso simply as he watched another series of missile streak in, this time from both Cylon Baseships. "But I'm not keen on being the test subject on how much punishment it can really take. Mister Cullen?"
"Point defense batteries, commence fire, sustained rate…" began Kelso, his voice momentarily cut off as the massive vessel shuddered under another series of impacts. "…establish a hard defensive perimeter at five-thousand meters."
"Aye, sir," replied Cullen.
It was then that a low alarm began emanating from the DRADIS overhead.
"Multiple new contacts, Commander," called Cullen. "Echo-Bravo-One-Zero-Zero-One is launching Raiders."
"Looks like about three squadrons," muttered Cole as she and Kelso kept a keen eye on the new icons appearing on the screen. "Rather conservative strike; why aren't they launching everything they have at us?"
"Tit-for-tat, gauging our response," replied Kelso evenly as he continued to watch DRADIS warily. "They're up to something."
With a slight huff, Kelso glanced over towards Lieutenant Cullen.
"Advise main batteries to maintain their fire on the Baseships. Have our Port-side defensive batteries shift fire; rake those incoming Raiders."
With the Raiders spreading out their formations along Pacifica's Port flank, the Battlestar's defensive emplacements began throwing up a veritable wall of armor-piercing shells that began biting into the approaching enemy fighters. As super-dense projectiles began tearing through ordnance loads and fuel cells, explosions began to shred apart the orderly enemy formations, the shrapnel from the erupting Raiders hurtling lethal rains of shrapnel into still more Raiders until the entire inbound formation suddenly heaved about in retreat.
"Raiders are disengaging, Commander," called Cullen as the DRADIS showed the few remaining Cylon fighters begin to withdraw.
For his part, Kelso shook his head slightly, his mood anything but elated.
Something just didn't feel right…
Almost as soon as the Raiders had turned back, both Basestars unleashed another volley of missiles that streaked in towards the Pacifica.
As before, a few were taken out by the defensive batteries, still more succumbed to ECM interference, nevertheless, a few still managed to slip through and slam directly into the thickened hide of the Pacifica.
Off to one side of the CIC, a low alarm began emanating from the Damage Control panel.
With a few swift strides, Lieutenant Cullen reached the panel as another crewman at the station handed him a handset.
"Multiple impacts reported amidships, Commander," called Lieutenant Cullen a moment later.
"We've lost internal comms between frames two-four-zero and two-four-five, no reports on damage as yet, Commander," replied Cullen as another series of missiles slammed into the Pacifica.
As the Pacifica shook off the jarring impacts, Kelso looked across the plot table to his XO.
"Dani," began Kelso, interrupted momentarily by yet another missile impact. "I want you to take charge of the DC teams."
"Aye, Commander," replied Cole simply as she stepped over and swapped places with Lieutenant Cullen at DC console.
As Lieutenant Cullen hurried back over to his station, Kelso looked back up at the DRADIS, eyeing the two closing Cylon Baseships hungrily.
"Where's my defensive fire, Lieutenant?" burst Kelso.
"Defensive batteries are working to reestablish the perimeter now, sir," replied Cullen as he dropped back into place at his station.
A moment later, the low drone of the smaller defense weapons resuming their fire supplemented the distinct thud of the main guns. The pounding impacts of the Cylon missiles also slowed, but did not cease, as the withering fire managed to fell some of the inbound missiles.
With the Pacifica no longer suffering a continuous pounding, Kelso slowly exhaled.
"Time to even up the odds a bit," began Kelso as he watched the DRADIS intently. "Mister Cullen, have ventral batteries switch ammo package; one-to-one, HE to AP, and increase rate of fire; I want target Echo-Bravo-One-Zero-Zero-Two out of action."
"Aye, sir," replied Cullen.
Almost instantly, the sound of Pacifica's guns firing increased in tempo as the ventral batteries began pumping more and more rounds into the Baseship off Pacifica's starboard flank.
"Gun crews report Echo-Bravo-One-Zero-Zero-Two has sustained heavy damage, Commander," called Lieutenant Cullen, his tone elevating a bit. "DRADIS confirms target is beginning to break up."
At that same moment, Kelso watched as the DRADIS screen flared momentarily from the radiation distortion caused by the Cylon Baseship's own reactors detonating.
"Echo-Bravo-One-Zero-Zero-Two has been destroyed, Commander," called Cullen triumphantly.
Around the CIC, several crewmembers, mostly the less experienced ones, let out cheers as the icon of the destroyed Cylon Baseship disappeared from the DRADIS.
Kelso for his part was more reserved; even though one Baseship had been destroyed, the other wasted no time in launching another much heavier volley of missiles towards the Pacifica. Some veered away due to the Pacifica's active ECM, a few more were cut down by the defense guns, but as always, some still got through and found their mark.
As the ship shuddered under the impacts, Kelso glanced over his shoulder at Colonel Cole as the DC panel lit up with numerous red indicator lights.
"Internal comms restored, fires reported amidships, Commander," she called as she too looked back over to Kelso. "Several compartments have been sealed and isolated, but the DC teams are having trouble getting a handle on them."
"Keep her together, XO," urged Kelso simply as he returned his attention to the DRADIS.
Formidable as it may be, the armored hull of a Battlestar encased what was little more than a veritable island of volatile fuel and munitions, even oxygen storage; the potential for catastrophe increased exponentially as fires neared any one of several dozen critical areas.
"Commander, change in aspect and ranging on Baseship to Port," called Lieutenant Cullen. "Looks like they've begun moving away."
"Verify," snapped Kelso simply.
"Confirmed, Commander," replied Cullen a moment later. "They've changed course and are pulling away."
"Helm, come around zero-nine-zero degrees a-Port, increase to flank speed," called Kelso as he watched the distance reading on the second Cylon Baseship continue to increase. "Keep them within our engagement range. Bow batteries are clear to engage as soon as they have a firm firing solution."
"Sir, DC teams report fires amidships have been contained," called Colonel Cole.
"Very good," replied Kelso simply, his eyes never leaving the DRADIS.
"Bow batteries report they have a firing solution, but the Cylons are at the limit of effective range," called Lieutenant Cullen.
"Order them to hold fire until we're back to within optimum range," replied Kelso simply.
Then, with a practiced motion, Kelso snatched up the handset on his side of the plot board and toggled the switch over to buzz the engineering section.
"Franklin, here," barked the voice of Pacifica's Chief Engineer over the handset.
"Mike, I need you to coax some more speed out of the engines," stated Kelso as he watched the Cylon Baseship continue to increase its distance.
"I'll do what I can, but those fires amidships are dangerously close to the primary tylium transfer lines," stated Franklin flatly, the sound of shouting crewmen echoing in the background. "If the DC teams lose containment, we'll have to shunt the feeds or we'll lose the ship."
"Cole's working the DC efforts, you just worry about getting me the speed I need," replied Kelso flatly as he hung up the handset.
His attention back on the DRADIS, Kelso watched as the Pacifica, now fully in pursuit, began to close the distance with the fleeing Cylon Baseship.
"Cullen, advise bow batteries to front load their first salvo with full load AP ordnance, I want to take them out fast once we're back in range," called Kelso as he glanced over at the Ops Officer.
"Understood, sir, we should have range again in thirty seconds."
As the seconds ticked away in his head, Kelso kept a keen eye on the Cylon Baseship.
As he watched the screen, he couldn't shake a nagging gut feeling, an undefined wariness which was gnawing away at the periphery of his consciousness; something just didn't feel right…
There was little doubt that the Pacifica had managed to inflict some significant damage with her volleys, but even with one of their own Baseships destroyed, it was decidedly uncharacteristic for the Cylons to retreat from the field so quickly.
Hell, why would machines need to retreat at all, it's not as if they feared dying.
Moreover, if they were retreating, why didn't they just jump away?
Impatient, wary, Kelso quickly glanced at the distance readings on DRADIS; they were quickly closing back in on the Baseship, but, they were also moving further and further away from Libran into open space.
It was at that moment that Kelso suddenly felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end; they were being lured.
"Helm, disengage pursuit course…" burst Kelso.
Overhead, DRADIS practically screamed as three more Cylon signatures appeared.
"Oh, frak!" burst a crewman; Kelso had no idea who.
"Contact, three new contacts, Commander!" burst Lieutenant Cullen anxiously. "Cylon Baseships, now to aft, Port and Starboard!"
"And that makes four," growled Kelso under his breath to no one in particular.
In a literal flash, the Cylons had all but surrounded the lone Battlestar Pacifica.
Then, all at once, all four Baseships let loose with a truly staggering volley of missiles.
Although the unceasing drone of the defensive emplacements letting loose with everything they had at a rapid rate reverberated through the air around CIC, the sheer number of missiles launched by the Cylons defied all hope that the Pacifica's gun crews could fell enough of them to keep the coming moments from being anything but punishing.
As the first missiles slammed hard into the Pacifica, Kelso fought to maintain his grip on the main plot board, but soon lost it and was sent tumbling across the pitching deck.
Even as he fought to regain purchase and claw his way back to the plot table, Kelso kept his eyes locked on the flickering DRADIS display overhead.
"Helm, maintain course, increase to flank speed!" he shouted as he finally reached up, gripped the edge of the plot table for all he was worth, and hauled himself to his feet. "Push through the enemy fire!"
"Aye, sir," replied Crewman McCall, his voice barely audible over the pounding impacts reverberating through the Pacifica's hull, while beside him Crewman Barris was frantically fighting to keep herself in her station with one hand as she adjusted the Pacifica's speed with the other.
As he stood gripping the plot table against the quaking deck, Kelso watched the flickering DRADIS screen as the distance between the Pacifica and the Cylon Baseship directly ahead continued to shrink.
Bolstered by the arrival of the three additional Baseships, Echo-Bravo-One-Zero-Zero-One had actually reversed course once again and was now closing back in on Pacifica, quickening the pace at which the two wounded leviathans closed with one another.
Braving the trembling deck, Cole made her way back over to the plot board.
"We can't stand toe-to-toe with four Basestars, Commander," she burst as another missile slammed into the Pacifica.
"No choice," grunted Kelso as he momentarily lost balance, his chest slamming down against the edge of the plot table.
Wincing at the burning pain, he nevertheless glanced over at his XO.
"Give me an update."
"DC teams are losing containment on the fires amidships," replied Cole flatly, pausing a moment to bark a few orders to the crewmen hunkered around the DC panel. "Heavy damage between frames one-zero-five and two-zero-seven. Engineering is also reporting damage to primary and auxiliary heat exchangers and reports of new fires near the primary magazines."
"We can't lose her now, Dani," replied Kelso adamantly, motioning his XO back towards Damage Control as he returned his attention to the four Baseships closing in.
Suddenly, all four Baseships blossomed with dozens of smaller signatures as the DRADIS let out another shrill alarm.
"Cylons are launching Raiders, Commander," called Lieutenant Cullen as he pulled a blood soaked hand away from his temple. "Full envelopment, multiple approach vectors."
Reaching down, Kelso again snatched up the handset and toggled the switch over to the One-MC.
"This is the Commander, launch all Vipers!" he said as more and more Raiders continued to spread out around the four Cylon Baseships. "All squadrons, clear for immediate launch, get our birds into the air!"
As he slammed the handset back in its place, Kelso watched as icons representing Pacifica's own fighter complement began to appear on the DRADIS. They were experienced pilots, as good as any in the fleet, with many blooded veterans amongst their ranks, but they were outnumbered nearly five-to-one.
"Have the suppressive batteries extend the defense perimeter out to midway between our fighters and the approaching Raiders," called Kelso as he watched the Vipers spread out into their formations.
As the waves of approaching Raiders continued to close in, the Pacifica's defense guns threw up a wall of shells that began tearing into the advancing Cylon fighters, covering the approach of the Vipers as they sortied to engage.
Major Kyle Abuhda, Call-sign 'Butter', Commander Air Group, Battlestar Pacifica, tensely flexed his gloved fingers around the control stick as the hailstorm of tracer shells fired from the Pacifica raced past his formation and slammed headlong into the advancing wall of Raiders.
"Gods, Butter, have you ever seen so many Raiders?"
"Cut the chatter," snapped Abuhda simply. "Numbers don't matter; everybody keep on your wingman, watch each other's backs and don't stray into Pacifica's firing solution."
With throttles wide open, the formation of Vipers quickly spread out to his left and right, rapidly closing the distance to engagement range with the approaching Raider force.
As he gingerly adjusted his Viper's flight path away from the hail of fire being laid down by Pacifica, Abuhda fought to swallow the hard lump in his throat.
Well into his fifth combat deployment, Abuhda was about as experienced as a Viper jock could get without being dead, had seen enough engagements to know the sea of Raiders spread out before them was going to exact a heavy toll on his people. Still, with several millions cubits worth of hurtling Viper strapped to his ass, he knew full well there was only one course of action they could take if any of them were going to survive.
"All Vipers, weapons free," called Abuhda as he nestled himself back into his seat. "Let's go to work."
With that, the line of Vipers opened up on the approaching Raiders.
With their own tracers and those of the enemy cutting neat lines against the blackness of space, the formations split off into groups of two, maneuvering wildly yet purposefully, the melee truly joined as the smaller, more maneuverable Colonial Vipers began tearing their way through the diminished yet still formidable legion of Raiders that had cut through the Pacifica's defensive fire zone.
At once, the wireless band became awash with calls and cries, his pilots desperately maneuvering for some sliver of advantage against the staggering odds.
"Rascal, on your six…"
"I've got four coming in at my nine o'clock…"
"Scratch two, Hustler…"
"Frak me, I can't shake him…ahhh!"
"This is Dojo, I need some help here!"
His heart racing, Abuhda let off a burst that tore into a Raider, the Cylon fighter disappearing in a satisfying fireball even as nosed over to engage another pair of Raiders racing past his left side.
"I've got two on my tail, frakers are on me like white on rice, someone give me a hand…"
With a frustrated grunt, Abuhda pulled away from the pair of Raiders he was chasing, glanced down at his DRADIS, then glanced out past the myriad lines of tracers and spotted the pilot who'd called for help.
"Gimp this is Butter, I've got your six, but I need you to come right, help me engage."
"Copy, Butter," replied Gimp as the other pilot pulled his Viper around, forcing the two pursuing Raiders to pull directly in front of Abuhda.
Thumbing his trigger, Abuhda let off a burst that cut into one of the Raiders, sending it spiraling away wildly, trailing smoke before finally detonating.
But even as the first Raider vanished in a fireball, the second suddenly flipped about nose over end and fired off a burst at Abuhda. As the Cylon tracers stitched a path mere centimeters above the nose of his Viper, Abuhda grunted heavily as he threw his ship into a controlled roll to avoid the fire.
As he recovered, Abuhda shook off the slight disorientation, glanced about frantically, but had lost sight of the Raider.
"Butter he's on your six!"
Before he could react, two lines of enemy tracers streaked past his Viper from the rear. His heart skipping a beat, Abuhda instinctively yanked the nose of his Viper up and over, inverting the ship, dropping his sights dead on to the Raider.
Not even consciously aware that he'd thumbed the trigger, Abuhda watched his burst ripped into Cylon fighter's cockpit, tearing it to shreds, the craft's sudden death spiral ejecting one of the Centurions out into open space. As the tumbling chrome figure spun into his flight path, Abuhda slammed his throttles to maximum, his left wing dipping a bit, cleaving the flailing Centurion in two as the Viper shot past.
Another series of missiles slammed into the Pacifica even as the beleaguered Battlestar continued to expend shell after shell into the fray. With four main targets, the heavy cannons were divided, scoring hits, but unable to truly mass their fire for a hard kill. The defensive cannons were still scoring hits as well, tearing through Raiders and incoming missiles alike, but the Cylons seemed nearly inexhaustible in numbers.
In quick succession, one, two, three missile impacts slammed into the port bow of Pacifica, shaking her and everyone aboard her to the bone.
As a cacophony of shouting crewman filled the air around CIC, Commander Adrian Kelso kept his attention firmly locked on the DRADIS, his mind focused on one inescapable truth; if Pacifica died, so would every man, woman and child on Libran.
"My gods, my legs for a couple of fraking Gunstars right now," he muttered, his mind racing to find a solution. "Frak it!"
Taking a deep breath, Kelso knew he was either crazy or desperate, probably both, to consider what he was about to…
"Helm, continue full ahead," shouted Kelso, leveling a determined gaze upon McCall and Barris. "Bring us nose-to-nose with the nearest Basestar."
For all the trepidation in the eyes of the two young crewmen, neither flinched nor hesitated as they nodded in acknowledgement.
So it was that Pacifica continued her headlong run directly towards Echo-Bravo-One-Zero-Zero-One, the same Basestar that had drawn them into this trap.
"Mister Cullen, advise Gunnery Control to reign in fire on the mains," continued Kelso as his gaze shifted to the harried Lieutenant. "Bow guns are to concentrate their fire at the rapid rate on Echo-Bravo-One-Zero-Zero-One, straight AP ordnance; put those mother-frakers on their knees."
"Aye, sir," replied Cullen as he absently wiped at a trickle of blood still making its way down his cheek.
"Commander, CAG reports our birds are nearing Red Status on ammo," called Capshaw as she fought to adjust her headset.
"Order Abuhda to break contact," replied Kelso as his attention returned to the DRADIS overhead. "Have our birds to pull into a point-defense position to our stern, follow us through our maneuver."
"Aye, sir," replied Capshaw as she braced herself against another impact.
"What's our speed, Barris?" snapped Kelso.
"Full ahead, flank-plus speed, Commander."
"Very good," replied Kelso simply.
For a few moments, Kelso simply watched the DRADIS expectantly, counting off the seconds in his mind as he watched the distance between Pacifica and Echo-Bravo-One-Zero-Zero-One shrink rapidly. The other three Basestars and the surviving Raiders were racing to keep pace, but the hurtling Battlestar still managed to place precious distance between herself and her pursuers.
"Now, helm, fifteen degrees down at the bow," called Kelso as he braced himself against another missile impact. "Aim our nose for a point just below the near side edge of Echo-Bravo-One-Zero-Zero-One's lower hull; if those other Basestars want to keep hurling missiles at us, I want it to be at the risk of hitting their own ship."
"Understood, sir," replied McCall simply.
All the while, Kelso's eyes never left the DRADIS as Echo-Bravo-One-Zero-Zero-One drew closer and closer until the Basestar's signature and that of the Pacifica had virtually merged into one.
Major Kyle Abuhda swallowed hard against the sizeable lump in his throat as he fought against the punishing G-forces. With his Viper's throttles to the firewall, he could feel his palms sweating inside his flight gloves as he fought to control his hurtling fighter as it chased after the racing Pacifica.
To make matters still worse, the Vipers that had managed to thus far survive the fray held relatively tight to one another as they likewise chased after the beleaguered carrier, all the while, the pilots risking tight turns and jinks to avoid not only the withering fire being laid down by sets of pursuing Cylon Raiders from the rear, but the equally lethal fire still erupting from Pacifica's own defensive turrets.
But for all the concentration he was investing into keeping his remaining pilots and planes in order, as well as his keep own Viper on course, Abuhda was still all too aware of the imposing sight of the dual-disk hull of a Cylon Basestar looming ahead of the Pacifica as she continued her headlong charge at the enemy.
Commander Kelso winced a bit as he gingerly tested his newly-sprained ankle's ability to support him. Nevertheless, his eyes never left the DRADIS as he watched the Pacifica near point-blank range with Echo-Bravo-One-Zero-Zero-One. And while they'd managed to put some much needed distance between themselves and the other Cylon Baseships, so too had their own Vipers fallen behind.
Nevertheless, the Pacifica was now exactly where Kelso had wanted her to be.
Straightening up a bit, ignoring the pain in his ankle, the Commander took a breath.
"Helm, execute hard roll along our z-axis, down to Port," burst Kelso as the Pacifica prepared to pass below the Cylon Basestar.
"Aye, sir," replied Crewman McCall.
As ordered, the Pacifica began to roll over to Port, her rotation quickly aligning her main dorsal guns for a perfect broadside directly into the underside of the Cylon Baseship.
As the main cannons began pumping round after round into the enemy at point-blank range, the projectiles landed with such force that most of the rounds tore clean through the lower section without detonating and slammed into the upper hull disc. Mortally wounded by the point-blank cannonade, power died instantly throughout the Cylon Basestar as the Pacifica continued to sail past. As the now-smashed Cylon vessel was rocked by a myriad of secondary explosions across its hull, sections of debris were sent hurtling against the hull of the Battlestar, the impacts of which were almost as jarring as missile ordnance.
In spite of the tremendous damage, however, the bulk of the dead Basestar did not explode, instead becoming little more than a dead object in space.
And, as Commander Kelso instantly realized, it also became an opportunity…
"Helm, all-back full, bring us to a dead stop," burst Kelso as the Pacifica began to sail past the mortally wounded Echo-Bravo-One-Zero-Zero-One.
"Sir?" muttered Barris weakly.
"I said all-back full!" snapped Kelso sharply.
Just as quickly, he snatched up the handset from the side of the plot table and toggled the switch for the One-MC. "All hands, brace for extreme maneuvering."
'Extreme maneuvering' was an understatement.
At just over fourteen hundred meters in length, the Pacifica was hardly designed to stop on a cubit. Even with all of the Pacifica's thrusters firing at once, it took considerable energy to overcome the massive vessel's built-up inertia.
For the crew, the sudden deceleration was almost as harrowing as the Cylon assault itself. All around CIC, crewmen desperately held onto consoles, panels, whatever they'd managed to grab a hold of. A few crewmembers who'd lost their grips, or hadn't managed to get one at all, were sent tumbling off across the deck, lost amidst the flotsam of other loose items and unsecured equipment that began tumbling like a tide across CIC.
For his part, Commander Kelso was practically vaulted across the plot table, barely managing to keep from plummeting over the far edge, instead merely coming to rest splayed across the top like a bug on a windshield.
Slipping his feet firmly back onto the deck, Kelso absently listened to the dull thuds reverberating through the ship, the sound of Cylon debris still bouncing off the Pacifica's armored hull.
"Report," coughed Kelso as he focused back in on DRADIS.
"We are now at a dead stop, Commander," gasped Barris as she slowly let go her grip on her station console.
With the slightest grin of satisfaction, Kelso noted that the Pacifica had come to rest directly behind the dead Cylon Baseship, just as he'd wanted. From their current positions, none of the other three Basestars had direct line of sight on Pacifica.
"Where are our Vipers?"
"They're coming in astern now, Commander," replied Cullen as he finished readjusting his headset back into place.
"Capshaw, get on the wireless, order our birds back onto the deck," continued Kelso as leaned forward onto the plot table, taking a little weight off his still-throbbing ankle.
Major Kyle Abuhda's heart skipped a beat as he deftly maneuvered his Viper around a drifting chunk of debris. Muttering a slight curse, Abuhda brought the nose of his fighter, the last surviving Viper still aloft, around to line back up for a combat landing on the dimly lit Port landing deck.
Combat landings, by definition, lacked grace, more a controlled crash meant to get fighters back on the deck quickly. As his Viper skidded to a stop, deck crew clad in full EVA suits raced over to move his plane over to one of the lifts to the lower service decks.
"CAG to CIC, all birds are back on deck," he gasped, collapsing a bit into his seat as he fought to release the grip his throbbing fingers had from around the control stick.
"All right, McCall," sighed Kelso as he limped his way around the plot table. "Bring our nose up, ninety degrees, nestle us in tight to the dead Basestar."
As the helmsman adjusted the Pacifica per Kelso's order, the Commander motioned for Colonel Cole and Lieutenant Cullen to join him.
"Give me the report, Lieutenant," sighed Kelso as his two officers stepped up.
"Forty-one Vipers lost, three more damaged and unserviceable," began Cullen evenly as he handed a clipboard over to Kelso. "Primary munitions magazines are down to fifty-three percent, suppressive batteries report ammo reserves at forty-seven percent."
"Damage?" muttered Kelso as he scanned over the printout on the clipboard.
"DC teams are getting a handle on the fires amidships, for now they're contained," began Cole as she rubbed a knot from her neck. "We've got a lot of wounded down there though; sickbay is overwhelmed. Doc Hudson's got deck hands acting as medics."
Taking a deep breath, Kelso set the clipboard down on the plot table.
Just then, the handset on the side of the plot table buzzed for his attention.
"This is Actual," said Kelso as he lifted the handset to his ear.
"Franklin, here," barked the hoarse voice of Pacifica's Engineer on the other end. "You done getting my ship shot at up there, sir?"
"Not yet," replied Kelso simply as he looked back up at the DRADIS. "Give me the short story, Mike."
"Short story is we have FTL back up," replied Franklin flatly. "As long as Cole's people can keep the fires from spreading, we'll be able to keep the Mains online."
"No promises, Mike, keep on it," countered Kelso as he hung up the handset.
With his fingers gently tapping the plot table, Kelso watched the DRADIS as he quickly digested the situation.
The Pacifica was now well covered and obscured behind the dead Basestar and its debris field. The Cylon Raiders had broken off pursuit and were maintaining defensive positions around the three remaining Basestars. The Basestars themselves had slowed their approach and were apparently redeploying themselves in an attempt to reacquire line-of-sight on Pacifica.
"At least they've stopped firing," noted Cullen evenly.
"Their DRADIS is being obscured by the debris field," stated Cole as she momentarily glanced back over at the DC panel. "Even if they do fire, the likelihood of a good target lock is low."
"What's to prevent them from firing on the dead Basestar, sir?" asked Cullen flatly. "As close as we are, that ship goes up it'll take us with it."
"Moral superiority," muttered Kelso sardonically. "The Cylons never fire on their own; it would be murder. And by Cylon logic, murder is something only humans do."
"Still, we're not going to be able to hide here long," noted Cole as she gently adjusted her glasses. "Cylons will have direct line-of-sight on us in ten, fifteen minutes at most."
His fingers gently drumming away on the plot table surface, Kelso mulled over his options. As he did so, his gaze began to absently wander, first to Cole, then to the report Cullen had handed him, back to the DRADIS, and then to a medic applying a bandage to the forehead of a crewman in the upper gallery. Every couple of seconds, the ship shook slightly, the dull thud of yet another chunk of debris bouncing off the hull audibly reverberating through the air.
"Commander," interjected Cole as she motioned for Kelso to look back at the DRADIS. "Raiders again."
Apparently not content to simply wait until their Basestars were in a position to attack again, the Cylon Raiders had resumed their approach, coming in fast from multiple directions.
"Now we've got about seven minutes," sighed Cole, shaking her head slightly.
Kelso's head dropped a bit as he took a deep breath. After a moment, his eyes narrowed as he straightened up and leveled a resolute gaze on his two officers.
"Capshaw, get on the horn down to Chief Lerner, make sure our birds are being prepped for another sortie," called Kelso as he motioned Cullen and Cole closer in around the plot table.
"What have you got in mind, Commander?" asked Cole flatly as she leaned in expectantly.
Without immediately answering, Commander Kelso snatched up a grease pencil, pulled the report printout from the clipboard, flipped it over and began sketching.
"Alright, Cullen, you've got five minutes to plot me a jump," sighed Kelso as he finished his sketch, a rough diagram of the image on DRADIS. "I want to pop in down here at the far end of their approach axis, just outside optimum engagement range."
"Aye, sir," muttered Cullen apprehensively.
"Is there are problem, Lieutenant?" asked Colonel Cole flatly.
"Five minutes, Colonel," he replied with a weak shrug. "It'll take ten minutes to close the landing pods for a jump…"
"We're jumping with them extended," replied Kelso flatly, leveling a distinctly no-nonsense glare on the young officer. "Now get on that jump calculation, Lieutenant."
As Cullen made his way off through CIC, Colonel Cole leaned in a little closer.
"A jump with the pods open, with all due respect, that's a touch risky," she muttered under her breath. "The damage we've taken amidships might have compromised our structural integrity…"
"It's risky, yes, but possible," replied Kelso curtly. "And so is this…"
Tearing a piece of the report away, Kelso quickly scribbled out a long series of numbers and letters.
Then, leveling Cole with a decidedly resolute expression, Kelso handed the slip of paper to her.
"Take this, get over to Weapons Control."
Holding his gaze, Colonel Cole felt the color drain a bit from her face as she looked at the piece of paper.
To be sure, during the course of the war both the Cylons, and to a lesser extent the Colonials, had used nuclear ordnance against one another. It wasn't unheard of, it simply was never an order Commander Adrian Kelso himself had ever issued.
"Target package?" asked Cole hoarsely, her voice choking a bit as she felt her mouth begin to go dry.
"Soft launch," replied Kelso as he glanced back up at DRADIS and the closing Raiders. "I want you to set them adrift amongst the rest of the debris, rig them for a five second delayed detonation."
Like a bell, Cole suddenly understood what Kelso had in mind.
"Mines," she grinned as she at last slowly took hold of the proffered slip of paper.
Commander Kelso only gave the slightest of nods as he motioned her towards launch control.
"I must point out, Commander, that by giving me your nuclear launch code you're committing about two dozen violations of both military and civilian law," muttered Cole as she absently ran her thumb over the page. "And by taking it, my neck is also on the line for just about as many."
Looking back up at the Basestars and Raiders closing in on DRADIS, Kelso let out a long breath.
"We don't really have the luxury of protocols at the moment, but if it helps, I'll go on record as giving you a direct order to take that paper," smirked Kelso. "And if we manage to survive the next ten minutes, I'll be sure to hire us some damned good lawyers for the court-martial."
"Aye, sir," nodded Cole as she straightened up, the slightest hint of a smile still curling the edge of her lip as she stepped away from the plot table.
As she moved, Kelso snatched up the handset and toggled the switch to buzz the Ordnance Officer.
"This is a nuclear mission order," he said firmly as the handset picked up on the other end. "Prepare warheads in tubes one through four."
Though his eyes never left DRADIS, Kelso could almost sense the subdued wave of shock passing through the crew around him as Colonel Cole quickly made her way over to the CIC Weapons Control.
As he set the handset back into place, Kelso glanced over to Lieutenant Cullen.
"Jump plotted, Commander," stated Cullen as he finished imputing a data set into the jump computer.
"Coming along, Commander," replied Cole as she and the crewman assisting her hurriedly punched in the commands and toggled the switches for the hatches over the ship's the launch tubes. "Okay, Harper, retrieve the launch keys."
Within moments, the crewman stepped back over with a small sealed case. Taking the case from her, Cole stepped over to one of the keypads around the center console, inserted one of the keys, then began punching in the Commander's code from the piece of paper in her hand.
His fingers gently tapping the top of the plot table, Kelso watched as the wall of Raiders continued to close in, barely two minutes away now. Glancing over, Kelso watched Cole quickly move around to the other side of the central console in Weapons Control and insert the second launch key.
"Cullen?" called Kelso as he watched Cole punch in her launch code.
"FTL drives one and two are spun up and ready, Commander," snapped the Lieutenant as he slipped the FTL key into the console. "Ready to start the clock on your order."
"Standing by to start countdown on your mark, Commander," called Cole as she motioned a clearly hesitant Harper over towards the unmanned launch key on at the center console.
"Copy, that," replied Kelso as he reached down, picked up the handset, and toggled the switch to the One-MC. "All hands, all stations, prepare for emergency FTL jump."
As he dropped the handset back into place, Kelso's eyes locked back in on DRADIS.
"Drop our presents into the debris, Colonel," said Kelso simply as he watched the enemy ships closing overhead.
Within moments, he watched as four new icons appeared overhead on DRADIS; the four nuclear warheads just released by Pacifica.
The wall of Raiders closing in…
The three remaining Basestars closing in behind them…
The dead Basestar nestled in close, blocking the approaching enemy…
Four nuclear warheads, masked by the radiation bleeding away from the dead Basestar, slowly dispersing through the debris field…
"One minute till Raiders reacquire us, Commander," called Cole expectantly from Weapons Control.
His fingers continued to tap…
Kelso could feel his pulse quickening…
A bead of sweat trickled down his cheek…
"Mister Cullen, start the clock!"
"Aye, sir," snapped Cullen as he turned the FTL key. "Clock is running. Jump in ten, nine, eight, seven…"
The first of the approaching Raiders came into clear line-of-sight on Pacifica and immediately launched a massed volley of missiles…
Without a word, Colonel Cole used the Weapons Control console to transmit a coded signal activating the delayed timers on all four of Pacifica's dispersed warheads.
"Detonation in four…three…"
His eyes intently locked on DRADIS, Kelso maintained a wholly unreadable countenance as the dimension altering physics of the Pacifica initiating her FTL jump skewed his all-too-human perceptions. On the DRADIS screen, the closing Cylon Raiders, their rapidly closing volley of missiles, his heart pounding in his chest, Commander Adrian Kelso felt himself engulfed in surrealistic vertigo as the CIC around him seeming to both contract and expand in the same instance…
A split second later the sensation fell away, the DRADIS screen shifted to show Pacifica now at the far end of the line of Cylon Basestars, instantly distanced from the approaching Raiders as the screen flared with the telltale signature of nuclear detonations.
With no small satisfaction, everyone in CIC let out a jubilant cry, watching as the large cluster of Cylon Raiders that had only moments before been racing in towards them, now far removed, were vaporized by the detonation of Pacifica's warheads and the even more spectacular sympathetic detonation of the dead Basestar.
Yet even as Colonel Cole made her way back to his side, Commander Adrian Kelso understood just how short their reprieve might actually be as he watched the three remaining Cylon Basestars change course and begin bearing back down on the now-unconcealed Battlestar.
"I think we've pissed them off," said Cole wryly as the nearest Basestar launched off a volley of missiles.
Major Kyle Abuhda's brow was covered in sweat as he helped two deck hands feed rounds into the autoloader on his Viper. Off to his side, another crewman kept her eyes keenly glued to the gauge as she topped off the ship's fuel. To the rear of the Viper, still two more of the deck gang were gingerly loading two missiles into the underside storage rack, warily avoiding the scalding hot engine cowlings.
As he continued to load rounds into the Viper's ammo drum, Abuhda paused as the dull drone of Pacifica's defensive guns resuming fire began echoing through the expanse of the hangar deck. A moment later, the entire vessel shook under what Abuhda assumed was a Cylon missile impact.
The blast caused only the briefest pause amongst the racing service crews, however. As he glanced around the service deck, Abuhda saw that a few Vipers were already being moved back towards the launch tubes.
"Look, I don't give a frak!"
The booming voice of the deck chief, Chief Lerner cut through the hectic din of the hangar deck as she menacingly pointed a clipboard directly into the face of a visibly intimidated deck hand.
"Quit your bitchin' and get that Viper serviced and ready to fly! Commander wants another sortie, then gods dammit, he's going to get another fraking sortie!"
With that, the deck hand scurried away into the purposeful chaos around them as Chief Lerner glanced meaningfully over at Abuhda.
The refueling and rearming wasn't just a precaution…
Commander Kelso was going to continue the fight…
Abuhda simply nodded in acknowledgment as Chief Lerner turned and jogged off across the deck.
As the ship shook from another missile impact, Major Abuhda tried to remain outwardly composed as he digested the seemingly grim situation unfolding.
They'd already fought down two Cylon Basestars, tooth and nail, taking heavy damage and losses in the process.
True, the deck crew rumor mill had been quick to pick up the news that a large contingent of Cylon Raiders had been wiped out. Nevertheless, as the situation stood at that moment, the battered Pacifica and her equally battered air wing still had three fully functional Cylon Baseships to contend with.
In all the twelve long years of war, no lone Battlestar, let alone one as wounded as the Pacifica currently was, had gone against three Baseships and survived.
And yet, while that sobering fact left Abuhda feeling as though a leaden weight had fallen into the pit of his stomach, from somewhere else deep within him, a grim sense of determination was stirred that left him grinning.
They might not survive much longer, but at least they were giving the Cylons one hell-of-a fight.
Briskly wiping the sweat from his brow, Abuhda cycled the last round into the auto-feed, primed and locked the main breech, then slapped the access panel shut and removed the weapon safety pins.
Snatching up his helmet from the deck, Abuhda practically leapt up into the cockpit as the deck crew began sliding his Viper towards the launch tube.
Locking his helmet in place, Abuhda yanked the cockpit canopy shut as the deck crew scrambled out from around his plane.
As the inner airlock door closed behind his Viper, Major Kyle Abuhda casually nestled himself back into his seat.
Live or die, he was ready to get back into the middle of one hell-of-a fight.
"Helm, ahead one-half," called Commander Kelso as the ship shook from another impact. "Bring us to Starboard zero-nine-zero, take us perpendicular to their approach axis."
"Aye, sir, zero-nine-zero to Starboard," replied McCall instantly.
"Engines answering ahead one-half, Commander," interjected Barris a moment later as another jarring impact caused the overhead lights to flicker momentarily.
Casting a quick glance over his shoulder, Kelso noted with some small satisfaction that Dani Cole had once again resumed control over the DC efforts, even as several more indicators began flashing urgently for her attention on the board.
Casting his attention back to the DRADIS, Kelso watched as the three remaining Basestars continued to hound in on Pacifica.
As he'd hoped, Pacifica's FTL jump had placed them at the extreme end of the Cylon line. Pushing out to flank their line of advance, all three Cylon ships were now directly broadside while Pacifica herself was now outside the firing range of two of the Basestars, at least for the moment. The closest Baseship, however, was still launching volley after volley as it closed the distance towards Pacifica.
"Order suppressive batteries to sustain their rate of fire," called Kelso flatly as he watched another series of missiles streak in. "Dorsal batteries to begin salvo fire as soon as they have a firing solution."
"Dorsal battery crews are reporting problems with the ammo hoists, Commander," called Cullen, the frustration evident in his voice.
"Cole?" shot Kelso as he glanced back over his shoulder.
"The safety lockouts have been engaged because of the fires amidships, Commander," replied Dani, pausing a moment to bark a few curt orders into the handset at her ear. "If we override, the ordnance could cook-off on the hoists."
"What about the ventral hoists?"
"Indicators are still green, sir."
"Helm, adjust yaw angle, twenty degrees down a-Starboard, present our ventral side," snapped Kelso as he returned his attention to the DRADIS display.
Kelso keenly felt the situation becoming graver by the second. With the dorsal ammo hoists down, fully one-third of Pacifica's main arsenal was out of action with three Basestars still in the fight. With fires raging virtually uncontained through already critically damaged areas of the ship, threatening at any moment to ignite either the main tylium stores, the ammo bunkers, or both, Pacifica's Commander felt all too certain that he and his entire crew were living on a heavily mortgaged amount of borrowed time.
"No, I said get them out of there now!" snapped Dani Cole, a handset pressed firmly to her ear, her tone sharp enough to cut through the cacophony surrounding CIC. "Hello…hello!"
In spite of himself, Kelso looked back over just in time to see her toss aside the handset and stepped purposefully towards the DC panel.
"Prepare for emergency venting," she sighed painfully.
"Colonel, we still have hundreds of people…" began one of the crewmen assisting her at DC.
"We have thousands who'll die if those fires turn this ship into miniature nova; we have to put them out now!" she snapped curtly, her hand lashing out and grabbing a fistful of the crewman's uniform tunic. "Do it!"
Sheepishly, the crewman stepped, or was more accurately shoved back by the Colonel, towards the DC panel.
As Colonel Cole's gaze met Kelso's, there was a profoundly apologetic glaze to her eyes that perhaps only Kelso would have been able to discern.
Turning back to the panel herself, Dani paused for a moment, took a deep breath, inserted the safety lockout key into the emergency panel, and glanced expectantly at the crewman she'd so nearly knocked to the deck.
He gave only the barest hint of a nod in return.
Taking another breath, Cole's head dipped a bit as she clasped both hands onto the key, turned it, and slapped her palm down on the activation switch.
In response, emergency hatches throughout the damaged sections of the ship opened out into the cold vacuum of space, suffocating the raging infernos.
As the atmosphere feeding the flames was blown out into space, so too were a terrible number of bodies, some flailing against the inevitable oblivion, others already still in death.
As the myriad of red indicators on the DC panel snapped from red back to green indicating extinguishment of the fires, Colonel Cole seemed to collapse against the panel for a moment.
All under the watchful, sympathetic gaze of Commander Kelso.
Terrible as it might be, it had been the right decision…
The only decision…
A numbers game…
Sacrifice hundreds, save thousands…
Keep the ship in the fight, perhaps even millions…
As Cole's eyes turned back to meet the Commander's gaze, the entire ship again shook under a torrent of missile impacts, shattering the somberly surreal moment.
Bracing himself against the plot table, Kelso's gaze swiftly moved back to the DRADIS.
In spite of the suppressive fire being laid down by Pacifica, the nearest Baseship was still closing in relentlessly, undeterred even by the heavy anti-ship cannonade pouring forth from the ventral batteries.
Then came a chillingly shrill alarm from the DRADIS.
"Radiological alarm!" burst Lieutenant Cullen.
Kelso felt the blood drain from his face.
Reaching down, he snatched up the handset and toggled the switch for the One-MC. In an instant, any number of orders that he could issue flashed through his mind. As the nuclear tipped missile streaked in towards the Pacifica, he felt powerless, what more could he honestly order or expect of his crew?
There was no time for a jump…
No way to outmaneuver the missile…
"All hands, brace for contact," he said flatly, resigned that nothing could stop the seemingly inevitable.
Placing the handset back in its place, Kelso instinctively tightened his grip on the plot table.
"Helm, give me twenty more degrees down a-Starboard," said Kelso as he returned his gave to the DRADIS.
It was simply the only thing they could do; present more of the virtually undamaged ventral section of the ship to absorb what would without question be a truly punishing impact.
Overhead, DRADIS flared as the ear-splitting crash of the missile impact reverberated through the very alloy bones of the Pacifica. The entire deck pitched violently, tossing crewmen aside effortlessly as the supports, the bulkheads, the deck, the Pacifica herself seemed to groan in agony.
Panels exploded in sparks, consoles overloaded, the scorched scent of burnt ozone permeated the air, as did the desperate calls of crewmen being tossed, burned, or electrocuted.
His gaze darting about the quaking CIC, Kelso's grip held firm to the plot table as the overhead lights flickered, then died altogether.
Overhead, DRADIS flared brightly from the radiation cascade, then it too cut out completely…
Screens and consoles not already shattered surged then darkened with a slow whine…
"Helm is non-responsive, Commander!" called McCall frantically amid the quickly darkening CIC.
The ship's systems were crashing; Pacifica was dying…
"Nuclear detonation, ventral aft, engineering section, Commander," called Colonel Cole as the emergency battery powered lights around CIC flickered to life, casting eerie shadows. "Main power is down; engineering teams are trying to spin up the aux-generators, but they've got new fires in their area raging out of control."
Having thought his spirits could sink no lower, as every system of his ship crashed, so too did his soul find a way to crash even lower.
And three Basestars bearing down like merciless sharks enthralled with blood lust…
"By the gods, we need a miracle," muttered Kelso softly as he looked up at the blank DRADIS screen.
Just then, another impact slammed into the dying Pacifica.
Major Kyle Abuhda scowled over at the Launch Officer.
"What the frak is going?"
"The ship has lost main power, Major," replied the LO over the emergency battery-powered wireless set in his hand. "Radiological alarms have tripped, must have taken a hit from a nuke."
"Frak," muttered Abuhda weakly as he looked down the darkened launch tunnel before him.
His Viper rocked slightly on its skids as another impact slammed into the powerless leviathan.
Without power, the ECM systems were out and the suppressive guns wouldn't be able to knock down any of the incoming Cylon ordnance; in spite of having her full armor package installed, without her other defenses, the Pacifica would be torn to pieces in a matter of minutes.
"We still have birds in all the tubes, correct?"
"That's affirmative, Major, but the mag-catapult systems are down."
"What about the steam-powered back-ups; were they up to full pressure before the ship lost power?"
"Yes, sir, the board was green."
Taking a deep breath, Abuhda settled back into his seat, and began throttling-up his engines.
"Then launch us."
"I said get us into the frakin' air!" burst Abuhda as he glared past the canopy at the LO.
"All Vipers, this is Butter, prepare to launch," said Abuhda as he toggled his wireless over to the squadron frequency.
As he heard the acknowledgements filter back over the channel, Abuhda locked eyes with the LO, pointed two fingers directly down the launch tube and then executed a smart salute.
The LO returned the smart salute and then dropped his palm down on the emergency pneumatic button, unleashing a truly gut-wrenching amount of pent-up force that sent Abuhda's Viper hurtling down the launch tube.
"Sir, you need to hear this," called Lieutenant Cullen as he bounded over to the plot table with a battery powered wireless set.
Taking the set from Cullen, Kelso pressed the attached headset to his ear.
Instantly, his ears, and with them his spirits, lifted.
"Viper chatter," he muttered.
Moreover, Kelso realized within moments that he recognized the call signs; the Vipers were from Pacifica, in spite of the ship wide power loss they'd gotten aloft, and thank the gods, they were defending the ship.
As he continued to listen, Kelso closed his eyes, trying to envision the action in his mind as though it were on the blank DRADIS overhead.
And it was then that he heard the one call sign over the wireless he'd most hoped to hear.
"Butter, two coming in low at your four o'clock."
"Got'em," replied Butter instantly, the distinct sound of the Viper's guns firing echoing in the background. "Scratch two."
Adjusting the headset, Kelso toggled the switch to transmit.
"Butter, this is Pacifica-Actual."
"Uh, I'm kind of busy at the moment, Actual," growled Abuhda as he deftly maneuvered his Viper around and let off a burst from his guns at an incoming missile.
Out of the corners of his eye, Abuhda saw two other Vipers slide in on either side of him, likewise attempting to down two more incoming missiles.
With satisfaction, Abuhda saw all three explode harmlessly at a distance.
"Butter," continued Commander Kelso, using CAG's actual call sign. "I'm not going to sugarcoat this."
"Never have before, wouldn't expect you to start now, Commander," replied Abuhda as he let off new burst at another streaking missile.
"You and your people are all we've got right now," stated Kelso flatly. "The only thing between this ship and those chrome bastards are your birds."
"Figured as much, Commander."
Thankfully, his next burst hit home as the missile exploded harmlessly in the void.
"Good hunting, Major."
Abuhda barely grunted in response as he focused his eyes, searching for the telltale contrail of another incoming missile.
And yet through it all was a sight that left Abuhda's stomach in a fidgety knot; three Basestars stalking towards them like ravenous wolves. While only one was close enough to heave ordnance their direction, the other two were closing the gap at a steady clip.
The Vipers that had launched with him were now spread out along the length of the powerless Pacifica. With her power out, the woefully thin line of Vipers now constituted the only defense the battered carrier had left. Cognizant of nothing else so acutely, the assembled Vipers were frantically attempting to down any missile racing in towards the wounded Battlestar.
In spite of their efforts, however, valiant or even crazed as they were, there were still missiles which made it through, slamming into the listing leviathan as her inertia continued to carry her forward. If there were any saving grace to be thankful for at that moment, it would be that although it had been a nuclear warhead which had stricken Pacifica's main power, the Cylons were now incongruously limiting themselves to conventional warheads.
"What, like I should be fraking complaining about it?" muttered Abuhda to himself, hoping that his merely thinking such hadn't tempted the Fates.
Quickly glancing below him, Abuhda felt his gut twist in utter shock at the sheer number of impact marks marring the Pacifica's armored hull. Dozens, tens of dozens of jagged gaps scattered along the surface left him in awe over the fact that the ship had not already broken up under the relentless assault.
And yet without power, the wounded Pacifica continued to drift aimlessly, listing defenselessly, spinning slowly along her long axis, some of her wounds shedding sheets of armor plating, the cracked and pitted surface venting atmosphere or water from her forward tanks, the two sights feeding the all-to-apt impression that the ship was slowly bleeding to death.
Anger boiling up in his veins, Abuhda glared back out at the three Basestars as another finally reached firing range and instantly let off a volley of missiles. A Viper to his left reflexively let off a burst which stitched two neat lines across the missiles' flight paths; two detonated instantly, a third spun wildly for a moment before exploding.
Barely glancing down at DRADIS, Abuhda instead kept his eyes keenly focused on the vast stretches between him and the approaching Basestars. A small surge of adrenaline shot through him as a missile streaked forth, and in spite of his efforts, evaded his bursts to slam into the injured Pacifica.
"Oh, I've fraking had about enough of this," he snapped, suddenly slamming his throttles to the firewall.
With a kick of acceleration, he nosed his Viper over and charged headlong towards the closest Basestar.
Even as he did so, every cell in his body seemed to scream out how ludicrous it was to do what he was now doing; by the gods, he knew, what could one lone Viper do against an entire Basestar?
Ignoring the eruption of calls and chatter over the wireless channel, Major Kyle Abuhda steeled himself to the ominous sight of the two conjoined disks growing larger in his field of vision.
Even as he chuckled to himself at the sheer lunacy of what he was doing, Abuhda continued on.
"CAG's not responding, I'm going after him," stated one of the other Viper pilots over the wireless.
"That's a negative, Zipper, do not break formation!" barked Abuhda curtly as he fired off a brief burst at a missile racing towards him, downing it. "All of you are to hold air-defense positions; protecting the Pacifica is your overriding priority!"
"You expect us to just watch you commit suicide, sir?"
"Negative, I expect you to follow orders," replied Abuhda curtly as he deftly rolled his Viper out of the way of a second missile.
Commander Adrian Kelso slowly paced his way around the center plot table.
All around, CIC was cast in eerie darkness save for the few battery power emergency lamps. Even the crewmembers around CIC were strangely silent, indeed, without power they had little to do but wait expectantly at their posts. A few glanced anxiously at the clock on the wall, no small number muttered prayers. As he continued to pace, Kelso was keenly aware of the anxious eyes following him as he moved around the center table.
The vessel rocked with another missile impact, threatening to knock Kelso off-balance as he kept making circuits around the center table, one hand pressing the headset against his ear as he continued to listen to the wireless chatter from the Vipers aloft.
Yet another missile slammed into the dying Battlestar, fully knocking Kelso down to the deck. As he bit down on a curse, the Commander lifted himself back onto his now much more severely twisted ankle and glared up at the blank DRADIS screen.
"Frak me," whispered Major Kyle Abuhda as he looked out at the massive dual disk form of the Cylon Basestar filling his field of view.
With his heart pounding so hard it felt as though it would burst through his chest, Abuhda licked at his dry lips with an equally parched tongue and genuinely wondered how he'd managed to penetrate so close to the enemy ship.
It certainly wasn't for lack of effort on the part of the Cylons; a few missile volleys and some close bursts from their light defense guns had nearly ended his headlong charge, the neat line of holes in his left wing was proof enough of that.
And yet by the grace of the gods, he'd managed to pierce their defenses to the point where his Viper now rested within the cavernous gap between the upper and lower disks.
Astonishment rapidly gave way to annoyance, however, as Abuhda realized he'd survived everything the Cylons had thrown at him in order to, well, he didn't have any gods damned idea what to do next.
What could one Viper do against a Basestar?
Gently rotating the nose of his Viper around, Abuhda started to look for a target, any target, anything that might qualify as a target of opportunity. Against the thick, armored hull of a Basestar, there was really very little the comparatively small cannons and missiles of a Viper could damage or destroy. All the more frustrating, the Basestar was still hurtling its own missiles at the Pacifica.
Over the wireless, Abuhda could still hear the chatter of the other pilots as they continued their stout defense, trying, succeeding, and sometimes failing to fell the missiles that were hammering their dying carrier.
As his eyes continued to peer out across the surface of the Basestar, Abuhda hugged his Viper tighter to the hull to avoid becoming an easier target. For their part, the Cylons seemed to be ignoring him; apparently they didn't consider a lone Viper to be much of a threat either.
Frustration seething, adrenaline bubbling in his veins, Abuhda's Viper continued to skim along the surface as he continued in vain to search for an engageable target until finally he reached the rim of the upper disk hull. With a deft movement, Abuhda whipped his Viper up and around to the upper side of the disk. As he did so, he caught a glimpse of an upper defense turret swiveling towards him. Instinctively, he lined up his Viper and fired a burst that tore into the mount, knocking it out of action before it could fire.
With that done, his hunt for a more significant target resumed.
His eyes continued to dart back and forth…
Suddenly, a missile rocketed off from nearby, passing mere inches from his canopy…
His already pounding heart skipped a few beats as the missile raced by and on towards the Pacifica. As his eyes followed the contrail, he felt the barest hint of relief as the missile disappeared in a small detonation, cut down by Viper gunfire.
Returning his attention to the expansive Cylon hull before him, Abuhda's heart skipped yet another beat, but this time for a whole different reason.
Right in front of him was the entry into the Basestar's upper Raider hangar, its door apparently jammed open, damaged by fire from the Pacifica.
With a kick of acceleration, Abuhda flew his Viper in through the hangar entrance.
A shrill alarm erupted from him main console as the dull thud of rounds impacting the left side of his Viper echoed around him. As a round smashed through the canopy, Abuhda reflexively jumped in his seat as his hand jerked the control stick, whipping the Viper nose around. A trio of Cylon Centurions, their chrome armor highlighted by muzzles flashes, stood firing from an entryway to one side of the hangar. As the nose of his Viper came around, Abuhda pressed down on his thumb trigger, a neat line of rounds ripping into the Centurions.
After a quick burst from his cannons, the Centurions' fire ceased, their shattered bodies a surreal image of legs and ripped torsos magnetically anchored to the deck, while arms, heads and shredded parts floated about in near zero-g.
For a moment, Abuhda found himself transfixed by a lone hole one of the rounds had punched through the canopy. Reaching up with his gloved hand, he gently fingered it as he wondered just how close the round had actually come to his head.
Shaking the thought from his mind, Abuhda gave his instruments a quick once-over, ascertained that the Centurions hadn't damaged any vital systems, and resumed his search for a target within the vast expanse of the Raider hangar, the space now empty, the Basestar's entire complement of Raiders gone, indeed vaporized.
He needed a target.
And as his eyes caught sight of something on the far side of the hangar, a wide grin suddenly spread across his face.
To one side of the empty hangar, almost unbelievably, several pallets of munitions were stacked neatly beside a Raider refueling station.
"Thank you, gods," muttered Abuhda as he swung the nose of his Viper around.
Toggling the launch computer to select one of the missiles tucked underneath his plane, Abuhda held his breath until he heard the telltale tone indicating a firm target lock.
Gently flexing his fingers around the control stick, Abuhda felt his whole body tense up as his thumb settled in over the firing trigger.
His heart pounding, Abuhda pressed down on the trigger, felt the distinct thump of the missile as it dropped, its launch motor igniting, hurtling the missile away from underneath the Viper. Within a fraction of a second, Abuhda yanked hard on the control stick, whipping the sleek fighter's nose around towards the hangar door, and slammed the throttles to the firewall.
With a satisfying kick of acceleration, Abuhda was pushed back against his seat as the bright flash of a massive explosion blossomed out of the corner of his eye. Barely a moment later, his Viper sailed clear of the hangar opening as flames began to lick the sides of his fighter.
Holding the nose of his Viper steady once he'd cleared the hangar, Abuhda continued to accelerate away, chancing a momentary glance backwards as the entire upper disc of the Cylon Baseship was engulfed in a fiery cluster of secondary detonations.
In his ears, Abuhda listened as the squadron wireless channel erupted with the excited cries of his fellow pilots as the remainder of the now mortally wounded Basestar was engulfed in a series of blinding explosions.
Kelso was still biting his lip to the pain coursing through his ankle when the excited cries of his Viper pilots burst out over the emergency wireless headset.
"Chalk up one Basestar for recycling…"
"…he did it, I can't believe the son-of-a-bitch actually did it…"
At almost the same moment, the overhead lights flickered back to life, the DRADIS and several other displays startling him slightly as they too came back online.
"Engineering reports partial main power restored, Commander," called Colonel Cole triumphantly.
"Yes," growled Kelso as he thumped a fist down onto the plot board.
Major Abuhda blinked several times to try and clear the spots from his vision as he maneuvered his Viper almost purely by reflex.
Looking back over at the Pacifica, Abuhda felt a smile curl his lips as he watched the venerable Battlestar begin to right her list and start an evasive turn away from the dying Basestar, the enemy vessel now completely swallowed up by internal explosions.
As the DRADIS system completed its restart sequence, Kelso straightened himself up, gathering himself for the battle that was still left to fight.
Abuhda had pulled off a miracle, to be sure, felling an entire Basestar with his Viper, but there were still two more Cylon ships to contend with.
"Give me an update, Lieutenant Cullen," snapped Kelso evenly.
"The remaining Baseships are moving off, Commander," replied Cullen a moment later. "Our Vipers are maintaining their defensive formation."
The handset at Cullen's station buzzed for his attention. Snatching it up, a small grin spread across the young officer's face.
"Port and Starboard pods report power restored to all catapult systems, sir."
"Order all remaining Vipers into the air, Lieutenant," said Commander Kelso evenly.
Major Abuhda gently maneuvered his Viper back in line with the others already haloing the wounded Pacifica. Looking out along the battered warship, Abuhda watched with reserved satisfaction as the remainder of the Pacifica's Vipers sallied forth from the launch tubes and maneuvered out to join the defense line, adding their cannon fire to the still continuing effort to knock out incoming Cylon missiles which continued to erupt from the two remaining Baseships.
"CAG to all Vipers, keep up your suppressive fires, don't let any of those missiles through," he called as he let off a burst that cut through one of the incoming projectiles.
"Has power to the main batteries been restored yet?" called Kelso as he continued to watch his Vipers spread out in defensive formations on the DRADIS, the two Baseships beyond still hurtling the occasional missile as they redeployed themselves yet again.
"Not fully, Commander," replied Colonel Cole flatly, gently massaging the bridge of her nose as she stood at the DC panel, a handset still firmly pressed to her ear. "Firing systems are back up but Battery Plot reports their computers are still down."
"What about manual sighting?"
"Ammo feed systems to all batteries are down too, Commander," continued Cole apologetically.
Kelso let out a frustrated sigh.
"DRADIS contact," called Lieutenant Cullen, his shoulders dropping a bit. "A new contact has just jumped into range, Commander; CBDR, bearing three-one-one carom zero-six-two."
Although he remained ramrod straight at the plot table, his command veneer wavering for only the briefest of moments, internally Commander Adrian Kelso felt his heart utterly sink, his skin grow deathly cold.
Casting his eyes around CIC, Kelso saw his crew; they looked so tired, their eyes exhausted and aged, a few with bandaged wounds, several more with wounds exposed, dried blood on uniforms, fresh blood trickling down cheeks, foreheads, hands. His gaze slowly settled in on his own hands, firmly pressed down against the plot table, the fingers on his right hand beginning to twitch uncontrollably.
Squeezing his hand into a tight fist, Kelso willed himself to look back up the DRADIS as an icon representing the new contact appeared on the screen. The new contact was moving in at a good clip, racing in directly towards the Pacifica; it would be on them in a matter of moments.
Kelso looked over his shoulder to Dani Cole.
Cole simply shook her head in response. She opened her mouth as if about to speak, but stopped, hesitant, unsure for the first time Kelso could ever recall.
"Capshaw," began Kelso, his voice sounding hoarse even to himself. "Get CAG on the wireless, order our Vipers to…"
Kelso's voice trailed off as he looked over to the young woman at Communications and noted the decidedly perplexed look on her face. No, not perplexed; in an instant her eyes lit up, a growing stream of tears rolling down her cheek, the barest hint of a grin beginning to creep across her lips as she looked back up at him.
"Sir," she began, her voice cracking a bit. "It's the Atlantia."
Instantly, Kelso's eyes snapped back to the DRADIS as the CIC erupted in cheers.
Admiral Myra Sedora stood with her hands tightly clasped behind her back in the CIC of the Battlestar Atlantia. Her fierce eyes were locked on the overhead DRADIS display as the Atlantia bore down on the two Cylon Baseships hounding the Pacifica.
By the time the courier Raptor carrying Commander Kelso's request for reinforcement arrived at the Atlantia's location, the Cylons' orbital siege of Picon had been broken. Ordering the Raptor to return to Libran and recon the situation, Admiral Sedora had wasted no time in getting the Atlantia underway once it returned and advised her of the Pacifica's dire situation.
As the freshly arrived Battlestar sailed in at flank speed directly between the two remaining Basestars, Sedora felt her body tense with anticipation, her eyes narrowing hungrily; she was intent on the kill.
A handful of Raiders, a pittance at best, began a desperate run on the Atlantia but were rapidly felled by a few rapid bursts from the ship's defensive batteries as the Battlestar continued on towards the Baseships.
"Commence salvo fire, all batteries, execute."
All around her, CIC echoed with the sound of the main batteries firing. Round after round erupted from the heavy cannons, slamming into the two enemy ships with raw, destructive fury. With their own defenses seemingly exhausted, the two Cylon vessels rapidly began to crumble, the punishment inflicted by the Atlantia at last too much for them to withstand. As the Battlestar sailed past the two Baseships, their distinct dual disk hulls buckled, both vessels disappearing within moments in blinding explosions.
Major Kyle Abuhda relaxed his grip on the control stick, let out a long sigh, and settled back into his seat as the two remaining Cylon vessels succumbed to the punishing fire from Atlantia. As the newly arrived Battlestar sailed serenely onward, illuminated by the twin pyres like an avenging angel, the wireless erupted with the triumphant cries of his pilots.
Even as the wireless chatter continued, Abuhda gently nosed his Viper around and looked down at the scarred hull of the Pacifica. In the fading light of the explosions, the gaping holes ripped into the ship's armored hide cast a somber shadow over the elation he shared with his fellow pilots.
Against odds that had few comparisons throughout the entirety of the Cylon War, they'd snatched victory from the insatiable jaws of defeat.
But he also knew that once the cost had been tallied, it was going to be horrifically high.
"Butter, this is Jinx, you copy?"
Abuhda suddenly realized he'd missed several of his pilots' attempts to contact him.
"This is Butter, send your traffic," he replied weakly as his eyes remained transfixed on the battered Pacifica below.
"I said, those chrome sons-a-bitches will think twice about launching another offensive now, eh?" restated Jinx over the wireless.
This had been the nugget's first engagement; Abuhda supposed he could forgive the rook for his bravado.
"Maybe," he replied faintly, not in any way believing it himself, but too drained to say otherwise.
Bringing the nose of his Viper back around, Abuhda suddenly felt a deepening, indeed, bone deep exhaustion; the crash from an adrenaline super-high.
"Alright, cut the chatter," he began hoarsely as he once again fingered the bullet hole in his canopy. "Form up and get your butts back on the deck."
A series of acknowledgments followed of which he was only peripherally aware, his eyes continuing to scan the length of the scarred Pacifica. As the imposing bulk of the Atlantia moved alongside Pacifica into a defensive position, Abuhda watched as the other Vipers lined up and began landing on Pacifica's Starboard flight pod. As he maneuvered around to line up for his own approach, Abuhda, for reasons he himself would never truly be able to articulate, began to cry.
Commander Adrian Kelso limped silently along the long rows of covered bodies lying on the deck on the Port flight pod hangar. With all the surviving Vipers over on the Starboard pod, the Port hangar was empty, save for the ever-lengthening rows of bodies.
So many bodies…
Walking silently beside him, Admiral Sedora also looked along the rows with stoic sorrow.
Atlantia had sent over tens of dozens of support personnel, medics and DC teams to help the crew of the battered Pacifica begin to assess and repair the heavy damage wrought upon the Battlestar.
"The DC teams have put out the last of the shipboard fires," muttered Kelso laconically as he continued along the rows.
Indeed, even as the fires were being brought under control and extinguished, medics and body retrieval teams were following hard on their heels tasked with the grim duty of collecting the casualties. The results of that follow-on effort now lay all about him in row upon row.
At either end of the Port pod's hangar deck, litter teams continued to move still more bodies into a makeshift morgue that to Kelso's eyes was already woefully overfilled. As each new body arrived, the litter team paused long enough for one of a dozen officers to remove one of the fallen crewmember's dog tags, and then direct them to a place for the body.
He'd known from the amount of damage the ship had sustained that the casualties were going to be high, but actually seeing so many bodies lying motionless around him continued to hurl Commander Adrian Kelso's heart deeper into a pit of sorrow.
Closer by, one litter team was carefully draping a Colonial flag over the half burned body of a young woman they'd just brought in. Transfixed, Kelso saw that while the left side of her face was charred beyond recognition, the right side, virtually untouched, showed the painfully lovely and youthful face of a woman who'd died, tragically, far too young. Even as the flag settled into place over her still form, small specks of blood began to soak through the thin fabric.
Blood on the Colonial flag…
Looking around, Kelso saw countless bloodstains, on the decks, on the bulkheads, bloody footprints, handprints, droplet trails…
As he stood there surrounded by the blood and the dead, Commander Adrian Kelso's already quaking legs felt as though they were about to give way beneath him. With every last measure of his exhausted strength, he fought to keep from falling to his knees, fought the tears welling up in his eyes.
As Commander, he knew and accepted that it was his responsibility to lead young men and women into battle, and sometimes, issue the orders that led to their deaths. He'd lost people under his command before, gods, he knew he had, but never had he lost so many in a single engagement, indeed, he had not lost so many over his entire career. But it wasn't until this moment, walking amid the seemingly endless rows of his fallen crew, that Adrian Kelso felt he truly understood the burden of command and now carried it more earnestly than ever before in his life.
Yet even though his own spirit felt as though it were on the verge of collapse, Kelso also knew that it was part of the sobering burden of his position that he was expected to carry that load with an inspiring strength and stoic countenance he found he frankly no longer gave a damn about inside.
So many crewmen, good, irreplaceable souls, names and faces he would now never have a chance to know in life, lying cold on the hard, unfeeling deck.
As he stood there, his eyes stinging with tears he wasn't supposed to show in front of his crew, Kelso felt the steadying hand of Admiral Sedora on his shoulder. The Admiral didn't say a word, indeed, what could she possibly have said that wouldn't have sounded like a hollow platitude? But, the simple contact was enough to stir the last vestiges of fortitude within Kelso.
For the sake of his surviving crew, he had to remain strong.
Surreptitiously wiping the tears from his reddened eyes, Kelso gave an appreciating glance to Sedora, and then started off again along the far-too-long rows of flag-draped bodies.
As he continued to make his way past the bodies of his fallen crew, Commander Kelso caught sight of a visibly excited Lieutenant Cullen virtually exploding through a hatchway on the far side of the hangar deck. Taking a moment to glance hesitantly around at the rows lying about deck, Cullen looked up, caught sight of Kelso and Admiral Sedora, then began briskly walking over towards them with a lone printout in his hand.
As he stepped up to them, Commander Kelso saw a mixed expression on the young officer's face, obviously elated and yet hesitant as he looked sheepishly at the flags and bodies all around the deck.
"This just arrived from Picon Fleet Headquarters, sir," stated the Lieutenant, half out of breath as he stepped up to them. "It was broadcast in the clear on all channels."
Handing the printout over to Kelso, the Commander took it half-heartedly as he took one last glance around at the bodies on the deck.
So much death…
Kelso looked down at the printout in his hand, skimmed over the brief message, took a deep breath, then handed it over to Admiral Sedora before taking a single step away to look out over the rows.
Sedora watched Kelso for a moment, looked over at the visibly expectant Lieutenant, then down at the printout.
"To all Colonial Units; acceptance and ratification of Cimtar Peace Accords by Cylon negotiation team. Cylon units withdrawing on all fronts in accordance with terms of the Armistice. Cease all hostilities and maintain current alert status."
Admiral Sedora silently handed the printout back to Lieutenant Cullen.
"Has Colonel Cole seen this message yet?" asked Kelso simply.
"Affirmative, Commander," replied Lieutenant Cullen.
"Go back up to CIC, confirm this transmission," began Kelso as he continued to watch the seemingly endless parade of litter teams. "When we receive confirmation, have Colonel Cole announce it over the One-MC to the crew."
As the Lieutenant made his way back out of the makeshift morgue, Admiral Sedora stepped up behind the silent Kelso. For his part, Pacifica's Commander simply stood gazing out over the rows of flags.
"So what do you make of that message, Admiral?" muttered Kelso, his voice scratchy, tired.
"By the grace of the gods, maybe the end of this forsaken war," replied Sedora a moment later.
"By the grace of the gods," echoed Kelso weakly as he watched another litter team lower yet another body to the deck.
"At least, we can pray that this is truly the end," continued the Admiral. "No more war, no more death, no more fraking Cylons."
"So say we all, Admiral," replied Kelso, his tone one of subdued melancholy.
Casting one more glance around at the bodies lying on the deck, a hard lump locked in his throat, Kelso let out a long sigh.
"So say we all."