A/N: Happy New Year. Enjoy the conclusion to act2, and thank you for the wonderful reviews. This time, Kara gets the long voice, and while it won't make any shippers glee overmuch, I hope it rounds out the theme of futures well enough for all.
Act 3, which will deal with Kara and Lee in their precarious new life, is being written. I don't know dates on the first chapter yet, but hopefully not too far away. Thank you all and have a wonderful safe holiday season.
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The headache that pounded in the back of his skull could have been equal parts fatigue and grief and shock, but the clinical part of Lee Adama's mind informed him that it wasn't. The same facility that told him when he was overcorrecting his turns - legacy of dealing with the newer model vipers which were fly-by-wire and sensitive and not this glorious hunk of antique junk - was the part of his brain that also told him that his headache was mostly dehydration, with a little of the glare-blindness that was the result of his earlier experiment in nuclear simulations. He'd been in a flight-suit, or a cockpit, for close to sixteen hours; the water reservoir in the Viper had been intended, like most things in the older models, for short combat flights. Which meant that by the time he'd been hauled into Colonial Heavy's shuttle-bay, it had been empty for almost two hours. And since that first attack, he hadn't had time to do more than make a trip to the head and splash the non-potable wash water on his face.
Strange how easily so many of the realisations that had yet to occur to the new Colonial President had already reached the state of 'standard' in his mind: don't waste water. Don't waste foodstuffs. Don't waste ammunition. And most of all, don't waste time. The clinical part of his brain that was divided from the emotional realities informed him bluntly that if he didn't get himself together, he wouldn't have a chance to worry about water or ammunition, because the Cylons would be back, and they no longer had planets to run to. He listened to it only insofar as that he accepted ice-water - a paper cup marked with the winged star of Colonial Interstellar - from a flight attendant who just seemed desperate to do something; he drank it down, the chips of ice too small to impede his throat, but leaving cold trails inside him.
His practicality was occasionally useful, but at times like this, he wanted none of it. He wanted to be like the young couple he'd seen in the main passenger compartment, their faces shellshocked and blank, not yet aware enough for tears. Or the older gentleman he'd had to shuffle past in the head, who had been intoning some prayer, crying unashamedly. But he couldn't: couldn't allow himself that much space, not yet. He had lived his entire life in the shadow of duty, and now duty called, and he didn't think there was a single atom of his being that could refuse. Whatever it was he needed to feel, to think, would have to wait.
Unbidden he took another cup of water, felt the tension in his scalp ease and then return; the ship was approaching the end of this slow and dangerous maneuver through the veiling clouds of the frozen planet of Ragnar. Somewhere in the orbital space was a mothballed munitions depot that someone somewhere had probably lost the decommissioning paperwork on. Of the same vintage as the Galactica and her sister ships, the station was a relic of the first Cylon war, and the multiplicities of irony in that thought hit Lee far harder than he could allow his grief, his fury to strike. He'd spent his entire adulthood - in high school, flight school, in war college - learning the ideologies and logistics of interstellar war, because he was so sure that his old man was wrong, a fool, a relic just like Ragnar and his precious ship. Every single thing he'd learned had assured him that he was right, that his father was wrong, that war would never come again.
The fates apparently had twisted senses of humor. In more ways than one.
Surrounded at close range by the plush beige interiors of a business class transport and at a greater distance by ugly, debris-ridden space and an uninhabitable planet, he could feel his practical, cold-blooded self slipping away: in an hour, that part of him would be back and in command, but right at that moment, he was just Lee, too tired to be Apollo with his practised mask of unemotional control. And the other grand jokes the fates had played on him were not going to be kept at bay any longer, the immortals - if they existed - demanding he face them. The end of the worlds, and he's left with the one family member he can't stand, bound to a role and rank he would have gladly given up in a little more than half a year. The hysterical laughter in his ears could have been three cackling crones instead of a half-mad mother of four whose children were back on Aquaria.
Like a sick vid advertisement playing over and over in his head, as though the fact of armageddon wasn't enough: but wait, there's more! He'd found possibilities he'd tried to avoid for years, plunged headlong into them, wrapped himself in the hope thereof: a woman he could really love. And when had he figured it out? The night before the end of the worlds. He could still hear her voice in his head: don't think, Apollo. We don't have time to think. But Kara wasn't there to distract him, this time. She was dead, most probably, or soon would be.
He remembered kissing her goodbye - was it really only a day ago? - sneaking a last embrace in the pilots locker back at Sparta's main Hangar, their mumbled goodbyes more to do with 'next time' than the things which cramped in his chest, words and thoughts too new for speech. She'd grinned at him, laid her teeth into his ear, just lightly, but enough to force a reaction even in his tired and turning-pragmatic brain and body. Starbuck had grinned again, sauntered off, hips swaying in the slick rubberised flight suit. And her accompanying comment - "A little incentive, Captain" - had echoed in his ears so that the first hour of his Viper flight had been acutely uncomfortable, to the point where he could recall little else of the journey. Then he'd arrived at Galactica, and was grateful for her 'incentive'. He could stare down his father's flunkies, even stand up to the old man's reproachful tones by imagining just how he'd get back at her for that.
As for Kara? Her flight was a long hop, a short stop at a busy waystation and then a long jump to Bellerophon, out in the Leonid quadrant of Colonial space. And Bellerophon was gone, her entire battlegroup dropping out of contact soon after the first shots were fired. If Kara Thrace had been aboard her, she'd have been shoved into a Viper and pressed into combat, and her bird would have shut down with her inside it, the sensors and fly-by-wire system rendered inert. And if by some mad chance she hadn't been on the capital ship, she'd be stranded somewhere in between, wouldn't she? The major waystations had been destroyed, and if she'd been on the planet, back at Sparta early for some reason... well, he hoped she had been, rather than stuck in a dead metal coffin in space. Sparta was glassed, a nuclear crater. It would have been over too soon to know it.
His pragmatism, obviously including a fatalistic streak, could envy that as an end: it was a gentler one than he could foresee for himself. His old man was a soldier, and he could see that warrior nature leading only one way: a blaze of glory, screw-you ending, his ship taking the only kind of retirement that Husker would think fitting, taking all the pilots, all the fleet's remaining personnel with him, including his son. The part of him that was also a soldier - trained, ingrained if not totally by nature - could appreciate that kind of exit, but the pragmatist for once agreed with his human heart: it would be better never to know. It would be better to be spared the realisation, to escape into oblivion without ever needing to be afraid of it first.
The vibration of docking shuddered through his consciousness: Colonial Heavy - no, that was Colonial One, now, at least semiofficially, had reached Ragnar, and Galactica. It shook him back into some semblance of readiness and out of his morbid regrets; he had work to do. He could shove down thoughts of dying - training helped - and he could cover up thoughts of dead planets with a determination to take as many Cylons with him as possible. He got up, straightened his tanks and fastened the flight-suit again; nodded to the young aide of the new President that he was ready.
It should have been harder to accept things like new Presidents who were glorified teachers and the possibility that he was one of the last Viper pilots humanity had left. But the part of his brain that could stare coldly at his own father was the part that was taking control again. He could be a warrior; he'd been trained for it his whole life. Lee Adama, Captain of the Colonial Fleet, took the first step through the docking lock to humanity's last battlestar and let that knowledge drive back, for a little while, thoughts of his last night on the Colonies, and who he'd spent it with.
Anger hit her first the moment she jumped her Raptor-load full of pilots and former-XO's back to Rampling Station from the Bellerophon's patrol sector, only to find the station gone. Debris, a frakking cloud of radioactive debris hanging in space. Some chunks of hull were visible, but no ships.
"Gods," Crashdown stuttered from his ECO seat. "It's been nuked. A busy refuelling and commercial depot with a population of almost two thous-"
"Shut up," Hawk, another pilot formerly of Bellerophon's squadrons, snarled. "Do your job, rook."
Starbuck had to grit her teeth at that; Hawk was a fine stick, but a thoroughly ugly person when hungover, or scared, and jsut now he was both. "Cool it. Crash, get me an open frequency to any ships in the area, see if we have any survivors, and find out what's squawking on the fleet lines. Major?" She looked over her shoulder where Rollins was sitting in the bench seat, his flight suit a little stretched over his slightly slackening midriff but his face as grim as ever.
Her old CAG didn't answer, so she slammed a hand down on the all-stop, sending the Raptor's maneuvering thrusters into action and bringing her bird to a relative halt in space, and turned. "Rocky?"
He stared out the port quarter-canopy, the little segment of plexiglass that gave the pilot some peripheral vision, and his mouth went slack. The word, when it came, was a gutteral sound. "Cylons."
"What?!" Crash yelped, his youth and lack of confidence - the two things that made him acceptable as a co-pilot for Starbuck, who hated back-seat drivers - suddenly a handicap. Kara wrenched her flight harness free and darted across the cabin to his screens, seeing for herself. Nothing out there, nothing moving. She wrapped strong fingers around Crashdown's shoulder, fingers digging even through the flight-suit. The ECO flinched, then turned to look at her; whatever expression she wore must have frightened him more than the thought of Cylon attack, and he nodded. "Channels open. The military frequency is ... hectic. Nothing on local hailing, sir. Give me a minute to sort out what's happening."
"Good." Kara turned back to Hawk, who was studying the pilot's scanners from the jump seat as though he might find something she hadn't, then shrugged him off. The two other passengers, both pilots she'd picked up here at Rampling on the trip out, were wide-eyed and silent, knowing better than to interfere with the way she ran her bird. She swivelled on a heel and bent to look at Rocky, who seemed frozen in his seat except the flexing fingers of his left hand. The motion bothered her, but his gaze drew hers, out again into the field of debris nearby, and that's when she saw it.
Cylon ships in simulators didn't look anything like this, but the blackened husk of this broken raider had some familiarities: the narrow viewport, the curving sweep of wing, the ... cockpit (though it seemed hardly likely to contain even one of the bulky armored machines, let alone the three pilots of earlier models) with its profile like a centurion's helm. And though it was dead - one wing gone, the other scored and pitted, the back of the fusillage twisted and melted - it still looked lethal. "Cylons," she agreed. The thought made her angry, her fists balling up in the suit gloves, her fingers itching for missiles, for a Viper with which to pulverise anything that remained of the enemy craft.
"Rampling wasn't armed," Hawk said quietly. "What killed that... thing?"
"I'd say their tac-nuke hit the tylium reservoir," Kara hit a few keys on one of the comm screens, bringing up reference pics of the station. "It was double-shielded, and would have survived a hit anywhere else on the station. My guess is that they wanted to burn the refuelling capacity, so they aimed direct for the tank... and just didn't get out of the way fast enough."
Crash's fingers skittered across keys - one of the few things that she held slight and unacknowledged awe of: that someone could type, that fast and that well, in suit gloves - and then stopped dead, hovering over the data input as though frozen. "Gods," he said again, and the horror in his tone drew eyes from all five of the others in the ship. His mouth gaped, and Kara reached past him, triggered the audio output on his comms.
"This is Commander Adama. Am taking control of the fleet; our planets have been subjected to nuclear attack..."
They listened, of course. What else could they do? Crash regained mobility and brought up commsat pictures from Picon and Virgon, newscast pics from Caprica City: nuclear attack, indeed. The Nereus Coast, the long sweep of southern Picon beach where Sparta City nestled like an eagle's eye in the crook of a sheltering headland, was invisible now, the ugly plumes of mushroom clouds obscuring the entire area from the satellite's cameras. And Caprica City too, had been directly attacked, the last few images of newscast showing everything up until the moment of actinic flash that broke the communications link. A soldier on his knees before the Colonial Congress building, the tower of smoke already rising behind it. All the while, Adama's voice tolled, a grim and gritty bell, issuing orders. Kara felt the anger in his voice, an echo of her own.
Major Rollins made a sound that was like choking, and Kara dragged her eyes away from the screen to look at him. His face was flushed, and that clenching left hand was clawing at the fastenings of his too-tight suit. "Frak, Rocky - not now!" she cursed at him, already knowing it was too late. The illness that had taken him out of a cockpit a few years earlier had weakened his heart, and the horror of what was unfolding on Crash's screens was stopping it. "Lacey, Jepson, get your asses up here and help me. Hawk, the med kit."
Training kicked in for the other pilots; basic first aid and emergency care were standard for all fleet members, and while Lace and Jester were starting treatment, Starbuck gripped her old CAG's hand tight enough to hurt. She felt impotent, and that made her angrier still. "Frak you, Rocky, you don't get to die now. We're going to frakking need you." The older man didn't seem to hear her, and over the frantic mutters of Jester, who was checking his pulse, Kara heard Crash yelp again. "Incoming!"
Starbuck didn't hesitate, sliding into her seat before Hawk could think of doing it for her: this she could do. "Identify," she snarled, "and get your helmets on, people. And a mask on Rocky."
"Whatever it is, the computers don't recognise it." Crash answered. "And it's frakking fast."
Kara caught the vector from her own screens without the heads-up; fast, and not hiding. And then she turned her eyes automatically out into space and caught a glimpse of the craft heading directly towards her through the clouds of debris, and she knew what it was. One just like it was floating in pieces off her port bow. "Cylon," she said calmly. "We're not armed, people, but I'm not going to sit here and wait for a missile up my ass, so hang the frak on. And Crash? Shut down receivers, all of them."
"That's an order, lieutenant."
Passive and active dradis flickered on her screen and went out and the comms went silent; Kara hit the cabin lights, darkening the interior except for the glow of the medkit's emergency light. Kara sensed Hawk at her elbow. "Strap in and be eyes for me, Hawkins."
That was a first. Hawk was a junior lieutenant, but he had always ignored the fact that Starbuck outranked him; even as she realised that he'd made the switch from peacetime to war, she realised that her own switch had happened before, the moment they'd first jumped in to the part of space that had been home to thousands of military and commercial personnel and found it a graveyard. And that made her angry, too: decisions being made for her always did. She let it simmer. "Crash, without turning on the link that hooks up our nav computers to the Fleet navsats, you need to plot us a jump to Ragnar."
"Sir." Crash didn't argue either, which meant that despite his shellshock, the rookie ECO had understood the information contained in Adama's message: don't trust the defense network. Kara had never trusted it anyway, preferring to hand-check the co-ordinates before she executed jumps because computers screwed up sometimes and she didn't want to be a witness to one of them. The pale glow of the greenscreen nav book didn't light much of the cabin either, but Kara bit her lip, hoping that the two coloured glows inside her bird weren't enough to give them away. Dark and floating dead, they might pass for another piece of debris, but -
"Frak, frak," Lacey called softly from the floor of the cabin. "Starbuck, Rocky's breathing better, but his heart's working godsdamned hard. He needs a doctor RFN."
"Get him and yourselves into harnesses, Lace. Crash, how're those co-ordinates coming?"
"I need another minute."
"Frak another minute," Hawk growled. "That ... thing is still prowling out there."
"I'd rather another minute than we jump into a frakking comet, Hawkins. Everyone secure?"
"Almost," Jester returned, his voice quavery. "You're going to need to be engines hot for fourteen seconds before you can use the jump drive, Starbuck. You can't jump a Raptor cold start."
"Watch me," Kara spat. "I haven't even got countermeasures on this glorified bus."
"Come on, Starbuck," Rollins wheezed, "weren't you the hot jockey, once upon a time?"
"Shut it, Rocky," she answered, but turned to smile, a twist of her mouth that felt more like a snarl. "Save your breath. If I have to dance with this sonofabitch, I will, but I'd rather get you to Ragnar and the Galactica without worrying that bum ticker of yours."
Rocky grinned back, his lips bluish even through the oxygen mask. "Frak my ticker, Kara. Keep this bird alive."
Anger was bubbling, and she wanted to tell her old friend what the hells he could do with his nobility, that she wasn't going to lose anyone today, but it was moot: she wasn't going to die today, either. Not just yet. Not until she was in the kind of ship she belonged in, taking the metal-minded bastards along with her.
"Numbers up," Crash announced, his fingers rattling across keys again; Kara checked the co-ordinates against the nav book - the small, titanium-leaved booklet with the text engraved, made to be impervious to fires, even in space - that rested in it's own pouch beside the pilot's chair.
She thought a frantic prayer to Hermes as she entered them into her console, her furiously working mind focused on the job, and her soul offering up almost unconciously the simple Prayer of Travellers that any child could remember. She let out a breath, drew it back in hard, noted that the Cylon was circling the other side of the wreckage now, the bulk of the debris between them. "Here we go."
The ship came alive the instant her hand hit the rocker-switch, and Crash swore hard. "Frakking jump drives not up, Starbuck, and that thing's coming back!"
"How long?" she asked, tersely.
"Drives or until he's in range?"
"The frakking drives, Crashdown! The rest I can figure myself."
Kara saw the enemy ship arrowing towards her, dodging and weaving through the pieces of Rampling's hull and the remnants of craft that had been docked at it, and kicked her bird into motion, treating the clumsier Raptor to maneuvers more appropriate to the more agile fighter-craft. Twisting out of line of sight behind yet more wreckage, she saw the Cylon dart past into clearer space.
"Six seconds." Crash said.
Ignoring the small sounds of minor debris clinking against the hull, Starbuck dove her ship into the main mass of twisted metal, the warped and skeletal superstructure of the space station, and kept moving. Her dradis told her the Cylon was following, but - computer-like - without the pace and assurance. "Just like the frakking sims," she muttered.
Dodging between the eerily riblike spars of Rampling's main habitat - the bulblike midsection where most of her inhabitants had dwelled - she heard Lacey make a gutteral sound, like gagging, and Hawk put a hand up against the plexiglass. Whatever they were seeing, she ignored it. She didn't have time to think about it, not if she was going to save their lives.
The Cylon was on her tail. Starbuck bit her lip and tilted the Raptor sideways, diving directly into the twisted remnants of what had probably been a busy shuttle bay; large sections of the hull were still intact, and if she could just put them between her ship and the Cylons -
The maneuver took the Raptor through gees it had not been designed to tolerate; the engines sputtered, but held, and behind her, she heard a hoarse cry - Rocky - and then a crash, the medkit sliding against the wall. But it worked, perhaps a second's grace earned as the wall of metal shielded them from view.
"Now!" Crash shouted, and she looked at the maze of debris before them and shut her eyes as her hand came down on the jump switch. Time stretched and warped and reformed and there they were, above the cloudy passage to Ragnar Anchorage; and they weren't alone. Ships - dozens of them: small civillian craft, for the most part, one or two Raptors blazoned with the insignia of BattleGroup 75. Kara heard Crash open his comms again, but she wasn't thinking about that.
75. That was Galactica. Adama's command.
He might still be alive, she thought suddenly, might ... maybe. And maybe not. She thought of him flying home, hoping to catch her, maybe, when he stopped to refuel at Sparta. Her anger boiled over at last, scorching a gaping hole in her ability to deal with the military bullshit; she heard Lacey's soft admonitions and realised she had other things to think about, too. Starbuck thumbed her helmet-mic and cut through Crash's protocol-adherent contact with Galactica's sentries. "This is Lt Thrace aboard Raptor 395, get me clearance to take the gate RFN; I have a medical emergency aboard, and I'm not going to let Major Rollins die so you can play traffic control. Over."
The other Raptor's ECO spluttered and Crash tossed her a reproachful glance but she ignored both, taking her ship into the breach in Ragnar's cloudy mantle, flying by touch and timing rather than using the slower nav-point method of the ships already in the tunnel. Ducking around them, she pushed the Raptor faster and faster, escaping into the relatively clear orbital space almost before she knew it. Galactica came into view too quickly for her to note more than the scars on the old ship's hull plating, and when Crash got her clearance to land in the Battlestar's port pod, it came only a few seconds before she would have interrupted the landing pattern anyway and probably earned herself problems with yet another LSO.
Everything happened too quickly after that, the anger dissipating into helplessness when a small med-team started wheeling Rocky out of the hangar-deck. The rest of the passengers clustered behind her in a knot of uncertainty, crowding her, so she wheeled, walking in the opposite direction. A burly man whose specialist's coverall had a CPO stripe stopped when she yelled at him. "Which way to the frakking CAG's office, chief?"
"CAG," he answered, his face momentarily confused. "Not sure who the new CAG is, sir, but the office is on Causeway B - take your first left out of the main hangar, it's just past the ready room."
Hawk, Lacey and Jepson were already moving; Crash hovered at her elbow. Kara ignored him, stared at the bigger man whose face had gone distant again, waited until his eyes focused on her once more. "Thanks, chief. I've just landed Raptor 359 - Sparta Base bird, unarmed. I don't think you have time for a post-flight right now, so I'll be back. Crashdown here will handle the paperwork."
The junior eltee started, remembering his job, and darted back towards the Raptor. The CPO's eyes narrowed, and then he nodded and straightened to salute. "Thanks, sir. If the bird's flying okay, the rest can wait. Repairs are priority."
"I'll leave you to it." Starbuck saluted back; it was the least she could do, and the man seemed less distracted as he moved away. She took a deep breath, the familiar odors of tylium exhaust and engine oil grounding her, and turned to walk towards the main doors. Five steps away from the ladder, she heard a female voice: "here you go, Apollo" and stopped dead in her tracks. Turning, all she could see was the retreating back of a small orange-clad crew-spec and a pair of flight-boots protruding from beneath a battered Mark II, followed the boots up the line of leg and flank to a familiar profile. And she forgot.
Forgot Rocky, on his way to sickbay, his body giving out. Forgot armageddon and the things she'd tried to ignore in the belly of Rampling Station. Forgot how uneasy the whole conversation they'd had - it felt like a year ago - in her cramped little kitchen had made her. Was just plain happy, gods forgive her, that there was someone in this insane situation who might be glad to see her.
He had grease on his cheek. The marks of her nails were clearly visible on his bicep, exposed when he'd tied his flight-suit sleeves about his waist.
Kara Thrace stopped when her toes were a few inches from his, and looked down at Lee Adama, smiling. "Hey."
"I hear you're the new CAG now?"
"So they tell me."
"How are they going to swing that? This is your old man's ship."
"Probably the same way the old man explains everything else: sometimes you have to roll the hard six."
Lee propped himself on an elbow, looking down at her. She had the smoldering butt of a cigar in one hand, the other was resting on her belly, fingertips just inching below the waistband of her shorts, palm flat on the bare belly. Over the edge of the khaki sportsbra, he could make out the red mark he'd left on one breast the last time they shared a bed. He'd much rather find something else to do than talk, but he didn't think either of them had the energy for it, not just yet. She'd only just managed to get the stupid bra back on. "It's something he always used to say when he made a decision that wasn't going to please everyone."
"Roll the hard six?"
"Yeah. Take a chance when you have no choice."
"Huh. Not much of a risk though, if you ask me."
He grinned. "No?"
"Nope. A risk? That'd be making me CAG."
Lee tensed. "He should have. I might be a captain, but I haven't got any more command experience than you, and I'm... his son."
"Don't even go there, Apollo. It's the last thing I'd want. I'm not a big enough dipstick for the job."
Lee let one of his eyebrows lift, raked his gaze over the rest of her, the debauchery of her posture, legs mostly bare and splayed, the way her lips closed around the cigar. "Big dipstick's a prerequisite?"
Kara cackled, pointed the smoking end of her stogie at him. "Don't let it go to your head, flyboy. It's how you use it that counts."
Laughter welled up in him, gladness and somehow joy, despite everything. Three hours ago, she'd saved his life when his Viper had stalled in combat - not that he'd felt very safe during the process, but he wasn't going to complain - and two hours ago they'd fled the chaotic hangar-deck, pleading exhaustion. The empty officer's locker was crammed full of gear that belonged to dead pilots, and he'd stopped, wrapped his arms around her, before she could lead him to one of the bunks.
"I thought you were dead," he'd said, wonderingly, because she was there and alive, and so was he. She just hugged him back, so he got a little distance and looked her in the eyes. "It's good to be wrong."
Now, passing the cigar between them and trading kisses, Lee couldn't be bothered sparing a thought for how many rules were being broken. He was the son of the Commander, and the CAG. Kara was a pilot in his command, and in his bed, and he didn't care about the frakking regulations. It was the end of the world, and there weren't any futures to plan for anymore. The only thing that mattered, right now, was Kara, right there, close enough to touch.
Everything else could wait.