Title: The Long March (1?)

Author: Cyclone

Feedback: Please be gentle.

Distribution: Gimme credit and a link.

Rating: Nothing worse than on the shows, except maybe language.

Spoilers: Up to Symphony of Light for Robotech, with a few ideas picked here and there from other sources. For the other... you'll see.

Disclaimer: The characters depicted herein belong to other people. I'm just borrowing them for a while.

Summary: A navigational error throws the SDF-3 into the middle of another war.

Author's Note: Beware the vorpal plot bunny. Figured I ought to get at least part of this out before Shadow Chronicles comes out and completely debunks the whole thing. Not that The Prelude to the Shadow Chronicles hasn't already done that, but... oh, well.

"Defold complete."

Admiral Richard B. Hunter rose from his command chair on the SDF-3 Pioneer's bridge as the forward display flickered to life. He'd already given the pre-battle "let's go get 'em" speech before the fleet folded, but he wanted to see Earth for himself.

It had been so long since he'd seen it.

Wait a minute... The absence of Invid forces, the absence of the fleet, and the shape of the continents were each noted, and he frowned.

"That isn't Earth, Lieutenant," Rick said, feeling a little silly at pointing out something so obvious.

Lt. Jacobs, the man operating the navigation station, nodded and said nervously, "Ah, yes, sir. I'm... aware of that, sir."

"So where are we?"

"No matches in our database, sir," Jacobs replied. "Ahh, searching through Zentraedi archives right now, sir."

"Admiral!" That was Hardesty, at sensors. "Multiple contacts incoming!"

Rick looked over, "The fleet?"

"No, sir," Hardesty shook her head. "They don't match anything in our databanks. It... uhh... appears to be one heavily-armed carrier of approximatly Tokugawa size, maybe a dozen lightly-armed vessels -- probably converted civilian ships, sir -- and another thirty or forty unarmed ships. The carrier is launching mecha, type unknown."

"Scramble all veritechs!"

"Looks like we've caught them with their pants down," Colonel Saul Tigh noted with no small amount of satisfaction. "Our fighters should be on them before they can launch more than a handful of theirs."

"Let's see how this plays out first," Commander William Adama said mildly. The small fleet they'd detected included two basestars, an array of smaller ships, and a much more massive ship that dwarfed anything they'd ever seen before; that they appeared to be unprepared was hardly a guarantee of victory. There were times Adama wished the Galactica's sensors were more precise -- a detailed analysis of the largest basestar's capabilities would have been very welcome -- but the poor sensors were part and parcel of the Galactica's outdated systems, the same primitiveness that had saved her from the initial Cylon attack.

Petty Officer Second Class Dualla's brought her hand up to her headset, "Sir! I've got an incoming transmission from the largest basestar!" She froze and looked up, "Sir, I... I think you should hear this."

"Put it on the main speakers."

"--peat, this is Admiral Hunter aboard the SDF-3 Pioneer to unidentified fleet. We mean you no harm. We were en route to our home planet, Earth, when a navigational error placed us in this vicinity instead."

The accent was thick, but understandable, if barely.

Understandable enough that a hush swept across the Galactica's bridge, broken only by the static in the transmission.

After a moment, the voice returned, "Unidentified ship, do you copy? Please respond or withdraw your..." Adama didn't recognize the next word, "...or we will be forced to assume you have hostile intentions and will respond appropriately."

"This is the Battlestar Galactica of the Twelve Colonies of Kobol to Pioneer," Adama spoke into the mic. "Commander Adama speaking. Forgive me for being blunt, Admiral, but did you say 'Earth'?"

"Sir, we're receiving a response from the unidentified fleet!"

"What kind of response, Sparks?"

"Two streams: a coded pulse -- some kind of IFF, I think, sir -- and an audio loop."

"Let's hear it."

There was a blast of static, and the transmission played through the hiss and crackle of a low-quality transmission. Rick's frown deepened. It sounded familiar -- a lot like Zentraedi, actually -- but the accent was so thick, he couldn't make out more than a handful of words.

"I don't believe it!"

"Exedore?" Rick glanced over at the shocked Zentraedi. Since Breetai's death at Optera, Exedore had attached himself to Rick's advisory staff.

"They are the Disciples of Zor," Exedore whispered in awed disbelief.

"I'm afraid I can't do that, Madam President," Rick said evenly. "I won't lead you to Earth."

He was on Colonial One, speaking with Laura Roslin, President of the Twelve Colonies of Kobol. Standing silently behind the president was Commander Adama, senior military officer of the Colonial military. Rick's escort of CVR-clad marines -- he'd felt it undiplomatic and inconvenient for them to try to bring their Cyclones -- and their Gallant rifles had generated quite a stir. At the moment, though, he was alone with the president and the commander. His marines, last he saw them, were in a glaring match with the Colonial marines.

"Admiral, I understand your concerns," President Laura Roslin said, "but you have to consider-..."

"No, I don't believe you do," Rick cut her off. He sighed and continued, his voice gentle, "You can't because you don't know our situation. Earth is currently occupied by a hostile force. My ships were part of an assault fleet en route to liberate it."

"Oh," was all Laura could say as she digested that. The Earth admiral turned to look out a nearby viewport, and she tried to rally herself, "I... hadn't realized... of course you have your own problems, but we would be glad to offer military assistance..."

Adama's face darkened. Galactica was a good ship, with a good crew, but she was severely undermanned and underarmed. Admiral Hunter's flagship, the Pioneer, easily dwarfed Galactica, and the two next largest Earth ships each roughly matched her in size. Their capabilities had yet to be proven to Adama, but based on what little he'd seen of the technology the Earth people had -- energy weapons! -- he wasn't about to bet against them.

Admiral Hunter spoke again, his voice tight, "Since arriving over Kobol, we have been unable to reestablish contact with the fleet, and we have to conclude that the effort was a total failure, that all fleet assets were wiped out, and that the invaders remain in control of the planet. That fleet possessed enough firepower to render several planets completely uninhabitable for centuries, Madam President."

Growing despair clawed at Laura's heart as he outlined the situation. Throughout their harried flight from the Twelve Colonies, Earth had been their shining beacon of hope, the only thing that kept the nearly fifty thousand survivors going at times. Were the gods so cruel that they would send this Earth ship here, to set that hope ablaze and then so quickly extinguish it?

She wasn't about to give in just yet, though, and latched onto another hope, "Then perhaps we could seek refuge with your colonies."

The admiral shook his head slowly, "The colonies established by Earth were stripped of their defenses to mount the assault. If we were to take you there, we would risk leading the Cylons straight to them, and they would suffer the same fate as your people."

Rick took a deep breath and turned back to meet her gaze again, "I'm afraid, Madam President, that I simply cannot offer you anything more than the direct assistance of the ships currently available here, or we risk dooming the entire human species to extinction. From now on, our mission -- our only mission -- must be to survive and keep the Cylons following us for as long as possible so that Earth's colonies have the time to rebuild. Our species depends on it."

The words left a sour taste in the admiral's mouth. He remembered when the SDF-1 had been ordered to leave Earth, a decoy sacrificed to keep the Zentraedi occupied, betrayed by their own people after a year fighting their way home. He'd even gotten caught up in one of the many minor riots that had erupted from the announcement. He didn't expect any such problems with his people: Of the twenty-two ships that had defolded over Kobol, only one -- the Wright, a Montgolfier-class tender -- had any civilian personnel aboard, and the civilians there were family members of the military crews who chose to go with the expedition and knew the risks they were signing up for. The Colonials, however, were very much like the Macrossites so long ago, and he had just made the unilateral decision to crush their last hope.

It was only a small comfort that, unlike the UEDC, he was going to stand with the sacrifices.

"He's right, Madam President," Commander Adama spoke up. "It would be better for us to stay mobile than to try to settle down anywhere."

"So," the president broke the long silence, "we are truly alone."

"No," Rick said firmly. "We have each other."

After a long moment, Laura chuckled, "It's ironic, you know. Not so long ago, the fleet was divided, a rift between those who sought to find Earth and those who sought merely to survive. In the end, we came together, to find Earth, to find salvation. We had just found our first real clue to where Earth was."

"And then we came along," Rick added.

"Don't misunderstand me," she said, shaking her head. "I'm grateful, Admiral, for more than you realize. Just by being here, you've given us two things we never had before: concrete proof that Earth is real, that it's out there, and that we will one day go there." She fell silent.

"You said two things, Madam President," he reminded her after a moment. "What was the other?"

"Hope," Adama replied for her. "Hope that we can actually beat the Cylons."

Author's Postscript:

Just thought I'd put out something new for a change.

Well, actually, that isn't much of a change for me, is it? Heh.