Author's Note: Here's the next chapter. Credit to 's for most of the Adama/Baltar conversation, and Beta credit to Crazedwraith of . Any remaining errors are my fault entirely
Sorry for the long time between updates.
Chapter Nine: Settling In
For Wedge, flying the Viper brought back memories of his tenth birthday, when Booster had visited Gus Tetra and with his parents' tacit approval 'borrowed' some maintenance hoppers, giving him and Mirax their first flying lesson. They were light, flimsy craft with rudimentary systems and lacking life support, and inertial dampers. Booster deemed them perfect to learn the mechanics of zero-gee flight.
As he looked up at the stars through the visor of his vac suit during those early days, Wedge had never felt so unfettered.
As he maneuvered the fragile fighter, some of that freedom returned. There were no galaxies to save, no fleets to command, and no cynical politicians out to make him a hero, just him and the thin layer of the vac suit against the jewled blackness of space, pushing the limits of a new fighter.
I wonder how long it will last this time. Wedge mused, as he tried to get a feel for the Viper.Although it was orders of magnitude slower than anything he had previously flown, Wedge used their handling characteristics as a baseline.
While the Viper lacked the speed-demon characteristics of the A-wing or the reassuring solidity of Y-Wings and the clunky Adumari Blades he had so recently flown, the craft seemed to respond to his slightest motion as if he was willing rather than directing the craft to move. More than anything else it reminded him of his aging and much beloved X-Wing which could still take on the best the Imps had to offer.
With the right pilot of course.
As Wedge and his wingmates put the new craft through their paces at Starbuck's prompting, he hoped that they could gain enough expertise with them to be effective against the Cylons.
But that won't matter a bit if we can't build a rapport with the Colonials themselves. We need to use Gate's navigational readings after each jump to get home faster, and they don't trust us enough for that yet. The President trusts us enough to show Winter around the fleet and see them at their worst, but Adama has been a bit more wary, and Col. Tigh isn't helping.
Following suit as Starbuck ordered another inversion and acceleration in the other direction, or as she put it, a "Turn and Burn," he wondered how Winter and Iella were doing...
LUXURY LINER CLOUD NINE
"...we're thinking about removing some of this grass and turning the area into a large-scale vegetable garden. Our Purser's arranging for seeds from the Botannical Cruiser, but if you can put us in touch with the Demetrius, we can get treated fertilizer. That'll make the plants grow better and give the passengers something else to occupy their time. We're going to be running short on vitamin supplements soon, and the fresh vegetables will be a good replacement source..."
As the Cloud Nine Rep nattered on, Laura Roslin felt more and more discomfited every time she glanced at the mysterious Winter Retrac. The sight of such striking white hair on a young woman aside, her entire manner was different, and her bearing was almost regal.
Unlike most Colonials faced with the apocalypse and a president who had been an unknown quantity before it, Winter was calm, polite and deferential during the tour, asking seemingly innocuous questions which later seemed to define problems that the colonials had not seen as soon as they had arrived on board nearly an hour ago.
Questions like: "Given your situation, would it be possible to convert these gardens to agricultural or hydroponic production?" Which had resulted in the last three hours of discussion about the difficulties and possible benefits involved, and Winter's official promotion to Presidential Aide. The younger woman had looked briefly amused, and muttered something about "Supplying ragtag fleets" being a calling before creating a rough-draft proposal for the plantings out of thin air.
Laura had authorized it in the end, while requesting that a small more natural-looking grotto remain untouched for the fleet to be able to enjoy.
One of the benefits of the Presidency after the Apocalypse was occasional privacy when she asked for it, so now Laura was letting Winter handle the logistical arrangements while she took a few minutes to indulge herself in the grotto, spreading her coat on the dirt and placing the battered sensible flats next to it as she dangling her feet in a pool of burbling water, taking a few minutes' time to really revel in the smell of trees, grass and wet dirt for the first time since the attacks.
Until she remembered that little girl on the other Botannical Cruiser that she had ordered abandoned along with all the other sublight ships on that first day. The one who she had talked to in an environment much like this one, and who had surely died in fire.
Her name was Camie. She was going to meet her family at the Caprica City Spaceport, Laura remembered, Her family was going to make chicken pie, and she had a rag doll with yellow hair and. And I left her to die but I can't remember her face anymore. I will find no more peace here today, and I need to do something.
Soft footsteps behind Laura interrupted her reverie, "Are you all right, Madam President?" asked Winter.
"Yes, thank you Winter. Just remembering some of the more unpleasant choices I've had to make lately, and trying to persuade myself into another one- Building a bridge with Tom Zarek before the religious kooks do."
Laura couldn't delay anymore and pulled her feet out of the water, shaking the worst of the droplets off before pulling her shoes on and rising, brushing most of the dirt off of the jacket.
But not all of it. Laura had certain appearances to keep up, and being spic and span on a former prison ship would not get her taken seriously by its former inmates.
"Zarek the terrorist?" Winter asked
"I'm surprised you people aren't calling him a freedom fighter given that your own government was formed from a successful insurgency." Roslin replied, and held up a hand to forestall immediate response, "I'm not judging, just curious."
The younger woman nodded, long white hair moving smoothly over her shoulders, "The elader of my home planet had a saying once, about our movement in the early days when Imperial propaganda labeled us as terrorists."
Her voice changed in pitch and timbre, growing deeper and more deliberate, "Today's terrorists are tomorrow's freedom fighters. She gave a brief smile, "But only if we achieve victory."
"Also," she said, voice returning to normal, "The officially sanctioned Alliance of Free Planets obeyed the codified rules of war, and all of us joined from cells which followed those rules. Most of the time. When you're fighting a galaxy-spanning tyrannical dictator with supernatural powers, it becomes hard to draw a firm line on acceptable tactics all the time."
Winter's eyes grew far away for a minute, and she continued,
"Some of the Sector moffs and Ubiqutorate bureaucrats who were working thousands of sentients to death on a daily basis would come home to their families, tuck their children in at night, and bring back trinkets they had stolen from the dead for their wives and mistresses. Sometimes those people became leveraged for better treatment of nonhumans in the camps and mega-factories."
"As far as Mr. Zarek goes, we have little respect for a man who was offered release from prison in exchange for labor, but compromised the safety of the fleet to score political points. The fact that he used hardened convicts to hold young women hostage makes it worse in our eyes."
"Does your planet's leader feel as though the Alliance's victory was justified by the means used to procure it?" Roslin asked.
"I never got to find out," Winter said softly, "He died when Alderaan was destroyed by the empire over ten years ago. Bail Organa raised me side by side with his own daughter Leia, who had to watch as our world burned. Tycho was in Imperial service talking to his family as it happened." Her expression grew sad for a moment, "For thousands of years we had a reputation as pacifist philosophers with strong ethics. After the holocaust over eighty percent of able survivors joined the Alliance Fleet and requested frontline service."
"I'm sorry," Laura said, "I didn't know."
"It's all right." Winter said, "You've had your own hardships as bad or worse. Just don't let it drag you down. Make deals with who you have to, but don't give away too much out of guilt. Watch Zarek, but also keep in mind that he at least tried to keep the hostages safe while he negotiated."
"I'll bear that in mind." Laura said. "Thank you for your honesty. Now I have to beard the revolutionary in his den. Can you handle things here."
The white-haired woman smiled again, "This would not be the first time I organized the supply system for a refugee fleet."
"Oh?" Laura raised an eyebrow, out of curiosity, what other fields are you qualified in?"
"Of what hasn't been classified?" Winter asked, and the President nodded, "Quartermaster, intelligence analysis, negotiation, personal assistant, slicing, bodyguard, demolitions, and childcare."
"Okay," Laura said, "I'm impressed. You've got the job, and you can start today. The hours are terrible, the perks are awful, and you get paid mostly in food.
"Best offer I've had all week." Winter said straight faced, and turned to go.
"Winter-" Laura said, and the other woman turned back, "Thank you for letting me draft you for this."
Winter's expression grew serious. "Madam President, your actions are saving lives. If you hadn't used me to help these people in some way, I'd be worried about you."
And then she left to oversee the plantings. Laura smiled and walked towards her shuttle.
Adama sat in the same room where they had first talked with their strange visitors. Except this time, it was just him and Doctor Baltar, who was trying to explain how far behind Colonial technology was compared to the wonders possessed by the Republic,
"Just try, try and understand this Commander, that Mr. Janson fellow let me examine this. He called it a Datapad. They had several, and he said that even the meanest farmer on any halfway decent world owned one. Look, full holographic interface, video playback and recording functions, even dictation, for Frak's sake."
" And here, according to the help files this model comes loaded standard with "-ten thousand of the most common forms of verbal and written communication in the galaxy-" If my conversion figures are correct this thing has enough storage space and processing power to rival a full on university or government computer lab back on Caprica. And you want to know how smart that "droid" of theirs is?"
Adama knew better than to stop Baltar when he had reached mid-rant mode. He just made a 'continue' gesture, which the doctor ignored anyway.
"Well Commander I can't even quantify. I have absolutely no idea.
This Datapad here is just a personal aid, that... thing... is a full on faster than light navigation tool, in addition to being a repairman on par with your Chief Tyrol, and running code hundreds of times faster than all the Galatica's CIC computers combined."
"Not bad for something that acts like an squeaky trashcan." Adama muttered.
"Just don't let the 'trashcan' hear you say that Commander, he may be hurt."
"He?" Adama asked in a soft, dangerous tone, "Have you forgotten what your navigation program let these things do to us so quickly, that you want to make it a person? Give it a gender?"
Darkness passed briefly over the smaller man's face as he pondered something, seeming to listen to one of the voices in his head, before deciding on a course of action
"This "droid" and the Cylons are not one and the same, Commander. In fact, I am given to understand that it performs duties equivalent to a Raptor ECO in General Antilles' fighter craft, making it a combat veteran of their own struggle for survival."
After staring into space for a minute, Baltar oriented back to Adama and his expression became a mocking one, "How many combat missions have you flown recently Commander?"
Baltar received a steel-rimmed glare from the older man, his burst of courage fleeing just as quickly as it had arrived.
"Sorry," he babbled, "It's just that it's a completely different culture. We have no standards for comparison, except that I wonder if all of their women are that nice-looking. Did you happen to know where they went? I wanted to-er- talk to them. Cultural exchange and all that."
Adama briefly contemplated bludgeoning Baltar to death with the room's coffee pitcher before deciding it would be a crucial misallocation of strategic resources, and forced himself to reply to the gadfly,
"Ms. Retrac is currently shadowing the President, and Mrs. Wessiri Antilles has agreed to help you with your Cylon hunt. Apparently she's a former detective."
"Actually, Commander I was hoping perhaps you could assign the task to Mr. Gaeta, his professional manner and grounding in scientific study would give him a better basis for understanding the scientific terminology."
Baltar smiled, "He's a bright young man, you know"
"Yes. Mr. Gaeta is one of my best Dradis operators." Adama retorted, "However, In his copious amounts of spare time, he is now assisting the newcomers as a liaison officer. You'll work with the woman."
Baltar blinked several times, "A-actually Commander, at this stage, I would work better in solitude, and even though Mrs. Antilles may be a proficient investigator, adding her to this project would, I believe be a waste of her talents. The woman has no scientific background. She'd hardly be able to lend a hand with my research."
"Perhaps." rumbled Adama, "But the woman's a trained investigator. She's tenacious and inquisitive. I'd guess you would hardly be able to keep up with her in a combat setting. So here's how it's going to work, Doctor Baltar. You find the Cylon agents in my fleet, and Wessiri Antilles keeps you alive while bringing them in. You start your partnership in half an hour, and if you are dumb enough to try anything with her, you deserve whatever broken bones you get. Have I made myself clear?"
"Abundantly Commander." Baltar replied, "Er, shall I go now?"
"Yes," Adama said, manfully resisting the temptation to roll his eyes, "You're dismissed Doctor."
For Tom Zarek, it appeared that the old cliché of 'prison changing a man" was true. While his voice had been passionate and fiery on the wireless, in person he was a far cry from his archived photographs, looking haggard and weary. Whatever spark had once animated him was reduced to embers, but Laura noticed that the events of recent weeks had fanned them into life a bit.
For starters, he actually tried to charm her.
Roslin halted his efforts with an incredulously raised eyebrow. "You don't know me, Tom, so I'll give you credit for the attempt, but it doesn't mean I'll respond your puerile romantic overtures like some over-privileged Caprican University Student who wants to irk her daddy by frakking you."
"And don't think for one godsdamn minute that I need you to teach this poor, helpless Schoolmistress how to run this fleet of refugees, while ensuring that there is absolute equality, and making everything all better either. If I wanted personal time with a sagging revolutionary, I'd sit in my office swivel chair."
Zarek snorted, but was kept from more by a burning glare, as Roslin continued,
"I'm sorry, Tom, for a moment there, I actually forgot you were a terrorist who used indiscriminate violence and leveraged the deaths of innocent men and women to publish a book and set back Caprican-Saggitaron relations by a decade at the least."
Zarek's eyes hardened, and the charming celebrity's mask slipped a bit, revealing what he must have looked like as a young fire-eater.
"Believe it or not, Laura, everything I did has been to uphold the rights and freedoms granted by the Colonial Charter-"
"You took hostages!" she shot back, angered now
"I used the tools I had available to affect positive change."
"Shove the soundbite up your ass, Zarek, and tell me exactly what 'positive change' you think we need."
"This is a new, transient society. We need a meaningful currency," he ground out, "We need assured equality under the law for everyone, we need a thousand other things-but most of all, we need political accountability-and that, Laura starts at the top. I didn't call for new elections because I dislike you personally, but because I wanted you to abide by the Presidential term under which you had been appointed-Adar's term."
"You're right." Said Laura, "We need schools," She continued, "and a culture, and jobs, and a better society." But now, Tom, right now, we need to survive. We buy our survival with food, water, fuel. And when we have time, we build again. When it's time to step down, I'll step down."
"At the end of your term?
"You're assuming I won't stand for re-election" said the President.
"If you lose, how can I be sure you'll abide by a verbal agreement made off the record?"
"I won't lose. I'll have the best Vice-Presidential Candidate on the ballot." She gave a wry grin, and pointed,
"Me?" He asked, disbelief in his voice.
"Contrary to what you may believe, I don't hate you, Tom," She sighed, "On some level, despite your methods, I envy you. You managed to keep your idealism and a dream in for a better society intact. I started losing mine when Adar sent the Marines to break up the Teacher's strike, and realized it was gone entirely when the Presidency passed to me."
"All the insults, the accusations?" Zarek looked thoughtful
"A test. I never wanted this job, never asked for this responsibility. But it's mine all the same. I want someone to balance the needs of the average person with the necessity of building a new society, where taking an interest in the ship you're living on or the fact that we are all Colonials matters more than the name of the presently-radioactive piece of dirt you were born on or what you think the gods tell you."
Zarek's eyebrows rose,
"Abandon the Quorum?"
"No. Change it." she said curtly, "But the man who helps me with that has to be more than an aging radical with a death fixation."
The aging radical paused before speaking, "That's a sharp tongue you've got, Madam President.
"Take a seat and let's talk."
********End of Chapter*********