Galactica's corridors were a maze. After less than five minutes aboard, Felix Gaeta had already lost his bearings entirely. He'd studied the layout of Battlestars, of course, but it had never occurred to him to memorize the blueprints of the most antiquated model in the fleet. The Galactica was the last of her kind, and in his darkest nightmares he never imagined he would end up here.
He hiked his duffel higher on his shoulder and struggled to keep up with his tour guide—a slim, dark-skinned petty officer. The PO was speaking, her light voice carrying despite the bustle of the crowded corridor.
"This deck is pretty much officer central; we lowly underlings are housed two decks down. Galactica is smaller than the newer Battlestars, so you can pretty much give up any dreams of fancy accommodations. The commander and the XO each have their own quarters. Everyone else gets a bunk in one of the duty lockers—even the CAG and the LSO."
A few of the enlisted men paused to salute Felix. He returned the gesture awkwardly. As the men moved off, Felix resisted the urge to tug at the collar of his new uniform; the cloth was still stiff enough to cut into his neck.
They had reached a series of hatches, all identical with the word "OFFICERS" stamped across them in chipped white paint. Felix's guide—What was her name? Duane? Dalloway?—Petty Officer Something-or-other pointed to each hatch in turn. "These two are for pilots. Might want to give them a wide berth; Viper jocks don't like CIC staffers intruding on their territory, and they're not exactly subtle. XO is down the hall. Give him an even wider berth. Then, that one on your left is for the support staff. Our LSO, Captain Yarrington bunks there. And here is the locker for CIC officers. Your bunk is the third one down on the left-hand side. Feel free to dump your stuff, LT." Petty Officer Whats-her-name pushed the hatch open and stood aside.
Felix poked his head in with some trepidation. The room was long and narrow, lit by flickering fluorescents. A metal table dominated the center of the chamber while three walls were lined with lockers and curtained bunks. Felix took a deep breath. These were better digs that he'd had in basic training, but not by much. He dropped his bag onto the bunk the woman had indicated and collapsed with a sigh into one of the metal chairs. He wondered for the millionth time just who he'd pissed off in War College to get himself assigned to this hunk of metal. His classmates hadn't quite believed it when he told them; many had outright laughed. They found the idea of Gaeta, the perfectionist, the kiss-ass, the two-shoes, being assigned to a veritable flying museum under a relic of a commander to be highly amusing.
Of course, even Galactica's reputation had not prepared Gaeta for actually seeing the ship. Ever since his Raptor had landed—via hands-on approach—it had been like stepping back in time. He judged most of the computers he'd seen to be about twenty years old, and they could very well be the most modern conveniences on board. Where had he gone wrong? How could he hope to advance as a science officer when none of the modern technologies were available? Felix lowered his head to his hands and groaned aloud.
His head snapped back up at the sound of a soft rap. The slim petty officer had poked her head in and knocked on the doorframe, a slight smile on her face. "Sorry to interrupt, lieutenant, but you probably don't want to keep the Old Man waiting."
Gaeta's self-pity vanished in a flash of embarrassment. He sprang to his feet, trying to hide a slight blush. "Of course. But, please, call me Felix."
"Only if you call me Dee." The woman flashed him a dazzling smile before turning to head back down the corridor. Felix hurried to follow. Dee . . . Well, that didn't help with the Duane-vs.-Dalloway dilemma, but it helped to have something to call her.
Pay attention, Felix, he ordered himself sternly, if you can't remember a name for five minutes there's not much hope for you as an officer. Even here. He forced himself to listen closely to every word Dee was saying while simultaneously memorizing the route they followed. The mental discipline went a long way towards burying the resentment he'd fought since receiving his orders two weeks previously.
Three rights, two lefts, a center branch, and a stairwell later, they reached the Combat Information Center. Dee pushed the hatch open with the easy familiarity that came from months of service. Felix Gaeta straightened his back, wiped his face of emotion, and followed at almost a parade march.
The CIC was huge. Studying blueprints, participating in War College simulations, and even a brief stint aboard a training Battlestar had not prepared Felix for the scope of the amphitheater-like chamber. Dozens of officers and NCO's sat at tiered consoles, their faces dimly lit by glowing monitors. Two men who could only be the commander and the executive officer stood at a central table, their backs to Gaeta. Felix took a deep breath. For better or for worse, his first actions as an active Colonial officer would take place in this room.
He reached desperately in his memory for the dossiers he'd received. Felix was almost as bad with faces as he was with names, but he was fairly certain that Commander Adama had hair, which made the man on the left the more likely candidate. Gaeta strode up to this man and gave a sharp salute. "Lieutenant Felix Gaeta reporting as ordered, sir."
The older officer turned and returned the salute. Gaeta was immensely relieved to see that this man did, in fact, wear the rank insignia of a Commander. Adama's salute was not as stiff as the War College instructors always made it look, but it was crisp. The gesture spoke of a man who had spent the majority of his life giving and receiving such salutes. Felix immediately felt more at ease. The Commander extended his hand for the Lieutenant to shake. Felix took the opportunity to study the other man. Adama's face looked like it had been whittled out of knotted wood by someone with very little skill. Gaeta wondered how many of the innumerable lines on his face were old scars. He could see why his old classmates had termed Adama "the relic."
And yet . . . the Commander's keen blue eyes studied Felix from behind wire-rim glasses. The Lieutenant knew in an instant that the mind behind those eyes was equally sharp. "Welcome aboard, Mr. Gaeta." The gravelly monotone fit the grizzled face perfectly. "My executive officer, Colonel Tigh," he nudged the officer beside him and the other man turned, the light from the monitors gleaming off of his bald pate and narrowed eyes. Felix saluted the Colonel sharply and held the salute while Tigh looked him up like a sadistic drill sergeant with a new recruit. After what felt like an eternity, the XO returned the salute, and Felix struggled to keep the relief out of his face.
Adama's graven face did not change, but Felix could swear he saw his eyes twinkle in amusement. The Commander gestured to the nearest console. "Your station, Mr. Gaeta."
"Thank you, sir." When he reached the workstation, though, Felix had to stifle an audible gasp of dismay. Yes, his station had a keyboard, and DRADIS screens looked pretty much the same everywhere, but the resemblance between the Galactica tactical station and the one he had trained on pretty much ended at that. Instead of the familiar touch screen computer system with dozens of menus and programs, this station was apparently controlled by a dizzying array of unlabelled knobs and dials, resembling a century-old radio. It had taken Felix the better part of two years to master the modern DRADIS system. Now, that knowledge was apparently worthless and he would have to explain to his commander why he had never studied the Galactica's antiquated system.
Adama must have guessed some or all of Gaeta's line of thought. "Petty Officer Dualla," he growled.
Dee looked up. "Sir?"
"See to it that Lieutenant Gaeta gets copies of the appropriate manuals."
"Right away, sir."
Felix watched her retreating back. Dualla, some distant corner of his mind noted with detachment, not Duane, not Dalloway. Dualla. Summoning his nerves, Felix sat stiffly at his station and tried desperately to look like he knew what he was doing.
Commander Adama stepped close behind him. "I'm well aware that the Galactica is no longer on the syllabus, Lieutenant." His voice was almost a snarl, but Felix was getting the impression that Adama sounded that way even when he was perfectly happy. "You'll have a few days of light duty with which to familiarize yourself with the equipment."
Felix wetted his lips nervously. "Thank you, sir."
Adama leaned close and rested one hand on the tactical console. He kept his voice low. "Forget everything you've heard about this ship, Lieutenant; the Galactica is not a dumping ground for dead-end officers. This ship is three years away from decommission, so for three more years she'll carry out the same duties as any other Battlestar, but without the crutch of networked systems. It takes a smart, disciplined crew to keep up with this ship. I need to know that I can depend on you, Mr. Gaeta."
Felix swallowed. "I'll do my best, sir."
"Then you'll do fine." Adama straightened and raised his voice. "XO has the deck." The Commander strode out of the CIC, passing Dualla who was returning with several binders in her arms.
Felix accepted the manuals from Dee with a murmured word of thanks. Colonel Tigh gave him one last piercing not-quite-glare before returning his attention to the reports laid out in front of him.
Felix leaned back in his chair, strangely buoyed by the Commander's subtle words of encouragement. Yes, the Galactica was an old creaky bucket of bolts, but she was a Battlestar and he was an officer in her CIC, just like he'd always dreamed. Suppressing a slight smile, he flipped open the first tech manual and began to read.