24th Day of the Second Cylon War:
Ten thousand meters above the surface of Aquaria's Southern Sea two raptors appeared in twin nimbuses of blue light and began to drop.
Rango fired the maneuvering thrusters and slowed their descent. He turned to smirk at Vendetta. "See, I told you, nothing happened."
"This time nothing happened, next time we might jump into a mountain" she replied.
Rango pointed down. "That's some very mountainous water." Vendetta slapped her palm to her forehead, and an exasperated sigh escaped her lips. He gave her a smile with extra cheerfulness. "Alright then, tell me if we pick up anything, friendly or foe. We're below cylon orbital DRADIS range now, but there's definitely raiders sweeping the area." He looked back to their passenger: Cage. "How are you doing back their, Major?"
"I think I saw my mother when we made that jump" Cage replied humorously.
Rango descended through the thin puffs of clouds to 100 meters, low enough for the airframe to vibrate as it was pelted with spray. The second raptor came to a halt a hundred meters off the starboard. "Right then zero delta two three, we'll split up, good hunting" Vendetta said. Rango turned his bird north and 0-33 swung south.
"Good hunting" 0-33's pilot, 'Inferno,' returned. They ceased communication lest the cylons pick up their transmissions and triangulate them.
As they soared over the empty ocean, Rango realized how alone they were. Both raptor teams had grown up on Aquaria, the reason for them being chosen. Rango remembered boats and aircraft crisscrossing the ocean, while the occasional endangered whale or fish school breached the surface and albatross' wheeled overhead. Now the water was empty, and it was getting to him.
"We're the only people left out here" he remarked. "Just two small raptors looking for a boat in the middle of an empty ocean." The passed over a circle of uneven metal pillars. Rango stopped for a moment and pivoted to examine them. Spaced fifty meters apart, they formed a rough cirlcle several hundred meters in diameter. Each was blackened and ended in a jagged point a few meters above the waves, like whatever was above it had been torn away. Just below the surface near one edge he spotted the outline of a much larger pillar looming up from the depths. It hit him what he was looking at.
"This used to be a city," he said.
Vendetta noticed it too now. "The cylons probably took out the support pillars with conventional weapons and collapsed it into the ocean. How many people do you think are down there?"
Rango tried to do the math. It took him a moment to get over the thought of what their final hours must have been like. "A city this size, at least a hundred thousand. All of them trapped inside as the water rushed in and the bulkheads started to crumple." The cabin became solemn. Both had grown up in cities like the one.
Cage spoke. "Lets give them a minute."
He checked the clock on the dashboard; they had just three and a half hours. "Thirty seconds." They prayed for the souls of the mass grave below, and then Rango eased down on the throttle and sent the raptor soaring away.
Somewhere in the southern sea, a snow-white submarine broke the surface. A nameplate on the two-pronged bow identified it as the Aquarian National Guard submarine Charybdis. The double row of missile ports along its back flipped open and a radar antennae grew from its conning tower.
Inside its CIC six officers manned their stations as Alexander watched them with uncertainty to the function of their actions. "RADAR is online" one announced.
"Good. Missiles?" Captain Milbus asked from his seat at the center of the confined rectangle.
"Missiles online and slaved to the RADAR."
"What is the RADAR's range?" Alex asked feeling left out.
Milbus grunted in irritation."Four-hundred kilometers, if the Sentinel makes her appointment, we'll find her."
No sooner had he spoken than a trio of dots appeared on the RADAR display. Two werein front of the sub and almost outside RADAR range, and the third was a hundred kilometers behind. The first two were identified as high cruising cylon raiders heading away from them.
"Could that be it?" Alexander asked..
Milbus shrugged. "That isn't a faststar. Its RADAR silhouette looks like a raptor."
"Then it isn't the Sentinel."
"Of course not, are we going to chase them down or not?" Milbus was a man of action, not someone who liked waiting on orders from beauracrats. "They did mention having multiple ships."
Alexander thought for a moment. "A raptor wouldn't be operating alone, what kind of ship can launch raptors?"
Milbus was slightly miffed at having to explain things to a civilian. "Anything the size of a light cruiser and above could do it."
The thought of a large colonial warship looking for them was hope enough for Alexander to take. "Alright then, chase them down."
Milbus growled his agreement and began barking orders to his crew. "Descend to one-hundred meters and give me a one-hundred and eighty turn, then accelerate to forty-five knots." The submarine's dive planes dipped and it dropped beneath the waves. It creaked as it swung around, then it accelerated forwards.
"We're in shortwave frequency range," Milbus announced twenty minutes later.
"I'll call them, lets hope they can still hear in those frequencies." Alexander was handed a bulky microphone. Hopefully the cylons would be too advanced to hear in those frequencies. Alexander spoke slowly: "unidentified Raptor, this is the Aquarian Guard submarine Charybdis, can you hear us?" He waited five minutes. The submarine and the bird were practically on top of each other. "Unidentified Raptor, do you copy?" He got ready to order Milbus to surface and hope they saw them.
Then his radio crackled. "Colonial survivor group, this is Raptor 0-22, call sign Rango, we copy you. Where are you?"
Alexander practically jumped for joy; he saw several crewmembers punch the air. "Directly beneath you, we will be surfacing momentarily."
Five hundred meters off their starboard engine something huge and white exploded through the surface of the ocean, thowing up a cloud of spray. Rango swung towards it. He came to a halt directly over the Charybdis's flat deck. "We see you Charybdis, permission to land?"
Alexander was apprehensive. "Can you make it?" he asked.
"Of course they can!" Milbus barked.
Rango stared down at the deck, which was rolling heavily in the high seas. He did a few mental calculations. "Yes we can, I am descending. " He turned to Vendetta. "Tell me if we back over the water." He brought the Raptor down slowly.
Five meters from the deck a gust of wind rocked them. Vendetta called out, "ten feet further to port."
"Frack" he said, and adjusted, then dropped. He felt a thunk as the raptor connected with the deck and its magnetic struts locked them in. A handful of pallid crewmen ran out and threw chains around the Raptor just in case. One gave him a thumb's up.
Rango popped the cockpit and they clambered out. The moment he felt the rocking deck beneath his feet and the Antarctic wind and cold spray lashing him, he was back at home. For a few seconds his thoughts wandered off with the ocead. One of the crewmen reached for him but he waved him off. "I grew up here, this is nothing!" he shouted jubilantly over the roar of the waves. Vendetta had a similar reaction. Cage on the other hand stumbled in the rough waves and Rango had to grab him by the shoulder in an undignified manner before he fell off the side.
"They're waiting for you below, follow me!" one crewman shouted. The trio followed him down a hatch at the base of the conning tower. They arrived at the bridge, and were met by an elderly man in a white uniform with captain's bars, and a civilian in a moisture-streaked business suit. The captain saluted, the civilian smiled warmly and offered his hand, which they shook.
"Captain Milbus, Aquaria NG. Good to see you."
Introductions were exchanged and they were led back to a small command room behind the bridge. The table in the middle displayed and electronic chart of the south sea that moved with the ship. "Crete is right here" Alexander said, and pointed to a small dot eighty kilometers from their current position. "We're pretty sure we're all that's left. There were a few other outposts, but they weren't as deep or classified. They went silent after about a week, and the refugees have stopped coming in."
"Well as you can see, you are not." Cage said, and smiled.
Alex nodded. "Yes, indeed fortunately. Where are you hiding?"
Cage shook his head. "We aren't hiding. The order is to stand and fight."
Alexander was dismayed. "Why? There are so many cylons, and there can't be that many humans left."
"Here's the thing though. The cylons aren't leaving; they have all the time to track us down no matter where we go. So we're going to kill them one at a time, all of them."
"Alright then." He seemed quesy.
"Good. What's your supply situation?"
"We've got about a month of food left, and no weapons." Alex smiled with pride. "Food and weapons isn't the most important thing here in the long term, though. This is a hydroponics research facility. We design plants and facilities for growing nutritional plants in extreme conditions, such as on a spaceship where you might not be able to aquire the proper nutrients for vegetation growth. In addition, there is a large medical facility onboard and our staff consists of some of the brightest biological, medical, and chemical engineers and researchers in the colonies. I'm not an expert on space travel, but I assume that all this is very necessary for an extended stay in space with limited resources? What do you think?"
Cage couldn't keep the grin off his face. "I think you are very needed, Mr. Wynne." Heplaced a single sheet of paper on the table.. "Here is the the current extraction plan. What do you think?"
The two read it, and Alexander shrugged. "The city can be detached from the bottom and floated to the surface on a tether in case of emergencies. From there we can get onto the roof. Give it about fifteen minutes, with the heavier equipment you want. Other than that, it looks fine."
Milbus quickly raised his hand. "Actually, there are a few minor issues here."
An hour later they parted ways. Rango lifted off the flight deck and rose to a thousand meters. The submarine disappeared into the depths. Vendetta punched in the jump coordinates and turned the key. With a jolt of static electricity they jumped out.
After Cage's return, Huxton called a meeting with the CO's of every warship plus President Travere. He briefing room to find the twenty-six men and women ranking from captain to commander crowded around the table and seated against the walls. Marlay worked the projector. As one they stood up to salute him. "Ladies and gentlemen" he greeted, them, and returned it. He went to the projector, which displayed a map of Aquaria. "Alright, here is the mission. There are six thousand people trapped on Aquaria. In four days we're going in to get them out." A murmur ran through the room.
"Getting to them is not going to be easy. There are four basestars in orbit of Aquaria." Red dots marked their location. One was at each pole and two were over the Southern Sea. "If we jump in and attack, they will call for backup. There are at least forty basestars in the colonies currently. We do not want to fight them all. So, we're going to jam their comms. Major Corlas, what are your ship's capabilities?"
Major Ian Corlas commanded two Space Park EWAR ships. He said "according to the cylon's estimated capabilities, I'd put our engagement ratio at one ship per Basestar, for a few minutes anyways."
"That will be good enough. We will be using the Vindication's and Gehennia's bomber wings to deal with the polar groups. There will be twenty-five bombers per group. Group one will be escorted by the Charon. Group two will be escorted by the Damnation. Majors Darnell and Verrorman, once you have completed the attacks jump back to the battlefield.
The map zoomed in over the southern sea. A red X marked Crete's position. "The dome will detatch from the bottom and rise to the surface. The transport escorts will be the Apollo, and the Thanatos. He turned to Johnathan. "Mr. President, can you provide enough transports for six thousand people?"
Johnathan met his gaze. "Getting six thousand people to leave their ships temporarily even will be a challenge, but it can be done. Just a warning, most ships are already overloaded as it is."
"We'll find a way. Commander Gorden, how many civilians do you estimate the Serpentia can take?"
Mirra was deep in thought for several seconds. "With her current facilities, about fifteen hundred. Give me some time to get all the extra space sorted out and I can probably make it about three thousand."
"Thank you." He pressed a button. The map was replaced with a fleet roster. "For further notice, I am dividing the fleet into three battlegroups. BG-1 is centered on the Vindication BG-2 is the Serpentia, and BG-3 is theGehennia. BG's one and two will be taking part in the assault. Any suggestions?" Silence. "Then are we good?"
Twenty-six voices chorused, "Yes sir!"
There was the usual banter and discussion as the CO's filed out. Someone was trying to start a capital ship kill count. Ravin was having a chuckle about Gehennia 'leading a battlestar group.' He and Mirra quickly scheduled meetings with the CO's of their respective groups.
Mirra hung back until she and Huxton were alone, and then approached him. "A word with you Commander-or are you calling yourself Admiral yet?"
"Commander for the moment. I still only have one battlestar technically."
"Alright, Commander. Do you have any advice for me when we get into combat?"
Huxton shrugged. "Keep your head, remember to watch DC, and listen to your subordinates."
"Specific? Tactical?" He nodded. "Basestars are weak if you can catch them without their escort. Their missiles can be easily shot down and their hulls seem to be thin. If theire's more than one, don't let them flank you vertically or horizontally, and make sure your cruisers are watching. Don't waste time focusing entirely on one ship, always be aware of the entire battlefield. Don't be afraid of taking risks, the cylons historically react poorly to sudden strategy changes. If you see an opening, take it. Finally, remember, your crew is only human, they have their limits."
She shook her head. He caught on to what she'd been meaning. "Follow my lead. I can only give you so much; the textbooks can only give you so much more. You need experience, and the only way to get that is to go into the fire and emerge."
She didn't seem reassured. "And if the Serpentia doesn't?"
"Then she doesn't. We'd best make sure she does though." He shut off the projector so he could focus on Mirra without any distractions. "Commander, you are looking for something that can take away the fear you are feeling right now. What are you afraid of?"
Mirra was taken aback by his perception. "I-I don't know, I guess…"
"Give me a definite answer. You are no longer a junior officer; you are the leader now. When something comes up you cannot give it half an effort because it confuses or ashames you and turn to something else. You must be direct, unashamed, and forceful. What are you afraid of?"
Mirra swallowed hard. "I'm afraid of breaking down in battle because I don't know what to do, and I'm afraid of what happens if I fail, and the Serpentia goes down."
Huxton smiled slightly. It wasn't a friendly smile but a fierce one to be given at the site of a crushed enemy. "Fear is just another enemy you must face on the battlefield, Commander. I can give you an example to follow, but I cannot conquer your fear for you, that is your battle." He pointed at her for emphasis. "When the raid on Aquaria begins, that fear will make you question your decisions and your crew. It will slow your ability to react; it will make every option seem like the wrong one, it will try to convince you to betray your people and the human race by running. If you can defeat it, then you will never suffer from the personal problems you fear."
"What about dying?"
"Death happens. The best you can do is accept that fact and make it difficult for it to claim you. Rage against the end rather than submit."
"Sir." She nodded, and started to walk away. Huxton had a brief hope of returning to the calm of his station. Then she turned around. "Sir, I know you were made Commander under similar circumstances. Can I hear about them? Just, I don't know."
"For reassurance?" she nodded. He pulled up a chair and sat down. "Alright then, story time. When I took command of the Vindication, I was a major, not a Comander. The date was the Ides of March, nineteen ninety-four. Vindication had put in at Scorpia for routine maintenance a week earlier. A third of her crew of away on leave, half her airwing was down for repairs that weren't coming due to the budget cuts. Then Fleet Admiral Andareus launched his coup." He shifted through his perfectly preserved memories. "One minute I was at my station debating the value of the Cap Buck's rookie Sam Anders with Commander Hadrack. The next, Vinny was rocking under missile impacts and Hadrack was a bloody mass beneath a structural beam. Two of Andareus' Valkyries and an Atlas were bombing the shipyards while his forces massacred any loyalists inside. Vinny was unprepared, without primary power or her XO, and moored to a dock that was being overrun while her sisters detonated around her. That's the situation the moment I took command."
Mirra had been planetside when the civil war ahd begun, and thus missed the opening surprise attack that had characterized the year long brutal conflict. "What did you do?"
"Exactly what an officer of the fleet should do. I got the crew together, and fought back until Vinny was the last loyalist ship standing. At that point I had to order the temporary withdrawal."
Mirra nodded. "Temporary?"
"When I withdraw, its only temporary."
"Alright Commander, thank you. Serpentia will be ready to launch shortly." She withdrew. Huxton stood up and sighed. Then he remembered that the vital Python bombers were sitting in the port flight pod, which was currently sitting in a vacuum. Someone would have to retrieve them.
Belsinki's voice boomed through the running track. Even jogging at the back of the conscript pack, it still reached Aelia and pounded against her eardrums. "Alright maggots, it has been one mile, now that you're comfortably running at the same speed as my gramdmother, lets add something
New! Repeat after me!
I don't know, but it's been said!"
"Viper wings are made of lead
I don't know, but I've been told
Navy wings are made of gold
Ba-ack packing Ar-my
Put on your packs and follow me
I'm in the Colonial. Navy
He-ey space pilot force
Lo-ow flying Space Force
Get in your planes and follow me
I'm in the Colonial Navy
He-ey Planetary Guard
Vacuum pirate Planetary Guard
Get in your cans and follow me
I'm in the Colonial Navy!"
Aelia's lungs burned by the end and she was starting to fall to the back of the group. She had been made to shout of some of her team's cheers while running, but the average run was a mile, and there were suitable breaks between exercise routines for rest and gossip. By the end, her lungs were straining. "I don't hear you maggot!" Belsinki bellowed at some unfortunate soul. She could always tell where he was because he towered head and shoulders over everyone. "That was embarrassing maggots, once again, sooound off!"
At "Lo-ow flying Space Force!" Aelia seized and stumbled, choking hard. She dropped to her knees as the last few conscripts passed, their pitying looks burning into her. With a final gag she hacked up a globule of saliva, and sagged. Two days, and she'd already gone down, every eye on her, the poor little girl who'd collapsed on her second day of basic. That thought was enough to drive her back to her feet. After quick look around at the rapidly closing front line of conscripts she started running, terror driving her faster than any motivation.
After three steps Belsinki's voice crashed over her. "MAGGOT what are you doing, fall back and fall in, you disgrace. I thought kids were supposed to have energy. Do you know what I think it is, maggot?" She passed him and squeezed between the first rank. These were the athletes and military personnel, glaring coldly at her. "I said do you know what I think it is?" Belsinki demanded.
Oh, it was a question. "Sir, n-no sir."
"I think its too much computer games, do you spend too much time on the computer, couch potato?" Belsinki saw Aelia's face go from being merely ruddy from exertion to deep crimson.
"Sir, no sir." Aelia was already out of breath.
"I don't think so, couch potato." Aelia started falling back. "Next chant, repeat after me!"
Three hours later she stumbled into the comm station sore all over, and collapsed into her seat. "I am going to die by the end of this week," she proclaimed. Behind her, Marlay sighed.
"Good, couch potato, you can have the coffin next to mine" a man two places down said. Aelia buried her head in her hands to avoid the nickname.
Marlay asked, "couch potato?" Aelia perked up slightly at her voice, then hid even further. The man told her story. She felt Marlay's hand on her shoulder and her hair dangling onto the bare skin of her neck as she leaned over her. "The Corporal can rest easy, there won't be any computer games in here." She patted Aelia on the shoulder. "Social time's over. For those of you who don't know the fleet is going on the offensive in four days, we need to cover the basics and then some before then, so I suggest you listen close."
"What?" someone shouted as consternation spread through the room.
"A battle?" Aelia almost squeaked.
Marlay smiled wickedly, perfectly hiding her own anxiety. "Yes, a battle if we are lucky, those toasters aren't going to exterminate themselves. So, please open Hermes Mark III, we'll pick up where we left off."
Aelia felt like she was going to throw up as she put on her headset. From the hospital to the pilots outside, that feeling was shared by every one of the conscripts.
Captain Jamie 'Cross' Erics sat in the cockpit of his Mark VII viper as it dove past the edge of the fleet, at the center of a five-viper v-formation. There were almost fifty more vipers zipping around the fleet in their first training exercise. The conscription office had located forty-five people with small craft flight experience and shipped them to the Vindication. Cross and ten other Knights were training shuttle jockeys, independent Colonial Guardsmen, and former outlaws among others.
With a downward glance to his DRADIS, Cross saw three vipers break from between a civilian freighter and the missile cruiser Artemis and dive after them. "Raiders on our tail, 180 swing, now!" he ordered over the squadron frequency, and fired his rear thrusters. His viper pivoted about to face behind him. The three vipers were spread out to catch his group in a barrage from three directions. Cross aimed at the nearest viper and pulled his trigger. The Vindication's computer core recorded a burst of tracers and a direct hit to the fighter's cockpit. It veered away.
Three of his nuggets made the turn, but only one on his starboard side held formation, and they only managed a glancing hit on another viper. The fourth rocketed away mid in a different direction and spiraled out of control towards a mining ship while its pilot screamed. Cross's heart leapt. "Damnit 'Siren,' fire your braking thrusters!" He weaved out of his group and went after the errant viper like a mother hen.
"Trying, trying!" 'Siren' replied. The viper trembled, and then came to a halt less than a hundred meters above the mining ship's brown hull. "Holy frack!" the scared pilot shouted. Cross pulled up beside him, and fear became rage.
He had to know what happened before he tore this nugget a new one. "Siren, what did you do?"
The reply was innocent enough: "I fired my topside jets."
Cross had been flying vipers since the middle of the last war. He knew every possible maneuver the bird could make and could do the physics calculations to back it up."You would not have spun like that, what else did you do?"
"I wanted to turn faster, so I added my starboard wingtip thrusters." The innocence of his delivery, coupled with the amount of lives that could have been lost added to Cross' already building anger. The rest of his vipers had gathered around him, facing outwards, but the remaining undamaged viper was content to drift just beyond effective gun range.
"What did you fly before coming here?"
"I flew one of the old Z-80 slammers, for Remus' raiders" Siren replied. Cross remembered Remus' raiders; one of several pirate groups lying in wait in the systems around the colonies. He'd shot down several Z-80's over various deployments.
He recalled the fighter: "The Z-80 was a damn bit more maneuverable than a viper, but less stable. Remember, you're not going to turn as fast, but you are less likely to overturn and you have more accuracy when shooting. Why the hell did you add your wingtip thrusters though?"
"I though I would turn faster."
Cross slapped a palm to the brow of his helmet. "You idiot. Siren, don't you know basic physics?"
The reply was a confused "Yes I do, why?" Siren narrowed his eyes at him in his canopy.
"Because then you would know that every action has an equal and opposite reaction, right?"
"Umm right? " Cross exaggerated his eye-roll enough for the nugget to see it.
"Then what happens when you want to spin around to point behind you, and you fire maneuvering thrusters pointing in a completely different direction?"
There was a momentary pause as the thought crossed the nugget's brain. "Oh."
Cross decided he'd gotten the appropriate response. "Yes, oh, and at least two hundred lives onboard that mining ship. Now, can you turn away from the fleet at at elevation zero vector two hundred, and accelerate at four g? Please only use your wingtips and main engines"
Siren' sounded very cowed next. "Yes Major." He unsteadily eased away from the slowly retreating mining ship until his nose pointed into deep space, and his engines fired. Cross accelerated after him. He eased up until they were wingtip to wingtip. The rest of his wing followed shortly behind. Cross called off the stalking 'raider' and addressed them all.
"Now then nuggets, since unfortunately we need to do this; time for combat maneuvering for dummies!"
To be on the safe side he reviewed the basics: how to maneuver in formation, how to pull a turn at high speed, how to pull the same turn while keeping a bead on the target, how to fly in tandem with a wingman, and finally, once again, how to spin around and shoot a raider off their tail.
The Vindication'sLSO, Captain Todd Merle chose to interrupt him. "LSO to Cross, the Commander wants to speak with you."
Cross knew which commander Merle was talking about, but he decided to play a little. "Which one? We've got two of em'."
"Vindication-actual to CAG, cut the chatter and respond" Huxton said.
"Good day Commander, what can I do for you?"
"First you can tell me, how training goes"
Cage glanced around first at his four vipers orbiting the Artemis in standard escort formation, then at the other vipers crisscrossing space around him. "Fairly well, despite some idiocy, No one has died or forced me to kill them yet. What is the next thing?"
"Do you know the Python bombers? We stopped keeping dedicated pilots for them, but they are functional and I need to know who can fly them."
Cross sighed and glanced down at his flight suite. He had two pins: the standard wings of the viper pilot, and the broader, wider wings of a bomber pilot. "Well I can anyways, so can, lets see" he went through the list of pilots. "I think there's about forty guys who can. How urgently do you need us?"
"Three days time. I suggest you gather up anyone who can fly them and get back to the barn right now, they're waiting in the port hangar pod for you."
Cross groaned. He still had another hour before he reached bingo fuel, and he had intended to put that hour to good use on the nuggets. "Fine, give us ten minutes." He switched channels to the general radio channel, which included the frequency for the pilot waiting room back on the Vindication where the rest of his boys were lounging and mocking the nugget's performance. "Attention pilots. Slammer is to take command of the training exercise. The following pilots will meet me outside the portside flight pod…"
Two hours later he hopped into the cockpit of the first Python Mark IV in line and began his preflight check. The deck crew had hooked power back up to the pod and spent almost four hours pulling the bombers out of storage and clearing the flight deck.
Cross's copilot, an electronics officer by the name of Harew, squeezed into the back seat inside of the hull of the ship itself. "I remember why I hated these things" he joked.
Cross had more choice words; "they are big, slow, and don't have any guns." He sealed the cockpit and felt the comforting hiss of injected atmosphere. "Alright, beginning preflight test one, are the knuckle draggers ready?"
"Yes we are, the paramedics are on standby and we've called the morgue as a precaution."
Cross ignored whoever was on the line. "Understood." He flexed his fingers as he stared down at the controls he only hazily remembered how to operate. "Harew, give me ten percent power to propulsion, lets begin the maneuvering thruster test."
The Python was a huge craft. It resembled a flying 'W' with a seven-meter wingspan and bottom heavywith thrusters. In a combat mission four, viper-sized Atlatl siege missiles would have been slung from her underside.
The Python and Atlatl had been designed midway through the first cylon war as a means for the Colonials to replace their rapidly depleting nuclear arsenal. The Pythons were FTL capable and stripped of offensive weaponry to maximize their acceleration. The Atlatl missile carried a four-kiloton directed warhead preceded by a thermite breaching charge. Upon connection with a target it would melt through its outer armor layers and detonate, directing most of its yield into the target. The missile lacked the sheer punch of a 50-kiloton nuke, but it was superior at penetrating armor and could be mass-produced. Standard strategy involved wave attacks of sometimes hundred of bombers against cylon fleets and installations. Casualties were heavy, but the Python had been successful enough to remain part of the fleet.
The bird began to hum. Cross gently took the throttle and fired the engines. She rose off the deck and hovered three meters in the air. The diagnostics were green. He sent her back five meters, over the second bomber in line. Then he sent her forwards five. The bird was as slow as he remembered. "Looks good so far, lets try sideways." He nudged the throttle to starboard. The Python lumbered two meters over-and didn't stop when he yanked it back. The starboard wingtip crumpled against the wall.
"Oh frack, collision!" Harew shouted.
That did not help Cross concentrate as he gently brought the bird back down. "Thank you for stating the obvious, it was really important." Harew did not respond.
Cross felt the thump of landing strut meeting deck, then relaxed. "Alright, deck crew, what was that? My diagnostics are blank."
An orange uniformed crewman leapt onto the nose of the bird. "Hang on one minute, Cross, we'll check it out." Cross looked over at his starboard wing, which had been folded in almost a meter, its metal skin had compacted and torn, reveal tangled circuitry underneath. He sighed and patted dashboard.
"Attention all pilots and crew, Vinny command wants you to look out the fore exit right now" deck chief Carmilow's voice filtered over the radio. Cross did so. The Vindication was turning, giving him a sweeping view of the fleet. She stopped with her nose pointed directly at the mobile drydock Largos looming massive at the center of the armada. The bow of the massive rectangle split open and folded out, revealing the Serpentianestled inside. The scaffolding surrounding her pulled back. She inched out of her home, like one of Cross' big dogs leaving its house.
No, Cross decided when he noted the gaping bore of Serpentia's bow cannon, more like a mountain lion. The civilian ships parted as the battlestar 'rose' through the fleet, taking position just above it. "Alright, show's over, back to work" Carmilow said.
Cross shook himself away from the battlestar and began his examination of the faulty bomber" Well, it looks like the maneuvering jet flaps jammed from here."
"Could be. The biggest problem is that none of these have been flown in over a year, they're getting stiff" the deck crew chief responded.
Harew was confused. "Can a bird actually stiffen up like that?"
Cross sighed and twisted around, barelyglimpsing the man out of the corner of his eye. "Oh yes, definitely, we've just got to work it out of her." He patted the dashboard again. "Lets get into space and stretch our wings a little. LSO, I am requesting clearance to launch."
"Vindication-actual to Serpentia, welcome back to the war." Huxton radioed.
Mirra personally replied. "Thank you Vindication-actual. Be advised for comm traffic, we are holding an action stations drill in five."
"Understood, we'll do the same, actual out." Huxton handed the comm back to Ensign Marvots, who was filling in for Marlay. He resumed admiring the immense battlestar from visual.
Nessella sauntered up to him. "Hey, Commander, does this make you an admiral now?"
"I'll reread regulations later. In the meantime, lets get ready for that drill. The maggots could use a fire under their asses in the timeframe we're working with."
I know its moving a little slowly, but next chapter the shooting starts.