Book 2 - Chapter 1
GARRIS’ PEGASUS – Book 2: Beyond the Threshold (rewrite)
CHAPTER ONE: Settling into a new routine
It had been a month since the battle at Molecay Anchorage - the last battle within the Cyrannus System of a war that had seen the Twelve Worlds of humanity destroyed, and the vaunted Colonial Fleet decimated at the hands of a machine race called the Cylons. The Columbia-class Battlestar Pegasus, - after escaping the battle which had ended with the destruction of the anchorage itself - was now cruising in deep space - well beyond the Red Line - on a search mission in which the survival of humanity depended The Pegasus was one of only two known (to the Pegasus crew) surviving units of the Colonial Home Fleet to have survived the war. Now, the commander of the Pegasus - Garris Cain - was directing the efforts of the battlestar’s crew to find the other surviving battlestar - the Battlestar Galactica - before the Cylons could.
The intelligence gleaned from intercepted and deciphered Cylon transmissions had been of great help in determining that the Galactica had indeed survived the holocaust and subsequent battle at Ragnar, along with some fifty-odd civilian ships which were carrying all that was left of the billions that had once populated the Twelve Worlds, but unfortunately for the Pegasus, it could not tell them where the Galactica and the ships that it was protecting had precisely FTL-jumped to. All that they knew was that they had made a long range jump beyond the regions of surveyed space. So, after the Pegasus had stocked up on consumables and fuel at Molecay - in the process causing the destruction of a Cylon base star - they had made a lengthy jump beyond the Red Line out into the remote Vardon Sector, in order to begin their search for the Galactica.
Battlestar Pegasus – Combat Information Center
Commander Cain intently studied the star maps that were displayed on the primary screen at the dradis console. The Vardon Sector was un-surveyed by any colonial exploration vessel. With the exception of the star charts that had been made years ago by the Colonial Astronomical Society with their home-system based instruments to help with navigational fixes, this area of space was completely unknown.
Cain however, did not feel that they were any safer here. His rationale was that after the armistice that had ended the First Cylon War forty years previously, the Cylons had themselves left explored space. No one knew where they went, and no one had come across any evidence of their new location. The only time the Cylons had made themselves known since the armistice, they had wreaked complete destruction upon the colonies and annihilated the vaunted Colonial Fleet. Who knows where else in the galaxy that the Cylons had established a foothold.
For all Cain knew, the Pegasus may have FTL-jumped right into the heart of Cylon-controlled space, and thus, he was determined to maintain the battlestar - and the crew - in a full state of combat readiness. After the jump had been made, he had the CAG’s of both viper wings on board the Pegasus to commence constant reconnaissance probes (CAP’s in pilot parlance) in all directions from the battlestar in order to make sure that no unpleasant surprises would be forthcoming. While the Cylons still apparently believed that the Pegasus had been destroyed – along with the rest of the task force she was with - back at Caprica, Cain realized that if the Cylons got wind of their existence, they would spare no effort in hunting them down…
Silver Spar combat air patrol probe - Vardon Sector
With no surviving support ships or bases to support the Pegasus, the CAP were also having to pull double-duty looking for any sources of raw materials that could be used to help maintain the battlestar. In the meantime, conservation of resources was the rule, and that even applied to the fuel used by the vipers on patrol. One of the patrols probing ahead of the Pegasus was being led by the CAG of Silver Spar Wing, and he was ensuring that by setting the example, the fuel conservation measures would be properly enforced amongst his pilots.
Captain Eugene Syke stifled a yawn as he monitored his scanner while his viper was on coast mode (idling). Sleep was getting to be a rather precious commodity amongst the pilots of Silver Spar wing these days. As CAG, he could have stayed back at base and have one of his squadron commanders pull this duty while he took it easy doing paperwork in the wing office, but he was determined to let the other pilots of his wing know that he would pull the same patrol regimen as the rest of them.
He had faith in his pilots, and he knew that they respected him. The problem was that the necessity to do such long duration CAP’s around the clock since entering the Vardon Sector was starting to draw down on the pilots’ reserves of energy. Even with Captain Lance Voight’s pilots of Black Knight wing (formerly based on the now-destroyed battlestar Pacifica, now based with his wing on board the Pegasus) to share the load, the endless succession of flying both a protection screen around their home battlestar as well as performing deep space probes ahead was starting to affect morale. He did not think that him not doing his fair share of the patrols would help morale any, so here he was.
He remembered when he had been appointed the CAG. Unlike other ships - which usually appointed the CAG from within, Syke had been transferred from the Battlestar Australis immediately after being promoted to Captain in order to take up the position of CAG on the Pegasus. Commander Cain had personally met him when he had landed his viper and took him aside for a little chat.
"I brought you in because I don’t believe that CAG's should be appointed from within the wing", he had explained to him after welcoming him on board, "because the position should never be based upon popularity. The CAG position carries with it an awesome responsibility, Captain Syke - second only to the battlestar commander himself". Syke nodded, but did not reply. Cain looked at him intently for a few seconds, and then continued:
"I remember when I became a CAG years ago on the Acropolis. My commander had told me that in order to be a good viper pilot, one must love his fellow pilots in the wing and to trust each other implicitly. But in order to be a good CAG, one must be willing to order the death of the thing that he loves if that means getting the job done. It was very tough for me as CAG at first because as I had been promoted to command the strike wing from within, I knew everyone under me - most of whom were close friends and colleagues. Knowing that someday, I may have to make a decision to sacrifice their lives for the good of the fleet had kept me awake for many a night. So my bit of friendly advice to you is this: to keep your mind totally on the task at hand, and to be able to make the right decision - which is always never the easiest decision, you must not get too close to those you lead".
Syke still vividly remembered that wake-up call that Cain had given him. When he took up his post, it took a lot of effort to maintain a discrete distance from the other pilots. Talking to them about their piloting skills was one thing, but having to avoid getting to know them more intimately and not participating in their card games or other social activities that he had loved to join the other pilots in back on the Australis was pretty tough. The pilots of Silver Spar wing - including the squadron commanders - thought at first that he was an arrogant cold fish and it took a while for them to get used to him. But soon, the pilots knew that he was to be relied upon because he led by example, took the heat in case any of his pilots went out of line, and never hesitated to assist anyone who had gotten into difficulty. Still, the demands of command responsibility kept the wall up, and it was really lonely at times.
While he was thinking about all of this, his wingman activated his communicator:
"Still nothing on sensors, Bojay", Ensign Clark Vansen (call-sign 'Jet') communicated over the ship-to-ship wireless, using his call-sign for identification. The call-sign system was far easier to use for identification than their vipers tail numbers, and less confusing than their own names as wings could have more than one person sharing the same name and/or grade. Besides, combat patrols were no places for formality.
"Same here, Jet", Bojay called back, grateful for something to take his mind off his melancholy thoughts, "We still have a short ways to go before we start the return leg, so stay alert", he reminded his wingman.
"It's just another routine patrol run, Bojay", Vansen replied with a yawn. Syke frowned. He had better start letting his wingman know one of the basic rules of flying in a combat environment.
"Don't ever get the feeling that this is just a normal patrol run, Jet", Syke admonished in a conversational tone, "because if you start believing that, you won't be alert when an emergency really happens. Treat every patrol as anything but routine, and you'll have a better chance of survival".
"Sorry, Bojay", Vansen responded, accepting the rebuke.
"Don't be sorry, Jet. Just be right. Stay alert and be ready for anything", Syke concluded. He didn't see any point in chewing him out further. True, Vansen was a new pilot (affectionately called rooks by more experienced pilots) - posted to the Pegasus straight out of Viper Transition Training School (VTT) on the eve of the Cylon attack - and he still had a lot to learn, but it was far better to teach by example, then by a raised voice.
"Bojay?" Vansen asked after a silence of a few seconds.
"Yeah, Jet?", Syke replied.
"Deep space probes are normally the tasks assigned to raptors, not vipers", Vansen pointed out, "With the inclusion of Black Knight wing, we have four raptors at our disposal, so why are they not doing these patrols?" he asked.
"Actual” – the commander’s call-sign – “wants them kept in reserve for FTL planetary probes, Jet", Syke replied, "and since we have far more spares for vipers than for the raptors, it makes sense to conserve them".
Vansen nodded without replying. The rules of being a fighter jock had really been turned upside down since the Pegasus had made its escape from Molecay and was now cruising far out in uncharted space. He had always had the dream of being a hot-shot pilot with lots of kills to his credit and eventually having a squadron of his own to command. Now, the situation had become more than just combat: the survival of the Pegasus and all aboard her depended upon people like him. He was glad that the CAG took the time to personally make sure that all of the rook pilots were as well prepared as the more seasoned aviators.
The fuel conservation measures being employed on these patrols were a case in point. Even with the extra supplies obtained from Molecay Anchorage, everyone was adhering to Commander Cain's strict policy of conserving their resources; all designed to stretch out what they have as long as possible. Under these conditions, fighter probes were therefore of lengthy duration with long periods of coasting. The Pegasus herself was cruising at the most economical speed so as to help stretch out the fuel supply to the maximum.
Thoughts of the Pegasus and its new regimen were shaken from his mind as his scanner beeped.
"Bojay", Vansen said, "sensors show an asteroid at grid reference five-five tarim four-niner".
"I see it too", Syke replied, "let's power up and give it a once-over. Hopefully, it will have a few raw materials that we can use".
"Breaks the monotony", Vansen replied, eager to have something to break the boredom of deep space probes.
Both vipers powered up and at Syke’s command, smoothly accelerated to where the sensors said the asteroid was.
Battlestar PEGASUS – Combat Information Center
At that moment, back on board the Pegasus, Colonel Tolen was standing the watch in CIC. He had finally talked Cain into getting a few hours of sleep. Looking around at the personnel manning their stations, he hoped that they could get through this current crisis and still be able to fight. Running was anathema to him - and to Cain, he knew - but thanks to the Cylons through destruction of their home worlds and almost the entire fleet, the only choices remaining were either withdrawing, or fighting and dying against overwhelming odds without any hope of winning. Withdrawing - the word retreat is never uttered by anyone within Cain's hearing - was the only realistic option.
Cain knew that the Battlestar Galactica under the command of his old friend William Adama was out here somewhere. He hoped that he could catch up with Adama so that they could start thinking about a counterattack. With two battlestars, Cain knew that they would have a better chance against any Cylon attack, and if skillfully used, could start inflicting serious damage of their own upon those tin-headed monstrosities.
For his part, Tolen knew Commander Adama only by reputation, but Cain had served with Adama in his younger years. They had been viper pilots attached to Bronze Spear wing of the Battlestar Galactica, then later when the wing had transferred over to the battlestar Acropolis over forty years ago. ‘Husker’ and ‘Renegade’ were their call-signs and they were a legend in the First Cylon War. Both had notched up an impressive score of destroyed Cylon Raiders, and after the war, their careers had continued to progress, with their offspring going into the service, and finally with both of them ending up commanding their own battlestars: Cain commanding the Pegasus while Adama was given the Valkyrie. Interestingly though, Adama had only recently been transferred from the Battlestar Valkyrie to command the old Galactica.
Had the Cylons not attacked, Adama would have been retired now with the Galactica being turned into a museum ship, Cain would have followed Adama into retirement a couple of weeks later, and then Tolen would have transferred - following the scheduled decommissioning of the Pegasus – to command the battlestar Hibernia. Tolen sighed, thinking of what might have been. The situation had changed now...
"How go our fighter probes, Comms?" Tolen asked Captain Sanders, who was the Pegasus’ Comscan officer (and the number three person in the battlestar’s chain of command after Cain and himself).
"So far, none have reported anything, X.O.", Sanders replied.
"Well, I don't think I can say to the commander that no news is good news", Tolen remarked.
"At least the crew have settled down to the new routine, X.O.", Sanders responded, "and soon we will be close enough to the next system for us to dispatch a raptor. It's just a matter of keeping people busy in the meantime".
Tolen nodded. There was a system a few light-days ahead, but part of the fuel conservation measures dictated a minimum distance requirement before initiating an FTL-jump. Besides, as this was unknown space, the raptors had to be deployed for a preliminary survey before the Pegasus could enter any system.
The problem was that no-one knew if there was any Cylon presence in this part of space. Tolen fully concurred with Cain’s concerns. The Cylons were out there somewhere and they would not stop until all of humanity had been exterminated. So far, there was no indication that they were looking for the Pegasus, but they were looking for the Galactica and that meant staying vigilant.
Silver Spar combat air patrol probe - Vardon Sector
Meanwhile, Syke's patrol had reached the location of the asteroid and both vipers were now running a scan to see if it had anything to offer.
"Preliminary scan shows nothing useful, Bojay", Ensign Vansen reported disgustedly, "It's just a floating boulder".
"Trajectory indicates that it has come from that star system ahead of us. If this is any indication of what's ahead, it looks like we won't find anything useful", Syke acknowledged. The asteroid was about fifteen miles in diameter. The shape of a mottled potato, it was very dark. If it wasn't for their sensors, they could very easily have missed it. Vansen was disappointed. He started getting excited for this!
"Wait a minute", Syke communicated, "my sensors are picking up indications of something metallic on the surface. I'm heading down for a closer look. Stand by where you are, Jet".
"Understood, Bojay", Vansen acknowledged. It was standard procedure for the wingman to cover the patrol leader in such situations. As Syke flew down, Vansen monitored the local space on his sensors.
Syke's scanners had picked up a highly localized source of metal. Perhaps there was something useful after all...
"What the frack...?" Syke exclaimed as his ships instrument panel went haywire. His controls were running erratically as well. It all happened suddenly.
"What’s up, Bojay?", Vansen asked with concern in his voice. His communication was rather static-y.
Syke managed to get back control of his viper. He flew away from the asteroid. As he did so, his instruments went back to normal and his communications cleared up.
"Intense localized magnetic field", Bojay hypothesized. "It looks like the core of that rock is of some dense material. It’s very intense. If I hadn't gotten away from its effect, I probably would have crashed".
"I didn't detect any indications of a magnetic field on the sensors", Vansen replied.
"Neither did I", Syke replied, "but regardless of what we didn't detect, it's there, and it's not wise to approach closer than one kilometer above its surface".
"Well, Bojay", Vansen suggested, "in that case perhaps we'd better stick to high-altitude scanning".
"Oh, you think?!" Syke sarcastically asked.
"Switching to high resolution sensors", Vansen said, trying to deflect his CAG's attention from his comment.
Vansen started scanning the near side of the asteroid. Syke - being careful to stay away from the effects of the intense - though localized - magnetic field surrounding the asteroid - flew around to the other side to scan. Once he got into position, he started to aim his sensors at the area where he had initially picked up the metallic reading. Perhaps it was a piece of the metal core of the asteroid, in which case, the intense local magnetic field could be explained... suddenly, his eyes widened as he saw what the sensors picked up.
"Frack!" Syke exclaimed.
"Are you caught in the field again, Bojay?" Vansen asked.
"No, but something else evidently did", Syke replied, "It's a Cylon ship! And it’s one of those new scimitar-shaped ones too!"
"Are you sure, Bojay?" Vansen asked incredulously.
"No mistake about it, Jet", he replied, "I'm taking a more detailed scan of it now".
Syke made sure that his recorder took in all the data that the scanners were providing about the wreck. For his part, Vansen was making sure that there were no other ships anywhere in their vicinity. With the clear proof of a Cylon presence in this sector of space, things suddenly ceased to be routine, and the threat of a Cylon raider attacking them became a lot more real.
"Okay, I've got enough data, Jet", Syke said after a couple of minutes, "Let's head back to Home Plate and let's do it fast". The situation was indeed urgent, but Syke still made sure that in ship-to-ship communications, that only the call-sign of the Pegasus would be spoken. With positive evidence of a recent Cylon presence in this sector, there was a chance that their wireless chatter could be picked up.
Vansen fully agreed with Syke. And under these circumstances, the fuel conservation measures be damned. Both vipers went to full power as they headed back to the Pegasus. The sooner that Cain knew about this discovery, the better.