Book 2 - Chapter 2
CHAPTER TWO: Awareness of Danger
Battlestar Pegasus – Silver Spar wing Pilot Briefing Room
"Not Good", Colonel Tolen said with classic understatement.
"So, they are - or at least have been - in this region of space", Cain confirmed.
Cain and Tolen were talking with Syke and Vansen as they looked over the information obtained from Syke’s scans of the Cylon wreckage.
Syke and Vansen had made it back to the Pegasus quickly in order to report their find. Before landing, they had communicated their find to the CIC. Now, the Pegasus had been placed on Condition Two alert while Cain and Tolen went down to the briefing room to see the raw data for themselves, leaving Sanders in command of CIC.
Syke had downloaded the recorded data from his viper’s scanner and all of them had been watching the images of the crashed Cylon raider.
"As you can see, this raider is of the new scimitar configuration. That means that this is no relic of the first war", Cain said, pointing to the unmistakable shape of the crashed vessel.
"It looks like it strayed too close to that asteroid and got caught in its magnetic field", Syke said.
"Lucky you didn't suffer the same fate, Captain", Tolen stated. Syke nodded.
"According to your scanner's data, this asteroid had been drifting away from the star system ahead of us, so it's a fair bet that this ship had been in that system earlier", Tolen mused.
"That's logical, Cain assented, "but the question is: was this ship from a base there, or was it just a passing patrol from a base star?"
"Good question, Commander", Syke replied, "and the only way that we can answer it is to check the system out".
"In that case, CAG", Cain decided, "you'd better get a raptor dispatched to check it out. I don't need to remind you that we still have to maintain a low profile for the time being, right?" he reminded him.
"No, Commander", Syke acknowledged, “I’ve already issued orders to the wing to keep ship-to-ship wireless communications to an absolute minimum. If there are toasters nearby, I don’t want them listening in”.
"Very well, I'll leave you to it", Cain concluded. Cain nodded to Tolen, who stood up. Both of them left the debriefing room.
As Cain and Tolen headed back up to the CIC, Cain said to Tolen, "You'd better get Comms to start directing the other patrol probes to check for other ships in our area. I can't believe that there is just one toaster ship out there".
Syke quickly looked at the clipboard to find out who the stand-by raptor crew was. When he saw the names, he picked up a commlink communicator and put out a page request for them both, and then he made a second call to CIC to get the latest navigation data updates. The raptor would need that information.
Battlestar PEGASUS – Port Landing Bay Hanger Two
Lieutenant Tricia 'Sheba' Cain and Midshipman Jason 'Newguy' Gorde were both busy going over the maintenance records for their raptor, which was all fueled up and armed with missiles. As they were the stand-by reconnaissance crew, they were responsible for checking the combat readiness of their ship. Tricia knew that a raptor would soon be deployed as the Pegasus was heading towards a star system, so she made it her business to ensure that all raptor crews keep tabs on their ships' status, and when their time to rotate onto the stand-by roster came up, to stay close to their ship and to make sure that everything on their raptors were up to par. As this was their duty station, the Condition Two alert did not affect them. Any order to launch would be promptly responded to.
"Lieutenant Cain and Midshipman Gorde", the P.A. system suddenly announced, "report to CAG in wing ready room". The message repeated once more, and then the P.A. turned off. Both of them looked at each other, and then left the hangar bay. It looked like they would be heading out soon. As both of them were in their flight suits, they were ready to go.
Battlestar Pegasus – Silver Spar wing Pilot Briefing Room
Syke was waiting for them both in the briefing room. As both Tricia and Gorde entered and saluted, Syke gestured to them to sit down. The look on Syke's face made it clear to Tricia that both she and Gorde were indeed going to be dispatched on a mission.
Tricia and Gorde sat down in the front row of the high-backed chairs that took up most of the room space. Syke started displaying the data he had obtained from the sensor scans on the viewscreen. Tricia and Gorde now realized just how important things had become when they saw the image of the crashed Cylon fighter on the asteroid. The Condition Two alert was definitely not a drill.
"As you can see", Syke said after the recording had completed, "that wreck is not that of one of the old raider types used in the first war, so we have to assume that it had recently crashed".
"No telling how long that the Cylons had that particular raider in operation before they used it against us though, CAG", Gorde pointed out. "Isn't there any way we can check how long that it had been sitting there?"
"Unfortunately, Newguy", Syke pointed out, "that asteroid's intense magnetic core makes a close-up survey impossible, so we have to assume the worst possible case: that it was a recent patrol craft which just got unlucky".
"Well, not unlucky for us, Tricia replied, "for at least we know about a potential problem ahead in that system".
"And that’s where you both come in", Syke stated, "We need to get a survey of the system - not only for the toasters, but for any resources that we can use. As that asteroid’s trajectory indicates that it came out from that system, it means that there could be an abundance of useful metals, judging from that magnetic field. Therefore, you are to take Raptor One out to that system and to start doing a discrete survey of any planets you may encounter. Remember that we don't want to go announcing our presence to all and sundry should any toasters be in that system. Clear?" he asked.
"Don't you want more than one raptor to do the survey?" Tricia asked, "we can cover the system a lot faster with a second raptor, you know".
"If there are unfriendly eyes out there, Sheba", Syke replied, "then more than one ship doubles the chances of getting detected. We keep it at one ship for the time being. Understood?" Both Tricia and Gorde nodded.
"Very well", Syke said, "get your raptor ready for immediate launch. I want you FTL-ing out there within the hour. One more thing - if you do see any hostiles, you are to return and report it immediately. If you are not back within six hours after departure, we will assume something happened to you and will dispatch another craft. Dismissed".
Tricia and Gorde both stood, saluted Syke - who returned the gesture - then left the briefing room.
"Another look-and-see trip", Gorde muttered as he and Tricia left the room and headed back down to the landing bay. Gorde had in his hand the list showing the initial FTL-jump co-ordinates he got from Syke. Those co-ordinates would be his responsibility to load into the raptors navi-comp.
"Well, it beats sitting around going over maintenance reports, or pulling collateral duty, Newguy", Tricia pointed out.
Syke had introduced a policy of having pilots not on the flight rotation pull collateral duties in order to keep the wing functioning. Both Tricia and Gorde had been given the additional assignment of overseeing and maintaining the personnel records of the technicians responsible for maintaining the raptor's systems. Personally, Tricia would rather have been pulling out her own fingernails with a pair of pliers than doing any form of paperwork, but with the new reality of life on board the Pegasus, taking time off was not an option. Being the Commander's daughter got no extra privileges.
Battlestar PEGASUS – Port Landing Bay Hanger Two
As they entered the hanger. The few technicians present started leaving the bay, sealing the bay’s hatches behind them. Tricia and Gorde got into the raptor, sealed the hatch, and strapped themselves into their seats. Both quickly did their pre-flight checks.
As Gorde got the sensor platform and the FTL navi-comp on-line, Tricia powered up the cockpit’s flight controls. She expertly taxied the raptor onto a lift. The raptor was now ready for positioning for launch.
After Tricia had notified Core Command of their readiness, the launch bay’s warning lights started flashing, indicating that the bay was depressurizing. At the same time, the lift that the raptor was sitting on started elevating them upwards. As the bay fully depressurized, the ceiling directly above them slid open, allowing the lift to position the raptor up into the vacuum of the landing bay deck itself.
Tricia started up the raptor’s engines and did a final check of her instruments. Everything was registering okay. Gorde reported likewise. Tricia then called up Core command to inform them of their readiness. The voice of Lieutenant JG Ginnie Annan came over the wireless:
"Core Command transferring control of raptor probe to pilot. Launch when ready", the order came over the communicator.
"Raptor One launching", Tricia replied professionally, then added; “See you later, Ginnie”.
"Have fun, Sheba", Annan replied as she monitored the liftoff of the raptor from the flight deck.
Expertly, Tricia guided the ungainly-looking reconnaissance vehicle out of the port landing bay. Smoothly, the raptor accelerated ahead of the Pegasus. Gorde watched the large bulk of the battlestar recede on the rear scan.
"FTL co-ordinates are punched into the navi-comp, Sheba", Gorde said.
"Okay, Newguy", Tricia called back, "time to make the jump. FTL co-ordinates confirmed. Remember to power down the active sensors and activate passive systems only when we get there".
"Understood, Sheba", Gorde replied.
The co-ordinates set the raptor to jump into the system right at its edge. This way, they would not be making themselves known too soon. If their sensors did not pick up anything, then they would make a further jump into the system in order to begin their planetary probe. Gorde had a high respect for Tricia’s ability to pilot the raptor, but like most other space-farers, he hated the disorienting and faintly nauseating effect of FTL-travel.
"Jumping in Three...Two...One...now!", Tricia announced, thumbing the control activation.
With a flash, the raptor made the jump. With another flash, the raptor entered the system. Tricia immediately powered the raptor’s engines down. Gorde did likewise with the active sensors, only leaving the passive sensor platform on-line.
Recon Raptor One – System Probe
While the was coasting, Gorde started to monitor what his passive sensors were showing. Unlike the active sensor array, the passive sensors could only listen. Gorde monitored for a few minutes, then turned to Tricia.
"Sheba", he said, "passive sensors indicate no communications or other tell-tale radio emissions from anything but natural sources".
"So far, so good", Tricia replied, "Start a low-grade active sensor scan and see if there are any planets in this system".
"Will do", Gorde replied. Activating his active sensors - though only the low-level scanners so as to avoid an obvious announcing of their presence, Gorde started the planetary search routine.
"Got one", Gorde announced after about a minute. "It’s approximately 1.2 A.U.s from its sun. It has a single satellite. Grid reference Seven five tarim niner eight".
"Okay, Newguy", Tricia replied after getting a confirm on her control panel, "this is what we'll do. Plot us an FTL jump to come out just behind its satellite. Let’s just stay careful and perhaps we can get this survey over with quickly".
Gorde punched in the new plot on his navi-comp. The computer quickly worked out the jump parameters and in a few seconds, sent the plot to Tricia's inertial navigation platform.
"Right", Tricia announced, "get strapped on in. We’re going to make the next jump".
Gorde strapped back into his seat. "Whenever you're ready, Sheba", he called back.
"Jumping in three...two...one...jump!" Tricia announced as she activated the control for the second time.
The familiar effects of dizziness and nausea briefly made themselves felt as the raptor jumped to the new co-ordinates. As soon as the jump was completed, the raptor went straight back into its low-level scan mode to check out the satellite. The raptor had emerged on the side of the satellite - a rather small moon barely a hundred miles in diameter - that shielded it from the planet that it was orbiting.
"Nothing to note regarding the satellite", Gorde said after a few minutes of scanning it. Tricia grunted an acknowledgment. It wasn't really surprising as the moon was just an airless, heavily cratered hunk of rock.
"Okay, Newguy", Tricia said after a few more minutes of scanning in order to make sure that this moon did not have a similar magnetic core as the asteroid that Syke had found the crashed Cylon ship on, "we'll go into silent routine. We're going around the other side of the moon and we'll start a passive scan of the planet itself".
Gorde powered down the active sensors as Tricia brought the raptor over the terminator and around to the other side of the moon. Tricia saw the planet rise over the moon’s horizon out of her cockpit window.
"The planet doesn't look habitable either", Tricia said as it came into view. "Looks like a methane atmosphere, judging from the green color".
"So I guess we can start a more active scan of...wait a minute!" Gorde suddenly said, "The passive sensors are picking up something rising out of the planet's atmosphere. It’s a bogey", he added using the pilot’s term for an unidentified craft.
"Put it up on my screen", Tricia ordered. Gorde punched in the command.
Tricia saw the contact rise into an orbital path over the planet. As the passive sensors were online only, the only evidence of the contact was its exhaust residue. Gorde was doing an analysis of the exhaust.
"The bogey's exhaust has an ion residue with traces of Di-ethene", he reported. Tricia knew what that meant.
"Frack!" Tricia exclaimed, "it's Cylon. Our bogey is now a hostile".
Di-ethene was a corrupted form of a much longer chemical name, which no-one wanted to memorize. The reason why it was bad news was that Di-ethene was a gas exclusively of Cylon manufacture and was emitted as a waste product from its propulsion systems.
"The hostile is not performing as a raider, Sheba", Gorde noticed from his sensors, "it's going rather slow and erratic, plus the exhaust signature is indicative of a larger ship".
"Think that you can get an ID on the ship type with low level scan?" Tricia asked next.
"Yeah, I think so", Gorde replied.
"Then do it", she ordered. She did not need to add, "keep our presence unknown".
Gorde activated his scanner array. Being careful to keep his scans in a very narrow arc so as to minimize the chance of any other ship picking up the electromagnetic emissions, Gorde set the scanner to minimum power and tracked on the Cylon ship. A match to his warbook (ship identifier) was quickly made.
"Warbook says it is a Cylon Tanker. Type is that of the class they used in the last war. The scanner indicates that it’s full of high-grade Tylium", Gorde reported.
"Right, Newguy. Switch off your platform. Let’s go back to passive mode", Tricia acknowledged. Gorde did so.
Tricia still used the passive sensors to monitor the tanker’s flight path. After a few minutes, the tanker blanked out from her screen.
"The tanker has FTL-ed", Tricia stated.
"Full tanker eh?" Gorde mused, "You think that there could be a tyllium refinery down there?"
"That's a pretty good guess", Tricia replied, "but let’s just get confirmation on that before we head back to Home Plate".
"Right", Gorde replied. Tricia let the raptor coast. She had set a course so that it would pass close to (but not directly over) the position on the planet where the tanker had come from. By staying in silent mode, the raptor would hopefully look like a piece of space debris. In a way, this was taking a chance on discovery, and was stretching Syke's order somewhat, but Tricia knew that a source of Tyllium would benefit the Pegasus immensely, and thus more information about it would be needed.
"Okay", Gorde reported after they had come closer to the planet, "I'm picking up emissions from the surface near where the tanker first appeared".
"Electromagnetic?" Tricia asked. Cylon centurions – at least those in the last war – could be detected by their electromagnetic emissions.
"Negative", Gorde replied, "It's a combination of gaseous pollutants. Some di-ethene, but mainly solium".
Solium was a by-product of Tyllium. That particular compound came out from refining tyllium ore into its volatile liquid fuel state. While less volatile than tyllium, it was nonetheless an extremely toxic gas and colonial refineries had to utilize extreme care as it was very insidious and could often not be detected until it was too late. The fact that Gorde could detect solium from orbit meant that the refinery here would have been producing tyllium for quite a period of time.
"If there's no electromagnetic emissions", Tricia mused, "then there is a good chance that this refinery complex may be purely automated. When we pass closest to the area, you do a quick scan, then go straight back into silent mode. Okay?", she asked Gorde. Gorde acknowledged with a nod.
As the raptor made its approach - agonizingly slowly so as to appear inert, Gorde very carefully brought his active scanner array back online. As the raptor made its closest approach, he set his scanners to the co-ordinates of the pollution.
"Got it!" Gorde announced, "It’s an automated refinery all right. No sign of any life down there - which explains why there are detectable amounts of solium present - or any electromagnetic signatures indicating toasters. There's a single docking bay with no ships docked to it. Switching off now", he said.
Tricia displayed the data from Gorde's scanner on her screen. The complex looked like a large oval dome. Pipes jutted out from its walls and went into the ground. The scan data showed that the refinery was sitting upon an immense deposit of tyllium - much larger than any she had seen before. Beside the refinery were the exhaust chimneys pumping their solium and di-ethene waste into the atmosphere. Next to those were what looked to be the holding tanks for the refined fuel. The landing pad for the tanker was located there.
"Okay, Newguy, I think we've seen enough. Let's coast along for a bit further and get some distance from the refinery, then we'll FTL back to Home Plate", Tricia decided.
"Sounds fine to me Sheba", Gorde replied, then said "Wait one. Passive sensors are picking up another set of exhaust emissions coming from a spacecraft. It's behind us and closing in".
"Punch up the rear scan data to my screen, Newguy", Tricia ordered. The passive sensors made definitive identification difficult, but they were still rather close to the planet on coast mode so any move to power up would mean discovery by any sensors that might be on the planet - if not by the approaching contact.
"Passive scan now indicates three contacts. Emissions indicate one large ship and two smaller ones. Initial course projections show them heading toward the refinery. Emissions definitely Cylon", Gorde reported.
She switched her screen to the external cameras. She placed the rear cameras on full magnification. The contacts resolved themselves into definite shapes as they got closer. It was another tanker and it was escorted by two Cylon raiders.
"Frakk", Tricia muttered. The raptor was no match for those raiders. Gorde well knew the odds of surviving a dogfight with those - after all, it was only due to missile decoys and no small amount of luck that had saved Lieutenant JG Karl 'Helo' Agathon when his raptor been attacked near Caprica at the beginning of the war. Gorde hoped that Helo had somehow survived back on Caprica. He still felt guilty about leaving him behind when the Pegasus picked him up...
Hoping devoutly that the Cylons would not pick up their raptor on their sensors - or if they did they would think it a piece of inert debris - Tricia watched the trio of ships getting closer to their position. They were just beyond naked-eye range, but if either of those raiders decided to fly further along...
"Okay", Gorde said, "Looks like the tanker is landing at the refinery. The two raiders have reversed direction and are heading back the way they came. No transmissions from any of them have been detected either". After a minute or so, Gorde continued, "The raiders have FTL-ed and the tanker has landed".
"Start plotting a return to Home Plate, Newguy", Tricia ordered, silently breathing a sigh of relief, "We’ll jump as soon as we round the planet's terminator".