Book 2 - Chapter 8
CHAPTER EIGHT: A surprise in the System
Survey Probe One – Theta System
"So far, I'm not detecting any milginite ore on sensors", Gorde reported. Tricia nodded an acknowledgment. They had made orbit over the planet and had just started the initial scan of the northern hemisphere’s equatorial region.
The planet did indeed have a breathable atmosphere, but it didn't seem quite right, Tricia thought to herself. For starters, the planet was rather small and while there was vegetation, it seemed to only be concentrated in one region of the planet’s southern hemisphere. As they were trying to locate minerals and not vegetation, Gorde had recommended scanning the mountainous terrain of the northern hemisphere as there would be the best chance of locating milginite.
"Looks like the north is not going to have what we need", Gorde said after a few minutes more of fruitless effort.
"In that case, we'd better get started on scanning the southern hemisphere", Tricia replied.
"Are you sure that's worth the effort, Sheba?" Gorde asked, "after all, milginite is not a localized mineral. On the worlds which have it, it's pretty well dispersed all over".
"I don't want to go back empty handed without taking a good look, Newguy", Tricia replied, "besides, there’s something not quite right about this world".
"You’re the boss", Gorde replied. Sheba set her controls to start covering the south. Newguy was probably right, she thought, but she just could not leave without scanning the entire planet.
"Hello", Gorde sounded after he started his Southern Hemisphere scan.
"What'cha got, Newguy?", Tricia asked.
"In the midst of the area of vegetation, I’m picking up indications of something made out of metal. No life readings besides the vegetation, but the metallic indications are unmistakable" Gorde answered.
"Get a close-up scan of that area", Tricia ordered. Gorde calibrated his sensor platform and re-focused on the anomaly. What Gorde saw was very interesting.
"It looks like a probe of some kind. About eight meters in diameter. It's in a deployed state - like an open four-petalled metal flower", Gorde described, "and it looks like it's been down there for some time. The close-up scan indicates that it has a colonial emblem on its hull", he announced.
"What's a colonial probe doing way out here? We’re way beyond the Red Line", Tricia responded, "Newguy, run the warbook for an identification on that probe type", she then ordered.
"Running the check now", Gorde replied. After perhaps twenty seconds (an eternity for the warbook), a match was made. Gorde whistled as he read the output.
"This answers quite a few questions", Gorde said as he passed the output sheet to Tricia.
The warbook identified the probe as one of the type used in an old operation called ‘Seeder’. According to the specifications, ‘Seeder’ probes were designed to make random FTL jumps into uncharted space in order to search and locate planetoids meeting certain criteria such as a carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere. Once one was found, the probe would eject a genetically engineered algae into the atmosphere. This algae would feed off the atmosphere and exhume oxygen in its place. And as the algae were an exponential replicator, the process would be a fairly fast one. After the air had been completely oxygenated, the algae would then die and bio-degrade into nutrients that would drift down to the surface.
While the algae was engaged in making a breathable atmosphere, the probe would land on the surface and deploy, then it would spray into the air specially developed seeds that would drift on the planets winds and settle upon the surface. These seeds would then grow vegetation. Within about eighty years or so - depending on the planet size, the seeded planet would be suitable for habitation. The probe - which would have gone dormant while the vegetation was taking hold - would then reactivate and send out a signal to the Twelve Worlds informing them that the planet was ready to receive its human pioneer colonists.
Project ‘Seeder’ had been started about a century previously. The project was abandoned when the First Cylon War started. It had been decided that colonizing new planets too far away from the well-defended Twelve Worlds while the Cylons were still a threat was too risky. The newly seeded worlds were left alone, and Operation ‘Seeder’ was gradually forgotten.
"So, this is one of the worlds that got seeded", Tricia said after she had finished reading the output, "and it looks like that the process is not quite finished. That would explain the localized vegetation".
"There's better news too, Sheba", Gorde said, "I ran a more detailed scan on the seeder probe itself, and its hull is made of an alloy that contains high amounts of milginite. While there's none on this planet that I can find, we could take the probe back to the PEGASUS and extract what we need from it".
"The probe is too big to fit in the cargo bay, Newguy", Tricia pointed out.
"We only need fifty grams of milginite, Sheba", Gorde replied, "and two of the four petal-shaped deployment panels can definitely yield that amount. We just cannibalize the probe for those panels".
Tricia thought about Gorde’s idea. It made sense.
"Sounds like a plan. I think it’s safe to break communications silence and to get Razor over here. We use both raptors to take back what we can", Tricia replied.
With that, Tricia opened her ship-to-ship wireless.
"Sheba to Razor, Sheba to Razor", she communicated, "break silence and respond, please".
"This is Razor", the reply came back, "Whats up, Sheba?".
"Make an FTL-jump to my co-ordinates", she directed, "We've found what we are looking for and we're going to need both ships to get the goodies back to Home Plate". Despite her confidence in no one in this system overhearing the communication, it still made good sense to keep things vague.
"Understood, Sheba", Dutch replied, "We'll be right along. Razor out".
A little over a minute later, Dutch's raptor exited it's hyper-light FTL jump just off from Tricia’s ship. After activating the secure laser-communications band, Tricia filled Dutch in on their discovery.
"Well, that's more than what we found, Sheba", Razor replied, "we surveyed a bunch of small airless asteroids and came up with nothing".
"We're going to land by the probe and remove it's opened panels. We take as much as we can and get it back up to Home Plate. The techs can do the rest", Tricia stated, "so commence the landing cycle and follow us in".
Battlestar Pegasus – Combat Information Center
At that moment, back on board the Pegasus, Captain Sanders reported to Colonel Tolen.
"Survey Probe Two has FTL-ed back, Colonel", Captain Sanders reported to Tolen.
"They found anything in their system?" Tolen asked.
"They surveyed two planets in the Epsilon system but found no traces of milginite", Sanders replied.
Tolen sighed. Not good. First, the Base Star that was slowly but surely getting closer to their position, and now one of the two survey probes returning empty handed.
"Get them back on board, Comms", Tolen ordered. Sanders nodded and went over to the Core Command console. He keyed his commlink.
"Comms to Dookie", he communicated to the probe commander, "Come back to the stable, both of you. Expedite".
"Understood, Comms", Lt. Connor replied, "We're heading in".
Commander Cain had walked back in to CIC and had caught the last of the conversation.
"So Survey Probe Two came up with nothing", he stated. Tolen nodded.
"Perhaps Survey Probe One will have better luck", Tolen replied hopefully.
"Well, they don't have too much time before we have to make a jump", Cain reminded him, "any reports from our patrols?"
"So far, CAG is reporting that the current Cylon patrols are not coming anywhere near us, but the base star has not changed course and unless it does, we will shortly be within their sensor range", Tolen answered.
"We'll wait until the last minute', Cain decided.
“You want to send a raptor out to the Theta system and inform the survey probe about the base star?” Tolen asked.
“No”, Cain replied, “Because if we end up having to give battle, I’ll need the raptors here to lend fire support. Besides, we don’t know where exactly in the system the raptors are and putting out a wide-field wireless hail may end up being picked up by the toasters”.
Tolen nodded, impressed at Cain’s resolve. He knew that Cain knew that his daughter was commanding Survey Probe One. He wondered if he could be so stoical if it was his daughter out there…
Survey Probe One – Theta System – ‘Seeder’ Planet
Back at the ‘seeder’ planet, both raptors had already landed and now both crews were in the process of dismantling the deployed panels on the ‘seeder’ probe.
"Boy, this air is still a little thin to comfortably breathe, Razor", Watt remarked while helping Dutch load one of the panels into his raptor.
"Newguy showed me the serial number on this probe", Dutch replied, "It was one of the last ones launched - just before the First Cylon War broke out. This planet was not supposed to be ready for another forty years yet, when enough vegetation had taken root in order to produce more oxygen. Evidently, there was not all that much of an original atmosphere for the algae to convert to oxygen", he concluded.
"Pity we found this planet before the effects of the seeding were completed", Gorde remarked to Tricia while he was working on removing another panel.
"Even if it was, I don’t think that the Old Man would want to stay. He wants to get back into the fight", Tricia replied.
"Well, our portable scanners confirm that there is more than enough extractable milginite in these panels. That will keep the commander happy", Gorde commented, “not to mention Major Thyssen”.
The panels were rather heavy, but the smaller size of the planet made for lower gravity, which made the panels just light enough to lift. It was still rather tiring, owing to the thinness of the atmosphere, but at least they found what the Pegasus sorely needed.
The panel finally came loose, and Gorde and Sheba picked it up from either end and carried it over to their raptor. The probe had four petal panels, so both raptors would take two each. That should provide enough milginite to keep the energizers going for a long time. All they had to do now was to get the panels back up to the Pegasus.
Black Knight wing Viper Patrol
It was while Tricia and Dutch were cannibalizing the ‘Seeder’ probe that out on the extreme right patrol flank from the Pegasus, two vipers were patrolling their assigned area. With the news that a base star was in the vicinity, it became even more important to make sure that no unwelcome intruder from the base star – like a Cylon raider - suddenly FTL-ed in the area.
Ensigns Virgil 'Zipper' Morgan and Phillip 'Charmer' Agar were flying the patrol. Both were rooks in Black Knight Wing. Morgan was commanding the patrol. Both vipers were spread well out from each other so as to more efficiently use their sensors. Agar stiffled a yawn, then activated his wireless.
"How long before our relief, Zipper?" Agar wanted to know.
"Not for another twenty minutes, Charmer", Morgan replied, "but let’s not let our guard down", he reminded his wingman.
Agar squirmed a little in his cockpit seat. These endless patrols were hard on one’s system. He just wanted to fight toasters, not just pull patrol duty all of the time. He had lost a lot of good friends when the Pacifica had been destroyed and wanted to inflict some payback...
Just then, Agar saw a flash of light just off to his right. “Frakk!” he thought to himself, it’s a Cylon Raider exiting an FTL-jump!
"We’ve got a hostile", he communicated, "jamming his transmissions now".
"Take it out now, Charmer!" Morgan ordered, "We can’t let it jump back and tell the base star about us".
Agar was already engaging the raider. The Cylon ship was so far evading the shots coming from Agars viper. Morgan was coming in at full throttle in order to assist.
The raider abruptly turned so that its armament faced backwards, towards Agar's viper. It first tried using it's beam weapon, but the vipers retrofitted software was unaffected by the effects of it. Agar was about to communicate "their beam isn't working!" when the raider released a missile.
The missile homed in on the viper in a corkscrewing flight pattern. Agar tried to shoot it out of the sky, but he could not lock his weapons in on it. The viper was hit by the missile right where the fuel tank was and it's warhead detonated. Morgan saw Agar's viper explode into miniature fragments.
"You'll pay for that, you bastard" Morgan muttered. The Cylon ships attention was on Agar's destroyed ship and did not see Morgan's viper homing in until it was too late. The Raider disintegrated under the barrage of the viper's cannons. Morgan immediately keyed his communicator to the Pegasus' emergency tactical frequency.
"Zipper to Home Plate, Zipper to Home Plate", he called, "This is Zipper declaring an emergency, over".
"Situation please, Zipper", Annan replied.
"We engaged a Raider that FTL-ed in our patrol area - grid five-niner tarim one-seven", Morgan answered, "The raider has been destroyed, but it got Charmer before I got it".
"Proceed back to Home Plate, Zipper", Annan ordered, "the relief patrol is expediting to your position. Acknowledge".
"Acknowledged, Home Plate", Morgan replied, "I don’t know how long before that ship is going to be missed, but it's only a matter of time. Zipper returning to base".
Battlestar Pegasus – Combat Information Center
Annan put down her commlink and looked at Cain, who had been listening in.
"Where on the map did the patrol make contact?" Cain wanted to know.
Sanders – who had been standing nearby - quickly conferred with Annan, and then walked over to the map table and pointed to a position on it. Tolen, who had walked up to the table with Cain, nodded.
"Judging from that position, that was a far forward probe", Tolen conjectured, 'which means that the base star is wanting to know what’s ahead of it".
"Which means that when that destroyed raider misses its rendezvous, they will definitely want to know what’s up ahead", Cain stated, "so how much longer at current speed will the base star have us on their scanners?" he asked Sanders.
"Estimated time until that happens is in less than ninety minutes", Sanders replied.
"We jump in eighty minutes from now, unless they decide to increase speed - and that can be at any time", Cain ordered, "so start plotting a jump point to the next sector".
"What about Survey Probe One?" Sanders asked, "should we send a raptor ahead with a recall order?".
"We can't take the chance on losing any more raptors should we be forced to jump early", Cain replied, shaking his head.
"Lieutenant Cain is in command of that probe, Commander", Sanders pointed out.
"I'm well aware of that fact, Captain", Cain replied icily, "but the raptors are the only intelligence platforms we have. And we have to retain them. The jump time will stand".
"Commander", one of the communications specialists reported, "the relief patrol have just reached the wreckage of the destroyed viper. They want to know what to do with it".
"We have no time to salvage it, so have them fire a couple of more missiles at it so that nothing recognizable is left. I don’t want the Cylons to be able to identify anything from it", Cain replied.
"Hell of a way for a pilot to go - with no burial" Tolen said to himself. He knew that Cain felt the same way, but the circumstances could not be ignored. He only hoped that Tricia’s survey probe would return.
Cain kept up a stoic facade, but inside, he was screaming. He did not want to leave Agar's body, but there was simply no time to retrieve it. Having to order the relief patrol to use high-yield weapons to blast it - and the remains of the viper - into an unrecognizable cloud of debris was simply indescribable. And on top of that, the very real possibility that he would have to abandon his only daughter! The old saying that command was never easy was proving to be a real understatement.