Garris' Pegasus. Book Three: The Cylon Gauntlet (rewrite)
Cyrannus System – Virgon Space Elevator
The Female Humanoid Cylon acting as the Supreme Leader was sitting in an alcove just off the control center at the top of the massive space elevator. 'She' was reading a report on the current situation. Now that it had been just over a month since the surprise attack, the final mopping up phase within the Cyrannus System was now well under way. Several patrols of Hunter-Killers had already reported eradicating small groups of humans who had somehow survived the aftermath of the nuclear attack. The reports were encouraging. It should not be all that much longer before the Twelve Worlds would be declared fully human-free.
However, 'she' was still not convinced that they had indeed taken care of every human here in the colonies. Not counting the ones that had escaped from Ragnar Anchorage, there were still a handful of warships unaccounted for from the now-destroyed colonial fleet and recent events suggested that at least one of these units - perhaps more - could have survived. The loss of a base star four weeks ago at Molecay Anchorage, then the loss of one of the Cylons' biggest tyllium refineries and on top of that, a severely damaged base star - at the hands of an exploding fuel tanker from that same refinery - in the Vardon Sector only a couple of days ago had made this supposition a very real one.
The strength of the Colonial (home) Fleet on the eve of the attack was one hundred and twenty-two battlestars in commission. One hundred and ten had thus far been fully confirmed as destroyed. Of the remaining twelve, one - the battlestar called Galactica - had escaped into deep space taking with it a number of civilian ships. There was a concerted effort to seek out and destroy them under way. The remaining unaccounted battlestars had been presumed destroyed along with the task forces that they had been a part of in the opening phase of the war, but so far, no substantial wreckage from any of them had been found. And while this was not conclusive proof of their survival, neither was it conclusive proof of their destruction.
One of the Number Seven models on board another base star in the Vardon Sector had theorized that if there were colonial fleet survivors, it could be from a warship that was not on the Home fleet list – in other words, a Reserve Fleet vessel . As a result of this hypothesis, 'she' had gone back through the intelligence reports (that had been taken from the computers at Picon Fleet Headquarters before the attack) in order to check this hypothesis out. "she' had found out that there was a class of ship that had been recently been taken out of service: what the humans called a battlecruiser. These particular warships had only one landing bay, but otherwise were similar to the larger battlestars. The last three of this class: Avenger, Goliath and Courageous, had been recently decommissioned and had been removed to various fleet facilities in order to be scrapped. The problem though was that all the fleet facilities had been thoroughly destroyed - including a base star when the facility on the Tauron moon of Tartulas had been vaporized (due to its main reactor going super-critical). That made confirming their destruction much more difficult.
She had ended up calling a council-of-war with several of the humanoid Cylons in order to come up with a plan to find whoever - or whatever - was behind the recent losses to their fleet. The decision to set up a trap using Valhalla Station as bait for any surviving warship was made and the preparations for it were now well under way, but 'she' had also realized that if there was more than just one additional human warship out there staging a guerilla war, this trap may not work. It was annoying for a race that valued certainties to be confronted with something that they were not sure about, because the best way to defeat an enemy was to be sure of what you were up against. But because they did not know, then it forced them to have to divide their assets and disperse them in an effort to locate the unknown foe. That tied up a lot of base ships which could be better used in helping hunt down the Galactica and its convoy of civilian ships.
The Valhalla Station plan was a good one and she decided to wait and see what developed from it. But she would still keep several base stars deployed in the Vardon Sector - and other neighboring sectors for the time being. Even divided up, the Cylon fleet was still formidable, and once these unknown forces had been found, they would be easily dealt with. She would rely on the searching Base Stars to set a few traps of their own as well...
Deep Space - Optus Sector
The rapid acceleration forced him back into his seat as the viper was catapulted down the long launch tube and out into space. Lieutenant Lyle Blanke (call-sign 'Cooler') was leading a two-man reconnaissance probe and it was something that he was looking forward to doing.
Blanke was the Deputy CAG of Silver Spar Wing. Unlike the three Silver Spar squadron commanders who flew as often as their subordinate pilots, Blanke had spent far more time sitting in the wing administration annex making out patrol schedules and doing other paperwork so that his boss, Captain Eugene Syke, would be free to do the serious job of supervising all of the squadrons in the wing.
A typical wing on a battlestar consisted of a minimum of forty to fifty vipers and two raptors, which in the case of Silver Spar Wing were formed into three squadrons and a recon flight. Each squadron usually fielded twelve fighters each with the remainder kept back at base as a reserve. The raptor section, which was under the command of Lt. Tricia 'Sheba' Cain, would either assist any or all of the squadrons in supporting an attack formation, or be used for extensive system reconnaissance missions. Blanke had to make sure that the CAG and the pilots had everything that they needed to do their jobs.
While he was a good administrator, he really wanted to fly. Syke however, needed him to keep the wing smoothly running - especially in this difficult time. He had to improvise a lot in getting equipment that the flight crews and maintenance crews needed, which meant that he could not be spared for the flight roster. He was getting resigned to the fact that he probably would not be doing any more flying in the short to medium term when Syke had come in to the office earlier this morning.
"Hi, Cooler", Syke said when he walked into the admin annex, "everything okay with the wing today?", he asked.
"Yeah, CAG", he had answered, "those two vipers from (Silver) Spar (Squadron) One that had been grounded earlier are back up and running okay. Chief Krag jury-rigged some new valves from some old tubing he found in storage. They ended up being more robust than the real thing", he concluded with a smile.
Syke laughed, replying, "Well, that will keep Ratchet happy", referring to the commander of Spar One, Lt. Carla 'Ratchet' Halley.
Blanke nodded, but Syke must have noticed something because he then said, "You okay, Cooler?"
"I'm fine, CAG", he replied, "just a little tired".
Syke wasn't fooled. After all, everyone was tired. He sensed that his deputy wasn't happy for another reason. He said, "It's tough having to stay back and fly a desk, isn't it?"
"Was I that obvious?" Blanke replied. Syke nodded.
"You're doing a hell of a job keeping the wing going, Lyle", Syke had complimented, using Blanke's first name, "and I was going to ask you to find a spare pilot, but how would you like a break and run a patrol probe today instead?"
Blanke smiled, then frowned and asked, "what about the paperwork, CAG? There are things that still need doing".
"Don't worry about that", Syke replied, "as I have someone to run things while you're away. Jet sprained his ankle when he stumbled out of his viper, so he's temporarily grounded until he can walk on it again".
"What's the patrol?" Blanke had asked next, smiling at the opportunity. Ensign Vansen's bad luck was his good luck, he thought.
"Far forward probe', Syke responded, "It's the usual long-duration coast to see what the Pegasus is heading into. Your wingman will be Growler".
Blanke nodded. Lieutenant JG Peter 'Growler' Benson was a competent pilot. If Jet hadn't have injured himself, Growler would be leading the patrol. But since he outranked Growler...
"Better get yourself suited up and head out to Bay Five. The patrol is due to start in forty minutes. Core Command will give you your vector once you launch. Have fun", Syke said as Blanke had stood up and started heading to the door.
"Thanks, CAG", Blanke had said on the way out of the door. Syke watched him go, and then sent a page out for Ensign Vansen to report to the administration annex...
Now, forty minutes later, Blanke was on his way. Benson's viper followed his out of the launch tubes and formed up on his port-side wing.
"Good to see you out of the office, Cooler", Benson had communicated.
"Hey, Growler, this is why I joined up in the first place" he replied cheerfully. He looked out of his cockpit window at Benson's viper. Benson grinned at him and gave him a thumbs-up.
Lieutenant JG Ginnie Annan at Pegasus Core Command had then contacted Blanke and provided the patrol vector. After setting the course on the autopilot, he signaled his wingman.
"Okay, Growler, let's do it", he ordered.
Both vipers accelerated to full power and held it there for five minutes. The Pegasus rapidly receded from view as the patrol pulled further ahead. When the five minute mark had been reached, both of them cut their viper's engines. Now the vipers were coasting in fuel conservation mode. For the next few hours, they would be watching their sensors as the autopilot made slight course corrections on their trajectory.
Battlestar Pegasus – Silver Spar Wing HQ
While Blanke and Benson were commencing their patrol, the wing's three squadron commanders and Tricia Cain had entered the main office expecting to see Blanke getting ready to hand them their squadron's duty rosters. They were surprised when they saw Captain Syke and Ensign Vansen sitting there instead. All four of them saluted Syke, who returned the gesture.
"Where's Cooler, CAG?", Lieutenant Chester 'Pacer' Warden - the commander of Spar Three - asked after dropping his hand.
"He needed a break from the grind of the office, so he's out on patrol", Syke answered.
While Syke was talking, Vansen passed to Lt. Warden, Lt. Halley, Tricia, and Lt. Andrew 'Straight-Shooter' Macklin - the commander of Spar Two - their crew rotation schedules. Macklin noticed Vansen limping and looked down at his right leg - where it was in a temporary cast.
"Grounded, huh, Jet?" Macklin asked with a smile. Vansen nodded ruefully.
"A patrol probe is a break?" Tricia asked Syke with an incredulous tone.
"With all of the paperwork and the other unglamorous chores that he had been stuck with since he was appointed Deputy CAG, flying a boring patrol is a break for him", Syke answered. Tricia and the others laughed at that.
"Anyway, I don't think the wing will fold up and die while Cooler is out on patrol, so let's get back to our respective groups of pilots and give them their rosters, okay?", Syke suggested. All four of them nodded, and then headed out of the office. All of the squadrons in Silver Spar Wing were going to have their fair share of patrols today.
Optus Sector – Viper Patrol
While Silver Spar's command staff headed out to brief their pilots, the subject of their recent discussion was settling in on his mission. Blanke's patrol was now well away from the Pegasus and right on schedule. Both vipers were maintaining voice contact with a line-of-sight laser communications system to ensure that no one else could intercept any wireless communication.
"I'm picking up nothing but small rocks and other natural debris so far", Benson had communicated.
"Same here, Growler", Blanke replied. It was the usual type of 'returns' on their sensors. There was nothing to indicate any kind of presence by anyone here. This sector was even sparser than the Vardon Sector.
"Why did you think Actual wanted to jump out here?", Benson asked, "The Optus sector is just a lot of empty space".
"Since I'm not privy to his private coffee-and-pastry functions, I can't really answer you. So sorry", Blanke replied faintly sarcastically.
"I can do without the humor, thank you, Cooler", Benson answered, "but you must have some idea - being the Deputy CAG and all".
"Deputy CAG is really just a nice title for the one who has to do all of the CAG's unpleasant little tasks, so that he is not distracted from the things that matter", Blanke retorted, "and even Captain Syke sometimes is not fully aware of what the Old Man is up to, you know that, Growler".
"If anything happens to Bojay though", Benson replied, using Syke's call-sign, "you're the one who is going to have to take over and run the wing, so you have to keep yourself informed of what's going on, in case something does happen".
"Well then", Blanke answered, "let's hope that Bojay doesn't have anything happen to him. He's a hell of a good pilot, and a good leader".
"He likes to keep his distance though", Benson pointed out, "He's always welcome to join in on one of our bull sessions, but when we invite him, he always replies that he has other things that needs to be done. He never even joins in for an occasional game of cards, and he had a reputation for being one hell of a good player when he was on the Australis".
"What's your point, Growler?" Blanke asked Benson with a faint undertone of disapproval. Benson missed that signal entirely.
"I'm saying that I think Bojay let his job go to his head some when he was promoted to Captain and then sent over to the Pegasus to be the new CAG", Benson said.
"That comment was way out of line, Growler", Blanke answered icily, "The CAG has to remain aloof from those he commands. He has a grave responsibility to protect the Pegasus with the wing and if he is called upon to send some, most, or even all of us on a mission that could result in our not coming back, it's better that he not be too close to those he is responsible for".
"It makes him sleep easier at night not knowing the pilots he might be killing, you mean?", Benson asked acidly.
"You'd best keep that opinion to yourself, Benson", Blanke admonished firmly, "You don't know what you're talking about. Just what the hell do you think we do for a living? If we have to lay down our lives in order to protect the Pegasus, then that's what we do, and for your information, Bojay does not sleep well at night as he cares about the wing, but also realizes his duty to the Pegasus".
"But...", Benson tried to argue.
"But me no buts, Growler", Blanke interrupted him, "If and when you get a command, perhaps you'll have a clearer idea of what it takes to be a good leader. Anyway, let's get our minds back onto the patrol and keep our eyes peeled". His tone of voice had made it clear that the topic of the CAG was closed.
Benson wasn't convinced by Blanke's argument and was smarting some at the rebuke. Still, Blanke was the patrol commander and they were supposed to out here patrolling, not chatting. He put his attention back onto the scanner, but the conversation had created some adrenalin and he thought that maybe he should do something to work it off. After thinking about it for a couple of minutes, he keyed his communicator again.
"Cooler, with all of this debris drifting about, do you mind if I take a couple of shots at a few boulders in our flight path?" he asked.
Blanke thought about Benson's request. It was a good way to check the calibration of the guns. Despite Chief Petty Officer George Krag being an expert on the computer responsible for honing the vipers' targeting and acquisition platforms, there was really no substitute for live target practice, and it would serve to deflect attention from the recent hassle regarding Syke.
"Sure, Growler, go ahead", he replied, "Ten cubits says you'll miss the first one".
"You're on, Cooler", Benson replied with a laugh, "I'm weapons-free", he then said as he flipped the safety switch off his firing trigger.
"Guns only, Growler", Blanke reminded him, "because I really don't want to have to explain to Alternate" - meaning Colonel Tolen - "why we wasted a few missiles on asteroid debris".
"Killjoy", Growler replied jokingly. Their recent argument was now forgotten as Benson looked for a nearby boulder to blast. He saw one approach - what looked to be a potato-shaped rock about two meters in diameter. His targeting computer noticed that it would pass quite close to Blanke's viper. He decided to shoot at it when it was almost at the point of closest approach so as to impress Blanke with his marksmanship. It was also a subtle way to get back at him for his rebuke.
"Target located and locked", Benson announced, waiting for the optimum moment, "firing...now!"
The vipers were equipped with multiple missile racks and two rapid-fire cannons. These latter weapons fired special-shaped aluminum bullets which were accelerated at a high rate by means of a magnetic field generator in the base of the weapon. The high fire rate of the gun and the ultra-high speed of these bullets made for devastating penetration power. However, neither of them was prepared for the result of the firing.
Both of them thought that a couple of rounds would shatter the boulder. Blanke was a little surprised at the close proximity of the rounds from Benson's guns coming close to his viper, but then he saw the now-very close boulder get hit by the rounds. The next thing, there was a massive explosion. Blanke's viper was caught in the blast, causing his ship to hurtle out of control.
"Frakk!" he exclaimed, "What was that?"
"I did not use warheads, Cooler", Benson blurted out, "the boulder just exploded!'.
"My viper's been fried from the blast. I'm in trouble", Blanke replied while struggling to regain control of his viper. It was slowly tumbling, and his control jets would not start up. Power levels were fluctuating.
"I'm heading over to check you out", Benson replied, powering up his viper and heading over to where Blanke's ship was drifting.
Benson expertly brought his viper in close to Blanke's, and he proceeded to check his ship over on all sides. Blanke watched Benson maneuver his viper first over, then beneath. He heard Benson whistle as he passed underneath.
"It looks like the blast tore out a lot of the underside, Cooler", Benson reported, after surveying the damage caused by the exploding boulder, "How are you holding up?"
"My life support system is okay for the moment", Blanke replied, "but why would a piece of rock blow up like that?" he asked, "I'm okay for the moment, but can you take a long range shot at another asteroid?"
"Will do", he replied, then selected another boulder of similar size - there were quite a lot in this vicinity - and targeted his guns on it. This time it was a lot farther away from them, which was just as well. The boulder exploded with the same amount of force as the first rounds fired hit it.
"What's going on here?" Benson asked aloud.
"Fly in close to one of those boulders and take a detailed scan of it", Blanke ordered, "I've got a nasty feeling about this".
"Me too", Benson replied as he switched off his targeting computer and activated his narrow-field scanner. It was good for intensive scanning at close range. Another boulder came into view and Benson brought his viper in just close enough for the scanner to be able to survey the boulder, in case the scanning caused an explosion. What the scans showed was a shock.
"It's a frakking mine!" he exclaimed. Blanke's suspicion was confirmed. But who or what had left it here?
"Get a warbook classification on the type", Blanke ordered. With his viper inert, he could only wait and hear what Benson had to say. The next bit of news was even worse.
"Warbook says that it's a Cylon mine. One of the type fours used in the last war - set to explode on impact or very close proximity. Those tin-headed toasters must have disguised them as space debris and seeded this area with them. What I don't get is why? There are no planets or any ships or bases nearby", Benson reported.
"The why of it can wait", Blanke replied, "The important thing is that the Pegasus needs to know that it's approaching a disguised minefield, so you better take a quick scan of this area to get an idea of its size, and then head back to report this to the Old Man".
"What about you, Cooler?" Benson demanded, "I don't want to leave you here. With you adrift and the high probability of more mines nearby..."
Blanke cut him off, saying, "You have to. If you don't report this ASAP, then the Pegasus will be in real trouble. Have a rescue ship dispatched when you get back. Now go, that's an order!", he shouted.
Benson wanted to stay, but Blanke was right. This was no time to worry about one pilot when the thousands of lives on board the Pegasus was at risk. Reluctantly, he punched in a plot for returning to the battlestar.
"Heading back now", he quietly acknowledged, "and hang on in there Cooler; we'll be back for you".
"I ain't going nowhere", Blanke replied, "So get going. I'll pay you your ten cubits when I get back".
With that, Benson powered up his engines to full speed and started back for the Pegasus. Blanke watched him go from his cockpit window, then powered down all remaining intact systems. Life Support was going to need every drop of power that was left. He knew that the temperature would start getting real low, and hoped that Benson would be able to get help soon.