Episode 2: The Bitter Dregs
The images taken by the Raptors continued to flash across the screen one after the next, even though no one seated in the briefing room cared to look upon them anymore. Not Mathias, not his stoic Tauron XO, nor any of his officers—and most especially not the commander of the Raptors and his senior pilot.
The ash-filled atmospheres, the jagged craters when a clear view of the surface presented itself, the utter lack of any source of power upon the surfaces of the Twelve Colonies painted a bleak picture that filled these men and women with utter despair. But despite the sickness filling them, Mathias continued to flash back and forth among the images. Aerilon—burnt and blackened, its fertile fields consumed in nuclear fire. Frigid Aquaria, now cloaked in a winter more ferocious than nature ever intended, her few survivors frozen when the Cylons destroyed the power plants. Bleak Canceron, with her crowded streets and mighty factories, a post-apocalyptic wasteland where Cylon Centurions hunted down the few radiation-poisoned survivors in an urban warzone that stretched across the globe. Caprica—the capital destroyed, but nearby Delphi irradiated but otherwise untouched, the streets filled with marching Centurions—perhaps searching for something.
Gemenon—Caprica’s twin world. Nothing remained alive on her surface—not plants, nor animals, nor man. The entire planet and her mighty temples scoured clean by the fires of fusion. Leonis the Proud. Now her mighty cities had fallen and her endless fields and prairies and magnificent vineyards lay in ruin. Libran with her courts and justice had found no justice in her end. Her monuments were shattered scraps of marble, and her libraries just charcoal and ash. Picon was caught in the midst of winter—although it should have been high summer there. Less than a quarter of her watery surface was dry land—and the Cylon bombardment had been thorough. Of the Colonial Fleet Headquarters, only a crater ten kilometers wide and hundreds of meters deep had been left.
Saggitaron, the world which had spawned a distrust of medicine and home to the major terrorist organization of the day; it’s peoples no longer needed to worry about the relative wealth between their Colony and the ‘elites’—because there were no more people. Scorpia—and Mathias swallowed heavily as pictures of the jungles and beaches he knew and loved were overlapped with blast radii and craters carved into the soil. Normally too warm for snow, the entire planet was covered in a clouds bearing an acid rain laden with lingering death from the radiation. Tauron the Great—an arid, harsh, unforgiving world that birthed an industrious people. Here too, there were signs of Cylon occupation amid the ruins of cities and industry; but maybe some of her people had survived in the Deep Caverns. Virgon and her rich cities and endless cold forests was now blanketed in snow from the millions of tons of irradiated soil thrown up into the atmosphere.
And everywhere in every orbit, there were the broken hulks of the Fleet. They must have been caught at anchor in many cases, blasted apart by nuclear warheads and missile strikes; but not a single Cylon Basestar among the derelicts. Not one.
“Colonel Jayne, log that on this day, I, Commander Mathias Lorne of the Battlestar Scorpia
, the senior known surviving officer of the Colonial Fleet do hereby award the Medal of Distinction to Lieutenants Stefan Greene and Andrew Martens for their initiative and bravery in performing additional recon flights over the colonies of Aerilon, Aquaria, Gemenon, and Tauron. We will have the ceremony later, Sidewinder,” Mathias added to the pilot, as the XO duly logged the command. Sidewinder just nodded. In this compartment, both he and Jester were very
junior officers—and junior officers in the Colonial Fleet were seen, not heard.
“Medals? The Colonies are dead and you are handing out medals?” snapped Major Tyche.
“That is enough!” thundered Colonel Jayne.
“Tom,” Mathias said quietly. “Major, the Colonies are gone
change that. All we can do is carry on—and if awarding these two brave men, who made two more jumps into enemy occupied space apiece to get these images and scans is what is required for us to do that, I will.”
Marius sat back in his chair and he nodded. “I apologize, Sir. It will not happen again.”
Mathias stood, as the images continued their slide-show of horror. “The Colonies are gone—the Fleet
is gone. But we have indications that some of our people might have survived. On Caprica, Tauron, and Virgon our Raptors detected faint transmissions—human in origin; it appears as if survivors are trying to let others know they are not alone out there. We detected no emissions from the other nine Colonies.” Including my own, Mathias thought, but did not say aloud.
“Sir,” Major Tyche said in soft voice, as if he were ashamed of what he was about to utter. “We cannot rescue them—we don’t have enough Raptors, and the shuttles will be sitting ducks as slow and difficult to maneuver as they are. And if we jump back in there, we are going to be attracting a whole lot of attention—the recon flights show at least thirty Basestars in the colonies—plus the four that came after us. THIRTY! I’m all for a good fight, but that is a bit too much for this ship to handle on her own. And it might be a Cylon trap. Sir.”
“Abandon any survivors to the Cylons, Marius?” asked the chief engineer—Major Denise Church. “By the Gods, don’t you know what they did to our people in the first
war? We have an obligation to those peo-. . .,”
“We have an obligation
to our own crew! You think I don’t know what is happening down there,” and tears were streaming down his cheeks—Marius, a native of Virgon who was talking about leaving behind people he might well know . . . or love. “But committing suicide
isn’t going to save them.”
“There are a number of smaller outposts which might still have survivors,” Doctor Sarris said quickly, both to change the subject and turn people’s attention away from the crying officer. “Very small—few have more than a handful of people . . . and seven months without regular supply runs from the Cyrannus most of them will already be dead. Except for Charon.”
“Charon? I know the myth, but I have never heard of an outpost named Charon,” chimed in Tom Jayne.
“I know. That is because it was settled by smugglers, criminals, and,” the Doctor paused, took a deep breath, and then continued, “members of the SFM.”
Chaos exploded around the table at those three innocuous letters. The Saggitaron Freedom Movement was one of the few terrorist organizations left in the Colonies. Many of its most infamous leaders—such as Tom Zarek—had been captured and imprisoned for life; but the movement still committed acts of violence aimed at political reform. Supposed political reform; many thought they were homicidal maniacs showing off their nihilism.
And all members of the SFM were (almost) universally hated by the officers of the Fleet who often were called upon to clean up after their bombings.
“Blood damn Provos,” muttered Captain Liam Aisne, the commander of Scorpia
’s marine company. “Let the Cylons have them.”
Neil Sarris glared at the marine—who just stared straight back, and finally the scientist sighed. “They are human beings
, Captain. Commander, I am not a member of the SFM—had I been the government would never
have put me in charge of the research team on this expedition. But I know people who belong to the political wing of the SFM,” Sarris sat back and lit a cigarette. “You said you don’t have enough Raptors—fine. They have Raptors. They have a FTL capable ship. They have ground troops—not marines—but troops that might be willing to fight the Cylons and rescue our people.”
Mathias held up his hand. And slowly silence descended over the briefing room. “They may have already been discovered or they might have departed this Charon. How many are there, Doctor?”
“Six or seven hundred, last I heard.”
The Commander sat back and he nodded. “At the least
we will confirm whether or not there are survivors there—then
I will make a decision. For now, we have to break the news of this to the crew.”
“Rumor mill is already in full swing, Commander,” said Tom bleakly. “And the Raptor pilots have been back aboard for hours now—everyone knows.”
“They still need to hear it from me—and to hear what we are going to do.”
Mathias killed the projector and he slid a new map display of stellar coordinate into place. “Right now we are here—in the middle of nowhere. Deep interstellar space. I am betting that the Cylons are in pursuit . . .,”
“You think?” muttered Tom.
“IN pursuit, ladies and gentlemen. Probably hitting all nearby habitable worlds they have on their charts—if we don’t have Charon, they might not. But they could be inspecting all the systems surrounding Cyrannus. But here in the deep black, they haven’t a prayer of finding us.”
Denise snorted. “And if something goes wrong with the drives, we
haven’t a prayer of making the closest star in our lifetime, even if we had the air, water, and food for a voyage of that length. They won’t look here because they very idea anyone would do this is insane.”
“Which is why we are here,” Mathias answered with a shrug. “Let’s give them some time to expand their search outwards, while I address the crew. Then,” he said nodding to Sarris, “we will go find the good Doctor’s friends and see if we can work out a deal. Regardless, people, we are not
leaving our own behind. We are at war, and have been for the past seven months even though we haven’t known about it—and I aim to make the Cylons realize that the Fleet isn’t a target on a shooting range. That shooting at us is a sure way to get hurt fast.”
Growls answered that statement as his officers nodded their agreement, but the XO sighed and he leaned forward. It was his job to bring up reality, after all.
“It’s risky, Sir,” said Tom. “With the science team, we’ve got sixteen hundred people on this ship—specs say the maximum complement our life support and waste reprocessing systems can handle is three thousand. Even if that number is conservative—and it is—we simply don’t have room for more than . . . forty-five hundred?” he asked.
And the engineer sighed. “Maybe, but we will all be hot-bunking and air circulation and CO2 scrubbing will take a major hit.”
“We will cross that bridge when we come to it—but if
we can get survivors off of the colonies, ladies and gentlemen, we will
. Our oaths demand it—our lives for theirs. That is the bargain we made when we put this uniform on.”
One by one each officer and Doctor Sarris nodded. “Our lives for theirs,” repeated Tom. “So say we all.”
“So say we all,” they answered.
“SO SAY WE ALL!” the XO barked.
“SO SAY WE ALL!” came the thunderous response.
Mathias nodded. “Assume your stations—Doctor Sarris, join me in CIC after you make certain your people have been briefed. I want you there when we arrive at Charon.”