“Captain Malcolm reporting to the Flight Deck as ordered, Commander!” the pilot snapped with a brisk salute—and Mathias shook his head.
“As you were, Prince,” the Battlestar Commander said as Chief Sinclair and the deck gang readied a Raptor for the short flight. “You can fly that thing, right?”
“Sir. I can fly it quite well,” Hamish answered with a broad grin.
“Technically, he can fly, Gremlin,” added another voice—that of the Raptor Squadron XO, Jester, Lieutenant Andrew Martens. “But he isn’t combat qualified yet—are you, Prince?”
“Not yet, Jester,” Hamish replied in a clipped voice. “Not to worry, I will meet my qualifications within the month.”
“He has been working on it hard in the simulators, Gremlin,” Jester added with a grin. “And he’s not a bad pilot—that I can say.”
“You plan on riding along, Jester?” Mathias asked, taking in the flight suit and holstered sidearm.
“Prince doesn’t have an assigned EWO yet, and since I’m his check officer, that means I pulling that job for the moment. So, yes Sir, Gremlin, Sir, I’m riding along. Your grunts are already loaded.”
“Well, then,” said Mathias. “Time to get moving.”
Prince eased the Raptor into the docking bay aboard Cerberus and he gently sat down the Raptor and engaged the magnetic clamps in one smooth motion. Hamish turned his head—encased in the helmet and he nodded. “Precision is very important for Search and Rescue Operations, Commander—I might not yet be combat qualified, but I know how to set down a Raptor very precisely indeed.”
“That you do, Prince,” the Commander said as the elevator began to lower to the hanger bay located beneath the flight deck. Unlike his previous excursion in a Raptor, this time the Commander wore his duty uniform—not a flight suit. And today, he wasn’t hands-on-stick as the copilot either. Of course, the transfer had taken just two minutes from leaving Scorpia
’s deck to landing here, so it wasn’t as if the pilot had needed a second. “Nice landing.”
“Thank you, Commander,” Hamish answered.
Mathias unstrapped himself and walked back into the troop compartment. “Jester briefed you two?” he asked.
“Sir,” answered Colour Sergeant Haast, with Walsh giving a nod as well. “We are here in case things go south—an event to be determined by you, Sir.”
“Exactly, gentle-. . .,” but for the second time in two days a subordinate interrupted Mathias.
“Colour Sergeant, soldier, or troop, Sir, if you please. I am no damned gentleman with a commission from the Crown or the Quorum.”
The Commander glared at the man for a moment, but then he snorted. “I stand corrected, Colour Sergeant Haast. I don’t like this situation and if things do . . .,” Mathias snorted as he repeated the NCOs words back, “go south, then I want good men at my back. Until then, however, keep your mouths shut and your weapons holstered and slung but ready. That goes for you and Jester as well, Prince.”
“Understood, Commander,” the pilot answered as Jester just nodded his acknowledgement. The Raptor jerked as the elevator came to a halt in the hanger deck. “Open her up,” Mathias ordered and Jester unsealed the hatch and swung it open.
A deck crew were already rushing forward with a mounting ladder, but Mathias ignored them and he jumped down from the stubby wing.
“Commander Lorne?” asked the officer of the deck as he came over saluted. “Lieutenant Spence, Officer of the Deck, Cerberus Anchorage. If you will come with me—your crew will be escorted to the pilot’s ready room.”
“That won’t be possible, I’m afraid,” Mathias said as he fell in step with the young man. “Captain Malcolm is my aide at the moment, and the remainder of the detail is his personal security detachement—Virgon law, I hate to say.”
The officer paused and then he sucked in a deep breath as he saw the Prince standing there. “I . . . see,” he said. “Admiral Trahn wanted to speak with you alone, Sir.”
“Well, I cannot violate the law, Lieutenant—nor can the Admiral—simply because it presents an inconvenience. Now, either escort us to the Admiral, or I and my people will return to my ship and the Admiral can pay me a visit onboard her.”
The young man blinked and then he nodded. “This way, Sir.”
“What the . . .,” Jester whispered as they passed through a set of almost sealed bulkhead en route to the ladders up. Mathias echoed that thought himself. The hanger bay was filled with fighters—a very different fighter from the normal Vipers.
Two very large and powerful engines were separated from each other, each capped by a forward assembly ending in a nose cone with cannon muzzles protruding from the four cardinal points—for a total of eight. A lifting body connected the two engine pods with a cockpit—two cockpits, Mathias noted. And outboard of the engine pods, she carried a two pairs of wings—one sharply canted delta wing above and longer straighter wing below.
Lieutenant Spence grinned. “You are the first outside of Cerberus Anchorage to see her, Commander. This is the new Thunder Mk I heavy strike fighter—ready for final acceptance trials as soon as Aurora
’s replacement arrives on station and she returns to the Colonies. Do you have word on that? They are overdue.”
Mathias and his men stopped and stared at the officer of the deck. Damn, he thought. They haven’t been told. “Lieutenant,” he said gently, “there will be no replacement from the Colonies—the Cylons attacked in force and destroyed the Fleet . . . and all twelve Colonies.”
Spence blinked. “That is not a very amusing joke, Commander,” he said after working his jaw.
“Son,” Mathias said as he laid a hand on his shoulder. “That wasn’t a joke—those ships of mine out there? They carry all the survivors I could save. I am en route to rendezvous with other survivors—but the Colonies are lost.”
The young man swayed and the blood drained from his face, but Mathias’s strong hand kept him upright. He stared into the Commander’s eyes, hoping that he could see that Mathias was lying—but the eyes filled with sorrow and rage told him it was true. Spence swallowed.
And then he ran over to a refuse can and vomited up his morning meal.