Hunter snarled as the storm of missiles struck home against the hull of the Styx
—explosions ripped apart the structure and hundreds of naked bodies erupted into space as the internal hull ruptured—along with Centurions and clothed skin-jobs. And then something deep inside the ship blew—the glare of the explosion was bright enough to make Hunter wince. “Scratch one Styx
!” he yelled. Ain’t payback a bitch, he thought.
’s got problems,” Vandal said softly.
“Copy that,” he said after looking down at his own DRADIS console. “Blackhearts, kick it into overdrive—time to save our ride home.”
The not-quite-so-nimble heavy strike fighters flipped end for end, and each of the twin powerful engines lit off on full overthrust. At that moment, both of the Cylon escort ships lit off in the illumination of a fusion explosion. That did not stop the ordnance already inbound, and Scorpia
staggered as more shells slammed into her armored flanks. But the Raiders numbers had been thinned by the Viper pilots—each and every one eager to get some payback—and now the Thunders of the Blackhearts soared back in.
Suddenly the odds flipped on the remaining Cylons and they ceased trying to engage the Vipers. Their Resurrection Ship destroyed, the Raiders vanished in the sudden flash of an FTL jump.
“All fighters, Rambler,” the wireless broadcast, “establish CAP and holding pattern—Cylons have boarded the starboard pod and there are fires in the port pod. Stand by.”
Damn, Hunter thought as he swept along the port pod and vents opened to vacuum, sucking out columns of fire and air—and more than a few crewmen.
“Air Group, Scorpia
Flight,” the wireless spoke. “Commence landing operations. Stand by for immediate FTL jump upon touchdown.”
“Rambler, Hunter,” he broadcast. “They took care of the boarders?”
“Negative, Hunter; but the Old Man isn’t sticking around to face off against reinforcements. All pilots, be advised—there are Centurions aboard the ship, you will be attached to the Marines for a full stem-to-stern search once we have landed.”
Oh hell, Hunter thought as he approached the starboard pod from astern. What the . . .?
“Blackhearts, Flight Ops; be advised there is a crashed Heavy Raider on top of elevator seven—use extreme caution in landing.”
“Copy, Flight,” Hunter said, before switching back to the squadron only squawk. “Watch the toaster debris, folks; take it slow and easy on landing approach.”
“Oh, frack,” Hope said as the Centurion began to run towards her. She tightened her grip on the stick and squeezed the trigger—and the two functioning cannons began to spit fire, then whined and she looked down at the blinking ammo counters flashing ‘00’ and ‘00’. But that one twin burst had managed to catch the Centurion in the upper chest, and what was left of him went flying across the flight deck to slam into the far bulkheads. She sat back and closed her eyes and then unbuckled her straps and hit the release on her canopy. Unplugging from the Vipers life support, she went on her reserve air and crawled out of the cockpit—there was an airlock hatch just twenty meters away, and she needed to get clear in the leaking tylium decided to catch a spark—even without oxygen, the fuel was energetic enough to make a pretty big explosion.
She half-climbed, half-fell off the wing of the Viper and started to float back up before he she managed to get her magnetic soles engaged. But she didn’t float away. And she began to walk step by step towards the hatch—and the air beyond it. And then she hit her knees as a horrible burning pain tore through her right shoulder and a fountain of bright red blood floated away.
Hope twisted around to see the mangled Centurion making his way across the deck, one forearm gun—the only one that remained—making flashes as it fired soundlessly in the vacuum. She pulled her pistol from the holster and raised it as bullets sparked off the deck around her . . .
. . . and that was when fresh shells tore apart the Cylon; shells from a Viper that hovered five feet off the deck.
“Miss me yet, Digger?” Firefly asked, just before the world swam and Hope collapsed on the flight deck.
Her Viper securely on the deck, Lieutenant (j.g.) Catherine ‘Firefly’ Neuman rushed out of her cockpit and over to Hope. She checked the suits seals—and the emergency foam sealant had already deployed over the holes that the bullet had made, and she had plenty of reserve air. And her vitals were steady. “Hang in there, Digger,” she whispered as she hauled the woman to her feet and carried her across the deck to the airlock hatch. The hatch cracked open and Firefly raised her pistol in her free hand—but it wasn’t the Cylons. It was the deck gang in their orange and white environmental suits, and together they got Hope inside.
“All fighters recovered,” reported Prince from the Flight console.
“JUMP!” Snapped Mathias and Scorpia
departed the system in a flash of light. “Status on the boarders?” he asked.
“Marine reaction teams have engaged Centurions on decks five and six, heading for main engineering and environmental. A third team was found in the crawl-ways—Aisne’s best guess is that they were trying to make their way to auxiliary control on deck seven,” Tom reported. “So far, that looks like all of them—we’ve killed twenty-two Centurions and the Heavy Raiders can haul forty max, according to Anders.”
“Thank lucky and idiotic pilots—there another eighteen still on the flight deck where Firefly strafed them,” Mathias said without any humor in his voice.
Tom barked out a brief laugh. “Sinclair’s furious—he’s going to rip Firefly a new asshole, Sir. If that Heavy Raiders tanks had gone up, it would have shut down the port pod for weeks—at least.”
“Damage?” he asked stepping up to the DC board.
“Major Church reports that Engine Three can be restored in a few hours—the fuel transfer pump was damaged in the attack, but we have a replacement in stores. The thing was shut down soon enough that tylium loss was minor—and fire suppression foam prevented another fire from breaking out. The starboard pod is in good shape, except for a few craters in the flight deck from Firefly, but the port pod took heavy damage to the armor with three penetrations. We’ve got fire damage in hangers D, E, and F, as well as port Flight Ops. Still, we got lucky—the fuel lines didn’t ignite, nor did the magazines. All guns are on-line and Lieutenant Gian assures me that we have enough spare armor plates in storage to repair the holes. Total casualties are forty-seven—including eight dead or missing.”
“I got cocky, Tom,” Mathias whispered. “We should have jumped in, salvoed nukes at the Styx
, and jumped right back out, but I got cocky.”
“Mat, our losses were incredibly light,” Tom answered just as quietly. “And we took out that Styx
—and both her escorts. That is a victory.”
“An expensive one,” Mathias replied. “Too expensive. I got greedy—and we paid for it,” he sighed. And then he smiled a crooked smile. “But I won’t beat myself up over it, you have my word.”
“Aw, damn,” Tom answered. “I thought that you might need me to beat you up over it, Sir. I’ve still got my boxing gloves, you know—if you start getting morose again.”
“I appreciate that, Tom. Any word from Sidewinder?”
“Not yet,” the XO answered.
“We will hold here until he returns—or until four hours have passed. After that, we will rejoin the rest of the flotilla.”
“Aye, aye, Sir.”
In another system, far away from Scorpia
, Sidewinder examined his instruments one last time. “Final jump, people,” he broadcast. “Kaboose, double check those coordinates—I want us to waste as little fuel as possible,” they were on a close enough of a margin as it was.
“Checking nav coordinates again, Sidewinder,” the EWO reported.
Sidewinder looked down at his DRADIS. Today, he had twenty Raptors under his command. Not bad for a man who had commanded just eight two weeks ago. It was a full-strength Raptor squadron, and those were bloody rare outside of the biggest Battlestars in the Fleet. But the Commander’s shuffling of assets had put a total of sixteen on Scorpia
s flight decks, added to the two from Anubis
and the four from Aurora
. He had left a pair behind on Scorpia
for SAR operations, but the rest were assembled here—and today, the Raptor pilots were hunters, not observers. Each was loaded down with four Hydra missiles in the drone bays and external hardpoints; his Raptor and that of Jester carried one fusion-tipped Hydra each and three of the more conventional ones. Just in case. By now, Scorpia
would be jumping in to attack her target—but her Raptors, Sidewinder’s Raptors, were concerned with their own Styx
in a system far distant from the Battlestar.
“Okay people,” Sidewinder broadcast. “Let’s get this one right—get in and salvo your missiles at the Styx
at the Styx
. I don’t care if you have mother Basestar of the Cylon Empress in your sights—every missile goes into the Styx
! Then jump out and proceed to rendezvous with Scorpia
independently. Jester and I will be the last two in the system—we jump after all of you jump, so don’t you make us wait! We have no Vipers flying cover, and the Battlestar is taking her own target, so today Raptors, we hunt
“HOO-RAH!” the pilots shouted over the wireless and Sidewinder grinned. “Stay frosty and lock your ordnance on target before firing—then get the hell out of dodge. We aren’t here to tangle with Raiders and Basestars—we want that Styx
. And frack it all, we are going
to get it! FTL jump in sixty seconds; all Raptors sound off.”
One-by-one, each pilot reported in that his systems were green and Sidewinder watched the jump clock flashing downward. Finally, Jester reported. “Jester is good.”
“All right,” Sidewinder said, “ten seconds. Get your game faces on and good hunting. See you on the deck, Raptors.”
And then there were twenty flashes of light and the Raptors jumped.