Meanwhile, a lone Mercury class battlestar named the Orthrus is on deep space patrol along the furthest edge of the Armistice Line. Every six months for the past five years, the Orthrus stood guard on the Colonial side of the Line, deterring any Cylon incursion.
As nothing has happened before in the previous five years, nothing has happened again for this patrol. Marines have taken to sparring when not on duty. The CAP have gotten complacent, so much so that one of their “colorful” pilots, Lt. Leslie “Sunshine” Ferrell, has gotten into the habit of putting his Mark VII on autopilot while he reads romance novels over the wireless; much to the chagrin of the CAG, Captain Jayson “Ajax” Spansel. Disciplinary action against the disruptive pilot has only solidified his little habit. Even the commander, Calum Maxwell, has somewhat tacitly agreed to the pilot’s little foible.
However, the patrol’s long years of inactivity have finally put the commander into a pique. He only accepted the commission to command the Orthrus simply to forestall being mustered out of the military, as he is no longer physically able to be a Viper pilot. Through the years, he secretly hoped for some provocative act by the Cylons, anything to break the monotony, but nothing ever did.
Not until today.
The Sagittaron axiom, “Be careful what you wish for” has become suddenly fitting, unbeknownst to the commander.
Commander Calum Maxwell stood at the observation window located at the forward bow of the Orthrus, lost in thought. His eyes trailed after the Vipers on CAP flying by. He blinked when he heard a familiar voice call to him.
Maxwell turned and glanced slightly to his right. He saw his Executive Officer, Kellan Matthews, coming up a small flight of stairs to meet him.
“I thought I’d find you here, sir.”
Maxwell returned to looking out the window. “Matthews, d’ye evr tire o’ th’ honorifics? I think ye kin drop the ‘sir’ bit. My Gods, ye bin wit’ me for nerly five years.” His Libran accent remaining unchanged since the time he entered the Colonial Fleet.
Unseen by the commander, his XO blanched at the question. “I didn’t think it wise to-”
“You. Call me ‘Calum’ or ‘Maxwell’. Anythin’ but ‘sir’. Tha’s an order.”
Recovering quickly, Matthews automatically replied, “Yes, suh-” He cut his sentence short when he received a venomous glance from his superior officer. “Yes, Calum.”
The commander resumed his gaze on the distant Vipers on patrol. “So, wot brings ye?”
“Changing of the Watch.”
“I kno’ when it occurs.”
“Well, we’re up,” Matthews said.
“I kno’ tha’ as well.”
Matthews paused. “You’re running late, for the first time in five years.”
“I was thinkin’.”
“About retirin’,” Maxwell said, turning fully to face his shocked XO. “Ye kin pick up ye jaw while we head t’ CIC.” The commander calmly walked past Matthews and took the steps down with a practiced ease. He was well into the main corridor when Matthews caught up with him.
“May I ask why?”
Maxwell gave his subordinate his full attention while he deftly maneuvered around crew also traveling in the passage. “Sure. We’ve been doin’ this little dance every six months for five years. Six months of deep space patrols. An’ nae once hav’ we had a sightin’, a provactive act, or evn a smoke signal from th’ Cylons. I only took this position t’keep from bein’ mustered out. Now, I think I should jumped at it five years ago.”
“When do you plan to formally retire?”
“When we get back. As soon as m’feet touch ground.”
Matthews raised his eyebrows in acceptance to his commander’s words. “Then that leaves only one thing unaddressed.”
That statement brought Maxwell to a full stop. “Which is wot?”
“Are you going to tell her?”
The commander knew full well of who Matthews was speaking about, Dr. Lara Kale. She was the Chief Medical Officer of the Orthrus, and Maxwell’s object of silent adoration, for as long as Maxwell held his command. He gave his XO a hard stare.
“Matthews, do I interfere wit ye love life?”
The XO was deadpan with his response. “No. But then again, you don’t need to. I’m married.” Finishing his sentence, a slow smile spread across his face. His commander’s demeanor remained unchanged. After a moment, Maxwell resumed his walk to CIC, with Matthews following after him. It was several strides before the commander spoke.
“Wot d’ye suggest?”
“A nice dinner would do, I think.”
“’N where would this dinner be held?” Maxwell asked as he approached the glass doors to CIC. With a low hiss, they opened and he walked into the nerve center of the battlestar. Returning salutes of the Marines on duty, he made his way to the Nav table.
“Why not here?” Matthews asked as he stopped beside the commander.
Maxwell’s brow furrowed together and he looked Matthews in the eye. “Here?” he repeated.
There was a pregnant pause before Maxwell responded. “Are ye drunk? Th’ food here is barely edible!”
Matthews was undaunted at the accusatory remark. “I’m sure I can find a chef that can work wonders with what we have. Now, picture this. A romantic dinner in the commander’s quarters. Just you and her. I’m sure something will fly.”
“Prolly a plate o’ food at me head,” Maxwell retorted, diverting his attention to his communications officer, Isabelle Holden, approaching them. In her hand, she held the communiques from the previous Watch. “Ah, Izzy. Wot d’ye hav’ for me?”
Knowing when to withdraw, Matthews removed himself to speak with another serviceman about status reports.
Holden gave the commander a small smile. “More of the same, sir.” She handed over the communiques in a ritual that was repeated countless times over the past three years.
The commander shuffled through the papers with disinterest. “So, wot’s Sunshine readin’ this time?”
Holden’s smile grew and she suppressed a giggle. “Wicked Loving Lies.”
Maxwell chuckled and his lopsided smirk appeared. Shaking his head, he said, “Saucy. Wot part is he at?”
Holden brought a hand to her headset to activate the CAP general channel. She listened intently and then involuntarily giggled. “He’s getting to the part of ’Jayson’s heaving bosom’.”
The commander rolled his eyes heavenward. “Ach. Why does tha’ boy always hav’ t’provoke th’ CAG? I’m nevr gunna hear th’ end of it from Spansel.” Returning a composed gaze to his comm officer, he said, “Thank ye, Izzy.” She nodded and returned to her station. Maxwell cycled through the inter-DSP communications until he got to one from Picon.
PRIORITY THREE MESSAGE FROM FLEET HEADQUARTERS
ATTENTION ALL COLONIAL UNITS IN THE VICINITY OF THE ARMISTICE STATION – QUADRA SECTOR. CONTACT HAS BEEN LOST WITH STATION AND ATTEMPTS TO RAISE ATTACHE’S SHUTTLE HAVE LIKEWISE FAILED.
ANY UNITS FREE TO CHECK, PLEASE RESPOND TO HEADQUARTERS.
Making eye contact with his XO, Maxwell waved the paper at him. “Speakin’ o’ waste o’ time, headquarters reports loss o’ contact with th’ Armistice Station. Forty years, we send a representative and they sen’ no one. HQ wants any nearby ships to assist. Luckily, tha’ isn’t us.” He crumpled the message into a ball and tossed it onto the Nav table. Matthews watched his commander’s face turn into a pained scowl as he read the next message.
PRIORITY TWO MESSAGE FROM FLEET HEADQUARTERS
ATTENTION BATTLESTAR ORTHRUS. YOU ARE ONE WEEK OVERDUE FOR DRYDOCK. HEADQUARTERS HEREBY ORDERS YOU TO RETURN TO THE COLONIES AND REPORT TO SCORPION SHIP YARDS FOR RESUPPLY AND UPDATING OF NAVIGATION SYSTEMS WITH DR. BALTAR’S CNP.
“Ooo. But this on is for us. Fleet Headquarters wishes t’know why we have nae reported back t’ th’ Colonies for drydock. We are ordered back immediately.”
Matthews shook his head and muttered. “And this is the first time in five years that we’re overdue.” Glancing toward the commander, Matthews found that his earlier venomous stare had returned and was bearing down on him once more. Holding up his hand in an acquiescent gesture, he backed away from the table.
Maxwell turned to Holden and called, “Ms. Holden, can ye put me on the CAP’s channel? I need t’make an’ announcement.”
As not to antagonize HQ further, Maxwell orders the Vipers on CAP to return to the ship and notifies Lt. Lang to begin jump prep for the battlestar’s first of four jumps back to the Colonies. The Orthrus jumps successfully.
Fresh out of the first jump, the Orthrus receives the following message:
PRIORITY ONE MESSAGE FROM FLEET HEADQUARTERS
ATTENTION ALL COLONIAL UNITS. CYLON ATTACK UNDERWAY.
THIS IS NOT A DRILL.
With no time to waste, the commander calls for Condition One throughout the ship and puts two squadrons of Vipers on alert sixty. Just as he finishes his orders, another message comes in:
PRIORITY ONE MESSAGE FROM ADM. NAGALA – BSG ATLANTIA
ATTENTION ALL COLONIAL UNITS. HAVE TAKEN COMMAND OF COLONIAL FLEET. PICON FLEET HQ LOST TO CYLON ORBITAL STRIKES.
SIZE OF ENEMY: UNKNOWN.
WILL UPDATE WITH FURTHER INTELLIGENCE.
Maxwell relays the information provided by Admiral Nagala to the rest of his crew and orders preparations for the next jump. The jump occurs without complication and the Orthrus is now located in the Gibraltar Straits, a narrow space lane between two large asteroid fields. As the Orthrus prepares for the next plotted jump, another message comes in from Admiral Nagala:
PRIORITY ONE MESSAGE FROM ADM. NAGALA – BSG ATLANTIA
ATTENTION ALL COLONIAL UNITS. PRELIMINARY REPORTS INDICATE A 50 MT THERMONUCLEAR DEVICE WAS DETONATED ABOVE CAPRICA CITY TWO HOURS AGO. ADDITIONAL NUCLEAR STRIKES WERE MADE AGAINST MAJOR METROPLEXES ON SAGITTARON, PICON, AERELON, AND GEMINON.
FURTHERMORE, THE COLONIAL FLEET HAS LOST APPROXIMATELY THIRTY BATTLESTARS. REPORTS INDICATE PECULIAR SYSTEM MALFUNCTIONS ON BOTH BATTLESTARS AND VIPER MARK VIIs. BATTLESTAR MINOS LOST COMPLETE POWER PRIOR TO ENGAGING THE ENEMY. ALL HANDS LOST.
SCORPION SHIP YARDS LOST.
ANY BATTLESTARS STILL FUNCTIONING ARE TO REGROUP AT VIRGON WITH ADMIRAL NAGALA AND THE REMAINDER OF THE FLEET FOR COUNTERATTACK.
After reading the message, it causes Commander Maxwell to emotionally pause as he tries to regain his composure prior to addressing his crew. He informs them that a nuclear device was detonated over Caprica City and cities on the other colonies. He also informs them that they will be rendezvousing with Admiral Nagala for counterattack. The commander does not mention the loss of nearly quarter of the fleet and the ship yards, or the system malfunctions occurring on other Colonial vessels.
Before the Orthrus is able to make its next jump, it is ambushed in a pincer move by two squadrons of Cylon Raiders that were hiding amongst the asteroids. Maxwell orders the Vipers to launch and the battle is joined.
Sunshine and Ajax, along with their respective squadrons, inflict heavy casualties on the Raiders. During the dogfight, they fail to notice a solitary Raider breaking formation and heads straight to the Orthrus. Once in range, the Raider fires off its payload: a trio of nuclear missiles. Two of the missiles are destroyed by the battlestar’s point defense system, but the last one gets through, striking the arms of the starboard flight pod.
Three minutes into the battle, a basestar jumps in. Maxwell orders for expedited jump prep, but is informed by damage control that the structural integrity of the starboard arms is compromised because of the missile strike. A jump with the arms in their current state would mean that they would be ripped off the fuselage if the battlestar tried to jump. Unable to retreat, Maxwell orders the Orthrus to come about and attack the basestar with the forward batteries.
Before the Orthrus can get the batteries into range, the basestar fires off multiple nukes.
Again, the alarm blared and warning lights flashed on Holden’s console. “Radiological alarm! Gods, how many nukes did they bring?” she asked. Over the comm, she received an answer.
“All of them,” Lieutenant Ferrell responded.
The point defense system destroys all of them, with only one warhead landing a glancing blow to the battlestar’s bow. Now through the nuclear fire, the Orthrus closes and opens fire on the basestar, causing tremendous damage to its support core and arms. The basestar flees, leaving a dwindling number of Raiders to their fate.
In the end, Colonial forces completely annihilate the enemy squadrons.
The klaxon alarms blaring in Chief Stans’ ears while she struggled with rerouting power to the starboard flight pod suddenly cut off. The dull thrumming of the battlestar’s mass accelerator weapons spewing flak at the Raiders slowly died down and then dissipated.
Power restored, Stans picked up a nearby handset and called CIC. “CIC, this is the chief. Um, are we dead? Because it just got real quiet.”
Unfortunately, the fighter squadrons did not walk away unscathed, with the Orthrus losing seven pilots and fifteen Vipers heavily damaged. Post battle damage assessment for the battlestar is not good, as damage control estimate the time for repairs just to get the Orthrus to be able to jump safely at two hours. The XO orders a renewed CAP while Chief Stans and her crew go to work.
Two tense hours later, with no enemy in sight, the Orthrus makes its third jump. They are now on the outskirts of the Colonies. Wasting no time, Maxwell orders the next jump prep.
While Lt. Lang prepares the jump calculations and the FTL spools up, Holden receives what is the final message from the Atlantia:
PRIORITY ONE MESSAGE FROM BSG ATLANTIA
ATTENTION ALL COLONIAL UNITS. FINAL MESSAGE – ATLANTIA LOSING POWER. ADMIRAL NAGALA KILLED DURING BATTLE WITH CYLON FORCES OVER VIRGON. ALSO DESTROYED IN THE FIGHTING WERE THE BATTLESTARS TRITON, SOLARIA, AND THE COLUMBIA. NO KNOWN COLONIAL MILITARY FORCES REMAIN.
Maxwell informs his crew about the plight of the Colonies with a heavy heart. Realizing they have few options, the commander muses on a hit and run campaign against the Cylons with his XO. Ten minutes after Atlantia’s final message, Holden receives another. This time, it is from another battlestar:
PRIORITY ONE MESSAGE FROM BSG GALACTICA
ATTENTION ALL COLONIAL UNITS. AM TAKING COMMAND OF FLEET. ALL UNITS ORDERED TO RAGNAR ANCHORAGE FOR REGROUP AND COUNTERATTACK. ACKNOWLEDGE BY SAME ENCRYPTION PROTOCOL.
Buoyed by this development, the commander orders his comm. officer to respond to Adama and asks for a jump estimate from Lt. Lang. Lang informs the commander that from the Orthrus’ current position, it will take two plotted jumps. Maxwell orders the recalculation to commence. Just before the calculations are complete, a basestar jumps in and deploys several Cylon Raider squadrons. Before the enemy is able to close, the Orthrus jumps away.
Once arriving at their new position, Lang quickly calculates the final jump to Ragnar. The Orthrus is unmolested as it spools up the FTL and makes the last jump. However, after coming out of the jump, DRADIS begins picking up sizable areas of detritus. Matthews orders a Raptor out to make visual identification of the debris.
The Raptor reports that they have found wreckage and fragments of Colonial Vipers and Cylon Raiders alike. The debris is closest to the entrance to the gas giant’s turbulent upper atmosphere, where the Anchorage resides.
Undaunted, Maxwell orders the Orthrus into the eye in order to make contact with the Galactica. When they reach the center, large chunks of wreckage show up on DRADIS. After making visual contact, the Raptor confirms that the wreckage is not that of the Galactica, but the Ragnar Anchorage station itself. No other ships are in the vicinity.
This report is disappointing news to Commander Maxwell, as it appears that they have missed the rendezvous with the Galactica. Without any further information from Adama on where they went, they will have as much luck finding them as throwing a dart at an astrogation chart and hoping for the best. While trying to decide on what to do next, DRADIS picks up a large vessel moving through the storm clouds towards them.
Maxwell orders the main guns to train on the incoming vessel and to open fire if it is not friendly. Fortunately, as the vessel gets closer, its IFF transmits a Colonial signal. The ship identifies itself as the Sister Josephine, a Gemenese medical vessel. Aboard the ship, the Josephine houses 1,240 souls. Sister Marion, the matriarch of the ship, makes contact with the Orthrus and requests protection from the battlestar, a request that is readily agreed to. But before any additional information can be exchanged, multiple contacts show up on DRADIS. This time, the contacts are not friendly.
A squadron of Cylon Raiders descend through the gloom to attack, along with a half squadron of new combat vessels: Heavy Raiders.
Maxwell orders the alert Vipers away, while simultaneously ordering the Sister Josephine to maneuver to the ventral side of the battlestar, thereby shielding it from attack. After a rather quick engagement, the Heavy Raiders are destroyed while the few remaining Raiders flee. No casualties are suffered by the Colonials.
Sensing that the attack was a probative maneuver by the Cylons, Capt. Spansel orders Sunshine to stick his nose out of the storm and see if any more toasters are hanging about. Lt. Ferrell complies and finds a damaged basestar, presumably the one they encountered at the Gibraltar Straits, sitting on their doorstep. After relaying the information, he returns back to the Orthrus.
Meanwhile, Maxwell orders Lt. Lang to find them an out of the way place to jump to. Mere minutes later, Lang finds the best spot and transmits the coordinates to the Sister Josephine. To ensure a safe FTL jump, the Orthrus exits the storm to provide covering fire for the medical vessel. Vipers are launched and engage the closing Raiders.
Once the Josephine is away, Matthews recalls the Vipers while Maxwell orders them to close with the basestar. Before jumping away itself, the Orthrus fires off a parting volley from the forward batteries. This proves to be more than enough to critically damage the basestar. Chain explosions ripple down its trunk and through the arms of the enemy vessel, breaking it into pieces.
Joining with the Sister Josephine, the Orthrus crew plot their next move and determine the cost of fleeing from Ragnar. All told, another eight Viper pilots were lost; along with seventeen heavily damaged Vipers. Sister Marion accepts a request for her services as a priestess to perform a eulogy for the fallen pilots.
Safe for now, the Orthrus and the Sister Josephine begin the coordination of jumps and to answer questions about the civilians’ future welfare.
Only the Lords of Kobol know what fate lies ahead of them.