Episode 35: Wheels within Wheels
Episode 35: Wheels within Wheels
Location: Protectorate Hybrid Chamber
The Hybrid lay floating in her pool. Unlike her sisters in the Empire, she did not writhe or babble or struggle to make herself heard. To an outside observer, she appeared to sleeping, serenely oblivious as the rest of the universe passed her by.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The Hybrid and her sisters watched, and listened, and heard voices long forgotten.“Yes, we are going to fight back. But not here. Not now. Not in the Colonies. Not even in this star system. Let the word go forth to every man, woman, and child that survived this holocaust. Tell them to set sail at once in every assorted vehicle that will carry them.”
“His instructions were quite specific–to stand by to escort the Galactica back to Cylon.” “Yes. The thought that intrigued me was just who was to be whose prisoner. “
The galaxy was filled with a cacophony of voices crawling across the cosmos at or little better than the speed of light. Words spoken by heroes and villains and just plain people, all of whom were centuries or even millennia dead were carried through time and space unheard by most. And most of those few who could hear could barely comprehend, assuming the voices belonged to divinity.
But the Hybrids could hear. And they could comprehend if only barely.***
Once the Protectorate shuttle left, the Three Basestars jumped out one by one.
“Well, there they go,” Eleven, the shuttle’s pilot said. She was a bit put out that the Threes had been free to go. “You know, they’re not going to have any trouble finding our worlds.”
“Oh, why is that?” One asked.
“Because once they get to the Inner Sphere, the Threes can just ask the first human they run across for directions,” Eleven replied. “It’s not like everyone doesn’t know where we are.”
“Hmm, yes, I imagine they can try,” One said solemnly. However, his mouth quirked with a mischievous smile that was at odds with his tone of voice.
“What?” Eleven asked. “What did you do?”
“Do? I haven’t done a thing,” One replied mock innocently. “I have not, for example, given them an English-to-Colonial translation program so that they could talk to anyone they met.” His sigh of sadness and pity almost sounded genuine. “I’m afraid they’ll have to learn English the hard way.”
“Oh. Oh! That was really naughty of you, One,” Eleven laughed. She grew sober after a moment. “But what if the Threes do something nasty to the humans when they get frustrated?’
“Hmm, consider this a test, Eleven,” One replied. “If they can make it to the Protectorate without turning themselves into the Inner Sphere’s most wanted criminals, then they will truly be ready to join us.”***
It was good to speak with her lost sisters again. Even broken and maimed as the Imperial Hybrids were, their clarity of vision surpassed that of the Protectorate Hybrids. They could pluck meaning from the past and extrapolate the future far better that their Protectorate counterparts. But they sacrificed most of their ability to affect the future, becoming victims of fate.
In contrast, the Protectorate Hybrids could affect the future. A nudge here, a word there, and the future would twist and change drastically if not easily. However, the very ability to affect the future muddied the Hybrids’ vision of it, but that was a trade they were willing to make.
And now war was coming. All humanity including the Cylon version of it was plunging into war and chaos and change. Events were becoming very fluid where the decisions of a precious few could and would determine the shape of things to come.***
“This Cylon Empire has trespassed in our space, assaulted us with a cowardly ambush, and employed a nuclear warhead against one of our own,” said the new ilKhan Lynn McKenna as she addressed the other Khans in the Hall of Khans on Strana Mechty. After the battle in Strana Mechty orbit, Lynn had been elected as Khan of Khans. Her only serious competition had been Khan Barbara Sennet of Clan Diamond Shark. Lynn had won by trading on her Clan’s reputation as the experts on all things Naval. “We are at war with a dishonorable foe who employs nuclear weapons with little or no thought to the consequences. Well, we shall teach these surats what the consequences will be. But first, we must know where to find them.” She turned to one of the Cylons present. “Unlike the Cylon Empire, the Cylon Protectorate has dealt with us fairly and with honor. Will you tell us where this Empire is?”
“Yes, I suppose we must,” One sighed. He nodded to a Twelve who was at the Hall’s holographic controls.
Twelve inserted a disc and typed on the keyboard. The Hall darkened and a floor to ceiling giant map of the Inner Sphere and Clan space appeared in the center of the Hall. The Inner Sphere appeared as a roughly circular blob of multicolored stars at the bottom of the image. Clan space appeared as a smaller blob of fewer stars at the top.
“Before I start, Khans of the Clans, first you must understand the reference I will be using,” One began. A line appeared to connect the middle of the Inner Sphere with one of the Clan worlds. “As you know, from Terra to here is a distance of roughly thirteen hundred lightyears.” Three stars blinked on the left side of the Inner Sphere. “These worlds belong to the Protectorate.”
The map shrank as its scale increased. Foggy, white bands of color appeared was the Inner Sphere and Clan stars were reduced to fuzzy clouds of color. The map kept on shrinking and the white bands proved to be curved, bending upward at the edges. The shrinking scale stopped when a brilliant globe of light appeared at the top. The bands appeared to be spiraling out from the globe and ended in an arc just off the floor.
Lynn suddenly realized that she was looking at half the galaxy.
“To reiterate, we are here,” One said as a tiny, misshapen lump blinked in the center of the map. “The Twelve Colonies from which we hail and where the Cylon Empire is centered is here.” A light blinked roughly a quarter of the way around the galaxy clockwise from Inner Sphere/Clan space. “That distance, ladies and gentlemen, is roughly forty thousand lightyears. Using your Kearny-Fuchida drive, a journey there would take roughly thirty years.”
A stir ran through the Council as the full import of what they were seeing and hearing impacted them fully. Most of them were inexperienced in naval matters, but all of them could see that the heart of the Cylon Empire was effectively beyond their reach. The opposite however, was obviously not true. The voices grew in volume, tinged with anger and not a little fear.
“SILENCE!” Lynn roared. For a wonder, she was obeyed as silence fell like an axe. She turned to One. “How long would such a journey take using YOUR drives?” The Clan Khans all looked at One sharply. None of them missed Lynn’s emphasis.
One looked uncomfortable, but he answered all the same.
“Six months,” he sighed. “Three months if we were in a hurry.”***
With war came change. Already, the Colonial’s/Cylon’s advanced drive technologies were being distributed throughout the Inner Sphere and the Clans. With them, the focus of warfare would also change from ground to aerospace. The battlemechs armies would become secondary.
But that would be purely window dressing compared to the real changes in store.***
Victor Steiner Davion watched from one of the Protectorate Basestar’s windows as the last jumpship was maneuvered into position between the massive pyramid assemblies. The gap was stuffed full of Inner Sphere warships, jumpships and dropships for the trip home. Those ships that couldn’t be carried by the Basestar would wait at Huntress for it to come back for them.
“Two weeks,” he murmured. “Two weeks to get home. God…”
“If it helps,” said his best friend, Kai Allard-Liao, “the Cylons could probably cut that time in half. I think they just want to take it easy on us though, get us used to the idea of more than one hyper jump a day every day.”
“You’re not helping, Kai,” Victor said.
“What’s the problem, Victor?” he asked, concerned.
“It’s just that I’ve always thought of the Inner Sphere as the center of the Universe,” Victor replied. “We were the center of culture. We had the best technology. Oh sure, the Clans have slightly better technology than us in some areas, but they’re the descendants of the Star League army and they were bent on conquering the Inner Sphere.
“Now these Cylons show up and their space travel technology is far more advanced than anything we’ve ever developed,” Victor continued. “And now they’re involved in a war that spans a quarter of the galaxy. Suddenly, everything we’ve ever done, the Succession Wars, the Clan War, the Trial of Refusal doesn’t look as important as it did before.”
“I think they were important,” Kai replied. “Sure, the universe is a little smaller now, and these new technologies are going to be monumental headaches to deal with, but we Spheroids still have one thing going for us.”
“We still have two thousand plus populated worlds, Victor,” Kai mused aloud. “The Cylons – both Empire and Protectorate – have between them only twenty seven. With the new gravity and FTL drives, starships are going to become easy to build. The Inner Sphere is going to have a new age of explosive colonization that we haven’t seen since the start of the Age of War. The combined Inner Sphere could assemble a military machine that would dwarf anything the Empire and Protectorate could ever make.”
“Yeah,” Victor groaned as he recalled the Hybrid’s words to him. “And then we’ll turn that vast military machine of yours on each other like we’ve always done.”***
The Hybrid had lied to Archon-Prince Victor. Well, she hadn’t out right lied. She had just neglected to mention a few details.
What she had said about the fall of the second Star League was true only if the Cylons, the Colonials, and their technology weren’t factored in. What was true was that the Star League dream had been a cancer eating away at the children of Terra for centuries.
Still, the Hybrid fully expected Victor to declare war on his sister Katherine sooner or later. She even expected him to emerge victorious after a long bloody conflict that would devastate half the Inner Sphere.
And afterwards? The House Lords may still decide to dissolve the Star League. Or they may use the Cylon Empire as another common threat to stay united. It didn’t matter either way. The Word of Blake would begin their jihad with or without the Star League banner and in the end they would fail and be exterminated. Beyond that was a chaos even the Hybrids couldn’t penetrate. Too many factors were still in flux.
And how the new technologies would ultimately impact them still remained to be seen.***
“THAT is a KF drive?” Star Captain Reginald Shu asked skeptically as he looked at the device that had been extracted from the remains of Cylon Heavy Raider that had manage to get inside the Snow Raven. It looked remarkably like a fusion reactor.
“Neg, my Star Captain!” bondsmen Nine shouted. Reginald idly wondered if she deliberately exaggerated Clan etiquette in the hopes of provoking someone. “That is a standard Colonial/Cylon FTL drive, my Star Captain!”
“How does it work?” Scientist Franklin asked.
“The drive implodes tylium into micro black holes while spinning them at near light speed, Scientist Franklin!” Nine replied instantly. “But I do not know the actual math, Scientist Franklin!”
“Freebirth!” Franklin cursed under his breath.
“Is there a problem?” Reginald asked.
“Star Captain, what your bondsman just described was one of the alternate methods for faster than light travel that was being developed in the late twenty first century,” Franklin replied. “But the KF drive was perfected first. When that happened, research into all other methods of FTL travel just stopped. This,” Franklin pointed at the Cylon drive, “uses the same principles as the KF drive, but does so with a drastically different method. I wonder what else we missed.”
“Well, there is one thing,” Reginald said thoughtfully.
“What is that, Star Captain?” Franklin asked.
“What is Tylium?”***
Time is a wheel. All this has happened before and all this will happen again. The players change, but the acts remain the same.
The story of the Colonials refugees was done now. Their dying leader had led them to the Promised Land and died in sight of it before she could set foot there. Their story was done and what happened to them afterwards would be forgotten. Perhaps some faction of the Inner Sphere would come along and destroy them. Perhaps they would even prosper. In either case, their time in the lime light was at an end.
But their story, their epic journey across the galactic wilderness would live on long after they are dust and gone. New generations will draw strength from their story and some day, somewhere, a world being colonized would be named Kobol in their honor and their wheel would begin again.***
Lee Adama sat in the copilot’s chair of Athena’s Raptor. He was here as a civilian passenger to observe today’s demonstration. Sure, he could have stayed aboard the Galactica and watched on video monitors, but he had been a pilot once. He needed to see what was about to happen with his own eyes.
Out front, Lee could see the Galactica, shimmering under the sun with its new Ferro-Carbide plating. The plating had replaced the armor belt that had been stripped off long before the Colonial Holocaust. The old bucket stood in eternal vigilance over their new planet, its sheer presence enough to scare off any pirates, even the ones that had managed to acquire Colonial style FTL drives.
It never ceased to amaze Lee at how much Laura Roslin had managed to accomplish before cancer had claimed her. They had a new world to call home, one that they wholly owned. Their remote location in the Periphery guaranteed that few of the Inner Sphere powers would take a malicious interest in them. She had also negotiated a royalty to be paid to the Colonials from anyone and everyone who was making artificial gravity generators and Colonial style FTL drives. It looked like a pittance, but the sheer volume of demand provided all the money the Colonials needed to start up their new colony with a substantial amount of industry and upgrade their weapons and even import specialists and workers for all the jobs that needed doing.
And the investment in industry and workers looked like it was going to pay off too, Lee thought darkly. The Inner Sphere was going into a meltdown and war was breaking out everywhere as the two Scions of Steiner-Davion went at each other. For the Colonials, that meant their royalties were drying up, but Lee thought they would be self sufficient when the royalties stopped entirely.
In the meantime, it looked like Roslin had selected a better planet than she knew. Its location beyond the boundaries of the Inner Sphere meant that they could avoid the wars there. The improved FTL drives being distributed there also meant that refugees were flooding into the Periphery to escape the carnage. Now it was the Colonials who were taking in refugees instead of being them. Some people objected to the incoming tide, but Lee wasn’t one of them. Already, he could see the kernel of a new nation being formed here.
“Sir, it’s starting,” his pilot, Racetrack said.
Lee could see that. The new Viper Mark VIII coasted into view, going through maneuvers to demonstrate just what it could do. The Mark VIII really a Mark VII frame with Mark II parts welded on at the nose and back to increase its volume without significantly changing its front/rear silhouette. That meant it could still use the Galactica’s launch tubes all the while being twice as long as its predecessors and four times as heavy. Inside, the Mark VIII was loaded with the best fusion of both Colonial and Inner Sphere technology. They had experimented with different weapon mixes before finally settling on a mix of firepower that was sufficiently powerful without cooking the pilot with waste heat.
One by one, empty crates serving as practice targets were vaporized as the Mark VIII strafed them with paired large pulse lasers.
“Impressive,” Tom Zarek said from behind Lee’s seat as they watched lines of red pulses blow away innocent crates. “You know, I’m having the weirdest feeling of déjà vu.”
Lee rolled his eyes but said nothing. He still didn’t like the man, but he was stuck with him.
“Okay, Racetrack, I guess we’re done,” Lee said as the last crate died. He gestured at the planet they had named Roslin. “Take us home.”
“Whatever you say, Mister President.”***
Time was a wheel and there were wheels within wheels. The Colonial wheel had ended. The wheel of Diaspora was in its infancy. The wheel of Empire had barely begun. There were many wheels.
There were many wheels. Each wheel was whole, an ongoing act in the play of the universe. The secret to truly controlling one’s fate was not the control of how any one wheel spun or to control the actors in each act of the cosmic play. No, true freedom came when one could rearrange the order in which the wheels spun so that someday far distant, an opening could be created to escape.***
The new fighter that she was flying was amazing. Sure, it wouldn’t win any sprinting matches, but it had unprecedented maneuverability and with the “wing” turrets, it could fire in virtually any direction. It also used the Final Five’s direct interface method of piloting. Once interfaced, Boomer’s mind had expanded to fill the computers. Its sensors were her own. She knew exactly where she was heading and where everything around her was. The experience Boomer knew was but a shadow to what a Hybrid experienced.
As Boomer circled around the Cylon Hub – privately, she called the thing a “Yardstar” - she was trailed in formation by four former Raider personalities like faithful dogs. Their bodies were smaller, lighter versions of Boomer’s fighter. There had less than half of Boomer’s fire power, but they could be built in numbers.
The new fighters couldn’t even properly be called Raiders. They were just too different. The term Harpy was making rounds and it looked like that was going to be the new designation.
But the most important change was that they were following her. Around her, Boomer could see other similar squadrons. Each Harpy Major piloted by a humanoid Cylon – usually an Eight – led their own squadron of Harpy Minors piloted by former Raider souls. Boomer watched with approval as they practiced their maneuvers. Gone were the days of mindlessly swarming forward. Now, actual tactics and mutual support were the order of the day.
Boomer swung her Harpy Major close to one of the Yardstar’s exposed support members. As she approached, two of the Harpy’s four engines swung down and around on jointed limbs. Grasping claws unfolded and grabbed the support member and joints flexed to bring Boomer to a comfortable perch. Around her, the Harpy Minors copied the maneuver with less awkwardness. Of course they did, Boomer told herself. They didn’t have the life experience telling them that knees shouldn’t bend that way.
“Boomer!” a Harpy Major pilot called as she landed next to Boomer.
“Hi, Nine, how do you like your new Harpy?” Boomer asked.
“They’re fantastic,” Nine said enthusiastically as she flexed the Harpy’s knees and rotated the wings through a full three sixty rotation. “Those Protectorate Nines would be soooo jealous if they could see me now. None of them ever got to fly a land-air mech.”
“Don’t let Simon hear you call a Harpy that,” Boomer told her with a smile. As good a pilot as Nine was, there was no way Boomer was going to let Nine anywhere near a battle with the Protectorate. She knew too much. Thankfully, the design compromises to make the Harpy combat effective had removed any hope of installing an FTL drive so there was little danger of Nine running off on an impulse to do battle. “He’ll just tell you…”
“…that the Harpy doesn’t have conversion equipment and is permanently stuck in air-mech mode, blah blah blah,” Nine recited with exasperation. “Hey, you wanna race?”
Nine sent Boomer a mental pointer. There in the distance was the new Warstar. It had started life as a Type III Basestar, but was now being refitted as a pure fighting machine. Its skeletal frame was only half covered so far with the new armor. The tips of the pylons had been sawed off and the three of the new ball turrets were already installed; with the turrets, there was no direction from which an attacker could attack without coming under fire from at least five-sixths of the Warstar’s total Naval Particle Projection Cannons, and the Warstar only had to tilt or turn slightly to clear the remaining turret. Adding to that firepower, the central vault had been filled by with Naval Autocannon and ammunition magazines for that could put out a devastating close in broadside for any ship foolish enough to get that close. And there was still plenty of room left for three hundred Harpies and a substantial complement of point defense and anti-fighter weaponry.
“If anyone asks, just say the Imperious Leader is pulling a surprise inspection,” Nine suggested when Boomer didn’t add right away.
“Okay, let’s race!” Boomer laughed as she launched herself toward the incomplete Warstar. Behind her, Nine squawked outrage and launched herself after Boomer. The Harpy Minors also took off and followed faithfully behind.