Tales of the Outer Sphere
4 January 3061
“Okay, that’s just weird,” Eight muttered to herself. She was one of the older Eights in the Cylon Empire, one of the ones that had been in on the Final Five conspiracy of silence. As such, the rest of Cylon society tended to look down on her. Being a Harpy Major pilot had raised her status some, but she was still at the bottom of the Harpy pilot pecking order. So she got stuck with the most boring duty imaginable: escorting a freighter carrying refined Tylium on a slower than light coast through half a star system. Normally, this job was one given to the old Raiders, but Eight had heard that Boomer wanted the squadrons to star learning some of the less glamorous fighter duties. Eight had resigned to being bored out of her skull by herself for half the day.
What she hadn’t counted on was her squadron of Harpy Minors. Harpy Minors were basically old Raider minds shoved into the chassis of the Cylon Empire’s new fighters. Their minds now directly interfaced with their fighter’s computers, making the Raiders… brighter. The Harpy Minors were no longer focused purely on hunting prey now. Between the expanded mental capacity and the training in group tactics, the Harpy Minors had started exhibiting new behavior like curiosity, humor, playfulness…
In this case, two of Eight’s Minors were using their “legs” to play patty cake with each other. Apparently, Harpy Minors could get bored now too. God only knew where they learned patty-cake from!
“Reed! Sue!” Eight snapped. A lot of Harpy pilots had started naming their Minors. Eight had followed suit to fit in, but the new custom just seemed odd to her. Eight was a traditionalist; no Cylons were supposed to have personal names. But in the new Empire, it seemed like names were becoming yet another status symbol, so Eight just picked names at random for her Minors and left it at that. “Stop that! You’re supposed to be on guard duty, remember?”
The two Minors stopped what they were doing and went back to scanning the stars. Both their body language and carrier waves both broadcasted feelings of morose contriteness for offending their master. It was amazing how pitiable the thirty ton hulks could make themselves look. It made Eight feel bad about scolding them…
No! No way could she be having these thoughts dammit!
Eight felt a vibration run up her Harpy Major’s legs from where they had contact with the freighter. It was almost as if something had hit the freighter. There was another vibration and one of Eight’s Harpy Minors squawked. It wasn’t Reed or Sue…
Eight released her grip on the freighter, and piloted her Harpy Major around its bulk to the far side. There, she found her other two Minors engaged in a literal head butting fight. For some reason, the two Harpy Minors just could not get along with each other. They were fine when on maneuvers, but when left to themselves, they invariably started fighting with each other.
“Ben! Johnny! Stop that right now!”***
The Battlestar Pegasus flashed into existence, its appearance muted and hidden by the surrounding asteroid field. Any debris that might have been occupying the space the Pegasus had just jumped into was now several lightyears away.
Additional precautions to improve stealth had also been taken. Panels cut from asteroids much like these replaced the armor plating that had been striped off decades ago by Colonial bureaucrats looking to save some cash. In addition to looking like an asteroid, the Pegasus kept emissions down to a minimum.
“Status?” Killian Qatar, Admiral of Nod, demanded.
“Nothing but hash, ma’am,” the Dradis watch replied instantly. “We’re exactly where we’re supposed to be.”
“Of course we are,” Armada said. The cyborg sniffed disdainfully. “Really, you people should have some faith in me.”
“Uh, Raptors report that the Cylon freighter is still on course,” the comms officer reported, unnerved by the cyborg.
Although everyone of Pegasus’ crew was a loyal member of Nod, the human members – especially the ex-Fleet personnel - still tended to regard everything cybernetic as the domain of the Cylons, ie the enemy. So having CIC’s central command table replaced with a cyborg plugged into the Pegasus’ computers was disconcerting to say the least. Only the fact that the supreme commander of Nod, Kane, had insisted on it had prevented the humans from tearing the cyborg out.
Even Killian found Armada disconcerting. He was something like a Cylon Hybrid, except that he was coherent.
“There’s no indication they suspect anything,” the comms officer added.
“Cylon message traffic is fairly minimal,” Armada noted. “Most of it is fighter to fighter...” He frowned. “That’s odd. There are five of those new Raider types. Four are standard Raider minds, but there’s more communication traffic than typical of the old Raiders. The fifth ‘Raider’ is actually piloted by a Number Eight sentient.”
“They’re putting the sentient Cylons into fighters now?” someone asked.
“It appears they are,” Killian replied, feeling disturbed at the news. For four years now, she had led Nod’s naval forces against her fellow Cylons, using her knowledge of how her former comrades operated against them. But over the last year, something had changed among the Cylons. They had started building new Basestar and Raider designs and all of them looked singularly nasty. This engagement would be the first time the forces of Nod would go up against any of the new types, and Killian had stacked the deck as much as possible. “But that won’t matter in the slightest. Launch the Vipers and tell them a promotion goes to whoever manages to nail the sentient.”
That last was particularly important to Killian. Most of Nod’s people still had no idea that Cylons could pass for human now. That was because Killian had been diligent about weeding out infiltrators. And she had done so in such a way that even her fellow Cylons had no idea that she was doing it. At least she hoped that was the case. Killian was sure that Kane knew that she was a Cylon even if they had never actually discussed it. Armada also knew simply because Killian had to teach him how to eavesdrop on the Cylons.
“Can you tell what they’re saying, Armada?” Killian asked as the Vipers launched and took up ambush positions.
“Alas, no,” Armada said annoyed. “If you like, I could take time out for the next billion years to see if I can decrypt…”
“That won’t be necessary, Armada,” Killian said quickly. That was another two things Killian found disturbing. The Nod Hybrid’s condescending attitude was one; it was completely at odds with how Killian expected Hybrids to act. The other was that Cylon had enacted security protocols as if they expected someone was going to try and hack them. “Whatever they’re saying won’t matter in… fifteen minutes.”***
“Okay, do I have to watch you two every frakking minute?” Eight scolded.
Johnny and Ben looked at each other, then back at Eight. They nodded in unison.
“Great…” Eight groaned.
A signal from Reed interrupted Eight’s internal monologue. Reed was particularly good at Dradis and ECM and had picked up an anomalous signal. The signal had come from a nearby asteroid cluster. Reviewing the situation, Eight realized that cluster would make a perfect ambush spot.
Eight considered. It could be nothing. The fragment could be a scrap of a really old transmission from well beyond the asteroids. On the other hand, the fragment seemed to match what little the Empire had on the ever elusive pirates. What to do? If she or the Minors went to investigate, the freighter would be left unguarded. On the other hand, those asteroids had to be investigated.
Eight smiled suddenly.
“Okay, you two want to fight?” Eight said to her Minors. “Well, here’s what we’re going to do. First…”***
“Pegasus Actual to all Vipers,” Admiral Killian’s came over the secure channel. “Raptors report that targets are in visual range now. Be advised, Raiders have taken up flanking positions around the freighter. Time to attack is in thirty seconds… mark.”
Ajay grunted. Before the Cylon annihilated the Colonies, he had been a Colonial Fleet pilot. These days, he was a CAG in the Nod Fleet. Ajay was a bit dubious about this One God business, but as long as they kept striking back at the Cylons, he was fine with whatever was the official Nod religion. He had to admit, Admiral Qatar was a genius at finding the Cylon’s weak spots.
This ambush was a perfect example. It was a classic. Ambush the little convoy just as it was closest to their hiding spot, grab the freighter, and be gone before reinforcements arrived. Even if the guards were alert – and it looks like they were – there was no way that five Raiders were going to stand up to sixty two Vipers. Sure, the Vipers were a motley collection of different marks; there were even a couple Mark Is. But they were all equally effective…
“…five, four, three, two, one, GO!!!”
Ajay hit his afterburners. He and sixty one other Vipers charged out of the asteroid field. Unfortunately, the freighter wouldn’t pass close enough to the asteroid field so that the Vipers could fire right away. They were going to have to cover a little distance, but that shouldn’t be a prob…
“Missile launch!” someone called out.
Ajay’s eyes flicked to his Dradis screen even as the buzzer sounded in his ears and he slammed his Viper into evasive maneuvers. Over a dozen new contacts swarmed toward his people, and the momentum of their charge died as pilots struggled to get out of the way. At this range, the enemy fire was concentrated. Four Vipers drew two missiles each. Two managed to shake their tails. The other two only broke lock with one missile each and died as the other missiles found them. One unlucky sap in a Mark IV actually had six missiles on his tail and died of sheer overkill.
And then the Cylons launched another wave of missiles.***
Eight was annoyed. Both the Harpy Majors and Minors had been designed with fighting Cylon Protectorate fighters in mind. That meant fighting Inner Sphere style which in turn meant dumping as much firepower on a single target as possible. That meant her little squadron wasn’t designed to take on lots of relatively fragile old-style fighters.
Three Vipers came at her from the flank. In any other fighter, Eight would have had to pivot her whole fighter to engage with weapons that only faced forward. With a Harpy Major, Eight simply rotated the paired medium lasers on her right wing outward. She fired one medium laser, adjusted aim slightly, then fired the other. Two Vipers splashed. The remaining Viper pelted her with cannon fire that had all the effect of a kight rain shower.
On the plus side, Eight thought as she actually caught the Viper with one of the Major’s feet and tore it to shreds, it was nice being on the top side of the tech gap for a change.***
Killian listened with a pinched expression on her face as her battle plan was torn to shreds.
“Frak! Those things have some kind of ray gun!”
“What the hell are they made of?”
“Pegasus, are guns can’t penetrate…”
“How many of those things are they carrying?”
“Fall back! Fall back!”
“Recall, the Vipers,” Killian ordered. “We’re going to Plan B.”***Eight
, a distant voice called. What’s your status?
“I’m under attack by pirates,” Eight replied absently as she salvoed another six missiles at a Viper. Each missile was as powerful as a shot from any of her medium lasers, but the Vipers were all running out of her laser range.Understood
, came the reply. Reinforcements are spinning up FTL drives now.
“I don’t need reinforcements,” Eight complained. “I need better engines. The pirates have broken off and these Harpies are too slow to keep up with them.”Shouldn’t you be watching the freighter?
“I left Sue behind to do it,” Eight explained. “But these pirates are flying Vipers, which means they must have a base or ship somewhere around OH FRAK! BATTLESTAR!!!”
Suddenly, the entire world lit up with explosions.***
Killian shook her head. Unloading an entire Battlestar’s broadside on only four fighters was overkill in the extreme. But with the Vipers unable to inflict any significant damage, the Pegasus was the only thing Killian had left.
Still, those were incredibly tough and maneuverable little birds. They might be sluggish in a straight sprint, but they could change vectors with remarkable speed. But the Pegasus had a lot of guns, and a lot of those guns designed just for killing fighters were as heavy as any Viper.
One Cylon fighter died. Then another. And then there was only the one.***
It was the asteroids that saved Eight. Had they been in open space, Eight almost certainly would be waking up in a rebirthing tank right now. As it was, Eight kept dodging behind rocks, and the rocks kept disintegrating under the Battlestar’s fire, prompting Eight to look for another rock. Eight’s Harpy Major had been hit several times with bone jarring force, and she had lost a wing. But at least she hadn’t eaten a naval grade explosive shell so far. Even her tough little fighter couldn’t withstand that.
Unfortunately, time was not on Eight’s side. Her armor was being worn away. Either the Battlestar would get lucky with one of its big guns, or the little guns would eventually grind her down to nothing.
In the old days, Eight would have let herself just get killed, confident that the resurrection net would revive her in a new body. But Boomer’s rigorous training regimen had stressed that the resurrection net could not be relied on, especially when fighting Protectorate forces. So Eight didn’t even think about letting the pirate Battlestar kill her.
And then a brilliant flash of light nearly blinded her.***
“Admiral, all surviving Vipers have been recovered,” the flight control officer reported. “There’s only fourteen of them.”
Killian nodded acknowledgement. “Okay, as soon as this last one’s dead,” she began, “we’ll go and secure the freighter.”
Killian’s eyes widened as a new blip appeared on the Dradis screen practically on top of the Cylon fighter.
“Oh dear,” Armada commented.***
There was one thing to be said about Harpies; they could decelerate like nothing else in the Empire’s corner of the galaxy. Eight flipped her Major’s feet forward and ran the afterburners in them full blast. She managed to barely just avoid turning into a pancake on Warstar’s heavily armored hull. As she did, hundreds of Harpies Major and Minor that had perched on the Warstar’s hull took off and began angling towards the Battlestar.
The Warstar was based on the Cylon’s standard starfish-style Basestar. But it was far more heavily armed and armored. The most obvious difference were the enormous ball turrets mounted on the tips of each pylon. Five could be immediately brought to bear on the Battlestar. The sixth would have to wait until the Warstar rotated slightly to give it a clear line of sight.
Five turrets fired as one, and the Battlestar Pegasus felt almost the full fury of sixty heavy naval particle projection cannons. Three shots were wasted on intervening asteroids that were simply too big to just blow through. Twelve beams burned deep furrows across the length of the Battlestar, blasting aside the rocky camouflage with contemptuous ease to get at the armor underneath. Another five blasted naval gun emplacements away. Six beams wrecked two drive pods. But most of the fire was concentrated on the starboard flight pod, which promptly exploded.
As the cannons charged up for another shot and the Harpies swarmed forward, the Battlestar flashed and vanished from existence.***
“Dammit! Where are my Minors?” Eight demanded, her voice almost frantic.
“Eight, eight, calm down, everything’s going to be fine,” Boomer told her soothingly. “The resurrection net has your Minors. We just don’t have any spare bodies for them at the moment. But I promise you, the next Harpy Minors that step off the assembly lines will be yours.”
That gave Eight pause. “Promise?”
“Promise,” Boomer reassured her with a smile. “You did good out here today. I think that’s deserving of a few rewards.”
“Oh,” Eight said, calming down. “Thanks, Boomer.”
“No problem,” Boomer replied. “So, ever thought about having a proper name?”5 January 3061
“So,” Kane said tightly as he gazed upon what had once been the pride of the current Brotherhood of Nod. “The Cylons’ new weapons are far more potent than we had previously guessed.”
“Yes, milord,” Killian said miserably from behind him. She stood in the center of the council room, as if on trial.
“I don’t understand,” Brother Marcion said. “How could the Cylons have developed such powerful weaponry so fast? If they had such things only four years ago, there would have been no need for clever tricks and back door viruses. They would have invaded and just rolled over the Colonial Fleet.”
“I don’t know,” Killian replied. “I can’t begin to imagine where they got such technology.”
“Yes, well, fortunately for us, I can,” Kane said thoughtfully. He turned around to face the High Council. “We’re going to have to suspend our operations against the Cylons for now while we upgrade our technology to match theirs.”
“But… how?” Alexa Kovacs asked. “Oh, great prophet, where do we even begin?”
“I know a place to start,” Kane replied. “But while we work on finding Kobol, I need someone to go and infiltrate the Cylons and find out what they know and how they know it. Killian, you know what frequencies get Armada’s attention I trust?”
“Yes, milord Kane,” Killian replied.
“Excellent,” Kane replied happily, as he pulled his gun and shot Killian through the heart.