Joined: 12 Jul 2006
|Posted: Thu Jul 27, 2006 7:54 am Post subject: VS #7-"The Derelict" (Chapter 1)
|Battlestar Galactica: The Derelict
When Apollo opened the hatch that led to the Celestial Dome, the first thing he became aware of was how musty the air smelled. He knew that after more than three sectars of not coming up here that there was bound to be some levels of disrepair that had settled in, but this indicated that there'd been a ventilation malfunction at some point.
As he helped Sheba up the last of the rungs and into the chamber, he could tell that she'd noticed it as well.
"Give me a centon!" he said over the roar of the thrusters from below, "I'll make sure the ventilation's normal."
Sheba nodded in acknowledgment. She closed the hatch and removed her ear protectors while Apollo checked the instrument panel on the far side of the wall.
"Got it," he said, "They've cut back on the power to this part of the ship. I've got normal circulation going and that should clear out the smell in a couple centons."
"Thank the Lords," Sheba said as she gazed at the closed ceiling of the dome. "It wasn't like this when I.....snuck up here last sectar."
"I have a feeling either my father or the Colonel killed the power to discourage any other AWOL patients from the Life Station from hiding out here," Apollo smiled wryly.
(NOTE-This refers to an incident in VS #4 "Relics")
"I guess so," Sheba shrugged, "But I would have thought you'd been here at least once since then."
"No," he shook his head, "This is actually my first time up here since....oh, since just after the victory celebration a few sectars ago."
"Really?" she lifted an eyebrow, "What caused you to.....lose interest in this place?"
He smiled, "I guess because I learned that day, just before I came down to take you out to dinner on the Rising Star, that I had bigger priorities in life now."
Sheba smiled back and came up to him, gently taking his hand.
"I thank you," she said.
"The only reason I wanted us to come here is because I really wanted some place private to talk, and I can't get a pass on the Rising Star for some time to come. I....really think there's a lot we've got to talk about."
"I agree," Sheba said and took note of the bench just in front of the raised platform where all the navigational instruments were located. "Can we sit down?"
"Sure," Apollo nodded, "But just let me open things up here first." He mounted the steps to the platform, and activated several switches. A centon later, the panels in the ceiling folded back revealing the unobstructed view of the stars all around them.
Sheba let out an awed sigh as she sat down on the bench and took in the view. "You know, if I'd been able to see a sight like this when I was young, I wouldn't have grown up with a skeptic's attitude about religion," she said. "When you see the universe this way, you know there has to be a purpose behind it all."
"I know," Apollo admitted as he settled next to her and gently wrapped his arm about her waist. "Just like I know there has to be a purpose in life for us, Sheba."
Sheba settled back so that her head rested on Apollo's shoulder. "I feel that way too, Apollo," she said as she continued to look at the stars, "But.....we've still got a big stumbling block to deal with. And that's why you wanted to talk to me in private, right?"
"Right," Apollo said sadly, "I'm.....totally lost when it comes to figuring out what I can do with Boxey. You and I....we've done all we could to try and get him to accept you and the possibility that.....something else might happen some day, but......he just keeps having a bad attitude about the whole thing."
"Yes," Sheba admitted, "I thought watching Serina's old vidtapes and trying to get all the insight I could into what kind of a mother she was would help, but.....it looks like it was a dead-end."
"I can't tell you how sorry I am for what he did the other night. Saying he was writing a story for class about a young warrior who stays true to his beloved for the rest of his life was meant to take a shot at you. If I'd had the guts, I'd have turned him over knee and given him some real discipline for the first time in his life."
"That wouldn't have helped things, Apollo," Sheba said, "If anything it would have made him more withdrawn. He's trying to make you choose between him and me."
A pained expression came over Apollo's face exactly as she knew it would. For the first time, Apollo had heard something aloud that he too had dreaded ever considering, but now it was out in the open and he had to deal with it.
"Sheba," he squeezed her hand more tightly, as though he didn't want to let go ever, "I love you. I....don't want to lose what we have."
"Then we have to do something, Apollo," Sheba squeezed his hand back in the hopes they could draw strength from each other, "We can't brush this off any longer. We've been getting away with it by spending time with each other when he's not around, and keeping a nice attitude even when he starts acting horribly every time I'm around. It's got to stop."
"I know, I know," he nodded, "That's.....why I wanted us to come up here and talk this out. I'm open to anything you might suggest about this, and ultimately we have to decide this together on how to handle it."
His girlfriend sighed and leaned back against the base of the podium, "Have you talked to the Commander about this? Maybe....well, maybe he could explain some of these things to Boxey if we can't do a good job of it."
"I've thought of that," Apollo admitted, "But....I know exactly what would happen if he tried to explain how finding someone else to love again is a normal thing. Boxey would look him in the eye and ask, ‘Then why haven't you ever found someone else again, Grandfather?'" he shook his head, "And when you get right down to it, my father is never going to consider getting remarried because he wants to honor my mother's memory, and that's exactly why I think having him do it would only make things worse."
"She'd be no good either because she's in the same position. She hasn't had a single date since she split up with Starbuck, so how could she handle a tough question Boxey might throw back at her?" he shook his head, "Anyway, she and Boomer are still on that probationary assignment on the Agroship for another sectan, so even if she could help, she's not available for awhile and I'd rather not wait that long."
"I agree." Sheba said, "And I guess ultimately, we can't pass this off to someone else. It has to be you and me, facing him together and letting him know how things stand."
Apollo looked her in the eye, "Maybe we haven't helped things by dancing around the idea of what it is we want to see happen someday."
She smiled coyly, "Which means?"
"You know," Apollo said, "But....I'd rather not say it aloud.....yet."
"I won't force you to," Sheba said and pushed back a lock of her hair. "So.....where does all this leave us?"
Apollo squeezed her hand again and looked up at the transparent ceiling, where the myriad number of stars seemed intimidating. "I guess.....when we get back from this deep patrol we go on tomorrow morning, we confront him. And from then on....it's in the Lords hands as my father would say." He looked at her again, "Do you agree?"
"I agree," Sheba nodded and said with quiet strength, "We'll.....do it together and hope for the best. And maybe while we're on patrol together, we'll have time to bounce ideas off on what we can say to him."
"Good thing Boomer's still away or we wouldn't have gotten this chance," Apollo said. He was referring to how once every two sectars, Blue and Red Leaders were required to fly a deep patrol mission together to evaluate each other's skills. Boomer's probationary detachment to the Agroship had elevated Sheba to Acting Leader of Red Squadron, and that meant that on the day when it was time for the normal evaluation, Apollo as Blue Leader would be required to fly with her.
"You're right," Sheba nodded, "Maybe....that's a Providential sign of things happening in a way that will let them work out?"
"Maybe. We'll know by tomorrow night or the next day."
An uneasy silence came over, as they both wondered what they should do next. Both of them felt a desire to do something they had yet to do in their relationship, but with things unsettled between Sheba and Boxey they had found themselves holding back. Even now, in the tranquil solitude of the Celestial Dome, Apollo and Sheba could still feel that uneasiness in the air overriding their desire to take advantage of their surroundings.
Finally, after another centon of uneasy silence, Apollo and Sheba both reached for their ear protectors and opened the hatch that would allow them to leave the Dome.
"Core Command transferring all systems to Alpha Patrol. You are cleared to launch," Rigel's professional voice filled both Apollo's and Sheba's helmets.
"Affirmative Core Command, we are ready to go." Apollo said aloud as he powered up his systems and pressed the launch button. Five microns after his viper emerged from the battlestar's launch bay, Sheba's viper followed and then pulled up alongside him.
"Course plotted for maximum penetration of Fleet's general Epsilon 22 heading," Sheba reported. "Telemetry recorder is active, and automatic heading is engaged."
"Copy Red Leader. I think that's all I need to know to give you a positive evaluation in my report," Apollo allowed the faintest trace of humor to crack through his voice.
"I'll remember to handle you on the return leg," Sheba chuckled, "Okay, let's just sit back and enjoy the ride.....and whatever else comes from it."
"Okay," Apollo said as he settled back in his seat. "How do we begin?"
"Good question," Sheba shrugged, "What say we begin with small talk and see what tangents that leads us to in the next few centars?"
"I'm game," Blue Leader said, "You start."
"Okay. Is it really true that Starbuck found a possible lead to Earth in an ambrosia case?"
"He found a lead but it's nothing we can make practical use of," Apollo said, "A personal diary of a prisoner on that Proteus penal planet we encountered before you joined us. There's reason to believe he came from Earth, but the problem is that no one can read a word of his journal. If it's Earth language, it's developed on a totally different plane from Kobollian, let alone Colonial Standard."
(NOTE-Apollo is referring to events from the episode "The Long Patrol" regarding the prisoner)
"What about the expert linguists in the Fleet?"
Apollo chuckled, "There aren't many people in our population of 70,000 who could be called that. My father found a couple Kobollian linguists who know the language even better than he does, but their preliminary study can't crack a single word. Not yet at least."
"Well if the language is now so far removed from something we can understand, then how will we ever be able to find the sign that will tell us when we've found Earth?"
"Transmissions I would suppose. I think that's another reason why I had us go back to the Dome last night, just to see if it was still functioning, because we really need to get it staffed full time to monitor and record all possible incoming transmissions on gamma frequencies. Leaving things to chance, like what happened on Ki last sectar, isn't a good idea especially if transmissions are the only way we can ever figure out if we're close to Earth or not."
"I can help you write a memo to the Commander about that. Even if that would mean that place could never offer any privacy again."
"We are always called to make necessary sacrifices in the name of the greater good," Apollo said and then stopped as he reflected for a micron. "You know, that sounds like the perfect phrase to use with Boxey."
"I was thinking the same thing," Sheba said, "We should file all these nuggets of wisdom in our data base to make sure we don't forget."
"Let's see if it leads to more and we'll do that." Apollo nodded, "Anyway, that's all there is with that diary. It's an interesting artifact, but until the linguists make a breakthrough, that's all it's going to be. I wouldn't place much faith in it."
"Still, it's strange how Starbuck got led to it. Finding it in the crate of Protean ambrosia he got as his reward for that mission of his aboard the Rising Star."
"Hey, don't forget he had some help."
"Oh of course," she said innocently, "Siress Belloby."
"Thanks a lot," he said with mock hurt.
(NOTE-For the details of this story, check VS#6 "The Gamble")
"Well be honest, Apollo. You didn't need to make as big a sacrifice Starbuck did in terms of changing appearance. He still hasn't got his normal hair back yet."
"Starbuck hasn't had normal hair since his first yahren out of the Academy. His problem isn't color, it's length!"
"Oh, I didn't know you disapproved of warriors with long hair," she teased.
He tilted his heard toward her viper, just alongside and could see her impish expression through the cockpit. "With you it's perfect. With him....." he let the sentence go unfinished.
"Don't worry. These top-knot fasteners I have to wear when I'm flying might be a pain in the astrum, but I'll pick them over having short hair any day." she decided to get some more information on another matter she wasn't up to date about, "So when do you have to testify at Samuels tribunal?"
"I'm not sure when that will be," Apollo said, feeling good that their conversation had stayed on an up tempo so far. "There's one sticky matter that's holding up the proceedings. Samuels and Wilmer are officially the first two criminals eligible for the death penalty since the Council lifted the suspension after Baltar's release. And there's bound to be renewed publicity over that matter again if Sire Solon sought the death penalty, which isn't what my father would like to see right now."
(NOTE-In VS#1 "Matter Of Honor", which deals with Baltar's release following the events of "The Hand Of God", Adama decided to neutralize political opposition by reinstituting the death penalty in Colonial society)
"I can imagine. Especially with that snake Antipas looking for any excuse to make Adama look bad."
"Until we come across the Cylons again, Antipas is the biggest threat to the well-being of the Fleet."
Their conversation continued for another five centars as the uncharted regions of space passed by them, with nothing to attract their interest. Occasionally, they found themselves finding more isolated bits of wisdom to use for their inevitable confrontation with Boxey, but nothing that they could consider the ultimate key to unlocking the solution that would make the little boy's attitude change.
Finally, they both found themselves with nothing else to say, so they decided to remain silent and focus on their instruments for now. Idle periods of silence in a long deep patrol were an inevitable byproduct no matter who one was paired with. Even with a close friend, there was still the need to enjoy a period of mental solitude and freedom from other voices just to break the pattern.
So the sixth and seventh centars saw almost no words pass between Apollo and Sheba. And then, on the eighth centar, that changed when Apollo heard a chime on his scanner that caused him to bolt his head up slightly.
"Apollo, did you pick that up?"
"Yeah," he looked at his scanner and frowned. "Definite contact with some kind of ship. Bearing is.....oh, I can't tell. Seems to be almost drifting randomly."
"Whatever it is, it's big to give off that kind of signal on the scanner. Definitely not a one-man craft or shuttle."
"Right. Should have visual contact in twenty-five microns, bearing six-six-six."
"I'll make visual sweep and you maintain scanner watch."
Sheba craned her head through the port window of the cockpit where it would come into view. When it did, her eyes widened in amazement.
"Apollo," she whispered, "That's the biggest ship I've ever seen in my life!"
Apollo looked up and his mouth opened in silent amazement. The ship made even the Galactica seem small and insignificant by comparison. It almost seemed to stretch endlessly, for as far as the eye could see.
"Who could have built something like that?" Sheba wondered aloud.
"I don't know," Apollo managed to speak, his eyes still locked on the ship. "Except for that landing bay side pod amidships, there's nothing about it that looks remotely familiar."
The captain let his eyes wander the entire length of the ship. What he took to be the front end of it, on the left side of his vision had a stubby, pointed look but then it abruptly bulged to a massive height that stretched far higher than any other ship he'd ever known, and he could see various sections protruding outward, as if there were a seemingly infinite number of compartments and passageways inside. The landing bay side pod stood out like a familiar beacon in terms of ship design, but then working back the massive, bulky contours took over again before it finally slackened off with the contours of what had to be the stern section and visible signs of engine thrusters. But the engines at the rear couldn't possibly begin to power something this sign which meant there had to be additional means of propulsion somewhere inside.
"Scan for life forms," he said in a nearly awed whisper.
"Scanning," Sheba said. And then there was an eerie silence as the brown-haired warrior saw the readout.
"Apollo," her voice was now a whisper no different from his. "It says there are human life forms aboard. But-----,"
Abruptly, a burst of snow-filled static filled their computer screens indicating that they could no longer pick up readings.
"Oh, great," Apollo grunted with disgust, "Just when we get this close to finding out something this important, we get interference. I wonder if that's from their propulsion emissions?"
"I wasn't picking up any signs of active propulsion," Sheba said. "You want my opinion, Apollo, this thing, whatever it is, is just drifting aimlessly in space. Like a giant.....derelict."
"Well if it's drifting aimlessly, then there's no way we could ever plot its trajectory accurately enough," Apollo felt his awe fade slightly, and now he stared at the gigantic ship with a sense of determination. "Let's try to raise her."
"Apollo, what makes you think they'd be able to converse with us, even if they could talk back?"
"It's worth a try," Apollo activated his unicom transmitter, "Attention spacecraft. This is Captain Apollo of the Battlestar Galactica, representing the Twelve Colonies of mankind. If you can hear us, please acknowledge."
"Apollo," Sheba felt an uneasy feeling start to come over her, "Don't you think that's telling whoever those people are, too much?"
"If they're human, we've got to take a chance, Sheba!" Apollo suddenly snapped back, which startled her. He then keyed the transmitter again. "Repeating message. This is Captain Apollo of the Battlestar Galactica, representing the Twelve Colonies of mankind. If you can hear us, please acknowledge by either verbal or visual signal."
Twenty microns of silence went by. Finally, Apollo let out a frustrated sigh, "Nothing. Whoever's aboard that ship can't talk back to us."
"So I guess that leaves us with no option but to head back to the Galactica and let the Commander call the next move on what to do."
"We can't do that!" Apollo protested, "We're out of communications range with them and by the time we got back and got them to make a decision on what to do, who knows where this thing will be by then. If we turn around now, we lose this thing for good."
"What are you suggesting then?" Sheba felt her concern deepen. "You're not thinking of having us board that ship?"
"I'm suggesting that *I* board the ship and check it out," Apollo put a great deal of emphasis on the pronoun. "You can stand by and wait for me to finish."
"Oh no," Sheba's voice was emphatic, "You're not taking any risks all by yourself. If you plan on boarding that thing, which I happen to think is a crazy idea, then I'm going with you."
"We board together because we're a team on this patrol and that means we share *all* of the risks," she cut him off, "Now don't go back to thinking you can handle these kinds of risks by yourself, because that would mean you're sliding back into some old habits I'd thought you'd gotten over."
Apollo smiled thinly as he realized what she meant and glanced over at her. "You have a great way with words, Sheba. And you're right, if we do this, we do it together."
"My recommendation though is that we don't."
"Since I'm senior to you, this is my command decision, and I say we investigate. This could be the breakthrough our people's been looking for."
"That might be asking too much. That ship seems as incomprehensible as that journal Starbuck found."
"We can't just ignore the possibility," he focused his eyes on the side pod. "That landing bay looks like it can accommodate our vipers. I'll lead you in."
As Sheba prepared to follow Apollo's viper in toward the foreboding derelict spacecraft, she found it odd that her boyfriend seemed so obsessed with the thought of exploring it.
It's as if that ship has some kind of spell on him, she thought.
The only thing she felt sure of as she lined up and saw the darkened opening of the landing bay, was that the sooner she and Apollo finished this exploratory mission and were on their way back to the Galactica, the better she'd feel.