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Friday, July 26, 2019

Chapter from "Colonies of Kobol - Book Thirteen: Caprica"

I'm most of the way finished with Colonies of Kobol - Book Thirteen: Caprica ...

I've said before that I'm regarding this particular entry as seasons two and three of the TV series.  "Season two" is the first half of the book, filling in the time between the end of season one and the events seen in the epilogue of the finale episode, "Apotheosis," and then a bit more to get us to the start of the First Cylon War.  "Season three" is the second half of the book, which is about the beginning of the Cylon War, with primary focus on the formation of the Colonial government, the rise of the Cylons, etc.  At this point in time, I don't intend to do a blow-by-blow account of the war ... I mean, the damned thing lasts twelve years and this book is already longer than any book in the Lords of Kobol series and I'm not finished yet.

I did, however, just finish an action-packed chapter that I thought was pretty cool.  Not every chapter in the book will be like this, but there are several action beats.  Still ... I hope you enjoy it.

You can read it after the JUMP.


(Note: if you haven't seen Caprica, you may not catch who's who.  Also, in case you've forgotten, the first season of the show ended with the Graystones creating a Cylon body (with skin exterior) for the virtual avatar of their late daughter.  That's why Zoe's still around.  If you have other questions, you'll just have to wait until the book is released.)

Day 163 of the First Cylon War

"Five, four, three, two, one."  Duram looked toward the ceiling and nodded when he heard the engines shut down.  "We're in coast mode. Get comfortable."

The large transport carried the Legionnaires into the Gulf between the Alpha-Beta and Gamma-Delta systems.  They were departing the outer cloud of Gamma, heading "south" toward a suspected Cylon base.

Zoe studied the schematics for the devices they carried with them.  She glanced at each page once and then turned to the next.  The major watched her and then looked at the rest of his company.  Dozens of young men and women who had fought with them in Caprica City and in dozens of drills for the last few months at Argus Shipyards.  They were hungering for real action and this base was the closest thing to it.

"That's my worry," Alix Rosi said.  "Things have been quiet for weeks …"

"Except for quick raids on patrol convoys or mining stations," his brother, Andy, said.

"Right.  They're hanging back.  Building up their armies and their fleets."

"We're doing the same," Duram said.  "We're hunting for their bases, but in the meantime, we're building our heavy carriers and whole mess of escorts and destroyers."

The Rosi brothers nodded in unison.  Alix said, "Is it true there's going to be a draft?"

The major shrugged.  "I don't know.  I haven't heard."

"No need right now," a sergeant said.  "We have a million and a half soldiers in the service.  That's just Caprica.  Add in the rest of the Colonies, …"

"You know there'll be a shit-ton of Cancerans and Virgans," someone said.

"Yeah," the sergeant shook his head.  "No need for a draft unless things go bad."

Zoe raised her head and said, "Or if this lasts more than a couple of years."

"Years?"  Andy laughed and said, "Please.  Once we get going, we'll show the frakkers how you do it!"  He and Alix shared a fist-infused handshake, punctuated with a brief shout.

Graystone looked at Duram and saw his dour demeanor.  "Major?"  His eyes moved to meet hers and she said, "What do you think?"

Jordan sighed and said, "I think we've still got three hours of coasting to go.  Let's get some rest."  He then leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes.

Nearly that long later, Zoe touched his knee.  She whispered, "Major."

He stood up and looked at the mission clock.  "We're there?"

"The captain wants to see you."

They looked to the front of the cabin and saw the woman in the flight suit standing by the cockpit door.  "Come with me."

They walked among the rows of Legionnaires as many of them slept.  The cabin of the transport was dark and it was getting cold, too.  The captain saluted and said, "Major, passive DRADIS shows a large object ahead."

Duram raised his eyebrows and asked, "A base?"

"Unclear."  She stepped aside, allowing them to enter the cockpit first.  Out of the front windows, they saw nothing.  After a moment of adjusting to the light, they began to see distant stars.  The captain sat in her chair and flipped a switch.  A monitor activated and showed a dark spot outlined in blue.  Ambient signals and background radiation ebbed around it. "There."

"Chief," Duram said, "is there anything you can do to verify?"

She sat at the rear navigation and picked up a holoband.  "Is this connected?"

"Yeah.  We use it for complex flight planning sometimes."

Graystone put the goggles over her eyes and the standard orange and green lights flashed against her eyelids.  Duram sighed and watched her swipe her hands into the air before her.  "I'm seeing another dark spot.  Smaller.  Moving away from the larger anomaly.  It could be a ship … but they're running dark, like us."

The major nodded and said, "They probably don't engage engines or jump until they're well clear.  I wish we could be sure."

"The signal from that decoy Cylon came from this general area.  It just didn't last long enough to fully track."  Zoe swiped the air a few more times.  "I'm seeing another dark spot.  It's coming out of the big one.  Same size as the second one … moving away at the same rate."

Jordan smiled and said, "A shipyard.  We've got 'em."

"Sir," Graystone removed the holoband and said, "We crossed almost thirty stellar units with our power systems at minimum.  The Cylons won't see us.  The plan would prevent them from acting until it was too late.  We don't need the fleet."

"I understand, but the task force will be jumping in …," he looked at his watch, "in sixteen minutes.  There's no way to wave them off without breaking wireless silence and endangering the whole mission."

"Yes sir."

The major looked at the gauges and asked, "Ambient radiation in this space?"

"Negligible for your mission," the captain said.

"Time until contact?"

Zoe squinted and looked out the windows again.  "Ten minutes.  Braking thrusters will need to fire in nine."

"We're ready," the captain said.  "Everyone should suit up."

Duram and Graystone walked into the main cabin and Duram clapped his hands.  "Rise and shine!  Legionnaires, up!"  The two hundred soldiers stood to attention.  "We're less than ten minutes from action.  Helmets!  Pressure suits!  Weapons!  Check and double check!"  The soldiers scrambled and Zoe nodded at the major before walking back toward her seat.

Duram walked slowly among them and paid close attention to their movements.  Within one minute, all of the soldiers were helmeted and had turned on their atmospherics.  Then the "buddy checks" began, with the soldiers on either side checking each others' helmets, seals, air tanks, and more.  With the suits finished, the soldiers then removed their weapons from the racks on the walls and prepped them for battle.

Jordan put his helmet on and clicked the rings in place.  He slid his gloves on and clipped the wrist seals.  He leaned against the back of his seat and the magnetic clamps attached his atmospheric unit to his back.  He stood again and checked the air readout on his wrist.

"Need a buddy, sir?" Zoe asked.

"Please."  Graystone moved her own helmet close so the light from it could shine on the seals of the major's.  She ran her hand around his neck and then moved to his back.  She looked at the dials and then crouched to his feet where she checked his boot seals.  While she did that, he removed his rifle from the wall.

"Three minutes until braking," the captain announced.  "Three minutes until braking."

Duram sat in his chair and connected the seatbelts.  "Strap in, everyone," he signaled.  He looked across the aisle to Graystone and saw she was eyeing the equipment locker.  "You good?"

"Yes sir."  She sighed.

"You're looking for a hatch or some other opening.  If you find one, sound out and the chief will come.  Engineers, stay near her in case we have to drill."  He glanced toward the locker and then asked Zoe, "You can carry that on your own?"

She smirked.  "Yes sir."

"It's pretty heavy."

Graystone nodded.  "The asteroid's gravity will make it light enough.  I won't have trouble."

"Understood."  He planted his head against the rest at the back of his chair and clamped his rifle into the slot in the arm of his seat.

The captain spoke through the cabin's speakers, "One minute until braking.  One minute."

Jordan began to count his breaths.  Slowing his breathing.  He got up to twenty-five when the captain announced again, "Ten seconds until braking.  Five, four, three, two, one."

The vessel felt like it had hit a wall.  The Legionnaires were slammed in their seats in one direction.  Duram struggled to open his eyes in the excessive g-force.  Soon, the force abated and everyone was able to sit upright again.

"Touchdown in thirty.  Venting cabin in ten."  The dim, white lights became red and flashed.  An alert klaxon sounded.  "Venting cabin."  While the red lights continued to flash, the sound of the alert seemed to fade and fade until it was gone.  Now the captain's voice sounded in each soldier's helmet.  "Touchdown in ten."  Pause.  "Five."  The transport shook.  "Opening shutters."  The flashing red lights became a steady green.

The walls of the transport seemed to vanish as the bulkheads folded down and away.  The Legionnaires' harnesses automatically disengaged and the soldiers stood.  After retrieving their weapons and equipment, they leapt out of the ship clutching ropes and into the blackness.  Graystone grabbed the handles on the large metal canister and pulled it toward the nearest opening.  She stood on the edge of the wall and then let herself fall.

Duram ran toward the exit.  He jumped while still within the gravity well of the transport's gravity plating, but once he left the ship, he nearly began to float.  He looked down and saw nothing.  There was a brief moment of panic before he spotted the helmet lights of his soldiers below.  Once he had a fixed point, he realized how slowly he was falling.  "Holy frak."

"Major," Zoe said, "this is a carbonaceous asteroid.  Very dark."

"No shit," someone said.

"Cut the chatter," Duram said.  He finally landed on Attila and grunted.  "Cylons might hear it.  Continue, chief."

"It's hard to spot any openings or hatches, so I need everyone to fan out and look.  And be careful of the gravity.  It's only about point-three of Caprica's.  If you're one hundred kilos back home, you're just three here."

"Do it, everyone."

Jordan looked toward his own feet and he couldn't see them.  He took a hesitant step and nearly slipped on a rock.  He flicked on his helmet lights and he was finally able to make out the dark gray surface.  It appeared gritty and pockmarked.  He looked up and saw Graystone carrying the device.  He started to walk toward her and found that his first step carried him several meters.  He was more careful with the second.

"Major," Zoe said, "I'm concerned."

He managed to skid to a stop near her.  "About what?"

"The drilling equipment we've got.  Drilling into this kind of rock … it almost becomes a plastic.  We'd need to lubricate the bits and I don't know if …"

"So you're saying we definitely need to find a hatch."
"Yes sir."

He returned his eyes to the asteroid and moved slowly.  After a few paces, he heard someone say, "What's that?"  He looked up and saw a soldier standing about ten meters ahead, pointing away from the group beyond the edge of his helmet lights.  Then the man's helmet lights went out.

Duram squinted and took a step toward the soldier.  When his feet finally landed, he raised his head and the beams of his lights raked over the surface of something gleaming and silver.  He was confused until he looked into the face of the enemy.

He yelled, "Cylons!"  The centurion smashed its arm against the major's helmet.  He flew away for twenty meters and he flailed, trying to reach the ground.  As he drifted, he heard the screams of his soldiers.  He looked down and got a fix on the helmet lights of his unit, but then he noticed that two, three, four, and more of them shattered and went dark.

One of the Rosi twins yelled in his helmet, "Turn off your lights!"

Duram finally landed and he tumbled farther away still.  He looked at his wrist and saw that his oxygen levels were good.  His visor was cracked, but not severely, and he took a big leap back toward the Legionnaires.  After he did, he flicked the switch on his helmet and the universe plunged into total darkness.

He landed awkwardly and knelt with one foot braced against what felt like a small boulder.  He looked straight ahead and saw dozens of red points, sliding from side to side.  It was the only thing he could see.  He raised his twenty-caliber rifle and aimed at what appeared to be the nearest Cylon eye.  He disengaged the safety, braced his helmet against the specialized scope, and aimed.  When he squeezed the trigger, he felt the stock jam into his shoulder, but there was no sound beyond a thump that seemed to reverberate throughout his body.  There was no muzzle flash.  The force had nearly toppled him and he hunkered down even more, bracing his feet even more.  He looked through the scope and the red light he had been aiming for appeared to be gone, so he aimed at another.  He managed to shoot at three altogether before the first flash appeared overhead.  

Duram looked up and saw two more flashes.  To his left, there were four.  Sublight engines engaged and the Colonial ships moved into positions around the asteroid.  Beyond the glow of their engines, he still see couldn't anything.  Until the battle began.

Yellow light bathed the surface of Attila.  Cylon and Colonial soldiers were silhouetted against the flak barrages of capital ships beyond.  Duram took aim at a shape that appeared distinctly robotic and fired again.

"Sir!" Zoe yelled.

"Go, chief."

"I've found the hatch they're coming from.  To your left, sixty degrees.  Fifty-five meters."

He almost asked how she knew where he was in relation to her and the hatch, but he didn't bother.  He leapt in that direction and landed next to her.  He turned and saw, via the light of the space battle above, one of the Rosis was positioned against the dark metal square that rose nearly a meter above the surface firing his rifle.  "Any more coming out?"

"No sir.  Not since we found it."

Duram looked down and saw that Graystone was still holding the case.  "Go ahead."

She knelt and unfastened the latches.  Before she opened it, she said, "Engineering teams on me.  We'll need to weld the hatch shut after I get it in.  Major, captain, get my back." 

"Yes, chief."

Zoe turned on her internal helmet light.  It was just enough for Jordan to watch her open the case.  "Their sensors will show a radiological alarm now.  Be ready for reinforcements."

She pressed buttons on the casing for the warhead and picked it up easily with one hand.  She went to the hatch and pulled on it.  It didn't open.  She turned the locking wheel and pulled again.  Nothing.  She looked up at the major and sighed.  She was still holding the exterior handle when the door flew open.  Zoe fell backward and a Cylon emerged bathed in the soft light from inside the base.

Duram knelt and aimed his rifle straight above his head.  The centurion loomed on the lip of the hatch and studied the scene.  When a Colonial frigate exploded above their heads, he pulled the trigger and the bullet ripped through the machine's neck and head.  The fire of the vessel kept the surface of the asteroid visible for a few more seconds, so he looked toward the transport and saw Legionnaires still engaged in combat with the few Cylons that remained.

Two more Cylons emerged from the hatch and they were shot with the high-caliber weapons.  Zoe pulled the robots' arms and flung them away from the opening.  After a few long beats, she looked inside the hatch and saw no more coming.

"Five minute timer.  Remote detonation override ready.  Set."  She threw the warhead down into the base and closed the hatch.  She spun the locking wheel and then snapped it off.  "Engineers?"  One soldier approached with a plasma torch and pressed the tip along the edge of the opening.  When a second engineer came forward, too, Zoe and the major walked toward the transport.

"Stand by for departure," Duram said.  He turned on his external lights for a moment; just long enough to see the status of his soldiers.  There were only a couple of Cylons left.  Dozens of Legionnaires were bouncing toward the transport.  "Lights on.  Finish them."  The soldiers engaged their helmet lights again and easily found the remaining enemy.  The humans fired and a couple were knocked back by the force of their rifles.  "Transport, departure stance."

"Aye, sir," the captain signaled.

The ship's thrusters fired and the transport lifted off from the surface.  It engaged its own lights and dozens of ropes were visible, hanging from the exposed cabin.  Then a single point of fire leapt from the left and struck the cockpit windows of the vessel.  The explosion rocked the ship and showered the soldiers on the asteroid with glass and small debris.

"Captain?!"  Duram jumped toward the ship and saw that it kept rising.  Jordan made another big leap and stretched his arm toward the ropes, but they were too far away.

"Major, that's not enough!"  He looked down as he drifted to the surface.  When he landed, he saw Zoe holding the now-empty shielded warhead case in one hand.  In the other, she was holding a grenade. 

His eyes widened and he looked toward the still-rising vessel.  "You wanna blast off?  No."

"I'll give it a shot."

Duram looked at Graystone and said, "No.  Throw me."

She almost protested and then she looked up.  Seeing how little time they had, she created a step with her hands and lowered herself.  "C'mon." 

The major put his foot in her hands and stood.  Then, he crouched and sprang upward.  He felt Zoe throw him with all of her body's strength.  Slowly, he tumbled, end over end, up and up.  He saw the lights of the transport spinning yet getting closer.  He thought he might hit the hull before he felt the first of the deployment ropes slap against his helmet.  He extended his arms and quickly got tangled in three of them.  He steadied himself, realized that he hadn't been breathing, and then pulled himself into the cabin.

Moments later, after his stomach lurched at being back in a normal gravity zone, he stumbled toward the cockpit.  Inside, the windows were gone and so was the captain.  The co-pilot was dead and still strapped in his seat.  He sat in her place, which was torn apart.  Half of the controls seemed damaged but he touched the stick forward.  The transport's nose dropped.  He manipulated a lever on his right and he saw the mist from the thrusters on the leading edge of the fuselage.  Now the ship was returning to the surface.  As it drifted down, another explosion caught his eye.  He looked up and saw a Cylon cruiser split apart.  The blossoming fireball highlighted the hulls of several other Cylon and Colonial vessels.

The ship rumbled and ground into the surface of Attila.  Duram put the lever on his right back in the null position and he stood from the seat to look at the soldiers.  "Get on board."

Graystone entered the cockpit and said, "The landing gear's been destroyed."

"Oh," the major mumbled.  "Maybe I should've mentioned that I don't know how to fly."

Zoe saluted and said, "Permission to take over, sir?"


She sat in the pilot's seat and studied the parts of the panel that were still functional.  "The shutter controls are out.  You'll need to close them manually before we jump."

"On it."

He ran into the cabin and pulled soldiers over the edge.  "Head for your seats!  Get away from the shutters!" 

"Just two minutes, major," Graystone said in his helmet.

"Move!"  He pulled a few more people in and looked over the side toward the asteroid below.  There were no more helmet lights.  The glow of the nearby battle had faded but he did see several red eyes staring up at him.  He jerked his head inside and bullets began to ricochet off the hull.  "Manual shutter close!  Do it!"  Soldiers all around the cabin went to large levers and pulled them.  One corporal was struck by a Cylon bullet and fell.  When the cabin was no longer exposed to space, Duram said, "Let's go!"

The transport lifted off from the asteroid and its sublight engines pushed it away.  "Spooling up FTL," she said.

Beneath them, the warhead exploded inside Attila.  Fissures erupted across its black surface and they belched plasma and debris outward into space.  The main launch bay blew flame and a shockwave outward that propelled the asteroid back for a moment before it split into four large, glowing chunks.

"Jumping."  The soldiers felt the familiar dip in their stomachs and the whine in their ears.  After the tingle of electricity over their skins faded, the battle was over and they were back at Caprica.

Thanks for reading.  More to come.

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