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11 November 2009 @ 04:19 pm
The Thread of Ariadne, Ch. 10  
Chapter Ten

Kat's voice came over the wireless with no trace of her usual attitude. She was all business. "Starbuck, Kat. I read a bandit heading your way."

Kara glanced down at her dradis as the thing appeared. "I got it, Kat. On my way."

She banked to check it out. Whatever it was, it was small -- maybe as big as a turkey, but definitely not a baseship. Then the comp returned the profile. Raptor. A Raptor? Out here?

She frowned, trying to remember who was in flight right now. But there certainly wasn't anyone scheduled on this course. Something must have gone wrong with someone's jump.

Then the wireless squawked with a male voice, "Krypter! Krypter! Krypter! Vipers, this is Bulldog, Colonial fleet i.d. 344754. Don't shoot. Please, don't shoot. "

"Bulldog"? That wasn't one of her pilots.

Kat had come to the same conclusion. "Cylon trick," Kat said in disgust.

Kara beat back a moment's disappointment at the stranger's voice on the wireless coming from the Raptor. "Galactica, Starbuck. I'm eyeballing a Raptor, giving off a foreign call sign."

Dee reported, "IFF from the Raptor is one lost at New Caprica."

"Bulldog" added, "I'm not armed and it's not a trick. I swear. If Commander William Adama or Colonel Tigh are there, they can identify me -- Daniel Novacek, from the Valkyrie."

"I say we take this trojan horse out," Kat declared.

Starbuck knew that wasn't going to happen, not if Adama really knew him. "Galactica, Starbuck, awaiting instructions."

Her hand tightened on the throttle, not sure what she wanted to hear. Kat was probably right and this was a Cylon trick or trap of some kind. But on the other hand, a small niggling voice reminded her that Sam was on a Cylon ship that couldn't be that far away. Maybe Bulldog would know something about Sam... would've seen him, would be able to tell her how he was.

"Starbuck, Galactica," Helo said on the wireless in his usual strong and certain voice. "Actual orders you to escort it in. Any strange moves, shoot it down."

"Understood, Galactica. Kat, you finish up CAP. I'm on escort."

"Got it. Don't have too much fun without me."

Kara kept the Raptor in the middle of her targeting range. "Nice and easy, Bulldog. Line up on my heading."

"Understood, Starbuck," Bulldog turned his Raptor to match her heading.

She escorted it in, keeping an eye on its acceleration especially, in case it intended to purposefully crash into Galactica or another ship.

The pilot gasped when he saw the fleet. "Oh my gods, that's all? They told me, but ... Gods."

"Raptor, Starbuck. Proceed directly to the port landing pod. I have a lock on your ship, so don't do anything stupid."

He slowed and landed properly. She followed, hovering until he was down and was dropping into the bay.

Then she threw her Viper to the deck and followed. She barely waited for the airlock to close before popping the canopy. Helmet left in her cockpit, she hurried to the Raptor, pushing through the marines to the admiral and Helo.

The Raptor hatch was opening, and a man came out with his hands in the air.

The man who emerged was certainly not one of the known Cylons or a certain C Bucs team captain. "Bulldog" came out wide-eyed. He stared around at everyone, looking stunned. He was wearing a black t-shirt, grey track pants, and athletic shoes, all of it surprisingly new-looking.

"Are you alone?" Helo demanded.

"I'm alone." His eyes went to Adama and they stared at each other. "Is it really you, sir?"

"I think that's my question," Adama responded. Novacek raised his hand to salute, and Adama returned it, before asking, "What the hell happened to you, Danny?"

"They freed me. The Cylons freed me."

There was a moment of shocked silence and a murmur passed around the deck at the news. Confusion, doubt, and surprise echoed across the floor in a low wave that left silence behind.

"We'll talk about that at debrief. Take him to Doc Cottle," Adama ordered heavily. "And search that ship top to bottom."

Helo turned to deal with it.

"Sir," Novacek said hurriedly before the marines moved to escort him away. "The Cylons sent food. That's what's taking up the back. They're … different."

"I'll get your briefing as soon as you're cleared through medical," Adama insisted, but his face softened. "It's good to see you made it, Danny."

Novacek's face remained hopeful and glad as he was led away, but Kara saw the wild, haunted look in his eyes and couldn't help imagining Sam with the same expression.

"Sir," she said to Adama after Novacek had been led away. "I'd like to attend his debriefing."

The Admiral's gaze fell on her and he nodded. "Of course, Starbuck. I think he'll have news. The Cylons let him go for a reason. We need to find out what it is."

They waited, watching the marines and deck crew swarm around the Raptor with scanners, until Tyrol trotted up to the admiral.

"Sir, we've found nothing out of the ordinary, no trace of explosive residue. There are large bags marked as cereal in the back, like he said, but of course, there's no guarantee that stuff is what it claims. Should we dump it?"

"No," Adama answered. "I want it tested. We can't afford to dump any food, Chief." After Tyrol had moved away, Adama murmured, "Sending us food."

"You think it's a trick?" Kara asked.

"We need to be ready for it, if it is," Adama answered, "But... We'll see. I thought Bulldog died years ago. They've kept him all this time. And yet … right after we find that beacon in space, they release him finally. That's not a coincidence."

She shook her head in agreement. "What the hell is going on with the Cylons, sir?" she wondered.

"I'm very interested to find out."

* * *

She took a chair next to Helo at the end of the long, curved table. Roslin and Adama sat in the middle, with Lee next to Roslin and Tigh at the other end. Bulldog sat in a chair in the center of the room, facing them. He had changed into BDUs and wasn't cuffed, but there were armed marines stationed beside him, watching him.

"So," Roslin started and regarded Novacek for a time. "Lieutenant Novacek, I've been informed you've been a prisoner of the Cylons for seven years. Is that true?"

"Yes, madam president," he answered. "Though I'll have to take your word for how long it's been. It seemed like… forever."

"And yet, suddenly, after all this time, they decide to release you?" Roslin asked suspiciously.

"I don't understand it, ma'am," he answered, "but yes. I hadn't seen one of the human-looking Cylons in weeks, when this man ran right into the room where my cell was. I'd never seen him before. He was shocked to see me there, and said he was going to get me out of there. I didn't believe him, but only a few hours later I was in the Raptor on my way."

"Do you know who it was?" Roslin asked.

Kara's stomach tightened up and she knew what he would say.

"Said his name was Anders."

She caught herself from letting out a breath. Frak, he really was alive. But what the hell was he doing over there? She'd expected to hear about him in a cell, not running around on a basestar.

Novacek went on, "He was a pyramid player, for Virgon last I knew. He claimed he'd become a pilot, though he didn't look very military," he added with a glance at Adama. The admiral gave a small nod of confirmation.

"You're telling me Lieutenant Anders told the Cylons to release you?" Roslin asked in shock. "And they did it?"

"Yes, ma'am. He ordered them to do it. I thought he was a new kind of Cylon, but he said he wasn't. He said he was an oracle and a vision had led him to be with them. And so they followed him."

"Followed him?" Tigh blurted. "Those frakking Cylons are following Anders?"

"Yes, sir. Colonel. They did what he said, at least in letting me go. One of them, one of the Sixes, told me they were learning from him." He turned his eyes on Adama. "They especially wanted me to tell you, sir, that some of them want peace."

Adama's face gave nothing away, but Roslin snorted. "Yes, we saw how much they wanted peace at New Caprica, didn't we?"

"They were withdrawing already," Helo said, through clenched teeth.

"I can only tell you what I saw, madam president," Novacek said earnestly. "In all those years, none of them, not once, treated me like I was anything more than an inconvenience. They didn't hurt me, they fed me, but they also left me alone for so long, I thought they forgot I was there. Until he came in. Then they - the other Cylons - they apologized, sir, and they let me go. And one of the Sixes said the cereal was their gift to the children of the fleet. They seemed…. sincere, sir. I know that sounds wrong. I know what they did to the Colonies, but something changed. They were different."

Lee broke the silence, with a harder question. "How exactly did you find us, Lieutenant? It's not easy to run across a moving target in space. We've tried."

Bulldog shrugged. "He told me to wait there. The baseship jumped, and I waited. Three days later your CAP showed up on my dradis."

"Oh, frak," Tigh muttered, and Kara understood. The Cylons knew where the Fleet was. But on the other hand, they were only three days ahead. Three frakking days. Now she could narrow down the region of where to look.

"We need to alter course," Lee suggested, and the admiral nodded, looking thoughtful.

In the silence, Kara spoke up, keeping her tone professional. "Lieutenant, can you tell us what Oracle's condition was? How did he seem to you?"

She felt Helo's and Lee's eyes on her, but she kept her gaze steady on Bulldog, waiting for his answer.

She didn't like that Novacek paused before answering. "He seemed okay," he said with a shrug. "But there was something in his face. In his eyes. I don't know ... I asked him to come with me, but he told me he was where he had to be. Some vision he'd had or something. It was strange."

She nodded, though she didn't understand at all.

Bulldog lifted his head, addressed Adama, "He also said he had a message for a Captain Kara Thrace. I'd like to give it to her, sir, since I owe him for getting me out of there."

And suddenly she couldn't breathe. "That's me."

His gaze fell on her, now understanding why she'd asked about Sam's health. He grasped his dogtags and removed one, holding it out to her.

Gunny took it from him, examined it, and then passed it to Kara.

"As proof, he said," Bulldog explained. "That it was really him."

She opened her fingers and looked at it in her palm -- "S. Anders" was etched in one side, matching the other one that hung around her own neck.

"Starbuck?" Helo asked, from somewhere behind her.

"It's Sam's dog tag," she answered, in a voice so level she surprised herself, because she didn't feel calm at all. Then her gaze snapped to Bulldog's. "And he gave this to you himself?"

"Yes, sir. And he told me to tell you -- he said to tell you he loved you," he said more softly, as if he regretted not saying it in private. "And that he'll see you soon."

She waited, hoping for more, but he stopped. That was all, apparently. She said, "Thank you."

The edges of the tag dug into her palm as she clenched her hand around it.

* * *

After Bulldog was dismissed, Tigh was the first to speak with a snort. "It's all some kind of frakkin' mind game. Dirty Cylon trick."

"It's worse than that. They know where we are," Lee said. "That Raptor was waiting for the CAP. How did they know?"

"They're doing the same thing we are. Same course. We already knew that," Kara answered with a shrug.

"Or Anders told them," Roslin murmured. "It seems our lost lieutenant has changed his loyalties."

"He's a traitor," Tigh added with some relish, flinging Kara's words back in her face.

Kara stiffened and her hands went flat on the top of the table. "What did you say?"

Roslin leaned forward to meet her eyes, with a look that said Kara was being especially dense. "Running around loose on a Cylon ship. Telling them what to do. Telling them where we are... I'm sorry, captain, but the answer's obvious. Lieutenant Anders is a collaborator and a traitor, same as Baltar."

"No. He's been a prisoner for more than six months," Kara bit out angrily. "We have no idea what they've been doing to him. We have no idea what sort of visions he's had. It's not that simple."

"Then what would you call it?" Roslin retorted. "Maybe he was forced into it, but Lieutenant Novacek's words suggest a certain... freedom, don't they? If he was a prisoner, he's not one now."

Helo put a hand on Kara's arm to keep her from jumping to her feet, and Kara had the moment's amusement that Helo was trying to calm her down, while confronting Roslin. He said, "If Novacek's right about that, then you've gotta think about what else he said. Maybe it's all true. These Cylons are different."

Tigh snorted. "Why am I not surprised to hear that comin' from you?"

"They sent us food," Helo retorted. "They didn't just send your old buddy Bulldog, they sent food that might keep my daughter from starving. So yeah, you shouldn't be surprised by that."

The admiral cautioned, making both men sit back, "Accusations aren't going to help us untangle what's going on."

Kara took a deep breath, determined to be reasonable. "Look, Sam's not a traitor, that's ridiculous. But we won't know what's going on until we meet them."

"Soon," Roslin added thoughtfully. "Bulldog's message to you said that Anders would see you soon."

"Not soon enough," Kara muttered.

Adama pushed back his chair and stood. Immediately the other officers followed him up. "Mysticism aside, our job is protecting the Fleet. So we're going to make it harder for them to find us."

It was practical and it was necessary to change their course, Kara knew, but she hoped that didn't come at the expense of her operation. "Sir, what about the recon Raptors?"

"Continue those for now," he agreed. "I'd like to get the drop on them if we can. Rescuing Oracle is still on the table."

"Assuming he wants to be rescued," Lee muttered.

Kara glared at him and hoped he realized he was lucky to be at the other end with his father in between. She was about to leave with Helo, when Roslin interrupted, "A moment, Starbuck?"

She glanced at Adama, who nodded for her to stay and ushered everyone else out, leaving her with the president.

Roslin's gaze settled on her for a long moment. "I need to know something, Captain."

"Madam president," she said formally, not agreeing to answer anything at all.

"If we do run across the Cylons, are your feelings for the lieutenant going to blind you to what he's done?"

Kara laughed once sharply. "No more so than the fact that you've already made up your mind."

Roslin lifted her eyebrows. "Is there another way to read wandering at liberty on a basestar? Giving them our location? Other than collaborating with the enemy?"

Kara's thumb worked the etched name on the dog tag and she shook her head. "It's not the same. You heard what Bulldog said - Sam's there because of a vision."

Roslin waved a hand as if to dismiss it from consideration. "A pyramid player--"

"And you're a schoolteacher," Kara snapped. "He's much more than a pyramid player. You didn't see him, how he had to get drunk just to step foot on New Caprica, because he could feel the horror to come. You didn't see him almost kill himself on chamalla, trying to find out more." She found herself pressing against the edge of the table, facing down Roslin. "Tory said you called Hera 'the shape of things to come'. You believed in that so strongly you stole her from her own parents. There's a power at work here, you know it; you've felt it, too. So why can't you even consider that Bulldog's telling the truth, and Sam is there because the gods want him to teach these Cylons to be different?"

Roslin considered that for a moment then shook her head. "They destroyed the Twelve Colonies. Killed billions of people. Even as recently as New Caprica, they thought nothing of torture and murder. They're not different, Kara. They don't change." Her hands were fists on the top of the table and her mouth was a flat line. "At best the Cylons are children who pluck the wings from insects because it amuses them."

Kara couldn't exactly disagree, because Roslin was right about the attacks and the deaths and Cylon cruelty. Kara could still remember the cold eyes of the Cylons at that baby farm on Caprica. But that wasn't all there was. It ignored Athena's change of heart. It ignored Gaeta's report that one of the Sixes had been helping the resistance on New Caprica. It ignored the cereal in the back of Bulldog's Raptor. She swallowed and met Roslin's flinty gaze. "And if you're wrong? If Sam's giving us a chance to make a few allies, are you going to reject that offer out of hand? What is it the Scrolls say? Something about hate blinding us?"

Roslin's mouth twitched a little, recognizing the hit, but that was all. "My first duty is to protect the lives in this Fleet."

"All I'm asking you to do is give Sam a chance. He's not like Baltar, out to save his own skin. He's not a traitor," she insisted.

Roslin's face gave away nothing. "For your sake, I hope that turns out to be true."

And that left nothing more to say. "Then, if we're done, I'm still on duty."

Out in the corridor, Kara inhaled a deep breath. Frak it, Sam, what the hell are you doing over there?

On to Chapter Eleven: The Opera House
Merry F: kara green gunivanolix on November 27th, 2009 01:16 am (UTC)
Gah, you're not making me like Roslin at all in this story. She really has made hating Cylons her identity, so much so that she'll deny the potency of visions.

And of course Kara, even apart from her love of Sam, has always been one of the first to accept them. She's not in the majority, though, poor thing. I have no idea where this is going, but it has me worried for a whole frakton of reasons.
lizardbethlizardbeth_j on December 1st, 2009 08:16 pm (UTC)
With Roslin, it's not just the Cylons; in this version, I envisioned her as a bit jealous as well -- being the Dying Leader is also part of her identity, and now all these pyramid players and Viper jocks are honing in on what should be her territory, and Kara even gets a message from the gods to correct Laura's act with Hera. So she's feeling a little threatened. Not in a big, conscious way, but it's definitely a factor in my characterization. (Baltar is crazy, but he's like the Hybrid - he has some nuggets of truth) And she has to get over that, and realize she's just one of many, not the only one.
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