Twenty-six minutes, my body says, listening to a new clock that set itself up over these last few days from hell.
It ought to be nice to have a mental cycle that doesn't run on booze, but I'd give a lot to not have this one. Seven minutes
to go. Get to the CIC, brace for jump...
We're not jumping anymore, though; we're regrouping. Half of the crew has already been released from duty and crawled off
to their racks. The other half is clawing out the rest of this shift on relief and sheer inertia. I wasn't sure if this
was much of a crew, back when it didn't matter and I didn't care. But they're something, all right. They've got heart after
I'm dragging my sorry tail back to my bunk-- the Old Man insisted on finishing out this shift, and it's been years since it
did any good to fight with him. Maybe it never did. Anyway, I'm not going to say no to the idea of sleep. Not ever again.
The door to the pilots' ready room is standing open, and changing course across the corridor to close it almost takes me down
then and there. Probably wouldn't hurt anything to leave it open, but regs are regs and if we start letting them slip, we
might as well have let the Cylons wipe us out at Ragnar.
I reach the door and glance inside, assuming I'll find no one there, that I'll never know who left it open, and I'll never
dress anyone down over it. But there is someone, slumped over the table at the far end of the room, wearing pilot's casuals
with his back to the door.
I put on my XO voice, the one I hadn't bothered to use for years before this whole business started. "I don't know if you
left your brain behind on the last jump or what, Lieutenant, but the last time I checked, regs said we close the hatches
on this ship."
He glances up from the papers spread out on the table, turning his head just enough for me to realize that it's Lee. "Sorry,
sir." His voice isn't as slurred with exhaustion as I expect, but his eyes aren't quite focusing, either. "But are you sure
that's serious enough to demote me?"
"My apologies, Captain. Didn't recognize the back of your head." I cross the room to stand behind him, looking over his
shoulder at the mess of folders and papers. "Why the hell are you still up?"
"Stimmed." He waves one hand in a vague circling gesture, meaning that he's restless or anxious or maybe just trying to call
in air support. "I haven't quite, uh, come down yet. Can't sleep."
"So you decided to do paperwork." I reach down and shuffle through the sheets-- Baseline's records. All the notes that came
with being CAG.
He picks up a roster and stares blankly at it, running his thumb along the angles at the bottom of the paper. "I don't even
know their names."
"You'll learn." Stupid thing to say, but stupid's all I've got left right now. Wisdom's a bunk and a bottle away.
"I'm supposed to know their flying inside out. Supposed to assign them right, take care of them." The exhaustion's there,
under the thin and messy layer of paint the stims slapped down. The words are taking a visible effort. "I can't even match
their names to their faces." He drags his fingers down a column of marks on the left side of the page, next to some of the
names. "These ones are dead already. I never knew them at all."
I look at him sitting there, slumped in the chair like it would take the direct intervention of the Lords of Kobol to get
him out of it, and for a minute my tired brain seizes up and I see two things at once. One is a Viper pilot, a captain in
the Colonial Fleet, a newly minted CAG who's had the worst first few days in the history of CAGs. And the other is a skinny
kid with a serious look permanently fixed on his face, eleven or twelve years old, sitting in the corner of some dinner party
at Bill and Caroline's with his math homework balanced on his knees. He would clench his jaw and furrow his forehead under
that shock of disobedient hair that couldn't make up its mind if it wanted to be blond or brown, and refuse to join the party
until he finished his work to his own satisfaction. I can see that kid inside the captain, in the stubborn way he sets his
jaw, just like his father; the way that shouldn't work with the pretty face his mother gave him, but somehow does. And I'm
glad to see him there, because even back then at the parties, even as we chuckled behind our glasses at the grimly silent,
so-serious kid, we knew he'd make a hell of an officer someday.
But I can remember another little boy, too, once the work was done and the books put away and he gave himself permission to
relax. That one could make his little brother believe anything, telling the most insane stories with absolute sincerity,
until Zak was open-mouthed and ready to buy beachfront property in the Pythian Desert. Then the solemn face would break into
a wicked grin, and he'd deliver a punchline that would have all of us jaded old officers doubled over with laughter as much
as the kids. I look at the tired, glassy-eyed man in front of me and wonder if that Lee ever made it off Picon at all.
There's a thin line of blood on his cheek, just above a patch of bristles he missed altogether. "If you're too stimmed to
sleep, you probably shouldn't have tried to shave, Captain." We're both tired enough, and the silence has lingered long enough,
that the change of subject makes a frakked-up kind of sense.
He reaches up to touch the cut, frowning absently. "Yeah. And I got distracted." He looked at his list of names for a minute
and tapped one of them. "Scoreboard?...yeah, Scoreboard...was in one of the showers with his sidearm in his mouth."
Lords. Should've expected that to start now that they had time to breathe. "What did you do?"
He blinks up at me like that's the dumbest question he's ever heard. "I took it away from him."
Smartass. "Anything else?"
He shuffles through the papers. I don't think he's really even seeing them. "Sent him down to the bunks and took him off
CAP for the next two shifts. I don't think he really meant it, he's just, you know...tired." Now I know he's not seeing
them-- the sheet he's studying so intently is upside down. "Told Beehive to keep an eye on him."
Good choice, if I can trust the vague attention I've paid to the pilots over the last few years. "How'd you know to ask Beehive?"
"They rack together. I saw them splitting some rations on the flight deck the other day." He shrugs and returns the paper
to the pile, still upside down.
I nod, even though he's not looking at me. He'll do just fine as CAG. "You might ask Lieutenant Thrace to help you with
all that. She knows the other pilots pretty well. Lords know she spends more time socializing than actually doing work."
He half-smiles at that, pawing through the papers again. "She's out flying CAP right now, finishing out the shift. She's
even higher than I am."
Lords help us all. I look over at his face, which is starting to go slack just as I'd suspect from the slur appearing
in his words. "I think you're starting to come down a bit, there."
"Yeah." He sounds a little regretful, and I catch a glimpse of the stubborn kid again in the way he's eyeing the papers.
Now that he's started, he doesn't want to quit until the job's done.
"Get some rest, Captain." I rest my hand on his shoulder for a moment, just enough to get his attention through the fog of
chemicals and exhaustion in his mind. "I can make that an order, if it would help."
He looks up at me with a little smile, one that I recognize as well as the set jaw. That little-boy's smile; his mother's
smile. I'm glad to see that much has survived.
"Yes, sir," he says, gathering up his papers with fumbling hands.
"You'll do fine," I say, patting his shoulder and taking my hand away quickly as he stands. He shakes his head and rolls
his eyes a little.
"Why, because I'm my father's son?"
"No," I say, thinking that if it wasn't against regs to strike an officer, this one could use a good smack up the back of
his head where the Old Man was concerned. "Because if you don't, I think Thrace is next in line."
"Anything but that," he says with a little laugh, before he gives a small salute and turns to the door. I follow him out
and close up the hatch.
He hesitates in the corridor, glancing back at me with another half-smile. "You know, when you guys talked up the Fleet to
Zak and me when we were kids...and when we'd fight over who got to be CAG when we played with the model Vipers and stuff...nobody
ever mentioned the paperwork part."
I would try to sound pompous and wise, but I'm just too damn tired. "Can't tell the recruits about that stuff until they've
signed on the line." He shakes his head and walks away, tapping the folders against his leg. I can hear the papers rustle
as I open the hatch to my quarters, and I remember the list of names, the roster that Lee had marked so carefully. I can't
put faces with all of those names, either, and they'd been under my command for months. I haven't been much of an XO to this
crew. They deserve better; they've proved that.
Bunk and bottle are both calling out to me, and I surrender. The Old Man ordered me to get some sleep, just like I ordered
his kid, and both Lee and I know better than to defy an order. I'll worry about the crew tomorrow. Lords willing, we've
bought that much time.