Monday, June 7, 2410
Colonia system, Cygnus sector

The trainees rode the jolting transport through the upper atmosphere of Tartarus, en route to—well, actually, they didn't know what they were en route to. The instructors hadn't told them—just rousted them out of their bunks an hour earlier than usual, told them to grab their gear, and bundled them aboard a transport.

Now, kitted out in their duty uniforms and field kits— holstered blasters, flightline jackets, and all—they sat in two rows, facing each other across the aisle in the middle of the transport, wondering what was going on.

In Cadet Group A, Kozue "Duelist" Kaoru was just starting to consider asking that very question when all hell broke loose.

With a tremendous crumpling bang, the aftmost quarter or so of the cabin just disappeared, vanishing in a flash of orange-white light and a pulse of heat. A millisecond later, the atmosphere in the remaining three-quarters of the transport took advantage of the suddenly opened escape route, catapulting with it anything not securely tied down except Jolly. The instructor pilot had sufficient mass and determination to remain aboard.

Not so most of the members of Cadet Group B. Those who weren't vaporized along with the aft bulkhead or killed by the shockwave were either torn from their seats by the decompression or carried off along with their seats when the structure of the transport started to unravel.

While all that was going on, the pilots up front found themselves struggling with a craft that had suddenly become all but uncontrollable, its atmospheric control surfaces smashed, its primary energy systems, thrusters, and reaction-control systems destroyed in the initial conflagration. They battled grimly with their controls, trying to re-establish something like a stable flight attitude and get the wreck to the ground in as few pieces as possible, but it was like trying to steer a charging bull.

In the back, all the cadets could do was hang on. Kozue looked to her right and saw, past the equipment lockers, that only one member of Group B was still aboard. A wiry young man with short, dark hair, he was understandably wide-eyed with terror. To his right, where his wingmates had been a few moments before, was a yawning, howling abyss bounded by jagged, blackened metal. The bulkhead behind his own seat was feeling none too stable, either, as the smashed transport rolled and twisted.

Kozue leaned as far toward him as her seat harness would allow and thrust out her hand. It took her a moment to remember his name.

"Rovel!" she shouted over the cacophony. "Grab my hand!"

Kirs Rovel blinked, hesitated fractionally, then cast off his seat harness and lunged. His hand closed around her wrist, and hers around his, just as his seat tore away.

Kozue yelled in pain as his weight suddenly bore entirely on her right shoulder. All the PT she and the other cadets had been through, along with her own naturally athletic nature, was about to pay off. None of the muscles, tendons, or bones that were all that stood between Rovel and certain death failed. He flapped in the wind at the end of his living lifeline for a moment, then grabbed hold of her forearm with his other hand and tried to pull himself to the relative safety of the transport's remaining half. His boots scrambled for purchase on the jagged end of the deck, and then he was close enough for Kara Thrace—Starbuck—to lean across Kozue and get a fistful of his flight jacket.

Something exploded in the cockpit, eliciting a shrill cry of pain that all the cadets could easily hear. Jolly gritted his teeth and lunged through the doorway into the cockpit itself, shutting the door behind him.

Rovel struggled forward along the line of cadets and flung himself into Jolly's vacated seat on the forward bulkhead, then strapped himself frantically in. The air was getting thicker and warmer—this seemingly eternal fall couldn't go on for much longer. He glanced gratefully at Kozue and Starbuck. Kozue mustered a wan smile, wondering as she did so if she'd saved his life only for them all to auger into the surface and die together.

A moment later, the transport hit the ground.

I have a message from another time...

Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
Bacon Comics Group

Undocumented Features Future Imperfect

Rogue Squadron Vol. 1 No. 2
"The Way of the Warrior, Part II:
Graduation Day"

scripted by Benjamin D. Hutchins
pencils & inks by your visual cortex
letters by Benjamin D. Hutchins
editor: Benjamin D. Hutchins
Bacon Comics chief: Derek Bacon

© 2005 Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
HTML remaster © 2019 EPU

Kozue came to with a dull ache in her shoulder but surprisingly little pain in her head.

The events of the minute or so before she'd lost consciousness came back in a disorderly jumble as she lay gathering herself. When she tried to sit up, she felt a hand on her shoulder.

"Easy," said the familiar voice of Sharon "Boomer" Valerii. "Slowly."

Kozue obeyed, levering herself carefully into a sitting position before opening her eyes.

"Wow," she said, observing the crumpled wreckage of the transport piled up against the base of a low sandstone cliff. For more than a hundred yards in the direction away from that cliff, a fresh scar in the sandy desert soil and scrubby vegetation led off to the top of a nearby ridge, which had a neat U-shaped gouge cut out of its peak.

"We lived through that?" Kozue inquired, sounding impressed.

"Thanks to Jolly," Boomer replied, nodding.

"What the sprock happened?" Kozue asked.

"Well, I'm no expert in military matters," said Nils "Senator" Jencro tartly from his seat on a packing case nearby, "but if I had to guess, I would say we crashed."

"You made it out alive too, huh, Nils?" Kozue asked. "Shame."

"Very funny," Jencro grumbled.

Kozue got slowly to her feet, tested her legs, and decided she was basically sound. Rubbing at her twinging shoulder, she looked around. She and the other survivors were in a small alcove under an outcrop of rock, a short distance along the cliff from the wreck of the transport. Here they were out of the sun, at least, and had a decent view back along their "approach vector", as it were.

"Who else made it?" Kozue asked.

"Everybody in Group A's still alive," Boomer said. "Senator's got a broken leg, and the rest are banged up and rattled, but we're OK. Rovel made it out from Group B, thanks to you and Kara. The pilots... didn't make it."

"What about Jolly?"

"He's alive," Boomer said, pointing to the form of the big pilot stretched out on the ground against the cliff face, "but he hasn't regained consciousness."

"Great. What the hell's going on?" Kozue wondered.

"I dunno," replied Starbuck. "Not like I had a real good seat."

"Something must have gone wrong with the training exercise," Jencro said. "Our transport collided with another."

Kozue shook her head. "No way," she said. "I heard blasters, and not Colonial types, either. Somebody shot us down."

"Who would do that? Who would attack a Colonial Forces transport in our own system?" Jencro demanded. "Who in the galaxy would attack Tartarus, for that matter? It's hardly the most valuable planet in the Colonia system. An attacker would go for New Kobol, or the military complex at Fort Adama, not shoot down a busload of Warrior cadets over this lordsforsaken—"

The cadet group's Rodian member, Reebo "Scanner" Kadi-Das, held up a hand, his antennae twitching.

"Aerocraft," he said, pointing toward the divoted ridge. "Incoming."

"A rescue patrol?" asked Boomer hopefully, but the Rodian shook his head.

"Not ours," he said. "Not Colonial."

"Probably civilians," Jencro said. "From Port Uri, coming to investigate the crash."

"Maybe," Kozue said, though her tone betrayed how likely she thought it was. "Everybody grab some cover until we know."

Jencro shot her a hard look—he was cadet lieutenant, not her, dammit—but he eased his splinted leg down and got behind a boulder anyway.

A few moments later, three specks appeared on the horizon. With considerable speed, they drew closer, growing larger and larger until the hidden cadets on the ground could make out details.

They were not civilian aircraft.

To Colonial Warriors-in-training, their flattened, discus-like profiles and louvered forward viewports were as unmistakable as the low, baleful whine of their engines.

As they cruised slowly past overhead, Jencro hissed between gritted teeth,


Kozue waited until the three Raiders were gone, then said, "Well, that answers that."

"What the devil are they doing here?" Jencro wondered. "There's nothing on Tartarus but dust and iron ore. The Cylons aren't interested in material resources."

"They're after... the Mark X," said a voice from behind them. The cadets turned to see Jolly carefully easing himself into a sitting position against the cliff.

"The Mark X?" Kozue asked as the cadets crowded around their instructor pilot.

Jolly nodded, his usually cheery face pinched with pain. "The Incom-Subpro research facility for the VX project... is here. On Tartarus. In this desert, as a matter of fact. We were taking you there... to tour the shop and show you the first production run. They must've found out where the base was, somehow."

"And now they want the overtechnology," Boomer said, clenching a fist.

"They've allied themselves with the Decepticons before," Starbuck pointed out. "I guess maybe they figured it was time they learned how to transform too."

"We can't let that happen," said Kozue.

Jencro let out a laugh that was more like a cough.

"'We'?" he demanded. "Kaoru, in case you haven't noticed, 'we' are stranded in the desert with two wounded. Besides, we're not qualified for combat. The attack on our transport can't have gone unnoticed, and I'm sure this research facility has security forces of its own. No, the thing for us to do is sit tight and wait for the rescue party. There's a cave a bit further along the cliff we can hide out in."

Jolly was clearly having a hard time hanging onto consciousness. He winced, shook his head, and said,

"Not... not much security, I'm afraid. A few test pilots. Company security. We didn't want to... draw attention, so... no garrison..."

Having gotten that message out, he slumped, unconscious.

Kozue nodded grimly. "Then it's up to us." When Jencro opened his mouth to object, she turned to him and said, "I know we haven't earned our stars, Nils, but who the hell else is going to do it? Maybe you'd rather just hide in a cave out here, but I can't just sit here and let the Cylons take those fighters."

The lanky young aristocrat stared hard at her for a moment—and then, to her surprise, smiled.

"A person would almost think you were a real Colonial," he said. "All right, go ahead. I'll stay here and look after Jolly." He gestured ruefully to his leg and added, "Not like I'd be much good to you in this state."

Kozue nodded, then picked up Jolly's blaster and strapped it on opposite her own. To storm a Cylon-occupied airfield, she figured she would need as much firepower as she could scrape up. Then, looking determined, she turned to organize her group.

"Duelist," Jencro said. She turned back, a question on her face, and he grinned. "Good hunting."

The afternoon shadows were lengthening toward evening by the time Kozue reached the trench at the edge of the airfield permacrete. It had taken longer than she expected to cross the strip of desert between the rocks and the apron, but she was here now. She glanced to her left and saw that Scanner, Strafe, and Boomer were in position. A look to her right showed that Starbuck and—what was Rovel's callsign, anyway?—had reached the trench as well. She nodded to all of them, holding out a flattened hand, palm down.

On the permacrete apron, a handful of Cylon troopers were patrolling. It was the first time Kozue had seen one in person, except for the deactivated one kept aboard Aurora for recognition training. They were humanoid robots, covered in black duraplastic and chrome metal armor, and they walked with a stiff, mechanical gait, like protocol droids. No protocol droid ever carried a blaster carbine like the blunt, wide-mouthed weapons the Cylons had, though. The muzzles of those things had to be three inches across. Kozue figured a blast from one of those would just about cut a person in half.

She watched them carefully for several tense minutes, ignoring the maddening sensation of sweat running down the depression along her spine. Their patrol pattern was semi-random, but there was a certain rhythm to it. She waited until they were scattered as widely as they would get across the apron, then held up a hand and closed it into a fist. They were losing daylight; if they were going to do this at all, it had to be now.

Without hesitation, she drove herself upright and vaulted onto the apron. If the others hadn't followed her, she was probably dead, but she was too busy to worry about that.

The nearest Cylon heard the scrape of her boots mounting the permacrete, turned, and spotted her.

"Alert!" it declared in a weirdly flattened electronic drone. "Colonial Warriors attacking the perimeter!"

Kozue drew both blasters and volleyed fire at it, blasting it several times in the chest. It emitted an electronic bleat and keeled over on its back, sparking and twitching.

The others turned and readied their carbines—but the rest of Kozue's group was over the berm by that point and opening fire. They cut the remaining Cylons down before they could get off a shot.

"Well, that wasn't so bad," Starbuck said.

Kozue nodded. "They'll have radioed for help, though. Best if we're gone by the time they get out here."

Jek Porkins peeked over the edge of the outbuilding's low, flat roof and watched as the Cylon reinforcements emerged from the hangar.

"They're a different type than the others," he murmured.

Rovel nodded. The statement was undeniable. These Cylons were much more obviously robotic than the ones they'd already destroyed. They looked a bit like Neimoidian battle droids, the heavily armored assault type, but their heads had the trademark Cylon casque shape and sinister single scanning optic.

"More advanced," he said.

"OK. Done," Porkins announced a moment later.

"Right." Rovel watched him crawl toward the back of the building, slip over the edge of the roof, and lower himself out of sight.

Then he stood up and waved to the Cylons. "Hello!"

The Cylons froze, then raised their arms. Their hands folded away, replaced by twin blaster mounts. Rovel sprinted for the back of the outbuilding, jumped, hit the ground rolling, came up on his feet and kept running. The rapid blasterfire stopped zipping all around him as he put the building between himself and the Cylons.

Strafe crouched in the apron-side trench, watching him approach. The first Cylon rounded the end of the outbuilding just as Rovel threw himself down beside his fellow pilot. Porkins thumbed the switch on the remote control unit in his hand.

The outbuilding disappeared in an orange fireball, obliterated by the two one-pound charges of CDX explosive he'd planted on the roof. The explosion smashed the pursuing Cylons to pieces, scattering their wreckage for a dozen yards in every direction.

Strafe yawned to pop his ears, then turned to Rovel and said, "Well, they know we're here now..."

"I'd say so," he replied. "Let's get out of here."

The destruction of the perimeter guards had raised a minor alert in the Cylon command and control network. The eradication of the group sent to investigate the disturbance in a large explosion raised that alert several levels, triggering an area-wide increase in readiness. All Cylons went to full battle alert. Not that it really mattered—every Cylon in the force occupying the test facility would shoot any human on sight anyway.

Starbuck crouched on a catwalk above the main hangar bay, her blaster gripped in both hands, and watched as three of the more advanced Cylons patrolled among the parked Vipers. The Mark X didn't look terribly different from the Mark VIII in person. The biggest difference was that these were painted plain grey and had very few markings—just tail numbers, a single digit on each port wing, and the Incom/Subpro logo on either side of the long nose.

There were eight of them here, but not all of them looked flyable. Number four was definitely out of commission; it was parked off to one side with its dorsal fin and number-one engine hanging nearby in a maintenance lift. Number six's port aft armor plating was missing and its portside engine seemed to have been torn down in place, probably for an energizer overhaul.

"I hope those other six are OK, or somebody's walkin' home," Starbuck muttered under her breath.

"Say again, Starbuck?" Duelist's voice whispered in her earpiece.

"Nothing," she said. "What's the plan?"

"Stand by. Boomer and Scanner are trying to get to the project manager's office to get the security codes for the Vipers. Without those, it'd be a pretty short trip. Be ready to cover them if they're made."

"Roger that."

Boomer eased herself around a barrel of lube oil and resisted the urge to peek over it to see where the nearest Cylon was. Chances were, doing that would just give away her presence. Besides, Scanner would know if they were approached. His senses were exceptional even for a Rodian. The faint mechanical sounds of a Cylon would be like an approaching brass band to him.

Luck was with Boomer; the project manager's office, a shedlike structure built inside the hangar in the back corner, wasn't locked. It hadn't been forced open, either; apparently the Cylons weren't particularly interested in project documentation, at least not yet. She eased the door open and crept inside. Scanner was right behind her. She turned and watched him ease the door shut behind them, so that a patrolling Cylon's pattern recognizer wouldn't see anything different from the last pass.

That task taken care of, she turned back—

—and found herself looking down the barrel of a blaster.

How she managed to suppress a shriek of surprise and fear, she would never know, but she did it. She recoiled, bumping into Scanner behind her, but she didn't make a sound beyond a short, sharp intake of breath.

With the initial shock past, Boomer focused past the blaster to its wielder, and found herself eye-to-eye with a terrified-looking middle-aged man in a dirty white coverall.

"... you're... you're not a Cylon," he whispered after a few seconds.

Boomer held up a flattened hand cautiously.

"Shh," she said, then added almost inaudibly, "No, no I am not. Sharon Valerii, Colonial Forces. This is Reebo."

If the technician were surprised to see a Rodian wearing the uniform of a Colonial Warrior cadet, he didn't bother dwelling on it long. He lowered the blaster slowly, then looked Boomer in the eye and asked,

"Are you here to rescue me?"

"We didn't know anybody would still be here," she replied. "We came to try and get the Vipers out before the Cylons can steal them."

"I'm Torin Katrell," the tech said. "I'm the project manager. I can help you, but you've got to get me out of here!"

"Do any of the Vipers have more than one seat?" Reebo asked.

Katrell nodded. "Number two is an experimental EW variant," he whispered. "It's got a second seat for a systems officer."

Boomer considered. She had no authority to accept a civilian passenger, especially given that they were probably going to have to fight their way out of here... but on the other hand, if they left him behind, Katrell was as good as dead. They'd already seen from the bodies scattered around the hangar that the Cylons weren't interested in taking prisoners.

He saw the hesitation in her eyes, reached forward, and grabbed her by the shoulder.

"Please!" he hissed. "You can't leave me here with them!"

She nodded. "Tell me how to activate the Vipers and I'll get you out in number two."

Relief washed over the engineer's face. "It's very simple. The Vipers' flight computers are still set up with the factory default security code—12345."

Boomer arched an eyebrow at him. Katrell mustered a dry chuckle.

"Who's going to jack a Viper way the hell out here?" he asked, and she had to admit he had a point.

"Four and six are definitely out of commission—are the others airworthy?" she asked.

"Fueled and ready to go," Katrell said. "We were going to do a group test this afternoon. Kino and the others. I... I suppose they're all dead."

Boomer nodded. "The Cylons hit the pilots' quarters first. I'm sorry."

Katrell nodded, but didn't reply.

"Boomer to Rogue Group," she murmured, keying her com. "I have the activation code for the Vipers, but there's a complication."

Speaking quickly and quietly, she explained her predicament and the promise she'd made, and passed on the news of the six flight-ready prototypes.

"Roger that, Boomer," Kozue's voice replied in her ear. "That's OK. Starbuck, position check on prototype number two?"

"Second row, far left," Starbuck said.

Boomer considered her mental map of the hangar's layout, then gave Katrell a wry look.

"You had to park it the furthest from your office," she said, to which he replied with a wan little smile and a shrug.

"OK, what's the plan?" Starbuck asked.

"We need a diversion," Kozue said. "Strafe, can you blow something else up?"

"I don't think they're gonna go for that twice, boss," Porkins replied.

"Then make sure it's a really big something," Kozue said.

"You mean like the fuel shed?" Strafe replied with a nasty grin in his voice.

A pause.

"That'll do," Kozue said crisply. "Set it up and get to your entry point. As soon as it goes up, you and Rovel get your asses inside. You'll take prototypes three and five. Sharon, you get Katrell to number two. Starbuck, Scanner, cover her, then take one and eight. I've got number seven."

"The flight computers are still configured with the default security code," Boomer reported. "One, two, three, four, five."

"That's the same kind of combination an idiot would have on his luggage," Starbuck observed.

"I have a question," Reebo put in.

"Go ahead, Scanner," said Kozue.

"Once we reach the Vipers, how are we going to open the hangar doors?"

"I figured we'd let Newton's Third Law take care of that," Kozue replied.

Starbuck stifled a laugh.

"... Understood," Scanner said.

"Boomer, tell Mr. Katrell that if he wants to keep any of his project docs, he'd better bring them with him."

Boomer relayed this message.

"It's all on file back at project headquarters on New Kobol," he said. "We only gather the test data here, we don't archive it."

"It's taken care of," Boomer reported.

"And so's the diversion," Strafe cut in. "Rovel and I are ready at the side door."

"Very well. Everybody ready?" Kozue asked. Getting answers in the affirmative, she drew both blasters, glanced across the catwalk at Starbuck, saw that she was positioned at the railing, and said,


A half-second later, the hangar shook with a deep, reverberating BOOM that was nearly drowned out by the metallic CRASH of the far left wall caving inward. Starbuck glanced at it in some alarm, half-expecting it to keep right on coming, but it stopped after buckling a couple of feet.

She wasted no further time in introspection. Instead she finished vaulting the catwalk railing and dropped ten feet to the roof of the manager's office, belatedly hoping the tin structure would bear her weight. It did; she skidded down its slight pitch, rolled off the edge, and hit the concrete floor in a crouch.

The nearest Cylon paused on its way to the exit, turned, and raised its twin blasters. Starbuck shot it square in the eye; it reeled, spraying the ceiling with autofire and blowing up one of the light fixtures in a shower of sparks and glass, then collapsed onto its back and lay twitching.

Boomer, Scanner, and Katrell hustled out of the door behind Starbuck and headed for the far side of the hangar, using the parked Vipers for cover. Another Cylon appeared from behind a spool of cable at the back of the hangar and sprayed fire their way. Kozue cut it down from the top of a stack of crates she'd jumped to, then dropped the rest of the way to the floor and headed the other way.

Starbuck ran for prototype number eight, parked in front of number two. She caught glimpses of Boomer, Scanner, and the white-suited tech between the Vipers of the back row as she ran— beyond them a glint of chrome—

Scanner had already seen it. With a flash, his blaster cut down the Cylon Centurion that had been drawing a bead on them from the top of the munitions cage in the back corner.

At the same time, Porkins and Rovel burst through a side door and made for their designated ships as well.

Kozue made it to prototype number seven, scrambled up the skeleton ladder, paused to blast one of the sleeker Cylons as it drew a bead on Boomer's back. Then she vaulted into the cockpit and smacked the switch to drop the canopy and raise the boarding ladder.

The pilot's helmet was sitting on the console forward of the control column. Moving quickly and efficiently, she picked it up, strapped it on, and thumbed the activator for its auto-fit inflators, then jacked it into the Viper's neurocontrol system and started strapping into her seat with one hand while punching the activation code into the computer with the other.

The Viper hummed quietly to life around her, its fusion reactor kicking in with a faint vibration through her seat as the controls and displays lit up. She looked around and saw the other canopies dropping as well—everyone had made it to their ships.

Kozue waited for the reactor's output level to reach the green band—a matter of only a second's waiting—and then punched the turbine activators. Almost as one, the three massive fusion turbines behind her chunked, growled, and then spooled up to idle with a blended whine that went from hair-raisingly unsynchronized to soothingly smooth in the space of a few moments.

Kozue made sure the engine's status indicators were OK, snapped her Viper's comm system to the band they'd customarily used on training flights in the Logans, thumbed the push-to-talk, and said,

"Rogue Group, this is Duelist. I have three blue lights. Check in."

"Boomer here. Three blue."

"This is Scanner. I have three blue lights."

"Strafe has blue across the board."

"Starbuck, all lights blue."

And finally, Kozue learned Kirs Rovel's callsign as he announced in a textbook cool pilot's voice, "Redback, all blue."

"Well, kids, I'd say we've about worn out our welcome here," Kozue said.

Then she powered up her Viper's cannon array and blew the hangar doors to pieces, and they got the hell out.

"Enemy contacts, bearing two-five-zero, range 200," Scanner reported. "Five Raiders, closing fast."

"Cylon CAP," Starbuck called.

"Yup," Kozue said. "Rogue Group, weapons free. Keep these guys off me while I finish up some business. Strafe, you're with me—we've got to level that hangar. The Cylons can't get those two disabled prototypes."

"Right with you, boss," Strafe replied.

Kozue exulted in the power of the VX—it was even more impressive in person than it had been in the simulator—as she kicked hard rudder and peeled out of formation to go back for a run at the hangar.

"Hmm," she mused. "I've got no warheads on board—guess we'll have to do this the hard way."

"That's why they call me Strafe," Porkins said happily.

"Nice job on that diversion, by the way," Kozue said as she noted the boiling black column of smoke that had been the test center's fuel shed.

"I wouldn't be much of a demolitionist if I couldn't blow up a fuel dump," Strafe pointed out.

"Concentrate your fire on the southeast corner," Kozue said. "That's where the munitions cage is."

"Roger that," Strafe replied, and the two Vipers started their run.

If Kozue was exulting in the VX's power, Starbuck was positively rapturous. It sure blew those poky Logans right the hell away.

She kicked down on her nose thrusters, making the Viper perform a pinwheel reverse—a maneuver that admittedly worked better in a vacuum, but this ship had so much power it could do it in the soup as well. The move put one of the pursuing Cylons dead in her sights. She squeezed the trigger on her control column.

Nothing happened; she'd forgotten to switch on her guns.

"Frack me!" she snarled, rolling hard to port to avoid the Cylon's counterfire.

"Weapons problem, Starbuck?" Boomer asked with concern in her voice as she powered in to nail the Cylon with a mid-angle deflection shot.

"Short between the headphones," Starbuck snapped, activating her weapons. "It's corrected."

"Heads up—another group of them coming in from the southeast," Redback called.

"I see them," Starbuck said, winging over and throwing in a burst of her afterburners.

"Duelist, this is Boomer. We've got another group of bandits inbound, and we need to get out of the atmosphere. We're burning too damn much fuel down here."

"Wait one, Boomer. Strafe and I are almost finished here."

A moment later, a harsh burst of light came from the direction of the base, accompanied by a wash of static over the comm system.

"Duelist? Duelist! Are you there?" Boomer called as she jinked her VX out of the path of an oncoming Cylon burst.

"Yeah, we're here," Kozue's voice came after a second. "Rogue Group, disengage and hit your burners—Boomer's right, we have to get to space as fast as we can if we want to make it back to the Aurora."

"Do we even know where the Aurora is?" Redback asked.

"Not exactly," Kozue admitted, "but Scanner can find it."

"Scanner can find anything," Boomer chipped in.

The Cylons couldn't keep up with the Mark X Vipers in full burner; within a few moments the Rogues had left their pursuers—and then the planet—behind.

Out of the atmosphere, their engines didn't have to work nearly so hard, reducing the consumption of fuel and reaction mass dramatically. Kozue had initially been skeptical of the Colonials' continued use of volatile fuels—most light aerospacecraft nowadays used fusion turbines efficient enough that they only needed reaction mass—but the incredible power of the Vipers' Tylium-fueled engines had made a believer of her.

"OK, Scanner—take us home," Kozue said.

"One moment," Scanner said. "... I have a battlestar contact, bearing three-four-three mark nine-four, but I do not believe it is the Aurora," he said. "Too faint to be certain. My scope is otherwise clear. If the Aurora is here, she's blacked out."

"Well, the wrong battlestar's better than no battlestar," Kozue said philosophically. "Let's go."

A few minutes' cruise brought them visual contact, not of the battlestar itself, but of the space around it. The flashes of light and streaks of color were a dead giveaway that there was a battle going on over there.

A moment later, a light for one of the standard hailing frequencies flashed on Kozue's panel. She punched it open and heard,

"—entified fighters, this is the battlestar Galactica. Identify yourselves."

Kozue thumbed her mic on. "Galactica, this is Duelist with Rogue Squadron VX-1, out of the battlestar Aurora."

The Galactica comm operator's voice was startled. "Aurora?! But they're not oper—Never mind. You're here and we need you, that's all that counts right now. I'm sending you a vector. We're under heavy Cylon attack and they disabled our starboard launch bay before we could get fighters away, so our Viper strength is half normal. Can you assist?"

Kozue's eyes narrowed as she looked at the tactical plot on her center multi-function display. The Galactica was being hounded by a pair of Cylon basestars, one off her port bow, the other above her amidships. She wasn't close enough yet to see how bad the damage was, but the tension in the comm operator's voice told her things could be better.

"Uh... wait one, Galactica," Kozue said. She switched her comm system back to the squadron band. "Boomer, you want me to see if I can get a landing clearance for you?"

"Negative," Boomer replied. "Katrell says he can get some of these EW systems working."

"If it's all the same to you, I'd just as soon do some good," Katrell put in. "I'm no Warrior, but I owe these bastards something for Kino's team and my crew."

"OK," Kozue said, then switched back to the hailing band. "Roger that, Galactica, Rogue Squadron is at your service. Be advised we have no warheads on board, so we won't be able to do much about those basestars."

"Understood, Rogue Leader. We'll divert our own fighters to deal with that if you can keep the Raiders off us."

"We'll do our best, Galactica. ETA at the combat area, three minutes. In the meantime, you should be aware that the Cylons have attacked Tartarus as well. We've got two wounded pilots still holed up there waiting for rescue."

"Understood," the comm operator repeated, but she offered no further response. Now that she was close enough to see the battlestar itself, Kozue could understand why.

The Galactica was clearly an older vessel than the brand-new Aurora; parts of her superstructure were exposed and she bore the marks of extensive rebuilding, probably several times over. Oddly enough, despite being the oldest battlestar in the fleet, she wasn't the least advanced. Progressive refits had carried her past several of the earliest battlestars to be built at New Kobol. Her vast-but- sleek lines had more in common with the Aurora than the more conventional battlestars in the fleet, like the Atlantia.

That wasn't important to Kozue right now, though. What was important was that the battlestar was on fire. Actually, there were several fires burning in the big old ship, but the one that looked really serious was the one engulfing the aft quarter or so of her starboard flight pod.

"Rogue Group, this is Duelist," Kozue called. "Keep the Cylons off the flight pods, especially the starboard one. Let's give Galactica's people a chance to fight that fire."

"Copy, lead," Starbuck replied. Kozue had half-expected to be ragged on for Galactica's comm operator calling her "Rogue Leader", but she should have realized—Starbuck was too busy doing what she did best to make smartass remarks.

Besides, for the moment, more or less by default, she was Rogue Leader.

The thought gave her a few moments' pause. Sure, she'd had other people's lives riding on her skills before—every time the Valiant went into combat, for instance—but this was different. She wasn't piloting a starship now, she was leading a squadron of fighters into battle.

She didn't have more than those few moments to think about it, though; the range counters were ticking down, and the Cylons had noticed them.

"Listen up, Group," she said. "This is the big time. We don't have time to show off, but we have to show the people on the Galactica what we can do. Remember, these fighters are the real thing. Let's show everybody that the pilots inside are too." She paused for a second, her eyes flicking from one target to another to another as her head-up display boxed and illuminated them.

"In range," she announced. "Rogue Group, break formation and attack, repeat, break and attack!"

The next half-hour passed in a blur of noise and fury. The Cylons were fielding a new type of Raider to go with their new ground troops—a sleek, crescent-shaped flying wing with no crew cabin. The new Raiders were Cylons in and of themselves, sweeping scanner light and all. They were faster than the manned version, and more maneuverable as well. They might have slightly outmatched the Mark VIIIs of Galactica's squadrons... but not the Mark X.

Kozue's impromptu squadron came together around its training, its purpose, and its leader. Their performance was a bit ragged—unpolished—and they suffered somewhat for never having actually flown their craft in person before, but they acquitted themselves well, all the same. Even Redback, who hadn't flown with the others much at all, fit in nicely, teaming up with Strafe to clean up any Raiders that got past the outer screen of Duelist, Starbuck, Boomer, and Scanner.

They used all three modes of their transforming fighters to good effect—even Starbuck, who had persistently forgotten her fighter could do that in training flights with the Logans and VX simulator runs. They meshed into working two-ship elements, watched each other's backs, and learned to use the battlestar's guns as part of their own arsenal. True to his word, Katrell got the electronic warfare systems in Boomer's Viper working, adding another layer to the battle as he fouled the Cylons' sensors with phantom fighters and worked to confound their missile guidance systems as they tried to bombard the Galactica.

If Kozue hadn't been working so damn hard, she'd have been very proud. As it was, she didn't have the time, because for all the good they were doing, the Cylons just kept coming. A squadron from the Galactica and the battlestar's own heavy guns did for one of the basestars, but the other had taken to hanging back out of gun range and just sending wave after wave of fighters in to pound at the Galactica's defenses.

"How sprocking many fighters do they HAVE, anyway?" Starbuck wondered as she pulled a pinwheel reverse and switched to gerwalk mode at the same time, nailing a Raider as it zoomed past her at full pursuit thrust. "Ah, frack! Lead, I just lost power to my portside cannon. I think the coil overheated, I felt something blow up in there."

"Understood," Kozue replied, whirling her ship in Warrior mode and ashing one of the older Raiders as it bore in on Starbuck's port side. "Fall back to the inner line and save your starboard gun for point defense. Everybody watch your coil temps." She thumbed her comm system to Band 2. "Galactica, Duelist. We're starting to get equipment failures. We could really use some help out here."

"You're doing a great job, Rogues," a voice replied—not the comm operator Kozue had talked to earlier; a man, and one with a vaguely familiar-sounding voice. "Just hang on for a few more seconds. Help is on the way."

Whoever he was, he was true to his word. A few moments later, with a brilliant, sweeping flash of light, a second battlestar appeared in the combat zone, its Vipers streaming from their launch tubes almost the instant the spacefold jump was complete.

"It's the Aurora!" Boomer cried.

"Attention, Rogue Squadron," a familiar voice crackled in the Rogues' ears. Commander Adama himself was addressing his pilots. "Green and Gold Squadrons will take it from here. You are cleared to land immediately on Pod 1."

"You heard the man, Group," Kozue said. "Form on me and head for the barn." She switched to the fleet band. "Aurora, this is Duelist. Jolly and Senator are still on Tartarus. Request—"

"Don't worry about them, Duelist," Adama cut her off. "They're here with us and doing well. Just get yourselves aboard before you get into any more trouble. Aurora out."

Kozue blinked.

"Did he say we were in trouble?" Boomer asked.

"He sure sounded mad," Strafe said.

"Well, that's just great," Starbuck grumbled.

They were barely out of their cockpits before they saw Adama striding toward them across the hangar deck, followed by Wedge and Serina. The commander looked as mad as he'd sounded, his craggy face severe and forbidding. The six Rogues squared themselves up and prepared for the worst.

"Explain," Adama snapped. "Why do I find six unqualified cadet pilots flying the Colony's latest experimental Viper in combat against the Cylons?"

Kozue stepped forward, her eyes fixed on one of the structural ribs in the far wall.

"I take full responsibility, Commander."

Adama turned to her. "I didn't ask for responsibility, I asked for an explanation," he said, his voice dangerously low.

Kozue gave him one.

When she was finished, she remained at attention, staring at that point somewhere over Adama's shoulder. The commander, his hands folded behind his back, walked slowly around her.

"Let me get this straight," he said. "You decided, on your own initiative, and over the objections of your cadet lieutenant, to storm a Cylon-held facility and steal six advanced fighters—fighters which, under Colonial law, you had no business flying. You further decided to destroy the rest of the facility, a top-secret critical research establishment, and then, for an encore, you led the squadron straight into a pitched space battle with a civilian aboard one of your ships."

Kozue nodded.

"That's correct, sir. I saw no viable alternative to any of those actions."

"You could have left the test center intact, trusting that Colonial Command was aware of its capture and would be sending ground forces to re-take it from the Cylons. You could have set course for New Kobol instead of looking around for a battle to jump into. You could even have declined Galactica's request for assistance—in fact, according to regulations, that's what you should have done, since you had no legal business flying those Vipers in the first place."

Kozue nodded again.

"All true, Commander."

"But you chose not to do any of that. Why?"

"Commander—" Starbuck began, but Adama shot her a look that could have perforated a bulkhead.

"I'm talking to Cadet Kaoru," he told her flatly. "When I want to hear from you, Cadet Thrace, you'll know it."

Starbuck gave him a vaguely stricken look, then returned to full attention.

"I asked you a question," Adama said to Kozue.

"I did what I've been trained to do, sir," Kozue said. "I was taught that a Warrior is self-sufficient, is bold, takes the initiative, solves problems. The VX prototypes had to be kept out of the hands of the Cylons; we were the only living pilots within striking distance to take them. The two disabled prototypes had to be destroyed. Since I couldn't be assured of the base's recapture, I felt destroying it was the only viable option.

"As to assisting Galactica, sir, that was again a matter of judgment. When I became a rated starpilot I was taught never to leave a call for help unanswered. Galactica needed help and I had the tools to provide it. To decline their request and proceed to New Kobol may have been legally right, but it would have been morally repugnant.

"If you find that my judgment was flawed in any of these matters, it's your prerogative to discipline me for it—but I stand by my choices, and I repeat that I take full responsibility."

"You have no authority to take that responsibility," Adama pointed out.

"Sir, as you've pointed out, I've done a good many things without proper authority today," Kozue replied stiffly. "One more can't bury me any deeper."

Stonefaced, Adama took three paces away from Kozue. Then he very precisely about-faced, stood silently looking at her—

—and then came to attention and saluted.

"Well done, Warriors," he said, a smile creasing his face. "Damn well done."

Chief Tyrol and his deck crew, who had gathered in a kind of dread-filled silence to watch the Old Man tear into the cadets, burst into applause and cheers. They were joined by Wedge, Serina, a somewhat confused Torin Katrell, and, after a couple of moments' hesitation to make sure this wasn't all some kind of awful joke, the Rogues themselves.

Friday, June 18, 2410
New Avalon, Zeta Cygni

At 3:30 in the afternoon, the Upstairs Downtown nightclub wasn't open for business yet. As such, the members of the band that was to be playing there that night weren't expecting much in the way of company as they worked to set up their gear, beyond the small group of friends they'd brought with them to help.

Corwin Ravenhair sat on one of the stools at the bar in one corner of the room, watching and listening to his sister Kaitlyn's band play a high-speed punk version of "Why Does the Sun Shine? (The Sun Is a Mass of Incandescent Gas)" as a sound check.

Yo-ho, it's hot, the Sun is not
A place where we could live
But here on Earth there'd be no life
Without the light it gives

Like the rest of the gang, he was enjoying this brief flying visit to the city; he was very much enjoying his summer in Dìqiú, and he knew Kaitlyn was too, but it was always nice to get back to New Avalon for a day or two.

The Art of Noise finished the song—and when they did, Corwin was surprised to hear applause coming from behind him. He turned to see a uniformed figure standing by the top of the stairs leading down to the street.

He hadn't seen Kozue Kaoru in nearly a year, but she was instantly recognizable. There were few faces he knew better, after all, and she hadn't changed her short blue hairstyle at all. She was a little taller, her body a little harder from months of rigorous physical training, but the biggest difference was the way she carried herself. Kozue had always carried herself confidently, even when she wasn't really confident of anything. Now there could be no doubt that the confidence was genuine.

She wore the snug, red-seamed black trousers, buckled black boots, grey pullover shirt, and blue suede jacket of a Colonial Warrior. On that jacket's left breast, her Viper pilot's wings and the Silver Nova for Valor below them shone bright and new. Her collar bore the stars of a full lieutenant in the Colonial Forces. Crossed gunbelts with thigh tiedowns held a pair of blaster pistols at her hips.

Kozue grinned at the startled reaction her appearance drew from her old friends. A moment later, they rushed down from the stage and surrounded her.

An hour later, she was up on the roof of the building, standing with her elbows on the railing, watching the traffic flow by outside and enjoying the sensation of having her twin brother at her side for the first time in months.

"Kozue," Miki said quietly after a few moments.

"Mm?" she asked.

"Are you happy?"

She turned to face him. "Of course I am," she said.

"Not right now," he said. "I mean—in general? Was it what you were looking for?"

Kozue considered the question.

"I didn't think so at first," she said. "But now... yeah, I think it is. It's a good life. And one with a future. Wedge thinks I'll be up for a tour at Staff College and my own squadron in just a couple of years. From there, who knows? I might even have my own battlestar someday."

Miki smiled.

"I'm glad," he said. "You look happy. No... more than that. You look content. I don't think I've ever seen you entirely content before."

She chuckled.

"You'll meet some of the reasons for it later on," she said. "My squadron's coming down to catch the show. If you're a good boy, I'll fix you up with Boomer." She chuckled darkly. "If you're a bad boy, I'll fix you up with Starbuck."

The Rogues got on quite nicely with the Duelists, easing a faint fear Kozue had entertained that her two circles of friends wouldn't mesh well. They all went out for dinner after the show, then dispersed from there. Kozue's fellow Warriors headed back to their hotel for a nightcap, but Kozue lingered behind for a little while as the Duelists left the restaurant.

"Feels funny, watching you guys go off to have a summer without me," she said. "Although it sounds like you won't be needing anyone to do my usual job for a while, anyway." She laughed. "Man, how many people have homes in three different universes?"

"Four, if you count Corwin's place in Valhalla," Kate pointed out.

"Hah, true, I forgot about that. Well, here's my stop," Kozue said with mild reluctance when they reached the N station. "I, uh... guess I'll see you guys around, huh? Say hi to Anthy and the kid for me. I'll have to try and swing by the new place visit sometime, when I can swing more than one day's worth of leave."

Her friends gave her a warm farewell, and she stood at the top of the stairs down into the N station and watched them go.

Then she called after the trailing one, "Hey, uh... Corwin?"

Corwin turned and walked back. The others noticed, but let him go alone.

"Listen, uh... I'm sorry I missed the wedding," Kozue said quietly.

"It's OK," he said. "I understand. In fact... I understand all of it, now."

Kozue looked faintly abashed. "I'm still sorry I had to put you through it that way," she said. "I wanted it to be more... graceful."

Corwin put a hand on her shoulder and looked her in the eye.

"I owe you," he said softly. "More than I can ever repay. If you need anything... call me. I'll be there."

She gave him a slightly mischievous grin. "Anything?" she asked.

Corwin glanced back over his shoulder, grinned, and turned back to her.

"Yeah," he said. "Anything."

"I might just take you up on that sometime," she said, then leaned and kissed him. "See you around, Corwin."

He surprised her by stepping back and giving her a snappy salute.

"Clear skies, Warrior," he said, smiling.

Kozue laughed, turned, and descended into the subway.

NEXT ISSUE: "Moral Imperative"

Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
Bacon Comics Group

Undocumented Features Future Imperfect

Rogue Squadron
"The Way of the Warrior, Part II:
Graduation Day"

written by Benjamin D. Hutchins

with notion wranglin' and concept control by the Usual Suspects

Bacon Comics chief Derek Bacon (Lightnin)

with much owed to lots of people

Rogue Squadron
Vol. 1 No. 2
Bacon Comics Group 2410

E P U (colour) 2005