I heard they're still eating paper, is that true?
And the Sky Full of Stars
"Raptor 124; Galactica. Approach landing bay. Speed 106. Checkers red. Call the ball," Mayor Willow Rosenberg called out to the approaching Raptor.
"Copy that;" answered Captain Louanne Katraine, sounding very tired and repeated Willow's instructions. On her telemetry-screens Willow monitored Raptor 124 approach the Galactica. Then she looked down from her elevated flight control booth onto the landing pad as the Raptor flew inside the enormous landing space. It's hull plating smoking from being subjected to intense solar radiation.
Captain Katraine - 'Kat' brought her Raptor down rather hard, the sound echoing up to where Willow was sitting behind her station.
"Skids down," Willow reported and turned a switch, "mag lock secure." She went on once she had a green panel. "Bringing you down." Operating some more dials and switches Willow transported the Raptor down to the hangar bay, closing the landing pad over the Raptor.
"Welcome home 'Kat'" Willow said as she erased the Raptor from the flight board.
"Thanks 'Red-Dyke'" Louanne answered and Willow smiled briefly. She liked that most of Galactica's pilots still called her by her call sign, though in her current position this was no longer required.
"How do you feel Louanne?" Willow asked 'Kat', who was piloting the last Raptor that returned.
"I think I could use a shower," Louanne answered with a weak laugh.
"Well, then I can tell you that there's already one being prepared for you down in the port hangar bay," Willow answered. Of course there really was a shower waiting for 'Kat', as for all the other Raptor pilots - a decontamination shower that is.
Little over a week ago it was discovered that most of the fleet's food supplies had been contaminated. By now food was running low throughout the fleet and it would only be a matter of time before food riots would break out. Willow was now holding herself up with water and some crackers, saving as much as she could for Tara who had to breastfeed little Hope.
Luckily, on a scout mission Sharon Agathon - call sign now 'Athena', had found the passage to a planet with algae which, once processed, would provide them with all they needed to nurture them. The downside to this discovery however was that the passage to this planet was filled with radiation and the blinding light of a star cluster. To take the whole fleet around the cluster would take far too much time, even without dooming food riots. It was also too far to make it in one jump. So the only way to get the fleet there, was to jump right into this hellhole and then jump to the planet from there. The only problem was, once inside the cluster, it would be impossible for the civilian ships to find their bearing and coordinates for the final jump.
So the admiral came up with a plan. The majority of the civilians would be brought onto the Galactica while the ships with a skeleton crew would make the jump into the star cluster with a Raptor assigned to each one of them. Within the cluster each Raptor, with its shielding better protected against the radiation, was to transmit coordinates to their assigned civilian ship and jump out again before it collected too much radiation.
Each jump into the cluster would expose the Raptor pilots to a severe dose of radiation and a total of five round trips had to be carried out. And that all on a empty stomach and with growing radiation sickness. Nevertheless the job had to be done and Willow had nothing but the highest respect for the pilots like 'Starbuck', 'Kat', 'Apollo' and of course her best friend 'Slayer'
They were on the last leg of their mission now. Once the pods were retracted, they would jump back to rejoin the rest of the fleet. Following a brief rest then, the pilots were to jump into the star cluster for the fifth time - except those who had already gotten more than the allowed dose of radiation.
About an hour before Willow had to send out the Raptors again she argued with herself if she should use the short break to go and visit Tara and Hope in the infirmary. Three days ago, Hope had finally grown strong enough to leave the incubator for good and the day after tomorrow both Tara and Hope would be allowed to leave the infirmary and come home. Hope had really made an amazing progress so far.
After a moment's consideration Willow decided against the short visit. With the little sleep she had gotten the past days, Willow knew she was looking terrible and she wouldn't want Tara to worry. Plus, Tara would certainly insist on Willow eating something. 'No, better try to catch some sleep,' Willow thought and unpacked the folded field bed she had brought into the flight control booth. Time was too short for going all the way down to their quarters. Lying down on the field bed and covering her eyes with her arm, Willow's thoughts drifted back to Tara.
Five days after Tara had woken from her coma, Willow had taken it upon herself to tell Tara about the c-section and that Doctor Cottle had to remove her uterus, in order to save her from bleeding to death. She had taken the news that she would not be able to have another child rather well. Though Willow considered that some of this had been merely a front because she couldn't imagine what it would've been like if she had lost the ability to have a child of her own.
They hadn't actually really discussed it before but there had been the understanding between them that when they would have a little sister or brother for Hope then Willow would be the one to become pregnant. Luckily enough, the rest of Xander's "inheritance" had remained with Galactica's medical cold storage, when they left for Pegasus. 'One day we'll have to talk about that little sibling for our Hope,' Willow thought as she drifted into a light slumber.
"Just five more minutes, mom!" Willow mumbled when the alarm of her palm top went off. Stretching herself carefully, Willow slowly sat up and yawned.
'Once we get to that planet,' Willow thought. 'I'm going to sleep an entire day. 'Or until I bring Tara and Hope back home from the infirmary.' She longed to live together with her wife and daughter as a family, even if it was on a Battlestar. For the time being these two rooms were their home and who knew how long the search for Earth was going to take.
'I might not even live to see Earth,' Willow thought as she rose from the field bed. 'Maybe Hope will be all grown up with children of her own before the Children of the Twelve Colonies of Kobol can be reunited with their long lost brethren.
Willow got to her feet. "My family," she said into the quiet, very much liking the sound of it. A family, wife and daughter and with Buffy someone as close to a big sister as possible. 'And don't forget Dawn,' Willow reminded herself. 'she really was the little sister you never had.' Dawn who had died saving both Hope and Tara
Together with Buffy Willow had pulled some strings with Admiral Adama and Tara had a long phone call with the new old President Laura Roslin in order to get Buffy the permission to take Dawn's body down to the planet and give her a proper burial, instead of having it floating through space forever. They wouldn't stay on this planet though, Willow knew. For the time being there would be no New Caprica again. Buffy wouldn't be able to return to Dawn's graveside ever again once they left the system.
"On my mark. Five, four, three, two, one - Jump!" Came the voice of Felix Gaeta over the ships pa system. His announcement was followed by the familiar sensation of the Battlestar making the jump and in a blink of an eye, materializing within the fiery hell of the star cluster. To Willow it was like she could feel the radiation bombarding Galactica's hull, trying to find its way inside. For now of course they were still quite safe within the ship. Galactica's hull platting was capable to keep out most of the hard stuff, even though by now several compartments of the Battlestar were starting to experiencing system failures caused by the radiation.
The pilots however, out in their Raptors, were more exposed to the radiation and had to wear radiation badges because of that. Willow could see that Buffy's badge turned more and more black because of the radiation it was subjected to with every jump her best friend took into the cluster. Most of the pilots were already suffering from radiation poisoning as it was. Some more than others and 'Helo' had even been pulled off duty because his badge had no more white spots left.
Willow was glad that both Hope and Tara were still in the most secure place of the ship and her thoughts once again drifted back to her daughter, as she listened to the pilots on the wireless searching for their assigned civilian ships, because as soon as they all jumped into the cluster they got send of course by the blinding lights. And the clock was ticking. They could only stay a very short time in this cluster before the radiation would literally fry their instruments. Not to mention what it did to the pilots in the Raptors and the much less shielded civilian ships.
Hope Alexandra Maclay. Not one day went by without Willow being completely amazed by the tiny human being. The strength of her tiny fingers when she held on to her mama's finger.
"The children are our future," a song said. How true this song was, now when they were but so few people.
A glance at her watch reminded Willow that the time was almost up and on the wireless she could hear 'Slayer' and the other Raptors pilots reporting to CIC that they had found their ships and transmitted the jump coordinates. All but 'Kat' and Willow could hear the mounting desperation in her voice, as she reported in.
"Kat, report!" 'Apollo' called out.
"Negative. Frak! I lost the Sadin!"
'Not again,' Willow thought. 'Kat' had already lost one ship on the first round trip and Willow knew she was carrying a huge burden with the responsibility.
"I'm not losing another one!" 'Kat' cried but Willow knew that they couldn't stay any longer in this hell hole and surly enough, in that moment Admiral Adama ordered all ships to jump at once. Willow could here 'Kat' call out again before the jump cut all communications.
"Jump completed," Gaeta reported and Willow looked down into the landing bay, as the pod moved out in order to let the Raptor's land.
"We're missing Faru Sadin and one Raptor," Willow heard over the ship's intercom.
"It's 'Kat'," Willow heard Geata's voice, "She must've missed the order, she's still out there."
Willow's heart froze and only on instinct she started to guide the first Raptor's in. 'Hotdog', 'Rice Paddy', 'Slayer', 'Starbuck' and 'Apollo', 'Mouse' and all the others. Moments later all the other Raptors had touched down and been brought down to the hangar bay and still 'Kat' had not reported back in. "I'm not losing another one", 'Kat' had said and Willow found herself praying to the Lords of Kobol to guide Louanne safely back to Galactica.
A full five minutes passed by until finally the awfully exhausted voice of Captain Luanne Katraine came over the wireless calling in: "Galactica 'Kat', mission accomplished." She had found the Faru Sadis and had brought her home and as soon as the CIC had acknowledged her signal Willow opened a channel for that Raptor.
"Raptor 124 Galactica," she called out. "Great job 'Kat'. Now let's bring you in."
She gave Louanne the necessary information and then watched the Raptor fly into the pot and get to the assigned landing pad. Only barely 'Kat' managed to keep her bird flying in a straight line and again brought the Raptor down hard.
As soon she had the Raptor secured and elevated down, Willow grabbed her cane and hurried as fast as she could down to the hangar bay. Right behind the perimeter set up at the bay a great number of people had gathered, all of the other Raptor pilots and off duty deck hands and many other officers including William Adama. Willow pushed herself through to the second row, right behind the admiral and stood next to her friend Buffy who looked pretty sick from radiation sickness. Together they watched the deckhands in heavy radiation suits hose down the Raptor.
The Raptor's hatch swung open and they could see 'Kat' struggle to get out of her seat and then making her way out of the Raptor. As she stumbled out of the cockpit and onto the wing, Carl 'Helo' Agathon started to applaud and soon everybody joined in. Standing on the wing, Louanne slowly raised her arms in victory and the applause got even louder.
Next Louanne tried to take off her helmet and she struggled with that too and to Willow's horror she then simply dropped over the side of the Raptor's wing and fell to the ground. The cheering ceased and silence fell over the hangar bay as two medics in radiation suits hurried over to the fallen pilot.
'She's dying,' Willow thought helplessly. 'She's been out there too long and now she's dying.'
The next six hours Willow slept a coma-like sleep. She was off duty for the day and so, after eating something - more like less something, she left their quarter for the infirmary.
On her way she stopped by the pilot's ready room just in time to see Admiral Adama replace 'Apollo's name plaque on the pilot's duty roster with the one of 'Kat' as the CAC. One last big gesture by the old man, to put the late Captain Louanne 'Kat' Katraine up on the board as senior pilot one last time.
Willow couldn't stand the heavy, sad silence any longer and left her comrades in their sorrow over Louanne's death.
How often could you get to the point where it all got too much? Willow had been there so many times before, ever since the Cylons had attacked the Colonies. Like when she had carried the burned body of her best friend Xander, together with Cally to the morgue in Hangar Deck B. Or when she had lost her flight status. The day when she had been forced to leave Tara and Hope behind on New Caprica while bailing out with Pegasus and later returning to see her best friend's sister being gunned down by a Cylon to save Tara and her unborn baby.
Every time Willow had felt like she couldn't go on anymore but had done so for Tara's sake, as well as for the sake of little Hope Alexandra. Again someone had lost her life because they were on the run from the Cylons. Not to forget the 5179 people who had not returned from New Caprica.
Of course 'Kat' meant more to Willow than the faceless thousand. She hadn't been really close with Louanne. She had been among the first bunch of 'Nugget's' trained by 'Starbuck' and had brought some incredible flying skills to the job and from that she had become an even more outstanding pilot. Only one time, when they had taken the tylium asteroid away from the Cylons, had Willow actually flown with 'Kat'. Louanne had been a fellow pilot and a comrade in arms and that had always been something of great importance to Willow, besides her marriage to Tara and her close relationship with Buffy.
"Semper Fidelis - Always Faithful", was more than a mere motto to Willow, it was part of her very being and what serving with the Colonial Force - especially after the fall of the Twelve Colonies - was all about for her.
Not wanting to wake Tara or Hope, Willow quietly entered Tara's room in the infirmary, only to find Tara and Hope up and awake. The sight of Tara breastfeeding Hope let Willow stop in mid step and watch in amazement.
This peaceful scene was so completely different to what was going on outside this small room or Willow's mind. Without her really noticing, Willow's eyes filled with tears and soon she was crying hard.
Alarmed Tara looked up and seeing her wife being raged with sobs, she gently "detached" Hope from her breast, with Hope only mildly protesting, and put her back into her cradle right next to her bedside. Tara then get up and gently lead Willow to the bed and they both sat down. Burying her face in Tara's hair, Willow cried and cried until she had no more tears left.
"I don't think I can do this anymore," Willow whispered, her mouth near Tara's ear. "Day in and day out I'm sending my pilots out there, sending them right into harm's way.
"But against the Cylons at least they have a chance to defend themselves, but they couldn't fight radiation with guns. But I had to send them out to jump into this hellhole in order for them to get us all here." Willow sat up and told Tara about 'Kat' and how she had died. Tara didn't say a word, but listened to Willow and comforted her by simply holding her hand.
"So you wanna quit?" Tara asked after Willow and finished and fell silent.
"What?" the distraught redhead asked.
"Quit working at flight control," Tara completed her question, if not her suggestion. "I mean if it's too hard on you. The responsibility of sending the pilots out and all that goes with it."
"No," Willow answered without having to think about her answer. "Because it would mean for me to turn my back on my comrades." As soon as she had said it, Willow knew it was true.
"Semper Fidelis," Willow whispered to herself and straightened her back. "Always faithful."
Tara's simple question had cleared it all up and Willow knew that she would continue to serve in the position assigned to her by Admiral Adama. Because walking out on her comrades, on the people of the fleet, was unthinkable for Willow Rosenberg.
"How do you do that?" she asked quietly.
"What?" Tara asked back,
"Clear things up for me, show me the way, so I can see clearly again,"
"I didn't think I did anything special," Tara said, making Willow smile.
"You know, Tara," Willow said, still smiling, "I think I would've given up a long time ago, if it hadn't been for you keeping me grounded and safe." She paused briefly to kiss her wife on her mouth, "... and so very much loved."
It was now that Hope decided she wanted some attention too and she started to cry. At once Willow was at her side and gently lifted her out of her cradle.
"Of course you are important to me too Hope," she said and walked back to Tara and sat down at her side again. "There you go," she said to her daughter, "all good again, are we?"
She laughed when she watched Hope's tiny hands reach out to her breast. "I think she's still hungry," she said to Tara, then looking down at herself she added: "and I don't believe these boobies offer what our little angel is desiring right now."
"Willow!" Tara said, her eyes open wide in disbelief.
"It's okay," Willow said, though colouring considerably, "she doesn't actually understand the words yet that we're saying."
On that Tara gave her a half grin, then pulled up her shirt again to let Hope have some more. Once more this sight send a wave of emotions through Willow's body. 'Hope should really have a little brother or sister,' she thought. 'Probably not any time soon but within the next years or so certainly.'
Out loud she said, "So Hope, how would you like getting out of this place and seeing your new home?"
"You know Willow, the c-section doesn't mean that I turned into glass," Tara joked as her wife lead her extra carefully through Galactica's hallways.
"I'm over-doing it, aren't I?" Willow sheepishly.
"Only a little," Tara smiled. "But I always found you extremely adorable when you did that." Her smile turned wicked. "Maybe tonight I'll show you how adorable..."
Hadn't it been for the being in 'public' right now and Tara carrying Hope, Willow would've been very tempted to take Tara up on her offer. So with her arm around her waist she simply smiled seductively back at her love.
"Do you mind if we take a little detour?" Willow asked next.
"Where to?" Tara asked curiously.
"You'll find out!"
The somewhat long way, lead the two woman and their baby to the very bow of the Galactica and the small observation lounge, situated at the nose of the Battlestar - the only room that had windows. The lounge was like a small theatre with comfortable chairs, facing a big window. At times a screen would be pulled down to show movies and in the old days also live broadcast of big sports events.
As Willow and Tara entered the room, they found it completely empty and Willow lead Tara down to the big window. Looking out of the window they could see the Algae Planet stretched out beneath them, silent and peaceful. At this moment several teams were down on the surface harvesting and pre-processing the algae.
Standing in front of the window, the love of her life at her side carrying the child of their love in her arms, Willow felt perfectly content and happy.
At that moment it didn't matter that they all were still on the run from the Cylons, that they hadn't yet found the way to Earth, or all the other more immediate problems they had right now. She was with her wife and family and that was all that mattered.
Gently Willow took Tara's face into her hands and kissed her on her lips, and then she took their daughter from her arms. Holding her carefully under her arms, Willow raised Hope over her head, like she wanted to present her to the world outside the Battlestar Galactica.
Hope Alexandra let out a loud giggle of delight, as she looked out of the big window and her little hands reached out to the sky full of stars stretching out in front of her.
"Universe, meet Hope Alexandra Maclay," Willow said solemnly. "Hope - your playground."
A Love Beyond the Stars - Signs and Portents