"There you go, another drink on the house," Lt. Willow Rosenberg said and handed Dr Tara Maclay her glass. "Though, if you don't mind me saying so, I've never heard of something like 'Orange Juice on the Rocks'." She let her face twitch like it was the worst thing she'd ever heard of and as a result earned the beautiful smile she had hoped for.
Even though Willow knew Tara for only a couple of hours, she already felt herself drawn to this beautiful smile on those soft red lips.
And while her mind was still wondering about that particular observation, her heart was already completely concord with it.
"It's an old habit from my college days," Tara said and took a sip from her ice cold juice. "You know, I don't like drinking alcohol, never have in fact. But being in college and even though I rarely attended social engagements, when together with fellow students, it always seamed expected of me to have a drink and having a orange juice with ice..."
"Or at least on the first glance," Willow concluded. "Very clever."
"I've always thought so," Tara said and gave Willow yet another seductive smile. Coded flirting with this cute colonial officer really was fun.
"So tell me Tara, are there any other interesting habits you picked up during college?" Willow wanted to know, but the blond woman shook her head and laughed.
Tara thought about it for a while and took another sip of her ice cold drink before she asked: "Is it really true, that you and your fellow pilots and officers are like one big family?"
"Quite so," Willow answered. "I mean, I wouldn't call it exactly family, but brothers and sisters in arms, yes. I mean if you go into battle you need to be sure that the other pilot is looking out to protect your back and the other way around.
"So trust really is a very important issue here. In a matter of fact, the knowledge that I can blindly trust my wingmen is one of the things I really treasure about being with the force."
"Really sounds appealing the way you describe it," Tara said. "To be honest I never quite understood this whole comradely thing that usually seams to go with the notion of joining up with the colonial forces." She looked sheepishly at Willow, "I often pictured it as a 'Big boys only club'."
"Well way back it certainly was that way, but not anymore I assure you," Willow admitted. "Today women really are serving as equals in the force. Take 'Starbuck' for example. She's that tall blond, standing over there smoking a cigar. She's probably one of the best pilots in the fleet. Then there's Helena Cain, she's the youngest officer to get to the rank of Rear Admiral and commands a complete Battlestar Group." Willow paused to take a sip fro her own drink. "And my friend Buffy, she'll be transferred to the Atlantia, the fleet's new flagship, and lead a squadron."
"When you say friend," Tara wondered after she finished her drink. "You mean a friend like a comrade or a friend?"
""No Buffy and I go way back to high school," Willow answered proudly. "We went together to college and from there to flight school."
"Not the whole time. After graduation I got assigned to the Orion VII, while my friend Buffy got aboard the Titan.
"However I was lucky enough to be assigned to the Titan too, when I put in a request for an immediate transfer, because of personal reasons - Don't ask." Willow said and Tara nodded her head in understanding.
"But since then," Willow continued, "we've been serving together. It's funny how the system sometimes works. For example both Buffy and I were very surprised to find Xander among the deck-gang, when we arrived aboard Galactica about a year ago. Mind you we didn't even know that he was with the force too"
"Oh Xander," Willow beamed, "he's my oldest and best friend ever. We've known each other since we were swollen infants. We were even going together for some time. That is before he stole my Barbie."
"We were five." Willow said with a laugh.
"So how was it to find yourself serving at the same Battlestar then your best friend?" Tara asked curiously.
"Okay I'm telling you. But I have to go back a bit, makes it much more fun you know."
Battlestar Group 21
One year prior to the Cylon attacks
"So what'd you think Willow?" Buffy Summers asked, sounding very eagerly. "Any idea which Battlestar we'll go to after Titan gets decommissioned next month?"
"No idea at all," Willow answered wryly. "'Hirondelle' is as up tight as ever over this matter and you know it is of no use to try and get such information out of Colonel Giles."
"Damn me, if this isn't the only ship in the entire fleet with absolutely no rumour mill," 'Slayer' groaned frustrated.
"You know Commander Sisko," 'Red' reminded her best friend and wingman. "He hates people gossiping under his command."
"For someone who looks remarkably like a pirate - you know with his bald black head and the beard, he's really keen on protocol."
"Buffy you better not let him hear that," Willow advised her friend. "You don't want to get on his bad side so close to the end.
"Beside, he might decide to take us with him, when he takes command of the next Titan."
"I know," Buffy gave a pout. "I for one still hope I'll get a seat aboard the Atlantia. Can you imagine serving aboard the fleet's flagship?"
"Actually I can," Willow answered. "But Buffy, Atlantia won't be launched until... Well six months from now and given that they are way over schedule already, I say they'll be lucky if they manage to launch her in a year."
"Well I can dream can't I?" Buffy gave back. "And you don't have to remind me, that the list of candidates for that Battlestar is properly as long as the way from here to Picon."
"But if anybody can get a seat off Atlantia's fighter squadrons then it is you," Willow said in a vote of confidence. "And now hurry up! I don't want to miss that Pyramid Game on Caprica, because you took your time day dreaming."
"You wait Willow, one day I'm getting my own Battlestar!" Buffy laughed.
"You've got a minute ladies?" come the well familiar voice from behind Willow and Buffy, as the two pilots were just about to leave the starboard hangar bay.
'Slayer' and 'Red' wheeled around on their heels and stood to attention in front of Titan's Commander Air Group (CAG) Captain Miriam Ivanova. "Yes sir!" they answered in on voice and saluted their superior officer.
'Hirondelle' returned their salute in her usual accurate brisk fashion. "At ease lieutenants."
For a painful long while 'Hirondelle' let the following silence stand between them, making it hard for Willow not to blur out. 'Is it about our next assignments!?' And on a more sane thought, she wondered why the CAG let them hanging there.
"You are to report to Col. Giles asap," she finally continued.
"... is it about our next assignment!" it burst out of Willow after all, making her blush so hard, she was afraid she might burst a blood vessel. "Sorry sir," she mumbled, while Buffy did her best to keep her face straight.
"You'll see Lt. Rosenberg," Ivanova said with a quieted chuckle. "You'll see. Dismissed!"
"Yes sir." Both Willow and Buffy stood to attention once more then turned around to leave the hangar bay at once.
"You know Will," Buffy said as they walked swiftly towards Col. Giles' office, "one fine day, that motor mouth of yours will really get you into trouble."
"I know," Willow said ruefully.
"Lieutenants Summers and Rosenberg to see Colonel Giles," Buffy announced them to the marine standing guard in front of Titan's XO's office. The marine merely nodded and turning around she knocked against the metal bulkhead and after a short 'Enter' came thought the bulkhead, ushered the two Viper pilots inside.
"Please have a seat," Colonel Rupert Giles said, after Willow and Buffy both had saluted the number two aboard this Battlestar.
"As you know," Giles began and took off his glasses, "this grand old ladies distinguished tour of duty is about to come to an end."
'And be for the scrap,' Willow added in her mind, and feeling some regret that this over fifty year old Battlestar, that had first served in the Cylon Wars, was to be decommissioned and broken down subsequently.
"However," Col. Giles went on, "'every ending bears a new beginning', as they say and the next Titan is getting towards completion as we speak."
Does that mean that we are going to be assigned to new Titan? Willow wondered and this time she successfully restrained herself from interrupting her superior by blurting this question out loud - a real monstrous task. Giles put his glasses back on his nose and took up some papers.
"Lt. Summers, you requested for the Atlantia. As you know that ship is still under construction and until now Admiral Nagala, who will have Atlantia as his flagship, has not yet started viewing applications." Buffy's looked somewhat disappointed on hearing this revelation.
"However," Giles went on, seemingly catching up on 'Slayer's' mood. "My sources tell me, that Rae Admiral Hersch who will be preparing the finale candidate lists, has spoken really highly of you Lieutenant Summers. So you should have a good shoot at a place on the finale list, when it's presented to the Admiral.
Willow could feel Buffy relax at her side, while Rupert Giles took up another sheet of paper and Willow knew that it was now her turn. She hadn't put in a request to be transferred to any particular Battlestar in the fleet as her next assignment. Unlike Buffy who from the very beginning had had the plan to get herself to be in command of a Battlestar, Willow saw her future with the force not aboard a Battlestar, but in the computer department on a colonial base, preferable on Caprica, and until then she was perfectly content with flying a Viper for the next years to come.
After all Willow knew that she was a very good pilot, not as good as Buffy 'Slayer' or the legendary 'Starbuck', though the latter one was not only famous for being the best shoot in or out of a cockpit, but for her lack of discipline against superiors.
"Lt. Rosenberg," Giles broke Willow's day dreaming, "as I see you haven't put in any special request for your next assignment, so I can I assume that you wouldn't mind to transfer to the new Titan?"
"Yes sir!" Willow answered truthfully.
"Right," Col. Giles said and put the papers aside again.
'Here it comes,' Willow thought.
"As much fun as it is to serve on the new Mercury class Battlestar's." Giles went on. "I'm sure you both know that serving on the old Battlestars is an honour too." That wasn't a question Willow knew.
"It so happens, that William Adama needs two pilots for his alpha squadron." He produced two envelopes containing written orders and handed them to Buffy and Willow. "You are to report to Galactica tomorrow fifteen hours central fleet time."
"Tomorrow sir?" Buffy asked, sounding as surprised as Willow felt.
"Yes tomorrow," Giles repeated. "I'm afraid Adama needs the replacement pilots rather badly and that's why I'm sending the two of you, you're a well tuned team.
"You will fly your Viper's over to rendezvous with Galactica at the coordinates specified in your orders."
He stood and Buffy and Willow followed his example. "It's been an honour serving with you," he said, "you're two outstanding pilots and I'm confident you're going your way in the colonial forces.
"Thank you sir," both women said in one voice, then stood at attention once more.
"Dismissed!" Col. Giles ordered and the two pilots left.
Once they had got their new orders, things went fast from there. Coming from Col. Giles, Willow and Buffy to the pilot's quarters and packed their things. All the things that were too big (or too much) for their sea-sacks, that fit in their Viper's small storage compartment, would be put in storage and sent over to Galactica with one of the next supply transports. Later that evening Willow and Buffy threw a little improvised going away party at the officers mess and, following a last night aboard, left for the port launch.
"Bye 'Red'" Captain Janeway, Titan's chief flightofficer said over the wireless, after Willow's Viper had been moved into the launch tube. "It's been fun serving with you," and then she continued going through the launch procedure.
"'Red' this is Shooter, I have control standby. Viper 1968 clear forward. Nav-con green. Interval check. Thrusters positive."
Willow checked her instruments and signalled with a 'thumps up' that every think was in order. "Mag-cap ready. Gap door open."
The door right in front of Willow - only seconds left.
"Thrust positive and good luck."
With a force of almost three G's, Willow was pressed into her seat as she was literally shot out of the Battlestar Titan for the last time.
With 'Slayer' at her side they flew a last round around their former home, including a close fly by over Titan's bow and the windows of the observation room situated there, the only place in any Battlestar that featured a window.
"Setting CMP navigational program to six eight niner carom two four eight,"
"Copy that," 'Red' answered and repeated the coordinates given to her by 'Slayer'. Once all was set and the auto pilot took over, all left for Willow and Buffy to do was to sit back and keep an eye on the instruments for the upcoming six hour flight to Galactica.
"Estimated time till arrival, four hours, twenty two minutes," Willow reported to her friend flying alongside her.
'Who would've guessed a transfer could be that boring,' Willow thought. But then this was the first time she actually flew from one Battlestar to the next in her own Viper.
On her last transfer, she'd left Battlestar Orion VII with her Viper on a space port orbiting Gemenon and had been picked up by Titan after two weeks off shore leave.
"Mind if I ask you a question?" Buffy broke the silence after a while.
"Sure," Willow answered.
"It's morning you get ready to work, you put on your trousers," Buffy began. "You first fasten and then zip or you zip and then fasten?"
"What kind of a question is that?" Willow asked puzzled.
"What kind of a question is that?" Buffy shot back. "I don't know, we have four hours to kill. Forget it, it's just a question!"
"Why do you wanna know?" Willow wondered.
"Why I wanna know? Because I think about such things some times. I got dressed yesterday morning and for a moment I couldn't remember and so I started thinking. Does everybody do it the same way."
There was a lengthy pause and Willow let out a sight, before she eventually said: "Fasten, zip. You?"
"Fasten, zip. Time till arrival?"
"Four hours nineteen minutes."
"You wanna talk socks?"
"Tell me Willow," Buffy said cheerfully after almost five hours of non-stop flight. "Do you think you'll find yourself a decent new boyfriend on Galactica?"
'Now were did that come from?' Willow thought. 'Probably has to do with us running out on possible topics after all these hours of eventless flying through space.' Aloud she said into the secure line between their two Vipers: "I don't know Buff, I think it's still a little too early to look again. I mean it's been just over six months since Oz cheated on me."
"That's right!" came the answer right into Willow's ear, through the helmet speaker. "That's almost half a year babe! Time to get yourself on the market again!"
"What am I? This season's hottest item?" Willow cried out.
"You know I didn't mean it like that," Buffy apologized. "I just think that you shouldn't let your experience with Oz scare you away from loving again."
"It's just... " Willow began slowly, "I was really hurt when I found out that Oz cheated on me with that 'Veruca' chick. I just don't know if I'm prepared to trust another person again."
"You really put yourself into harm's way when you love don't you?" Buffy added softly, she too had been in a relationship that hadn't lasted.
"Yes," Willow said thoughtfully. "But what about you Buffy? You've been single longer than I have. So what about you and 'getting yourself on the market' again?"
"Me? I'm more the lone wolf type of girl slash soldier," Buffy answered and more quietly she went on, "but you were always meant for a steady relationship. You know the ever lasting kind. You're not meant to be alone Willow, I just know it." Willow was speechless and very moved by her best friend's words.
"Plus," Buffy added on a more cheerful note again, "your future career plans of working at one of the Colonial Fleets planet based computer research facilities, works much better with maintaining a relationship, than with my plans for becoming a commander of a Battlestar."
"You'll be the youngest and best Battlestar commander in all of the Colonial Forces. Even younger than the famous Admiral Cain," Willow said with a laughs Knowing that said Helena Cain was Buffy's expressed role model. "But that doesn't mean that you have to remain single until you've achieved your goal."
"Of course not," Buffy said. "But I'm pretty sure that I'll manage to get along whilst single until love happens to come my way."
Willow smiled thoughtfully to herself and thanked the lords for having a woman like Buffy as a best friend and wingman, at least for the time being until their military career would separate their ways again by sending them on different assignments.
"Galactica flight control, this is 'Slayer' Viper 1968, requesting permission to land."
"Galactica 'Red' Viper 1701, requesting permission to land."
"Vipers 1968 and 1701; this is Galactica," came the disembodied reply. "Approach port landing bay. Hands on. Speed 106. Checkers red. Call the ball,"
"Check that did you say hands on approach?" 'Slayer' called back.
"Copy that hands on approach."
'Then hands on it is,' Willow thought to herself and listened to 'Slayer' repeating the instructions to flight control.
Willow followed suit and to Buffy she said, "you wanna go first 'Slayer'? After all you introduced us."
"Copy that 'Red'" Buffy answered and over the 'private line' she added. "Need somebody to show you how it's done huh?"
However before Willow had any chance to respond, Buffy had switched channels back again and started her approach.
"Skids down, mag lock secured. On behalf of Galactica welcome aboard 'Slayer', 'Red," Captain Kelly said while side by side Buffy and Willow where broad down in their Vipers.
Five minutes later their birds had been towed into the hangar bay.
"There we are," Willow said, while she shut down the engine and keyed the cockpit window to swing open. At once one still nameless specialist put a ladder on to her cockpit and helped her to get off her helmet and the collar connecting her to the Vipers life-support system.
"Thanks;" Willow said and climbed out of the cockpit and made her way down the ladder.
On the ground she met Buffy and together they were greeted by a chief petty officer.
"Sirs," he said and saluted them. "I'm Chief Tyrol, I'll be your deck chief while you're aboard."
"Thank you Chief, we're glad to be here," Buffy said. "Chief is your auto landing system down? We were hands on for the whole approach."
"It all hands on here," Tyrol explained. "There are no auto landings on the Galactica. Commander Adama's orders."
"Chief," Willow now said, "during the flight I experienced some fluctuations on one of the power regulators. Properly nothing serious, but could you let some of your men have a look at it?"
"No problem sir, I'll have someone look after your Viper right away" the chief answered and then turned around to yell across the hangar bay: "Jo X-man get over here and have a look at that Viper here!
"If you would excuse me now sir?"
"Of course," Willow said and then turned to Buffy, who had opened the storage compartment and took out her bag.
Willow was just about to walk over to her own Viper, when:
"Sir!" a male voice behind them said.
'No way!' Those were the first words that shoot through Willow's mind, before she slowly turned around. Buffy thoughts must have gone along the same lines, for Willow saw her own disbelief mirrored in her best friend's features. Turning around Buffy and Willow found themselves face to face with the specialist who had addressed them and who now was doing a really impressive 'Deer in the headlights' impression. Xander Harris specialist first class looked completely flabbergasted.
Willow and Buffy were first to recover and soon Xander had not one but two officers giving him one big group hug. Which was actually against regulations concerning the conduct between officers and enlisted personal.
"Xander what the frak are you doing here?" Willow asked, once they both had let go of their friend.
"Well firstly," Xander said and glanced on a clipboard the Chief must've given him on his way over. "I was ordered to have a look at Viper 1701 of a pilot sign 'Red', which is certainly you - and secondly: don't you think you've stolen my question?
"Since when were the two of you with the force?"
Before ether Willow or Buffy had a chance to get out a word, Chief Tyrol walked by asking: "is there a problem Harris?"
"No, no problem chief!" Xander called back and stepped up to Willow's Viper.
"The chief doesn't like it when we get all chatty with the pilots during shift. Plus," Xander added. "'Spike' the CAG is certainly already waiting for you to report in."
He turned to Willow again, "So Lieutenant Rosenberg, what's wrong with your Viper?"
Willow shortly explained about the fluctuations she'd experienced and Xander got to work right away.
Since the Galactica was of the same Battlestar class than the Titan Willow and Buffy had no problem finding the ready room of Captain William Jackson Spencer, call sign 'Spike'. The briefing with Capt. Spencer was short and as they left Willow was certain that she would work well with 'Spike' as the leader of her squadron, properly as good as she'd worked with 'Hirondelle' aboard Titan. However the following encounter with Galactica's XO Saul Tigh, made Willow miss Col. Giles rather badly.
"So what happened Xander?" Willow asked her friend as they settled down comfortably in one of Galactica's recreational rooms. "Last time we met, you had wanted to travel Caprica and later the colonies and become an artist or rock star or something."
"That's what I wanted to do," Xander said, "and I got as far Delphi where the engine of my car literally incinerated." Willow gasped surprised.
"Yep dead like a dodo," Xander admitted. "So I had to take on some odds jobs, including cooking at diners, loading ships at the spaceports and then there was the job as a male stripper. And I won't talk about that one.
"However, one day I walked by a colonial force recruitment office and I thought, 'Hey you want to see the Colonies and you're really good with fixing things.' I enlisted for five years and after some time at the base near Delphi I got posted at this grand old Battlestar. You know that she'll be the last of the original twelve once Titan gets decommissioned?"
"Yes we know," Willow laughed, "we're just coming from Titan."
"Wait a minute you were a stripper!" Buffy blurred out.
"I said that I wouldn't talk about that one didn't I?" Xander said and turned the table. "Better you tell me how you got to become Viper pilots?
"I mean Buffy sure, but Willow?"
For the rest of the evening Buffy and Willow told him about everything they had done since graduating from high school, from UC Sunnydale over war college, flight school and their respective assignments.
In turn Xander told them how he, while he was on Delphi, fell in love with beautiful Caprican Anya, a really successfully stock broker, and had actually asked her for her hand. But because of the really bad marriage of his parents, Xander had gotten cold feet and left her literally standing at the altar. Last thing he heard, she'd returned to life and work Sunnydale.
They talked late into the night before they finally called it a night and retired to their respective sleeping quarters. Willow and Buffy where really looking forward to the next twelve months of serving together with Xander, until Galactica would be decommissioned. However unlike Titan, Galactica was not be broken down, but turned into a museum.
'Which means another decommission ceremony,' Willow thought while she closed the curtains to her bunk. 'Hope I don't miss that one too.'