Chapter 1: Opening Moves

Officer’s Club, Scorpia Fleet Shipyards

“It still doesn’t belay the fact that your father essentially bought you a battlestar,” the slim, dark to graying haired admiral said to the blonde woman with her long slightly curled hair held in a high ponytail. She sipped her wine as he continued, “He’s the one who told the Quorum and BuShips that he’d fund
Hecate out of his own pocket if you were given command.”

She nodded, “You’re right. And what he did was within the letter of the law, Richard.”

“Law?” His laugh shared more with a bark than mirth. “We’re the Colonial Fleet, not some Virgon aristocrat’s private navy.”

“Be that as it may,” she shrugged and set the wine glass on the ornately carved and polished table next to her chair, “it’s happened,
Hecate is undergoing her acceptance trials, and…” She paused so the end of her thought would have the necessary effect, “it’s not as if I’m a green ensign being given command.”

Richard’s eyes narrowed and he bit back the retort that threatened to claw its way through his common sense and out into the light of day. The woman sitting across from him may not have seen her 40th birthday, but her record was more impressive than many officers ever had when they retired. That she was a rear admiral, just as he was, and more than fifteen years his junior, just rubbed salt in the wound.

Admiral Countess Seralanna Chase came from a life of opulent wealth and privilege. Her father, Charles Chase, Duke of Westfield, was one of the few aristocrats left on Virgon who still had any real authority to go along with the title. Her mother, Iona Avedon Chase, was the sole heir to one of Caprica’s oldest families. Between the two of them, they ranked 12th in the Colonial Journal’s “20 Richest Couples”. Growing up, she spent time on both Virgon and Caprica and had the best tutors money could buy and was able to finish her schooling by the time she turned 14.

This was when she had her first falling out with her parents. They both expected her to attend a prestigious university on either Caprica or Virgon and from there accept a position within one of the family businesses. Rather than follow her parents’ wishes, she applied for a waiver to attend the Colonial Fleet Academy on Picon and despite her parents’ protests, received an appointment as a cadet.

That was twenty-four years ago. Years before her mother was diagnosed with a virulent and fast growing form of lung cancer. Years before the man sitting across from her tried to fail her from basic flight instruction because she rebuffed his drunken advances one night. Years before her meteoric rise through the ranks on a combination of brilliance, being in the right place at the right time, and being right. Years before her father contracted lymphoma and decided to fully embrace his daughter’s chosen profession.

“No, Sera, you aren’t a green ensign,” Richard finally conceded. “But if you’re going to play in the big leagues, you’re going to have to show the world you have the chops. Running a battlestar and managing her escorts, or more, isn’t the same as being top Oscar back on
Unicorn. Your first FleetEx will be…eye opening.”

Sera raised her right eyebrow in a “oh, is that so?” manner. “What are you suggesting, Richard?” The atmosphere had suddenly turned from scorn to…something else.

“Oh, nothing like that, Sera…it’s just that the upcoming Golden Sword IX exercises are due to start in six weeks and
Shiva and her group had to withdraw due mechanical difficulties and…” A puppeteer’s smile flashed on his face as he withdrew the envelope from a breast pocket, “I have your orders to substitute Hecate for Shiva.”

Things were moving faster than Sera expected but she managed to keep the surprise off her face. “We’ll be up for it. Will you?”

Before Richard could offer an answer, a body blocked the golden late afternoon sunlight that streamed through the window and cast a shadow on the table between the two admirals. “I see Ricky just gave you the good news,” Commander Martin Esposito said as he sat down in a chair fronting the table. “We’re the OpFor,” he added with a smirk that tried to imply she was frakked before the exercise even started.

“Really?” Sera’s eyes went wide in mock surprise she clapped her hands. “Two of my favorite people in a position where I can have my way with them…you couldn’t pay me enough to miss this,” she replied gleefully like an eager schoolgirl as she opened her orders and saw Richard’s words officially verified on the off white official stationary emblazoned with the Colonial Fleet’s seal.

Esposito licked his lips, “Well, Bannaselle had to step down as judge, given how you’re his protégé and all…”

Not raising to the bait and implied meaning of the words, Sera looked at Esposito, “No worries. You could put Admiral Deguya in charge and I’ll still beat the both of you.”

The two men shared a grin. “Well, now that you mention it, he is the senior judge. Would you care to put a little wager on whether you get a passing score?”
“I’m listening.”

“A simple proposition, Sera; a bottle of century old Ambrosia to the winner and gloating rights,” Richard explained. “Nothing illegal, career ending, or nefarious.”
Sera considered the wager, reached into her wallet, and removed two business cards. “Here’s where you can send the Ambrosia,” she said, placing the cards on the table before standing. “As for me, I have a ship to get ready for her acceptance trials.”

*+*+*+*+*

Battlestar
Hecate, BS-94, berthed at Scorpia Fleet Shipyards

“So what can you tell me about our new CO?” Captain Sebastian Beckett asked his companion as they walked from the starboard top hangar deck to the officers’ country.

Captain Julian Sancerre smiled at her friend. “Not what you expect, that’s for sure…not what I expected, I can tell you that. I was posted here three months ago and thought that she’d be some spoiled rich girl who had daddy pull strings to get choice assignments, cover her ass when she frakked up, and grease the promotion committee’s palms to help her climb the ladder.”

“So, was she?” Beckett asked.

“Not even close. She’s the finest officer I’ve ever served with, Bass,” Sancerre earnestly answered. “She leads by example, from the front, and sees the crew – from the lowest knuckle dragger to her XO – as people and treats them as such. She’s also smart and has a keen grasp of tactics that’s one of the best in the fleet. We did a simulation where we were recovering the air wing when we got jumped by a pair of Baseships.”

Beckett stopped, cocked his head, and looked at his academy buddy, “What happened? Even
Hecate would take a pounding in a shooting match with a pair of Baseships.”

“I won’t say we got off without a scratch, but if it had been real we’d be painting a pair of Baseships on the hull right next to her family crest,” Sancerre explained to Beckett’s astonished look.

“That’s impressive, but it’s still just a simulation. We haven’t been in a real shooting war since the Cylon’s split for Gods know where,” Beckett said, complimenting but not really complimenting his new commanding officer.

“Think what you want, Rockstar, she’s the real deal and I’ll follow her to steal Hades’ helm if that’s what she decides to do. Anyway…” she stopped at an intersection and patted his shoulder. ”This is where I leave you; I have a meeting with a pair of nuggets on their first cruise.” Sancerre turned to go, and then looked over her shoulder, “Keep going forward and you can’t miss officers’ country.”

Beckett smiled and his deep blue eyes twinkled, “Did I look that lost? No, don’t answer that, Jules…thanks, for everything.”

“No problem, Rockstar, just go into this with an open mind, she’s good people and a good leader.”

Three minutes later Beckett peered through a partially open hatch and watched a trim blonde woman dancing to an old Virgon folk song. She held a slim, slightly curved sword in each hand as she performed a Virgon Saber Dance, one of the martial arts unique to Virgon. The blades were mesmerizing; the light glinted off the mottled gray steel blades as they sliced through the air and made a whistling sound. The woman spun on one foot, snapped out her arms, swept them around and then brought them back to a guard position, all the while looking as graceful as a ballerina.

“Like watching?” she asked as she began the next set of moves.

Surprised, Beckett fumbled the answer. “Uh, no…I mean, yes…it’s been a while since I’ve seen a saber dance by someone who knows what they’re doing. Usually it’s poorly choreographed moves on some vid.”

“You dance?” she asked, not missing a beat of the music.

“Senior Journeyman. I was clumsy as a kid and my mom’s friend taught down the street. I try to keep current, but the last couple months have been pretty tight,” Beckett replied.

The dancer stopped and walked to a weapon rack. “Do you have to be anywhere now? Care to spar?”

“I have a meeting with the Admiral in an hour and half, so sure. Do you have any training blades?” Beckett answered as he walked into the gym room and pulled his tunic loose from his uniform pants. The walls and floor were padded and the only pieces of equipment were a weapon rack with several practice sabers and four folding chairs.

“Fantastic!” The dancer gleefully gestured to the weapon rack as she sheathed her swords and picked up a pair of practice blades. “I’ll make sure you get to your meeting with time to spare for a shower.”

They began when Beckett was ready.

Virgon Saber Dancing was both a performance art as well as a practical self defense martial art and turned dance moves into strikes, holds, parries, and dodges. A beginner was a Novice, who then progressed to Junior Performer, Senior Performer, Junior Journeyman, Senior Journeyman, Master, Grand Master, and finally, Paramount Grand Master. Beckett realized within the first fifteen seconds that his sparring partner was way above his skill level.

To an outside observer, the sparring match appeared to be a delicate balance of movement and strikes, but to the people involved it was more than that; it was a chess game played with their bodies and minds. Each move flowed into the next and setup a maneuver a few beats of music yet to happen. If real blades had been used it would have been as deadly as it was beautiful.

Song after song played and with each one, they moved just a little faster than the last. Beckett was amazed that he was able to perform at such a peak level after so many weeks away from practice and suddenly realized that he was also performing better than he should have. The last song was the most difficult and included several jumps and kicks, something he wasn’t truly comfortable with but for the moment, felt natural.

Finally, after saluting his opponent he collapsed on a chair and wiped his face with a gym towel. “You’re good…damned good,” he said as his heart rate began to slow to something closer to normal.

His opponent gave a theatrical bow and smiled, “Thank you. You’re better than you give yourself credit for; you could test for Master and probably pass it.”

“Master? I don’t know what came over me, many of those routines I’ve only seen performed or maybe done once or twice, especially the last song. You’re much, much better than I am, that’s for sure.”

She nodded. “I tested Paramount Grand Master five years ago.”

The little voice that had been trying to tell him this was a bad idea ever since he stopped at the door to watch suddenly dug out a bullhorn and screamed it in his ear. Slowly, as if seeing his opponent change into Athena herself he realized who his sparring partner really was. He quickly stood and came to attention, “Admiral, I didn’t realize it was you.”

“At ease, Captain,” Admiral Chase told him and Beckett went to a parade rest. “No, really, Captain, relax. This is informal and we can play captains and admirals when we’re both in uniform and not in the practice room, ok?”

Beckett swallowed. Sancerre had said she wasn’t what she expected and from his own brief experience, his old academy friend had hammered the bulls-eye with her advice. “Yes, ma’am,” he answered and forced himself to relax. “It’s not every day that my first meeting with my new CO is across crossed sabers.”

Chase walked to her gym bag, knelt down, and pulled out two bottles of water, tossing one to Beckett before standing up. “No, I guess it isn’t,” she smiled and his heart did a double tap. Here, in her workout sweats and still coming down off the dancer’s high, she was radiant and looked like someone he’d try to ask out at the gym. “The lesson to take from this is that despite the gold on our collars, we’re all still people. For me to be effective my officers and crew have to be able to approach me. They have to trust me as I trust them, and the first, best way of building that foundation is to treat everyone as if they matter.

“I expect more, but I also give more.”

This was certainly not like Commander Ross on
Manticore, his previous posting. Ross was a by the book, everyone knows their place and stays there officer. His ship always earned good fitness reports, but there was a definite lack of initiative within the ranks. “Do what was needed, minimum amount of effort,” was the watchwords. But, this was a new ship and certainly a new commander. “If I may speak plainly?” Beckett asked and continued when he saw her nod. “I was told that I should have an open mind when I met you. I think that was the best advice I’ve received. I look forward to serving in your command, Admiral.”

A smile played across Chase’s face and climbed to touch the corners of her ice blue eyes. “That’s good advice, Captain. Now,” she said, picking up her bag and cased sabers, “You have a meeting with an admiral in about three quarters of an hour. And…if you’re interested in continuing your practices, I’m here every afternoon just after 1400 hours.”

*+*+*+*+*

A white linen tablecloth covered the small table and two deep red tapers in cut crystal bases shed an intimate light on the two people sitting at the table. The salad plates had been removed by the server leaving the space in front of them open except for their wine and water glasses. “You realize they’re setting you up?” the man in the tailored suit said to the woman sitting across from him.

She smiled and nodded, the diamonds on her ears caught and reflected the candlelight and sparkled like two tiny stars. “I know that, Kevin, and I expect it.”

The man pursed his lips and met his dinner companion’s ice blue gaze with his own. “There’s more to it…,” he began. “I got a back channel call from Sam Paulson on
Odyssey. He called asking why he’s being diverted from a demonstration tour over to Helios Gamma to take part in Golden Sword when he took part in it last year. This is going to put you up against Heimdall, Kali, and Odyssey; a pair of Mercury’s and a Columbia. That’s a lot of firepower in those three groups.”

Sera Chase winked at her companion and put her right hand on his left. “Why Admiral Bannasalle, if I didn’t know better I would think you were worried.”

Admiral Kevin Bannasalle nodded and offered a slight frown and turned his left hand over to take her right. “I am. Ricky Szabo and Martin Esposito have don’t like you and for whatever reason they want to see you fail. What’s funny?” he suddenly asked when he saw Sera fighting a smile.

Her hand held his and gave him a brief squeeze. “Because I received some back channel communications, too…Lydia Valentine and
Amaterasu are being attached to my command. With the Amaterasu assault group comes Bors Vergis and Marduk, not to mention their associated escorts. Plus, I have a couple surprises up my sleeve that Connie and I have been working on.”

Kevin sat back, but didn’t relinquish his hold on Sera’s hand. “
Hecate and Marduk are battlestars, but Amaterasu just thinks she’s a battlestar…” He studied the woman sitting across from him for a moment. “Still, I do trust you and I won’t worry too much knowing that Lydia and Bors are with you.”

Her fingers gave the palm of his right hand a brief tickle before she pulled her hand away as the server returned with the main course. “I wouldn’t want you to worry too much…the night is young…”