Fandom: Battlestar Galactica
Rating: PG to be safe, but it's mostly harmless genfic.
Word count: 2408
Comments: I've known for a long time that I wanted to write something set during '33', it just took a while for the right format to present itself. Thirteen personal snapshots, all less than 200 words.
Around the eightieth cycle Kara finds herself wishing it was possible to hit oneself through one’s helmet. Everything about a flight suit is protective, cocoon-like, which is comforting when one is in combat but infuriatingly soporific. She fights the warm-water feeling that pushes her further into numbness and makes the control panel swim before her eyes.
So she waits until she’s grounded and hits herself then, collapsing against a hatchway and pretending that there’s enough strength left in her arms that the slaps hurt. She builds up a dull ache across her face, but it’s not nearly enough. Her eyes fall closed above her reddened cheeks.
Tigh walks past and sneers – wouldn’t the fleet be shocked to know their precious Starbuck cracks under pressure just as easily as any other mortal, he says, and she’s far too tired to muster a comeback. She watches him walk away with her hand still pressed to her face, hating him, but his words force steel into her spine and the anger keeps her going for a good while after that.
There are only so many words one can say in a situation like theirs, Cottle knows. It’s a unique medical phenomenon; the cause is utterly clear, the diagnosis is always the same, and the only real treatment is something that the patients cannot have. Prevention is the same as the cure; simple, but impossible. This is the military, boys and girls. We’ll sleep when we’re dead.
It’s illogical, sending these shells of people away with pills that just prolong the problem. It’s probably frakking unethical. But he does what he has to, because there’s no choice. He looks after the nervous wrecks who are too far gone to function, sending the grim statistics back up to CIC. He pumps the pilots full of stims and locks the bottles away when he naps; which is more often than most, but a tired doctor makes mistakes, and a dead doctor is no good to anyone.
To begin with he dreams, fitfully; about the lives they can never go back to, about the retirement property he bought on Gemenon. But after sixty hours he doesn’t dream at all.
For the first time in his life, Saul Tigh catches himself wishing he was reliant on a drug more illegal than alcohol. Even if he had time to drink, even if he could afford the dulling of reflexes when there’s one jump to plot every half hour: the damn stuff’s a depressant. He remembers Ellen coaxing him to try some of the more party-popular stimulants, and the fact that on that, at least, he put his foot down. She’d be laughing at him. He tries to remember her laughter and is met with nothing but a ringing silence. Probably for the best.
The exhaustion drags at his heels but he does feel alive, reanimate, awakened from something. There is a harsh energy in the way he snaps at the duty officers in CIC, the glares he gives Starbuck to keep her on her toes. He thinks he will never again be able to see the number thirty-three without feeling a curl of dread in his stomach, but that’s a problem to be tackled if they get through this.
When. He straightens his back. When they get through.
Lee divides the time period into neat segments; five minutes for preflight briefings and three for post. He’s the CAG, so he tries to be there two minutes early every time. Ten minutes flying. One getting down to the flight deck and one in the tubes. Which leaves him nine minutes. Nine minutes for dozing in a chair or snatching bites to eat or bickering with Kara and ignoring the fact that his ankle is bruised and aching from the endless, endless pressing down on the Viper pedals.
He sets aside a precious six minutes to go the infirmary, but when he gets there Cottle is asleep. He straps the ankle himself, wasting a minute and twenty seconds finding the tape. In his mind he slices the lost time ruthlessly off his next sleep break. If there’s a queue in the mess next cycle he’ll be frakked entirely, his timetable shifting into negative numbers. He wonders if it is possible to survive on negative sleep, and wonders if he’ll be alive long enough to find out.
The Chief of the Deck is just a title. He knows that, and he knows that what really counts is the reputation he has amongst his people. It is important, so important, that he is the last person to sit down and brace himself against the stretching-dropping sensation of the jumps and the first person to leap to his feet afterwards. That it’s him who snaps his fingers under drooping eyes and administers harsh words or quick praise where needed, and it’s him who catches the mistakes before they can cost the fleet a high price in equipment or human lives.
It’s amazing how quickly they’ve all become accustomed to the jumps. A week ago an FTL jump was something most people had been through once, maybe twice, and little more than a faintly nauseous memory. Now the jumps are just an irritating interruption in the neverending stream of maintenance and prepping for combat. He is so busy that he forgets to worry about Sharon until he sees her dark head appearing from under a helmet, feels her hand squeezing his arm as she walks past and away.
When Dee was quite young her mother would make her baked apples by coring them and filling the hole with dried apricot, then pouring apple juice over the top to create a little lake in the bowl. The juice would boil in the micro-oven and cook the apple, the dried fruit soaking up the moisture and expanding to be juicy and soft. There was a pattern to it; two minutes, take the apple out of the oven and turn it over. Two minutes. When the apricot spilled during the turning her mother would scoop it up and put it back in, pressing it neatly into the core-hole with a silver spoon.
This is the closest that Anastasia Dualla can come to describing how she feels every time they complete a jump and the clock begins a new countdown. Like she is being turned on her head again and again. Poached in her own juices. Like every thirty-three minutes her steaming swollen guts are packed back inside her chest to fill the gaping hole right at her centre where her heart has been extracted with mechanical precision.
Adama wonders if this is how the Cylons plan to kill them. If they are just playing with the ragged survivors of humanity, picking a number at random and chasing them across the universe with laughable punctuality. If they could complete their genocide by direct destructive means any time they liked, but prefer to watch and smile as the human race slowly unravels into insanity and despair. There’s certainly no denying the fact that they’re all going to die if this keeps up; it is, like everything in this crazy mess, simply a matter of time.
He never voices these thoughts. He’s just creating worse scenarios out of a situation that’s already beyond dreadful, and on the outside he must be the most determined, the most optimistic, the most certain that they’ll all make it through. Besides, it’s a ridiculous theory. Mostly. Sadism of that nature is not something he would ever have attributed to a toaster; but sometimes Leoben’s face flashes behind his eyes, that terrible glittering fatalism coloured in with blood and sweat, and he’s not so sure.
In his first few breaks Gaeta goes to the bathrooms and splashes water onto his face, concentrating on the icy shock of it against his skin and exchanging no more than a brief nod or smile with whoever is at the neighbouring basin. Sometimes it’s a pilot. Sometimes a member of the flight deck crew. Sometimes it’s Dee, who has a nervous habit of tapping her fingernails against the basin.
After a while he can hear that tapping all the time, although on occasion he thinks it sounds more like the blip of the DRADIS. The sound follows him, a constant buzz, only ceasing when he sleeps, when he falls into an abyss of no sensation at all.
And then comes the break where he lifts his head to stare at his own wet face in the mirror and he can no longer see eyes, a nose, a mouth, but only the ratios and coordinates of his features. Everything has become a matter of where objects are in relation to each other, his mind churning and trying to find the equations representing the spaces in between.
Laura Roslin considers it grandly ironic that she just might be the only person who’s grateful, on one level, for the fact that the Cylons keep on coming. There is so much to do that there is no time to think about anything but the crises at hand. Wrapping her mind around all the facts and dilemmas that are thrown at her takes every brain cell she possesses; smiling and nodding and acting as presidential as possible uses the instincts she didn’t even know she had. There is nothing left with which she can feel scared. Cancer isn’t even a blip on the screen. Too many Cylons in the way, she thinks, amused despite herself, and the next moment Billy is at her side with a new set of printouts for her to read and she’s forgotten even that brief thought of death.
She relishes every creaking muscle and bone in her body. She holds fast to the sensation of gritty sand coating her eyeballs and the blister on the side of her left foot, because they remind her that she’s alive.
Cally is sure that she wakes up more times than she can remember falling asleep. She is always waking. Her head is always being lifted from where it lies on a bench, on her rack, on someone’s shoulder where their coveralls have left crease marks on her cheek. She lives in these moments very clearly, but somehow she can never recall the inverse times when she sits down to rest.
It doesn’t make sense, of course; logically, she wakes as many times as she sleeps and the fatigue is simply jumbling her numbers. But still she counts. Awake or asleep. There is a crease mark across her palm where the edge of her clipboard sits. She counts engine parts and damage logs and tool supplies, letting her exhausted body become no more than a vehicle for the simple calculator of her mind. She counts to thirty-three. She counts backwards. She keeps records and neat tallies and runs where the Chief tells her to. Gimbles, Cally. Filters, Cally.
She bites her lip but the giggles come out anyway, high and hysterical.
Inside his head Gaius doesn’t feel anything he doesn’t want to. He is always freshly shaven, his clothes are not sweat-stained and crumpled, and there are no pressure sores on his elbows and buttocks from interminable hours seated, waiting. Inside his head he forgets to be tired. He leans on the balcony and looks out over the water, admiring the soft clouds dotted across the horizon, innocent and cotton-wool harmless, a far cry from the mushrooming terrors he last saw filling Caprica’s skies.
Returning to himself is always a horrible shock. The ticking fills his ears first. He makes a point of sitting so that he doesn’t have to open his eyes and see the clock with its numeric sticker placed south-south-west, but he can’t avoid the ticking. Then Roslin’s voice, softer than ever but still calm, that too-nice little aide of hers adding a murmured interjection every now and again.
It’s awful. He’s starting to feel that maybe it’s his delusions that are real life, and Colonial One which is the dream. The nightmare from which it’s always a relief to wake up.
Sharon keeps waiting to feel tired; she has steeled herself against it, certain that sooner or later her luck and adrenalin will run out and she’ll crash, terribly, melting into the same desperate state that she sees in the people around her. She prays that the crash won’t come whilst she’s flying.
Prayer seems to be everywhere she looks, actually, even though before this ordeal began she could count the number of openly religious people aboard ship and not run out of fingers. Now she sees small clumps of people with their heads bowed; in reverence or fatigue is anyone’s guess, but they’re clasping fingers and making their halting way through whatever quotes from the Scrolls they can remember. Prayers for the dead and the living. Fear is a great evangelist, she thinks, and then feels dirty for thinking it.
She stubs her toe climbing out of the Raptor and says God through her teeth, but the next instant the Chief pulls her aside with a swift brutal hug – all they can afford – and if there was a plural coming then it’s swallowed by his shoulder.
In the spare seconds – walking from one part of Colonial One to another, waiting whilst a comm connection is made – Billy thinks, with a vague giddiness that he chalks up to exhausted hysteria, that this is not how he imagined he would spend the rest of his life. Every word he speaks or hears is drenched in morbid pragmatism; counts and recounts and crisis after crisis. Thousands of human beings turned into numbers. News – always important, always bad – sent across a vacuum to his ears, his hand clenched around the printouts. Sometimes it feels like they are running a funeral home, not a government.
Billy Keikeya, personal assistant to the President and Secretary of Death.
To keep himself awake he thinks about Dualla, trying to call up the way her hand felt along his jaw and the softness of her mouth pressed against his. But he is tired, so tired, there is nothing left in him but lists and duties, his imagination gave out somewhere around the hundredth jump. His jaw is rough and there is nothing on his lips but the names of the dead.