Memoir: the tide's coming in


Colonial Office of Naval Intelligence. No, I wasn't really here. Bear with me. - It's built off Fleet Headquarters, on Picon. I'm fiddling with the collar of my duty blues and my "weenie grade" Lieutenant's pin. "Big Papa" Lieutenant Gibson, AKA the Fleet's only landbound Frigate clasps an open hand on my shoulder with his big, thick fingers. The man's about 6'5" and built like a brick wall. A wide one. His large features break into an impossibly wide grin. "When you're done getting worked over by the Brass, we should plan on a night out at Pete's to celebrate."
These walls are a little too white.

"Oh great. It's not just a booty bar, it's a chain. Tacky, Gibson, tacky." I'm fighting off a tense laugh, though. The concept of wandering off to swill overpriced cocktails in a place full of disinterested half-naked women is kind of appealing to me. Particularly if he or Francesca or whoever are footing the bill, but right now all I can think of is this meeting. I wave him off and head over to the Colonel's office. That's fine. No Admiral's going to be bothered with a peon like me, I tell myself.

So imagine my surprise when I walk on in and see Admiral Hauck standing in there with a small box in her hands, just off to the side of Colonel Hallas at his desk. Hauck's got the eyes of somebody's angry great-grandmother framed in the face of a middle-aged woman, while Hallas' moustache droops over his upper lip. It looks exaggerated. Funny, I don't remember it being this big.

"Sit down, Lieutenant." I get from the Colonel after glancing at Hallas, as both return my salute.

I do so. Reluctantly. Maybe it's a self-defense mechanism, but I don't like people getting the jump on me. Even if I'm here to be commended, or so I presume.

"Lieutenant, we wanted to speak to you about your next assignment."

Hauck finally chimes in, in her Sagittaran lilt. "Mister Oberlin, the Colonel here is right. We may ask you some questions."

"There are no wrong answers." The moustached Colonel cuts in.

"Sometimes there are no right answers, either." Hauck continues, with a smile that is a little chilling, coming from her. I don't know what it is about her, or him but something is just off. I remember being here, but it was triumphant. I was full of myself. I'd impressed the entire command staff of the Ilium and that recognition made its way all the way back to the Office of Naval Intelligence.

Both of the senior officers laugh a bit in response to this, and I follow up. But my laughter's a little tense.

Colonel Hallas starts up, "Lieutenant. With the new directions that Colonial technology are taking, years after the war, someone with your skillset taking this path is slightly surprising to me. You could make a killing in the private sector. Yet you enrolled in the Colonial Fleet. Yet you became an Officer. Why?"

Before I can respond, Hauck asks her own question. "Mister Oberlin. You took an Oath to defend the Fleet. To defend the people of the Twelve Colonies, from threats seen and unseen. Threats external and internal. Why?"

I sit up, sharp and proud like I was struck by lightning. I almost take offense at this question, although I don't even know it was meant with any sort of malice or derision. "Because. Sirs. This isn't about a paycheck. I could have taken that route, but we both know this isn't a path to mansion in Delphi's East Side, or a limo. This is about being part of history. Th—"

Hauck laughs, in a way that is not at all how I remember. It's harsh. Grating. "Mister Oberlin, we are all part of history. We don't make history. We merely get swept up in it and it makes us. You said that yourself, right here." She opens the box. It's — not what I expect. It's a crumpled ball of paper from my undergrad days. I recognize it immediately. I wrote the frakking thing. But how did she get it?

"Don't insult us with quotes, Lieutenant." The Colonel asks. "You can trust us. We're all a Fleet here. We're all Colonial. We're all human. Tell me, why was the Fleet formed?"

I pause on this one. Hallas is smirking here, and I pick up on his smirk and smile back, a little. And think. "To keep our asses from getting burned to ash by the Cylons, Sir." I repeat something I heard voiced a bit differently in OCS.

They both laugh at this. Good job, boyo. And then, Huack stops laughing suddenly like a swipe of a knife. "That's not what you wanted to say, Lieutenant. Was it? Why don't you give us the real answer. I don't award these to bullshitters." She closes and opens the case again. It's a set of full Lieutenant's pins. Oho!

This bucks up my resolve. Or at the very least, baits the trap. I respond. "To advance humanity, Sirs. To push us forward."

"So you think the Cylon War pushed us forward? We burned our technology, beat our plowshares into swords and computers into ships and cannons, entered a scorched-land war and nearly watched the end of our civilization at the hands of a mechanized convenience?" The Admiral suddenly snaps. She's still holding the pins aloft, but the look in her eyes is predatory.

Then Hallas jumps in. "A lot of good people died in that war. We lost friends. Family. Accquaintances. Wealth. Everything. And you have the balls to suggest that 'moved us forward,' Lieutenant?" He laughs, roughly. "Kid's got some balls." He says towards the Admiral. I turn and look towards the wall, away from them both and when I return, the Colonel's got a tumbler of whiskey in his hand. There's another one on the desk he shoves towards me. "Huh? Tell me."

I look between them and don't immediately go for the drink. But then I do, and I stand. "Yes and no. And — yes." I decisively intone, grasping the glass and taking a sip. It doesn't taste like whiskey. Just water. "We are a people forged in fire. We had everything and we squandered it. We had the resources to build a civilization, and we squandered it. We got lazy and stupid and our own toys threatened to break us. It was like I was saying to that one woman the other —." Wait. Woman? I don't remember being on that ship. None of this makes any frakking sense. But I continue, looking away again as I compose my thoughts. "That war made us discover we, as humans, were a people. Not —" I stumble over the words again, and I look back at the officers again and it hits me. This isn't real.

Hauck is still there, grasping the pins. But it's not Hauck. It's now my big sister, Elise, who was working as a campaign advisor to a Piconese Planetary Legislator whose name escapes me. Elise smirks. "Not a bunch of squabbling backwater colonies fighting over a rotting sandcastle like a bunch of drunken crabs, right before the tide comes in? That's what you wanted to say. I know. Because you're right."

"The tide's coming in, Lieutenant." Interjects Hallas, who has gone from jovial to chilling. "The tide's coming in."

"The tide's coming in." Elise repeats. "So that's why you wanted to become an officer. High-minded idealism?" Hauck/Elise has changed again. Oh Shit. It's Isabella. I don't want to be here. "You certainly didn't have a whole lot of it when I knew you. That's why I left you, remember?" With that, she throws the case onto the ground, the pins go scattering onto the floor. The glass falls from my hands too, sending golden liquid and a mess of shards all over the floor of the office. Just like the other night at Picon Anchorage, before it too shattered.

"I left you." I counter. This is one thing I just never had control in, but I was sure that's what happened. Was I? Why is she even here? I'm not so sure of anything. Isabella, she just stares at me in a way that makes my skin crawl. RealHauck was a frakking cartoon character in comparison. "Frak the tide. And frak this whole place. This is some sort of joke. You're not even here. You're — " And then it hits me.

"Dead." Hallas says. But he's not Hallas anymore. He's been replaced by the horrible visage of that radiation-burned Viper Major we fished out of the graveyard at Virgon. The graveyard I call home. The major reaches on the desk and places a sidearm, pointing at it. I just stare at him, stare at them both but him, and for a moment or so I'm unable to move, just like I was aboard that Raptor. And then I hear the voice of the dead Major as his face contorts as it did in his last few minutes of life, and says some of the same words. "Where have you cowards been? Dead." He points at the gun. "Take it, Lieutenant." I just stand there. "Take it. The tide has come in. They've brought their vengeance! ! Who are we to defy their wishes? Surely, Lieutenant," he says, choking once more. "You understand what we have to do, right!?"

"No." I look down at the gun, like a snake. I look up at Hauck/Elise/Isabella, and she's not even there. I'm alone here, with a radiation-scarred madman. Who suddenly raises his own pistol at me. "This isn't my choice." This isn't how it's supposed to be.

"Do it, coward. Or prove that they all deserved it!" The former Col. Hallas with a Dead Man's Face rises and pulls a gun on me. "Coward. You can't. You sat there with your thumb up your ass just like the entire fleet did and proved them right!"

Something in this accusation drives me. And I just snap, and do what I hesitated to do in the waking world, grabbing the other pistol in a swift, reflexive motion like a greedy kid stealing candy and I start firing square at the madman before me. There's a flash and a crack with every shot as I pump three rounds in him, center-mass and one more in his neck as he makes a sickly gurgling sound. And suddenly, blood flowing from the wound, he looks at me for a second and smiles, a ghastly smile as his own pistol goes off like it did in the Raptor, knocking a hole in a window I didn't even know was here. The whole room starts spinning, swirling as he goes down and twitches, and is still. Spinning. It's like a vacuum and I am lifted off my feet and start flying through the air, getting sucked out in the light as suddenly everything fades and…

Frak. I'm awake in my rack, covered with sweat as the dim lights of the Officer Jungle in Cerberus peek through the outside my bunk curtains. The gentle hum of the Battlestar's systems tell me I'm home. Maybe the only Home I have left.


It's like a joke I've heard before, somewhere else but I can't place its origin: Why am I the only one who has that dream?

I'd call the nightmare over but I'm not that stupid.

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