MD #223: Ghost of Battle Past
MD #223: Ghost of Battle Past
Summary: Niko is visited by a dead friend.
Date: 17/11/2017 (OOC Date)
Related Logs: None
Kelsey Niko 
The CAG's Office
It's official.
MD #223

The CAG's door is always open. Except when it isn't. The last week or two haven't been the easiest, and Niko finds himself looking for a few minutes peace and quiet. So the hatch is shut, and the aging Viper jocks sinks into his chair with a half sigh, half groan. And since he's alone, he unlocks his bottom drawer to fish out the bottle of scotch he keeps there, along with one of the glasses. A two-finger pour and he caps the bottle — this stuff is like gold now, and he has to ration it. Once the bottle is safely locked away Niko settles back with his drink and sighs. His gaze goes to the framed photograph on his wall, a shot of the Sixty from the end of the last war, including a much younger version of himself. The CAG lifts his glass to the picture and takes a drink.

About the time he lifts his glass in cheers, Niko begins to get the idea that he's not alone in the room. He can't see or hear anyone. But there's a light scent of lilac. That damned shampoo Kelsey hoarded. It probably brings back some memories. And then he's aware, visually, that he isn't alone. Across his desk, there's one of the woman in the 'class photo'. She looks as young as the day they fired their last missiles over Caprica, but her eyes tell the tale of someone much older. Dressed in her flightsuit, she looks like she is about to head for a Predator. Her survival gear looks as abused and beaten as it always had, complete with the pistol tucked into the vest - not on the thigh like most pilots. She isn't looking at him, though. Her eyes are respectful and lifted towards the photo. Leaned back in the chair, her hands are folded and resting on the gear she wears. "I think about us all the time. How hard those days were. Right at the end of the war and I couldn't help feeling like that was it. We were done. …But I couldn't say that. Not if I wanted to hold the squadron together."

The scent mixes with the memories, and so it doesn't consciously register on Niko right away. The feeling of a presence gets his attention first, and his eyes cut to the figure in the chair. For an instant he assumes it's Melissa. "Billboard …" Then he realizes it is not. The hatch is shut. No one came in. And he knows the gear. The posture. The voice. It's not Melissa. "Aegis. Holy frak…" Shocks turns to disbelief, but that doesn't make her go away. Very carefully, Niko sides his drink onto the desk and sits up, as if any sudden movement might break the spell. He knows she has said something, but the words don't register. "Uhhhh … you're in my office?" He's not quite sure he's seeing and hear a long-dead comrade. He's seen al Yamoha once, but this is different. Personal.

She holds her gaze on the picture and seems lost in it for the moment. "I know we look alike, but let's be honest, that's where the similarities start to diverge." She gets out of the chair and puts her hands on her hips as she moves closer to stare at the photo. "Yeah, I'm in your office. Don't stop drinkin' on my count. That's an order, Ensign." There's a bit of a cheekiness to the way its worded over her shoulder. Her hand lifts and she takes off the flight gloves and touches a few of the faces, as if she hasn't seen them in forever. "Only four of us in the wing started the war in the military. I'd forgotten so many, but I could remember the name and rank of every Sixty member until the day I died." The Lieutenant turns to look back to Niko and she gives him a low, humorless smile before she moves back to drop into the seat.

Niko just stares. Even after she gives a cheeky order. It's a good few seconds before the ex-Ensign looks down to his drink and realizes that's probably a /really/ good idea at this point. He picks up the scotch and slugs it back, emptying the glass. Then he turns in his chair, watching the long-dead pilot cross the photo and study it. Finally he finds his voice again, though he's clearly shaken. "They were good people," he says quietly. Then he clears his throat. Steady Niko. "Okay. I've heard the stories and seen the Captain once, but you're kind of freaking me out, you know?" To which he hastens to add, "Not that it's not good to see you. It's just … I uhh … have a lot of questions."

Kelsey fixes her gaze back on him, giving him all her attention. "They were extraordinary for being ordinary. There is an immense pride for us, Niko. It isn't just here." In the afterlife. She doesn't have to say it, but its understood to be the reference. The rest has her lips half-smile. "Most of your questions I can't answer. You can try a few but that will be it. After all, I have a reason for being in your office. I'm here for your soul." She smirks and holds up a hand, "Sorry, sorry. Afterlife joke. Its.. funnier.. when you're.. forget it. But sure, you can ask a few questions. No promises on answers."

There's a slow nod for her declaration about the afterlife, but Niko isn't sure what to make of that. "They're proud of the Sixty?" He's not sure exactly what that means, but then Kelsey is here in his office right now and he can't explain that either. He blinks a few times, listening to what she says about questions, and having a reason to be here, but the CAG needs a minute before he responds. Something is in his eye. Or maybe the sudden weight of a twenty year old war, piled on top of a new one, is a little to much to keep in. Niko rubs at his face and takes a deep breath. "Chiron." He's a bit hoase, and clears his throat. "He sent me a message. I didn't listen. I frakked up Aegis, and a lot of people died." It takes him a moment to be the point of all this, and it isn't a question. "Tell him thanks. And I'm sorry."

Kelsey's smile looks a little sad while she nods. She looks like a kid but has the sage understanding of seeing so much destruction, and there's a peacefulness to her that cannot be missed. All that explosive energy that was there before? Gone. For once, Kelsey Wescott looks comfortable in her own skin. "Billions of people died when the Cylons hit. We never quit fighting. Our greatest victory was also one of our hardest to endure. You were an Ensign and it was hard on you, but being in leadership during that time? It was immense. The amount of support we had? The love? The people we had watching over us? It will make you weep, Niko." The part about Chiron has her nod very slowly. "I'm aware. You made a mistake. It isn't because you're willfully ignorant, Scythe. You didn't know. We don't even know for sure something will happen until it does. All we can do is our best. I'll tell him for you, but he already knows. I promise you that."

Niko can tell this is, and at the same time very much is not, the Kelsey he knew. He can understand what she's saying about the spirits of the dead supporting them, but it's a bit intangilbe and difficult to appreicate in the current situation. The pardon she offers for his mistakes is more real, and hearing the his long-dead squadron commander already knows is some consolation as well. The CAG looks greatly relieved just to get that off his chest. He lets out a long breath and spends a moment just looking at Kelsey and collecting himself. "I need a drink." Niko goes to get the bottle out again, pausing with the drawer still open to ask her, "You want one?" As he collects the necessary number of glasses, he says more about his the new context for the last war. "I used to think we really did something great, you know? That everything we went through and everyone we lost was worth it, because we saved the day. Only we didn't. One generation later and it's all gone, Aegis. Hard not to think it was all for nothing."

Kelsey shakes her head gently at the offer of a drink. "Even if I could, I can't. After Orion vanished, I crawled so deep inside a bottle that I forgot there was an outside world. Crawling out and dealing with the loss was even harder. Then setting the example for my new family…" She shakes her head. Her legs kick out slightly, crossing at the ankles. All of Kelsey's old habits and minutae without the concern of her temper or immaturity. His commentary on nothing has her nod slowly. She looks at the desk in front of her, thinking before she speaks (for once), "It was not for nothing. There is a reason to it. This is not simply just the constructs of humanity making its own mistakes over and over. There is something else at play." Her eyes lift back to him. "This war has raged for tens of thousands of years, Scythe. It was here before the Erfriki settled Erfrik. It was an old war before they developed their own selves on their homeworld." Her voice is soft and tender. "It has never been for nothing. Was it an accident that two Erfriki colony ships Captains refused to run and evacuate to a different galaxy? Was it an accident that they were so close to each other, galacticly, that we found each other seemingly by random chance? Was it an accident that our last war pushed us to our limits and made sure that we were ready for what would come next?" She glances to the photo on the wall, then back to him. "Where would we be right now if this was not the Orion that had been through what it has?"

Niko looks over as Kelsey declines the drink, and he has to remind himself of all the time that passed for her, back on Piraeus. "Frak. I'm sorry, Aegis." Sorry he didn't know. Sorry he didn't think about it. Sorry she had to go through that. Straightening up, he sets the bottle and glass aside without pouring himself another. Niko listens to what she has to say, and his brow furrows in a deeply contemplative look that's not typical for the CAG. "I hope you're right," he says after a time. Then he cracks a strained grin. "Not like you'd come back just to blow sunshine up my ass. Still … this war just keeps getting bigger." Bigger in scope and bigger in galactic context, if dimished in scale. "And we're not exactly winning right now." But Niko is not the voice of defeat, despite the circumstances. "Feels like we're in the ass end of space and we don't even know what we're looking for."

"No apologies are needed, Niko. Please, drink. I insist. I don't feel a need or pull for it anymore. It simply.. is." Kelsey seems like its water off the back. Nothing to even be concerned about. The grin gets a half-smile and she dips her head. "You are correct. I'm not here to blow sunshine. I'm here to tell you something specific." The woman across the desk does understand where he's coming from, though. "I wish I could explain how right you are. But the important thing isn't that you be winning right now. You are at the ass end of space, not knowing what you are looking for. You're blind, Niko. You've lost your homes, your planets, your government, everything has been taken. Is it better or worse that families may still be alive, but forced to live there? I think that's probably the worst part of this whole mess." Her eyes look to her knees. She so terribly wants to say somethign that it looks like she actually tries and the words die before she can start to make a sound. A sigh escapes her and she looks back to him, "Niko, there's something that's likely coming. Its not coming to kill you. Its not a weapon or a bomb. Its a question, but not a question you answer with words. It won't even be spoken."

Her insistence causes Niko to consider the bottle before turning back to Kelsey. "I'll have another after you go." He knows that's coming, and probably all too soon. Has he already gotten so used to sitting and talking with a dead friend? He'll need it after more than right now. "And yeah … some of us had more to lose than others." Never having tried to make a family after the last war, none of those left behind were 'his.' But he dedicated his life to protecting all of them. He feels the weight that failure too. "We just have to beat the Skath." That may be impossibly far off, but that is still his objective. Then he sits up a bit at the more cryptic pronouncement Kelsey makes, giving her a deeply curious look. "That's pretty vague, you know? I'm guessing you can't explain."

Kelsey concedes the point about the drink after she leaves. "Aye. In a lot of ways, when we lost Orion, we lost hope. In the week leading up to the invasion, you could feel something coming. Nobody on Piraeus slept well. Its why we sent the kids away. I think everyone lost everything. In ome ways, after seeing into so many hearts, I feel the worst for those who didn't lose too much. It feels like that pain stabs deeper. The things we never got around to." She looks down, silent on that note, then looking back. "I tried to explain. It didn't work. But I can talk a little more to it…" She looks down at her flight gear and stares at it blankly, almost with a sad expression. "Niko, what really defines you? If you had to pick a concept.. Patriot? Protector? Why did you stay in? Why not get out and go do civilian things. Nine-to-five, hate your commute, white picket fence." She might be joking, but the voice is very quiet. She means something heavy by all this.

"I got round to plenty," Niko says, showing a bit of his old brash self. The joke is genuine enough, but can't escape the sadness of the situation and the fact that he's talking to a dead woman who lost everything. "Just not a family. Never could make that work." What defines him? That's another heavy question that takes the viper jock some time to respond. "I don't know," he finally admits, but that's not the end of his answer. "I was a kid who thought he was going to die in the mud on Picon. All my family, my friends, everybody I knew was dead. Then I got the chance to do something I'd dreamed about — fly." His gaze goes back to that old photo on the wall. "It's weird to say it, but damn I was happy about that. I don't think you guys realized how happy I was to be flying with you. I was going to die up in the stars, and I was okay with that." He turns back to Kels, and this time it's his turn for a nostalgic smile. Niko's definitely not young anymore. "After the war, I figured the Toasters would be back. It was just a matter of time." He was wrong about that but it doesn't seem to have improved his opinion of the Cylons. "Or the Machines would come. Flying vipers was the only thing I was good at. I mean, I loved it, you know? Didn't have a home or anyone to go home to, so…" he shrugs. "I stayed in. And after a while I started to get some of the things you were trying to tell me, back when I first came aboard the Orion. About training new people. Being an example. I knew they weren't going to let me fly forever, so I decided to get serious about it. I guess in the end I don't have some great noble reason. I'm just some guy from Picon who caught a break and took it."

"I'd like to say I stayed in because I wanted to protect people back home," Niko muses. "Not that I didn't want to, but if I'm honest? I don't know them. I stayed for you guys. The people I was flying with."

Kelsey holds her gaze low, eyes on her own gear. Likely she already knows some or all of that, but its the voicing that seems to matter more to her. The sad look on her face stays, even through the smile at his admission of being happy. "Yeah. I gave a lot of advice. It wasn't always gold. Stuff other people told me when I was an Ensign. I was so nervous when they gave you to me to train. I was terrified. But it set the tone." She looks back at him. "That's why I didn't get out after the war. I had already signed a five year extension to train new strike pilots. I couldn't go home. I couldn't leave the war. I couldn't leave you guys. And if I'm honest, I had forgotten how to be a mom. You all were my family. I think the war orphaned most of us from our blood and pressure-cooked us into a new family. I suppose it doesn't surprise me so many Nomad and Blackjack vets settled on Piraeus. Nobody else would understand." Her eyes move to the photo on the wall and she takes a long breath. "Niko, its so important that we remember who we are. Not just you and I. Not the Sixty. Not the fleet. I mean everyone. The Skath are trying to kill it. If we do nothing, they will succeed. If they succeed, then the war is lost. But us, as a people. Colonial. Erfriki. This war is so much more than you know. Part of me wishes I were still here to fight it. Part of me is glad to be on the other side. But just keep this in mind when that question comes around. Just what are you giving up on to get something else? Everything comes at a cost. It all balances." She smiles at the photo, the look deeply saddened. "Hold on to how you felt, that pride in who you were. Never forget that about yourself. Being a Colonel means carrying the banner and sometimes you need to remember just why and how you carry it. Have faith, Niko. We believe in you. All of you." She looks back to him, starting to fade.

Niko said he had questions, and in the end he's asked exactly none of them. He listens to Kelsey's story, and he knows it. It's not /exactly/ the same. There are parts he can't truly understand. But it's basically his own story in the end. "You did all right, Kelsey Wescott. You did all right." This assurance isn't coming from the eighteen year old kid she used to know, but a man of forty years — a Lieutenant Colonel and the CAG. There's more he wants to say; more he wants to ask. But he can see their brief time is up, and she is going. Seeing her fade like that, right in front of his eyes, is an eye opener. But Niko has time to gather himself and make a final vow. "I won't forget. I swear."

"You, too, Niko. 'Work hard, maybe one day you'll be CAG.'" Kelsey ends it with a wink and even as she fades a little more, the next time Niko blinks, she is gone. There's the lingering scent of lilac but little else. The plastic covering over the chair cushion still has an indentation from her, but it fades away as well. Was she there? Could he prove any of it? Probably not.

Despite the pain stirred up by talking with a ghost — in some ways the ghost of his own past — Niko can't help but grin when Kelsey gets in the last word and a cheeky wink. There was a lot he was able to get off his chest, even if it hurt. If Niko knew the word 'cathartic' he'd certainly call it that. But now he's left sitting alone in the office, staring and unmoving even after all trace of her presence has passed. Eventually he stirs, looks around to reorient himself, and finally slumps back into his chair with a ragged sigh. "I hope you can hear me right now, Aegis: Frak you." This is said with great affection. "Frak you." And now that /he/ has gotten the last word Niko turns back to the bottle. He was definitely right to save that drink for afterward.

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