Colonel Kenji commanded the Delphian warcruiser Dragonsbreath, and had done so since the commander was killed mere sectars in their flight from Gamoray. Gamoray had been the capital of their empire. Now, the Cylons held it. There was nothing for the surviving misplaced Delphians to do but run, and hope for refuge elsewhere.
They went to the Twelve Colonies first, hoping to find aid in reclaiming their home world from fellow humans, so long ago sundered. They met only Cylons, who smashed their small fleet of escape ships. The survivors scattered, hoping enough of them would escape to form a society elsewhere.
The Dragonsbreath had not encountered any other Delphians since that day, nor any Colonials. But she saw far too many Cylons. They were lucky; they had survived those encounters.
Kenji was afraid their luck was running out. He had lost so many warriors, so many Sunrider fightercraft. He knew how to contact other Delphians, using a code hidden in his own subconscious, but the commanders of the surviving ships had agreed not to use the code unless they found a safe haven. None of them wished to summon others of their people to a deathwatch. Kenji felt the same. His ship would die alone.
That death might be soon. There was a large Cylon patrol on their trail. Kenji was unable to shake them, and he didn't dare risk sending his golden-winged fighters out, leaving the ship almost defenseless. They had little enough fuel left as it was. He couldn't afford to waste it. The Cylons gave them no rest. Soon, they would attack. The warriors would spend themselves as dearly as they could. And then the Dragonsbreath would die.
He kept that knowledge from the women and children, the most precious of the cargoes they carried. It was better for them if they didn't have to expect death. Let them be content while there was time. Children of a rising sun, a golden sun – and, he reflected, it was also a setting sun.
"Commander," said Mriko. An honorary rank.
"Yes?" Mriko was one of the few women in the Delphian military. She was also his wife.
"The Cylons are closing. Shall I alert our fighters?"
He nodded. It was as he expected. They had been forced to burn up fuel trying to escape, and now there was little left for any kind of prolonged battle. At least they would die gloriously.
"Mriko, Hito will take your place. Go to the children. They may be afraid."
It never occurred to her to protest. He was her superior and her husband. She quietly left the bridge, and Hito took her place as scan officer.
"Squadrons ready for launch."
Kenji studied the launch tube scanners. So few ships left! From three full squadrons and part of a fourth, he had barely enough ships for one squadron. Their chances looked slim.
"Launch fighters," he ordered quietly.
A terrible shock shook the entire ship.
"What was that?"
Hito ran a frantic check on every system. "Alpha landing bay, sir. A ship came through the lost corridor."
The lost corridor. He should have known. A scanner had been blasted in their last battle, and could only be checked by a double scan from another turret. Mriko would have seen it.... But he couldn't blame Hito. So many systems needed major repairs after a yahren alone.
"Launch the ships on Beta side. Can we land the other ships on Beta after the battle?" He was being optimistic.
The battle was relatively brief. Surprisingly, the Dragonsbreath was victorious, with a minimum of casualties. They were, after all, the best the Empire had, to have survived this long alone.
The Dragonsbreath itself did not fare so well. Alpha landing bay was completely demolished. Beta could only be approached from an oblique angle. One engine had exploded into space, and they lost nearly all their precious remaining fuel. Several supply compartments depressurized. They had air leaks it would days to repair.
They also had injuries. Their medical staff was good, but they lacked many supplies, and many of the injured were children, bruised and battered from the tumbling when the artificial gravity was temporarily lost. Several crewmen had severe burns and suffered near-asphyxiation trying to save their sole remaining engine. Fortunately, they had succeeded.
It was nearly a day before repair crews were able to run thorough checks on many systems. They found their navigation computer burnt out. Several more scanners were gone. More cabins were depressurizing. They were still losing air.
Studying damage reports, Kenji was near despair. For all practical purposes, his ship was now a drifting hulk, easy prey for the next Cylon who came along. If not Cylons, lack of supplies and the loss of air would begin claiming lives within a secton. The Dragonsbreath was doomed.
At that moment, Hito reported one of the few operating scanners was picking up a ship, a big ship – a Colonial battlestar.
A battlestar? They might have hope yet.
Kleopatra was instantly at his side. "What is it, Tolan?"
"There's a ship on our long-range scan. It's not Cylon, and it's definitely not Colonial."
Kleopatra continued to study the strange configuration appearing on the screen. There was something familiar about it. On a hunch, she reached over and punched a classified code into the keyboard. The computer bank released the information she sought. She was right.
"What is it, Kleopatra?" Cain entered the bridge with his usual brisk stride.
"Ship on long-range scan. It's Delphian."
She was a bit taken aback by the fiercely elated grin on her commander's face.
"Sir! A signal! A Colonial recognition signal!"
"Acknowledge it, Memnon. At last, we're going to find out what happened to the Delphian Empire. I knew there had to be survivors in this quadrant."
"So that's why we stayed so close to Gamoray this long."
In a few microns, a dark-haired, golden-skinned Delphian was on the comm line.
"This is Commander Cain, of the Colonial battlestar Pegasus."
"I am Colonel Kenji, in command of the Delphian warcruiser Dragonsbreath. My ship is damaged. Can you assist us?"
The Delphians were human, obviously offshoots of old Kobol or the Colonies in their early days, but as a general rule they had steered clear of Colonial territory, and once rejected an offer to join the Colonial alliance. Cain knew they must be in serious trouble to request the assistance of a battlestar. But then, with Cylons occupying Gamoray, what could be more serious?
"Certainly. What's the problem?"
"Cylon attack. They destroyed our navigational equipment, and most of our supply areas are contaminated." The man looked uneasy. "We have women and children aboard, Commander Cain."
The colonel didn't mention it, but Cain guessed most of their weaponry was gone as well.
"You're welcome here, Colonel. We have room. Can you transfer your people, or shall I send shuttles?"
"We have shuttles enough for our survivors. We will begin transfer at once."
Cain nodded sympathetically. "We'll be ready to receive you."
"Thank you, Commander. Kenji out."
The Pegasus was quite near the Dragonsbreath by this time. The Delphian ship was in bad shape. If anything, Kenji had understated its condition.
"It's hard to believe anything's alive on that wreck," Kleopatra commented. "Just look at the read-outs. Her launch bays are intact, but her landing bays are nearly gone. One of her engines is still leaking fuel, and looks like it's on fire inside. She's probably got air leaks, too."
"Memnon," Cain said, "Get our med teams to the landing bay. They probably have wounded."
"Delphian shuttles approaching, sir," Tolan announced shortly.
Cain headed for Alpha landing bay.
Shuttles carried the women and children, while the Delphian warriors flew their golden-winged fighters. There were large numbers of injured among them, but Dr. Helena's teams were quick to help, and they heard no complaints of pain. The Delphians seemed quiet, a stoic people.
Kenji made sure his people were being cared for before he sought out Cain.
The two men studied each other momentarily. Then Cain stretched out his hand. "Welcome aboard, Colonel."
"Thank you, Commander. We couldn't have lasted much longer without help." The words seemed difficult to say, as though the other man was torn between gratitude and sadness.
"We're glad to help." The two men shook hands. "Come, we'll have more privacy in my quarters. We can discuss the situation."
"Commander Cain," Kenji asked, as if he couldn't remain silent any longer, "what happened to your Colonies? How did the Cylons take them?"
Cain looked away for a moment. "They sued for peace. Our fleet flew into a trap, expected to be greeted as peace envoys. Meanwhile, they attacked our worlds. There wasn't much left when they finished with us."
"Yet you are here."
"We weren't at the rendezvous. The Pegasus was with the Fifth Fleet, sent out when we heard that Molecay had been attacked. The Cylons trapped us there, too, but we got out of it. The only place for us to run was deep space. We tried Gamoray, but the Cylons were there before us. How did they take the Empire?"
Now, the pain was in Kenji's eyes.
"We also heard when Molecay fell. The Cylons attacked shortly after. We fought the Cylons every step of the way, from Molecay to the steps of the Imperial Palace on Gamoray. When Gamoray fell, and our rallying point was gone, we gathered what survivors we could. Other ships did the same, in whatever pockets of resistance were left. Then we struck at the Cylons, breaking through their lines. Our ships fled in all directions, hoping some would make it to rebuild elsewhere. Several of us ran to the Colonies, hoping to find aid. But all we found were ambush and death. We separated and ran once more. The Dragonsbreath has been alone since then, over a yahren."
"And just now?"
"The Cylons found us again. You see the results. We fought them off, but now we can't even run any more."
"But there are other ships out there? Still free and fighting?"
"Yes. If they live."
"All Delphian ships are warships."
There was silence for several centons. Then, "You have supplies, personal effects you would like to bring with you?"
Kenji looked directly at Cain. "We brought many things with us, thinking we would need them on a new world."
"Then maybe you'd better supervise the transfer of those things to the Pegasus. We may be able to use some of them, and there's still a new world ahead, somewhere."
"Where will my people go?"
"With the Pegasus, for now. I'm sure we can arrange something."
"What do you know of our customs, Commander?" Kenji persisted cautiously. What was the price to save his people's lives?
"Not a lot – yet. That will change, I'm sure. We'll have to learn about each other, if we're all going to be stuck together on one ship."
"And that ship is yours."
"That's right, Colonel."
"There will be problems."
"I'm sure the Cylons will be sufficient cause to force us together at first. Later, we'll have learned enough to endure our differences."
"I hope so."
"I'm sure of it. What choice do you have?"
That was a bitter reality. Kenji nodded acknowledgment.
The transfer of items deemed necessary or useful began at once. In one day, those items in the livable areas of the Dragonsbreath were aboard the Pegasus. It took several days to send space-suited teams into the airless compartments. When everything had been transferred, the bodies of the dead were returned to the Delphian warcruiser, and the Dragonsbreath went to her glory in a single burst of Colonial fire.
From pain or practicality, the Delphians didn't look back.
The Pegasus sailed on.
Enter Sheba's Galaxy