ESCAPE OF THE PEGASUS

"All squadrons, return to your home battlestar."

Major Electra banked her Viper in an easy curve to swing near the Pegasus, waiting her turn as other ships dropped into swift landings in the battlestar's bays. She watched the departing turbos of the Galactica's squadrons with some unease. She wouldn't admit it to anyone, but the three Cylon basestars ahead had her worried. Thank the Lords it was Cain in command! His plans always worked, and he'd pulled them out of worse situations, from the Colonies to Molecay and Gamoray.

Her turn. She dropped landing skids and hit her breaking turbos as the deck floated to meet her. Electra's ship stopped, and was rapidly shuttled aside to a maintenance cradle.

"What's the story?" she called to Cicero, head of the Viper maintenance team.

"Refuel and rearm, fast as you can. Don't leave your ship. Might be launching again soon. We'll have you at your launch tube in two centons."

That was Cicero, as few words as possible. Electra sighed and ran a quick check of her instruments as several techs swarmed over her ship.

Another centon and they were finished. Her ship dropped neatly into its slot. Now, all she could do was wait. On either side of her, there were other pilots doing the same thing.

The launch bay seemed to shudder a bit.

"Wonder what's going on out there," somebody muttered.

"Don't know, Sergeant," was the answer, in a familiar voice.

She nodded to herself. Orestes was her brother. Maj. Electra and Capt. Orestes had been the most successful strike team on the battlestar Britannica, until the battle of Molecay. Then they'd taken refuge with the survivors aboard the Pegasus. Now, as the surviving ranking pilots, she was the flight commander, and Orestes was a wing leader in Silver Spar, under Sheba. They were still among the best pilots in the fleet.

Sheba. Her wounded friend was on her way to the Galactica in one of those shuttles. Electra hoped her injures weren't serious.

There was a rumble that announced missiles were launching. Electra looked cool, but one finger tapped nervously against her control stick as she ran one last check on her instruments.

More missiles.

What was going on out there? She waited, tempted to chew on her nails.

* * * * *

"Yes!" Cain exulted, slapping his swagger stick on the console. In space on either side of them, explosions rocked two Cylon basestars, and debris and eerie fire lit space everywhere they looked. "Two down, only Baltar to go!"

"Sir," Tolan said worriedly, "we've taken some damage."

"How bad?"

"Doesn't appear to be serious, but it'll take a little time to repair. And I doubt Baltar will give us that time."

"Perfect!"

The flight officer blinked.

"Move away slowly, Tolan. Look worse off than we are. The more damaged Baltar thinks we are, the faster he'll come for us. His Raiders are still en route from Gamoray. Without them, our Vipers will take him out like nothing, as soon as we're out of range. Alert the squadrons."

Tolan released his pent breath. Commander Cain was one wily adaka! How could Baltar resist such a tempting piece of bait?

* * * * *

There was ugly anticipation in Baltar's smile as he ordered his basestar closer to the apparently helpless, almost drifting Pegasus. Her sluggish motions would never carry her to safety.

"Ah, Cain," he cooed. "In the end, you're the fool. Sending your fighters to protect the fleet, while you take me on three to one. We'll yet retrieve victory today. With you destroyed, we'll return to Gamoray and save the Imperious Leader. I may even end your precious Galactica, and that twice-damned Adama. Without your protection, I can pick off the fleet as I choose. I may even spare some of them, if I have such a whim. What do you think of that?" He gloated, not yet realizing the Pegasus was maintaining a respectable distance.

"By your leave, Baltar, but we will have to increase speed to catch the Pegasus. She appears to be speeding up."

Baltar glared at Lucifer for intruding on his moment of triumph. "Then increase speed! I want Cain's head! They can't make enough repairs to escape, with us attacking – and if they could fight, Cain wouldn't be running!"

"Very well. By your command."

Baltar continued to watch the private scanner in his command chamber. He was irritated at Lucifer, and eagerly anticipating a glorious victory. After a few moments, he felt annoyance at the rest of his Cylon crew as well. They weren't closing on the battlestar; it was maintaining its distance, though not leaving them behind.

"By your leave, Commander Baltar."

He whirled on Lucifer. "What now?"

"We have increased speed to follow the Pegasus. Reports from our returning Raiders indicate the passage of several squadrons of Vipers, and a number of shuttles. However, at our present rate of speed, our Raiders will not be able to catch up to us."

A horrible suspicion began to grow in Baltar's twisted mind. Several squadrons of Vipers? Not many squadrons? Could Cain still have ships and pilots? If so, and their own defensive squadrons couldn't catch up....

No! Cain was doing it again! "Retreat!" Baltar roared.

"But the Pegasus–"

"Damn the Pegasus! Damn Cain! Damn the Galactica and Adama and the entire human fleet!"

"Baltar, sir?"

"Get us out of here before she turns on us! She still has fighters!"

"By your–"

"Get out of here, you twisted piece of scrap metal, and sound retreat!"

Lucifer bowed rapidly out of the command room.

Rage and fear played on Baltar's face, twisting it into an almost inhuman mask. He breathed heavily, pounding one fist on the command console, the other clenched tightly on the arm of his chair.

"Cain, you don't how I hate you...."

* * * * *

Commander Cain watched in silent fury as Baltar's base ship turned away from its pursuit.

"Sir?" Tolan asked, almost afraid to break his commander's concentration.

"He figured it out, Tolan, that goll-monging, tin-boot-licker. Increase speed, take us out of his scanner range so he can't track us when his fighters are back – he'll have surviving fighters from three base ships, and I don't think we're ready for that just now. Get all maintenance crews to work, and release Silver Spar and Copper Keel to the ready room for some rest. Squadron rotation in six centars, if there's no trouble."

"Yes, sir."

"Briefing tomorrow, if there's no change in ship's status. Inform all department heads."

"Yes, Commander." When Cain gave no further orders, and appeared to dismiss him from his thoughts, Tolan scurried to his tasks.

Cain leaned against the command deck railing. He was almost surprised to have time to think of his next course of action.

Baltar figured it out. And he's running. But he's still alive, still with the Cylons, still around to hurt us. How can I go back to the fleet and leave him to work his mischief? But I don't have the capability, just now, to take him on....

But I can't leave them alone, almost besieged as they are, when Baltar could attack at any time, and send his fighters against unarmed civilians because there aren't enough warriors and ships to protect them all, every micron of every day. I won't be remembered as the man who ran out on our people when they needed me most.

Being apart from the fleet gave the Cylons two targets, kept them off guard. Staying with the fleet would give the Cylons one target....

A woman entered the bridge and joined him.

"Welcome back, Kleopatra. Where've you been?"

The colonel spoke quietly. "I was in the bay. I've got some first aid training, and half our medical staff is on the way to the Galactica. I thought I could do more good with Helena's people than standing around here in the background. We've got more injured, between those fool-hardy warriors of ours, and the technicians who put out the fires and patched the holes in this old iron lady."

"Do you think we made a mistake in taking on Baltar's force?"

She released a peal of laughter, and sounded relieved for it. "No. It was probably the only thing we could do. And only you could have played touch-and-run well enough to get the fleet and the Galactica and us safely out of his reach. Our people did their jobs magnificently, as they always do, for you."

He saw a shadow in her eyes when she mentioned the Galactica, but saw her dismiss it firmly, and was satisfied.

"Take command, Colonel. I'm going to take a little inspection tour of my old iron lady, see how badly off we really are, and do some thinking."

She raised her eyebrows, but made no comment as he stalked off the bridge.

* * * * *

It was a day and a half before the briefing could be convened. Cain studied the faces of the officers present.

Col. Kleopatra, his second-in-command since just before the Fifth Fleet was sent to Molecay – a slender black woman, the best executive officer a commander could ask for. Besides her wide experience from various Colonial military bases, she brought a variety of skills and knowledge from a background that varied from ethnological studies to first aid. She knew when to speak and when to be silent, when he needed to talk. He suspected she sometimes studied him as she would study the culture and ways of an alien race.

Maj. Cicero, the master mechanic – a man of few words, he could double as an engineer at a micron's notice, but his primary purpose in life was to keep Vipers flying. Sometimes it was better not to ask how he did it; he wouldn't always tell if he was asked, just stared until one felt uneasy for prying.

Maj. Sherlock, engineering chief. His most valuable quality was a mind that could absorb anything, and put it to use. He knew everything there was to know about the Pegasus, probably more than the men and women who'd designed her first proto-type, centuries before. His piercing black eyes glittered like coals when he was alert, which seemed to be constantly; those eyes could burn to the heart of a problem or through a man's lies in a micron.

Capt. Veleda, in charge of repair and damage containment. An aristocratic brunette who took damage to "her" ship as a personal insult. She completed the triad of personnel he trusted implicitly to keep his lady prepared for anything he or the Cylons might throw at her.

Capt. Graham, supply chief – a short, pudgy, cheerful Libran, almost unflappable, so even-tempered that Cain knew bets had been made and lost on several individuals' ability to provoke him.

Maj. Electra, flight commander since Devon's death at Molecay – tall, tawny-golden, stormy-eyed and drawing eyes. She was one of the best on a ship full of the best. He knew, too, that she was deeper than the easy, flirtatious smile she frequently flashed. If not for memories of Cassiopeia, he might have expressed a more personal interest in her himself; as it was, enough of the male warriors found her irresistible.

Lt. Tolan, his aide, general assistant, and flight officer. Some day, he'd make a fine commander, with Cain training him. He'd known the youth to take four or five duty shifts straight; when he was needed, nothing kept him from his commander and his post. His loyalty was absolute and unquestioning.

"Well," Cain said crisply, rising to his feet.

Talk subsided, and every eye turned to him.

"How are repairs coming along?"

"Good as done."

"Well, that's concise, I'll admit, Cicero. Anybody care to elaborate?"

Sherlock delivered the report. "Engineering completely functional again. Structural damage on Alpha, Gamma, and Epsilon decks, all sections repaired. One fuel tank ruptured; we lost fuel, but fortunately, it didn't explode. The hole has been patched. Damage to Beta Bay was more serious than expected, but air loss has been controlled, and teams are still at work on final clean-up. Vipers can safely take off and land, but we've closed down the worst sections as a precaution, until repairs are completely finished, which should be no more than three or four days. We're spaceworthy again." With a nod at Veleda, the tall, thin man sat down again.

"Sir?"

"Graham?"

"Repairs used a great deal of our extra supplies, metal, sealing materials, and such. If possible, I'd recommend we pick up more before any long voyage."

Cain nodded, a slight frown furrowing his brow, as he considered.

The door opened, and a silver-blonde woman slipped into her place at the table.

"Dr. Helena. Welcome. Sounds like our ship's in good shape. How's the crew?"

"With the reduced medical staff you left me, we've done a good job. Six dead, two still in serious condition. The rest will be fine. How long until I get my people back?"

"Maybe quite some time."

Puzzled glances fixed on him. Helena's question was one Cain had hoped to answer in his own time. It had taken some thought, and he'd planned to explain the decision when he made the announcement. Now would have to suffice.

"We're not returning to the fleet. At least, not yet."

Blank astonishment showed on several faces. Other officers broke into a babble of questions and complaints.

He raised his swagger stick. All ears and eyes locked on the commander.

"We have another job to do."

"But the fleet needs us! They need you!" exclaimed Tolan.

"And we need them!" broke in Dr. Helena.

"Yes, the fleet needs us. But not the way you're thinking. Commander Adama made it clear the Cylons have been tagging him all along. His fleet can't maintain light-speed. He hasn't had the chance to really give those goll-monging tinheads the slip – and Baltar isn't likely to give him the chance now.

"So we're going to give him that chance. If I know Baltar, he's going to try to get us first. The Cylons in this quadrant are out for human blood. They want a target. We're going to be that target.

"We're faster than they are; we're better pilots; and we're going to be fighting in ways they'll never understand, for a purpose they can't comprehend. We're going to be the bait, the lure that'll keep the Cylons off Adama's trail long enough for our people to escape. We'll decoy the Cylons, tease them along, then disappear ourselves."

Cain looked around at his group. Several still looked stunned. Sherlock wore a slight smile; trust him to understand, and even to relish the thought. Electra looked confident; she trusted his plans and her own skills. Tolan, his aide, stood very tall, looking inspired.

"You heard everything I heard, in the fleet. Adama's been able to keep his fleet together and move out of our space because the Cylons had to divide their efforts, going after us. That's a slim advantage for what's left of our people, and I'm not going to take it away from the fleet. We'll give Adama all the time we can, any way we can. With our lives, if that's what's needed. But I don't think it'll be necessary. We're too good. We'll leave the Cylons in a tangled mess, then slip away. We'll always be between the fleet and the enemy. Anybody here who can't deal with that?"

There was silence as his finest officers digested the idea.

"Anybody here think your departments can't deal with it?

Nobody raised a hand or opened a mouth.

"Good. If there are any questions, feel free to bring them to me. For now, inform your people of our assignment. Dismissed. Oh, Electra, I want to see your new squadron assignments."

In a centon, the room was empty of milling officers except for Cmdr. Cain and Maj. Electra.

"I've consolidated the squadrons, to make the best use of our remaining pilots and ships. Three squadrons. I'd expected we'd be pulling a fourth squadron together from the injured pilots we left on the Galactica, and her cadet-trainees. But I think it'll work anyway. Captain Elaine retains Copper Keel. Captain Heimdal has Bronze Wing. Captain Orestes is in charge of Silver Spar, in Sheba's absence. Will those be satisfactory, sir?"

"Fine, fine." Cain paced the room

"Is there perhaps another reason we aren't returning to the fleet after giving the Cylons the slip, Commander?"

Cain frowned, then had to laugh. "You're observant, I'll grant you. Adama and I have been friends for yahrens. We just have different ideas on how best to run the military aspects of the fleet. This way, we both do what we do best. I'll guard the fleet as I see it, from the outside, a fast military strike force. Adama will be the inner guard, our wisdom, leading our people on to safety. It's better that way. He has a goal, and he's always seen things beyond other men I've known...."

Cain sat down, trying not to remember the two women left behind with Adama's fleet, women who would be far safer where they were than with him.

Electra nodded. "I understand. What will our first action be?"

"You heard Sherlock. We're low on fuel, thanks to some sharp-shooting Cylon, and our supply section is running low on inventory. We'll have to hit Gamoray again, to stock up for a lot of dodging and a long trip.

Electra chuckled. "You keep this up, and we're going to teach the Cylons the meaning of paranoid, if they haven't already learned it.

"That we are, my girl, that we are. Strange, there was a warrior in Captain Apollo's squadron, reminded me a bit of you and your brother. Same attitude about life, or something.... Hmm, let's see those assignments."

She smiled and handed him a computer roster sheet.

* * * * *

The attack on Gamoray went completely as planned. Still reeling from the Colonial attack a mere secton earlier, the Cylons were again taken completely unaware, still in the midst of their own repairs. Cain did what he did best – struck without warning, took what he wanted, then vanished among the stars.

Surveying the damage later, a very weary Imperious Leader wasn't sure whether to call for an all-out hunt for the maddeningly elusive Cain, or simply to bid him good riddance and hope he was gone for good.

Aboard the Pegasus, elated warriors toasted yet another victory.


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