HERMITAGE TWO

By Gene Hermsen


The search team had located the site on their last flyby of the planet. Five warriors, under the command of Captain Tilden, had landed to examine the site and wait. The commander himself was following them down. The team waited for their leader before moving away from their landing spot.

The five stared about the boulder-strewn plain. It was dry and cool, even at full daylight, with a chilly breeze blowing the dust around. There was some spindly vegetation in sheltered spots among the rocks, adding a tired green, but the planet was mostly brown and gray; even the sky was dull blue, as if it had decided such a dismal place wasn't worth the effort of sparkling. Tilden considered that their military uniforms looked too appropriate against the blandness.

They continued their search, and found the small shelter, composed of metal plates scavenged from ships damaged beyond repair, with furnishings made of the same scavengings. Behind the shelter, in the lee of a pile of rocks, the humans found a collection of ship parts, more metal plates, and the blasted remains of four or five Cylons.

The five warriors stared mutely. A human had lived in this shelter, surviving by cannibalizing Cylon remains and likely his own ship, surrounded by cold isolation. The sparse and scattered vegetation, now wild but still clinging sturdily to life, could just barely be classified as food; there was little indication of animal life, companionship, or anything to make life easier; the human's existence must have been very bitter and difficult.

Starleaf shivered and hugged herself. "Hell of a place to live," she muttered, pretending it was just the wind that chilled her, and not the thought of existing alone on such a barren world.

"You'd be like a hermit, alone in the desert trying to find your kismet. A very cold crucible," Indra added softly. "But not by your own choice. I wonder if the one who lived here escaped with his sanity...."

They heard footsteps behind them, and whirled as one, lasers drawn.

It was Commander Troy and the armed escort an officer of his rank was required to have when in a potentially dangerous situation. "Tilden?"

The captain stepped forward and made his report. "The shelter and the pile of junk are composed of parts of an old-style Viper and a Raider, also pieces of a number of blasted Cylons, sir. No sign of any occupant at present or even recently."

"No sign." Troy slowly stepped past him, eyes focused on the forlorn plates of the shelter. "Have you scanned the entire area?"

Tilden gestured his warriors to continue their search. They scattered around the shelter and among the rocks.

Commander Troy slowly entered the metal shelter, ignoring the wind and cold and dust. His escort remained outside, but the dark-complexioned captain followed him in. They were out of the wind, but it seemed to howl a frustrated protest against the walls, crying out like some specter, fitfully hurling grit to claw at the metal. Out of the wan sunshine, the world felt even colder.

"Commander?"

"Yes, Captain?"

"You knew something was here. Who was it? How did you know?"

The older man sat down heavily, and seemed disinclined to answer.

"Sir...."

"Captain!" a breathless, high-pitched voice called from outside. "We found something...." Starleaf ducked into the shelter. "Sir, we found something, a Cylon, and...."

"Show me," Troy commanded.

The young woman nodded and led the way. Troy and Tilden followed her around a near rock abutment, the security guards trailing them. The plain extended before them, with more scattered debris, but the warriors ignored it, continuing along the rough cliff to a small sheltered spot.

The others waited with disquieting near-reverence around a pile of rocks, apparently tumbled over some small depression.

The commander ignored them, staring past his warriors to the Cylon. It was an old model Centurion, pitted and dull from exposure to the sun and wind. It looked dead, powered down, its heavy head bent forward as if bowed in grief. The pile of rocks started at its feet, and continued for just over two meters. At the other end of the rocks, lying at an odd angle over a larger stone to hold it in place, was a helmet, an old Colonial helmet.

"A grave." Troy's voice echoed as if in a sepulcher. He slowly knelt and touched the helmet. In old-style Colonial script was emblazoned a single word.

Starbuck.

"Starbuck," sounded out the man beside him. "I know that name. He was a great warrior, lost in the exodus. So this is what happened to him.... But how did you know, sir? How did you know?"

Troy spoke numbly. "I didn't know. Commander Boomer remembered, he told me before he died.... I had hoped ... Starbuck...."

"But what about the Cylon? Why is it here?" Lieutenant Indra asked, her dark Indian eyes staring through the machine. "It's almost as if ... it were a mourner at the graveside ... as if it had buried him and waited here to die itself ... but why would a Cylon mourn a human's death?"

The wind blew cold around them.

"Go back to the Galactica," the commander ordered quietly.

"What about the grave, and the Cylon?" Tilden asked. "Sir, should we do something...?"

"Leave it."

The warriors departed solemnly, leaving their commander alone with a silent grave and an equally silent Cylon.

"Uncle Starbuck," he whispered, listening to the mournful wind as if expecting an answer. "Eighty years. It has been so long, I knew there was no chance, but I had to look for you, Boomer was so sure.... Lords of Kobol, how long did you have to endure...? I'm sorry, sorry we couldn't come sooner, sorry we couldn't stop for you then....

"But we're winning now, Starbuck. We made it to Earth, found a way to talk to its people, to tell them what was going on. And they listened. They believed. They joined us, found a way to face the Cylons and drive them back. Do you know, they even talk of retaking Kobol? And bringing Terra into their new alliance? And winning back the Colonies?

"It wasn't for nothing, Starbuck. At least you didn't have to die here for nothing. If only we could have...."

His voice died. Troy gathered a shuddering breath and replaced the helmet carefully. Whatever Starbuck had gone through on this world, whatever the Cylon presence meant, however his old friend had died, this was his grave, and Troy would leave it intact. His memorial was in the ship and people in orbit around the planet. The survival of the Colonials and humanity's rebirth on Earth were his true legacy. This didn't really matter, in that greater scheme.

But Troy knew he would grieve his friend's death again as if it had happened only that day, Starbuck's and his father's and his grandfather's and so many others, all the lives and deaths that marked the trail back to Kobol and the Colonies.

But of them all, why had it been Starbuck left to live and die alone?


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