Baltar twisted in his sleep, growling unintelligible curses at some unknown enemy. A drop of sweat slowly formed on his forehead and molded itself along the curve of his head, dampening several strands of thinning hair before spreading into oblivion on the pillow. He rolled again, flailing against the nightmare, then gasped and half-woke to stare at the ceiling above him.
The bed dais in the sleep chamber was brightly lit with a pair of spotlights; Baltar had a well-developed fear of the dark. Light would keep the shadow-stalking demons away from him. On the base ship, when he still had some favor from the Imperious Leader and had the mission of capturing or destroying the Galactica, he had kept extra illumination gleaming on his command pedestal. The exile on Adama's planet had reinforced and magnified his fear of darkness. During his waking centars on this asteroid base, he lived in a pool of light in his command bunker; occasionally he would stare at the stars in the night sky, but never for long, and the view almost always raised a shudder in him, these days. Even at night when he was asleep and couldn't rationally know the difference, he refused to be left in the dark.
After a few moments, the human sighed deeply and lay still, subconsciously reassured. His eyes closed again and Baltar faded into another sleep cycle.
In the brightness, a gleaming Cylon climbed the steps to the bed in absolute, well-oiled silence. The machine observed its supposed master for several more centons, then extended its arm; the hand opened with the tiniest of clicks, and a read-out screen and silvery injector jutted into view. With its free hand, the Cylon pulled on the clear tube. Piping unrolled as the machine lay the clear tube on Baltar's forehead, his only currently exposed skin. After a moment, information began flashing across the accompanying screen. Satisfied, the Cylon set the injector on the human's skin; as if alive, it slowly and painlessly penetrated, instantly numbing whatever nerves it touched. Baltar frowned and muttered, but didn't wake as alien machinery probed his body from within.
Its data and samples collected, the Cylon withdrew the injector and lifted the medical examination reader. With the miniature equipment rehidden in its wrist, the Centurion turned and left as quietly and secretly as it had arrived.
Baltar slept on.
It's out of my hands now. I'm here for the good of our people, our few survivors, to make Adama's job easier – and yes, to make mine more bearable, more exciting. But if I lose my crew, the battle ends. And the glory is gone, my way of fighting is gone.
Cain pondered as he strolled the bridge. True, he hated the idea of going back to the fleet and living the way the Colonists now did. But maybe it would just be for a little while, like the last two times. Stay with the fleet long enough to reassure their people, to ease Adama's burden, to let his people rest and recover from their strain, maybe exchange supplies and crew, and enjoy the few amenities of the fleet and the adulation of the people who knew his value – unlike the Council, which had seemed determined to leash him. But he would never be their pet hero. Let them find someone else to be the military pawn in their political games.
Stay a while with the fleet. Then be off again.
Maybe even find the aliens, later, when his people were rested and ready. Start searching anew for the missing Delphian ships, of whom they had so far found no trace. Surely Adama knew the value of their current mission now that Cain had demonstrated how well it could work; it was just a matter of timing their departures and planning returns....
"Commander!" Tolan stared down at Cain in confusion. "Report from the launch bay! Viper Tech Edric just saw Captain Orestes and Captain Apollo get into one of our Delphian-adapted Raiders! And Colonel Kleopatra was with them!"
"What?" Cain strode across the bridge and up the steps. His swagger stick slammed to the console as he leaned over to peer past his flight officer's shoulder. He had talked to Kleopatra only centons before....
Col. Kenji was still on duty, but stepped aside at once as Cain took personal command.
"Commander!" came from Corp. Memnon, at communications. "One of our Delphian Raiders just launched without clearance! The same one Edric reported the warriors in–"
"Get me that ship!" barked Cain.
"They are not responding!" Memnon yelled back.
Cain took the comm control. "Orestes, Apollo, just what do you think you're doing? Return to this ship at once."
There was no response of any kind.
"Gentlemen," he said ominously, "you are disobeying a direct order. That puts you in mutiny."
"Commander," Tolan informed him, "the Raider is making best speed away from us, direction Sigma sector, course five-six-three."
"Call an alert, get our warriors into space," the commander ordered, leaving the line open so the mutinous warriors would know exactly what they were getting into. "Any patrol in the area, follow that ship, be prepared to defend yourselves. Corporal, keep the comm open in case they come to their senses."
Dr. Helena's words freshened in his memory.
"Psychological distress resulting from the long separation from their families and friends and lack of contact with what's left of our society. Unpredictable reactions from those affected...."
Orestes and Apollo? He couldn't believe it of either of them.
"Where's Electra?" he demanded abruptly. If anyone could talk to the missing men, it would be her.
"She and Akimi are on patrol, not expected back for centars – and in the opposite direction as the Raider is fleeing."
"Who's in Sigma sector?"
"Starbuck and Astarte – Orestes changed the patrol roster, they just went out–"
"Damn!" He knew enough about his people to realize those two would never fire on a ship containing Orestes and Apollo. And there was Kleopatra to consider. "Inform them the Raider is coming their way."
The alarm klaxons wailed their warning. But in one billet, it might as well have been a winter morning, buried in snow, for the quiet. The three Raggane pilots of Bronze Wing stared at nothing, slack-jawed, and ignored all outside stimuli. The feeling had come back too fast, before they could even try to escape the pain and fight off the sudden commands in their brains. After that first overpowering touch, they simply waited. Capt. Heimdal, tall and red-haired, his temple braids hanging nearly to his waist, his eyes as sharp but emotionless as a stabbing blade. His wife, Lt. Sif, her blonde hair uncharacteristically loose and still damp from the turbo-shower she'd been taking. Sgt. Scyld, his brassy red head slightly tilted as if to hear better, habitually rubbing the end of one of his braids.
Heimdal took Sif's hand. "We must go now," he said flatly. "Scyld," he continued without looking at the other man, "go ahead. We will stay a moment longer, then depart. You must gather a mate and follow."
Scyld nodded unseeingly and left his superiors' quarters.
Heimdal and Sif went straight to the launch bay. In the general alert, no one paid any real attention. When they launched without clearance, however, Cain's cold fury nearly sent several of his bridge officers diving for cover under their duty stations. Even Kenji raised an eyebrow and decided silence was the better part of discretion for the moment.
Sgt. Falstaff heard the alarm, and rose from the ready room bunk. But a voice in his head overrode the instinct. He settled back on the mattress, ignoring the rush from the chamber. In a moment, he was alone, listening to the whisper of other orders that took priority over everything his brain tried to argue. There would be a proper centon to act, but now he had to wait.
"Falstaff! What's with you? C'mon, that's a general alert!"
"Right behind you." The words came out of a mouth under someone else's control.
Trent was gone, the last of the Silver Spar pilots to answer the alert.
The sergeant waited for the right moment.
Neither of them paid any attention to her once they'd launched. A single murmured comment, which sounded like a navigation course, and they were on their way in silence. Kleopatra watched both men warily. They hadn't shackled her, and now seemed to ignore her completely. So she waited for an opportunity; she knew how to fly the adapted Raiders, after all – she made a point of being up to date on ship models, even if she didn't often have the chance to fly them.
Orestes and Apollo hadn't hurt anybody in their progress to the bay and launching, although she'd been worried that Edric would try to interfere when the tech saw them pass. She'd gestured him off warningly; he'd understood and backed off, obviously to contact Cain and security.
They heard Cain's attempts to speak to them. The captains acted as though they didn't hear.
They soon left the Pegasus behind, apparently without pursuit. She knew that couldn't be true; there had to be people behind them, and likely a waiting committee ahead from current patrols. She wished she could predict how the captains would react to that. They didn't act like they would even consider surrender; she was afraid they would fire on their own friends, and then Cain would have no choice but to order an attack on them....
A silver streak appeared in the stars just ahead of them, then another. Before she knew it, a half-dozen silver ships had taken position around them. It was the aliens, back again, and she suddenly realized they must have some other purpose for the humans. Light flared from the alien vessels, and Kleopatra lost consciousness with a gasp of pain.
"Commander-Baltar. We-are-detecting-Colonial-vessels-in-Sigma-quadrant. Shall-we-launch-an-intercept?" The Centurion waited dispassionately for the official order.
"Yes...." Just awake enough, Baltar threw himself out of bed and grabbed clothing; he was ready in a centon. "Double the standard intercept team. Tell them to bring those pilots back alive, or don't come back at all!"
Another sighting! Maybe this time the witless Cylons would bring back the prisoners he so desperately wanted and needed. His enthusiasm ignited in spite of his pessimism, Baltar waited impatiently. This could be his ducat back to power and wealth in the Cylon Alliance.
Starbuck stared frantically at the darkness around his Viper, hoping against hope that something would appear. There had been nothing on his scanners, forward or rear, and he was seriously beginning to doubt that Apollo and Orestes had come this way. And yet, the Pegasus continued to insist the runaway warriors and their prisoner had been on course through this quadrant before they vanished from the battlestar's scanners.
"There's nothing here!" he heard the frustrated cry of his wingman. He knew Sgt. Astarte had a personal stake in this too; Orestes had made it quite clear that they had a relationship of some depth, even if he wasn't ready to commit yet.
What had happened? He and Astarte had left on patrol right after he spoke to Orestes; his half-brother had seemed fine, if a bit preoccupied, and had immediately gone off to talk to Apollo. Now both of them had gone off the deep end. What had provoked it? Why had they kidnaped the colonel too? And there was the guilty fascination with the idea that it might have been him. His problems with Apollo, followed by involving Orestes. Had that somehow set it off? And Lords of Kobol, if they couldn't be located and stopped or made to see reason....
He jerked in his seat. He hadn't noticed the approach of two more Vipers. The new pair slipped into position in front of him.
"Captain Heimdal! What...."
"I am assuming command of this team. Continue to follow us."
The voice was oddly inflected, but Starbuck reminded himself the man was Sagittaran, and Raggane to boot. And he hadn't really had time to get to know how all of the pilots would react in every situation.
"Uh, yes, sir. But I believe Memnon reported you had launched without clearance...."
"That's been taken care of. Let's go. We have to locate our people."
"Yes, sir!" Somehow, Starbuck felt better.
The mood faded a centon later when a score of Cylon Raiders took shape against the starfield, surrounding them.
"Cylons!" Astarte's warning cry, a micron too late.
"We'll sweep left...." he began to offer, his ship already arcing away.
"Negative." Heimdal's voice was flat. "We will surrender."
"What!" Starbuck yelped in shock.
Astarte gasped in dismay, but there was no comment from the captain's wingmate.
"That is an order, Lieutenant," came a stern response. "We will be in no danger if we surrender now."
He's insane, they're insane, that's why....
But that moment's exchange had been a moment too long. The Colonials were surrounded; there was no place for them to go, even if they had wanted to fight. Starbuck fought his heart back down his throat, trying to decide which way to go to take as many of the enemy with him as possible. He would die a warrior, even if these lunatics–
"Surrender-humans," came over the headset on unicom. The Cylon sounded as strange as Heimdal; maybe the entire universe had gone surreal.
"We surrender." He felt contempt at Heimdal's words.
Baltar? Baltar! He's here? For a shot at him....
For a shot at Baltar, he had to live long enough to get at the man. Starbuck bit down his pride and the wild instinct to fight. If he was going to die anyway, maybe there was a way to take that most hated traitor with him. At the least, he would take a few laser shots at the Cylon base before they blew him out of the stars; it would help the fleet, if they were still in this quadrant. Feigning defeat, he fell into position and obeyed the Cylon command.
"We've lost contact with the patrol," Tolan reported somberly. "The last cockpit communication shows Heimdal and Sif had hooked up with Starbuck and Astarte, and they were surrounded by Cylons."
The bridge hushed.
"Destroyed?" Cain demanded harshly.
The flight officer almost didn't dare answer. He looked down for a moment before saying, "Captain Heimdal ordered the others to surrender, sir. It sounded like ... they obeyed."
Grief boiled into disbelief on numerous faces.
"Surrendered!" The commander was as stunned and outraged as the rest. Colonial warriors didn't surrender. Pegasus warriors didn't surrender. Cain's people didn't surrender. They fought hopeless odds and they sometimes died, but they didn't surrender.
Tolan realized his hands were cold and trembling. "There was some mention of ... Baltar, Commander, of them having to speak ... to Baltar."
"Baltar?" Cain was nonplused.
Baltar.... Alive? Free? Here?
Maybe there's a reason.... That's got to be it, that's the only reason. They have to be after him, that's the only explanation....
But they can't have him, he's mine....
Cain stared at the fore viewport, uncharacteristically speechless. After a moment he roused from the unnerving silence. "Stand by; continue to monitor all channels. All pilots to remain at ready status. We may have company soon."
He dropped into silence again, hooded gaze fixed on the screen, mind a million metrons away. The crew tiptoed and whispered their way through the rest of the duty shift; when Cain was silent, who knew what might happen next?
The alert had been short, but all pilots were to remain on the alert in their ready rooms. That was an inconvenience. Most personnel were at station; there were no rushing crowds of pilots and technicians to hide among or choose from. Scyld felt disoriented as he roamed the empty corridors, looking for someone who fit the image in his mind.
"Sergeant, aren't you supposed to be on alert?"
Time, time was against him. Scyld turned to study the woman. Could she be the one? Memory supplied her name – Castalia. A lieutenant in communications. Young enough, sturdy, well-formed, attractive, intelligent. Her tribe was Scorpian, with no Sagittan or Caprican mixture, thus different enough in bloodline from the others. She fit the list of required qualities, yet another mental voice, his own, protested. Too distant, cold in personality.
He shook his head.
"Not suitable. I wish another."
Scyld strode away, leaving Castalia perplexed and somewhat affronted.
A familiar form leaned over the computer mainframe. Sgt. Falstaff stared yearningly at the figure thus displayed, and sighed. He had always thought Sapphire to be the most beautiful woman on the Pegasus. Even in this odd light with warning klaxons sounding at regular intervals. Not too tall, long black waves of hair, longer legs, eyes as blue as the gems of her name. She had never noticed him. Not that he'd ever had the courage to speak to the computer technician.
But now he had his orders. And she was the most perfect woman available to fill the role.
"Sapphire." He wished he didn't have to use his laser to win her company.
She glanced at him. "What is it, Sergeant?" Her eyes widened as she noted the weapon.
"Please come with me." Her voice was as soft as her name and face. She was perfect.
Fire struck his side, and consciousness fled the warrior.
The computer technician dashed to the side of the fallen warrior and stooped to check for a pulse. In the open hatchway behind Falstaff, Maj. Daniel and Sgt. Foster of security stood braced as though to defend against an invasion, weapons at the ready.
"Sir? What's going on?" the woman asked, staring up at the superior officer.
"That's not Scyld!" Foster exclaimed.
"I can see that!" Daniel snapped. "Foster, stay here. Call life center for him – and tell Barin I'm going after the crazy Raggane."
Then the major was gone and the sergeant was left standing guard over the comp tech and the unconscious warrior. Sapphire glanced at the security officer with questions in her eyes.
"We got word that a couple of pilots had disappeared from their ready room," he explained, glancing out the hatch every few microns. "One of the bridge crew said Scyld was acting strange and we better find him before anything else happened. The whole ship's going crazy! And you better get life center and security holding central, let them know what happened here."
"He said I was to go with him."
"We heard. Fits with what Scyld was doing."
The wall telecom suddenly beeped a code. Foster answered.
Daniel's voice came through clearly. "Sergeant Scyld is in custody, and is being taken to life center. Meet Lieutenant Barin there as soon as you've delivered Sergeant Falstaff; he's setting up the security guard over the prisoners."
Foster couldn't help wincing, and he saw the same concern on the comp tech's face. Warriors were prisoners. They were acting wildly, needing to be confined to life center and guarded. What was happening on their ship?
Dr. Salik did his work as efficiently as always. Cmdr. Adama hovered near Sheba's life pod as if she were his flesh-and-blood daughter. Cassiopeia stayed near, sometimes taking the unconscious woman's hand as if the touch would help. Nestor and Blackjack stood solemnly in the background. In the private cubicle of the Galactica's life center, only a muted hum of activity penetrated from outside. On the other side of the hatch, two black-shirted security officers kept discrete guard on the warrior who had pulled a weapon and threatened another pilot.
"What happened, Nestor?" Adama finally asked, turning to his flight commander.
Nestor drew a deep breath and squared his shoulders. "I don't know, sir. I got a call from Komma, saying she'd passed by the computer core at a fast walk, but her hands were ... jerking, he said, and she kept looking from side to side as if she were looking for something, but didn't know what. She didn't answer when he called. I tracked her down as she was apparently about to kidnap Lieutenant Blackjack."
Adama's gaze strayed to the other pilot, who shrugged and managed not to look too embarrassed, and kept any comments to himself.
"We overpowered her and brought her here."
The commander nodded and turned back to the life pod, sending a questioning look at his CMO.
Salik didn't have much to tell him as he left the cubicle to order more tests and observation. "She doesn't seem injured in any way, Adama. Just ... unconscious, apparently in deep sleep."
"Where was she before her strange behavior?" the commander asked the air, not expecting any answer, after the heavy-set doctor left.
"She may have been in the celestial observation chamber," Cassiopeia said softly.
"I spoke to her a few moments after the flight replacement briefing. She said she was going to the chamber to think a little. She goes there a lot these days." The med tech didn't add the rest, that Sheba was fixated on Apollo, and convinced that she could somehow communicate with his spirit or find inspiration and peace in the place that had been his favorite getaway.
Adama frowned. It had been hard enough rousing from the alternating empty fury and equally empty apathy to respond to the current situation. He was also now required to think of a solution, to find the words that would take the lurking fear and uncertainly from these people's minds.
The celestial observation chamber. That's where all this started. Sheba first insisted that she sensed spirits there, before she and Cassie went to the Rising Star ghost-hunting.
It's likely nothing. But it'll give them something to think about, something to do. And maybe there is something to it, maybe she found something there, chemical taint, old support vapors, pressurization leak, an answer....
Adama didn't want to think past that. He went to the door. "Reese!" he called. "Send a security team to the upper celestial observation chamber, with a repair and electronics specialty team. Take the dome apart if you have to. If there's anything there, find it. Report back to me."
"Right away, sir." The officer strode away on his assignment.
Nestor had reports to prepare, and Blackjack was due for a patrol. In a few centons, they also left. Adama and Cassiopeia waited with the shallowly-breathing woman.
Shortly thereafter, another person entered the ward.
"President Tinia," Adama acknowledged wearily.
"Commander Adama." She inclined her head slightly, studying the lines of pain on his face. "May I have a moment to speak with you?"
He glanced at Sheba and the med tech, then nodded and stepped out with Tinia. "What new problem troubles the Council" he asked as soon as they were out of hearing.
She shook her head. "No problem this time, Adama. I merely wished ... to offer my support and presence at this difficult time."
He could almost mock the words. "Is that by Council mandate, that I have one of you always at my side to oversee my actions, in these 'difficult times'?"
The regal president of the Council hid the hurt his words caused. "No, that is my personal offer. But ... I think you need someone. You can confide in me without worry, and certainly there is good reason for our military and civilian leaders to work together when things are so ... disorienting to us all."
A tear smarted in his eye. He hadn't let himself realize what Tigh's loss could mean, nor had he truly grieved for Apollo and Starbuck's deaths.
"I thank you, Madam President ... Tinia. Your support ... and advice ... would be most welcome." They clasped wrists; the woman tried not to flinch at the strength of the man's grip.
Enter Sheba's Galaxy