Chapter XII


The Galactica bridge functioned as capably as ever. Despite that, Commander Adama felt keenly that something was amiss. He knew what it was, of course. It was Tigh, gone. And it was the shock of knowing that the aliens had once again penetrated their sanctuary, in the form of the device in the celestial observation dome. The device that Apollo had obviously brought back or perhaps even crafted, based on Lords-only-knew what alien technology. The device that had affected Sheba so strangely, that seemed capable of overriding human will at a short distance. The device that had self-destructed before it could be studied.

Wilker had plenty of theories, but no evidence, and no object to study. Would they ever know what it was? Or why the aliens were still interested in them? Or why Tigh and Boomer had been their victims? What would happen next?

Adama looked around again. Unlike only a day before, when the crew had seemed to avoid meeting his eyes, they now seemed to take comfort from frequent glances at him.. He hid the sigh and turned to Tinia, who'd stood the entire watch on the bridge with him.

"Not as interesting as your last visit to our bridge, I'm sure," he offered with an attempt at a smile.

"To the better," the elegant woman replied easily. "My last visit here ended with all of us as Baltar's hostages. If any such thing had happened today, I would have resigned my position on the Council and never set foot on the Galactica again!"

One small chuckle escaped; the smile lost its strain.

"Commander, we seem to be picking up some signals."

Just when things seemed to be going smoothly.... "What kind of signals, Athena?" he asked.

"I'm not sure.... They seem to be...." She glanced up at her father. "It's either a reflection, or ... we've found another battlestar! Could it be Cain?"

"Feed it up here."

Adama and Tinia both joined Omega as the officer tuned the signals, then switched to high band.

"It's no echo," Omega reported confidently. "There's another battlestar out there."

The Pegasus. Cain. It had to be. By all the Lords.... Adama felt a rush of hope that had no foundation. He recalled the alien device in the celestial chamber, remembered that several members of Cain's crew had been prisoners of the aliens a well. What might have happened on Cain's ship?

"Scrambler code, high band. Inquire as to their identity," he ordered automatically.

A moment later, Cain's image formed on the screen, looking a little surprised, but not much. "Well, Adama, greetings! Good to see you again. You've saved me a bit of work."

"Cain. And good to see you also."

"We didn't expect you to clear the sector so quickly."

"Our ships have been making good time. We've had some very good reasons for wanting to be out of this sector as soon as possible,"Adama told him briefly.

"Understood. Request permission to come aboard, Commander," the other man asked more formally. "There are some matters we need to discuss privately."

"Agreed. We'll be ready."

"The Pegasus will take up flank position based on your coordinates, if that's acceptable. I'll launch then; should be aboard with you in twenty-nine centons."

"We're already clearing Alpha bay. Welcome back."

The short communication ended. Adama glanced at Tinia as the crew broke into quiet laughter and smiles. Suddenly the universe held a few rays of sunshine.

"I'm sure your attendance will be welcome, Madam President."

Her lips twitched. "From what I recall of Cain, and from our previous meetings, I suspect otherwise. But with all that's happened, I refuse to be excluded. Shall we retire to the landing bay to welcome back the legend?"

* * * * *

Sol was with her when a very excited Cassiopeia brought word. "We've found Cain! He's coming aboard, we'll see him soon! The Pegasus is rejoining the fleet!"

"What?" Sheba sat up too quickly. She had to grab the silvery sheet to cover herself, and grab Sol's hand to keep from falling. "My father's back?"

"That's the word from the bridge. He should be aboard in a few centons."

"Any other word?" Sol asked as Sheba stared speechlessly at the blonde medic. He held Sheba's hand tightly.

Cassiopeia shook her head. "Not yet. I'll let you know if I find out anything more." She smiled. "I know it won't be easy, but try to get some rest. I'm sure he'll be coming to see you as soon as he can."

"Yes...." Sheba lay back and stared at the ceiling.

"Shall I tuck you in?" Sol teased to get her attention.

"What? Oh, yes, all right...."

He blinked at the distracted answer. "I'll let you rest...." He tucked a corner of the thermoblanket under her chin and rose to leave the chamber. He glanced back at her from the door, studying her preoccupied expression for a moment before nodding and disappearing.

Sheba still didn't notice.

My father's back. Cain's back. He finally decided to come back. And look where he'll find me, flat on my back in life center after trying to kidnap a warrior, maybe controlled by aliens. And I don't remember it! What will he think of me? Lords, have I let him down again?

Why should I care? He's left me twice!

I don't care! I don't care if he ever comes to see me....

He can't see me like this....

I've got to find out what happened to me, why I ... did it.

She glanced around hastily for something to wear. Cain couldn't find her lying in life center like ... like some bored old siress with nothing better to do then find new illnesses to catch! Her uniform hung in the closet. Sheba eased herself out of bed, leaving the blanket laying on the floor as she dressed.

The unfortunate security guards didn't realize she was back on her feet. In only a micron, they were off theirs. Sheba left life center with Cassiopeia trailing behind her, protesting that she was doing the wrong thing.

* * * * *

Thirteen paces along the north axis, that being the direction Starbuck had arbitrarily labeled from the steel hatch door to the wall opposite. Several paces east, stepping over Heimdal and Sif where they sat on the floor, apparently waiting for something. Another thirteen paces south, circling to the left of Astarte, who was pacing in a counter-circle to his. Several more paces to the west. Stop at the hatch for another quick examination. Turn north again. The complete circumference of their absolutely empty cell. Cold metal walls, ceiling, floor, and door. No furniture. A ventilation grill high on the wall, out of reach and too small to crawl through anyway.

"Probably a storage chamber, most of the time," Astarte offered. She stood beside him again, having circled the room while he studied the door. Small frost clouds formed as she breathed and spoke. She rubbed her hands together to generate some heat in them.

"Yeah," Starbuck had to agree moodily. "That would explain the temperature and the lack of furnishings. Certainly wasn't built for a holding cell." He glanced at the other two warriors, settled obliviously next to each other on the floor. His frustrated sigh sent another little cloud of ice into the chilly air. "The Imperious Leader must be trying to save a few cubits by not building cold cells in these outposts. They aren't needed. We could freeze to death in here in a few centars if they don't turn on some heat!"

He almost shouted the last. There was no outward indication that the room was being monitored, nor was it designed for hidden internal monitoring, but he knew the Cylons had to be listening to them somehow, hoping for information. Or maybe Baltar was just trying to break their spirits before the interrogations began. It would fit his character.

"We won't be here long," Heimdal commented, his voice sounding as far away as his thoughts must be.

"Tell us something we don't know," Starbuck grumbled back. How long until the hatch opened again? And which of them would be the first taken?

A fitful shudder shook his wingmate's entire body. "Just cold," she muttered shamefacedly. "I never liked cold weather. Born and raised for sunshine and beaches and greenery all yahren long."

He forced a sickly smile. "Same here. Boomer used to tease me that...."

"Yes?" she pressed when he stopped, remembering.

"That ... that I fainted if there were ice cubes in my drink."

She laughed, glad of any humor.

Lords, she's only Zac's age, maybe a little older, when he died, and Cree's when we were at Arcta. She's been a prisoner before and so have I, but that doesn't make it any easier to take. I suppose it's my job to keep up morale for her, if I can. Those two certainly aren't very concerned about what happens to us.

"Wonder how they're doing...." Starbuck began, then cut himself off before he could say anything from which Baltar could learn about the current state of the fleet.

Astarte sighed. Then she reached up and pulled her dark hair out of the flight knot to let it spill over her shoulders. She fluffed it a little with her fingers, then smoothed it over her ears and down her neck. "Warmer," she explained to Starbuck, who couldn't help watching.

"Not warm enough."

"No," she agreed.

"But it helped my body temperature too, so I'm not complaining."

She blinked for a micron, then giggled. "I keep forgetting you and Orestes are brothers."

"How could anybody forget that?" he shot back with a smile.

Silence fell again as they both remembered, for the hundredth time, what they'd been doing when they were captured. As the chill ate its way back into their muscles, they began shifting from foot to foot, then to walk again, side by side.

Sound at the other end of the room betrayed Heimdal and Sif finally rising from the floor. Starbuck ignored it, and would have walked past the pair as before, when the captain grabbed his arm.

"We'll be leaving here in a few centons." Heimdal didn't elaborate.

"Huh?"

"We have allies here in the base."

Starbuck stared at him. "What are you talking about? And would you let go of my arm? I'm not real pleased at your order to surrender, and I suspect it won't make any difference at this point if I let you know it–"

Something clanged at the hatchway; microns later, it opened outward. Two silver Cylons entered; a third remained at the door as if on guard.

"Is it time?" the red-haired warrior asked.

"It-is-time-for-the-gathering. Come-with-us-now."

Heimdal nodded briskly.

"What?" Starbuck yelped, glaring at him. "Look, Captain, I don't understand what's going on here, but I do know that you don't make it easier for your captors when you're a prisoner! Or have you forgotten everything you ever learned about being a warrior? They're gonna have to carry me!" The other man's behavior was raising his obstinacy level to unusual heights, and his usually strong sense of self-preservation was rapidly being thrown to the winds.

"Lieutenant-Starbuck-you-will-accompany-us-with-your-companions."

"Go to Hades!"

The Cylons glanced at each other as if conferring silently.

"Starbuck, you'll go along with the rest of us," Heimdal ordered.

"Why? What is it with you today? Collaborating with the enemy? I got news for you, we're prisoners! This is no afternoon social at the Academy! What next? An invitation for mushies and ambrosa in the officers' club?"

"Starbuck," Sif broke in placatingly, "these Cylons are going to help us escape this prison. We will then join Apollo and Orestes and the others. Please cease your resistance and accompany us. It is necessary, for our people's sake."

Both Starbuck and Astarte gaped.

"Since when do Cylons help humans?" the young woman demanded.

"Humans-are-organic-life-forms. Their-value-is-greater-than-inorganic-programmed-machines," intoned one of the Cylons. It sunk in to Starbuck's mind that there was something strange about the Cylon's tone of voice. Before he could react, the machine continued. "However-you-must-accompany-us-as-instructed." The Cylon extended its hand; before any of the humans could realize the hand held a slim dark something that could only be a weapon, it had fired.

Starbuck felt a flash of pain as stars went nova in his brain.

Astarte shrieked as the man fell, unconscious. The other two simply observed as the Cylon concealed the weapon somewhere, then stepped forward to hoist the warrior over its shoulder. Heimdal took the sergeant's arm and pulled her along as they followed the Cylon at the hatch. The one carrying Starbuck fell in behind them, and the last Cylon brought up the rear.

In the corridor, another team of three Cylons was waiting for them. With the honor guard of six, the humans made their way to the bay unchallenged.

* * * * *

It was with an eerie sense of déjà vu that Cmdr. Cain climbed out of his Viper in the Galactica's landing bay, his flight commander's ship next to his own. The shuttle of medical and technical personnel was behind them by at least fifteen centons.

The men and women standing as an honor guard wore the same look as his own pilots wore these days, as if they had been battered by a storm, and all but driven to the ground by its fury. Dr. Helena had said returning to the fleet would ease that hurt in his warriors. But if these people were in the same condition, what good was he doing his own? The warriors cheered as he stepped down, almost exactly as they had done on their prior occasions when he had come to this ship. This time, though, there was something haggard behind the yells and claps, something desperate, almost as though a starving man had just spotted a loaf of bread.

Two women appeared behind the others. Cain's heart leapt, and happiness drove the other thoughts away at the sight of Sheba and Cassiopeia joining the throng. His eyes met Sheba's but before he could make his way to her, Commander Adama, one of his warriors, and a woman from the Council had stepped forward, and he and Electra were whisked away for their strategy session. Neither of the women made an attempt to follow them.

* * * * *

Father, you didn't even stop to say hello to me. You've been gone so long, and you didn't even stop to say hello. I ran here to greet you, and you barely nodded at me. Reese and his security will have another reason to hate warriors and I may go to the brig for leaving life center the way I did, just to get a nod.

But you're back. Maybe nothing else matters. My father's really back.

And I love you and I've missed you so much. You're back.

* * * * *

Athena caught Sheba's shoulder as the commander disappeared from sight. She'd pushed her way through the crowd as soon as she noticed the other woman's presence. Having just come off duty, she knew more of what was currently going on in the fleet than most.

"Shouldn't you still be in life center?" she asked, sending a quick glance at Cassiopeia.

"I wasn't going to meet my father for the first time in a life pod, not like that," she replied with a stubborn headshake. Cassiopeia took her other arm and the trio began moving off, hopping aboard a turbolift before two very purposeful-looking security officers could catch up to them.

"You wont have to. We've been downloading medical and technical information to the departments, and log entries. The Pegasus had the same thing happen to several of their warriors. You're not the only one."

Sheba's relief almost sank her to the floor. "But I'm Cain's daughter; I should have been stronger than that...."

"And Apollo was Adama's son. That didn't stop the aliens from affecting him." She blinked away a tear. "So what does it matter? What does any of it matter? They got him from the Pegasus."

"What?" Sheba and Cassiopeia asked in stunned unison.

Athena had to draw a thick breath before she could speak for the tightness in her throat. "He was aboard the Pegasus until yesterday. The aliens took him again, they think ... and he took Colonel Kleopatra with him."

"Like Boomer took Tigh...." Sheba said slowly.

"Apollo.... He was with Cain? Then Starbuck...?"

"He was, too...." She had to stop again. "Until yesterday. But it wasn't the aliens for him. He tried to follow Apollo and Captain Orestes when they took the Colonel. They think the Cylons got him, and some others...."

The three women found themselves clutching each other for support. With sight blinded by tears and throats too choked for speech, it was the only way to know they weren't alone. But why did it hurt so bad again, when it was the same grief as so short a time before?

* * * * *

The swagger stick lay casually across Adama's desk, deposited when Cain first began talking. He'd delivered the information they had about the Cylon post and what little they knew of the aliens and their activity – and oh, how obviously it had hurt Adama to hear about Apollo and Starbuck! Strange, that Sheba should have been so convinced the men were dead. He'd understood what happened with Boomer and Tigh, and Sheba's reaction to that, too. He'd have to talk to his baby.... A very subdued Electra had passed along the most recent quadrant status, then retreated more deeply into uncharacteristic silence.

Now to pitch his plans. Cain stepped closer, planting his palms on Adama's desk on either side of the swagger stick. "We know the location of their asteroid base; we know Baltar's there; we know the aliens are in the area. So I propose we go in and take the place apart. With any luck, the Cylons will blame the aliens – but in any event, we can be in, out, and gone in a few centars."

"And what happens to their prisoners if we 'take the place apart'?" Adama demanded, his mind on Starbuck and the others possibly alive in enemy hands. Better not to think of Apollo, or Boomer and Tigh, or the rest. Their case could be worse, if the aliens still held them alive. The aliens. That was surely what Sheba had felt in the celestial dome, the effect of their technical device, not the presence of the dead.

Siress Tinia shifted gracefully in her seat, observing closely. Capt. Nestor appeared the more edgy.

"We hit 'em hard and fast, jam their scanners and knock out their guns like on Gamoray. Then send in a special team to search for our people." One fist hit the desk as though in matching attack.

"Risk more lives for four possible prisoners?"

"Do we dare risk leaving them for interrogation? We're safely out of this quadrant now, but if they talk, the Cylons know we were here, they know which way we went. Can we risk not destroying the Cylons?" He delivered the arguments urgently; besides logic, he needed the freedom to act, the go-ahead to take on Baltar's forces. If Adama couldn't be brought to agree, he could attack on his own, but he knew this time would be pushing it beyond anything his old friend could allow without disciplinary action of some kind – maybe costing him his command.

Adama stared at the wall, his face carefully void. "The wisest course would be to destroy the base without giving them a chance to spot us and counterattack, or send word to their capital."

"Without going after our people?" Cain had had to make that choice before, but somehow he hadn't expected such a decision of Adama at this point.

"No. We'll go after them. You're right; we must prevent them from betraying us. We must rescue them, or destroy that base. Better to do both and, as you say, hope they believe the aliens are responsible."

"Good," was Cain's satisfied reply.

Adama glanced at Electra and Nestor. "Major, I'm sure you'll want to coordinate with our flight leaders. If you haven't met, this is Captain Nestor, our new flight commander. I'm sure you'll be able to fill him in on the plans and incorporate our pilots into it."

"Certainly," she added somberly.

"Madam President," he swivelled to face Tinia, "I believe you'll want to acquaint the Council with our choice of actions – privately, of course, so as not to alarm the populace. We'll be sending the fleet on a bit ahead, with one battlestar scouting ahead and the other taking position between the fleet and the Cylon base."

She opened her mouth as it considering arguing, then shut it and nodded once in agreement.

"And now, Cain," Adama said, rising, "I believe we should meet with Doctor Wilker, to see if our technical staff has come up with anything more."

The small group dispersed to their various duties.

No one could see what was going on in Adama's heart and mind from the enigmatic look on his face. No one could sense the desperate need to bring Starbuck, at least, home again, if there was any chance. No one could feel the wild streak singing through his veins, a feeling he hadn't unleashed since they'd encountered and destroyed the lone basestar after the gamma signals. He savored the vengeful fire, letting it consume any thoughts of caution. Logically and tactically, he could justify the decision to attack. Emotionally, he knew what prompted it. He told himself his warriors needed a battle, a victory. After the events of the last few sectars, they needed to fight and defeat something – and so did he. In a dark universe, maybe that need was all he had left.

* * * * *

What do they want from us? Why did they come back? They took Tigh and Kleopatra, and Apollo and Boomer, and the others from Cain's ship. And Starbuck may be gone following them. They've hurt some of our people, not physically, maybe, but psychologically. Sheba was convinced they were dead; then she almost followed Boomer wherever he ran. Some of Cain's people did the same thing. Will they be all right, after this? Can we trust them again, or could they still be controlled by those beings?

We're committed to an attack now, an attack on Baltar. I knew he'd escaped his planet, but I didn't realize he was still so near, still within striking distance. So tantalizingly near that I'm letting my better judgment go to Hades for a chance at him. Even though we're out of his quadrant. We're probably beyond Cylon space, truly beyond them, maybe for the first time since we left the Colonies. And I'm sending my people back within his reach. Some of them may die. For what? Because we must save a few prisoners? Because they could betray us all? Because we could bring Starbuck back?

No. All that's true, but I know myself better. I can give every logical reason in the universe, and they'll all be true. We have to stop them from betraying us, and maybe we have a chance to save them, but I'm letting Cain convince me because it's what I want, too. I need that fight as much as he does, maybe more, and this time it's for many of the same reasons. I need a chance to lash out at something, and this is it...

Revenge for Apollo, revenge for Boomer, revenge for Tigh. And for Kleopatra too, despite the yahrens. What do they want with all of you? Will we ever see any of you again? The uncertainty is the worst....

Why?

* * * * *

Dr. Wilker's lab was more crowded than Adama remembered seeing it before. Besides Wilker and his usual assistants, there were at least two of Cain's engineers and several techs present, hovering over a spectroanalyzer. With the equipment from the electronics ship and the other facilities and personnel in the fleet, Adama's people were in a better position to study the alien artifacts than anybody on the Pegasus.

Also present were a number of the medical staff, coordinating their specialty data; Salik and Paye were closely monitoring a print-out, while a woman he recalled to be Helena pointed out something on the images. An olive-complexioned med tech occasionally contributed a few words.

Another technician threaded her way through the crowd to join Wilker. Adama recognized the dark, mature woman as Tigh's frequent companion, before....

"Maruwa," he greeted her. She appeared quite composed.

"Commander," the woman returned neutrally.

"How are you?"

The smile was tight. "I'm fine, sir." Maruwa hastily moved away again. Several steps distant, she hesitated as if considering reapproaching them, but didn't.

By then Wilker had noticed the commanders' presence, and joined them.

"Well, Wilker?"

"Sorry, sir, but we haven't learned much more than we knew before. What's revealed on the brain scans and the tapes of the surgery on one of their warriors is interesting, but hasn't yet revealed anything we can use. I'm hoping, however, that when Salik and Helena open the man's skull again–"

"Wait a centon," Salik cut in, having closed on them as soon as he saw Wilker talking to Adama. "Their medical records are very thorough on what they saw during the surgery on Falstaff; they took imaging scans of the cells and the alien 'webwork,' for want of a better name. From what I've seen, they were more than thorough, and we have their staff to question. There's no reason to open the man's head again unnecessarily."

"But you looked at it from a medical standpoint. My people may be able to add some additional insight–"

"And it is also possible that if you do come near some insight the aliens will do with their webwork exactly what they've been doing to all their other devices when we've discovered them – destroying them! A small fire in a man's brain, no matter how controlled or localized, is going to do extensive damage, probably kill! We don't go in again unless we have a better idea of what to do–"

"I don't believe this device will self-destruct in the same manner – the sergeant would have died the first time! This opportunity–"

Cain looked ready to bolt at the developing argument.

It was nothing new to Adama, who'd heard similar discussions several times in the past.

"Gentlemen!" He held up his hand. "Learn what you can from the available data before you do anything more. And take every precaution, in whatever you do. We will risk no one's life unnecessarily. Cain, I believe we still have an attack to discuss...."

"Yes...." Cain's long stride was close to a sprint.

Maruwa intercepted them before they could get past the door.

"Find the aliens, Commander," she said. "Redeem our sons and daughters. You must bring them home, whatever it takes."

"You sound quite sure they're still alive," Cain observed, studying her.

"I am. I can feel it. I think I would know if Tigh were dead. We've been ... quite close."

"Close enough to speak of sons and daughters?" he persisted.

She glanced at him dispassionately, chin lifting slightly. "You had to know Tigh to understand. I'm sure the Commander does. You'll find them, Adama."

"I wish it were that easy," he returned quietly, but inside his heart was as steady in that resolve as it could be. From what Tigh had mentioned about her ... well, if she was sure, he might as well go on it. What else was there? And at this point, what did he have to lose?

Beside, him, Cain's face hardened. He had his own need to find the aliens, but more important at the moment was taking Baltar's base.

* * * * *

We're going to attack the Cylon base. Why am I so cold? Sagan, I'm an experienced warrior, I've led the squadrons before, I know what I'm doing. But what Boomer did really shook me. Even knowing it wasn't really him doing it, just knowing, having seen it.... And the reaction from the pilots. Blue Squadron doesn't trust me to lead them. They don't trust anybody. And the other squadrons don't trust them for back-up. This won't be easy....

Electra knows what she's doing. She's so casual and professional about it, just another day. But there's an edge to her, too. I don't know what it is. Something not quite right.

We're all running short a chip. Maybe I should've stayed at the Academy. I was a good teacher, and I loved working with young people. I could give them more courage than I've got left for myself.... What am I talking about? There's no Academy left! If this attack goes bad on us, there may not be much of anything left.

And the first thing I want to do is talk to Io. As if my wife could change reality, or change me so it doesn't bother me anymore. Every man needs a woman like that beside him.

Especially when he's gonna take on a Cylon base in the morning!

* * * * *

Several of the Pegasus crew began clamoring for furlons as soon as the battlestar had taken its place in the fleet. Because coordinating the attack would now take extra time, a few personnel were granted overnight leaves, including one of the doctors. Beej was waiting when Boxey finished his learning period for the day. As the boy came out of his classroom, the tall man stepped up behind him, leaned over, and said, "Boo!"

Boxey jumped. "Uncle Beej! You came back!"

"Of course I came back!" he laughed. All the same, he felt concerned; Boxey looked a little different, sad in the eyes. "Had to come and see you as soon as I could. Where's that daggit of yours?"

The child flashed a smile. "They don't let me bring Muffey to learning period since he yapped through a lecture on some of the alien races the Colonies used to trade with. He didn't like them. Now Aunt Athena won't let him come because he disrupts the class."

"Your own aunt won't let you bring your pet with you?"

He shook his head woefully. "Can't play favorites or it wouldn't be fair."

"Ah! I understand that. But it just so happens that I have a furlon today, and I thought I might spend it with my favorite young man and his favorite daggit."

Boxey beamed again. "Yay! Let's get Muffey!"

Beej felt reassured about his son's emotional condition until they reached Adama's quarters, where Boxey was now staying. The daggit yapped a greeting to the man, recognizing him as a friend. Boxey immediately gave the droid a big hug. The doctor felt another pang; the kid should have more human friends, other children to play with. There weren't many children on the Galactica, and Boxey apparently didn't spend a lot of time with those who were aboard.

"What are you thinking about, Boxey?" he asked quietly a moment later, hearing the small sigh the boy tired to hide in his pet's furry neck.

Boxey looked up at him, appearing far too mature for only seven. "Is it true my father was with you for a while on the Pegasus? And then he went away like Boomer did?"

Beej was prepared for the question. "Yes, Boxey," he replied gently. "I'm afraid it's true. Apollo was with us for a while, and Starbuck too. But ... your father went away ... like Boomer did. And Starbuck tried to find him, but...."

"The Cylons got him, I heard Athena say. She wasn't crying or anything, she sounded kind of strange."

"The Cylons got Starbuck," he had to affirm. "But he might be alive. That's why we have to be careful with our attack."

"So Starbuck might come back?"

"I don't know. It's possible." But not likely, he added silently. If the Cylons hadn't already killed their prisoners, they probably would the moment the warriors attacked.

"I hope Starbuck comes back," Boxey said, pulling the man's mind back to the moment.

"Oh? What about ... your father?"

The boy stared at him; Beej could read the pain and uncertainty in his eyes. "No. I don't want him to come back. He just comes back and hurts me when he goes away again."

Beej stiffened and couldn't speak for a centon. Boxey was hurting deeper than he knew. Then he asked, "Do I hurt you, too, when I go away?"

"No. You're not my father. You don't have to stay. But fathers are supposed to stay, they're not supposed to hurt you."

"Even when they're warriors?"

"I'm tired of hurting," Boxey said honestly. A tear ran down his cheek. "I don't want a father who's going to go away all the time. I want a father who'll stay with me."

Tears ran down Beej's face too, into his mustache and then down his chin. What those words revealed about a child's life! He impulsively hugged the child. It wouldn't be easy to tell Boxey the truth....

"You deserve that, a father who'll stay," he said fervently. "And you'll get it. Life starts over for us today, Boxey. For all of us. And it's going to be better. I promise, I promise. It's going to get better from here on out...."


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Enter Sheba's Galaxy