Chapter XIII


Electra ran her fingers lightly over her instruments, a final check, maybe a touch for luck. They would launch their attack in microns, and she was more than ready. Let it be quick, let it be over.

She mentally ran over the three-pronged attack plan one more time.

Golden Sun's got the first aerial pass. I'd rather be the one, but this makes more sense, I know. Tokyo's as familiar with the base as any of our surviving flight leaders. And the Cylons might not make the connection with the Delphian ships and us right away; if they do get a message out they'll misidentify their attackers.

Tokyo takes out their scanners and communications. He'll do it, or die in the attempt.

Then Haals and Martin move in with ground teams to find our people and snatch Baltar. Copper Keel flies cover to make sure the Cylons are occupied. Wish I could go with one of the teams....

But I can't be everywhere. I know Martin's good, he's the best on our infiltration specialty team. Haals has worked with the specialty teams a couple of times, too. It's simple. They infiltrate the base, find their targets, then move out again. Just so they get in and out before the second wave reaches the base. There won't be anything left when we're done; if they don't get out by the time we attack....

They'll get out. I know Martin. Captain Nestor says Haals is good, and his record proves it. I remember Apollo mentioned him once, some mission they'd shared.

Apollo.... No, I won't think of him.

We can get Baltar. If Starbuck and the others are alive, we'll bring them back. If they're dead, Baltar won't live to get back to his cell, I swear it.

But we can't get the aliens. There's nothing we can do for Orestes and Apollo. Sagan....

No, think of the attack, be ready. Memnon, give us the signal. Let us out there and get it over with. In and out, we'll be done, we'll be out of here and out of Cylon reach. Away from this whole mess.

She flicked off her comm long enough to draw a deep breath and fight back her emotions. No time for tears. It was time to fight.

* * * * *

Stubborn determination was all that had carried Sheba through the argument, like her father's grim refusal to be beaten down. Maybe that was why she'd won, too. She'd seen it in Adama's eyes when he agreed. Cain's daughter might disobey orders if they tried to make her stay behind in this attack – it wouldn't be the first time. Since Salik was willing to release her, and Helena concurred that she was clear of alien influence, the commander had let her go.

The silence lengthened.

She wished she were with the first wave. The Delphian squadron had already launched.

Electra had offered her a quick transfer back to the Pegasus. To her own surprise, she'd opened her mouth and refused. Though in this battle her squadron would be attacking with the Pegasus, afterward Sheba would go back to the Galactica. She'd earned her place in Blue Squadron. Even if the men and women were on the verge of madness.

Sheba laughed quietly. If they were on the edge of madness, so was she – a woman who'd been convinced she was sensing ghosts, who even went looking for them on other ships, only to find herself the victim of the aliens as much as Apollo or Boomer or any of the others. She'd earned her place here, and she was going to stay. Even if it meant separation from her father, away from her former shipmates.

That was a revelation. Frowning at her launch tube, Sheba considered. Maybe "Cain's little girl" would be better off away from her father.

* * * * *

Commander Adama felt preternaturally calm as he waited. The bridge throbbed with the heartbeats of every crewman on duty. They were all tense and exhilarated, walking the cutting edge of battle-readiness. Quick movements, nervous conversations, preoccupied silences. He wondered if it was the same on the Pegasus, or if they'd had so much combat these past yahrens that they could be blasé about another battle. All that unsuppressable excitement building in his people, even though the Galactica merely continued to lead the fleet away while Cain went back to attack.

"Cain reports he's in position and launching," Omega called. He seemed the only one unaffected by everything around them, but the commander knew better; Omega tried to bottle his tension for private expression after the battle.

He nodded a silent response.

The lightest whiff of perfume caught his extended senses. Tinia had moved close. It was good to have her here, good to have someone beside him he could trust.

But a civilian councilor couldn't be his executive officer. He'd have to select somebody to take Tigh's post when this was over. Might even have to be one of those "Council lackeys" Tigh had so derided. But somebody competent. With Cain back, hopefully to stay, things would be easier for them all....

After the battle. For now he could only wait like everyone else.

* * * * *

Baltar had not ceased raging, inwardly and outwardly, since his discovery that the prisoners were gone. It had been a shock to prepare to question his enemies, only to find them missing when he summoned them for interrogation. Starbuck, Astarte, Heimdal, and Sif had disappeared without a trace, completely unnoticed by any of their Cylon guards or the launch bay mechanicals. None of the surveillance devices showed them leaving. The sentries insisted, in their monotones, that no one had left the holding area, that they had been on duty as assigned. Baltar knew they couldn't be lying. Despite the fact that it solved nothing, his response had been to slag those Centurions personally.

A complete search of the asteroid base revealed nothing amiss – no hidden escaped humans, no missing ships or gear, no damaged Cylons who might have been overcome in an escape. No other humans had been spotted anywhere, on the base or in space, who might have rescued them. There hadn't even been any vanished patrols in the past day, as routine as that had become, so there was no chance of a connection with a human break-out.

"How did they escape? Where did they go?" he demanded loudly for the hundredth time.

The five heavily-armed silver Centurions gave no response. Even they had realized none was possible.

Their presence was both irritant and comfort to Baltar. Irrational as it was, they eased his fear that Lt. Starbuck still lurked in the base somewhere, waiting to spring out from the shadows and capture or kill him. Baltar didn't dare enter a chamber or so much as walk down a hall without his guards preceding him.

Baltar rubbed his forehead. His current throbbing headache seemed to originate in one little spot, and nothing eased the pain. Sleep was certainly what he needed, but he hadn't been able to close his eyes since the captured warriors were brought in, first from exultation, then from fury.

A barely perceptible tremor shook the room, followed by a stronger one.

"What was that?" Baltar bellowed.

The Centurions glanced about for several microns without venturing an opinion.

"Commander-Baltar."

He jumped at the unexpected call from the entrance. "What is it this time?"

"We-are-under-attack-by-Delphian-fighters."

"Delphians! For a moment, Baltar couldn't remember who the Delphians were. Then, "But didn't you destroy them yahrens ago?"

"Scattered-survivors-continue-to-attack-in-some-quadrants."

Like Cain, Baltar thought. Still surviving and appearing when least expected. His palms broke into a cold sweat. "Well, launch fighters then! Counterattack!"

"We-cannot. Their-first-attack-sealed-our-launch-bay."

"Didn't our anti-assault batteries take them out? Why didn't our scanners give us advance notice?"

"There-was-a-defect-in-our-scanners. They-are-still-under-repair. Anti-assault-batteries-were-damaged-in-the-attack."

His entire body broke into a cold sweat. "You mean we're defenseless?" he forced out through numb lips.

The Centurion offered no comment, its red ocular humming along its horizontal path.

"Are there any basestars within communications range?" the human asked frantically.

"Communications-have-been-damaged. We-cannot-contact–"

"Is there any part of this base that hasn't been damaged or was broken to start with?" he thundered back, anger getting the better of fear for a centon.

"The-inner-bunker-is-complete-and-fully-functional."

"Inner...? Of course!" The inner bunker would be kilometrons from the base, deeply buried and reachable only from concealed entrances. Those type of bunkers were designed to be repositories for data, equipment, and personnel which had to be protected in an all-out attack. The bunker here would be Baltar's sanctuary.

A sudden thought gnawed at him. Could it also have been Starbuck's sanctuary?

"Was the bunker searched for the missing warriors?"

"Affirmative. The-bunker-was-empty. A-team-of-Cylons-now-stands-guard-and-reports-the-bunker-is-intact-and-beyond-the-attack-zone."

"Does it have full support vapors circulation equipment and food and water supplies?" he demanded eagerly.

"Affirmative. It-was-supplied-at-your-arrival."

"Take me there, now! Concentrate the guard to protect all corridors in that section! And seal off the entrances to prevent infiltration by enemy forces."

"By-your-command."

* * * * *

The human attack was ruthlessly precise. Golden Sun swept toward the asteroid from the other side of the only true planet in the system. They unleashed a storm of laser fire that demolished the base's defensive capability in microns; sealing off the enemy launch bay ended their offensive capability as well. The few Raiders out on patrol were picked off as they tried to return.

"This is too easy," commented one of the attackers. "It is almost as though they did not see us coming."

Tokyo hadn't known Starbuck well, but from what he knew of the others, he responded, "Perhaps they did not. Our friends may have done something in their own cause."

* * * * *

Under cover of the attack, the EVA-suited infiltration team landed on a far side of the base. They entered undetected through the damaged bay and split into their assigned teams. Martin had the greater experience in direct dealings with Cylons; he began the potentially more dangerous search for the captives. Haals, the gunnery master turned Viper pilot, led his team after Baltar. It was less important that the traitor be recovered alive.

The Cylon computer core had been severely damaged. The Colonials were able to extract information without the usually required codes. The computer freely told the humans where the four prisoners would be, and where Baltar had made his nest. There was no guarantee the data was accurate and up-to-date, but it gave the teams a starting point.

When Martin arrived at what was designated a holding cell, after an uncontested race through the base, he found it empty and unguarded. Heimdal, Sif, Astarte, and Starbuck were no longer there. He accessed the computers again for more information, but nothing was forthcoming. Either the prisoners had been moved or they had been killed, but the invaders had no way of knowing which.

Baltar's sumptuous bedroom and associated chambers were equally empty when Haals reached them. As the inner bunker remained a Cylon secret, he had no idea where to search next. The only locations Haals could think of were the main command center and the arms control station. Those sections of the base had been hit in the first volleys, exploding from the single micron's flame into the eternal cold vacuum of space.

Both teams fanned out in pairs for the quick searches their limited time allowed. Both were bitterly disappointed. The signal came too soon from Electra and the waiting Silver Spar and Blue Squadrons. Martin and Haals were forced to withdraw, and the waiting squadrons utterly annihilated what yet remained of the Cylon base.

* * * * *

"We searched as thoroughly as we could," Capt. Martin reported to their commanders later. "But the base was on fire, parts of it were already a vacuum, and the major was coming in for mop-up. There was no evidence our people were still alive."

Cmdr. Adama glanced at Haals, who shook his head.

"Signs of a hasty evacuation from Baltar's chambers, but no trace of him either," he said.

The sadness in Adama's heart was less bitter than it might have been. He had hoped for, but not really expected, Starbuck's return. It was over now, and a deep exhaustion crept over him, coupled with an unexpected little twinge of relief that there was no longer any need for futile hope.

"I believe we may ... safely assume, then, that our missing personnel are dead," he announced steadily. "We must take comfort from being beyond Cylon territory, for the present, and for having dealt a blow to enemy aspirations and expansion in this quadrant. Thank you for a job well done, warriors. Dismissed."

The handful of warriors filed out. Adama turned to Cain, who had kept his own counsel while the warriors reported the results of their mission.

"Well, at least we accomplished something," Cain suggested.

Adama gave no response.

"How about a drink, Adama?" the other man asked, studying him frankly.

"At a time like this?"

"Drink to the passing of good warriors. From what I know of Starbuck, he'd appreciate it."

"True." Adama gestured toward one of his cabinets. "There's ambrosa and chalices in there."

Cain helped himself, pouring for both of them. Adama accepted his chalice, then moved from his desk to stare out the window port at the starfield.

"What's on your mind, Adama? And don't try to fool me, I know you better than that. What are you planning?"

He forced a shrug. "Until Tigh ... disappeared, I had been thinking of stepping down as commander of this ship, as I have stepped down as president of the Council."

"That explains that woman's omnipresence, but you can't be serious about giving up command!" Cain was amazed to discover that Adama had willingly stepped down from the Council.

"Tinia is a good woman, and I'm sure you will learn that. And I have had to reconsider retirement." His eyes left the starfield and focused on the golden liquid in his chalice. "I see no way to leave the Galactica at this time. But my friend, I am glad you are with us now. It will make this time of adjustment and grief less difficult."

Cain extended his arm; Adama grasped his wrist wordlessly.

Only at that micron did Cain realize how good it was to have an old friend like Adama around, a peer who had seen and experienced life as he had, someone with whom he could discuss anything, share any thought, argument and position. Even though they had disagreed at times, even though they had reached different conclusions about what was best for their people, even though each had acted on his convictions to the frustration of the other, they were still good friends. They understood each other. They respected each other. There was no one else left in all humanity who had lived as they had lived and borne the responsibilities they had borne. Now they needed to stand together – the men, their ships, their people.

Cain realized that he was as tired as Adama.

"From here on out," he stated, forcing optimism, "our enemies had better beware, because they'll have to face us together. Whether the Cylons or aliens or our own Council, we stand together. And we'll make it through. To this Earth of yours or wherever else our destiny may be.

"Lords grant it so."

As one, they raised their chalices in toast to each other, then the stars, and drained their cups together.


Email Sharon Monroe at sharonmonroe@hotmail.com and let her know how much you enjoyed this story! And ask her to write the conclusion!


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