Commander Adama rested his forehead on his palms, sighing heavily. He couldn't put the duty off, much as he wanted to. It had been easily avoided the other time, when the Pegasus had been with the fleet. Somehow, everything had devolved on Cain's flight commander, and he'd avoided any quick decision. But he couldn't do it this time, not if he wished to maintain the integrity of the fighter squadrons. They couldn't sit and wait while morale and cohesion disintegrated. There had been miracles before, but he expected none this time.
Why Apollo? Lords, why? My son, my strength, my pride, my own right hand, taken from me without warning or time to say good bye. And Starbuck with him....
For warriors there was seldom time for good byes, but they'd expected no trouble. It wouldn't have made the loss any more tolerable, but he would've given almost anything to keep those young men, those valuable pilots, his son and his son's friend, who was almost a son as well, at his side even a few more days.
He didn't hear the voice at first.
The commander looked up to see his executive officer watching him in concern. He took a deep breath and sat up straighter. "Yes, Tigh?"
"Are you all right?"
Adama smiled sadly. "Not really, but that's to be expected, and must have no bearing on my duties. Are the men assembled?"
"All the flight captains are here, and their wingmen. And Boomer he's led Blue Squadron, kept them together these past few days."
The commander nodded. "Good. Let's get this over with."
"Will it be Nestor?" Tigh ventured to ask.
Another heavy sigh. "I really wanted Boomer for flight commander. He's got as much seniority as any of the others, and probably more inherent ability, but I can't promote a lieutenant over my own captains, when several of them are fully qualified in every way."
"I expected you would feel that way."
"Nestor has been managing Red Squadron with no problems these last few sectars. He spent yahrens at the Academy, doesn't have as much flight experience as some of the others, but strictly on seniority, he outranks any other captain on this ship. And he wouldn't have been appointed an Academy instructor and flight trainer if he weren't capable. He's due for a promotion. So are many others."
Tigh understood. "I know. Attrition has been worst among the lower ranks, among the cadets we trained ourselves. The upper echelons have been fairly stable, from the Academy warriors, the experienced men and women. It's going to be very different with Apollo and Starbuck gone."
"Very different," Adama agreed evenly. "Summon the men, Colonel."
The assorted group of warriors entered the briefing room, quietly taking their places before the commander's podium. They knew the reason for the gathering, and how difficult it was for their leader. Tense, eager, still grieving their missing friends, they sat. With a minimum of shuffling, floor-scraping, and murmurs, they fell silent, eyes on Adama.
"I'm sure you all know why you've been assembled, he began quietly, without preamble. "The loss of Captain Apollo leaves vacant the position of flight commander. The flight commander is essential, pivotal in maintaining the cohesiveness of all squadrons as a fighting unit. He is of necessity the ultimate authority in combat situations.
"After careful thought and consideration of your fine records as warriors and pilots, I have selected Captain Nestor, Red Squadron's flight leader, to assume this post. Nestor has the greatest seniority of any of you, although he hasn't been aboard the Galactica as long. You know he has an excellent background. I sincerely hope you will all be able to work with him in the same harmony as with Captain Apollo. Please convey this information to your squadrons."
There was shuffling, a few glances.
"Nestor, I will expect any recommendations from you in a few days, along with word of your successor in Red Squadron. If anyone has any questions or points to discuss, please bring them to me now, or to Captain Nestor hereafter. Nestor, Boomer, I would like to speak with you both after the briefing. If there are no questions, the rest of you are dismissed."
Adama sat down again, waiting. The warriors were silent a moment, as though expecting a longer speech. Finally they began to move, rising slowly from their chairs, offering congratulations to Nestor, then turning to their own squadronmates as they trickled out the door.
The two remaining warriors approached Adama's seat.
"You wished to see me, sir?"
"Yes, Boomer." He studied the competent, restrained features of the dark-haired man standing before him. He saw the tight lines around his eyes and mouth, sure signals of controlled emotion and pain. "It's long past time you were due for a promotion, Boomer. With the flight commander's approval, I'd like you to take over Blue Squadron, as its captain, if you wish it."
He hesitated, then nodded acquiescence.
Adama turned to Nestor, observing him as if for the first time curly dark hair, cloudy gray eyes, strongly-cleft chin in a square jaw. "Is that acceptable to you, Captain?"
"I'm familiar with Boomer's record, sir. I would have no qualms with such an assignment, and the promotion is well deserved."
"Then it is done."
"Sir," Boomer spoke again, "isn't this a bit ... rushed? It's only been three days...."
"We can't wait, Boomer. The squadrons need order."
The warriors accepted their new duties and left. Adama and Tigh waited silently a few moments more.
"Old friend, I am so tired. I have seen so many of them, so young, so brave, go out and not return. So many.... Tigh, there are times I want to quit and leave this burden behind...."
Tigh felt a sense of foreboding.
In the corridor outside, Nestor stopped with a deep breath, sucking in the ever-so-slightly-metallic-scented air. Next to him, Boomer halted.
"Something wrong, Captain?"
"Boomer," the other man replied wryly, "you call me that again, and I may put you on report."
"Okay, old friend. Something bothering you? I know you, Nestor. Next to some of the guys in the squadron, you're the best friend I ever had...."
"With that much competition, I could be a complete stranger!"
"You father saved me from delinquency status, and you taught me triad. Without the both of you, I'd've never made it into the Academy, much less through it. What's on your mind?" Boomer leaned against the metal girder next to him, arms crossed and a near-grin on his face.
"I never really had a chance to know Apollo...." Nestor's ship had been the very last of a small handful of ships that had found the fleet after the flight from the Colonies, even after Kobol.
The grin faded. "Yeah?"
"I haven't been here long. Your people gonna hate me for taking his place?" Gray eyes bored for an answer.
Boomer had to shrug and look away. "I don't think they'd love anybody taking Apollo's position I don't think anybody's crazy enough to try to take his place."
"There are feuds between Red and Blue squadrons. And it's sometimes a point of pride for a squadron, that the flight commander comes from their ranks. That's changed now, on this ship. Will it make a difference?"
It only took a few microns to decide to be honest. "Probably. But you can handle it. You handled the roughest cadets at the Academy, made 'em respect you and like you, turned 'em into warriors. You can do this. Just might take a few sectons."
He hoped so, anyway. But as Nestor walked away, Boomer felt an all-too-familiar throbbing somewhere in his skull. Another headache. It was going to be a long couple of centars.
Sheba sat alone in the darkness, staring up at the stars visible through the clear dylinium panels of the celestial observation dome. She almost felt like an intruder. This had been the place where he came when he wanted to be alone, to think or to grieve. It had been a very special day when he first showed it to her and Starbuck and Cassie, a day when he had opened up about a lot of things. That had been the day she first knew she was in love with Capt. Apollo.
So much had happened since that day. They had become closer, and she had waited, sometimes impatiently, for the day he would realize and admit that he loved her too. They had decided to seal. Then everything had fallen apart when the aliens appeared, and her father returned. And their love hadn't been as strong as she thought. And the words between them couldn't be recalled or unsaid.
She'd turned away from him, and discovered she could live without Apollo after all. She'd had to make new friends; some of her old ones were too close to him, with so many yahrens together that they couldn't understand the separation. There was even a new man in her life.
Her father would approve of Lieutenant Sol, she was sure. Originally from the Pacifica, he was a flight leader in Red Squadron but not so duty-shackled that he didn't have time for a personal life. Sol was courageous, handsome, intelligent, had a nice sense of humor, and a strong warrior family background. A perfect man in every way. Not tied to this ship and commander by any figurative umbilical cord.
She found a bitter smile. She had thought she could be more objective about Apollo now that he was gone. She'd even come here to his favorite place to grieve and say farewell, to feel the emotions the others wouldn't understand, because she did still love him, in some ways. But the words, the words ... and the reality that made the words true and inescapable. Apollo was the son of Commander Adama of the Galactica. She was the daughter of Commander Cain of the Pegasus. And in some ways that defined them. Two men, two brilliant men, who could be the staunchest friends and supporters of each other, but couldn't manage to reach the same conclusion in the most important issue of their lives. And their two children, who could be lovers but who couldn't seem to live together without tearing each other's hearts out.
She felt his presence around her, accusing. She grabbed the ear protectors and fled the ghost in her soul.
The pilots' voices were a soft murmur in stereo. Lt. Celene and Lt. Celeste were so much alike even their voices sounded the same, over the unicoms of their Vipers. The effect was deliberate. As children, the twins had intentionally fooled many people with their cultivated tones. Differences showed only when they were afraid or under heavy stress; Celene's voice would quake slightly, and Celeste's would rise in pitch by several notes.
"It's good to have Starbuck back on the Pegasus," Celeste commented. Their conversation would undoubtedly be recorded back on the bridge, but that didn't disturb her she didn't care who knew she was interested in the man.
Her sister's laughter rippled back. "You never forget a beau, do you? And how long has it been since you had your eye on him?"
"It's been nearly three yahrens since Molecay, when I transferred from the Galactica...."
"And I wonder how many other women he has had his eyes on in those three yahrens," Celene commented lightly.
"Ah, but none of them are here now."
"They don't have to be you've got plenty of competition on our ship!" Celene teased. "Or haven't you noticed Pele and Sapphire both hard at work?"
"No faith in your sister?"
"What is that?" There was a quaver in her voice. "Oh, no, not them...."
Celeste knew; she didn't want to believe. Her own pitched raised. "What is it?" she called urgently. "What do you see? There's nothing on my scanner."
She was almost sinfully gorgeous, he noted with appreciative fascination. He watched her hips sway easily as she crossed the room and disappeared through the door.
But what was he doing in her bed?"
Feeling very satisfied, he told himself.
Apollo smiled, then rolled over to his stomach. Puffing up the pillow under his crossed arms, he rested his chin on it and dozed 'til Electra was finished with her turboshower and rejoined him, clad only in a towel and long damp tendrils of blonde hair.
"Good morning," lilted through his doze as fingers ruffled through his hair, stroking it into some kind of order.
"Mmm.... It is, isn't it?" he responded easily, stretching a little as he slowly came back to alertness. "And after a very good night."
Electra lay down beside him again, watching him lazily with those violet eyes. "Apollo, don't take this wrong," she began, "but you didn't come here last night with intent to seduce me, did you?"
"No, it just ... felt right." He smiled warmly; his sleep-relaxed features lightened endearingly. "You didn't seem to be objecting too strenuously."
"Don't tell me it was great ... but. Does somebody else belong here? Has my life lost its value because somebody's going to be out for my blood?"
"No, nothing like that!" she laughed. "No one else can say he 'belongs' here, at least at the moment."
"Who was the last one?" he inquired rather cheekily. "I mean, a woman like you.... There have to be plenty of men who'd jump for a chance at last night." He suddenly frowned. "Don't tell me.... It wasn't Starbuck, was it? No, it couldn't have been, he's your brother. I must be getting paranoid or something. Never mind, I shouldn't ask, you don't have to tell me."
Electra wiped away the glare of outrage, settling for tickling him instead. Apollo defended himself ably, in the best way he knew. In a moment he'd pinned the woman to the bunk, her arms above her head. She squirmed away from him, losing her towel in the process but escaping his grip. He just lay there and laughed.
"You find something amusing?"
"No.... Not really. Just a question, derived from personal observation do you always move so well in a man's arms?"
"I can do better! You should dance with me sometime."
"I will." He rose as if intent on testing her boast then and there.
"But it can't be now. I'm due on the bridge very soon. And you ... you are on the flight roster for today."
"My first patrol for Silver Spar," he mused. That thought didn't concern him much as he stood with his arms around the beautiful woman, especially when she responded with a kiss. Nor did any memories of his own ship and family. From the centar of his headache the night before, and the way she'd banished it, he hadn't been able to stop thinking about her. Later he would wonder at his minimal reaction to the separation from those he loved most, but for the moment he couldn't reach any conclusion beyond the golden goddess now his.
"I'd better take a turboshower," he murmured a moment later. "And it'll have to be a cold one."
The red alert klaxon worked even better.
"Patrol Seven is retreating as ordered, sir!" Tolan called across the bridge to his just-arrived commander. "Celene reports the aliens are all around them, but taking no apparent action. They confirm that these appear to be the same beings we encountered while with the Galactica. Elaine and Gemma have changed their course to rendezvous with them, and we've scrambled Copper Keel and Silver Spar."
"As if that'll make much difference, if these are the same aliens," Col. Kleopatra muttered, staring at the screen from over the flight officer's shoulder. The red alert lights spilling over the bridge threw odd colors and heightened the tension.
Cain heard but ignored it as he raced up the steps to his command deck. "Any additional information?" he barked.
"Not available. Scanners still say there's nothing there."
"Just like before."
"Shall we call up Bronze Wing and Golden Sun?"
The red alert klaxon changed its pitch, became a ship-wide command to prepare for battle.
Two more figures rushed from the lift entrance.
"What's the drill, sir? Why have we scrambled?" Electra called.
"The aliens." Cain glanced at her, then blinked and stared at her again and at the man right behind her. His eyes narrowed, and he filed away a certain impression for later consideration. "Lieutenant Celene's patrol has made contact. They've made no hostile action yet but we know how fast that could change."
She halted halfway up the steps. "What's our response, Commander?"
He heard the uncertainty. But what could they do? "Nothing at the moment. Memnon, anything?"
"No, sir!" the corporal called back, tension thinning his voice to a sharp wire. "No response. For all I know, they might not even receive transmissions on our channels!"
Apollo stood at the base of the command dais, watching. Every move was familiar, by the book. They were doing everything they could, which was precious little. He didn't feel part of it. He was a stranger on this ship, detached from the hubbub on the bridge. This time, he wasn't even serving as an extension of his base ship by relaying information from his Viper.
Confusion swept over him, and vertigo nearly toppled him.
He gasped a quick breath and shook his head to focus his eyes. The command echoed through his mind again.
Dazed, he stared up at the small cluster on the deck. Cain, Kleopatra, Electra, Tolan. None of them seemed to notice him. Something willed him to take a single step.
"Excuse me, Captain...." Argus pushed past, checking whatever obscure thing he did with his astronavigation charts.
The spell was broken.
Apollo blinked and turned to stare through the huge ports. Cold washed over him. Somewhere out there aliens were buzzing their patrol; somewhere beyond was the base ship that sent out the small light ships. Also out there was the Cylon listening post that had almost captured him and Starbuck.
He felt very glad to be on the bridge and not in space.
Heimdal and Sif stared blankly at each other, feeling caught in each other's eyes as if by charmed serpents. The trap fell away into an abyss and echoed in their minds forever.
The klaxon changed its call, summoning them to join their comrades.
Something else called.
"The klaxon ... that's for us...."
Confused and breathing raggedly, they moved toward the door of their quarters, trying to reorient themselves.
Sgt. Falstaff stumbled on the steps of his Viper lift as the command seared into his brain. He had no idea where it had come from, no idea what it meant. But it suddenly seemed the greatest priority in his life.
The young warrior glanced around; which "her" had been intended? There were several females in his immediate sight Sgt. Astarte clambering into her own Viper; Technician Hekabe rushing somewhere with a replacement board in her hand; Capt. Tamyris running full out to reach her Viper; a woman from security whose name he didn't remember. One of them? Or another? How was he to know...?
"Get in! We could be launching in microns!"
The tech's words galvanized him; Falstaff leapt into his fighter and the lift steps were rolled away. He would consider it later. The strange command faded from conscious memory as he hit his warm-up boosters.
They waited. The commander hadn't given the order to launch, so the squadrons waited. Tension grew. The centons passed. They waited. The klaxon changed its tune; they were on full ship-wide alert. More tension. More waiting.
Starbuck stared at the empty Viper next to his. "Where in Hades is Apollo?" he muttered, his fingers tapping an uneven rhythm on the underside of his joystick. His ship and body were primed. He was ready to launch
But his wingmate was missing.
"Fly with us, Starbuck...."
"You all right, Orestes? You sound ... strange."
"I'm fine." The element of distraction remained.
He figured it was the tension.
In his own Viper, Capt. Orestes stared through his sealed canopy and down the darkness of his launch tube. His lips slightly open, he mouthed words he wouldn't have understood. Thoughts pounded into his skull. His left hand clenched his control stick too tightly, leaving the fingers and knuckles corpse-white.
Something banged the canopy, and he nearly jumped out of his seat.
"Don't tell me you've taken up reciting poetry as part of your launch checklist." Edric leered at him with a grin. "Or are you already delivering a eulogy for the Cylons you intend to send to the salvage yards?"
Orestes realized he'd been holding his breath, and found a small laugh. "I'm fine, just fine. Getting tense, I guess, not enough action. Want a good shot at those aliens or the Cylons or anybody.... Starbuck, did you say Apollo wasn't here?"
"That's what I said," he affirmed.
"Stick with us. We'll triple up...." His hand hurt.
"Right...." Starbuck's brow furrowed. Something was definitely on his brother's mind.
Which of them had spoken their relief as the aliens turned away? Perhaps all of them. The four Vipers in their close formation continued homeward. Whatever the aliens had come for, whatever they wanted, they had chosen not to take it today.
The bridge of the Pegasus was quiet. Someone had begun a cheer when the aliens broke off the engagement, but no one joined in. It hadn't been a battle followed by victory; it hadn't even been survival. It was the aliens, appearing and disappearing as they'd done before, leaving them just as tense and confused as before.
Cain stared at the front ports, almost wishing he could force the aliens back through his will alone. They had come, and gone. And he had done nothing. Nothing. They mocked him with their existence.
"All scanners clear. No further visual sightings," Tolan reported timidly.
"Our scanners were clear before they came and while they were in the quadrant. Give me something I can use," Cain shot back grimly.
"Yes, sir...." The flight officer hunched into his chair and tried to be inconspicuous.
"Commander, it's not his fault," Col. Kleopatra whispered. "Don't take it out on the man."
Cain's eyes flared with wrath, but he made no response. She was right, as usual.
We can't find the Delphians. But the aliens have found us. Let them stay around. Sooner or later, they'll slip up. Or one of my people will remember something I can use. Lords, give me the chance. Let me have a fair shot at them. Let me show them what Colonial warriors can be....
Electra wanted to debrief the contact patrols at once, and arrived in the landing bay in record time. Several of the warriors clustered with her as she waved over the women of the two patrols. She impatiently sent the others away, permitting only the squadron leaders to stay and listen.
Capt. Apollo found himself ordered away with the others. Still unsettled after his weird reactions on the bridge, he wanted to find a quiet place to sit and sort through it, and bring his still-uneven heartbeat back to normal. Unfortunately, he didn't really have a private place on the Pegasus he lived in the main quarters, at the moment, and he had no idea if any of the old domes were still operational or available for private use. The Pegasus wasn't home.
He considered returning to Electra's quarters, but knew that would be extremely presumptuous who knew if last night would ever recur, or if it really meant anything to either to them? It had happened too fast. He knew he, at least, didn't fall into relationships that quickly.
"I missed you."
Apollo jerked at the falsetto voice in his ear, and saw Starbuck grinning over his shoulder.
"I missed you."
"Oh, come on, Apollo. Don't give me that look. You weren't in your bunk last night not that I was either, but you still weren't there this morning, and you didn't make the alert. That is definitely not like you. Where were you? Who were you with? You just appeared down here with Electra when the excitement was over"
He must have flushed. Starbuck froze in mid-jibe, mouth open.
"Electra?" A beat. "My sister? And you didn't even ask me?"
"I don't recall you asking me when you started seeing Athena!" he snapped in return. For some reason, he'd broken into a cold sweat, and he was sure it showed. "Now if you'll excuse me?" He tried to make a dignified exit, figuring anything was better than waiting for Starbuck to come up with another lame comment or some kind of joke especially when he wasn't sure how to respond.
Enter Sheba's Galaxy