Why did the very air of the bridge seem full of anticipation? Colonel Tigh couldn't help feeling it. The crew were watching him, speculating about how soon Adama would resign, how soon he would be their commander in name as well as in most daily actions. They were concerned for their old commander, wondered what changes might occur with the new one, discussed among themselves who could possibly be named the new executive officer. They also questioned what would happen to the military with a new president of the Council, of whom Tigh was known to be less than enamored. The Council could be disagreeable, sometimes actively antagonistic toward the military. The warriors would do their duty as they had always done, but what would their duty consist of? And would they have any support?
Tigh paced restlessly, glancing at the various duty stations as he passed them to rejoin Omega at the command dais.
"All scan turrets show clear," the flight officer reported unnecessarily. "Patrols report nothing unusual."
"Thank you, Omega."
Tigh had to sigh, standing alone, a little apart from them all. He and Council President Tinia still hoped to persuade Adama to change his mind. He wished he knew himself what would happen next.
His eyes caught Capt. Boomer, hesitating at the outer corridor. The flight leader of Blue Squadron looked ... different. Puzzled, Tigh tried to figure out what it was. The man looked more confident and certain, perhaps – determined, as though he'd decided on something and was carrying through before he could change his mind.
Before he could change his mind.
Now why did that seem strange? What was in the warrior's eyes...?
Two strides carried Boomer to the deck. "Colonel, if you have a few moments, I must speak with you."
Tigh hesitated, then touched Omega's shoulder to let him know he'd be gone for a moment.
"What is it, Boomer?" the colonel asked when they were out of hearing.
The captain drew his weapon. "Come with me."
Tigh stiffened. "What...?" He stared at the warrior. Boomer met the stare with abyss-empty eyes and an expressionless face.
"We want no one hurt. Come with me," he repeated flatly.
"Boomer...." The signs had been there; they should have known, should have figured it out. Blue Squadron had been out of control. Her new captain seemed helpless to put them in order. Nestor had reported the man was acting strangely. The captain must have gone over the edge with the deaths of his two dearest friends and the sudden responsibility.
"Come now or pay the price."
Tigh took an unwilling step toward the outer corridor. What could he do here, in the crowded bridge, where any stray shot could destroy vital equipment and kill key personnel, perhaps damage the battlestar beyond repair? He glanced back at the command dais, desperately willing someone to see, but not to take any foolhardy actions. He caught Omega's slightly alarmed gaze. The flight officer had seen Boomer draw the weapon, and continued to watch from the corner of his eye, sitting straighter and taller than usual to keep them in his sight. Tigh risked one low gesture. The flight officer sent back the briefest of nods in understanding.
The two warriors stepped out into the corridor.
"What are you doing, Boomer?" Tigh forced out calmly.
Only the empty, watchful eyes.
"What is it you want? Where are we going?"
The silence was unnerving. And it grew more so when Boomer directed him to the lift, and they descended into the launch bay.
Flight officer Omega waited until Capt. Boomer and Col. Tigh were out of any possible hearing range. Then he pounced on his board.
"Commander Adama, please report to the bridge at once! Security chief, send a warriorscore to secure the bridge. Colonel Tigh has just been kidnaped by Captain Boomer. Boomer is armed, possibly unstable and dangerous. Destination unknown, but they left here by the outer corridor, possibly headed for section Gamma. Security, do you understand? Repeat, Commander Adama to the bridge, immediately! We have a condition red crisis!"
He didn't dare hit the general alert klaxon, for fear of provoking the possible deranged Boomer into harming his prisoner.
Omega barely glanced at the corporal. "What is it, Rigel?"
"Patrol Three, Diedre and Brie, reporting visuals on a group of fast-moving silver ships!" The girl's voice squeaked. "Nothing on their scanners – or ours! It must be the aliens! What shall we do?"
He swallowed hard. "Go to red alert. Scramble all squadrons. Order our patrols to home on us. Have the fleet close in. Ship to battle status," he announced, following his own orders and hitting a dozen switches to arm missiles, activate laser turrets, and turn a dozen ship's alerts into screaming klaxons.
"Omega, you don't have the authority–!" the comm officer protested.
"I'm taking it, Kore. Somebody has to."
"This is Commander Adama," bellowed a voice from the speaker. The veteran warrior's visage appeared on a screen. "What's going on?"
"Commander!" Omega shouted above the klaxons. "Captain Boomer has just kidnaped Colonel Tigh, and one of patrols has spotted the aliens. Please report to the bridge. Your presence is needed."
"On my way. Have you scrambled our squadrons and pulled in patrols?"
"Yes, sir!" he managed a brisk response.
"Excellent. Hold our position and bunch the fleet." The transmission ended abruptly.
"The launch bay! Someone is launching without clearance.... Technician Noday reports Captain Boomer has taken his Viper – and Colonel Tigh is with him!"
"Who's out there to intercept?"
"In that quadrant...." She glanced at her screen, double-checking. "Patrol Six – Barton and Cree."
"Apprise them of the situation – tell them to intercept if they can, pursue if they must. To the best of our knowledge, not a terminal situation, and remind them that Colonel Tigh is aboard that fighter. Status of our squadrons?"
"Nestor reports Red and Green Squadrons ready.... Add Yellow Squadron to the list.... Blue Squadron is disorganized, they have no flight leader...."
"Launch Red and Green. Hold Yellow and Blue."
A beat, then the teeth-tingling sensation from somewhere that said they were launching in force.
"Red and Green away. Blue still not ready...."
Omega stared into thin air, feeling sick. Blue was the best they had ... at any other time. Without them.... "Sheba.... Is Sheba there?"
"She hasn't reported in, on furlon ... last location, a shuttle to the Rising Star. She can't get back...."
"Bojay, take Blue Squadron!" he barked, nearly losing it, fighting back from the edge.
For a long moment, the tension was unreal.
"Blue Squadron finally reports ready...."
"Get Blue and Yellow in–"
"Rigel, explain!" Omega demanded, trying to keep his voice steady. He couldn't bound down to analyze her boards for himself, couldn't even switch his own screens – he had too much to keep track of now.
"Boomer has altered course! He's flying straight for the aliens!"
A figure in blue rushed into the bridge, a slighter form in similar color directly behind him. Commander Adama hurried up the command deck steps; Athena grabbed a spare headset at Kore's station to find out what was going on.
"Status, Omega?" Adama demanded breathlessly.
"Patrols Six and Three ... report that Boomer's ship ... met the aliens ... was engulfed by white light ... and vanished...." the girl forced out, frozen in shock. "They are dropping back ... to join Red and Green Squadrons...."
"Corporal!" Adama bellowed.
"The aliens ... have also chosen to vanish, sir...." she finished faintly.
Less than five centons had passed since the aliens had been spotted, less than eight since Boomer had kidnaped Tigh.
Adama turned a grim expression on Omega. "What happened?"
The explanation was not easy, and left the commander as shocked and confounded as the others were. He stared at the fore port screens, scanning empty space and knowing he would see nothing at this range. Why had the aliens returned? What had happened to Boomer? Why had he gone to the aliens? And why had he taken Tigh with him?
The situation was suddenly an emergency once again. And he had lost the man he trusted most to stand at his back. There would be no leaving the Galactica now.
Captain Nestor was scarcely aware of the ordered chaos around him. Klaxons still chimed alert status for the kidnaping and the return of the silver ships of the aliens; warrior security swarmed through the bay, weapons ready for trouble, staring around as if expecting the girders to wake into menacing life; returning pilots gathered in small, agitated groups, staying near their fighters, and watching everything too closely; technicians rushed with their usual careful efficiency to refuel and check Vipers in case another emergency launch should be called; other flight crew stood by the recalled shuttle to help a quick unloading. None of it, however, made any impression beyond causing him to step aside blankly when someone scurried past him. He didn't even hear his wingmate calling as she ran after him.
He had failed, and that knowledge ate at his gut like scavenging Picon tomb rats.
I thought I knew ... I thought it was under control. I thought Boomer was going to be all right, it was just grief, he would snap back....
But it wasn't all right, and his friend hadn't recovered. Instead, Boomer had gone over the edge and thrown himself to perdition, taking the colonel with him. And it was his fault. He should have seen and done something more before it came to this. Boomer had been his friend, he should have done something. Instead, he'd let it go and hoped. And it had gone so terribly wrong....
Nestor stared down the rank of Vipers, the comments of some of the warriors slowly beginning to penetrate.
"...the aliens, back again...."
"...in Hades happened to Boomer...."
"...left us here like babies who couldn't be trusted to...."
"...wouldn't even let us launch to go after him...."
"...couldn't do anything, no leader...."
"...could we have done anything anyway...."
"...lost another good man, another flight leader...."
"...why always us who have to pay...."
He'd left his own people behind; this was Blue Squadron, but a very different Blue Squadron from the men and women who had been the pride of the fleet only sectons before. There was a confusion and helpless anger that he had obviously failed to deal with.
"...it makes no sense, what do they want...."
"...Boomer was acting funny...."
"...where was Sheba...."
"...Apollo wouldn't have...."
His attention snapped back. Boomer. Sheba. Apollo. Starbuck. Words of poison to this squadron. It was spreading.
"Why didn't he do something?" Greenbean's voice, frustrated beyond measure. "They give us a frakkin' Academy instructor, call him a flight commander, expect him to lead us? What kind of leader is that?"
Somebody else took up the chorus. "Yeah. What does he know about combat? About really being in space? Lords-be-damned teacher, for Sagan's sake. He wasn't ready for this. What could he do?"
Nestor stared. A handful of the pilots were watching him, various expressions of pain and baffled rage on their faces. Greenbean, Jolly, Cree, Giles, Dietra. Others moved closer, slowly forming a vague semi-circle as if to cluster for a kill. All looking at him as if he should have done something, but had failed. He couldn't help feeling the same.
"You want something, Captain?" one of them finally asked.
"You have a problem with what just happened out there?" he inquired coolly.
They merely stared back at him, cold and angry and almost mutinous.
"Only a question. What did just happen out there?" The man was almost taunting, challenging Nestor to respond.
"Since you seem to have the answers, perhaps you could share with me just what we could have done? From the safety of the bay, of course, since you weren't ready to launch until the emergency was pretty much over. I like to encourage input from my squadrons," he finished with heavy irony, and a heavier emphasis on "my."
Several expressions hardened; others looked uneasy.
Steps flanked him. Io stood on his right; another pilot from Red Squadron, Blackjack, stood to his left; with Sol beside Blackjack. No one could avoid noticing their hands resting too close to their weapons.
Blue Squadron's surviving finest moved away sullenly.
"Thank you," he mouthed to the three warriors now clustering around him. He didn't think he would have needed them, but it might be a good thing to remind Blue Squadron they weren't the only warriors on the battlestar – especially now.
Io shook her head gravely. "This shouldn't be happening."
"Shouldn't it? Maybe they're right – maybe I'm not meant to be a flight commander. I don't know these people, haven't been with them long enough...."
Sol touched his captain's shoulder. "They'll learn. I'll talk to Sheba, though, see what she hears or knows. She's still Blue Squadron, and she supports you."
He snorted unhappily. "I need all the support I can get – but what if they're right, and I'm not fit for combat command...?"
"Stow it, Captain," the third pilot cut in. "You're okay."
"That's something, coming from a man who doesn't like officers."
The lieutenant shrugged it off. "Detested Starbuck, didn't care for Apollo, Boomer's all right, except for some of the company he keeps. You're okay, so I figure we got to keep you around or they'll stick us with another of those stuffed-tunic ego cases." Blackjack strode away.
Nestor almost laughed, but he was hurting too much.
A blonde woman literally ran off the barely-halted shuttle, and pelted off down the landing bay, obviously heading for the briefing chamber.
"Speaking of Sheba...." Sol ran after her, calling her name.
Io touched Nestor's arm. "I'll check the landing reports."
"Will you be all right?"
He drew a thick sigh. "Some day."
"Make it soon. The Commander will want to see us all in debriefing in a few centons."
She moved on, leaving him standing alone in the emptying bay.
There had been a burst of light, followed by screams, probably his, then a retreat to nothing. The nothingness had passed slowly; he had been vaguely aware that things were happening around him, but the sounds were somehow beyond his conscious hearing, the lights gleamed dimly as through a dark screen, the touches whispered across his skin too ephemeral to identify. There was even emotion, the strangest of all, feelings that should have been vivid, but made only shallow impressions on him as he let them wash over his muted thoughts. There was nothing he could do, so he waited, wishing he could dream to pass the time.
Maybe it was a dream, he considered idly. Was this how sleep passed? Would he remember this in the morning, when he was awake, and color and sound and touch had meaning again?
Only gradually did he become aware that someone stood over him. He stared up at whoever or whatever it was. He wasn't surprised that the being had no relation to anything humanoid. In fact, if looked very like one of the creatures Apollo and Boomer had seen and described; he prided himself on making that connection in his current befogged condition.
"You are a colonel. One who does not yet command."
It spoke Colonial Standard. That should have surprised him, too.
"Yes," he responded distantly.
"Good. Then you will now command. They will be yours."
He would now command....
The being froze in its posture, and Tigh sensed consternation on its part.
"The herd must have a leader, a commander...."
"No," he repeated. "I won't take command. Adama, you can't step down. I won't take your ship. We need you."
It was only a dream, after all, wasn't it?
Adama wanted to cry out "Why?" He stared at the stars in anguish. His friend was gone, his second, the man he trusted at his back. Who would stand by him now? Was the universe determined to leave him totally alone, chained forever to the bridge of a slowly emptying ship, protecting a dying fleet? Who would be the next to disappear?
And why, why?
He turned to find Tinia's steady gaze still locked on him, as he had known it was the entire past centar. She had appeared and, as president of the Council, demanded to be included in the debriefing. He had let her stay.
Now his warriors were gone ... no, they had left the room, they weren't gone. Tigh was gone. With Apollo, and Starbuck, and Boomer. With Zac, and Serina, and the hundreds, maybe thousands of warriors he had known in his lifetime. With Ila, and Uri, and Adar. With the billions of humans who had died in the Colonies.
The awesome toll almost overwhelmed him. Was there anything worth fighting for? Who was he to think he could save something when the entire universe and the Lords themselves seemed bent on their utter annihilation? No wonder the fleet was haunted....
"Adama, will you be all right?"
"Have I a choice?" he demanded bitterly, meeting her gaze with glittering eyes. Anger and frustration took form, then firmed into resolve in his heart. Even if he were fighting fate itself, he couldn't do anything less. Duty and honor demanded it. Even if living for just a little while longer was all they succeeded in doing. Maybe life was the only revenge he could throw in the face of death.
"We need you, Adama...."
"Tinia, I am tired of being needed. But I will not leave. Not until I am sure our people are safe, and there is someone to lead them after me...."
She thought his voice sounded as hollow as his eyes, and despite his words, the fear rose in her again.
Enter Sheba's Galaxy