"Good morning, Cain," a soft voice teased through his subconscious, finally penetrating the commander's sleep-dazed mind. He woke with a start, throwing off the blanket and grabbing the holstered laser hanging next to his pilot's uniform. The habit of long yahrens spent answering klaxons and warnings at odd centars refused to die.
The voice giggled. "From the sound, I imagine you're responding to my wake-up call just like the warrior you are. Can you hear me, Cain, or am I still just part of your dreams?"
Commander Cain of the battlestar Pegasus was fully alert, laser in one hand, already half-dressed. His reflexively-functioning brain placed the voice, and he saw the woman's face smiling out from the screen on his desk. The comm was set to receive, but not to send visual images, so the lady could hear but not see him, while he could both hear and see her. The beautiful blonde continued to smile as he strode to his desk, his uniform shirt still half-open.
"Cassiopeia! What in blazes...."
The generous mouth under the sparkling blue eyes smiled wider. "Ah, you are awake. I thought I'd give you a send-off on your last morning before your big mission. I knew you couldn't spare the time to see me in person, but I wanted to give you something to hurry home to."
Cain's frown had already completely dissolved into an answering smile. He flipped the toggle that would permit the device to begin transmitting his image to her, still studying her even profile. He recognized the background immediately - an apartment in the better section of Caprica City, her home when she was on that world.
"There you are," she said. "I can see you now."
Cassiopeia had indeed taken pains this morning, he could see. Her hair was artfully piled on top of her head, with a few dangling curls. A rust-colored gown complimented her fair skin. The jeweled adornments she wore were gifts he himself had given her not long before, on her natal day.
"Well, Cain, have I left you completely speechless?" she teased.
"Cassie, you know you look lovely, incredibly lovely. But how'd you get through to me here?" He wrapped a beige ascot around his throat as he spoke, then tried to tie it.
"I threatened Corporal Memnon with dire consequences if he wouldn't patch me through. I couldn't let you off without saying good bye, whatever this tremendous mission is that you can't talk about. Can you at least promise me you'll be careful?" The wide blue eyes turned imploring as she pursed her lips in a pout.
Cain laughed out loud. "You know I'll do that. But I'll have to speak to that corporal about his lapse in discipline...."
"Don't do that," she interrupted quickly, then continued sweetly. "After all, you yourself once said I was impossible for any man to resist, just after you pulled rank on that Scorpian captain...."
"You ought to be with Intelligence, Cassie. I doubt there's any man alive could stand up against your special persuasion."
"Some good I'd be, when you won't even hint at how long you'll be gone"
"You know I can't do that, but if you laugh for me again, I'll let Memnon off - this time. But I have to get to work. Say good bye, Cassie?" He hated having to say farewell to her. She'd been special to him ever since the day he'd met her, not long after his wife had died.
Cassiopeia replied with a gentle, low-pitched giggle, and a special gleam in her sapphire-blue eyes. "I'll never forget you, you old war-daggit. Hurry back." She smiled a moment longer, then bent her golden head as if to hide the sheen in her eyes. He saw her wave once; then her hand disappeared from view, and the screen's image froze as she cut the link. Cain felt an urge to call her back, to say something more, something he'd forgotten to tell her....
But that wouldn't be fair. She wouldn't want him to see her cry, wouldn't want his last memory to be of her dabbing at smudged eyes and smeared cheeks. He respected that.
Another voice broke through the comm. "Surface to ship communication completed. Message cycled and coded five-five-one-two-point-seven-see, Commander's access only." Then Memnon was silent.
Cain mentally blessed the communications officer's intelligence, perception, and quick thinking, and decided the boy deserved a little leeway this time.
He had stepped to the mirror to comb his hair and finish tying his scarf, which had thus far resisted his best efforts, when the door annunciator chimed. Forgetting Cassie, he remembered he had an early breakfast date with his daughter.
Lt. Sheba glanced quickly around the chamber before entering, and saw Cmdr. Cain was awake and dressed. She herself was in a pilot's uniform, her long hair pulled mercilessly back into a strict military knot. She had her father's determined expression, but her gentler features and warm brown eyes were those of her mother, Jerusha. There was an eager expression on her face.
Then her eyes found the screen, where the image of Cassiopeia still lingered. Her face hardened, and her eyes turned cold as she stared accusingly at Cain. "You were talking to her," she challenged, daring her father to deny it.
"Cassie called to say good bye. Surely you don't begrudge your father that," he responded patiently.
Whatever pleasant conversation Sheba had intended to begin was forgotten. She stared helplessly and balefully at the screen. How could her father, the great Commander Cain, possibly be interested in a ... a common socialator? How could he do that to her mother's memory? When her father was thinking of that woman, he didn't have time for his only child.
"What's on your mind, Sheba?" From the expression on her face, he knew quite well what his daughter was thinking; they'd argued about it before. But maybe talking about Cassiopeia would help ease the situation.
"Just a few memories," she replied stiffly, then tried to soften her voice before continuing. "I remember the time we toured the ship, just before I started at the Academy, and we all ate breakfast together in the pilots' mess. I think some of them were jealous of you, when they saw how lovely Mother was-"
"Sheba!" Cain's voice was low, sharp, and slightly pained. "I realize you miss your mother; I miss her too. But there comes a time when you have to let go of the past and work toward the future. No matter how much the past matters to you. I believe that time has come. Do you understand?"
"I understand!" she shot back, her lips trembling slightly as she tried to hold back the unwelcome, unwarrior-like tears. How could her father do this? And for her? "You think so highly of Mother's memory that you couldn't wait to start chasing some little tramp-"
"Lieutenant!" Now, there was only ice in his voice, in his clipped, angry tones. "That will be all. Dismissed."
She stared in shock. Dressing her down like a first-orbit cadet? After a moment, she realized what had happened, that she'd let her temper get in the way of her feelings for her father, said things she shouldn't have let slip, and been banished from his presence. It was all Cassiopeia's fault! Then, with exaggerated formality, she saluted, snapped out a crisp, "Yes, sir!" and turned to the door, marching stiffly from the room without looking back.
Cain watched her go. He was tempted to call her back, tell her he loved her and understood what she was feeling, try again to explain, hug her like the little girl she'd always been to him; but his own anger and pride were aroused. He was the commander of this ship, and no lieutenant was going to speak to him in that insulting manner, or denigrate the woman he.... The woman he what?
Did he love Cassiopeia? She had come into his life at just the right time, and done just the right things. She'd helped him through the pain of his wife's passing, when it was still a raw, deep, open wound that choked his heart with emptiness. She'd never tried to tie him down, never sunk claws into him as if he were some sort of property, never tried to drag him into her world like some prize to display, never claimed more than he could give her at any time. Cassie wasn't much older than his daughter in age, but she had a hard-won wisdom and maturity he at times doubted Sheba would ever have.
Sweet little Sheba. With him gone so much of the time, perhaps the child had depended too much on her mother. With her father practically a Colonial legend, it had to have been difficult for a young girl to find friends, to recognize and trust those who liked her for herself. And she and her mother had shared such a pride in Cain - just as they shared such a strong resemblance.
Sheba was a warrior - young, mostly untried, but still a warrior. Now she was at his side, grown through the pain of being alone after Jerusha's death, forcing him to remember the dead wife she so closely resembled. She was jealous of anything that might possibly come between her father and herself, and her pride in him. So fearful was she of her father's love affair, she'd failed to seek any other personal life of her own. She wanted only to be near Cain, and to remove Cassiopeia from any share in his life. She failed to see that she could never take her mother's place - or Cassie's - no matter how hard she tried.
Cain sighed. He loved them both - two young women, so near in age, both beautiful and precious to him, but for different reasons. He wanted them both to have a part in his life. Cassiopeia would gladly accept Sheba, if only his daughter could be convinced to accept the other woman at her father's side. It wouldn't be easy, but....
He knew he had to make a decision about Cassiopeia, either to give their relationship a permanent significance or to release her from any ties to him. When this mission was over, he would have that decision, and would stand by it. He knew what Sheba wanted; he also thought he knew what Cassie would accept. She loved him; both women did. Perhaps Sheba would have to learn to live with that not-so-insignificant fact.
His stomach growled, reminding him that time was passing; it was time for a meal. Soon, the Pegasus would be underway, with the Olympus and the Britannica - her sister ships - and the numerous support craft that made up the Fifth Fleet, on the secret, urgent mission assigned them by High Command.
He grabbed his flight jacket and headed for the officers' mess. He should stop on the bridge first, check with Kleopatra on mission status.
The mission. Molecay was a crossroads planet, approximately midway between the Colonial Alliance and the Delphian Empire, the center of a trade network spanning several quadrants. A single planet with one natural satellite, circling an old red star, Molecay had been inhabited by a succession of spare-faring non-native sentient species for over fifty millennia, and was constantly in a state of political flux as various peoples fought for control, or manipulated each other for the most profitable positions or businesses. At present, Cain had been told at the briefing, there were at least two dozen species represented among the population, including Colonials and Delphians.
Molecay tried to maintain neutrality in the Colonial-Cylon War, struggling to retain its independence from the militaristic Delphian Empire at the same time. It was in the Colonies' best interest to see the planet free and autonomous. While she at times harbored fugitives from justice, she also provided a safe haven for refugees, and a free Molecay kept important trade routes open for several species other than the humans.
Until now, the Cylon Empire had more or less respected that neutrality, since Molecay posed no threat to them; even Cylon agents worked through it at times. Now, however, word had been smuggled to High Command through supposedly "absolutely reliable" intelligence sources that a Cylon fleet was slowly tightening a noose around that system, threatening its autonomy.
To prevent a Cylon takeover, the Fifth Fleet was ordered to "visit" Molecay on a "goodwill" mission. They were to break the siege, if necessary, or drive the Cylons out if they were already on the planet. If the report proved false, they were simply - though quite diplomatically and most dramatically - a reminder to the Cylon Imperious Leader that the Colonies would not stand by and permit the mechanical empire to overrun a "friendly power."
Cain frowned as he strode down the corridors of his ship, drawing concerned glances from passing crew, who quickly stopped and stood to attention as he went by. He returned their salutes automatically, deep in thought. Intelligence had never been his favorite branch of the service. Despite their small numbers and almost complete secrecy, he felt they received too much leeway from High Command, and too much media attention for their few publicized activities. He could never quite bring himself to trust men and women who made their living by deceit, rather than straightforward battle - even if such people were occasionally necessary to the military. They had too many secrets.
Molecay had never asked for outside help before, he reminded himself. In fact, they shunned it whenever possible, and several times had ignored Colonial offers of alliance or treaty. Of course, they were more likely to turn to the Colonies than to the Delphian Empire if they truly feared for their autonomy; the Delphians had long desired to annex the system. And a few, independent Molecay at least permitted what little interaction there was between the Colonies and the Empire. The two nations had skirmished over minor differences in the past, but political scientists still cheerfully predicted the Delphians would eventually join the human alliance of their own free will.
If that were eventually to happen, the warrior in Cain secretly wished the Delphians would take over Molecay. It would make one less border to defend against the Cylons, would give them one more friend among the stars. On the other hand, if this crisis lasted any length of time, Molecay might quietly accept Colonial dominance as an alternative to Cylon tyranny.
Cain smiled, suddenly realizing he'd stopped in the middle of an empty corridor, and resumed his stride toward breakfast. Molecay would have to wait....
Damn, damn, damn! How could I have done such a stupid thing?
Sheba stared morosely at the deck as she stepped out of the turbolift. She'd let her emotions speak before thinking, mentioning her mother like that, talking about her. How could she have been so lacking in subtlety? It wasn't tactically correct. She should have taken him to breakfast first, then brought up her mother slowly, carefully, reminiscing. Maybe he'd have told some stories about the early days of their courtship and sealing, when an irrepressible warrior had swept a young Caprican woman off her feet, and made her the toast of society in a whirlwind courtship by the Hero of Cimtar. Maybe he'd have remembered all the promises he'd made her when she was a little girl. Maybe they'd have been able to share hopes for the future, talk about plans - if nothing else, discuss the immediate mission.
Now that Cassiopeia was here, Sheba saw much less of her father, unless they were working. And today, she didn't even have that little time with him. She'd lost her temper; Cain had responded in kind; and that socialator had won another victory.
Why? What does Father see in Cassiopeia? Why can't he turn to me, his daughter, if he needs to talk or wants someone to share his time with? After all, what does that woman know about us, about our lives, our hopes, our dreams? A cheap - no, not cheap, expensive - those "trinkets" on her last birthday! - whore, a socialator, for Sagan's sake! How can such a woman take Mother's place?
Sheba hated Cassiopeia for many reasons, some of them simple, like not wanting to see another woman in her mother's place; some more complicated, from the complex web of emotions in a father-daughter, commander-lieutenant relationship. As a warrior, she saw her contest with Cassiopeia as a military engagement, with the prize being Cain's undivided attention.
There were some things she couldn't give her father, she knew that - but she was his daughter! She ought to have some say in his life. She shared his chosen profession; she was at his side more than Cassiopeia could ever be; she knew the risks as the other woman never could. She and her father could share duty, and flying, and fighting....
It never occurred to her that there might be times when Cain didn't want to talk about fighting, didn't need to be reminded of war, when he needed a gentler hand to ease the pains and fears even a "living legend" couldn't avoid. He was still only a man, whose emotions and needs Cassiopeia understood, unencumbered by the burden of living up to unwritten expectations. Sheba insisted her father be the warrior, the hero, so she could be the loyal daughter and follow him with pride; Cassiopeia accepted him as a man, and was content to be a woman for him.
Sheba crossed the deck with aimless steps. She'd lost her appetite, so she simply wandered about, hating Cassiopeia and berating herself. Instinct carried her to her Viper, her only real home. Without her mother there, the house on Caprica was only a shell, and lieutenants didn't rate fancy quarters on a warship, even if their father was the commander.
A shadowy figure watched her walk by, then vanished along the row of fighters, confident the woman hadn't observed its furtive actions.
There was her Viper, one of a long row of sleek fighting machines, gleaming silver-white with red striping. She trailed her hand along the red band on one of the delta wings, still lost in depression.
The two men who approached Sheba and the line of ships watched without disturbing her for several long centons.
Lt. Garnyd was her wingman. The tall, spare warrior had graduated from the Caprican Academy with Sheba, although he was at least six or seven yahrens older than she was, and they'd flown together throughout the two yahrens they'd been aboard the Pegasus. Garnyd understood people very well, and from his friendship with Sheba, he knew that only a problem with her father could put that combination of wistful lostness and impotent anger on her face. The most likely cause had to be the woman Cmdr. Cain was known to be seeing.
Zumbro was a stockily-built man, not much taller than Sheba, but with twenty extra yahrens. One of the Viper maintenance technicians for Silver Spar Squadron, and an old hand aboard the Pegasus, he saw a lot of Sheba, and talked with her frequently. Involved as she was trying to be in her father's life, she never realized that he had fallen deeply in love with her. She didn't notice the extra care he lavished on her ship, and would have been startled to hear him speak of his feelings for her. Zumbro wouldn't tell her he loved her; he strongly suspected Sheba would never love anyone but a warrior, and preferably one as heroic as possible, someone her father would be proud to welcome into the family. No, he wouldn't tell her; she would never know.
The warrior and the mechanic exchanged worried glances. Then Zumbro nodded and went on to his assigned task of checking out Garnyd's ship. The lieutenant, almost paranoid in his concern for his Viper, trusted only Zumbro for maintenance work.
Garnyd approached Sheba, hoping a little talk would put a smile back on her now-unhappy features. He tapped her shoulder.
She looked up, startled, but managed a fleeting smile. "Oh, hi, Garnyd. Did you say something?"
He knew something was really bothering her. She prided herself on her quick alertness. "No," he said aloud. "But you look like you've got something on your mind."
She shrugged in response, considered denying it, then turned away from him to study her Viper.
"Weren't you supposed to have breakfast with the Commander today?" he asked, remembering her pleased animation of the night before. He crossed his arms and leaned against the delta fin.
She glanced murderously back at him, lips twitching slightly before tightening to a thin line. "We were supposed to," she said, then forced her chin to lift proudly. "Something came up." Her insistence was defiant, if a bit lame.
"I thought socialators weren't allowed on board the night before a mission." Garnyd's tone was light, but he watched her narrowly as he went straight to the heart of the problem. "Or any civilians, for that matter," he continued when she shot another angry glare at him, her eyes sparkling with rage.
"No! She called him! And some idiot put her through. At least she couldn't come aboard. I just couldn't stand knowing that...." she finished, her voice seething as she tried to control herself. If she didn't scream, Sheba was afraid she might burst into tears - and she was determined not to do that.
A nearby burst of laughter startled them both, and they jumped guiltily, staring across the flight deck.
The Pegasus, leaving night simulation, was rapidly coming awake. People were crisscrossing the previously empty deck; pilots and techs were checking ships; maintenance personnel and miscellaneous crew members were pursuing private errands. Three people detached themselves from the flowing stream of traffic and strolled toward the two pilots.
Technician Vandel, unlike Zumbro, had a sort of rakish charm that drew women to him. Just now, he was accompanied by two pretty young pilots. One was from Silver Spar; the other, recently assigned to Bronze Wing, was a stranger to both Sheba and Garnyd.
"Hey, Zumbro!" Vandel called jovially. "Did you know Livia here's from your home town? I didn't think there were that many of you in the whole fleet from that old moon!"
The tech popped out from under the launch track to stare briefly in pleased surprise before answering with a greeting of his own. Most of the inhabitants of Elys Moon Base were independent traders; few entered military service, and those few were unlikely to accept assignment to the flagship of Sagittara.
Garnyd and Sheba moved out of hearing range. While Cain took pains to treat his daughter as much like any other warrior as possible, she was always proud to be his "baby," and would never willingly let anyone know if there was a strain in their relationship. But Garnyd always knew when something was troubling her, and she knew she could trust her wingmate implicitly.
"You can't run your father's life, you know," the tall man said quietly as they walked.
"I'm not trying to run his life!" she whispered back. "I just can't stand the thought of him wasting his time with a socialator!"
"Even if he loves her?" Garnyd asked.
"Love? Cassiopeia? Impossible! Everybody knows a socialator's 'love' lasts only as long as a man's cubits!" she responded spitefully. "Men don't really love them, or marry them!"
Her companion was silent for a moment. Sheba had made up her mind about Cassiopeia without giving the other woman a chance. Maybe she was afraid of her, but he'd met the socialator, and she was really a very nice person. Somehow, though, Sheba seemed determined to be the only woman in Cain's life.
"I doubt you'll change your father's mind by sulking," he commented at last.
"I know that," she replied quickly, but he had the feeling that sulking was exactly what she planned to do, if necessary.
"Hey, Garnyd!" someone yelled.
They glanced back. Vandel was waving some sort of device in the air. Zumbro peered out from under the nose of Garnyd's Viper; the two female pilots stood behind Vandel.
"Zumbro wants to know what this thing is that you wired into your main tylium feed C-circuits. Power increase or some such? You been holding out on us?"
Garnyd stared for a moment, his mouth open, frowning in confusion at the unusual, unfamiliar device. Then it made sense, and his eyes widened in outright horror.
"Merciful Lords!" he breathed, then ran back toward his Viper, screaming, "Leave it! Get away from there! Now!"
"Very good of you to give us a personal send-off," Cain said politely, nodding slightly in Count Baltar's direction, somehow managing to include the man's enigmatic aide and pilot Karibdis without actually acknowledging him. He didn't have much patient for bureauticians, especially the Council's lackeys. To have to endure their presence when he would rather be on the bridge preparing for departure or checking out sections of his ship, was difficult indeed. He found Baltar a particularly troublesome nuisance. The Picon showed up far too often for his liking and had become, to Cain's thinking, a real pain in the posterior.
"You've been most generous with your time, Commander, and I do appreciate how busy you must be," the count replied with equal politeness. The smile on his face reached nowhere near his eyes. His aide muttered some equally meaningless platitude and retreated into his usual somber silence.
Cain's feeling about Baltar were reciprocated. The civilian was as eager to leave as the warrior was to have him gone. Both had other matters on their minds; both had spent the previous centar fidgeting in each other's company. But at last the required socially and militarily correct time was up.
"Your shuttle is ready for departure, unless there's something else...?" Cain queried, clearly hoping the count would leave immediately. The Picon's personal shuttle, marked with some peculiarly obscure family crest, was refueled and prepared, waiting on the deck of the huge landing bay. It was a decidedly unmilitary vessel, easily recognizable, in space or on the ground. The expected honor guard still stood watch.
"I've taken up quite enough of your time," Baltar replied hastily, with a quick glance at his aide. Obviously, they were glad to be on their way. Cain waited politely but impatiently as the two men boarded the small ship.
Baltar turned to Karibdis as soon as the hatch clanged shut behind them. They had complete privacy.
"Did you do it?" he demanded in a hushed voice, nearly shaking in anticipation.
Karibdis smiled, a dark, forbidding expression that didn't belong on his blandly handsome face. "Done. The first time our friendly intelligence officer launches, he'll redecorate his launch tube in red. Such a terrible accident...."
Baltar shuddered slightly at his aide's obvious relish for a young man's sudden death, but his reaction didn't last long. The intelligence "plant" aboard the Pegasus had been a thorn in his side in the past, and he was glad to know the man would soon be dead. Even though the battlestar - and Cain - would never return from this mission, it gave him great pleasure to know the agent's death would be a more personal victory.
"I trust this will prove to our friends that we are trustworthy allies," Karibdis commented.
"Yesss...." Baltar hissed slowly, greed betrayed in his narrow eyes. "The Fifth Fleet, the first installment in exchange for control of Picon when the war is over. Soon, very soon...."
Karibdis smiled enigmatically, somehow seeming more evil than the man he served. He would continue to serve Cylon interests under the count for the present, but afterward, who knew? He might claim a Colony of his own to rule, or perhaps Baltar would not survive to claim Picon after all....
He took the pilot's seat and began the prelaunch check.
Cain watched as Baltar's shuttle launched, relieved to see his unwelcome guests go; at last, he could return to his proper duties, which were infinitely more interesting and satisfying. As the small craft vanished into the first Caprican sunrise, he turned briskly away.
There were large numbers of pilots and technicians scurrying over the flight deck, engaged in their own activities. He saw Sheba among them, talking to her wingman. Perhaps he should speak with her for a moment; he'd been brusque this morning, more so than he'd intended, and his conscience disturbed him. She was, after all, his daughter, and Jerusha's....
Somebody called to one of them; they both looked back at Garnyd's ship, where a cluster of techs and pilots had gathered. Garnyd yelled something in return, and started running toward the group; Sheba followed him. His shout drew the attention of others; several people watched curiously.
Garnyd stopped abruptly, whirled, and threw himself at Sheba, still a few paces behind.
Cain started forward, intending to find out what was wrong.
Hades flared in the bay.
A searing ball of intense white light suddenly engulfed the Viper and the people around it; thunder echoed through the bay. The noise reverberated across the deck, and sudden screams tore at Cain's ears. The brilliance of the explosive flare blinded him for a long moment. The screams continued, a background only dimly perceived through the roar of tylium-fed explosions.
When Cain could see again, he stared at the burning section of deck. Garnyd's Viper no longer existed; Vipers on either side of where it had stood burned brightly. Fear stopped his heart for a micron; for a desperate moment, he couldn't breathe, much less call out in his anguish. He took a step, his eyes searching wildly.
Then he saw her, under Garnyd's inert form, beyond the fire's reach. The commander forgot all decorum and ran for a mere lieutenant's side, a father concerned for his child. Lords, if she was dead.... He would never forgive himself that their last words had been harsh.
"Sheba!" he called again, his voice a groan. He reached his baby's side and stared at her closed eyes and pale face, all he could see under Garnyd's larger, bloody body.
Somebody had grabbed a boroton mist container and was working on the small fires, smothering them before the Viper fuel tanks could explode. Somebody else sounded an alarm; lights and sirens flashed everywhere, adding to the confusion. It would be several centons, though, before a medical team could reach the bay. Someone with first aid training came running with a medkit. Other personnel gathered around, maintaining a respectful distance, watching in shocked silence, unsure what do to.
Cain didn't dare touch either of them; he didn't know how badly they might be hurt. Let the medics see to them first. If Sheba was dead.... He glanced about, forcing conscious thought back into his stunned mind.
There had been three - no, four - people standing by the Viper. Those burnt lumps, smelling of overcooked meat.... His stomach rose into his throat, but he forced it down again. He was a warrior.
He recognized one of the men who stood nearby, watching awkwardly. "Foster! Get those people back, and set up a security line until Major Daniel can look at this. And cover those bodies, if you can find something."
The young security sergeant heard him over the shrieking of a warning siren; he broke his frozen stance, pushed several people back, and disappeared into the crowd.
"What ... what happened? Gar ... nyd, where...?" Cain caught his breath at Sheba's confused words. She was conscious, wide-eyed, rubbing at the back of her head. She pushed at her wingmate's body uncomprehendingly, then stared at her father again, dazed but alive.
She was alive! Thank the Lords, she was alive!
"Oh, baby!" Garnyd rolled aside as Cain caught his daughter in his arms, crushing her close, shaking a little. Her hair fell loose over his arms; it had never looked so good to him.
"Garnyd!" She saw the blood on the unconscious man's uniform, the metal-slashed rips that dribbled small red pools of life onto the deck, and realized he wasn't moving. She stared back at her father with tragic eyes. "He ... shielded me. He must have ... or I'd be.... Father, what happened?"
"I don't know, baby, I don't know. Rest, don't move. The doctors will be here soon."
"Zumbro! And the others!" She stared helplessly past her father at the scattered wreckage and the human carnage, and her pale face turned a sickly shade of green. But like her father, she was made of stern stuff, and controlled her stomach. Several others had less control, and ran.
Foster reappeared, his arms full of some dark material; the med team was with him. Someone helped the security man cover the charred bodies and move the still-gathering crowd back. Major Daniel, Chief of Security, arrived to take charge of examining the explosion scene. Doctor Helena, Chief Medical Officer, knelt to check Garnyd. Several med techs and emergency personnel hovered nearby or went to help the other injured.
"I'll take a look at them," Helena's assistant offered, gesturing toward the corpses.
"Can you handle it?" the statuesque medic asked quietly. The man had only recently been assigned to the Pegasus, and she couldn't remember his background.
"I was at Cosmara Archipelago." With that simple explanation, the skilled healer took up the grisly role of coroner. After a brief hesitation, one of the med techs slowly knelt to help him.
Helena rose after a moment, and two of her med techs carefully shifted the injured Garnyd onto a gurney. The doctor extended a hand to Sheba.
"I'm all right," the lieutenant said, still staring at her wingman. "How's Garnyd?"
"We'll see. I'm checking you anyway. Standard procedure, if nothing else. Commander, what happened here?"
"I'm not sure yet. Sheba, go with her. Do what you can for him, Helena. I think he knew something...."
The doctor nodded. "Of course, Commander," she replied solemnly.
Garnyd suddenly stirred, seeming to come to life again. He was lying on his stomach, since his back was bleeding, and he half-rolled to stare up at his commander, one hand groping futilely at the wounds in his back.
"Don't move, Lieutenant," the doctor warned. "You've been hurt, but you'll be all right." The warning did nothing, but Garnyd lacked the strength to move, and fell back onto the gurney. His eyes, still fixed on Cain, were unfocusing, as if he were going into shock. His mouth moved soundlessly for a moment before he could slur out any words.
The doctor reached into her kit; her hand came out with an injector.
"No ... not yet.... Commander...." Garnyd managed to whisper, reaching feebly for Cain's hand. "Sabotage.... Check for ... tylium ... ty...." His hand dropped, and his voice faltered into silence.
"Get him to life center immediately!" the doctor snapped, stabbing the point of her injector into his arm. "Sheba, too. And those...." She gestured vaguely in the direction of the dying fire. "We can ship them home from here. Now, move!"
What was Garnyd trying to tell him? Cain watched silently as the medical team disappeared with the injured, and the makeshift medical examiner began removing the dead. He strode over to the burnt Vipers, crunching shrapnel underfoot.
"Well?" he demanded, approaching a man who knelt in the midst of the wreckage. Everything stank of tylium.
"Checking," the stern-voiced Maj. Daniel replied. "Get some of Veleda's damage control people here, we've got to clean up this tylium - and, Commander, count on at least one day's delay from this. We'll need to make repairs after I finish my investigation, and I imagine you'll want to replace the pilots and techs, both dead and injured; I assume we'll have the time, and you'll want a full crew. I'll give you my report as soon as I have anything." He turned back to his work, curt as always. Several shards of metal disappeared into small pouches.
"Lt. Garnyd suggested sabotage."
The major glanced back at him. "I'll look into it."
Cain nodded. Daniel was efficient, and a loyal officer as well as a good friend. The commander would know whatever there was to know as soon as the chief of security knew it himself. He strode rapidly to the nearest turbolift.
"Yes, Foster?" he answered, halting momentarily.
"Where can we reach you, sir, if it's necessary?"
"For now, in my quarters; I have to report this to Colonial High Command. Later, I'll be in life center. I want to see my daughter, and the rest of the injured. But I want to see Major Daniel as soon as he has any information for me."
"Yes, sir." Foster stepped back respectfully.
Cain vanished with the turbolift.
Enter Sheba's Galaxy