Chapter X


Cain made his way to the bridge. His eyes darted around the large command center, noting each position, who was on duty there, what the large screens had to tell him. Only then did he cross to his command deck, joining Col. Kleopatra and Lt. Tolan.

"Status?" he demanded.

"Scanners still only marginally functional due to local interference and possible Cylon jamming," the executive officer reported, hiding her weariness. "And Viper patrols report no evidence of the basestar's location. Evacuation of Venture is nearly complete. Fire control has most of the fires out, but is still working in Gamma section, decks four and five. No report yet from Major Daniel on the nature of the incendiary devices discovered prior to the battle. Medical is handling casualties with admirable speed and skill; however, nine more people have died in the last centar."

"Anything from Captain Graham?"

She punched in a code, then studied the available statistics. "Horus has reported in from Alpha section, but we're still waiting to hear from Graham in Beta, sir. However, from current information, we have twenty-four kilo-cartridges of solenite in Alpha alone - exactly what our inventory says we should have."

"It'll do. Have Horus began transporting solenite capsules to the shuttle bay. Tell them to get some pilots - volunteers, naturally - to take the explosives to the Venture. Have them load the engineering and ordnance sections, and rig it for as big an explosion as can be arranged. Get Sherlock's best men there to oversee it; I don't want any mistakes."

Kleopatra glanced at him, confused, but immediately put in the call to engineering. While Cain couldn't spare Major Sherlock, his chief of engineering, at this time, there were several other excellent man who could handle the job.

"Sherlock's arranging the engineers; Horus acknowledges the order; and Commander Ismenos demands an explanation for rigging his ship to explode," she was able to report a few moments later, calling to Cain as he prowled the deck, investigating the damage to his bridge.

The commander's smile was nasty. "Tell him we're preparing a present for the Cylons, to thank them for the surprise party they threw in our honor."

"Yes, sir!" Kleopatra was beginning to understand.

When given the somewhat cryptic explanation, Ismenos didn't seem to find it particularly revealing - but he accepted it. He didn't really have much choice.

Cain soon rejoined his aide, studying Tolan's screen carefully before speaking. "How long have you been on duty, Colonel?"

"Uh...." Kleopatra stuttered, staring blankly. "I don't remember."

"I thought not. Take a break, catch a nap or something. I'll need you fresh later."

"What about you, sir? You haven't had a rest, either." She resisted the idea of leaving the bridge, although the situation was much less grim than it had been in centars, and she really was exhausted.

"You first. I want to make sure the Venture is ready, then I'll take a break. But I want one of us here at all times. I'll have Major Electra check with you on the flight rosters. Let me know how realistic they are, compared to our casualties and the damage reports."

"If you insist, Commander." With obvious reluctance, Kleopatra left the bridge.

"Anything, Tolan?"

"Negative, sir. Several shuttles are loading for the trip to the Venture. No recent communications from any more survivors, nor any contact with the Cylons. There're only a handful of patrols up at the moment, all that could be mustered immediately." He was almost apologetic, as if expecting Cain to blame him for the paucity of patrols.

The commander surprised him. "Fine. There'll be more out there soon. We don't want the Cylons locating us too early, and I'm sure Major Electra has all primary sectors covered. We've got a general idea what's going on; that's all we need for now." He fell silent, continuing to observe every small movement on the bridge with great keenness, until some of his duty officers were afraid to yawn or rub the weariness from their eyes.

* * * * *

Orestes considered grumbling, but his throat was too constricted to do much more than breathe as he crawled through the narrow conduit. He had to conserve what air he could take in.

When Graham had tagged him for this duty, he'd neglected to mention that they would be working in an area of the ship where several fires still burned. Fires were something he could deal with - but the out-of-the-way corridors and passages they had to take to get around them were getting to him. These technicians' access tubes were narrow and dimly lit - and the captain's occasional claustrophobia was having a field day. While he got along fine in Vipers, which at least gave the illusion of having all of space around them, the metal-lined, pipe-infested tubes through which he had to crawl made him extremely nervous. The realization that his fear was irrational didn't stop his palms from sweating, his heart from thumping wildly, or his subconscious-haunted mind from insisting frantically that he escape immediately from this constantly-contracting sepulcher.

Behind him, the slender, now-fearless Astarte had no difficulties. "Is something wrong, Captain?" she inquired. In the light of her torch, she could see he'd stopped; she too halted, to avoid running into his boots. Both warriors carried small arc torches secured at their waists, to light their passage through the dimness.

"Nothing wrong," he called back wryly. "Just drying my hands." He rubbed his palms against his greasy, smoke-stained sleeves, glad they'd soon be back in open corridors again. He wished he were there already.

A few more centons of crawling brought the two warriors to the proper junction, and they were able to get out, stand upright, and breathe again. There were no detectable impurities in the air; fire and damage control had successfully confined the fires to other sections of this deck.

"Well, there's hold 4-Lambda," Orestes said, pointing to the sealed door across from their access hatch. It was well-labeled with the appropriate required notations that it might contain explosives, and to stay out unless properly qualified and with authority to enter.

"Then 4-Kappa should be down the corridor," Astarte replied, glancing around curiously. She'd never been in this part of the battlestar before, although she was familiar with all the standard blue-prints.

He checked the computer inventory sheet Graham had supplied. "You take Lambda; I'll take Kappa. It shouldn't take long to find out if everything's there; these supply statistics are supposed to be exact and frequently updated. Let me know if anything's wrong - especially if you hear anything ticking in there."

She stared at him in shock until she realized he was joking; then she laughed with him.

"Captain Graham should be in 4-Iota by now," he continued. "He didn't have to take our short-cut. He'll probably join us before long. See you in a bit."

The sergeant crossed the corridor and coded the access number; the hatch opened. She pulled her torch free and shone it into the darkness for the moment it took her to activate the light panels; then she smiled, waved, and disappeared inside.

Orestes loped down the passageway. The access door for hold 4-Kappa was, as expected, about thirty meters farther along. It opened easily at the coded entry command. However, when Orestes tried to activate the lights in the massive chamber, nothing happened.

He played his arc torch around for a moment. "Hmm, lights must be damaged, or maybe shorted out by the fire. Guess I'll have to play this one blind." He chuckled at his own warped joke, then proceeded into the hold, stepping carefully to avoid stumbling over any unseen obstruction.

The darkness would delay his job considerably. He was aware of the general location of the solenite capsules, and knew how many there should be - they'd all been accounted for only two days before, in the search for bombs planted by saboteurs. However, the lack of light would make finding that spot a lot tougher. He also had to worry about bumping into things, and what those things might be.

The hold was eerie in the torch's light, the small pool of illumination fading into strangely shaped shadows and distant flickers and reflections. When he looked up, the ceiling was barely visible. He made his way into an aisle between tall stacks of storage crates, shivering slightly in the cooler temperatures of the hold.

It would make a great setting for a ghost story, he mused. The kind with lost ships full of ghostly crews, like he and his sister used to scare each other with when they were little.

The memory made him smile; his sister had been particularly good at making up such stories. Then one of Electra's more frightening tales crossed his mind, and he decided they weren't so funny after all.

He thought he heard weight shifting somewhere on the metal floor, and glanced around sharply, but could see nothing out of the ordinary in the limited glow of his torchlight. "You and your damned Cylon ghosts!" he muttered. "Now I'm hearing things." He forced himself to turn around and continue along the aisle between the crates.

The hairs on his neck suddenly rose; a shiver ran down his back. He thought he heard another sound - only closer - and slowly transferred the arc torch to his right hand, then reached for his laser with his left. This was no trick of a vaguely-remembered childhood fantasy - he was not alone in the hold.

"Don't touch it,"a man's voice drawled in the darkness. "I'm armed, and you're already in my sights."

With an audible intake of breath, Orestes froze. The man was behind and above him; the light made him a good target, while he couldn't even see his assailant. He had to stall, find out what was going on.... "Who's there?"

"A ghost," the man mocked. "No maintenance check scheduled in here for today; I checked. So who're you?"

"Captain Orestes, from the Britannica," he replied cautiously. Was this man a stowaway? A deserter? A tech gone a little paranoid? "I was sent here to check on a few supplies."

"Oh, really?" The man sounded genuinely interested. "Which ones? And why?"

Orestes was on guard. "I'm not sure. The Commander wants it done, so I'm doing it."

"Which supplies?" the man repeated in a quiet, deadly voice.

He had no choice. "Solenite."

There was no response.

"Uh, can I ask your name? What you're doing here? I didn't think anyone else was around," he probed, trying to keep his voice as even as possible.

"My name? I suppose I can tell you that. It's too late to make any difference. My name's Tophet. Stay where you are!" he warned with a growl as Orestes started.

The captain had almost turned, but he halted instantly at Tophet's command. If the man had a weapon on him.... "How'd you get here?"

"Same as you, hot-shot. I flew."

There was something sinister in the man's gloating drawl which could have dire consequences for him. Orestes felt like he was suddenly caught up in one of his sister's stories - and he wanted very much to get out of it, or to wake up, whichever would make the situation go away.

"Doesn't explain why you're hiding in here," he commented. His attempt to keep his voice matter-of-fact was improving. "Doesn't tell why you're sitting in the dark, holding a weapon on a fellow warrior. Think we could talk about it?"

"Why don't you start walking instead?"

Orestes realized the small sounds he'd been hearing were from Tophet as he scrambled across the crates. The man was almost above him, undoubtedly still with a weapon trained on him, following him without having to risk getting too close. The man was a warrior; he suspected they'd be fairly well matched in a physical fight - and Tophet obviously didn't want to permit him the opportunity.

"Right," he replied, then started walking carefully down the aisle, cautiously glancing up at the crate's edge, hoping to catch a glimpse of the man he recognized by name, but didn't know by sight. Fortunately, Tophet hadn't yet ordered him to throw down his own laser; he might get a chance at the end of the aisle. "Uh ... are we going anywhere in particular for any specific reason?"

"Don't worry about it."

The hair on the nape of his neck bristled again. "You plan to kill me," he stated flatly. "Why? What did I ever do...?" The words died as an incredible explanation presented itself. He stopped in his tracks, gaping up at the ledge above him, and the shadowy form he could barely detect. "No! It was nothing I did! But what did you do?"

"It doesn't matter to you, Captain," the man replied easily. "Just keep walking."

"To where?" he demanded, not liking the other man's tone.

"Walk!"

Orestes swallowed hard and resumed his careful gait. He needed an idea - fast. If he got to the end of the aisle, if there was any place to hide, he could pitch the torch and run. Then they'd both be in the dark, and they'd both be armed....

Yeah, and if we start shooting at each other, we'll probably blow up the Pegasus if we miss and hit the solenite. Do I have to let him kill me, to save the ship?

There had to be a reason why Tophet let him keep his weapon. Was Tophet that sure of himself? Was Orestes to be left to take the blame for something the other man had done - or planned to do? If his suspicions were right, Tophet was somehow connected with the bombs on the Olympus. He probably planned to rig the solenite here to explode, as he had on the other battlestar....

"Why?" he asked softly. "Why'd you sell us out?"

"Shut up," Tophet responded scornfully.

"How much did they give you for the fifth Fleet?" Orestes demanded in a stronger voice. The man was getting nervous, and his own anger was rising....

"Shut up!"

Orestes was running out of aisle, and probably out of time; he had to make a move soon. The torch was still in his right hand. Unsure how closely his shadowy enemy was watching him, he let his hand swing a little, shifting the light around, and slowly inched his fingers toward the laser strapped to his left thigh.

"Far enough, or lose your hand."

Even more slowly, Orestes dropped his hand.

"Captain?" It was Astarte.

"Look out!" Orestes yelled, throwing himself to one side and hurling the torch in the direction of Tophet's last command. That action delayed him a micron in grabbing his laser. Fire lanced through his left side, and he heard himself cry out. The weapon slipped from his fingers. Then something hit his head; he thought he was choking for a moment, but it ceased to matter as he blacked out.

"Laser fire! Stay down, Sergeant!" Captain Graham hit an emergency code, and Tophet's light-override sparked out. The light panels instantly responded to a long-overdue command; the hold was bathed in a brilliant white glare as an alarm klaxon howled a warning.

"Hades!" Graham and Astarte both heard the snarled curse, then the sound of someone tumbling off the stacked plastine crates and running across the metal deck.

"He's heading for the crane lift!" Graham shouted, already in pursuit of the man, in spite of his bulk. The woman was right behind him. Even as they dashed down the aisle, they heard the sound of machinery cranking into action.

Both warriors halted as they came upon Orestes, who lay curled on the deck, a laser burn on the left side of his shirt; blood from a growing red patch in his fair hair slowly stained the deck. He lay amid a scattering of long metal tubes that had fallen as he stumbled away from Tophet's laser fire.

"See to him!" Graham ordered, panting slightly; he wasn't very athletic, and it showed. "I'll follow the lift." He ran several steps before calling back one final command. "And keep your laser ready! He may double-back this way to take out any witnesses!"

Astarte dropped to her knees beside Orestes, her weapon in one hand as she checked his pulse with the other. He was still breathing, although barely, and his pulse was shallow. He suddenly gasped in pain as his eyes opened, and he tried to pull himself up.

"No! Rest, Captain! Don't move. You've been shot. Please, try to stay still until a med team arrives. The alarm's been sounded-"

"Tophet...." he coughed. "Name's ... Tophet, from ... Olympus.... Bombs.... Get him...." He passed out again.

Astarte watched as his fingers clutched futilely at the burning agony that penetrated even his unconscious mind. She was alert but helpless to aid him as he moaned in pain. She shoved the metal tubes aside, but then could do nothing but wait.

* * * * *

It didn't take long for Electra and Sheba to complete the first part of their task and head to the bridge to make their report.

Cain noticed their presence instantly. "Well?" he demanded at once.

"Four squadrons, though they're somewhat undermanned, with all the injured personnel and wrecked Vipers we have," Electra told him, glancing across the bridge complex. Most of the duty officers looked near exhaustion, and some had apparently come on duty directly from fighting fires, if their soot-streaked faces were any indication. How long had they been fighting?

"Commander," she continued, "I still don't know how to set up our plan of attack, or just exactly what you want from me, and I don't know who's dependable from your ship. I've got a few patrols out, and a few more on the way, but I don't know what to do next. What is next, sir?" she pleaded, her voice shaking in spite of her earlier resolve not to falter. It didn't help that Orestes's name hadn't shown up anywhere in the pilot roster at the aux comp center. She didn't want to think about what that meant.

"Two strike teams, that's what I'll need. Two volunteer strike forces." He stared intently at the two women. "Sheba," he said brusquely, indicating his daughter. "She's good. Electra, you take one strike wing; Sheba can take the other. Which squadron do you know best, from your rearranged teams, Major?"

"Most of the Britannica survivors are docked in Beta Bay, sir."

"Good, that's your wing, then, in Beta Bay. Sheba, you're flight leader for Silver Spar, and Alpha Bay's your responsibility until things are working properly around here again. Divide the volunteers between yourselves for this mission. Simple academy maneuvers, Major, that's all I'll need. When Venture's loaded, you have to be ready. That'll be a few centars yet, so you'll have time to discuss things with your teams. In the meantime, make sure the Cylons don't discover our hiding place; get some more patrols out, and don't provoke anything. Can you handle it?" He wished dearly that he could take the strike team himself, but he was too badly needed on the bridge.

Electra nodded, puzzled, then pushed aside the stray hair the movement caused to fall into her eyes. "What's the plan?"

"We're going to surprise the Cylons. The Venture is going to be our decoy, and your volunteers are going to be the bait that leads the Cylons here. For now, assemble your teams, and warn your crews to be careful. Sheba, take care of yourself."

Tolan reclaimed the commander's attention with news of a problem in one of the solenite holds. Electra and Sheba had their orders; they were now beyond his conscious attention.

As they left the bridge, Electra wondered if she'd survive the day. Playing bait for the Cylons? Of course, dying might be the only way she'd get a chance to rest.... It seemed she'd been fighting and running forever. Somehow, being flight commander had no glamour in it at a time like this, only painful duty and aching muscles, and a weary mind hampered by uncertainty. She didn't even have the energy to be miffed that Cain had appointed a flight leader and squadron commander without her recommendation; besides, resentment would be futile and serve no purpose. She didn't need to remind herself that she'd asked him for help in selecting people-

"Electra?" Sheba asked hesitantly as they headed back to the landing bays. She had a patrol to fly; Electra had pilots to locate.

"Yes?" she responded, still wondering how she was going to handle the unexpected responsibilities. Damn it, I've been flight leader; I should be able to handle this, too. It's still just the shock of everything....

"I realize the Commander went over your head in making me flight leader, especially since I'm still just a lieutenant, and one should be a captain to qualify for-"

"Look, I've listened to you, both in battle and in the help you've been giving me. You're a good warrior. A little rough yet, maybe, and a little young, but you'll make a good flight leader. You're competent, more so than some of those captains out there." From the expression on her face, Sheba had more to say, but Electra raised a hand to stop her. "I realize you're Commander Cain's daughter, and you've had to live with that. Maybe it was a factor in his selecting you on the spot for this job. But I respect him enough to know that he wouldn't have chosen you if you weren't good at what you do."

Relief and gratitude fought the fatigue in the other woman's eyes.

Electra smiled. "Just come to me if you want to talk," she said, and discovered she meant it. "Right now, you're due on patrol. I'm going to make a quick stop in life center to check on a few friends, and then I've got volunteers to find and check out with the Colonel. See you later?"

Sheba smiled back. She understood. Both woman instinctively knew they'd each found a friend. They hugged briefly, then separated as they headed for their destinations. Among so many losses, they'd gained something worth having.

* * * * *

As Tophet's supply lift ground to a halt, he leaped to the deck and ran for the Viper hangar. He'd been forced to play several short games of touch-and-run with various personnel during his flight, but now escape was only moments away. Surely there'd be at least one fighter craft fueled and ready to go....

He'd stupidly permitted that captain in the hold to identify him, but he was sure the others didn't know him, and hadn't gotten a good look at him. So even if Orestes was alive, all they had was a name, with no face for quick identification.

He should've just dropped the man in his tracks when he first saw him, then run, but he'd wanted to find out what was going on. Cain had something up his sleeve - that much, he could guess from what little the good captain had told him. But what was it?

And, after all, there was really no need to hide a body. In a few centars, it would make no difference. A murder might be diverting, but then they'd definitely search the hold.

But they were doing so anyway, he guessed. Knowing Cain was checking on the solenite, he couldn't risk setting another bomb. No, he had the right idea; he hadn't carried it out soon enough. He shouldn't have let himself be stalled those few centons; if he'd killed Orestes and vanished before the other two arrived, no one would have known....

Tophet paused in an alcove, catching his breath as he stared across the line of launch tracks. Yes, there were a few ships ready to be taken out. No one would worry about or look twice at a man hurrying on his way through the bays - just another overworked pilot rushing to his duty; he had to look presentable for just a few more centons....

The cadaverously thin man working on the nearest Viper waved to him. "She's all ready," he called in a pleased tone, gesturing at the ship.

Good. A ready ship, and the man wasn't from either the Pegasus or the Olympus. He wouldn't recognize Tophet or be certain if anything was out of order. No one would identify him or find out where he'd gone in the short time the battlestar had left.

"Thanks, uh...." he began.

"Edric. Take care of her. We've got too many injured little ladies around here."

"Right. You can bet I'll take good care of her," Tophet replied fervently. Bastard looks like he crawled out of somebody's nightmare, and sounds as weird as he looks. Never understood techs anyway.

There was a commotion at the turbolift as he climbed into the Viper, and he hurried through the preflight check-list and sought clearance from core control. He'd never been a particularly imaginative or inspired pilot, but all he had to do was get off this ship.

Baltar's arranged everything else, and I'll come out of this alive. That small electronic device I've got will identify me if I encounter any Raiders before meeting the base star....

"You! Wait!" somebody called.

He pretended not to hear and sealed the canopy with feverish movements. Glancing back, he saw both the tech who'd given him the Viper and another man - security, obviously - running toward him. The security man had a laser. Tophet grinned, waved at them, and pushed the throttle forward full-force.

The Viper leaped forward, streaking toward open space. He leaned back, taking a deep breath as he relaxed, listening to the confused babble on the comm as he fled the battlestar. Let them talk! Let them try to pursue him! He had a head start; he was in space; he was safe.

* * * * *

Electra strolled quietly through life center, exchanging a word or two with the medics, moving on to stop briefly at beds where friends reposed. She took a silent moment to mourn a former lover and good friend who hadn't survived his injuries. Around her, med techs hurried with their duties, running from bed to bed, checking their patients, carrying supplies.

And the doctor said things were slowing down?

But she had to admit, things felt more relaxed here now than anywhere else on the battlestar. And the people acted as though the situation was under control - the only problem was that so many things needed to be done at once.

A commotion from the next chamber announced the arrival of yet another new patient, and, from the hubbub, it wasn't an ordinary injury. Curiosity led Electra to investigate.

As she entered the ward, she saw med techs transfer someone from a litter to a life pod. Hovering nearby, obviously wanting to help - and just as obviously unable to do so - was a young, dark-haired woman.

"Don't put him in that bed!" a black pilot insisted loudly. "Men die there!" Electra heard the raw pain in his voice and guessed he'd lost a friend that day, too.

"He's not too badly injured," one of the doctors announced, standing with an injector in her hand. "Lost some blood, looks like a minor concussion; he'll need a skin seal along those ribs...."

The major would have stayed out of the way, but she heard the injured man's companion ask anxiously, "You're sure Captain Orestes will be all right?"

At the name, Electra froze momentarily, then shouldered her way closer to the bed. She stared at her brother's pale face, the laser wound in his side. Someone began cutting away his shirt, and she reached for his hand.

"He'll be all right?" she whispered, echoing Astarte's plea of only microns before.

"He'll be just fine," Dr. Helena repeated. "He was shot after surprising a saboteur in one of the holds, I understand. Now, just get out of my way so I can do my job." She shooed everyone aside, then bent over her patient's body as med techs finished clearing the area. An isolation curtain was pulled around the bed for privacy.

"What happened to him?" Electra demanded of the others as soon as they were out of the chamber.

"All I did was carry a litter," Rissian demurred.

"Saboteur," Astarte explained. "We were checking solenite supplies. Somebody named Tophet, from the Olympus, we think, jumped him, tried to kill him. They think he's responsible for the bombs, too-"

"Tophet's responsible?" Rissian's voice rang out, his face twisted in fury. He remembered the man who'd walked away when his teammate needed help in the bay; he remembered other moments of demonstrated unconcern for his own fellow crewmen, too. "That swaggering, two-faced, frak-eating, Cylon-loving, bitch-spawned-"

The women stepped back in shock.

"You know him, then?" the major asked, noting that the pilot was also from the Olympus.

"I know him," he replied succinctly. "I want him."

"I think security's already after him," Astarte said meekly, ready to scurry back several more steps if necessary.

Rissian's anger at Gavain's death had finally found an acceptable outlet, a single, reachable target. He could stop wishing Helena would step on a live solenite grenade. He'd never liked Tophet anyway.

Electra caught his arm. "I'm flight commander now," she warned him quietly. "And I'm not taking any obsessed homicidal idiots into battle with me."

"I'm not homicidal," he replied in a soft, deadly voice. "I'm suffering understandable grief at my wingman's death, to more-or-less quote that frost-bitch doctor. I need a target for my grief. Give me a chance at the Cylons or their allies. I'm not particular."

She would have shuddered at the veiled menace in his voice, but her attention was still half with her brother.

"Major," Astarte interrupted, "if you need pilots, I'm available. I've been flying with Captain Orestes all day. I need a Viper, but...."

Electra stared in wonder at the eager young face. So that explained where her brother had been - and their being in the hold explained why their names weren't listed in the pilot roster yet. As she considered, she realized that the girl now was probably somewhat familiar with their own peculiar flight maneuvers and attack formations.

"I'm available too, Major," Rissian reminded her harshly.

She glanced from one to the other. "Volunteers only," she told them, making up her mind. "We're going to be the bait in some plan of Commander Cain's. I'd be glad to have both of you along, but you have to realize it may be dangerous - very dangerous."

"I understand," Astarte said.

"Good," was Rissian's comment.

She studied them a moment longer. Then, "Let's get some Vipers. I'll come back later to see my brother."


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