Chapter XI


Sheba and Bojay, who both had functional Vipers, took one of the first patrols. Weaving cautiously through the tylium asteroids that were both their greatest threat and their major defense, Sheba took point, leaving Bojay to monitor communications while she tried to make sense of her scanners.

"Sheba! We got trouble coming!" her wingman suddenly cried out.

"What is it?" she demanded anxiously, her eyes trying to take in what was visible through her fighter's canopy. There was precious little to be seen on the static-ridden scanners.

"According to the Pegasus, a single Viper is coming our way."

"So?" she asked in bewilderment.

"One Sergeant Tophet, in a stolen ship. On no condition is he to get past us.... They think he's making a run for the basestar."

"What?" she breathed incredulously. "Is he crazy?"

"They think he's the one who sabotaged the Olympus. If we can convince him to come back with us, the Commander wants him alive. If not, we're to blow him out of the stars."

Sheba's heart hardened, squeezing out any sympathy. The man might be the one responsible for the bomb in her former wingmate's ship, for the death of four people that day, for an unknown number of other deaths today. And now, he might be betraying them again, running for the Cylons.

"We'll be ready for him," she said firmly. "He won't get by us."

"Acknowledged. That's what I told core command."

It was several long centons before Sheba picked up the stolen Viper as it moved into range of their patrol. She studied her scanner carefully to be absolutely certain it was a Colonial Viper, not a Raider or debris, and that it was the one they sought; when the other craft refused to respond to her tentative recognition code, she was sure it was the traitor. "On scan, and moving into range, Bojay. Pick him up yet?"

"I see him," he replied quickly. "He's not even trying to be evasive."

"Hail him. I'll come up on his port side," she decided, leaving her wingmate to initiate contact.

"Sergeant Tophet." Bojay tried to speak as if this were merely a routine identification check. "This is Lieutenant Bojay, battlestar Pegasus. Bring your craft to a halt. We have something to discuss."

"Go to Hades, Lieutenant," the traitor replied rudely. "I'm not going to let a single worn-out pilot stop me now. Get in my way, and I'll blast you to stellar dust."

While Bojay absorbed this threat, Sheba slipped into position behind Tophet's ship.

"This is Lieutenant Sheba, Silver Spar strike leader, battlestar Pegasus. Sergeant, slow to surrender. I have you in my sights, and my weapons are set on kill," she enunciated precisely. Her voice carried deadly overtones.

Both warriors heard a curse, then the traitor banked his fighter away from Sheba, heading for the denser parts of the asteroid belt. For a seemingly endless moment, his Viper hung in Sheba's sights. Her hand tensed, her thumb on the firing control; she hesitated for a fraction of a micron....

And she couldn't fire.

"Sheba!" Bojay shouted. "He's banking! Fire!"

But she couldn't fire, not directly at another human being, a fellow warrior in a ship just like hers, one of her own kind....

Then she detected something else on her errant scanner, something coming out of the asteroids, coming up on Tophet. Her frozen blood thawed, rushing through her body with boiling speed. "Bojay! It's a Cylon!"

The Raider moved into position behind the fleeing Viper.

He's going to escape, and it's my fault....

The Raider fired.

"No!" Both warriors heard Tophet's final shriek. "I'm not-"

Then there was silence. The renegade's ship exploded into minute fragments of metal. He hadn't even tried to escape, didn't even react until the Cylon fired on him. He'd mistakenly assumed the Cylon would be his ally, never considered he could be as much a target as the rest of the Fifth Fleet.

The Raider moved into Sheba's sights, and she found she could react again. With lightning speed, her thumb hit the firing mechanism, and a laser beam speared across space to touch the Raider with a light caress. The Cylon vessel blew apart in a fiery explosion, spreading into a cloud that engulfed the remains of the Colonial Viper.

Bojay and Sheba waited, expecting more of the enemy to appear, silently preparing to sell their lives as dearly as possible. Then it slowly occurred to them both that there were no more Raiders.

"Sheba?" Bojay cautiously reopened communications. "Do you see anything?"

"Nothing," she replied softly.

"It must've been a straggler, lost from the rest. Do we report back to base?"

She released her pent breath. "Let's go.

* * * * *

Col. Kleopatra took a brief nap and turboshower during her rest period, and was preparing to return to the bridge to relieve the commander when the door chime announced she had a visitor.

"Enter," she called softly.

The door opened to reveal the ship's new flight commander. The statuesque blonde glanced around the chamber before entering.

"Umm, Commander Cain told me to check with you when I had my list of volunteers for his decoy action," she began. "Is now a good time, or should I talk to you later, on the bridge?"

Kleopatra laughed as she returned to her mirror. "Catch me now. The Commander'd have my skin if he thought I dawdled to play with cosmetics while there was work to be done." She dabbed a lip salve on her mouth, then reached for an eye shadow. "Please come in and sit down, and tell me what you've got. I would hope I'm not so unapproachable that you're ready to bolt at any micron."

Electra laughed with her, then settled somewhat gingerly on a divan. "I guess I'm having a little shock lag, changing ships and responsibilities in a centar's time, Colonel. Sorry if I seem a bit out of place - but I feel that way. And I have to admit, your counterpart on the Britannica was very unapproachable."

"I never thought he was." Kleopatra moved to lean against the edge of her desk. "But then, he had to be nice to me; we were of equal rank - and I was the one on Cain's ship."

Electra nodded, glancing down at her list. "I have three strike wings assembled from the volunteers. I'll be leading Lieutenant Amun and Sergeant Astarte myself; Captain Heimdal will have Lieutenants Sif and Rissian; Captain Daystar will be teamed with Lieutenants Celeste and Celene. I know very few of them; most are from your ship. How do they sound?"

"Good people, some of our best pilots. Well-chosen. But does Sheba know she's been left off the mission roster? That won't make her very happy."

"She's handling the patrols for me, and is on patrol herself right now; she's due for a break." Electra hesitated. "Of course, if everything goes wrong, the commander will need somebody who knows what's going on, somebody who can lead the other pilots on a centon's notice, without dropping the whole mess on some unprepared warrior."

"Unprepared? As you were? I can understand that. Are you having any difficulty adapting?"

"I'm not sure if I ever will. I haven't had time yet to slow down and think about it - I just keep going from one emergency to the next. I'm sure I can handle it - I've been a squadron leader. It's just the situation that's so unexpected, so hard to deal with," Electra replied thoughtfully. She was successfully coming to grips with the loose ends of her new position, and thought she had everything under control.

"Let me know if you have any problems, or need to talk about anything. Of course, half the time, Commander Cain functions as the real flight commander of this ship. He still takes patrols occasionally, whenever he can, in fact, and I doubt anything could convince him to leave off flying permanently."

The small shared humor dissolved more of the tension, and Electra was almost completely at ease. Kleopatra saw her quick eyes settle on a holopicture on the desk.

The blonde flushed slightly as she realized her glance had been noted. "He's a very handsome man. I think I've seen him somewhere before. He's in the service, too, isn't he? On another battlestar?" No harm in asking....

"Yes. He's Colonel Tigh, executive officer of the Galactica. Never forget the 'Colonel' part, either."

"You must know him well," Electra commented.

"Quite. He was my husband."

Electra started, certain she'd just put her foot in her mouth and made an enemy of the colonel with her frank statements, or raised bad memories. "I'm sorry...."

Kleopatra picked up the holo. He really was a very attractive man, she mused. "I'm not sorry. We had a lot of good times together. Duty came between us, and my opportunity here. Too much separation, I guess. I've seen it happen to other military families." She smiled at the image in the holopicture, and stroked the smooth crystal as she might stroke the man's cheek.

Electra seemed to feel she was intruding, for she rose smoothly to her feet. "I have to get going, Colonel, and prepare those strike teams. I trust you'll excuse me?"

"Of course," she replied absently. The major nodded and swiftly left her chambers.

Kleopatra stared at Tigh's image. All the time they'd spent together, just memories, now. Those memories were precious to her - but they weren't everything, she realized. The career she'd built over the yahrens was important, too, and had been a part of her life before she knew Tigh, and was still a part of her life now that he was gone, she reminded herself sternly. If he couldn't accept that part of her....

Be honest, Klea. It's Cain he has trouble accepting. This may have been coming for a long time, but Cain and the Pegasus finally blew it open.

She took a deep breath, and found the inner serenity that assured her she'd made the right choice in accepting Cain's offer of the position of executive officer. She'd made friends here. She was respected as an officer and a person. And it looked like she wasn't going to die today after all.

Unless, of course, she failed to show up on the bridge to relieve the commander for his rest period, she thought with a smile. A last quick look at his face, and she was ready to leave. She almost placed the holopicture in a drawer, then deliberately replaced it on her desk.

"I still love you, Tigh, and I might even miss you, but I'm the one who has to live this life of mine," she told the image firmly. "I'll leave you here as a reminder of the good days. I won't expect anything from you now that you're a free man again, and I hope you'll expect nothing from me. Our sealing is dissolved. Maybe, in the future, we can at least meet as friends, and maybe we'll get to know each other all over again. But for now, I've got a job to do."

The lights went out. The door closed behind her. The small holopicture glowed in the dark.

* * * * *

Cain began to realize how long he'd been awake, how long he'd been pushing himself. The fire in his veins was quenched by the weariness that took over now that there was a lull in the battle and they were forced to play a waiting game. His beloved Pegasus was safe for now, and his plan to keep her that way was nearly ready for action. The Venture was almost loaded, and Rurik, Sherlock's man, reported the ship's engineering and ordnance sections were completely rigged and ready for detonation. The man knew his job; the commander trusted his ability.

Kleopatra returned from her rest to oversee the final preparations and to stand guard on the bridge, permitting Cain to take a little time for a meal and a rest period of his own. He grabbed a bite in the pilots' mess first, expecting he'd be too keyed up for any kind of restful sleep. Then he sat down at the desk in his quarters, planning to thoroughly study Capt. Veleda's damage reports. A few moments, he thought, then he'd lie down. After all the pacing he'd done in the last day and a half, his body should be too weary to move - but he still fully expected to wake up sleep-walking, strolling through some part of his ship, still responding physically to his mental exertion.

He overestimated himself. The reports blurred, ceased to make any sense, and he closed his eyes to clear them. The papers were too close to his face; his head rested on his arms. A moment's rest would clear his vision....

Gradually, with a hazy sensation of dreaming, a familiar face and form took shape, running across the room to meet him. It was her apartment, and it was her natal day, and they had a wonderful evening planned, and she was the one to be surprised, not he....

* * * * *

"Cain!" Cassiopeia cried gladly. "I didn't expect you so early!" That was obvious even to an untrained eye. She was more than a little disheveled; her blonde hair was damp, and she was wearing only a bathing tunic.

Too damned bad he didn't have the time he wanted...

He returned her embrace, gazing into those liquidly expressive blue eyes. "You're even beautiful when you're all wet."

She laughed. "Just wait until I'm ready for this evening," she promised provocatively.

He sighed. "That can't be, I'm afraid. Instead of a sectar's leave, I've only got a few days, and precious little of it free to spend with you. I'm due back on the Pegasus very soon."

A shadow crossed her face, dimming the brightness of her eyes for a moment. "I'm sure your daughter doesn't share your sentiments. She'll be glad to know you're away from me."

His fingers tightened on her arms. "Come, come, Cassie. Sheba is a grown woman, and I'm a grown man. We're both entitled to our own likes and dislikes - and our own loves."

She looked away. "She doesn't think a socialator is good enough for the great Commander Cain." Bitterness colored her voice. "After four thousand yahrens, there are still so many prejudices and misconceptions about us, on so many of the Worlds.... Why can't we be accepted like other men and women? We're just ordinary human beings - our designation is helping people, easing pain, giving pleasure - why is that so terrible? Why do people refuse to believe that we have feelings, that we can love? We do what we do because we love...."

Cain lifted her chin, gazing deeply and sincerely into those magnificent sapphire eyes, holding them with his own. "Sheba would feel the President of the Quorum of Twelve wasn't good enough for me. But she's young, and very possessive of her father; I'm all she has. Still, she'll learn. She'll come to like you, and to accept you - in time."

"And meanwhile?"

"Ah, Cassie...." He touched her trembling lips, holding them captive with his own until the trembling was no longer caused by bitter sadness, but was aquiver in time with her own quickening pulse.

"Unfortunately," he murmured, breaking the breathless embrace, "we don't have the time now, much as I wish I could stay. But I brought you something, my sweet Cassiopeia. Happy natal day!" He produced a small package that held the gems he'd chosen for her.

Her eyes grew wide again as she accepted the gift. "Cain, you didn't have to...." She gasped as she opened the box and saw the exquisitely cut, expensively set gems.

"I know. I wanted to."

"Oh, Cain!"

"I wish I could stay, Cassie, but I can't; I have to go. I wanted to give you these first, and say good bye, personally."

What a picture she was, in her short wrap-tunic, with those tiny, dripping curls falling free of her carefully pinned-up golden hair. She was lovely in every sense of the word. Lords, he wanted to be with her tonight, mind and body!

Her glorious smile faltered. "I know," she whispered. "I'll keep them until next time. I couldn't wear them for anyone else."

"I'm glad," he managed to respond. "I'll return to you...." He pulled her close again for a last passionate embrace.

"I know...."

* * * * *

"Father?"

Cain woke with a start, his dream - memory, actually - fading back into his subconscious. "What?" he demanded, immediately alert, seeing his daughter standing before his desk. "What is it, Sheba?"

"You said you wanted to see me when our patrol was over. The Venture is prepared; we're ready now. Electra has her strike teams in the ready room." She looked ... not exactly tired, but nervous and unhappy about something.

"Certainly, certainly, I'll be right with you." He picked up his previously discarded jacket.

"We got the saboteur, and a Cylon Raider," she told him, her eyes downcast. "Both dead."

"Good for you. Too bad you couldn't bring him in. High Command would've loved interrogating him." He was unexpectedly grim.

She glanced at him, but couldn't continue to his face; she lowered her eyes again.

"What is it?" he asked more gently. "What's troubling you, baby?"

"You have the report, Commander. We located no Cylons except for the straggler that blasted Tophet, and we got that one...." She swallowed hard. "I had him in my sights, Father. I had Tophet in my sights, dead on, and ... I couldn't fire at him," she finished in a rush.

He came around the desk, watching her gravely.

She blinked away a tear. "He was ... a warrior.... And he was in a Viper. I just couldn't fire at him!"

"I see."

"What's wrong with me, Father? I'm a warrior! He was our enemy; he tried to kill us all! But I still couldn't fire at him....."

Cain's voice was thoughtful. "The duty tours you've had have been on our defense perimeter. You've only had to fire at Cylons, or occasionally at pirates in alien ships. You've never had to go after another human being before. You've never pulled planet duty, or had to confront a human enemy face-to-face, with life-and-death stakes. You've never been put in that situation before."

"I'm sorry, Father. I ... failed you, and all my friends...."

"No, you've not failed me, Sheba."

"It won't happen again, sir," she promised fervently.

"I'm glad it happened. You've learned something more about being a warrior, and I'm glad you have the sensitivity to know it. Your mother was like that, so sensitive," he said with a distant, lonely wistfulness. "You're a lot like her that way, with such a sensitive side, a sensitive strength. Don't be afraid of it, baby; don't lose it. You're so like your mother...."

She threw herself into her father's arms, needing that shelter. Warriors weren't perfect; sometimes they had to face their all-too-human fallibility. They were human. Sheba felt she'd lost something of childhood innocence.

Cain held her for long moments, remembering the loving, caring, sensitive woman who'd given him this daughter.

But Jerusha wasn't the only sensitive woman in his life. Now there was Cassiopeia, waiting for him back in the Colonies. He'd promised himself a decision about her when he returned. His decision was made. He needed to feel the loving and caring she would give him if he asked her. He needed a woman beside him again.

The daughter in his arms wouldn't accept the answer he wanted from Cassiopeia. How could he explain the needs within him that the other woman could fill, the emptiness she could banish, the sensitive balance the warrior needed to be whole?

He saw Sheba gaze up at him as if waiting for an answer to some question. "Later," he said aloud, more to himself than to her. He would find a way to make it work for them all; there was still time. But before there could be time for love, there must be time for battle.

Sheba smiled back at him, a wide, sweet, loving smile; she was the image of her mother at times. She was also his strength, and a future promise. He was glad he had her with him. To lose his daughter....

"Let's get going. We'll talk later. Right now, we've both got jobs to do, and a 'gift' to give," he said, releasing her.

"Yes, sir!"

Sheba walked beside her father with pride. Part of her mother, he'd said.

And part of him. I'll never forget that. Like Mother, I belong at his side - and that's where I'll stay, whatever happens, no matter what....


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