Chapter IV

Commander Theseus of the battlestar Olympus studied the face of the middle-aged explosives expert. The man knew what he was talking about. If he said this was a deliberate attempt at sabotage, with a type of incendiary device previously unknown, Theseus had to believe it.

"Continue," he said evenly. He noticed his own hands were shaking slightly. He willed them to be steady, and tapped his fingers on the desk simply to keep them busy.

The man took a deep breath. "The solium is stable in its present form at usual chamber temperatures. However, the tylium device is not. It could be triggered very easily, perhaps by the concussion of an attack, a laser or missile hit near the storage area - an explosion, a small fire, unnoticed in the heat of battle, or not reached in time, nothing detectable until too late. And it could easily mean the total destruction of this ship - completely, utterly - in a matter of microns, if our entire stockpile of solium exploded. It would appear another accident, although one of tremendous proportions - one of the misfortunes of war.

"And it has to be an act of sabotage." The man took another deep breath. He was still a bit shaken by what had been discovered in the solium storage center. "It's the only answer. It may be connected to the business aboard the Pegasus, that Viper explosion....

"Sir, I think we ought to search every inch of this ship, and pass the word to all the others. If someone is trying to sabotage the Fifth Fleet...." He shook his head. "It's hard to imagine, but I think we've got to proceed on that assumption."

Theseus nodded. He glanced at the comm panel connecting him to the bridge and Colonel Mandan, his executive officer. "Colonel, you heard. Call Commander Hera on the Britannica, and pass the word to all the other ships as well. See if we can reach the Pegasus too, either with a direct line or via Viper patch-in. Do it now. And get those search teams going. We've got to go over this entire ship, inch by inch, inside and out. I won't consider us combat ready until that's done."

"Proceeding." The red-skinned officer vanished, and Theseus was left with a wide view of the Olympus bridge.

"Any other suggestions while you're here?" the commander asked his explosives expert. "If my ship is in danger, I want to know everything."

The thought was almost too awesome to contemplate. The Pegasus had been bombed, and people had died; now, there were explosives aboard his ship, and perhaps elsewhere in the fleet, and they were heading for a potentially dangerous rendezvous. What in Hades was going on?

The threads of thought kept slipping away from him. He urgently wished Cain and the Pegasus were with the rest of the fleet. He had an irrational, morbid fear of the next few days.

Well, we'll go through this ship, and warn the others. There's nothing else we can do for the moment. Maybe the nightmares are only that - bad dreams that warned of this moment, not harbingers of destruction....

He'd had such a warning before, at the Third Battle of Cimtar, and he'd survived - become a hero, in fact. After all, they knew what to look for. They should be safe....

* * * * *

Cain called together everyone who had anything to do with the Hsarri survivor. The group met in his quarters. Col. Kleopatra was present; her knowledge of past cultures and history was invaluable, and he considered her more of an expert than the historian also present. That man, to the commander, was nothing more than a glorified computer technician, hunting data from the battlestars' extensive databases. Flight officer Tolan was available to run errands, and to observe the way his commander's mind worked. Dr. Helena had a report on the stranger's medical condition. Several personnel from other sections were present for their particular areas of expertise, and Maj. Devon, the flight commander, stood with the warriors who had located the Hsarri ship. He would report to the rest of the flight roster on whether to search for other vessels or to close patrol ranks as a precaution until they were reunited with the rest of the Fifth Fleet.

The commander stood beside his desk, leaning against the edge. Tolan was behind him, and Helena, Kleopatra, and the historian were seated in the cushioned alcove that was one of the few luxuries he permitted himself in his ascetic chambers. He glanced about briefly to gain full attention before speaking.

"As I'm sure you're all aware by now," he began, "we've picked up an old Hsarri starship, with one survivor on board." The rumor was everywhere on the Pegasus, and speculation buzzed freely. "Doctor, what's the report on our visitor?"

"The Hsarri woman is alive, but only barely. In the attack that damaged her ship, she suffered radiation and third-degree burns, along with shrapnel wounds. She's also suffering from severe hypothermia and frostbite as after-effects of the ship's loss of power. I've got my best medics working on her, but I cannot guarantee her survival, or even if she'll regain consciousness. She, did however, repeat that statement she was trying to make when we found her, and Security has the tape." The doctor's voice was calm and professional, almost detached - her usual attitude, despite the intense interest everyone else had in the alien survivor.

Cain glanced from the head of his medical staff to his second-in-command. "Colonel?"

"The woman is definitely Hsarri. She's originally of human stock, and has the dark hair, pale skin, and six-digited extremities common among them, if I remember my history correctly. I believe she is a warrior; the tattoos on her face denote a member of that caste among them, and I believe one of the tattoos on her forehead denotes motherhood.

"Sir, I took the liberty of perusing the tapes Doctor Helena and Captain Veleda made. The Sagittaran Academy, where I trained, has an excellent ancient languages curriculum, and I know some old-style Hsarri. I understand a little of what she said, or was trying to say, when we discovered her. The ship was also broadcasting a sort of warning signal."

"And what was she trying to tell us?" Cain demanded tersely.

"The languatrons will be more precise, I'm sure, when communications finishes with the tapes, but it sounded like she was trying to warn us of a Cylon attack of some kind, one that destroyed her family ship as well," Kleopatra replied, her dark eyes thoughtful as she mentally reviewed her limited, out-of-date Hsarri vocabulary.

The commander picked up the riding crop he was seldom without - he always needed something in his restless hands - but it remained limp as his mind raced, his eyes still on the black woman's face. "So ... her ship was destroyed by Cylons. That confirms what High Command suspects, that the Cylons are drawing near to Molecay, and present a threat to it. But where had that family of hers been recently? Had it been to Molecay, or did it come from somewhere else?"

One of the engineers spoke up. "Sir, we're examining the ship right now. At last report, we've found nothing that could be construed as originating on Molecay, either of local manufacture or as trade goods. That ship may have been on course for Molecay when it was attacked. It's also possible that a small scout ship like that, maybe used for evacuation purposes, simply never carried anything of foreign manufacture. Such materials might've been destroyed in the initial attack. The scout itself appears to be at least three hundred yahrens old, and was obviously very well kept up and regularly updated."

Cain raised his eyebrows in silent tribute to the engineers and crew who'd kept a small starship in running order for three centuries, in spite of everything space and the Cylons could throw against it. He stepped around his desk, tapping his cheek with the antique crop.

"Tolan," he demanded abruptly, "did anything else unusual show up on our long-range scanners?"

The man seemed perplexed, and looked at him questioningly.

"Other ships of this manufacture and design? Perhaps the remains of a larger ship? Debris of any other kind?" the commander snapped, not in anger.

The flight officer shook his head. "No, sir. An asteroid field at the far range of our scanners, but.... However, one of the patrols did report the field seemed to interfere with communications, some sort of high energy disturbance. There could be something there, concealed or drifting," he finished, watching his commander closely. Tolan was proud to serve as Cain's aide, and was eager for his approval - indeed, nearly worshiped the veteran warrior.

Cain smiled and opened his mouth to speak. Just then, the door annunciator chimed, and he called, "Enter!" instead of whatever he had been about to say. Corporal Memnon charged breathlessly into the room.

"Transcripts on the Hsarri's words, sir. We'll still working on the log tapes from the ship," the young man reported, drawing to quick attention as he held out a small tape.

The commander seized the tape from the dark hand. "You must be in a hurry, Corporal. Are they pushing you that hard in communications?"

"You did say you wanted it immediately, sir. I'll bring the other tape as soon as it's ready." After the "incident" with the civilian socialator at the beginning of the voyage, Memnon was unusually quick at responding to orders, had taken to reading military manuals in his limited free time, and kept a low profile. Cain had only to raise an eyebrow or set down his riding crop, and the corporal would run to do his bidding.

Cain nodded. "Do so, Memnon. Dismissed."

"Yes, sir!" He snapped a sharp salute and was out the door as rapidly as he'd entered.

The pilots held their grins, but Kleopatra chuckled out loud. Memnon hadn't previously been the most military of men, and would probably soon resort to form. Meanwhile.... "You're going to have to talk to that boy, Commander. He's spouting regulations at me these days."

"A little discipline's good for a change," Cain replied absently, watching the salute and departure with a measure of appreciation. Then he dropped the tape into a reader and leaned over to study it. After a moment, he glanced back at Kleopatra. "As usual, you were right. The woman was trying to tell us about a Cylon ambush. Her ship was attacked and destroyed." He turned his attention to Devon. "I expect you'll see the same thing doesn't happen to us, Major?"

The man seemed inclined to scoff at the very idea, but held his tongue and nodded in assent. The commander was satisfied. Devon could occasionally be cocky, but he knew his job. "Good. See that the information on this tape goes into the warbook at once, and inform all pilots to be especially alert for both Hsarri and Cylons. We know they're out there somewhere, and I want them found, preferably before they find us."

"Yes, sir."

The commander glanced at the rest of the Viper pilots. Sheba stood erect, her eyes on him. Bojay leaned against the wall, arms crossed, but still alert. The warriors from the other ships stood or sat in more-or-less relaxed poses. The woman from the Britannica - Major Electra - seemed to have something on her mind.

"You wish to say something, Major?" Cain asked her politely.

All eyes turned to her, and she licked her lips before responding. "With all due respect, sir, and no slur on your hospitality, but I'd like to get back to my own ship with this information. Our pilots should have this data and be on alert as well."

"Wise idea, Major. I assume, Captain Leif, that you'll wish to do likewise. Of course, you'll all free to leave. Tolan, see that the information is available to them. It's been a pleasure having you aboard; I hope we'll be seeing you again." He nodded once to dismiss Tolan, then stepped aside to salute the other warriors.

The bridge comm screen suddenly came to life without warning. It was Memnon. "Sir!" He was panting as if he'd run all the way to the bridge.

"What is it?" Cain demanded, a prickly, cold something crawling down his spine.

"Word from the Olympus, sir," he gasped. Leif and Trent stiffened, instantly alert and concerned. "They found a bomb in one of their solium storage chambers, and they've started a search of the rest of the ship, and warned the Britannica.... They've already found another one on the Olympus, and the other ships are expanding their searches ship-wide, every crevice and everything.... Commander Theseus and Commander Hera think it might be related to the explosion we had, and they suggest we search, too-"

"On my way, Commander!" Kleopatra vanished through the door, most of the techs following her, before Cain could do more than glance at them. Tolan hesitated only a micron before following.

Cain turned back to the pilots. "Go," was all he needed to say. Electra and Orestes took off at a dead run. Bojay followed Devon, ready to join a search team. Leif and Trent exchanged glances before abandoning the room, leaving Sheba alone with her father. She stared at him, wide-eyed.

"More bombs?" she asked faintly. "But we searched...."

"Security searched the landing bays, launch cradles, Vipers, and shuttles. They thought they were looking for somebody with a grudge against Garnyd. It looks like they were wrong."

She threw herself into his arms, for a moment just a little girl who needed her father to set things right and make all troubles go away.

He held her tightly for a long moment, understanding, before he spoke. "We'd better go, too, Sheba. We'd both got work to do."

She hugged him more tightly. "I thought.... It looked like somebody hated Garnyd, and I was afraid for him, and a little afraid for me, because I'm his wingmate, and somebody might be angry at me, too. Not much like a warrior, I guess, to feel this way," she whispered. "But this is worse, Father. Sabotage in the whole fleet.... What does it mean?"

"I don't know yet, baby."

"I wondered what Zumbro and the others died for. I never thought it might be anything like this. Lords, I hope it's not...."

"I hope so too, Sheba. And I intend to find out, whatever it is. I have to see Daniel and Veleda as soon as possible, to have them ready for anything, and then I've got to get to the bridge. We have to rejoin the Fifth Fleet as soon as we can, and get ready."

"Ready for what?" she asked, anxious brown eyes fixed on his face. If he knew what it was and could deal with it, everything would be all right again. She would be fine.

"I don't know yet," he responded, some of his customary military briskness returning to his voice and posture. "But the sooner we get to our duties, the sooner we'll figure it out. Go ahead, baby." He kissed her on the forehead, and released her from his arms.

She watched him grab his riding crop and leave the room with only one backward glance. She took a deep breath and sighed.

He's so busy; all this terrible trouble rests on his shoulders, and the burden of the rest of the fleet, too.... Well, I'm his daughter, his pride. I'd better get to my post, and do whatever I can. He expects it of me. Everything will be all right. Nothing can wrong, not with him in command.

Can it?

She strode resolutely toward the door, unconsciously mimicking her father's walk, with only a slight feminine sway.

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