Chapter VIII


The Olympus was gone, destroyed, but her shuttle survived to reach the relative safety of the Pegasus, under the protection of two of her pilots. He was glad of that. He knew the Cylons wouldn't be overly disturbed if he died with the rest, but he wanted to be around to spend the liberal "reward" Count Baltar had promised him in return for his little services.

The job on the Olympus had been well done, although the bombs were discovered too soon. Still, they'd served as a distraction. A little more such work here aboard the Pegasus, and he could vanish completely, to reappear at some future time, with a different face, as a wealthy man. Baltar had, after all, assured him of a welcome with the Cylon assault forces presently demolishing the Fifth Fleet.

"Hey, can you help with Gav's litter?" It was the frantic pilot of the shuttle, bending over the man who'd been his wingmate.

"Can't," he begged off. "My back...." He wasn't sure Rissian even heard him.

In the chaos of the bay, he was able to slip away unnoticed.

* * * * *

"Sir?"

"Yes, Tolan?" Cain growled. The high level of tension during the past twelve centars had taken a toll on all of them. Even the commander was near his limit, tapping his ever-present riding crop on any available surface. Tolan began flinching every time it cracked against the railing. The crazy notion that the whip would soon strike his back obsessed him, returning to nibble its way into conscious thought despite his best efforts to ignore it.

"Captain Heimdal reports the Cylons appear to be running. He's requesting instructions."

"Get our pilots together. Have them regroup and rendezvous with us. Do we have any word on the Britannica? We have to reassemble the fleet before the Cylons can renew their attack, and plan our own counterattack-"

"Commander?" Memnon interrupted. "Word from the Venture, sir. She's making for us, and requests Viper assistance to hold off an attack wave."

"Inform Heimdal. But keep one squadron with us. What about the Britannica? Venture was with her."

The comm officer turned away. "According to Venture's commander," he replied, his voice low, "the Britannica was destroyed not long ago. They don't know if there are any other surviving ships."

"My god," Cain murmured into the shocked silence. "As bad as that? Tell Heimdal to hurry, and start picking up every survivor we encounter. We may have to move fast."

"Lieutenants Sheba and Bojay escorted a shuttle aboard half a centar ago," Tolan advised. "A convoy under Major Electra, from the Britannica, is landing in Beta Bay right now. And we're receiving signals from two or three other shuttles or shuttle convoys. They're rendezvousing at our coordinates as soon as they can get here."

"Good. We stay here, then, for now."

"Sir?" It was Memnon again. "Another shuttle requesting assistance. They report they were damaged escaping Cylons..."

"Get their location, and send Vipers, if we've any to spare. Kleopatra, looks like we're clear for the moment. Communications reported they deciphered the Hsarri tape, and I want to know what it says. Take charge here, and let me know if anything comes up."

"Of course, sir."

The commander was already on his way out the door, off the bridge. His thoughts were grim as he strode the corridors of his vessel.

All ships destroyed but one. The Venture survives - one lone exception to the carnage. Two battlestars, a dozen other ships, all blasted to pieces in a Cylon trap. How could it have happened? How did the Cylons know about our supposedly secret mission? Who informed them of our route? And what of Molecay? What's happening on that lonely world? Are the Cylons waiting there, too?

There were too many questions, and not enough answers. Maybe the Hsarri tape would give him some data, and offer suggestions for his next course of action.

* * * * *

The Pegasus landing bay was a scene of utter confusion. Vipers landing to be refueled and rearmed were shunted aside as rapidly as possible, seen to by Viper technicians, then moved to waiting launch cradles. Shuttles were unloaded and the wounded tended by emergency medics. The crashed remains of several Vipers and a single severely damaged shuttle lay together in an out-of-the-way corner, as if trying to hide from the confusion.

Electra shuddered as she stared at the pile of smashed metal. She'd brought her Viper in for its usual perfect landing; Edric's repairs were solid. Amun had landed carefully next to her, and both their ships were removed from the scene. The shuttle they'd escorted was off to one side, near the emergency screen; medical personnel were examining the injured survivors, sending the most serious cases to life center, tending minor scrapes and broken bone whenever they had the time.

But the ruined tangle of ships in the corner was a reminder to all of them that not everybody always survived. Mangled bodies could be removed and hidden away - but the ships were a mute testimony to the fact that the best doctors in space couldn't save a pilot whose ship or skill failed too soon.

Electra turned away, taking a deep breath, thinking of her brother, wishing she knew where he was - or even if he were still alive.

"Med tech," she called, catching the sleeve of a passing nurse, a woman with long, dark, curly hair. "Have you seen or heard anything of a Captain Orestes, from the Britannica? He's my wingman, I lost contact with him. I don't know what happened to him."

The woman glanced at her, dark eyes compassionate. "I'm sorry," she replied in a thick accent. "I have not seen anything of an Orestes. But try to be optimistic. Maybe he has not needed medical help." Galswintha hurried on to her next patient, a young technician who stared dazedly at nothing, holding his strangely angled, bloody arm close to his body.

"No," Electra murmured, "maybe not injured. I just pray he's not dead."

The blonde hurried along herself, briefly stopping several places to lend a hand or offer sympathy, asking about her brother whenever she encountered acquaintances or shipmates. But no one had seen him. In a few moments, her ship would be ready to launch again, and she would have to abandon her quest and be thrown back into battle.

"You're from the Britannica! Have you seen Captain Orestes? You know him, Kell Squadron...?" she called out to a burly man waiting for a turbolift; she ran to catch him. "Sergeant, have you seen him?"

The big man stared at her, seeing the worry etched in her features. He felt a pang as he remembered he'd seen the captain and a companion. "I saw 'im," he replied briefly.

"Where? Was he all right?" she insisted anxiously.

"He ... an' a friend ... were on the Britannica. I think they were lookin' f'r somebody, the Command'r, prob'ly. They got upset when they found out the Ol' Lady was cut off. He din't look happy, din't sound like he wanted t' leave." The man refused to look at her; he turned back to the lift.

They'd been aboard the battlestar! Electra knew how Orestes felt about Commander Hera, how he admired her, how he would cheerfully risk anything at her order. His respect for her was close to love, almost as close as his feelings for their mother. Could he have gone back to try and save her? Electra felt an icy chill in her heart; it raced along her veins and seemed to pervade her entire body.

She stared after the man. Her brother might be dead. "Wait!" she called, grabbing the railing. "Did they get out? Did you see them leave?"

"I dunno what happened to 'em," he called back as the lift rose. "They woun't come with me. The ship exploded a couple centons later. I'm ... sorry, Major." Even his feet disappeared up the shaft, as she clung numbly to the railing, swaying slightly.

"Major! Tech crew reports your Viper's ready for action!"

The dim voice penetrated the haze in her mind. The rushing winds within her private mental void subsided. Pain and necessity returned. She went back to her duty.

* * * * *

Alone in his quarters, Cain listened in silence to the Hsarri recording - at least, to the Colonial equivalent of it. Communications had done their best, but there were still phrases and words that defied translation, expressions so puzzling to Colonial ears that they obviously had different meanings and connotations in the Hsarri tongue.

The tale was tragic from the beginning.

The Homeship - alien equivalent of a base ship? - had been en route to Molecay, where a few Hsarri ships still occasionally put in for such few items as they couldn't manufacture or obtain themselves, but must trade for. They'd passed near the Delphian quadrant. Usually that people permitted them to pass without trouble, for despite the fact that their religious and culture beliefs were diametrically opposed, the scattered Hsarri survivors were no threat to Delphian ambitions.

This time, however, they'd encountered Cylon ships in Delphian territory - an assault force of ominous size. From intercepted communications, they'd deduced that all-out warfare was in progress. Unwilling to become involved, unable to lend useful assistance, but concerned enough about the Cylon presence to be worried - and no doubt recalling what the Cylons had done to their own home world over a millennium ago - they'd fled to Molecay, only to learn that the lonely world and its solitary satellite were already in enemy hands. The Cylons infested the sector, and the Hsarri retreated once again. Their aging ship and few Scouts - fighters of some kind? But then what in Hades were Outriders? - were practically helpless against such a force.

Seeing how serious the situation really was, the Hsarri made a difficult decision. The mother - commander? - had decided, in spite of some inadequately explained fear, to turn to the Twelve Worlds. For what? To warn? To seek help for themselves or Molecay?"

They never reached a Colonial outpost. They knew of the tylium belt, knew it was uninhabited, occasionally mined it themselves. As no one else had bases in the sector, they thought it was safe to traverse quickly. Instead, they had found a massed Cylon attack force, with three basestars.

The Homeship had been destroyed, faltering with the failure of the mother - a peculiar term for defeat! What few Scouts - maybe shuttles? - were left scattered helplessly, hopelessly, under fire from the better armed and more modern Raiders. A few Outriders - that term again; were they fighters of some kind? - had tried to buy escape time, having no hope for themselves. The clan - crew? Family? Were clan and crew the same? - had died, and from the woman's choice of words and the horror of her expression, she had been in contact with them through their final moment.

A tragic thing, but something I and every commander should be familiar with. Why so pointed a mention of it? Ah, but Kleopatra said the woman was a mother, from her tattoos. Perhaps her children were what particularly grieved her, not the ship itself....

Several periods of cold had passed - centars, maybe? What were the Hsarri time periods? - before the message was made and fed into the ... some unknown machine, probably a log buoy. Then, they could only wait. The warrior-leader and trainee - again, apparently contradictory terms - had watched two more of her people die before she sealed the tape, sighing sadly. Her last chattering gust of breath was the final recorded sound on the tape.

Cain touched a switch, and the scratchy static of the tape was stilled. So that was what had happened to the Hsarri. And a half-frozen, half-burned woman had left a message in the desperate hope that someone could make use of it. He felt a great respect for the last survivor of that ship, who'd endured so much and had ensured that they would know what had happened. He'd learned several things of value for his strategy, but what he'd learned only made him burn with a greater fury - and with curiosity as well.

The attack had been planned. Not for a single Hsarri ship, he was sure, but for bigger game. Like perhaps an entire Colonial fleet? The Cylon presence was no accident. He wished he could talk to the Hsarri, learn more details, but the woman was dead.

Well, if we survive, she'll at least have an honorable warrior's grave among the stars. I owe her that much. And I'll remember her name - Brimartis....

A discreet chime from the comm console broke his mental tribute to the dead woman. He leaned toward the console, instantly alert. "Cain here." He half-expected to hear that the attack had been renewed, that his presence was immediately required on the bridge.

Kleopatra's image formed on the screen. "Commander Ismenos of the Venture is aboard, sir. According to her own technicians, Venture is beyond any hope of repair. We've begun evacuating her personnel; the Commander is supervising their arrival himself. I doubt we'll be able to drag him from the landing bay until the operation is complete."

"Fine," Cain replied. "I've still got some planning to do. Get me a read-out on the damage as soon as it's available. In the meantime, let Ismenos do his job. Keep me informed."

The image of the Pegasus executive officer faded from the screen, and the commander leaned on his desk, scowling. Not even the Venture would come through this. It appeared the Pegasus would be the sole survivor of the massacre - if he could pull them through. The Cylon trap was well-planned, its job quite thoroughly done.

Damn them!

But he swore that they had underestimated Commander Cain. As they had before.

He slammed his fist against the console, then rose and turned to the viewport, his riding crop for a moment abandoned on the desk.

As he stared through the port, he didn't really see the distant stars and nearer asteroids. His ship was safely hidden among those asteroids, concealed by the interference generated by the raw tylium in the rocks. It rankled, this need to hide while repairs were made and his battle-weary crew rested. The Pegasus was safe for now, and they were pulling in survivors as fast as they found them. They'd inflicted heavy damage on the Cylons, too, before the enemy broke and ran, but the Fifth Fleet was utterly destroyed - only that one small ship, only Venture, remained. She drifted in space alongside the battlestar while her crew was evacuated.

Cain sighed as he turned and picked up his riding crop once again. The Olympus had taken one basestar with her in her ill-fated attempt to blast free of the Cylon trap; a second had been destroyed almost immediately by avenging Colonial warriors. There remained, therefore - if Brimartis the Hsarri was correct - one Cylon basestar, hidden, as they were, among the tylium bombs the size of small planets - and garbled scanners made thorough probes nearly impossible. Soon, the tentative feeling-out maneuvers would begin, as each ship assessed damage and began the games of touch-and-run, the testing of each other's strength, that would result in loss for one or both of them.

He had no intention of being the one destroyed. A white fire burned within the core of his being, a familiar composite of emotions - anger at the loss of his fleet and of so many comrades; hatred of the Cylons; a need for vengeance of some kind; the certainty that they had been betrayed. Someone had placed those bombs on the ships of his fleet; only the Cylons had the kind of resources that would enable them to prepare such a trap, in such strength; he didn't believe it was coincidence.

Commander Theseus, dead. And Commander Hera. Cain had known both his subordinate commanders for yahrens and considered them friends. Although the fleet seldom gathered in one place, and only rarely went on group maneuvers, the three ranking officers had ample opportunity to meet, both socially and militarily.

He'd always known Hera better.

Almost everyone in the Colonies knew Hera. The woman was quietly brilliant, preferring to do her job without public fanfare, behind the headlines - unlike himself, who understood quite clearly his own craving for public recognition. However, yahrens ago, Recruitment had fastened on her as a sort of "poster girl," a recruiting example, the ideal of the female Colonial warrior. Sealed to a warrior (who later died in combat), mother of a lovely girl (currently becoming a fine warrior in her right), a heroine in every sense of the word, Hera was approached for an advertising campaign. She reluctantly accepted, seeing it as her duty, and the entire Twelve Colonies watched and applauded as a young squadron leader rose through the ranks to command a battlestar, defeating Cylon foes and overcoming personal tragedy (her husband's death) while raising a daughter (whom she seldom saw, thanks to the demands of her public relations work). She became a sort of "superwoman" - warrior, wife, mother, heroine. She was everything they needed and wanted, and she did her best to live up to her assigned role.

Cain knew, though. He knew what her life did to her, how the stress affected her. She rarely saw her daughter, who nearly worshiped her. As her own career eclipsed her husband's, it nearly tore their marriage apart; only his early death kept the fiction alive in the public eye. Now, the warrior-heroine was dead as well, valiantly facing impossible odds with a traitor at her back. He knew what public relations would do with that.

He vowed to himself that he'd personally tell Hera's daughter of her mother's death; her owed her that, and much more. The young sergeant, currently on leave for special command training at the Leon Academy, would be devastated, he knew. And she'd probably be the next poster girl, with her mother's glorious heritage as a backing for all her other abilities.

He saw in Hera and her daughter what he was blind to in his relationship with his own daughter.

The older Theseus was a different sort of warrior. A mediocre pilot for most of his career, he'd had glory thrust upon him when most men would have despaired of ever gaining elusive military fame. He was making a routine check on a scientific base when the Cylons attacked. Most of the pilots aboard the visiting warship were killed, and the ship was damaged. Then the Cylons attacked the civilian scientists. In a series of moves displaying great tactical brilliance, Theseus lured the Cylons away long enough to evacuate the base and save their research. His star rose astounding after that; within a few yahrens, the unknown captain had become a popular commander, and received his own battlestar.

Cain knew him to be a man strangely driven, occasionally unsure of himself, but totally committed to his ship, dedicated to his cause, and involved in his job. Theseus had never married; Cain believed a niece was his only family.

What had possessed Theseus to take on two basestars with an already crippled ship of his own? Yet, as it was, he had nearly succeeded....

Whatever had been in his mind, Cain wanted to figure it out. The bombs might have been the crucial element, the odd variable that meant failure. He had no idea if more tylium devices had been found aboard the Olympus, or if any of them had exploded. There might even have been sabotage of some other, unexpected sort. He might never know, unless one of the survivors could tell him.

Someone had betrayed Theseus, betrayed both the Olympus and the Britannica.

And the Pegasus, too - but he had survived. The Cylons' saboteurs hadn't been completely successful.

But who-?

Baltar! Baltar betrayed us!

It has to be! He's the only one who had access to all three battlestars during those final days in port, Baltar and his damned aide, Karibdis, the slimy, pest-ridden adaka! And only the Lords and Baltar know if there were any other of his traitors aboard the ships of the fleet....

Those bombs had cost lives. They'd been meant to cost more, to better the odds for the Cylons, to disrupt the inner workings of the battlestars, to make them more vulnerable. And they'd succeeded, though not quite as thoroughly as Baltar - damn him forever to a thousand Hades! - had planned, with his spies and his traitors.

I'll find them, I swear. And they'll pay in full....

But what price was he paid? What's the reward for selling out the Fifth Fleet? And does this treachery extend further? How far?

There will be a reckoning. Some day, Baltar, you will pay for the blood shed today. One way or another, I will make you pay. The Lords willing, you will pay in full.

Cain swore it on everything he held sacred, and then again on everything he held profane. He swore it on his soul, on the lives and souls of every man and woman aboard the Pegasus, on the souls of every person who'd lost his or her life this fateful, ill-omened day.

But for now, the fires of vengeance had to be banked. He had to find a way for his people to survive, for his ship to become the instrument of his revenge. If he accomplished nothing else in the rest of his life, he must have vengeance for the lives Baltar had taken with his treason. Surely the just Lords would grant him that....

Cain stared out the port, breathing heavily in his cold fury. He had to save his ship. He stared at the tylium asteroids, those bombs as big as planets. The Pegasus and a Cylon basestar playing touch-and-run among them.... Just part of the trap.... A trap....

A slow smile grew on his face. He had a plan....

Still smiling grimly, Commander Cain took up his riding crop, thrust his arms into the sleeves of his jacket, and strode from his quarters, the minor details of his plan already forming into one beautiful, grisly, explosive scheme.


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