Chapter IX


Somehow, the frail, damaged craft made it to the Pegasus. Orestes roused himself from his brooding long enough to help the man next to him disembark. Astarte took the man's other arm when it became apparent the pilot's legs were injured; he couldn't walk, the result of a near-crash. But at least he was alive, which was more than many could claim. They stumbled toward the wall, supporting the pilot, then eased him to the deck between them as they themselves sank down, panting, to wait for a medic. Over a dozen of their fellow refugees were crowded together near them, and still more were coming from the shuttle. Beej, the doctor who'd been scurrying from patient to patient during the long trip, held court over the unloading.

"What do we do now, Captain?" Astarte spoke with more spirit than he expected, considering what they'd just been through.

He glanced sideways at her, remembering he was responsible for the bruise on her cheek. "I don't really know. I guess we wait."

"Maybe we can help the emergency teams," she suggested, then followed up her words with action by springing nimbly to her feet and extending a hand to him.

"Good idea," Beej commented, appearing beside them. "And much appreciated. First, help the people still on the shuttle. There's a couple of litters to be carried. Go on," he ordered. "I want to take another look at this man's splints." The doctor knelt beside the man they'd carried off the shuttle. A female med tech from the Pegasus joined him in an instant, a med kit in her hands.

"Right...." Wearily, Orestes allowed himself to be yanked back to his feet. Why couldn't they just let him collapse somewhere? But he didn't have the strength to argue. They headed for the shuttle.

Moments later, Cain strode into the confusion of the landing bay, accompanied by Captain Graham, the pudgy Chief of Supply. The commander saw Astarte help a limping woman across the deck. Orestes, whom he recognized as one of the Britannica pilots, was behind her, helping to carry a litter. He crossed the deck, halting where the two reasonably uninjured pilots left the wounded to the care of a medical team.

"Captain Orestes?"

"Yes, sir?" He found the strength to stand to attention.

"Where's your ship?"

"Borrowed, sir. I'm grounded for the time being. Unless you've got a spare Viper or some other duty for me?" He looked half-dead on his feet. Smoke and ash stained his hair, skin, and clothing. He was in no condition to be flying - but he could still assist Graham.

"Other duty, I'm afraid. Captain Graham here needs a little help with a flash check of our storage chambers. You available?"

"I guess so, Commander." Deep breath. "Yes, sir, I am."

"Good. Graham, here's your man. Captain Orestes of the.... Captain Orestes." Cain always knew the names of those in his command. "Astarte, you can assist them in a moment. Go ahead, gentlemen." He remained where he was, his gray-blue eyes piercing and holding the girl; she stood uncertainly at attention.

Orestes spared them both a glance, then followed Graham across the deck. The man was already explaining that they were to determine exactly what explosive potential Cain still had aboard his battlestar.

"Sir?" Astarte questioned meekly when Cain continued to study her.

"You've got your father's eyes, I see," he commented, as though noticing them for the first time.

"Uh, yes, sir, so I've always been told." She was clearly puzzled.

"I'm glad you made it. We heard what happened to Devon. When we didn't hear anything from you, we assumed the worst."

She glanced briefly after the retreating blond captain. "I ran into Captain Orestes, sir. I guess I spent most of my time flying around the Britannica with him. We saw her destroyed, from the shuttle...."

Cain nodded briefly, his hard face touched for a moment with sadness and bitter anger at the loss of ships and crews. "We know about Commander Hera. I understand you did well out there. You must have, to be back alive and relatively unhurt. Nasty-looking bruise, that."

She blushed at his gesture to her cheek, but straightened tired shoulders. "Just a little accident. I did what I could."

"Cadet, I think you've had your baptism. You're a real warrior now. Pick up your sergeant's insignia in my quarters after this is over."

"Yes, sir!"

"I'll arrange with the quartermaster to have it properly noted. You had only a secton or two left at the Academy, I understand."

She smiled again. "I'm sure you were aware of that when you took me aboard." There was mischief in her suddenly-saucy voice. She was elated at her promotion.

"Yes, I was."

"Commander Cain?" She knew she should be hastening after Orestes and Graham, who were plainly waiting for her. "May I ask a question?"

"What is it, Sergeant?"

"My father, sir. He always had the best things to say about you. When I told him I wanted to fly with the Pegasus, he said that was good. A few sectons later, you showed up at my door at the Academy, with all the right forms already completed so I could finish my time on a battlestar and graduate with no problem, with nothing irregular on my record. That's highly unorthodox, sir. Why did you do it? And how do you know my father?"

He touched her chin, raising it slightly. The girl was definitely her father's daughter, in behavior as well as looks. She deserved an explanation. "Your father and I flew together, yahrens ago. He saved my life in battle once - then I saved the battle. I got a Cluster and a promotion. He got a disability pension. Haven't seen much of him since, but I swore I owed him for it. One day, he showed up and said this was the way to pay him back, to give his little girl a chance with me."

Astarte's blue-green eyes widened at the revelation. "He never told me he knew you personally! And Mother never mentioned it either!"

"I was in space, and he was grounded. I think he was bitter for a while, but he got over it. I'm glad. He met your mother later, in one of the medical centers, I think. It really doesn't matter. I've paid that little debt. And from now on, young lady, you'll get no special favors on my battlestar, or preferential treatment. You'll earn your keep."

"Of course, Commander!" she replied proudly.

He pointed toward the two officers waiting at the lift. "Better get started, Sergeant."

"Yes, sir! Sorry to have taken up your time." She hurried across the deck to join the patient men.

"Found out what you needed to know, Cadet?" Orestes inquired. He was leaning against the railing as if ready to collapse at any micron.

"Wrong rank - I'm a sergeant now," she replied archly.

He found a smile. "Good for you."

The trio boarded the lift, and it began to ascend. Alongside them, a second lift passed on its way down. On it was a large, burly individual carrying a long case. As he shifted the container on his shoulder, he caught a glimpse of the people in the other lift.

"You're Cap'n Orestes, right?" the man bellowed as they passed the midway point of their meeting.

"Yeah. Why?" The tech looked vaguely familiar.

"Yer sister's bin lookin' fer ya," the man hollered back as he sank from sight.

"What?" Orestes screamed, grabbing the railing to peer down at him. "Electra's here?"

"Last time I saw 'er, anyway, alive an' lookin' fer ya," a disembodied voice answered.

Orestes stared at his two companions, his mouth slack. Then he suddenly whooped with unconcealed joy, grabbing Astarte in a tight embrace before planting a kiss on her bruised cheek. "Electra's alive! My sister's alive!"

"So celebrate later," Graham interrupted with a cheery smile. "We've still got work to do."

Orestes laughed, restored to life and good humor, still clutching the breathless Astarte. "You know, Graham, I don't even mind!"

* * * * *

Dr. Rafael looked up as he heard somebody call his name. He'd been on duty in the landing bay since the beginning of the battle, many long centars before, and it seemed the casualties would never stop coming. Most of the survivors from the shuttles were injured, and the medics who accompanied them were often among the wounded themselves, needing help but somehow still ministering to their people. Galswintha was with an emergency team at present, and Rafael grabbed whatever help passed by. The Pegasus medical staff was being pushed beyond reasonable limits, but they had no choice.

"What is it now?" he called, wiping his hands on his blood-stained, smoke-impregnated trousers as he got to his feet amid the clutter, his brief rest over.

He saw two women coming toward him, both wearing pilots' uniforms; they supported a tall man between them. His first thought was that he had to be seeing double. Two Celenes? Couldn't be. Too long a duty shift, too many centars....

They saw his confused expression.

"My sister Celeste transferred from the Galactica after Livia's accident," the petite Celene explained, gasping; the big man was a heavy burden for two small women. "This is Paris. He's from Adama's command too. His hands are burnt, and I think he's been flying that way for centars."

"Put him down," the doctor directed. He reached for a small body scanner and burn kit. The pilots knelt next to him.

His supplies were almost gone; as he glanced around the bay, Rafael suspected he'd need more medications and oxygen breathers before long. "I'll check him out. Celene, go up to life center. I need burn salve and life masks, if they've got any to spare. Celeste, is it? Help hold him still. This may sting...."

One woman ran. The other pulled the injured man's head to her shoulder and held one hand as Rafael ran the scanner over it, then began preliminary first aid, injecting an analgesic.

Paris flinched a little, pulling away from Celeste and staring down at his burnt hands; he was barely conscious. "I'll never fly again," he whispered woodenly.

"Don't think like that," Rafael ordered, not liking the lackluster look in the other man's eyes or the flush to his sallow skin. How to reassure a patient, when the doctor himself was none too sure? "You'll be fine." He tried to sound convincing.

The warrior shook his head. "Too many burns ... too much damage.... Flew too long.... I'll never fly again."

Rafael injected more medication, this time to prevent infection and blood poisoning. Paris swooned back in Celeste's slender arms.

The doctor called to a sturdy med tech, gestured toward the injured pilot. "Help get him out of the way, and call Galswintha to look at him. Special favor to me." The man nodded, and Paris was soon settled aside, his hands temporarily bandaged, making room for more injuries.

Rafael took a last look at his handiwork. Yes, Winna could help the man. He had faith in her abilities. Glancing up, he saw a skinny, smoke-stained man run by. He noted the insignia proclaiming him to be from the Britannica. "You! Are you all right?"

"I'm fine!" the man yelled back. "I always look like this. I'm going to help the tech crews."

"Good, I guess," the doctor muttered, shaking his head. The man looked like he belonged in life center, being treated for shock, smoke inhalation, and malnutrition. But if he was still on his feet and had some energy.... He shook his head again, then wearily responded to another frantic summons.

* * * * *

Electra was near despair. After returning from the final skirmishes of the space battle, she'd resumed her search for her brother, but no one had seen or heard from Orestes since his landing on the Britannica that last time, just before the battlestar died. He must've stayed too long, trying to reach the commander; but whatever he'd said or done, it hadn't been enough. And he must not have gotten out.

The safety of the evacuation shuttles had been Electra's primary responsibility. But because of that, she'd had to leave her brother - and he must have died. She'd led the shuttles safely through the Cylon hades-storm to the protection of the Pegasus. But no one had seen Orestes.

Half-hidden by a heavy metal girder, she sank down and leaned her head on her knees, but her eyes were too hot and stinging to cry; the tears wouldn't come. She sighed heavily.

"And you're...?"

She glanced up into a tired face, lined and worried, that had seen too many injures. His uniform and the insignia at his throat proclaimed him a medic.

Electra shook her head. "No, I'm all right. Just tired. It ... wasn't easy out there, and it's no better now." The stinging grew worse; she blinked at some non-existent sliver in her eye.

"Thank the Lords for that. Don't think badly of me if I leave right away, but it hasn't been easy here, either." He rose from his knees and hurried away with his emergency med kit.

She watched him go, then stared blankly for a long time - she wasn't sure how long - watching legs pass by without stopping, some striding briskly, some dragging tiredly, some being supported by others. Finally, a pair of legs stopped in front of her. After a long moment, they registered on her brain. She turned her gaze upward.

Commander Cain stared down at her bedraggled, huddled form. Lt. Sheba stood behind him. She knew she must be a sight. She was smudged with smoke; her uniform was creased and stained; her tangled hair was in complete disarray. Wearily, she pulled herself to her feet and to some semblance of military alertness.

"Sir?"

"Major, I've got a problem," he began without preamble. "My flight commander was killed out there, and you are now the ranking pilot aboard the Pegasus. I need a flight commander, now. Can you do it?"

"I can try," she responded, understandably without enthusiasm. "What do you want me to do?"

"Can you get the surviving pilots and Vipers into some cohesive fighting force in the next few centars?"

She stared back in horror. "What?" Lords of Kobol, they weren't going on the offensive now?

"By then, the Cylons may have figured out where we're hiding. By then, my plan should be ready for operation. And by then, I may need fighters ready, and this ship can't be left undefended. I need my squadrons back at alarm-ready as soon as possible." His voice was brisk and sharp, but she thought she detected a pleading note in it that touched her somewhere deep inside. He needed a job done, and he was offering that job to her.

If she could absorb some of his strength, carry it with her, convey it to the pilots.... Well, maybe there was a chance to do what he asked. "I'll try, sir. I'll give it my best shot."

He studied her frankly, then nodded. "Good. I'm depending on you. Go to it. Sheba, help her out, will you?" He raised his riding crop in salute, then strode away, leaving both women behind.

He's depending on me. Lords, I'm supposed to take these shell-shocked survivors of a disaster and mold them back into a fighting force in a few centars' time....

It might be impossible, but she would damned well do her best. She couldn't let Cain down. In that moment, Cain's aura became tangible to her. A warrior would give nothing less than all for that man....

She glanced at Sheba, who looked almost as weary as she felt, but a lot more optimistic. "Let's get going. We've only got a few centars, and a lot to do."

Sheba nodded. "We can maintain simultaneous contact with both bays through the aux computer hook-up on level two beta. It's right in the cradle between the bays, and there are no fires there. We'll know how many pilots survived, and from which ships, and how well they can be grouped into teams, since everyone checked in at that point. I guess the first thing we'll need is a regular patrol roster...."

They set themselves a quick pace. Whatever Cain's plan, they had little time.

* * * * *

Gavain lay motionless in the life support pod, and Rissian could tell from the yellowish cast to his friend's dark skin that things weren't going well. He swallowed thickly. Gavain had insisted he was fine, he would be all right. Then he'd collapsed in his seat. By the time the shuttle docked with the Pegasus, he was barely breathing and his eyes were somehow discolored. The faint herbal scent to this place - rather different from the antiseptic nothingness of the Olympus's life center - had seemed to restore him for a few centons. Gavain had even opened his eyes and smiled at his wingman.

But now....

A shadow fell over them both as Dr. Helena checked the injured man. She shook her head, a slight pursing of her perfect lips the only sign of any reaction.

"Well?" Rissian asked anxiously. "What is it, doctor? Is he going to be all right? How serious is it?"

She studied him thoughtfully; he could sense no emotion in her cool blue eyes. "The head wound is very serious. It's hemorrhaging severely into the cranial cavity. The pressure has probably already caused irreparable brain damage."

Rissian felt ready to collapse himself; he was breathing heavily, fear evident in his wide brown eyes. "Do something about it! He's a warrior, he can't have brain damage!"

"We've tried drainage, but some of the fluids are leaking within the brain itself. There's significant tissue damage," she tried to explain.

"So operate! Can't you doctors do anything about it? He's my wingmate, my friend! You can't just let this happen to him and do nothing! I mean, he'll never forgive you if he forgets his arias!"

"Lieutenant, your friend is dying," Helena informed him starkly.

"What?"

"Lieutenant Gavain is dying."

"I heard you!" He stared at her composed face, finding no sympathy in her careful expression and hating her all the more for it. "Why aren't you operating? Aren't you even going to try and save him?"

"Lieutenant-"

"Aren't you even going to try?" he yelled.

"I'm going to explain something to you, Lieutenant," she said, taking his arm.

"Yes, explain, you cold-blooded bitch!" he spat, pulling free. "You even look like an icicle!"

She continued as if he hadn't spoken, but there was a faint flush of color on her pale cheeks. "Lieutenant, parts of this ship are still on fire. There is a danger of energizer failure, and the very strong possibility of renewed Cylon attack. Considering your friend's condition, I would still risk the surgery, except for several other pertinent factors."

Rissian was shaking with rage. Some inner voice cautioned him, however, that slugging his friend's doctor would not be any help to him. "So tell me those factors," he growled through clenched teeth, his tone coldly threatening.

Helena refused to be intimidated. "You can see that every bed in my life center is filled. There are many other men and women in the landing bays and corridors, injured crew members who need medical assistance. Lieutenant, how can I justify letting a dozen or more of those people die while ordering an entire surgical team - with all the necessary equipment and supplies - to operate on a man who will probably die anyway, and likely not even recognize you if he did wake up? Will you tell those dozen people and their friends and families why we lost them? I'm put in a position I don't much like, Lieutenant, forced to decide who can be saved and who can't, who we can afford to spend our time and resources on and who we have to balance against the good of too many others - but that's my responsibility and I will do it as best I can."

"So you get to play god with other people's lives!" he said bitterly. "And we get no choice in it!"

"I don't like playing god, as you put it. I'm trying to save lives, as many as I can. Use your head, man. Could you make any other choice, at an exchange rate of twelve lives to one?"

Rissian turned blindly back to the pod, refusing to accept the cold logic that said his friend didn't have a chance. "So Gavain dies," he said flatly, as if it suddenly meant nothing to him any longer.

"Stay with him," she said gently. "If he wakes before the end, he may know you, or recognize you as a friend. A familiar face at his side, a known touch - those can be infinitely valuable, can make it easier to leave this life. I know - I've seen it before, and it may make things easier for you, too. I think he'd want you here."

"You're damned right I'll be here. But you won't. Go away."

Helena knew there was nothing more she could say or do for either man, and in all honesty, there were many others who needed her more, who needed her immediately. She turned away, the nearly emotionless mask of her face on the verge of shattering; she held it in place through sheer force of her strong will.

Rissian sat numbly in the chair someone brought him, his eyes fastened on the life pod's indicators of heart and brain activity. Gavain's heart was still beating more or less regularly, although the time between pulses was frightening; Rissian could feel his own rapid heartbeats despite the tightness of his chest. He couldn't even begin to decipher the mysterious flutterings of the other graphs. But knowing brain damage had already occurred, was still occurring, and his friend was drifting closer to death, he felt his despair increase with every shift of every line.

"Doctor Rafael needs more burn salves and life masks."

"You'll have it in a centon, Lieutenant. Cadmus, get it for her."

"I'll wait here."

The conversation made no impression on Rissian, who sat alone in his misery. When the slight pressure of a woman's hand warmed his shoulder, he barely blinked.

"How's your friend?" a sympathetic voice asked quietly.

"Dying," he answered hollowly. "And there's nothing the frost queen will do about it."

"I'm sorry.... So many are dying, we've lost so many friends...."

The simple acknowledgment of shared sorrow was too much; it was as if a dam had broken. Rissian began to cry, cursing the tears that spilled down his face. "Why?" he demanded. "It didn't seem like so much. He said it was nothing. He was still walking and everything, but now, he's dying, and nobody will do anything for him but watch him go...."

The heart monitor was suddenly still and silent. Other lines evened out, or disappeared; lights blinked out. The screens over Gavain's life pod were empty. The machine cried an alert but a somber med tech stilled the alarm from her post.

Celene gasped reflexively. Rissian stared for a long moment, his own heart nearly stopping. Then he turned in his chair to bury his face against the woman's uniform. She put her arms around him and bowed her head, letting the man cry. Tears were all anybody could give Gavain now - tears, and memories of the past.


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