For a millennium, the Twelve Colonies of Kobol waged war with the inhuman race called Cylons. The robot Cylons launched a genocidal attack which shattered Colonial power and all but obliterated their worlds. A few desperate refugees banded together under the protection of the last battlestar, Galactica, and her commander, Adama. They had a goal: to find their brethren, the lost Thirteenth Tribe, on the legendary planet Earth.
They waited patiently, afraid, as the centons ticked away. If the door opened, it could mean the end. The longer the door remained close, the less likely the word would be good.
The inevitable came to pass.
The seal to Commander Adama's private ward opened. The sounds of a woman sobbing could be heard clearly. A paunchy, balding man stepped slowly into view, his face as pale as the medical tunic he wore. He slowly lifted his eyes to face the tense visitors to his life center. They read the verdict in that look. Choked, stifled cries tore from constricted throats.
"I'm sorry," he said bleakly. "Adama's heart finally gave out. After the wounds he sustained in that battle, the long recovery ... it left him weaker, more susceptible.... He couldn't stand ... his body couldn't take it any more. He's gone...."
His glance avoided any of them in particular, as he tried to focus on the opposite wall. But he couldn't avoid the emotions radiating from them all. Colonel Tigh, looking stark. Siress and Councilor Tinia, eyes tightly closed, schooling her face as she had to do in Council meetings. Captain Apollo, seemingly unaware of anyone around him. Ten-yahren-old Boxey, fighting manfully against tears. Lieutenant Starbuck, unsure if he really belonged here. Lieutenant Athena, trying to find comfort in her husband's arms. Dr. Kaleb, trying to find something soothing to whisper to her.
"May we see him?" The husky voice was Apollo's.
Salik nodded and stepped aside. The warrior slipped past him, followed quietly by the boy, the bridge officer, and the technician, the dead man's family.
The doctor turned to Tigh. "Well, Commander, what now?"
The officer started in shock, glanced at Tinia.
She nodded once. "As your friend and Adama's, I can think of no one better qualified to step into his boots. As a member of the Council of Twelve, I can guarantee you will be confirmed as commander of the Galactica. What are your orders, Commander Tigh?"
He shut his eyes tightly to buy a moment's time, to think. Then he opened them again, and drew a heavy breath. There was no time to grieve, to hide away and let his feelings have their way. He now had other responsibilities, and those duties would give him no rest, no time, any more than they had given Adama. He had to be the commander now....
Green, green, it was all green. The solitary man stared vacantly into the light of the small generator, ignoring the passage of day into night through the lingering dusk. The generator was the only thing on the whole planet that wasn't a dreary, tiring green. After three yahrens, he had almost ceased to notice any of it.
The man showed the yahrens he had been there. His exposed skin was leathery with tan from all the days spent outdoors; his once-handsome face was lined with wrinkles from early old age and from squinting at the sky, waiting for rescue. Hard mouth and sunken eyes betrayed something dark and determined.
Of clothing, he wore little. His pants were faded and torn, with heavy green stains at the knees and ankles from the vegetation. He wore no shirt; the warm climate made it unnecessary. His boots had long ago given out; simple sandals covered his feet, woven of tough reeds with vine straps to hold them in place over the calloused soles. He often told himself, in his frequent daily litanies, that "some day" when he got off this green rock he would need something decent to wear – the last shred of the vanity that had been so much a part of his character.
The shelter behind him had once been a clean, dull white, formed of plastene. It had faded with time, and was almost indistinguishable from its surroundings. The jungle had found rootholds in its aging structure; vines now twined over most of its sides and roof.
The small collection of tools and crates secreted in the shelter were just as aged. Some, in fact, had broken long before, but the exile refused to throw them away. "Some day" he might fix them, or need them even in their shattered state.
The man hunched himself together against the falling night. Another day almost gone. Another day alone, in exile. Another day without hope. He silently cursed the one who'd left him here, not for the first time. That, too, was part of his daily litany – what he would "some day" inflict upon his enemy.
If he escaped. The generator continued to gleam steadily. That meant the short-range transmitter should still be working. As long as it worked, he had a chance. If it ever stopped....
He slowly began to rock back and forth, murmuring softly.
There were sounds in the dimness, clanking metallic sounds that didn't belong anywhere on this planet, sounds that startled and silenced the sounds that did belong. The man paid them no attention.
The sounds drew nearer. On the far side of his small camp, silvery ghosts took form, double moonlight shimmering coldly off their moving shapes. The slowly shifting red lights on what passed for their faces bore an eerie resemblance to something undead from an evil night tale. They halted there, obviously studying the single human.
One then advanced. "Human-you-are-our-prisoner. Surrender-or-be-terminated."
The monotone finally caught his attention. He slowly turned his face and let his eyes examine the shape. Life seemed to return to him slowly as he sat upright, then rose to his feet.
"You ... are Cylons?" he said in a voice vaguely cracked from disuse.
He drew a deep breath. "I am not a human, Centurion. I am Count Baltar, a Cylon commander. I have been marooned here for too long. Take me to your ship. I have a mission to complete."
The Cylons paused, their red eyes still moving, as each accessed old data banks. Then the leader spoke. "Commander Baltar."
"Yes!" he shouted back.
"Excellent." Baltar glanced around at what had been his home for three yahrens. "But first, destroy this place."
As Baltar had walked away from the Colonies at their Destruction, so he walked away now. The Cylon guard unleashed a fury of laser bolts at the primitive shelter before falling into step behind him.
Standing at the door, Commander Tigh glanced around his new quarters, at the still-empty shelves, the viewport to space, the image of the battlestar on the wall, the too-clean desk and drawers. The room had been cleaned out so quickly – all of Commander Adama's things were already gone, put in storage or given to Apollo and Athena or others who would treasure the little mementoes that were all that was left. Amazing. The man had lived most of his adult life on this ship, many yahrens of it in these very chambers, and there was so little to show for it....
The ceremony for Adama was over; his body had been consigned to the cradle of space, with the tears of the fleet. He had brought them so far, following the dream.
"And now it's my mission," Tigh said softly in the silence. "It's my duty to complete the journey, to lead our survivors to Earth."
He moved from the door to stand by the desk. He touched its cold, smooth surface. Nothing. No sensation.
"I'm not ready for this. I never wanted command, never wanted you to go. Adama, how can I do it? How can I take your place? I'm not ready...."
He noticed one thing remaining on the shelves, tucked to one side and apparently forgotten, something he hadn't seen before. It was a metallic shape of a bird apparently caught in flight. A symbol of the Galactica, he knew, something Adama had found somewhere and brought with him to represent their ship, long before the Destruction.
And someone had left it here for him.
He reached up, pulled it from the shelf. It was warm in his hands, and felt almost alive, as if it could take wing from his clutch at any micron, if it chose.
If it chose. But it wouldn't. He felt a calm certainty pervade him at that moment. The Galactica would not take flight from him. She was his now. And he would be a fitting and proper guardian for her, as Adama had been. The ship knew, even if the man did not, who could be her master.
It choked in his throat for a moment. Adama had known. And he was certain his friend had sent this signal to him, because he was certain it hadn't been there before. He wouldn't let them down, his old friend, his ship, his people – he would do whatever he had to do, become whatever he had to become.
He settled the bird statuette in the middle of the desk, then took his seat behind it – in the very chair where Adama had so often worked. A sudden ray of starlight from the port found the bird and reflected across the desk. More confidently, Tigh reached for the dictater of the commander's log, already beginning to feel at home. A quick check showed where Adama had left off. Staring at the image of the Galactica, he began to dictate.
"This is Commander Tigh of the battlestar Galactica, making my first entry after assuming command.
"The last secton has been busy and sad for us, with the death of Commander Adama and his memorial service. There has been much grieving, and he will be deeply missed by all who knew him and ... loved him.
"Now, however, we move on...."
Staring around the command core of the basestar, Commander Baltar felt a moment's disappointment. The Cylon vessel had been old and worn even before its last mission, and had in fact been dispatched to examine this quadrant because it was considered expendable, and was not expected to return. Over the yahrens of its mission, the ship had deteriorated even more.
But it was a basestar. And it had fighters. It would obey his commands.
"Welcome-aboard-Commander-Baltar. We-will-return-to-Cylon-for-additional-orders-before-continuing-pursuit," announced the command Centurion from its pedestal.
Baltar whirled from his study of the chamber. "No!"
The command machine droned, "We-have-been-out-of-contact-with-the-Imperious-Leader-for-yahrens."
So much the better, Baltar thought, his mental acumen gradually returning and reminding him of several things. His position had been precarious in his last days of command – failure to capture or destroy the Galactica had told against him in the Imperious Leader's oculars. And anything could have happened in his sectars of captivity in the fleet, before Adama released him on that planet. And then there were the yahrens of exile, alone, out of touch....
No, it would be better if he returned to Cylon victorious, with Adama's head and the shattered debris of the Galactica as trophies.
"What do your data banks tell you where I am concerned?" he asked cunningly.
The Cylon seemed to think for a centon. "Commander-Baltar-is-in-charge-of-the-task-force-seeking-the-humans," it then announced. "His-orders-are-to-be-accepted-in-that-capacity."
"Yes. But that task force proved inadequate, incapable of its task. I am taking command of this ship for that function. I am now your commander; you will obey me and follow my orders. We will begin pursuit of the humans at once, without any such delays."
Wonder of wonders, the Cylon accepted.
"By-your-command." The gold Centurion clunked down from the command pedestal to stand beside it, leaving command gloriously open to him. He ascended and lovingly settled himself in what was so reminiscent of a throne.
"Negative!" he snapped. "We are out of range of Cylon, and we have no time to waste. Set course along epsilon vector twenty-two, circular reckoning, zero-zero-zero-point-nine."
It was that easy. He exulted in feeling command again – and this time there was no one from Cylon to tell him otherwise, or to inflict another IL "aide" upon him.
"There is justice after all," he crooned softly. "Justice, and vengeance. Are you waiting, Adama? Do you know I'm free? Do you know I'm coming for you again? And I remember where you were going, I heard, in that cell you confined me to...."
And he began to laugh, louder and louder, until the chamber rang with the echoes of madness.
Enter Sheba's Galaxy