Soon:

Commander Tigh's log: The last sectons have been extremely tense and nerve-wracking for our warriors and civilians both. We have lived in a sort of vacuum, preparing, but now Earth is only days away. None of our patrols report any sign of Cylon activity. We appear to have lost our enemy again. But I remember too well the times we have thought that in the past, only to find them waiting for us in some new ambush. I will not be misled or deceived, not now.

We have transferred civilian ship's members and certain of our military personnel to the fleet, at President Tinia's suggestion, both to assist in the physical and diplomatic approach to Earth, and for the more personal reason that they have families. If we are to be separated from the fleet for some long period, we will not be separating families. The Cylons have done enough of that to last through the end of time.

Additionally, we have split our squadrons, leaving Green and Yellow with the fleet to ensure their safety over these next few sectons. Baltar has few, if any, fighters left, and they should be sufficient for anything but a full basestar assault – and I have confidence in the fleet's ability to scatter before any such attack while our warriors do what they must.

Our warriors seem more alive than they have for yahrens. I understand why. For so long, it had seemed we were all but forgotten by our people. We did our duty, as always, but there was a sense that those duties were little more than a nuisance to the fleet, not a necessary part of survival. I am glad to see our warriors determined and full of purpose again, but it is disturbing to wonder if we need war to justify our existence.

I hope this war is at last over, for us, and I look forward to the day when we can all have families and useful, purposeful lives without fear or restrictions.

Lieutenant Athena is among the transferred personnel. She and her husband and children are remaining with the fleet. I miss them both already, and those young scamps of theirs. Zac is almost the same age as Boxey, at the Destruction. I saw Boxey grow up, wishing there was no need for children to live on a warship. Now I see Zac and Jude, among so many others, and realize how naturally I take their presence.

Perhaps it is a sign that we have come full circle....

* * * * *

"You're sure you're doing the right thing?" Kaleb asked, leaning near to whisper into his wife's ear. From the observation deck of the Rising Star, they could see the Galactica moving ahead of the fleet. "We could still go back, send the boys with the fleet, Haldia says she'll take them. They know her and like her, they'd be fine for a while...."

"No. We stay with the fleet and wait for the Galactica to come back to us," she said resolutely.

"How do you know they'll come back?"

"Faith," she replied.

"Faith?" he repeated stupidly. Like many warriors, Athena had never shown much inclination toward organized religion – they saw too much destruction, were often exposed to many beliefs and ideologies among their varied human cultures, and had to be tolerant of them all if they wanted, in good conscience, to defend their fellow Colonials. But then, Adama had always had a leaning toward the mystical, even a bond with it, and it wouldn't surprise Kaleb if that streak were now showing through in his daughter.

"Faith," she echoed softly. "My father can't be wrong. We'll find a new life on Earth, all of us."

He didn't want to ask what would happen otherwise. "And that faith is enough for you?" he asked. More carefully, he continued with, "You were ready to resign from the service only a few days ago."

"Yes, I know." She smiled faintly.

"I thought when you said we were going with the fleet that you had gone ahead and done it. I was surprised to see you still in uniform."

"Kaleb," she held his hand more tightly. "I thought about resigning because it seemed like the only time anyone cared about us was when we had to die. That seemed the only thing a warrior could do, and it served no purpose because we were all going to die anyway. It didn't seem to matter if I ran away." She sighed pensively. "I've been listening to some of my father's journals. I've found myself again. I've found faith. I have faith in what we're doing, and in my own ability." She turned to him, smiling again. "And I have faith in your ability to carry on if I'm not here – although I have every intention of continuing to be here."

"So you're still a warrior. That brings me back to my other question. Why aren't you staying with the Galactica?"

With a flash of playful fire, she came back with, "Are you trying to get rid of me?"

Kaleb laughed, overjoyed to know he had back the Athena he had loved and been sealed with for eight contented yahrens.

* * * * *

"Coordinate all reports, please," Colonel Omega ordered calmly.

Microns later, information flowed across his screen, then disintegrated and reformed to allow him to compare data.

The colonel cross-checked the reports from ship's scanners, patrols, and technical teams. Everything still showed clear, with the obvious exception of lingering storm interference causing a few areas of near blindness; disturbing, but considering how unlikely the Cylons were to risk the storm, still correctable. Project Interlock was, for all intents and purposes, over, but technicians continued to complete minor details and offer suggestions for future modification.

Satisfied with both, Omega made a notation that the reports had been reviewed, suggested that additional patrols be dispatched to cover their blind area, and sent them on to the commander before turning to other duties.

He briefly noted Sire Hogan standing awkwardly in the background and assigned the knowledge to some remote corner of his mind. The Council had insisted their liaison accompany the battlestar on its mission, however unnecessary he was likely to be. What the young councilor thought of his mission, Omega didn't know. He did, however, suspect that certain members of the Council would be quite happy to see the military and one of its closest supporters far distant from Earth during the first momentous days.

Then again, maybe he was being cynical for no reason. They might have lost Baltar; the warriors might be able to settle into peace with the rest of their people.

* * * * *

"Welcome back, son." Captain Apollo knew his voice softened, and quickly tried to firm it up again. It was good to have Boxey out of life center and cleared for duty again, but there was no need to single out the youth for special treatment. "Blue Squadron needs all the good warriors it can put in a Viper. We're glad to have you back, Sergeant."

The young man grinned irrepressibly. Loma, at his side, smiled as proudly and self-importantly as if she'd created the hero herself. Classmates buzzed around the pair, animatedly sharing gossip and asking questions.

Apollo watched them walk to their seats; despite what was believed a posthumous award of rank, Boxey – Troy – still had things to learn about flying, fighting, and other topics, and would stay in his secondaries until he graduated with the other cadets.

He and his son had talked over that, along with a great many things, in the past few days. Sergeant Troy was part of Blue Squadron, but detached until he completed these last few courses.

Apollo watched the young people for a few moments. It felt good, seeing them, hearing them. They were the warriors of the next generation, the ones who would – as Starbuck had glumly commented – take over from them and Boomer and Jolly and the others, and defend their people. And he felt proud of them. Let them have a few moments to share this first glory. Time enough for fighting and dying. Like Morgan had....

Rather than calling the cadets to order for the class that was already behind schedule, he bent his head over his comp-sheets, not seeing, just listening to hear when they would be ready to start.

* * * * *

It was something of a shock to Starbuck to walk into the OC, when he had a free shift, and see a group of his latest cadets sitting around a table. Sure, he'd seen his students become warriors before, but he'd never seen Boxey as an adult, not like this. He stood open-mouthed for a moment, feeling like his world had been taken apart and put back together when he wasn't looking.

"Starbuck!"

Boxey had seen him, and was waving him over. The other cadets immediately raised a welcoming chorus as well.

Starbuck recovered enough to move over to the table where Loma had already slid closer to Boxey, enough to make room for the lieutenant on the cushions beside them. One of the others set off for another round of beverages from the bar.

"Troy said you were the one who saved his tail out there, Lieutenant!" the slim blonde piped up as the greetings died down.

"All in a day's work for a warrior," was all he could think to say as five pairs of young eyes stayed on him. They were shy, but missing some of the hero-worship he remembered from their classes. "Just like blasting holes in Cylon basestars and leaving Baltar looking like a fool," he added, throwing the conversation back at Boxey.

The kids hooted with laughter. Boxey leaned forward eagerly. "All I could think of was what you'd have done. Say, Starbuck, do you think...."

Talk turned to flying, battles, and other facets of military life. Lieutenant Jolly and a reinstated Lieutenant Boomer joined them a centar or so later. By the time they had all downed a healthy quantity of ambrosas – Boxey and Loma only had two each, the older warriors noted – much of the age difference between the pilots was gone. From now on, Starbuck knew, they would be fellow warriors, not teachers and pupils.

* * * * *

"Debriefing reports from Red Squadron patrols of the last duty shift," came a voice professional almost to the point of being stilted.

Apollo glanced up to study Sheba. She looked tense; he knew why. She didn't know what kind of reception she would receive. Thinking back, Apollo couldn't remember Sheba bringing the patrol reports to him since ... ever. She hadn't become Red Squadron's flight leader until after Bojay's death. She hadn't been to his quarters since then.

"Thank you, Sheba," he said, managing to sound casual. "Think you could stay around long enough to cross-check the reports from Red and Blue Squadrons and the fleet?"

"I'm off duty; I think I could spare the time."

"Have a seat. I'll pour a little vignon, since we're both off for a shift or so."

"Thank you."

Talk stayed on their debriefings, as Apollo had said, but by the time they parted, both felt much more at ease and relieved to have survived a very difficult step.

* * * * *

Commander Tigh's log: The fleet is gathered in the outermost limits of the Earth System. Yellow and Green Squadrons, along with portions of our other forces, are now billeted with a number of the Interlock ships.

The rest of Red and Blue Squadrons remain with the Galactica as we survey the system. Most of our pilots are on long patrols. If Baltar still has fighters, we would be very vulnerable. We seem, however, to have left the Cylons behind. Let us hope our luck continues while we set up our base and prepare....

* * * * *

Either somebody hadn't done their job properly or his equipment was finally showing its age. Neither would have been surprising, under the circumstances. It was unmistakably luck that the problem didn't prove fatal.

Due for another long patrol, Lieutenant Starbuck climbed briskly into his Viper and began prelaunch.

Something gave.

Sparks flew from one panel. He snatched back his fingers just in time. Power arced through the toggle he'd been touching, across to others. More sparks.

Starbuck realized almost at once that this wasn't a simple malfunction. Hastily punching open his canopy, he scrambled out, trying not to touch anything inside. The techs didn't realize anything was wrong until he threw himself from the side of his ship, rolling across the deck. As they came running, his seat ignited and the inside of the Viper exploded in orange heat.

Somebody had the intelligence to grab some boroton mist containers and use them before the fire breached his fuel tanks, or the ship might have exploded and killed them all.

As the medic examined his hand in life center, he thought about how lucky he'd been. It certainly could have been worse. He could have been killed or seriously burned, instead of having a few burns on his hand – which the doctor was tenderly salving and bandaging. Cassiopeia herself was tending to him, which was always a pleasant experience. He would be off the patrol roster for a few days, a more mixed blessing, as it would give him plenty of free time on the ship, but likely nothing to do with that time at a point when everyone was already edgy and expectant. He wondered how busy Cassie would be....

* * * * *

Tigh studied the reports. The fleet was moving through the system at an incredibly ponderous speed, accompanied by most of the pilots. No point in taking chances now....

"We seem to be clear," commented the man next to him.

"We do indeed, Omega."

"Commander?"

"What is it, Lieutenant?" he asked, glancing down at Rigel.

"We're still having trouble with some of our scans, sir. Remnants of the storm are still ionizing portions of quadrant psi, sector 14. Vipers moving into the area report heavy interference."

"Thank you." Idly, Tigh let his gaze slide back to the main viewport. The distant sun of Earth's system was still barely more than a bright star from where they were, in the farthest distant ring of space debris that orbited the system. Its bright yellow star somehow struck him as the most magnificent cosmic object he'd ever seen. Earth, the one world that really mattered to the humans, was the most precious of the star's nine gems. The system's myriad moons and asteroids would doubtless also be pleasant mysteries to explore and develop.

An eerie something touched his spine, as though someone stood behind him and was staring at him. Tigh knew that feeling from yahrens before, from when Adama was first made commander and he the executive officer. It was the same as he'd experienced at certain times when Adama had come undetected to the bridge, in a stealthy way he had. He'd just been there, suddenly, unnervingly. Adama'd just been there....

Tigh started and turned, half-expecting to see a ghost.

No one was there except his own exec, meeting his expression with raised eyebrows of concern.

He stared back for a moment. Then, he demanded, "What kind of interference?"

Rigel hastily checked her data – then rechecked it. A moment later, she went to direct communications with the pilots.

"I'm sorry, sir," she reported after a centon. "We don't know. We're no longer receiving anything but static from Cree and Narcissa. The storm must be–"

His fingers spasmed into fists. "Not the storm. Baltar. Warn the warriors, get our screens up, put the ship on alert, notify the fleet."

Red lights. Alarms. Surprised crewmen hastening their pace.

And then, revelation.

In the viewport before them, sliding from the shelter of the same space debris in which they traveled, appeared a ship. The double saucer of a Cylon basestar. From psi quadrant, sector 14. The Cylons had found them. Which meant they had found Earth.

* * * * *

Baltar's eyes were strangely luminous. On the screen before him, he could see a shape of a battlestar outlined against the asteroids and dust. Beyond it, the fleet. Beyond that, the tiny little star of Earth. His smile grew, twisted as a tick jerked across his face, then straightened again.

"Oh, Adama...." He leaned forward. "Launch fighters."

"We-have-no-remaining-fighters-aboard," echoed somewhere.

"Then fire all missile batteries...."

"By-your-command."

* * * * *

Tigh caught his breath and grabbed the railing as a barrage of missiles and laser fire clawed toward them. Most of the attack detonated in the matter around them, but the Galactica shuddered under several hits. Crewmen grabbed for handholds as gravity and stabilizers blinked out and back in. Lights dimmed but came back as auxiliary energizers kicked in.

"Damage report!" he called out at once. The crew, in shock from the unexpected attack, reacted promptly, pulling themselves together and getting back to their stations.

"No data on casualties yet, but we've lost scanner number three. Damage to several missile stations on deck five and seven. Several compartments of section lambda showing red for hull breach. Alpha bay is damaged, we can't launch until the shield is re-energized. Fire on deck six, section gamma...." The list grew, but finally concluded with, "Nothing more from Lieutenant Cree...."

"Probably Cylon jamming," he cut in sharply, almost feeling a nod of affirmation from some other presence. "They're either destroyed or still unable to contact us. We can't do anything about that now. What about our other warriors?"

"Red and Blue Squadrons are organizing and returning; Captain Apollo estimates arrival in less than fifteen centons, and tells us to hold on...."

Fifteen centons. A long time for a damaged ship to hold out against a madman ... but there were more important things to worry about. "Throw up an electronic jamming screen of our own. If Baltar hasn't contacted any other Cylons yet, maybe we can stop him long enough for our warriors to get back–"

"Commander Adama." A voice rang over the bridge as an image superimposed over the stars on Tigh's screen. Tigh cut off the jamming with a gesture. Maybe they could buy time for more of their fighters to return if they got Baltar talking.

"What do you want this time, Baltar?" Tigh asked.

"I want to speak to Commander Adama!"

"That's not possible–"

"Get him now or I'll destroy you."

"I told you before, Adama is dead. I'm in command now. Anything you want to say, you'll say to me!"

The screen went blank again, and Tigh almost groaned.

"Prepare for another attack."

* * * * *

Insulation smoldered off wires and chips. Programming altered or failed entirely as circuits rerouted or metal turned fluid. Throughout the ship, the progression toward breakdown accelerated toward a point of destruction.

* * * * *

Baltar stared into nothingness, his expression fixed vacantly into a smile. "Destroy them," he said through that smile.

Time vanished in emptiness as he waited. Sounds came to his ears without leaving impressions in his thoughts. After what seemed an eternity a voice spoke in the void.

"Our-missile-consoles-have-overloaded. They-are-no-longer-functional. Laser-batteries-are-energizing."

He focused on the Cylon. "What?"

"We-are-unable-to-resume-our-missile-attack."

"Why?"

"There-are-unexplained-power-drains-throughout-the-ship."

Frustration gnawed at his euphoria and broke through the strange veil of madness. "Then ram them. The Galactica won't escape me this time."

"That-will-destroy-our-ship-as-well."

"Ram them. Destroy the Galactica."

"By-your-command."

* * * * *

Time stretched forever. Elsewhere on the ship, Commander Tigh knew damage control was working frantically, putting out fires, making repairs, rescuing endangered personnel, and preparing to fight back. Shields finally closed, leaving the crew with only their instrumentation to tell them where Baltar was and when the next attack would come.

"Why hasn't he fired again?" Omega wondered aloud after several centons. "The longer he waits, the more chance we have, and the less time before our squadrons reach here."

Tigh banished the question if that was what Baltar wanted, to wait until the pilots were in visual range before finishing them off.

"Are missiles armed?"

"Yes, sir, all but batteries beta and kappa."

"Laser banks?"

"Only on the port side, sir," Rigel replied. "Energizer number two is still surging, and we can't risk charging the starboard banks until we've stabilized."

"Weren't all banks already charged?" Tigh demanded. Go into battle with only half their weapons, and no fighters?

"Yes, but the energizer backlashed and the banks were neutralized. Damage control is checking all circuits and weaponry for anything additional...."

The commander sighed. "How about our shielding?"

"Portside intact; starboard damaged," Omega cut in. "We can keep our strong side to the attack."

"We'd better make sure we do."

"Sir!" Rigel again. "The basestar is moving closer – and accelerating!"

"Accelerating!" Tigh repeated in confusion.

"Yes, sir...."

He felt the invisible psychic tap on his shoulder again, and leaned forward on the railing to stare down at the lieutenant's screen.

"He didn't attack because he couldn't!" he exclaimed. "He hurt himself as bad as us in that volley – and now he's moving in for a close-range fight – or to ram! Rigel, distance and speed?"

"Twenty microns and a quarter of the way to lightspeed!"

"Evade!"

* * * * *

"The-humans-have-altered-course."

"Compensate." Baltar stared at the bridge screen, waiting. "Do we have missile capacity yet?"

"One-of-our-missile-bays-is-operational."

"Turn that side to the Galactica. Back into her if we have to, firing all the way. We've got you, Adama...."

* * * * *

"They're closing too fast!" Omega shouted. "We can't evade!"

"How far away are our fighters?"

A familiar hated voice rang through the bridge; someone had left the incoming comm open. "Adama! Where are you? I want you to see who's destroying you! I want you to see and know that you're lost!"

"Commander Adama's been dead for seven yahrens, Baltar!" Tigh hit the command and shouted back. "Dead! You're trying to destroy a ghost!" The same ghost that stood at his shoulder now....

"No, that's impossible!" shrieked the voice. Several officers cringed. "You won't trick me, Adama! I've got you this time! I've got you and I'm going to keep you. You're not dead yet, but you're going to be, you're not going to cheat me...."

An odd silence hung over the bridge for a centon. The screen showed the basestar closing fast. With the damage she'd sustained in the first attack, the Galactica couldn't outrun the enemy.

"Can we maneuver, Omega?"

"Yes."

"The Cimtar maneuver."

"We lost at Cimtar!"

"Not the first time. Use Cain's maneuver, his Cimtar maneuver." Tigh stood grimly at his post.

The colonel remembered the tactic; his expression was appalled. "But that's never been done with a ship this size! We could be destroyed if the stabilizers can't compensate."

"If we don't do it, we're dead – and humanity may die with us if Baltar survives to get away and tell Cylon about Earth. Do it, Omega – now!"

He obeyed. "All remaining missile and laser batteries, prepare to fire. Helm, prepare for a hard starboard turn and barrel shift. Pilots, any of you who hear this, withdraw from immediate range...."

The basestar was all but on top of them, still picking up speed. Tigh stared at the starscreen, fascinated. The battlestar shook. Was it the first contact of ramming, or had there been time...?

As the universe darkened, Tigh thought he saw a silver bird gliding through the emptiness. Light spun away behind it, forming stars and brightness. It was the Galactica, lighting the way to somewhere beyond where any human had lived and walked. Fatalistically, he let go.

* * * * *

Red and Blue Squadrons closed on the battle site. The flight leaders from Yellow and Green Squadrons had requested permission to join as well, but Captain Apollo had ordered otherwise. If this was some ruse, the fleet needed whatever protection they could give it.

The warriors were near enough to see the two massive warships close, not near enough to know what happened in the tight quarters of that last attack. The last command from the Galactica forced them to keep that distance. There were flashes of light that seemed to be laser blasts, maybe bits of fiery debris spinning away, maybe something worse.

"They rammed! She's hit!" Apollo cried.

"Lords of Kobol...."

"Warriors, stand by!" Omega's voice. Apollo choked. Where was the commander?

* * * * *

Commander Tigh had no idea how long he'd been unconscious. Long enough for a medical team to reach the bridge, or Cassiopeia wouldn't be hovering over him, looking so anxious.

"I'm all right," he muttered, pushing her away.

"Like hades you are!"

The universe spun again, but he forced it into place by brute force of will. Back on his feet, Tigh grabbed the railing. He didn't feel Starbuck and Omega supporting him on either side, their faces ashen.

"Are we alive?" he demanded.

"Yes!" responded the colonel. "We managed to get off several volleys before he rammed, and the sudden turn meant most of his force glanced off. We're hurt, but we'll live. He's hurt worse."

"Good.... Any word from our pilots?"

"They're standing by, ready to finish him off as soon as you give the word."

Tigh nodded once. "Open a channel to Baltar."

Omega nodded and moved away, leaving Tigh leaning half against the railing, grateful for Starbuck's strong arm, bandaged though it was.

It seemed a long time before Baltar reappeared on their screen, disbelief written all over his face. Sparks flew around him, and there were snakes of smoke winding by to obscure his features for intervals. Darkened panels behind him showed how badly hurt his basestar was.

"Baltar," Tigh began heavily, "military honor demands that we ask for your surrender. Do you comply?"

"Where is Adama?"

"I told you, he's dead. He's been dead for yahrens."

For a ludicrous micron, it seemed Baltar still refused to believe it. Then sanity crept into his eyes, and a certain sorrow. "That's the truth, isn't it?"

"Yes."

"Adama's dead.... All this time, I tried to find him and kill him, and he's already dead...." A tear trickled down his smoke-grimed face. His chin dropped to his chest. "Even now, you're ahead of me, Adama. Even in death you are first. I wonder, will we meet even there...."

He looked up again. "In a universe without Adama, what is there to live for? What is there left to prove?"

Those were his last words. As the stunned Colonials watched, the channel went dead and the Cylon basestar exploded. The Galactica rocked, but stabilized quickly with no apparent further damage.

"Commander, you've got to report to life center. If you won't go for me, I'm sure Dr. Salik will make it a medical order." Cassiopeia was shaken by the vivid nearness of the explosions.

"No need for that, doctor," Tigh sighed. "I think I could use a little rest. Omega...."

"I'm fine, sir. We'll handle things here. If there are any problems, we'll know where to find you."

"Thank you."

Between them, Starbuck and Cassiopeia guided their commander off the bridge toward much-needed medical treatment.

* * * * *

Commander Tigh's log: Baltar's ship is destroyed. His pursuit is over.

The Galactica is badly damaged as well, but we survive. Repair continues on all decks, and life center continues to treat the injured. We are lucky, considering the magnitude of the attack against us, to have lost only twenty of our people dead, and to have another forty injured and still undergoing medical treatment. I am informed, by Dr. Salik, that I am fortunate not to be among them. As it is, I am not seriously injured, and have returned to duty.

The Galactica shall be in orbit of the next outer planet of the system within centars, there to wait until the fleet can rendezvous with us and a decision be made about planetfall on Earth, in light of recent events.

What shall we find there? We have already sent out patrols for reconnaissance, and hope to have their preliminary reports soon. First indications are, however, that the human race continues to exist here, and at a level of technology with which we can deal.

There seems no point in speculating on the future now. We shall have to wait and see.

I cannot help but remember Baltar's final words, and his sorrow that Adama was dead. Why, when he had tried for so long to see us all destroyed, did that affect him so? Adama spoke once of how he and Baltar had been at the Academy together for a time, then Baltar had left, for unknown reasons. They were friends, once, it seemed, but did not part well. Perhaps in the end Baltar remembered that, and regretted how things were.

But who knows the mind of a madman? Perhaps it was only some perverted rage that it was not he who would kill our former commander.

We are relieved that he is gone. In whatever afterlife exists for humanity, Baltar must answer for his own deeds, crimes, motives, and emotions. He is in other hands; we no longer care.

* * * * *

Activity seemed to have come to a standstill on the bridge of the Galactica. The crew's gazes kept straying to the front viewport. From their current position, they could see only the rim of the fourth planet, but soon their orbit would carry them around that world and into view of the third planet, Earth.

The fleet clustered behind them in the shadow of the planet; their view of Baltar's attack on their protecting battlestar had shaken up much of the population.

Commander Tigh sat at the flight officer's station, resting wobbly legs even as he insisted he needed no special treatment. His exec and the flight officer were with him, each contemplating his own thoughts in equal silence. Dr. Cassiopeia was also on the bridge, ostensibly on some other errand, but rather obviously keeping an eye on the commander.

Tigh ignored the careful attention, instead watching the forward screen as his crew did, lost in thought. In front of him on the console was a silvery statue of a bird in flight, the lesser part of the previous commander's legacy to him. Every now and then he reached out to stroke the bird's wings. Each time, it felt as though vibration hummed through the metal, as though the bird were about to take wing. Each time, there was a sense of someone standing behind him, quietly approving, no longer need to give advice or encouragement.

The commander didn't look behind him. He knew, rationally, that Adama wasn't there. But it was comforting to indulge the fantasy that his old friend had made the trip with him, had guided him, and could now enjoy a much-deserved rest with all of them.

Tigh smiled.

The Galactica passed the rim of the planet and changed course for Earth.

* * * * *

Captain Apollo divided his time between watching the screen and covertly glancing at his commander. In truth, he wasn't needed here and would much rather have been out on patrol too, but with Jolly and Sheba leading the teams, his presence with the squadrons wasn't necessary.

The free duty shift had given him an opportunity to share morningmeal with Boxey and one of the other cadets. Apollo had always seen a lot of Loma, but it was different now, with his son and the girl looking at each other with new eyes. Another sign of maturity he would have to get used to, along with meeting Boxey in the ready room and greeting him as a fellow warrior.

His life was certainly changing. A new planet and a new life were in store for all of them.

Funny, he didn't feel old, for all that had happened, for all that his son was becoming a man. He hadn't looked old when he stared into his mirror that morning. He still had many yahrens to go before he even hit the century mark, for Sagan's sake!

But it would be different, with Boxey – Troy, all grown up....

Between fighting a war and raising a son, he hadn't put himself first in yahrens. Maybe it was time he considered his own future. Maybe it was time to add somebody else to his life.

Sheba? Maybe, maybe not. If they could ever.... It occurred to him that he had used her as an excuse for a number of things over the yahrens. Hmm, maybe it was time to stop blaming her for his state of aloneness. Time to start fresh in that, too.

He stared at the screen, musing.

* * * * *

Athena entered the quiet bridge. As an officer and qualified pilot, she'd simply usurped a seat on the first shuttle from the regrouped fleet back to the Galactica, then put herself back on the duty roster.

And the timing was perfect. There was a spot in the viewscreen that could only be a planet. Her attention focused on that spot, she slid into her seat.

There might finally be peace for her people. She thanked the Lords that Zac and Jude would have a chance to grow up in peace.

Kaleb would certainly be happier if his wife didn't have to face war every day. He never complained or tried to ask her to leave the service, but she had always known he kept a little fear for her locked away in his heart.

His relief had crept out the night before, when Boomer joined the family for eveningmeal, and they'd had a few ambrosas after the boys were put to bed. They'd talked of the military and scientific things, as always, and about the future.

Boomer planned to stay with the military for a while, at least until their people felt secure; then he would resign his commission again, and put his talents back to their best use. Kaleb was already looking forward to the day Boomer rejoined them in technical; Wilker and the scientific team were working on a number of things that had come up during the Interlock project and the cosmic storm. Boomer's help would be as invaluable with that as with everything else.

Then Kaleb had teased her about her future plans, in a way he'd never done before.

Athena smiled. She would, as always, remain with the military. Let people like Kaleb and Boomer solve their problems; she would be one of those who made sure their people and their children survived to enjoy the solutions.

* * * * *

Lacking anything else to do, and knowing where everyone's attention was at the moment, Starbuck could think of no better place to be than on the bridge. With his burned hand, he would be off the duty roster for at least a secton, and with everyone else so busy, again or still, finding something to do might be a challenge.

No one seemed to notice his arrival. He wasn't surprised. The image on the viewscreen had them all mesmerized. A distant, distinct orb, a dark spot against a bright star. It could only be Earth. He caught his breath as it really hit him for the first time that they had finally found Earth – and with their only known pursuer destroyed, they might actually be able to settle there in peace.

Unexpectedly, a strange sort of emptiness stretched before him. What was he to do in a peaceful world? He'd never known peace in his life! External or internal. He'd always been blown by gusts of restlessness or gales of war – even though that war was the only anchor or purpose he had. Without that war, what was there for him?

Starbuck finally spotted Cassiopeia, whose attention was so focused on Commander Tigh that she hadn't noticed him. She had a beautiful profile, he thought. It went along perfectly with her sexy smile and great body and quick intellect and wonderful overall personality. He'd certainly had time to get to know every facet of her over the past ten yahrens....

And he'd never gotten tired of her, or felt chained by her. She'd always been there for him. Even when he'd wandered to anyone else, she'd always been like a safe harbor for him to come home to and rest with – and it had been a while since he'd tested farther seas of someone else. Even recently, when it seemed she had so little time for him, longing for the safe harbor of her love had been so strong it had hurt.

He felt very still within, and answered by freezing in mid-step toward her.

She was what he needed in his life. Now. Always. He remembered how he'd told the old rascal, Chameleon, that she was the only woman he'd really seriously considered sealing with, someday. He'd meant it. And would there be a better "someday" than now, with Earth in sight, and a new life ahead?

"Cassie?" he said, walking to her and sliding his uninjured hand around her waist.

"Hmmm? Yes, Starbuck?"

They'd caught several eyes. But right there in front of the commander, and Apollo, and Athena, and the entire bridge crew, Starbuck asked, "Will you marry me?"

And right there in front of everybody, she answered, "Yes."

And they kissed, while everybody else thoughtfully turned their attention back to the viewscreen.

They had finally come close enough to see their goal. In space before them, Earth had finally become a real planet. With the world now between them and its sun, they could see Earth as green and white and blue and perfect, where their brothers waited, and where the Twelve Tribes would build a new life.


Email Sharon Monroe at sharonmonroe@hotmail.com and let her know how much you loved this story!!!


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