The fair-haired, pale-skinned woman was deathly still in the life pod. Dr. Salik bent over her again, then rose, shaking his head at the ones who waited for news.
"It doesn't look good, Commander. We don't even know what's wrong with her, and I can't think of anyone else I can do."
Commander Adama nodded wordlessly, glancing at Captain Apollo, his son. The young man was a close ... friend of Sheba's, and he looked almost as ill as she was. This was a loss he would not easily bear.
Starbuck touched his shoulder. "Hey, buddy, she's not dead yet. Keep hoping. After all, the way this came on, maybe it'll go the same way...."
The captain's eyes were dark and shadowed as he glanced at his friend. "Maybe. I think I'll stay with her a while...."
The others understood. The doctor shooed out the rest to give Apollo some privacy with the dying woman who might be more than just a friend.
A Colonial distress signal. Pegasus crewmen sprang into action. Only centons after it was first received, Major Electra was leading a squadron in a search pattern, with Akimi as her wingman. Orestes and Falstaff flew back-up.
The distress signal originated from a small shuttle drifting aimlessly through a star system. The lone occupant was safety retrieved and brought back to the battlestar to be delivered to life center.
"I assure you, Helena, I am in excellent health. Your pilots found me before I sustained any injuries. Or am I out of line to call you Helena?"
"Certainly not," the doctor said, smiling, with just a hint of a blush on her smooth cheeks. "You do look fine, it's just there are a few peculiar readings here...."
"A minor malfunction, I'm sure. With your skill, you'll have it corrected in no time." He continued to smile at her.
She was definitely blushing, the deep pink complementing her silver-blonde hair and blue eyes. Her smile dimpled wider.
"Sire, if you feel up to it, Commander Cain would like to see you." Major Electra, too, felt the charm this individual exuded so effortlessly.
With a last magnetic glance at Dr. Helena, the man who called himself Baal followed Electra to the briefing room. The walk was over far too soon for her liking. Something about the self-assured, distinguished-looking man set her pulse tingling in a way few men had.
"Commander, you don't know how glad I was to see your pilots," Baal said, taking the initiative immediately, extending his hand to Cain. Having little choice, Cain shook his hand, then gestured to a chair.
"Please sit down. Tell us what happened to you, where you come from." The commander gave him half a nod and a smile, picked up his favorite riding crop, and almost pointedly sat down himself at the head of the table.
The man noted the action, but continued smiling as he sat down.
"My name is Baal. I was aboard a small freighter, on Council business. We somehow became separated from the Galactica. We were trying to get back to her fleet when Cylons attacked. We couldn't defend ourselves; and were soon in flames. With over half our people dead, the Cylons must have decided we were dead. They moved on. We were in the middle of evacuation of our few survivors when the fuel tanks exploded. I was aboard a shuttle, preparing to launch, so I survived, but my bay was destroyed. I barely got out in time. I swung around to the other side, hoping to discover other survivors, but the ship disintegrated before I could reach anyone. I sent out a distress signal, not really expecting anyone to hear. Only a day later, this enchanting siress flew to my rescue. I am eternally in your debt."
The last comment was aimed directly at Electra. Her smile was glorious, and her stormy violet eyes gleamed as she basked in his attention. "Just doing my job," she said breathlessly.
Cain felt there was something wrong with the story, but he didn't know what. "You were looking for the Galactica?"
"Yes, we were lost. Fortunately, we had the coordinates of her current route and destination."
"You have the coordinates of Earth?" Cain demanded sharply, as everyone in the room gasped and stared.
"Why, yes. You've been lost so long, and we've gone so far. It's been nearly a yahren since we've seen you."
"I'd be glad to provide you with the location, and any other assistance I can. After all, I owe you so much. You saved my life. I ought to save yours. There's no telling where you might end up if you continue traveling like this, with no goal, and no idea where you're going."
Cain's hackles immediately rose. In a backhanded way, this man was suggesting Cain was an ineffective commander who didn't know what he was doing. He asserted his authority. "As Commander, I'm pleased to welcome you aboard, Sire Baal. Orestes, show the man to his new quarters."
"Is there a chance the charming Electra could lead the way? I would dearly love to thank her again. And I may have news she'd be interested in hearing."
Cain's manner darkened.
"It'd be no trouble, Commander," Electra interposed hastily.
With no logical reason to refuse, Cain nodded his assent.
In a few centons, the room was empty. Cain sat at his chair, face shaped into an uncertain frown, temper on the verge of flaring. He slapped the crop against the table in a sharp rhythm. "What is it about this Sire Baal that doesn't ring true? Am I afraid to reach Earth and rejoin Adama? Am I so petty that I can't accept taking orders from anyone else, even when it's for my own people's good?"
Thus he examined his thoughts and motives for centars, uncertain for the first time in yahrens, not realizing how wrong the thoughts felt to his own mind.
"Your quarters, Baal," Electra said, gesturing about the small suite. "Our billets may not be large, but I'm sure we've got more space than the Galactica does and certainly more than that freighter could have. I remember hearing how crowded things were in the fleet. So, will these be satisfactory?" Her smile expected an affirmative.
"Yes, yes. Tell me about yourself, Electra."
"What do you want to know?"
"Tell me about your past. Where do you come from?"
"Well, that's easy enough," she answered with a laugh. "My brother Orestes and I were born on Taura. Mother belonged to one of the old ruling families of Caprica, from back before the Council of Twelve was formed. Father was from Taura, but he died before we were born and we never knew him. Mother took us back to Caprica and raised us there. When we were of age, we entered the Tauran Academy. Later we were assigned to the Fifth Fleet, the battlestar Britannica. When she was destroyed, we both escaped to the Pegasus. We've been here ever since. How's that for the abridged version?"
"You and your brother are very close?"
"How long have you been flight commander?"
"Interesting story, if not entirely true."
She looked quizzical.
"Your father wasn't from Taura. He was a cheap wagerer from Caprica. Your mother left so no one would know she carried a child. The story about him dying is a lie. You've known about your father most of your life."
Electra was pale, lightning flashing in her eyes, wildly suspicious. "How do you? What are you talking about?"
"Don't be uneasy. There are things I know."
"It's none of your business to know! Orestes and I earned our ranks and rights ourselves, not because of Mother's position, and in spite of our unknown father!"
"You know your father. You talked to him when you were aboard the Galactica. Your mother never stopped loved him, did she, in her own perverse way?"
She couldn't take any more, and turned to leave. "I have rosters to prepare. I don't care to discuss your theories or accusations or whatever they are, any more."
"I'm not a stranger, Electra." He caught her arm, spun her around, and stared deeply, hypnotically, into eyes that had enthralled a hundred men in her life.
"I knew your mother, Electra, enough to know the entire truth...." The expression his eyes was something completely different from charm or any pleasant emotion. What Electra saw, as best she could describe it later, was greed basely inhuman greed and a hunger that wouldn't be satisfied with anything less than her very soul. "I could be more than an uncle to you, now that you're a full-blooded woman...."
For a moment, she was falling into the endless depths of his eyes. The she pulled loose and ran.
The pleasantly endearing smile dropped to a very cold, predatory expression, matching perfectly the beast in his eyes.
Electra wasn't sleeping well. Nothing seemed to help tonight. Her thoughts kept zeroing in on Baal. What was he? Who was he, to know so much about her and her family? Something in her screamed "stay away," while another part was drawn irresistibly to him. What charm was he exerting?
Finally she fell into sleep of a sort....
She was walking with three people, two men and a woman. They were all familiar, very familiar. The woman was an old friend; one of the men was a mere acquaintance, the other man was something less and more than a friend. But they all felt very dear to her. The four of them stood near the ruins of a ship, a huge ship that had crashed in flames.
She realized the others were talking, and she could hear their words, but they stared past her as if she didn't exist. They could neither see nor hear her. She seemed present only in the sad song of the wind.
Then, at the top of the hill, Baal appeared, angry, commanding, mocking.
The dark-haired man defied him. Baal grew angrier, threatened him, then called to the woman. She took a step, then refused to answer. Baal's anger became a mocking rage at what they presumed to dare.
She could see the intent written like fire on his face. Baal was going to kill. In slow motion, she saw the power flaring from him, aimed at the woman, the dear friend. The dark-haired man stepped in front of her. The bolt of fire and death struck him. Still in slow motion, the man fell.
The others knelt at his side, shattered. Dead. He was dead.
Baal laughed at their grief. He laughed, and threatened worse, threatened their very souls.
For the blond man, it was raging grief that his closest friend lay dead, and he could do nothing. His laser bolts only bared the true form of the killer....
For the woman, the bitterest pill was that death, and worse than death, had come for her, but another had taken that death for himself, offering his own life in exchange, his innocent life....
Baal's face changed, all its evil written unmercifully in howling mockery of a form that said "human." The demon wasn't finished with them; death would strike again....
Electra woke screaming. "Apollo!" Shaking with fear and other emotions she didn't recognize, she ran from her bunk and threw up in the turboflush.
"Kobol," she muttered, "what brought that on?" She was still shivering from the nightmare. Baal! She had recognized Baal! But they hadn't called him that. What was the name...?
A more important memory took hold. Sheba! The woman was Sheba! Electra stood stock-still, forcing herself to relive the dream. Left behind with the Galactica, had it been a portent of something happening to Sheba? The women had been close friends, as close as Sheba had on the Pegasus. Was it possible...?
She remembered Apollo, and the other man. Apollo was the flight commander, a good warrior, Commander Adama's son. The other was Starbuck, both more and less than a friend.
Had she seen Apollo's death? Had Starbuck and Sheba died there too?
Where did Baal fit in? Why had he killed? It seemed so impossible, so unlike such a man to be killer. And the form that Starbuck's laser blast had revealed.... Yet, that last expression she'd seen in his eyes, when he promised and threatened her with....
"Just a nightmare," she said determinedly, and returned to her bed. Knowing intellectually that it was just a dream didn't stop the quivering in her stomach or the edge of terror haunting her mind. Finally, somehow, she slept again.
And Sheba returned, to walk and talk with her, and ask a favor.
The day's briefing was in one of the larger chambers, with comm hook-ups directly to all the ships in Cain's makeshift fleet. It was by Baal's request; as he pointed out, everyone had a right to know what he would say. Cain found himself agreeing; if Baal was revealing the path to Earth, they were all interested.
Cain was already ensconced in his chair, unusually silent. His bridge officers had taken their usual positions, while Electra and her flight leaders took up the remainder of the space.
The only person missing was Baal. He took his time arriving at the briefing, insuring a grand entrance where all eyes would be on him. When the door finally swished open, he was wearing the robes and medallion of a member of the Council of Twelve.
Cain frowned. The robes were an open declaration of his right to command in a civilian position. Warriors were oath-bound to obey the civilian government.
But did he have any right to object?
"Greetings, Commander, officers, warriors." Baal's smile was wide, regal, touched with condescension.
Cain forced a half-hearted smile in return. "Greetings, Sire Baal. I trust you slept well."
"As well as could be expected, considering the gravity of the situation."
"You mentioned yesterday that you have information which may be important to us. Would you care to address this gathering?" he found himself offering.
"I would dearly love to, Cain." He turned to face the assemblage. Whispered conversations were quickly shushed, until they waited in absolute silence.
"Children of the Colonies and the Delphian Empire, greetings. As you know, I am from the Galactica. I know her destination, her goal, her route. You took me in when I was lost. I now offer to lead you back to your destiny, to your lost comrades, to Earth. I am a member of the Council of Twelve; I ask of you only the respect and obedience due my position. I ask to show you what I can do what we can accomplish together with me as your leader."
Cain felt a sour taste in his mouth. As leader? How long until Baal commanded openly, and he became unnecessary, an anachronism? Or ... was that such a bad idea? What had he really accomplished...? His stubborn streak rose, protesting. He tried to push it aside. He had to put the good of his people first.
Baal's eyes traveled the group. Hopeful eagerness flashed in nearly every face. For the Colonials, it was a chance to rejoin their people, to find sanctuary. For the Delphians, it was a chance to begin again on a new world. He was satisfied. They looked to him for guidance. They would accept what he offered. They would be his.
Cain rose. "You're heard Sire Baal. Any questions, comments, or opinions?"
[Let me speak, now.]
[If not now, it may be too late. You cannot give yourselves over to his dominion.]
Electra stepped forward. "I must take issue with some of the Sire's statements."
Even Baal looked surprised. "What disturbs you, Electra?" The tone was a caress, a promise that nothing was too great a disturbance to matter, that he could answer her every concern.
"Commander Adama and the Galactica would have nothing to do with you. You were banished from them for violating the order of existence. Now you seek other victims, to extend your dominion over other slaves. You try to claim the Pegasus." She shook her head. "No. If I can prevent you, I will."
Murmurs of surprise floated through the audience. Even Cain raised his eyebrows.
"What are you talking about?" Baal asked with narrowed eyes, studying her with such intensity that he might have been staring into her very soul.
"You have called yourself Iblis."
Rage nearly burst its bonds. "My name is Baal."
"For today, perhaps. But you are also Iblis. You killed on the Galactica, and they rejected you. Adama knows you. Apollo knows you. I know you. You tried to extend dominion over me. You tried to kill me."
The rage was apparent now, a towering fury the others drew back from, pale and terrified. Electra faced Baal nearly alone. Only Orestes still stood next to her, panicked and confused, but determined to stay with his sister.
"You're dead! You must be, to have come here. How can you...?"
"By the grace of God and love of woman, to save my father's soul and these others."
"I'll destroy you," he hissed.
She shook her head. "You can't. I am beyond your touch, and this woman is not yours. Kill, and you are damned again, and you lose this ship, as well as owing the penalty again to the others."
"No, Iblis. You lost me."
Cain watched in fascinated horror, a strange realization sinking into his stunned brain. This had to be....
"Cain!" Baal turned to him. "Pledge your obedience, that you will follow me!"
"No!" Electra declared. "Father...."
Cain stared at her. He felt his determination returning, his doubts subsiding. "No, Baal. I may question myself, but I cannot follow you or give my people to you."
The sire whirled back to the woman. "Maybe I can't touch you, Sheba, and you have taken this ship and your father beyond my reach, but I can still destroy Apollo! I swear one day he will bow down to me, or he'll beg for a death I'll never grant him! I will claim from him what you and he denied me!" Baal/Iblis raged at her, threatening the man he knew she loved.
"For you, he will do neither." Electra/Sheba was calm, though the woman's blood ran cold in quick fear of his power.
"We shall see, child, we shall see. I won't have to kill. My touch can do other things to the woman you're using. She will surrender."
Electra felt fear, icy fear.
Baal/Iblis flung a bolt of sheer terror at her. She opened her mouth to scream at the hell he opened to her eyes. Then the fear was gone
And Orestes screamed. He'd stepped between his sister and Baal. Now, shaking, screaming, eyes wide and staring at some distant madness, he dropped to his knees.
Electra/Sheba saw Orestes/Apollo fall, victim of Baal/Iblis's evil, taking the punishment meant for her. A rending pain ran through every nerve. Her brother was dead. Safe, for he had never surrendered, but dead.... Her mind plunged gratefully into oblivion.
Pale faces stared in horror. Electra dropped to the floor as if dead. Orestes was on his knees, lost in madness. Cain gripped the table, knuckles white with the need for support.
Then, between Baal/Iblis and the fallen warriors, white flame sprang up. It took the form of a woman, clothed in white, hair and face and form glowing like the gods themselves. "No, Iblis, you will harm no one here any further. I can prevent you now. You have gone beyond threats. You've overstepped the bounds set for you."
Iblis stepped back. He bared his teeth as though to spit a curse at her. Then, for whatever reason, he vanished, and was gone.
"Sheba...?" Cain's voice was a whisper. He didn't dare release his grip on the table.
"Father." The woman's voice was sweet, gentle, and loving. "I love you, Father."
"I love you, baby. But ... how ... what...? Is it true?"
She seemed lost for a moment, then nodded. "I think so, Father. As you knew me, I think I'm dead.... I was granted a short time to come to you, but now I have to go. I wish I could stay longer, but my purpose here is done. Remember that I love you, Father."
Then she, too, vanished.
"Sheba? Sheba!" Cain called into the stunned silence. There was no response. His eyes were wide, staring, with a trace of the tears he would never shed in public. His shoulders swayed slightly, the only weakness he might acknowledge. Cain knew his daughter was dead, and he mourned.
Dr. Helena rushed to the fallen warriors.
On the bridge, Senmut stared at the scanners. "What the...?"
Balls of white light, almost faster than their eyes could follow, swept from out of nowhere, into and through the fleet, then past it, and were gone.
"What was that...?"
Nothing remained on the scanners; whatever it had been, there was nothing like it in any of their records, they had no evidence of where it had come from or where it had gone, they had no way to track it, and they had no idea what it was.
They expected Cain to change course, to get away from the lights and everything that had happened in the last two days.
He didn't. He ordered them to stay on course, to follow, as well as they could, the direction the white lights had gone.
"Now? No! I don't know if"
"Come, Sheba." Bathed in white light, the entity summoned her; she could not resist, and left her father and her friends. They walked through milky-colored halls, distance and time so indistinct that she had no recollection of where or how long.
"Please, did I help them? Did they reject Iblis? Will he leave them alone?"
"For now, yes."
"My friends Electra. Will she live? And Orestes? Will they be all right, safe from him?" She couldn't read the darkness in her companion's eyes, and sighed, knowing this was something it would not tell her. "All right, then. Am I dead? Do I belong here now?"
"You have always belonged here, Sheba. Remember what you had forgotten. Remember when Apollo was struck down. Remember what you saw and felt, then. You offered your life, freely, in exchange for his."
"But you didn't take it."
"But we remembered. And so we were able to ask your help now, to aid your people."
"Yes, now I remember.... You came to me, asked if I would do the same for my father, if I would die to save him, too. You knew what I would say, but.... How could you do that? Wasn't my presence a violation of their free will? Interference of some kind?"
"You spoke to Electra. With her free will, she was willing to host your existence, even at the risk of her own, for her commander and shipmates. You have grown much, little sister, and there is much your race will become. But now it is time for you to forget again...."
Even oblivion was no protection. Finally Electra dragged her mind from the hidden depths it had fled to. She opened her eyes in life center. Dull pain throbbed through her head. Her eyes filled with tears at the memory.
"Did it have to be you, Orestes," she whispered.
Someone heard her soft cry. In a micron, Helena and Cain stood over her. She stared back at them, heartsick.
Cain smiled and took her hand. "Welcome back. How soon do I get my best flight commander back in action?" His voice was surprisingly gentle. "You've been unconscious for three days."
She wasn't even amazed. Prepared for the worst, she asked, "Orestes?"
Helena gestured across the ward. "He'd going to be all right. It'll be a while before he's back in a Viper, though. Baal really tried to scramble his mind, but he'll be fine."
"Is she awake?" demanded a tremulous voice. She recognized her brother's tones.
"Orestes?" She didn't even try to stop the flow of tears as she sat up. "I thought you were dead!"
"I wondered for a while if I wouldn't have been better off." The pale young man shuddered. "I didn't realize there could be so much evil in anything. What he showed me wasn't nice.... I held on, but...."
"But you're all right?"
"As soon as I get rid of this tremor." He held out a hand, fingers shaking unsteadily.
She had to laugh, equally unsteady.
"Major, you'd better lie down again. I don't want you getting too excited," Helena admonished her. "You too, Captain."
Cain spoke again. "What happened, Electra?"
She clung to his hand, uncertain. "I ... saw Sheba, I think, and some others.... It must have been in a dream. I saw what Baal did when they met. He's evil, completely evil. He would have destroyed us if he'd gotten a chance ... if we'd given him the chance. Sheba asked if I would let her speak through me, to show everyone what he was, what he could do. Is it true? Sheba's gone?"
Cain's smile was pained. "She may be dead, but she's not gone. She'll never be gone." He couldn't help himself; he grabbed Electra in the tightest embrace he was capable of. "I'll talk to you again later. For now, just get some rest."
Electra nodded and settled back on the pillow.
Cain turned away. The knowledge hurt. But, thank the Lords, his daughter was happy, and safe, finally, from all the dangers she'd been so willing to face. She was safe.
And maybe she would come back again, some day. Or he would go to her....
The woman in the life pod felt life returning with a rush of elation. She drew a breath and opened her eyes to see where she was. It was life center. A handsome, weary-eyed man dozed over her. She recognized him. She was home.
"Thank you," she whispered to the fading memories in her mind, to the fading feeling in her heart. "Thank you. For knowing, for everything."
The man woke, reaching hopelessly for her hand.
She gave his fingers a squeeze, and smiled sleepily. "Hi, Apollo...."
Enter Sheba's Galaxy