Chapter I


Dr. Helena, CMO of the battlestar Pegasus, dismally studied the low metabolic functions shown on her monitor screens. Her patients were getting worse, and there didn't seem to be anything she or anyone on her staff could do. The man in the life pod before her moaned, tossing feverishly; one pale hand clawed at the thermoblanket as he stared past her, neither recognizing her nor seeming to be aware of his surroundings.

But what could she expect? Something like this had been possible for a long time. Many of the Pegasus medical staff – and a good deal of crucial supplies and equipment – had been transferred to the Galactica, long ago at the battle over Gamoray. Cain had chosen that time to "disappear" again. There were medics among the Delphians, true, and their ships carried medicine and surgical gear – but most of their ships had been in space for well over a yahren themselves, and had been geared for mere survival, not diagnosis and treatment of alien diseases.

Helena raised her wintery blue eyes to stare at the other life pods, which were under constant observation. One of the doctors saw her and shook his head – no change, except for the worse.

The man strode toward her, pulling down his quarantine mask. "They're sinking, Helena. What are we going to do?"

"The only thing we can do, Rafael," she replied with determination. "Our patients go into cryogenic suspension. There's nothing left to try. Maybe that way, they'll live long enough for us to figure out something new. Advise Colonel Kleopatra at once."

He nodded briefly, his olive-dark forehead and brown eyes a start contrast to the eerily antiseptic white of his clothing, all covered with rustling plastic. Then he quickly turned toward the decontamination chamber that separated the quarantined portion of life center from the rest of the medical facilities.

* * * * *

"Damn him!" Col. Kleopatra rested her forehead on the heels of her hands, then, after a moment, rose from her desk and stalked to the window port to glare out at the starfield. She couldn't keep the rage and fear from her numbed mind long enough to consider a course of action.

"Damn him!" she exploded again, turning to face Dr. Rafael and Col. Kenji. "Why in Hades does Cain still insist on taking these routine patrols? And why in blazes did he go planetside without a survey check? He still acts like some of these cocky young pilots...."

She strode back to her desk, pounding a fist hard into her other palm before slumping back into her so-recently vacated chair.

"Give it to me again," she demanded more calmly of Rafael. It was a bad sign, she knew, that Helena refused to leave her patients.

The doctor controlled his trepidation. "Commander Cain's condition has worsened. Whatever virus or bacterium he and the others picked up on that foul little mudball, we can't isolate it. We don't know how to treat it; nothing we've tried so far has had any effect. Due to our inability to come up with an effective treatment, and the seriousness and deterioration of our patients' conditions, Doctor Helena has placed Commander Cain, Captain Orestes, Sergeant Astarte, and Sergeant Falstaff into cryogenic suspension until we can come with some new ideas."

"And thanks to our having left most of our medical personnel and a large part of our supplies and equipment with the Galactica, there probably isn't much we'll ever be able to do."

"Which leaves you in command of the Pegasus," Kenji murmured.

"Which leaves me in command," Cain's exec echoed unhappily. "Hades of a circumstances to take command – Cain still alive, for the time being, but unable to do or say anything, sick, maybe dying. And we can't do a thing for him. Damn!"

She glanced at Kenji. Her unspoken thought hung in the air. What about the Delphians?

"At least this disease doesn't seem contagious. We've quarantined everyone who could possibly have had any contact with the sick pilots, and no one has contracted any kind of illness," Rafael added on a more optimistic note.

"Thank the Lords for that," Kleopatra muttered. "At least we don't have an epidemic on our hands on top of everything else."

"Might I inquire as to your probable course of action now that you are commander?" Kenji asked, almost too casually.

"I'm not the commander!" she retorted sharply. "Not until or unless Cain...." She clenched her teeth sharply. She wouldn't even voice such a thought.

"Very well, then, Colonel, I shall rephrase. Do you plan to continue Cain's chosen mission, or to lead us on another, while he is ... incapacitated?"

"Will your people follow me on any other?" she demanded abruptly, immediately ashamed at letting the worry and anger find voice. The Delphians were historically a patriarchal, militaristic people; they didn't believe women belonged in combat positions or in authority over potential combat situations. They had followed Cain willingly. For some reason, he and they thought much alike in battle. But would they follow her? Or would they leave the battlestar with as little fanfare as they had joined it?

The Delphian shifted almost soundlessly, no expression readable on his passive features. His almond-shaped, kohl-rimmed eyes widened a fraction, but he said nothing.

Kleopatra sighed, leaning back in her thickly-padded chair, staring at the ceiling as if waiting for heavenly letters to be imprinted for her. "What to do now?" she murmured thoughtfully. "We can continue to be the outer guard, Cain's strike force. We can rejoin the fleet, as Cain always said we'd do some day. We can strike out on our own, choose another path." She fell silent, meditating on her options.

"We've seen no evidence of current Cylon activity for some time," Rafael supplied eagerly. "And the Galactica still has full medical capabilities. She may be able to do something that we can't." It was easy to see which option this particular crewman was in favor of.

"But there are still the Delphians." The woman let her eyes rest on Kenji.

He shrugged marginally. "I have confidence in you, Colonel. But such a decision is not for me to make." With those words, he seemed to excuse himself. Rising from his seat, he straightened his short, red-hued tunic, and turned to leave.

Kleopatra let him go, returning her stare to Rafael. "Shouldn't you be in life center, doctor? I'm sure Helena could use your help with her patients."

The medic departed hastily, leaving her alone in her command quarters.

After a few moments, one slim, dark hand slid along the smooth surface of her desk to touch a holo-picture. A handsome black man smiled at her. "Well, Tigh, I guess I may be seeing you again after all."

* * * * *

Col. Kenji retreated to his quarters. He and his family were billeted with the rest of the Delphians living aboard the Pegasus, so it was no surprise to be greeted halfway down the metal-girdered corridor by a small mob of laughing children, who were enjoying a break from their studies. Normally, he would have given them a smile and stopped to join their play for a moment, one of the few concessions to a rare desire for a non-military, more normal lifestyle that the Cylon War had denied his people for nearly a millennium.

Today, his preoccupied thoughts caused him to step aside, letting the youngsters pass. Somewhere in his brain, he noted that the children were playing with makeshift spacecraft, and he heard references to both Sunriders and Vipers. He pulled up short a moment later as it also sank in that there were both boys and girls in that chattering mob, including his own daughter and two sons.

"Inari!" he called after them.

The petite ten-yahren-old, his eldest surviving child, broke away from the swarming mob and ran back to her father, waiting with quiet attention as she'd been taught to do in a warrior officer's presence. He saw that she hid her toy behind her back.

"What are you playing today, little sly one?" he demanded with mock gruffness. It saddened him that she was too old now for him to pick up and tease as he'd done when she was smaller.

She looked down. "We're playing fighters," she answered politely.

"May I see your toy?"

With some reluctance, she brought out the miniature plastic form, molded and painted to look something like a Colonial Viper. Kenji stared at the small thing.

"One of the Viper technicians makes them for us," she added hastily.

"'Us'? Your brothers, too? And the other children?"

"Some of us. And he made Sunriders, too, and other toys. Edric likes it when we come and visit him. Are you angry, Father?" she asked anxiously.

He tested the weight and balance of the toy, studied its lines. It was well-made and simple, not something the younger children could hurt themselves with. But his own daughter was playing fighter pilot, with miniature Vipers....

"Enjoy your game. Catch up with squadron before you are lost," he ordered.

Inari nodded, trying to hide a smile of relief, but her father sense the eased tension in her wiry young body. The girl had been afraid he would be angry at their playing with Colonial toys – or perhaps just annoyed that a girl-child was playing with them.

Then she was gone, running gaily down the corridor. As she moved, it occurred to Kenji that her clothes were fashioned more loosely than they'd once been, more loose than a girl her age would be wearing, back in the Empire. She moved with more freedom than he remembered her doing aboard the lost Dragonsbreath too.

"Do we change so much, living with these Colonials?" he asked himself, frowning. And were those good changes, or things destructive to Imperial ideas and society?

He moved on again, disturbed. He needed to speak with Mriko, his wife and solid anchor – and a scan officer on this ship, and probably the one who'd made or secured the clothing that Inari was wearing. With Cmdr. Cain so near death, and Col. Kleopatra in charge, things might change again for the Delphians. The commanders would have to meet soon, aboard the Royal Soul, the ship of the young Empress, the only survivor of the Royal Kindred. By then, he needed to know what he himself thought, what he would suggest to the officers of the half-dozen Delphian ships traveling with the Pegasus, what he himself would do if forced to choose.

* * * * *

The scene in the Galactica landing bay after the alert was one familiar to many in Blue Squadron – especially the more recent trainees and cadets. One of the pilots had done something which Capt. Apollo, the flight commander, considered foolishly risky, and that person was being called to account for it. The rest of the squadron dissolved before him as he stalked past the decontamination chambers to the errant pilot's ship. She had purposely been the last to land, but Apollo was only further enraged at having to wait for her.

"Lieutenant, I want to see you in my quarters immediately," he hissed icily.

Sheba stared back defiantly. "Certainly, Captain, if you insist."

Neither warrior said so much as a single word to the other until they reached the flight commander's chambers. Then the man's fury broke loose.

"All right, Sheba, just what in Hades were you trying to prove out there, getting ahead of the squadron like that? Do you realize that you could've been killed? It could've been an ambush, for the Lords' sakes! You've got more brains than that! Why didn't you use them?"

She remained at perfect military attention – if he was going to act like that, she knew how to respond, and knew, too, that it would only make him angrier. "I thought it was necessary, and militarily sanctioned by the situation."

"How?" he demanded. "Using your father's logic? You flew off without even waiting for your wingman – as if that kid would've known what to do if you'd found yourselves in trouble! We don't even know what it is we may be dealing with–"

"That is precisely the point, Apollo!" Upset at the reference to her father, she broke posture to slam her palms down on his desk. "Something is out there – something not Cylon, something faster than anything we've got, that's managed to evade scanners and play tag with our patrols for two sectons. It keeps showing up, as if it's playing with us. I had a chance–"

"To get yourself killed?" he broke in. "Like you said, we have no idea what it is that's trailing us – how powerful it might be, or what its intentions toward us are! And now, I've got to explain to the Commander just why one of our best pilots acted like a green cadet!"

She braced herself. "I thought I had a chance to get a clear look or scan of it. It seemed to delay, for just a micron–"

"To lure us closer? Part of its game? Why?"

"I don't know! But I seem to recall you did the same thing several days ago, and Starbuck with you!" She reminded him of a previous incident, in retaliation for his earlier comment about her father. His features froze. "I had a head start today. I was closer than any of us have ever gotten – and all I got was a glimpse of silver before it was gone again. Why is it all right for you to act stupidly, when I'm reprimanded for doing exactly the same thing?"

He hadn't moved, still stood next to the desk, one hand resting where he'd slapped that piece of furniture in frustration. His face had paled when she reminded him of his own actions only two days before. He'd had to explain that to Commander Adama as well, and it hadn't been pleasant. She was close enough to see the twitch of his lips; nerves were wearing thin on all of them.

"Well?" she demanded when he remained silent.

"I'm the flight commander–" he began.

"And that gives you the right to act like an idiot?" she pressed. "And take Starbuck with you? I'd expect that from him, maybe–"

"That's enough, Sheba!" he snapped.

"Why? Because I got an actual glimpse of it, which is more than you did? It's more than we've had so far!"

He growled in disgust and further annoyance. "That's not the point...."

"You're the only one who can take chances? I seem to recall we talked about this once before. You're not the only one who gets lonely, who has to do something to make it bearable–"

She saw desperation in the look he turned on her, but before she could say anything more, he'd pulled her into an embrace that she couldn't escape; his mouth locked on hers in a bruising kiss that was far from the gentle touch of lips-to-lips she'd given him that one time. She froze in shock; he'd never touched her like this before.

After a long moment, he let her breathe again, but his arms still held her tightly. "I remember something else you said then, that sometimes we snap at each other to hide what we really feel...."

"What's that?" she demanded breathlessly. He had to say it; she couldn't assume anything.

"I love you, Sheba. When you took off today, I was afraid you wouldn't come back. I don't want you risking your life like that. I don't want to lose you, too. Please, don't ever do anything like that again. Please."

"Apollo!" She elbowed out of his grasp, leaning against the desk as though for protection. She knew who he was thinking of. Was Serina always so much in his thoughts? But she remembered her father, too.... Maybe they couldn't avoid the past, but they had to think for the future. She knew what she felt, but something had to be made clear. "Whatever we may feel for each other, Apollo, I'm still a warrior–"

"Whatever we feel?" His strong mouth trembled with a smile, and there was a light in his eyes.

She clenched her fists, feeling the nails dig into her palms. She could admit it, too. "I love you, Apollo," she whispered, unable to speak louder for something choking in her throat. "I love you, too." Even though you still think of her....

The words were said, words she'd wanted to say to him and to hear back, for a long time. The fear was suddenly gone, along with the tentative searching and skirting around each other that had been part of their relationship. The waiting hadn't been in vain.

He reached tentatively for her hand, as if mesmerized. With a glorious smile, she moved back into his embrace. The reprimand was forgotten. Adama would have to congratulate them instead.

* * * * *

Maj. Electra hovered miserably at the door. She'd been through the decontamination chamber, and now needed only a doctor's permission to visit the sick pilots. She watched Dr. Helena moving so professionally among the cryogenic tubes containing her patients, and waited impatiently to be noticed and acknowledged.

How can she look so cold, so emotionless? She studies each chart and monitor, then moves on to the next without a break in her china-doll face. Do you have to be that detached to be a doctor, to deal with illness and injury? Maybe I'd have a thick shell, too, if I had to face death this way. Pilots meet death on different terms. In space, we fight back, but one chance is all we get.

She caught the doctor's attention at last. The fair, pale woman approached her. Electra couldn't help shifting her feet, anxiety rising as she tensed involuntarily.

"There's been no change in their conditions."

"I understand. Can I see them now?"

"There's no danger of transmitting anything now that they're in suspension," Helena continued calmly. "Stay as long as you like, but remember to go through decontamination procedures when you leave, standard precaution." She moved away, her sterile garb rustling.

Electra took a deep breath before walking to the short row of cryo-tubes. She touched the clear shield protecting Orestes's inert form. He was pale, colorless, still as death. A thin sheen covered his forehead and exposed skin. Sweat? Condensation of some kind? I hate suspension! It's like being entombed before you're dead, and you wake with the chill of the grave.

And it would be so much worse for her brother, incoherent and sick as he was. He controlled his claustrophobia when he was conscious and well, but he must've been nearly out of his head with terror when he felt the drugs and cold take effect.

We were always so close, brother. How come I don't feel anything now? I should be shivering like you would, if you were conscious in there. Don't you dare die on me, Orestes. You're all the family I ever really had. Mother's gone, and we scarcely ever saw Father....

But I'm here, Orestes.

She placed both hands flat on the tube, leaning closer to whisper to her twin, ignoring the fact that he couldn't hear her. Maybe he would sense her just being there. "You're cheating, Orestes. You won't win the bet that way – it's not fair if you outwait me in there. You'll have to come out to win...."

* * * * *

The only person Electra found in the female pilots' general quarters was Sgt. Akimi – her usual wingmate, and precisely the person she'd been seeking. "Hi, Akimi. I was looking for you."

"Hello, Major," the Delphian answered as she stuffed the last few items into a bottom locker and rose to her feet. "I was moving some things here."

"I thought you still lived with the rest of the harem.... Oh, sorry."

Akimi grinned, a rare and appealing expression on a woman not known for good cheer. "I know how some of you refer to our living quarters. It does not disturb me. I simply decided it was time to live with my squadron."

"That might not be a good idea just now," Electra said slowly. Some of the sergeant's people still ostracized her for having dared to join the Colonial warriors. "The commanders are meeting on the Soul, and depending on the outcome, there could be some serious changes."

"I know of the meeting. So do the women – they gossip of nothing else. Perhaps that is why I must be here now." She took a calm breath. "I have friends among the women, and a past position of honor for my husband, but had no reason to live. Here, I also have friends, and I make my own position, and I have a reason to live. So I have decided that here I will stay, whatever the commanders and the Empress decide. I remain with the Pegasus."

Her superior smiled slowly in response to the other's quiet determination. "Welcome aboard, warrior."

Akimi inclined her head and lowered her eyelids in acceptance of the comment, a traditional submission. "What is your reason for seeking me out?"

"Heimdal and I are ferrying Colonel Kleopatra to the Soul for the meeting. Sif's covering my patrol so you'll be flying with her today."

Akimi nodded again. Sif was a good pilot, and a woman with more understanding of the Delphian way of life than most Colonials.

"I'll see you later, then, Akimi."

The young widow watched as Electra hurried out of the pilots' quarters. You gave me a purpose again, you and Commander Cain. My allegiance is to you.

* * * * *

Kleopatra had seldom been aboard the Imperial Soul. Most of the young Empress's invitations had been for Cain. Only rarely had she attended Delphian councils, although the Delphian ruler was quite at home aboard the Pegasus, and visited whenever the fancy struck her.

The Council room was as she remembered it, lavish and almost overwhelming. The huge oval table was of some lovely, heavy-grained dark wood, its legs and edges carved into fanciful creatures and emblems – some of which, despite wide cultural studies in her youth, Kleopatra couldn't identify. The chairs spaced around the table were of the same solid hardwood, carved similarly, with a rising, multi-rayed sun topping the high backs. A trio of chairs on a raised dais at one end of the oval were even more elaborately carved, with thick upholstery on their backs. The floor itself was a work of art, the masterpiece of a true craftsman. It was a huge map, stone delicately inlaid to form a small copy of the Empire, seemingly three-dimensional despite its flatness. Each small territory was labeled in brilliant colors, along with its traditional governing kindred. The walls were similarly brilliant, hung over with tapestries in royal golds, greens, and purples. Ancient banners were interspersed with the hangings; Kleopatra recognized one of them as Colonial, from ancient Aries, and wondered if it had been seized in some military action during the days prior to the Colonial union, or freely given in some kind of alliance or treaty – Aries had been the Colony nearest the old Empire.

A chime echoed softly through the chamber, recalling her attention. The Delphian commanders and civilian advisors waited expectantly, their attention focused on one of the tapestries.

As the dying chime rose again into a regal fanfare, the tapestry was drawn back, and a small, child-like woman marched confidently into the room, followed by a sturdy, seasoned warrior in full battle-dress, and a stern, forbidding-looking elderly woman in long civilian robes.

The Delphians present dropped to one knee without a sound, a gesture that Kleopatra quickly emulated. Electra and Heimdal, the flight leaders who accompanied her, also imitated the obeisance.

Empress Sumiko acknowledged their salute with a brief nod, then swept to her raised throne, settling herself there without any concern for her two companions. Their quick moves to assist her were ignored, and they took their seats on either side of her without complaint.

The young Empress, only sixteen yahrens old, was dressed in brilliant green, with gold embroidery and sewn-on gems covering the simply styled gown. Her long black hair was woven into a golden tiara that was itself worth a prince's ransom. The high crown added nearly a foot to her stature, but the short girl's feet dangled inches from the floor as she sat.

Kleopatra repressed a smile. Those bright eyes, rimmed with some dark cosmetic, held rebellious determination. Still only a teenager, Sumiko had to play an adult role she was ill-suited for. If not for the deaths of her brothers in the escape from Gamoray, the child would still be living a quiet, discreet life, cloistered aboard the ship, preparing for a proper marital union in another yahren or two. Which, come to think of it, was not something a sixteen-yahren-old should be concerned with!

Instead, she was the nominal ruler of a scattered group of escaped ships, survivors of the destruction of their Empire by the Cylons. These few had gathered together and now traveled by mutual consent with a Colonial battlestar, looking for a world where they could rebuild their society.

The Empress gestured grandly across the table, and those assembled took their places.

Kleopatra also sat, taking several deep breaths to calm herself. She had a good idea what this council was about – whether these human offshoots would continue to travel with the Pegasus, or would strike out on their own. The decisions would undoubtedly be based very much on their opinion of her as a potential commander. Women did not usually occupy such positions in the Empire; Sumiko was Empress solely because she was the last survivor of the Royal Kindred. The Delphians respected Cain; but she told herself not to be too hurt if they left now – it was simply that she was a woman, and not any reflection on command abilities the wouldn't even consider testing.

Maybe if I'd made another choice.... But she'd acquainted the Delphian Empress of her intentions prior to the meeting, in a private communique.

"Colonel Kleopatra." Empress Sumiko's voice was perfectly modulated; she'd learned to play her role very well. "We understand that, due to a medical emergency aboard your ship, you are in temporary command of the Pegasus. As your orders will undoubtedly have a bearing upon our own activities, we must ask you to state your course of action for the next few sectons, until such time as Commander Cain has recovered, or his failure to recover leaves you as permanent commander." The girl lifted her chin, her gaze fixed upon the Colonial officer. She knew the answer, but the others did not; they listened with close attention.

Direct, without being rude. The girl's well-trained. So get the formalities out of the way, and we can each go our own way.... Kleopatra swallowed hard, then spoke boldly. "Our medical facilities are insufficient to deal with the disease threatening Commander Cain and the others. As we have seen no Cylons for some time now, I have decided to end the outer guard. The Pegasus will be rejoining the Galactica."

She allowed herself to glance at the various commanders present. She still couldn't read most of them. "Your people are, of course, welcome to accompany us. Delphians are human, after all, and both Colonials and Delphians fight the same enemy. We are stronger together than apart. It is my hope that you will decide to remain with us, but that is your choice to make."

She fell silent after her brief statement. The Delphians wouldn't appreciate a lengthy speech, and there was really nothing else she could say. They would stay, or they wouldn't.

"As we expected," the Empress murmured. "You make valid points, Colonel. Can you guarantee the autonomy of Imperial ships in your Colonial fleet?"

Kleopatra blinked. "I ... can't imagine Commander Adama or the Council of Twelve trying to impose fleet regulations on you beyond what is necessary for survival and cooperation. However, if you should ever feel hemmed in, I am sure you would always have the option of withdrawing."

The girl nodded sagely. "As also seems valid."

"If a commander may speak...." one of the warriors at the table interjected respectfully.

"Speak, Pa."

The old veteran rose, leaning against his chair so his weak leg wouldn't collapse under him; the sleeve of his amputated arm hung limply, and he wore the massive scarring on his face as though it were a medal of honor. As the most senior commander of the Delphians, he was highly respected, and his suggestions were often heeded.

"Empress, we, too, are now of sufficient strength to be a fleet. We wish, in time, to rebuild our society. Absorption into the Colonial fleet would be detrimental to our goal, perhaps teaching our children to depend on these outsiders and abandon our own culture. We have followed Commander Cain because he has not interfered in our ways, and because he thinks like a warrior. I, for one, have no desire to find ourselves part of a Colonial society, losing our ways. I advise that we henceforth choose our own path. Let the Pegasus go where it wills – and we will do the same."

He sat down, having stated his opinion. Kleopatra had to admit his arguments were as persuasive as hers, and perhaps made more sense to these proud people who had rejected Colonial advances for so long.

The Empress steepled her hands, leaning slightly forward. "Are there other arguments to be heard before we announce our decision?" Her eyes rested on Kenji, who served aboard the Pegasus, was today seated with the Delphian officers.

If they do leave, we'll have to find the Pegasus fast, Kleopatra thought. We've come to depend on their technicians and engineers, and their pilots, to supplement our depleted staff. How did we survive those sectons before we found the Dragonsbreath?

Kenji, who had commanded that crippled ship when it encountered the battlestar, shook his head fractionally. He had nothing to say. But something about the way his eyes traveled to her made her think he think he supported staying.

"Both arguments have merit," Sumiko stated thoughtfully.

Just say it!

"However, we see no reason to abandon the Pegasus at this point. As has been stated, we may leave the fleet at any time we desire. We may gain much from a time with them, not the least of which will be medical and technical knowledge, which the Pegasus admits the Galactica has, along with knowledge of the Colonials' goal. It may be compatible with ours. It may be in our best interests to settle near this Earth they seek.

"At any rate, departure is a step we may always take. Therefore, for the time being, we remain, and we support Colonel Kleopatra's decision to seek out the Galactica. Colonel, you have our confidence."

Without further comment, the girl dropped from her chair and marched back across the room to the door hidden by the tapestry. She held her head high, and there was a slight, defiant smirk on what should have been regally condescending features.

Kleopatra let out her breath in a whoosh. Electra and Heimdal looked relieved. Most of the Delphians simply seemed to accept the royal decision, and filed from the chamber with a minimum of disturbance. They had ships to return to.

Kenji waited, prepared to leave with the Colonials. Kleopatra studied him speculatively.

He shrugged. "As Mriko has pointed out to me, we have changed, in some ways, being with you. I do not know if our people can go back to what we were, those of us on your ship, who have been most affected by Colonial laws and a Colonial commander. But perhaps we can become a better nation by adhering to yours. We can learn from each other."

She was dumbfounded, and nodded slowly. "I hope you're right, Colonel. Let's get back. We've got work to do."

* * * * *

In the antechamber, Col. Sheng confronted his Empress. "Your choice is foolish!" he snapped, then stalked out.

Sumiko turned to her chaperone, the old woman who was with her every waking moment. The defiance was still there, but entreaty as well.

The dowager stroked back stray tendrils of blue-black hair with her wrinkled hands. "Commander Cain would sire strong sons, warriors who could rule an Empire, and take back what we have lost to the Cylons." Her mother's aunt spoke softly, lovingly.

Sweet Aunt Yakami, who never judged her, who was always there for her, whose advice meant more than that of a dozen of her other counselors!

Sumiko threw her arms around the old woman. "But to do so, he must live!" she declared. "And for that, we must rejoin the Galactica. Later, when I am of age, I can speak to him. He understands our ways – he will know what an honor we offer, to become the consort of an Empress!"

She convinced herself with her words. Yakami said nothing against them, only held her precious child closer. She would never let harm come to this child, or pain, if she could do anything to prevent it.


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Enter Sheba's Galaxy