Chapter XI


The long overdue and complete overhaul of the Pegasus took nearly four sectons – four sectons during which the reeling Colonial forces put aside their grief and reforged their determination as well as effecting repairs; four sectons during which there were no encounters of any kind with the alien foe; four sectons which brought renewed enthusiasm and life to the fleet, which really knew the missing warriors only as heroic images on the video screen; four sectons which saw the completion of the first pilot rotation schedule; four sectons that allowed time for relationships to shift and firm up again; four sectons of rare, peaceful relaxation.

Cain's impatience and distaste for quiet duty shifts increased during every one of those days. He accepted the accolades of the population with his usual bravado, and graciously granted an interview to Zara and IFB. But the glory grew stale even as he tasted it. He was a hero, much acclaimed by civilians ecstatic at two battlestars defending them, and elated that the two commanders were Adama, a great diplomat and quiet rock of strength, and Cain, the legend who flaunted himself at the Cylons. Adama and Cain shared their military councils and presented a united front to the Council of Twelve, from whom Cain made no pretense of concealing his impatience – and who responded alternately with self-righteous indignation and cajoling attempts to flatter his vanity, all of which he dismissed for the ploys they were.

But he was restless. His ship was nearly like new again, thanks to the resources and technical knowledge of the fleet. Replacement equipment had been fabricated on the electronics ship, and minor personnel changes had been made as well. He was ready and eager for action again – but there was no action forthcoming. The aliens seemed to have vanished. Adama's desire was that the fleet pass undetected through this decidedly dangerous space, so none of the raiding that had previously kept his crew sharp was permitted, and worst of all, his usually precise officers began to show the first signs of what he deemed sloppiness.

Commander Cain needed something to bring zest back to his life, a mission greater than playing nursemaid to a handful of miscellaneous civilian craft. He was restless, and that was dangerous.

He also had a notion gnawing at his mind, which was more dangerous still. He could tell, too, that Adama sensed something was wrong. But he wasn't yet sure what he was going to do about it.

* * * * *

"Communications system repairs are complete; replacement boards are in place," Maruwa reported briefly. Another shift's worth of repairs was finished.

Col. Kleopatra had overseen this part of the repair personally; the damage control officer didn't mind. Several techs from the communications ship had been lent to assist in the lengthy and methodical process, with Maruwa in charge. She'd been very careful to keep the colonel and Major Veleda informed of their progress.

"Thank you, Maruwa. It's been a pleasure working with you." The captain accepted the receipt and initialed it, then handed the computron back to the civilian and turned away. One part of the job was done, but Veleda had more to do before her day was over.

"Certainly, Captain," the tech murmured in response. Then she turned back to Kleopatra. "Well, Colonel, it looks like I'm through here. I'll be shuttling back to the Tukulor as soon as I can."

Kleopatra smiled at her ex-husband's new lover. They'd had a few opportunities to talk over the past sectons, and Tigh was wrong – she liked the woman, and the woman seemed to like and respect her. "Since I know Tigh's still on duty, and you couldn't get a shuttle at this time anyway, how about a drink to relax, first?"

Maruwa grinned, her full lips freely showing strong white teeth as she laughed. "More tales of the old days? Tigh hasn't forgiven you yet for telling me his part in that incident at the Academy – he knows my source! If some of the warriors only knew their staid and sober Colonel could have pulled off something like that...!"

Kleopatra snickered too. "They'll never know. Some of them were cadets when it happened. He'd never live it down."

"Or up? I can think of a few who'd respect him more for knowing he could plan and pull off a stunt like that!"

"Ah, but we must preserve decorum...." The new friends cheerfully made their way out of the comm center.

* * * * *

"...Are you trying to tell me we'll be dancing at your sealing soon? I knew it! One night after night became one night too many!" Greanbean teased his wingmate. Patrols were much more interesting when there was something to be wormed out of the other man – and a cheerful topic of conversation was welcome again.

"I didn't say that!" Jolly objected. "Now, you listen, kid, I just said we were going to the Rising Star...."

"...For a little R-and-R? Right! A two-day furlon. If your fantastic cook and marvelous dancer and friendly lady can't get you up to scratch in two days–"

"Greenbean! To your left! It's not on our scanners!" Jolly interrupted with unexpected harshness – and was that fear?

"What...? Oh my God...." he breathed, staring. It wasn't the aliens again. "Those are Vipers!" he continued in a hushed voice. "Colonial Vipers! Six of them...."

There were, indeed, six of the small Colonial fighter craft, drifting in perfect formation.

* * * * *

"You win again, Starbuck. How in Hades do you do it?" Rissian grumped, throwing in his pyramid hand.

Electra hid a grin. Her younger half-brother, visiting from the Galactica, had found an entirely new set of gullibles on this ship. The pilots knew his reputation from their counterparts in Blue Squadron, but there were always those who believed that reputation was overblown, and were willing to bet cubits on it. Runs in the family!

Her smile lost some of its glow; one of the family was no longer with them. She missed Orestes, she always would. She knew Chameleon mourned as well, but Starbuck seemed uncertain how to feel – a certain grief might have been more the idea that he should be desolated by his brother's death, coupled with an almost obsessive compulsion to get to know his sister and father before some further tragedy befell them.

She'd seen him in Cassie's company once since the last encounter with the aliens; he'd been cool. The med tech was spending a lot of time with Sheba; the gossip that Cain and the former socialator intended to marry looked unfounded. Electra wondered what had happened with that odd triangle, but didn't feel it was her position to ask.

She had the feeling Starbuck would soon transfer to the Pegasus. His two best friends were gone, lessening his ties to the Galactica – perhaps even peopling it with too many memories. Too, he seemed to feel some obligation to take his brother's place on the Pegasus. The family relationship was still private, but she reflected it would likely become common knowledge soon. Such a thing could not be kept secret for long, and there was really no reason to hide it.

As flight commander of the Pegasus, she'd been able to wangle a special dinner on the Rising Star a few days before, pulling rank to go ahead on the waiting list. Starbuck had brought Athena, his dead friend's sister and current constant companion. She herself had invited Omega, one of the Galactica bridge officers, and their father Chameleon had come with his keeper, Siress Blassie. It had been a pleasant, affable evening, with congenial company. If not for the shadow of loss hanging over them all....

As it is, we're all too busy to think about it, most of the time. The hurt recedes. In moments like this....

An alert siren wailed several repetitive notes. "Ready status, not battle," she thought aloud, as eyes quickly turned to her. "Copper Keel is up on watch; Bronze Wing, take to your ships as back-up." Standard procedure. Even now, the other pilots from Silver Spar and the reduced Golden Sun would be heading for the ready room, to wait impatiently should they be needed to defend the fleet.

She headed for the launch bay, Starbuck and Akimi at her heels.

* * * * *

"Bring 'em in gently!" a voice bellowed. "Wha'd'ya think we're handlin' here, anyway!"

Electra's throat was dry as she stared at the white, red-trimmed, undamaged Viper being tractored into position.

"All right, look 'er over, but for the Lords' sakes be careful, we don't know what we got!" Lochus continued. Several protectively-garbed crewmen hurried to the silent ship nestled so securely on a track. The other recovered vessels were getting the same treatment in other places along the landing bay.

Starbuck, standing next to her, swallowed audibly, taking a mesmerized step closer to the orange-suited techs crawling over the ship. She thrust out a hand to catch his arm.

"Not yet," she murmured.

"But they're back!" he forced through a cotton-dry mouth. "That's Apollo's ship...."

"We don't know–"

Then a med tech was called for, and the techs began extracting a quiescent human form from the ship.

"This is human, not a construct!" one of the medics declared wonderingly. "Not like that Thjis, this is a real person! After this long...."

Involuntarily, the three warriors closed on the med team working over the life pod. Electra stared as she recognized that pale face and form. It was Captain Apollo.

Beside her, Starbuck choked back what sounded like a sob.

If he's really back....

"It's Orestes!" she heard someone yell from farther down the line. "And Heimdal! And the rest!"

That was all she needed to hear. She felt Starbuck's arm around her shoulder, but couldn't see him for the mist in her eyes.

* * * * *

Sheba stepped out of the turboshower. When the alert downscaled, she'd taken the opportunity for a long, private time under hot water. Electra strode into the locker room as she toweled off.

The tall blonde flight commander studied her. "Sheba, you're all wet!"

"Tell me something I don't know," she growled in return.

"Apollo's back."

"What?" Sheba stared in disbelief at what sounded like a bad joke.

"One of the patrols intercepted a small formation of ships. We brought them aboard. Six Colonial Vipers. With six unconscious but alive and apparently uninjured Colonial warriors in them. Our people are back, in life center." Her shining eyes confirmed her tale.

Sheba's wan face lit up. "Really? Apollo's back? He's all right?"

"It's up to the doctors to confirm it, but he looked okay."

"But ... what happened? Where has he been?"

"I don't know."

"He's alive...." Sheba'd never dressed so fast in her life. Uniform clinging to her still-damp body, wet hair dripping down her back, she all but flew to life center.

* * * * *

"Electra, Sheba."

"Yes, Commander?"

"Dr. Helena's shipping Apollo and Boomer back to the Galactica. I'm going over as well. Starbuck and Bojay are running escort, and I want you both to fly the shuttle."

They exchanged puzzled glances. Cain was going – but in a shuttle, and not as pilot?

"Well, ladies, we don't have all day. We don't want those men out of reach of medical help any longer than they have to be."

"Why move them at all?" Sheba demanded, mystified.

"Dr. Salik's more familiar with their records, and Helena feels he has a better chance of bringing them around." In the day since they'd been discovered, the six pilots had remained in their comas; the medics weren't sure what had caused it, or how to treat it.

Cain strode away before they could ask any more questions.

He didn't tell them that the warriors were already showing signs of waking.

* * * * *

The two men were soon safely housed in the Galactica's life center, under Salik's expert care. Starbuck, Sheba, and Bojay kept watch over their friends as Cain unobtrusively walked away. He saw Cassiopeia, caught up in her duties, and for a brief moment his gaze lingered longingly. Then he hurried his steps.

Cassie caught his arm before he'd gone far down the passage. They stared at each other for a centon.

"I know that look," she accused. "You're going again."

"Cassie.... Be happy, Cassie. I won't be gone long." His voice was infinitely patient.

"How can I believe you?" she demanded.

"I thought your attentions were elsewhere," he mused with a smile.

"Does it matter? I still care about you. The fleet needs you. And what about Sheba? Does she know? Is she going with you?"

"She'll be all right. I have a job to do. 'Til then, I think she belongs here, with Apollo."

"She'll never forgive you," the woman warned. "She loves you, worships you. Nothing's made her happier than having you back again – not even Apollo. How can you do this to her?"

"Keep her here. I've got a conference with Adama." When she would have spoken again, he touched her lips with his finger, tracing their curves. "Keep your silence, Cassie. She'll be happier here, and so will you."

She watched him sadly, realizing there was nothing she could say or do that would change the old veteran's mind, not even if she offered herself back to him – he hadn't offered her the choice of going with him, that was significant as it stood. And involving Sheba would only make it worse. "Will you ever be back?" she finally whispered.

He smiled jauntily. "Of course. I always come back, you should know that by now!" With a wave of his hand and no backward glance, he walked away.

* * * * *

"Hello, Adama."

"Colonel Tigh informed me you were aboard. I've been expecting you. I hope this won't take long; I'd like to visit my son." The aging commander of the Galactica glowed with new fire at the knowledge that Apollo was still alive. With the alert in effect, he hadn't been able to leave his battlestar, but he certainly couldn't be blamed for spending a few centars in life center at the young man's side. Perhaps Dr. Salik would soon be able to report his son restored to consciousness and health.

"Not long at all." Cain turned to the window port, leaving Adama his silhouette. "Adama, we've not seen the aliens for four sectons now, and the Delphians have been gone that long. I'd like your permission to take an exploratory side trip, patrol our quadrant, see if–"

Adama rose slowly from his desk. "You're going after them," he stated flatly, forcing down his rising anger.

He turned back. "I think it's my duty. They're human. We can't just let them be lost to us. Surely they'll be as welcome or unwelcome on Earth as we are – and we can use the extra firepower they give the fleet."

"We have no idea where they've–" Adama paused. "It's not just them. They're your excuse. Your primary interest is the aliens."

The other man shrugged. "Now, Adama...."

"You like the military advantage of not having to worry about a flotilla of unarmed civilian vessels, and the Delphians would give you added strength – a force that answers to you, not to me or the civilian Council. And they would stand with you against the aliens. Cain, I can't permit that. We can't take on these aliens, we haven't a chance against them! And I can't let you take half our defensive strength on a pursuit." Adama shook his head.

"Could you stop me if I said I was going anyway?"

The two strong-willed warriors stared each other down; neither would give in. Adama could threaten to have Cain confined to quarters and relieved of command, as he'd done once before, but the effect would probably be the same – mutiny on the Pegasus, and outrage in the fleet. Cain would do as he pleased, but he was truly concerned about the Delphians, and he was full of brooding outrage at the unknown aliens who'd so easily captured their people, then cavalierly returned them in comas. Adama felt the same fury for what his son and the others might have endured as prisoners, but he realized there was nothing he could accomplish militarily to avenge them, not at this point, not without much more information. If Cain returned to the Pegasus, it could depart at any time, to pursue an enemy better left alone....

"I could relieve you of command."

"You did that last time. I know how it feels. You can always do that if you wish, and I'll accept it if it's your decision, but I'd rather you gave me leave to go and do what I have to do."

"You're taking your crew with you."

He nodded. "They'll know. I've already made arrangements. Any who don't want to go are free to transfer here."

"What about Sheba? Is she included in those arrangements?"

For the first time, a shadow passed over Cain's craggy features. "I want her here. She belongs with you, with Apollo."

"You want her out of the danger you may be heading into."

"Maybe. But you'll accept it. For Apollo's sake, if no other."

Adama bowed his head in defeat. Cain was right; he wouldn't warn Sheba in advance. Apollo loved her, and Adama had come to think of her as a daughter already, and wanted her there. He played his final card, knowing he couldn't change Cain's intentions. "How will you find us again? Or do you intend ever to rejoin us?"

Cain stepped closer. "I think leaving my daughter here is sufficient proof that I intend to return. I know your destination, the coordinates of what might be Earth. I know your planned route. You may have to deviate along the way, but sooner or later, traveling the same flight path, we'll find each other again. And we can always do what the Delphians did – have a summoning signal, so if you really need us, you can call us. The Pegasus is hard to kill; we'll be back."

"So your daughter is hostage and promise, and you leave with or without my blessing. A most peculiar mutiny, forewarning the man who could stop you with a word."

"You know I have to go. You can't, but you want vengeance and knowledge of these aliens, and the return of the Delphians, as much as I do."

"That's not at issue." Adama sank back into his chair, chin on his chest in sorrowful contemplation. "We shall miss the added security your presence gave us, especially if the aliens return. Have you considered that?"

"I have. We'll still be the outer guard. And as you've said yourself, Adama, we're no match for the aliens in combat. We're no use if they attack again. Maybe by going after them, we can learn something. And there are other ways to contact strangers."

"You, Cain? Suggesting diplomacy?"

"Without unarmed civilians at our back, we may be able to suggest a lot of things," Cain replied. "And they may listen. At any rate, we can send the Delphians back this way, when we find out what annoyed them in the first place. Maybe we'll contact other ships as well. We'll be all right, Adama."

After a long moment of silence, the commander spoke heavily. "My blessings, then, Cain, but I'll not give this any semblance of being an order, or by my suggestion. The Lords of Kobol go with you, and those who serve you. I wish you success, and pray we may meet again soon."

Cain nodded, and they somberly shook hands, holding the wrist-clasp for a long time. Then they parted without another word.

Cain, have we finally found the thing you can't fight?

And is it the aliens, or yourself?

* * * * *

"Prepare for launch," Cain ordered Electra as he strapped himself into the co-pilot's seat.

She was mildly surprised. "Isn't Sheba coming back with us?"

He shook his head. "She's staying with Apollo on the Galactica. Starbuck, too."

"I guess that doesn't really surprise me," she reflected. "I'd almost expected him to request a transfer, though – until Apollo's return, of course."

He glanced at her sharply. "You've spent a lot of time together recently. Is he ... special to you?" He liked the lad, but he couldn't afford to leave his flight commander behind as well. Maybe the lieutenant would join them – for whatever that would imply about his relationship with Cassie. He'd offered to, once before....

She giggled provocatively. "In a way, but not the way you're thinking, I'm sure. He'll stay with the Galactica now. Athena and Cassie are both there, and now that Apollo and Boomer are back...." And he's got Chameleon, too! "Well, he's got what he needs to be happy, or as content as he'll ever be."

"Good, good.... We've got a new mission, Electra," he informed her abruptly. "We'll be taking a little tour of the area before following the fleet. Looking for the Delphians, watching for the aliens, and such. I didn't tell you until now because I needed to talk to Adama about it first."

She stared at him, breathing deeply, then slowly nodded. "I see."

"Any complaints? Would you rather stay with the fleet?"

After a moment, the woman shook her head decisively. "No. Things get a little slow around here. It was a nice furlon, but I'm afraid I'm too used to a bit more action." And action's what we'll get, with Cain around! "I may miss some people, but I'll stay with you, sir."

"Good. Let's get moving."

"Core command, Shuttle Gamma requesting launch clearance."

"You are cleared, Shuttle Gamma." Then they were in space, returning to their newly refitted ship, and the new adventure awaiting them.

* * * * *

Apollo took a deep breath, listening intently to the voices that finally penetrated the black haze that had filled his mind and blocked his senses for so long. There was delight in those noises. Then he felt something heavy on his chest, and he opened his eyes in shock as the breath whooshed out of his lungs.

A little boy grinned ear to ear, his small arms laced tightly around his neck. Above him, tears glistened in the eyes of those standing watchful guard over him. He recognized his father, and his sister Athena. Starbuck was there, barely containing a broad grin. His son was chattering in his ear as he reached up to hug the child. Then he saw Sheba and Cassie move into his line of vision. There was something questioning and anxious in all their gazes, and he knew what they were waiting for.

With a deep breath, and a growing, ecstatic feeling, he simply announced what they needed to hear, and he reveled to say. "I'm home."

* * * * *

"Where's my father?" Sheba gaily asked a passing tech. She was in too high of spirits to notice the Pegasus shuttle was gone. She merely wondered where Cain had gone, and why he hadn't returned to life center with Commander Adama.

"Uh...." the orange-clad technician gulped. "He left some time ago."

So I've been left to stay with Apollo.... She smiled at her father's consideration in giving her that time; she and Apollo certainly had things to talk over. But she was ready to return to her home ship, and she had patrol in a short while.

"Incoming shuttle," a voice announced. "Prepare to receive incoming Pegasus shuttle."

She stared in astonishment at the unscheduled arrival as the small craft set down. A handful of personnel disembarked without fanfare, hustling away, bags of gear in hand.

"More transfers?"

"Yes, Sheba, for the time being." It was Commander Adama, appearing beside her. The tech wisely fled.

"What aren't you telling me?" she asked slowly, dread and sudden understanding flaring in her eyes. "No!" She turned to run to a Viper.

Adama caught her arm. "They've already gone. At light speed, I'm sure. You'd never catch them."

"No! He wouldn't leave me! Not again! Not like this!" Her voice rose in wild hysteria.

Adama could only nod unhappily. "The Pegasus is gone. Your father thought you and Apollo–"

"To Hades with Apollo!" she shrieked at him, her voice echoing madly through the landing bay. "Father! How could you!"

"Sheba...."

She subsided into broken sobs, offering no resistance when he gathered her into his arms and led her away.

* * * * *

Apollo was still in life center, and heartily sick of it. His encounter with the aliens had been bad enough; was the medical staff here trying to do the same thing to him? He and Boomer were alone in the ward, semi-quarantined until Salik determined that there was no danger in their mingling with the general populace without restrictions. That the interview with Commander Adama and the other military commanders and security officers had been going on for over four centars didn't help his disposition. Boomer had been able to plead weariness, but he was the flight commander, and was expected to answer their questions with detailed information.

"I tell you, Colonel, I don't know!" he finally exploded at one of the more importuning officers present. He'd been pestered enough. "The only parts of the ship I saw were the holding area and the examination room! Most of the time, I think I was unconscious – which was a blessing! When I was awake, I was allowed to stare at the ceiling. The rest of the time, I was being poked, prodded, analyzed, examined, sampled, studied, tested, and stuck full of more needles – or their alien equivalent – than Dr. Salik uses! I'm surprised there was any of me left to come back!"

The senor warrior drew back, surly at the young man's outburst. "Commander, is this any kind of behavior...?" he appealed to Adama.

Salik intervened at the crucial moment. "I think our patients need some rest. They've been under a tremendous strain, and we're still not certain of the extent of the possible impact. If you officers could return tomorrow...." He shooed the reluctant men and women out, permitting only the commander to remain.

"That's truly all you remembered?" Adama asked quietly, anxious eyes on Apollo.

"Yes," he answered wearily. "They kept us confined, but we were together the whole time except when we were being examined. The aliens seemed to study us quite thoroughly. I was surprised they could speak Caprican – rather haltingly and slurred, as if their mouths and vocal cords weren't shaped for it, but definitely our tongue. Boomer says they learned Gemonese, too, and Heimdal insisted they could speak their Sagittaran dialect with relative ease. Also pidgin-Tauran and Aquarian. Must've mind-scanned us or something, we certainly weren't talking in all those languages. They kept questioning us. I tried to talk to them, to explain....

"It seems they're scientists, on an exploration mission for their people. We were specimens to study, a new culture to analyze. We tried to tell them about the Cylons, to warn them...." He sighed.

"What was their reaction to word of the Cylons?"

"They didn't seem to care! Their technology is far above us, more advanced than anything we or the Cylons possess. They listened politely, but said they weren't interested in expanding in this sector of the galaxy – I think – and until they do, or the Cylons disturb them, they don't care what the Cylons do. And they didn't care what we did when they let us go, either. We were just damned specimens for them," he concluded bitterly. "They seemed to agree that we were intelligent, and therefore should be freed, but we weren't worthy of alliance or sharing of knowledge. They didn't tell us anything else about themselves."

"Are they finished with their study of us?"

"How should I know?"

"You were told about Thjis? His activities and his ... final act?"

Apollo nodded. "Salik told me. Makes sense with something I saw. One of the aliens mentioned something about a construct, a 'gatherer,' obtaining another sample for them, one not like us, from what I could understand. The being apologized for any 'disturbance' or 'inconvenience' this ... gatherer might cause us – so generous of them, being concerned about a lesser species.

"I guess, after capturing Heimdal and Sif, they used them as models for creating their android, making him ... it ... look and speak like a Raggane. They implied they wanted a wider variety of humans to study. The one who said that was watching Sif at the time. I didn't realize then that they particularly wanted another woman to compare her to. Maybe they were thinking about making genetic comparisons between family members, too, I don't know. I'm just glad Athena didn't have to go through that...."

"We surmise he landed during one of our post-alerts, mixed in with the rest of the pilots. Opinion?"

He shrugged. "Sounds plausible. Please, Father, could some of this wait? I'm kind of tired. It's been a tough couple of sectons. I know the aliens talked to me more than the others, when they figured out I was the ranking officer, but haven't any of the others corroborated our story, or aren't they conscious yet? The alien scientist assured me that we'd be unharmed, that we'll all wake up safe at home.... They must've planted our ships where they'd be sure you'd find them soon."

"All the more reason to suspect they may still be monitoring us," Adama told him flatly. "But the Pegasus pilots can't confirm their experiences. Cain's gone again."

"What?" Apollo sat up sharply. "Gone? But Sheba.... Why? Why'd he leave? I saw Sheba here; they couldn't have left long ago...." But that might explain why she hasn't been here since that first time I woke up. She left me, went with him....

"Cain left three days ago. Sheba is still here, by his choice. She's been refusing to see anybody since."

His jaw hung slackly. "Why?"

"He seems determined that it's up to him to 'prove' humanity to the aliens–"

"He should have waited to talk to us," Apollo muttered.

"And he wants to find and bring back the Delphians. They left in a rather hasty and uncommunicative manner. He told me before the Pegasus went, but there didn't really seem to be anything I could do to change his mind."

"The fleet must've loved that."

"They think he's gone after the aliens, to fight them, and I believe most people think he'll return. However illogical, some are predicting another glorious victory. They can't see anything else where Cain is concerned. You realize, your disappearance and the whole matter of these aliens was ... somewhat hushed. The fleet doesn't have many details. I don't know what'll happen when time passes, if he doesn't come back, and their high expectations plummet. Apollo, do you have any idea how these aliens would react to a direct challenge, a confrontation with Cain? Will they fight? Will they destroy him?"

"I'm sorry, Father. I don't have any idea," the young man admitted.

Adama grimaced, accepting that their lack of information completely hampered any predictions. "I understand. I'll have to ask you not to repeat anything to civilians – especially anyone with media connections. Not even the Council realizes what we could have been up against, and I'd rather not inform them now."

"They'd just think it was a power play, Father, the kind of thing most of them would do, to make the fleet scared of an enemy whose power we can't prove. They might even try to use it against you, claim you mismanaged the whole thing."

"They're not all ambitious fools, Apollo. They're good people, concerned with what's going on. They simply don't have access to all our information, or to the military experience to judge the circumstances. They weren't trained for this kind of situation, and I'm sure most of them never expected it."

"And for them, we risk our lives every day – and sometimes our sanity." Apollo shook his head, fighting off bitterness. "I guess that's our duty. But sometimes, it's so frustrating. You try to make them understand, and they only see things in petty motives of personal gain. You risk your life, and they call you a glory-grabber. Then you run into something like this....

"Father, if they wanted to, I think the aliens could sweep the Cylons from the stars! But they don't care what happens in this part of space, to a people they don't know. I think they look at us as a minor, dying civilization, and they refuse to be bothered by us. They've got the power, the technology...."

"No, Apollo," the older man interrupted. "It's not for us to judge them. Nor would we, nor anyone else, I think, appreciate it or benefit if they made themselves galactic watch-daggits. Would you want them standing over us like some paternally indulgent whipmasters, never letting us choose our own course of action?"

"I guess not," he finally admitted. "But it's so frustrating.... I mean, the Cylons...."

"I know. Perhaps they'll learn, in time, when they have to deal with them."

"Just so it's not too late when they do! I hope Cain doesn't antagonize them completely...."

* * * * *

Cain felt immense satisfaction as he studied his bridge crew, humming along at peak efficiency. The Pegasus had needed repairs and an overhaul; now, she was ready to face whatever the future held.

He leaned over the railing. This was his element; this was where he belonged, at the helm of his ship, leading his people through the stars. He was loyal to the Colonies, and he would not forget his promise to Adama that he would follow the fleet. When they needed him and his Pegasus, he would be there – but there was no reason to endure the monotonous routine of daily life in the meantime.

From what Orestes, Heimdal, and the others had told him, the aliens were simply explorers, sampling what variety the galaxy had to offer. They probably originated far from here, but he would cruise the area for a time. Perhaps the aliens could be located, contacted, and made to see reason about the Cylons. Then he would have truly done his people a service, giving them valuable allies. The advances in technology alone would be invaluable – and he had no fear that such advances would ever make a man like himself obsolete. They might even be able to return to their home worlds, instead of continuing to flee in search of the probably mythical "Earth."

At any rate, there were challenges to face, and his gallant crew had chosen to face them with him. They would fight what must be fought, deal appropriately with any other ships they encountered, seek the Delphians and any other human survivors....

There were people and things he would miss; he was realistic enough to admit that. His daughter had made herself a different life, found a worthy lover – and begun, perhaps, to think about life differently than he did, whether she knew it yet or not. Cassiopeia, too, was changed. He loved the woman she'd become, and respected her new career, but sensed that in a less stable life, her fear of loss could turn love into flight from a man who lived with his challenges, who could be lost any day – and Starbuck was a new variable in her life. He wished them both well.

Another thing of value he would miss was Adama's friendship. In differing ways, they were two of a kind – warriors who could turn even dismal defeat into survival, and survival into victory. But it wore the other man that he had to face the burden of two hundred and twenty ships and their problems every day of their already uncertain life.

Cain had no intention of being similarly worn away. He chose, instead, to live free of it, responsible only for his own vessel and people. Their loyalty and devotion were much more satisfying things to possess.

Fierce elation sang sharply in him. He was content.

* * * * *

Sheba pounded the walls in rage and frustration when Adama sent her to life center, giving her a temporary furlon to get over her grief. She railed at him, at Apollo, at her father, and at Cassie when she was finally given a sedative. All she wanted to do was get into a Viper and find her father, although cold logic told her the odds against it were in the millions.

Her haunted sleep wasn't restful. A day spent bitterly pacing the floors also did no good. More days followed in similar fashion, but she finally began to reconcile herself to the fact that her father had left her again, abandoning her because she was to become somebody's wife, leaving her where she was supposed to be safe. If I could only hate him.... But he's my father. I love him.

Her heart ached to be with Cain.

Restlessly, she paced the observation deck, alone, mimicking her father's stance and attitude when he didn't want to be disturbed.

But someone disturbed her anyway.

"Sheba? Can I talk to you?" It was Apollo, looking meek and vulnerable in a simple life center gown and short robe.

"No," she replied shortly, and turned away. She wasn't ready to face him. She still hated him, after their last words and what her father had done. She felt they'd conspired to force her away from her father. She didn't want any emotional displays to wear down her defenses against him.

"Please...."

The last time they talked, before his captivity, she'd told him what she thought and left him standing. She'd regretted the things she said, but some of them were still true, she realized, and knew things couldn't be quite the same. It would take time – if ever.

"You have your father, and your ship, and your post," she enunciated. "I have none of them. Right now, I certainly don't want you either. Just leave me alone, Captain. I don't want you." Her voice broke unexpectedly at the last words, and she ran from him without concern for dignity. She didn't want to live with him, but she wasn't sure yet how she would live without him. She only knew he was the reason she was alone, and he wasn't enough to fill the inner void.

Apollo's expression was one of grief tempered by hurt. He retreated from the port to a cushioned niche, fists clenched tightly and face bleak, as if he could fight the emotions within himself and set them to rest.

"She's not ready yet, Apollo."

He looked up to see his father standing beside him. He sighed wearily. "Will she ever be ready?"

Adama sat down. "Hopefully. Some day, she'll stop feeling you're the cause of all this, and she'll know she was unfair to you. Then you'll have to start over, and maybe you can rebuild your love." His own heart ached to see his son's emotions so rawly displayed.

Apollo closed his eyes and leaned against hm, subconsciously pleading for support as he hadn't in yahrens. The father pulled his son closer, freely offering that emotional strength.

From their strategically located alcove, they could see the stars through one of the ports. They slowly shifted by, occasionally blotted out by one of the lumbering fleet ships or a more quickly moving shuttle.

"You'd better get back to life center," Adama finally reminded Apollo. "I believe you've got some more examinations to undergo before Salik declares you fit for duty."

Apollo snorted. "Any more examinations, and all that's going to be left of me is a massive medical report on a no longer existing man. Bits and pieces of me, scattered through records and computers everywhere in the galaxy, for humans and others to see."

His sense of humor may be dark, but at least it isn't totally gone.

"Father," Apollo asked hesitantly as they headed for the door. "Will Cain return again?"

Adama stared at the stars. "That, my son, is in the laps of the gods." No one else would even dare try to second-guess the commander of the Pegasus, Cain, the living legend.


I just know you loved this story, so why don't you email Sharon Monroe at sharonmonroe@hotmail.com and let her know?


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