Chapter III


Several pilots from Golden Sun Squadron watched quietly as personnel from the Galactica disembarked in the Pegasus landing bay, carrying small duffels of gear. Their dark, somber eyes and passive expressions seemed to unnerve the newcomers. A few of the warriors offered smiles, waves, or greetings to the Delphians, but when they received no response, friendly or otherwise, they left in a group, following their guide and muttering among themselves.

A few moments later, the Delphian leader left his teammates to speak with Kenji, who was also watching the new arrivals, filling in as executive officer while Cain was ill and Kleopatra was aboard the other battlestar.

"What are they doing here, Colonel?" Tokyo asked quietly. There was no belligerence in his tone or stance, simply the request for information an officer might make of his superior.

"Orders, Captain. You know that."

"We have no need to exchange pilots." The younger warrior shifted minutely, the smallest sign of nervousness. None of his squadron had been included in the temporary transfers, but there might be a next time. "We work well with the present roster. We have trained together; we know each other. Now, we are expected to deal with these strangers who have no idea how we live, what we think or believe."

"It seems, Captain, that there were ... difficulties in their last encounter, between members of the squadrons from both ships. Therefore, Commander Adama suggests, and Colonel Kleopatra concurs, that it would be wise for us to learn to work together as fighting teams, to better our efficiency in combat, and to prevent a recurrence of difficulties. To begin, a handful of strike teams from Silver Spar and Bronze Wings Squadrons have been moved to the Galactica, while pilots from their Red and Blue Squadrons have joined us temporarily. The flight commanders will continue to plan short rotations until personnel are familiar with each other and are comfortable working together." Kenji kept his voice as formal as possible, explaining in the Delphian dialect most used in their military, to strengthen the impact of his words and remind his officer of his duty to accept orders.

He sensed that Tokyo was not entirely happy with the command, but would accept it.

"So long as Golden Sun is not moved. We are Delphians, not Colonials. Our allegiance is not to Commander Adama or their curious Council of Twelve," the captain added.

Kenji agreed. He, too, had difficulties understanding or accepting that particular governing body and its undue influence on what the military could or could not do. "The day their Council attempts to order us beyond our duties," he promised, "we transfer to the Soul and return to the Empress's direct control."

Tokyo was satisfied, and returned to his squadron.

Kenji was pleased that he'd managed to keep his unease to himself. The Colonial Council of Twelve seemed to feel it automatically had jurisdiction over their ships, with their constant demands for information and insulting notifications of new "orders." For the present, the Empress simply ignored their instructions, and continued to govern her people as she wished, as was proper. She refused their requests for a tour of the small group of vessels, and didn't deign to answer the not-very-flattering, somewhat condescending suggestions of alliance certain of the bureauticians had offered. The also ignored the more fawning, personal offers several had passed along privately.

The colonel was pleased their young ruler was avoiding the political games of the Colonials. Let them maneuver around each other; it was no concern of the Delphians. Of those he had met, only Commander Adama and a handful of the warriors seemed worth dealing with – honest, honorable, capable warriors with a proper sense of duty and responsibility.

One thing continued to trouble him. If the Imperial Kindred was too greatly offended by the blundering politicians and condescending officials, would Sumiko feel constrained to remain for long with the fleet? And would she command her people from the Pegasus to rejoin her? They were used to serving on that ship, now. After so long, the choice would be difficult, for some, to leave or to remain.

That he doubted his own possible decision disturbed him even more.

His responsibilities were affecting him. Perhaps he would have to speak to Mriko. Her clear-sightedness had helped him in many difficult times, and he respected her wisdom.

* * * * *

It had been a long time since Kleopatra had flown a Viper, but it was the fastest transportation to the Galactica, and Cmdr. Adama's request had sounded urgent. She'd kept up with the technological improvements over the yahrens, and was pleased to find how quickly she adapted to the small, maneuverable craft.

For landing, she dropped into formation with a Pegasus patrol. In the bay, she found one of Tigh's aides waiting to conduct her to the conference.

She recognized the slim, dark-haired young ensign as the commander's daughter, and was able to greet her by name. "Good morning, Athena. You're up early."

The woman nodded a proper greeting. "Making up a missed shift. Commander Adama will meet you in his quarters, Colonel."

Obviously poised, and at ease among brass. To be expected from a girl with her background and experience.

Athena's eyes wandered curiously to the two patrol pilots, who were on their way to make their reports. Kleopatra saw her attention linger on the male warrior.

"Captain Heimdal, Bronze Wing," she supplied. "Married to the lady next to him. She's the jealous type. Not that he'd ever look."

"Oh!" The ensign's face flushed for just a moment. "Not that at all, Colonel, I was just wondering where he was from." She gestured at the hair curled around her own temples. "I don't know of any Colonial groups that wear side braids with regulation haircuts. Top knots, dyes of all colors, partial shaving, totally uncut, all kinds of society trends, yes – but not anything like that."

Kleopatra fell into step with her as she led the way to her father's chambers. "Heimdal and Sif are both from a small ethno-religious group in the Raggane Highlands of Sagittara. Very clannish, somewhat isolated. The braids are their mark of belonging to the group, and signify defiance. Apparently, the Sagittarans tried to legislate against the sect over a millennia ago. Now, of course, since we don't interfere with religious freedom in the military, the braids are also worn as a proud reminder of their heritage."

"Raggane Highlands." Athena's brow wrinkled slightly. "Ah, yes. Mining, metallurgy, and herding. Not the best part of the planet for agriculture or settlement, but productive due to the hard work of the people who live there. I seem to recall reading something about their way of life...."

Kleopatra warmed to her subject. Cultural ethnology had been her second course of study at the Picon Academy, and she was pleased to talk with someone with a similar interest. "The sect keeps to a rigorous, somewhat out-of-date lifestyle, by most standards. Primogeniture – all inheritance goes to the eldest son; women generally keep to the home and raise children, often in a group family environment. Larger families than the majority of Colonial groups; younger sons often work for the family or join one of several celibate religious orders – one reason they haven't over-populated their region despite the family size...."

Her recitation was cut short by the sudden appearance of a fellow officer from around a corner. He eyed them with momentary surprise, then fell into step with them.

"I take it we are all destined for the Commander's quarters?" Tigh queried briefly.

"Yes, sir," Athena replied crisply.

After a centon of strained silence, they arrived at the door to Adama's quarters. "The Commander will be here momentarily, I'm sure," Athena reported when they found the room empty. "He must still be on the bridge. The situation has us all concerned."

The young woman ducked out as soon as she was able, feeling the tension between the two officers. She had no desire to be caught in the cross-beams if fireworks erupted, and hoped her abandonment wouldn't be taken for cowardice.

Tigh took a stance next to the window port while Kleopatra settled herself elegantly onto the couch beneath it. After studying her hands for a moment, she ventured to say, "I'm surprised you weren't already here and waiting."

"I was on sleep period," he stated briefly.

"We must be getting old; you're slowing down," she teased.

"I wasn't alone," he interjected dryly.

"Oh." After a few centons, "Have you remarried, then, or is she just a friend?"

"A friend." Tigh was at his stiffest and most silent. He seemed to refuse to unwind the slightest amount in response to her attempts at conversation.

"Anybody I'd like?"

"I doubt it."

"So tell me about her. Tell me about your life since we last talked." The last time they'd really said anything of consequence to each other had been before the fateful battle of Molecay, when Kleopatra had taken the assignment to the Pegasus. They'd already been apart, but that had been the final estrangement.

At the battle over Gamoray, they'd exchanged no more than a dozen words. She'd been responsible for the Pegasus while Cain was Adama's guest. Then, while Tigh was aboard and in command, she'd been so furious at what she saw as Adama's high-handed and unnecessary actions that she'd refused to stay on the bridge with her ex-husband. Only later did she understand about Cain's unauthorized destruction of the two Cylon fuel tankers. By then, the Colonials were in combat, and there was no opportunity to speak privately about anything. There was only time to deal with the damage, and to help the injured, and to prepare for the anticipated battle with Baltar's third and final base ship.

That battle had not materialized. Nor had Cain returned to the fleet. So it had now been three yahrens since she and Tigh had a chance to sit and talk honestly. However, the man seemed unwilling or unable to communicate with her in any way other than in connection to their duties.

"Civilian or military?" she prompted after a few moments.

"Who?"

"Your friend."

"Civilian," he replied rudely. "And I don't know why you're bothering to feign an interest."

She stared glacially. There was no reason to keep her temper here; they were alone. But she found no rage to lash out at him with. She knew him too well. He was trying to hide uneasiness in her presence, and embarrassment at the other relationship she'd discovered. It was never easy for him to say what he felt, and explaining a new lover to his ex-wife....

And perhaps, now, too, seeing her in command of a battlestar – a position he had once coveted – made it difficult for him to know how to react.

I'll make it easy for him. "I had hoped, Tigh," she stated evenly, "that although we are no longer husband and wife, we might at least function together as officers, and perhaps speak as friends. Please consider it as an option before unleashing another such display of rude and dishonorable behavior."

The next move was up to him. She let the thick silence lay between them for the long moments it took Commander Adama to return to his quarters.

* * * * *

His face felt permanently creased into an uneasy scowl and his shoulders seemed bowed into rounded humps; his burdens continued to weigh on Cmdr. Adama as he headed for life center to check the status of the sick warriors.

Col. Kleopatra and her staff had been completely unaware of any such beings or ships as had been following them. They'd had no reports of unidentified pursuers or mysterious scanner blips. The Pegasus hadn't seen anything. Now that they were with the Galactica, had they placed themselves in the same danger as the other humans – assuming they were in danger?

The colonel didn't take it that way. She'd blinked at the revelation, but accepted it calmly, asking only for whatever knowledge they might have to pass on to her pilots and scan crews, commenting that whatever they faced, they would deal with it together.

She'd seemed quite sure of herself and her ship; that was to be expected of Cain's crew. She was a fine officer, as fine as his own second-in-command, and he was glad to have her to rely on as well.

If only the obviously strained relationship between Kleopatra and Tigh didn't interfere with their performance of their duties. But he knew the circumstances, and wasn't about to say anything yet. He owed them both that, for the past friendship as well as the current situation.

For himself, whatever their differences in the past, he would dearly love to have Cain available in the situation as well, with his tactical wizardry and intuitive military genius. But the Pegasus commander remained confined to a cryo-tube in life center. The medical staff had as yet been unable to isolate the cause of the disease, if such it was, or to find a cure.

And besides an unknown illness that could still flare into an epidemic, and the unknown somethings around them, there was still the Council to deal with and appease. They were outraged by the aloof silence of the Delphians, and demanded Adama take some of kind of action – as if he could! The Delphian Empire was a sovereign, independent nation, with them, for the present, of their own free will. They were not a Colonial settlement or poor relation of some kind to lord it over.

And the daily problems within the fleet – distribution of food, water, fuel, and other resources; complaints of criminal behavior, unethical actions, or simple negligence; requests for exemptions from rules and regulations, and complaints of others' presumed exemptions; political restlessness – all continued as well, usually finding their way to his desk in some fashion or other.

Lords of Kobol, was he expected to bear every problem these people faced? Find a solution to every little need? Had none of them any understanding of the difficulties he faced every day, making the decisions necessary for their survival?

No, for that wasn't human nature. It seemed the best of the Colonies had not survived, in most cases, but the vices and the problems had.

He arrived at his destination. Life center was quiet; the pilots had refrained from brawling the night before. With the new people from the Pegasus aboard, he'd expected a mostly-friendly welcoming scuffle or two – but they were all as concerned for their commander as he was.

"Good morning, Commander. May I help you?"

It was Cassiopeia, on duty at the receiving station. Her crisp uniform was a far cry from the last clothing he'd seen her in, but hardly an improvement. The garment suggested she had just come on duty – but the fine smudges under her eyes, although lightly powdered, said she'd probably been up most of the night.

"Good morning, Cassie. Is Dr. Salik about somewhere?"

"He and Dr. Helena are in conference on our quarantine patients. I'm sure you can go right in." She gestured toward a far door, with a wide smile she had difficulty controlling.

"Good news?" he demanded, studying her look.

"Maybe," she hedged. "It was a long night, but we may have found something. I'm sure the doctors will want to give you the details themselves...."

He needed no further urging, but was already hurrying down the empty row of beds for the distant chamber – one of the labs, he recalled. Cassiopeia followed his stride with a tired but delighted smile before rubbing her bloodshot eyes and turning her gaze back to the empty forms before her. Even on quiet days, there were things that piled up.

Adama's knock on the lab door was more in the line of a demanding thud from his fist.

"Hades!" came an irritated yell from beyond, then the sound of footsteps. "Cassie, didn't I tell you–?"

Salik opened the door with an annoyed expression on his flush-suffused face; his broad nostrils flared forbiddingly. The anger faded at once when he saw who waited. "Commander! We were just about to call you. Come in, come in.... You remember Dr. Helena, and this is Dr. Rafael, also from the Pegasus. You know our own staff."

Adama acknowledged the introduction with a brief nod. "You may have found something?" he demanded eagerly.

"Yes!" The broad smile that took its place on the doctor's round face was a more eloquent response. The rest of the staff also seemed pleased with their long night's work. The chief physician gestured him to one of the few chairs not covered with equipment or supplies or already filled with a human body.

"And?" Adama didn't need suspense. He needed good news for a change. He took his seat at the cluttered table, keeping his attention on his CMO.

"Remember the difficulty we had at Kobol?"

Adama glanced around. "Yes," he replied cautiously. "Our pilots picked up a virus from that Cylon asteroid base. It spread through many of our personnel, leaving us basically defenseless for over a secton while Apollo and Starbuck trained a group of shuttle pilots in the basics of Viper flight. Several of them are still in the squadrons."

"Yes," Salik prompted.

"You took a team back to the asteroid, isolated the virus, and found a treatment. Just in time, as the Cylons chose to attack Kobol, though our new pilots handled themselves quite respectably."

Salik smiled. "Trust a warrior to remember the military details. But, yes, we isolated the virus that was causing the highly-contagious disease to spread among our pilots. We're luckier here. The viral form isn't spread by human contact, and since we already have samples from our sick men and from our previous encounter, we don't have to go back to the planet to collect the stuff."

The commander leaned forward, frowning.

"We can't reconstruct an entire evolutionary history of the virus, but it appears to be closely related to the organism we had trouble with at Kobol, perhaps the parent stock from which the Cylons bred the mutated form that was so contagious.

"We'll be testing modified medications similar to what we used there. If all goes well, and our theory is correct, we should have positive results in a day or two." Salik sat back grandly, looking quite pleased with himself.

Adama didn't blame him. He was ready to cheer himself. He glanced around at the tired but happy staff. They'd done a good job. And now, there's one less problem to haunt my sleep....

* * * * *

The ash-blonde woman in the pilot's uniform knew exactly where she was going. She made a beeline for the admissions med tech.

"Any word today, Cassie?" Sheba pleaded. Several long patrols and sleepless nights spent worrying about her father were taking their toll on her. There were dark smudges under her eyes, and her hair was carelessly pulled back into a simple knot. She was thinner, since the only times she remembered to eat were when Cassie or some other friend brought a snack to life center. She spent most of her spare centars there, in a vigil for Commander Cain.

Cassiopeia felt a pang of sympathy. She, too, was worried about Cain, but knew her feelings couldn't compare to those of his daughter. Fortunately, she had good news. Stifling a yawn, she reached for her friend's hand.

"We think we made a breakthrough. In another day or so, we should know for sure. Your father might even be out of suspension by then."

The other woman's eyes lit up wildly. Then she unexpectedly began to cry.

"Would you like to see him for a few moments? Then you should probably get some rest yourself," Cassie told her gently.

Sheba nodded wordlessly, then followed the med tech to the quarantine chamber.

Cassiopeia returned to her station just in time for the arrival of another visitor. Apollo had come looking for the woman he had pledged to marry. He, too, had a worried, preoccupied expression on his face.

"Uh, have you seen Sheba?" he asked after glancing around the large, empty chamber.

"Yes, she's visiting her father."

He looked twice. "I didn't think anyone was allowed directly into the quarantine sector, just in here and to talk to the doctors."

"There've been a few changes in procedure. Don't spread it yet, Apollo, but we may have found the answer."

His relief was obvious. "Then I'll just–" He gestured toward the quarantine ward.

"No! Uh, I think she'd like a little time alone just now. Could you wait? See her later, after she's had some time to rest? These few days have been rough on her."

"They haven't been that easy on me either!" he snapped back. "I haven't seen her for more than two centons–"

"I can understand you feel neglected, Apollo, but Cain is her father – and you know how devoted she's always been to him! If it were your father, you'd be here, too. And don't deny it, because you have been here when he's been ill or injured. Just give her a little time; she hasn't forgotten you," the woman alternately scolded and reassured.

Apollo grimaced. "All right, Cassie, I understand. I suppose you know more about human nature than most of us. But let Sheba know I was here, that I'm thinking of her, and I'd like to see her when she's got a little time."

"I'll tell her," the woman promised with a thankful smile.

Apollo left life center, deeply lost in thought. Sheba was still bound so closely to her father. Were her emotional ties to him as deep? He hadn't counted on having to share his wife's love and life this way with anyone else – but then, no one else had such a claim to her as Cain did. He had no fears of the commander finding him unacceptable as a husband for his daughter, but he was beginning to wonder if perhaps Sheba would make comparisons of some kind, and he would be found lacking in some way.

Sheba had always been very much her father's daughter. Would he now lose her to her father?

Or, if Cain had been there all along, would she ever have been his?

* * * * *

Capt. Bojay and Lt. Boomer were two of the pilots from Blue Squadron on loan to the Pegasus for the transition period. Bojay had spent several yahrens aboard that battlestar before the battle over Gamoray; he knew the layout, and still had plenty of friends aboard. Boomer felt less at home, but discovered it didn't really take long for a group of warriors to feel at ease together.

Even the Delphians, they found, weren't as aloof as they feared, but merely wary of the newcomers from the fleet. The Imperial warriors were quick to accept and appreciate the abilities of the male pilots – although the woman, it seemed, had a little more to prove, as had continued to be the case with them. But they, too, soon were at home with the Colonial squadrons on the Pegasus.

Whatever hard feelings might have remained from the near-mutiny of their previous encounter – Boomer and Bojay had been at opposite ends of each other's lasers – either had been forgotten with the passage of time between the meetings, or were submerged in fear for Cain's condition and the knowledge that they were still under Adama's command. All were concerned with the good of the fleet and the survival of humanity.

That concern was evident in the discussions the two Galactica pilots overheard after the briefing on the strange ships they might encounter on patrols. Speculation as to whether the strangers might be Cylon or some other foe had also occurred on the Galactica when the craft/lights were first detected; that was to be expected.

What came as a surprise, especially to Boomer, was the calm consideration of engaging the unknowns in battle – and the hope that Cain would be fully recovered in time for that battle. Even the Delphians seemed prepared for combat, so long as Cain was guiding them.

"Doesn't the Pegasus ever consider any other way of dealing with a situation than fighting?" Boomer asked Bojay in disbelief as they headed back to their ready room. "Everybody's comparing strategy and predicting what Cain will do – and he's still in suspension, and we don't even know if we can take these guys on!"

"Hey," Bojay replied, "I was part of this crew for two yahrens – and serving under Cain, you learn pretty fast that you will be answering just about every challenge with a fight! I guess I'd just forgotten how much we took it for granted, both the fights and the leadership...."

"Cain never had the fleet to consider in his plans," Boomer reminded him strongly.

"I'm not making comparisons, Boomer," the other man replied with a gesture. "Lords know how much the Old Man's got on his shoulders, and he's a damned good commander, too! It's just.... Well, like I said, you get to taking things for granted."

The black man's grimace bore a strong resemblance to a frown.

"I think I've changed," his wingman commented after a moment's consideration. "I'm looking for other ways...."

"You know, Bojay, Commander Adama's right. We need to integrate our squadrons. Should've done more of it the first time we met, if there'd been time. We have to learn to appreciate the best both our commanders bring to the job."

"Yeah. The Colonel's good, too – both of 'em," he added quickly before Boomer could interrupt. "Hopefully these guys aren't our enemies, and we won't have to fight. But if it comes to it, we've got officers we can depend on."

"Just so they can depend on us to do what we have to do. We don't know what we might be up against."

"We can do it. We have to, remember? But we've got a patrol in a few centars. Want some shut-eye, or should we look for a little entertainment?"

* * * * *

Starbuck was bugged about something. Apollo could tell it from the quiet way his friend remained slouched over the bench after their work-out, waiting for everyone else to finish showering and leave the locker room. It hadn't been that strenuous a work-out, so the man couldn't be as exhausted as he was pretending to be – unless he belonged in life center.

"Hey, buddy, what's bothering you today?" he asked cheerfully, joining Starbuck in the corner. A little physical exertion had put him in a good mood, despite his earlier gloominess in life center.

The blond lieutenant looked a little startled, but shrugged off the question. "What makes you think anything's bothering me?" he asked as airily as possible. "Can't a guy want a little privacy in the shower without gettin' bugged?"

Apollo stared. "Hey, I'm your friend, remember? Every now and then we talk about things. It's what friends do!" he laughed.

The other man looked happier. "Yeah, I guess. So when something bothers me, I'll tell you about it."

"If you're trying to get me to worry about you, you'll probably succeed. But right about now, I don't need more to worry about, so I would really appreciate it if you'd tell me straight out what's wrong."

Starbuck's shrug was half-hearted as he grabbed a towel. "I guess I'm just ... missing people."

"Oh." The captain was enlightened. "With Boomer, Bojay, and others on the Pegasus – and the present regulations from the medical emergency – you're feeling lonely! That's not what I expected of you."

"Not lonely, just...." He shrugged again. "And with you working so much with Electra...."

"Planning the next rotation," Apollo supplied. "Care to spend some time on the Pegasus?"

Starbuck looked interested for a micron, then frowned.

Now, his superior caught the real reason for his friend's "loneliness." "I suppose, with Cassie so busy in life center, watching over Cain, that you see about as much of her as I do of Sheba," he teased rather wickedly. "We're both abandoned!"

"No! That's not it at all!" Starbuck protested too vigorously. "Hey, I barely noticed Cassie's been missing. She's just doing her job; that's why she's a med tech."

"Ah, of course. Good to know she's so devoted."

"She can do what she pleases. What's it to me, after all? We each have our own lives...." Starbuck's last words trailed away as he vanished into the shower cubicle, obviously uncomfortable with the conversation, and therefore taking the most direct way out of it.

Apollo swallowed his chuckle. It wasn't really fair to tease Starbuck like this, but he did understand the situation, and was suffering, too, from the absence of a woman he cared for. But the lieutenant still wouldn't admit it, even after as long as he'd been seeing Cassie – nor did Athena admit or accept it, even to herself, he suspected.

Or course, Cassie had run to Cain the first time they encountered the Pegasus. Now, she was watching over him personally. But if Starbuck wanted to keep her, pretending she didn't matter to him was the wrong tactic.

The captain was already dressed. A look at his wrist chronometer showed he'd be late for his next appointment with Maj. Electra if he didn't hurry. As he'd told Starbuck, they had the next flight rotation to arrange, and the current one to review, and a few other details as well.

A few centons later, Starbuck found himself sharing the dressing room with one of the pilots from the Pegasus.

"Where'd the captain hurry off to so quick?" the younger man asked him.

He recognized the chubby blond as Sgt. Ptah, although he knew nothing else about him, and shrugged his response. "Appointment with Major Electra."

Ptah's thin, fair eyebrows shot up. "I should be so lucky!" he exclaimed. "Didn't take him long to hook up with her!"

Starbuck was offended. "They're working together! They're our flight commanders!"

"Right. Great cover."

"Besides, Apollo's engaged!"

"Does the Major know that?" The young man's tone suggested it made no difference, that any sane man would choose Electra over any other woman, if she beckoned.

"He's marrying Cain's daughter!"

"Oh." That, at least, met with a little respect.

A nibble of concern tugged at the Galactica pilot's mind. Apollo loved Sheba, and she loved him. He didn't think Electra would interfere in a friend's life. But he suddenly wondered if Apollo ought so obviously to enjoy working with her....

* * * * *

"It's such a pleasure to work with a well-equipped lab and a completely stocked pharmacy again!" Helena sighed with satisfaction. "Rafael?"

The olive-skinned young medic nodded toward his fair-haired superior, and lifted the tray containing four vials of some clear liquid. The substance was a modified chemical/biological medication, whose effect would hopefully be the curing of the viral disease that infected four human beings.

Salik and Helena studied the tray as a med tech brought out four injectors.

"Well, Helena, they're your patients. Who's our experimental subject?" Salik asked gravely. He hid his optimism well. All experimental data, and the previous experience with the similar malady at Kobol, indicated the treatment should be the right one.

She paused momentarily. "Let's start with Captain Orestes. He's probably in the best physical condition, and he was the last to succumb. If, for some reason, this has no effect, we'll have time to examine him thoroughly and return him to the tube before losing the man. If its effects are bad, he has the best chance of surviving our mistreatment. If it works, observation of him will let us know where the risk factors still lie, so we can monitor closely as we bring the other patients out of it. We have the most leeway with the Captain."

Salik agreed with her logic.

Rafael silently fitted one of the vials into an injector.

* * * * *

Their patrol was uneventful, and therefore, the two pilots were silent for most of the long centars. Capt. Heimdal and Lt. Sif were both quiet people, somewhat aloof and restrained where any witnesses might be, and after their yahrens of marriage, they worked together on an almost intuitive level, needing little chatter to stay in formation and pass along reports. They saved meaningful conversation for private times.

Heimdal toyed momentarily with one of the deep red braids that dangled out from under his helmet – the stylized bird of the Galactica, not the winged steed of the Pegasus, he reminded himself. He wasn't disturbed about being temporarily reassigned. Sif was more miffed at the loss of his squadron – he was flight leader for Bronze Wing, but here, served under Red Squadron's group leader.

Blue eyes flicked quietly to his scanner, then thoughtfully back to the empty space around him, noting the location of his wife's ship before again gazing ahead of his own Viper.

No, his concern for the moment was the peculiar somethings that trailed the Galactica and her fleet. Several pilots had detected them as distant lights, the gleam of some possibly metallic objects, but that was all. An unidentifiable blip on a scanner for just a micron, or a teasingly brief spotting of something from the corner of one's eyes – that was all they had. While this frightened some of the warriors, raised tension levels in most others, and was still being kept from the general public, he found it more curious than anything else. Heimdal was intrigued by many things, and his agile brain found this an especially fascinating puzzle.

If the somethings were enemies, he reasoned, they would have attacked, would have taken some overtly hostile action or delivered some ultimatum or challenge. They were perhaps merely interested observers of these human strangers passing through space. Maybe they didn't even notice the Colonials, just happened to be passing by at the time. Or it could also be that the humans were traveling in or near what the unknown beings considered their home space, and they were keeping guard, or watching borders to determine the Colonials' intentions.

That possibility occupied his mind for a long time. A new people, new beings of interstellar capability and great power.... If they could contact these beings somehow, they might find allies, or at least warn them of the Cylons behind them.

"Captain, I believe we're making contact," Sif interrupted in her delicate accent. She refused to drop the speech patterns of their Highland home, despite yahrens away from Sagittara and the near-extinction of their people

Heimdal stared at his scanner as if he could force an image to appear there. "Contact with whom?" he asked. "I can't see anything on the scanner, or out there. Computer's not reading anything."

"The observers," she replied calmly. "Quadrant Delta, left 53 degrees, up 16 degrees. Three targets, closing on us, it appears."

That was Sif, saving her anxiety for something vital, not a minor matter like a possible attack by three unknowns, he thought wryly. He had a good wife, he thought for probably the thousandth time; their fathers had arranged well.

"I've informed the Galactica. Any further orders?"

"Stand by for evasive maneuvers. Try to get close to them without getting into their firing sights, if that's possible," he replied briskly.

Their ships flipped into a series of computer-assisted moves.

A moment later, Sif reported again. "Pegasus patrol in our quadrant, Captain, closing on us. They suggest we hang in there until they arrive."

Their maneuvers were no help. They were unable to close on the unknowns, who seemed to have reached their chosen distance, and were now simply matching the Colonial pilots' actions. After several centons of futile flying, Heimdal elected to try a new strategy.

"Sif, stand by. I'm going to try and contact the unknowns. Keep your scanners on full and your computers working overtime. We may get something from them."

Heimdal hoped he was opening a channel to the three strangers. "Attention, unknowns. This is Captain Heimdal of the battlestars Pegasus and Galactica, requesting identification. Repeat, this is a request for identification and communication. Please open a channel to us...."

* * * * *

Bojay and Boomer were on patrol when word came that Heimdal and Sif were encountering the mysterious aliens that had been following the fleet. They were instantly dispatched to assist. Sif acknowledged Bojay's call, so they knew the other pilots were aware of their imminent arrival.

"Why aren't we picking up anything?" Boomer muttered to himself several centons later as their Vipers, flying through starry night, encountered neither aliens nor the other pilots.

"They knew we were coming," Bojay called to him. "But there's nothing out here. Where could they have gone? We'd've detected turbo thrust if they tried to go anywhere...."

Unless they couldn't.

But there still should be something out there, preferably two Colonial Vipers, and maybe three other ships. At the very least, traces of debris, pieces of metal if the ships had been attacked and destroyed.

They flew for a long time, nearly a centar. Both the Pegasus and the Galactica sent other patrols to assist in the widening search.

There was nothing there. Heimdal and Sif had vanished.


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