Chapter IV


The patient had been brought partially out of suspension, and the injection had been made. Now, Captain Orestes was sequestered away from both the other pilots and the rest of life center. Dr. Helena and one of her finest med techs directly monitored the man; their self-imposed quarantine would end with his recovery – or they would make a trip through decontamination if he had to return to cryogenic suspension.

In the meantime, several concerned people kept vigil in the corridors surrounding the medical station. In life center itself, only a handful of family and close friends were allowed.

Several anxious centars passed without disturbance.

* * * * *

A shuttle arrived in the Galactica's Alpha landing bay – a Delphian shuttle. From the shuttle emerged a very young, very petite woman dressed in such an elaborate gown and costly gems that several pilots and techs in the bay stopped to gape at the exquisite dark-haired apparition. Her delicate golden skin and dark, slanted eyes were not unknown racial traits in the Colonies, but the way she carried herself, and the obvious alienness of her costuming, proclaimed distant royalty, a marvelous and fascinating strangeness that would have drawn eyes in even the wealthiest parts of the finest Colonial cities.

Accompany the regal visitor were more Delphians – several men of military bearing in knee-length, slit-sided red tunics with black trousers and boots. All were highly decorated with what appeared to be military honors and medals. Besides the usual laser side-arms, each also carried two long, curved blades of some kind, worn in solid sheaths tucked neatly away on their back and at their belt.

Seeing the weaponry, one tech whispered to a slack-jawed friend, "I think we're being invaded!"

His friend had no response.

Two women followed behind the Empress – both civilian, both elderly, both practically unnoticed in their simple clothing and deferential postures.

The young woman's gaze swept almost contemptuously over most of the personnel in the bay, ignoring the technicians entirely, studying the pilots briefly, and finally selecting one she could identify as sufficiently high-ranking for her need. She addressed herself to this man, moving to face him with small, evenly-paced steps.

The tall, brown-haired, comparatively pale-skinned flight officer in what seemed a very plain and functional blue uniform, stared down at her.

"We are Sumiko, Empress of the Delphian Empire, Daughter of the Royal Kindred of the Rising Sun, and more titles than we choose to relate here. We are on Imperial business, a mission of mercy and kindness," she announced to Omega. "You will now guide us to your life center."

Eyes popping, he glanced at her entourage. They looked serious. This was no joke.

"Of course ... um, your Majesty, I think...."

"It will suffice, considering your people's ignorance of us. Now, proceed to lead us to your medical station.

He obeyed.

* * * * *

There was a commotion outside life center. Electra and Sheba, the armed warriors present, drew their weapons at once and ordered everyone else to get out of sight of the door, and to stay out of the possible line of fire. People dodged behind cover.

Salik immediately intervened. "No! There will be no shooting in this medical facility. Too many people outside and in here–"

His voice died away, his eyes popping, as a Delphian warrior in the full formal regalia of the Imperial Honor Guard stepped into the chamber, boldly casting his eyes around the room and studying each person present, one hand resting on the hilt of the blade at his belt, the other lying easily on his laser butt. Determining to his satisfaction that the place was safe for his Empress, he strode back to the door and gestured through it.

The procession which had so bemused Alpha bay now invaded life center.

"What in blazes...." the doctor breathed.

The Pegasus crewmen present were more familiar with the somewhat barbaric-appearing display, and relaxed. Dr. Rafael and a pair of med techs even chuckled. Electra's concern turned from the newcomers back to the medic treating her brother.

A small, slender child in brilliant clothing, with her black hair twisted and braided into a high tiara, stepped boldly up to Salik. "You are the chief physician here?" she demanded.

"Yes. What do you think...?"

"We are Sumiko of the Delphian Empire. We have come to inquire as to the progress of your treatment of Commander Cain, and to express our concern for his recovery."

The elder man was taken aback. "We're testing medication right now...."

"Excellent. We shall observe." The girl's gaze traveled quickly to the double-sealed doors of the quarantine ward. She gestured regally at one of her guards, and, lifting the hem of her gown slightly, made for that door.

"Hold it!" Salik bellowed, catching her arm.

The tension level in the room jumped by a factor of ten as she turned a cold stare on him, and several of her honor guard half-drew weapons of antique and modern technology.

"Oh-oh," Rafael muttered.

Sheba and Electra would have drawn their weapons again, but found themselves already under the lasers of alert guardsmen.

One of the Galactica officers present, a lieutenant colonel, looked ready to speak, but thought better of it.

Flight officer Omega, who'd led the entourage, turned an odd shade of green, and looked like he wanted to disappear.

Rafael intervened before any more trouble or further misunderstanding led to anything bloody. He handed the comp-sheets he'd been studying to one of the med techs and swiftly started forward.

"There is no offense intended here!" he called to the silent, too-tense room. "Majesty, if I may explain?"

"We will hear you," Sumiko replied icily, pulling free of Salik's grasp and waving sharply at her guards. Suspiciously, they began to replace their weapons.

"Your Majesty cannot enter the ward," he began. "The man on whom we are testing the medication is still under quarantine, as are the other patients, until we have definite results. Until then, surely your Majesty and your people will understand that you, as the last daughter of the Royal Kindred and ruler of the Empire, cannot risk your life with an unknown disease we don't yet know if we can cure." He directed the last remark more at the guards and elderly chaperones. While the Empress was only sixteen and might perhaps ignore medical orders out of a sense of youthful invulnerability, they wouldn't let her risk herself in such a situation.

He was right. The most senior of the guardsmen stepped forward to touch the young ruler slightly, a frown on his face. The girl glanced at him, then at one of the old women, before turning a more controlled, level gaze on Salik.

"We understand your actions and your ignorance of our ways, Doctor, and we will forgive your enthusiasm to protect both your patients and ourselves, on this occasion. However, in future, be less free with your assaults. We will return to the Soul. Please relay all medical reports at once."

Chin held defiantly high, she turned back to the door and led her people from the medical chamber without another word or glance for anyone.

"Do you think they need a guide back to the bay?" Omega ventured with unusual trepidation.

"I doubt it." Electra stepped forward, fee to act again now that she didn't have a laser pointed at her. "The Empress has been aboard the Pegasus enough that she knows her way around. I think she just wanted to get attention by having an officer leading her party. This must have been quite a sight for the crew here! We're used to it by now, but your people...." She shook her head. "I can't believe she did it!"

"Asking for Cain," Rafael mused. He couldn't help the smile. Her believed infatuation for their commander was a secret rumor they'd all heard.

"Well, if he doesn't recover, the Delphians will probably leave the fleet," she reminded them all. "And, Dr. Salik? They take their Empress very seriously. We learned that early."

Salik sputtered his indignation. "You let that child and her people wander around armed like that, threatening people?" he demanded. "How in Sagan's name–"

"She doesn't do it often," Rafael interjected firmly, pushing curly dark hair out of his eyes. He discovered he was sweating. "They have a different culture...."

"And they want to join us?" the lieutenant colonel asked contemptuously.

"Not at all, sir," Electra replied smoothly. "It took a lot of convincing to get them to come with us at all. They've ... very independent."

The Pegasus crewmen laughed at that, as the last of the shaky Galactica personnel came out from hiding.

Good spirits gradually returning, and attention once again on Helena's frequent reports from the ward, the incident became something everyone would share with friends and family when their shifts were over – although any time spent under a desk or behind a life pod would be glossed over quickly, if mentioned at all.

"Uh, Omega, is it? If you've got a centon...."

The flight officer found Maj. Electra's slim hand resting on his arm as she spoke. He stared into violet eyes, and fell in love. "Any time, Major. What can I do for you?"

"First, you can call me Electra." She smiled, and he was in heaven. "I'd like to know where the Empress went, who she encountered, if you can remember. If there are any other misunderstandings or difficulties to be dealt with, I'd like to hear about them now, before our Colonel gets deluged with complaints from this ship."

"I just got off shift. I've got plenty of time."

"Good. Let's go over the–"

Voices were raised in the corridor outside, and several husky men in black uniforms ran into the room, lasers ready.

"Somebody here call for security?" one of them demanded pompously.

They all looked injured and uncomprehending when some people laughed at them, a few looked pained, and others simply scowled in response.

* * * * *

Kleopatra couldn't bear the dejected stares of her bridge crew as returning warriors reported no success in their search. The Galactica, too, was sending negative results, and the search patrols were being called back; no more time or fuel could be wasted in the fruitless search. Capt. Heimdal and Lt. Sif would be listed as "missing" and the search abandoned.

She turned from those sorrowful gazes to study the command screen before her.

After a moment, she spoke. "Tolan, as of this moment," she ordered softly, "this warship is on constant alert status. Inform the Delphians. I understand a shuttle from the Soul landed aboard the Galactica some time ago. Suggest to Commander Pa that if the Empress was aboard, they should send an appropriate escort of Sunriders to ensure her safe return to her ship."

"Right away, Colonel."

"I expect to be hearing from Commander Adama soon. Please have all pertinent data available for him. You know what's necessary."

"Yes, Ma'am."

She endured the silent bewilderment radiating from her people. She couldn't sink into personal gloom and confusion. If she ever encountered the aliens, she might ask them why they attacked complete strangers without warning or cause. Until such a time, she had to act to safeguard the people of the fleet, and her crew.

Kleopatra crossed her arms and prepared to wait.

* * * * *

Apollo didn't realize he'd forgotten to return his helmet until he was almost to life center. He shrugged. No matter. He wondered if he looked as haggard and bewildered as he felt.

His eyes flicked quickly over the scattered personnel in the corridor. The small, ever-changing group of people paid him little attention, caught up in their own conversations and private worries, concerned with their own responsibilities or ill companions.

Major Electra wasn't one of them. He moved on.

In the life station proper, things were more animated. He was surprised to find security personnel there, but not sufficiently concerned to ask what occasioned their presence. There was still no word on how the treatment was working, but something had obviously caught their attention.

Cassiopeia and Sheba were talking together; both waved at him. He nodded distractedly and continued searching for Electra. The surprised shock on his fiancι's face as he passed her by went completely unnoticed.

He exchanged greetings with other friends, but stopped to talk to none of them, until he saw the woman he sought. There you are. And I have to be the bearer of bad news. But I owe you that; those people were here from your squadrons. They were your friends.

"Electra," he asked quietly, "do you have a centon?"

She excused herself from Omega and followed him. They found a quiet spot next to a table that held a small tray of sweet-smelling herbs. The scent permeated the quiet corner.

"What is it, Apollo?" she asked.

"Heimdal and Sif...."

She tensed. "Yes?"

He took a deep breath and plunged in. "I don't know if you knew. They were on patrol. They reported contact with three targets, the aliens who've been tagging us. After one acknowledgment of their position, we lost communications with them. By the time Bojay and Boomer reached their coordinates, there was nothing there. No ships of ours, and no unknowns. We combed the sector for over a centar, and found nothing.

"Commander Adama and Colonel Kleopatra already know. They're being listed as missing. I thought you'd want to know. I'm sorry, Electra. We tried to find them." The helmet was becoming increasingly heavy, dangling forlornly from his hand.

She had gone slightly pale, whether from anger or grief he couldn't tell. He could see one of her hands clench and unclench. The major glanced toward the ward door. "I should have been with the search team, handling my responsibilities, instead of hanging around here," she muttered. "The doctors'll take care of them, whether I'm here or not...."

"They simply weren't out there," Apollo stated more strongly. "It didn't make a difference that I was there, and it wouldn't have mattered if you were there, either. There was nothing to find."

She took a deep breath and finally nodded, crossing her arms and letting her head drop. "I need to take a walk...."

"I'll walk with you," he volunteered.

She didn't refuse, so he went with her.

"I didn't really know them. They were only with us for a few days. What were they like?" he asked after a few moments. Use the old Academy therapy for dealing with grief – it had never helped him much, but it might help her.

She grimaced in comprehension. "Psychology, Apollo? If you insist...

"They were quiet, never made much fuss about anything, but they were two of the finest warriors we have ... had. I think, as long as they were together, there wasn't anything they were afraid to deal with. And somehow, they always managed to look like warriors, you know, the kind we used to see on recruiting posters, the ones our old instructors wanted us to be like at surprise inspections...."

Apollo understood. During the Academy yahrens, a cadet learned to become properly presentable in about two microns, without warning. Most warriors got sloppy when they left the training inspections behind and received their first assignments. It just wasn't always practical or possible to be constantly neat and uncreased.

Thinking about it, he'd never seen either of the missing pilots with so much as a hair out of place, although, admittedly, he'd only known them a short while.

Electra moistened her lips with the tip of her tongue, considering.

"What else?" Apollo prompted, feeling both a guilty sense of obligation to know more about the absent warriors, and pleasure in listening to her voice.

"They were Sagittaran, belonged to an odd religious minority – that's all on file, in their records. Heimdal joined the Service because he was a younger son, couldn't inherit. Sif joined to follow him, and liked it. They both found a place they were happy with."

"I thought only the Gemonese had problems with their cults and unusual philosophies."

"I think every Colony had its share over the centuries. On Gemon, they had so many groups getting involved in so much of society, they wound up with a theocratic council that spent most of its time arguing dogma, doctrine, and discipline until the First Renaissance brought the Reunion of the Colonies. Then they learned some sense. That's when the Sagittarans stopped trying to outlaw the Raggane sect.

"Their members marry young – Heimdal and Sif were only teenagers – and their sealings are arranged by their parents, with approval of sect elders. They got lucky and liked each other. Sif had a child before she went to the Academy – a girl – but I believe both their families were wiped out in the Destruction, along with maybe the whole rest of the sect. Not that it mattered much. I don't think the clan was pleased when they accepted assignment to a battlestar instead of to the ground base in the Raggane Highlands, so they were alienated from most of their people anyway.

"And those are the fact, on and off file, about their background. I really don't feel like saying anything more personal just now, Apollo. They were good friends, dependable warriors. But ... thanks for listening.. I know what you mean by it, and I appreciate it." She fell silent, walking with bent head and weary posture.

Damn! I know how she feels. And now that the aliens have begun to strike, we may lose many more. I wish we knew more about them, but they seem more powerful and threatening all the time. Do they understand how they're affecting us emotionally? Is this part of the plan? We need a way to fight back....

And the first things they would need to defeat were the wretched feelings of uncertainty and helplessness.

* * * * *

Her teenage Imperial Majesty the Empress Sumiko took a roundabout path through the Galactica in her return to Alpha bay, causing a sensation everywhere she went with her retinue, and surprising most of the crew so much that no one thought to call Commander Adama or security; nor did they have presence of mind enough to consider ordering her out of their sections until long after she'd already looked things over and left.

But eventually, she did return to her shuttle.

"Wait! Wait! I'd like to talk to you!" she heard as she entered the royally-outfitted craft.

Sumiko ignored the voice completely, trusting that Col. Sheng and his guard would deal with whoever was trying to detain her. She was correct; the newswoman and her video crew trying so desperately to reach her for an interview or just a few questions got not a word from the stoic, dangerous-looking group of warriors. One of the cameramen attempted to set up his machine to record their boarding and take-off; his equipment was confiscated, over protests which quickly ended when half a dozen well-armed men stared threateningly and let their hands rest meaningfully on weapon hilts and butts.

No interview. No footage for IFB.

The young Empress quenched her thirst after the walk with a light non-alcoholic beverage suitable for a girl of her age and exalted position, waiting pensively until her honor guard had taken their seats and she and her chaperones were closed off from them in her own traveling compartment.

"The Galactica is very like the Pegasus after all," she commented to one of the old women. "But I think I find Dr. Helena much preferable to this Dr. Salik."

Yakami nodded agreement. She was still outraged that the strange man had dared to thrust his arm in her royal grand-niece's path and prevent her passage, even if it was for her own good.

"And I do not think there is much courage in that medical staff. Most of them were trying to hide," she continued.

"We must hope they are at least competent in their medical duty," the old woman agreed solemnly.

"If Cain does not recover, we will not stay long," the girl announced firmly after a moment's meditation. "Unless we find another suitable to be our Prince Consort, which I think to be a matter of doubt."

The dowagers both nodded heartfelt agreement.

* * * * *

Helena watched her patient's vital signs closely. It had been several centars since the injection, and the medication should show some effect on the infection, if it was going to work at all. Orestes was almost completely out of suspension, and she needed some indication soon if she'd done it right. After days of fighting the illness, and the long time in the tube, his body's own immunity system couldn't hold up long against a fresh onslaught.

Brain wave patterns – returning to normal plateaus. Heartbeat and pulse – becoming more regular. Blood pressure – approaching normal rate for an unconscious male of his weight, height, and build. Endocrine and lymphatic systems....

The figure in the tube before her suddenly seemed to struggle against his confinement, gasping a deep breath of air.

After that gulp of life-sustaining gases, the man went limp again, resting quietly. Helena could detect the slight rise and fall of his chest that said he was now breathing normally, if shallowly – they could remove some of the tubing and needles.

"Galswintha?" she demanded in anticipation.

"Responses all appear to be positive, Doctor. I think we have a successful cure," the delighted med tech replied. "Wait! Slight flutter.... No, it appears to be a natural disorientation, easing now. Patient is in a condition close to heavy sleep, perhaps complete with dreaming."

For once, Helena's reserve cracked, and she shared her nurse's joy with a wide smile. The unusual expression was quickly brought back under control.

"We'll continue to observe the patient for a while longer, to be sure, before we announce a recovery to the others. But I believed you're correct, Galswintha. A few more days, and they should all be well again...."

* * * * *

"Here's the information Colonel Kleopatra requested, along with the signed requisition forms. You can deliver them," Tigh ordered his aide.

"I'm surprised you're not delivering them personally," Athena suggested playfully. Unlike most others, she knew, from a close working relationship with the colonel and the man's friendship with her family, of his previous ties with the temporary commander of the Pegasus. Also unlike many others, she was not above a gentle baiting of her superior when they were technically off-duty and in a less public area than the bridge. She had a good idea when Tigh could be teased – and she remembered and liked Kleopatra.

"Just deliver them!" he snapped. He was on a short fuse.

She glanced at the requisition list. "Mostly medical, I see," she commented more seriously. "After this long, I should think other departments would also be facing shortages."

"Apparently, along with using Delphian equipment, Commander Cain has not been above a little ... petty larceny from the Cylons. I doubt anyone would take him to task for it."

Tigh forced his attention back to the work on his desk, keeping his self-control to restrain himself from saying too much in the presence of this bright-eyed, sharp-witted young woman. At times, she was too observant, too quick to offer a comment or suggestion. If she could curb that tendency just a bit, learn a little more tact and control of her quick temper and emotions, she would make an excellent commanding officer some day.

But wasn't that what he'd always expected from Adama's second child? Wasn't that the reason he'd assigned her as his aide in the first place? He'd always liked and appreciated Apollo and his abilities; and Zac, too, had been a promising warrior. But of them all, Tigh expected the most from Athena.

"So the medical department has the greatest need. Natural, I guess, when you think about it," she continued thoughtfully. "Cylons materials can answer most equipment needs, and fuel and ammunition as well, but they just don't have the sort of stock we can modify for human medications. And since so much Pegasus equipment and personnel transferred here before Gamoray, they must really be short-stocked." She grinned. "All we have to do is give them back what they loaned us!"

"That's about the size of it. And now, Ensign, I must remind you that according to our limited shuttle service to the Pegasus, you can catch a ride in twenty-five centons, or you can commandeer a Viper, or you'll have to wait until tomorrow. I'm sure the Colonel would like to see those today, so we can begin resupplying in the morning. So, will it be the shuttle, or will you waste fuel by using a Viper for a messenger run?"

That was sufficient. Athena nodded, and scurried out of the colonel's quarters.

Tigh rubbed his eyes wearily. The last few days had been tense, wearing on him. And he hadn't had many opportunities to talk to Maruwa, or spend much time with her.

A relaxing evening might be just what I need....

* * * * *

The man seemed a little lost. Athena watched his back and red head as he hesitated in the corridor, arms akimbo, apparently trying to decide whether to go right or left. He wore a pilot's uniform – maybe he was one of the new cadets?

"Can I help you with something?" she called to him.

As he started in surprise and turned to face her, she saw the Pegasus insignia on his arm and at his throat. He was a full warrior, no cadet. She also noticed the two bright red braids that dangled from the side of his face to his chest. A Raggane, from the Pegasus!

"Umm...."

She smiled graciously. "You must be one of those we rotated over. Don't feel bad about being a little disoriented – every battlestar has its interior quirks, and the Galactica is next generation from the Pegasus. There were a few design changes, and they aren't all apparent enough, when you think you know your way around. I'm Ensign Athena." The man was handsome. She was impressed, and wondered if he'd be staying aboard long. How could she ask him without being misinterpreted?

"I'm Captain Thjis," he finally replied.

Maybe she was being too forward, considering what she'd learned of his sect?

"Can I help you find something?" she asked again. "I have to catch a shuttle in a few centons, but I can certainly direct you...."

"Not necessary. Just a momentary lapse of attention."

He was studying her keenly, and she suddenly felt uncomfortable. There was something analytical in his gaze, more as if she were a specimen than a woman. Was that the way a Raggane looked at outside women, or had she offended him?

He abruptly flashed her a brief smile. "I'm sorry, I don't mean to seem brusque or offensive, Ensign. I know where I'm going; perhaps I simply feel humiliated at being caught in my lapse of awareness. Please carry on with your duties, and I will go to mine."

"Yes, sir."

The smile was genuine, and she sensed no annoyance behind it, but there was something ... strange about the man. Was it his different background? As she walked away, she knew he was watching her, studying her moves, and she flushed, hurrying her pace to get out of his sight. There was nothing lewd or overtly offensive about it, but she felt disturbed, nonetheless.

"Perhaps I shall see you around the ship ... later?" he suddenly called out after her.

"Perhaps," she answered stiffly. But she wouldn't go out of her way to look for him.

* * * * *

Capt. Orestes had been transferred from the cryo-tube to an ordinary life pod. Helena was in closed conference with Salik, Paye, and Rafael, who'd done the most toward finding the cure, but Galswintha still directly monitored the patient, and Cassiopeia hovered nearby. She could assist if a problem should arise, or alert the physicians, but her main duty was to observe the stages of patient recovery so she could aid in resuscitating the other three warriors.

Experiments had definitely shown that the disease was non-transmissible by simple contact between humans, but was carried in the spores of an unusual fern that grew only in swamps or similar hot, wet environments. It incubated in human lungs, spreading through other physical systems, but could not advance to its next stage of development, or spread, away from its native environment and the specific trace elements therein.

There was therefore no chance of contaminating visitors. To be on the safe side, the temperature in the quarantine ward was lowered by several degrees, and personnel still took the precaution of using a decontamination chamber when entering and leaving, but Orestes was now allowed visitors. Cain, Falstaff, and Astarte were still in suspension until all tests and data could be verified. Then they, too, would be revived for treatment.

Electra kept vigil next to her brother's bed.

She'd left for the centars it took to complete her assigned duties, and to finish the paperwork on Capt. Heimdal and Lt. Sif – which Apollo had been gracious enough to assist with. She expected to be able to return the favor sometime soon. Working with the man was no problem.

Then she'd returned to Orestes's side, where she fully intended to wait until he was conscious again. Helena had assured her he was showing every sign of complete recovery, and from the med techs' relaxed behavior, she believed it.

She was tired. The place was so very quiet, the ward almost empty except for Orestes and the three cryogenic tubes, and the two nurses; she'd put in a long day. She felt herself nodding off....

"Chameleon!"

She started awake at the sound of voices, and a new arrival in the chamber. Blinking, she glanced over to see her father standing awkwardly at the entrance to the decontamination chamber. Galswintha merely studied the old man briefly before returning her attention to her monitors, but Cassiopeia was on her way over to talk to him.

Electra rose to join them.

"But what are you doing here?" Cassiopeia asked. She was obviously delighted at his presence, but confused as to why he should be there at all. Electra remembered that the last time she had tried to convince Chameleon to visit his son, the old man had refused, pleading that it was in their best interests if he did not. He'd clearly changed his mind.

The civilian waved a hand generally in the direction of the life pod. "I wanted to see how the Captain was doing," he replied in what seemed a confused manner.

Cassiopeia was firm. "Don't pull that on me, Chameleon. I know you too well. You've got a reason for being here. I don't know how Siress Blassie puts up with you!" The last was delivered teasingly. He had the well-do-do siress wrapped around his finger. "But I think you know we're still allowing only a limited number of visitors – mainly family, by doctor's orders."

He looked unhappy, and ready to leave, Electra could see. The almost accusing, I-told-you-so glance he sent her said plainly that he'd known this woman would be an obstacle.

"Wait!" she called on impulse. "Cassie, what's the problem here?"

"Umm, we have an unauthorized visitor – an old friend. He'll be no trouble, I'm sure."

"But he's allowed." She kept her gaze on her father.

His eyes were suddenly wide and panic-stricken; he shook his head minutely in silent plea. Don't tell her!

Cassiopeia glanced from one to the other. "How? He's not a relative, and I don't see how he could know you...."

"But he does, Cassie." She dropped her voice so it wouldn't carry to the dark-haired woman intent on her life-sign indicators, although she had no qualms about that woman's discretion. "Chameleon tells me he trusts you. That you keep one secret for him. Can you keep another?"

"Electra, no...."

"What do you mean?" Her voice was puzzled.

The major took a breath, and held Chameleon's arm. "Chameleon is our father. If he's not allowed here, no one is."

The old man held his breath, his eyes entreatingly fixed on the suddenly pale med tech.

Cassiopeia looked shocked. "But Starbuck...." She stared from one to the other. "If you're ... but then, that makes you...." Her smile became delighted. "Why, that means...." Puzzlement set in again. "But why haven't you told...?"

"Cassie...." The elderly man's voice was agonized.

Electra continued to explain, her own voice firm to cover some fear for her father. "The last time we were here, no one know about Starbuck. Then, you must have thought we were lost. Why tell a man about dead family after the fact, when he can't do anything but feel the loss and grieve?"

"But why not now, since you're back?" Cassie demanded. "He'll be delighted, I know it!"

"When the time is right, we'll tell him. But for now, it's better this way."

"How? Oh, the illness and all. But doesn't he have a right to know? I don't understand!"

"Cassie," Chameleon interjected heavily. "Starbuck is my son. Orestes and Electra are also my children. But there is something that will be more difficult to explain to him. They do not have the same mother."

She was taken aback. "I ... see," she replied slowly.

"I will tell him, Cassie, when I find the way, the words to explain. You know what kind of man I've been; so does he; this is only more proof. But it is still not easy. Give me time to do this right. Give him time. You say he will be delighted. He may also be shocked and angry. I don't want him to hate me – or you, for knowing and not telling him. Give us all time."

Cassiopeia thought for a moment, staring at the floor. Finally she looked up again. "I hope you're right, Chameleon. And I hope the time is soon. Starbuck won't hate you. How could he?"

The old man squeezed her hand, and looked thankful.

Electra felt less sure. That, Cassie, depends very much on how he is told, and how much. She sighed. Their mother's secret weighed on her very much just then, seeing the expressions of the other two people, both of whom loved Starbuck, and who both might hate her if they knew the whole truth.

"Major!"

"Yes!" She whirled at the call from Galswintha. The Scorpian woman's accent was more pronounced, something was happening.

"I believe Captain Orestes is waking!"

* * * * *

He was disoriented, weak and cold. He thought he might be floating, he felt so disembodied. It was cool; the heat that had tormented him for so long was gone. He wanted another blanket. He was shivering, and his teeth chattered. It wasn't dark, either. He could sense light from under his eyelids, but wasn't sure he wanted to look out at the world.

There were voices. He'd heard voices before, strange meaningless syllables and strings of sounds – but these were beginning to make sense. And he recognized some of them.

What had happened? He remembered the sweat, the heat, the filthy creature-infested mud and rank, stinking water – but there had been no Cylons left at that outpost, only rusty, silent hulks.... Then the heat got worse, and the world stopped making sense, and he hadn't been sure where he was. He had only wanted it all to go away....

And it finally had. But that had been worse.... A tomb? The chill and darkness of the grave? He shivered worse, quaking with fear as well as cold.

That voice! And a light touch, a warm touch, on his brow. He had to see, to know.... Orestes opened his eyes, tried to focus. He was sluggish; his body wouldn't react as he wanted it to.

"Hi, there, brother," said that gentle, worried voice.

He saw a pale face surrounded by a golden halo, peering at him. The female – he was sure it was – had violet eyes, lined with weariness. He surprised himself with his own observations. He could see those things, figure them out! He was pleased.

She was waiting for something.

Who is she? His mind was beginning to function again. My sister! Her name is....

"Hi, Electra...." Was that thin sound his own voice? It sounded as far away as he felt.

"Is he all right?" someone else asked anxiously.

"He'll be fine," that stranger was assured. "Final symptoms, a little disorientation and lingering weakness. He'll recover."

The closed-in feeling.... He was locked in something. The others were staring down at him, but he could barely move. He felt so exhausted. Help me get out of here. Make the feeling go away. I can't stay in this tomb....

"Maybe we'd better let him rest...."

"Sleep now, Orestes. I'll be here, and Father too."

Father.... Sister.... "Hey," he called as loudly as he could. They were drifting away from him, and he wanted to make sure they heard him. "Don't leave me.... Get me outta this thing...."

"First, sleep. Then, when you're better...."

Whatever it took.. "Get me out...."

Things faded, becoming more peaceful again.

* * * * *

The mood in the officers' club was glum. Several of the pilots had been involved in the fruitless search for the missing warriors, and their spirits were low, their attitudes perplexed.

The man who'd identified himself to Athena as Captain Thjis studied the scene thoughtfully. He tentatively stroked one of the red braids he wore. Most of these people wore standard military hair cuts. He was out of place, and knew it.

"People don' jus' dishappear in shpace!" somebody bellowed. "There'sh gotta be a reeshun f'r it! A loj ... cal excuse!" The man was yelling at a companion, and swayed drunkenly as he rose to make his point.

His friends pulled him back to his seat. They seemed as drunk as he, but more inclined to grief and despondency than to futile rage. They'd been overworked and emotionally drained.

Then Thjis noticed something else. Two of the warriors at that table were from the Pegasus. They hadn't noticed him, and were in fact paying little attention to anything beyond their mugs and their angry friend.

He turned quietly and left, without speaking to anyone.


Next Chapter

Main Index

Enter Sheba's Galaxy