Chapter V


The bridge personnel were tense, quiet, performing their duties in an undertone that carried to the watching commander only as a whisper. The sound echoed in the vast control center, distorting the hushed voices even more.

The muddle of speech at flight core command was more discernible. The Galactica was now in constant communications with the Pegasus, both ships more closely monitored their patrols, recording all chatter, and feeding all computer and scanner reports directly into one data bank. If further contact with now presumably adversarial aliens was made, the battlestars would know at once, and with one coordinating computer, perhaps something could be learned from whatever bits of information the pilots picked up.

The patrols had also been pulled in closer, confining most of their sweeps to the direct region of the fleet. The Pegasus had taken up a position flanking the scattered ships, guarding one side and maintaining direct scans of their rear.

The Delphian ships had even been convinced to pull in closer to the Colonial vessels. As most of their surviving craft were warships of one kind or another, they formed a small web of protection opposite the battlestars. The Imperial Soul, ship of the Empress, flew within the web. The Delphians still refused contact with the civilian ships of the fleet, other than required position checks.

Adama watched his crew as they carried out their responsibilities, but his mind was racing elsewhere. The Council of Twelve, so belligerent and secure only a few days before, had abdicated their civil control with panic-stricken haste now that two pilots had disappeared. The commander sighed. It seemed their rule must be absolute – when they felt no threats to themselves. At the first sign of danger, however, they became incapable of any decision. So they hurriedly handed control to him, returning the fleet to the military command they claimed to detest, with pleas to protect them, as was his warrior's duty.

Adama knew his duty, and wearily accepted the Council's change of heart. He'd planned the military protection of the fleet. The Delphians had agreed to assist after Kleopatra intervened with the Empress. Whether they had the resources to deal with the threat was questionable, something they would not share with the Colonials, but their aid would be welcome.

Will it be enough? Or are the aliens out there even now, planning the all-out attack that might annihilate us completely? What should our next step be? He rubbed his chin slowly.

They could proceed at their current snail's pace, only as fast as their slowest ships, watching and hoping no attack materialized; and just perhaps, the missing pilots would return. Their crawling pace might leave them more vulnerable to the aliens, but it kept the fleet intact. Were their numbers sufficient to ensure safety?

If he ordered all ships to full speed, hoping to outrun whatever lingered in this part of space, they might become hopelessly lost, spread out across a quadrant. And there was no guarantee any of them would survive, anyway. No, they had to stay together.

Was a complete halt in order, to seriously try and contact the aliens, convince them of their peaceful intentions? Beg permission to travel safely through their space? Perhaps even bargain for the return of the missing warriors, if they were still alive?

But we've tried that with the Cylons. There are some peoples, some forces, who have no respect for treaties or truces, for whom peace means nothing but a cunning stratagem to prepare a new offensive. I can't subject our people to that again, not while we have no idea who or what we're trying to deal with.

Behind them, the Cylons. Ahead or around them, the strangers who destroyed or plucked warriors from space without a trace. Are we caught in an inescapable trap? Lords forbid, are the two forces already allies, preparing to crush us between them?

I will not give in to despair. We will think of something. We must.

* * * * *

Tight wasn't able to sleep well. He finally gave up on dozing, a centar or so before his usual rising time. Leaving Maruwa asleep in his bunk, he showered and began to dress.

Somewhere between the uniform trousers and tunic, Kleopatra's quietly accusing words of a few days before came back to disturb him. What had happened to him? Why had he reacted so bitterly to her presence? Was he convinced she had become another Cain over the past few yahrens?

As silently as possible, so as not to wake his companion, he searched through one of the cabinets for a small, locked box far in the back, behind everything else. Seating himself on the bare floor in front of his desk, he set the box before him. But once he'd unlocked it, he found no courage to open it.

He'd put these things away after word came back about Molecay, when he'd believed Kleopatra was gone with the rest of the Fifth Fleet – and Cain. Their sealing had ended painfully, in bitterness and hurt pride, but he'd somehow always convinced himself it might have been different if not for Cain.

Commander Cain of the Pegasus. When the post of commander opened on the battlestar Solaria, not long before the Destruction, Tigh had been the one most often mentioned for it. But then Cain recommended his own executive officer for the position. With that bit of pressure, and the dazzling success record of the Pegasus commander, Tigh had been passed over, with apologies and assurances that the next ship was his.

That rankled enough. Under the present circumstances, he had no desire for a command of his own – he was close enough to observe Adama's difficulties with the fleet, and certainly had no wish to replace him! But at the time....

And then, the "living legend" had needed a new exec of his own. He'd offered the post to Kleopatra, then second-in-command at a ground missile base. She'd jumped at the chance, and had gone away to Molecay.

Where he thought she'd died. In the emptiness afterward, he'd locked all this away, as he thought he'd buried all his feelings for his ex-wife and Commander Cain.

But Cain had come swaggering back to the fleet after the Destruction, staying just long enough to be acclaimed a hero again. Then he'd vanished once more, like a myth, a legend, almost a deity. Tigh realized he hadn't forgiven Cain anything, and he wasn't ready to deal with Kleopatra again either.

So now, the Pegasus was back yet again, perhaps to stay. It was time he learned to accept it. As Kleopatra said, his pettiness was unbecoming an officer.

So he would start here. He pulled down the desk lamp, shining its small, bright circle of light directly onto the lid of the box, so he would be able to see without disturbing Maruwa's sleep. As he did so, he glanced at his desk chronometer and realized he's spent half a centar staring at the container already, simply reliving what he thought he'd put behind him.

Maybe I'm still not ready....

The woman sleeping in his bed knew about his past. Didn't he owe it to her, at least, to finally purge that past from his present?

With determination, he reached for the box, lifted the cover, and plunged in his fist to grab whatever came to hand.

A holo-picture. Their sealing day. Two rising young officers, married in civilian clothing at the home of a friend – Adama, only a major then, with three growing, exuberant children under foot. They'd both laughed, and hoped their choice of ceremonies would be a good omen for their future together.

It hadn't been. The Military had separated them so frequently, and somehow, between career conflicts and promotions, there had never been time for children, or a home away from ground base or starship.

Another holo, from the day she was commissioned a colonel. Such a proud day, after so much effort. They must already have drifted far apart by then, although he hadn't really felt the distance until after. How well did we know each other by then? Surely, thinking about it in retrospect, their careers had come first, not each other....

An album of flat photographs. Many from their courtship, some from the early days of marriage, pictures of friends and relatives. These were precious memories of loving times. There was no hurt in them, nothing to relive with regrets, except maybe that they were past and gone. He scanned each briefly, his jaw set against emotions, then set the album aside.

A handful of brochures and programs from places they'd gone, things they'd done. They were tied together with a length of ribbon, braid laughingly stolen from an old uniform. Memories of times and places shifted by the micron as he studied them. They'd met by chance, fallen in love so quickly, sealed before time could cool the first blush, one of the few times in his life he'd acted on such rash impulse.

But he'd never regretted it. Not even when they realized it was over, and she left him for her post. He'd sat in shock for centars, then gone out and walked until dawn. Maybe what he had most trouble forgiving was that they'd planned to visit Adama and Ila that day, a casual outing for two officers on leave who were also close friends. He'd gone alone, trying to behave normally – but instead of an amusing afternoon, he'd spent the time alternately railing against Kleopatra, the military, and Cain, and crying for his broken life. Thank the Lords, Adama and Ila had understood and cared enough to listen.

But he didn't regret the yahrens spent with her....

Finally, the last thing in the box. Their sealing ribbon, and the certificate of union. He lingered over it, remembering, wincing as his thumb caressed the melted seal. The wax was heated and smudged at their dissolution, when the silvery ribbon was cut. A union for all the eternities, ended long before the first had gone. He rubbed his fingers slowly over the frayed end of the band.

He heard a muttering from the direction of the bed. Glancing that way, he saw another woman stirring, stretching long ebony arms as she woke.

He began to replace the items he'd replaced, his expression thoughtful. In spite of it all, I've never regretted Kleopatra....

Maruwa's face came into view over the edge of the bunk. "Tigh?"

"Good morning. I hope I didn't wake you."

"No...." Wrapped in a sheet, she padded lithely across the room on bare feet, to flick on some lighting. "Have you been up long?"

"A time. I didn't sleep well." He closed the lid.

"Oh." She stood behind him, flexing her nimble fingers on his tense bare shoulders. "You have the look and feel of a man who has just spent time in the past," she commented, beginning to knead the muscles of his neck.

"I did."

"Not a nice trip?"

"I'm not sure yet. Got time for breakfast before you have to return to the Tukulor?" Catching her hands, he rose to his feet and turned to face her.

"Certainly." She giggled slyly. "May I dress first? And I think you should put a shirt and some boots on, or we'll look a totally disreputable pair."

He had to laugh at the coy glance she shot him, and released her hands to reach for the tunic he'd dropped on the desk almost a centar before.

He enjoyed watching her dress. She had a marvelous figure, for a woman of any age, and nature had left her face as unwrinkled and her hair as dark and free of gray as a young girl's. If he didn't already know her age, he would have taken her to be young enough to be his daughter – if he'd ever had one.

"You know," she commented as she caught her tightly-curled hair into its gold clasp, "my brother thinks this relationship is worthless."

"What?" He stared, perplexed.

"He's a cameraman in Zara's crew. Apparently, she spent all yesterday afternoon ranting because she missed an interview opportunity with the Empress. They even lost some film, and felt humiliated because 'her royal Majesty' snubbed them. Or so his boss feels."

"What's that got to do with our relationship?"

"Dear brother proceeded to complain to me that, as I know you and have some access to this ship, I ought to have known and informed him about the lady's visit in advance, whereupon he could have scored points with the temperamental Zara. As I did not do so, you are obviously not trusting me enough to tell me things. Ergo, there is no substance to our relationship. Faultless logic – for a little brother."

Tigh snickered. Maruwa held her expression to a grin.

"And you told him?"

"I said I didn't have time to talk; we had plans. Which promptly lit his pointed little face with journalistic greed."

"What does he want you to find out?"

"Anything I can. Preferably, something about the Empress, so Zara will feel better and have her exclusive."

"Hmm." Tigh stared over her shoulder into the mirror as she applied a light coating of lip salve. "Good thing I can trust your discretion. And, believe me, we would have liked to have known about the Empress's visit in advance!"

* * * * *

Orestes woke to a headache and a cross feeling. He stared around at what was obviously life center – but was equally obviously not the Pegasus or her personnel. He was in a life pod, but he could deal with that. He tried to sit up, felt dizzy, but clenched his teeth and fists until the feeling was gone. This time he managed, supporting himself on his hands.

"Are you sure you should be up, Captain?" inquired a voice in his ear.

He moved too fast, but kept the faintness away. The disorientation was still there; he didn't recognize the woman.

"Who're you?" he demanded ungraciously, his voice unsteady.

"Hestia. I'm a med tech, and you're aboard the Galactica, to anticipate your next question." She had a nice smile.

"Oh. Why am I on the Galactica?"

"Colonel Kleopatra brought you here."

He felt like an idiot. The Colonel.... Then the Commander's sick! And the others! It was no delusion of his own illness.

"How are they?" he demanded. "The Commander, the others, how are they?"

"They're undergoing treatment right now." She had an injector in her hand; he didn't trust it.

"Where's Electra?"

"She's on patrol." He was right! She gave him a shot. "Even she has to work sometimes, and catch a little sleep now and then."

"Is that what I'm going to do?" he asked plaintively, rubbing at the painful pinprick on his arm, although the motion nearly caused him to lose his balance and fall back into the pod.

The woman laughed. "Very likely. It's the best way to keep rude patients like you resting where they belong!"

It was too late to grumble. But there must've been something in the shot for pain, too, because the fuzzy ache began to fade as soon as his head hit the pillow. Now, if they'd just put me in a real bed....

* * * * *

"Again? You know, Jolly, I'm starting to worry about you!" Greenbean poked a finger at his wingman's chest. "It must be some kinda bug goin' around, this urge to tie oneself down to one woman...."

The sergeant looked aggrieved. "I see a girl more than one night...." he began to complain.

"Ah, but it's when those 'more-than-one-nights' start coming night after night, and we hear of nobody else, that we know there's something serious going on!" the blond warrior leered.

"Never fear, oh faithful companion. The Captain may have chosen to seal to his lady love, but I'm not ready for that fateful step!" Jolly declaimed, stroking his mustache.

Greenbean grimaced. "Right. I'll remember that two days from now, when you come floating in here again – just in time to shower and dress before being late for patrol."

"Who's late for patrol?" inquired a third voice.

The two warriors welcomed the new arrivals with waves. Jolly and Greenbean were checking out gear for their scheduled patrol; Apollo and Starbuck had just returned from one, and were dropping off their helmets in the ready room.

"No one's late, Starbuck," the hefty man insisted with a significant glance at the captain. "That's just the kid, getting dramatic again."

"Kid!"

"Shut up, Greenbean. Spot anything out there, Skipper?"

Apollo shook his head. "Not a thing, Jolly," he replied wearily. "If they're out there, we can't find them. And if they're gone, we've no idea where they went." He slapped the big man's shoulder as they walked by. "Be careful out there. Constant communications, you know that from the briefing. Don't take any chances."

He walked away without another word. Starbuck delivered a shrug and meaningfully forlorn look as he followed.

The two pilots exchanged glances

"As if we could forget that briefing?" Greenbean muttered. "But the Captain and the Major laying into us all like we were first-orbit cadets...."

"Can it, Greenbean. We got a patrol. Let's go."

Both men's expressions were grim as they grabbed their helmets and headed for their waiting Vipers. Somber technicians gave their ships one last pat for luck before they were given the okay for launch. Then they were away.

* * * * *

"Identify yourselves, please!" the major demanded tensely. One finger rested lightly on the firing control while her thumb hovered over turbo thrust. It was an awkward position for her hand, but she intended to keep every option open every micron. If the aliens came again, she wouldn't be caught unprepared.

"Patrol Six, Pegasus, Boomer and Bojay," came the response.

She breathed again. "Sorry, Bojay," she apologized. "We're a little tense out here. This is Patrol Two, Electra and Akimi."

"Understood, Major. Spot anything?" Bojay asked.

"Nothing," she sighed. "And I don't know if that's good or bad. But it's been some long centars, and I'm glad to be going in."

"We're heading out. Maintaining communications net as ordered, exchanging idents with everything we see, whether it's a ship or a star," he parroted.

She was able to laugh. "Was I really that bad at the briefing? I must've been a real martinet!"

"We got the point," he replied dryly.

Electra could hear Boomer and Akimi trying to hide their chuckles over the exchange – and was that Memnon as well, on the bridge, listening to their chatter? Well, the laughter would relieve a little of the pressure.

"Okay, Bojay, the stars are yours. We're going in."

"See you later, Major."

Or at least, they could hope so.

* * * * *

Athena scurried. She was already a few centons late for duty, and the way things were on the ship that morning, the commanding officer would have her hide for it, her father or not.

"Oops!" She rebounded off someone's chest, automatically putting up her arms to prevent a fall. "I'm sorry!" A glance upward, and her words died. "Captain Thjis, I didn't see you...."

"So it appears," he responded drily.

She was surprised. She hadn't really expected to see the peculiar red-haired officer again. But there he was, just when she had no time for him. And he'd cut his hair.

"But...." Her fingers automatically reached for where a braid should have been.

"Are you surprised? Displeased?" He seemed anxious.

"I.... You cut your hair! I didn't think your people...."

"And how many of my people still exist in the fleet?" he inquired. "It seemed ... more appropriate this way."

"I see." The Raggane were almost completely wiped out in the Destruction. There aren't more than a handful, maybe a few dozen survivors. But that doesn't explain.... "I thought it was a religious marking as well as ethnic, a ... a...."

His eyebrows lifted. "Are you babbling? I didn't expect such a simple thing to have such an effect upon a young woman."

I'm blushing like a little girl! Why? It's his own business!

"I had hoped I might see you again," he continued. "I am free of duty for a time. What is your schedule?"

"My.... Oh, not now! I'm late for shift right now!" She was horrified, considering the centons lost, and how to leave Thjis quickly without appearing rude.

"I do not mean to detain you," he insisted swiftly. "Nor is my purpose to cause you distress. Please, attend your duties. I will look you up later, if that is more convenient." He took her arm, and began leading her in the direction of the bridge, gesturing her onward. Athena was surprised at the strength in that touch.

"Yes, later would be more convenient...." she told him breathlessly.

"Excellent," he replied complacently. "Until then." He released her arm and touched her hand, then nodded and walked leisurely away, leaving her gaping.

Who is this man? Should I see him again? He's handsome, but so ... different. I've never met anyone like him before, not among the military or the civilians. Not even in the motley groups of people anywhere in the fleet. And he cut his hair. He's good-looking – bears a bit of a resemblance to that missing captain from the Pegasus, actually – with their genetic pool, a lot of them probably looked like that! And without the odd braids, he looks so ... normal....

She had a guilty start as she realized she was comparing the man to another warrior – Starbuck, who might or might not claim her attention, depending on his mood at any given centon. A charming warrior who couldn't be pinned down, her brother's friend, who had swept her off her feet, but seemed disinclined to do more than hold her while his eyes wandered over the competition. He'd been her standard of comparison for nearly two yahrens now. But....

What kind of man was this Captain Thjis – and did she have any right to want to know?

Her scurry turned into a dash as she ran for the bridge, hoping to leave her thoughts behind.

* * * * *

Sheba was willing to wait until Judgment Day, once she knew that a cure had been found. Whatever it took, she would not leave him. Her face would be the first her father saw as he roused from his sleep.

The doctors had brought their three remaining patients out of cyrogenic suspension that morning, giving each the hopefully proper dosage of the discovered medication, using drip tubes instead of a one-time injection, to lessen the stress they'd observed as Orestes came out of it.

Since then, with Salik's permission, she had stood watch over Cain, holding his cold hand, longingly watching for any movements or twitches that might betray returning sensation. The monitors continued their silent reports to the med techs on duty, but she waited for a more important indicator – open eyes, and the recognition of a father for his daughter. She would be there.

The centars are so long. Why isn't Father waking up? Cassie's watching his life signs. She's a good friend; maybe she can tell me if something's wrong.... Sheba left Cain's life pod to speak to Cassiopeia.

"Isn't it taking an awfully long time?" she asked anxiously. "Is it working?"

Cassie tried to smile. "It took a long time for Orestes to come out of it, too," she assured her. "And now, look at him, giving all the pretty med techs a hard time in the open ward! Give him time. We're still adjusting, still trying to make sure we've got just the right treatment for each patient, and the medication is being administered differently–"

"You're still experimenting?" Sheba broke in, horrified. Were they risking her father's life?

"No, no, not at all, not the way you mean. We know it works. It just takes time. Astarte and Falstaff are still out too. Each patient has a different metabolism and is in different physical condition. We're watching each closely, but we expect minor variations in their rates of recovery, small physical fluctuations as they come out of it. That virus almost killed them; you don't recover from something like that in a few centons!"

"I know. It's so hard to wait, when it's already been so long...."

Cassiopeia touched her hand. "I know, Sheba, believe me."

She looked up. Yes, she knows! In spite of Starbuck, does she still love my father? Does he love her? She squeezed the hand in return. Cassie had kept watch over Cain for so many days and nights. How could she doubt there was still a deep emotional commitment there?

"The best thing for you might be to get some sleep," the med tech continued. "You look awfully unsteady. How will Cain take it if he wakes up just as we're putting you into bed for complete collapse?"

Sheba shook her head determinedly. "No, I'll stay here. You said yourself it's just a matter of time, maybe centons or centars, before they show some reaction. I'll be here, for my father."

"At least eat something. One of us can bring it for you."

"If you say so. Anything is fine, just bring it here." Her attention was already back on the life pod.

Cassiopeia sighed. Whatever food they brought, Sheba would eat it without knowing or caring if it was the finest catered cuisine or a slab of protein on dry bread. A tray might sit ignored for centars before it occurred to her to eat, or might even be a total waste of precious supplies.

And her friend hadn't slept properly in the secton since the Pegasus arrived. She was too caught up in her father's illness. Perhaps that was normal, since she hadn't seen the man in so long, and they had always been so close....

But at least she could insist that Sheba eat. Shaking her head, she called another tech to fetch a tray.

* * * * *

"You think Sheba will be in life center?" Starbuck asked as they walked.

"When has she been anywhere else this past secton?" Apollo countered quietly. He was still disturbed, had a lot on his mind.

"True." But why am I bothering to go with you? Sheba wasn't the only one who spent all her time in life center these days. Cassie would be there as well, fussing over Cain.

She'll be there. Apollo and Sheba will likely stay all night, like they've been doing. Boomer and Bojay are still assigned to the Pegasus. Greenbean and Jolly just left on patrol. Giles is on furlon. Can't even get a good pyramid game going at this rate. All my friends are ... occupied one way or another. Maybe I'll see what's happening in the officers' club. He briefly considered partners for such an evening.

Maybe I'll just get a good night's sleep for a change – alone!

That thought left him feeling as depressed as Apollo looked.

Life center was a pleasant, busy place. The gloom of anxiety and apprehension over the unfamiliar illness and the condition of its victims had lifted. Despite lingering fatigue, the medical staff seemed more lively, refreshed, and even cheerful.

The warriors stepped aside as two cryo-tubes were wheeled past them back to storage. Their occupants had been transferred to the regular ward. The men pushing the equipment were laughing.

"Things must be lookin' better," Starbuck muttered.

Apollo gave some distracted response, but his keen eyes were already sweeping the large, open chamber.

Three recovering patients were clustered together at one end; one of them in particular, Capt. Orestes, seemed to be enjoying the attention of a number of visitors. The other two, a young man and an even younger woman – Falstaff and Astarte, he knew – appeared less interested in company and more interested in a little sleep. It looked like one of the physicians was ready to oblige them, shooing the small contingent of personnel – mostly warriors from the Pegasus – toward the door.

Apollo scanned in vain for Sheba or her father. He caught the arm of a passing med tech.

"What about Commander Cain?" he asked.

The vibrant brunette – Galswintha, Pegasus, he placed her – gave him a quick study before her eyes flicked back to the quarantine ward. "Commander Cain is still under direct observation. His daughter is with him. I believe the doctors will permit you to join them."

He thanked her and moved in that direction.

Her appraisal of Starbuck was different. Although he offered her his most persuasively charming smile, she shook her head decisively. "Only family, at this point, Lieutenant. You'll have to leave with the rest."

She left him standing before he could raise any opposition, moving directly toward one of the doctors just off-duty. Starbuck knew the look she gave the medic. It would be a waste of time to argue; the two of them obviously had better things planned.

Now feeling truly deserted, since Apollo had hurried away without a glance, Starbuck turned to leave, forlornly anticipating a lonely night.

The movement of one of the civilian visitors caught his eye. He recognized the almost furtive gesture as the elderly man tried to hurry out of sight. His spirits jumped precipitously.

"Chameleon!" he called in pleased surprise.

The old man looked about as though confused before allowing his attention to settle on the warrior. Merry old eyes widened. "Why ... Starbuck, whatever are you doing here?"

"I was about to ask you the same thing!" Eager steps quickly closed the distance between them. "Haven't see you in sectons. How are you doing?"

He liked the old man. They were friends. While the circumstances of their meeting had been bewilderingly fast-moving and ultimately a painful disappointment, he'd gotten over it, and had found many similar interests and pleasant times. Chameleon was a man he enjoyed knowing, and he'd even learned a few things from the scoundrel's long life and freely-shared experiences.

"Oh, uh, I'm just fine. And yourself, Starbuck?" Behind the genuinely pleased smile, he detected something nervous.

He shrugged with a half-smile, recalling that the news of the alien ships and the two missing pilots were still military matters, not something to frighten civilians with, except the Council. "Getting by," he hedged. "Things are still stirred up with the Pegasus coming, and all."

The official line, delivered from the military through the Council, and passed along via the inquisitive, prying media people, was that the arrival of the other battlestar meant the fleet could finally be properly protected. It also meant most of the civilians were celebrating noisily, when they weren't equally noisily demanding more information. The warriors kept their fears to themselves, and their officers tried to form battle plans and analyze the aliens' possible strategy. The Council, more aware of the danger than the general populace, buried themselves in the rejoicing, as if forgetting them would make the aliens go away.

"Yes, yes, I'm sure of that," Chameleon nodded sagely.

They were silent for several moments, each watching the other intently.

"Getting a physical check-up?" Starbuck ventured. "I'm surprised you managed to get an appointment, with all the attention the sick people have been getting."

Chameleon waved off the sidelong question. "Orestes is a gambler, much like you and me. I met him a long time ago. When the opportunity arose to come here, I took it ... and fortunately, Cassie didn't see it as her duty to throw me out!"

Starbuck chuckled. "I see! Well, she's been preoccupied these days, probably forgot what you're capable of! So ... what are your plans now?"

"Well...." he considered in a too-innocent voice. "I suppose I could try to find a shuttle back to the Senior Ship. Siress Blassie should be around somewhere...."

"Might be tough, this time of day," the warrior observed in an equally innocent tone. "You may have to spend a few centars here on the Galactica...."

Chameleon rubbed his chin. "I suppose...."

"If you're not doing anything, maybe you'd like to spend a little time in one of the lounges?"

The civilian laughed. "All right, Starbuck, so much for the required amenities of the game. If it won't compromise your military secrecy – yes, I know you're hiding something – I'd love to spend some time with you."

* * * * *

Only one cryogenic tube remained in the near-empty ward, and the woman Apollo sought was hunched over it, heedless of anything but the man resting within. Dr. Salik had joined Cassie at the monitors, his frown accenting already deeply-etched lines on his forehead and around his mouth. The delicate situation of the last few days seemed likely to make the wrinkles permanent. Helena stood next to Sheba, her attitude one of detachment and competent reassurance.

Apollo wondered if he should intrude, or simply leave quietly.

Sheba straightened suddenly. "But why?" she demanded both of the medics and of the empty room. "Orestes and the others are recovering! Why isn't my father? Why is he still lying here like this?" Her voice was shrill, almost hysterical, and she was very close to tears.

"Sheba," Helena tried to explain calmly, "the other warriors are young, like yourself, in prime physical condition. Your father, much as one hates to consider it, is no longer a young man. It is only to be expected that it will take longer for the medication to take affect and for him to fight off the illness. His constitution is weaker–"

"His constitution is fine!" his daughter erupted angrily.

The attack left Salik looking concerned, this time for the lieutenant's health and state of mind, while Helena simply settled further back on her dignity and continued.

"Having treated your father from the time he contracted this illness, I can state with certainty that he has been more greatly affected because of lesser immunity to its debilitating effects; he is more susceptible, for some reason, and his symptoms have been worse. It's only been a few centars. We fully expect a positive response at any time. We're allowing for the Commander's individual reaction to both virus and treatment."

"But how much longer?" the young woman cried in unconcealed anguish.

"Have faith in your father. He'll pull through," Helena told her reassuringly. Seeing Apollo standing there, she nodded at him and moved away to confer with Salik.

She didn't even look at Apollo. Her hands were clenched at her sides, and she was fighting back tears.

"Sheba?" It twisted his own emotions to see her hurting this badly.

She whirled, and a moment later was in his arms, shaking as she hid her face against his shoulder. He held her for a few centons, then slowly lifted her chin to see her face. She was still dry-eyed, had somehow contained the tears – in fact, looked almost defiant, as if she refused to cry. She was still determined to show no weakness. The mask cracked only where this one man was concerned.

"He'll be all right." What else could he say? Her arms tightened around him, grateful for his presence and words, and she leaned wearily upon him. Understanding her feelings as he did, and sympathetic, he was still pleased that she turned to him like this. She still needed him a little.

"Try to get her to sleep, Captain," he heard Salik murmur. He saw Cassie's concern as well, divided between her best friend and her erstwhile lover.

"I'm not leaving!" Sheba insisted through his uniform shirt.

"We can call you the micron–"

"No!"

Apollo sighed. It would be another long night.


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Main Index

Enter Sheba's Galaxy