Chapter VI


"But these Delphians don't seem to accept us as even marginally competent pilots, Boomer!" the shorter woman complained.

"I know, Brie," the dark-skinned warrior sighed. "They're a very reserved people, and it takes time–"

"Reserved? That's one way to put it!" the second woman griped. "And Boomer, do you know, there're parts of this ship we're not allowed into? And the crew just shrugs it off!"

"We get the same treatment. I understand that's family quarters, women and children, and they're very private about their families."

"But completely off limits? To other women? And I'm beginning to think Delphian children are a figment of somebody's imagination!"

The pilots continued their indignant tirade as the three warriors moved away from their ships. Their words and actions were overseen and carefully noted by an alert pair of dark eyes watching from a small hiding place. As the Colonials disappeared, a girl scampered into sight, carefully checking first to be sure she was alone in the long, narrow launch bay. Certain that she was unobserved, she turned her attention to the ready Vipers, climbing onto a launch track to run a delicate hand over the gleaming finish of the craft's nose. Her admiration was evident in her delighted smile.

"Some day," she whispered to the silent machine, "I'm going to fly you, just like they do."

"Do you think so, sly one?" a quiet voice asked in the same near-reverent tones.

"Mother!"

"Inari, I expected you to be with your brothers, not running loose through the ship," Lt. Mriko admonished the child. "And what if your father, or one of the pilots, found you here? You belong with the rest of the children."

Inari pouted, flouncing down to settle herself on the launch track. "But why can't we come here any more? I like it here. Why does Father want us to stay away from the pilots of the other ship?"

Her mother sat beside her, smoothing her loose trousers in a natural gesture. "It's only for a little while, until we are more sure of the future. You can obey orders for a little while, can't you?"

"But I thought we were staying with the fleet!" the girl objected. "And we can't see our friends, either," she continued mournfully. "I miss them. Edric is nice to us. He makes toys."

"You are almost too old for toys, and you should learn better to obey, or you will never earn a ship like this." She reached out to stroke the craft shadowing them. "On Commander Cain's ship, you have to follow orders."

"I can follow orders, when they're not stupid!" Inari insisted. Then she looked down. "But I don't think Father wants me to fly a Viper and be a warrior. I can do it, just like Akimi. Father doesn't stop her...."

"She is not his daughter. You are."

"Does that mean I can never fly?

Mriko smiled and gave her daughter a hug. They were alone, after all. "In time, sly one, I think you will be one of the best pilots on this ship. And I think your father will be very proud of you. But for now, you must join the rest of the children."

Inari grinned delightedly as she slid off the track and dropped to the deck. She looked at the fighter for a moment, as if sharing a secret and giving a promise, then ran for the shadows, disappearing as completely and as quickly as she'd appeared a few centons before.

The Delphian woman watched fondly, then leaned back to think. My daughter wants to fly a Viper. She wants to be a warrior, like Akimi. Husband, how will you take this? She doesn't even consider our force, but only a future on this ship, with these people....

Our leaders may frown, but the thought ... pleases me.

Kenji, we must decide something soon.

* * * * *

Apollo was exhausted. The centars in life center, waiting for some reaction from Cain, were telling on him. Sheba was under the most strain, he knew, but his own attempts to lend her emotional strength were draining him. And she didn't seem to notice or care, or even benefit from it. She was becoming more and more short-tempered from her own lack of rest, and was snapping at others – including him.

Finally, he needed a break, to relax his own tension. Getting some sleep might be the better idea, but he was determined not to abandon Sheba. He decided to settle for a quick trip to the mess.

It was late. They were no longer serving meals, but an off-duty warrior could still get something to drink and a snack or sandwich. One steward was on duty to tend the machines.

"Something hot and stimulating," he told the woman, not bothering to look at the menu.

She glanced speculatively at him, but held her tongue and passed him a steaming mug.

He took the pungent-tasting drink and sat in the farthest corner, being in no mood for company, even if there'd been anybody else in the empty dining room. All he wanted to do was down his drink, have a few peaceful moments, and get back to life center.

Voices drifted to him after a number of centons. Lifting his morose gaze from the steaming beverage, he noted his sister, obviously recently off duty, chatting with some redheaded warrior as they, too, picked up something to drink. He grinned tiredly, watching as they sauntered to another corner together. Just a friend, or did Starbuck have competition?

Well, the last thing I need just now is to get involved in somebody else's love life. I've been caught in the middle enough times between Athena and Starbuck. I don't think I'll say anything....

Feeling more invigorated already, Apollo managed a smile as he finished his drink and slipped out the door.

* * * * *

The cold receded in pulsing waves, replaced by a different kind of throbbing weakness throughout his awareness. The feeling was familiar; it had happened to him before....

Ah-hah! Suspension! Cain was coming out of suspension, sensing the retreat of the cold with every heartbeat, with the returning warmth of each surge of blood. His pulse quickened as he came back to life from the chill and silence of the cryogenic tombs that medical was so quick to inflict upon the already ill.

On some level of consciousness, he could even detect that he was breathing. But it would be some time before he could truly awaken. Sometimes, this instinct for existence was difficult for his impatient nature, but it had kept him alive innumerable times in the past. He would endure it now.

What happened to me? He tried to focus his disconnected thoughts on the past. Cylons.... A base planet, some kind of hades-hole.... It always had something to do with the treacherous metal enemies who'd done their best to commit genocide against the humans of the Twelve Colonies. The Cylons must have hated that world. It was wet and muggy, with tropical growth and constant mist. They couldn't have been there long – just long enough to build a handful of structures, burn out a few acres of swamp, and rust away. Overgrowth of all kinds had penetrated the metal shelters and laboratories. The machine beings must have been gone for some time, for the world to have so thoroughly reclaimed its own. And the life forms! They, too, had made free with the rusted hulks of metal that once were functioning Cylon units.

He respected that world; it was capable of defending itself against its foes. Apparently, it counted humans among its enemies as well. He vaguely remembered a landing of some kind, then nothing but chill, and faces floating haphazardly into focus, never quite defining themselves....

But he was aware of reality again. There were voices, lights, and a face – the sounds and sensations of familiar places and people.

Dr. Helena. That was to be expected, in life center. She was speaking, looking away. Slowly, the words began to make sense to him; she was calling to somebody, beckoning that other person near.

Sheba. That's the name. I know Sheba....

A face, bending over him. A young woman, her dark-blonde hair tied back in a proper military knot so it couldn't fall over her face and get in the way. He saw a wide, trembling smile on lips that spoke syllables he still couldn't decipher immediately. Her eyes were brown, not like his, but the image of another woman's; they brimmed with tears, small drops that suddenly splashed onto his face, hot and stinging.

Sheba....

A hand grasped his tightly. It felt cold. A second hand stroked his face, smearing the tears she'd shed as she tried to wipe them away. She spoke again; he could hear her, knew it was a question. It was difficult, but he moved his lips into the proper shape for a response, ordered air from his lungs to make a sound.

"Sheba...."

"Father!"

"Baby...." This was his daughter, born of his flesh and that of the woman he had loved. But.... Aren't you dead?

"We'd better let him rest...." Another voice – the doctor again.

"He's coming out of it! He knows me!"

"'Course I know you, baby...." he said with an effort.

"Sleep now, Father. I love you!" More tears, a tighter grip on his hand, almost painfully intense. Her voice was choked with joy.

"I love you, Sheba ... and I want ... to see you again...."

"I'll always be here...."

The pinprick of a needle, and a growing distance. Sleep.

* * * * *

"Commander?"

Adama started at the voice from his personal comm board. He'd asked that he be called if any emergency arose, even in his sleep period, but the voice didn't sound worried. He leapt from his bed and hurried to his desk to answer the call.

"Yes?"

"This is life center. Commander Cain has regained consciousness, and he seems to know who and where he is. He's sleeping now, but Dr. Salik suggests you should be able to see him in the morning."

He could have cheered. "Thank you. Pass the word to Colonel Kleopatra, doctor. However ... keep this quiet from the general crew, for now."

"Yes, sir," the voice replied crisply.

Adama knew he wouldn't be able to sleep any more. He decided to check on bridge status, perhaps even to pull a surprise inspection of the pilots' quarters to see how they were faring under the stressful situation – although that was more in keeping with Tigh's style.

Then breakfast – and a visit with Cain.

* * * * *

Starbuck had finally sent Chameleon off, feeling a little guilty about the all-night binge in the lounge. But it was nothing a few centars' sleep wouldn't cure. And since he had no patrol scheduled – unless Apollo called him suddenly, or they went on alert – he should be able to get that undisturbed rest.

He whistled cheerfully as he made his way back to his quarters. His head felt remarkably clear, despite all the alcohol he'd consumed during the previous centars. From the smoke in the lounge when they left, he was sure he'd gone through a secton's supply of fumarellos too. The diversionary card game hadn't cost him too many cubits, and Chameleon had actually come out ahead in it, so he couldn't really complain about that, either. All in all, an entertaining and well-spent night.

Of course, the old man had retained a certain reticence about his reason for being on the battlestar. The sick captain could be an old friend, Starbuck supposed. But then, he and the other pilots in the game had had to guard their tongues on the subject of the alien pursuers and the disappearance of two of their number, so perhaps it was just a reactionary "you-won't-tell-me-I-won't-tell-you" kind of thing. At any rate, he was willing to let the matter slide.

Just ahead of him, he saw one of the Pegasus warriors, a tall redheaded man, slip into the computer terminal room. He didn't recognize the pilot, but figured he must be newly transferred aboard, and tending to some kind of business. He promptly forgot about him.

* * * * *

There was only one person in the computer terminal room, a pudgy, brown-haired corporal. Before approaching him, Thjis pulled free the needle concealed in the hem of his jacket.

"Yes? Can I help you ... Captain?" the corporal asked as he came near, seeing the insignia at his throat, and recognizing the rank if not the person.

"I believe so." A touch, and the young man's eyes glazed over. He fell forward limply. Thjis caught the unconscious body and settled it into a chair. Lifting the chin, he stared into the dulled brown eyes.

"You will not remember my presence," he ordered dispassionately.

A second needle was produced, and the youth's eyes closed in true sleep as he slumped over and was laid to rest against the nearest console.

Thjis strode to the operator's terminal, and punched in an opening code.

"Please identify yourself," the computer requested in its programmed feminine voice.

The man passed his hand over the screen. "Captain Thjis," he told it.

"I have no record of you in ship's personnel, nor are you logged for use at this time," the computer returned indignantly after a moment of searching.

"Immaterial. I am on-line."

"That is not allowed."

Thjis hit another code, a master override.

"You are interfering with my memory circuits. That is not allowed."

He added a subcode, and the voice fell silent. He would have to extract the required information manually, but the computer would not betray his tampering.

* * * * *

Cain roused himself from his deep sleep at the slight stimulus of distant voices. He glanced around as he tried to rise from his bed. The effort cost him; his body dropped back exhaustedly, despite his desire to control it.

But he recognized where he was – life center. However, there was something subtly wrong with the ward he was in. It looked like his ship, but the equipment, the beds, everything looked newer, somehow in better condition than he remembered – and there was more of it.

A man laughed, in deep amused tones. "Just like the others."

Cain turned his head, studying the face for a moment. "You're Dr. Salik, from the Galactica."

"Yes. And you're reacting just like the other patients – trying to get out of bed before you're ready. Don't you think your body is telling you something when it won't move?"

"Where's Helena? What am I doing here? What happened to my ship?"

"All in good time, Commander. For now, just lie still and get some rest. Commander Adama will be here soon, and you'll have lots to talk about. In the meantime, you are probably suffering a massive headache as well as everything else, if your recovery is going like the others. Would you like something for it?"

Cain considered. The simple act of trying to sit up had made him feel like a basestar was exploding in his skull; and it was still throbbing. "As long as it doesn't put me out again. That's what it did last time, when I started waking up, wasn't it?"

The doctor nodded as he gestured toward an unseen person behind him. "Analgesic."

Cain remembered waking up before. "Sheba!" But that couldn't be, his daughter was dead, she had come to tell him so....

Salik smiled broadly. "Your daughter has hardly left your side the entire secton you've been here. I think it's only knowing you were going to be all right, but need to sleep for a while, that permitted her to be convinced to get some rest herself. Cassiopeia put her to bed; but I'm sure she'll be back before too long."

"Cassiopeia." He savored the taste of her name as he spoke it. She's here, too. All my nightmares, and my prayers....

"Yes. She's been here most of the time, too. She'll be back on duty in a few centars." The doctor uncrossed his arms as a med tech came into view, an injector in hand. Salik administered the medication.

"I'll see either of them at any time, doctor."

"I thought you would."

"But how did I get here? What about my ship, my people? The other patients – I assume they were the others in my patrol? The ones who went down on the planet with me? How are they?" he pressed, feeling the healing potion ease the agony in his head.

"They're recovering better than you. Young, sturdy pilots, you know, and your ship is fine, too. Anything else, you have to clear with Commander Adama."

The veteran warrior grimaced as the doctor strode away to avoid any further questions or comments. Instinct told him something serious was going on, and he felt better instantly. An emergency was brewing, and he'd soon be involved in it, whatever it was. With both the Pegasus and the Galactica, and with his tactical knowledge and audacity to add to Adama's sturdy caution, the enemy had best beware. We're not fools, or children to be dismissed....

And Sheba is alive. My baby is alive.... His breathing was ragged and husky for several long centons as he stared fixedly at the ceiling.

* * * * *

Life center here is as boring as aboard the Pegasus. Orestes looked around the ward. His fellow patients were still asleep, needing more time to recover completely from their illness. I've had enough rest to last me a sectar. Being confined to bed meant no exercise, no excitement, no nothing. Visitors were still limited, too.

"Ready for your morning bath, Captain?" a cheerful woman asked as she approached.

He glowered at Galswintha and her small cart. Another sponge bath. Lie still while she scrubs me raw with damp cloths, then dries me. All very professional. Not very thrilling.

"I've got a better idea," he suggested with a leer. "Why don't you help me take a turboshower today instead?"

"Now, Captain, until the doctors say you can get out of bed...."

He swung his legs over the edge of the bed, pulling the blanket around himself like a toga. "I'm perfectly capable of getting out of bed. And I want a shower today – no more sponge baths. So do your duty, nurse – knock me out, or join me in getting wet."

She laughed outright, then called to one of the other med techs. "Cadmus, it seems Captain Orestes is in the mood for a turboshower, Would you assist, please, in seeing that he gets adequately damp?"

A smile grew on the husky medic's face as he reached for the recuperating pilot's arm. "Certainly."

"Spoil-sport!" Orestes permitted himself to be dragged off to the showers, grumbling good-humoredly about the company.

"He seems ready to be released," commented a doctor who'd arrived during the last centon of the performance.

"Hello, Rafe," the nurse smiled breathily. "Yes, he does seem to be back to his old spirits. Perhaps we could release him, if there's some way to make him get sufficient rest – alone – for a few days."

"What might be more productive is to transfer these three back to the Pegasus for the remainder of their recovery. I'll speak to Salik and Helena. They may want to keep Commander Cain here for a few more days, and I'm sure we'll have to keep the patients under close observation to prevent a relapse, but I can't see any problem with a transfer."

"It would be good to be back on our own ship, in our own quarters," the med tech commented.

He glanced at her slyly, grinning and winking. "We do have more privacy there, don't we?"

She returned his look. When he gave her a chart for one of the sick pilots, she held his hand longer than necessary, in a promise for the evening, if they were back on their own ship.

* * * * *

Something caught his eye. Omega frowned as he returned to the daily reports; it was part of his duty to scan them at the beginning of every shift. There was something wrong with the computer log time, a discrepancy between users and official use. It was a minor thing, but he'd better check it before starting anything else. He called the computer terminal chamber.

"Corporal Komma."

"Here," replied the young technician a moment later. "What is it?"

"There's a discrepancy in your time report this shift. Check your logbook, please."

After a moment, the man's voice came back, puzzled. "I don't see any problem."

"Your computer shows more use time than can be accounted for," Omega explained. "Also, bridge computer indicates your terminal was off-line for a period of almost twenty centons. Can you explain why? Was there a technical problem?" He didn't add his alternative idea, that one of the senior officers had "borrowed" the apparatus for personal business. There was a special code the commander used, and the corporal could have neglected to mark the time, but the bridge should still be aware of it....

"Negative, Omega. My logbook shows no discrepancies of any kind," Komma insisted.

Omega considered, then decided to follow standard procedure for the situation. "I'm sending a technician to double-check the computer relays," he advised. "Please answer any questions she may have."

"Of course."

If the problem couldn't be located and corrected in a very few centons, the next step was to inform Col. Tigh, as senior officer on duty. Then the matter would be out of his hands, although he might still be held responsible, should it prove serious.

* * * * *

"That's the way I saw the situation, Adama. Now, you know my reasoning – and I think you have to agree that it was a valid course of action. You had the fleet to consider, and I understand that. But I was constrained here, thought I could do a better job fighting, like I've always done."

Cain continued to meet Adama's stoic gaze. The two men had been in private conference for over a centar, alone in what was left of the quarantine ward of life center. Adama had seen the Pegasus logs, so he knew what the other man and his ship had been doing, and he'd had several opportunities to talk to Col. Kleopatra, but some things he needed to know from Cain himself, like the man's motivations and objectives – although he could figure most of that out for himself.

Cain, for his part, understood why Kleopatra had done what she had, although he was surprised the Delphians had accompanied her in rejoining the Colonial feet. He accepted that he was back in the fleet, and that he now would have to account for his previous actions both in taking on three Cylon base ships at Gamoray, and in not returning to the fleet after the attack.

"So you've been on your own nearly this past yahren. Was it worth it?"

"You've seen my logbooks. We've caused the Cylons enough trouble for ten battlestars – and diverted them around you several times, I don't doubt. Our prowling has gained us a great deal of information about their activities in several sectors. Also, we found the Delphians and brought a few of them together – which gives them a better chance of surviving too. And we've brought back word that Baltar is free and probably back in the Empire, which you have to find useful. It hasn't always been easy, but it's a job we felt we had to do...."

"For the glory of the Pegasus? For the legend of Cain?"

"For the survival of humanity! Like I told Sheba and Bojay, when they suggested mutiny at Gamoray – I may be the stubbornest warrior in the Colonies, but I'm also the best, and I won't run out and leave what's left of our people at the mercy of those tinheads. I did what I had to do. And I think you know that as well as I do."

"I question your methods, not your results – you've always gotten results. But I continue to believe your presence within the fleet could have been as beneficial to us as your chosen mission – if it didn't chafe you too much, accepting the constraints of fleet life."

Cain shook his silvered head. "I was never much good at accepting restraints, Adama, you know that. I like setting my own parameters too much, arranging the odds to suit myself."

"I know that," Adama finally smiled. "And I'm prepared to let the past lie. We have need of you here, now, more than ever – and I think even you will agree that we may never have faced a more dangerous situation than what confronts us at this moment. But then, that seems to be part of the legend – that you appear when we have most need of you."

"Your people are heroes, too. But that's twice now you've suggested an emergency. How about elaborating?"

Cain's pale, illness-marked face grew grim as Adama explained the unknown pursuers, and added his own speculations, and the measures he was taking to try and forestall disaster. Until the veteran warrior completely recovered from his obvious weakness, nothing could really be expected of him, but perhaps his input would give the Galactica's commander another handle, a new perspective. He hoped it would not draw his impatient, impulsive friend out of bed too soon – but Dr. Salik could be counted on to deal with that. In the meantime, the enemy that had already cost them two pilots might not wait.

"Hades!" Cain snarled when Adama fell silent. "I've got to get out of this frakking life center."

* * * * *

Life center was invaded again.

Helena and Cassiopeia were supervising preparations for the patient transfer when the leader of the Imperial Delphian Honor Guard made his unexpected arrival.

Cassie drew a breath of surprise, and her eyes widened, as the warrior, a full colonel, glared about the chamber. "So that's the commotion!" she whispered.

Helena was familiar with Delphian habits. Gesturing back the milling medical staff, she approached the man. "Good day, Colonel Sheng. I assume you have a reason for intruding into a medical station – fully armed for battle?" she asked pointedly, studying his hands, which rested on a traditional sword and a modern laser.

His gaze swept disdainfully over both her and Cassiopeia. "The Empress graces you with her presence," he growled, then stepped back.

Empress Sumiko danced elegantly into the ward, making her small skipping steps look graceful. She was followed by the rest of her guard and her ever-present female chaperones. Her eyes were bright, and she seemed to have taken extraordinary pains with her appearance, which was even more ostentatious than usual. She seemed relieved to see Helena in charge.

"Good morning, doctor. We have heard, from Colonel Kleopatra, that Commander Cain shows signs of recovery, and may soon be receiving visitors. We wish to meet with him, give expressions of good will for his recovery, and inquire into his next course of action."

"I'm afraid Commander Cain is presently in conference with Commander Adama," the physician replied smoothly. "He is not to be disturbed for the time being. He is still under observation."

The girl's expression became something of a pout.

Col. Sheng stepped forward again. "Surely the request of the Empress is sufficient...."

Sumiko swiftly raised a hand to gesture him back. "When will we be permitted to confer with Cain ourselves? We are sure you understand that delicate matters of state must be dealt with as soon as possible, and for security, only at the highest levels of authority." She was miffed, but trying to be controlled and proper, standing on her dignity. That she obviously saw no point in discussing such pressing matters with Cmdr. Adama or the Council of Twelve did not pass unnoted.

Helena sensed the regal young Delphian was trying to give her protection from her narrow-eyed, over-protective guards and murmuring dowagers – an excuse, if she was willing to accept it. "Commander Cain will need to rest for the remainder of the day, until we can gauge more accurately his rate of recovery. The other pilots, however, are being transferred back to the Pegasus in a matter of centars. I will accompany them, of course. We expect to be moving the Commander by perhaps tomorrow."

The girl's face lit up. "Excellent!"

The relief in her and her people was obvious. They didn't like having to board the Galactica – it was still a foreign vessel to them, not the ship of an ally. And Cain on the Pegasus would be infinitely more accessible than the man under Salik's thumb here. The Delphians still hadn't forgiven the doctor's behavior at their previous visit.

"Your people will then be in complete charge of the patients, as you have now dealt with the illness?" Sumiko pressed eagerly. Perhaps too eagerly; one of the old women rested an aged, wrinkled hand lightly on her shoulder for a moment. She seemed not to notice.

"Actually, med tech Cassiopeia will be accompanying Commander Cain. She has been his nurse for the entirety of his time here, and she's had prior experience with a similar disease," Helena explained. "She will probably spend several days with us."

Sumiko lifted suddenly veiled dark almond eyes to Cassie's wide, frank blue ones. A frown barely creased her golden face. "If it is necessary for his recovery...."

"I think it is in his best interests."

"Very well." Sumiko dismissed the other woman as though without a thought. "Thank you for your information, Dr. Helena. You have always been most helpful to us, and we are grateful. We shall speak with you later, then, when you have completed your patient transfer." She turned and made a dignified exit.

"She acts like she owns the place! And I don't think she approves of me," Cassiopeia murmured. "I hope I don't have to see much of her."

Helena smiled, a delicate expression on her porcelain face, only a small lifting of her lips. "I'm afraid she'll be around a lot – and she thinks she does own the place. Upbringing, native rank, etc. But she's only sixteen. Keep that in mind if you have to deal with her."

Cassie's expression was thoughtful.

* * * * *

"I do not like her!" Sumiko breathed to Yakami. "Dr. Helena does not require extra med techs. We have sufficient to tend Cain. I do not like that woman."

The dowager chaperone at her side whispered back, "Remember who you are, child. You are Empress. As for this Cassiopeia, dismiss her from your mind. She is unimportant."

"I have heard," ventured the other woman, "that Cain once cared greatly for that woman – and she for him."

"You listen to gossip!" Yakami snapped as the Empress's pretty face hardened angrily. "It is beneath your position – or you are raised above your proper place!"

The other woman fell silent, cowed by the threat.

"Besides," Yakami whispered to her grand-niece a moment later, "she is only a socialator, a bit of fluff for the amusement of others. And Cain is Commander."

"She is not a socialator now," Sumiko replied.

"She can never be anything but a socialator. He may not even remember her, after so long. And you, precious one, are the Empress."

* * * * *

Cassiopeia had a few moments free between her long duty shifts and the time she snatched to pack a small bag. Recalling that she hadn't seen Starbuck in several days, she went looking for the warrior who'd recently played such a prominent role in her life.

"Yeah, I know he's supposed to be off-duty," the pilot in the lounge told her, "but I think he got nabbed for shuttle duty or somethin', so he left a few centons ago."

"Oh." She pursed her lips. "Any idea when he'll be back?"

"No. Care to stick around and wait?" the young man invited. "Maybe you could have a drink...."

Her socialator's training recognized his intentions immediately – get to know her, maybe cut out Starbuck. The warrior, a pilot from the Pegasus, undoubtedly on rotation, probably didn't know her past, and in her med tech uniform, must merely find her an attractive woman, but she wasn't interested.

"Uh, doesn't Starbuck have a patrol later? He'll probably be gone for quite a while. Maybe I'd better just leave a message," she told the sergeant who watched her so appreciatively.

The man shrugged. "I think he had the day free; that's why the flight commander nabbed him for the Pegasus trip. Sure I can't help you?"

"Uh, well, if Starbuck does come back, tell him I was looking for him. Nothing important, I just wanted to see him."

"Okay." The kid looked a bit crestfallen, but accepted that she wasn't in the mood for company.

I wonder if it's just for this flight, or if he's rotating over like the rest of our pilots? She hurried back to life center. He hasn't been around the last few days. I know I've been busy, but is he avoiding me? He knows I was involved with Cain, but we talked that out. Does it bother him anyway?

Maybe it bothers me... I need to talk to him – to both of them! I never thought he'd come back again.... I wonder how he feels now, if he wants me in his life again....

A frown puckered her smooth forehead into lines of worry. Cmdr. Cain and Lt. Starbuck. She'd tried not to think about the one since Gamoray. Every time she tried to think about the other, he seemed to slip away.

* * * * *

Galswintha raised her thin eyebrows. "So you are the pilot who is taking us home."

Starbuck nodded with a half-smile. "Conscripted from a good game to fly a shuttle to the Pegasus. I think you like making my life difficult."

"Perhaps it is fated."

"Wanna make it up to me?"

"I think not. The patients are loaded, as are the staff accompanying them. Try to get us back to our ship in one piece. I am sure competent personnel will be assigned for the Commander's trip tomorrow." She turned away to strap herself in for take-off, hearing Starbuck's laughter behind her as he checked pre-flight and waited for core command clearance.

"Quite a woman!" the lieutenant commented to his co-pilot, a dark-skinned Pegasus pilot named Rissian. Her Scorpian accent was enchanting; her dark eyes, thick curly hair, and olive complexion were beautiful; and something about her was intriguing – and despite the fact that she'd once barred him access to life center, he could easily want to get to know her better – if she'd give him half a chance.

"Quite! And currently involved with one of the doctors – thoroughly involved."

"Oh. So who's flying tomorrow, since we're stuck with the inconsequential personnel?" he inquired with a smile as they warmed up the engines.

Rissian chuckled. "Electra, who else? With Commander Cain and his private nurse."

"Private nurse? You've got to be kidding!"

"Nope. One of the med techs here will be monitoring him for the duration of his recovery, so she's transferring to the Pegasus with him. Makes sense, I guess – switch pilots around, you might as well switch other crew, too!"

"Shuttle Lambda, you are cleared for launch."

Starbuck hit the comm switch. "Uh, thanks, Rigel. We're away."

They launched silently. Fortunately, there were no malfunctions or difficulties. Starbuck was thinking too fast to be more than instinctively concerned with the craft's operation. A private nurse, transferring to the Pegasus. Who could that be but Cassie? She's really going. I didn't think she'd do it....

The thought stunned him. Cassiopeia was going with Cain.

And leaving him.


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Enter Sheba's Galaxy