SIDE TRIP

They were in a region of space with a myriad of habitable planets, all near each other in the telescoped distances the massive vessel could travel so swiftly. The Galactica and her refugee fleet was believed to have left that region of space, but the commander and crew of the other battlestar weren't worried; as Cain would remind them, they had their sister ship's course, and could follow that path as well, whenever they felt the need or inclination. Duty shifts had become routine and, while the officers would never admit it aloud, almost boring – again.

At least, that was Kleopatra's assessment as she paced aimlessly through another centar of bridge duty.

"We're picking up some signals, Colonel," Tolan reported from the command deck. Computron in hand, the tall man stepped down to join her at the computer core console.

The slender black woman waited patiently for his usual thorough report, faint interest in her bright black eyes. "Yes? Galactica patrol signals? Cylons? Something bouncing off an ion field?"

"None of those, Colonel. We seem to have intercepted signals between two vessels, located in Eta quadrant, according to our scan telemetry. Their code is unrelated to anything Colonial or Cylon, but communications broke it in a matter of microns...."

"Continue," she replied quickly.

"They identify themselves as 'destroyer-class vessels,' under the command of ... commandants, I believe the rank is, Leiter and Kohlar. Our telemetry indicates these destroyers are small warships, no more than fifteen to twenty crewmen, probably operational by a quarter of that number in an emergency. The first vessel ordered the second to a rendezvous at some destination called Luna Four. They expect to meet there in ... five days. Their planet of origin seems to be some place called Terra–"

"Terra!" Kleopatra's eyes narrowed as she glanced over the coded message in the report. She remembered something from the old history and linguistics texts she read out of fascination. "Terra" was a Gemonese word. It had several translations. As for the strangers' destination.... "Luna Four.... Hmm. Disturb the Commander's sleep period, please, Memnon. Senmut, prepare to change course. I expect we will be following and investigating."

The crew responded briskly, eager for some excitement. Tolan hurried back to his post, leaving the computron with his superior.

The comm officer on duty studied Kleopatra. "Something about 'Terra' sounds familiar – and if I'm not imagining things, it means something to you too, Colonel," Corp. Lygia observed with the easy informality of those who had served together for yahrens.

Kleopatra smiled slightly and leaned closer to the younger woman. "It may be important," she admitted. "After all, in the old Gemonese, 'Terra' ... means 'Earth'."

* * * * *

There was a fanatic, ascetic look to Kommandant Leiter. His body was lean but firm, his features dark, long, and aquiline with a brooding air of cold fury. He paced the concrete path of Luna Four's spacedrome with long steps. His destroyer had only been on the ground for a few hours, and Kohlar's ship, Destroyer Two, was that much behind him, and had in fact just settled to a landing in one of the circles of the abandoned installation. Already, however, Leiter was grumbling impatiently at the necessity of waiting. He peered out over the slightly-overgrown field, seeing the tall buildings in the far distance. There had been a thriving Nationalist population here, with farms and factories to supply the multitudes of Terra. Now, it was empty, silent.

As it should be, he thought. He was a military man, bred and trained for the art of winning battles, on Terra, her colony worlds, or in space. Until certain events on a world called Paradeen, he had done just that, invariably victorious. But there, he had met humans known as Colonial warriors, young men and a woman, who had captured him and his crew, prevented him from carrying out his mission, and mocked him with their monstrous vessel. They had imprisoned him like some criminal, questioned him in a multitude of ways, finally tried to entice him with offers of negotiation and alliance.

But he had withstood all their questions, and finally found escape through the machinations of one Baltar – a traitor and a coward, but of great potential use – and several Nomen, the malformed spawn of some hell-world. He had led his crew to safety, even though Baltar apparently had not made good his own escape. The Nomen had been dealt with, although not without some losses of his own. One had to admit, they were fighters....

His opposite number joined him, as Leiter had requested/ordered.

"I am here."

The dark man stared at the husky blond officer. He and Kohlar had been classmates at the universitat, and had even played together on several sports teams, but they had never really been friends.

"You seem to have done a thorough job with this colony. I seem to recall a more significant population than space rats," was Leiter's comment.

Kohlar glanced around. "When we took this place, we had to resort to the 'invisible death' the Nationalists fear so greatly. Then it was ship-to-ship in the sky, and hand-to-hand, door-to-door here to clean out the rest. They fought back to the last. We lost a lot of good men."

"But you wiped out the Nationalists."

"Yes." Kohlar sounded bitter. "There are no survivors. But I doubt you called me here to commend our costly victory."

"No. I want to know about this 'peace treaty' we've supposedly signed with our enemies. And then I have a bit of news myself."

Kohlar's face flushed dark red. "I've talked to a few of the outer kommandants. None of them know what it means. There are rumors...."

"Tell me the rumors."

Kohlar spoke slowly, deliberately. "Rumor is, the Supreme Kommandant planned a surprise attack, that we were to attack and destroy the Nationalists on Terra itself in one quick stroke, as they discussed a peace ruse. But something went wrong. Our missiles were launched, but they did not impact. The Nationalists did not counter-attack. Somehow, they had developed a shield, and our best agents and scientists knew nothing of it, couldn't predict it, didn't know how it could work, and had no idea how to counteract it. So a real peace treaty was quickly signed. Now we are ordered to withdraw from the Luna colonies, leave them to the Nationalists, and pull away from their territory. We are to return to Terra, and make no more war. We are at peace." His voice curled uncertainly around that last phrase.

"Peace!" Leiter exploded. "And no real reason? A missile shield, but no information on it?"

Kohlar growled on. "Word is, that a huge ship was detected orbiting our home world at that time, but could not be– "

"A huge ship?" Leiter interrupted sharply.

The other officer shrugged. "I wasn't there; I don't know. No one has been able to supply any verifiable information about the supposed ship. But a strange young man appeared from out of nowhere, dark, but in some kind of white uniform, and he is reputed to have spoken to the Nationalist leaders, after he and a friend freed a number of ... political prisoners. The youth and his friend vanished immediately afterward, as did the ship. None of them have been seen since. But the Supreme Kommandant is unwilling to risk anything on an attack at this point – our entire missile force was destroyed in the failed attack. We are all but defenseless, on Terra."

Leiter stared past Kohlar. "A young man, dark.... What did he look like? Where did he go?"

"No one knows where he went. As I said, he vanished. But one of our spies was able to make an image of him when he spoke to their leaders. We have a fax of it, if you wish so badly to see him–"

"I do." Leiter turned abruptly. "So we are at 'peace' now. I wonder how long it will last."

Kohlar looked up from his wrist short-range communicator. "What do you mean?"

"The ship is gone," he repeated with a peculiar smile. "I'll have to see the fax to know for sure, but I think the enemy who stood between us and certain victory has moved on, and is no longer a threat to us. And the Supreme Kommandant will find certain information ... very useful. Kohlar, I shall need to ... borrow some of your crew."

The other man started. "What? Why?"

Leiter waved disparagingly. "We had several additional 'passengers' when we made our escape. It cost me four men to dispose of them. I outrank you in seniority, Kohlar. Don't make me pull rank on you...."

He capitulated with a scowl. "Yours, then. But what do you plan to do? We are ordered to return to Terra, for the peace...."

"Oh, and we shall," Leiter responded. "But first, there is a side trip we must make, to a world called Paradeen. The Galactica and her warriors may be gone, but there are people on that world who will pay for everything. And no one will know how or by whom it was done...."

One of Kohlar's men raced up, waving a fax image. Leiter took the picture and glanced at it. His suspicions were confirmed. The man in the image was Captain Apollo, wearing some very light colored variant of the hateful uniform he remembered so well. Then the "huge ship" had to have been the Galactica. How it had reached Terra so quickly, without knowing where to go, was beyond him. None of his people had betrayed anything. But it had gone now. And there were no "Cylons" around their part of the galaxy. There was no one to interfere with the plans of the Eastern Alliance this time....

* * * * *

For five days the Pegasus had trailed the small, relatively primitive vessel. Her pilots had been under orders to stay well out of their probable scanner range, and they seemed to have succeeded; the stranger had expressed no alarm nor changed course during that time. They had picked up the second vessel on the third day, and watched closely as the two closed on a small world, one of several in the bio-zone of a single-star system. Then they had waited, just at the edge of the system, hidden behind the farthest planet, Vipers patrolling to ensure the destroyers didn't slip away, and no one else slipped in.

The crew of Cain's battlestar was used to greater speed, more intense events, sudden action, and heroic contests. The slow journey had at first seemed full of purpose; they were following vessels, watching and listening intently to learn their secrets. But the purpose faded to frustration at the slow unfolding of events. Even their commander's eyes gleamed with impatience, but he held his own feelings and his crew as with a tight leash, controlled by the swagger stick he carried constantly.

Finally, on the sixth day since they'd first intercepted the signals, the strangers lifted off from the planet.

Tolan passed the word. "Sir, the two vessels have launched. Their apparent coordinates are fifty-seven, thirteen, forty-two, relative to our present position. We're trying to calculate potential destinations, based on our limited knowledge of this quadrant."

"Good, good. Anything else?"

Tolan frowned as he glanced over the assorted scan turret reports. "The surface of the planet appears ... deserted, sir. Conflicting data on population centers, energy production, agricultural patterns.... Almost as if ... the planet had been inhabited by a relatively primitive space-faring race, but had been abandoned ... or worse, deliberately destroyed!"

A grim silence drifted over the bridge.

"Destroyed?" Cain demanded sharply. "As though by Cylons?"

Tolan shook his head. "No, sir. Their distinctive radiation residue is absent. But there are other radiation levels and chemical spectrums, suggesting a more primitive holocaust...."

"Equivalent technology on both sides?"

The flight officer nodded.

"Is the surface safe for us to walk unprotected?"

He checked something else. "As best we can determine, yes – but that atmosphere is considerably less dense than we're used to, with different levels of support vapors."

"Send a properly equipped team to the surface, full warrior security escort. And Vipers to hold the skies. Our fleet can stay here. Now, Tolan. We can track those ships for some distance, at their apparent top speed, and that buys us some time. But I'd like to stay close enough to know what they're doing...."

* * * * *

Rurik stalked the landscape, his face devoid of expression. The engineer was also an expert on aftermaths; he had seen enough of them in his yahrens in the service, and tried to pull worlds back together after some. But on this world, there was nothing left to pull together, nothing to begin rebuilding from. The structures remained, but there were no inhabitants. Homes were empty, doors open to the world. Factory complexes stood silent, poised as if for arrivals of overdue workers on some extended holiday. Agricultural complexes were overgrown and desolate, livestock running free on some, others with no indication of life whatsoever. There was, however, plenty of indication of death, the edges smoothed only by the passing of time.

The spacedrome still existed, but most of the circular pads were cracking from disuse, lack of maintenance, and the determination of vegetation to grow through it; only two concrete pads had been recently burned clean by landing or lift-off. Whoever had wanted this world, hadn't wanted its people, and had made it brutally clear through chemical and physical means. Rurik's team reported it was the same everywhere they went.

He contacted the Pegasus. "Commander, this was a colony to be proud of, once, but there's nobody left here now."

"Fortunes of war?" inquired a filtered voice from his comm.

"War?" Rurik glanced around again. "No. This was a massacre. Military against civilians. As bad as anything I ever saw the Cylons do to us. But this is worse. It was human against human. Somebody ought to pay...."

The Pegasus followed her prey with unshakable determination.

* * * * *

Corp. Lygia hunched over her station, frowning. She'd intercepted another message, as easily decoded as the rest. This one, however, was decidedly sinister. She looked up. "Commander?"

Cain's glance was the command.

"Another signal from the Terran destroyers. The first expressed an ETA at someplace called Paradeen in three days. The second nearly sizzled the commline with orders to maintain silence, and if they must open communications, not to mention their destination under any circumstances."

Cain nodded slowly. "So they want no one to know where they are going. That does not bode well for the occupants of this 'Paradeen'. Good job, Corporal. Continue to monitor those channels for any future signals."

The young woman nodded briefly and turned away. Tolan moved quickly to stand by her and check a few things on his own.

Kleopatra crossed her arms, studying her commander. "Somebody destroyed that world, Luna Four. We don't know if the ships we're following are of their people, or the enemy that massacred them. I suppose the next question is, what do we do when we all get to Paradeen?"

"That will depend on whether our 'friends' are the good guys or the enemy."

"And how will we know?"

"We'll find out when we get there."

"Sir?"

The senior officers turned as one. "Yes, Tolan?"

"Between the strangers' own communications and our navigation and telemetry, we've plotted the location of Paradeen."

Cain smiled his approval before turning to the helm. "Senmut, might I suggest we alter course to ensure a wide sweep around these vessels. Increase speed. Make sure they don't spot us. Destination, Paradeen."

* * * * *

The morning was bright and already warm, without a cloud in the eternal Paradeen sky. Dew touched the trees and bushes of the living woods with small prisms of moist light, but lay more gently on the silent shells of the empty city. Creatures stirred through the encroaching underbrush, squeaking their greetings as first light flooded their low domain.

A branch cracked.

Birds flew and animals scattered, alarm spreading in ripples with their startled calls.

Two women stepped out of the brush into view. They were panting as though from heavy exertion. It wasn't that the trip through the woods had been that difficult; it was the less dense atmosphere that made breathing a greater chore for them. After a few centars, they were feeling the effects. The two Pegasus warriors – Maj. Electra, tall, golden-blonde, and fair; her Delphian wingmate, Sgt. Akimi, petite, dark-haired, and with a round, amber face – rested for a moment. Each was fully armed and carried additional communications and breathing gear. Their land ram waited patiently in the wide concrete block before them.

"Horus?" Electra called aloud. She ran her fingers through her hair; then, grimacing, she brushed off some sort of local crawlon's web.

"Here!"

There was a rustling among distant shrubs, then solid footfalls on concrete as two more warriors joined them from across the square. Lt. Horus wore the dark heritage of the Sagittaran tropical delta region; his wingman, Sgt. Scyld, was ruddy-complexioned with the temple braids of the Raggane highlands of that same world. They had been investigating the only city their scanners had detected on the surface.

"Anything?" the senior officer asked breathlessly.

The men shook their heads.

"The city's empty, has been for a while, from the looks of it," the lieutenant reported. "But someone was here not too long ago – there are spots where the dust has been disturbed, and there are several vehicle tracks to the south."

"Captain Heimdal was investigating the south," Electra murmured. "We haven't heard back from his team yet. Have to call them, see what they've found–"

Akimi blinked and swayed slightly, but caught herself.

"I will be all right," she insisted at her companions' worried glances.

"Better go to your life mask," Electra ordered. "And maybe you ought to get back to the Pegasus; it's been a long couple of centars."

The other woman didn't argue. The atmosphere of the Delphian home world was slightly different from that of any of the Colony worlds; the air density and composition were telling on Akimi more than on the other warriors.

"Scyld...."

"I'm mountain-born," he reminded Electra. "I'll probably outlast all of you."

Electra and Horus laughed.

"I'll accompany her then, Major, if that's all right with you. I'm not mountain-born. You can endure this daggit pup's cheek," Horus said. "It's not far to the shuttle and our Vipers. We'll reach it on foot – you take the ram. And by the way, I like your new hair ornament."

She shuddered involuntarily and hastily swept away the last of the web. "And you say Scyld's got cheek? All right, then, Sergeant, you're with me. Let's hook up with Heimdal."

Electra and Scyld boarded the ram and set off to the south.

* * * * *

"It must be a deathstone," Heimdal muttered, studying the tall piece of stone sculpture in the small enclosure. The entire plot was grown with well-clipped grass and small flowers, but there was a definite mound in the middle, the approximate size and shape of a full-grown human. "The inscription looks Caprican. 'John Russell Fowler.' Wonder what it means...."

"If it is a deathstone, probably a name," Sif suggested somberly. For all that she, as a warrior, had danced so often in the halls of choosing, and had seen the deaths of so many friends and enemies, it was still an eerie thing to stand before one man's grave and contemplate her own mortality.

"But three names?" the man continued.

"Perhaps tribal or clan names. Some parts of the Colonies have them."

"Must be." Heimdal glanced away from the fenced-in piece of grass to the structure. It was apparently constructed of some kind of metal alloy, and of some size. A smaller building of the same material stood a number of meters away. Several fences ran around the structures in what must be an ordered fashion. There were noises of animals all around them, and the rich scents of summer in full bloom. A wide area beyond the buildings in fact appeared to be cultivated to some kinds of legumes and grains.

"Looks like an agricultural station," he stated.

"Someone's coming!" Sif touched his arm and ducked out of sight behind the deathstone. Heimdal joined his wingmate wife. They watched in silence as two husky, joking men and a rather colorless woman, all very human looking, appeared from some path through the trees. The three made their way up to the house but had barely reached the steps when the door swished open and several small storms swept out. They were children, three fair-haired and laughing, the largest dark-haired and trying very hard to appear mature.

"Uncle Josh! Aunt Aggie!" The smallest of the four threw himself bodily at the newcomers.

"Walker!" the older girl cried.

A pretty blonde woman dressed in silver appeared in the doorway. "Children, you're supposed to be tending your pony, not jumping all over the Morelands...."

"Oh, Sarah, don't stop them," the older woman called, hugging the boy tightly to her with an expression of pleasure mixed with yearning. "It's so good to feel a child's arms again."

"All right," Sarah relented. "But they must tend their chores before they play!"

The children swarmed off toward the smaller structure, from which could now be heard the eager neighs of animals. The older, lighter-haired of the man stepped up to the porch.

"How's Michael today? Feeling any better?"

"Much. He's even out of bed."

A dark-haired, pale man appeared in the doorway behind Sarah. He had to lean on the frame, but he was definitely walking under his own power.

"Josh, Aggie, Doyle, good to see you again."

"You saw us just yesterday," Josh reminded him with a broad grin.

"From a non-reclining position, then. Come on in, sit for a few minutes, you've had a long walk."

"For some of Sarah's coffee?" the other man, Doyle, husky and dark, asked mischievously. "I'd walk to the city for that!"

The group disappeared inside, with Sarah delaying for a moment to glance at the other structure, where the busy sounds of children having a minor argument now filtered into the air.

"Melanie, don't let the boys fight! And give Charity her turn!"

After they were alone, Heimdal waited a moment more before risking speech. "At least five adults and four children. Maybe others around. But apparently all agricultural workers and their families," he mused. "Sif, we'd better call– Sif?"

His wife's eyes were focused on the animal structure. It hit home with a pang and his voice choked into silence, recalling their own daughter, dead on Sagittara with the rest of their families in the Destruction.

"Our Bryna would have been about the age of the younger girl...." she breathed.

"Sif...."

There was noise behind them, and two more warriors appeared. Electra and Scyld joined them in the shadow of the deathstone.

"Well?" the major demanded with a deep breath.

"They don't look or sound like planet killers."

"That's the way it looked to us, too, but we walked in on the end of their conversation, and thought you might have learned something more."

He shook his head, feeling almost as distant as the still-silent Sif.

"Then I guess we go in. You bring the children back to the–"

The other woman jerked to stare at her. "You suggest using children as hostages?" she flared.

Electra gaped. "Of course not! Let them know we're here, bring them to their parents so they won't be frightened or try to run away. And their parents will see they're unharmed, that we mean them no injury...."

She took another deep breath, then boldly stood up and began walking deliberately toward the house. She heard Scyld moving behind her, then Heimdal and Sif's slower footsteps toward the animal shelter. She marched up the steps and in the front door as boldly as she could manage. Her fingers, however, rested comfortingly on the butt of her laser pistol.

Michael was resting in a chair, with Josh leaning against the fireplace near him. Doyle was indulging in a cup of some beverage. Sarah had just stepped back into the room from some other chamber, and Aggie was with her. Five pairs of eyes moved to fasten on the Colonials in shock, followed almost instantly by a sort of recognition.

The recuperating man in the chair was the first to react. He smiled uncertainly and pulled himself up. "Colonial warriors!" he stated. "Welcome! What brings you to Paradeen now?"

* * * * *

It took a little while to hear the story of how Michael and Sarah and their children had come to be on Paradeen after a detour to the Galactica; and how Capt. Apollo, Lt. Starbuck, med tech Cassiopeia, and others had assisted in their reaching the planet safely; and what had happened subsequently, resulting in Leiter and his people being captured and taken away by the other Colonials. Heimdal and Sif arrived with the children, as taken aback as the other warriors to be recognized and greeted as friends. Then the Pegasus warriors told an abbreviated version of their own story, and of their following the apparently same Leiter back to the planet.

"Leiter's back?" The sudden fear in their eyes was no fraud.

Michael's fists clenched; Doyle and Josh moved reflexively into almost fighting positions. Aggie glanced around helplessly, as if not knowing where to run this time. Sarah reached protectively for the children; only a micron later, so did Aggie. The children's wide eyes seemed to ask reassurance of their elders. Electra felt some instinct within herself rise to stand between these youngsters and danger, and she saw a similar resolve in the others, especially Sif.

"Leiter's coming back?" Michael repeated faintly. "With two destroyers?" His eyes were hopeful. "Can you protect us?"

"Now that we know what's going on, of course we will."

"I wish Hector and Vector were here," the small blond boy piped up. "They'd protect us."

"You have other men here?" Electra asked.

"Well, yes, but not here. I mean, not them. Hector and Vector aren't men," Michael shook his head. "They're androids."

The Colonials were shocked. Most of the Colony worlds had outlawed human-shaped machines in the earlier days of the Cylon war, for obvious reasons, to them.

"Vector is in the workshop, seems to have shorted out somewhere. I don't know how to repair him, and Sarah's father didn't leave any instruction manuals, so we sent Hector into the city to check the old archives."

"How come we didn't see it when we searched?" Scyld asked.

"Hector's probably underground – the old archives were buried. From there, you couldn't tell if the whole city was blasted on top of you. And since Vector is sort of Hector's father, he won't come back until he finds something."

"Android father?" Electra was dubious. "We won't count on them, then. But we will take care of you – and this Leiter...."

* * * * *

Tolan double-checked the scan turret report before passing it along to Cain. "Sir, the Alliance destroyers have entered the system. We'll have to pull back if we want to avoid detection. And some of our pilots are asking if we'll be attacking, and when."

Cain spun sharply. "Attack other humans? From Electra's report, they may well deserve it, but we'll try another option first. Keep the planet between us and them."

"Yes, sir."

This Leiter had been a Colonial prisoner. Even if he hadn't been human, he might have recent information that Cain would find useful. The preferable course of action would be to recapture him and his men. It shouldn't be too difficult, if the man was blinded by hunger for revenge, and didn't expect the Pegasus. Cain smiled wolfishly. He liked being the unexpected variable. And after two days in the system, waiting for the enforcers' arrival, and knowing what that group had done, his people were eager for a change in the equation.

"Continue to monitor them. If there's any indication of attack from above, we'll move immediately to intercept. But from what I've heard, Leiter will want it personal. He'll go down there himself. And we'll be there too...."

* * * * *

They had landed some distance from the farmstead where Michael, Sarah, and their brats had settled. Time had passed, and the vegetation showed it, having passed from spring well into full summer. Leiter carelessly ground a small flower into the dirt beneath his heel. It did little for his emotions. The man was not usually a sadist – violence for no cause did nothing for him – but there were times when only violent confrontation would settle his soul. He had to see his ad his nation's enemies beaten, and have them know and admit they were beaten. If he managed in most cases to define his own enemies as enemies of his people, it was still in the same cause. Always in the service of his nation.

And this was for revenge as well. Ultimately, following these people had resulted in his captivity by the Colonials. And that had resulted in the traitor Baltar's escape plan, which had gifted him with freedom but cursed him with Nomen cargo. Disposing of those Nomen had cost four lives – Lanceman and Krebbs among them. They were good men; they deserved vengeance.

Kohlar and two of his people came into view. "I still don't understand why you didn't just strafe them from the air," the other kommandant muttered. "It would have been quicker and easier."

"I want them destroyed, but not until after they've been questioned," Leiter replied arrogantly. "The Colonials were with them for some period of time, and they may have been aboard the Galactica as well. They may have valuable information."

Kohlar shrugged. Leiter had ordered their destroyers far off their ordered patrol route, and in violation of specific orders from Terra and the Supreme Kommandant; he outranked Kohlar, so the man had no choice but to obey. "Where are the people you wish captured?" he asked in resignation.

"A small farmstead not far from here, just over that ridge. By landing here, they won't have been able to see or hear us. We should be able to surprise them. Later you can practice your strafing aim – there are several other farmsteads in the area, and, I understand, survivors from our previous attack."

Kohlar's eyes were cold, but he kept his opinion to himself.

"Let's go."

* * * * *

Sarah was too nervous to do anything but pace. The last two days had been too long.

True, the children were safely hidden, under the guard of several of the warriors, including one of the men with the braids – she couldn't remember their names, and wasn't sure she could have pronounced them properly if she did. There were too many Colonials around, with too many strange names, and she was fighting her fear of Leiter. The still-recuperating Michael was with the children, over his protests; he hadn't wanted to leave her "alone to face the monster," as he'd put it, but the major had said the last thing they needed was a sick man trying to play the hero. Other warriors had scattered to warn the occupants of the other local farms. There was a specially-equipped shuttle concealed in the woods next to the house, monitoring the skies; it had reported when the destroyers landed, noting that neither of the ships had batteries powered up to fire. There was an armed vehicle of some kind on the hill, hidden as the shuttle was, but ready to open fire if the destroyers attacked.

The latest report was that men from the destroyers were moving toward the farm.

And all she could do was wait for them, the bait in the trap.

Walker was right. She wished Hector and Vector were there too. If nothing else, they would have been amusing companions, taking her mind off the situation.

Sarah hoped Hector wouldn't return in the middle of things. Leiter would destroy him as quickly as them. She almost smiled, recalling the Colonial reaction to the androids. Apollo and Starbuck hadn't been that outraged. They had quickly accepted the androids as part of the household, as they really were, now. It was almost lonesome without them.

She stared out the window for a few seconds, then remembered Electra's admonition to make herself visible, but never long enough to be sighted upon. She moved quickly away. Leiter must know someone was there or he would be suspicious. Even if the children hadn't been children, or Michael hadn't been sick, she would have been the likeliest choice to find at home during the day.

Sarah turned to cross the room again and froze, gasping. There stood Leiter, three other men behind him, all in the dark uniforms of the Eastern Alliance, all with drawn weapons.

"How ... how did you get in here?" she screamed.

The cold-blooded man half-smiled as he grabbed her arm. "Back window. Obviously, one of your children left it open. Speaking of whom, where are the little angels?"

She stared, too angry and fearful to answer.

"Visiting one of the neighbors, perhaps? And your man as well? Or are they in the fields somewhere? No matter. They must return by evening. I can wait."

Her defiance began to return; something of it must have been communicated to the enforcer. He studied her more closely.

"You don't seem surprised to see me back," he remarked. "Your dismay was that I had gotten in, not that I was here...."

"No, I...."

"What's going on here, woman? Speak, quickly, or your children will pay the price when they return – and they can't hide forever–"

"Sarah? Sarah!" A cheerful voice came from the front door. A shadow danced on the floor, and a woman unexpectedly walked in. She froze at seeing the enforcers.

One of Leiter's men jumped forward to grab the new arrival, a tall, attractive blonde woman in a roughspun jumpsuit.

"What? Sarah, what's going on? Where did these men come from?"

Sarah stared at Electra, uncertain how to respond.

Leiter squeezed her arm roughly. "Well, hello, stranger," he purred at the newcomer. "Sarah, why don't you introduce me to your neighbor? I presume that's who she is."

The other woman blinked, then slowly responded, "My name is Anne ... Anne Russell. My people live–"

"Never mind."

She shut up.

"Ladies, why don't we sit down and have a chat...." He holstered his weapon and pointed toward the chairs circling the fireplace.

Something tumbled over in the next chamber.

The enforcers jumped.

"Willem, check it out!" the kommandant snapped, then glanced at his prisoners. "One of your children, perhaps?"

"Who are these men?" "Anne" complained loudly. "Sarah...."

Willem reappeared from the other chamber, pale with his teeth clamped tightly together. "Kommandant...." he began.

The warrior stepped into action. A well-placed kick at the knee, an elbow in the ribs, followed by a palm heel in the face, all in less than a micron, and her guard was down.

She didn't act alone. Two men jumped into the room behind Willem, weapons drawn. Two more appeared in the outer doorway, similarly ready to fire.

For a micron Electra was vulnerable, within reach or aim of Kohlar's weapon and unarmed herself. He had his weapon out; she stared him down. A glance at the other warriors, all deadly eager, and he reconsidered, dropped his gun, and raised his hands in the universal signal of surrender.

Leiter had no such plans; he grabbed Sarah tighter and pointed his laser at her head. "Stop! Or even if you get me, she'll die as well!"

The warriors studied him, testing his resolve. It wasn't difficult to see he meant it.

One of the warriors at the door stepped forward, a very cold and deadly expression on her face. "So the murderer of children hides behind a woman again?" she said scornfully. "Such a coward. The universe will be better off without you – though I regret you die so quickly." She aimed.

"Sif, no!" Electra called, startled.

"I'm a very good shot, Leiter," Sif announced chillingly. "And you are considerably larger than Sarah."

"I'll kill her!"

"And I'll kill you. And then I will go to Terra and kill your leash-holder who orders the murder of children." No one present doubted she would do so.

Leiter didn't realize his grip was loosening.

Sarah threw herself aside, stumbling over a chair.

Sif fired.

Leiter dropped.

* * * * *

Several guards stood at various positions around the two destroyers, but it was plain they expected no trouble. With both Leiter and Kohlar among the team sent to capture the resettled Terrans, their discipline had lapsed as well; they seemed merely to be going through the motions of sentry duty.

Lt. Horus peered across the meadow from his leafy concealment. He had returned from the Pegasus to be part of the ambush party, being marginally more familiar with the area than most of the warriors. Besides, he could move through the terrain; trees had been his second home as a boy. He adjusted the fit of his life mask, which had been brushed askew by a spiny branch as he climbed into the tree. Now was no time to lose equilibrium and fall. He studied the ships and the deployment of the men.

"I think the Major was right," he mused, then plucked the short range telecomp from his leg clip. "Stun 'em and rush the ships."

His men were from Daniel's warrior security. They knew their jobs. In a matter of centons, twenty-four Eastern Alliance enforcers were strewn before the destroyers in various positions of surrender or unconsciousness.

* * * * *

Electra studied the agro grounds one last time, then returned to the porch. Sarah was perched in a chair, her bruised ankle well-bandaged. Michael sat quietly beside her, still pale but much relieved to know she was all right. The children were playing quietly on the porch, unwilling to go any further from their parents than that. There were sounds of somebody moving in the house; Aggie Moreland had insisted on staying to "help straighten things up" while Sarah and Michael both finished their recoveries.

"The enforcers are secured and on their way to the Pegasus," she announced wearily. The thin air was beginning to affect her again. "They won't be bothering you again."

"I seem to recall another warrior promising us that," Sarah offered ruefully.

"Speaking of whom," Michael began, "how many of you are there?"

"What do you mean?"

"Battlestars, warriors. Apollo said they were the only survivors. Yet here you are. Are there others?"

With a heavy heart, Electra could only answer truthfully. "None that we know of. Just the Galactica and the Pegasus – and they may not know we're still here."

"I see."

"Electra?" Sarah spoke again. "Where did you get the name Anne Russell? And how did you know to come in?"

"I'm used to thinking fast – comes with the quadrant. One of my men reported something wrong in back, so someone had to check things out inside. I was the only one in local costume, so it was me. I took Russell from your father's deathstone...."

"I guessed that."

"And Anne is a short form of my mother's name – Antigone. I remember you mentioning the name Anne, someone you know."

"Antigone's pretty. It's just ... Anne was my mother's name."

Electra's smile was strained for a moment, then she managed a laugh. "I'm sure your mother wore it well. And thanks for the compliment on my mother's name. I've always sworn I would never name a daughter after my mother, but maybe I'll have to reconsider."

"How about Leiter and his people? What happens to them?"

"After Leiter woke up from his stun blast, he cursed a lot. What happens to him ultimately? That's up to the Commander. But how about you? Will you be all right here? You're both on life station relief, after all."

"Aggie won't leave until Sarah's back on her feet, and Josh said he'd stay for a few days, help us out with the farm work. They love being around the children," Michael smiled. "And Doyle went to find Hector. Rurik says he'll have Vector running around again in a few centons, and he'll create some kind of repair manual for us – by the way, Apollo never did tell me, what's a centon?"

Electra just laughed and stepped off the porch, waving farewell. She needed decent air again. And she had to think of something to say to Sif about her prize performance. She had convinced everybody, even Leiter, that she was shooting to kill. Instead, she had only stunned him. Sif's daughter had been killed in the Destruction; Electra suspected she would welcome a chance to go after Leiter again, if he made any more remarks about the necessity of war resulting in the deaths of children. Next time, the laser might not be set on stun.

* * * * *

Commander Cain had to do a great deal of thinking. Studying the sullen captives in their cells, he wondered what he should do with them. He had no interest in keeping them aboard his ship. Yet they couldn't just be released to wreak havoc on Paradeen – or worse, on Terra – when the Pegasus was gone. After a moment, something occurred to him, and he hurried to life center to check its feasibility.

"Dr. Helena, I have a question."

The medic glanced up from her desk coolly. "Could you make it quick, Commander? I still have several check-ups to complete on the personnel who spent extended time on Paradeen."

"That one process of yours, psych-electron recall ... does it work in reverse?"

She stared back at him for a beat. "What do you mean?"

"Can you make people forget certain things?"

Her usual faint pink flush faded from her cheeks completely. "It can be done," she replied starkly. "But that kind of ... mindwipe is even more painful than the recall techniques, and is generally forbidden in our medical departments. Its use was deemed too close to unnecessary torture for average use. As I recollect, its only use back in the Colonies, and that not widespread, was in certain criminal cases and a few very special military applications...."

"Can you do it?"

Another beat. "I could. Beej might be more acquainted with the techniques, but...."

"But?"

"I won't ask him to do what I won't do. Medical ethics...."

"If these men remember what they know, they will take it back to their world and shatter a fragile peace, possibly resulting in the deaths of millions of people. If they are made to forget, their peace will stand. If they take back knowledge of us, it may destroy their culture; without that knowledge, their world continues to develop on its own path, without awareness of the Cylons or fear or jealousy of the culture and technology they can't possess. Is that enough to satisfy your conscience, doctor?"

Her mouth twisted in distaste.

"Helena...."

The stylus bent between her fingers. "I guess it will have to be," she finally responded flatly.

"Good." He nodded. "Get ready for them. Twenty-eight men, in a regular rotation. The first will be here in a centar or so. I'm ordering extra security for you for the duration."

Equally flatly, "Understood."

Cain left before either of them said something they would regret later.

* * * * *

The meeting with the leader of the Alliance enforcers was quick and fierce. Leiter was brought in by warrior security, fully manacled and silently furious. The kommandant took one long, hard look at the Colonial commander in his field uniform. He ignored Kleopatra's restive movements and the close attention of the security officers, and stalked forward, glaring, to face Cain almost nose to nose.

"It was said on the Galactica that they were the last of your people's warships, and they had a mission and destination elsewhere," he said tightly.

"Oh?"

Leiter rocked back, more wary now that he had taken Cain's measure – and found it far too close to what he saw as his own. "I see they lied, no doubt to deceive us...."

"And you intend to carry that information back to Terra?" Cain asked with deceptive mildness. No reason to drag out the conversation with formalities or politeness; they'd already emptied the destroyer's computer banks, and there were only a few things Cain wanted or needed to know from this man.

"It is my duty."

"You will go back and tell your superiors that the Galactica was the last, and she is gone. You will then tell them the Pegasus aborted your mission of destroying what was left of the Paradeen survivors – in violation of your own treaty. What do you think they will ask you then?"

"What do you mean?" Leiter stared as Cain sat back in his seat.

"You don't believe they will want to know if or where we have gone? What information or technology we may have supplied your opponents? You can tell them what little you learned of the Galactica, but what can you tell them of the Pegasus – or others?" He deliberately planted a seed of suspicion.

"How many of you are there?" Leiter demanded in angry frustration. Twice these brown-uniformed strangers in their massive starships had interfered with his mission and treated him with the contempt of an adult for a foolish child. He had been physically overmatched, shot, imprisoned, dragged halfway across the quadrant....

Cain leaned forward again, the half-smile on his lips matching the arrogant gleam in his eyes. "Enough, Kommandant, enough," was all he would admit. He could keep his secrets as well as this man. "But I think it is obvious that we cannot allow you and your destroyers to return to Terra with your knowledge. There would be too many ... complications for your people and ours."

"You can't...?"

"Execute you? No, I think not. And while some time under Daniel's watchful eye might be good for you, I'm certainly not interested in inflicting your presence upon my security personnel any longer than necessary. We could release you on Paradeen without your ships and weapons, but I suspect you would only make life miserable for the likes of Michael and Sarah and their family and neighbors. Which suggests the best way to deal with you may be medical. Kleopatra, inform Dr. Helena that her guests are on the way."

Kleopatra gestured Daniel's men forward.

Leiter stepped back in alarm.

Warrior security took the Alliance enforcers away.

* * * * *

It took several days to complete the mind-stripping of the Alliance enforcers. Cain made himself be present for most of it. Dr. Helena spent those days in grim silence, and most of her people with her. She avoided Cain's gaze as much as possible.

When the job was finally done, the men were put back aboard their destroyers and the vessels set adrift on different headings. When the men regained consciousness, they could take control of their ships and return to Terra – obedience to that order had been planted foremost in their minds. Neither would remember what they had done on Paradeen; Kommandant Kohlar had also forgotten any meeting with Leiter, while Kommandant Leiter's memories were so muddled that no one could find any consistency in them. He would have to be careful to avoid a tribunal when he arrived home. Even if Terran technology could unravel what they had done to the enforcers' minds, there would be precious little to trust in Leiter's story -- and his deliberate violation of orders would tell heavily against him.

Cain watched the destroyers as the small specks vanished into the starfield.

He had to admit, the men had kept their pride and arrogance. He had gained precious little during their interrogations. Under other circumstances, he might have been glad to have such men in his command. But their brutality was against their own people, fellow humans. And they acted on their own initiative, for revenge's sake, not for their people's. How could they be trusted?

"Adama, why did you let them go? Couldn't you figure out what they might do when they were free?" he mused aloud. "You must have had something in mind – but I don't know what. Part of our job, I guess, taking care of the little mistakes you've left behind. All in all, they weren't much of a challenge. It's been a rather boring secton...."

With those last, perhaps too-arrogant thoughts, Cain dismissed the Terrans from his mind.


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