Her staff ignored her gliding steps. Helena nodded minutely, approving. They were concentrating on their duties, on the nine men and women still in the Pegasus life center. The chief medical officer slipped into her personal cubicle without disturbing any of them, patient or medical staff.
Cain wasn't going back to the fleet. The Pegasus was on her own again.
"I have to assume he knows what he's doing," she muttered under her breath. "And maybe hope he doesn't do it too long. My staff's cut by two-thirds, and the personnel in some departments are reduced twenty-five to fifty percent."
They had sent away the injured, with medics to care for them on the trip, and all non-essential personnel who wished to accompany them. The vessel had been overcrowded before; she'd taken on many survivors at Molecay, and given them all duties. But now she was seriously understaffed, if Cain truly intended to remain apart, as he'd announced at the briefing.
Helena slid into her chair and sat up very straight, hands flat on the desk. After a moment, she reached up to brush a wave of platinum blonde hair higher on her forehead, then hit the computer file. She had to double-check the roster, see who was left, remember who'd been sent to the fleet with the injured when Cain led them on their suicide run against three base ships.
"Not exactly a suicide run. But we didn't know what he planned when we stayed aboard. He couldn't have known we'd survive; he must have had some suspicion what he was taking us into...." She felt a tic in her left cheek, and carefully relaxed the muscles, calling back her usual calm expression. It was a careful lack of visible emotion that had earned her the epithets of remote, frosty, heartless, and worse, from some of the crew. She couldn't let herself care about some of the words, the thoughts. She had a job to do.
Beej. The sandy-haired, mustached doctor from the Britannica. A good man, and a fine young doctor. Friendly, but quiet. He'd refused the fleet run. Just now, she could see him through the screen, bustling around beyond her chamber. He was checking Sif; the woman's husband sat at her side, as he'd been for the past two days. Sif had been badly injured; for two days, they had been afraid she would die. Beej had operated on her, then devoted almost constant attention to the slow turning toward recovery.
Rafael. Olive-skinned, dark curly hair, lean, sinewy build. He smiled too much for her liking, but he had a way with patients. He also had a way with the female med techs, especially Galswintha. At the other end of the main life center chamber, she could glimpse the two of them going over the equipment inventory; they would have to be very careful with supplies as well as personnel – human medical supplies were something they couldn't steal from the Cylons.
The med techs. Galswintha, the dark and lively Scorpian, whose very touch seemed to help some patients. Cadmus, a Caprican, so selfless and dedicated it hurt. Flora, a thin and fey-seeming Gemon, convinced that every patient healed faster with something growing at his bedside, who filled life center with the scent of herbs. Liber, another Gemon, who seemed to have more energy than any other two men. Twyla, as openly sharp-tonged and dark-featured as her superior was reserved and fair-complexioned, the daughter of spacers, who'd never spent more than a few sectons at a time on any world. Hypatia, the shy Libran who seemed to live to be of service.
A good team, and more than competent to care for the present situation, but if they faced another battle like the one they'd just come through, with days of hit and run fighting, or Sagan forbid, like the one at Molecay, they would lose patients. And it was only a third of the team they were used to working with; there would be gaps in experience and reaction that they would each expect someone else to fill. But that someone else wouldn't be there any more.
Their loss was the fleet's gain, in experienced personnel; their people desperately needed those medical specialists. But what would the Pegasus do now?
"She'll be all right, Heimdal. The worst is over." Beej wasn't sure the captain even heard what he said, so he rephrased it. "Lieutenant Sif shows every indication of making a full recovery from her injuries, Captain. If you'd like to take a few centars, catch a little snooze...."
"I'll stay with my wife." He was silent for a moment, holding the woman's hand. He touched the long blonde braid that lay over her bare shoulder and the thermoblanket. She turned her head slightly to follow his touch, in spite of being heavily medicated and deeply asleep. "She should never have taken her ship out again. It was damaged, there wasn't time to repair it properly. She insisted on joining the spearhead, and staying with us. I should have ordered her back with the others, with the injured. She'd be safe with the Galactica now."
"Would she have gone without you, even under orders?"
Heimdal's blue-gray eyes flicked to him. "No."
"Would you be happy with her gone? Would she be happy without you?"
"Then I don't see the point."
His expression was dry. "You are obviously not a married man."
Beej winced; pain flashed in his eyes for a moment. He kept his voice steady as he replied, "Not any more."
"We owe you much, doctor."
"I'd have done it for anybody."
"I'm sure you would have. But you did it for her. And I would not wish to live without her. Count on our friendship if you ever need it. And thank you."
The expression in his eyes deepened; the doctor turned away quickly.
Heimdal scarcely noticed his departure. His attention was on Sif, mesmerized by her hair, her peaceful, sleeping face, the translucent-pale skin of her forehead, neck, and shoulders. He worked loose the braid, and began to unwind her hair, spreading its wavy tendrils across the pillows and her body.
Her eyelids fluttered for a moment, and she half-smiled, a rosy blush on her cheeks. A light sigh, and she was asleep again.
Heimdal loved her more all the time.
"Status?" Dr. Helena asked briskly.
"Everything's good," Dr. Beej replied. "All our patients are showing strong signs of recovery. Even Sif will be ready to be released soon. She was the only one I really didn't think we could save. Many more miracles like that, and I'll start believing our own publicity!" He fingered the computer readout, playing with the tabs at the edge of the sheets.
"Then I think we can give ourselves a well-deserved rest," she commented. "We might as well recuperate a bit ourselves before the fatigue and stress set in."
The man's lips thinned as he nodded. "Bound to happen. We're apart from everything we knew and everyone most of us cared about. Won't be long before the oddball factor cuts in, unexpected emotional outbursts, depression, symptoms of neuroses...."
"I already wish Metus was here. But we didn't need a psychological specialist for the battle. So..... Actually, I'm surprised you decided to stick with us. You had leave to visit the fleet, one of the few of us who got the chance to leave this old ship. Why did you stay?"
The medic grimaced. "No reason to leave."
"She didn't survive?" The question was voiced almost softly, and Beej was startled for a moment, wondering if Helena was actually expressing sympathy.
"Yeah. So am I."
She shuffled at something on her desk, then broke protocol, as Beej had been first in the short-lived furlon program. "You may as well take first leave. Things will get hectic here soon enough; I suspect we'll all soon be carrying double duty."
He laughed shortly. "As long as it doesn't get to us, and we go off the deep end with the lunatic pilots."
"We can handle it." Her brisk tone dismissed him; he'd heard it often enough in the past to know when Helena had other things on her mind. With a half-bow, he left her office.
Lt. Sif and Capt. Martin were the only patients in life center still requiring any kind of special care; the rest had been released, and the remaining two would soon be back on their feet as well. Beej saw med techs Flora and Twyla hovering over the handsome Martin, and Sif was sitting up talking to her husband and Dr. Rafael.
"What the frak, I've earned it," he muttered to himself. He negligently tossed his printout aside and marched from life center. There was bound to be someone in the officers' club he knew.
Boring, boring, boring. Being drunk was boring. And none of the booze was making memories go away. Beej wondered why he bothered. He'd spent two yahrens aboard the Pegasus since Molecay, wondering often if she'd made it, if she was still waiting for him. She hadn't been. She was dead. He thought he'd resigned himself to the fact, to both of them being gone. But then....
And it hurt the more, so much more, for knowing how it had been, and who....
"Well, why did I expect her to wait?" he asked with exaggerated precision. His three companions had long since succumbed, two returning to their own chambers, the third snoring on the table. The sleeping drunk didn't respond.
"I wasn't home much before Molecay, and she had her own career, things to do, people to meet. How could I expect her to wait for me, when everybody thought the whole Fifth Fleet was gone? And she was beautiful, had everything going for her. She shouldn't have had to wait for any man. Lords know half the men in the Colonies were willing to wait for her if she so much as glanced their way. Bartender, another!" He raised a fist at the man by the counter.
The man set something in front of him. The doctor didn't even care what it was. The Pegasus was already reduced to what its personnel could make on their own. The taste didn't matter, most of the time, as long as it did the job.
Somebody slid into the seat next to him. He stared blearily at a pilot far too neatly dressed and pressed. He couldn't believe it – not only did most warriors never look that way, but he knew this particular pilot didn't frequent the officers' club. He propped his chin on his hand and initiated conversation.
"Heimdal. You're having one, I hope. Good. I hate to drink alone," he said carefully. "So what brings you here? How's your lady?"
"Sif's fine." The bartender brought another drink for his new companion. "You did a good job."
"Just doin' my job." His pronunciation started slipping.
The redhead took a drink, studied him a moment more. "So what happened to your wife? Killed with the rest of the Colonies?" he asked abruptly.
Beej almost laughed, but thought it would turn into tears, so he held it back. "No, she survived to reach the fleet. That's where she ran into trouble. Her and the kid, my kid...." He took a long draw from the mug.
Heimdal seemed in a reminiscing mood. "We had a child, a little girl."
"Oh? Gone with the rest?"
The captain nodded. "She was with my family. They were raising her, like our clans always did. None of them made it. The whole clan...."
"So why bring up bad memories?" Beej demanded. "Have another drink and forget it."
"You saved my wife. We don't forget that kind of thing. I will never forget it." Heimdal finished his drink. For a man who didn't drink, Beej thought he'd finished it awfully quickly.
"Wonderful," he muttered.
He didn't realize Heimdal had ordered another until the bartender set drinks in front of each of them.
"What happened to her?" his companion prompted.
"Why do you need to know?"
Heimdal almost smiled at him. "I'm curious. I want to know. And I think you need to tell."
"Oh. She decided to become a warrior. And so she did. And she was killed by the Cylons. End of story. Old story. Everybody's heard it before. Everybody knows a warrior who was killed by the Cylons." Beej sighed heavily, drink and emotion stirring up in him. He tried to stand up, and fell back, astonished at his own instability.
"I think you need sleep," the pilot observed.
"I think you're right. But I'm not sure I'd make it back to my chambers."
"Let me help you."
With an arm over the husky warrior's shoulder, Beej made a credible attempt at walking. Back in his own chambers, Heimdal let him spill onto the bunk.
Staring up at the ceiling, the doctor suddenly announced, "I'm not ever going back to the Galactica. Not even if we join the fleet again."
"Why not?" Heimdal inquired patiently, working at his boots.
"I might see him."
"Which him? There are a lot of men aboard that ship." One boot flew.
Tears were flowing too, rolling down his cheeks, dampening his mustache, dripping onto his pillow. "The man she married."
Heimdal stiffened. "The man she ... married? I think I understand...."
"Not all of it." The other man was shaking. "She thought I was dead. I can understand that. I don't blame her for marrying somebody else. And I was never there, I guess I shouldn't talk.... But you know the worst? The absolute worst?"
The pilot simply knelt and listened to the rhetorical question. In his drunken state, Beej just needed to talk, and Heimdal was prepared to listen.
"The worst is, I was aboard for a while. Y'see, I never thought she might be alive. But then I found out she had been, and I had to go see what had happened, how she had died. When I found out she was dead, and how she died, I learned our son was alive, with the man she married. I saw him, at school, wanted to talk to him, tell him I was alive, and we'd be together, that he wasn't alone. You know what? He didn't even recognize me! Was I gone so much?
"Then he showed up, and my kid.... My own kid's calling another man father!" He half-rolled and began pounding the bunk. "He's calling another man father! He didn't even know me! If I ever see that Apollo again, I'm gonna kill him! He's got Boxey. He's got my son...."
Beej buried his sobs in the pillow, working the blanket into a twisted mass.
"And he won't even know why! He looked at me, then looked right past me. He didn't know me either. Didn't Serina ever tell him? Didn't she even keep a picture of me that he might have seen and asked about? Didn't he know she was married before, that I was with the Fifth Fleet? It wasn't even in the personnel records! Her records....
"Dammit, I loved her! I loved Boxey! And he didn't even know me...."
Heimdal waited until the drunken sobs faded into occasional hiccups, then silence. Very quietly, he draped another blanket over the sleeping man and moved to the door to turn out the light.
"I understand you, Beej." The words were softly-spoken, but heartfelt and pained. "Our little Bryna didn't remember us either, the one time we saw her before Molecay. They speak of children being damaged by so much separation from their parents because of this war, but they forget how we hurt, being apart when duty has give other orders....
"I will not wish you forgetfulness, because you cannot forget a child, and I could not bear the thought of losing Sif, of having to face life without her. I wish for you that the sadness will fade, but not the memory. My friend, I hope you find another reason to live."
Enter Sheba's Galaxy