Boomer watched Starbuck herd his cadets onto the shuttle. Like a good ovine dagget, something Boomer had seen in his childhood, Starbuck knew where each of his charges was at any given time and was able to head them off when (not if) they strayedsince cadets were marginally more intelligent than ovines, he didn't have to run over and bite them, either, just give them looks-and-promises. As befitted his rank, the cadet-colonel, Clarsarc, wasn't giving any trouble, in fact he was already aboard the shuttle. The other three were too excitedmaybe Starbuck was right, Boomer thought idly. Maybe they should take time off every now and then from their inexorable progress after Earth. He wouldn't go as far as Starbuck occasionally did and say, stop; but a break now and again, especially so the younger generations wouldn't be so kafuffled by planets that being on Earth would, well, send them skittering around like this. They were, after all, still teenagers, still easily excited
His train of thought skidded to an abrupt halt as he stared at Zephyr, gesturing excitedly as she bounced on her toes while talking to one of the cadets who were staying behind. Damn, he thought. Why didn't I see that before? He took a deep breath and looked again. Nope. There was no doubt in his mind. Freed of the misconception that she was reminding him of a woman, he could see who she really was reminding him of: Zac. Zephyr looked like Zac. She had Zac's nose, and cheekbones, and his eyes... those big, expressive brown eyes. His rangy height and his air of suppressed excitementthough for her suppressing it was the unusual mode of expression. Her smile wasn't his, but neither was her hair: obviously she wasn't like Omega's kids, carbon copies of their father; her mother had kicked in at least something...
Zac's kid. He shook his head. Oh, boy... oh, Bucko, you've really been and gone and done it this time, haven't you? Although, looking at it dispassionately, which Boomer could do both by inclination and distance from the problem, he wasn't sure that Starbuck had had any good options. The Commander was hell on morals; more accurately, on lack of them. He'd disapproved of Starbuck's lifestyle ever since Apollo had dragged the other boy on breaks at the academy. But, unlike say, the Sagittans, who approved of prostitutes because they kept 'nice' women safe, Adama actually had them and their customers at the bottom of his list. Or would that be the top? Whichever, he'd been very disappointed in Starbuck nineteen yahrens ago. And to find out that Zac had...
Boomer shook his head. That wouldn't have been pretty at all. Zac was Adama's baby, his precious little boy. No matter that he'd been commissioned by the time he died, he was always going to be Adama's baby, even if he hadn't... though Boomer found himself wondering what, if Zac had survived Cimtar, would have happened with Zephyr and her mother. He winced as his imagination delivered up that scene.
And Apollo might have been even harder, in some ways. Because Apollo was, even then, getting through his guilt by making Zac perfect. And neither of them had ever quite admitted that the boy had become a man.
Boomer watched as the shuttle doors were closed. For that matter, who knew what the mother thought? Why had she come to Starbuck when, if she knew who he was, she had to know that Zac had a father, a brother, even a sister still alive? If she was concerned about getting a home for her daughter, why not turn to the child's blood kin? She must have had her reasons... and Starbuck had honored them.
If he'd known them... Boomer turned that thought over in his mind for a while. Sure, Starbuck had said, to Apollo, and to him for that matter, "I knew her father. I owed him." And if he'd meant Zac, then, yes, Starbuck had carried guilt over Zac's death for a long time, too. Double guiltletting Zac take his place, letting Apollo have the chance to make the call. "Apollo had to leave him," he'd said to Boomer once, twenty yahrens ago and very drunk, "but it was my fault he was out there. If I hadn't played along with him, if I'd done what I should have, Apollo wouldn't have had any of those choices to make. It comes back to me." And the fact that over the course of his career to that point he'd probably swapped out more shifts and patrols than he could count, usually so married men could have holidays off it was true but still... it hadn't mattered. If he'd played it by the book, Zac wouldn't have died and Apollo wouldn't have been able to blame himself. That was how he saw it.
Boomer saw it differently. If Starbuck hadn't agreed, Zac would probably have found some other way to go on that patrol. He was an ingenious kid, after all. And if he hadn't, there was always Cimtar itself. Zac's odds of surviving that would have been pretty slim. And that would have dumped all the guilt on Adama.
But whatever, Boomer shook himself out of contemplating the what-ifs of history, yes, if Starbuck had known Zac was Zephyr's father, he did owe him, or thought he did. And maybe whatever the woman had told him had convinced him not to tell Adama and Apollo. But maybe he hadn't known. Maybe he'd just fallen for the baby, and been desperate to keep her from the Orphan Ship. Starbuck's life at the Orphanage hadn't been bad, Boomer knew, as bad was commonly defined; he hadn't been beaten, sold into prostitution, deprived of food or shelter or even a good enough education to make him able to scramble through the rigorous Academy curriculum with only a modicum of unorthodoxy. But it hadn't been good, either. It was inevitable, with thousands of orphans, that emotionally they'd all been neglected. And even now a child whose parents were not merely dead, but unknown, stood little chance of being adopted. No one wanted to risk bad bloodlines and, even less, the chance of a parent surfacing someday to take a loved child away. When there were so many other children to pick from, the poor risks got left.
And that was as likely as anything else, Boomer thought. Starbuck would have seen the chance to save Zephyr from his life, and he'd have taken it. Because no matter what Cassie thought, Boomer knew Starbuck was most definitely capable of sacrifice and hard work and forgoing his own immediate pleasures. He just had to think the end was worth it.
The shuttle lifted offnot with Starbuck's neat hands, he'd let one of the cadets take it outand Boomer turned to go back to work. His squadron was flying the patrols today, two at a time, watching over the agrotechs. He himself was going out in two centares' time. And what he knew, or guessed, about Zephyr's parentage wasn't anything he needed to tell anyone. Adama was fond of the redheaded girl, but if he tried to co-opt her into his family, he'd be in for a shock, because she wouldn't go. No point in even starting that up, he thought pragmatically. No point at all. Let sleeping daggets lie. When they woke up and told you the truth, you were always sorry...
Bojay sat in the small chapel, where he was such a common sight he was barely noticed. He'd lit all the candles again, but this time in celebration. At last the time was come.
Starbuck and his daughter had left the Galactica, putting themselves in his reach. Finally. And they had taken other cadets, one of whom would serve as the sacrificial offering. He had only to leave his patrol sector and wait... it was inconceivable that Starbuck would not take the cadets away from the main camp to show off even if it were not something he could claim was his job. He would be vulnerable and alone.
Bojay had him.
He had spent much of the morning stealing two antipersonnel narcodust bombs, replacing them with training mockups and making sure his tracks were covered. Now all he had to do was wait two centares.
His wingman was young, not truly a Believer, but he had the gift of credulity. He could be easily led, and he didn't question orders. Bojay had spent the past yahren training him in obedience, and now a barked "Are you questioning me?" could cow the boy into doing whatever he was told. This might push him beyond what he was prepared to doamong other things, he was obsessed with the whore's daughterbut he would be controllable till then. And he was expendable.
Yes, Bojay was seeing the future in the candlelight. And it was good.
Starbuck stood in the doorway of the temporary shelter and watched. Zephyr had gone outside and was staring up in delight. The others weren't quite so bold, including some of the younger agrotechs, but they were all in the door or at the windows.
"What is this?" Clarsarc stood at his shoulder, his grey eyes alight with wonder.
"It's weather," Starbuck said. "Rain, to be precise. A thunderstorm..." He grinned. "There's nothing like flying in a storm, kids. Who's game?"
Zeffie, who was now standing with her face to the sky and arms outflung, spun around and said, "Me! Sir."
"I'd like to try it, sir," Clarsarc added.
The other two looked dubiously at the increasingly hard rain and the dark sky. "I'd really rather not, sir," said Rounder. "It seems unnatural."
Keili nodded her head in agreement.
Starbuck shook his head. "Kids," he said. "We ought to stay here for a couple of sectares, let you get to know what nature really is. Okay, then. You two stay here and keep an eye on things, lend a hand if needed. Clarsarc, Zeff, let's go."
Flying in a storm was as much fun as he'd remembered. The shuttle was not exactly aerodynamic, but that added to the challenge. "Okay," he said after a dozen or so centons, forcibly reminding himself he was supposed to teach hands-on, not by example, "who's up first?" Zeffie and Clarsarc engaged in a little silent debate and Clarsarc apparently won, because he slid into the pilot's seat when Starbuck vacated it. "Light hands," Starbuck reminded him, though Clarsarc was actually quite a good pilot, if a bit on the unimaginative side.
A crack and sizzle and the whole craft trembled slightly, glowing briefly as the sky outside blazed with momentary brilliance. "What was that?" said Clarsarc, steadying the shuttle.
"Lightning," said Starbuck, leaning on the back of the pilot's chair to peer outside. "An electrical discharge from the storm. Harmlesswe're shielded"
The shuttle rocked much more sharply and began losing altitude.
"Frack!" Starbuck lunged forward. "That was laser fire. Out of there, 'Sarc."
The cadet bailed. "I thought there weren't any autochthons," he said from the floor between the chairs.
"There aren't," Starbuck said grimly. "Or shouldn't be. Hang on there, don't try to get to the back." He was slamming the shuttle into an evasive maneuver as he spoke. "Zeff, get on comms"
They took another hit and Zeff cried out involuntarily, yanking the earpiece off. "Comms are fried, sir," she reported calmly.
"Right," he said. "Hold on. This could get bumpy."
"Sir," Zeff said. "I think those are Vipers."
He thought so, too... but he didn't have time to think about it too hard. Another shot clipped the shuttle. He was going to have to put down; he prayed there was someplace down there to do it. Rain spilled in through the gash the last shot had opened in the compartment. Clarsarc bit back an exclamation of pain as Starbuck banked sharply to avoid a mountain looming suddenly out of the clouds. Zeffie reached to steady the boy.
He spotted an open meadow and throttled back. His instincts were screaming at him to gun it and run, but he was flying blind both ways: instruments out and visual no more than thirty metrons. He didn't know who was shooting at them, but even in the best of circumstances he couldn't outrun a Viper. On the ground they might a have a chance to get under cover. Might even be able to figure out what was going on.
As he settled the shuttle down into the grass one of the Vipers roared past so close Clarsarc, looking up through the gash, blanched. "That's a Galactica Viper," he said, sounding stunned. "Red Squadron marking" he broke off, coughing.
Starbuck and Zeffie were coughing, too. "Frack," Starbuck realized, feeling dizzy. "He dusted us with something..."
Apollo and Boomer were going over duty schedules, incorporating some extra leave time if the techs managed to convince the Council to slow down and stay at this planet for two full sectons. The com unit chimed. "Apollo?"
"Yes, Omega, what is it?"
"We've lost communications with your planet-side patrol."
Someday Apollo was going to find out if his brother-in-law had been born with a voice that never sounded perturbed, or if they had taught that in command school... the latter, most likely. Tigh had the same voice. "What do you mean, 'lost communications'?" he asked.
"Just that," Omega said. "There are no problems with the equipment, but neither pilot is answering. And they're too deep inside the atmosphere for us to pick them up."
"I see." He didn't, really, but he was sure Omega had more to say. He almost immediately wished he'd been wrong about that.
"Apollo, we also can't reach Starbuck. The base camp says he went out with two of the cadets, to practice flying in a storm"
"How like him," Apollo said. "But even a lightning strike shouldn't take out a shuttle's comms No answer at all?"
Frack. "I'm on it. Thanks." He turned to Boomer. "That's not who I think it is, is it? Don't tell me we're already into Red Squadron."
"It's Bojay and Musa," Boomer said, looking worried.
"I asked you not to tell me that," Apollo said. "Why do I have a really bad feeling about this?"
"Because there's nobody on that planet but some agrotechs and four of the five people somebody already tried to kill... two of whom Bojay happens to hate like poison?" Boomer asked.
"Yeah. That sounds like why... frack. We can't just go off with nothing to go on."
"Listen," said Boomer, "a few sectons ago Giles was sounding off about Bojay. Let me find him, see if he's got anything useful to contribute."
"Do that," Apollo said decisively, standing up. "I'm going to go talk to the ordnance people, see if any solenite just happens to be missing."
"I doubt he'd get away with that again."
"If he did it this morning? He might. Go find Giles."
Apollo didn't exactly run to the turbolift, but he walked very quickly indeed. And he did trot across the bay to Jenny's, well, office wasn't quite right. Den.
"How thoroughly did your people go over Captain Bojay's Viper before he went on patrol?" Apollo asked without preliminaries.
Jenny looked at him, her no-nonsense eyes assessing. Then she reached for a clipboard. "We did a routine check on it this morning," she said, "looks like four centares before he left. And he did a pre-flight. In fact, he was messing around with it for a while. Why?"
"Is there any chance he could have gotten out of here with unauthorized ordnance?" Though the Lords of Kobol knew, just lasers could take out a shuttle. Starbuck, why the hell are you out flying in a storm, giving him such a nice target? he thought unfairly.
"Ordnance?" she asked, and then broke off and hit her intercom. "Fance, check the ordnance inventories. Now." She looked at Apollo. "Him, sir?"
He didn't ask her, 'him what?' He just nodded and said, "Feels like it."
"Son of a dagget," she said.
"Um, Sarge?" the intercom said. "Are APND bombs 'ordnance'?"
"Tiger," she said very calmly, "if it has the word 'bomb' in its name, it's ordnance. How many?"
"Looks like two, sarge. We're still checking"
"You do that," she said and turned to Apollo. "He could have taken two APNDs out with him, easy. Of course, they're not much use ship-to-ship, but on ground targets..." She shrugged. "You know, sir."
"Get my and Boomer's Vipers prepped," he said.
Starbuck came back to consciousness slowly, but not so slowly that he didn't know it would most likely be better if he was thought to still be out. That he was cold, and naked, with a truly killer headache, his hands tied savagely tight behind his back, lying on a cold damp floor, was a very convincing argument for remaining very still. This didn't seem to have been a misunderstanding...
Slitting his eyes open and not moving his head, he could see three things: two pairs of legsone male, one female, judging by boot sizein Warrior uniform backed up and probably tied to the equipment racks at the far end of the shuttle, and Clarsarc, lying to the side in that particularly boneless manner that says I'm dead. Anger flared in him; he tried to keep it in check. Getting too angry wouldn't help. But Clarsarc had been a good kid, a smart, beautiful, hard-working boy... Is that Zeff, who's the other guy, and what the frack is going on?
"Sir, I really don't understand."
Starbuck recognized that tentative voice. Musa, the kid who'd been following Zeffie around for several yahrens now. Probably more significantly, though: Bojay's wingman.
On cue, Musa was answered and sure enough, it was Bojay's voice, very calm. The boray must be standing right over him, Starbuck realized. "It's simple. They have to die. Especially Starbuck." A boot toe prodded his ribs; he didn't react, just flopped with the pressure. "But his daughter, too."
The relief that Zeffie was still alive lasted about a micron before it was replaced by fear and rage. Bastard, Starbuck thought savagely. Are you the one who tried to kill my daughter already? I should have killed you yahrens ago.
"Well, sir, I got that," Musa sounded uncertain. "I just don't understand why."
"Because Starbuck is the spawn of the Serpent," Bojay said, sounding terrifyingly reasonable. "He has corrupted the House of Adama and much of our youth and caused the fleet to be cast out into the wilderness. He is the worm incarnated. If we are to be saved, he must die."
If I were the spawn of the Serpent, Starbuck thought, feeling a cold sickness in his gut, I'd strike you dead this micron, you fanatic. Oh, Zeff, are you his target on my account?
But Bojay's next words relieved him of that fear, anyway, if not of any of the others. "And she is a whore's daughter, a nameless bastard who should never have been allowed to become a warrior. A symbol of the loss of righteousness. They must both die. Can't you see that? Or are you blind as well?"
"But Clarsarc, he's not, wasn't..." Musa's voice trailed off.
"The boy is the innocent offering," Bojay said. "Innocent blood seals the sacrifice. Slaughtering the guilty isn't atonement. Isn't sacrifice. The gods have told me this themselves."
Great. Starbuck had a rooted distrust of people who had conversations with gods. Prayer was one thing, even answered prayer; but when the gods started dropping by and chatting with you, you were usually ready to live in a room with padded walls and no windows. This is not good. He tested the cords; they were much too tight to get loose from. In fact, his hands were already numb, and he could feel a trickle of blood on his hip under his wrists. This is not good at all.
"I, um..." was Musa's response.
"Now do you understand, boy? If you see the light, you too can join in the work. There is more, much more, to do after this." Bojay sounded like he'd actually believe a 'yes'.
So say 'yes', Starbuck urged Musa silently. Say 'yes', get loose, and bide your time. Jump him once he's busy. But he didn't have much hope of it happening.
"This is crazy. Sir."
Oh, Starbuck could have told him that was the wrong thing to say. Bojay stepped over him and strode to the equipment racks. Starbuck heard a slap and a choked-off cry.
"You don't have to live through this," Bojay said. "I will tell of your tragic death quite convincingly; the gods will give me the words. You aren't a pure sacrifice, but a second is not needed. Your death is an acceptable loss. The whore's daughter has beguiled you with her body, hasn't she? Like her mother did. Like her father does. Weak is the flesh. Weak."
"You're pretty obsessed with sex, aren't you?" That was Zeffie.
Starbuck's relief at hearing her voice was replaced with more anger when Bojay stepped sideways and hit her.
"Silence, bitch," he said. "I'm not ready to kill you, yet; you must watch your father die first." He turned, looking, Starbuck presumed, at him. "Aren't you awake yet, worm? You must be awake to die. You must know what is happening."
Starbuck couldn't keep silent any longer, even if it might have been tactically sound. "Yeah, you son of a dagget," he said, scrambling to his knees and glaring at Bojay. "I'm awake. Wouldn't want to sleep though your little party."
"Excellent." Bojay crossed over to sit on his heels in front of Starbuck. He put his right hand on Starbuck's head, like a patriarch blessing a child. Starbuck felt a sore spot under the touch; he'd clearly been clobbered as well as gassed... which explained why he'd been out so long. Bojay smiled at him. "The cleansing may begin."
"Get your hands off him," Zeffie said furiously. She was standing with her hands obviously tied behind her around a stanchion; her jacket and blaster were missing, her hair was in disarray, and her shirt was torn, but she seemed to be in one piece. If pissed off. Beside her, also tied, Musa looked to be in shock.
Bojay touched Starbuck's cheek briefly, and then stood up and crossed back to Zeffie. "I told you to be quiet," he said. "If you speak again I'll fill that whore's mouth of yours with a gag. You aren't worthy to speak to the chosen."
"Chosen what? Lunatic?"
He slapped her again. She dropped to her knees, sliding awkwardly down the equipment rack.
"You know, Bojay, if you hit people every time they tell you the truth," Starbuck said, "you're going to get really tired of" Bojay's backhand knocked him off his knees and against the wall. He struggled to get back upright, saying, "Case in point"
This time Bojay kicked him. "You will die, worm," he said conversationally. "You and your spawn. The Serpent cannot protect you this time, He has no power over me now."
"You're barking mad."
Another kick. Bojay's hand grabbed his hair, jerking him off the ground, eyes staring into his from centimetrons away. "Spawn of the Serpent," he said, still sounding so normal, not even angry. "You will die first. I will purge you and then kill you, and then I will kill the whore's daughter. And the weakling," he added as an afterthought. "But it won't stop there. All your evil plans are now naught. For your corrupted prince, he will be next, and the House of Adama will be purified, and Caprica's glory will be restored, and Cain's sacrifice affirmed, and the people will be delivered from the Serpent your progenitor's power and cease wandering in the wilderness and enter finally into the shining world." He stared at Starbuck, smiling almost sweetly. "Know this and despair."
Starbuck took a breath, feeling the stabbing that said Bojay had found at least one rib with his boot. "Not bloody likely."
Bojay didn't stop smiling as he slapped him, hard, twice, a backhand and then a forehand, not letting go of his hair. It hurt like hell. "It happens now, worm," he said. "I will fill you with righteousness and then kill you. Repent and you will die swiftly."
Right, thought Starbuck, licking the blood off his lips and pushing away the irrational fear that the smell of bloodanybody's bloodalways called up. Fill me with righteousness... why don't I think you mean to preach at me? Over Bojay's shoulder he could see Zeff on her knees, slowly sliding her right leg backwards, a centimetron at a time. Her knife. He spoke again, as insolently as he could manage to, keeping Bojay's attention focussed on himself. "What's the matter, Boje? Can't get it up anymore without somebody else's blood to taste?"
"Silence, worm!" For the first time Bojay shouted.
"Picked by gods, are you? I doubt it"
Bojay threw him backwards and kicked him in the face. Pain exploded behind his cheekbone and for an agonizing moment he fought blacking out and throwing up, winning both battles, but barely. Can't pass out now, he thought grimly. Got to hold his attention, keep him from looking at Zeff. "I know what you really are," he said, spitting out blood. "Remember the old days?"
He most definitely had Bojay's undivided attention now. The other man grabbed him by the throat, slamming him into the wall. "Unrepentant, perverted, serpentspawn," he snarled, flecks of spittle hitting Starbuck's face. "You'll beg for mercy and get none. I'll fill your corrupt body with my righteousness and you will scream for death."
Starbuck had looked at death before, and into the eyes of madness as well, most notably Baltar's. But nothing had ever chilled him like Bojay... there was not the slightest hint of sanity left. He was unreachable. Starbuck knew he was going to die. Remarkably, he wasn't afraid of it. He didn't want to die, but if he could keep Bojay occupied with killing him, so that others, more important, didn't die, it was all right. It was good... He felt no great patriotism, it wasn't the fleet on his mind. He could in fact barely think of Keili and Rounder, Musa and the agro techs... In the clarity of the moment his focus had narrowed to what, to who, was important. In the last moment of stillness, he prayed. Not to the gods, though it was not because he believed they were in fact talking to Bojay but because Bojay's existence proved the gods at best powerless. Nor did he pray now to the dead, for they did nothing more than watch, sometimes warn, and besides he'd be with them soon enough. Instead, his prayers were to the living, desperate silent communications flung across the distances from his heart to theirs: Apollo, I love you. Boomer, keep him safe. 'Theni, don't let him blame himself. Zeffieoh, Zeffie, when you get freerun!
And then he set himself to make his death take as long as possible.
Why had she never practiced this? Why had she never thought about having to be able to get her knife out of her boot under circumstances as adverse as these, about needing to be able to contort herself into knotsdon't think about why he's not looking at youto reach it at all? About needing to be able to hold it in numb fingers and slice through cords around her own wrists, cords she couldn't see, without dropping it, crippling herself, or drawing attention? Not that Bojay looked likely to be distracted... She bit her tongue, using the pain to force her mind away from what was happening to her father, forcing herself to think only of the knife, only of getting free. One step at a time, she thought, blocking out the sounds, paying no more attention to the tears running down her face. Leg and leg over went the dagget to Tover. Leg and leg over...
She must have repeated that a thousand times or more before, suddenly, her hands were free. The jerk when the cord finally parted sent the knife falling to the shuttlecraft's floor, clattering, it seemed, very loudly. But Bojay didn't notice. She reached for it; it slipped out of her fingers, which were, she noticed detachedly, not merely clumsily numb but streaked with blood where she'd cut her wrists and the palm of her left hand. Still forcing herself to think one step at a time, next immediate object, no further, she flexed her hands, driving the circulation back into them. Then she grabbed the knife off the floor and stood up.
Next to her, Musa was staring at Bojay and her father, his face white; she didn't think he'd even noticed she was loose. She spared a couple of microns to wish it was 'Sarc still alive, he'd've been useful. Then she sliced through the cords holding him against the rack and, while automatically resheathing her knife with her right hand, yanked his blaster from its holster with her left. Clearly Bojay's opinion of Musa matched hers... and he didn't even seem to register what she'd done.
His blaster was a 250, of course, big in her hands, but she didn't know where hers was and she could shoot this one. She turned to look at Bojay for the first time in what seemed centares. He was on his knees, an arm around her father's neck, her father between them. He was paying no attention to anything except "filling Starbuck with righteousness"...
She didn't hesitate a micron; the only thing she was conscious of was a cold, black hatred and an absolute need to kill. She leveled the blaster at him, holding it with both hands as if she were target shooting. "Bojay, you bastard," she called, "Look. At. Me."
He did. Rage crossed his face. He let go of Starbuck, who crumpled to the floor, and reached for his own blaster. But as soon as Starbuck was out of her line of fire, she pulled the trigger. The first shot slammed Bojay against the shuttle's wall and the second pinned him there.
She covered the space between them in three strides. She knelt beside Starbuck but before she even looked at him she placed the muzzle of the blaster against Bojay's head and blasted him one more time. No vid-villain-getting-up-at-the-worst-possible-moment for him. She didn't even care if there was enough left to identify. She laid the blaster down and pulled out her knife, slicing through the cords around Starbuck's wrists. They were dug in so deeply he'd have scars for the rest of his life... she refused to entertain any ifs about that. She simply refused.
He was unconsciousfinally, thank the gods, covered in blood and bruises and other marks she didn't want to think about. Certainly not now. His face was so badly damaged she could barely recognize him. His right arm was clearly broken; not only was it bent in the middle of the forearm, but bone had pierced the skin. It was bleeding, badly. She eased him onto his side and applied pressure; the bleeding slowed.
"Musa," she said, not looking up. "Go call for help."
When she didn't hear him move she looked up. He was still standing right where she'd left him when she cut him free; he hadn't moved at all.
"Go!" she shouted, looking at him in anger. "Don't just stand there! Find your fracking Vipers and call for help!"
He didn't move.
She swore and jumped to her feet one more time, grabbing him and shoving him to his knees beside Starbuck. She seized his hand and put it on her father's bleeding arm, above the break. "Hold that," she ordered. "Tight. And don't let go." She grabbed his chin and stared into his shocky blue eyes. "Do you hear me? If you let go I'll kill you."
She didn't wait for an answer, but grabbed the blaster, jumped to her feet and ran outside. The rain was still falling. Unexpectedly, though she'd seen pictures of it and read books, too, the ground was soft and squishy under her boots. So this is mud, she thought detachedly, scrabbling to keep from falling. How interesting.
She ran a few metrons and then stopped short, realizing she didn't know which way to go. Frack. Frack, frack, frack... Suddenly she heard herself screaming it. "Frackfrackfrackfrack!" She hit herself on the leg with the blaster as hard as she could. "Stop that," she said aloud. "Stop it. You can't. You don't have time."
She took a deep breath and pivoted slowly in a circle. They couldn't have hidden the Vipers and surely they wouldn't have landed very far awaythere. There they were. She ran to them, slipping in the mud, the rain plastering her hair to her face. She shoved the blaster in her belt and scrambled up onto the fin to get inside. She pulled the helmet off the seat where whichever of them it was flew this one had left it and pulled it on over her wet hair. Then she settled into the seat and powered up enough to get comms working.
The familiar crackle came up in her ears. "Galactica operations," she called. "Come in, Galactica ops. Please."
An unfamiliar voice answered. "This is Galactica operations. Identify yourself."
"Galactica operations, this is..." Oh, gods. She couldn't remember what call her father had been using. "This is Cadet Zephyr."
"Cadet? What are you doing on a Viper frequency?"
Then a different voice, a calm one that she knew, but which identified itself anyway. "Zephyr? This is Omega. What's wrong?"
She forgot all her protocol. "Uncle Omega, oh gods, Bojay tried to kill us. He hurt Dad, real bad, oh gods I think he might die"
"Zeffie," Omega cut in. "Zeffie, stay calm. Are you hurt?"
"No." She took a deep breath. I am a Warrior! I can stay calm. "'Sarc's dead, Bojay killed him. I'm all right."
"Good. Are you at the base camp? Zeffie? Are you at the base camp?"
"No. I don't know where we are." To her horror she heard her voice break again.
"That's okay. We'll find you. Keep transmitting. Even if you can't think of anything to say keep the frequency open and we'll find you. Do you understand?"
"Yes." If she talked in one-word sentences, two- or three-, she'd be okay. "I understand. Send a doctor. He's hurt so badly..." take a breath "...he needs a doctor."
"Okay. Where's Bojay?"
Thank God. He believed her. She'd thought she might have to convince them. "Dead. Musa's here..."
"Okay. Zeffie, keep transmitting now. If I have to I can break in, but keep transmitting."
So she did. She told them about the storm-flight, about the Viper attack, about Bojay's driving them down and dusting them, and about his religious ravings. And that her father had enraged him enough that he tried to beat him to deathshe shied from the assault, she couldn't bring herself to think about it let alone tell itso she could get loose... and then, to her shame, she started crying and couldn't stop. She was still crying half a centare later when Apollo and Boomer landed in the meadow.
Boomer hadn't found Giles, but he had to agree with Apollo: Bojay not answering + missing ordnance + Starbuck not answering = nothing but trouble. "Of course," he added, "I'm not sure just what you think we're going to do down there."
"Start at the base camp and look for Starbuck," said Apollo. "We've got to find him before Bojay does."
"Narcobombs sounds a bit promising," Boomer said. Apollo couldn't see his face, of course, and he wondered if Boomer were really hopeful. "Considering he used solenite last time, I mean," he added.
"I don't know. I can think of a lot of reasons why sleepers would be a really bad thing."
"Huh." Apparently Boomer could, too.
They didn't say anything for a while. Apollo was hoping like hell he was wrong, that Bojay and Musa would show up on the Galactica bitching about their comms failure, that the APNDs would be an inventory error, and that a lightning bolt had after all proven able to take out a shuttle's comms... Or, if that was too much to ask, any one of the three. Or, if that was too much, that Starbuck had found someplace to tuck his shuttle and his kids and his own self away, neatly and securely out of sight, and was just sitting there while Bojay hunted for him. And once that would have been too much to ask, but Starbuck was steady now, he was responsible, he'd be careful.
"Please. Make him safe," he whispered.
"You say something?" Boomer asked.
"Apollo," Omega's voice saved him from having to answer. "We've gotten a call from Zeff."
"Zeff?" Oh, gods, where was Starbuck? "Are they all right?"
"She's shaken," Omega said. "I'll try to get the whole story out of her, but Starbuck is badly injured, and Bojay and Clarsarc are dead."
Mixed news if ever there was. "Where are they?"
"She doesn't know. We're triangulating but it will take a few centons. We're putting together a medical team to send; I thought you'd like to be first once we get their location."
His sister had married a remarkably perspicacious man.
"How bad is Starbuck?" Boomer was asking.
"We don't know," Omega said. "Very bad, I'm afraid."
"I'll patch in Zeff."
Apollo didn't like any of it. He didn't like the story he was hearing, or the tone in her voice, or the way she stopped and started as if there things she wasn't tellingwhat could be worse than what she was saying?and certainly not the way she started crying and didn't seem able to stop. He willed the ops crew to get the location as quickly as possible, and when they did, peeled out to the other side of the planet with Boomer on his tail.
He spotted the Vipers in a meadowthe rain Zeffie had mentioned was overand then the remains of the shuttle at the other end of it, badly battered, even sliced open. Fracking Bojay, he thought and eased his Viper down in the middle of the meadow. As he landed, Boomer said, "You go to the shuttle, Apollo. I'll check on Zeff." He felt a moment's guilthe hadn't even thought about herthen acknowledged. He barely waited for his engines to stop before he was unlatching the canopy and pushing himself out onto the grass, slipping in the wet as he ran for the shuttle, praying wordlessly with every step.
He froze for a moment in the doorway. There was a dead cadet next to himClarsarcand Musa was kneeling on the floor, his back to the door. Starbuck's body was sprawled in front of the young pilot. And Bojay's half-dressed body was crumpled against the wall. At least, Apollo presumed it was Bojay, it was wearing uniform, but its face was burned beyond recognition.
Not that Apollo gave a damn about Bojay. He skidded to his knees beside Musa, who jerked around with a dazed, terrified look on his face, his eyes almost all pupil. "I didn't let go," he said. "I didn't let go."
Apollo looked where Musa was hanging on to Starbuck's arm. The sight of the pale bone piercing the flesh made him swallow hard, but the bleeding was only a sluggish trickle. But when he touched Starbuck's bare skin, it was cold and clammy, and Apollo realized with a start that the floor was wet. He stripped out of his jacket and tucked it carefully around Starbuck's bruised and bloody torso, discovering injuries that made his stomach roil. He put his fingers under Starbuck's jaw, wincing at the sight of his best friend's battered face. It was so swollen he wasn't sure how he could recognize him... the pulse was so weak he almost couldn't feel it. Gods, he prayed, don't... Don't you dare die on me, Starbuck.
He looked at Musa, who was sitting back on his heels, lost. "Give me your jacket," he said.
Musa blinked at him. "I didn't let go," he said again.
"No, you didn't. Now give me your jacket."
Musa just stared at him. He was about one micron from ripping it off him when Boomer's hand pushed the boy out of the way, putting his own jacket over Starbuck's legs. "Lords of Kobol," he said in a voice shocky with horror, "he still alive?"
"Yes," Apollo said.
"He's not going to die."
Apollo jerked his head up to see Zeffie kneeling down by her father's head.
"He's not. He can't, can he, Uncle Apollo?" She had pulled off her own jacket and was folding it up to put under his head.
Apollo wasn't sure she wasn't in shock herself, but he didn't think he could tell her to keep her jacket on. "No," he said, hoping his voice sounded surer than he was. "He can't die. You hear me, Starbuck? You're not allowed to die."
"Gods, Apollo," said Boomer. Apollo stared at him and he subsided, putting one hand on Starbuck's shoulder where it looked like it might not hurt. "Hang in there, buddy," the Leonid said. "Hang in there. They're on their way."
Apollo found himself holding one of Starbuck's hands. He clenched his jaw, hard, when the condition of the blond's wrist finally registered. He looked up and over at Bojay's body. He'd died much too fast, much too fast... "Stay with us, Bucko," he said, hearing his voice break, not caring. "Stay with us."
When the medical team arrived, Boomer had to haul Apollo out of the way. Salik himself had come, his face grim as he prepared the battered Starbuck for moving. IVs were inserted, an oxygen canulaApollo heard the sharply indrawn breath of the tech who got a good luck at Starbuck's shattered cheek and eye but Salik's glare kept the man from wordsand then bandages and thermal wraps. Very, very gently, as if they were moving something infinitely fragile and preciouscare that frightened Apollo, who'd seen how quickly they usually moved in the fieldthey lifted Starbuck and put him in the basket litter, strapping him down.
He hadn't moved or made a sound, even of pain, since Apollo had gotten there.
"Doctor?" Apollo said, putting out a hand to hold Salik.
"I can't say, Sub-Colonel. I need to get him back. Now. Are you coming, young woman?"
Zeffie was on her feet before he'd finished the question.
"There's room for you, too, Apollo. If you stay out of our way." Salik tossed that over his shoulder as he followed after the techs.
"Go on, Apollo. I'll stay here with the boy and Clarsarc. And that" he lifted his chin at Bojay's corpse.
"Throw that out for whatever eats carrion on this planet," Apollo said savagely and hurried after Salik and Zeffie. He didn't think the doctor would wait. He didn't want him to.
Apollo rode back to the Galactica in silence, watching Salik hover over Starbuck. Beside him, Zeffie sat in silence, her eyes never leaving her dad, but passively allowing one of the techs to clean and bandage her wrists. Apollo noticed they didn't seem as bad as Starbuck's, bruised to a nice dark color but not raw. There were a few cuts, including a rather deep one on the ball of her left thumb... she'd cut herself free, he realized. He remembered, vividly, her thirteen-yahren-old self hugging Starbuck with a razor-sharp Sagittan boot-knife in her grasp, and Starbuck saying you never know when you'll need a good blade...
He choked back a sob. She blinked and looked sideways at him, and then put her hand on his leg. "He won't die, Uncle Apollo," she said seriously. "He just can't. Not now."
Gods, he hoped she'd inherited some prescience from her mother...
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