Doing the Job

Dedicated to the firefighters and emergency medical technicians
of New York City

Isis spotted the young man across the shuttle bay and trotted after him. "Lieutenant Starbuck?"

The men turned around. The one in the middle, the dark-haired one, was clearly the one in charge, but it was the tawny-haired one she was looking at.

"Yes?" the dark one asked, polite but closed off. He had put himself slightly between her and the other in a protective stance.

The blond looked at her past the other's shoulder. He smiled, reflexively she thought, and asked, "That's me. What can I do for you?"

The dark one looked exasperated, but she barely noticed him. Starbuck's smile faded under her stare, and she was sure he was the one...

Isis leaned back on the concrete behind her and raised her face to the sun. It was warm on her face, but the warmth was only skin deep. The chill was inside her bones; she was afraid it would never go away. Freckles heaved a sigh and laid her head on Isis's knee. After a centon the dagget whined.

"I know," Isis agreed. "Okay, girlie, let's go back to work."

Freckles leapt to her feet, her tail lashing and her ears laid back against her skull. Isis noted with some detachment that there were flecks of blood and a lot of dust and dirt on the dagget's usually immaculate blue-ticked coat. She's going to need a bath, Isis thought wearily. So am I, I suppose... She struggled to her feet and shortened the dagget's leash, taking a deep breath as she turned back to the devastation.

She'd been through Umbra three or four times in her life; the town had been small and attractive. Had been. Wasn't now. Sixty-some centares after the Cylons had attacked, smoke was still rising from some places. One or two buildings stood untouched, now occupied by emergency headquarters and the first medical point, but most of the town was like an imaginative rendition of one of the less attractive hells. Weary emergency rescue technicians worked side by side with firefighters, peace enforcement, and a handful of Colonial Warriors, sifting through the rubble, looking for bodies.

For survivors, she corrected herself. People could still be alive.

She and Freckles walked past the hollow, half-a-school on the edge of the town. Thank God, thank all the gods, thank the Lords of Kobol, the school had been on the edge of the town. Apparently nearly all the children who'd been there had been driven out by their teachers into the Forest, away from the town and the destruction raining down out of the clear Caprican sky...

It can't happen on Caprica! Isis remembered thinking when she heard the news over the emergency activation network. Not on Caprica! She'd always, she'd realized, had that little comforting thought in her mind when she watched vid of Cylon attacks in places like Kevala or Shchatseyna. Even while she was loading Freckles into her hovercar, driving like the proverbial chiropteran out of hell, that kept playing over and over again in her mind: It can't happen on Caprica. Things like this don't happen on Caprica...

But they did. It had. The evidence was all around her, assaulting all of her senses with its tangible reality. The air was full of acrid smoke, drifting with the breezes that kept fanning the fires and scattering sparks. Firefighters were having a hell of a time keeping things enough under control to let ERTs like her do their jobs. She didn't even want to think about the building off to her left where the bodies of dozens of Umbra firefighters and ERTs lay in the darkness, men and women who'd gone, sometimes barehanded, clawing their way into burning and crumbling buildings trying to get the civilians out even while the Cylon Raiders were attacking. Focus, Isis, she told herself. Find survivors.

"Isis." A hand landed on her shoulder.

She turned her head to look at the smoke-dirtied face of her boss, Captain Doras. He looked like hell, she thought, reddened eyes, a burned patch in his iron-grey hair... "Sir?"

"Have you slept?" he asked.

"Sleep? What the frack's that?"

"What about your dagget?"

"Look at her," Isis said. "She's napped. She's fresher than anybody else, and rarin' to go." It was true; Freckles was straining her leash.

Doras sighed. "I wish I understood this as badly as the damn daggets do."

Isis looked around. "Yeah... Look, Captain, we need to get to work."

He shook his head. "I want you to go out into the Forest," he said.

"Sir," she protested.

"No," he cut her off. "We know there are kids out there. Here," he gestured, "it's too late. You know that."

"Cap," she protested. "We pulled somebody out—"

"Nine centares ago. There are kids out in the Forest, still."

"They've got them, haven't they? Yesterday I thought they'd got the last of them."

"They don't know," he said wearily. "Please, Isis, get out there and help them look."

She nodded. "C'mon, girlie," she said, tugging on Freckles's leash. "Let's go."

The dagget whined as she was pulled away from the disaster area she wanted to keep searching, but perked up as they headed away from the hovercar lot and into the rather gloomy Thorn Forest that ran away for metrics north of Umbra, a startling contrast to the fields on the other sides. Isis let up a couple of metrons or so of leash and said, "Okay, girlie: find 'em."

Freckles moved out eagerly, quartering back and forth before Isis, taking her deeper into the Forest. Now that she was in there, the ERT could believe that scared kids could have gotten themselves well and truly lost. Even in the daylight, she lost sight of Umbra quickly; it was probable that even when the fires were at their worst the light had been hard to see from deep in the woods at night. Isis had no children, having never married, but her younger sisters had given her nieces and nephews she'd baby-sat and played with, seen graduate and even, one of them, marry; she imagined Rupi or Cathal or the twins out here, scared and cold and hungry, and put her mind to the task. "Come on, Freckles," she encouraged the dagget. "That's a good girl, come on."

She quickly lost sight of the other ERTs moving through the Forest on the same mission as she; the reassuring crackle of her radio kept her company as she moved deeper into the woods. Freckles plunged onward; Isis hoped the dagget had some idea of where they were going. Several centares later and possibly three micks into the darkness, Freckles froze, head up in the air. Then she whined, her tail going a metric a centon, and she pulled her front leg up in classic alert posture.

"Found something?" Isis asked. "Good girl; go on, find 'em."

Freckles pulled on her lead, pushing her way through the dense thorny vines. Isis played lead out and followed; when the dagget ceased pulling, the ERT began gathering lead in and then dropped it to crawl through the tangle of vines the dagget had made her way into. She was holding her flashlight in her teeth, her hands occupied with cutting her way through the vines. The thorns were long and sharp, and when she sawed through a branch the sap's sour smell joined the tang of blood from scratches on her hands and face. Up ahead, she heard Freckles whining, but nothing else.

And then the beam of light caught on shaggy, flaxen hair. We found one! she thought triumphantly. "Hey, kid," she said indistinctly around her flashlight. "Kid!"

No response.

Gods, she thought. Don't let it be dead. She got close enough to get her hands on the child, and was relieved by the trembling she felt. Still alive... She knelt beside the child, a boy she noted automatically, five or six, and wedged her flashlight into the vines while she made her first medical check. The boy was clearly in shock; his pupils were dilated and his skin was clammy. He was bleeding from a dozen of shallow scratches and three fairly deep ones that she could see right away. There was blood in his fair hair, and his left arm was broken. But even when she manipulated that limb he didn't make a sound. Nor did he respond when she asked his name.

"Hey, kid," she said when she decided it was safe to move him, "you want to get out of here? Go home?"

That got a reaction: he shuddered and pulled away with a soundless whimper.

"Hey, kiddo," she said soothingly. "It's okay to leave here. You'll be safe with us, me and Freckles here. You need to see a doctor for your arm, and you must be hungry. Come on, now."

Between the two of them, Freckles pulling on the kid's clothing and Isis backing out in front of him to open a sort of tunnel, they managed to get him out into the relatively open space under the canopy and away from the vine-covered trunks. He collapsed on the ground, clearly too exhausted to walk. Isis dropped down beside him and pulled out her radio.

"Cap? Isis. Found one; I'll be bringing him in."

"Great." Doras's voice was too exhausted for much emotion to get through, but there was a thread of it there. "What's his name?"

"He's not talkin', Cap," Isis said. "He's done in. Plus a skull fracture, minor I think, and a compound radius-ulna."

"'Kay," he said. "Bring him in; we'll deal with it when you get here."

"Right," she said and clipped the radio back to her belt. Freckles had shoved her head into the boy's lap, and he was tentatively stroking her long ear with his right hand. Isis smiled; Freckles loved kids. "Good girl," she said, thumping the dagget's ribs. "Good girl. C'mere, kid;" she said to the boy and picked him up. He wrapped his right arm around her neck and put his head down on her shoulder. "Okay, girl, take us back."

Freckles headed unhesitatingly through the Forest.

Isis emerged into the town carrying the boy in the late afternoon, the sunlight warming the rubble into a pale gold. The boy stared at Umbra with wide eyes and his arm tightened around Isis's neck. She made her way to the medical building and decided not to take him inside; the unevacuated injured and dead weren't something he needed to be closed up with. She could see that the remaining ERTs were winding the operation down; the sight of her carrying a live survivor brought wide if weary smiles to every face.

She set the boy down on an exam table outside and called for a medtech. The child didn't want to let go of her, and she was tired enough after more than five centares of hiking, three of them carrying forty pounds of child, to stay right there. A doctor came out and examined the child, and then began healing his broken bones. While he was doing that, a pair of Vipers screamed by overhead. The child cried out—his first sound—and tried to pull away.

"It's okay, son," the doctor said. "Those aren't Cylons; they're ours. You're safe. It's over."

"For now," Isis muttered, looking at the Colonial fighter craft. She looked down and saw the boy's eyes on her.

"Isis?" Doras called.

Impulsively she reached out and pushed the boy's hair out of his face. "Take care of yourself, kid," she said. "You're handsome and lucky; you'll do okay." She pushed herself down from the table and gathered up Freckles's lead. The boy reached out for her and she hugged him. "I've got a job to do. See you around."

But she never did get back to Umbra...

"Lieutenant Starbuck?" she said again. "I'm sure you don't remember me—"

"No, I'm sorry. Should I?"

"No," she shook her head. "It was a long time ago, and a very bad day. I came into Umbra that day, emergency rescue—"

His eyes widened. He pointed at her. "Your hair was a lot longer then," he said. "Darker, tangled... You had a dagget."

She smiled at him. "I did. I often wondered what happened to you."

He smiled again. "As you see, still handsome and lucky. How'd you find me?"

"I saw your interview on IFB a couple of days ago, 'Warrior of the Centare'," she said, wondering why his eyes darkened momentarily. "I don't know why, but I thought I recognized you. I had to look you up and see if I was right." Her voice trembled suddenly.

He reached out and hugged her. "You were right," he said, his own voice a bit shaky. "It's me."

"You gonna introduce us, Bucko?" the third man asked.

"Sorry," Starbuck said. "Boomer, Apollo, this is—You know, I never got your name."

"Isis," she said.

"Isis," he repeated. "She found me after the attack on Umbra. Saved my life."

"Doing my job," she said. "Just another ERT."

"Ahhh," he reproved her. "I know about that. Doing your job, but doing it very much above and beyond—"

"Like you," she nodded at him.

"I'm just another Warrior," he mimicked her, squeezing her shoulders.

"A Cylon killer," she nodded.

"Yeah," he grew somber, but only for a centon. "Got some of my own back. Still am... Though you were right. It wasn't over."

"You heard that?"

"Never forgot it." He was somber again.

She sighed. "I'm sorry, kid, er, Starbuck. Didn't mean you to hear it."

He flashed that grin again, that startling grin. "No," he protested, "it was the truest thing I heard in yahrens. It wasn't over. It still isn't. But you know what?" His blue eyes moved from her to include his friends and then back to her. "It never will be. They can't take us down no matter what they do."

"Damnit, kid," she said, grinning herself. "Damn, but you're right."

the end


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