Pain shot through his hip and side and he clutched at the railing on the Life Center bed for support. He grit his teeth against the cry that tried to escape and breathed through the pain.
One foot in front of the other.
Apollo cursed as sparks flew from the Viper's console. He nudged the joystick slightly to avoid collision with one of the dozens of civilian life pods and the scattered debris from the doomed Phaeton that littered the battlefield. Around him, Cylon Raiders and Colonial Vipers wove in and around the debris field in desperate competition for the remaining viable pods. He tried the targeting scanner again, but this time it stayed dark.
Frak. He nudged the communicator to a secure channel to his wingman.
"Starbuck, my scanner's shot. I'm heading back in. Form up on Boomer, I'll be back in a flash."
Acknowledged. Starbuck's answer was unusually terse.
Apollo glanced toward the area where his friend's Viper had been last and saw a brilliant flash that quickly dissipated into the void. For an instant, he held his breath until Starbuck's Viper swept through the spreading cloud and executed a cheeky little victory roll before banking back toward the thick of the fighting. Apollo chuckled a little from relief and adrenaline and nudged his own partially crippled fighter toward the Galactica.
"Core Command, this is Blue Flight One, on emergency approach. My scanner is malfunctioning and I'm experiencing limited maneuverability. Tell them to have another Viper prepped and waiting for me. Do you copy?"
Rigel's calm voice came over his headset: We copy, ...-ue ...-ight One. Pro... -anding Bay Alph-...
Apollo frowned at the crackling static.
"Core Command, this is Blue Flight One. Repeat instructions?"
The headset crackled again, then fell silent.
"Great," he muttered, then pitched his voice for the transmitter: "Blue Flight One, proceeding to Landing Bay Alpha." He toggled the transmitter off again and sighed. "Just don't anyone change their mind."
He leaned against the wall in the turbolift and gasped for breath. He could feel the sweat running between his shoulders, but inside he only felt cold. It had taken a yahren or more -- or about twenty centons, depending on how one looked at it -- to get from his dimly lit and quiet Life Center room to the bank of lifts. Dark shapes floated in front of his eyes, offset by occasional sparks of light in his peripheral vision.
Now, what? He went over his mental map of the ship. If he went up two decks, across five sections and then back down, he'd be taking the long way, but it would by-pass two of the three manned security checkpoints between here and his destination. On the downside, that route passed through a couple of sections that allowed civilian access and there would be a lot more foot traffic. If he took the direct route, there were about five checkpoints to cross -- three manned, two accessible by entry code -- but it would be faster and there would be less chance of being seen.
His hand shook visibly as he raised it to key in his choice.
One foot in front of the other.
The life pod drifted lazily into Apollo's visual field. He frowned.
The life pods from the Phaeton were an older style with no actual propulsion capability of their own. They weren't designed for battlefield use, only as emergency escape pods to secure crew and passengers until another ship came along to pick them up. The pod shouldn't have been moving at all.
He tapped the scanner screen a couple of times, more for form's sake than in any expectation of a response, then altered course slightly to take a look at the errant pod. It didn't look damaged from what he could see. It could be that the energy released by the Phaeton's demise had given it a little push. Whatever was causing it, the thing was drifting and was close enough to the Vipers' flight path to be a hazard to the pilots, not to mention to the eight to ten human survivors that might be trapped inside awaiting rescue.
"Galactica, this is Blue Flight One. There's a pod from the Phaeton drifting near the flight path from Launch Bay Alpha. I'm going to tow it in with me."
He waited a beat. The headset crackled once and settled into dead air.
"Well, since there are no objections...," he muttered and smiled to himself. He'd been spending too much time around Starbuck.
The trip through the corridors was hazy. He thought he must be passing people -- civilians, crewmen -- on his way, but damned if he could conjure a face or name. He knew he was spending a lot of time half-supporting himself against the wall as he moved, his leg and hip screaming at him to stop and rest. He looked back along the corridor, half expecting to see a trail of blood following him, smearing the wall where his hands had trailed. He leaned his forehead against the bulkhead, just for a centon or two. Pain shot through his leg and side as his weight shifted, jerking him back to full wakefulness, and he half-sobbed from it.
There was no time to rest. He could rest in the Viper.
Keep moving. They'll catch up if you don't. One foot in front of the other.
"Blue Flight One, do you copy?"
Rigel's worried voice caught Athena's attention and she looked up from her own display.
"Blue Flight One, this is Core Command. Do not attempt to tow the pod, do you copy? Please respond."
Athena frowned and motioned to her trainee to take over the console.
"What's wrong, Rigel?"
The pretty corporal shook her head. She tapped a few commands into her own console and pulled up a sensor scan of the approaching Viper. "Blue Flight One isn't responding to hails. I'm receiving his transmissions, but I don't think he's receiving mine." She tapped an icon on the touchscreen and the view changed to a diagnostic screen. "His receiver's damaged as well as his sensors. He's coming in blind and deaf."
Athena glanced over the console and caught the reason for Rigel's distress.
"Lieutenant?" Colonel Tigh scowled at the interruption.
"The pod Blue Flight One's picked up is venting atmosphere."
"Then tell him to drop it!" Tigh snapped. "If that thing crosses the threshold field, the change in pressure --"
"His receiver's fried, sir. He can't hear us. And there's no one close enough to intercept."
"How far out is he?"
As if in answer, Apollo's calm voice flowed out of Rigel's console: This is Blue Flight One on approach for Landing Bay Alpha. ETA, two centons.
"Clear the bay!" Tigh snapped. "Get the deck crew out of there. Have fire and medical standing by."
Athena turned as Rigel issued the order to the flight deck and caught Adama's hooded dark eyes. The red emergency lighting made his expression difficult to read clearly from her position below the command dais. He nodded once in acknowledgement before turning back to the display of the on-going battle. He had more concerns than one pilot at the moment. There would be time for Apollo later.
Athena's eyes pricked as she returned to her own console to follow Blue Flight One's approach. She was tougher than she'd been five yahrens ago when she helplessly watched Zac's fighter hobble towards oblivion, but she often wondered if she'd ever be able to set her emotions aside the way her father and elder brother could. She wondered if she ever wanted to be.
The ensign wasn't at his post at the last checkpoint. Any other time he'd have eaten the man alive, but today... today he gave thanks to the God of Dereliction. He struggled with the catch on his locker in the empty Ready Room. Blue wasn't on alert tonight. He'd known that already. He'd planned for it.
Once the locker was open, he stared at the pressure suit. He'd never get it over the squirrel cage around his right leg. Knitting a broken bone was one thing, Salik had told him in his own irascible brand of bed-side manner. Repairing crushed and pulverised bones was entirely another.
The torso's the important part. Just get it over your chest and abdomen. Don't worry about the damned leg.
He tried not to think about emboli creeping through the veins of his legs to stop his heart or lungs. He had a job to do.
One foot in front of the other.
"Everyone off the deck! Move! Move! Move!"
Birre's voice boomed out of the intercom and across headsets. Around the bay, crewmen dropped their lines and equipment and pelted for the blast doors, not waiting for explanation. They practically ran into the fire crews, working their way into position to get onto the bay as quickly as possible.
Birre was the last crewman through and turned to watch the video feed as the Strike Captain's Viper cleared the force field into the bay, slicing through cleanly and on smooth approach. The pod followed in its wake.
A Viper was waiting for him in the launch bay when the lift came to a stop. It was so beautiful, he wanted to weep for it, but there wasn't time. Someone must have noticed he was gone by now. They'd be coming for him as soon as they figured out where he'd gone. With a burst of energy, he forced himself across the open bay to the sleek craft.
He was almost there.
I'm coming. I'm coming, Starbuck. One foot in front of the other.
Apollo didn't have time to think or react. One micron, he was slipping the threshold into an oddly deserted landing bay, the next his ship was careening through the bay, spinning like a child's top on its vertical axis. He thought later that he'd actually felt the heat from the explosion through his canopy, but he might have imagined it. A bone-jarring stutter, a scream from tortured metal and blinding pain were all he registered before the blankness fell.
Jenny almost left her position when the helmet went flying across the bay to ricochet crazily off the edge of one of the launch tubes. Birre's hand on her shoulder stopped her. He shook his head in grim silence and she raised a hand to stifle her own reaction.
Apollo leaned against the wing of the Viper, fists pounding in frustration and rage. He made another attempt to pull himself onto the craft, only to slip down and cry out again in a terrible mixture of curses and grief when the injured leg crumpled beneath him.
Across the bay, the lift doors opened and the commander stepped out, Boomer two steps behind him.
Boomer caught at Apollo's flailing arm, but was pushed aside roughly as the captain took another shot at getting into the craft.
He was so close, so frakking close. If he could just get in. If someone would just help him get in.
"Apollo!" Boomer made another try before Apollo hurt himself more than he already had. "Apollo, listen to me! You can't go back for him! He's two sectons behind us and the Cylons!"
Apollo rounded on him and staggered, but kept his feet. The punch he swung was weak and barely connected, but for Boomer it might have been delivered by a sledge hammer.
"You son-of-a-dagget! You left him!"
"He had no choice, Apollo," Adama said gravely. "We had no choice."
"He was alive! You know he was!"
"There was no other choice," Adama repeated.
The battle had been fierce and had heated up further after Apollo's crash. The Galactica had been forced to fight a rear-guard action to cover the escaping fleet. So many had been lost. Bojay and Sheba had died together, the last of the original Silver Spar squadron, only two of dozens of pilots to die in the worst fighting the Galactica had seen in yahrens.
The damage to the venerable warship had been severe. Aside from the landing bay, the command bridge itself was in a shambles following a Cylon suicide run. There was no way of knowing how long it would take to repair or if it could be repaired at all. Operations were running from scattered areas around the vessel, cobbled together as best they could be under the circumstances. Colonel Tigh lay in Life Center, his prognosis grim.
"We have to keep going forward, Apollo," Adama said now. He reached out a hand to his son, only to have it pushed away.
Apollo stood, his arms supporting him against the wing of the Viper, head hanging.
Adama leaned in to speak softly again. "We can't go back. Not now, not ever."
Something broke. Apollo could feel it, somewhere inside, and then there was calm. His rage and grief drained away and left him swaying gently in their wake.
Boomer shot a glance at Adama. The commander never moved, his face an impenetrable mask and Boomer shuddered. He reached out a hand to Apollo again.
"Come on, buddy. Let's get you back."
Apollo shrugged off his hand and pushed away from the Viper.
Boomer shook his head. "Come on, Apollo, let me help you. How're you going to get back?"
Apollo froze in mid-step, then resumed his slow, torturous walk.
"The same way I got here."