Chapter 4; Daybreak

Battlestar Galactica; Sick Bay. Day 53

Derek grimaced as he shifted slightly on the small adjustable bed. His back hurt like hell, but it was nothing compared to the throbbing in his knee. He tossed the squadron roster on the end table next to him in frustration. Since the injuries to his knee and hip he had taken on much of the administrative workload needed to keep the squadron running. Currently he was wading through a stack of status reports for both aircraft and pilots, struggling to put together a workable squadron rotation. With the loss of two more planes plus three pilots killed, one AWOL, and himself injured his task seemed impossible. At least Starbuck and Flyboy hadn't taken their Vipers with them he thought darkly.

He closed his eyes as he pictured the cocky pilot. Sam, his real name, was a good stick and not someone that could be easily replaced. In his last battle Flyboy had wasted four Raiders and returned to the ship unscathed; only to get gutted in the hangar by a Centurion a few minutes after landing. He wanted the loss of his comrades to be more than a numbers game, but the stack of papers to his left reminded him otherwise. Silently, he acknowledged that it was a game they were losing.

Derek internalized his morbid chain of thought. Why did he survive, but others like Flyboy, Karma, and Crashdown die? Not only was his Viper shot out from under him, but afterwards he was strapped in a gurney while Cylons rampaged through the ship. Was this survivor's guilt, he wondered? Shit, he didn't know what he felt, he was tired, he was ready to quit. But he knew that was not an option. He had to continue fighting, because if he quit more would die.

Derek turned his attention to the tray of beige formless food in front of him. He may not know what the in the hell was going on in his mind, but he did know that he needed to eat. He grabbed a fork and glumly picked at it. Derek closed his eyes as he mechanically chewed. It was bland and hard to swallow, so he imagined that the brown mess was anything more palatable than the supper he had been served.

"Time for your meds', sir" a stern feminine voice called out.

He pushed the tray away from him and turned his attention to the woman in front of him. He looked at her I.D. badge, "Nurse Kulani, I'm fine." he responded morosely.

"Name's Summer, Captain. And it's not for the pain, we need to keep the swelling down."

Their eyes met, and it was obvious that she was not going to be refused.

"Come on, bottoms up." she ordered, handing him a small plastic cup and four, one-centimeter-long brown pills.

"Doctor's order?" he asked sarcastically.

"Frack the doctor," she shot back. "My orders are the ones that matter." she finished smugly.

"Yes, ma'am," he put the water on the tray before popping the pills in his mouth, swallowing them without the drink.

She looked at him with an amused expression.

"I need the water for the food more than the pills." he answered mirthfully.

"Whatever," she replied before turning and walking away.

Alone again, Derek grabbed the tray and resumed eating his meal. He felt himself getting sleepy as he finished eating, no doubt due to the drugs that the nurse made him take. The pain finally blunted he pushed the now empty tray away before closing his eyes and surrendered to the tiredness that pulled at him.

Derek didn't know how long he had slept, but there was no doubt that he was feeling much better than before. He looked at the clock on the other side of the bed and sighed in regret. The funeral for the three pilots was in half an hour. He looked at his leg, which was immobilized in a large and cumbersome metal brace and wondered how, or if, he would be able to put on his dress blues. He had just finished buttoning his tunic when the privacy curtain opened revealing the tall figure of his wingman, Ace, standing outside.

"Don't just stand there," he called out to the young pilot.

Joel hesitantly stepped into the small room, his eyes focused on the floor in self-doubt and guilt.

He looked up a moment later, slowly looking over his injured mentor. "You ready?" he asked quietly.

"Sure, as long as I don't need to wear pants," he answered sarcastically.

"Don't see why you would?" he responded. "Hold on a sec," he added, before walking out of the room, leaving the curtain open behind him. He returned a few moments later pushing a wheelchair to the side of the bed.

Derek stood on his right leg and carefully lowered himself into the chair. He waited as Joel grabbled a clean navy blanket and placed it over his lap, covering his bare legs.

"Good enough, let's go." his wingman declared. He stepped behind the injured pilot and spun him around before quickly pushing him into the corridor and out of sick bay.

Joel didn't say a word as he pushed Derek through the corridors of the immense warship. The awkwardness of their journey only increased as they turned left and right down various causeways on their way to the ceremony.

Derek looked up at the ceiling as Joel pushed him into a lift, quickly spinning him to face the closing door. "Talk to me Joel," he directed the younger pilot. "It's gonna eat you up, if you don't."

Joel looked at Derek for the first time since he picked him up at Sick Bay.

"Derek, man..." he started. "I just," he trailed off.

Derek could feel his face hardening as he tried to make peace with his emotions. "Spit it out and drive-on," he directed a little harsher than intended.

Joel looked to the ceiling for a moment before focusing on Derek. "Yeah, right." he muttered. He took a quick breath and began unburdening himself to the older pilot. "I'm sorry, Derek. I fracked up and nearly got you killed." He paused for a moment, the raw emotions nearly overwhelming him.

Derek focused on his wingman, "It's combat Joel. Shit happens fast out there and sometimes... Sometimes things go sideways." He paused, hoping to give Ace a moment. "There's nothing to forgive. It could have happened to any of us" he stated plainly.

Joel closed his eyes and shook his head in defiance, "Not you," he replied. He started again, before Green-Bean could respond. "You saw what was gonna happen, tried to warn me off. But did I listen? No. You could have been killed. And that's on me." he lamented.

Derek sat in his chair, looking up at the young officer. Joel's self-recrimination was starting to overwhelm the young pilot and if Derek didn't stop the downward spiral soon, he feared that Ace's confidence would be permanently damaged.

"Tigh's right!" Joel declared before Derek could respond. "I should be the one in the chair, not you." He took a steadying breath, "He nearly took my wings, probably should have."

Derek's ire flashed at the mention of the executive officer, "Frack that hypocritical drunk!" Derek took a second to cool down, "Ace, you're a damn good stick; better than half the air-wing. Hell, you're a better pilot than I am." Needing to finish the conversation he leaned forward to stop the lift.

He spun his wheelchair around to face the young pilot. "Ace," he started stoically, "The only difference between you and me is experience. Do you think you're the first pilot to mis-read a DRADIS return?" He paused a moment, letting his preamble settle on his protégé. "I promise you, every pilot on this ship, Starbuck, Apollo, even that son-of-a-bitch Tigh, has made the same exact mistake that you did. The difference is that when we made it, we were in peace time and there weren't any gods-damned bullets flying through the black!" He waited for Joel to react, hoping for a sign that he had gotten through to the headstrong pilot.

Joel's lips curled in a predatory smile as he recovered from Derek's passionate response. "Good speech, Cap. I didn't know you had that in you." he stated sarcastically.

Derek couldn't help but smile at the sudden change in Joel's attitude. "Did you hear anything I said?" he asked in mock exasperation.

"I heard you admit that I'm a better pilot than you are." he answered coolly.

"I was just trying to make you feel better about yourself. I promise you, when I get out of this chair, I am going to smoke your ass." Derek boasted.

"We'll see, old man." Joel bandied back.

Satisfied that Joel's insufferable arrogance was well on its way to recovery, Derek spun around and re-started the lift. In a few moments, the doors parted and a now renewed Ace began pushing him spiritedly down the long causeway towards the ceremony.

They arrived at the chapel which had been built into the far wall of the starboard flight pod. Derek looked over the crowd, quickly recognizing most of the pilots as well as a few bridge officers. With a nod he indicated to Joel that he wanted to pay his respects to the fallen pilots first. The pair stopped in front of the three caskets a moment later. He shook his head in disgust as he read the names, Lt. Alex "Crashdown" Quartaro, Lt. Samuel "Flyboy" Irvine, and Lt. Cohen "Karma" Baker. As they lingered at the dais, Derek took time to remember each pilot individually. With a wry smile he remembered Alex's inability to take a joke, Sam's love to set pranks, which more often than not seemed to target Alex, and Cohen's gentle nature and the grace with which he had accepted their new reality.

Spera smiled silently as she saw Derek arrive, it always felt good to see patients on the road to recovery. She watched discreetly as he spent a few moments with the victims before being wheeled to the nave in the ad-hoc chapel. It was at this moment that she noticed how the crew was organized by rank and role. The pilots sat to the right of the bridge officers, who were front and center. To the left representatives of the civilian government sat respectfully, quietly talking amongst themselves. The small craft mechanics, anchored by Chief Petty Officer Tyrol, sat behind the pilots. Spera realized that the medical personnel were no different, as they were sitting behind the government officials and next to engineering officers in the center. The sections behind them were filled with other military sections, and finally the furthest rows were manned by civilians and the press.

Colonel Tigh made his way to the pulpit, an air of malevolence following him like a shadow. Setting his speech on the dais, he glared at the assembled guests, daring anyone present to challenge him. The moment passed and he looked down at his notes, fiercely gripping the sides of the podium. Spera subconsciously braced herself as the Executive Officer began speaking. His tone was harsh and angry, he berated not just their enemy the Cylons, but the media, the politicians, and anyone who dared speak against the military. It seemed he even censured the gods. He spoke of the officers that had been taken too soon, how they were martyrs, and extolled that in time humanity would have their revenge. His speech complete, he looked up from his notes, boldly declaring, "So Say We All."

Derek surveyed the compartment, studying the crowd and their expressions as they stood up to leave. He felt the chair turn as Joel wordlessly began to push him to the aisle. Derek looked up at the young pilot, noticing that he too shared the same expression of shock and dismay that audience held.

"Well, that was something." Joel said morbidly.

"Yeah." Derek answered simply.

The crowd began to break up, Joel waited for a gap to open before pushing Derek towards the exit. The two exchanged pleasantries with a few crew members as they made their way to the reception which was being held in the adjacent hangar module.

Derek had not been in Starboard Hangar Module 5 since the first days after the fall. Prior to the Cylons return, this part of the ship had been converted into an exhibition hall for the museum's aircraft wing. He, along with the other pilots and deck crew had spent the next few weeks stripping this and the adjoining compartments to their bulkheads, claiming anything valuable as spare parts for the still functioning port flight pod. The thought of this room being used as a reception area made him cringe.

The space was barren; only a fraction of the overhead lights remained. The dangling power conduits which hung empty from the ceiling gave the room a dim and gloomy feel. Tables and chairs were spread throughout and at the front three long tables were set up with food and drink. Lastly, he noticed the flags of the Thirteen Colonies, hanging lifelessly along the far wall.

"Hungry?" he asked, motioning to the buffet line.

Joel looked down, "Yeah, better get it before it's gone." he answered distantly.

The two made their way through the line with Derek generously filling plates for both. The quality and quantity of the food at the buffet greatly exceeded the typical restricted rationing that plagued the fleet and should have buoyed his flagging spirits. But sadly, his countenance remained anchored to the decking, his mind still incapable of processing the past few days events. Their plates full, Joel quickly wheeled his mentor towards a table along

the right side of the room.

A chorus of catcalls greeted the pair as Joel slid Derek into space cleared for him at the table.

"Hey guys," Derek called out easily as he looked over the table of pilots.

The pilots quickly settled into an easy banter. Together again, they shared stories of the fallen, boasted their conquests and roasted each other mercilessly over any perceived faults. Before they were ready, their meals finished and the kegs of ale tapped, the guests began filtering out.

Derek pushed himself away from the table and turned his chair towards the exit when a hand grabbed him from behind.

"Derek," a familiar woman's voice called out.

Derek spun the chair to find Nurse Harris behind him. "Hi Spera. I figured you'd be back on the BT-12 by now."

"Yeah," she paused a moment, "I wanted to pay my respects," she added quietly.

"I'm glad you're here," Derek responded, "Food and beer was pretty good too", he chuckled.

"Yeah, that too." she admitted with a sheepish grin. Spera turned to Derek's chair. "How ya' feeling?

"Hurts like a son-of-a-bitch, but I'll survive," he answered cavalierly.

"You tore your ACL it's supposed to hurt." she answered flippantly. Spera looked to the hatch for a second, before turning back to Derek. "Well, it's good seeing you. I've got a shuttle to catch back home," she stated hesitantly.

"Good seeing you too, Spera." He paused a moment, watching her walk away, "Hey Spera," he called out. "Thanks again."

Battlestar Galactica; Port Hangar

Spera dropped her bag in surprise as she saw Rebecca standing in front of one of the BT-12's shuttle's.

"Hey kid, you ready to go home?" she asked happily.

"Yes, yes I am." Spera replied. She closed the distance between the two and wrapped her captain in a heartfelt hug. "I didn't think I was going to see any of you again." she said quietly.

"Enough of that, come on." her Captain answered, smiling warmly.

Minutes later, Spera's emotions began to get the better of her as they approached her home, the freighter Bill Thurston-12. She was mostly composed as they landed in the starboard landing bay. Stepping out of the shuttle, she found the entire crew waiting for her. Dumbfounded, she stopped in her track's as her new family began clapping and cheering her return. Completely overwhelmed, she barely reacted as one of the crew insistently tried to push something in her hand. Looking down, she grabbed the bottle of Ambrosia and brought it to her lips. The cool liquid burned as it slid down her throat, warming her body from within. With a smile, she handed the bottle back to the crewman before wrapping her arms around him in a ferocious hug. "Thanks, Camp."

The crew surrounded her and together they made they made their way out of the hangar, slowly moving through the narrow corridors like a giant snake. In the galley the party seemed to last for hours as the crew celebrated not just the return of their wayward nurse, but the relief they felt for surviving the last few days.

Eventually, Spera made it to her quarters, where she found her bunk waiting for her just as she had left it. Laying down she closed her eyes and had her first restful night in what seemed like a lifetime, even if it had been only five days.

The End