Starbuck knew things had become routine between he and Cassie. They had settled into a pattern of dates, when Cassie had time, that were now comfortable and predictable. When he first noticed this feeling, the predictability of it all, he had been concerned that things were maybe getting boring. But when he talked to Boomer and Apollo about the situation, both of his friends assured him that it was the natural course of a mature relationship. Apollo had even overemphasized that maybe Starbuck had finally grown up.

"Don't worry Starbuck, you'll come to appreciate the slow burn of real love, versus the out of control fireworks of your past…um…relationships."

So it was time to grow up, and what did grown ups do? They took the next step, and he was ready. Okay, so maybe he wasn't ready, but he was ready for the pattern to change. It had been exciting shopping for the ring, tracking down blackmarket dealers in golds and gems. And it had been exciting thinking about the parties they would have, the bachelor party would be the biggest blowout this fleet had ever seen! He'd even found himself excited about the prospects of decorating his own quarters. His own! That had been something he'd never known before. He could put up any holos he wanted, even that one of the naked woman sitting on the rock by the ocean. He had tried to argue to command that it was art. He had bought the picture in an art museum for sagan's sake! But regulations had stated it had to come down and be packed away in the back of his locker. In his own quarters, he could display it prominently and be proud of his purchase of art. He could even maybe buy a few more items to spruce up the gray predictable walls of their existence.

He patted the ring in his pocket and dreamed on about the excitement of the days to come before they settled down into the routine of grown up life. Day after day, he could know what to expect, what was to come, "and that was okay, wasn't it? It's how things should be, right?" He reassured himself, that the life to come would be a good one. "Routine is good for children." He felt his heart give a little flip in anticipating of becoming a father. It would be frightening, he knew, but he also found the danger to be something he looked forward to. "I can face a baseship single handed, surely I can take on a toddler. He'll have all the best toys!" Starbuck distracted himself trying to think where one might be able to find the black market toy dealers and buying all the toys he had always wanted as a kid, but he could never have.

The thoughts helped to keep him entertained as he went about his duties for the day, as he had every day for the last three yahrens. Patrol was not where you wanted to flip into a routine, or you might just miss something. He patted the ring in his pocket again. Maybe the days ahead would fill that empty pocket in his soul that left him feeling like he was missing something.

*****************************************************************************************************************

Adama strode onto the bridge, ready to begin another day, another shift, ready to pick up where he had left off the day before. Just another day with the same worries, the same problems, the same duties to be performed. It was just another First Day of the Secton. Another Secton, another cycle.

Adama sighed heavily as he ascended the command platform and surveyed his crew hard at work. There was little discussion amongst the crew, and Adama wondered if three yahrens into what might be a long journey was beginning to take its toll. Many of the crew had at least had the luxury of a few days off duty now and then to enjoy the paltry few recreational activities the fleet afforded. But even those distractions had become routine and predictable, and Adama noted, didn't seem worthy of discussing anymore. Nothing seemed new or interesting anymore. Just another cycle, another distraction, that in the end seemed just the same as any other.

Adama looked to the navigation chart and their course. He quickly reviewed the forward scans and the rear scans, both devoid of anything of interest, without surprise, and he sighed again. It had been a long journey and Adama knew that if he was growing weary, then he should be wary. He knew that the people of the fleet looked to him as their hope and salvation. He had to keep the light of Earth shining as their beacon. It was their only possible future, as returning the way they had come was not an option. The visits from the people of light, and Apollo and Starbuck's encounters with the mysterious being John had helped to solidify the fleet's resolve that Earth truly did exist. It had given his people a purpose and a final destination, especially as the few habitable planets they had found along the way had not been the haven they required. They had all held their own threats of one kind or another, and Adama had also taken that as proof that they were destined to continue on to Earth.

But as the yahrens wore on, proof had grown less tangible. The parsecs of space had remained wide, and vast, and empty. Resources to keep the fleet running had remained a constant concern. Adama kept his faith burning with the fact that just when the fleet seemed to be out of fuel or food, on the scanner a planet would appear like gift from the gods with all that was needed to keep going. He needed one of those miracles now as fuel was dangerously low and the fleet crept along at a crawl. The Cylons were still an ever present concern, also preventing the option of settlement, and seemed to make their appearance whenever the fleet had to slow its pace. That was not the distraction Adama needed at the moment. He closed his eyes and tried to form a prayer to the Lords of Kobol, but even his prayers seemed to be the same old prayers he had uttered countless of times. Adama rubbed his eyes, and stifled the urge to sigh again.

"Same felgercarb, different formation," Tigh whispered over his shoulder. Adama chuckled at the old phrase from their Academy days.

"Indeed Tigh. Indeed." He nodded as he looked at his second in command, and his old friend. Adama expected Tigh to look nearly as tired as Adama felt, as Tigh was coming off of the Early morning shift. Neither of them were getting any younger, and the long centars took their toll. But Tigh seemed as fresh as if he had just awoken rather than having already worked a six centar shift. "Do you have good news for me?" Adama surmised from the gleam in Tigh's eye.

"We received a transmission last night. A brief pulse on long range scans, same frequency as our viper transmissions. It was in Colonial Standard."

"And it could be Cylon in origin," Adama interrupted

"Possible, but it came from far out in front of the fleet, sent in a tight beam directly towards us," Tigh continued, his tone still excited and hopeful.

Adama felt his heart plummet to the bottom of his stomach. "So they know exactly where we are." He let out the sigh he had been holding back.

"Would you let me finish! We have been analyzing the source all morning. We are nearly positive it is human in origin. It was definitely sent by a viper of Colonial origins, and Wilker has verified the voice was human. He has also verified it is a clear signal, not just an echo or a bounce off one of ours. We are nearly certain it is authentic."

Tigh's enthusiasm was contagious, and Adama recognized he could use some hope right now. But his job was to doubt. "Nearly certain?"

"Adama, it was a song."

It took a moment for Tigh's words to register.

"A song?"

"A song. It is a variation of a Colonial popular song by the Fabulon Four. Only they have altered the main chorus and the words."

"A song? Do Cylons sing?" Adama tried to recall all the tricks that had been pulled on them since the fated Peace Accord. Not once could he recall a Cylon imitating music.

"It was only a few millicentons of music, but the words were clear and definitely held a message for us to hold our course."

Tigh handed Adama a data pad. On it were the words from a song that many knew well, altered but still identifiable.

I'll tell you something
I think you'll understand
When I say that something
I want to hold your hand
I want to hold your hand
I want you to hold your course

Oh please say to me
you'll let me be your man
and please say to me
you'll let me hold your hand
Now, let me hold your hand
I want you to hold your course

And when I touch you
I feel happy inside
It's such a feeling that my love
I can't hide
I can't hide
I can't hide

Yeah, you got that something
I think you'll understand
When I say that something
I want to hold your hand
I want to hold your hand
I want you to hold your course

"What does it mean?" Adama asked, his mind racing with the implications. They had not had contact with anyone from the Colonies in over three yahrens. Not since they had lost contact with the Pegasus. While a few settlements had been descended from the Colonies, they did not have knowledge of recent Caprican popular culture. It could only be Cain. It had the earmarks of his personality. A code only a genius like him could devise.

Adama looked to Tigh, hope now shining in his eyes to match that in Tigh's. He took a chance and voiced what he was thinking.

"The Pegasus?"

Tigh shook his head. "I don't know. The voice was female. Wilker claimed it was a young female at that. We don't know. But . . ." Tigh trailed off.

Adama finished his thought, "There's hope."

Later that evening…..

Starbuck had planned it perfectly. The room on the Rising Star had taken nearly every cubit he had, but it was worth it for just such an occasion. He had thought of doing this in front of everyone in the officer's club, just to prove to everyone. Boomer had talked him out of it, saying that it shouldn't be about proving a bet. Also that a romantic suite might be more of what Cassie would want for the occasion rather than a rowdy Officer's Club. Boomer was right, and besides, he'd still prove them all wrong at the ceremony. He'd let Cassie plan that of course. Starbuck already had lined up the ambrosia and mushies for the reception afterwards, and a band too so that there could be dancing. He tried not to think about the ceremony itself, but instead focused on the party afterwards. It would be one heck of a bash. Plus if he angled it right, he could plan his own Bachelor Party. He'd had a great success with Giles and Jolly's parties, so he was pretty sure they'd have no problems letting him set up his own.

This would be fun! He had thought that he might be nervous about what he was about to do, but he was surprised to find that he was excited about it. He knew that meant it was the right thing to do. He had absolutely no doubts whatsoever. Cassie was right for him, beautiful, smart, understanding. It was time to make the next step, time for hopes and dreams to come true. Starbuck was excited at the prospect of finally having a family of his own. As he lit his fumarello he dreamed of a day when he would be lighting fumarello's for the birth of his first child. "No, the birth of my sixth kid, now that would be something." He thought to himself and smiled, picturing the scene. Starbuck putting his feet up after a patrol, surrounded by his loving children, five boys and his youngest, a pretty baby girl in his arms as Cassie set dinner on the table. Starbuck sighed as he realized the only thing missing from his dream was a fire in the fireplace. "Well, maybe when we find earth." He mused.

He leaned back on the cushions of the couch in the private room on the Rising Star and inhaled the smoke from his after dinner fumarello. The stars were shining, the candlelight was shining off of Cassie's hair, and her sultry eyes were on him. The time was now or never.

"So Cassie, don't you think it's time?" Starbuck asked, putting down his fumarello, and leaning across to take her hand.

"Time? Time for what Starbuck?" Cassie leaned closer, licking her lips in anticipation of Starbuck's next move. This was how they played the game. Starbuck liked to flirt a little before they were intimate, and Cassie found she also enjoyed the repartee.

"Well, everyone else is doing it. Seems to be the popular thing to do." Starbuck grinned.

"Well, I don't know if everyone is doing it tonight. I think Sheba was on patrol and Apollo was spending time with Boxey."

Starbuck cocked his head a little in confusion. "What are you talking about?"

Cassie giggled, "What you were talking about. You know, doing it."

"So what does Sheba being on patrol and Apollo and Boxey have to do with our getting sealed?" Starbuck asked.

"Sealed?" Cassie leaned back. "Starbuck, what are you talking about?"

"Getting sealed." Starbuck saw a flash of concern cross Cassie's face, and he blasted ahead with his plan. "You know, everyone else is doing it and we could get our own quarters and all. They are even giving some extra cubits if you're sealed. Then we could have a place to have card games and parties without having to get a request from Command. And you could decorate the place and cook some meals and," Starbuck halted. The look on Cassie's face confused Starbuck. "What's wrong? I thought this was what you wanted?"

"What I wanted?!" Cassie sputtered. "To get you some extra cubits and a party room?"

"No." Starbuck said slowly, wondering how Cassie could have misunderstood what he was asking. He lowered his voice, and began again. "I thought you would want to get sealed. To me. I thought, you and I…" Starbuck stopped again as he saw a sadness enter Cassie's eyes. Starbuck looked away, unable to face the reality that look spoke of.

"Oh Starbuck." Cassie shook her head. She knew this was her fault. She had tried to explain to him what it meant, her current commitments, and what was involved with becoming a doctor. But she knew she had failed somehow. "Oh Starbuck. This is sweet and all, but now is not a good time. I'm about to begin my residency and I will have so little free time…"

Starbuck interrupted, "See, that's why I thought if we were sealed and had our own quarters we would have more time together." He fanned his hands, "Otherwise, we'll barely see each other."

"That's just it Starbuck, I'm not going to have any time. This is going to be a busy yahren for me."

"I know that." Starbuck said defensively. "I know that, and I'll be there for you. And then when you are a doctor things will slow down. I know, you told me all that."

"Starbuck, this is a sweet gesture, but you don't have to." Cassie reached to stroke his face, but he lowered his eyes.

"A… gesture." He repeated quietly.

She realized she'd hurt him without meaning to. It was hard to know with Starbuck what was important and what was not. What was a real dream or just a fantasy.

Starbuck looked back at her, but she noticed that his eyes were guarded,

"Starbuck, this is important to me. You know how long I've wanted to be a doctor."

"I know that. And this important to me too. After you become a doctor we can start our family. Then you will have a regular shift and you can be there when the kids get home from primary to make dinner, and you'll have time to sew them some clothes and..." Starbuck halted again as he saw Cassie's eyes go wider than he had ever seen them. "What? What's wrong?"

"Kids? You never said you wanted kids." Cassie rubbed at her temples before reaching across the table grabbing Starbuck's drink and downing it in one gulp. "Sewing?" She sputtered.

"I just thought, you know, in time we'd start a family and…"

"And what Starbuck? I'd cook and clean and become your domestic goddess?" Cassie slammed the glass down on the table, making Starbuck jump as the liquid slopped onto the table.

"Yes, I mean no, I mean…I just thought that …that was what you wanted." Starbuck felt lost as he looked across the table at the woman he thought he knew. As happened at times when Starbuck was confused, he spoke his thoughts, "I thought that's what all women wanted. Kids and a home, a husband and a sealing ceremony…not necessarily in that order."

"Starbuck, since when have I been like other women?" Cassie reached for the ambrosia bottle and poured more into Starbuck's glass, picked it up and downed it.

Starbuck chuckled, "That is true. That's partially why I want to get sealed with you. You're not like other girls. You're special, Cassie."

"Oh don't feed me a line Starbuck. Don't you think we're beyond that by now?"

"Yeah…I…uh…"

Cassie continued, "Look Starbuck, if I wanted to get married and have a herd of babies I would have married one of the many boys on Gemon. Or one of the many clients of mine who asked me when I was a socialator, or said yes to…." Cassie had the grace to stop herself before she uttered the name that always drew a reaction from Starbuck.

Starbuck looked at her, the hurt glaring in his eyes. "Is that it? Are you still waiting for him?" Starbuck took a final puff off his fumarello and went to put it out, grinding it into the ashtray.

Cassie's shoulders slumped. "No, that's not what I meant Starbuck. I just never knew you wanted kids. I just didn't think that with you and your career that you would ever consider resigning from the service to start a family."

"Resign? Why would I have to resign? Commander Adama had a career and a family."

"And a wife who stayed home to take care of the children. Don't you see Starbuck, that's not the life for me. It's not the path I've chosen. Oh Starbuck, I thought you understood."

"Understood what? That you don't want to marry me or have my children?" Starbuck tried to keep the hurt from his voice, but he knew he had failed. Cassie knew him too well, or at least he thought she had. Starbuck wondered if the gravity was off a little on the ship as he felt his head swim.

Cassie tried to lean forward and touch Starbuck's face again, but as she raised her hand, Starbuck flinched, and she slowly lowered it to her lap. She spoke softly, "Starbuck, no, please. It's not that I don't want you. I do. It's just, that's not the life I have planned. It's not you Starbuck, it's me."

Starbuck looked up to the ceiling, "Ahhh, so it's not me, it's you. I seem to remember that line. I uttered it a few times myself if I recall."

"I'm not breaking up with you, if that's what you think," Cassie replied, for some reason feeling angry. Starbuck seemed to always be in charge of how fast and how far their relationship would go in the past, and Cassie had gone along with that and all of his issues and barriers. She had forged through all of his insecurities and his insensitivities. She had fought hard to be close to him, only to have him accuse her of dumping him. "Starbuck," she began, her tone a bit harsher than she probably meant, "what made you suddenly bring this up? What are you thinking?"

"That it's time we got sealed. I mean everyone else is doing it and…Athena and Bojay are talking about another baby and even Boomer might be getting sealed, so…"

"So you don't want to be left out of the fun, is that it?"

Starbuck's face was hard when he answered, "Yeah, that's part of it."

"So you think it's fun to be sealed and have kids, is that it?" Before Starbuck could answer, Cassie answered her own question. "Well it's not. It's hard work Bucko. It's long sleepless nights and even longer days. And why anyone would bring a baby into this world is beyond me. We are constantly low on food and the Cylons find us every time we think we are finally safe. We are all just one breath away from death. I don't want to have a child Starbuck, not now, and probably not ever. I have a plan for my life right now."

"And it doesn't include me." Starbuck added.

"I never said that." Cassie sighed, realizing that once again what should have been a pleasant evening had instead turned into another fight. "I don't want to fight with you Starbuck. This is just so sudden and I never knew you wanted kids."

"Its not sudden, and I have always wanted kids, when the time was right."

"And you think that the time is right?"

Starbuck didn't answer. He looked to the floor, suddenly engrossed with the color and shape of his boots. When his hand reached up to run through his hair, Cassie knew the evening was over. All that was left was saying good night.

"Starbuck, I'm sorry. I don't think the time is right, at least not for me. I guess I just need some time to explore the path I've chosen for myself. I think we both need some time to think and explore what our future plans may be."

Starbuck just nodded. Cassie knew it was pointless to wait for an answer. Once Starbuck became quiet, it took a while before he'd speak again, and if he did, it would be in hurt and anger.

"I'm going to go." She said, getting up. She wanted to reach over and put her hand on his shoulder and tell him it was all going to be all right, but this time she wasn't so sure about that. "I'll talk to you tomorrow, okay?"

"Sure. Whatever." Starbuck answered, still mesmerized by the pattern of the floor rug. He was still trying to lose himself in the maze of lines when he heard the door open and close. He thought about getting drunk on what was left of the Ambrosia, but he knew he'd have to order more, and he'd spent the last of his cubits on the ring in his pocket.

It had been a busy day on the bridge, an exciting day. While not much more was gleaned about the mysterious message, the scanners had come alive with activity. A viper had been spotted, only to have it vanish just as quickly out of scanner range. All power was transferred to the forward scanners and a wealth of information began to pour in about the quadrants ahead. A patrol was sent out, and even more information was garnered, including the possibility of solar systems with planets. Initial scans while faint, did show promise of stars sustaining habitable planets.

As his shift ended, Adama realized he had not been bored once today. Even the Council of Twelve had seemed to leave him alone. All in all, it was a good day. He briefed Omega on the newest developments, then departed the bridge planning to stop in and spend some time with his newest granddaughter and maybe enjoy the evenings repast with Athena and Bojay. Adama stopped by his quarters to check on some reports and to pick up some wine, but the couch was so inviting that Adama lay down, planning just to rest his eyes for a few moments.

Next thing he knew, he was awoken by a faint beeping. It took him a few moments to realize that it was coming from his bedside alarm. The night had passed almost as quickly as the day. Adama ticked off the day before, "Another day closer to the end of the journey."

He turbowashed and readied himself for the day, realizing that he was once again anxious to get to the bridge, excited at the prospects that may lay ahead. He walked into the command center with a lightness in his step. Tigh was waiting for him, his eyes grinning.

"So, did we have a good evening?" Adama asked, knowing already that the answer was yes.

"The long range patrol you sent out came back. They barely entered the first solar system, and we will be spending cycles going over the amount of information they gathered." Tigh tried to keep a straight face, but the news was just too good to hide his emotions.

"Cycles? That good or that bad?" Adama also tried to keep a straight face, willing to let Tigh play his game and enjoy the moment.

"We located at least five solar systems." Tigh grinned, no longer able to contain his exhilaration.

Adama's jaw dropped. "Five? Any habitable planets?"

"Oh yes. Yes sir. Air, fuel, ore, food, water, all of it." He grinned. "A full pyramid, so to speak."

"Thank the Lords of Kobol. How close is it? When will we be in range?" Adama wanted to sink to his knees in relief .

"Commander, at last count, there were twenty-seven." Tigh's smile widened and he nearly danced like a little boy at his natal party.

"Twenty Seven centaurs away? That close? Did we speed up the fleet?"

"No, Commander. At last count, there were twenty-seven habitable planets."

Adama looked to Tigh in astonishment. He sank to sit down in the command chair as he tried to absorb the news. "Twenty seven? How can that be?"

"Yes sir, and we don't think that is all there are. We believe there may be more."

Adama nearly pinched himself. "I must be dreaming." He muttered aloud.

"If you are, don't wake up. I'm enjoying this one."

Adama looked up to him. "I can see that you are. The Lords are smiling on us once again. How soon until we can begin to refuel?"

"That is the only problem. I have brought the fleet to a full stop."

"What? Why?"

Tigh held up his hand, stopping the flow of questions. "We received another transmission."

Tigh patiently explained how the long range patrol registered an object following them back to the fleet. When they changed course so as to not lead an unknown entity to their present location they picked up a transmission.

"Same voice. Just as short a burst. The viper transmitted a tight beam directly to the vipers. It was short and compressed. Sheba and Boomer tried to establish contact, but the viper merely transmitted the message a second time and then, disappeared," Tigh explained.

"Vipers do not just disappear." Adama stated.

"Exactly. Viper scanners registered a…how did Wilker put it? A ripple in space. He is still analyzing the data. When we expanded the message, it was another song."

"We should be racing towards this sector, not stopping and twiddling our thumbs while we analyze data!"

"I know. I understand. But the song. Whoever has been contacting us were very clear. We need to stop and wait." Tigh handed Adama another data pad, containing once again lyrics to a Colonial song.

Stop! in the name of love
Before you break my heart

Baby, baby
I'm aware of where you go
Each resource that you need
I watch you walk down the street
Knowing your enemies you might meet
But this time before you run into them
I can guide your steps ahead
(Think it over)
After I've been good to you
(Think it over)
After I've been sweet to you

Stop! in the name of love
Before you break my heart
Stop! in the name of love
Before you break my heart
Think it over
Think it over

I've known of your
Your secluded nights
I've even seen her
Maybe once or twice
But is her sweet expression
Worth more than my love and affection?
But this time before you leave my arms
And rush of to her charms
(Think it over)
Haven't I been good to you?
(Think it over)
Haven't I been sweet to you?

Stop! in the name of love
Before you break my heart
Stop! in the name of love
Before you break my heart
Think it over
Think it over

I've tried so hard, hard to be patient
Hoping you'd stop this big old fleet
But each time you just keep going
I'm so afraid I'll be losing your signal
Stop! in the name of love
Before you break my heart
Stop! in the name of love
Before you break my heart
Stop! in the name of love
Before you break my heart
Baby, think it over
Think it over, baby

Ooh, think it over and wait..

Adama read the message over and over again. He was not as familiar with the original song, but Tigh had already found the words to the original, and where this version deviated.

"Are we sure it is a Viper? Are we sure the voice is human?" Adama wanted to believe. He wanted to accept the fantasy. He wanted to refuel his fleet and thank the Lords for their blessing. He held his breath as he waited for Tigh's reply.

"We are sure." Tigh placed his hand on Adama's shoulder. "It doesn't mean that the Cylons aren't still behind all this. But . . ."

Adama looked up, "But?"

"A single Viper. No Cylon patrol in sight. I made a decision to…" His lips tightened and he looked around at the command crew who had worked diligently through the long night, many not leaving their posts when their shift had ended. He looked down to Adama again. "I decided to trust our luck."

Adama laughed. "You've spent too much time around Starbuck."

"No, I've spent too much time around you." Tigh patted his shoulder before walking over to bring up the latest long range scan.

"Who is next on the patrol roster?" Adama asked, getting up to go to work.

"I believe it is Brie and Giles."

"Send them on rear patrol. I want Apollo and Starbuck on this one. Have them all report to the briefing room on the double."

"Yes sir." Tigh said grinning once again.