They had been walking for ages, it seemed. The dense, lush green of the forest was almost oppressive after the long months surrounded by the iron and steel of the battlestar. The secondary growth underfoot obscured the ground and made the going difficult. It didn’t help that they were tired, hurting, and terrified that any minute they would be caught in a hail of Cylon fire. Again.
Tyrol hefted the ugly red box of the medkit a little higher to change his grip, and looked back at Callie, laboring behind him under the ponderous weight of an automatic almost as big as she was. They’d stopped for a rest a way back, and he was still ashamed of his silence, of how right she’d been to scream at him. But while he knew Tarn’s death hadn’t really been his fault, the cold press of metal against his palm as he gripped the fallen tech’s tags seemed to blame him. One of your men is dead, they said. Who’s next?
They came upon the others just a few minutes later. Crashdown was still standing, watching the perimeter with a set jaw and frightened eyes. He caught sight of them.
Tyrol didn’t trust himself to answer. He handed the lieutenant the little brass tags. He’d taken them both. The gods knew they wouldn’t be going back to recover a body. Crashdown looked at them, then raised his stricken eyes to the Chief. Tyrol tried hard to keep the anger out of his gaze, but he was pretty sure he failed. He turned to Seelix and Callie then, both bent over Socinus and the rescued medkit.
“How’s he doing?” He asked Seelix.
“He’s not going to make it,” she replied dully. “It’s too late.” Tyrol’s mouth hung agape.
“What do you mean, it’s too late? I got you the medkit! What else do you want?” She just stared at him, tears glimmering at the corners of her eyes.
“We got you the medicine you asked for. And Tarn—and for what? For this?” Silence.
“Come ON! You have to do something. You have to DO something!” he raged. He moved forward as if to shake her, but checked himself. He saw the shock on Callie’s face, and it pained him.
“We can’t change that he’s going to die, Chief. It’s going to be slow, and painful. But we can spare him that if we give him the morpha from my kit and the one you brought back.” Seelix stared holes into him, challenging.
“What?” It took a moment for her words to register. “NO!” Tyrol shouted. Callie’s eyes were on the ground. Baltar was staring at Socinus like he was in a trance. Seelix continued to watch the Chief, her posture still tensed for a fight. He turned to Crashdown, and begged. “LT…LT, come on!”
Crashdown looked even more scared now than he had when they landed. He dropped his gaze to Tyrol’s chest. Tyrol’s heart sunk. If he wasn’t going to look him in the eye, then—
“He’s your man, Chief,” Crashdown said, and turned away.
For a moment, Tyrol couldn’t move. Couldn’t breathe. He was aflame with his rage at the lieutenant, at the frakking coward that couldn’t—but his thoughts were broken by a wet, hacking cough from Socinus. Seelix was right. He was drowning in his own body. And it wasn’t going to get any easier. He turned back to her, his face hard.
“Give it to me,” he said. She handed him the two hypos without a word, and stepped away. Tyrol crouched down beside the dying man, and looked him in his face.
He was just a kid. A sweet, funny kid that had always looked at Tyrol like he could fix anything, would fix anything. He remembered his raw shame when Adama told him that Socinus had taken the fall for leaving the causeway hatch open. Had disgraced himself to save his Chief. And looking at the boy’s face, as he struggled so hard to draw in his next breath, Tyrol felt something inside him wither. He pasted on a smile.
“Hey buddy, it’s the Chief. How you doing?” he hated the false heartiness he heard in his voice. He hoped Socinus couldn’t hear it too.
“Wh-what’s going on?” Socinus wheezed.
“Oh, you know… listening to the birds.” The Chief shot a whimsical glance up at the trees, and Socinus did his best to grin. The Chief grinned back. “I got you a little something for the pain.” He hadn’t phrased it as a question, but it was anyway. Socinus nodded, and The Chief dosed him. First one hypo, then the other. His face began to go slack, his hitching breaths slowing as the morpha took over his system. Not long now.
“Good news, buddy,” the Chief continued. “The recovery party’s here. Raptors just landed. We’re going to put you on one and take you back to Galactica, okay?”
“We’re going home?” Socinus said. Tyrol hated himself when he saw the look of relief on the deckhand’s face. If he hadn’t begged Adama to parole him so they could have more experienced hands for this mission, he wouldn’t be here at all. No matter what Callie said, this death was entirely his fault.
“Yeah,” the Chief whispered. “We’re going home.” He squeezed Socinus’s hand, even as the tension left it and the man’s last breath escaped on a sigh. When he was sure the life had left him, he let it go.
The world came back. He could hear Callie’s wracking sobs, Seelix’s sniffs as she tried to keep calm. There was no sound from Baltar or Crashdown. And he could hear the birds. At least he hadn’t lied about that.
He reached up around the dead man’s neck, detached his tags. He fingered the worn hexagons, stamped unevenly with name, rank, and number. D. Socinus. Specialist. Dead. Everything this kid had been was now distilled in two little pieces of metal. They would be the only reminder he’d ever existed at all.
Tyrol tried hard not to let the tears spill onto his cheeks while he thought of homemade hooch and endless divots pounded out of the hangar deck. Tarn. Socinus. Both gone.
And the only thing left? Little brass tags, in the shape of a life.
The Chief rose. It was time to move.
(This entry uses dialogue and action from the episode “Valley of Darkness.”)