Disclaimer: Characters and situations owned by Ron Moore, David Eick and various companies.
Thanks to: Karabair, for beta-reading and inspiring.
Timeline: during the season 2 episode Resurrection Ship I ; no spoilers beyond that point.
The face of Roslin's young aide radiated hostility.
"I don't think the President has the time now, Mr. Zarek," he said, managing to sound barely polite and accusing at the same time. "We are in the middle of a crisis, and..."
"Yes, I noticed," Zarek said mildly. "Two battlestars about to engage each other tend to alert one's attention, even if one is an uninformed civilian. I am here as a representative of the Quorum. Are you telling me the President is too busy to tell the people she's supposed to represent why quite a lot of them are about to blown up by the other half?"
The young man, Billy something or the other, all but bit his lip.
"Look," he said. "She is... not well. Those are important concerns, I realize that, but can't it wait? She just had a conference with Admiral Cain and Commander Adama, and her strength..."
Zarek took pity on him. "Tell her I'm here," he said. "I think you'll find she'll want to see me."
Given that despite their temporary alliance in the days of Adama's coma, Zarek was still the most obvious enemy Laura Roslin had, the doubtful expression on the aide's face was understandable. But he withdrew to the inner sanctum of Colonial One, and returned after a short while to announce that the President was indeed willing to receive the representative of the Quorum. This confirmed Zarek's suspicion about the entire situation. It wasn't a reassuring thought.
Laura Roslin looked frail these days; he would have guessed her medical condition now, if she had not revealed it. But there was nothing weak or decaying in her cool eyes, measuring him as he entered. With something of a surprise, he realized he would miss her. Perhaps it was because he would never find out whether he could have defeated her, and perhaps it was because the challenge of her was something more stimulating than most experiences he could remember, but the idea of her impending death was unexpectedly galling.
She coughed, and her aide handed her a glass of water. She thanked him, then asked him to go, which he did, giving Zarek an accusatory look as if Zarek had personally caused Roslin's cancer.
"Nicely played," he said, amused.
"I do not indulge my illness for your benefit, Mr. Zarek," the President said wryly.
"Of course not," he said, convinced she would exploit anything at her disposal, especially those things that to anyone else would be weaknesses. Her aura of delicate femininity was a good cloak for her iron will at the best of times, and she had managed to use the cancer eating at her to make anyone disagreeing with her at best unforgivably rude and at worst a blasphemer.
"I take it Admiral Cain isn't getting indulged by you, either," he continued. "Wise of you. If rumor is anything to go by, the Admiral has a rather... radical way of dealing with civilians at less than their full strength."
She didn't flinch, but then, he had not expected her to.
"I'm not in the habit of confirming or denying rumors about the military, Mr. Zarek," she replied. "That is what we have the press for."
His smile faded.
"So it is true." Ever since Pegasus arrived, he had used every connection he had to find out more, unable to share in the general jubilation about another battlestar full of survivors. Maybe he was paranoid about the military, but then again, someone had to be. Cain was a new player; she outranked Adama, and she evidently did not share what passed for Adama's belief in democracy. Judging by the recent display, they were either heading towards a bloody confrontation between the two in which the civilian ships didn't stand a chance, or towards a military dictatorship under Cain's rule.
"Let me put it this way, Mr. Zarek," Laura Roslin said "You might soon have the opportunity to write another book."
He remembered writing in prison, remembered hours stretching to months and years. There was both anger and admiration in his voice when he said, "You really could call me Tom now, Madam President. It's a habit people have if they hand out assassination orders. Trust me on this."
This time, her eyebrows drew together.
"I don't have the slightest idea what you are talking about. Though I wouldn't dare to refute your expertise on murder."
"No doubt," he said, and felt his amusement returning, despite the direness of the situation. Life was a bitch, and so was Laura Roslin, but it was better to smile at both, and court them, just a little, if one didn't want to end up drunk and desperate like Tigh or whipped, like Adama.
"You did in no way deign to give me an audience because you need someone to get rid of Cain, someone with no ties to you or Adama, so neither of you could be blamed in the gory aftermath. Well, I suppose I should feel flattered. After all, you could have assumed that I was already busy ingratiating myself with the Admiral."
"She doesn't like terrorists," Roslin returned, then sighed. "Or civilians. And we all have our assumptions... Mr. Zarek. Mine is simply this: there will be no military dictatorship in this fleet. Ever."
He would never get her to admit what she was asking him for. She truly had been wasted as a secretary of education. Still, it seemed their interests were once again coinciding. Zarek remembered Adar's offer of a pardon if he publicly renounced violence as a political tool. He remembered Laura Roslin declaring, before they ever met, that the fact he had rejected this offer and chosen to remain in prison instead proved he could never be trusted with political legitimacy. Ah, the times, they were indeed changing.
"There won't be," he said, and wondered whether she had played the same game with Adama; asking without asking, ordering without giving the order, using the disguise of concern and advice. If so, then Adama probably caved, though Zarek doubted he would go through with it. Adama was the type to consider a pressed button in a viper legal and the height of honour, but a gun fired utter infamy. At the last moment, Adama would pull back. That possibility must have occurred to Roslin as well; hence the audience. Because Zarek did believe her: dying or not, she would never allow Cain to rule, no matter what she had to do to prevent it.
He had no particular desire to become Roslin's dupe. There were a few things he was prepared to die for, disillusionment notwithstanding, but not in a show trial after performing a task the current President did not want to get her hands dirty with. But he had no intention of allowing a military dictatorship, either, and not just because he could see himself either in front of a firing squad or indeed back in prison in a fleet led by Admiral Cain.
There would be a solution, even if it consisted of a blown up raptor the next time the Admiral visited either Galactica or Colonial One. Meanwhile, there were other farewells to make. He doubted Roslin would receive him again, not with her time running out.
"Well, you've given me some ideas," he said to her. "For a new book. Considering not too many survived the destruction the colonies, we really should be busy writing new ones. Tell me... Laura... did you read my last before you banned it from university canon?"
She inclined her head. He could be mistaken, but he was reasonably sure there was a tiny smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. "I think it is overrated," she said calmly. "But I read every single word. Tom."
It was the image of her he took with him as he left: that tiny smile, and the impending death sentence on her belied by the uncompromising will in her eyes. Sometimes, he teased Lee Adama by referring to Adama the Elder as Zeus, but in truth, they all knew who ruled Olympus.
Such a pity he would never have the chance to challenge her for it.