16 January 2011 - What the frak, has it really been two years since my last update? Fail; ur doin it rite. So much has changed... I'm not abandoning this story, I promise, but with everything going on in my life, side projects have dropped further down the list of things that are important. I have a few more chapters ready to go, and, like I've said a few times, the outline for the whole thing was finished three years ago - so as much as it doesn't look that way, I REALLY AM going somewhere with this! ;) Stay tuned. I don't foresee a hiatus as bad as the last one any time in the future. On with the show...
Trust in Me
In orbit around Jupiter
Slowly, but surely, Tom Zarek was starting to piece together what happened.
The events on Earth were little more than a blur, covered by a drug-induced haze that blocked most of the details. The last thing he remembered was going into shock aboard the Celestial Mariner. There'd been panic, confusion, urgency, and there was blood everywhere – his blood. Laura Roslin had been holding his hand the moment he lost consciousness. He'd taken a bullet for her. Where was she?
"Laura?" was the first coherent word to escape his lips the moment he realized he could move again. He desperately hoped she was safe. He had a lot riding on a role only she could play, and if anything had happened to her, he was as good as dead, too.
The craggy face of Doc Cottle standing over him told Zarek that he was aboard the Galactica. "Don't get worked up," the gruff doctor ordered. "You've lost a lot of blood." As he could read his mind, the doctor added, "She's with Admiral Adama and a few other officers, deciding on a course of action."
Zarek could hear the electronic beep of a heart rate monitor beating faster than what one would have considered normal, so he took a few deep breaths to steady himself. The beep slowed. "How long have I been out?"
"Five hours. The bullet tore up your shoulder pretty bad, your collarbone especially. Looked like the work of a sniper from above."
Zarek hadn't thought about anything so precise as the angle of the attack, but if Cottle was right – as he usually was – then his injuries were certainly consistent with a shot from a high place aiming down. Besides, it had been meant for Roslin's head, which was around the same level as his shoulders. "You're probably right. I... I can't remember much."
Cottle snorted. "I'm not surprised. You must have blacked out a good ten minutes before we got to you. You might never fully remember – not that you'd want to, either."
"I want to see Laura Roslin."
"Adama made it very clear that he didn't want to be interrupted."
"Adama won't shoot the messenger," Zarek replied. "He probably won't shoot me, either. It's unoriginal."
Cottle arched a bushy eyebrow, then turned and walked away, muttering under his breath. His face was expressionless when he returned a few minutes later. "They're on their way."
The vice-president couldn't help but noticed Cottle's use of the word "they," and gave a small, amused grin. When was Bill Adama ever going to do anything but exactly what Zarek thought he would?
Laura Roslin arrived in sickbay about five minutes after Cottle placed the call to the admiral's quarters, and just as Zarek expected, Bill Adama was right by her side. Cottle excused himself when the admiral and president came in, using the excuse of business to attend to elsewhere, and thus avoiding the need for them to ask for privacy. Smart man, Cottle, Zarek thought. Maybe they should have sent him to Earth.
"Madam President, Admiral Adama," Zarek said as the two of them approached his bed. Two chairs sat on either side; Roslin lowered herself into one of them, and Adama ignored the other and opted to stand by the president's side. They both looked like hell. He hoped some progress had been made while he was out. "How do things look?"
"Not good, I'm afraid," Roslin admitted. "I think our best option is to deflect and try to buy some time with the people: tell them there were some setbacks, and we're exploring several options."
"And what are these 'options'?" Zarek inquired.
"Nothing specific yet," Adama said. "Terraforming the star system's fourth planet and going back to the Colonies were thrown out, both of which I would endorse."
Zarek frowned and shook his head. "No. It has to be Earth. This administration will lose a lot of ground if we don't bring our people there like we've promised. Earth is the only home we can give them right now."
"Don't make this about politics!" Adama returned, his voice considerably harsher than he intended. "We are talking about lives, about the future of our people, not what sort of turn the polls might take or what it'll mean for the next election!"
"Enough!" Roslin said before things could take the ugly turn she sensed coming. "I agree with both of you. We did promise the people Earth, and it doesn't look like we have somewhere to go where anyone in this fleet will have a normal life again within this generation or the next. However, we lost a lot of good people before by settling on a planet before we knew it was safe to do so. I doubt anyone will have forgotten that fact, and they might be more willing to give us some time."
A tense silence followed Roslin's statement, marked by Zarek and Adama shooting harsh looks at each other. Finally, Zarek changed the subject with an inquiry. "Where is my ship?"
"It's back with the fleet," answered the admiral. "Caprica-Six is with it. She'll stay there until Doc Cottle says you can go back." He shifted his weight, and then, in more of an effort to make amends with Roslin for the exchange of heated words than to clear the air with her understudy, added, "Zarek, what you did on Earth to protect the president... I was wrong. I wouldn't have figured you for the kind of man who would..."
Roslin impulsively reached for Zarek's good hand. His expression softened at her touch. "You weren't there with us on New Caprica," she said tenderly, and gave her vice-president a grateful smile.
Any compassion Adama felt for the other man in the light of his act of heroism vanished at that moment. All he could feel as he watched Roslin and Zarek gazing into each others' eyes, recalling a connection only they shared, was a seething jealousy, coupled with a wondering as to why the envy was rising in the first place. Laura Roslin didn't belong to him. Yes, he had strong feelings for her, and he knew she felt something in return, but it wasn't a topic they discussed. Maybe when the time was right, but that time certainly wasn't now: not when the people they'd led through the very fires of hell so desperately needed their guidance, here at the very end. Nothing could distract them from this goal, and when it was achieved, nothing would distract them from each other... especially not Tom Zarek.
Still, he felt oddly threatened by the way they were looking at each other.
"We need to issue that statement," Roslin said after what felt like an eternity to Adama, and slowly released Zarek's hand. "Bill, if it's not too much trouble, may I do it here aboard Galactica?"
"I was about to propose that you did." Adama wasn't comfortable with the idea of her leaving his ship just yet. He wanted to keep her close in these critical hours, in case something suddenly came up. Furthermore, she was looking worse with every passing moment. The long day was taking its toll on her already-weakened body. If anything were to happen to her, he didn't know what he'd do. He'd already lost one best friend...
With that thought on his mind, Adama sighed and turned his attention to the vice-president. It was time to shoot the metaphorical elephant in the room. "And what about the Cylons?"
"You let me worry about the Cylons," Zarek replied. "I may be the only one D'Anna trusts at this point, and not even that is certain."
Adama's face was stone. "If they found anything that could help us with Earth, we need to know; otherwise we need the Render and Requiem back here."
"You think I don't know that, or understand what's at stake?" Zarek challenged. "Whose side do you think I'm on, anyway?" He paused, then added, "Who else has to die before you'll believe me?"
The admiral stood. "We're done here. Madam President, if you'll excuse me, I'll prepare CIC for your broadcast."
A muscle in Roslin's cheek was twitching as Adama shot one last dirty look at the vice-president before storming out. She closed her eyes and massaged her temples for a few moments, and when she was finished, her sympathy for Zarek was gone as well. "You just had to go there now, didn't you?"
"Yes, well, leaving well enough alone was never something I was good at, and he walked right into that one when he asked about the Cylons," he stated. "Saul Tigh never believed in anything his entire life until he and I spoke to my ship's Hybrid, just before the battle. He convinced me. That ship is out there, but D'Anna is going to have a hell of a time finding it unless Adama gives her what I asked."
Roslin was incredulous. "You honestly think Bill Adama knows the way to find something he doesn't even believe is real?"
"Earth was just a story, too, remember?" Zarek countered. He grimaced as a surge of pain struck him; when it passed, he continued, "Six told me about the dreams you two have been sharing with Sharon Agathon, about the opera house on Kobol. They always said Hera was the key, but the key to what?"
The president shifted uneasily in her chair. Nothing about Tom Zarek surprised her anymore, but that didn't mean he couldn't give her the creeps. "I didn't realize how much our dreams interested you, Tom."
"Well, they didn't; not at first, anyway," Zarek admitted, "but Colonel Tigh changed my mind, and when his son was born I knew I couldn't let it go. There's something a lot bigger than all of us at stake here, and the only thing I know for sure is that the opera house ties it all together."
Roslin sighed. She'd hoped this would end once they found Earth, but it seemed they were only slightly better off now than when they were at war with the Cylons. "You're treading on dangerous ground – you know that, right?"
"You know who you're talking to, right?"
He had a point. "What do you want from me, Tom?"
"The information Adama obtained from Cavil's baseship during the battle," Zarek answered. "Cavil was on to something, and whatever he learned was making him even more bitter and spiteful than he was from the beginning. I know it has something to do with Earth, Pythia, and the opera house. Everything is connected, Laura. All of this has happened before, and if we can find out why, we can stop it from happening again. You can get to him. He trusts you."
"And you have no idea what I had to do to earn that trust. I am not going to reopen that wound unless I know it will go somewhere." She sighed, looked at the floor, and then back at him. "This isn't the first time you've saved my life, Tom, and I haven't forgotten that. I'll do what I can to help you, but it won't be quick. We have to focus on the problem in front of us, and I can't risk him shutting me out."
His face remained expressionless; he feared he'd give himself away if he showed his relief. It hadn't been easy to convince D'Anna to refrain from killing Laura Roslin, but now it looked like the investment in her life was going to pay off. Roslin couldn't guarantee anything, and Zarek understood that, but she had something he never did: a chance.
"Thank you, Laura," he said, and meant it. She smiled, visibly forced, but a smile nonetheless. He almost returned it, but it changed into a grimace as a jolt of pain went through him. "Frak," he muttered. Not only did it hurt, it reminded him of why he was in this situation in the first place. "Stupid frakking Earth."
"Doctor?" Roslin called, glancing around for any sign of Cottle.
It was the comely medic, Layne Ishay, who answered the summons instead. "Dr. Cottle is tending to Corporal Sykes. He asked me to give Mr. Zarek his pain medication."
"Sykes..." Roslin knew that was the name of a Marine who'd been with them, and remembered it coming up again while Kara Thrace was speaking during the debrief. "He was one of our injured."
"Yes, Madam President," Ishay confirmed, and elaborated as she prepared an injection of morpha. "There's some redness and swelling in the area he was hit, and he appears fine now that he's awake, but Dr. Cottle wants to keep him overnight for surveillance." She pressed the needle into Zarek's arm and injected its contents. "Blood work hasn't come back yet. We have no idea what they put in him, and whether or not there could be a delayed reaction."
Zarek relaxed as the morpha worked its way through his system, and gazed at Roslin as she spoke with the medic. Ishay excused herself, and the president turned her attention back to him. "Better?"
"Define 'better,'" her second groaned in reply, and rocked back and forth uncomfortably. He stopped squirming, sighed, and stared at the wall above Roslin's head. "Frak me," he grumbled.
Roslin looked down at her hands as a new rush of guilt overcame her. Zarek had to have known his injuries were the least that would happen the moment he decided to place her life above his. She was alive because he took that chance. How could she possibly repay him?
Suddenly, Zarek laughed. "Gods, listen to me. You'd think I'd never been shot before."
"How many times have you been shot?" Roslin asked.
"I've been shot at more times than I care to remember, but this is the fourth hit," he answered. "It's been a long time since a bullet got me. Didn't think it was something you could forget."
"I'm not surprised," said the president with a wistful sigh. "Twenty-five years is a long time to go without feeling something, even something like that."
Zarek strongly suspected that Roslin was hearkening back to some personal experience, and it wasn't gunshot wounds. "You're very pretty, you know that?" he suddenly blurted out.
Roslin snorted. It seemed like she'd heard that today from everyone except the one she wanted to say it most. Oddly enough, hearing it from Zarek felt like the next best thing. "Tell me that again sometime when you're not on drugs," she responded, and patted his arm. "I'm going to go make that statement. I'll check on you before I go back to my ship."
He said nothing as she left, just smiled and nodded. The morhpa's effects were overtaking him, and the things going through his mind vanished in a drugged haze. The only fully coherent thought was the one that had driven most of his decisions in the last few weeks: She'll find the Ship of Lights, and when she does, we'll know why the Hybrid was so afraid of Earth.
Roslin's aide, Olivia, was waiting for the president outside sickbay. She'd been in CIC since the Celestial Mariner landed, deflecting the inquiries coming in from the rest of the fleet about what had happened on Earth. Roslin assumed Adama had sent her over to see what was taking so long. The guess proved correct when Olivia spoke. "The admiral wanted me to make sure you were all right," the young woman said. "He seems like he's worried about you."
Of course he's worried, Roslin thought, and couldn't help feeling a little smug. She wasn't naïve. She knew a lot more about what went on beneath the surface than the men in her life gave her credit for, and she knew exactly what this was about: Bill Adama was jealous of Tom Zarek. Sooner or later, she'd have to sit him down and tell that there was nothing for him to worry about... or rather, show him, since she could think of several different ways to explain the situation that didn't involve words. Unfortunately, plotting her seduction of the admiral would have to wait: there were a lot of things that needed to be done before then.
"And I can see why," Olivia continued. "You've been pushing yourself too hard, Madam President."
"It's just been a long, trying day," Roslin replied. "None of us are operating at our peak right now."
She hoped she sounded more convincing than she felt. The excitement with Zarek proved sufficiently distracting, but now that it was over, she was again acutely aware of the day's toll on her fragile body. She felt light-headed, found it difficult to stand without concentration, and noticed that her hands were shaking. Just a long day, she reiterated in her mind. Even the Cylon was feeling it. There was no need to think anything out of the ordinary was happening to her.
Olivia either accepted the response or got the hint to drop it; at any rate, she didn't bring it up again. They made small talk on the way back to CIC, and when they reached their destination, split up: Olivia to continue her diplomatic way of handling incoming transmissions, and Roslin to the center toward Adama. The other officers from their meeting had returned to duty, and acknowledged her with respectful nods as she took her place at the admiral's side. Not many would have noticed that there was something wrong just by looking at Adama's face, but the president was one of the few who could. She knew she would have to put his mind at ease, and yet couldn't help but appreciate the irony in the situation: in a way, wasn't he doing earlier the exact same thing she'd done just now – making decisions with a Cylon without the other present?
The difference is you're not going to tell him everything that was said between you and Tom Zarek.
Roslin pushed the thought to the back of her mind and gave Adama the most sincere smile she could muster. He didn't buy it. "What took you so long?" he inquired, though his urgent tone made it seem more like a demand. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine," she returned, and suddenly felt defensive. She didn't belong to him. Why did he get so worked up every time she was out of his sight? "Zarek just needed to say a few things, but he's so drugged up on pain medication right now that he didn't make much sense."
Adama didn't think Zarek needed the excuse of pain medication to not make much sense, but he kept his thoughts on that matter to himself. "We're ready when you are," he said gently, hoping to make up for his unexpected harshness in greeting. Get a grip on yourself, he thought. We're all tired, disappointed, and confused. Don't take it out on the one person who understands.
Roslin responded with a strained smile, knowing she would never be ready for this and that it would be better to just do it and be done. "It's time."
Adama picked up the corded receiver and held it out to her. She accepted it with a trembling hand, took a deep breath, and spoke into the microphone. "Citizens of the Twelve Colonies of Kobol, this is your president."
NASA Ames Research Center
Mountain View, California
Five hours had passed since the incident at Kadena Air Base, and for five hours, radio analyst Jeremy Adler had been waiting for something to happen.
Adler was part of a top-secret team, handpicked by NASA administrator Dinakar Tempas himself, to remain in the control center for the Palenque and Archon space probes round-the-clock and gather any information they could on this "alien space fleet" near Jupiter. While the security clearance and nature of the mission was exciting at first, Adler's job was relatively dull by comparison. There had been an adrenaline rush when contact was made at Kadena, but the happenings there didn't alter their objective, and now he was bored again. All the interesting things were in the optical spectrum. Since the team was assembled, he'd gotten one faint reading, and that was over two days ago. If there was a point to sitting here, scanning the sky for some sort of radio signal from these ships over and over again, Adler had yet to see it.
Now I know how they feel at SETI. Except now that aliens appeared, SETI was no longer the laughingstock of the scientific community – or at least wouldn't be once this information was declassified. Dinakar Tempas was on the fast track to becoming astronomy's biggest pariah now: spending millions of dollars to borrow satellites and keep people quiet, and expecting his analysts to handle the situation like they'd done it before. Maybe if that damn quantum computer he was so famous for developing actually worked somewhere other than the space station, they might have made some progress.
Adler heaved a sigh and stood up to stretch. The movement attracted the attention of one of his colleagues, Brendan Lane, who was at the station for Archon's optical equipment. "How you holding up,?" Lane asked.
"Bored as hell," Adler replied. "Babysit this for a second, will you? I'm gonna go smoke."
He only got halfway to the door before the sound of static filled his ears and every monitor at his workstation lit up with the image of an incoming signal. Adler rushed back to his computers, threw on his headset, and began fine-tuning the frequency. He was immediately joined by Lane and their lead analyst, Will Marcott. "What do you have, Adler?" Marcott asked.
"It's Palenque. They're definitely transmitting something," Adler answered. "This is the strongest signal I've seen yet – it must be going out to all the ships." One wavelength was marginally more clear than the others, so Adler stopped his equipment on that one and boosted the volume. A female voice could be heard if one strained his ears; however, what she was saying sounded like complete gibberish: dikúr... kobol... lúbarra... inimsùd... inimzu...
"I can't make any sense of this," Adler said. "Do you know if they had any luck understanding what they said at Kadena?"
Marcott shook his head. "Just 'Earth.' General Bagalayos was making progress with their leader, but it all went to hell when the sniper took out their man."
"Can you clear up the signal at all?" asked Lane.
"'Fraid not," was Adler's response. "Palenque can broadcast a signal, but it wasn't really designed to receive any other than our own. We got lucky." Dinakar Tempas really was an idiot, Adler had decided. The man knew what Palenque was designed to do, and it was certainly not to moonlight as a radio telescope.
"Tempas will have to be satisfied with this, then," Marcott said. "Confirm the frequency and get it to HQ. Anything happening in the optical spectrum?"
"Not since the giant metal starfish reappeared," replied Lane.
"Stay on it. If anything changes, I want to know."
Lane nodded and returned to his station, and Marcott focused his full attention on Adler's wild card. "As soon as this broadcast has finished, get a copy to General Bagalayos at Kadena. Her radio analysts won't be able to do anything we can't, but it could get some sort of reaction out of that alien they captured."
For a few moments, the only sounds in the room were the fuzzy signal from their satellite and the click of Adler's keyboard as he rapidly entered commands. Suddenly, the voice stopped. The static continued for a moment, and then came the indistinguishable words but distinct sound of commotion. In the midst of what could only be a scream, the entire signal cut out.
"What the hell just happened?" asked Marcott.
"It went dead," was Adler's weak answer. "I... I don't know. Something must have happened on their end."
Judging by what little of the reaction they'd heard, Marcott doubted that was how the alien broadcast was supposed to finish. "Get Dinakar Tempas on the phone. Now!"
In orbit around Jupiter
"As you know, several days ago, a team of military personnel from Galactica went to Earth on a reconnaissance mission," Roslin spoke into the microphone. "The primary objectives of the mission were to determine if human civilization was present on Earth, and find their largest city so we might make contact with their leaders. Galactica's team was successful on both counts. This afternoon, a delegation of civilian and military leaders that included myself, Vice President Zarek, and Admiral Adama, attempted to use the information gathered and make contact. Our goal was, in any way we could, to inform the people of Earth that we meant them no harm and want nothing but a place to call home.
"I regret to inform you that this mission was not as successful as the first. We were able to make direct contract with a military leader on Earth, at which point we discovered that the language used by the Earth-humans was drastically different from our own. It's possible it was simply a regional dialect that we encountered, and there are other people who know our common language of Kobol. There was a time all the tribes of humanity walked and spoke together, and in my heart, I trust that they would not have let our words pass out of their minds forever."
Roslin was relieved to find that she actually did believe what she was saying about the Earth language. It was logical. She wasn't a linguist, but she did know enough history to know that even though the Colonists spoke many different languages after leaving Kobol, the dominant speech was still very closely related to their ancestral tongue. The thirteenth tribe had to know it would one day encounter the others again. They couldn't have been so foolish as to let their main language evolve into something utterly unrecognizable.
She met Adama's eyes before continuing. He smiled reassuringly, and she felt more of her anxiety fade. She knew he believed in her. His faith was the strength her mind and body had lost over the course of the grueling day, and with it, she could hold out long enough to deliver the bad news.
"The events that took place on the surface did not go entirely as planned," she said. "I was successfully communicating with the Earth military leader using a combination of simple words and gestures, but we were unable to get far. We also have evidence that there may be some groups on Earth who would treat us with hostility. Until we know how to communicate, we may not be able to convince them we mean no harm."
She paused a moment, feeling short of breath. She feared Olivia was right, and that she had driven herself too far. Making a mental vow to rest after this, she inhaled deeply and continued. "I know you all remember the mistake we made before: settling on a new planet before we knew it was safe. I know it's been a long, hard journey, and though we have indeed reached Earth, it cannot be our sanctuary yet. We are not the only ones involved. This administration will not allow more bloodshed. We will be doing everything in our power to overcome the obstacles ahead of us, and ask for your patience and understanding in this matter. When the t..."
Her voice trailed off, and she froze, unable to blink, breathe, or do anything besides stare straight ahead. Her eyes rolled back, and the microphone fell from her limp hand. All was silent until it hit the floor, and a heartbeat later, Laura Roslin followed.
In case you haven't figured it out yet, in this version, Tom Zarek is the final Cylon. Contrary to what the frequency of updates may indicate, this story was completely outlined before Episode 4.08 aired, and changing things to fit canon messes with my evil plans. Also, we had a pool going on who the last Cylon was, and I lost about $20 betting on Zarek. I reject your reality and substitute my own. :-)