The Quality of Mercy
The quality of mercy is not strained,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's,
When mercy seasons justice.
The Merchant of Venice, Act 4, Scene 1
William Shakespeare, Sixteenth century Earth poet and playwright
Kara tugged at the sash of her dress gray uniform until it felt right. Then she knocked on the door of her father's and Lee's quarters. Lee opened the door. He also wore his dress grays as did her father.
"You look good...as always," he said.
"Tell me again why we have to get dressed up for a meeting?"
John was standing at the table taking medals off his sash. Kara walked over to him.
"What are you doing?"
He looked up and smiled. "It's too heavy. It doesn't hang right."
She looked at Lee and rolled her eyes then looked back at her father.
"You got a haircut."
"Finally. I shaved, too." He grinned. "Even took a shower."
"You know what this is about, don't you?"
"Bill wants to thank his officers. I can't remember the last time I wore my dress grays."
"Probably when I graduated from the Academy," Kara said. "Nobody's graduating from anything today so what's going on."
Lee said, "Besides this ceremony, everyone on the negotiating team was told to dress nicely. Hunter is in a suit and General Vargas will wear his dress greens. I'm sure his chest will look like a decorated Solstice tree with all his ribbons and medals."
"We only have to dress up on the first day," John said. "Some analysts at the Ministry of Defense said dressing up on the first day of negotiations was an indication of our seriousness. It's also designed to give us an advantage."
Kara snickered. "You really think the Cylons care what you wear?"
John paused and looked at her. "Those MOD analysts think so. That's why Bill is killing two birds with one stone. We're leaving for the planet right after the ceremony. We'll be back tonight, though. We've got plenty of portable potties down there now, but accommodations at the airstrip don't yet include showers. Hunter and I could probably handle that for a couple of days, but nobody would want to sit beside us."
"Aren't there showers in the city?"
"Of course, but until we have a firm peace treaty in place, we're meeting in hangar eight for security reasons. I haven't been down there in several days but I understand it's been fixed up to fit the occasion. Five hundred freed centurions have been brought in from the plateau. They're guarding the airstrip. We've had crews down there working around the clock to give the place a homey look."
"You're kidding," Kara said in near disbelief. "We're fixing up a hangar for...never mind. I'm sure some analysts at Defense said to do it. After all they know so much about the Cylon psyche."
John resumed working on his sash. "We want them to think this is as serious as it is. They aren't going to be impressed by a couple of rickety folding chairs in a drafty corner of a hangar. The Second One will be leading their negotiating team. Personally I think we just need to clue the others in about the creators and the Sevens and the Second One's role in what happened and let the chips fall where they may, but that's not how Natalie wants to handle it."
"We had to deal with that right away on the res ship," Lee said, "because the Six who downloaded had already told them."
"So you're not even going to mention it?" Kara asked.
"Natalie wants to hold that out until the end. It's one of the few things she and I have disagreed on. She thinks telling them up front will taint the whole negotiating process. If their team turns on the Second One like those on the plateau did and beats him to death, we're back to square one with the negotiations. Personally I think those at the prison were a much rougher bunch. I'm not sure the city Cylons would resort to violence that way. They always let their centurions do their dirty work."
"She does plan to tell them eventually, doesn't she?" Lee asked.
"Yes. She just wants to wait for the right moment. She visited Daniel and Lucy earlier this week. They've agreed to tell their story to the team when Natalie sends for them. The Second One could deny everything, but he can hardly deny it with Daniel standing in front of them. If we had one of their datastreams handy, it wouldn't be such a big deal, but we don't."
"Isn't there one somewhere in the city?" Lee asked.
"Buddy says it's in a heavily guarded underground bunker. Until we free all the centurions, it's not available to us. I know we're supposed to be under a flag of truce right now, but I'm not sure I'd want to test it to that extent."
"I heard the Cylons took a long time to come to a decision to negotiate with us," Kara said. "Don't you think giving them a week was too long? I think it made us look wimpy to wait on them that long."
John said, "We gave them twenty-four hours and had their answer before the end of that time. They've actually been waiting on us since then. Besides all the decorating going on, we've included some Cylons on our team so we had to come to an agreement as to what we'll insist on. That wasn't as easy as I thought it would be. That Dean from the res ship is a piece of work."
"Natalie is going to lead the team," Lee said. "She's our chief negotiator. Buddy and LG49 are on the team, too."
"What are they going to ask for?"
"Representation in the coalition government," her father said. "Buddy understands why the centurions were created. He understands their function as security and their role in construction and other projects. He doesn't have a problem with either of those, but he doesn't want them to ever be pitted against one another again or used as soldiers to fight someone else's wars."
"A centurion with a conscience? Give me a break."
"He's capable of learning, Kara," John said patiently. "There's a big difference between Buddy now and the centurion who was guarding the entrance to the park last spring and scratched words in the dirt for me to read. Interacting with us has made a huge difference. LG49 is getting there, too."
"I understand. Buddy is your friend. And if you don't hurry up, we're going to be late for the ceremony. Quit taking medals off that sash or all you'll have left are your pilot's wings."
John smiled. "That's all that really matters to me. It's what I'm the proudest of." He pulled the sash over his head and fastened the belt around his waist. "Better?"
Together they walked to the officer's wardroom. The long tables had been moved back against the walls and the chairs lined up in rows that faced the podium at the end. The rows were filled with many of the Galactica's officers. Behind the back row Doc Cottle sat beside Emmalyn who was in a wheelchair. Petra sat in front of him and beside her sat Sonja, Yoshimo, Jade, and the rest of the Cylons on the negotiating team. D'Anna and Petra's Simon had asked to go back to the res ship and had been taken three days earlier. Dean had been brought back to the G to serve on the team.
Kara smiled at Emmalyn and then joined her father and Lee several rows from the front. On the front row Hunter sat beside General Vargas. Buddy and LG49 stood against the wall at the back. People were chatting, but when Bill stood up and walked to the podium, the room fell silent. Kara looked at the admiral's sash. He obviously hadn't removed any medals. It was loaded. She knew he had gotten several of them for his plan to free Caprica of Cylon control the previous year. In fact the admiral was probably sporting every medal the Colonial military could give and some civilian ones as well.
Bill put several note cards on the podium, looked around the group, and began speaking.
"Today is going to be another busy day for everyone, but before we scatter again, I wanted to get all of you together so I could thank you for your dedication and your unfailing courage no matter what the odds.
"A year and a half ago when we got confirmation that this planet was the Cylon homeworld, there was a justifiable fear at the highest levels of the military and the civilian government that to allow the continued existence of such a deadly enemy was insanity. The decision was made that as soon as we rid Caprica of Cylon control, we would come to this planet and visit upon them the nuclear holocaust they had visited on eleven of our sister colonies. We were reasonably certain at the time that there were a few humans on this planet, but they were considered a small price to pay for the peace of mind that destroying the Cylons' homeworld and all their remaining basestars would bring."
He stopped and gazed around at his audience. "We were wrong. I've come to see that now, but at the time, the decision felt both right and justified.
"One man and his daughter disagreed with the majority of us and it is perhaps the cruelest irony of all that Major John Gallagher was the one who spent over four months in a Cylon prison. Had it not been for his conviction and Lieutenant Kara Thrace's unauthorized use of the reconnaissance Raider to prove me wrong about the number of humans on the planet, we would not be here today on the brink of negotiating a peace with the Cylons and gaining the freedom of forty-six thousand human slaves without the loss of more lives.
"Others have also been instrumental in bringing us to this point and we owe them a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid. Kyle Franklin, known to all of you as Hunter, has been invaluable in his knowledge of the planet and his role as a consultant to our Marines. The dedication and contributions of Natalie cannot be underestimated. She decided long before we came here that the enslavement of the humans was wrong and vowed to help us even then. And I cannot leave out two centurions, Buddy and LG49, who changed the minds of most of us in this room about what a valuable resource a freed centurion can be.
"To the pilots and Marines who fought so valiantly and especially to those who gave their lives, their contribution and sacrifice helped make this campaign a success. As you all know, negotiations begin today and we're hoping that they will bring an end to all future hostilities. President Laura Roslin's fervent hope is to see this planet become a place where Cylons and humans can live and work side by side in peace. I think in the months since we left Caprica, it has become the hope of many of us as well.
"I must also mention my son, Captain Lee Adama, who saved the lives of a rescue team at the Cylon prison before the planetary conflict began and who was wounded in the process. He was also willing to go with Natalie to a Cylon basestar to make an overture that helped bring us to the bargaining table today. He did this not knowing if it was a trap or if he would ever return to us."
Here Bill paused and took a breath. "Lee, come up front, please."
Kara nudged him and he rose and joined his father at the podium.
"Captain Adama," Bill said, "it's my honor to award to you today the Meritorious Achievement Medal." He stepped up to Lee and pinned the medal to his sash. "Congratulations, son."
Everyone in the room began to clap and Lee's cheeks turned red. Knowing that few people would ever know how much that trip to the res ship had cost Lee on a personal level, Kara leaned over to her father and said, "He deserves it for a lot of reasons."
"Bill isn't through."
He'd barely gotten out the words when the admiral raised his hand for silence and said, "Everyone is also aware that in a stealth mission that put her life at high risk, Lieutenant Kara Thrace volunteered to take the recon Raider into a distant sector of space and attempt to destroy the rogue basestar that had been plaguing us since the beginning. She succeeded and the entire fleet owes her a debt of gratitude. Lieutenant Thrace, come up front, please. John, you might as well come with her and pin the Combat Action Medal to her sash. Congratulations, Lieutenant Thrace."
As they stood, Kara hissed, "Did you know about this and not tell me?"
Her father smiled. At the front Bill handed the medal to John who did the honors.
"Remain up here, please," Bill said when the applause died down. "If I listed all of the things Major Gallagher has done for us starting when he flew a Raptor into a basestar over Caprica and destroyed it with no regard for his own life, we'd be here until tomorrow this time. So I'll bypass that and get to the best part. Lieutenant Thrace, would you like to do the honors and give your father the Medal of Valor."
John had clearly not been expecting that. Kara looked him in the eyes after she pinned it to his sash. "I dare you to take that one off," she whispered. "Nobody deserves it more than you do."
"We're almost through," Bill said. "John, if you'll remove your collar pins, I'd like to trade them for these." He held out a small box that contained a different set of pins. "Congratulations, Colonel Gallagher."
Everyone in the room began clapping again. Hunter was the first one to stand and Vargas was the second. Then everyone was on his or her feet. Doc Cottle even helped Emmalyn get to hers. Kara looked at her father. He still looked stunned. She wanted to salute him, but she knew that would be too emotional for both of them. So she did something very un-military like.
She put her arms around his neck, hugged him and whispered. "Now you don't have to take any crap from Colonel Tigh."
Her words broke the teary mood. He managed a smile and whispered back. "I'm sure you'll more than make up for it."
In a week's time temporary walls had been built in a section of hangar eight. Neutral colored paint had been applied and a piece of mottled brown and gray carpet had been put down. A long mahogany table had been brought in along with a number of comfortable padded chairs. A mahogany sideboard had been placed at one end. It contained a round centerpiece containing a semi-circle of miniature flags representing each of the Twelve Colonies with the slightly larger flag of the United Colonies in the center. Above it hung a picture of the current President. They were the only reminders in the room of who had ultimately made the offer to negotiate. It paid homage to the woman who was not present at the table, but whose dream it was to see a coalition government formed and peace come to Nereid.
John walked over to the sideboard and looked at Laura's picture. She was wearing a dark blue suit and looked every inch the leader that she was.
Natalie walked up beside him. "Your wife is a very beautiful and dignified-looking woman."
"Yes, she is."
"Are you going to mention your relationship to her when my brothers and sisters arrive?"
"Not unless there's a reason to."
Dean walked over to them. "I simply don't understand your military and their ranks and medals. It seems like the more of the enemy you kill, the more you're rewarded. How many of us suffered permanent death on the baseship that you destroyed over Caprica?"
Natalie said in a good-natured way, "Now don't make me sorry we let you come along. You promised to play nice."
"I merely said I don't understand…"
John said, "If you want to start comparing numbers of dead, I think the billions of humans who died on eleven planets far outnumbers your loss on that basestar."
Realizing John had him on that point, Dean asked, "Who is the woman in the picture?"
"Laura Roslin. She's the President of the Colonies and the main reason we're standing here today getting ready to negotiate instead of continuing to fight."
Outside the room they heard the clank of centurion feet. "I think the other team has arrived," Natalie said.
They watched as the members of the Cylon council strode into the room. For a long minute both sides sized up the other. City Cavil was the first to speak.
"It seems we're outnumbered." He glanced around at the two centurions who had taken up posts just inside the door. "And outgunned."
Buddy said, "LG49 and I currently carry no bullets, but I can assure you that my free brothers outside this room do."
All of the city Cylons stopped and stared.
Dean sniffed. "That was my reaction the first time I heard one of them speak. These humans do have a few tricks up their sleeves. Don't underestimate them."
City Cavil continued to stare at Buddy and finally looked at Natalie. "Where did you find him?"
John answered. "He was guarding one of the entrances to your park for the last couple of years. He and I started chatting last spring."
"We call him Buddy," Natalie added. "John was the first person who ever bothered to speak to him. Buddy has both U87 and new centurion programming."
"Then he was created many years ago," the Five said.
Natalie smiled. "Yes, by one of our creators. Lucy."
"A traitor centurion," Cavil said. "Two of them. How interesting."
"Please, brother," Natalie said, "we're not here to trade insults. Eventually we'll get to the reason Buddy was so willing to help John. Now, let's be seated and I'll introduce our team. Then you can introduce yours."
John pulled back the center chair on their side of the table and indicated that Natalie should take it. He sat on her right. Dean sat on her left then Bookstore Leoben, Jade, Sonja, Natasi, the Simon John called Biscuits and Yoshimo. On the other side of John were General Vargas and Hunter.
"We appear to be outnumbered," Cavil said again.
Natalie countered, "We brought four humans and seven Cylons. If nothing else that should show you that many of our brothers and sisters want peace and to govern this planet together with the humans. Everyone on this side of the table is in agreement as to what should happen next."
"We're here because we don't want our city destroyed," the Five said.
"We certainly hope it doesn't come to that, but make no mistake, change must come. Our way of life with enslaving the humans and subjugating them to our will is over."
John lifted a briefcase from the floor and opened it. He took out a stack of paper and handed everything to Natalie. She began distributing the packets.
"During the past week, those on our side of the table sat down and came up with a number of discussion points, but before we get started with our negotiations, John has something he'd like to say."
"Last spring in Settlement Alpha, a child was taken from her mother and brought to the city. She's the daughter of a woman named Petra and a Four. Petra was sent to the prison and has since been rescued. The Four was executed and downloaded on the res ship. Their little girl's name is Cassandra but she's called Cassie. We want her returned to her mother and we want it done today."
"This is your chance to make a gesture of good faith," Natalie said to her brothers and sisters. "Cassie's return is not negotiable. I was there when she was literally ripped from her mother's arms. I heard her screams of fear. I heard her mother beg for her child. A terrible injustice was done that day and must be made right."
Cavil turned to the Eight on his side of the table. "Does one of your sisters still have her?"
"You should know. You gave her to one of your pets."
"I want to know where she is now," Cavil said.
"She's on her third or fourth mother. She's a difficult child. No one wanted to keep her for long. So much crying. So much changing her diaper. Fussy. Always hungry. Always sucking her fingers and drooling on her clothes."
Fury swept John. Under the table Natalie clamped her hand hard on the top of his leg to silence him and said, "Then you should be happy for us to take her off your hands."
"We'll have her brought here," Cavil said. He turned to the Eight again. "Which building?"
"The big one on Ulixes Street."
"Send a centurion," Cavil said. "Bring the child here."
"She's terrified of centurions," John said. "I know the building. I'll go get her." He looked at the Eight. "Which apartment?"
"Three eighteen," she said sullenly.
LG49 said, "I will get several of my brothers and we will accompany John. Buddy must stay here since he is our representative."
Outside the hangar John found one of the smaller golf carts. LG49 and three centurions loped along beside and behind him as he drove into the city. The building where Cassie was being kept was beyond the square. John stopped outside. LG49 went into the building first. John and the other three centurions followed.
"Tell them to wait down here," John said to his big companion. You and I will go get her."
Together they got on the elevator. "This child has meaning for you?" LG49 asked.
"But she is not yours."
"Not my biological child, but she's special to me. I promised her mother I'd bring her back."
"It is not good for a child to be separated from its mother?"
"Not if she's a good mother. Petra is a wonderful mother."
"I have learned something today," the centurion said.
As he stood outside the door of 318, John took a deep breath before he knocked. What if Cassie didn't remember him? For a long time there was no answer so he knocked again. An Eight finally opened the door. She looked like she'd been sleeping. He glanced at his watch. It was nearly noon.
From a room toward the back of the apartment he heard a child crying. John pushed the Eight aside and followed the sound. Cassie was standing in a crib. Her curly dark hair looked matted and her face was dirty and tear-streaked. She reeked of urine.
She held up her arms to him. He gently picked her up, kissed her forehead and rocked her back and forth. "Hey, Cassie, do you remember me?"
Her sobs ceased. She hiccupped and said, "Chon."
The Eight stormed into the room. "Just what do you think you're doing?"
"I'm taking this child back to her mother."
"I'm her mother."
"No, hell, you're not! Now get out of my way!"
Again John pushed past her. LG49 was waiting in the living room. When the Eight tried to follow John into the hall, the centurion grasped her arm and said, "John was authorized by your council to take the child."
The Eight stopped in her tracks at the talking centurion. John held the elevator. He and LG49 rode downstairs together. He held Cassie on his lap as he drove the golf cart back to the hangar. All the while he was talking softly to her, soothing nonsense like he had once talked to Brae.
Back at the hangar, he stopped in the negotiating room long enough to tell them he was taking Cassie straight to the Galactica. When the little girl saw the room full of people she clung to him and began to cry again.
"See what I mean?" the Eight said. "Always crying and sucking on her fingers and putting her sticky hands on everything."
"I'd cry too if I thought you were my mother," Jade said. "Natalie and I saw her before you took her. She looks awful now. What did you do to her?"
Cavil said, "And you wonder why I don't want any part of your disgusting breeding experiments when all they produce is squalling brats like her."
John didn't wait to hear any more. Trusting Natalie to get the negotiations back on track, he went to the nearest Raptor and told the pilot to take him to the Galactica. His voice must have held some urgency because ten minutes later they were in the landing bay and ten minutes after that, he walked down the ramp with Cassie. He had a crewman get Doc Cottle on the phone. John told him that Cassie needed to be cleaned up and checked before Petra saw her. The last thing John wanted was Petra seeing her child dirty with matted hair and a sopping diaper.
"Bring her up the back elevator," Cottle said. "I'll meet you."
Cottle led him to an examining room and closed the door. "Zeus on a zebra! What did they do to her?"
"I think it's more what they didn't do," John said. "I'm guessing she was left in her crib most of the time. I didn't see a single stuffed animal or toy in the apartment where she was being kept. I'm trying to tell myself that the Eights who kept her just didn't know any better."
"Neglect is a form of abuse."
"I know. She needs a bath and a clean diaper and she needs those big tangles cut out of her hair. I don't want Petra to see her like this. She's suffered enough. They both have."
"Let me get a nurse in here to help you. We'll get her cleaned up and then I can check her. If she's all right, I'll go get Petra."
Twenty minutes later Cassie had been bathed and was in a dry diaper. John wrapped her in a big towel and held her on his lap while she sucked her fingers and the nurse cut her matted hair. She then looked almost exactly like the little girl John had first seen with her mother in the park.
Cottle came back with a bottle of warm formula. Cassie immediately reached for it. The doctor had managed an examination after her bath. Other than a bad case of diaper rash and being slightly underweight, he pronounced her healthy.
"Are we ready?" John asked.
"Petra is with Targa," Cottle said. "I'll go get her."
John looked at the child now sucking contentedly on the bottle and realized that being able to give Cassie back to her mother meant more to him than the medal and promotion he'd just received.
"You're precious." He smiled at the little girl and she briefly smiled back before she resumed sucking.
He glanced up to see Petra and Cottle in the doorway of the examining room. Petra gasped when she saw her child. Her eyes filled with tears that immediately spilled over. John stood and Cottle helped Petra over to the chair where John had been sitting. Then John placed Cassie in her mother's arms.
Petra was trying to speak, but she was kissing her daughter and crying too hard.
John patted her shoulder. "I made you a promise..." It was all he could get out before he was also overcome with the emotion of their reunion.
"We'll take care of her now," Cottle said and John noticed that even the crusty old physician had tears in his eyes.
"I've got a Raptor waiting for me," John said. "I've got to get back to the negotiations."
"The gods bless you," Petra managed to say, "today and every day for the rest of your life."
For the second time that day Kara knocked on the door of her father's and Lee's quarters only this time she was wearing fatigues, tanks and a hoodie. She heard Lee call for her to come in.
"Where's Dad?" She asked.
"They're still at it down on the planet."
"Gods. It's almost time to hit the sack. How can they stand it? I'd be crazy by now."
Lee smiled. "What do you mean by now?"
"Have you heard anything yet?"
"No. I guess you heard that John brought Petra's little girl to her this morning."
"Yeah. I was up in Sick Bay visiting Emmalyn. I didn't see Dad, but some of the nurses were crying because Petra was so happy."
"How is Emmalyn? I saw her at the ceremony this morning."
"She's getting around on one crutch now. In a few days Doc Cottle said she could switch to a cane. I thought she'd be chomping at the bit to get back to the valley, but she seems content to stay on board right now."
Lee smiled. "Maybe she likes the company. Hunter told me Doc Cottle is being very attentive. He thinks there might be a little romance getting started."
Kara shrugged. "I went to see Zak but he'd already been released."
"I walked down to see him after the ceremony this morning," Lee said. "His whole left hand is bandaged and he's in some pain. He's really down about the whole thing. He got hit when he threw a zapper. I told him he was lucky that centurion bullet only hit his hand."
Kara sat down on the other side of the table. "What are you working on?"
"CAP rotations for the city. If the Cylons decide to accept the terms and agree to form a coalition government, we hope the settlements will throw in with them. We'll let each of the other battlestars handle their CAPs."
"What about the Raiders we haven't found yet?"
"I guess we'll follow the same procedure we did with the others. LG49 and a few of us will go into each settlement first and see if we can lure them out. Then we hit them with the kill switch."
"It sounds like you've got everything under control."
"Did you know about the awards thing this morning?"
He shook his head. "Not a clue. I thought Dad was just going to give us one of his appreciation speeches."
"Me either. I'm glad you got a medal for…everything you did. "
"Look who's talking. You deserve yours just as much. So does John."
They sat in silence for a minute. Finally Kara said, "You want to go to the rec room and get a beer?"
"Is that where you've been?"
"I was in my quarters writing letters to Maya and Laura. They both sent me nice letters of condolence about Dreilide."
"Sure, let's go get a beer. I think we're both going to get a lot of grief from the other pilots about this morning."
Kara grinned. "Why do you think I came to get you? If I'm going to take it, you're going to take it, too."
They got up and walked to the door. Just before Lee opened it, he turned to her and took her in his arms. She hesitated only a second and then wrapped her arms around him. He leaned down and kissed her gently, hesitantly, just a touch of his lips against hers. He would never know if the kiss would have led to something more because at that moment the door opened. They separated almost like they'd been caught doing something wrong.
John stopped before he bumped into them. "Sorry. Lousy timing on my part, huh?"
"We were just leaving to go get a beer," Kara said. She hadn't seen her father looking that tired in a long time. "So do we have a treaty or not?"
He walked past them and put his briefcase on the table before he pulled off his sash and unbuttoned the top button of his jacket. Lee had cleaned up the table so John had to go to his locker to get the bottle of whiskey.
"No, we don't have a treaty yet," he said with fatigue evident in every word. "The Cylon council has agreed to free their human slaves, but they want us to take them and leave the planet. They want this planet to be their homeworld. They'll agree to leave us alone on Caprica, but they want this planet for themselves. They even want us to take the humans from Hunter's valley. No amount of talking could convince them it wasn't going to happen."
He sat down in one of the chairs and tossed back most of the glass of whiskey he'd just poured.
"Do all of them feel that way?" Kara asked.
"I don't think so, but the later it got, the harder it was for me to decide if they had agreed on certain points ahead of time and decided to stick together no matter what or if they were just letting Cavil run the show. He did over fifty percent of the talking."
"Weren't our Cylons any help?" Lee asked.
"Yes and no. Cavil regards them as traitors, which means their council seemed to ignore almost everything they said. Natalie had to rein Jade in a couple of times. Ever since she saw Cassie this morning, she seems to have a particular dislike for the Eight on the council."
"Why? What was wrong with Cassie?"
"She'd been passed around to a couple of Cavil's pet Eights. None of them apparently knew much about children. Cassie wasn't even a year old when she was taken. She's still a baby not a miniature adult. They didn't take very good care of her. When I found her this morning she was dirty. Her hair was matted and her diaper was soaked. Jade saw Cassie before I brought her up here. I don't know if she was ashamed of her sisters or what, but after that she wasn't much help to us. She was too aggressive, almost combative. I'm fairly certain we could have gotten through to the Three on the council and maybe the Two, but Jade's attitude angered them both. They stood with Cavil."
"Leave her here tomorrow," Kara said. "You can't let one person torpedo the negotiations."
"Why doesn't Natalie just play her ace?" Lee asked. "Bring in Daniel and Lucy and let them tell their story."
"I think she really wants the council to see the light on their own. I think she believes that's the only way a treaty will be meaningful. Part of me agrees with her, but by the time we quit tonight, I felt like we'd never get through to them without something besides just talk. I really feel like we've stalemated."
"How does General Vargas feel?" Lee asked.
"I think if he'd been wearing a sidearm, about 21:00 tonight he'd have pulled it out and shot Cavil. The general showed a remarkable amount of restraint. Our team is eating breakfast together at 06:00 in the morning to regroup before we go back to the planet."
"Does their council know about Sean?" Kara asked.
"He wasn't mentioned today."
"Then maybe it's time to let them know about the peacemaker. You said you thought you could have gotten through to the Three and the Two. Tell them about him. Leoben can back you up. He's seen Sean and you've got pictures of him."
"I'll mention it in the morning at breakfast."
"We'll go now and let you get some sleep."
Kara took Lee's hand and they started for the door.
"I love you, baby," John called after her.
She turned and smiled. "I love you, too, Colonel Dad. Now quit drinking and go to sleep."
"I will. I just don't want these negotiations to fail. I don't want to keep fighting."
Out in the corridor Kara dropped Lee's hand. Since she was now in the planetary Viper group, Lee was her commanding officer. Their relationship was technically fraternization, but she felt like nobody would say anything as long as they weren't obvious about it. Of course since she'd gone under his command, their relationship had consisted of nothing beyond holding hands a few times.
As they walked down the corridor toward the officer's rec room, she said, "If my father hadn't interrupted us tonight…what do you think would have happened?"
"I don't know, Kara. I just miss you so much. I miss us, but I'm not pushing. I'll wait as long as…until you're ready…if you're ever ready again."
"We'll both know when the time is right. The Fates obviously decided tonight wasn't it."
When both negotiating teams had convened the following morning and each was drinking either coffee or tea and enjoying the pastries provided by the Galactica's cooks, Natalie asked for their attention.
"Yesterday I introduced you to Yoshimo, a priest of our faith and a dear friend of mine. But we held back some information that we've had for many months. It concerns the reason we should join with the humans and create a world where both of us can live together in peace. I'd like for you to listen to Yoshimo as he reads something to us from our scriptures."
"Please don't tell me you're getting ready to put the religion card on the table," Cavil moaned. "You're wasting our time."
The Three from the council said, "We know you have no religious beliefs, brother, but I, for one, would like to hear what Yoshimo has to say."
"I'll second that," their Two said.
Cavil made a gesture that they all took to mean go ahead.
Yoshimo opened his well-worn book of scriptures to a page he had marked. "This comes from the Book of Xander, verses 7 and 11. The days will come again when our people shall be persecuted for worshipping one God. And He shall hear their cries and send to them a peacemaker, a child of two races but one faith. And he shall be borne of the three and protected by the six."
"One of the many scriptures that prophesy the birth of a peacemaker," their Three said. "I know the verses well. All of them."
Yoshimo picked up another book. "This is from the scrolls of Pythia which are sacred to those who follow other gods."
"False gods," their Six said.
Their Two turned to her with a harsh look, "Let him continue."
Yoshimo resumed reading. "Chapter 12, verse 22. Pythia said to the daughters of the temple, 'After the blaze at the dawn of the third age of mankind, a child shall be born of a non-believer and he will bring peace to the warring tribes.' And in the Book of Sybil, chapter 3, verse 8. And a child shall be conceived of a non-believer who shall say to the people, 'Behold my son will soon be born. Lay down your arms for the days of peace are at hand.'"
"Get to the point," Cavil snapped.
"These prophecies come from both our scriptures and theirs," Yoshimo said. "An oracle of Hunter's people also foretold the birth of this child as did one on Caprica."
"Oh, please…" Cavil started.
"Shut up," the Three said. "We want to hear this."
"It can't hurt to hear the rest of it," their Four added.
"The child has been born," Yoshimo said. "His mother was a Three named D'Anna. John is his father. He is the first child born of a Cylon mother from this planet who has survived. There is also another child on Caprica born to an Eight named Sharon."
John opened the folder that lay on the table in front of him and took out several copies of the photographs Laura had sent him. He pushed the first one across the table to the Three.
"His name is Sean. He was born on Caprica at twenty-four weeks. He weighed one pound six ounces and was thirteen inches long. That first picture was taken in the intensive care nursery when he was a day old. The odds were against his survival, but here it is almost four months later and he's beat the odds so far."
Natalie said, "Sharon's child was also born early, but thanks to the advanced medical care available on Caprica, she also survived. Many of us clearly see God's hand in their survival. We believe John's child is the peacemaker of whom the scriptures speak."
John pushed another picture across the table, the most recent one of Laura holding Sean and another one of Sharon and Hera.
The Three took the pictures. The Two sitting beside her looked at the photographs and then up at the picture on the wall. His eyes met John's.
"Sean's mother died giving birth to him," John said. "Before that happened, she asked Laura to take him and raise him. Right now Sean is with her in Marble House. That's the home of the President on Caprica."
"This is all very touching," Cavil said, "but why would the President of the Colonies agree to raise your half-Cylon child?"
John took a deep breath. "Because she's my wife."
"He telling the truth," Leoben said. "I came from Caprica several weeks ago. I saw Sean before I left. Laura Roslin herself told me that she wants us to form a coalition government on this planet. She wants to bring Sean and her son with John here. She's a remarkable woman."
To John's surprise Sonja spoke up. "Don't you all realize that without the humans we're a sterile race? We can't reproduce."
Her sister Six on the other side of the table said, "I never thought I'd hear you talking about wanting to have children. Our creators will make more of us. Cavil has told us that as soon as the humans are gone from the planet, the creators will once again begin work. There will be dozens of new models, hundreds. They will solve the medical problems that keep us from having children. We don't need the humans!"
Cavil smiled smugly at John. "It seems your bastard child has made no difference."
"Speak for yourself," the Three said. "You risk God's wrath by such blasphemy."
"Our brother One is right," the Five said. "Once the humans leave, the creators will start work again. They're in an underground lab at the prison."
"No, they're not," John said. "They're in the morgue on the Galactica. We found their bodies at the lab. They've been dead for years. Long before we came here."
"Liar!" Cavil shouted.
John took another folder from his briefcase and slid it across the table to the Five. It contained photographs of the mummified remains they'd found in the vault room.
He looked at Natalie. "Time to play that last trump card. We're halfway there now."
She nodded. Hunter got up from the chair nearest the door and went outside. When he returned he had Daniel and Lucy with him. Daniel's appearance was met with gasps from everyone on the council except the One.
Every bit of color drained from Cavil's face. "What kind of trick is this?"
"Hello, brother," Daniel said. "When you had your centurions shoot me and throw me in the river, I'm sure you thought that was the last time you'd ever see me."
Cavil was shaking his head in disbelief. "I saw you die. You and Lucy both. You couldn't have downloaded because..."
"Because you and the One who went to the Colonies killed every living copy of my model and contaminated the amniotic fluid in all our tanks. But you missed me. Lucy and I escaped to the city. But you know that because you and your centurions caught up with us below the dam. This is what they did."
He lifted the hair from his forehead revealing the scar.
Lucy walked up beside Daniel. "I did die, but before you and your brother One killed the creators and all but one of the Sevens, I saved my memories in the centurion we call Buddy. I'm now in the body of this Three, but I'm really Lucy Cain, the only creator who survived your massacre."
"I was at the lab that day," Natalie said softly. "I saw the bodies before your centurions removed them. I'll be glad to put my hand in your datastream in the city and let you see what I saw."
"So will I," Daniel said.
Cavil stood up so quickly that his chair tipped over. He looked around at everyone and then said, "I can see that the humans have orchestrated a complete fantasy and you've all fallen for it. Go ahead. Continue your negotiations without me."
He started to walk out but LG49 stepped in front of the door and clamped a steel hand around the One's bicep. "Just as your brother One committed genocide in the Colonies, you have committed a grievous crime against our race. I have been authorized to place you under arrest. You will join your brothers in the brig on the Galactica until such time as you will be tried for your crimes."
Cavils shouts gradually faded as LG49 dragged him to a waiting Raptor.
"I sense a power vacuum," Dean said. "I'll be glad to step in although I'll tell you up front I'm in favor of this coalition. Now, let's start over. I would advise everyone on the council to be more reasonable this time. Ask any questions you have about what you've heard so far. We'll all be glad to answer them."
"You don't know how much I appreciate Admiral Adama letting me go along with you," Karl said to Lee and Kara as the three of them boarded the big transport at the city airfield.
"I'm a tagalong, too," Kara said. "My dad orchestrated this trip to check on Bianca's husband. That's the other thing he wants to check off his list."
A week had passed since the negotiations had ended the conflict and a tentative peace had come to Nereid. The rogue Raiders had been found and neutralized. Dean and the other council members had visited all the settlements with a team of humans and freed centurions and announced that the human workers were no longer under Cylon control and that another team would soon be there to begin making arrangements for everyone who wanted to go to Caprica.
The three young pilots sat beside John and Natalie in the jump seats. The transport pilots were centurions. The trip was a supply run. They could have taken a Raptor, but John wanted to travel this way. The rest of them didn't argue.
The last of the autumn crops were in and a portion had been set aside for the city and other settlements. But Karl and Kara were along for another reason. Karl was going to see his father for the first time in over six years.
John had talked to Karl for a long time the night before. The two of them had sat at a table in the rec room and John had told him about Lucas Agathon's physical and emotional issues. He hoped he'd prepared Karl for anything that might happen.
The big transport ship began to taxi and was soon in the air. Talking had to be done over the sound of the engines so the forty-minute trip south was mostly silent. They took a truck into the settlement, riding in the back that had recently been loaded with wooden boxes of late vegetables.
The centurion driver let them off in the square and they walked to the old lab that now served as the hospital. They entered the small reception area. A woman sat behind the desk.
"Is Dr. Silva here?" John asked.
"He's with a patient. What's the problem today?"
"No problem. I just want to see him."
They waited ten minutes while Karl paced around and around the room.
A short gray-haired man wearing a white jacket walked in from another room.
"Told you I'd be back," John said to him.
Laszlo Silva walked over to them and he and John hugged. "How's Bianca?" He asked with tears in his eyes.
John took out the picture Laura had sent showing all of them in her sitting room. "She's fine. Staying at Marble House with Laura. Helping raise four kids including D'Anna's son who came early."
"What about D'Anna?"
"That's a really long story. If you've got time, let's go to your kitchen and have a cup of coffee. But first let me introduce you to my daughter and two friends."
After the introductions Natalie said, "I'm going to show Kara and Karl where the Agathons live."
Kara looked at Lee. "Staying here or coming with us?"
"I'll stay here for now," Lee said. "You and Karl go ahead."
They walked several blocks with Natalie. She pointed out the foundation of the burned house where John and D'Anna had briefly lived. When they got to the next block, she said, "It's the third house, directly behind the burned one. Do you want me to go with you?"
"No," Karl said. "I think this would go better if it was just me and Kara."
"I'll be at the clinic."
They stood at the corner until Natalie had reached the next block. Then together they walked down the street. Kara reached over and squeezed Karl's hand briefly.
"Are you going to tell him about Sharon?"
"Sooner or later. I'm going to play it by ear on this visit."
They climbed the steps together and knocked on the door. It was answered by an attractive woman with skin the color of coffee and cream. For a moment she simply stared at them and then her hand went to her mouth. She stifled a cry of shock.
Karl took a deep breath. "I've come to see my father. Is he home?"
Lee listened to John attempt to catch Dr. Silva up on everything that had happened since he'd escaped from Nereid. They were still talking when Natalie came back in.
"I need to go to my house for some clothes. Lee, would you like to go and help me?"
Together they walked outside. There were several golf carts at the curb. Natalie got in the driver's seat. Five minutes later they reached her house at the end of a nearby road. He was surprised at the small size of the dwelling.
"I thought the First Six would live in a bigger house," he said.
"I live alone. This is all I need."
They walked around to the back and Natalie opened the door.
"You don't lock your house?" Lee asked in surprise.
"Why would I?"
"Back on Caprica most apartments have a couple of locks. A lot of them have alarm systems. Laura and John's apartment has a doorman. You have to be on a list before he'd let you on the elevator."
"You've never heard of thieves?"
"We don't have that problem here."
They walked inside and Lee looked around. "This is very nice."
"I'll only be a minute." When she came back with a medium-sized suitcase, she asked, "Would you and Kara like to stay here tonight? My bed is very comfortable and there's a bottle of wine in the cabinet that's going to waste."
"I'd like that. I'll have to ask Kara, though."
"Have you not yet reconciled?"
"Then maybe you'll enjoy becoming lovers again. John and I can stay at the clinic."
She smiled. "While that would be very agreeable with me, I respect his status as a married man. He clearly loves his wife."
Lee took her suitcase, carried it to the golf cart and put it in the back. "Mind if I drive?"
She got in beside him. They rode in silence for a minute. "I can tell something's on your mind. Go ahead and ask."
"Is John the only man you've met that you're attracted to?"
"John was there when I realized that the Daniel in the valley would never love me the way one of his brothers once had. I don't know what Daniel's relationship is to the Three who carries Lucy's memories, but it's really no longer my concern."
"You're a beautiful woman, Natalie. Don't give up. I know you'll find a man one day who will love you and appreciate you."
She smiled. "You humans and your platitudes. Make up with Kara and maybe I'll take you more seriously."
The woman in the doorway of Lucas Agathon's house recovered quickly. She stood back and invited Karl and Kara in.
"You must be Kate," Kara said.
"Yes. Lucas is sitting out back. Normally we wouldn't be here during the day, but we've been given a few days off. I understand there's a team from a battlestar going house to house gathering information."
Kara stopped and asked Karl, "Do you want to go out there by yourself?"
"No." He looked at Kate. "I'm not going to give him a heart attack or something, am I?"
"I hope not. He knows you survived the attack on Picon. John told him you were in the military. I'll wait in here. Call me if you need me."
Kara took Karl's hand again and they walked outside. Lucas Agathon was sitting in a kitchen chair. His head had fallen forward and he appeared to be sleeping. Karl knelt by the chair and gently touched his father's shoulder. The eye that was not covered by the patch opened. For a few long moments nothing happened and then the eye shifted from Karl to Kara. He reached out and touched his son with his right hand. The left sleeve of his shirt was pinned up. Kara could see that he was missing most of his left arm. The left side of his face was badly scarred.
"You're real," Lucas finally said. "I thought I was dreaming. I see things sometime that aren't really there."
"We're real," Karl said, and then Kara saw Karl's shoulders begin to shake. Lucas had obviously suffered terribly in battle and later at the hands of the Cylons. She knelt beside Karl. "Do you remember me Sergeant Agathon?"
"You look like a little girl I once knew…all grown up now. Kara?"
She smiled. "That's me. All grown up and flying a Viper just like I told you I'd do. They were crazy enough to give me my wings. Karl has his wings, too. He's a Raptor pilot."
Karl nodded and wiped his eyes.
"I met your father," Lucas said to Kara, "before he escaped from the planet last spring…or was it summer. I don't always remember things too good either."
"He's back now. He's at the clinic talking to the doctor. I know he'll come see you later."
"So it's really true we're going to get to go to Caprica?"
"If you want to," Kara said. "Natalie told us that some of the humans in the city want to stay here. What about this settlement? Do you think anyone will want to stay?"
"The breeders who have had children. Maybe a few more. Some took to life here a lot better than others."
"I'm going to ask to be assigned to the peacekeeping force here," Karl suddenly said. "I'm married, Dad. We have a little girl. We want to come here to live."
There was joy in Lucas Agathon's voice. "You mean I'm a grandfather?"
"She's beautiful," Kara said.
Karl reached into his uniform jacket pocket and took out a picture. "My wife is Sharon. My daughter is Hera."
Lucas took the picture and stared at it for a long time before he handed it back to his son.
"Do you love her?"
"More than anything. Both of them."
Lucas reached out and put his hand on his son's head. "There's nothing on Caprica for me and Kate. Maybe we'll stay here. She's different from your mother, but she's a good woman. I'd be dead if it weren't for her. Let's go inside. I'm sure she's fixed coffee for us. I'd like for both of you to meet her."
Karl stood and helped his father to his feet. Kara fought tears as the two men finally hugged for a long time. As they walked into the house, she knew she had just witnessed an extraordinary act of love and acceptance. For a reason she didn't quite understand, it made her feel petty and small.
Lee and Kara sat on the patio of Natalie's house and watched the moon rise. Nereid's moon was larger than either of Caprica's two moons and while it was low in the sky, it looked huge. The nights in Settlement Alpha were clearly warmer than they were in the city or the valley and they enjoyed the perfect temperature of the late autumn evening.
They had all eaten dinner at the clinic. Sleeping arrangements hadn't yet been discussed when Lee walked outside with Kara and told her about Natalie's offer. He'd been expecting her to hesitate, but she hadn't. She'd volunteered to go back inside and tell her father.
A bottle of wine sat on the table. They'd each had a glass as Kara had told him about Karl's meeting with his father and that Karl was spending the night with them.
"I could get used to this," Kara said. "Too bad we have to leave in the morning."
"So Karl wants to join the peacekeeping force and bring Sharon and Hera here to live. Sounds right for them. Have you thought about the future?" Lee asked tentatively.
"You know I'm more of a day-to-day person. Why?"
"Do you want to go back to Caprica, to the airbase there? With your combat experience you'd probably be welcomed as an instructor."
"Lee, I'm nineteen years old. Can you see me as a teacher?"
"I'm just saying…"
"I'll go wherever the Galactica goes."
"Dad told me he and the G are staying here. He's at home on his battlestar. He's got the family that always mattered to him the most."
Kara was silent for a long time. "What about you? What do you plan to do?"
"I'll be here as long as they need me. Then I…I've thought about law school. The military will pay for it if I become an AJA lawyer. I might be able to start a year from now."
"And that means going back to Caprica for law school. Is that why you asked me what my plans are?"
He reached for his glass of wine and took a sip. Then he got up, knelt on one knee beside her chair and took her hand. "I want us to be together, Kara."
She looked at his face in the moonlight. His expression was so vulnerable that he looked like a little boy. "What are you asking me, Lee?"
"To marry me. It doesn't have to be next week or next month. Just tell me you'll be my wife. Just tell me that no matter if we're separated for a while, you'll stand with me in Elosha's temple one day."
She smiled. "You'll do all the planning? You know I'm no good at that kind of stuff."
Relief washed over Lee like a wave. "All you'll have to do is buy your dress."
"Okay," Kara said.
"You mean it?"
"I mean it, Lee. But we're going to have to be cool about being engaged. I'm in your chain of command now."
"That's all the more reason for me to go to law school, don't you think?"
She grinned. "The fighter jock and the lawyer. Yeah, that might work. You can get one of those bumper stickers for your car...the one that says My Wife Flies Vipers."
Still holding her hand, he got up from his kneeling position and pulled her to her feet. "Do you remember the first time we kissed?"
"In vivid detail. You were Prince Olliver with eyes the color of the sky at twilight and wings over your heart."
"And you were the girl I'd seen while I was hallucinating in the decompression chamber, Posiden's green-eyed daughter. We've come a long way since that night."
She put her arms around his neck and kissed him, whisper-gentle at first and then with deepening urgency. She thought briefly of all the kisses they'd shared during the last three years and felt like they were beginning a new chapter in their love. The promise she'd made to him in a wind-swept temple was now a pledge to one day become his wife.
He picked her up and carried her over the threshold into Natalie's house. The moonlight lit a path across the floor leading to the bed.
He put her down and kissed her again. "I love you Kara. I always will."
"A one-night honeymoon," she teased. "Is this the best you can do?"
"At least it's not a cramped bunk on the G."
"Yeah, you did manage to get us a nice soft bed and a full moon."
"One perfect night just for us."
"Remind me to thank the Fates in the morning."
He took her face in his hands and kissed her. "Remind me to thank Natalie. I think I can now forgive her for what happened on the res ship."
The transport ship left the next morning just after sunrise. Everyone was quiet. Karl had stayed up half the night talking to his father and Kate. He fell asleep minutes after they were in the air.
John gave Kara an inquiring look. The big smile he got in return told him that she and Lee had resolved their differences. Holding hands and with their heads together, both of them fell asleep not long after Karl.
John smiled and nudged Natalie. "That was nice of you to let them stay at your house last night."
"I'll miss it. I'm going to have to move to the city."
"As president of the coalition government you won't have any choice."
"At least until we can hold some sort of general election."
"That's at least a year away and you know it. Laura has quietly been doing a lot of preliminary work to make the transition easier for everyone."
"I would really like to meet your wife."
"I'm sure that will happen someday."
John closed his eyes and leaned back against the webbing of the jump seat and thought of his oldest son. In four days Braedon would celebrate his second birthday. He'd missed Brae's first because he'd been in a Cylon prison. He sighed. Maybe next year.
When they landed at the airfield, there was a Raptor waiting to take them to the Galactica. The pilot told John that Admiral Adama wanted to see him in the CIC as soon as they landed.
When John got there, Bill indicated they should go to his quarters and turned the con over to Tigh.
"What's the situation in Settlement Alpha?"
"Everything's quiet. Some of the Cylons who were the cruelest are under centurion guard for their own protection. The census team made it clear that any acts of revenge by a human would insure the person stayed on Nereid in prison."
That got a half-smile from Bill. "Even though we don't currently have a prison to put them in."
"They don't know that."
"Did Lieutenant Agathon's reunion with his father go well?"
"I believe so. I walked down to his house after dinner last night. I didn't stay long. Lucas and Karl were talking like a father and son who had been apart for six years."
"I believe your son has a birthday coming up this weekend."
"Yes, sir. Friday. His second. Laura wrote that she's having a small birthday party for him on Saturday afternoon."
"Would you like to be there for it?"
"More than anything."
"There's a supply ship docked and unloading cargo right now. It will be leaving for Caprica shortly after lunch. I need to send a report about our truce to the president. Would you like to take it to her?"
"Are you offering me shore leave?" John asked still not believing he understood what Bill was saying.
"Six days. The supply ship will be coming back early next Monday morning."
John felt almost light-headed. "I'll be on it. I know our work here is far from done."
"Come back after lunch with your bags packed. I'll have the report ready by then."
"I'd like to take Natalie with me, sir. Since she's been elected president of the coalition government, I'd like for her to meet Laura and see how the government functions on Caprica. I'd also like to bring Dr. Cardenas back with me on Monday. I told her husband I'd try to make that happen."
"I've got no problem with either of those."
"Thank you, sir."
"Thank you, Colonel Gallagher. We owe you a great deal."
"Six days with my family will more than pay me back."
John was almost to the door when Bill said, "Tell Laura I won't be coming back to Caprica for a while. She'll need to get another military advisor. I'd suggest Colonel Spencer."
"I'll give her the message, sir."
The supply ship landed at the Caprica airbase in mid-afternoon. By the time John had met with Colonel Spencer and cleared Natalie's trip under diplomatic status, over an hour had passed. He struggled to stifle his impatience.
Colonel Spencer called Marble House security and told them that another colonel was bringing the pouch and also a female Cylon guest. Shortly afterward John and Natalie were in a staff car with a driver and on their way.
From the back seat Natalie gazed out the window as the car sped along the I-6 toward the city.
"I never dreamed it would look like this. I saw some pictures in a book we took off one of the ships, but seeing it like this…" her voice trailed off.
"There's seven million people in Caprica City and the area immediately around it."
"Do you think there were ever that many people on Nereid?"
"I have no idea. The ruins of your city aren't nearly as big as Caprica City or even Delphi. Have you never wondered what happened to the Thirteenth Tribe?"
"I've wondered. There was an old library in the city. The roof had completely caved in. All the books had long ago disintegrated. I wasn't there, but I was told that the centurions burned everything. They also found a vault under one of the buildings in town when it was demolished, but the vault was sealed. No one has ever tried to open it. Cavil had no interest in the fate of the Thirteenth Tribe. They were humans."
"Humans who worshipped one God just as you and I do."
"Maybe one day we can try to determine their fate."
As soon as they got near the government buildings, John began pointing them out to her. Shortly afterward they were at the gate of Marble House. Their driver presented his pass. One of the guards recognized John and waved them through. The car stopped under the portico and they got out. Edgar greeted them and John introduced him to Natalie.
"Does the president know you're coming?" Edgar asked.
John shook his head. "I'd like to surprise her."
Edgar smiled. "I understand. Do you have luggage?"
"Not much. It's in the trunk."
"We'll take care of it. Natalie will need a visitor badge. If she'll come with me, I'll be glad to take care of it."
"You know where I'll be," John said.
"Yes, sir. Congratulations on your promotion. I noticed the new collar pins."
With the diplomatic pouch over his shoulder, John walked down the hall to Laura's outer office. Billy saw him first and jumped up to greet him.
"I'd like to surprise her," John said as he saw the partially closed door to Laura's office.
"I'll call her and tell her the diplomatic pouch is here."
When Laura's phone buzzed, she reluctantly picked it up. She'd been looking at budget proposals all afternoon and wanted to finish the current one before she stopped.
Billy's voice said, "The diplomatic pouch from Admiral Adama is here."
"Ask Colonel Spencer if he would wait for ten minutes."
"It's not Colonel Spencer. It's another colonel."
"Please ask him to wait."
Billy put down the phone. "She wants you to wait."
"I will. I'll just do it in the doorway."
Laura was aware that someone had come to the door. She was annoyed and didn't look up. "I'll be with you in a minute."
"Take your time," John said. "I've got six days."
At the sound of his voice, she gasped. The pen clattered from her hand to the desk. The budget proposal was instantly forgotten. John stepped inside the office and closed the door before he dropped the pouch. Laura got up and came around her desk. They met in the middle of the office. She threw her arms around his neck and he nearly pulled her off her feet in a tight embrace.
"How?" She asked with tears in her eyes.
"Bill let me have some shore leave. Brae's birthday. We got a peace treaty. So much has happened in the last week. I don't know where to begin."
She finally drew back and looked at him. "You look so tired."
"Long days and not enough sleep. I hope to remedy that soon. You're as beautiful as the day I met you."
"Oh, John. I've made mistakes…"
"We both made mistakes. That's all in the past. I…brought somebody with me. She's wanted to meet you for a long time. She was just elected president of the coalition government on Nereid. Hunter was elected vice-president. I think they'll make a good team. She wants to see how our government works. If you don't have time to deal with her, maybe you can turn her over to Billy for a couple of days."
John took a breath. "Natalie. Edgar's getting her a visitor badge. If you don't have a place for her here, I can take her to the apartment…or a hotel. That's your decision."
"Kara's bedroom is empty right now."
He nodded. "Do you think I could see Brae…and Sean?"
Holding her hand he walked to the door and picked up the diplomatic pouch. "Bill's report."
"That can wait until tomorrow."
When he opened the door, Edgar and Natalie were in the outer office talking to Billy. Laura managed to keep her expression neutral. Natalie was more beautiful than Natasi. She was the epitome of a goddess.
John introduced them. Laura greeted her graciously. She told Edgar to see that Natalie's luggage was taken to Kara's room. Avoiding his eyes, she told him to take John's luggage to her room.
Then she said to Natalie, "We're going upstairs to see the children. Would you like to join us?"
"I know you want to see Sean almost as much as I do," John said to Natalie.
Edgar rode up the elevator with them. John wondered if he would have done it if Natalie hadn't been with them. When the door opened, Edgar held it until all of them had gotten off. Then he followed them.
Braedon was riding his tricycle in the hall with Maya in close attendance. She saw them first. She stopped Brae and turned him around.
"Who's that?" she asked.
John knelt and struggled with his emotions for the second time in ten minutes.
"Dada," Brae said shyly as he clung to Maya's leg for a minute.
"Go hug your dada and give him a big kiss," she said softly. "He's come a long way to see you."
"What a beautiful little boy," Natalie said to Laura. "You must be very proud of him."
"Yes," Laura said as Braedon ran down the hall and John scooped him into his arms.
"One day I hope to hold a child of my own," Natalie murmured, "but there's a great deal to do on Nereid first."
"Are you married?" Laura asked.
Natalie shook her head.
Maya walked up to them and Laura introduced the two women, adding that Maya was Hunter's wife.
"Do you plan to move to Nereid now?" Natalie asked. "Your husband was just elected vice-president of the coalition government. I look forward to working with him.
"Vice-president! Are you serious?"
"Yes," Natalie answered. "In our treaty we agreed that we would have a Cylon president and a human vice-president. Who better than Hunter since he was born and raised on our planet? He was elected unanimously. I lost a vote to a One named Dean who voted for himself."
"Me ride tricycle," Brae said.
The first thing John noticed was that his son was finally pronouncing his Rs. "I saw you riding your tricycle."
"Egger show me."
"Can Sean ride a tricycle?"
Braedon giggled. "Him too little."
"Where is Sean?"
Brae pointed down the hall. "Down there."
"You want to show me?"
He put Brae down and his son ran down the hall to a door across from the presidential suite. "In here."
John glanced at Laura. "Go ahead," she said.
"Bianca's with him," Maya said. "Sharon is keeping the girls." Then she turned to Laura. "I'll call downstairs and tell the dining staff to add two more places at the table."
"Oh, dear gods," Laura said. "I'd forgotten that I asked Hugh Connelly to dinner tonight. How long do we have until he arrives?"
"Almost two hours."
"Good. That should give us all time to get settled."
John followed Brae and opened the door. Braedon ran inside and pointed again. "There Sean."
Bianca was talking to Sean's nurse, but the moment she saw John, she rushed across the room and hugged him.
"Laura didn't tell us you were coming home."
"She didn't know. I've got a few days leave."
Together they walked over to the clear plastic tub that still served as Sean's crib. John could hardly believe how small he was. The pale fuzz on his head was so blond it was almost white.
"Four pounds seven ounces," Bianca said, "And growing every day. Pick him up."
"I don't want to hurt him."
"You won't. Here. Let me." She skillfully lifted the baby and put him in John's arms.
"Sit here," Brae said, patting the seat of the rocking chair.
"That's where Laura always sits with him," Bianca said. John sat and started rocking.
Laura came to the door with Natalie and they walked over to John. Natalie knelt.
"The peacemaker," she said softly and gently touched Sean's head.
"No, him Sean," Brae corrected her. "Him my brudder."
"I hope you won't be offended," Hugh Connelly said, "but this reminds me of eating lunch at Elaina's daycare several weeks ago."
"I suppose four highchairs at the table isn't the norm," Laura said.
"We'll be leaving soon to get three little girls ready for bed," Maya said. "I'll come back and get you-know-who."
John stood and lifted his son from the highchair. "This one is on me tonight. I'll be back as soon as he's asleep."
That left Laura, Natalie, Hugh and his daughter at the table.
Laura said, "Hugh is very interested in the history of Nereid."
"I happened upon some historical information about the Thirteenth Tribe," he said. He looked at Natalie and smiled. "So if you could tell me everything you know about the planet..."
Dear gods, he's handsome when he smiles like that, Laura thought. She glanced at the beautiful Six. Natalie had blushed. She was not a naive young girl. That blush could only mean she was attracted to him.
"I'm afraid the history of the planet is an area in which I'm sadly lacking. I told John recently that a vault was found under one of the demolished buildings. It wasn't opened because it was sealed and the council wasn't interested in discovering its contents."
"Really?" Hugh said. He was still looking at Natalie. "I hope someday we'll be allowed access to it. I've already told Laura that I'd like to be involved in the education efforts on the planet. I'm not averse to doing some research as well. My major in school was ancient Colonial history."
"Do you think the vault has something to do with the fate of the Thirteenth Tribe?" Laura asked.
Elaina said, "Hold me, Daddy."
Hugh lifted his daughter from her booster seat and settled her on his lap. She snuggled against him. "I think my little princess is getting sleepy, too. We'll have to go soon."
"I'm very glad you could come tonight," Laura said.
"I am, too," Natalie added. "It was very nice to meet you."
He looked at Natalie. "I'd like to discuss the planet with you before you go back. Would you like to come to dinner at my apartment? I'm not the greatest cook, but I have some information I'd like to show you."
Laura said, "I'm sure that can be arranged if Natalie is interested."
"I'm very interested," she said.
When Hugh and Elaina were gone, Laura offered Natalie another glass of wine and she accepted.
"Did he just ask me for a date?" Natalie asked. "I have very little experience with human courtship rituals."
"I'm not sure if I'd call it a date. Hugh lost his wife to cancer a few months ago. I know he's very much into the history of Nereid. But he did look at you with a great deal of interest. I understand why. You're quite beautiful."
Natalie looked down. "Thank you. If you don't mind, I'll go talk to Sharon now. I know you want to be with John."
"Is it that obvious?"
Natalie left and Laura walked down the hallway to Braedon's room. Esmari was already asleep in her crib. John was rocking their sleeping son.
"I don't want to put him down," John whispered.
"Hugh left a few minutes ago and Natalie has gone to Sharon's room."
John stood and gently placed Braedon in his crib. Laura walked up beside him as John pulled the cover to Brae's chin. He put his arm around her and for a few long moments both looked at their sleeping child.
Then Laura took John's hand and walked down the hall to her sitting room.
"I had some of your clothes brought here from the apartment," she said.
"That was quick."
"I did it last summer. But things didn't work out for us then which was my fault."
"Last summer was...too many other things got in the way. I never blamed you."
"Would you like to take a shower and put on something more comfortable?"
"That would be nice."
The presidential suite has two bathrooms. Yours is through the bedroom on the right. Your closet is off the bathroom."
When he came out of the bathroom clean from a shower and wearing khaki slacks and a white shirt, the door to Laura's bathroom was closed. He wandered into the sitting room, poured a drink and sat on the couch. He was on the verge of dozing when he was heard the bedroom door open. Laura walked in wearing a short black lace-trimmed nightgown.
She walked over to the fireplace and turned. "Did I make a mistake?"
He smiled. "Not from where I'm sitting."
Laura turned and faced the fireplace no longer feeling as sure of herself as she had five minutes earlier. She clenched her fist and banged it against the mantle.
He walked over to her and said softly, "You don't have to do this. I can go to the apartment."
"Hugh just lost his wife a few months ago and he was so smitten with Natalie he asked her for a date. You've been on Nereid with her for months."
"You think that Natalie and I have a physical relationship?"
John put his hands on her shoulders and turned her to face him. "No. We've worked together, but nothing else. I love you, Laura. You're the one I've dreamed about. You know my sins. D'Anna and Sonja. If that's still between us, I'll go to the apartment. I don't want you to do anything you don't want to do."
She gently touched the scar over his eye. "I love you. I want you to stay. I want you to be my husband again. Do you think you're the only one who's dreamed of us being together?"
He gently took her face in his hands and kissed her and felt like he was sliding into a dream, the dream he'd had since the prison. They were on the couch and then she was on his lap and he was trying to tell her all the things he'd wanted to say to her for the last year, but she was kissing him, stopping his words of apology, of shame and regret. He felt her tears on his face or maybe they were his own. Salt like the ocean, like the beginning of life, a rebirth of their love and commitment to one another. And finally the hot, sweet rush of desire that left both of them spent and breathless. He held her against his chest while he pushed the silken hair from her face and caressed the soft skin of her shoulder.
"My heart. My only love"
Laura once again had the whisper in the night that belonged to her and her alone. She sighed in contentment and murmured softly, "I've loved you since the snowy night you first kissed me."
John understood finally that to accept her love he had to also accept the forgiveness she had just offered. Even in the iron strength of her convictions she had always possessed a quality of mercy that made her a true humanitarian. And in accepting her forgiveness, he had to forgive himself and move forward like the rivers that flowed always toward the sea.
As much as he wanted to stay with her, he knew that on Monday morning he would get on a transport and go back to Nereid and do his part in making it a place where he and Laura would one day raise their sons and where he hoped Kara and Lee would find a way to join them. It wouldn't be easy to create a brand new world where two former enemies could live side-by-side in peace, but he knew they had to try.
He saw the fountain in the park and the laughing children, Cassie and Rachel and Esmari and Hera. Braedon and Sean were among them, brothers whose bond would always remain strong, human and Cylon, playing together and in that image he knew lay their future.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I find myself suddenly struggling for words. This story could go on almost indefinitely in many different directions, but at close to a million words, it's time to bring this part to a close.
I cannot adequately express my gratitude to all of you who have stuck with this saga from its beginning in Siren's Kiss when it was just the kernel of an idea and a desire to rewrite the tangled relationship that haunted Kara and Lee in the series, but in the years that have ensued, it has gradually become the larger story of two races and their struggles to survive replete with those on both sides who can see the future and those who remain hopelessly mired in the past.
An extra special Thank You to those of you who have reviewed so faithfully and who have shared other thoughts with me through your PMs. Your comments and encouragements have inspired me to keep writing even when the clock showed the other side of midnight and the sandman beckoned me. Another very special thanks to everyone who has favorited my stories.
For those of you who, like me, were ardent fans of Kara and Lee in the series and who were disappointed with their fates, I hope I have left them in a better place for you even if they are not yet standing at the altar. They will get there one day. I am quite certain of it.
Jane, May 3, 2013