Alternate Conspiracy

By Sharon Monroe

A Battlestar Galactica novel

This novel was published by a fanzine called Clean Slate Press. The stories of the fanzine era were usually much better because there was a lot more effort put into the writing and editing. For more stories like this, check out dotcom There is a sequel to this story called Alternate Obsession.

Chapter One

The planet was in ruins, obviously devastated by a war that had come upon it from the heavens as well as the ground. Equally obviously, that conflict had occurred millennia before. When the Colonials cautiously stepped out of their ships after an orbital survey, planetary radiation levels had receded to where humans could walk on the surface in safety, and life had begun to return. A profusion of exotic and perhaps mutated plants thrived in every ecological niche; small animals lived in the overgrown remnants of cities, marine life occupied the waters, and larger land animals ventured out of the distant mountains and remote forests where their species had managed to survive.

The evidence said the planet wasn't Earth. It hadn't been inhabited by any remotely human race. The Colonials were glad for that as they began to explore. They wouldn't be there long, but the scientists and sentiologists in the Fleet were thrilled at the opportunity to examine an alien technology and culture, and wandered in awe over the fantastic, violence-forged landscape.

Captain Apollo and Lieutenant Starbuck strolled the old streets, studying the tall, spired buildings, strangely preserved from the ruins so common everywhere else on the planet. The architects had possessed a marvelous sense of proportion and design, and although the structures were on a smaller than human scale, the Colonials were fascinated by them.

"Amazing," Starbuck muttered as they stooped under an arch.

Apollo nodded agreement. Somehow the builders had drawn or poured rock over metal braces to form these structures. The method dumbfounded the best scientists and architects in the Fleet.

"Where's Doctor Wilker prowling today?" the blond lieutenant continued.

The captain frowned. There had been a sore spot between them since an incident involving refugees from Luna Seven, a Terran base. Wilker's overeager experimentation had unnecessarily risked the lives of six people, in Apollo's mind. Fortunately, no one had died in the scientist's tampering with their ship's systems. But Apollo was still concerned about what the man might do, turned loose on the surviving equipment they discovered scattered throughout this alien city.

"They found a cache of equipment yesterday in one of the underground chambers - to protect it from the war, I guess, when the end came." He paused, considering. "This is one of the only cities still relatively intact. Maybe whatever's here was considered too important to risk destroying with conventional weapons."

Starbuck grunted noncommittally. "Explains why we're concentrating our valuable time here."

"Yeah. We'd better get to that bunker before Wilker blows the place up. No one's managed to read any of the text yet, in spite of that library they found. But that's not stopping our gung-ho technocrat."

The other man snickered. "Picked that up from Michael and Sarah, didn't you? Aw, come on, Apollo. You don't really think he's going to forget procedure and mess up, do you? Even if he does, who's going to get hurt? There's been no one alive on this planet for millennia!"

"All right, all right! Point made. I've wronged our honored expert on alien technology. Shall we volunteer to be experimental animals for his next test?"

"I may be a fool, but I'm not crazy!"

Laughing, they made their way to the structure the Galactica scientists had commandeered as their temporary base. Ducking under the low, broad doors, the two warriors strode past piles of gathered machinery, furniture, and other artifacts until they reached Wilker's lair.

"Hello! Officers, please, come here and take a look at this!" There was a near-fanatical look in his eyes that they'd seldom seen.

"What did you find?" Apollo stood just within the door arch, hands on his hips, studying the graceful equipment with its small operating controls.

Starbuck finally nudged him from behind. "Remember the scale?" he complained. "Let me in!"

Wilker waved a hand exuberantly. "It's marvelous! From what we've been able to decipher of the native script, this seems to be a transportation device of some kind!"

"What?"

"But ... how can it go anywhere?" Starbuck demanded, perplexed, after a moment spent staring at the totally unfamiliar machinery.

"That's just it! It doesn't! Do you know what this could mean? Transporting supplies and equipment, perhaps even personnel, over distances instantly, without the necessity of wasted time or the possibility of passing through enemy territory. Just think how we could use that secret, if we can more thoroughly understand its workings!"

They caught his excitement, exchanging astounded looks.

"Have you worked out distance regulation yet? How does it work? What kind of tests have you performed on it?" Apollo's eager questions spilled out as his friend merely reached a reverent hand to touch the nearest projection of some apparently ceramic substance.

"Well, we haven't gotten it functioning," Wilker admitted, frowning. "But it's only a matter of time, now that we've begun to understand their writings."

"Have you informed Commander Adama yet?"

"No. I wanted to have more to tell him."

"The Cylons don't have anything like that!" Starbuck stated in awe. "The war... We could counterattack..."

"Yes," Wilker agreed. "The military applications alone are tremendous. But think what else it could mean! No need for surface, air, or underground transportation! No more waste exhausts! And the aesthetic value! As long as we have the energy sources..."

"What kind of energy sources? How much energy must a thing like that use?"

"We haven't figured that out yet, Apollo," the scientist was forced to admit again. "You have to realize, we've only just understood the nature of this machine! It's going to take a lot of concentrated research..."

"I understand," Apollo assured him hastily. "But we don't have much time to spend on this planet."

"I know, I know." Wilker perked up again. "That's why we're shipping all of this back to the Galactica, along with all the archives we've discovered. Techs have labeled and copied every junction and crevice on this machine, and we're trying to divide the pieces evenly."

The warriors sent disturbed glances each other's way.

"We've nearly cleaned out the next chamber. I was hoping, if you have a few centons to spare, that you could assist in the transfer of equipment...?"

"What do you want us to do?" Apollo was resigned.

"Carry those last few parts of that other machine to the shuttle."

"So now we're porters!" Starbuck grumbled under his breath. "Well, I suppose it beats experimental animals..." They stooped under yet another of the interminable low, ornate arches.

Wilker gently rubbed a speck of dust from one of the controls. He didn't realize something moved.

Apollo and Starbuck abruptly froze, then screamed in shocked agony and terror before collapsing to the gleaming metallic floor.

The scientist stared uncomprehendingly, then shouted for his assistants. He jarred the small control once more as he turned, forgetting how minute an adjustment was needed to cause it to operate. It slipped back into its original position.

The emergency medical team worked with its usual quick thoroughness, but there was nothing they could do for the men, except keep them alive. Apollo and Starbuck were hurriedly whisked back to the Galactica and through decontamination, in hopes that the better-equipped life station could diagnose and treat them.

"How are they?" Commander Adama demanded of his chief medical officer almost before the two warriors had been carted into life center. He stared in shock at their slack, empty faces. Cassiopeia and Dr. Paye hovered over their still forms as Salik halted for just a micron at the controlled pain in his old friend's voice.

"I don't know yet, Commander. But I promise you I'll do everything possible for them." The harried doctor rushed after his two patients.

Athena arrived a centon later. "Father? What happened?" Details from the planet were scarce, even for the bridge crew.

"They ... don't know yet. Apollo and Starbuck seem to be in a coma..." Her father's voice faded away distantly; his eyes fastened with fierce intensity on the closed hatchway. She took his arm. They waited - not alone, for solemn warriors, friends of the stricken men, gathered behind them.

It seemed a long time before Cassiopeia came out again, her grave and worried face suggesting the worst.

"They're not...?" Athena burst out before the med tech could say anything.

"They're alive, somehow."

"Cassiopeia?"

"Commander..." She swallowed a sob. "They're alive. Nothing appears to be physically wrong with them. But their brains..."

"What?" He braced for horrible news. Were his son and Starbuck brain-damaged?

"Some of the brainwave patterns are ... almost level, as if their ... personalities had been erased ... or stolen. Only minimal levels being maintained. Their bodies continue to function, but we've ... put them in life pods ... just to be sure. Their minds ... are gone!" She shook with grief, covering her face for a moment to regain control. "Some disease ... or that alien machinery ... stole their minds! And we don't know what we can do!"

Athena's grip on her father's arm tightened in fright. When Cassiopeia broke down, he roughly pulled her closer too, holding both sobbing women, and wishing it were allowed for him to cry. Perhaps later, when he was alone, but not now, when they needed him, when a dozen grief-stricken faces watched their commander and needed his strength. He did not cry.

Adama's first actions were to close down the survey team's activities and return all personnel to the Galactica. With all members of the landing parties in strict quarantine until the nature of the warriors' condition was known, it was almost five days before Dr. Wilker was able to defend his theory personally to the fleet commander.

"What? You want to do what?"

Wilker almost quailed at the hoarse anger in Adama's ragged voice. He steeled himself to present his theory to the four men present in the commander's quarters. "I believe what happened to the officers was a result of some mischance or malfunction of the alien equipment. What I want is permission to return to the surface for further study of that transport device. We've got decontamination equipment, and I accept the risk of disease and the necessity for quarantine afterward-"

"You accept the risk? What about the risk to the fleet if some unknown contaminant comes aboard? What about others who may be injured - or perhaps even killed - by your studies? Can you guarantee successful results?" The angry, worried father slipped past the commander's guard to glare at Wilker.

"You can't possibly ask for a guarantee!"

Adama merely glared, close-lipped.

"All right. I can't give you a guarantee, but, Salik, have you come up with anything? Have Apollo and Starbuck got a chance from anything your tests have shown?" He shunted the question to his colleague.

The other doctor shook his head.

"You see, Commander? That equipment may be the only chance they have!" The scientist planted his hands eagerly on the older man's desk. "We have to go back to the surface! We can't leave this system!"

Adama considered. Col. Tigh and Dr. Salik seemed to have nothing to contribute to the discussion, but Lt. Boomer did.

"Sir, a few volunteers, warriors with proper training, could accompany them."

"Such as yourself? How many must I risk?"

"I've got a stake in this," the black man told him starkly. "Those are my friends in there. I've got some scientific background, and an aptitude for mechanical devices. I want to do something to help."

"Like they did for you at Kobol?" Adama spoke grimly. Very well. Boomer's sturdy, quiet presence will prevent Wilker from doing something foolish, like following research that leads nowhere; we can't spare the time for it. The comatose men, and some solution to their condition, will be his primary concern.

"Six men, no more, Wilker, and one must be a medical technician, in case of another such 'accident.' Boomer will also accompany you. You haven't much time; we can't remain in this quadrant long. Five more days, that's all you have." And if it isn't enough, what will happen to Apollo? And Starbuck? Their bodies wasting away, mindless, as the sectons pass...

The horror of the vision was too great; he pushed it aside. "Go."

Apollo felt as if he'd been drifting a long time before finally coming home again. Something rushed at him, and an incredible surge of gratitude suffused him for a bare micron before fading from his mind. Reality approached; the fragmented cosmos whirled through his senses and took form. Clarity of thought returned. Familiar voices hammered at his ears, trying to claim his attention. He shook his head, trying to clear his vision, then sat up to look around. He felt weak; he could barely hold his head erect, but supportive arms cradled him immediately. When he opened his eyes, those excited faces were fixed anxiously on him. He gazed around in puzzlement.

"Mother...?"

"Oh, Apollo!" Siress Ila, for all her dignity, threw herself at her son, sobbing wildly. "You're back with us, finally!"

His shock and confusion crystallized as an answer presented itself. "I'm ... dead, then?"

"No, son, you're alive, very alive." It was his father's voice, uneven with usually hidden feelings. Tears gleamed in his eyes.

Apollo blinked, studying each of the emotional faces around his bed. His father. His mother - how, by all the Lords, was she here? Athena. Zac - a cruel joke? A mockery of some malevolent god? Ortega - his blood chilled; another of the dead. Two he didn't know - a dark-haired man and woman, both annoyingly familiar for all their strangeness. The three people clustered at the door, medical staff from their uniforms, discreetly eased their way from the room, leaving only a female med tech studying the monitor panel several feet away.

"How...?"

"Heartbeat unsteady, but he's obviously confused," the med tech authoritatively cut in. "You can all see he's alive. Let us do our tests, and you can see him again later."

"Five centons ago, you said he was dead!" Ila cried. "How can you make us leave now?"

"You and the Commander may stay, Madam President. Your other children and his friend should leave. We really have to do these tests." Her voice was immediately more subdued and meek.

"Wait!" Apollo called as they were shepherded to the door. "Who...? What's going on? Where am I? How-?"

"We'll answer all your questions, Apollo. Just do what the doctors order, so you can come home again, healthy." His father laid him gently back on the bed, but continued to hold his hand. Ila clung tightly to the fingers of his other hand, using magnificent control to hold her expression to a pleased and proud smile.

"Captain," Adama continued, "do you remember the battle?"

The weak young warrior only stared, bewildered.

"The Battle of Equus. You were injured when your Viper was hit; you lapsed into a coma. It's been five sectons. The doctors despaired of your ever coming out of it."

"But we had hopes," his mother interrupted. "Your spirit is strong. We knew you wouldn't leave us without a fight."

He couldn't reconcile what he remembered as true with the images before him. "Tell me where I am, what happened..."

"You're in the Military Hospital in Caprica City. We shuttled you here right after the battle, to the best facilities. When the Galactus earned her leave, I came here too. We've been with you the whole time, either your mother or me, or one of your siblings. Athena's been on duty, but Ares delayed his commission for a sectar, and Akilles is on leave from the Pegasus. And of course Artemis..."

He gaped inanely. It made no sense.

"Don't worry," Adama suggested gently, although with worry evident in his eyes. "The doctors said that if you came out of it, there'd be some disorientation, some memory lapses. It's to be expected. It'll all come back to you, in time. For now, just rest. We're here, all of us. Ortega even took his leave time here, though he's had to go..."

"Ortega?" Apollo interrupted. "But he's dead! How could he be here just a moment ago? He and Starbuck-"

"Starbuck! No, son." The venom in his mother's voice surprised him; he drew back at her hard expression. "Don't you remember? It's Boomer that Starbuck killed, not Ortega. Your best friend's still here." She smiled again. "And he can't wait 'til you're well enough to play triad again! He's been trying to break in a new partner, but says you're the one he wants to win the championship with! And you will, I know it."

"Starbuck?" His disbelief showed. "Starbuck killed Boomer? That's not possible! Starbuck wouldn't commit murder!" His disorientation increased. "What happened to Boomer?"

"Not murder. Just an accident, an equipment malfunction, or so we thought at the time. Starbuck wasn't where he should have been," Adama quickly assured him, although he sounded unconvinced of Starbuck's innocence. "But he's transferred to the Pegasus since then, and now that the treason charges-"

"Treason!"

"Adama! Let him rest," Ila admonished. "He's not your concern, Apollo. Your duty now is to get well. And you've always been a warrior who did his duty!"

"But..."

A doctor beckoned from the door. "We have some tests we'd like to start, if you will permit," he told the older couple respectfully. "According to our instruments, he was brain-dead; then, suddenly, his mind was fully functional. We have to examine him at once."

"Of course, of course," the commander muttered in annoyance. "We shall see you again soon, son. Madam President?"

Ila patted his hand, then took her husband's arm to follow the doctor out.

"Wow," the med tech commented. "Must be something, Captain, having the whole of the Colonies as the family trade."

"What? What do you mean?" He turned his lost expression to the pretty young woman at the screens. She blushed, and bit her lower lip.

"I'm sorry," she breathed lamely. "I mean, your father commands the flagship of the battlestar fleet, and your mother is President of the Council of Twelve. All the important military and political power in the Colonies, concentrated in one family. I suppose they mean for you and your brothers and sister to take up the mantle after them. It must be quite a responsibility. I didn't mean to imply anything by what I said. I've just never been this close to so much power before!"

She batted her eyelashes at him, and he suddenly wondered what kind of response to make. This was no type of flirting he'd ever experienced before; she was quite obviously fawning over him. But power was a lure some could never resist, and those who had it could name their price from those who wanted it.

Her smile was inane, and hopeful expectation glowed in her eyes.

"I'm ... kind of tired. Uh, what's your name...?"

"Demetra," she quickly supplied.

"Demetra, could you get me some recent news crystals? I'd ... like to read a bit, catch up on things, if that's permitted, and I have the time. I'm sure a lot's happened while I've been here..."

"Certainly!" Her smiled dimpled. She was really quite pretty. "Most of the tests will be simple monitoring, anyway, and can be conducted while you sleep, or blood and tissue tests, but those'll only take a few centons. I'll orders the crystals right away!" She scurried into the hall.

My God, where am I? What's happened to the world I knew? It's all turned upside down! We were on a planet; that alien equipment... A more important thought took hold. That's just not possible! Caprica was destroyed, with the rest of the Colonies... My mother, the President? What's happening to me? I must be hallucinating... I've got to find out what's going on. I'll have to play along, for now, until I know...

Ortega's my best friend? That's hard to believe! And we're triad partners? Well, he always did play to win, and I'm pretty good at winning myself, but I don't see how in Hades he and I could be...

I saw Zac here, too, before they chased him out, and he's as dead as Ortega. And Artemis, I remember her now. But she'd been dead for yahrens... We were close when we were young, but I haven't thought of her in a long time.

And who in Hades are Ares and Akilles?

Starbuck drifted through time and space. He found a place that seemed like home, compatible to his mind, but when he tried to settle within it, he was rudely cast out again. Bitter anger and fear washed through him, nearly overwhelming him. There was something subtly wrong with the memories stored in the realm he tried to walk. It was as if he were still, had never-

It faded.

After a time, he found a new place, not much like home, but empty and welcoming, and vaguely comfortable...

He woke in a sudden sweat, breathing hard, with alien thoughts tormenting his mind. The memories were wrong, and there was desperation to them, as though he'd been violently ripped from all that was home, and abandoned somewhere strange and threatening.

Starbuck stared shakily around Silver Spar's pilots' billet. There was nothing there to have wakened him; he hadn't had anything to eat or to drink before turning in; he'd done nothing the day before that had ever affected him so in the past; the scuttlebutt about an armistice certainly shouldn't be giving him nightmares. As he slowly pulled himself to wakeful alertness, he wondered what in his dreams had so frightened him.

Something lingered at the edges of his mind, never quite stepping into focus.

And when he slept again, there was a stranger in his dreams, taunting him with memories that were/weren't his, and with places and feelings he couldn't quite grasp hold of...

For too many days, she had been quietly curled in a fetal position. It hurt to move when consciousness finally returned. Groaning, the woman opened her eyes and pulled herself up from the bed, staring blearily at the unfamiliar chamber.

Medical. I visited someone in a place like this once, a long time ago, and more than time away. But why am I here? Did something happen on that planet? That planet, and Wilker's grand discovery... We were...

Hades, where exactly am I?

With a little effort, she pushed aside the monitors at the side of her bed and lowered her feet to the floor. Something was wrong, but she wasn't quite sure what.

She blinked. No, it wasn't the room. It was her.

Her?

What's wrong with me?

She staggered toward the closet, wondering what had happened to her center of balance. If she remembered correctly, there was a mirror hanging there, and she felt an urgent need to know herself, to see her own face reflected reassuringly back at her.

Alarms sounded when she left the bed, but she paid them no heed. She had to see, and she could not see from a prone position on a hospital bunk.

She pulled open the closet door. She took a deep breath, suddenly afraid, but forced herself to look at the bright surface.

The woman gasped in dismay. It's not right! That's not me! The image was lovely - a slim, fair-haired woman with dancing green eyes and a perfectly proportioned figure under the medical tunic. After a long time in bed, her shoulder-length hair was tangled and needed shampooing, and she felt a desperate need to shower and rinse her mouth. But she was still very attractive.

And she was all wrong.

"This isn't me!"

Hands running over the curves of her own body told her otherwise. She was most definitely and shockingly a woman.

And she (?) had not been so before.

Her first impulse was a groan of disbelief, but that seemed inappropriate for the situation. For once, she - he? - had nothing whatsoever to say. It was beyond anything he/she had ever expected to have to deal with.

As medics charged into the chamber, Ostara/Starbuck gave a shrill, hysterical giggle, and fainted.

Chapter Two

Apollo rubbed his eyes. He'd spent nearly two days examining news crystals, and finally felt reasonably up-to-date on the universe around him. He'd asked the doctors not to allow visitors for those two days, and they'd respected his wishes, although his family had been concerned about his decisions. Fortunately, they all had things to do, and his refusal to see father, mother, and siblings had forced them back to their duties.

He leaned against the pillow, earning a concerned look from Demetra, the med who ran errands, fetched crystals, and generally kept an eye on his health. He waved her off before she could plump his cushions again. She kept glancing at him watchfully from behind her panels. He smiled, but quickly stifled his amusement, lest she feel compelled to spend a centar lecturing him on the perils of a sick man over-exerting himself. It was bad enough having to endure her over-solicitous attitude during physical therapy; he hadn't realized how quickly muscle tone and coordination could be lost.

But I've figured her out. She's read too many romances about sick warriors falling in love with their med techs, and she's already fantasizing about our wedding! I can't let her get too close, the way she keeps trying to draw me out. Maybe the doctors'll let me out of here soon. There's nothing physically wrong with me. I can politely say "thank you" and "good bye" and that'll be that.

Is it this place, or am I just hallucinating what I want to be true? Lords...

The Colonies still existed. The Cylons hadn't wiped out everything he knew and loved and devoted his life to defending. Ila was more than just alive; she was the President of the Quorum, the greatest political honor in the Colonies. The political interests and connections of the mother he remembered might very well have taken her there, if circumstances had been a little different. Adama was still a commander, but the ship was the Galactus, not the Galactica. Zac's name was Ares, and he'd just been commissioned a warrior. Cain was Kain, Sheba was Saba; they were both still on the Pegasus.

So is Akilles as Flight Commander. A brother I never had, an older brother. Did I want someone to confide in that badly, somewhere in the quirks of my psyche? Maybe I wanted to be more like Zac, have someone else lead the way and set the roles to imitate. Maybe I wanted to depend on an older brother, somebody who'd be there when my father wasn't. My parents were married long enough to have had an older son in the universe I remember...

And Artemis is still alive. Lords, she's been dead for yahrens! She was barely more than a child when they took that trip... Father was really close to his brother; I remember how it hurt him when they died. Me, too. Maybe that's why I was so protective of Zac while he was growing up and when he became a warrior. By keeping an eye on him, I was protecting my parents, and myself. Ares. I have to remember to call him Ares.

And then there's my friends. Boomer's dead - and Starbuck is or was a suspect, and he transferred to the Pegasus because of it. Ortega's my closest friend, my wingman, and my triad partner. Lords, that's hard to reconcile with how we got along before he was murdered! I wonder how we got to be friends. Maybe in this dream I met Ortega first, or Starbuck pulled some odd prank on me at the wrong time. They could be different men...

There's nothing in the news crystals about those treason charges Starbuck may be facing. I wonder if it's top secret, something Father let slip...? Maybe the name's all that's the same. It could be another Starbuck. My friend's not the only man to ever use that name-

Starbuck!

Now I know something's wrong here. He was with me on that planet; he should be here too, if there's any reality to this. Maybe I should be glad of the proof that I'm imagining it all. I have to talk to him somehow, even if Mother disapproves - and it's obvious she doesn't like him. If he's part of this, too... But I could easily imagine him as part of some weird fantasy, so that wouldn't mean anything. Damn! Am I insane?

I wonder if Mother's reaction to Starbuck is based on something else I've learned? The Colonial structure here is a lot more stratified than I remember it being at home. Looks like the military, high political, old wealth, and upper merchant castes all move fairly freely, with everyone else just getting by somewhere below... How much of that existed at home? I never thought to look or care, I just assumed... Maybe that was a mistake.

Starbuck never knew his family. If he belonged to one of the upper classes, I'm sure there'd have been more concern for finding his kin.

His own family could be another reason for Demetra's obvious interest in him. Apollo had learned early that girls considered him good-looking and eligible, but the med tech could be looking for a connection to the upper class.

Get back to the basics, Captain. If I'm not crazy or hallucinating...

These Colonies are at war with the Cylons, too, and there's a pacifist movement here like there was at home before the treaty. People get tired of war, and a thousand yahrens is a very long time... We made the mistake of trusting the Cylons, thinking they wanted peace as much as we did, that they were as tired of wasted resources and futile battles as we were. Maybe they'd have found that weakness anyway...

With a more melancholy expression, he slipped another crystal into the reader.

"Newswoman Sirona here, reporting from the capital..."

Apollo gasped audibly, heartbeat suddenly doubling. He'd never considered, in his confusion, that she might be here too. "Serina!"

But she calls herself Sirona. That fits with the universe. Subtle changes, mostly, slightly different names, people I wasn't close to before who now seem to be my friends. I try not to think too much about the ones from home who are dead here, or the complete strangers.

Serina. I'd have her here and alive, if there was any way, in a dream or dementia. It doesn't prove anything.

"And it's rumored that a peace initiative has been extended from the Cylons, through Count Baltar, to the Council of Twelve. President Ila is said to be studying it, and making arrangements for a face-to-face meeting with the Cylons. This answers the prayers of many of us in the Colonies, that we might finally see peace in our lifetime. We must all take heart from this promising development, and encourage the President to examine this option, rather than continuing a senseless, tragic struggle into a second millennium..."

He devoured her image as she spoke, memories flooding through his mind as a lump rose in his throat. She was here, alive. Apollo knew he had to see her, the woman who'd once been his wife, in another reality...

But she talks like one of the pacifists! Serina was never one of those... Or was she? She once said that pasts didn't matter, they weren't important. Was she unwilling to tell a warrior lover...? He wished he remembered more, wished he'd paid attention to her newscasts before the Destruction, to the critical analyses she occasionally made afterward. He'd just absorbed the facts, and drawn his own conclusions from them. But here she was, discussing the ramifications of peace at this time, with all the flair and persuasiveness he remembered her to be capable of...

The Destruction! A peace initiative from the Cylons, through Baltar!

"History repeats itself," he quoted faintly, cradling the crystal protectively. "Baltar exists here as well. He'll betray us again. It will happen here, too." Unless I can stop it. I've got to do something. I can't let the Colonies fall again, not even in a nightmare.

Ostara stared vacantly past the medics, refusing to answer their questions or participate in their "therapy." Let them examine their patient without her cooperation! She had no interest in maintaining the body she occupied. She just wanted to get out and wake up from what must be a horrid nightmare - and nothing more than a nightmare!

The doctor was exasperated. "All right, woman! We can't force you to come back to reality."

The robe-clad woman hugged her arms tighter, holding back the bitter retort that came so readily to her lips.

"But if you won't help us help you, you'll be confined to this bed when the Captain's recovered and winning the Colonial triad championship!" He whirled angrily on his heel, prepared to make a furious exit.

The Captain? "Wait!"

He glanced back. "What?" he demanded with as much rudeness as she'd shown him over the past two days.

It took a moment to swallow her pride. Hah! What pride, Starbuck? "What Captain were you referring to?"

"Captain Apollo, of course, the son of President Ila and Commander Adama. He was injured in the same battle as you, been here as long. He woke a little sooner than you, but he's tending to his therapy. He'll be walking and out of here in a few days..."

Apollo! "I have to talk to him!" she demanded instantly, pulling herself up to a sitting position.

The doctor's gaze turned calculating. "Why?"

"Why not?" she returned.

His laughter was incredulous. "Someone with his stature and background, you don't just demand to see. You wait 'til he wants to see you. You've got no kinship or debt claim."

The frightening truth that this wasn't home struck deep again, yet, somehow, what he said seemed familiar and proper. "Could you tell him I'd like to see him, if he has the time?" she asked more carefully, trying frantically to interject the same coy note of pleading she remembered some women using on her when she'd still been herself, and a male of the species. She was surprised at how easily the role came to her.

She saw the physician warming to her. "Well, I'll see what I can do, but you've got to do a few things for me, too."

She managed a laugh, throwing up her arms as if in surrender. "All right, I'll do my exercises every day and answer your questions and let you stick your needles in me!" She thought hard. "Like a good little girl," she added. It wasn't quite what he was looking for, she saw, but thought grimly that it was all he would get. It might not be the body she remembered, but she wasn't soiling it by catering to this lech's far-too-obvious desires.

He couldn't insist on anything more without risking being reported for propositioning a patient. Sourly, he said, "I'll see what I can do."

Then he left. She knew he'd never mention it to Apollo, if he even had the chance to see the man, and decided she'd have to find a way to see him herself, if she could find a way through the power structure so prominent here.

Lords of Kobol, even if it's him, and he's the man I know, how will he know me? I'm not me anymore. What do I say, "Hi, remember me, I used to be a man you knew?" There has to be a way I can let him know who I really am...

I've got to understand more about this place. Maybe they'll let me view the news crystals. But if that doctor thinks...

She suddenly giggled. Perplexed, Ostara wondered why she'd done so.

It was several more days before Apollo felt sufficiently comfortable with himself to risk seeing people again. He wasn't quite sure if he should try to live by what this society said he should be, or if he should act as he chose, assuming that, as this was his dream, anything he did would be considered acceptable. He decided to try a combination of the two, on the assumption that anything he did out of the ordinary would be attributed to his recent coma. He could gauge his success by the reactions of his family and friends.

His mother's primary response continued to be gratitude that he was still alive. He was disturbed, however, by her references that he might now survive to see the end of the war.

That meant she was seriously considering the Cylon proposal. He tried to caution her not to be too over-anxious; it was dangerous to deal with Cylons as though they were honorable beings. She smiled fondly but dismissed his concerns. "Of course. You're a warrior; you were trained to look at the enemy as impersonal and untrustworthy. Otherwise, you'd be a less effective fighting force."

There might be some truth to her comment, but in this case, he knew he was right. He knew what would happen to the Colonies if they accepted the Cylon offer as genuine - genocide, the end of the humans. The Twelve Worlds might have colonies of their own, and might still be in contact with them; even Kobol - he marveled at that - had been resettled, which suggested these Colonials were doing better at their war than his people had. But he could not believe the Cylons could be so different in this universe that they could actually be seeking peaceful co-existence with their avowed enemies.

He sighed, for a moment uncertain.

"Hello, Captain."

He looked up to see Ortega in the doorway, a slim blonde woman with him. Relaxing the automatic reserve he projected every time he saw the man, Apollo managed a smile. It was getting easier; this Ortega was less of a greedy, competitive, vile-tempered egotist than the man he remembered.

"Hi, Ortega. I thought you were heading back to the Galactus."

The handsome, green-eyed blond smiled, pulling the young woman close with an arm around her shoulders. "Stopped long enough to visit Ostara. Do you remember my cousin? I know she wasn't on the ship long, and you can't know everybody by sight, but she was assigned to the squadrons. She was hurt in the same battle you were."

Apollo inspected the girl. He searched his memories, but her pretty face drew a blank. He shrugged apologetically. "Sorry, Ortega. But come on in, both of you. Maybe I'll remember..."

She seemed disappointed, and he hesitated, assailed by sudden doubt. Was there some reason he ought to know her? She was certainly attractive. Surely this wasn't some important or intimate relationship...?

"Starrie wanted to know how you were doing, but the doctors weren't telling her anything. So, when we went for her prescribed daily walk, she asked me if we could stop in. Hope it's no bother..."

"None, none!" He gestured graciously. "Sit down."

"Uh, I can't stay," Ortega said. "Due back at four bells. We just stopped for a centon."

"I'd like to stay a few moments, if that's all right with Apollo," Ostara interrupted. "I don't get many visitors, and it would be nice to talk to someone for a while."

The anxiety in her eyes hit him hard. She had something she wanted to say. Apollo nodded encouragingly. "Stay, of course. I like to be accessible to my people at all times," he insisted, mentally crossing his fingers that it wasn't untrue.

His guests laughed, then Ortega left. The captain wondered why his friend seemed relieved that he permitted this kinswoman to remain.

He waited politely while Ostara sat next to the bed. Her steps were awkward, as if she were unused to walking, after sectons in a hospital bed. She glanced around for a moment, and he was glad Demetra was taking a break.

"Umm..." She pursed her lips. "You look well for a dead man."

Unconventional beginning to a conversation... "It seems the doctors made a mistake in their diagnosis. They said I was dead. I must've come back to spite them."

"I can understand that," she replied darkly.

He wondered what she was thinking. "How about you?"

"Not dead. The equipment short wasn't serious; they always expected me to come back after a reasonable interval." She was still ill-at-ease. "How's your memory after the last secton?" She leaned forward intently.

"Uh..." This conversation was progressing strangely. "Returning, I guess."

She sat back again. "I wondered. You didn't seem to recognize me."

"I'm afraid I still don't remember seeing you before you walked in the door just now," he told her honestly.

Her hands clenched into fists as she drew herself up. "Maybe I can jar a few recollections." She swallowed. "I'm thinking of the time we were on Arcta..." Her stare was intent.

He frowned, thinking hard. "I've never been to Dr. Ravashol's installation," he said cautiously. "How can I remember-?"

"Are you sure? We fought the Cylons to free the Thetas, and save our Fleet."

"Sagan's Pyramid!" That never happened in this universe. The only person who could know about that is- "Starbuck?" he whispered in shock, staring at the definitely female beauty. Unless... What if this was a trick of some kind? Could his own dreams ensnare him? But he was trapped just being here...

She released a thick sigh, and he saw her shake. "You remember. You were there with me, in the other world. I may be crazy, but at least I remember."

"You're Starbuck?" He couldn't assimilate the idea.

She nodded. "Yes."

"How...?" He tried to pull his jaw off the floor. "You're..."

"Female," the woman acknowledged flatly. "And I have no idea how."

"And I thought I was mixed up, waking up here, with things the way they are. But you're here, too, so it can't be a dream... Unless some weird quirk in me made you ... Ostara, and... I must be hallucinating. I wish the doctors would do something to wake me up."

"Well, I certainly wouldn't imagine myself as a woman!" Ostara flared defensively, defying something within that was laughing at the situation. "In any circumstances! So if it's not your mind trip, it must be real, which is even harder to accept."

"Lords of Kobol," Apollo swore, accenting every word. "That alien equipment! Remember? We were helping Wilker..."

"And there was a whine, and the world went away," Ostara finished. "And I woke up in this!" She gestured unhappily at her body.

Apollo gave her a frank once-over. "Could have been worse."

She colored angrily.

"Sorry. So, we're here; we both remember being from somewhere else; I'm in a body I remember, but you're somewhere completely strange."

"It was a transportation device..." Ostara stated slowly. "But all it seems to have transported is our minds. But why am I...?

"I think our injuries might explain it." Apollo explained his thought. "I was legally dead, as these people define it. Your natural body was ... unavailable, so your mind was shunted to the first open..."

"What do you mean, unavailable?" she demanded, frowning. "I'm not already dead ... or something?"

"No. You're still alive, on the Pegasus. But the mind wasn't receptive, and couldn't accommodate you, so you had to find somewhere else. This seems to be some sort of ... alternate universe, maybe? Our world, with another time stream, in another dimension? What could those aliens have meant, creating a device that could do this? Maybe that's what brought their final war, they stepped on the wrong toes in another dimension."

They studied each other for a moment; then the woman laughed. "Interesting hypothesis. I wonder what's really happening to me. This has to be some crazy nightmare - I'll wake up and laugh about it any time now."

"Starbuck-"

"I am not going to spend the rest of my life like this!" Her voice rose fractionally, both angry and horrified.

"What's wrong with being a woman?"

"I don't see you begging to be one!"

"I wasn't given the choice. But I think there's something more important to consider. If this is a real place, and we're really here, the bodies we left behind are probably ... dead, on that planet. We may have to live here. And these Colonies are about to sign a peace treaty with the Cylons."

Ostara froze, gasping audibly. "They can't! They mustn't!"

"I know," Apollo agreed grimly. "It may be up to us to stop them, or we'll see the end of our civilization a second time."

"Lords!" She shuddered, face more drawn and pale then her injuries and agitated mental state could account for.

A humming sound came from the corridor, a low, off-key singing.

"Demetra! Damn her timing!"

"Who?"

"My nurse and constant companion, who's starting to become an irritant. She's sure to send you away... Listen, can you have visitors?"

"Yes, if the doctor allows them. He's been rather selective, I understand, for reasons of his own. If he thinks I'm picking up on any of his passes..." She shivered violently. "But if I read him right, he won't say no to you."

Apollo winced. Nobody here seemed to say no to him. "I'll be by later..."

"What's this?" Demetra called rudely from the doorway. "Are you cleared to be here, young lady? The Captain doesn't want guests-"

"She's from the Galactus, a fellow patient here. I asked Ortega to bring her by," Apollo interposed. "She was just leaving."

The med tech harrumphed suspiciously as she walked to her station, but Apollo leaned over to talk privately to his visitor one moment longer. Demetra's glare remained jealously on his female visitor.

"Umm ... what shall I call you? I can't call you Starbuck - I'll tell you more about what your counterpart's doing later. Can you answer to Ostara?"

"Somehow 'Starrie' seems appropriate. Ortega calls me that. It's close enough to my real name that I recognize it without being startled."

"Starrie. Okay. Our first duty is to save the Colonies from a big mistake. Then we'll worry about finding a way back - if there is one. But if we're stuck here, don't worry. We'll work it out somehow. And if you have to spend the rest of your life as a woman ... well, it could be worse!" The apologetic comment was meant to be encouraging.

She accepted it, grimacing in disgust before walking away. Oddly enough, she found his last statement comforting as she continued back to her room. Occasional bits of recognition surfaced at odd times, and she was shocked to find herself pleased that Apollo obviously thought her attractive. What kind of perverse notions were starting to filter into her consciousness...?

Demetra approached possessively as soon as Ostara was out the door. "I talked to your doctor, Captain. They feel you can go home tomorrow, if you wish, as long as you keep up your physical therapy and report for daily check-ups until you've completely recovered. I believe they've got faith in your father's ability to keep you in line," she finished flippantly.

He was nonplused at the unexpected statement. "Oh!"

"I thought you'd be pleased..."

But I doubt you are! I haven't professed undying love yet... Or maybe you expect me to come sweep you off your feet when I'm fully back on mine? It was an unkind thought, but he was nettled at her reaction to Starbuck's ... Starrie's presence. Good Lord, that's worse than remembering to call Zac "Ares"! We'll have to be careful. Someone could get the wrong idea if we spend too much time together. Or could we use that to our benefit...?

Demetra still watched him. He forced a pleased smile. "I'm thrilled to be going home, Demetra. Could you contact my family for me? I'd like to make the arrangements..."

"I could do that. I could arrange for home nursing, too, if it seems likely you'll need a companion for a while..."

No! I've got too much to do for you to be following me!

"I'll talk to my family. In the meantime, could you check the condition and prognosis of Lieutenant Ostara, please? And find out if there're any other crewmen from the Galactus here, too, if you could," he added hastily. Irritate her now, and she could be an obstacle in communicating with Starbuck ... Starrie.

Starbuck. Starrie. If this is a dream, I think I've cracked. Maybe I'll ask Salik about therapy when I get back. If I get back... Unless this is real. I have to live like it's real.

We have to be careful. Can't afford any mistakes on this one. I've got to talk to Ortega again. Never thought I'd say that without a reprimand in mind. Depending on his friendship to get me through is so foreign to me that I have to laugh. I wonder what our Ortega would say, if he had any way of knowing. Probably smirk! Shouldn't think of him, I guess. It might prejudice what I do here and now, and I can't blame past enmity on this warrior.

This Starbuck! Lords, I've got to contact him! If Ortega's as he seems, could Starbuck actually...?

He shied from the thought. He couldn't possibly imagine his friend as a negligent killer, and even less as a traitor.

Chapter Three

Quiet excitement filled the home of Commander Adama and President Ila. Their son, Captain Apollo, was home. The elite, duty-conscious siress even passed on a formal reception to plan a small family welcoming dinner for the young warrior. Wandering the empty house, Apollo wondered if she'd stay after the meal was over. His mother hadn't been home even one evening since he'd been discharged from the hospital, and while it gave him more time to read history and catch up on things he ought to know if this universe really existed, he urgently wanted to talk with her about the status of the treaty negotiations. There were things he knew he had to point out to her.

I'm vain enough to think I know more about this world than she does, who's lived with her fingers on its pulse for yahrens. What if I'm mistaken? Do I have the right to let my paranoia keep these people fighting an unnecessary war?

Apollo climbed the stairs to the sleeping chambers, examining everything with thoughtful eyes. It was a large house, bigger than his own parents' home had been, built to accommodate two more people, and with more guest quarters. It was spacious and airy, with plants scattered liberally throughout, to ease the spirits of warriors used to the cramped, sterile conditions of space travel. He liked it; the place could quickly become comfortable. It had been a long time since he'd lived at his own parents' home, back on his own Caprica.

In his room, he fingered the uniform laid out for him. The feel was different, although the cut and style were similar to what he'd known. I'll have to wear it tomorrow night, at the dinner, whether I feel comfortable in another man's clothes or not. It's expected of me. And duty ruled him as it does me...

"Apollo?"

"Here, Artemis!" he called out the door.

His cousin, also a captain in the military, skipped merrily up the circular staircase elegantly occupying one corner of the family recreation room, leading to the personal quarters. She carried a small valise.

"Moving in?" he asked with raised eyebrows.

"Hey, I live here, remember? And I'm not the only one! Athena and Ares will be here too, for the rest of the Galactus's refitting time. As the Commander says, what's the use of being in charge if you can't give your children leave when you're in port?"

He privately doubted his father would say any such thing; it showed.

"Okay, so you're skeptical, and he didn't say it in so many words. What he did say was that you shouldn't have to be alone in this house until the doctors clear you for ship duty again. With Aunt Ila so busy, and the rest of us on the ship, and Akilles due to ship out with the Pegasus in a secton or so, Uncle Adama's worried about you."

"I'll accept that." He's also worried I might be emotionally unstable. There're too many things I don't know yet. Having my family around might help.

"Good. I'll dump my stuff and come bother you."

"All right," he acquiesced, smiling. He liked Artemis, and regretted more and more that the woman he saw had died so young in his own time stream. They'd been of an age, and had spent many fun centars together when they were children...

"What are you thinking?" She was already back, standing in the doorway with avid interest in her black eyes.

He smiled, and decided to be honest. "Remembering, and hoping things are as I seem to see them."

"Tell me." She sprawled across his bed, wrinkling the uniform spread out there without seeming to notice. Dark curly hair spilled over her shoulders and back as she smiled encouragingly. Apollo wondered if she was as used to sharing his confidences as she seemed to be. If he could really talk to her...

"A summer we spent at a lake in the mountains, with your parents..." he began tentatively, reminiscing.

Her face lit up. "The yahren we both turned seven! That's real! Go on."

"Uh..." He suddenly blushed. They weren't seven any more.

She giggled easily. "And we went swimming together, without even wearing any clothes! And we swore we'd grow up and get married and have a battlestar of our own, you the commander and me your executive officer, and we'd defeat the Cylons and raise a squadron of kids of our own..." She laughed uproariously. He couldn't help chortling, too; the memory was so vivid, and what came after.

"And then Dad caught us, and neither one of us sat down for two days, while Athena sat there looking so virtuous! None of us knew why what we'd done was so wrong. And we both caught colds, too, from being in that icy water at sunrise. Mom was sure it was pneumonia, and what was she going to say to your parents...?" Her dramatic outcry made him laugh harder.

They sobered up after a moment.

"That was a wonderful summer," Apollo murmured.

"Yeah." She turned thoughtful. "But now we're grown up, and fighting Cylons isn't a game, and neither are thoughts of love and marriage."

"No." He was suddenly uncomfortable again.

"Umm... Akilles is bringing Saba to the family dinner tomorrow."

"Oh? I didn't know..." His brother and Sheba ... Saba?

"They've been seeing each other for a while now. Personally," she added, brightening up, "I think Akilles is just trying to protect himself against the day Kain decides his little girl is experienced enough to be flight commander of the Pegasus, and he's out a job."

"He may have to come back to the Galactus."

"Hah! By then, one of us will no longer be just a squadron leader - probably you, you're more serious about it than me - and Commander Adama won't dump one child to make room for another."

That was something else he had to remember. In this universe, he hadn't yet been made flight commander. He and Artemis were flight leaders for Blue and Green Squadrons, respectively. It made for some friendly rivalry, and a lot of competition between their strike teams.

Artemis became more serious. "I meant to ask you, Apollo, speaking of bringing someone to dinner... Is there someone you'd like to have here for our first meal as a united family again? I talked to the Commander before we shuttled down, and he said it's all right..."

What was she angling for? That med tech certainly hadn't talked to her...? Inspiration struck. "Actually, yeah. If I could have a friend or two, I wouldn't mind if Ortega were invited."

Her eyes lit up again. She wanted him there, he realized, but couldn't ask him herself! Thoughts of love and marriage... I'll have to remember that. Do they already have some clandestine relationship, or is there some reason they can't-

"I'll call him," she agreed quickly. "Anyone else?"

"Well..." Now for his pitch. "Actually, it would be nice if his cousin came, too. Do you remember Ostara? Green-eyed blonde, about your height, pretty? She's in Blue Squadron, recently assigned from a ground base. She was still at the hospital when I was released..."

She was hiding laughter. "I see. Of course. There should be no problem. She's logged back aboard the Galactus. Couldn't stand the doctors at the hospital, I hear. I'll tell Ortega to pass along the invitation."

"Thanks."

"So, tell me, how long have you and she...?"

"What? Oh, no, it's nothing like that...!" he found himself immediately protesting. "It's just..." He was stumped. How could he explain wanting the presence of someone he apparently barely knew without giving away what had happened?

She smiled wryly. "Okay, kinsman, I understand. I won't pester you about it. But Uncle may ask about her!"

"Warning heeded. I'll have an explanation ready. Who else will be there?"

"No one I know of, unless Commander Kain decides after all to accept the invitation Uncle gave him, or Aunt brings some important diplomat or other because 'he simply can't be offended,' or there's some business that 'has to be tended to.' Oh, I'm sorry. I know you don't like it when I talk like that about political-"

"In this case, I agree with you. I'd rather not have too many strangers at the dinner." Especially not if I want to talk to Mother at some point.

Ostara studied the Blue Squadron female pilots' billet. She'd been there before, in her past experience, but only as a visitor, not as an occupant. This could be very interesting...

"Hey, Starrie! Ortega wants to see you outside!"

She blinked, then recognized the woman talking to her. Of course, he can't come barging in here. There aren't a lot of pilots who haven't taken leave, but it wouldn't be proper for him - a mere lieutenant, not even our flight leader! - to act like he had the run of the ship. So I have to go out there. And to think, I once dreamed of being able to walk freely around here when the pilots were showering and dressing...

"What is it, Ortega?"

"I have an invitation to dinner at Commander Adama's residence tomorrow evening."

"What's unusual about that? You've been there before."

"I know. You're invited, too."

She felt a flush of relief that Apollo had found a way to contact her.

He saw the smile, and was puzzled. "Uh, Starrie, what's up?"

"What do you mean?"

"You and Apollo... You wanted to see him in the hospital. And he's given you an invitation to a private family gathering. What happened?"

She had a vague recollection that she and the captain hadn't been close, emphasized by his not recognizing her the first time they met in the hospital, but what was Ortega concerned about?

"Starrie, if I recall, you have in the past referred to the Captain as 'wearing arrogance like a second skin,' and being very thick-skinned! You don't like Apollo; you never liked him, not when we were friends at the Academy, not when we were assigned to the same ship, and not when you joined us on that ship. You even went out of your way to avoid him! What's going on?"

Something sparked angrily in her. She was puzzled by it, but had to answer her cousin before seeking it out. She shrugged. "He seems like a different man these days. I think I'm seeing him with new eyes." Both statements were true in every sense, and she giggled wickedly inside, knowing Ortega couldn't possibly understand.

"Well, I'm glad you're starting to see what kind of man Apollo really is."

"Oh, I've got a good idea," she assured him happily.

"Great. We can catch the supply shuttle when it leaves tomorrow. That'll get us there in plenty of time."

"Right. See you then, if not sooner."

"Right." Ortega moved away, obviously perplexed but pleased.

As Ostara turned back to quarters, something exploded in her head. Her sense of identity and recollections of Starbuck swirled and suddenly shattered into component pieces. Memory went blank, then throbbed agonizingly back into wholeness.

(No! What...?) Appalled. Shock of realization.

(Yes.) Certainty.

A strange awareness in her eyes, Ostara glanced quickly at her cousin, still moving off down the metal corridor. A slight, predatory smile accented calculating green eyes.

"New, indeed," she murmured to herself as she moved back toward her bunk to sort through her thoughts.

There were two other guests for dinner - Sire Uri, a leader of the Caprican Renaissance and a probable future member of the Quorum, and Councilor Adar, a prominent member of the Pacifist Party and one of Ila's usual partisans. When Commander Kain arrived as well, there was enough of Colonial authority present to keep the younger warriors silent for most of the meal, listening to the polite and varied arguments that passed as conversation. Sire Uri frequently moderated between the two battlestar commanders and the two Council representatives, although hostility was non-existent - they had all been friends too long to let their political differences interfere with their affection for one another, and each recognized the others' real dedication to what was best for the Colonies.

Apollo, however, grew restive after a few centars. He was familiar with the issues under discussion, and thought them utterly irrelevant, considering the gravity of the supposed Cylon peace offer. The leaders present seemed to make an effort to avoid that particular topic.

The captain finally brought it up himself after the meal, when he had an opportunity to talk to one of the visitors in a conversation nook of the recreation room.

"Sire Uri," he asked, "what's your stance on Baltar's peace initiative?" Uri wasn't on the Council, but his word carried great weight with many civilians; the captain wanted to learn what opinions were held by the rest of the ruling class.

"Apollo!" his mother interrupted reprovingly. "You know it's not proper to discuss Council business in this manner." Her fashionably long skirt swished as she closed on them.

He glanced at her in surprise. "Don't I have as much right to be curious about it as ... as anybody who listens to Sirona's newscasts?"

"Yes," she responded primly, "but speculating on the matter and pumping one of the negotiators are two different things."

"Sire Uri's one of the negotiators?" he demanded in astonishment. They had the attention of everyone in the spacious room.

Ila and Adar exchanged glances. "That is, of course, a state secret, son," the woman said slowly. "All of you, if that knowledge were to leave this room, it could be used by those seeking to sabotage the treaty." The seriousness of her words wasn't lost on anyone. "And it would be construed as a treasonous action, which would be punished to the full extent of the law, no matter who was involved." Her words were quietly meaningful.

"Mother, are you suggesting I'm capable of treason?" Apollo asked softly.

"I wouldn't do that. This wasn't meant to get out yet," she sighed. "I'm sorry, Adama, I couldn't tell even you..." Her husband had joined her as soon as the discussion became common.

The commander's tight jaw betrayed hurt anger that she hadn't shared the knowledge with him, but he nodded briefly. "I understand." There were times their duties came between them, but neither tried to deny the other his need to follow his own destiny and desire.

"I don't know you can even consider the matter!" Apollo exploded. "After a thousand yahrens of seeing what they do to us, how they fight, and hearing from their own mouths their determination to wipe us out..."

"Apollo," Adar broke in reasonably, "times change. Beings change. The Cylons want this armistice. They want peace."

"That is a difficult thing to believe," Adama murmured.

"Adama! Listen, Apollo, you are a warrior. I know the way you think, the way you've been trained to react to the thought of Cylons. You have a peculiar kind of eternal innocence, son. You're always the hero, defending the helpless against a terrible enemy. It's very special to see, and I'm proud of you for it. But it's an illusion. Your patriotism was needed before this peace was suggested-"

"You're suggesting I'm a fool!" He was angry, and he saw by the stiffening of the other warriors present that they didn't like what she was saying, either. Only his father seemed resigned to it, as if this were an old conflict.

"Not at all," Ila quickly soothed. "But a warrior's task is to impose or defend the ideology of his government, whatever definition is provided. That's what your oath is for. But you've fallen into a line of thinking that doesn't allow for change. Now, when an end to war is at hand, you have to grow up, to become aware of something more..."

"They're out to destroy us utterly, and you talk of awareness? They've killed warriors, civilians, even children, without mercy! They destroy cities and farms and shipping without compassion or consideration, while we fight a war for survival..." His snap to military posture was calculated.

"As our ideology defines it. I know we've suffered greatly at their hands, but we've kept our honor throughout. Suspicion and vindictiveness now could ruin our chance for peace, for ending that destruction of civilians and cities and farms and shipping. Our very lack of vengefulness, of not having destroyed their shipping and civilians in the past, and not demanding a brutal recompense for that destruction..." She ignored his snort of derision. "...Now makes it possible for us to accept this, and make the conciliatory gestures that will lead to a lasting peace..."

"We have to make the gesture?" This world's gone crazy! "I think you're the innocent, Mother, precisely because we've been here to keep the Cylons away. You're a blind innocent, and I wish to the Lords you could stay that way, but I've faced them in battle, seen what they've done to so many of my friends-"

She slapped him. He ducked back in shock as gasps of surprised horror came from several of the others.

"You will not speak to your mother, or to your President, in such fashion again, Apollo," she seethed in cold, clipped tones. Then she simply turned and walked away from him.

"Mother...!"

Adama caught his arm. "I'll talk to her, Apollo. Let her get over her temper. You almost died from combat wounds you received fighting them; you're still not completely recovered. I'm sure that'll occur to her. But don't ever raise your voice that way again." Adama followed his wife.

The others stared at him. He couldn't take it, aware that his unexpectedly harsh and impulsive words may have made it impossible to talk to the woman he most had to convince to be careful.

"My apologies," he said in the awkward silence. "I didn't mean to disrupt the party. I must be tired. Please excuse me."

He went to the stairs. Ares was there, watching with blinking, uncomprehending eyes. "I'm most sorry for you, little brother," he whispered as he passed. This young, eager warrior could be the first to pay the price for the Cylon treachery, as Zac had been.

"There're other things for warriors to do," the youth fumbled. "I guess I was just looking forward to blooding myself in battle..."

He shuddered. "Pray you don't have to, Ares."

He climbed the stairs and retreated to his room, wondering how he could have botched things so badly on his first try. In the security of his private chamber, hopelessness swept over him. He would fail. It was doomed to happen again, and all he could do was lose his temper and scream like a child throwing a tantrum.

Ila had as much as said there were people against the treaty, people who might take drastic measures to prevent its passage. Being labeled a traitor was abhorrent to him. But maybe if he had more information...

"Captain?"

It was Ostara, watching anxiously from the doorway. She had an extra chalice of ambrosa in her hand, and for a moment he wished she were just what she seemed - a beautiful woman, not the physical abode of the mind of his best friend from another time and place.

"Come in, Starrie. That for me? I could use a drink about now..."

She nudged the door with her foot and crossed over to the small couch, handing him the simple pewter chalice.

"You said some good things down there."

"But they didn't hear them! They train us to defend them, then patronizingly tell us we don't know what we're talking about when we try to warn them of the danger..."

"Easy, Apollo, I'm not your enemy. You're talking like you've accepted the mindset and the ideology. We're supposed to be saving this world, not falling into its trap. Here, drink up!"

He took a sip of the potent liquor. "So why didn't I make a better impression on the one person I had to impress?" he demanded wryly.

"I think she'll remember what you said, even if she doesn't like the implications to their precious treaty. And the others heard it too."

"So I've made enemies of Adar and Uri as well. Great. They both think I'm some kind of warmonger who can't face the loss of status and prestige and reason for existence being a warrior gives me."

She smiled. "I don't think so. Sire Adar's irate, of course, but uneasy. And Sire Uri's a good man here, by all accounts. I think he's more aware of the risks than you're giving him credit for. And they all know you've never been a bloodthirsty fiend fanatically waving a laser at anything that moves!" She sat beside him and crossed her legs gracefully. The slit skirt suddenly revealed a lot of thigh.

Apollo felt uneasy. Something was wrong, but he wasn't sure what, or whether it was in himself or his companion. Her words, her actions? He ruefully decided Starbuck must be adjusting to being Ostara, and was starting to take advantage of the situation, as he took every advantage in being male at home. "Starrie..."

"Yes?"

He was puzzled, but didn't know what to say. To cover it, he took another drink, then rose to pace the room. "Uh, why aren't you down there with the others? You didn't have to come up here."

She laughed shortly. "Who'd miss me? This isn't my kind of crowd. Saba, Athena, and Artemis are talking in one corner, discussing politics and military life and people I don't know. I've never been close to any of them - at least, not close enough for this kind of girl talk," she amended. "The others are still arguing about your sanity and general health. Quietly, of course. They never noticed me slip away."

"I'm glad you came. Starbuck, have we got a chance?"

"Call me Starrie. This isn't the Galactica; no point in raising questions." She stared down into her own chalice. "You've got to convince your mother, or someone in a position to do something, that the Cylons mean to destroy us with a false peace initiative, as they did the ... our ... Colonies. But I'm beginning to think the only chance lies in taking some constructive action, beyond talking."

Her choice of words was unusual, but Apollo was preoccupied. "If I fail, we lose twice. I can't see that again, the deaths of those I love and the destruction of everything I knew..."

"And if the Colonies fall, whatever we try?" she asked softly.

He closed his eyes and breathed a heartfelt sigh. "I'm not sure I want to survive it again, Starrie," he told her with painful honesty. "But I think I have to, if I can, to fight as long as there's life in me - my life or this body's. I wish we could go home again..."

It was hard to talk to this woman as if she were the friend he knew, much easier to pretend he was telling it to a different person, a new friend. Their basis for close friendship was shifting rapidly. If hormones or whatever were affecting his old friend's behavior, maybe a new person was coming into being, after all. And if they were doomed to spend the rest of their lives here, he'd have to learn to deal with Ostara as he/she was. Starbuck would have the more difficult time of it.

"An alien time stream," the woman murmured in a faraway voice. "I never believed in alternate realities, never thought it could be real..."

He laughed sourly. "Believe it. We're living it. I'd much rather this were just a dream, but I'm afraid we're all that stand between these people and a second-"

There was a noise in the hall, and a muffled curse. Apollo and Ostara froze.

The door was pushed open, and Akilles, flight commander of the Pegasus, stepped into view. "You heard my stumble, I gather. So I may as well come in for the rest of the conversation. You really ought to be sure your doors are closed when you discuss such things," he stated calmly.

"Such things?" Apollo tried to brazen it through. Ostara watched apprehensively, not saying a word as she tried unsuccessfully to blend into the furniture.

"Time streams, alternate realities and dimensions. I gathered that much from what I overheard."

Apollo paled, and bit his lip. "Then you think I'm crazy."

The other man took a deep breath, watching him closely. "Not necessarily. I've talked to Dr. Ravashol on the subject. He had a theory, but discarded it as unworkable. I know the doctors claimed Apollo was dead. Then suddenly your mind was functioning again, and you were very much alive. It did seem ... unusual, to be the recipients of a miracle."

"What do you want from me?" He felt like a cornered animal. How could he tell this man who he was, the circumstances of his being here, without...? He glanced at Ostara; she shook her head negligibly, and he felt encouraged. There was nothing to connect her with the event; all he had to do was leave Starbuck out of his explanations.

"Everything you know. You're so against the Cylon treaty because it didn't work in your universe. I want to know why. I have my own doubts, you see, and so does my Commander. And there're others as well. If you can't do anything, give us the ammunition to forestall what you fear."

Apollo was relieved for the moment, but still uncertain.

Akilles made himself at home. "So tell me," he began conversationally. "What happened when the treaty was signed?"

It made sense. His smile at Ostara was hopeful. Allies! They needed allies. And a Commander like Kain, who's as stubborn and independent here as at home, is just the man. And he's got friends, the kind who can intervene constructively. Maybe there's hope yet. I'll have to see what else I can do...

Ostara let him do the talking as he began to explain the history of the downfall of the Twelve Colonies, and the theories and accusations made after the fact. Akilles nodded throughout. When he was done, the major thought briefly.

"It makes sense. It explains the need for a scapegoat. And Starbuck is that scapegoat. I believe you, and I think Kain will, too." His expression turned grimmer. "It seems we have a conspiracy. And the best way to deal with it may be a counter-conspiracy."

"You say Starbuck is the scapegoat? But how...?"

"There've been rumors for over a sectar of a plot to discredit the treaty. They took him into custody this afternoon, on evidence from Baltar, his patron. But if Baltar's the real traitor..."

Apollo cursed quietly. "Baltar again. We've got to find a way to show the Council the truth. And we've got to help Starbuck, too. He wouldn't-"

"We'll find a way to prove Baltar's treason to the Quorum," Akilles assured him. "And we'll do what we can for Starbuck. He's a good warrior, just a little hot-headed, with a weakness for wine, women, and wagering."

Apollo had to agree. Those were, indeed, Starbuck's weaknesses. He glanced apologetically at Ostara, wondering how she was taking the other man's passionless assessment. The body housing Starbuck's mind seemed quite far away.

"A conspiracy. And we could all hang together, in success as well as failure," Ostara commented to herself, unaware of his scrutiny. She smiled. She knew what she wanted out of this treason. And she would get it. Akilles would help, though he didn't know it yet. She chewed her lip to hide her glee. Starbuck was irrelevant.

Starbuck stared around the enclosed cell. Everything was suddenly wrong and confusing, both in his life and in his own head. He forced himself to sit on the low, plain bunk and relax.

He tried to think.

His arrest was unexpected, the charges shocking. He'd done nothing deserving imprisonment or death. He was no traitor, and he'd never associated with terrorists. He was a warrior, for Sagan's sake!

His foreboding increased. If Count Baltar had really abandoned him, who could he look to for help? He was doomed.

Chapter Four

The streets of Caprica City were bustling on the warm summer morning. An aura of excitement colored everything. Rumors of the pending Armistice added zest to every conversation. The bright future seemed the sole concern of those traveling the broad boulevards.

Two warriors strolled those wide avenues, their knowledge alienating them from the hopeful atmosphere. One studied sights he normally took for granted, and wondered if the city had a future. The other drank in every view, noise, and smell, as his heart cried for the dead place he would never see again, the city he'd once called home.

The people they passed knew them. Similarity of features and physiques proclaimed the men's kinship; their uniforms and bearing announced their warrior status. But even in civilian clothing, they would have been recognized. The President of the Quorum, the Commander of the Galactus, and their family appeared in the media often enough to receive instant recognition.

Some of the bystanders gave them respectful nods and stepped aside for them, expecting from their preoccupied expressions that they were on important and perhaps somber business.

Dark stares from a few reminded the warriors that their caste wasn't admired in every quarter. Some smoldering civilians expected peace to finally break the military hold on Colonial society that had evolved over the past millennium. They let their feelings be known. Akilles ignored them; Apollo couldn't help noticing.

"It's good to see it all again," the captain said under his breath, trying to concentrate on the city's beauty. "But it hurts, too, all the memories it evokes. How did we let it happen...?"

"But you won't let it happen again," Akilles reminded him. "Which is why we're going to visit Starbuck at the Incarceration Center. I'm sure he knows Baltar set him up. All we have to do is persuade him to tell us everything he knows. It may be helpful in convincing the Council to ask a few questions about our esteemed Count."

I have my own reasons for wanting to see Starbuck. I need to know what he's like here, if he could possibly be responsible for Boomer's death. Is there a chance he's really the traitor they accuse him of being?

Apollo had the sudden feeling they were being followed. He glanced around, but saw nothing suspicious.

"What is it?" his brother demanded, seeing the look.

Apollo shrugged. "Don't know. An odd feeling that someone might be following us, but I don't see anybody. Better keep our voices down, though. After the things Mother almost accused me of that dinner, I suppose she could have someone tailing me, just to make sure I don't do anything ... rash." He couldn't help the bitterness in his voice. "She hasn't spoken to me since then. And Father just keeps saying to give her time..."

"She's got a lot on her mind," Akilles responded diplomatically. "It's a terrible responsibility she's got. She knew it when she was offered the position of President, after she was elected to the Council. She discussed it with us, so we'd know what we were all facing, how much of her life would become public domain. Maybe if you had some memory of that, you'd understand what she's going through."

The younger man flushed. "I guess I'm ... single-minded, too. She's not quite the same woman Mother was in my reality, but I guess yahrens of being a diplomat and political activist could have made her the same."

"Was your mother as disappointed as ours that we all became warriors, that none of us wanted to enter public service as she did?"

"I'm ... not sure. Maybe. I never thought about it..."

They reached the magnificent public square before the Military Administration Building. The twin obelisks fronting the edifice proclaimed the history of the warriors as defenders of Caprica and as bold explorers. Trees, shrubs, and flowers occupied small plots of ground between the tall monuments, forming a living, natural contrast to the architectural splendor of man's creations.

"I'll go in. You might want to wait here, enjoy the scenery or something."

"You aren't sure I can handle delays?" Apollo demanded wryly. Wouldn't surprise me if Akilles believes that - I haven't shown the sweetest temper or patience since coming here. And from what I've heard of my original, he didn't have the best disposition, either. And both his brothers had hinted, Akilles carefully and Ares with some enthusiasm, that he had a reputation - off-duty, of course - for being able to enjoy himself. On duty, he was the same reserved, unapproachable superior officer he was reputed to be on the Galactica. Maybe having Akilles here took the pressure off me when I was growing up, so I didn't have to be quite so ... restrained. There wasn't quite as much expected of me; I had more freedom. Starbuck and Boomer always told me I didn't know how to relax, that I could never stop being an officer.

Akilles grinned, an appealing expression that erased some of the grimness from his face. "Let's just say that, as the oldest and as heir to one Hades of a lot of power, they'll pay some attention to my request. And as Starbuck's former flight commander, I'll have more reason to want to see him than you would. When I've got permission, we can both go to the Incarceration Center." That maximum security prison was a heavily guarded orbiting station that required a special permit from MilAd to enter.

"I'll wander around."

Akilles disappeared through the broad double doors. After a few centons of staring around the square, Apollo found his way to a bench and sat down to wait.

People moved around him, occupied with their own business. If he tried, Apollo could almost imagine this was his world, that the Destruction had never happened, but was only a bad dream. Sinking into that fantasy, he realized belatedly, was dangerous; it could make him complacent, lead him to take the Cylon menace too lightly.

A brightly colored ball, a child's toy, bounced off the grass at his feet and up into his lap. He caught it automatically, then stared down at the small boy who chased the toy. The brown hair and innocent eyes stabbed him, bringing back painful memories.

"Boxey..." He still cradled the ball as he'd caught it.

"Can I have my ball, mister?"

"Boxey?"

"My son's name is Troy."

He started at the familiar voice. She stood there, next to his bench.

"Newscaster Sirona."

"Yes." She favored him with a smile.

"The Caprican image of beauty," he continued, rising from his seat.

She laughed a little. "Some say that, yes. Thank you for the compliment. And you're Captain Apollo, son of Ila, President of the Quorum of Twelve, and Commander Adama of the Galactus. Go ahead and play, Troy, but don't wander far. Do you mind if I join you, Captain?"

He saw a camera monitor duck behind one of the obelisks; another moved alongside one of the larger shrubs. Glancing back at the woman, he detected a small microphone in the folds of her collar. "If it's an interview you want, Sirona, you should know I've already turned down Zara's request."

She smiled and sat down. "I heard. I was hoping to get a few candid remarks from you, off the record, for a story I'm doing about general warrior reaction to the treaty."

"With two cameramen standing by, and a recorder in your pocket?" He looked unconvinced. But when she stood again, he caught her arm. "What kind of questions did you have in mind? Just be honest about your purpose." He couldn't bear to have her leave without hearing her voice for a little while longer. And seeing Boxey - Troy? - play nearby with his living daggit was a joy.

She sighed in consternation. "I told them to stay... Never mind. I see you've figured me out. Are you willing to talk to me on camera...?" She seemed surprised.

"Maybe. It'll depend on the questions." He smiled his most engaging and eager smile. She ignored it, but sat down again.

"All right, Captain. Let's begin with your primary objections to the Cylon peace initiative. Why are you against peace?"

He blinked. "What?"

"Is it fear of becoming obsolete?" she pressed. "We've lived through a millennium of constant turmoil, a period during which warriors have come to dominate and even control many aspects of our society. Do you think the military caste will lose its high standing if it's no longer essential to the survival of our worlds?"

"What? I..." He gaped. "I'm not against peace! I just want a true and lasting peace, not some strategic ruse-"

"Strategic ruse? Hardly a flattering term for the first opportunity for a cessation of hostilities in a millennium, Captain. I would think a man who's risked his life, become a hero many times over, would be glad that the time has come when he no longer need take such risks."

"If I believed the time had come. But having faced the Cylons in battle, knowing the way they think-"

"And being Cylons, they are incapable of changing their minds? Of realizing the futility of a war which drains the best of both our peoples without gain to either?"

"The best of us? Yes, they take the best of us. But all we're getting of them are machines - programmed killing machines. And being programmed, they can hardly 'change their minds,' as you put it."

"But they are not all programmed killed machines. And even an intelligent computer can reach conclusions about wasted effort and diminished returns. Machines can be reprogrammed! Have you perhaps come to need the risk, the danger?" She continued to bait him.

"Need the risk? Do you think I'm crazy? A ... a psychotic of some kind?"

"Is it some kind of ... stimulant you need to feel alive? You spend so much of your life concentrating on destruction. Wouldn't trying to be creative, turning to life-affirming pursuits, satisfy your yearnings? Surely you've seen enough of your companions in emotional and physical difficulty to realize the danger?"

Her confiding attitude almost drew a response from him. "Are you here to ask valid questions, or to attack my integrity and my profession?" he demanded bluntly, pulling himself together. "Is this an interview or an interrogation?"

Her wide mouth thinned momentarily, and her eyes went cold. She reached into her pocket, and he heard a small snap. "All right, Captain. Off the record. I don't like you or what you do. I believe most warriors are totally detached from the mainstream of society, and have a warped sense of which values are worth maintaining in a civilized culture. As a matter of fact, I detest you personally, and the tradition you represent. But your mother is the President, which makes what you say a matter of public interest-"

"Which I am sick and tired of being reminded of!"

"And with rumors of an effort to sabotage the treaty, your well-known opposition to it makes you the point of much interest in particular places. I would like to get your views, present them to my audience-"

"As an example of warrior irrationality and resistance to change?" He studied her flush of anger. "Your pacifist views are interfering with your objectivity in this case. For your records, then. After a thousand yahrens of war, I long for peace as much as anyone, warrior or civilian. But I have seen the enemy, fought them face-to-face, nearly sacrificed my life many times to protect this society. What I urge is caution. Make certain of what we are being offered before we commit ourselves irrevocably. That strikes me as entirely reasonable and rational. This interview is terminated."

He spied Akilles coming out of the building, looking for him. Giving a clipped nod to the woman, he went to join his brother.

"You got snared?"

"Yes," Apollo snapped, bringing his attention back to present reality. And she used Boxey ... Troy to ambush me!

"How was it?"

"Unsatisfactory for all concerned. She talked like she knew Mother and I had argued about this."

"She probably does."

"What?"

Akilles looked a bit sheepish. "We thought it necessary..."

"We? You and who else? You told the whole system about our quarrel?"

"I talked to Artemis. She's in on this, too, but she doesn't know everything yet. I thought you should see her first, for the rest of the story. And there are some others. But anyway, we let the word get out, very selectively and from odd sources, that you and Mother were in opposition."

"Why?" he almost shouted. Why draw attention to me? I don't need-

Akilles drew a deep breath, speaking carefully. "Apollo, if something goes wrong with this plot of ours, or somebody finds out too much, we can't leave any chance that Mother could be connected with it. The President of the Council simply cannot be involved in anything wearing the color of treason."

Apollo stared, appalled. "Is our father thus 'protected' as well?"

"If we fail, we fail alone. We're not taking our parents or the younger ones down with us, or anyone else. Artemis is a silent partner. What she does, no one will attribute to this. I think Kain's probably untouchable - whatever he does works out right, so we don't have to worry about him. But I'm sure you see..." His glance was appealing, asking forgiveness as well as understanding.

Apollo nodded, resigned. His brother was right. There was a lot at risk. And it'll give me a chance - and a reason - not to be home or in Mother's presence too often. I'll have more freedom of movement, and everybody'll think it's because we argued. "I hope it doesn't adversely affect what we have to do," he said. "But why bring Artemis into this?"

"She knows you too well; she'd figure out something was wrong. And besides, if it comes to it, she's a liaison to the Galactus, and to ... certain others." He frowned. "You know what a chance we're taking. We need every advantage we can get. It seemed ... a necessary risk. Now, let's go see Starbuck."

Ostara sat on her bunk, staring intently at the wall lockers, a half-smile fixed on her lips. The blank expression betrayed none of the panic in the woman's mind.

(What's happening? I don't understand!)

(You don't have to understand.) The calm assurance made him/her wary. (Just keep in mind that it's my body you're running around in, and we'll get along fine.)

(I don't remember things! Am I ... are we blacking out?)

(No. There are times I shut you out.)

(Lords of Kobol, why? How?)

(It's my mind.) Smug. (I have access to your memories and feelings, and I can control them. I can control you.)

(!) Shock.

(I intend to benefit from your "visit" here. And there's nothing you can do, except what I allow. Even when you're aware, I command.)

(And what do you intend?)

(You'll see.)

(I'll stop you if it's wrong.)

(You can't.)

There was no response from the prisoner in her mind, but she read his frantic attempts to reassert control over her body. She ignored it. Content and confident, Ostara leaned back, still smiling. She was welcome in Commander Adama's home now. Perhaps this evening was the time to begin her plan. Her contentment grew. When it was done, she'd never have to worry about anything again. It would all be taken care of.

The guards led him in, pushed him into a chair with a kind of unconscious brutality, and backed away. The fair-haired man on the other side of the visitation screen ignored the treatment and remained aloof, cool, appearing to ignore his surroundings and treatment, as if the manacles at his wrists and ankles were merely an inconvenience, the prison uniform simply a matter of different taste, and the guards a necessary but ignorable distraction.

"Well, two of Adama's golden crown. And to what do I owe this pleasure?"

Startled, Apollo glanced at his brother. The bitterness and anger in Starbuck's voice were unfamiliar and unexpected.

"Golden crown," Akilles muttered out of the side of his mouth. "You, me, Artemis, Athena, and Ares. We're expected to have great destinies ahead of us, militarily and otherwise."

As they sat down opposite the wary lieutenant, Akilles glanced at the burly guards and gestured them out of the room. The three warriors were left to speak privately. Starbuck sat on the edge of his seat, looking ready to bolt at any micron. Akilles and Apollo leaned forward, trying to keep their voices low without looking conspiratorial.

"What do you want?" Starbuck demanded suspiciously. The captain heard unhappiness under the attempted arrogance, and noticed his other-world friend had tried to cover a bruise on his temple with facial cosmetics.

The visitors exchanged glances.

"We'd like to talk about the evidence against you..." the major began.

"Can't help you there. I don't even know why I'm being held."

"Irrelevant. We know why, and we'd like to ask you about it."

"Why?" He didn't unwind at all.

"I studied the law codes at the Academy," Apollo told him - which was equally true in this universe as in his own. "If you answer some questions, we may be able to help you."

His expression changed to disbelief. "Why would you want to help me? Captain, you never liked me, and I don't recall my flight commander jumping to my defense when I was on the Pegasus."

Akilles cleared his throat in exasperation. "Lieutenant," he stated through gritted teeth, "the evidence against you has a suggestion of tampering to it. It may be entirely manufactured. Can you think of anyone who would want to see you out of the way or accused of treason?"

"You have to ask?" The cold eyes were almost mocking as he threw previous enmity in their faces.

Apollo bristled, but his brother caught his arm and held him in place. "This is a hardly a proper way to speak to your superior officers, Lieutenant."

The man snorted. "If convicted of treason, the sentence is termination. These bastards here seem to think I'm already good as dead, the way they treat me. What worse could you do to me?"

Akilles smiled grimly. "I could get you off, haul you back to the Pegasus, and refuse your request for a transfer. Then your ass is mine, and mister, you'll learn what trouble really means. There won't be a lousy duty on the ship that you won't pull ten times over. A rather appealing thought, actually. I might have to get you off just for the pleasure of making you pay for it."

Starbuck blinked, considering. "All right, Major," he said evenly. "You get me off, and my ass is yours. I won't complain if I draw long patrol for a sectar straight and latrine duty for a secton after that. But you still haven't said how you're going to get me off. And I'm afraid there's nothing I can tell you. Like I said, I've got no idea what evidence they have against me, or where it came from. Even my protector hasn't had much to say about it. So you're wasting your time here."

Akilles nodded. "Then we'll continue our own investigation, and speak with you again later."

Apollo was astonished when his brother pulled him to his feet, called to a guard, and led him toward the door. He glanced back to see the lieutenant studying the mesh screen, wrists manacled before him. There was a little more hope in those familiar features, but not much.

"Hey, brother..."

"You heard him; he doesn't know anything yet. And I'm not about to rant and accuse Baltar of treason to the man most likely to warn him. The Count got him into the Academy, after all. We'll talk to him again later, when he begins to wonder who manufactured the evidence, and why his mentor isn't rushing to defend him. For now, there're other sources to check."

"But this front he's projecting - that's not Starbuck!"

"It's the way he's always been."

"Impossible!" But it was very possible. Given this society's circumstances, his Starbuck could easily have become such an embittered, isolated man. "Couldn't we-"

"Not here!" He heard something of his own tone of command, and his father's, and had to be content for the moment.

Apollo slumped dejectedly on a couch in the family room. Akilles had returned to the Pegasus and every other member of the clan seemed to be on duty. Even Ortega was busy, speaking to a class of first-yahren cadets at the Academy. So he was home alone, with nothing to do but brood and mope over the encounters with Starbuck and Serina ... Sirona.

She's married, to one of the younger leaders of the pacifist group. And her son Boxey or Troy would never run up and ask to ride in my ship. I don't know what I could have been thinking when I saw her. I knew she had a different life here.

And Starbuck's different too. So distant, embittered. This universe has been cruel to him, I'm afraid. Is that what happens to orphans or those without connections somewhere? This place is harsher than home. The military and upper classes seem to work together on a lot of things. The pacifists are rebels, I guess, thinking peace will change the status quo in their favor. Somehow, I doubt there's much chance of that-

The door chime rang cheerfully. He jumped and ran to answer it.

"Hello."

"Starrie! Come on in. I didn't think you were able to get off today." He smiled and gestured back into the room he'd just vacated. "Sit down. We've got to talk." That gown's in excellent taste. Blue-green suits her; the previous Ostara must have had exquisite notions of color and cut. I can't imagine Starbuck taking much of an interest in shopping-

"We certainly do."

He was puzzled by the nervousness in her voice. The hand he held was cool and sweaty; her face was flushed, and her pulse seemed to be unusually fast. Had someone discovered who she really was, and what was going on?

"Something happen?" he asked.

She took a deep breath. "No, but something will soon."

"What?"

She faced him. "You're going to marry me."

The defiant words didn't register. "What?" he asked again. "Starbuck, that's a warped joke! What are you talking about?"

"You're going to marry me."

He stared.

"Because if you don't, I'm going to tell everyone the crazy tale you've been telling me about being from another universe, and trying to prevent the Cylon peace treaty from being enacted."

"The crazy tale?"

"That's what I'll say."

"Starbuck!" he faltered.

She smiled. "He's here."

"But..." Apollo was stunned, with no idea how to react.

"Your mind was empty; you were dead. There was no competition when you moved into that body. My mind, however, was only ... temporarily out of action. I'm back in charge again. Starbuck's memories are part of me, Captain, a small, locked-away, separate part of me. I know what he knows. And I can use it against you. There's nothing you or he can do about it. The price for my silence and my assistance in your scheme ... is marriage. I will be your wife. You will be my husband." Her eyes were cold.

"I don't understand."

"How many times must I repeat it?" She sounded irritated. "We are going to be married. You will, of course, get your father's blessings."

"Why? How can you..."

"It will benefit me to be sealed to you. And it will certainly benefit you to have me on your side. I'm sure we can work out an accommodation. After all, it's not as if your affections were engaged anywhere else. I know Serina was your wife there, but Sirona's married to someone else, here, and she doesn't even like you. So you might as well marry me."

Belatedly, he recalled the med tech at the hospital, who'd been so eager to entice him. Was he really that prized a catch? Akilles, why didn't you warn me about this? Lords, what'll I do now?

He tried to think fast.

"And don't try to bluff through it. Starbuck knows you too well. So I know you, too. I know you're not a wagerer. I know what you won't risk."

He stared numbly and swallowed hard. "Give me time to think about it."

"A day. There isn't really that much to think about. And the Colonies may not have much time, if you and your friend remember correctly."

"Ostara!" he pleaded. "Knowing the danger to your people, how can you make this kind of demand? You don't know what you could be getting into!"

"I'll risk it."

He thought frantically. "I could be a brute of a husband, or a scoundrel, or unfaithful. Starbuck doesn't know everything about me, about how Serina and I worked out our marriage - he was gone that whole time. There could be awful secrets..."

"Like I said, I'll risk it. You're not the same man our Captain was. From Starbuck's mind, I think I could live with you, at least long enough to get what I want - the proper standing in a caste that will survive and be even more important after the Cylons attack again. We'll come to an arrangement, if we discover we can't live with each other."

"You mean, if you decide you can't live with me. I doubt I'll have much say in the matter."

She shrugged.

"What about Starbuck's mind?" he asked heavily.

"We'll discuss him tomorrow, when we make our wedding plans."

Nothing he could suggest could convince her to change her mind. When Ostara left, she still sounded determined that he marry her.

Alone with his thoughts again, Apollo searched desperately for a way out, trying to imagine what made a woman like Ostara act as she did. What could he say to convince her to change her mind? And what would happen to the mind of his friend, trapped at the mercy of such a woman?

He groaned aloud. His personal situation was suddenly much more complicated than he'd ever anticipated.

Starbuck couldn't sleep. He lay awake and stared at the ceiling above him, feeling as cold and blank as the hard gray metal.

The Count won't help me.

They'll convict me. They'll call me a traitor and execute me.

Unless...

No. Major Akilles and Captain Apollo have no reason to help me. I don't know why they came to see me. There's no reason for them to come here, no reason at all. I won't count on them. Why would they help me? They've made it obvious often enough what they think of me. They never cared before.

It's just mind games. They want to get my hopes up, or trip me up and get me to confess to things I didn't do. Mind games.

And he's back in my dreams again.

He trusts them, but he's afraid, too. He can't be me. I'm not...

But if he...

You're the worst of the games, you know that? Who are you? Why are you taunting me this way? Don't I have enough troubles without going schizo, too? I won't plead insanity as a defense against crimes I didn't commit. Go away! Leave me alone...

But, Lords of Kobol, not too alone. I've been alone so many times.

Will they help me? I didn't do anything wrong. I'm innocent.

His thoughts ran in wild circles, fastening first on Baltar, with hope, then on Akilles and Apollo, with doubt, finally on nobody, in utter despair, afraid of trusting even himself.

If not for the guards constantly monitoring the high-security cells, Starbuck might have broken down and cried, but he wouldn't give them the satisfaction. They might not be like the elite warriors, thinking a dozen generations of heroes' blood in their veins made them better than he was, but they could still scorn a prisoner with no family or social standing. They had no reason to be considerate of an inmate, especially one who might be condemned and ordered killed in a few days. The Incarceration Asteroid was for the worst criminals in the system, for men and women accused or convicted of the most heinous crimes; the inmates here usually left after death, of old age or after the carrying-out of termination warrants.

Shame, dishonor, insanity, termination...

And all alone.

He wouldn't give the guards another reason to look down on him. He wouldn't give them another weapon with which to wound him. He clenched his fists under the blanket, and kept the bitter tears inside.

Chapter Five

Akilles stared at him, aghast. "What?"

Apollo squirmed. "Ostara insists I marry her, or she's going to tell everything," he responded flatly, wonderingly fleetingly if Zac had felt this way when answering to his older brother.

Artemis stared heavenward as the major groaned and threw himself to a couch in the family recreation room. "But why in Sagan's name did you tell her about it? Whatever possessed you...?"

"It seemed the thing to do at the time!" he retorted defensively. I can't explain she was actually Starbuck for a while. He doesn't care for Starbuck, anyway. He's just helping him for my sake, and on an off-chance that Starbuck can be convinced to help us convict Baltar.

"Maybe someone else could talk to her?" Artemis asked more gently, glancing between the men.

Akilles ignored her. "How much does she really know about you, the plan?"

"Too much. Everything."

"Including what's at stake? How can she be willing to risk the safety and survival of the entire Colonies on this?"

Apollo stared at his hands, wishing this interrogation wasn't taking place. "She ... seems to have decided I'm worth it ... or at least, what she can gain by being sealed to me is worth it." The other man grumbled in disgust. "I've considered telling her it was all a big mistake, a mental problem I had for a few days. I don't think she'd buy it - she knows you believe me - and a psychiatric review board would lock me up for it. Besides, she still knows what we're trying to do, and that could conceivably get us all executed for treason if we push the issue, which wouldn't help the Colonies at all."

It was hard to meet Akilles' grim expression. "Then I guess you'll have to marry her, won't you? I assume you haven't talked to Father about this yet?"

"No. I was hoping there'd be a way out." How can I marry a woman I don't even know? And one with Starbuck's consciousness occasionally floating to the surface? That'd be like... His mind shied away from completing a thought he found both morally objectionable and personally repugnant. I can't make a commitment to any woman here, even if I loved her, until I know what happens next, if our plan succeeds, if the Colonies survive. And then I have to try and find a way home. I can't give up and stay here forever without trying...

"Since there doesn't seem to be a way around it, of course you have my blessings in this mismatch - and my support if Father doesn't like it. I have very little choice, either, since the woman presumably knows my part as well, and we can't risk our credibility now."

Apollo shook his head unhappily at his brother's sarcasm.

Akilles sighed. "I have to get back to the Pegasus. We'll be pulling escort duty for the Star Kobol and the peace delegation in a few days-"

"So soon?" Apollo asked softly.

"Yes. And Mother's going with it, along with a gaggle of newscasters and petty diplomats to record it all and analyze every word of the treaty discussions. We'll reach Kobol in a secton or so - the talks are being held there for symbolic purposes, though our destination is another classified secret - unless you tell Ostara and she passes it along to the wrong people."

Damn it, Akilles, I'm not stupid! This wasn't my doing. But you wouldn't believe the truth if I told you. Or maybe you would; that might be worse.

"We'll have to pull back then, of course. No warships in the treaty zone." Akilles mimicked some pompous bureautician's order.

"Don't go too far back," Apollo pleaded.

"We don't intend to. Kain's got some ideas of his own for that mission. And we plan to be ready if the Cylons pick that moment to attack us."

He directed his attention to Artemis. "And the Galactus will be on the alert, too. A disciplinary action, I believe?"

She nodded, with a sly grin. "It seems our warriors are anticipating peace, and some have been celebrating too hard, too soon. Some friends on the Solarius and Atlantus will have things ready there. Maybe other ships too, by then."

"And ground bases?"

"Likewise," she answered briefly. "How soon does Ostara want this wedding?"

"As soon as possible. Once the treaty business is over, she doesn't have much of a hold on me, and she knows it. I suspect she'll want things settled before the Armistice."

"Makes sense. Okay, little brother. Better talk to the Commander this evening. Things'll start happening pretty fast, from here on out."

"I know." He hesitated a moment. "Would you check on Starbuck again before going back on active duty?"

The older man looked exasperated. "I think we've already done enough for that ungrateful... He doesn't seem to care whether he lives or dies, Apollo. Why are you so concerned about him? You never bothered much when he was on- Oh, I forgot. He must've been more important in your ... previous life."

"A ... little." They don't know about Starbuck, and I'm certainly not going to tell them the whole truth now.

"I'll get you another pass," Akilles sighed. "After that, it's up to you."

"Thanks, big brother."

Apollo watched Akilles stride out of the room. Taking a deep breath, he turned to Artemis, who'd been mostly silent so far. "Well? You got any words on my incredible stupidity, as Akilles put it?"

An anxious smile played unwillingly across her face. "Well, I'm not happy about you being blackmailed into marrying her. I'd rather see you with someone you love... Uh ... you were spending time together before she delivered her ultimatum. You must've enjoyed her company. Do you think it could work out, somehow?"

Starbuck's in there, too. We'd probably get along in most circumstances, but this... She's got no right to ask this of me, and no right to expect that he could... Damn! And she is a lovely woman. I told myself I was being "objective" when I commented on that - just teasing Starbuck, right? Now, I feel like... Well, I've got a few requests of my own she'll have to listen to, if this is going to be a real sealing. She knows about Serina too, and that doesn't make any difference to her, that I still care for someone else. Shouldn't let it matter to me, either, that she's alive here. This Sirona is a different woman; she'd never care for me.

"We'll work something out, I'm sure," he told her stiffly.

Her smile wavered, then grew. "I wish you all the best, cousin. I want this to work for you. You may not be the kid I grew up with, but you're still special, and you deserve happiness in your life. Especially if you have to live your life in someone else's body, in a world strange to you."

"Not completely strange, thankfully, and at least I know the body." She knows she doesn't exist anymore in the world I left behind, but she accepts it, and me, without reserve. I'm glad there are a few people here I can depend on. Like Ortega. That's the one you're interested in, isn't it? Once Ostara's part of the family, maybe something can come of you two. "Artemis, I wish you the best, too. I've got a few ... ideas about you ... and Ortega."

She blushed, but looked grateful.

"You're doing what?"

"Apollo and I are getting married - soon," Ostara repeated, trying to keep up her smile in the face of her cousin's dismay.

"I just find it ... hard to believe, on such short notice... I didn't think you two even liked each other, until a few days ago."

"And because we haven't always gotten along, we've no right to change our feelings now?" She shrugged carefully. "Sometimes, when you suddenly see a person's true character, it doesn't take long for something to develop..."

"Have you talked to Commander Adama yet?"

"No. Why are you so upset?" Ostara couldn't understand his reaction to the news. Somewhere inside, she "heard" a smirk, and realized her guest was enjoying her discomfort.

"Starrie, the Commander got me into the Academy, and you, too. He's helped us both along for yahrens, been someone we could turn to. If he doesn't approve of this - and he very well might not - well ... how can you even...? Starrie, don't do anything he'd disapprove of. We can't antagonize him, even if we were ungrateful enough to-"

"I'm doing this for you, too, Ortega!" she snapped, tired of his nervous objections. "Don't you deserve a change to make captain before you're a hundred yahrens old? You could command a starship, maybe even a battlestar! But you have to have the right connections, you have to be part of the warrior elite. With Apollo and his family to call on, you'll have that. And our children won't have to sit on an Academy waiting list for five to ten yahrens before even being considered for admission. Maybe you and Artemis can even-"

"You're doing this for me?" His handsome blond features twisted in dismay. "Starrie, don't! You and Apollo... Well, you're two of the people I care most about in this universe. I want you both to be happy. This ... union for the sake of career advancement... You can't sacrifice yourself, and I won't let you sacrifice him. How could you?"

"Damn it, Ortega!" She stamped her foot, listening in growing rage to that gleeful voice inside her.

"Ostara!"

She whirled away from him. "Cousin, I'm doing this for the best of all concerned." Even you, Starbuck, whether you believe it or not. Stop laughing at me. You knew this would happen... "Apollo needs someone to take care of him. It might as well be me. And you can certainly use the career boost. You know he'll be pleased to call you kinsman, and Artemis-"

"But do you care for him? Does he care for you? In any way? I have to know. If this is as cold as it sounds, I can't support it..."

She closed her eyes and clenched her fists, then reached deliberately for the part of her mind that she'd entirely shut out for almost a secton. From Starbuck's memories and feelings, she carefully extracted one bit of knowledge: his friendship with Apollo, and the certainty that he would - and almost had, on several occasions - give his life for him. She made that emotion part of herself.

Ostara opened her eyes again, sighing deeply. "Ortega, I care for him. And I could easily learn to care more. He's changed since his injuries. I believe he is coming to feel something for me, and will come to feel more," she told him in all sincerity. "Give us your blessings, please, cousin?"

Ortega finally smiled, then embraced her. "I wish you both the best, Starrie. And I'll stand by you both at your sealing, and after until ... 'til Hades shines with Kobol's light!"

She laughed and hugged him back.

Apollo was alone in the neat dwelling that could comfortably house seven. The President, his mother, was on the Star Kobol, preparing for the voyage and peace talks. His father, siblings, and cousin were aboard their assigned ships. Left with his thoughts, he considered how to live the rest of his life in this alternate reality. Roaming the empty floors, staring out at the planned gardens and paths, he wondered how it would be, sealed to a woman he scarcely knew, because he had no choice, getting acquainted with a world so slightly different...

Assuming they somehow survived the Cylons.

Commander Adama came home that evening, interrupting the young warrior's solitary supper. Apollo quickly finished eating and put his dishes away. Their conversation turned from general matters as they adjourned to the solarium overlooking the capital. Through the huge windows, with the lights turned off, they had the fantastic view Ila had designed the room for.

"You look well," the older man observed as they sat down on a bench. From there, the two men could see the lights of Caprica City blazing like a sickle around the darkness of the bay; when the moons rose, the bay would gleam like a grain field at harvest season.

"I'm feeling pretty well," Apollo replied carefully. He had to choose his words with special caution tonight. There was no way to avoid telling his father that he would be married in a few days, but he had no intention of revealing the true reason for the hasty sealing.

"Well enough to return to the Galactus? I talked to the doctors today. They feel there would be no difficulty reinstating your commission and returning you to active duty in time for the Armistice."

He grimaced. "Uh ... Father, if I could, I'd like to have an extended leave now, if you're willing to allow it." He swallowed, seeing his father's questioning eyes. "With the Armistice coming in a secton or so, there should be no difficulty about it - no combat expected..." It wasn't easy to lie to this man - he'd never been able to lie to his father.

"If you wish, son, I can do that..." Adama sounded disappointed.

"Uh ... I've got a reason for my request." He forced a smile, hoping his anxiety wasn't showing. "I hope you'll give Lt. Ostara leave as well. You see ... we'd like to be married in a few days..."

"What?" Adama was stunned.

Apollo rushed ahead before doubts and objections could come to the other man's mind. "It just ... seemed to come together for us, since we were both in the hospital... And we'd like to make a special gesture, sort of a symbol of hope for the end of the war, if you understand what I mean ... getting married now... A new life, for all of us..."

The commander searched his face, then finally smiled slightly. "Your mother would be very pleased to hear you say that, Apollo. To know you accept peace as a new way..."

"Yes." He looked down, swallowing. There were times he forgot Ila still existed in this universe; she'd been gone so long in his. "Well, Ostara convinced me to try a new life. We ... plan to face it together."

"Apollo," Adama began hesitantly, "I know what this will mean to your mother. She would hate to miss your sealing. Could you move the date up, have the ceremony before she leaves for the conference? I know that only gives you two days, but it would mean so much to her - this silence between you has been hard on her as well, it would be a gesture of reconciliation for you both. And I would be only too happy to perform the ceremony for you, to start you on your way..."

His first impulse was a horror-stricken "no!" Then he reconsidered. He had to get married anyway, and to make peace with his mother now... It would also give him more time later, if he had to act quickly.

"If Ostara's willing..." And I'm sure she will be.

"She's not exactly what I expected for you, son," Adama cautioned, "although she is a warrior, and from a good family. But I'm sure your mother will be pleased at your choice. If we're to learn the ways of peace, we have to get over our elitist attitudes. Ila will be glad to hear you're looking forward."

"What about you, Father?"

"Your happiness is what's important to me, Apollo. And I must admit, I did notice how she slipped away after you at the party, and that neither of you returned for several centars. I didn't expect you both to be this serious."

"You'll miss Mother while she's gone, won't you?" He was glad to change the subject. Their discussion was getting uncomfortably personal.

Adama nodded. "I always missed her when I was away on a duty tour, when you all were younger. Then she became active in politics again, and she was the one who was always gone. Now, we scarcely see each other, it seems. But we'll be together soon, and we've still got many yahrens ahead to spend with each other."

They sat silently, enjoying the calm, beautiful night.

There are things I'd forgotten about you and Mother. But I see them now, all the clearer for knowing. Lords of Kobol, how can it be with me and Ostara? How am I ever going to adjust?

Three of their five days were gone. Wilker thought he'd made a breakthrough in his study of the delicate alien machinery, and quickly shared it with his comrades. Lt. Boomer scanned his theories, then stared hard at the scientist.

"So what it means," he said finally, "is that this device really is a transportation system - and the inventors somehow found a way to skip between dimensions as well as locations, either physically or psychically."

"Precisely." The doctor looked pleased as he set down his computron.

"And what happened is that Apollo and Starbuck, or their minds or spirits, anyway, were somehow sent away into one of those alternate dimensions."

"Yes."

He sat back and blew a gusty sigh. "That's hard to believe."

"But it does explain why their bodies are still alive, and with such low brain wave readings. Don't you agree, Dr. Paye?"

The medical specialist, who'd had a boring few days, nodded skeptically. "It seems a logical deduction, but whether this machine actually works the way you postulate..."

"Oh, but it does. I'd stake my life on it."

"It's not your life that's being staked," Boomer reminded him. "It's Apollo and Starbuck who are at risk. And me."

"You?"

"Absolutely. You said yourself, right here..." He jabbed at the computations and diagrams on the table before them. "That the physical can be transmitted as well as the mental. And those little disks seem to be the recall buttons. Someone has to go where they've gone, with the recall device, and signal you to bring us all back."

"But, Lieutenant, with this alien machinery-"

"It's the only way," Boomer interrupted. "We need you here to continue studying the equipment, to make sure it works when I find them. It may take a warrior to survive wherever they are, if their minds still survive somehow. When they're found, someone has to prepare their bodies here to receive their minds back. You're the best one to handle the technical aspects of all that. I'm best prepared to face a possibly hostile world; humans may not be able to live there at all. You've pinpointed the ... location, for lack of a better word, where they were sent to, but you don't know anything about the place."

The scientist looked displeased. "I've done the best I can under the circumstances, with the need for haste-"

"I'm not questioning that. But you do your job, and I'll do mine."

"And you won't let anyone else go looking for them?"

The warrior looked grim. "It could be a one-way trip."

"It won't be!" The scientist glared back. "The scientific possibilities-"

"We could inquire of Commander Adama-"

"All right!" Wilker snapped. "Get ready, then. We don't have a lot of time, and as you said, we don't know how long the search may take."

Three days after Ostara delivered her ultimatum to Apollo, two days after he spoke to Akilles and Adama, the young couple was quietly married in the captain's family home. It was a small party - the parents and siblings of the groom, his cousin Artemis, his brother's new fiancé Saba and her father, the bride's parents and cousin Ortega, and a handful of close friends who could respond to the invitation on a day's notice. Commander Adama performed the ceremony, while Ortega and Artemis stood up as official witnesses.

After a quiet dinner, the group dispersed. Cmdr. Kain, Maj. Akilles, and Lt. Saba returned to the Pegasus, while President Ila headed back to the Star Kobol; the peace envoy would be leaving in a few centars. Cmdr. Adama, Lt. Athena, Lt. Ortega, and Sgt. Ares left for the Galactus. Their friends, mostly warriors and a few bureauticians, departed with them.

When Ostara's parents excused themselves at the same time, the couple was left to spend their first night in his parents' home. After the Armistice was signed, they could have a real sealing trip, her mother joked proudly, obviously pleased and a bit awed at the caliber of the company.

After several uncomfortable moments, the woman disappeared, murmuring something about changing from the uncomfortably tight sealing gown. The groom elected to remain in his dress uniform. He listened to her nervous steps for a moment, then drifted toward the liquor cellar, thoughtfully left unlocked for the occasion. He chose a bottle of old ambrosa, returned to the family room, and poured himself a tall drink.

She returned after a short time. "Apollo."

"Ostara," he acknowledged with a grave nod. It was difficult to ignore the low-cut, simple while satin shift, but he turned his head.

"I still answer to Starrie," she suggested hopefully.

"I'll try to remember," he responded briefly. "Would you like a drink?"

"As long as you're having one..."

He emptied the chalice in one long gulp, then refilled it, pouring one for her as well. She tasted it appreciatively.

"Good ambrosa."

"Should be. It's nearly four hundred yahrens old. I understand my great-grandfather purchased it on his own sealing day."

"You're being awfully formal." She touched his arm. "You could at least put aside that cape; it's got to be warm..."

"What do you expect from this marriage, Ostara?" He held the cup between like a barrier. There had been no time to talk in the hectic few days since her announcement and this moment. He had no idea how far she intended to carry the public farce of peace and romance having swept them off their feet.

She looked down. "The same as every woman expects. A husband." Her voice dropped huskily on her last words, and she studied him through lowered eyelids.

He ignored the seductive glance and inviting half-smile. "I see. Well, you have one." He took another drink.

"Apollo..."

"Look, Starrie. You're a beautiful woman, I admit that. But we barely know each other. And I can't forget that Starbuck's in your mind somewhere, too, participating in your life. I can't be expected... I'd feel... It'd be unnatural, for me..." He sat down heavily, delivering his words with difficulty. "Do you understand that? You know what Starbuck meant ... means to me, and in what ways... This..."

"I see your dilemma," she finally admitted. "But I already told you, I control my own mind. I can block him out completely. It's just you and me, Apollo. And I think we might even come to enjoy ... our life..." She sat down, leaning toward him, hands running familiarly under his cape, tugging at his shirt.

He caught her wrists almost cruelly. "Can you guarantee it?" he demanded bluntly. To even think of Starbuck being aware of how she was dressed, how she was acting, what she seemed to want - was this supposed to make up for the circumstances? His friend would feel humiliated, angry, ashamed.

"You are my husband. I am your wife. It's our wedding night. I have a certain right-"

"What about my rights? And his?"

She stared rebelliously. "I don't understand. I told you-"

"Stop it, Ostara!" he interrupted, then took a deep breath. "Just give me time. Not tonight. Maybe tomorrow." He needed time to adjust to more than just being married.

She went to the ambrosa bottle, poured herself a second glass, and pushed another refill at him. Then she went to turn down the lights.

He laughed mirthlessly. "Get me drunk and take advantage of me? Maybe I should've expected that. You're not taking any chances, or leaving any loopholes for this farce to be declared null and void."

"No tricks, Apollo. Just you and me. And the future. Maybe children-"

He nearly choked in shock.

She smiled defiantly at that, as though she'd found another weak spot, and continued cajoling him. "I know how you feel about children, Apollo. I know about Boxey. But there could be children here, when this crisis is over. I could be a very good mother. Think of the future."

Starbuck, a mother? Lords of Kobol... He tried to move away from her.

She caught his hand. Something in her expression wasn't right.

"No. Not tonight!"

"Apollo..." she whispered, entreating softly.

The ambrosa was hitting him too fast. She knelt before him, staring intently into his eyes. He studied her in return, then silently held out his chalice. She tipped the bottle again.

"Can you swear...?" The low-cut gown gaped. His resolve weakened.

"I already have." Her lips were inviting, full and quivering. "I prepared for tonight. He's not here. I knew what you'd want. I understand. Or do you find me so hateful for what I've done that you won't even touch me?" She stroked his cheek, her eyes wide and luminous in the dim light.

"Damn!" he groaned, then firmly pushed aside their chalices. He pulled the bottle from her grasp and set it beside the cups. She reached for him, hands eagerly exploring his body. He quickly found the clasp of her gown, pulling it open without preamble. But when she tried to tug away his shirt, he stopped her. In this, at least, he thought drunkenly, he would be in command. See if she wanted what she said she did... Stifling her momentary protest with his own mouth, he dragged her to the floor with him. Any awkwardness was swiftly dispensed with.

It was late dusk. Boomer, clad in civilian garb and with a wallet full of assorted currencies, appeared in the shadows of the square before the Military Administration Building. He studied the too-familiar surroundings in shock before stepping into the light.

"Caprica City," he breathed. "This isn't possible..."

The task suddenly became easier, and infinitely harder. He recognized the terrain, which was always an advantage. But finding two lost minds in a world where everything was familiar might be impossible. Just how similar was this mirror image to what he remembered? And how had it come to be so?

He heard human laughter. Studying the people passing by, listening to the language they spoke, he could almost believe this really was what it appeared to be. But can that be possible?

Boomer reached for the reassuring recall disk under his shirt, made into a small pendant he could wear at all times. Somewhat comforted, he wandered to a nearby news vending machine. The print was readable. Everything about the place said home.

Another dimension. A place like home, but not home. I never believed in this sort of thing. Where do I begin to search? How do I contact them if I think I've found them?

The currency he possessed was quickly accepted, and he purchased a handful of news crystals to study, their listed dates leaving him cold and jittery.

After the Destruction, as we know it. The date is right for when I left. At least I haven't sidestepped time.

Then, noting the darkening skies and rising moons, he headed for a good, quiet hotel he remembered from before the Destruction, one with public access to certain historical archives. He had a lot of learn, and not much time, but there was nothing he could do in the middle of the night.

Striding down the street, he suddenly found himself face-to-face with a man for whom he had nothing but contempt, a man who had betrayed his world, killed a fellow warrior, nearly allowed a friend to be sent to the grid barge for that crime, and almost murdered the flight commander of the Galactica. The man stared back in ashen-faced shock, mouthing syllables the lieutenant recognized as his name.

The small crowd swirled between them, and Boomer drifted into the shadows of an alley. He wondered what role Karibdis played on this world. Grimly, he decided that if there was time, he would find out.

Chapter Six

Boomer awoke, momentarily disoriented. Then, as he slowly made his way to the window and stared out at the wide, too-familiar avenue, he recognized a monument, then another. A moment later, it burst on him. This was Caprica City, alive and all-pervasive as it had been in its glory days, just before the Destruction. It was a city that could not be. The night came back to him, the long centars spent combing the news crystals and recent history archives, finding out...

That I'm dead. I'm dead, here, killed in a stupid equipment malfunction. He took a deep breath of the fresh, live air from outside. Well, that means nobody'll be looking for me - but my fingerprints or image show up anywhere, and somebody's going to start asking questions. And I'll be hard to explain.

But at least Apollo and Starbuck are here, if they're the same ones I'm looking for... I wish I knew what to do next. I suppose, contact them somehow, see how they react. But if they aren't the ones I'm looking for, they'll probably die of shock. And I can't afford to show up where I might be recognized. Out on the street is one thing. I can deal with that; it's what I grew up with. But I can't show up at the Incarceration Center and ask to see the man who let me die - hard to believe Starbuck had any part of that. They'd probably think it was all a plot, like this trumped-up treason charge they got him on...

But this isn't home. What if there's some truth to it...? He headed for the turboshower, troubled, considering what he should do.

Apollo woke with a serious hangover and a feeling of total self-disgust. Several gulped pain pills and a long turboshower helped both problems. Toweling off later, he heard light steps in the other room, and decided Ostara was up and about as well. As he hastily finished donning his uniform, she reappeared in the bedchamber.

"Good morning!" she called brightly. "Like some breakfast? I'm a great cook, as you'll soon find out."

"Uh, I don't think I could keep anything down just yet. Later, maybe." He tried to ignore her fresh face and combed hair - she was obviously in better shape than he.

"All right." She sank down on the edge of the unmade bed. "Got plans for today? Your family's back on duty, of course, and mine went home, but I suspect we could find something to occupy ourselves with - maybe a skycar trip over the islands?"

"I've got something I have to do first," he interrupted. "Probably be gone all morning. Oops, maybe 'til mid-afternoon." He caught his first glimpse of the chronometer, and realized most of the morning was already gone."

"Won't people think it strange to abandon your bride the day after the sealing?"

Apollo didn't need to be teased, especially not by a wife he hadn't wanted. But when he turned to tell her so, he got his first good look at her.

"What...?" Heat suffused his cheeks as she saw the slight swelling of her lips; purplish finger-shaped marks showed distinctly on her bared wrist; the high neckline and loose sleeves might cover other bruises as well. "Good lord! Did I...? Starrie, I'm sorry about last night. I had too much to drink, I guess..."

Her smile faltered a bit, and she seemed to withdraw. "What you said last night was that you didn't like being used, and something about turnabout."

"I'm sorry..." Memories came back quickly. He didn't like the sour taste that rose in his throat with those memories. He'd been rough, even brutal. Why had she been so insistent on having this immediately become a real marriage? But that was no justification for his response; there was no excuse. "It's not... I'm not..."

She forced a smile. "I guess I deserved it if you were a bit ... demanding. I kept pushing the issue. It wasn't all bad, so let's both forget it happened, all right? But don't ever think you'll get away with it again. You won't like what I might do, and your friend won't either. Next time, it won't be me."

His mouth tightened. "I can imagine," he stated flatly. "I assure you, however, that wasn't my usual behavior."

"I expect not. Now, shall we forget it, and go on to more usual pursuits and topics for newly-weds?"

"Like I said, I really don't have the time. I've got a pass to the Incarceration Center for today, and I intend to use it."

"Visiting Starbuck again?" she persisted.

"Yes. Watch the house 'til I get back." Apollo hesitated, then decided he would do his best to play the role she'd arranged for him. He owed her that, at least, he decided guiltily. Leaning over, he kissed her perfunctorily on the cheek. "Good bye, wife."

"Husband." Her smile was pleased. She waited until he was gone, then, with a contented sigh, she reached into the closed portion of her thoughts.

(Where have the last four days gone?)

(I didn't realize you marked the passage of time.)

(I do. What have you done?) Demanding.

(I got married. To Apollo. It's the morning after.)

(!) Shock. Desperation. (You can't...!)

(Already done. I think he'll make a good husband and father.)

(! No! Erase me. You said you could. I don't want to live in a corner of your mind while you "allow" it, while you use us both. You know what we're up against. Lords, how can I face him?)

(You have no choice. I need your memories. Believe it or not, I am concerned about what happens to my Colonies. And what you know can help me make him happy.) Sincerity?

(I'm supposed to believe you care about making him happy?) Skepticism.

(I do care. Try sharing my day. You might like it.)

(I'm not interested in your day. I'm not interested in seeing what kind of "wife and mother" you ... we make to his "husband and father." What happened last night?) Aura of humiliation, threaded with fearful fascination, unconcealable need to know.

(None of your business.) Bravado. Shame?

An insistent chime interrupted the quarrel between the occupants of Ostara's body. Permitting Starbuck to remain aware, she made her way to the front door, checking to see who it was. Perhaps Apollo had forgotten something.

No. That dark-skinned, black-haired man in civilian clothing was not her husband, but he was familiar to her - to both parts of her. Ostara nearly fainted when she saw him; Starbuck took advantage of her lapse to yelp for joy, realizing instantly what the newcomer's presence must mean.

She slid open the door, smiling widely at the visitor. He returned a polite but uncomprehending nod, not recognizing her. Of course!

"Excuse me, I'm looking for Captain Apollo. I'm an old friend..."

She grabbed his arm and pulled him in. "I know who you are. C'mon in, Boomer! I am so glad to see you..."

Apollo was admitted to the Incarceration Center without question, and was shown at once to the visitation chambers. After a few centons, Starbuck was ushered into his presence. The guards cast dark looks when he motioned them to leave, but they obeyed.

"So you're back." The prisoner still had a chip on his shoulder, along with the manacles at his wrists and ankles, but he seemed a little more interested, or maybe more desperate for any help available.

"I don't give up easily."

"So I see." The smile was unwilling and slow, but it came.

"Care to talk?"

"Like I said last time, I don't know anything." The man's expression hardened fatalistically. "If it depends on me..."

"What happened?" Attuned to his old friend's mood shifts, Apollo realized something must have happened in the intervening days.

Starbuck was obstinate for a moment; then he sighed heavily, and his chin dropped to his chest. He studied the manacled hands clasped motionlessly before him. "Somehow, I guess I expected Count Baltar to intervene. Not only hasn't he, but it sounds like he's completely disowned me." The hurt and despair couldn't be missed. "Guess he doesn't want to risk the glorious future he's got now, admitting to harboring a vicious traitor. He'd rather cut me loose to sink on my own."

Grimly, Apollo thought that was exactly how the count would react. He wouldn't risk his plot now, not for anyone. Certainly not for a client warrior who would be dead soon in any case, for treason or by Cylon fire. Especially if he had set up that warrior to take precisely this fall.

Carefully, he asked, "Have you considered the possibility that the treason may rest ... somewhere among Baltar's people? That one of his own is letting you take the blame for his actions?" Or set you up deliberately for it. But Akilles was right about not focusing on him yet, not 'til I know which way you'll lean.

"I've had to think about it. It's all I've been able to think about. I don't know why anyone would want to go to the trouble of setting up this kind of scheme..." He gestured helplessly; the clanking chain was a cruel reminder. "Why?" he repeated. "I'm just a warrior, working my way up, not even one of your elite. I'm not important enough to set up for anything."

"Your very unimportance may be why it's so easy to abandon you."

He could see that the unpalatable idea had already occurred to the lieutenant. "Yeah."

Apollo turned back to business, deliberately giving Starbuck a moment to recover his composure. "Well, some tech first reported his suspicions about a computer search, and some erased files, and Charon confirmed the veracity of the evidence."

"Charon? Oh, yeah, the guy we called Proteus, Baltar's aid. But what could he- Captain?"

The warrior had suddenly gone pale. Charon! Another name for Proteus. We called him Karibdis. He's the one who sabotaged the defense computers on Caprica the night of the attack. He's an expert. He could make up the necessary evidence without any difficulty, if Baltar wanted it. And he's got plenty of reason for making someone else look like the villain. So he's here, too...

But now that I know, I can do something. Caprica, at least, won't be left unguarded when the Cylons attack.

"Captain?" The other man looked concerned. "Are you all right?"

He collected himself. "Yes, of course. Uh ... the evidence suggested you were communicating with both recognized Cylon agents and a group of suspected saboteurs who may be working against the treaty."

Starbuck stared in disbelief. "Impossible!"

Apollo's mind was far away. I have to contact Akilles. We must have men guarding each of the installations, men we can trust.

"Lieutenant," he said abruptly, "give me a list of Baltar's chief operatives, every man and woman you know who looks after his interests in the Colonies."

The change of topics was perplexing. "What?

"Especially anyone he saw ... surreptitiously, people who might have come to his home instead of his public offices, worked on special projects, been evasive about their duties."

Now the man looked downright bewildered. "Captain, I was on the Pegasus, not working for him. I'm a warrior..."

"Do you remember anyone?" he pressed.

"Besides Charon? Uh... I can't think of anyone, not recently. But Charon is the man you'd want to talk to. I think he coordinates everything for Count Baltar."

"That's what I needed to know. Thank you."

"But I haven't told you anything."

"You've told me enough." Knowing who Charon was, Apollo could take action.

The young prisoner looked unconvinced. He had a few questions of his own, but seemed not to expect much in the way of answers. There was one thing, however, that he had to ask.

"Captain Apollo," he demanded, impulsively catching the other man's arm before he could rise to leave. "One thing. Why? Why are you bothering to try to help me? You and your brother? There's nothing I can give you..."

The securing chain rested across his wrist. Apollo flinched, staring at it, for a panicked moment feeling as shackled as his friend. He considered the question. Starbuck still seemed unsure whether this was an honest offer of help or yet another kind of betrayal or joke he didn't understand.

"Don't sell yourself short, Lieutenant," he stated evenly. You're worth a little effort. And why from me?" He studied Starbuck more closely. "I believe you're innocent. I can't not do something. It's my duty to someone who served under me. Someone who could've been my friend, under a little different circumstances. You still might be, when this is over."

"I think you really mean that." Starbuck seemed dumbfounded.

"I do. Take it easy. I expect we'll have you out of here in a few days."

"I don't have many days. My protector hasn't been able to come up with any kind of defense for me, and it comes before the tribunal in two more days. They want it settled before the Armistice..."

"None of that surprises me," Apollo replied briskly. Thank the Lords the justice system works a little slower here where treason trials are concerned! "In two days, you'll be a free man, and vindicated."

"Yes, sir. If you say so." He sounded doubtful.

"I do." Apollo left him with a lot to think about.

"Anybody home?" The unseen man belonging to the voice paused momentarily in the kitchen before proceeding through the house. The two in the commander's office waited patiently for him to find them. It didn't take long. Boomer painted an odd grin on his face as the captain came breezing into the room, munching on a sandwich.

"We have company," the woman said politely, a hint of laughter in her voice. "Most unkind, wouldn't you say, to interrupt a couple during their wedding seclusion?"

"Boomer!" Apollo yelped, throwing himself at the man with a whoop of joy. The food dropped to the floor, forgotten.

"Hey, Captain, easy! Don't wrinkle the merchandise. And try not to talk with your mouth full." It was good to see Apollo intact and apparently undamaged, eerie as it also was to remember his other self, lying silently in a life pod, sustained only by its mechanical hum.

The dark-haired man laughed, then glanced quickly at the quiet woman stooping to gather up the scattered bits of bread and meat.

"Don't worry, Apollo. I'm here too," she commented meaningfully.

Boomer chose to ignore the strained silence that followed. There was nothing he could do about the situation as it had been explained to him. Starbuck would soon be back in his own body, anyway, leaving this woman to her own mind. He skipped over the consequences for the Apollo of this universe, who had been legally and physically dead when his body was essentially reanimated by the captain's mind.

"Right." The captain seemed to ignore the woman after that, as though it was easier to deal with her that way. It was an uncomfortable feeling all the way around. "Boomer, with what I've learned today, you are just the person we need right now. Starbuck..."

"Ours or this world's?" he had to ask, laughing again.

"This world's. It seems Baltar's his patron, and he knows a little about the man - very little, unfortunately, but enough. Remember the man who sabotaged Caprica's main defense computers? Karibdis?"

"That adaka? I've seen him. He looked surprised to see me. How much do we know about him?"

"His name here is Charon, and his code name is still Proteus. But this time, we've got hm. You're an expert at electronics and other small bits of equipment, right? Well, guess what we're going to do now, with all the clearances I can muster and the fact that you no longer exist here..."

"What are you doing here?"

The slim brunette whirled. She colored slightly, smiling uncertainly. "I, uh, seem to be lost."

"You must be. This area's restricted." His eyes kept traveling over her body, clad in something clinging and black. "Maybe I can direct you to where you're going? After all, I'd hate to see you get in trouble for a little thing like this..."

She cocked her head as he stepped closer, a certain eagerness showing through his quick moves. He thought he had her cold, and obviously expected easy answers from her, and perhaps a bit of special "compensation" in exchange for some "consideration." The woman's expression remained inviting for a moment more, then she moved.

Matched blows to the sides of his close-cropped head dropped the simian where he stood. Her eyes gleamed as she gestured her two friends from the shadows.

"Good move, Starrie," Apollo whispered.

"Yeah. The men of this universe seem to need a little taking down," she quipped lightly. "I'm not quite used to this frame, though, the way I've been fading in and out. My hands are tingling."

Apollo and Boomer smothered guffaws. Then the dark-clothed men dragged the big security guard back into the shadows. Ostara took the opportunity to pull off the wig, spilling her blonde hair about her shoulders.

"Keep it handy," Apollo admonished. "And keep the contacts in. You may have to entice another guard before this night's over."

"I think I may have missed my calling," she whispered loudly. "Should've been a socialator and a burglar."

"Nice combo," Apollo retorted. "So what do you call yourself now?"

"You're taking this too lightly, Starbuck," Boomer grunted. "We could all go to jail for this, and join you up on that floating grid barge."

"Don't confuse me!" the woman flared. "I got enough problems keeping Ostara straight from Starbuck. So try 'Starrie' while we're here, okay? Or they'll put us away for lunatics, while they try to figure out what you're doing still alive."

Her old friend merely grinned, shaking his head. He still hadn't completely adjusted to Starbuck's present condition. And it was obviously Starbuck and Ostara didn't mesh well as one person, and resented the current situation. Boomer wondered how it was affecting them both emotionally.

"Here!" they heard Apollo call. It was only the auxiliary computer access chamber of the private security company they'd broken into, but this particular company had connections with the military and did business for certain members of the Quorum of Twelve, as well as other established powers in the Colonies.

"How do we get in, Captain? Since you've become the computer expert."

Apollo ignored Boomer's mild jibe and accessed the main computer library with the codes he'd appropriated from his mother's files. The President had never expected to have to safeguard the information from her own son - that, or the previous Apollo had helped himself to information that remained available to the current one.

Boomer leaned over the screen as data flickered across it, and silenced the computer voice before it could ask for identification. "What files are we looking for?"

"Anything pertaining to Baltar..."

Half a centar of intent study told them a lot about the count's business and security dealing, but nothing helpful to Starbuck's case, or explaining why evidence against him had been manufactured. Also, they were getting nervous. Another guard could be along at any time.

"Well? What do we try now? We've looked at everything they have on him."

Apollo's mind raced as he looked over the list. It suddenly struck him. "Try his master file again."

"We've already looked at that half a dozen times! There's nothing there!"

"A scrambler code. It has to be. We've got his files - ask for Carillon."

For a moment, the computer whirred in near-silence. Then an entirely new series of file names appeared. Apollo and Boomer began running unscrambler codes on them. The three warriors watched as routine dealings with the Cylons concerning the tylium mines on that planet were displayed.

"Who could have known there was so much tylium there?" Ostara breathed in awe. Both parts of her were surprised at what they were discovering, and both minds crawled with disgust that Baltar had gotten away with it for so long.

Boomer grunted. "Baltar obviously did. But them, he's the one who located and surveyed Carillon, and everybody accepted his reports about it."

"After we find the evidence, copy that file," Apollo ordered. "We don't want to trigger anything too soon, and there're bound to be alarms, maybe even an automatic erase..."

A few more centons of searching brought up the data. Starbuck was accused of betraying ship movements to the Cylons, from both the Galactus and the Pegasus, and of trading information on ground base artillery. Correlation checks showed the timing and movements were impossible; the pilot simply couldn't have had access to the listed information, at any time - and he hadn't always been where and when the transmissions originated. Nor was there any corroborating evidence, aside from the one file the technician had found, and Charon's supporting statement. The charges of collaboration with a terrorist group out to disrupt the Armistice talks proved to be based on equally flimsy fabrications.

"Why didn't the military check this?" Ostara asked, perplexed.

"This isn't the same information they have," Apollo told her grimly. "I saw it; this may be the original tape, but whoever made it wasn't Starbuck. The one they've got was doctored to point to him. And with his past history of demerits and discipline from the Academy through all posts, no one looked for any discrepancies."

"So we take this?"

"And the Carillon file. Boomer, you're the ace for this one."

"How?"

"You're going to blackmail Proteus - after we send anonymous tips to the protector and opposer. Baltar's already with the peace envoy, so we can't reach the Quorum now, but we can stop the plot here in the Colonies - and get him later. We've also got to pass on word about Carillon to the military, and stop the casino, if it's operational here as a food supply for Ovion miners. For now, let's get out of here... What are you doing, Starrie?" he interrupted himself.

The woman continued her tapping on the keyboard. "Sending the first message to Charon, of course. Supposedly from Boomer. To appear only once, no copy permitted."

"You can do that?" Apollo was impressed.

She smirked. "Remember the Academy war games? I know what I'm doing, Apollo. I've used a computer before. At home. Just never owned up to how good I am on it. Keeps me out of trouble."

It took only a few moments. Then they copied the required files - which did indeed promptly erase, and flagged to the home computer - and prepared to leave.

The sound of someone moving around outside sent them scurrying to the safety of the shadows, but the guard passed by without stopping.

They quickly exited the building. Boomer reactivated the temporarily quiet scan monitors; Apollo supplied the proper pass-codes for the day to again prevent their tripping any alarms. Then they were out. The unconscious guard down in the underground establishment might report a lethal brown-eyed brunette, who would remain unexplained. Their presence would go unexplained.

Apollo waited impatiently. Cmdr. Adama and Capt. Artemis had accompanied him to the preliminary tribunal proceedings, acting out of "concern for a previous crew member who might have betrayed them," and the commander, at least, expecting to be called as a character witness against Starbuck. The captain knew better; after the events of the preceding day, they would never be called.

The military commanders hearing the case took only a few moments to listen to the lame evidence. They were prepared to pass down a verdict that day, if necessary, and had expected a longer presentation with little real question of guilt. With what Apollo, Boomer, and Ostara had quietly uncovered and anonymously provided, both protector and opposer agreed there was insufficient evidence to proceed, and strong indications of a deliberate attempt to frame the accused. The case was dismissed without comment.

Charon stalked out, grim and more than a little worried; his jaw was set, and his eyes were stormy with suspicion. Apollo concealed a smile. Charon had no choice but to let the matter slide. He had reacted badly to Boomer's unexpected appearance two days before, and the computer message further unnerved him, accompanied as it was by the flagged files. Being "haunted" by a dead man was doing the traitor and murderer no good.

Starbuck followed shortly, dumbfounded by his luck. The protector shook his hand and hurried off, leaving him standing uncertainly. He hesitantly joined Apollo.

Before he could say anything, the captain gestured to his kinsman. "We knew you were innocent, Lieutenant. Try to stay out of trouble in the future?"

The reluctant smile and nod said he understood, and was grateful.

"Stop by the house later, will you, Starbuck? Somebody I'd like you to meet."

"I'm sure he's encountered your wife, Apollo," Adama cut in, unaware of what was really going on, and becoming concerned about his son's recent activities and unusual choice of acquaintances.

"Not recently. And I think we should talk a little..." Apollo's grin was a little wicked. Maybe he shouldn't see Boomer, but even here, they were friends. I think he ought to know what's going on. Baltar won't expect to find him in our camp, and right about now, I think Starbuck is just annoyed enough at his patron to listen to us, and maybe believe what we have to say.

A few moments later, when they were alone, Starbuck spoke. "I don't know you pulled it off, but I'm grateful. Like I told your brother, my ass is yours. How'd you do it?"

Thinking of the nocturnal expedition, he replied, "It wasn't easy. But the results are worth it. And it only gets better from here." And more dangerous! "Care to be dealt in?"

He returned a calculating gaze. "As soon as I know what's going on. I like to know the odds of the games I play."

"You'll know the odds this evening, if you show up. Of course, it might be a little risky..." He knew quite well he was throwing a challenge the wagerer couldn't resist. "Be there."

Chapter Seven

Lieutenant Starbuck of the battlestar Pegasus hesitated before the house where the man responsible for his vindication in the treason trial currently resided. Normally, he would have reported back for duty, but his base ship was gone. An officer had informed him they were escorting the Council ships to the negotiation site. Temporarily unassigned, he'd decided to take the captain up on his invitation. Taking a deep breath and hoping the offer was genuine, he hit the bell.

A chime rang somewhere within. A moment later, a man appeared at the door.

"You said to show up tonight," he began, hating the defensiveness that crept into his voice. Bowing and scraping always galled him, and so many of the warrior elite, secure in generations of military service and honors, expected such response from what they derogatorily called "uniformed civilians." The captain had often been that arrogant. Starbuck was intensely curious why he had changed his behavior, and not only helped him in some unexplained way to escape the false treason charges, but also seemed to offer genuine friendship.

Apollo smiled, gesturing past the door to the well-lit interior. "Come on in, Starbuck." He glanced about before closing the door behind them. "I see you were serious about coming. I'm glad..."

"You seemed serious with the invitation..."

In the next room, he saw two people talking. Both were familiar. He remembered Ostara vaguely; she'd shipped aboard just before his transfer. She paled at seeing him, and didn't seem to know how to answer his brief greeting. They'd never been more than nodding acquaintances, and he'd suspected antagonism on her part. He turned his attention to the other man, who stared intently at him.

"What...?" Those dark features were too familiar. His mind refused momentarily to accept what he knew was impossible. "Boomer?"

"Well, guess who remembered." The relieved grin was the past come to haunt him. His friend had died...

"Better sit down." Apollo guided him to a chair as he gaped at the ghost. The woman moved quickly to help, and their hands touched briefly.

Shock. (What/No!/I don't understand...)

Strange thoughts and memories flooded his mind, and Ostara reeled drunkenly away from him, suddenly chalk-white. The universe swirled, and he felt his feet slip out from under him, but someone broke his fall.

"Starbuck?" that someone said urgently. It was Apollo; he felt reassured, then just as suddenly repulsed that he should depend on that man for anything, from his life to support in a faint.

(Why? There's no reason to feel that way.) Ordinary statement of fact.

"What in Hades...?" he muttered weakly.

(Just listen, and feel. It'll be clear to you soon.)

He dropped limply to the chair when the captain released him, staring at the three in the room. He scarcely knew the woman. He recognized his old friend, whose death had driven him from his first assignment. The superior officer, who'd once considered him beneath notice, now suddenly was genuinely concerned.

The memories struck again, and the voice in his mind. In a flash of someone else's knowledge, he saw with crystal clarity what was going on, what was soon to happen to the Colonies, what he'd already done to stop it, and what he would continue to do.

(You!)

(Me.)

(I know you.)

(Of course you do, we're the same person.)

(But...)

(I was there, in your mind.)

(That's how I know you.)

(Of course.)

(But the dreams...)

(What a muddle; sit and be still for a moment.)

(Can't be real...)

(Wish it weren't, but you and I...)

(We.)

(We know better.)

(Where...)

(There.)

His glance snapped to Ostara, whose expression had become lost. "So that's..." His voice died away as he fought for control.

"Apollo?" she asked in a small voice, looking toward her husband.

"What?"

"I think he's gone home..."

His features became alarmed. "Starbuck?"

"More home than she was, anyway," he heard himself say. "I must've recognized the old me, and came home."

The two men exchanged glances. Boomer was on alert, ready to act if necessary; Apollo waved him to ease. "Lieutenant Starbuck of the battlestar Galactica?" he demanded with formal, guarded tones.

"Yeah, he's ... I'm here, too." He was amazed. In a single touch, another entity had come into his mind - himself, the one who had touched his mind from another reality, and tried to become part of him. He had driven off the strange self once, but not entirely. The wisps of thought from his other self had been what haunted his dreams. Now the other one was whole again. The familiar sense of self was there, but it was a self with alien memories and feelings, who was finding his own thoughts strange and intriguing. He waited quietly, trying to absorb and orient the new persona within, feeling the shadows fade.

He studied Apollo. "So you seemed different because you are different. And we're here because of an accident. And we're going to save the Colonies - whether they want to be saved or not," he finished wryly.

"That's about the size of it." The captain seemed oddly pleased.

Well, of course he's pleased. He can call me by my right name again, and talk to my face. And he can deal with that witch on different terms... The reminder of Ostara brought his attention back. She was huddled on the couch, curling up against the arm as though it would shield her against the three of them.

It touched something in him. "It's all right," he said. "We'll do our job, the right way, this time. And now that Boomer's here, we can go home afterward. It'll all work out for the best." He wondered why he tried to reassure her.

Boomer and Starbuck went back to the hotel for the night; if any visitors dropped by the house on the hill, it wouldn't do for them to see a "dead" man walking around. That left Apollo and Ostara alone again.

"You seem quiet," Apollo commented as they prepared for bed. "You haven't had much to say all evening. I didn't think losing Starbuck would affect you this much."

She glanced at him, then quickly looked away. She still wore the long robe, and seemed disinclined to strip while he was awake and the lights were on. She covered even her toes as she arranged herself under a blanket. "There were things I didn't realize about this whole situation," she murmured.

"Like what?" He sat on the edge of the bed next to her, noting how she suddenly flinched away from him.

"Now that Boomer's here, you're going to go back, aren't you? Back to the reality you came from?"

"Yes," he answered carefully. "Is that what's disturbing you?"

"Well, Boomer's going back physically, I understand. And Starbuck's going back mentally, but since he's in his own body, that won't really affect anything. He's better off with our Starbuck than in my mind..."

"And?" he prompted, although he could see where she was leading.

"But ... your mind, Apollo. You were ... dead, here. When you go home, your body will die again, permanently. You won't exist here at all..."

"If I don't go back, my own body, back home, will die eventually. I don't belong here, Starrie. You know that. I'm doing what I can to help the Colonies here; we all are. We may have failed to turn the Destruction in our worlds, but we don't intend to fail here too. If we can save your Colonies, we'll have accomplished something."

"But why go back? You've been here so long already. Hasn't your body ... deteriorated so much that ... that you'd rather be here and healthy? You might never recover, in your world."

"I still have a duty there. My people need me more than ever," he told her gravely. "You should remember that from Starbuck's mind. There're not many of us left, and our refugees need all the protection we can give them, until we reach our destination. I don't want this to sound arrogant, but they need me, Starrie. My experience and skills are vital. And I want to see my son and family again."

"But the time..."

"Didn't you hear Boomer?" he reminded her patiently. "Time seems to be flowing differently here, or maybe the machine compensates. It's been two sectars here, but only a secton has passed in the world I knew. So I'll spend a few days in life center. I did that here; I can do it there. The Lords know I've spent time in a life pod before."

She hunched over, pulling her knees up to her chin, and stared emptily at the door. "Apollo..." she began miserably.

"What's bothering you?" he pressed gently. "If it's the other night, and the threat you made, you have nothing to worry about. I told you, that wasn't my usual style. I'm not that kind of animal." He swallowed hard and continued. "You don't have to be afraid of me. I'm not going to take it out on you in any way."

"It's not that. Apollo, I ... owe you an apology."

He tilted his head quizzically.

"I..." She bit her lip. "For making you marry me. I ... don't really know how to explain, what to say... I never cared much for you, or Starbuck, and suddenly there you both... I..." She buried her head for a moment, then took a deep breath and looked up at him. "It was a chance to change my life. Then his feelings sank into me. I started liking you, Captain, but it was his emotions, at first. I held on to the feelings for Ortega's sake. But now Starbuck's gone from my head, and I still like you. Maybe it's residual emotion. There were two people in me, fighting each other. I was torn, always wondering if I was thinking my thought or his. Maybe I wasn't really responsible for it, I see more clearly now, but..." She halted in confusion.

"Do you want this marriage annulled?" he asked carefully.

"No!" she burst out. "I want you to stay here! Oh, I'm so confused..."

He rocked back, breathing hard. "I can't do that. I told you... You're not threatening me again, are you?"

"No." She shook her head vigorously; tears caught on her eyelashes. "Do you want our marriage annulled, or dissolved?"

"I doubt I'll be around long enough for it to come through. If you don't mind - and I really don't see why you would - we might as well carry through until then. You might as well get something out of this, for the trouble of having to carry Starbuck around in your head, maybe..."

He knew it was a little joke, but he didn't expect to see fresh tears.

"I don't want to see you die!" she whimpered. "What are you going to do? Just disappear? Drop dead on the street, or in your sleep? I never thought I'd listen to my husband coolly discuss his own demise..."

"That's what's bothering you? Starrie, don't worry. We'll think of something - you'll be fine. I'm sorry your Apollo won't be here, but he's been dead for two sectars already. I'm living on borrowed time, and while I regret his ended existence in this time stream, I have no wish to take his place here and leave my own place behind."

She tried to pull herself together. "Then give me a memory," she whispered huskily. "There's only you and me now, and you've got all the capstones, and you're going to leave me..."

She held out trembling hands, grief staining her face. He took her in his arms with a troubled expression, not sure if this was a good idea. Then she raised her mouth to his, and he gently kissed her. She wouldn't let him go, and after a few moments, he had no desire to pull away.

He stirred drowsily when she moved away from him, but slipped back into a deep sleep when she left the bed. It was centars before Apollo awoke again, to find himself alone.

There was a note in the kitchen: "Sorry I was so confused last night. I owe him an apology too. I've got to get my emotions sorted. Don't die before I see you again."

Sighing in exasperation, he wondered what she was doing this time. The previous few sectars had been a hectic series of shocks, as much for her as for him, with his arrival in a different reality, her blackmail and their marriage, Boomer's appearance, Starbuck's arrest and vindication, and her sudden loss of any connection to their alternate universe with his friend's removal to another body. He was glad, for Starbuck's sake, and a bit apprehensive for Ostara.

Gotta sort my feelings out, too. Enmity and suspicion are nothing to found a marriage on - even one to be of short duration. Like she said last night, we know this is gonna be short. Might as well try to make it good, or at least tolerable. Or does she mean to make it so good that I don't want to leave...? Lords, am I starting to like the situation?

He mused as he collected breakfast. Wonder if this is binding back home? Could make me a dual-universe bigamist if I marry again. Sheba's image suddenly appeared in his mind. I'm afraid I'll think of Akilles and Saba whenever I see her from here on out. Wonder what she's thinking now, and the rest of my family and friends. They can't know whether Boomer's been successful here.

A summons from the family communication console drew his attention. It was Artemis, from the Galactus.

"Sorry to disturb you during your wedding seclusion, cousin, but we picked up a little communication from the peace envoy - Baltar, to be precise, on Quorum channel, in code."

"Oh?"

"To Charon, on Caprica. Apparently a response to Starbuck's vindication yesterday. Be careful. I'm afraid there seems to be a reference to you. I think you could be in a little trouble."

"Thanks for the warning. How'd you get it, anyway? And how'd you get a clear channel here?"

"Well, the bridge officer who intercepted and passed along the message is a good friend of Ares. Takes after you a bit, there. He sweetly persuaded her to tell him what the Council was doing. She told him. I'm on patrol, private channel, so I can't talk long. She'll erase this, incidentally, won't you, Rigel? Thanks, dear. Gotta go, Apollo. Remind me to tell you how many hearts you broke by getting sealed. Enjoy yourself!"

"Right," he muttered as her cheerful voice faded, then he shrugged philosophically. What can Charon and Baltar do? No evidence touching me, unless they manufacture some more, and if they suspect me, they have to suspect what I might know, and that would hurt them more than me.

He frowned, wondering if Charon would risk "removing" him as a source of trouble, or for spite. On the Galactica, Karibdis had been willing to kill him to escape; was he as homicidal here?

"So I'll be careful," he said out loud. "And I'll start with a visit to the city. Starbuck and Boomer should be warned, too, and they might have figured something else out overnight."

By the sixth day, Apollo was worried. Ostara hadn't come back to his parents' house. She obviously wasn't dead; he'd've been contacted if she turned up in a hospital or morgue. She was somewhere in the city, he presumed, trying to sort things out. He couldn't believe she'd flee off-world to escape a marriage she'd insisted on and now claimed she still wanted. Especially since the groom isn't going to be here long. I hope Boomer and Wilker got that equipment figured out right. I'd hate to die here and find out they made another mistake. "Oops, sorry, God - I'm not supposed to be here yet, could you send me back again. Either universe is fine."

He laughed at his own flippancy, but sobered quickly as he thought of Starrie again. Artemis had warned him of Baltar's message to Charon. It had been five days; had the traitors thought to strike at him through her?

No, they'd have contacted me somehow. What good is a hostage if you don't use her to apply leverage? If they killed her, her body would've surfaced somewhere - and I don't believe they'd risk me reporting suspicions to the local security forces.

I may have started this, by giving the right people the information they needed to protect us, but I couldn't stop it if I wanted to. As an individual, I don't matter anymore, so threatening me wouldn't help them. The others are ready, if this Armistice is a ruse. This time a false peace won't work.

Why do I still wonder if I've done the right thing?

He headed restlessly back to the house communication center.

"Newswoman Sirona here, reporting from the Star Kobol, orbiting Kobol at this very moment, as the delegates of the Cylon Alliance and the members of our own Quorum meet for final negotiations. A final agreement is expected at any time, and could be signed in a public ceremony as early as tomorrow evening. President Ila herself is expected to preside-"

He swatted at the console, swearing briefly.

Starbuck had spent two of the last five days as a guest on Baltar's estate, at the count's own request. It was a ploy, they all knew, a worried apology to keep the man quiet and within reach, but it gave the newly-aware lieutenant a chance to look around - Baltar would be amazed at the number of listening devices and computer taps now in the supposedly secure estate.

Boomer had another appointment with Charon, who showed little fear of the dead, and a strong concern for whatever kind of plot had sent the supposedly dead man against him. Boomer didn't think any connection was being made between them.

"And if we're right," he muttered grimly, "whatever role Charon plays in this bit of treason, it'll have to happen when the treaty's supposed to be signed. Lords, I hope everything's set. Akilles and Artemis are certain, and they've got their network of allies set, too, but they don't really know what we're up against - or maybe I'm so psychologically damaged by the loss in our universe that I can't believe we might actually survive here. The Cylons have won then, if they've broken me to thinking we have no chance. I've got to have faith..."

He hit the console switch again, sending Sirona's face into the oblivion her voice had faded into a moment before.

Better check in with my fellow conspirators. Maybe Starbuck can get a look around the estate again. If Baltar's men took Ostara, she might be there...

Ostara returned home a wiser woman. Five days alone - really alone, with no one in her head demanding equal time - had enabled her to put her thoughts in order for the first time since the accident, before she woke up as a stranger, and decided to marry a captain she scarcely knew and hardly liked. She was ready to contemplate the future, and discuss it with her husband. Whatever plots he had in mind, whatever was necessary to save her Colonies, she was ready to give him all the support she could.

His parents' house was empty. Wondering where he'd gone, assuming he was with his old friends, she calmly unpacked her small valise and began to change.

The annunciator chimed with arrogant urgency. Quickly fastening her uniform, she hurried to answer it.

She didn't recognize the tall, severe-faced man standing there, but she knew the uniforms of the three others accompanying him. They were city security.

"Lieutenant Ostara of the Galactus?" the tall man asked politely.

"Yes," she answered, puzzled. "And you're...?"

"Charon, aide to Count Baltar." She didn't like his smile; there was something sinister in it. "Is your husband, Captain Apollo, at home?"

"No, I'm afraid not. Can I help you...?"

Charon nodded at one of the security officers. The man stepped forward. "Siress, I have the misfortune to place you under arrest, and to inform you that your husband is also under warrant-"

"What?"

"You've both been implicated in a conspiracy to commit treason. I'm sure you are aware of your rights. If you would please accompany us, we're taking you into custody. Any information you can supply as to Captain Apollo's whereabouts would be greatly appreciated and may assist your case..."

Ostara stared into the dark-haired man's fierce, gloating eyes. Baltar's lackey was quite pleased with himself. Her lips tightened in contempt. She considered calling Boomer for her single allotted communication, but decided against it; she couldn't risk contacting any of the conspirators.

"I have nothing to say to any of you," she stated flatly. "I will, of course, speak to a protector at the center. I presume you'll wish to search the house to confirm Apollo's absence; I will then set the full security system - it is, after all, the President's home, and cannot be left unguarded."

When Charon looked startled, she silently rejoiced. He'd obviously expected her to panic and betray Apollo. Holding her head proudly, she permitted the security men to manacle her wrists and check the house. She would show herself as dignified a wife to Apollo as any of the old aristocrats. Utterly ignoring Charon, who now looked worried, she followed the men to the skycar.

"You're late," Boomer commented. "Not like you, Apollo."

"Ran into some old friends," Apollo responded wryly. "I just wish I knew who they were. But they seemed to know me, so I had to talk for a few centons. Where's Starbuck? He's supposed to be here, too."

"His being late isn't unusual."

"True. Well, today's the day. I heard Sirona giving a report from Kobol."

"I heard it, too. She's certainly pleased about it." Boomer tried to be diplomatic. "Her ... antagonisms are well hidden."

"Yeah. Well, we had a little talk about that. I guess she's as excited as everyone else about an armistice..."

A little beep interrupted them. "Hotel's way of letting me know there's a message for me." Boomer excused himself. A small screen next to the desk lightened, then formed an image of Starbuck, a city street in the background. The captain joined his friend before it.

"So, letting us know you'll be late?" Boomer teased.

"Is Apollo there?" Starbuck sounded frantic.

"Here. What is it?" Apollo leaned forward so the other man could see him.

"Captain! They've arrested Ostara."

"What?"

"I stopped by to see my protector - never mind why. I saw some security men bringing her in."

"Lords of Kobol!" Apollo swore. "I guess I'd better go find out why and get her out-"

"No!" Starbuck broke in. "That's the last thing you should do. The warrant lists you, too. You show up here, and they'll arrest you as well. Seems Charon brought a computer tampering charge against you both, and the suggestion that you might be involved in a conspiracy. All a farce, has to be, but it sounds like Baltar's people are hard at work..."

"Treason against the Council, and conspiracy to discredit the Armistice agreement?" he asked wearily.

"Something like that."

Apollo next comments were interspersed with numerous epithets for Baltar and Charon, along with certain other choice suggestions.

"You'd better get over here quick, then," Boomer cut in hastily to shorten the captain's outburst.

"Can't just yet." Starbuck glanced watchfully over his shoulder. "I think I'm being followed. Charon doesn't want to create a public furor by announcing they're looking for Apollo. His parents are too important, and Baltar won't risk antagonizing Madam President today. So they're searching quietly. I think they suspect I knew something..."

"That fits with something Artemis told me," the captain said. "I should have taken precautions..."

"Yeah. Well, Boomer, we've got to meet somewhere else. I'm afraid they'll close on that hotel pretty quick. I was registered there for a couple of days, you know."

A sly expression crossed the black man's face. "Starbuck," he began lazily, "you remember that time we sneaked out of the Academy, and went out for one wild secton to celebrate surviving our first yahren as cadets...?"

Fond memories surfaced on the other man's face. "Perfect! You go there. I'll meet you as soon as I shake these guys off my tail. I know just the place to lose 'em, too." He signed off and disappeared as the screen darkened.

"What secton?" Apollo demanded.

Boomer grabbed a few small items and packed them into the pockets of his civilian clothes. Taking the rest of his things, what few he'd brought with him or purchased in the past secton, would alert hotel security that they were leaving permanently. This way, someone might be delayed into watching the room and waiting for him to return.

"Uh, we never told you about that, did we?"

"No. Tell me now. Where are we going?"

"Well, we hadn't known each other long then. You know I was almost classified a delinquent when I was younger, and Starbuck was always game for just about anything... Hades, Apollo, we knew you wouldn't approve, and from what we knew of you then, you might've told your father besides, or gotten us thrown out of the Academy..."

"Brothel, chancery, or chemical gallery?" he asked, resigned. They hadn't exactly corrupted him from his days of innocence, but they'd shown him some parts of his world that were quite a surprise to a naive cadet who had the misfortune to be Commander Adama's son.

"Combination - but no heavy prohibited chemicals. They'd have shown up in our Academy physicals. Now, let's go..."

Chapter Eight

Apollo had to smother a smile when they were finally alone. "Brothel," he snorted, rolling his eyes. "How the mighty are fallen. I can see the newscrystal headlines now. 'President's son snared in socialator's nest while wife of one secton arrested for treason'."

"Don't knock it." Starbuck grinned. "Might get you off - for insanity."

"Yeah. I can't see Charon finding me here - on purpose, anyway. How long have you known this lady? She sure seemed glad to see you..."

"My business, Captain." It was the Starbuck of this universe, and Apollo had to remind himself there were two radically different men in the familiar body, even though they often seemed to think the same, and come to the same conclusions. It was eerie to watch the two Starbucks become one person.

"Right. So how long are we welcome to stay here? It may be a few days before arrangements are finalized to sign the Armistice, and we have to keep an eye on Charon."

"I'll talk to Lyssa about your staying. Boomer can continue watching Charon - he seems to be doing quite well at it." Their friend had already slipped away. With all the security codes and clearances for Baltar's estate, cleverly extracted during their computer foray, and by carefully keeping ahead of the frequent code changes now ordered, Boomer easily entered and exited at will, and would keep them informed of Charon's movements.

Starbuck was eager to "talk" to the socialator, and his female friend looked willing to take advantage of a long-standing relationship. Apollo let the lieutenant follow her without comment.

Facing an afternoon of waiting, the captain aimlessly paced the room, and finally positioned himself at the wide picture window. It faced the broad arc of the bay, and after several centons of searching, he located the small rise on the slope where his childhood home nestled securely.

From that side of the bay to this. Look at everything I've done this past few sectons. I've conspired against my own mother and the government I was taught to trust in and obey; I've violated the privacy of one of our Councilors; I've gotten an accused traitor out of incarceration; I've broken numerous other laws to accomplish all this; and I've married a woman I don't know because she blackmailed me. All for the good of the Colonies. So much for honor and pride. What would Father think? And he'll know, soon enough, one way or the other.

I wonder if I could have done all this back home. How would I have reacted if I'd known in advance about my Colonies? This isn't home. It isn't my body, not really, so I act a little careless with it. And I know I won't have to spend the rest of my life here, so I've got more options available. This Apollo dies the moment I leave his body. Whatever happens to his world...

If violating the laws and betraying myself would've saved my home, would I have done it? How far could I have called it duty?

Troubled, he watched the shadows lengthen.

Somebody shook him. Apollo stirred and rolled instantly to his feet, automatically reaching for his weapon. "What...?"

Lyssa, the socialator, stepped back in alarm. "It's your friend Boomer. He called, and said tonight's the night, whatever that means."

The captain read shrewdness in her eyes as she casually handed him his clothes. Starbuck must not have told her everything. "What you don't know won't put you in prison. But don't worry, you'll be well rewarded if everything goes well."

"And if not?"

His expression was grim. "None of us may live to regret it."

Civilians thronged the streets of Caprica City, and fireworks lit the darkening skies. The elation was contagious. Strangers hugged one another and raised joyous toasts in every lounge, tavern, pub, and dive. High hopes and intimate dreams for the future were shared by mere acquaintances. Morals relaxed, as men and women laughed and drank and kissed with public abandon. Old friends wept for yahrens spent at war, and rejoiced that those yahrens were finally coming to an end. Former warriors and young cadets on leave shed silent tears for the passing of an age, then let go of grief to celebrate new lives.

Three warriors mingled with the half-crazed crowds in the garishly-lit streets. They figured, rightly, that no one would notice them on such a night. Apollo, Boomer, and Starbuck met at their chosen destination - the planet-based anti-spacecraft artillery computer base.

"Well, Boomer?" the captain asked when they were hidden in the shadows beyond the protected structure, out of sight of the excited mobs.

"Charon got a private message about a centar ago. He came out looking smug, and left the estate. That's when I called you. I'm not sure what route he took, but he has to be coming here. We'd better get moving if we want to intercept him."

Apollo's smile was grim. "I know just how. Akilles's got the high frontier covered, so our job's a little easier. Let's go." I've broken most other laws these last few days. Might as well go the rest of the way.

"How're we going to stop him?" Starbuck asked. "After all, a dead man, a recently-freed treason suspect, and another traitor with an outstanding warrant aren't likely to be believed."

"We're not going to stop him, exactly. We're just going to give him a lot of rope, and see what he does with it." Apollo had concocted this part of the plan.

Boomer, who'd almost been classified a youthful delinquent, led the way into the installation. Apollo followed, and Starbuck took up the rear.

The warriors saluted the man in black as he passed them. Charon, as aide to Count Baltar, the hero responsible for the Armistice, had clearance to enter the military installation at any time. The tall, lean civilian ignored the guards, but exchanged gracious formalities with the receptionist.

"Several new orders to be coded in, so our anti-spacecraft installations don't start firing on trade ships after the Armistice is signed. I have Council clearance. The President didn't want these keyed into our command computers until the treaty was a fact, as I'm sure you understand."

The receptionist passed him after a cursory examination of his credentials. The count's assistant was well-known at the computer command base.

Charon hummed under his breath as he paced the quiet, barely-manned duty station. Most of the personnel had been furloughed for the Armistice. That made his job considerably easier. Sabotage the proper computers, and leave before the damage was discovered. The attack would begin in a matter of centars.

By then, I intend to be far away from Caprica City, in a place of safety. After the battle, I rendezvous with Count Baltar and our allies. Then the Cylons wipe out final resistance in the Colonies, and the broken survivors are placed under Baltar's rule. It will be a new, harsh system, allied with and subservient to the Cylons, but I'll be one of the new dictator's counselors and aides. One of the Twelve Worlds will be placed under my direct control. Baltar promised me that.

Colonial defeat wasn't ultimately inevitable, but Charon agreed with his superior that it was better to reshape their world for their own benefit, even if that meant forcing a surrender and seeing the destruction of their military forces. Under Cylon protection, they wouldn't need a war machine, but need only continue to provide their conquerors' requirements.

The count would have his vengeance against the men who had hampered his advancement and kept him from the position he felt he deserved. Baltar had worked with the Cylons for yahrens, on Carillon and other worlds, trading information and resources in exchange for future power.

I don't care about Adama, Kain, or his other supposed enemies, or for seeing the military caste brought down. Greed, ambition, and revenge are Baltar's sole driving forces. I simply intend to benefit from them.

With the battlestar Pegasus assigned a distant duty under the direct supervision of the Quorum, where even the intractable Commander Kain will have to obey orders, and with the suspicious, troublesome Captain Apollo driven into hiding by the arrest warrant, I've drawn the teeth of any counter-plot against the Armistice or myself. I wonder if Baltar appreciates that. I'll have to bring it to his attention.

The only thing troubling me now is the location of the elusive Lt. Boomer. For all the Count's resources, I haven't been able to determine the man's whereabouts. Everything says the man is, indeed, quite dead; he shouldn't continue to appear out of nowhere and send computer messages. But short of exhuming a supposedly yahren-buried corpse, I can't confirm that this is part of some larger plot, perhaps concocted by Commander Adama himself, with the help of his devious children. It's disturbing to think Adama knew or guessed enough about Baltar's strategies to have made such preparations so far in advance. Boomer has the perfect cover, being legally "dead," but where has he been hidden for the intervening yahren?

Could Starbuck be involved in that conspiracy? After all, the Lieutenant almost immediately transferred to the Pegasus, where another of Adama's children is flight commander, and his oldest friend is in command. Could the supposed death of the Lieutenant's friend been a ploy to place him in a more valuable, less suspected position?

Charon's expression grew nasty. If Starbuck survives this night, he will pay for that bit of treachery. But there's nothing he, Apollo, or Boomer can do now. It's too late to stop the Armistice, or the attack which follows.

In a private cubicle, he eased himself into the chair and accessed the computer files that would open all Caprica to an attack from space. Several moments later, his world was defenseless.

A smile on his lips, he turned from the terminal - and froze in shock.

Capt. Apollo and Lt. Starbuck waited calmly, weapons holstered. Half a dozen security officers stood behind them, lasers at the ready. There seemed no way past that grim semi-circle.

"Major, I see you've taken these miscreants into custody. Commendable work. I'm sure it will prove an excellent addition to your record..." he brazened.

"I'm afraid, Sire, that your assumption isn't correct," the leader of the security staff responded with cold hostility.

The councilor's aide recognized he was caught, and tried a last ploy. Shaking with theatrically exaggerated rage, he pointed at Apollo. "Arrest him!" he roared to the guards. "He's wanted by the military for treason!"

The leader of the security men shook his head, speaking slowly. "I didn't believe it when the Captain came into my office, talking about treason as high as the Council. But now that I've seen it..."

Charon whirled and threw himself at the computer. Pulling the hand laser he carried as a matter of course, he fired point-blank. The civilian sneered in triumph as the terminal exploded; its screen went instantly black, and the lights flickered. "You've seen nothing, Major," he retorted. "And nothing can stop the commands I gave. I suggest, if you want to survive, that you get out of this installation at once-"

The major continued icily. "We took the precaution of observing your instructions, and countermanding the orders at once, with the Council codes Captain Apollo supplied. Caprica will be able to defend herself this night. And my efficient underlings are already sending word to the other Worlds and Colonies."

Before the traitor could carry out his next thought - killing Captain Apollo, the source of his trouble - the major fired, and he dropped to the floor, stunned.

Apollo picked up the small laser and handed it to one of the security men, then quietly passed along his own weapon as well.

The major stopped him. "Captain, I suggest you and the lieutenant report to the spacedrome at once. We have Vipers there, and we may need extra firepower this evening. I know how skilled you both are. I doubt the base would refuse your assistance."

"What about my arrest warrant?" Apollo asked, surprised. He'd fully expected to be taken into custody along with Charon, and was prepared for the consequences. Starbuck was restive beside him as he continued holding out the weapon that no one seemed ready to accept.

"If we all live, we can detain you later."

Understanding each other perfectly, the two men shook hands and parted, the captain and his friend heading for the spacedrome; the major and his men taking Charon into custody; all were prepared if their planet should need them.

The Pegasus was in a wide orbit of Kobol's sun. The vessels of the negotiating parties circled the mother planet, with the Cylon ships one hundred eighty degrees opposite the Colonial craft. On the planet's surface, in specially-built pavilions near the splendid ruins of old Eden, the one-time capital of the long-abandoned world, the opposing sides met and discussed their differences, and how to resolve them to their mutual satisfaction. When they finally reached agreeable resolutions to their thorny questions, they arranged for an elaborate ceremony to mark the official signing of the Armistice.

Commander Kain and his executive officer watched the long-range communications screens of the Pegasus as media personnel reported on every facet of the preparations for that ceremony. Their intense scrutiny was disturbed only by Major Akilles's report that all squadrons were at the ready. The Quorum had strictly forbidden any threatening action by the military vessel; the battlestar had been quietly readied for combat without passing along its status to the governing body, a direct breach of orders. If nothing happened, and the peace treaty was signed without violence, several officers would face military tribunal.

"Nice evening," Kain commented. His voice was filled with foreboding.

Media cameras continued their pan over the landscape and horizon of the ruined city. The skies were dark. No stars showed through the Void that surrounded the system, but every monument and tomb of Eden was brilliantly lit, and force-grown plants and shrubs with exotic flowers and multi-hued leaved decorated the pavilions and temporary shelters housing delegates, dignitaries, and other honored guests of both nations.

The flight officer joined the two men. "That must be the Cylon liner," he suggested, pointing out a sudden flash off some large object in the night sky. "We'll see the shuttle or fighters before long." His superiors accepted his observation without comment.

"Any time, now," Kain muttered. "They'll attack any time. Akilles, you get your people ready..."

The camera settled on a slim, beautiful woman holding a microphone, standing before the breathtaking view of a row of ancient columns. Once supports for a fantastic temple, they now seemed to reach in supplication to the heavens.

"This is Sirona, reporting to you on the progress of the Armistice ceremony, via satellite hook-up from Eden on Kobol itself, our most distant colony and earliest homeworld." Her voice ascended into the night like the soaring hopes of the Colonies. "As you can see, the Cylon ambassadors and signatories have not yet arrived, but they are expected momentarily. Our own dignitaries, and those delegates who will be signing the Armistice agreement on the Colonies' behalf, are already gathering at the pavilion just beyond this holy site. We may perhaps catch a glimpse of the Quorum of Twelve as it assembles. Under the leadership of President Ila, with the guiding hand of Councilor and Count Baltar, this august body has given us the opportunity to at last find peace, after a millennium of combat which has served only to drain both our great nations..."

A sound drew her attention, and Sirona looked up to study the skies before smiling into the camera. She gestured off-screen. "It seems the Cylon embassy is arriving even now. Can we have a picture of the ship heading for the landing site beyond the Field of Peace? Ah, thank you..."

Once again, the camera panned over the artificially lit landscape, focusing on the glaring lights of the enlarged spacedrome. Beyond its broad, empty acres, and the scattered hangars of the Quorum's shuttles, something bright danced in the sky. For a moment, the vessel seemed to be slowing for a landing.

Then more lights appeared above and beyond that ship. Fire speared from a multitude of spacecraft suddenly commanding the skies, and several landing circles of the spacedrome erupted into flame.

The newswoman gasped, but quickly recovered herself. "There seems to be some trouble at the spacedrome; several fires appear to have broken out, we don't know their source... Oh, Lords of Kobol!"

Nearly two dozen Cylon Raiders were clearly visible as they swept low over the pavilions and out toward the cities, both the old ruins of Eden and the recently settled New Eden. Their strafing run continued, and tent roofs dissolved in sudden bursts of fury.

"No! They're firing on us!" Sirona exclaimed in horror. "This can't be! The peace treaty, the Armistice!"

The bridge of the Pegasus subsided into shock, prepared though they were for trouble at the time. The Cylons were actually taking the opportunity for peace - and using it as a strategy for a sneak attack.

"Akilles!" Kain snapped.

"Here!" responded a strained and shaken warrior. Despite the forewarning, it was really here, and it was terrible, and his own mother was in the midst of the disaster on the lonely world.

"Prepare to launch. We're taking the Pegasus in closer, but we'll be attacked before we get there-"

"Sir!" It was the communications monitor, his voice high with fear. "All channels from the planet showing red. They're panicking, alternately demanding and pleading for us to save them, and trying to contact the Cylons!"

"Get us there!"

"Sir! A second wave is showing now on the scanners, heading for Kobol... And a third, coming in our direction..." The tech sounded faint. "There're so many..."

"Do your job, mister!" Kain snapped. "Let our fighters do theirs. Akilles, try to take the pressure off the spacedrome as much as possible when we get there. They have some Vipers, some defensive capabilities. Give them the chance to get off the ground. We'll need all the help we can get, I think..."

"Oh, no!" Sirona, prostrate on the ground and huddled in a small ditch, was still reporting as her cameraman bravely continued to film the disaster around them. "The pavilion of the Quorum! It's on fire! Has the President gotten out? Does anyone know if the President and the Council have been injured?"

Crowds began to flee, people screaming madly and running in all directions. Sirona tried to stop one man to question him; he nearly trampled her and kept going. A moment later, a new strafing run toppled an already tottering pillar; the wild-eyed man rushed under it as it fell and was crushed under stone and eons-old dust.

The newswoman sobbed uncontrollably. "This is terrible! The whole city's under attack! There are more Raiders in the sky! How could they do this to us? Has the President survived? Does anyone know what's going on? Where're our defenses? What happened to our defenses? We're doomed! My God, we're all doomed!"

More of the columns that had stood guard for millennia shattered and fell, their prayer for deliverance unheeded. The camera suddenly wheeled, briefly showing dark sky lit with red flame and the passing shadow of a Cylon Raider. Then it buried itself in the dirt, and the picture died.

"Are we in range?" the executive officer yelled.

"Yes!" the flight officer confirmed a few microns later.

"Launch fighters," Kain ordered with almost preternatural calm. His gaze was fixed on the empty screen, and something wild and fanatical gleamed from his eyes; a small, cold smile touched his mouth.

The officers and men saw that expression and were comforted; their commander was ready. They were prepared to fight; they need only carry out Kain's orders, let his special madness suffuse their souls, and they could not lose.

Whatever happened, they could not lose. They dared not lose.

Commander Adama waited impatiently for the distant news satellite hook-ups to begin displaying the Armistice proceedings. His wife was on that distant world. Although they'd had their disagreements over the yahrens, they loved each other dearly, and never interfered in one another's careers. This treaty would be the culmination of her hopes and dreams. The military man was prepared to step aside and welcome her triumph as though it were his own. In a sense, it was; the end of the war was his goal as well, although he'd chosen a different route toward fulfilling it.

"Sir?" His flight officer looked concerned.

"What is it, Omega?"

"The pictures from Kobol seem to have been cut off at the source. It appears something is interfering with their transmission."

Something pricked his conscience. "Identify the problem."

"It's not here, sir. It's at Kobol's end..."

He stared at the screen, his eyes widening. What was it Apollo said, about this being the perfect opportunity for an ambush, a deception? I didn't want to believe he could be right. My God, have we been so wrong, so very wrong?

"What word from the other battlestars and warships?" he snapped.

"No trouble, sir," the puzzled officer reported after several tense moments.

"Tell them to be alert, Omega. Warn them..."

"Father!" It was Athena.

"What is it, Lieutenant?"

"Patrol reports waves of ships closing on us. Warbook trying to identify."

"Squadron status!" he demanded at once, fear an icy fist within him.

"On alert, sir," Omega responded quickly. "A disciplinary problem, Captain Artemis reported."

"Patrol confirms!" Athena shrieked. "Cylon Raiders! Wave after wave, maybe a thousand of them!"

"Get our ships in the air! Warn all vessels in range. Contact our planets, if we're not already being jammed."

"Electronic jamming," his executive officer reported. "The rest of the fleet is coming to alert, but we can't communicate with our home planets."

"They're firing on our patrol," Athena called.

Adama saw the pallor on his daughter's face. It was more than the attack; she was a competent officer in a fight. It's Ares. His first patrol. My son, be careful. Ortega, take care of him. Come home safely, both of you...

"Squadrons launching!" the woman at core command called.

Our homeworlds. Are they under attack as well? Lords, we've got to warn them, get back to defend them... We've been so blind, so blind, letting ourselves be led to destruction. Now we pay the price...

Too soon, the battle for survival was joined.

Starbuck caught Apollo's arm. "There!"

The captain followed his gesture. In the dark sky, he caught the tell-tale moving gleams of ships coming into atmosphere and swooping toward the city.

On the street around them, others were beginning to notice and point out the craft as well. A wave of uneasiness spread through the crowd.

"Come on, Starbuck!" Apollo raced off toward the spacedrome at top speed.

Starbuck sprinted after, hard-pressed to keep up.

One of the vessels took shape as a Raider. Murmurs of concern turned into cries of fear.

In a moment, there were fires in Caprica City.

Chapter Nine

The Cylon attack on the Colonies was vicious and all-out, against both military and civilian vessels and installations. Most vessels were in port, preparing for the Armistice; those in space were obliterated by the hundreds. The craft in the spacedromes were under the protection of surface anti-spacecraft installations, but the Cylon Raiders slipped under those scanners to inflict damage on even the capital cities of the Twelve Worlds. Not all the computer sabotage was detected before the attack, and the damage in those areas was worse; the surprise attack destroyed cities, industrial installations, and agricultural compounds.

From the ground, Viper defensive squadrons swarmed up to meet the foe as soon as stations were alerted to the attack. Military academies on all the Colonies earned special recognition; the courage and skill of the young cadets were a tribute to their teachers, and each of the academies had its own special tale of heroism to tell. They fought over their cities and schools, knowing the enemy was destroying their homes, and if they died, their own wreckage would be a cascade of fire and shrapnel upon the very people they were trying to protect.

The more distant planets suffered most. Less well defended, their calls for assistance went unheard, and most were swept away in the first few centars. Their mother worlds had no strength to spare for them; they were caught in their own desperate struggle to drive back the attackers. The few out-system colonies that survived found themselves isolated and forgotten; they were on their own, and in the coming yahrens, some found they liked the feeling. On those worlds where space-worthy vessels remained, many people fled, abandoning their settlements. Some survived to reach home and demand an accounting, and be appalled at the depths of the disaster; others fled outward and were never heard from again.

The military fleet was devastated by the unexpected attack. Those vessels loosely assembled beyond the Twelve Worlds in preparation for a military scale-back after the Armistice weren't taken as completely by surprise as the Cylons as anticipated. The small group of conspirators had seen to that. But the sudden onslaught by superior forces damaged them severely. Several battlestars lost over half their contingent of fighters, although only the Columbus was destroyed. The rest limped home from their rendezvous point to lend what aide they could to the embattled worlds. More warriors died over the human-held planets, and a second battlestar was too badly damaged to repair; but somehow, they held, and turned the tide.

The Cylon attack lasted five days, as wave after wave of Raiders swept over the Twelve Worlds. The enemy threw everything it had into the fray when it became evident that the attack was not a complete surprise, that the humans were fighting back - and somehow managing to survive.

When the fighting was finally over, Cylon strength in that part of space was broken. It would take yahrens for their refineries and factories to rebuild the strength they'd squandered in one sustained, unrelenting attack.

The Colonials, unfortunately, were in no position to take advantage of what they'd gained simply by staying alive. Their losses were appalling. Nearly all their ships needed massive repairs and replacement personnel. Farms and factories were obliterated; orbiting laboratories and technical development centers had vanished; cities were in ruins. The economy would take yahrens to restore. Thousands of warriors had died, and tens of thousands of civilians, a tremendous cost in manpower, skill, and knowledge. Property could be replaced; the loss of valuable lives was devastating. Every facet of life in the Colonies would have to be re-evaluated, and priorities for rebuilding assigned.

Surviving leaders looked over the situation, and considered how much worse it might have been, but for a few small quirks of fate. They remained unaware of the plot that had given them their chance to survive. They were simply grateful.

Apollo was more than exhausted. He thought he'd never been so tired in his entire life, not even at the first Destruction and evacuation, or during the flight to Carillon. The only thing that buoyed his spirits and kept him going was the knowledge that his efforts hadn't been in vain. In this universe, at least, his home would continue to exist.

He'd spent almost five days in a Viper, refueling and rearming every centar or so to face a new wave of the endless stream of Cylons. Starbuck fought beside him all the way, and lived through it, too. Where Boomer had gone, and what he did during that time, they didn't know. Hopefully, he, too, was still alive somewhere in the battered city.

Tired and sore as he was, the captain couldn't rest while people still huddled in the ruins and needed help. A few centars of sleep, a shot of stimulants, and he was moving again.

The air-raid shelter was full of women and children, civilians who'd spent five days and nights of pure terror when they'd expected joy. Bombs near the shelter had shaken down the roof of the exit; trapped, they had no way of knowing what was happening above them until a rescue party broke through from the surface. Apollo's presence among the rescuers created a stir; they knew, then, that some of their warriors survived, and they still had some protection.

"Are we going to die?" A hollow-eyed woman clinging to a child seized his jacket, clutching it like a talisman against evil. "What happened? What happened to our peace? Where's our fleet? Where are the warriors?"

He took her hands gently. Others clustered around him, reaching for him, listening to his words. "The peace was a lie," he told them. "They attacked us instead. They hurt us, but we fought back. The battle is over. We're alive. We beat them off. And now we're going to rebuild, get our lives going again. We're hurt, but we're going to live. We're going to be all right."

The woman, fallen on her knees before him, burst into noisy tears, prompting the small child to wail as well. He picked up the youngster and held it for a moment until the piteous cries lessened.

The child was hungry. Food supplies were scarce during the attack, usually stored some place other than where they were needed, but that was being remedied.

"Better give the baby something to eat," he suggested kindly, taking the woman's hand again. She took the child, and both wandered toward the food station being set up at one end of the huge underground chamber.

Apollo heard some of the whispers as he moved among the civilians. If it were up to them, he'd be made a deity that very centon. He'd been the first to enter after the last rubble was cleared from the entrance to the shelter; his unexpected arrival, when many had given up hope, reduced them to tears.

So different from Caprica, after our Destruction. The first civilians to see me there were ready to tear me apart with their bare hands, or string me up in the nearest burnt tree. Here, I'm a symbol of survival, and hope. They believe I saved them. I represent everything my parents are, or were, as military and political leaders. With them maybe gone, these people are looking to me to show them a way...

I didn't do this for the glory; I did it for them. My heart aches for what we're lost, but it could have been so much worse. Oh, Caprica...

Another small hand tugged at his clothes. He rubbed his bloodshot eyes and looked down at the small boy. "Troy?"

"Is my mother coming back?" he asked simply.

"I don't know. Your mother was on Kobol. It may take a long time to come back from there." There had been no word from Kobol, or from the Pegasus, since the attack began. Apollo dreaded the silence. His Serena had died there.

The boy looked close to tears, but held back his sniffles. "Mother wanted peace, but the Cylons didn't."

The captain knew no way to be tactful. "No, Troy, they didn't."

"When I grow up, I'm going to be a warrior." The young boy began to cry. "And I'm gonna make them pay for Mother, and for being bad and telling lies! I'm gonna be a warrior, like you!"

He held the boy close, wondering if he were going to cry, too. A moment later, he gestured a child caretaker to take the boy over to get some food. Still watching Boxey, he didn't realize for a moment that Starbuck had reached his side.

"Starbuck? If Sirona doesn't come back... Well, see that he's taken care of. For me. I couldn't bear thinking that he was alone..."

"I'll tell your father, and the others. He'll be all right."

"Thanks..." Apollo's voice was husky with weariness, shock, and suppressed emotions, and his thoughts were fierce as he stared at the traumatized survivors around him. Thank the Lords, this time I could do something. They're still alive, because I came here. And I won't quit. I won't leave until I know there's nothing more I can do...

As a warrior, Ostara was released from detention and sent to the nearest spacedrome during the first few centars of the bombardment, when it became obvious that the Colonies faced an all-out attack, not merely some skirmish with pirates or renegades. She, too, spent the better part of five days fighting, and kept going with snatched naps and chemical assistance.

After two days with the rescue forces, she was sure she was going to drop where she stood. She decided she might as well turn herself back in to the authorities; the warrant still stood, although it might be sectars before any legal action could be taken.

The detention center, however, was in ruins; it had been strafed once too often. The man in authority at a make-shift prison for looters and other petty criminals taking advantage of the destruction told her charges against both her and Apollo had been dropped; Charon, when taken into custody, had been raving, and a tribunal determinator judiciously decided he was demented and dismissed the charges against them without comment.

Imprisoned during the bombardment, Charon had refused to leave the center when the rest of the occupants were evacuated, insisting the Cylons wouldn't kill him.. He was assumed dead. It would be days before there would be time to search the ashes.

Ostara decided to go home. She laughed when she realized it was Apollo's family estate she was thinking of. Surprisingly, the place still stood, untouched by the destruction in the valley around the bay. From the windows in the solarium, she found she had all too clear a view of the ruins. She tinted the windows so the view was obscured. It made the attack seem like a bad dream; with a little effort, she could almost believe it hadn't happened, at least within the walls and gates of this one house.

She got several good nights' sleep, spending her days working to clear away rubble in the city and help the survivors. There were parts of the planet that were almost untouched; those areas sent what aid they could spare. Food and clothing had to be distributed, and temporary shelters set up, and some refugees helped to reach family and friends elsewhere on the planet who could take them in. During that time, she was aware she could be called back to the spacedrome at any time. It was possible, though not thought likely, that the Cylons would attempt another attack when the Colonials' attention was diverted.

There were soon guests in the house - a score of children from a vanished orphanage, and several caretakers. Ostara didn't think Apollo or his family would mind. They firmly believed in children as the future of their world, and the children had to have a home.

Boomer slipped in and out several times. His hotel was rubble, and the children had no way of knowing who he was, so it was deemed safe for him to spend time there. The lieutenant could have returned to his own universe at any time - he still had the recall pendant - but he, like the others, was too caught up in the grief and pain around them, and had to stay those extra days to do what he could. The way time seemed to flow variably between their realities, it should make only a centar's difference.

It was almost a secton before Apollo and Starbuck returned, the lieutenant towing his socialator friend, who'd also been displaced. Lyssa quickly vanished when several children ran through the room.

Apollo wearily dropped into a chair. Two sectons without real rest were revealed by fatigue circles under his haunted eyes, the ragged beginnings of a thick, dark beard, the slouched posture, and the hopelessly creased uniform.

Starbuck looked little better, and quickly dismissed himself to follow his friend, and perhaps clean up and rest. He astutely observed this would leave husband and wife alone again after too many days, and the one from Apollo's universe suspected it would be wise for them to talk.

"Hardly a torrid declaration of love for your long-lost wife," Ostara commented with a small smile. They hadn't spoken since long before she was arrested; she hadn't even been sure he was still alive.

Her husband studied her for a moment, his expression unchanging. Then he slowly rose, grabbed her around the waist, and bent her backward, leaning over her. "Hello," he said simply.

He allowed the woman to drop carefully to the couch behind her, then slumped next to her with a sigh. "There's so much to do, Starrie. Where do we begin, when so many of our people need so much?"

"Begin at the beginning," she replied philosophically. "And do what you can before you have to leave. Or have you decided to stay?"

He shook his head. "I can't. Seeing everything that's happened here, I know I have to go back, now more than ever." He stared blankly at the far wall for a few moments. "I suppose I should ask how you've been, but I really don't have the energy."

"I understand. Charges were dropped, against both of us. It seems our primary accuser, Baltar's aide Charon, went crazy before he died. He kept insisting he'd seen a dead man, and the man was trying to blackmail him. Some plot of Adama's, I think he was calling it, that we were part of."

Apollo couldn't resist a smile. "Wonderful. Anything else? Did Boomer make it?" If he's gone, I'm stuck here anyway, and Starbuck too.

"Boomer's fine, been around a lot. He helped with the defense at the Academy, figuring the cadets there wouldn't know him. One of the instructors recognized him, though. Strange rumors going around now. Between Charon and the Academy, he's started a new legend."

"Oh?" He yawned.

Ostara spoke with hushed reverence. "They're saying the ghosts of dead warriors rose to defend the Colonies from this disaster. The cadets stand up prouder and whisper about the tradition they carry on. They say the spirits of our dead won't let us fall, that those who died in our defense will always watch over us, and some day their own ghosts will walk the corridors of our academies and warships with them. Boomer's part of our mythology. It could be a dangerous precedent-"

"Hey," he interrupted tiredly, "next time, you save yourselves. We won't be here..."

She decided it was a feeble attempt at a joke, and chuckled at him. "I doubt we'll make the same mistake twice, not where the Cylons are involved."

"Any word from the Galactus? Or the Pegasus?"

She shook her head wordlessly. He groaned in response, but said no more. After a moment, his head dropped to her shoulder. She realized he'd fallen asleep sitting up, and eased herself out from under him, carefully resting his head on the arm of the couch. It was warm enough; he didn't need a covering. She turned out the lamps and let night flood the room, although at that moment Apollo would have slept through anything, even a full-scale alert.

She watched him for a moment, seeing the way shadows crept over the planes of his face and body. Something very gentle and thoughtful filled her eyes. When noisy children ran through a nearby hall, she quickly shushed them, then closed the door so he could sleep undisturbed.

The next day, Boomer was back again. He'd done what he could to help. Things were settling down, and the authorities were reasserting their power and beginning to put society back in order.

"There're already enough questions about you, Boomer," Apollo told him. He looked much better after some sleep, a shave, and a change of clothes. "Can't have them getting too close to our origin; it might mess things up beyond fixing. You might as well go back, and tell them to get ready for us."

"Be careful, Apollo, Starbuck." He pulled out the pendant, a small star-shaped device with an odd gleam to it. "See you in a little while, our time. Who knows how long, here?"

"Shouldn't be more than a few days, Boomer. Don't mess us up now, here?"

"Right." The three men solemnly shook hands, then Boomer stepped aside. A moment with the pendant, and he suddenly faded from view.

"So it's begun," Starbuck said fatalistically. "In some unknown time soon, you'll be gone, and this guy, too. I'll have my body to myself, again."

"I hope it hasn't been too uncomfortable." Apollo had almost forgotten; this world's Starbuck had let his friend have the ascendancy for several days. Perhaps it was kinder for his own feelings, but he had to remember that the other man's body would still breathe and live when his own had ceased to do so.

"Awh..." He waved. "All things considered, it's been worth it. I ... sorta like having 'company' I can depend on." More cheerfully, he went out of the room, a spring in his step.

Apollo was left alone with his wife. "Well, no comments?"

Her expression was almost sad. "What is there to say? In a few days, you'll be gone."

Artemis was the first of the family to return. She was almost pathetically grateful to see that the house still stood, but was surprised at the children playing on the lawn. A moment's consideration excused them. Refugees were entitled to whatever help they could give, especially orphaned children.

Ostara met her at the door, eager for information about the battle they'd missed. Apollo joined her as soon as he heard Artemis was there.

The dark-haired woman took a deep breath, drinking in their appearance, glad they were all right.

"The family?" Apollo demanded quietly. He looked ready for the worst.

"Uncle Adama's all right, and Athena. They were on the bridge. It took a hit, and some serious damage; a few injuries, but no personnel loss. Ares came through with flying colors; fifteen kills, I think. Real good for first blood, even in a five-day battle."

He was visibly relieved. She understood why; he'd told her how her young cousin had died in another reality.

Artemis turned a compassionate expression on Ostara. "But Ortega..." Her own tears began to spill. "The fourth day, a desperation run, I think. His laser generators were out, he couldn't shoot, they were strafing the bay again... Rammed the monsters, took out two of them... Ortega's dead. Lords, I loved him..." Her hands stretched pleadingly to the other woman.

Apollo turned away, letting himself sag against the wall. Ortega had been the best friend of this universe's Apollo. He owed the man some kind thoughts, some memories. And his loss meant Starrie would be even more alone when he ... left.

The women consoled each other. After a moment, he rejoined them, sharing their grief.

At least half his family had survived. The question now was Kobol, and the Pegasus. His brother was on that ship, under Kain's command. They were all that stood to defend his mother, and her fellow diplomats and bureaucrats. Had anything of their colony on the ancient mother world survived?

Every screen in the home communications center displayed information. Apollo had no qualms about using his mother's security channels and his father's military codes as well as the civilian lines of communication. Despite their many duties, there always seemed to be someone monitoring those screens, watching and hoping.

Starbuck was there when the first confused hints came through on the military band. Excited, he called the others. Apollo and Ostara reached the chamber almost at once. Artemis had returned to the Galactus, but the newly-weds were still on extended leave, at Adama's orders.

There was nothing they could do with the battlestar in spacedock, undergoing repairs, and it seemed important to the old man that the young couple have some time to themselves. That they spent it working in the city and at the Academy was irrelevant; Adama was fanatically insistent that they be in Caprica City as a symbol to their people. It was vital to him as well that they occupy the family home, and spend their nights there. They accepted his judgment; when the ship was repaired, and replacement Vipers manufactured for her, they would receive new orders.

Apollo, at least, doubted he would live to see those orders, and quietly hoped he'd have the opportunity to see this Commander Adama again before his necessary death.

The image on the console screen was from a distant satellite that had somehow escaped destruction. It was the Pegasus, returning to the Colonies.

"My God..."

Apollo almost repeated Starbuck's appalled whisper.

The Pegasus had been badly damaged. Battle-scarred from yahrens of patrol and combat before Kobol, the ship now looked almost derelict. The left landing bay pod had been discarded - intentionally cut off, from the appearances. Lopsided, she continually had to correct her drifting course to keep her gyros stabilized. Pitted and scored by laser fire, with several gaping holes that showed where chambers had exploded into space, she still flew with all the arrogance and pride Kain and his crew could give her. She had done her duty, and it well.

The stars behind her gradually began to take more distinct form, and they realized that other ships accompanied the battlestar, trudging faithfully behind like little birds waddling along behind their mother. Kobol had apparently been abandoned, but it was heartening that so many had made the journey.

"We should know soon if the Quorum made it," Starbuck said quietly. He was hopeful; Kain had been his commander, and would likely be so again soon.

The captain nodded without response. We'll know if Mother's alive, or if the Cylons destroyed our government. That'd be another disaster. Our local bodies are running things as smoothly as they can, but we need the Interplanetary Quorum functioning to get us back on our feet as a nation. If we have political chaos as well...

Ostara was watching the secondary monitors. "It's Commander Kain!" she called. "He made it, anyway, though he looks a little the worse for wear..."

Attention shifted to that screen. There was Kain, looking worn and tense but still very much in command, calling for a planetary hook-up through the satellite. Temporary communications had been jerry-rigged since the attack, and after a time, a local station reported it was ready. A few moments more, and the signal was transmitted to other satellites as well, giving Kain access to whichever parts of the Colonies still had video power.

Kain gestured, and the bridge camera switched its focus. Apollo caught a brief glimpse of Akilles before it settled on another familiar figure.

"Mother!"

President Ila had been injured. Her arm was in a sling, and bandages covered part of her face and neck, under her dark, high-collared dress. Apollo detected that she was wearing a wig, too, and wondered if she'd been caught in a fire.

But the well-known face was fiercely determined and strong. When she spoke, her voice held a firm quality of power and new-found recognition.

"People of the Colonies," she began, "it is so good to see home again, and to know that you have survived, in spite of our atrocious mishandling of this situation, and the Cylon treachery..."

She continued, taking full responsibility for the debacle, promising her people that they would rebuild, assuring them of hope. Her fluid voice held passionate intensity when she spoke of how the Cylons had destroyed the ancient monuments of Kobol, and burned the newly-built cities and farms. Gravely, she related the heroics of civilians and warriors who fought back and died for their people. She gave them a tale of glory, as she told how the fighters of the Pegasus had come to their rescue, and how that ship had beaten back the enemy long enough for a complete evacuation of all known survivors. Her voice filled with pain as she told how news had come of the attack on their home worlds, and of how they had reacted to that horrible information.

The journey back was another tale of heroics and fear; Cylons watched and threatened them all the way. Cmdr. Kain had taken necessary detours, and his crew had fought with all the skill and ferocious courage for which they were known. All credit for their survival was unstintingly laid at his door, rebounding to the credit of all the warriors in the Colonies.

Finally, with a heavy heart, she again laid the blame on herself as both guilty accessory to the catastrophe by believing in the Cylon treaty, and as martyr for the humans, accepting all responsibility for what had happened, and begging her people's forgiveness for her folly. She pledged to spend herself on their behalf, to devote herself to rebuilding, not to abandon them now, in their time of greatest need. She assured them they would find the greatness they were capable of, under the leadership of far-seeing men and woman from all the Colonies. They had the resources and potential, she reminded them; all they needed to do was use them. They would prove to the Cylons and the rest of the universe that humans were there to stay, and could never be swept from existence at an enemy's whim.

Reiterating her promise to stay on as president until a new Council could be elected and some semblance of normalcy restored, she signed off.

Apollo shook himself. His mother had spoken for over two centars; she was obviously hoarse and her emotions were evident. There were tears in his eyes; if she weren't re-elected to the Council, it would be the next big Caprican mistake. But it was unlikely that those presently in power would be returned to the Quorum. Someone would have to be held responsible, and the citizens would want scapegoats.

The most obvious choice was missing, dead in the flames of Kobol or fled to his Cylon allies. Either way, the treacherous Baltar was beyond their reach, but not their hatred. He could never return to the worlds he had thought to rule. The damage his treason had done would never be forgotten, nor were the Cylons likely to forgive the failure of their plan. Perhaps it was best to hope he had perished, although Apollo would dearly love to see him pay for at least some of his crimes.

"She offers hope," Ostara murmured. Somehow, it seemed quite natural to let his arm rest around her shoulders, and to feel her arms automatically circle his waist.

Ila offered hope. Apollo knew that was something their people needed very much at that moment. He smiled, feeling much renewed.

Chapter Ten

Two days later, the Pegasus was home. Friends and relatives were reunited as the battlestar's crew took in the awesome devastation that had occurred in their absence.

No one was more hurt by what she saw than President Ila. Her speech and her mere presence seemed to invigorate her people; they cheered her when she went out among them. She felt shame at every plaudit; she would never be free of guilt and self-recrimination. She felt her people should have shunned and reviled her; instead, they demanded she lead them into the future.

The worst trial of all came when she first faced her second son after the long, arduous days of meeting with the survivors. The strain told heavily on him - and he was the one who had warned her to be cautious. Her husband and other children had accepted her decisions as president; only Apollo had challenged her to her face, despite her surprise and anger. She had arrogantly humiliated and dismissed him, when his sole concern was for the good of the Colonies - the same duty she had accepted under an even more binding oath than his own.

She saw tears in his eyes as he returned her tight embrace. There were no recriminations there either. Silent apologies were offered and accepted; the breach was healed. She didn't know he wept for a dead woman, and the knowledge that he must soon leave her to grieve for him.

Akilles cleansed his soul of grueling memories and weariness in the fresh greenery of the solarium. Meditation among the scents and life of growing herbs, flowers, and shrubs had always eased his heartaches.

He heard the quiet footsteps that heralded his brother's approach. The house was full of guests, but he would have recognized Apollo's step in any crowd; he'd grown up with those footsteps behind him. Even this stranger who occupied his younger brother's body had the same carriage and way of moving.

"Welcome back, Akilles." The young man sat down beside him among the potted ferns and paving stones.

The major impulsively shook his hand. "It worked, Apollo. Our plans worked, all the way across the board."

"I'm glad," he whispered. "I couldn't have seen it happen again."

"If you hadn't come, or if you'd just tried to blend in, it would have happened as you remember, and our people would be nothing but a cosmic memory, or stellar refugees." He studied his brother's face gravely. "Your main concern now can be making a life here. You know you've got my support - and I'm sure Ostara will see reason soon enough."

"We've ... reached an accommodation, Akilles." His gaze shifted, and the older man sensed there were things Apollo wasn't telling him. "Whatever happens, she is my wife. Remember that. And there's a little boy..."

Akilles was amused, wondering what else Apollo hadn't told him, but glad the marriage seemed to be working. "You have been busy, haven't you, little brother? If that's the way you want it, I'll respect your wishes. But you sound like you're making plans to leave."

Apollo was quiet for a long moment. "It's very possible." He didn't elaborate.

Charon's expression was ruthless as he studied the news crystals.

So Captain Apollo and his family survived, all of them. And Starbuck, who betrayed us. Well, I survived too. And I understand your hatred now, Baltar. They are dangerous men. But I am a dangerous enemy, too. And they will know that, very soon.

They will pay, in full, for what they've cost me.

A public ceremony was held to honor the heroes. A large crowd gathered to view it; they needed the pomp, the celebration. It made the horror of the five-day battle seem more remote, and proved their own survival capability.

The President and the other surviving members of the Quorum gathered at the monument to the ancient forefathers of Kobol, where a group of representative warriors and civilians were to be decorated for their efforts during the Cylon peace deceit, and its aftermath. Commander Adama, of course, represented the military. The rest of his family witnessed it as part of the crowd, by their own wishes not having any official role in the ceremonies. The younger members didn't want it to become common knowledge that a conspiracy of treason had saved their worlds; not even the President and the commander knew, or would ever know, if they had a choice.

Apollo and Ostara had a small boy with them. Troy's parents were as dead as their ephemeral dream of peace. His mother had died on Kobol, his father in the first raid on Caprica City. He had no other known surviving relatives. The two warriors had already requested adoption papers for the youngster. Unlike many others orphaned in the five days of battle, he already had a new home and new parents.

The centars of stuffy ritual passed quickly. Afterward, Troy ran off with several other children, losing himself in the milling crowd. He knew where to find his new family, and, being so young, was able to forget the battle for a time, although he would not quickly recover from his loss.

Ostara stayed close to her husband's side, hoping to have time to talk honestly with the warrior she'd coerced into marriage. They had so few opportunities, with the needs of the day, and she had a premonition that time was running out. He might find her growing feelings for him embarrassing, but she felt it was her right and duty to share them with him. She'd forced him into marrying her, for her own reasons, and now wished their union would have opportunity to grow. She'd done more than mimic Starbuck's deep friendship for Apollo; it had taken root and become something more. If the time they'd spent together in the past few sectars was any indication, love was not far off, at least for her.

"Apollo...?"

"Starrie, let's join my father. I recognize some of those warriors." He gestured toward a group of men and women bearing down on Adama and Akilles. Several of them wore Pegasus insignia - friends of the major's and Saba's. Adama and Akilles waved friendly invitations. With the ritual over, and a centar before the memorial meal which was to accompany it, they might have a few centons to share.

"Apollo." She caught his arm. "I just wanted to ask, how long do you think it'll be before Boomer and the others call you back?" How long before you die?

He looked apologetic. "I wish I knew, Starrie - well, maybe I don't - but I told you before, we have to wait and see. It could be any time. It depends on how long it takes Wilker and his people to set up the equipment, how time passes between here and there. I understand you want me to stay, you think you feel something for me-"

"I do more than think it," she insisted quietly. "Why can't we talk about my feelings? Why do you always change the subject or find something else to do when I bring it up? And don't give me that line that I don't really know you," she mimicked. "I know more about you than you'd like, from him, and I thought, these past days, that-"

"Starrie!" He sounded aggravated. "This isn't the time..."

"It's never the time. But I've got to talk to you, and soon it'll be too late. There're some things you ought to know, that we have to discuss..."

"Hello, Captain Apollo. So good to meet you, finally."

Both warriors turned at the sound of the familiar voice. Charon smiled malevolently. Too late, they saw the weapon in his hand. Apollo couldn't draw, barely had time to step protectively between his wife and the civilian before Charon fired, at point-blank range.

Pain seared into his chest, and he collapsed with a cry of agony. Still conscious, he saw everything around him seem to shift into slow motion as attention focused on him. People screamed as they realized what had happened. He could hear their voices as distorted sounds echoing in his head.

He didn't recognize the man who pulled his mother down behind the podium, out of any possible line of fire. Others dove for cover behind whatever protection was available. He saw Commander Adama run toward him, and Akilles draw his weapon, but there were too many people between them; neither could get a clean shot at the man who'd just-

"Killed me..." he breathed in surprise. Charon had just murdered him. He wasn't surprised; Karibdis had tried to do the same.

There was no chance for Ostara to escape. She was unarmed, dressed for a festival; she couldn't even grab Apollo's weapon, it was under him where he'd fallen. Charon sighted on her next. It seemed to take ages, but Apollo knew it was only a micron, a fragment of time that Charon gained from the crowd's confusion and shock.

Ares appeared from nowhere, and his brother and wife hit the ground together as the shot went off. Apollo saw the beam touch the young man, and almost felt the pain himself.

Not like this! He didn't survive that battle to die here!

Charon shifted his aim, ever so slowly lowering the laser to sight on Ares and Ostara again.

Get out of his way! Please, don't let him shoot them...

Starbuck stepped out of the crowd, his weapon raised. He fired slowly, the beam taking an incredibly long time to reach Charon. The murderer dropped without a word, his own laser falling beside him.

Time's normal flow resumed. Starbuck threw himself to his knees beside his fallen comrade.

"Zac...?" Apollo whispered. Agony lanced through him; the laser bolt had burned through his lung, and maybe singed his heart. He could feel the blood running inside, and knew he didn't have long.

"Just grazed," Starbuck told him, raising his head so he could see. Ares rose, clutching his arm, white-faced with pain.

The woman he'd taken the wound to protect struggled out from under him, her skirt torn in the fall. She crawled to her husband's side. "Was this your plan?" she demanded huskily. "To die a hero, shot down at the height of your glory?"

"No... Charon...?"

"Dead, Apollo." Starbuck was grim. "I owed him, from before. I owe him for you, too, I guess... Lords, to come so far..." He tried to staunch the bleeding. There was too much blood; he couldn't stop it. The crimson spread across his hands and uniform. With bloodied fingers, he took his friend's hand.

"Sorry ... I won't be ... going back ... with you..."

Adama and Akilles finally pushed their way through the crowd to his side; he could hear his mother screaming somewhere beyond them. He thought he recognized Athena, too, holding Ostara's hand. Then Artemis came, supporting the shaken President.

Starbuck suddenly rocked back, his face momentarily blank. Then he turned disbelieving eyes to his friend. "I think Boomer's in time..." No one else heard the whisper.

His family was around him. He saw Starbuck smile unexpectedly, sadly, and felt the squeeze of his hand. "Safe journeys, Captain, wherever you may go. I'll remember you..."

He felt a familiar whirling in his head, and a loosening of the connection with his body. The pain faded behind. It was a very different feeling from the moment, sectars ago, when he'd been torn from his own body. With dying awareness, he knew what Starbuck meant, and a moment's relief, until he saw his wife's shattered expression. There was nothing else he could give her, no consolation.

"Starrie ... kiss me good bye ... if you love me..."

He resisted the pull until he felt her mouth on his. He gave her his last breath, then dove without hesitation for the safety of that featureless darkness. In a moment, he lost all touch with any physical world, and reality ceased to have meaning.

Behind him, his family and friends stared at his body for a long time before they could accept that he was dead. Only Starbuck and Ostara understood the expression on his face. Akilles and Artemis, the primary movers in the conspiracy, hadn't known their ally would leave when it was over. There would be no miracle this time. Another loss, more proof that Cylon treachery sometimes clothed itself with human greed and vengeance.

"I'll sorry, Commander," Starbuck told the dead man's father. "He's ... gone."

Ila burst into tears, the shock in her eyes giving way to bitter grief. This public emotion was unique for her. There had been too many losses in too short a time. The lieutenant wondered if she would blame him for Apollo's death, for not being there in time, as she'd held him responsible for a death once before.

Somebody spat on Charon's body.

Ostara knelt beside Apollo, head bowed, hands clasped on his.

Starbuck touched her shoulder. "It's all right," he whispered. "He's all right. They made it. You'll be all right, too. You got what you wanted; you're his wife, and his family..."

"It's not all I wanted; but it's too late now. I'll miss him, Starbuck." For a moment, their eyes met, and memories from another universe, shared through a stranger's mind, filled them both. Then, Ostara smiled sadly and turned to cry on her wounded brother-in-law's good shoulder.

Starbuck felt a hand on his own shoulder, and looked up to see acceptance and a curious, unexpected question in Akilles's eyes. What he was for Apollo in that other world, he could now be for the major in this one. Glancing back at Adama, he knew the old enmity between him and this family had been washed away by everything that had occurred. He nodded agreement to what Akilles offered; the other man appeared satisfied, and a brief handclasp sealed a new friendship.

The crowd moved away as the site was cleared. Media cameras kept rolling as the bereaved family gathered and departed. Adama supported Ila, who looked faint. Athena trailed her mother, concerned. Artemis and Ostara assisted Ares to his feet. Troy tagged along behind his new mother, his eyes wide and helpless at yet another loss. Akilles and Starbuck carried Apollo's body. He would be buried with honor; his family and friends would grieve.

His memorial tribute would read, "A Warrior of the Colonies." They all knew he would be pleased with those words. Only a few of them knew how much that simple epithet would really mean.

Apollo's first gasp of air brought surprise. He expected the sharp stabbing pain that he recalled from his last centon. But breathing was painless. He opened eyes, wondering where he was.

It was life center. He realized with elation that he was on the Galactica. He was home.

He tried to sit up, and nearly fainted.

"Captain!" Someone rushed to his side, and quickly summoned other help.

He stared in disbelief at the image of Demetra, and almost panicked, afraid for a moment that the whole nightmare was beginning again. Then Cassiopeia joined the other med tech, and touched his hand.

"I'll stay with him, Demeter. Just lie down, Apollo. You've been in a coma for almost ten days. Your body's a little weak. Give it time to recuperate before you jump out of bed."

He groaned. "More physical therapy. But this time, I don't have to worry about the nurse."

The women's confusion was obvious. He made no attempt to enlighten them.

Apollo still felt weak, but able to walk again. The doctors wouldn't let him or Starbuck out of life center yet, and he was being vividly reminded how much he hated the place. They had him moving around as much as possible, and he had an occasional visitor, but being barred from flying or much of anything else made him restless, especially after the nearly two sectars in that other universe, when he'd been almost continuously on the move. He privately thought that if he could survive that, he ought to be allowed a simple thing like a patrol.

He was also jittery about Demeter's presence, until he discovered the med tech was engaged to marry a warrior from Red Squadron. Cassie hadn't understood why he laughed when she told him that.

Boomer breezed in and made himself at home. The lieutenant had been transported physically into that other universe, and showed signs of those strenuous days. He was a bit thinner, and still looked a little haggard around the eyes, even after several days of rest and light duty.

"Well, we evacuated the planet."

"Oh?" The captain sat up, trying to control the weak trembling that the movement started in his arms and shoulders. "I suppose that means Dr. Wilker's doing his experiments on the Galactica now. I've got to talk to him about his last tests. I don't exactly like the results."

Boomer shook his head. "Don't bother. The Commander's already done so." A slight smile touched his features. "Our Commander decided, with a little input from on-scene personnel, that the alien machinery was too dangerous for us - or anyone else - to have access to."

"What?"

"We couldn't risk bringing it on board, not knowing for certain how it was powered or most of its operational procedures. We also couldn't risk someone else finding it and misusing it. We destroyed it."

"I can't see Dr. Wilker calmly standing by for that."

"His objections were noted."

"But had no impact on the decision?"

"No. Are you trying to suggest you agree with him?" Boomer demanded.

"Actually-"

"Apollo, we were there, both of us, in that other world. That alien technology could skip from place to place in other dimensions! We got lucky enough to be in one we were compatible with. Our technicians didn't know what they were doing. We were fortunate to get home. Next time, who knows? Was it that very equipment that destroyed that race? We haven't figured out much about their society, or how it functioned-"

Apollo held up a hand. "No, Boomer, I don't agree with Wilker. I think it was a wise thing to remove temptation. That's what it was, you know, not just a piece of alien machinery. It was temptation - to try and change a world we didn't belong to. And that's what we did. I hope it was the right thing, but I don't know.

"And the possibility that their technology could skip time, as well as place... Boomer, think of the possibilities. I'm not sure we're capable of making the decisions that would take, or resisting the urge to ... meddle, to try and maybe change the past. Do we have the wisdom? Do we have the right?

"We might change our own past. I've read a little, theories about what that might do. I know I'm not ready to deal with the time paradox. You did the right thing."

The two men were silent for a few moments, considering the serious dilemma Apollo had brought up. Did they have the right to change the course of history in that other universe?

They had done so, rightly or not. Apollo couldn't stand aside while the Cylons destroyed the Colonies again. However similar their alternate worlds might have been to that point, their paths diverged irreconcilably because of his presence, and Starbuck's, and Boomer's.

Would the separated universes converge again? Apollo and Boomer had both read some history in those Colonies. It had happened before; their time streams had separated, then come together again with similar incidents, similar actions by important figures. The humans in that world now had an opportunity to rebuild their planets; maybe their chance would pull his own world together again. If the Colonies survived in one universe, maybe they would get another opportunity here. Maybe the time stream tried to keep their paths flowing together. If that was so, by saving the other Colonies, they might have given their own a second chance.

Apollo decided to take a walk, although he was already tired from that day's physical therapy. Boomer went with him.

The captain considered stopping in the computer room to check personnel records and present Fleet status, but decided he wasn't quite up to finding out whether there really had been an Ostara in the military before the Destruction, or if such a woman still existed somewhere in the Fleet. Maybe later, if he could figure out what to say to a woman who'd been his wife.

They found the third member of the alternate universe party taking it easy in his own cubicle.

"Hi, Starbuck!"

The lieutenant hastily made himself presentable. "Hi Captain, Boomer. The doctors get to you yet?"

"What do you mean?" Boomer pulled up seats for both of them.

Starbuck shifted uncomfortably. "Seems somebody's real interested in finding out what happened, what we remember about the time we were ... gone. Details. Lots of details. Representatives of the Council, and our scientific staff. They'd like full reports, as soon as we're up to it, filling in all the blanks. We're celebrities now." He didn't look like he enjoyed his new status.

Boomer whistled. "That's gonna be an interesting discussion."

Apollo's eyes focused on the ceiling. "Well, let's see. I committed treason, was blackmailed into marriage, hid out in a brothel, and paid for my crimes by being murdered by a traitor. Meanwhile, Boomer played ghost and blackmailed the aide of an esteemed Councilor, in the same conspiracy. All in all, Starbuck, you came out of this better than we did. You didn't become a criminal - oh, unless you count breaking into the planetary defense computer offices. Of course, you did have this little identity problem, but once you got it straight who you were..."

Starbuck's eyes clouded at the reminder of Ostara, and the advantage the woman had taken of his memories and knowledge. Being cast as a woman, and Apollo's wife, was definitely not the high point of his life. He remembered how mortified and disgusted he'd felt, the first few days, adjusting to a new body, and suddenly finding himself the object of male attention. The shock when the woman awakened and resumed control, deliberately blocking his awareness while she plotted, was also a frightening memory.

He had no interest in reliving the experience, especially for the Council. It was too personal to share; it was bad enough that Boomer and Apollo knew what had happened.

And there had been moments when he himself hadn't been entirely certain of any dichotomy between mind and body. Had it been her subconscious acting on his perceptions of himself?

His relationships with Cassiopeia, Athena, and several other women had become entirely new adventures. He would tread much more cautiously with them in the future.

"I'd rather not have to talk to the Council or our scientists," Starbuck growled, grimacing. "It's none of their business."

"Actually," Boomer drawled, "my memories are kind of cloudy. Getting fainter, too."

His friends stared at him for a moment, until the meaning behind his words began to filter through.

As Apollo had said, their people might not be ready for the news of other, similar universes, with versions of themselves living and dying there - especially since Boomer had personally seen to the destruction of the machinery capable of taking them to those places. They might even be viewed as madmen, sharing a delusion. It was a difficult thing to accept, and there was nothing to be gained by offering the knowledge to the Fleet. And the memories of that place, while not all necessary cruel, were personally uncomfortable for all of them.

"I see what you mean," Apollo commented in a faraway voice. "It's all kind of hazy. Maybe Dr. Wilker didn't really have the stuff figured out as well as he thought he did..."

Starbuck looked grateful that what he considered a humiliating experience would not become public knowledge. "Too bad we can't give the technocrats the information they want. I just can't remember much, and what there is doesn't make sense..."

"Technocrats? Got that from Michael and Sarah, didn't you?" Apollo grinned at him. It was good to hear his friends laugh so easily again, and pleasant to meet their eyes without feeling embarrassed.

"Hey, Apollo?" Starbuck suggested a moment later. "Next time you volunteer to become an experimental animal for Wilker, remind me not to be anywhere in the vicinity!"