Survive The Alliance
By Sharon Monroe and J.D. Rich
A Battlestar Galactica/V Crossover Novel
Copyright 1987. Used With Permission
Chapter One 10
Chapter Two 23
Chapter Three 43
Chapter Four 66
Chapter Five 87
Chapter Six 114
Chapter Seven 142
Chapter Eight 166
"V" and "Battlestar Galactica" with appearances from "A-Team," "Airwolf," "Knight Rider," and others. The Galactica finally discovers Earth, but the Visitors have gotten there first. Apollo is shot down and becomes Diana's converted pet. Starbuck is captured by Phillip's faction, and must become an ambassador of peace, if he can trust the invaders. The Resistance fights to free their potential new allies, but then the new Visitor Leader arrives. Prepare for the battle royale...
The Visitors are not our friends.
When the alien Visitors came to Earth, they seemed entirely human in form and motive. From their great Mother Ships, hovering over Earth's major cities, they offered friendship and technology in exchange for the raw materials they needed for their continuing war against an implacable interstellar enemy. They were welcomed gladly, until subtle changes appeared. More and more, it seemed the aliens were masters, and humans nothing but obedient slaves. Resistance groups sprang up, composed of humans who distrusted the Visitors and were concerned for the safety of their planet.
Dr. Juliet Parrish, a scientist, and Michael Donovan, a journalist, formed the core of the Los Angeles Resistance. They learned the Visitors were actually a reptilian species that had come to bleed Earth of its natural resources and population – humans were, for them, just another meat animal. With this knowledge, others joined the Resistance, including Ham Tyler and Chris Farber, mercenaries by trade, whose experience was invaluable.
For teenaged Robin Maxwell, the Resistance meant sanity as well as help. Pregnant by one of the aliens, she delivered twins – a human-looking girl named Elizabeth, and a reptilian boy who soon died. The surviving hybrid grew quickly, shedding her skin like a lizard until she had the appearance of an eight-year-old. In a second metamorphosis, she attained the physical maturity of an eighteen-year-old woman – at an actual age of less than two years. She soon demonstrated awesome powers, including telekinesis and clairvoyance. However, it took the love of Kyle Bates, a human, to give her the emotional maturity to handle her powers and physical age.
Diana, a visitor scientist, took control of the invading fleet after assassinating her superiors. Uneasy Visitors formed a Fifth Column against her, working with the Resistance. Willie, a simple trooper, joined when he could no longer view the intelligent humans "like rats." Martin, an officer, befriended Mike Donovan and tried to save his son Sean, but the boy was irrevocably committed to his chosen alien mentor.
The L.A. Resistance wasn't idle. Donovan and Parrish sent a message into space, to the enemies of the Visitors, asking their help. Then, a bacterium toxic to the Visitors was discovered, and the surviving aliens were forced to flee the planet. Diana attempted to destroy Earth completely by exploding her Mother Ship, but Elizabeth, the Starchild, prevented it, and the vicious alien was captured. The Fifth Columnists were accepted in human society; they would have to take an antidote to the "Red Dust" every twelve hours for the rest of their lives, but they could survive on Earth.
It was soon discovered that the "Red Dust" required a cold, dormant period to reproduce. The bacteria remained active in Earth's colder regions, but it soon died in areas that never froze, leaving large parts of the planet open to a second invasion. Diana escaped, killed Martin, and returned to her waiting partisans to lead that invasion.
Her new Security Commander was Lydia. The power struggles and jealousies of the two females brought Charles, a nobleman of their planet, to Earth to take command. While having an affair with Lydia, he forced Diana to marry him – and was poisoned on their wedding day. Each woman accused the other.
Inspector General Philip arrived to judge the case. Invoking ancient law, he forced Diana and Lydia to work together to preserve themselves, then remained to assume control of the fleet. Discovering it was actually Diana who had murdered his twin brother Martin, Philip actively joined the Fifth Column.
While Lydia attempted to win Philip's favor, Diana secretly sent troops into Los Angeles under the command of James, her personal favorite and paramour. Small groups of aliens, collaborators, and Resistance fighters skirmished almost constantly, and civilians fled whenever they had the opportunity.
Julie Parrish and Mike Donovan studied the stars, each wondering when, if ever, the enemies of the Visitors would pick up their signal, and if they would respond to the human distress call. The guerrilla war had already cost so many lives in the attempt to save their planet from the invaders. If there was no help from the stars, they might keep fighting for years, until there was nothing left on Earth worth possessing. The lizards might suck their planet dry as a stolen egg.
"They'll come," the blonde woman said, cradling her laser rifle, a weapon stolen from their vicious foe. "They have to come. If they hate the Visitors as much as it seems, to be fighting a war of extermination, they've got to come."
"They will. But until they do, we've got to keep fighting. It's our Earth! And we'll find a way to hold it," Donovan assured her. He put an arm around her waist. In the cool mountain air, she was shivering.
"How long do you think it'll be?" she persisted.
"I don't know. Could be years. Could be tomorrow. But we'll hang in there. We've got to."
"I wonder what they're like, the enemies of the Visitors..." Julie's eyes wandered across the lights in the sky. From one of them might come Earth's salvation, an ally in their desperate struggle. But when?
She clutched his hand. They made a heroic picture, the guerrilla warriors who fought incredible odds with inferior technology. The alien weapons they carried were at odds with the dark jeans and turtleneck sweaters of native manufacture. Silhouetted against the star-speckled ebony of the night, their faces turned upward as they clung together, they were nonetheless figures of hope, perhaps the only hope left for their shattered world.
There are those who believe that life here began out there, far across the universe, with tribes of humans who may have been the forefathers of the Egyptians, or the Toltecs, or the Mayans; that they may have been the architects of the great pyramids, or the lost civilizations of Lemuria, or Atlantis. Some believe that there may yet be brothers of man who, even now, fight to survive, somewhere beyond the heavens.
The Twelve Colonies of Man had fought a devastating war against the Cylons for a thousand yahrens. The metallic Cylons had been created by an organic reptilian race millennia before, but those original Cylons were believed extinct, and their robot successors were determined to wipe out the life species known as "Man." A false armistice treaty was offered the humans; eager for peace, they accepted and began to celebrate. At the height of the celebration, the Cylons attacked the fleet and the Twelve Worlds, completely shattering Colonial military and civilian power. Count Baltar, the human traitor who arranged the armistice, rejoiced in the defeat of his worlds.
One battlestar survived the Destruction – the Galactica, under Commander Adama, the sole surviving member of the Quorum of Twelve, the governing body of the Colonies. He gathered all the survivors he could, in any sort of ship that could still fly. He intended to lead them to Earth, a thirteenth colony, far away in time and space. Two hundred twenty vessels, crowded with humans of all ages, creeds, colors, and colonies, followed.
They fled to Carillon in search of food, fuel, and water. They also encountered a Cylon task force, but defeated it and escaped, destroying the planet in the process.
The next goal was Kobol, ancient mythical homeworld of Humanity. There Adama found clues that would lead to Earth, but the trip would be long and uncertain. They would discover small human settlements, friendly and otherwise; they would make contact with – but lose – another battlestar, the Pegasus, under Commander Cain, the "Living Legend"; and they would meet strange beings in a "Ship of Lights," who would both aid them against a diabolical enemy, and ask their help in saving another world.
Through it all, they persevered – Commander Adama, (usually) acknowledged leader of the Fleet; Colonel Tigh, his Executive Officer and ever-loyal right hand; Captain Apollo, Adama's son and Flight Commander of Blue Squadron; Lieutenant Starbuck, brash and womanizing, who always counted on his luck; Lieutenant Boomer, a dependable, stabilizing influence on his friends; Lieutenant Sheba, Cain's daughter, left behind and always trying to live up to her father's reputation for "the day he returns"; Bojay, also from the Pegasus, close as a brother; Cassiopeia, socialator turned med tech; Athena, Adama's daughter, a bridge officer and Tigh's aide; Omega, the steadiest of Adama's bridge crew; Boxey, the rambunctious son of Apollo and Serina, and his mechanical pet Muffey; Doctor Wilker, whose electronic wizardry proved invaluable; and the rest of the warriors and civilians – Giles, Jolly, Greenbean, Doctor Salik, Rigel, Councilman Uri, Siress Tinia, the scoundrel Chameleon...
But all the way, it seemed the Cylons were just behind them, waiting for a chance to strike the final blow. Baltar, the traitor, still served the Cylons. After several attempts to mislead Adama into a second trap, and a period of imprisonment in the Fleet's prison barge, but now freed, he contented himself with trailing the Galactica, and waiting...
Fleeing from the Cylon tyranny, the last battlestar, Galactica, leads a rag-tag fugitive fleet on a lonely quest – for a shining planet known as Earth.
"Commander!" The excited brunette looked up; there was a light in her wide blue-green eyes. "Father!"
The blue-clad command officers were surprised at her lack of decorum.
"What is it, Lieutenant?" Colonel Tigh snapped.
"Athena?" Her father sounded more puzzled.
"A signal, sir, on a low band! Sir, it's from Earth!" Her voice was a shrill squeak of elation.
"What?" Pandemonium broke out on the huge bridge of the battlestar, as personnel rushed over and excited voices carried her words along.
Then shock and dismay colored her features. "Father! They're under attack ... by a lizard species..."
Adama spoke in the despairing silence that followed. "What information do they give?"
She stared vacantly at her board. "What...? Oh... They're under attack. It sounds like they're trying to summon an enemy of the invaders, someone who might be a friend..." She sighed shakily. "They give their coordinates..."
The commander's face had been carefully composed; now his eyes widened in horror. "They give their coordinates over an open channel? Lords of Kobol..."
"What is it, sir?" Tigh questioned urgently.
"The Cylons! They must be receiving this as well. They know, now, where we're going, and how to get there! Omega, plot a course for that location. Get us there as rapidly as possible."
The flight officer ran back to his post.
"Tigh," Adama whispered, "could we have come so far, just to know the Cylons may already be on the way?"
"At least we can warn them..."
"How long will the trip take?" the old veteran snapped at his young officer.
"Approximately eight sectars, sir," Omega replied intently.
Adama nodded and turned away. "A long time," he breathed. "Perhaps all the time Earth has. The Lords grant we have a chance to help them." To himself, he wondered. They already face an enemy from the stars, and seek allies against the invaders. We looked to them for hope in our own struggle. Do we unite merely to witness the end of our race?
"Command-Centurion. We-are-receiving-a-signal. Its-origin-is-a-planet-in-Beta-sector. It-is-from-the-human-vermin."
The gold-overlaid Cylon swivelled to face its underling. Eerie light flashed off its shell from the bridge illuminators. "What-information-is-available?" it intoned without emotion.
"The-inhabitants-refer-to-their-planet-as-Earth. The-Galactica-seeks-that-world. It-is-under-attack-by-the-Forebears."
At Philip's urging, the Leader himself came to Earth. The alien took Elizabeth Maxwell, the Starchild, to be his consort, and make peace between their disparate species. Elizabeth accepted her heritage, and the union. Unknown to the rest, the treacherous Diana, still aspiring to military glory and political power, had planted a bomb on the Leader's shuttle.
And that's the state of the war tonight...Chapter One
Journeys End In...
"Kyle stowed away!"
The Resistance leaders and their Visitor friends stared after the departing shuttle, realizing that Kyle Bates would not, after all, permit the half-human woman he loved to leave him. After all they'd seen and experienced of the Leader in the past few weeks, after the vision of his brightly shining form, and the literal possession of the Starchild, the young man still meant to win Elizabeth back, vand convince her to remain on Earth.
"I do not believe the Leader will harm him," Philip ventured. "Elizabeth would not permit it."
"If she still remembers her humanity, after that ... what did you call it, psychic commune? She went to that shuttle with the look of a woman going to her lover!" Donovan commented.
"As I am sure she is," the Visitor officer agreed. "But if I am not mistaken, she has loved Kyle as well, and the Leader will sense that, and accept it."
"I don't know too many men who would trust an old flame around!" Julie murmured, with an oblique glance at Mike Donovan.
"The Leader is not a man; he is more than simply a male of our species. More than that, I cannot explain. It is a part of our racial memory, our existence as a species, our very being. I doubt you could understand it totally," Philip stated with quiet conviction.
"Try us!" Donovan demanded.
"Mike!" Julie interrupted. "The middle of a Visitor Mother Ship is no place to be questioning motives and actions." Her smile eased the words. "You've trusted Philip before; trust him now. This is supposed to be a seal of peace between us. He says the Leader will understand. Maybe Kyle will come to see and accept Elizabeth's decision, and come back to us."
"What if he doesn't?"
There was no answer to the troubling question as the humans turned to Philip and his aide, Security Commander Lydia. It was the female alien who spoke.
"The Leader came for Elizabeth. He knew her soul before he arrived; she is truly one of us as well as one of you. The Leader thus knows that Kyle loves her, and must be willing to accept that as part of her – indeed, it may enrich their own union. But it is her past. Kyle is no threat to what the Starchild and the Leader will share. It is simply another proof that we have many things in common, that both our species are capable of love – and compassion." Her lips curved coldly, and something fiercely elated touched her eyes. "If you will excuse me, I must see to the prisoners."
The female in the form of a slender blonde moved away. Diana and James had been thorns under her belly for a long time, but it had taken this long to prove their treason against the planet and the Leader to whom she devoted her being.
"If you wish to return to the surface," Philip began, "there is a shuttle ready, with one of our former Fifth Columnists to pilot you."
"Yes, thank you, Philip. We have a lot of rebuilding to do..." Julie said. "Let's go, Mike."
As they walked, the man commented in an undertone, "I trust Philip as I trusted Martin, but the Leader certainly didn't seem very compassionate when they first landed and invaded, destroying or brainwashing half our population and using the other half of us for food!"
"I'm worried about Kyle, too. But there doesn't seem to be anything we can do about it now. Wait and see what happens..."
Diana's glare was like that of a captured cobra, while Lydia's smile suggested a python gloating over its helpless prey before swallowing it whole.
"Well, Diana, darling," the jailer announced, "it seems you have finally lost!"
"It's not over yet, Lydia, dear. You shall see, you and Philip both."
Her captor's eyes flicked casually over the gray prison tunic and confinement belt the other woman wore. "I already see, Diana, darling. Let me know if you'd like a scorpion. I'd be happy to oblige you, for old time's sake." With a smirk, she turned and walked out.
Diana hissed. For a moment, her reptilian tongue flicked from her human-shaped mouth. The false eyes couldn't hide the angry, hate-filled gleam of the slitted irises below. "When the Leader dies, soon, soon," she whispered, "I'll tear out your living heart and feast on it, Lydia. And that traitor Philip's, too. I will drain this planet, and leave it an empty, sloughed skin!"
A moment later, another Visitor in human-skin entered.
"Well, what do you want?" Diana demanded of the unfamiliar figure.
"Commander," the man said deferentially, "I am Lieutenant Douglas. I've served on this ship for almost a year, though I'm sure you don't remember me. My work has never been of the type to come to your notice..."
"So?" she hissed. "Why are you here?"
He looked around before coming conspiratorially closer. "There are those of us who do not wish peace with the humans. Some of us feel we have spent too much to give up this world now. We have lost friends and siblings to these humans. We wish to see them properly humbled, and you, Commander, in your proper place as conqueror of this world."
She stepped nearer to the cell entrance, a smile growing on her face. "And you came here to tell me that?" she asked softly. "I'm grateful for your loyalty, but..."
Before she could tell him to do something concrete, the young officer spoke again, urgently, "Commander, we have a shuttle ready. If you wish to escape, we have a place prepared on this planet, a den. The Fifth Columnists are not the only ones to keep secrets. When we saw what might happen, heard that the Leader approached... We can leave now, while things are still uncertain, before the Mother Ships fall back from this world in its gesture of good faith..."
"Now I remember you. You're in communications."
"Lead me, Douglas. And believe me, your loyalty will receive the reward it deserves," she assured him fervently. Her smile was a promise as well. The young Visitor was tall and strong, handsome even in his human disguise. She'd noticed him before, but the blond James had come to her attention before she could act on her inclinations. James, however, was becoming tiresome, his ambitions too great. Perhaps her paramour needed some gentle encouragement to try harder to please her...
"So, with Kyle gone, you get to set up Science Frontiers again." Donovan shook his head. "Quite a job."
"Well," Julie smiled, "I won't exactly be doing it alone. Steve Maitland is coming down to help, and there are others, like Murray and Callie..."
Donovan couldn't help stiffening. He'd forgotten the old flame, the scientist they'd helped rescue from the Mother Ship, after sabotaging another of Diana's vile experiments on humans.
The woman looked apologetic. "We need him, Mike. This is where a lot of the technological exchanges will be going on. He knows their equipment, and the theories their science works on. He's probably the most experienced man we've got left after the Visitor purges."
"And you still love him, and promised you'd be together again when the war was over."
She looked down. "I think so, Mike. I hope you and I can still be friends."
He seemed sorry, but nodded. "I hope so, too, Julie. Gotta get back to Tyler and Chris pretty soon. We got a lot of cleaning up to do in L.A., and some friendly Visitors to get settled in. That alien embassy is finally going to be what it was intended to be!"
She laughed. "That's good to hear, Mike. Give 'em all my best wishes, will you?"
Willie suddenly scurried in the door. "Julie! It is Philip on the communication scream! He says it is very impertinent!"
The humans tried valiantly to conceal their laughter. After so long, the friendly Visitor still had difficulty with their language.
"That's screen, Willie. And I'm sure it's important." Julie leaned over her desk and raised the telescreen – another gift of Visitor technology. "I'm here, Philip. What is it?"
"Julie! Is Michael Donovan still there?" He sounded worried.
"I'm here, Philip. What's going on?" He moved into view behind the petite blonde.
"It's Diana! She's escaped!"
"What? How? I thought she was under guard!"
"She was; Lydia saw to that. We found her two guards and her gone. Her lieutenant as well, and a handful of other prisoners." His voice turned grimmer. "There are other personnel missing from this ship and the other six. We're afraid they may be on your planet, hiding somewhere, preparing for an attack of some kind."
"Why?" Julie interrupted. "Your Leader said there was peace!"
Philip took a deep breath. "Not all of us want peace, you know that. Those missing may be part of that group, who would still rather humble and destroy your people than welcome you as friends and allies."
"What do you want us to do?"
"We're going to try and locate our missing people. Don't alarm your population – they're already skittish enough of us – but get some people out looking for them. That ... Ham Tyler, is it? ... would probably be a good man for the job."
"He'd be a very good man for the job. I'll get right on it. See you later, Julie, Philip. Keep me informed of anything..." Again the guerrilla fighter with his back to the wall, Donovan hurried out the door.
Philip signed off a moment later, leaving Julie staring at the empty screen for several moments. Diana's loose, on the surface. She planted her left hand on the desk in front of her, and studied it for a long time. She shuddered as she tested its ability to pick up a pen and write her name; the influence of Diana's mind control machine wasn't completely gone, even after so long. She threw the pen away violently and clenched a fist. "I won't let you get to me, Diana. I won't!"
It had been a long eight sectars for the Colonial fleet of refugees. Finally, they reached their objective – System Sol, and its third planet, the world the human inhabitants called Terra, Earth. Leaving the civilian ships orbiting within the presumed safety of an asteroid belt in one of the nearer systems, the battlestar Galactica moved to an orbit around the farthest planet of the system to plot its next move.
In the briefing chamber, Commander Adama convened a meeting of his flight leaders and senior officers.
"This system hardly has the look of a war zone," one of the warriors commented, studying the scan reports. They hadn't yet risked patrols through the quadrant, other than necessary trips in the vicinity of their ship.
"Could they have already lost, and be occupied?" Captain Apollo asked solemnly.
"They'd be enemy ships around then, military guards and supply vessels," Tigh stated, frowning. "And from the message we received, Earth wasn't up to the technology of the invaders. What could account for this ... lack of activity?"
"They lost, and nothing's left," muttered Boomer.
"Perhaps a lull in the fighting? They may have a truce, or made peace..." the captain suggested.
"The transmissions we're currently receiving, along with more recent long-range scans, seem to indicate a truce," Adama stated. "But we don't know the situation on Earth after their conflict. I had hoped we would be able to determine the planet's condition without giving away our existence and our own tenuous position. But it seems we must make contact on our own initiative, and perhaps ally weakness to weakness, in hope of finding new strength."
He directed his attention to Apollo. "Captain, prepare a patrol roster. Use your best pilots. You know the orders concerning first contact with a new and potentially dangerous species. Follow them. I have no qualms about trusting your discretion, but considering the circumstances, our own security must be maintained. Report to me for a final briefing when you've selected your personnel."
"So that's Earth. Looks nice from out here."
"Yeah. Wonder how it is down there," Apollo responded to Starbuck's comment.
The patrols had gathered beyond the third planet's single moon, preparatory to making their sweeps. A dozen Colonial Vipers, containing the finest warriors from Red and Blue squadrons of the Galactica, had flown into the system, maintaining radio silence. They now shared final comments and awaited last-micron instructions before their possibly hazardous survey of Sol Three – Terra.
They had no idea what might be awaiting them on the lovely blue-and-white planet. The enemy might have obliterated the human inhabitants, and either abandoned the world or occupied it themselves; or the natives might be reduced to a primitive struggle for survival, with no interest in their star-faring brothers, and no ability to help them. The people and the world itself might be poisonous, or antagonistic to them, after six millennia of genetic drift, divergent cultures, and warfare.
They accepted the risk. After so long, they had to hope. It was all they had left.
"Lots of garbage up here," Boomer commented.
"Yeah. Doesn't look like combat debris, though." Apollo did his best to be optimistic, although the trash orbiting the world and its moon disturbed him as much as it did his friends. Communications satellites, spent fuel pods and thrusters, some industrial cast-offs... Hardly the stuff of a determined space colonization effort – more like the results of a curiosity since turned elsewhere. Maybe the Earthmen don't care what happens in space? Or maybe the alien attack prematurely aborted their attempts to leave the surface of their planet?
There was only one way to find out.
"Okay, everybody. You remember the briefing. Quick fly-overs. Landing only in isolated areas if it seems safe. Watch your scanners for other craft or anti-aircraft artillery. And whatever happens, we conduct ourselves as warriors. We can't lead potential enemies back to the Galactica. If we're captured, we do our best to keep silent under interrogation, in whatever form it assumes – or find a way out, if we can. Let's go."
"Philip!" the blonde female called across the bridge of the mother ship.
"What is it, Lydia? Word on Diana from the operatives we left on Earth?"
"No, sir. Word from our more distant skyfighter patrols. Debris from another wrecked freighter was picked up on scanners."
Her superior frowned. "That makes five in the past two weeks, Earth time."
"Yes, sir. But this time, we know how it happened. Our patrol checked it out, and were attacked themselves. There are a large number of warships, big ones, between us and Homeworld. We've been cut off from supply lines and avenues of retreat."
He instantly moved nearer, wondering how a face mask could manage to convey the urgent sense of panic on his cool and not-entirely-trusted officer. Their alliance against Diana was a fragile thing, and Lydia's devotion to him might end at any time.
"Philip, they're Cylon!"
He instinctively curled his shoulders into a protective position and hissed angrily. "Cylons! Here? How? So near Earth? Are they certain?"
"Yes! There's no possibility of mistaken identification. A group of them were taken from a fighter before our people had to retreat. The Cylons have found us here!"
The ancient enemy! Their own creation, that had once turned on its masters and nearly destroyed them, warrior race though they were... Did they now besiege Homeworld and the other colonies of their species?
Philip turned away. We thought we'd escaped them, all those millennia ago, when our subspecies claimed Homeworld and made it our own. The Cylons were so far away, fighting another war. We thought we were free to grow strong, to return when we were ready to try again to destroy what we had unleashed. But now, they come for us instead!
"We must warn Earth. Bring me a report of everything our sentries learned."
"Sir!" She added another ominous note. "That route – it's the one the Leader took."
"Raman! And we have no way of knowing whether he got through before they came!" He invoked the most revered warrior hero of their history as the searing possibility of civil war burned behind his eyes like the midday sun of Homeworld. The Leader had only just taken a consort – there were no offspring, no named heirs to take his place. Charles had been of the house of Raman, the most likely one to succeed in this case, but he was dead as well, leaving only a widow ... Diana. No offspring known, but there was still time, if she and Charles...
He hadn't realized he'd been thinking aloud until Lydia interrupted him, appalled. "Diana can't possibly become the Leader! She'd never survive Investiture! You're of one of the Houses, not as royal as Raman, but..."
Lydia touched his arm desperately, a human gesture. If Diana became the Leader, she herself would face a messy execution for her past opposition – and her entire family would likely be exiled or assassinated as well.
"My family is irrelevant, Lydia. As is Diana. We are both cut off from any decision as to the succession. We must act to safeguard ourselves – and the innocent humans on Earth..."
"Why concern ourselves with them?" she demanded, astonished. "With the Leader dead and the Cylons once more against us, our first responsibility is to reach Homeworld!"
"The Leader wishes a truce between us."
"But he may well be dead! And Homeworld..."
"These humans are fierce fighters. I am sure I need not remind you of that, after the time you have spent here. Imagine them as allies against the Cylons. With our technology, and their sprit, they might well make the difference in our war. Especially if our people face a civil war as well as interstellar conflict..." The beginnings of a plan filtered into his mind, and he knew it was a necessary step.
"What are you considering, Philip," his security commander asked, seeing the look in his eyes.
"Lydia, prepare a skyfighter. We must go back to the planet, speak to Julie Parrish and the other scientists and world leaders."
"Yes, sir. Shall we bring our mother ships back into orbit around Earth?"
He considered. "Not yet. If the Cylons are not yet aware of Earth's existence, they could become our ... trump card, I believe the humans would say." His aide nodded and went to carry out his orders.
Philip considered his position. Seven mother ships. Perhaps not all of them loyal to him and his plan, if the Leader were dead and Homeworld in chaos. A good-sized fighting force, against a primitive planet like the one they'd withdrawn from, but was it sufficient to take on a Cylon fleet if they attacked in strength? Sufficient to hold a planet long enough for its less technically advanced, mammalian inhabitants to rally to their own defense? It was possible he couldn't defend Earth even if the other commanders supported him wholeheartedly.
Cylons. An ancient nightmare. The enemy they'd fought for so long, all those millennia ago. A soulless metal race they skirmished with even now, although never on this side of Homeworld, only on distant colonies in other quadrants. The foe they'd planned to assault in force only when they had the strength of their distant ancestors, who'd designed the monsters, thinking they could use them to conquer a galaxy, and more...
"We were fools, then," he whispered. "But what brought them here, to this place, in this time? They have come to destroy us again..."
"Ready for a test flight, Dom?" The rugged blond man looked less than debonair, with his face and coveralls spotted liberally with machine oil and grease.
"Ah, the Lady's ready for anything we throw at her! The blueprints Archangel sent us from Science Frontiers were a real treasure, String, ya know that? Those little bits of Visitor technology on our Airwolf's gonna make a real difference if it comes to a fight."
"Probably will, if that information about renegade Visitors is right." Hawke was a veteran of numerous battles and skirmishes, both in the air and on the ground, in both the war against the aliens and an earlier war against his fellow humans on another continent. He seemed blasé about battle, but had long ago learned to shield his emotions from everyone, even his best friend of many years.
Dominic Santini knew that, and he grinned, undismayed by Hawke's taciturn growl. "Forget it, String. Let's take her up for a spin, okay?"
Hawke finally smiled faintly, and shrugged. "Sure, why not? What else did we come out here for? Something besides routine maintenance could be fun."
"Okay! I'll call Caitlin, tell her we'll be a bit later than planned..."
Apollo and Starbuck swept over the dry southwestern portion of the smaller northern continent. There were large population centers along the coastal areas, and they wanted to stay some distance away from both those and the military installations they detected farther north and east.
The captain studied his scanners carefully, while the lieutenant was more fascinated by their surroundings and what was in front of him. Suddenly, he saw something. "What...? Starbuck, check your scanners."
"I don't see anything," Starbuck replied after a quick but thorough check.
"Yeah. Neither did I, on the scanners. But something's coming up on us awfully fast... What in hades is that?"
The something flashed by their Vipers in a black-and-white blur. Their monitors picked up an odd whine, but otherwise, the object didn't show on their scanners.
Starbuck was clearly intrigued; since the thing hadn't fired on them, it seemed safe to speculate. "Looked like one of their marine animals, Apollo, but I didn't think their ... killer whales? ... could fly!"
"No," the other pilot replied slowly, frowning. "They've got what they call flying fish, but they really just glide over the water, and nothing marine should be out here in this desert!"
The unknown flashed by them again, seemingly as puzzled as they were, then banked away once more.
In the ship reminiscent of a flying killer whale, two humans spoke to each other when their attempt at communication with the two strange craft failed.
"Doesn't look Visitor – what've you got back there?"
Dom was puzzled. "I dunno... It doesn't respond to our recognition signal. They obviously didn't pick us up on radar – they didn't react until we were within visual range."
"It's not ours," Hawke stated flatly.
"No," Dom agreed grimly. "Archangel would've warned us if we had anything like that. And anything that isn't a friendly..."
"...Doesn't belong in our skies. Combat mode, Dom."
The other man chuckled, despite the situation, as he started hitting switches and buttons. "You got it, String. Quite a test flight, eh?"
Hawke didn't dignify that with an answer. "Turbos."
Apollo was astonished a moment later to find himself fired upon by a very lethal-looking burst of laser fire – one of many gifts of alien machinery to the humans.
"Starbuck! Get out of here!" he yelped. "They're armed and dangerous!"
"I'm hit..." The Viper suddenly spun away from him.
Before Starbuck could follow, the alien craft was on his tail, and he had to take evasive action the only way he knew how – up. The aircraft followed for a time, then faltered at a certain altitude and banked away. The lieutenant saw his chance, and grimly dove back toward the surface, searching for his friend. He didn't even think to send a warning to his squadronmates, scattered around the planet in similar survey grids.
As he skimmed the surface, looking for evidence of a Viper and calling on all channels, he suddenly saw a burst of flame flare up from the floor of a canyon below. In shock, he realized what it must be.
Their shuttle had strayed from its path long before, never entering the dark zone that was the first part of the star-route to Homeworld. The enemy presence had been noted by the Visitor pilots, who took appropriate actions to avoid the Cylons, but the Leader and his dreamy-eyed consort paid no attention as the days passed. They were totally absorbed in each other. The single human, the stowaway Kyle Bates, paced between the Leader's partitioned-off section and the pilots' cubicle. None of them had much time for him.
Weary after two weeks in the cramped quarters, he threw himself one day into a seat opposite the smiling, rapt Elizabeth Maxwell, the fair Starchild who'd given herself to the Leader to make peace, and who now seemed more distant and alien to him with every passing hour.
"Damn it, Elizabeth, at least talk to me!" he cried unhappily. "You haven't had two words for me the whole trip!"
The eyes that focused on him weren't hers; they were the Leader's again. "Kyle," the Starchild said sympathetically in a very masculine voice, "I understand your emotions, but please permit us ours at this time. We have much yet to learn of each other..."
The voice faded, and the man slammed his first against the wall in frustration. "I want to talk to Elizabeth!" he raged.
Unknown to the occupants, the shuttle had drifted near the danger zone, that mysterious dark region between Earth and Homeworld, the interstellar anomaly which would trigger the explosives the treacherous Diana had set. A timer began to tick.
The woman suddenly stiffened. "A danger!" she called, although the voice was still that of the Leader. "My people, Kyle... Elizabeth, we must..."
An explosion ripped through space, and a sudden fireball lit the darkness.Chapter Two
Baltar studied the incoming reports. Raiders from his task force had successfully attacked and destroyed another of the alien freighters. That raised the tally to five, with almost negligible losses. The group of three base stars and their fighters he'd been assigned was doing well in surprise attacks against almost completely unarmed ships.
"Ships of the Forebears," he muttered. "So the old Cylons, or some offshoot of them, still exist in the universe. I don't care about them; let the Cylons choose their own enemies. I don't even really care about that planet, Earth, or the fools on it who gave away their location, unless I can find a way to capture and rule the world. What concerns me is Adama, and his fleet. But I fear, old friend, that you've flown into something you can't handle, another war between humans and Cylons. If not for you, I'd let them fight, and scavenge the leavings. Two old enemies..."
Smiling with anticipation, he studied the star field visible from his quarters. He had sufficient force to take a planet. And he was far enough from the Cylon capital to establish a power base of his own. All he needed to do was encourage the enmity between the metallic Cylons and the flesh-and-green-blood descendants of their long-extinct creators – if it needed any encouragement. Surely they would welcome him as a savior, ending the Visitor menace to their planet – even if the cost was submission to the Cylon Alliance, or as much of the Alliance as he represented. Trapped between interstellar powers as they were, with little help to be gained from the refugee Colonials, they would have little choice...
Stringfellow Hawke and Dominic Santini studied the abandoned star fighter. It was long and lean, with three jutting stabilizer fins. The red-and-white craft was a work of art in its simplicity of design, and a sleek, devastating weapon of obvious technological advancement.
"This isn't Visitor," Santini commented in some awe.
"No. I wonder where the pilot went." The young man glanced around the dry, open expanse of land. It wasn't quite desert, but the small shrubs and fissures in the ground offered few places to hide. Whoever the occupant of the ship had been, he'd made himself scarce in a hurry after Airwolf's crew warned him down with laser fire.
"So wha'da we do, String? Call Science Frontiers, let 'em know we got some alien ship out here, and t'come fetch it?"
Hawke nodded. Instinct told him the pilot was watching them; he could almost feel the watchful, angry eyes.
"We better check out that other crash, too, I guess. She went down in the canyon north a' here. Better tell Archangel first, though. Mirella's quite a fly-lady. She might be able t'make sense outta this instrumentation – and she owes us the favor, anyway."
"I'll stay here, Dom, and watch things. Go out, take a look around..."
Starbuck watched as the strange craft shaped like a marine mammal lifted into the air and gained altitude. One of the two men, the younger and more physically capable-looking one, remained with his Viper, obviously ready for trouble. Starbuck doubted he could take the man on in a fair fight, and the sandy-haired man didn't look the type to be snuck up on, especially in this kind of open terrain. Even if his uniform did match the color of the sand, the warrior concluded. His only other option, then, was to look for Apollo's crash site, learn if there was any chance his friend survived, and do it before these curious fellows beat him to it.
He slunk away through the alien vegetation and rocks. He had his laser and a small pack, all he'd been able to grab and run with when the Earth craft hovered down to a landing. But he had his survival skills from Academy training and a lifetime of experience, and one hades of a lot of luck. Maybe it would be enough.
And maybe some of it had rubbed off on Apollo, for the yahrens they'd been friends and fought together. Stranded without transportation on an alien and potentially hostile world, maybe badly injured, if he'd somehow survived that crash – that'd be luck, right there! – he would need it.
Starbuck quickened his pace.
As security commander, Lydia felt compelled to check the progress of the search for Diana while Philip spoke with Julie Parrish and the other local leaders. The coming Cylons disturbed her, but her personal vendetta wasn't forgotten.
"Well, Commander Lydia," the dark-eyed, threatening human drawled. "So nice of you to visit us again. Been a while since you were our guest."
During the days of the Occupation, Diana had tried to brainwash this man into murdering Mike Donovan. To lure the Resistance leader into the open, a prisoner exchange had been arranged – then-captive Lydia, in exchange for Kyle Bates, a suspected member of the Resistance, and the son of Nathan Bates, the industrialist who'd controlled production of the Red Dust. The public attack was meant to discredit Julie Parrish's forces as well as demoralize the humans. Charles himself had overseen the operation. The plan had failed; Ham Tyler hadn't killed Donovan. Lydia suspected it was the Starchild's intervention that had foiled it. She herself took advantage of the following chaos and explosions to escape with Diana and Charles. Her rival had not been pleased; it was one more incident to fuel their mutual enmity. The Leader's emissary, however, had been content, and simply turned to another plan – marriage to Diana, which had resulted in his own death.
Lydia was actually mildly surprised that the grim Resistance fighter didn't open fire the second she stepped into the room. He certainly had reason to hate her; his past, and what they'd learned of him while he was in their custody, suggested that such violence and individual "initiative" would be in keeping with his character. He was a very dangerous man.
Of course, he would hate Diana more than me. She's his primary target, for the time being. She's the one who brainwashed him with images of his dead wife and child. She's the one responsible for so much devastation and death on their primitive planet. The humans have so much to learn about what wide-scale destruction really is...
She glanced at his companions as soon as she was certain the man wouldn't shoot her if she turned her back. "I recognize your friend, Chris Farber, from when I was your ... guest, and from the wanted posters. I don't recognize the others, but I assume, from their posture and appearance, that those four are the infamous Smith and his men?"
Colonel John Smith – called Hannibal, for reasons she'd never fathomed, having little knowledge or concern for Earth history or their peculiar choices of nicknames – and his company were dangerous men, long wanted by the Visitor security forces. They'd been part of the L.A. underground long before they became part of the Resistance. They were skilled at weapons, tactics, explosives, and escapes. They had been very expensive mercenaries for hire before the invasion, at which time their services were available to the Resistance for free. The audacity of their raids and rescues infuriated the Visitors; nearly every commander of every mother ship had suffered some losses from their seemingly reckless activities.
Diana had wanted them almost as much as she'd wanted Donovan and Parrish, but they'd been even more shadowy and elusive than those two, almost mythological, and always slipped away, even in the most impossible situations. Several times, Lydia had wondered if they were actually responsible for everything attributed to them, or if "the A-Team" was simply a cover name for some broad, globe-spanning organization of Resistance members.
"Those four" exchanged glances at her scrutiny. Then one of them, a slender man wearing an old flight jacket and a black Disney cap with large ears, stepped next to her, looked her up and down, and stated with theatrical conviction, "Many parts of the snake are edible!"
Still watching her, he backed away, producing a small white mouse from his pocket. He stared accusingly as he stroked the small creature. "Don't worry, Mickey. The Rodent Resistance is alive and well..."
The man rejoined his companions. The big, husky black man, decked in long chains of gold jewelry, looked ready to tear the thin man apart with his bare hands. The fourth man silently stepped away from between them, eyes rolling heavenward, but Smith prevented any further disturbance.
Lydia's eyes narrowed as she wondered how much of their apparent animosity was an act, and how much the truth. So these were Tyler's "contacts of his own," the ones he called on when he needed extra firepower.
Tyler was genuinely amused at the Visitor's expression. Smith's people often confused and confounded any of the enemy unlucky enough to encounter them.
Lydia's smile at the genial, silver-haired leader was small and tight. "Well, Smith, if you capture Diana, bring us her head and her heart. The rest is yours, if your friend is so eager to sample us."
"Cold-blooded, aren't you?" Hannibal replied with an easy grin.
"Of course," she responded evenly. "We're a reptilian species."
His smiled broadened, and he pulled out and lit a long, foul-smelling cigar. "I think the lady and I understand each other," he commented to his skeptical comrades. "Ever watch human movies, Security Commander Lydia? You and the Aquamaniac ought to get together..."
"He's on the jazz," the blond man muttered.
"You here for some reason, besides a personal interest in seeing Diana captured?" Tyler interrupted.
"Isn't that also your personal interest?" she countered. "But to answer your question, I'm accompanying Philip, as his security aide. Since it seems you have no further information on Diana and the Renegades, I'll not detain you any longer." Nor will I be an object of your amusement.
"Actually, we think we've got a general fix on one of their camps," Smith commented calmly.
"Tell me!" she demanded with sudden excitement. If she could be present for the kill...
"Not until after our expedition," the husky Farber interrupted. His hand stroked his weapon, a purely reflexive gesture in the presence of a possible foe.
She glared at the assembled humans, all obviously wary at her presence, but enjoying her current discomfiture.
Tyler spoke lazily. "We have to suspect there may be Renegades still functioning on your mother ships, as the Fifth Column did. We'll keep our activities to ourselves, for now."
Insulted, the Visitor officer retreated to fume in private.
Philip's discussion with Dr. Parrish and the local government officials was quick and to the point. "We need to meet with the leaders of your people, as many of them as possible, as soon as possible. A number of our specialists must be at the meeting."
"We don't have a large enough stock of extra antidote for a large group. Most of what we're currently producing is necessary for Fifth Columnists living among us," commented one of the scientists from Science Frontiers, a thin man with a reputation in computers. "And I'm not sure the citizens of New York would welcome a sudden influx of the new Redcoats."
"Could the meeting be held here in Los Angeles?" Philip asked, carefully ignoring the old insult carried in the reborn American slang.
"It would take a few days for representatives of the United Nations to arrive from New York," Julie said. "And transportation and communications haven't been totally re-established in some of the tropic belt countries. It could be two weeks, maybe more, before the meeting could be arranged." The old United Nations had become a new entity, a true advisory and adjudicating body, as it was meant to be, during the Visitor Occupation. Its home city of New York, safely within the temperate zone, was now without question the most important political center on the globe.
"If you could just tell us what the meeting's about, and what's so important..." the computer scientist piped up again.
"We may need to supply some kind of proof that this isn't a ploy to get our leaders in one place, then destroy our government with one shot," cut in another voice, from a sandy-haired man in the rear, dressed in white, who wore an eyepatch and carried a cane with pride, as though they were marks of honor – which they probably were, Philip thought, studying the stranger. He was obviously the one to convince.
"I will give you a handful of my officers, of your choosing. They will take their places as hostages – in New York. You supply them the antidote. If anything happens here, watch them die as you wish." It was a brutal promise, coupled with the unspoken warning that if anything happened to his officers, the world's leaders would be within his grasp in Los Angeles.
The stranger smiled slightly, then nodded. "It can be arranged."
"Excellent." Philip departed with as little ceremony as he'd arrived.
Julie Parrish found herself watching the newcomer with a frown. She didn't remember seeing him before, and was uneasy at how naturally he had usurped her position in the meeting.
He smiled at her. "You don't know me. I'm Archangel."
She started at a code name she remembered very well from the worse days of the invasion and Occupation, then smiled and returned the handshake he offered.
Diana was not happy. "This is the best you can do?" she demanded of her two subordinates, glaring at the scattered boxes of supplies and piles of equipment.
"It isn't easy, raiding human scientific bases with the people we have, when they're looking for us night and day!" James protested.
Lieutenant Douglas looked more properly chastised by her words.
She knew there was truth to what James said, but she also knew she would need access to more material and information if she were ever to get off this planet and regain her authority. Her enemies had ships, science laboratories, technicians, funds. All she had was a few half-trained warriors and what they could scrounge on a backward planet.
Science Frontiers, she thought hatefully. That place was mine, to use or destroy, until Philip came with his weak, pacifistic ideas, and convinced the Leader to take that half-breed for a consort. Peace! Between these animals and the People? I'll destroy them all, in time. The Leader must be dead by now, and the Houses in chaos. But I'm the widow of Charles, and that gives me leverage and power, the power I crave, if I can get off this rotten egg of a world!
Science Frontiers... Julie Parrish is in charge there now...
An idea insidiously took hold. An attack might be expected, but what about a quiet infiltration? Her growing smile was predatory.
"What is it?" Her impatience showed; she disliked being disturbed. It was one of her lesser underlings, who'd been scouting the area around their concealed camp.
He gestured enthusiastically. The commanding Visitor turned to see two of her scouts supporting a dark-haired, semi-conscious human in sand-colored clothing. "We have a prisoner, Commander."
She glared. "I gave no orders to take prisoners. Why did you bring him here? You should have killed him in the desert. He may be a spy!"
"I don't think so, Commander. We saw his ship spiral in; we have the pieces. It's too advanced for this primitive planet."
Her eyes widened. "Are you suggesting this human is not of this world?"
"It's possible, Commander."
She studied the captive. He met her gaze unsteadily for several seconds before his eyes closed and he slumped again. Her prior thoughts returned to her, along with several exciting ideas about what she could do with this surprise gift the benevolent gods had bestowed upon her.
"Take him to a chamber, and bring medical supplies. I will tend his injuries myself." I know more of human physiology than any of these incompetents. And I need the resources of Science Frontiers now more than ever.
Her pleased expression settled on James and Douglas, who seemed uneasy at her attention. "I will speak to you after examining the human. You may have a mission for this evening."
When they returned to the mother ship, Lydia left Philip to check the most recent patrol reports, eager for the opportunity to reassert herself after the way the human Resistance fighters had treated her, and equally eager to prove herself so invaluable as to be excluded from the hostage arrangement. She returned in a hasty few moments, alarmed. "Philip, we're picking up unidentified ships in the Earth system. They don't match the Cylon vessels we've seen so far."
"They're alien! Completely strange to us." The beautiful security commander had been extremely attentive to her tasks since allowing the Renegades to escape the mother ship. Philip had no doubt she'd thoroughly checked out every detail of the vessels they'd spotted.
"They could have made some technological advances we're unfamiliar with – we don't have immediate access to their laboratories and factories," he suggested with a frown. "And as our usual contact with the Cylons is a death-duel, we may simply be unaware of such a development."
"I'm aware of those facts, Inspector," Lydia interrupted somewhat impatiently. "I examined the sentry reports myself. Whatever technology created those vessels, they're on an equal or slightly better level than the best Cylon ships we've seen. But the design is different – it's geared for a living occupant. And scans suggest they do indeed carry live beings!"
Philip's gaze held her like a charmed asp. "You believe they have a new ally for their war with us? Or has your devious brain prepared some other hypothesis to explain this? I find it unlikely the Cylons, who are so quick to destroy organic species, could have made allies instead of slaves of a living race."
She refused to squirm. "We think the creatures are human."
"Human? Impossible! The species has never been to space. They couldn't possibly have developed our level of technology out of nowhere. If they stole it from us, where did they hide it? And why didn't they use it during the war?" Secretly, he was shocked, and more than a little nervous. Did she have some information he should be aware of?
"Whatever it is, and it does read human, it didn't come from this system. Telemetry indicates the origin of the craft as somewhere beyond the ninth planet, and likely farther. The ships are small, likely scouts or fighters. We're trying to locate a base ship, but so far, we haven't had any luck."
Philip turned from her, thinking furiously. "If humans are coming from beyond this system, we may have made a terrible mistake in invading Earth. Cylons and humans together – star-faring, technological humans! – against us?"
"And we're still cut off from Homeworld."
"The Leader declared peace with the humans. We must make them see..."
"But the Leader may well be dead!" Lydia's expression was grimness marked by near-despair. Their handful of ships, cut off from reinforcements and supplies, perhaps soon to face battle with their deadly ancient enemies, might now also have to answer for their violence to brothers of the world they'd nearly crushed. If the Leader were still alive, with his half-human consort, they might have been able to contritely convince the newcomers of their intentions to ensure peace.
But with the Leader dead, and with Diana free and still making trouble, somewhere on Earth...
"Lydia, contact the commanders of the other mother ships. Tell them we meet here at Dusk-Time tomorrow, as on Homeworld. Tell them, on my word, not merely as the Leader's representative. For this time and place, as Raman, as Leader. They come to me. We must meet before the gathering of the humans."
Lydia drew her breath. Dusk-Time! The traditional hour of the hunt. And by naming himself as Leader, on his own word, Philip is calling nothing less than a council of war. But against whom? Raman is the hero, the archetypal warrior of our legends and mythology. The ancient hero perished in battle, sacrificed for the people. It implies the council might mean a death struggle, at all costs, and Philip is willing to pay whatever price is demanded.
And if the Leader somehow survives, or a new Leader is Invested on Homeworld, Philip will have to answer for such an action. If the Leader disapproves, the Inspector General could die the death of a traitor and a mutineer – if he survives whatever plot he contemplates.
Lydia was a warrior. She had been decorated by the Leader himself, not long before being assigned as security commander to Diana's forces here. Philip was her commander, and she had no reason or urge to commit treason against him. She obeyed.
Starbuck hiked across the dry, stony terrain for centars. He hadn't thought it would take long to reach Apollo's crash site, but he'd forgotten to allow his body time to adjust to the different gravity and atmosphere. He felt stronger here, so the gravity was obviously less – but the air was correspondingly thinner. It left him light-headed, and he tired quickly. He had to stop for frequent rest periods.
The sun was low before he reached the shallow canyon where his friend had gone down. Sliding intentionally down the steep slope, rocks skipping merrily alongside him, he was wearily pleased that he didn't tumble out of control or break any bones. What few first aid supplies he had could not be wasted on simple fractures or bruises; he had no idea how badly Apollo might be injured. Until he knew if the man was alive, he intended to hoard every drug and bandage.
In the shadows on the opposite side of the ravine, he found wreckage. The sheared, heat-stressed shards were scattered across scorched stones. Tylium had fueled the fires that glazed the sand to ceramic smoothness. Grief-stricken, the lieutenant knelt among the strewn litter in the sad half-light. Nothing could have survived.
After a time, he began to search more thoroughly through the littered pieces of Viper and heat-shattered stone. Surely there should be some evidence somewhere, some small bit of proof, that a human had met his death here...
It slowly filtered into his numbed mind that there was really very little debris on the canyon floor. It was almost as if the site had already been cleared...
"Lords of Kobol..." The thought sank in. Perhaps the crew of the vessel that had shot him down had already been here. Perhaps scientific teams had already arrived, and now possessed evidence that star-traveling humans had come to this world from somewhere else...
If they were already here, and if Apollo was alive then... They may have him! He may be at a medical station! His spirits lifted magically, and he glanced around hopefully.
But maybe they took him for interrogation... Worry speared his buoyant mood, deflating it almost instantly. Ever one to gamble on the odds, he forced himself to think optimistically. But at least he has a chance. If he's alive, I can always rescue him.
Distant lights unexpectedly flashed into view, and he heard the roar of some approaching engine. Diving for cover, Starbuck watched intently, wondering if the occupants of the planet were returning to examine the site once more, or if he was the one they now tracked.
After some moments, a small ground car approached rapidly, its front lights illuminating the trackless soil it crossed. The short, sleek, midnight-black, wheeled vehicle pulled to a halt near the scattered wreckage, its front beams reflecting from the fused sand and sharp metal debris.
A man in dark clothing clambered out and carefully stepped into view in front of the vehicle, carrying a lantern of some kind. He had dark, curly hair and a muscular build, and Starbuck could detect, even at a distance and in the growing dark, that this, like the young man he'd seen earlier in the day, was not somebody to be trifled with.
If this planet produces a lot of men like this, the warrior thought, impressed, they'd make great allies against the Cylons. But if the invaders of Earth are winning in spite of them, what good will either of us be to each other...?
"KITT?" the man said clearly into the night.
Starbuck started at the carefully modulated voice. He saw no one else.
"Set your scanners for maximum gain. I'm going to take a look around. Keep your eyes and ears open – pardon me, keep your computers humming."
"Michael, I may be 'just a computer', as you put it, but I am certainly aware of the necessity for caution under the circumstances. Might I recommend that you do likewise? Although your human eyes and ears will do a far less effective job of studying this site than my scanners will."
"Don't get smug, KITT." The man addressed as Michael moved away.
A vehicle. With a computer. I didn't realize the Earth people were that advanced. Starbuck grinned as an idea struck him. He began to work his way stealthily toward the black car.
In a few moments, he was close enough to study the vehicle more closely. A single reddish light flashed back and forth across the front; he shivered at the uncanny resemblance to a Cylon. One front door was open. Kneeling before it, he studied what he could see of the digital displays and flashing lights within. He concluded that he didn't know how to operate the vehicle, but he did recognize some of the labeled controls. The car was a product of advanced technology; it had a turbo-boost, among other things. With the computer KITT – if it was anything near as advanced as CORA on his Recon Viper – perhaps he wouldn't need to know much about manual controls. He could simply order it to obey, to take him to a nearby population center, or back to his own Viper, if it hadn't been hauled away.
"KITT?" a voice floated from the night.
"Yes, Michael?" the vehicle replied calmly.
"I think I found something here. Get your distance cameras to work, night lens, and get me a print-out on this..."
"Certainly." Was the vehicle miffed at the unnecessary reminder?
Starbuck squirmed closer, then reached toward the front seat. Nothing happened when his hand broke the plane of the entrance. He concluded it must be safe – or at least safe within reasonable odds. With one quick, limber glide, he was in the vehicle, flinging his pack into the back, still keeping his head low, out of Michael's sight.
"Michael?" the car began casually. The door suddenly slammed shut.
"I have a prisoner."
Michael's startled reply was drowned by Starbuck's outraged howl.
"KITT!" the prisoner yelped.
"Yes?" the car answered him quite sweetly.
"Get out of here! Move! I'm a human. I've given you an order."
"I'm sorry. I can't do that."
"Keep him there, KITT!"
"I'm doing that, Michael."
"I gave you an order!"
"Fortunately, Dr. Asimov's laws of robotics were not applied in my construction. I am allowed some discretion in carrying out human orders."
Was it Starbuck's imagination, or was the vehicle being smug? He banged at the wheel before him, then the digital displays beyond it. Nothing happened. He kicked the door. Still nothing.
Pulling his laser, he glared at the serenely untroubled upholstery and dashboard. "I don't know who Asimov is, but you listen to me! At least CORA..."
Fine mist struck him full in the face, and the weapon dropped from nerveless fingers as Starbuck realized the vehicle had outguessed him once again.
"Who's CORA?" the car inquired with interest.
The world dimmed, but he heard the window beside him slowly rolling down. His weapon vanished from sight, and he heard a far-off voice say, "Give him the antidote to the sleeping gas, KITT. We need to talk to this guy."
"Right away, Michael."
A whiff of another chemical mixture, and the world came back to the disgruntled warrior. A congenially smiling young man appeared in his sight, resting his arms on the open window.
"Well, hi, there," he said easily. "You certainly made it easy for KITT to capture you. I'm Michael Knight. This, incidentally, is KITT. But I think you've met. Slide over. Although KITT is quite capable of operating itself, I like to take the driver's seat in most situations."
Dumbfounded at the independent-minded computer's actions, Starbuck complied.
"Well, KITT," Michael commented, sliding easily into the seat the warrior vacated, "at least we found the guy who made those footprints..."
"No, we haven't, Michael."
"What do you mean?"
"I compared the prints you found with this man's boots. Not only is the tread wrong, but the size as well. Also, the weight differential suggests the tracks were made by Visitors."
Michael stole a glance at his sulking prisoner, chagrined at being outsmarted by the modified Trans-Am. "Oh. So our friend's one of them."
"Sorry to disappoint you again, Michael. He's human. Completely human."
"Then what's he doing here?"
"I don't know. Why don't you ask him?"
"Smart..." Michael's smile was strained. "All right. Okay, stranger. Who are you, and what are you doing out here in the middle of nowhere in what might be Renegade country?"
Starbuck glared back, tight-lipped.
"Oh, come on, fella. This is no country for an ordinary person to be walking around alone in." Michael took a good long look at the clothes he was wearing, and the pack he'd thrown into the back seat. After a moment, he touched a switch, then deposited the laser he'd confiscated into a small analyzer tray that opened for him. Waiting for KITT's report, he studied Starbuck more closely.
"No, I was wrong. You're no civilian. You look like you know how to handle yourself. And somehow, your equipment doesn't look like regulation camping gear, either. Who are you? A government agent? From the Firm? Are you a resistance fighter? Or maybe a collaborator with the Renegades?" Michael's voice was harsh.
"Unless your KITT carries a portable interrogation chamber along with everything else, you might as well forget it. I don't tell you anything." Starbuck regretted speaking almost immediately, but the words were said. He was angry, and feeling a little foolish at how easily he'd been captured – duped into thinking he could help himself to the dark-haired man's transportation. It was something to remember, if he escaped, that the vehicles on Earth could be as treacherous as the Cylons.
"Interrogation...?" His captor leaned back, perplexed.
"Michael!" the machine broke in, almost excitedly. "One of the footprints outside, Michael! It has a distinctive boot pattern, different from the rest!"
"It matches that of our guest."
"So he's been wandering around for a while."
"The size of the boot and the weight of the wearer are different."
"The size...?" Starbuck broke in excitedly. "A bootprint? He was walking? He's alive?"'
"What are you talking about?"
"Whoever made those prints was apparently being supported by others. They were moving around somewhat to the south of us. It appears there may have been a secondary crash site." KITT ignored Michael as did Starbuck.
"Hey, wait a minute..."
"Take me there," Starbuck ordered. "Of course, the ejection pod! Apollo would've used it. He could still be alive!"
"Apollo? Who's Apollo? Who're you, for that matter?" Michael broke in again, jabbing a finger at his captive's chest.
The warrior sucked in his breath, once again close-mouthed. The car's owner – driver? – seemed to consider for a moment.
"Well, Michael?" KITT inquired.
"If we go there, will you answer a few questions?" the man bartered.
Starbuck hesitated, then reluctantly nodded.
"Let's go, KITT."
Mirella examined the captured alien craft as it was being transported to the advanced laboratories of Science Frontiers. She kept quiet about her conclusions when the ship was delivered, knowing her first report should be to Archangel. The dark-skinned woman in white slipped quickly into the unmarked car her superior used for travel in the vicinity of Los Angeles. Her report was subdued and concise.
"Considering the way the craft seems to work, and the technology necessary to build such a thing, and adding Hawke's report..."
Her gaze was very sobering. "The Von Daniken people may be right."
Apollo felt something cool on his forehead. When he opened his eyes, he saw a lovely dark-haired woman smiling graciously down at him. Around them, he saw dark walls, carved from stone. He tried to sit up, but she firmly pushed him back and brought a beaker of some liquid to his lips.
"You'll be all right now, my dear. It's Diana. I'm your friend. I'm taking care of you. I'll always take care of you..."
There was something odd about the drink she gave him, a strange flavor that seemed to wreathe through his brain like smoke rings or swamp mist, making it difficult to think clearly, but he drank thirstily. As he faded off again, he thought he heard her speaking to someone.
"He'll recover now. Keep a close watch on him. He should sleep until we're ready for him. When we have the conversion chamber prepared, I'll..."
Julie Parrish was bone-weary. It had been another long day and evening at Science Frontiers, with the arrival of the strange craft. There was so much to be done, and so much of it seemed so often to rest on her shoulders, in spite of eager assistance from peers like Murray Bozinski and Callie Jones. When she was finally back in her own apartment, it was midnight.
A nice soak in a hot tub should help. Then I can go over tomorrow's work list – maybe I can call in some of the local universities. I know UCLA's graduate program was shut down during the Occupation, but there should be some grad students around with technical training. Maybe we can contact them, offer them a temporary job while the schools're getting back into functioning order again. Some engineers especially; they ought to be fascinated by that ship. Lord knows I can't make much of it, though it looks simple enough, if I just knew which button to push first. I don't have training in military hardware. I'm afraid that thing's dangerous, and I hate to think of the implications of its being here...
As she ran the water, she overheard something through the splashing sound. Warily alert, she padded quietly back into the living room. She saw nobody. Pulling the robe tighter about her, she tiptoed toward the kitchen.
Nothing. Relieved, she concluded she was hearing things, probably from being overtired, and leftover anxieties from the war years, of any unusual noise. Shaking her head, she turned back toward the bathroom.
She gasped. Four figures in red uniforms stood there. She recognized two of them – the broad-shouldered blond and the treacherous brunette.
"Hello, my dear Julie," Diana purred at her.
She opened her mouth to scream, but something came over her head, muffling her sounds. She fought frantically, but soothing darkness swiftly overwhelmed her.
Commander Adama studied the reports from his scouting parties. When the chime sounded, he looked up eagerly. Perhaps Apollo and Starbuck are reporting back at last? They're the only patrol still unaccounted for...
It was his executive officer; Tigh shook his head before he could ask.
Adama couldn't hide his disappointment. His friend knew the reason for it, and forgave him without being asked. "Sorry, Adama. No trace of our missing warriors yet. But you know those two – they always seem to defy the odds."
Adama gestured his words away. "I knew the risk when I sent them out, old friend. I will continue to hope, but I'll not hover over their memory while my duties lie forgotten. There's too much at stake. What is it you came to see me about?"
Tigh's expression became more worried. "Sir, our last returning patrol reports contact with alien vessels, spacecraft capable of interstellar travel."
The veteran commander frowned in concern.
"No skirmish, but Boomer believes they spotted him, too. Both patrols ran. From the evidence, they were trying to avoid us as much as we wanted to avoid them."
Adama frowned as he looked back at the computer-printed report on his desk. "That could be an important piece of news... Any attempt at establishing communications?"
"None, Adama. Of course, we didn't exactly wave a friendly greeting, nor did they roll out the welcome mats."
"So we are mutually aware of each other's existence."
"That could be dangerous, Commander."
"I know, Tigh, I know. Order all squadrons to standby status. They know we're here. Now to see what they do with that knowledge..."
Lydia reported to Philip. "All mother ships have responded. There will be representatives here from each of them at Dusk-Time tomorrow."
"Excellent, Lydia. Continue to monitor all sky patrol reports. I want to know at once if either the Cylons or the star-faring humans enter the system."
"Yes, Inspector General."
"And check the list of volunteers for the New York hostages."
"Of course." Some have actually volunteered for that death duty? Probably former Fifth Columnists, with nothing to fear. The humans will protect them. What possesses Philip now?
She watched him walk away. During all the time he'd been aboard the mother ship, she'd never seen this side of him. She was a warrior, dedicated to the military for her entire existence. Philip had appeared as Inspector General, a bureaucrat whose concern for justice often made her impatient. But now he was behaving as a warrior, as she remembered his brother Martin had been, before contact with the humans led him to defy his superiors and turn his back on his own people.
But Martin believed in fairness, too. He was never a killing machine, but a thinking, realistic officer. If he had been in command, much of the violence of these past few years would never have happened. It was fate made him a traitor. Martin should have had his brother's wisdom.
And now Philip acts as a leader. Cut off from home, facing hostile foes both in this system and beyond it, with only the most tenuous of alliances with the humans on the planet, he prepares for war. He doesn't flee. He may even declare himself Leader, ask the rite of Investiture. He acts to protect these humans as well as our own people. He is willing to make whatever sacrifice is necessary, as a warrior must.
I think I've misjudged him, in many ways. I'm glad he survived Angela's attempt to kill him. How fortunate that my need to save my brother put us together...
She realized her crest was slowly rising, as though for mating display. Hastily brushing the hair of her wig smooth, she turned back to her duties. She was a warrior, and they faced war.
It was more than just the visions haunting him. Something flowed like fire in his veins, and the disembodied words he heard were hypnotic. Some small part of his mind protested, tried to remind him who he was, said he'd been drugged and was being lied to, but he listened. The words were vitally important; they meant something...
"I am Diana, your friend. I can give you your heart's desire, Apollo. I can take away every pain and fear. You need only ask it. Reach for me, Apollo. I am your friend, Diana. I want to help you. I'll never abandon you, like they did. Will you let me help you?"
For a moment he could concentrate on reality. She was on the other side of the glass, watching with that secretive smile. She waited for him to say ... what?
The nightmare whirled down on him again, a wild disarray of terror and destruction. The ruins of home on Caprica, all the shattered remains of the Destruction, the deaths of so many close to him. They gradually became unreal, the commander sending him to death, his friends abandoning him to the torturer, fires of destruction rising to claim him, the pain again of death and agony of soul... The dark visions devoured him, fears he hadn't realized dwelt within his psyche, sensations of utter failure and loss of self. Images shifted faster than he could sort them, stopped making sense, became only a terrible blue of emotion in his head and heart until he couldn'tbearitanymore...
Apollo screamed, and screamed again, crouched and cringing and lost somewhere in his own deepest, most hidden nightmares. Layers of sanity were stripped away as blade-bright demons tore at his mind and body. Even the small, struggling sense of identity gave up speaking to him and fled until he scarcely knew who he was, knew only that the awful things facing him could be averted only if he had a friend, if someone cared enough to help him...
There was only one way out, one hope left, one friend who might hear him...
"Diana! Lords, help me, Diana..."
A hand appeared in the darkness, and a smiling, compassionate face. With his own right hand, he groped for that salvation, clinging as her arms were suddenly around him and the nightmares ended, even memory of their terror fading in the face of her protection. He knelt at her feet, sobbing in gratitude.
Above him, Diana smiled triumphantly.Chapter Three
The beam of white light swept undetected through the star system, heading with direct purpose to the third world, and a certain location in the foothills of a mountain in the northern continent of the western hemisphere. Near a quiet, hidden ranchhouse, it struck ground, glowing like some eerie celestial flame for a single fraction of a second before it faded. Four beings stood outlined in the light like bipedal stars for a second more before being revealed.
Two of the males stared at each other, blinking as they breathed alien air; then they collapsed, choking. The female's triumphant smile turned horror-stricken as she saw her pilots die in agonies of Red Dust poisoning.
"No! Oh, my people, I forgot... This place is above the frost line..." Her mind rejected everything and she, too, fell.
The third man – human, from his lack of reaction to the toxin in the air and soil around them – called her name in questioning bewilderment. She made no response. He stumbled toward her, but lost consciousness before he reached the side of his beloved Elizabeth.
Diane smiled benignly at the blonde woman seated before her. "Well, Juliet, you look well. Are you prepared to return to your duties at Science Frontiers?"
"Of course, Commander Diana." The woman in the white lab smock returned the smile. "You desire certain personnel placed in key locations, with security observation of others. I presume status of current research and access to specialized experimental equipment are also among your primary concerns for the present?"
"You read my mind, dear Juliet."
"I won't let you down, Commander."
"I trust not."
After Juliet left, the dark-wigged reptilian commander snacked on goldfish – an expensive delicacy, in the desert – while waiting for her second appointment of the early dawn.
James arrived a few moments later. "We have secured the objective," he told her with a somewhat presuming smile. "The human community of San Carlos is in our hands. We've taken sufficient hostages to assure cooperation of the inhabitants. We can begin transfer at your command."
"Thank you, Lieutenant. Begin transferring our supplies and personnel. I prefer to be closer to a center of civilization, assuming the place is indeed secure. The conversion process must begin as soon as possible. I prefer to rely on personal loyalty, not merely obedience by coercion. Humans can be treacherous. You may go." She dismissed him without further comment; he looked displeased, but accepted the implied censure with only a small growl as he saluted and left the sparsely-decorated command chamber.
Diana glanced around. "At least this place is dry as Homeworld, with vegetation and animal life similar enough to make me almost homesick."
She fished another shimmering, flopping creature from the bowl. She delicately halved the fish with her teeth before swallowing, enjoying the extra burst of flavor. Her next expected guest would be in response to a special request, to further strengthen the conversion-chamber loyalty grafted on the human Captain Apollo, her most recent toy. She'd barely begun to delve into his memories before this one came to the fore. There was time to mine his wealth of knowledge about the culture and technology of the space-faring humans; first, she must ensure his unwavering devotion to her.
The Visitor officer reported to her superior as soon as her skin, mask, and wig were ready, and she was dressed for her role. The commander offered her a goldfish before studying her from every angle, and finally smiled in satisfaction. "You look exquisite. If his memories are correct – and it really doesn't matter, since you will be as he remembers her – he will be unable to help loving you."
"Yes, Commander," her underling replied submissively.
"I promised him his heart's desire. You are it. Henceforth, your name is Serina, and you love Apollo as your life."
"If I must." She sounded as if the prospect disturbed her.
"You will do it, Serina," Diana repeated, gently tugging a long lock of wavy brunette hair. The woman suddenly seemed to find the small swimming treats distasteful. "Come. It's time you were reunited with your dearly beloved husband."
Over the rim of the sleeping planet, Lydia saw the rising of Sol, their sun. It was a new day for the humans of the Los Angeles area. She'd become accustomed to their sequence of time during the extended campaign. Even now her body responded as though the mother ship still hovered above that city.
This morning she waited for news of the attack on Diana and the Renegades. Soon, Ham Tyler should be reporting success or failure in ferreting out the former commander's hidden base.
She studied the star system again, as revealed from their distant orbit. The star, called Sol; the planet, Earth, sometimes called Terra; its single moon, Luna. Beyond Earth, she knew there were two more planets, small useless bodies of rock in space. Not presently in view, but of a more promising nature, was the next planet out, a body the humans referred to as Mars, after some old deity of war, she recalled. "At least in that, the humans show promise. They recognize battle's place in the cosmos," she mused.
Her thoughts turned then to the makes of war – the Leader she'd once met, who'd decorated her personally, and won her undying loyalty since before her Academy days. Dead, by enemy treachery. Philip, current leader of the fleet in this sector. He prepared them for war with the Cylons, and considered action with the human newcomers, perhaps even truce. He had worked with humans before, it seemed, and found them trustworthy and competent allies. It was conceivable he could one day become Leader himself, if he survived this, and Investiture in its time.
She served him as she had served the previous Leader, with utter devotion. Perhaps... There had been a festive gathering before the truce, when the Leader's own battle plan had been attempted. She'd found Philip quite ... intriguing, and had spent a good deal of time with him, until the plans were discovered to be tampered with.
She compared him to Charles, the devastatingly handsome Prince of Raman who'd so briefly been her lover, before marrying Diana, and falling victim to poison. Diana would have succeeded in executing her, then, but for Philip's last-second intervention.
Charles had found her amusing, and used her because she was there. She saw it, now. As he'd planned to use Diana, for his own pleasure and benefit. Her lips thinned. A pity they hadn't had more time to plot against each other. The Heir to Raman had been too arrogantly certain of success. The scientist-commander would have shown him the error of such thoughts before long...
But Charles is dead. Diana is disgraced and running for her life. The Leader is gone, with Elizabeth. Philip is still here, in control of the situation with the humans, and preparing for battle.
She was his second-in-command. Perhaps she could be more. Ambition began to rise in her soul once again. She would remain at his side. After a moment, she decided to accompany Philip to his meeting herself, rather than delegate the task to an underling. It would mean visiting Earth again, and placing herself in target range of certain enemies, but it might also give her the pleasure of viewing Diana's body, and showing her dedication to her current commander.
She contacted her brother, a young officer on the mother ship, and one of the few she truly trusted. "Nigel, prepare a skyfighter for the Inspector General's flight to Earth. I'll be accompanying him. You'll be our pilot for the day."
Hannibal checked his watch one more time. The sun just tinted the horizon a brilliant orange, with deep purple banding the lightening sky. Dawn. The time of day when the lizards were most likely to be caught napping, so to speak.
"Go." He gave the whispered order over a small walkie-talkie, and moved out among the rocks, staying low to avoid Diana's sentries.
There was no reason to be concerned. A moment later, he came across a gutted alien. Farber's work. His own team was neater. Only Tyler's band of mercenaries took delight in so treating the Visitor dead.
"Thorough, aren't they?" Templeton Peck, moving beside his colonel, was grim. Something in his nature abhorred bloodthirstiness; he preferred to con his way into and out of trouble. With great frequency. Often for high stakes. But his loyalty to the Team was complete, and he was as competent a soldier as his buddies. Since the Visitors made it impossible for him to make a living as he chose, he continued to use his many skills for the Resistance.
"Yeah." Hannibal bit off the end of a cigar, but left the wicked-smelling stogy unlit. He wouldn't risk giving away their position in the clear and increasing morning light, either with stench or fire. "But it does save us the bother of dealing with prisoners. Let's move, Face."
The two former Special Forces officers left the torn, green-spattered body where it lay. A moment later, they heard a yell just ahead of them. Tyler. Two minutes before the agreed-upon signal to open fire. They ran to join the battle.
The Visitor troopers they fought had been in the process of loading boxes of equipment on a purloined semi-trailer when they were attacked. The sounds of laser fire and ricocheting shots quickly brought more of the enemy from the cavern in the side of the rocky mountain. The humans had the advantage of surprise, and quickly decimated their enemy's numbers, until the Visitors retrenched. Then it became a steady slugging match. They couldn't afford to close in for hand-to-hand combat with the Visitors – the aliens were physically stronger – so small groups of combatants broke off, and wild laser fire continued to strike unexpectedly.
Having infiltrated the cavern past the defenders, Face paused in a niche between boxes to reload the exhausted laser cartridge. When the blond ex-soldier stepped out again, he found himself face-to-face with a dark-haired stranger in a brown outfit unlike anything he'd ever seen before. He realized at once that the man was human – a stray shot had grazed his left arm, and the wound bled profusely, in bright red. He immediately decided the man must be one of Tyler's recent Resistance recruits, and grabbed his other arm, pulling the stranger down from lines of fire.
"Here! Hide behind the boxes – we'll have the place mopped up in a few minutes, and we can get some medical help for your arm..."
Hatred glared from the man's green eyes as he studied the mercenary. "You!" he hissed in rage. "You left me!"
"What?" Face stared. "Hey, put that gun down..."
"I'm going to kill you, Starbuck, if it's the last thing I do..."
"...Starbuck...?" The strange weapon pointed unerringly at his chest as the man's mouth moved in a snarl of abhorrence. He knew he wouldn't have a second chance. He kicked. The weapon flew from the man's right hand as he yelped in pain.
When the stranger launched himself at his throat, he'd had enough. This was either a collaborator, or one of Diana's subverted pets. After a moment's struggle, he got in a careful chop to the kidney, which dropped the man gasping to the dirt floor. He brought the hilt of the laser down on his head, and the stranger was out cold.
"We'll pick you up later," Face muttered, rubbing his bruised neck.
Leaving the man unconscious between the boxes, he leapt back into the fray, just in time to dive into a small knot of Visitor soldiers, sending them rolling like bowling pins, then laying into them with his weapon. A moment later, B.A. and Murdock joined him. The trio was slowly forced back toward the mouth of the cave, until several of Tyler's men arrived as reinforcements.
Suddenly, it was over. Those of the aliens who were still on their feet retreated, leaving the cavern in Resistance hands.
"Too easy," Hannibal muttered as he surveyed the damaged hide-out. "Whatever they were protecting, they got it safely out of here." He'd spent part of the combat on his own, scouting the inner rooms of the cave system, looking for Diana. He hadn't found her; the elusive enemy had slipped away again, although her escape had cost her a great deal of equipment, and many brave men.
Ham Tyler looked the most angered at the news, and had to double-check for himself to accept that she was gone. His personal vendetta escalated with every encounter.
"She ain't the only one got away," B.A. growled. The big black man had searched the bodies of the amazingly-few dead, and studied the numerous living prisoners, looking for Lieutenant James, Diana's most trusted aide. The alien had a trail of blood that included close friends of his, and the aggressive former sergeant had every intention of matching his strength against the Visitor – and winning.
Face suddenly snapped his fingers, and ran to check the man he'd encountered in the battle. "Gone," he reported to the colonel when he explained the meeting. "And he acted like he knew me, and hated me for some reason."
"You ever date his sister?" Hannibal cracked. "Well, whoever he is, he's not here now. Good thing Tyler didn't see him first."
Ham Tyler overheard those last words, and grimaced as Smith grinned at him and finally lit his cigar. "If he's working for them, he's not one of us any more. I won't cry at his funeral."
"Let's find out who he is before we bury him, okay? Maybe we can help him," Face interrupted. He felt intensely curious about the stranger. Who was he? Why had the man seemed to recognize him? And why had his instant reaction been hatred and a drawn weapon?
Tyler shrugged. "If you get to him first, fine. He'd better stay out of my way. I'm calling Gooder. He couldn't come with us, but he'll want to know the results of our little hunting trip."
"That guy's a psycho!" Murdock breathed as Tyler walked briskly away. "And I should know. I met every kind of craziness in the VA Hospital."
"He's a special case," Hannibal replied cheerfully, blowing a generous puff of smoke.
Face coughed and waved at the small cloud. "Hannibal, I don't know how you can smoke those things..."
"We're still working on the alien craft, but no conclusions yet, or any idea how the thing works," the blonde scientist reported to the men in her office. The former journalist, Mike Donovan, and the enigmatic government supervisor known to her only as "Archangel," nodded thoughtfully.
"I don't think we'll need that extra help from UCLA, however. This could be security clearance material, and we don't want just anybody having access to it – I'm considering limiting the number of personnel here who work on it."
"I can see that," Archangel conceded, tapping his fingers on his cane – more an affectation than a necessity.
"I'm not sure I care for all this government security," Donovan stated with a frown.
Juliet shook her head. "Sorry, Mike. Wish I could tell you both more, but..." Her voice trailed away, and she meaningfully waved her report. The meaning was obvious – she had work to do, and they were keeping her from it.
"All right," the tall, sandy-haired man with the patch over his left eye announced. "We'll call it top secret for now, Dr. Parrish. I'll send you a couple of assistants from one of our other installations – orders, Doctor, no objections, please. Science Frontiers isn't exactly a government contractor, and my superiors want a little more input into some of your work, especially material of this nature, an alien ship of unknown technology. You know I have confidence in your ability..."
The woman nodded neutrally, but her hooded eyes suggested otherwise, that she was disturbed at this unexpected assistance.
The two men quickly left Science Frontiers.
Donovan had little to say to Archangel – he wasn't comfortable around his type of government employee; too many recollections from his days as a journalist, when part of his job had been exposing what men like this did. And then, dressed in blue jeans and a flannel shirt as he was, the white suit the other man wore was just a little ... intimidating, even as the man's attitude daunted him. He left Archangel alone, although he privately wondered about him, and what the cane and eyepatch signified about his past. And he wondered, too, why Julie seemed so cool and distant this morning. Steve Maitland, an old and very dear friend, was due at SF; had they quarreled already?
Both men turned at the hesitant call. When they saw it was Willie, one of the Visitor fifth columnists, and a friend of Donovan's, Archangel nodded and left them to speak.
"What is it, Willie?" Mike asked as the tall man walked away with his careful limp.
"You have spoken to Julie?"
"Yeah, just left her. Why?"
"Did she seem distinct ... uh, distant to you? She has been very much ... a loon this morning, and has not spoken to many people."
Donovan started. "A loon...? Oh, aloof! Yes, that's exactly how she seemed. Anything going on, that you know about, that could account for a change in her behavior?"
The alien shook his head. "But I will watch her, if you wish. If something is wrong, perhaps we can help her."
"You do that, Willie."
For his part, Michael Coldsmith-Briggs III, code name "Archangel," was unconcerned with Michael Donovan or Juliet Parrish's personal life and feelings, except where they related to national security – or human security, where the alien reptiles were concerned. Outside of Science Frontiers, he had a waiting limousine. He slid easily into the back seat. An elegant black woman dressed in a white business jacket and skirt, with matching white blouse and shoes, waited for him.
"She's hiding something, Mirella," he told her. "But I convinced her to let us send in some specialists from one of our contractors. By this afternoon, Dr. Mirella Lincoln began work at Humanidyne as of three years ago, specializing in engineering design. Stetmeyer will handle the paperwork; I'm sure Dr. Hayes won't protest too much – he knows who pays for those ... unusual experiments of his. Tomorrow, you'll be on loan to Science Frontiers."
She nodded efficiently. "Of course, Michael."
"Parrish won't tell me anything about that alien ship. Find out what's happening there – and what reasons she may have to cover up information about the aliens. Be careful. Something strange is happening at Science Frontiers."
"I'm sure I can handle the situation."
"If I thought you couldn't, I wouldn't assign you. Incidentally, I think we'll send Caitlin O'Shaughnessy in with you, as a technician. Hawke and Dominic are still flying reconnaissance for the Resistance people looking for Diana, and they may be too well known for this type of work. Caitlin's got a good background; she could be helpful."
The ejection site had been completely cleared away, leaving few traces of man or machine. Only KITT's superior senses had found the location at all. Michael Knight observed his prisoner's reaction to the empty patch of sand, and his dejected mood afterward, and decided Starbuck couldn't be one of the bad guys after all. He let the man brood for the long drive back to Los Angeles, then contacted Devon when they were in sight of the city.
Devon Miles, the head of FLAG, the Foundation for Law And Government, was an urbane gentleman with a great many responsibilities. FLAG sometimes operated slightly beyond the pall of government knowledge, although supposedly always with the sanction of the proper authorities. Their secrecy and freedom of movement had proved invaluable during the heyday of the Resistance, when the head of Knight Industries coordinated with various other shadowy figures, arranging support for groups behind the scenes, providing arms and ammunition, rescuing civilians, insuring some freedom of knowledge throughout the occupied portions of the planet, and encouraging cooperation between free zones of every ideology.
One of their weapons had been Michael Knight, and the experimental vehicle he drove, the Knight Industries Two Thousand, KITT, for short. A man who legally didn't exist, who'd once been a cop under a totally different name and face, he had the help of a scientific genius, Dr. Bonnie Barstow, and an expert mechanic, Reginald Cornelius II, and the financial backing of Knight Industries, in a war against crime, until the arrival of the Visitors made them the core of a Resistance organizing squad.
"Take him to the Embassy, Michael."
"Sure that's wise, Devon?" A sideways glance told him Starbuck wasn't at all fazed by KITT's communications capability. He wondered what kind of equipment the man was used to.
"Philip's in Los Angeles for the day. He'll want to see your prisoner. And he's in a better position to judge ... certain matters."
"Why do I get the feeling there's something you're not telling me, Devon?"
The face on the screen raised an eyebrow. "We have some new information, Michael. The Visitors may well know your guest. If you'll excuse me, I have other matters to attend to."
That was all he could get from Devon – which wasn't unusual, these days. Something important was going on, but the information from his superior did nothing for Knight's curiosity.
Starbuck still seemed uncooperative, but much more curious about his surroundings, as they drove into Los Angeles. Michael delivered the strange lieutenant into human security hands at the Visitor Embassy, then left for his own rendezvous with the black semi-trailer, emblazoned with a chess knight on its side, where Bonnie and R.C.3 waited.
Hannibal shrugged at Lydia's sharp question. "So it seems. And it looks like they've got a new hide-out ready – they were moving out. Don't know what plans that lady's got, but..."
"You needn't worry, Commander," Tyler added laconically. "We'll find her."
The man standing behind him nodded emphatically. Their certainty was little consolation to the furious Visitor officer. She wanted to see Diana dead, not hear how they'd get her "next time."
"Lydia," Philip began quietly, "I'll finish the debriefing. Perhaps you'll want to check on our other ... guest."
Lydia was astonished at the man pacing the room. He was studying it as if he expected it to be an incarceration chamber. It didn't look like a prison cell, although one could never tell how certain decor would affect members of another species. The room had been planned to be attractive to humans. The flowers on the table almost gave it a homey feel, and the holo-picture landscape he focused on, although of an arid, empty region, to his human eyes, might be considered esthetically pleasing to this world's occupants.
But his appearance struck her more, as she gazed at him. He was the image of one of Hannibal's men – Templeton Peck, the Face, one of those who'd let her former commander escape. She controlled her reaction to that thought.
"That is a depiction of Homeworld," she announced, entering the chamber. He whirled to face the slim blonde woman in a red uniform with gold trim. "I'm Security Commander Lydia, of the Los Angeles Mother Ship, currently serving under Inspector General Philip," she continued with an odd smile. "And you are...?"
He studied her thoroughly. She could almost read his mind, despite the difficulties of deciphering human facial expression. This was one of the invaders of Earth, the terrible lizard species that was decimating the planet? This was a lovely, competent woman with a self-assurance that would make her stand out in a crowd, the kind of woman that had always appealed to the warrior, even before his troubles with Athena and Cassiopeia. He couldn't know that at the moment her mood was dangerous.
"You don't look like a lizard," he told her bluntly.
"Indeed?" she inquired with politely raised eyebrows. "And how ought a lizard to look?"
"For one thing, where's the tail? And the green and purple scales?" The closest thing to a lizard race he knew were the old Cylons, the ones who'd created the enemy that destroyed the Colonies, and sent his people on their lonely, desperate journey.
Lydia was amused. "The tail. Ah, yes. We lost that a long time ago. A minor mutation in the evolutionary branch that produced our subspecies. After a time, tails came to be considered almost ... unaesthetic, and since we no longer needed them, the trait slowly disappeared – bred out, as it were, almost as an ugliness. Only a few of our race are still born with tails, and we usually remove them in infancy, since they no longer serve any useful purpose, with our bipedal posture..."
He watched her oddly as she explained the scientific theory, eyeing her hair, face, and form with an irritating thoroughness. The look was abundantly clear to her – a male appraising a female. She found it annoying, and chose to respond with an insolently similar study.
He leaned confidingly closer to her. "It's hard to believe anyone as lovely as you could actually be..."
"...Green and ugly? I know how your people view our species."
He touched her cheek, running his fingers along her jaw. She let something warm creep into her smile, and stroked his hand. Her eyes dropped for a second, giving an impression of sudden shyness, and incidentally hiding an angry glitter.
"I've met a lot of women in this galaxy. Believe me, you aren't ugly..." His voice was subtly deeper.
Inside, she laughed at his presumptuousness. Compared to some of the males she'd met, such as Charles... The man seemed devious as well as intrigued, but scarcely deadly, and obviously unused to the court politics she was familiar with. This could well be the opening gambit in an escape plan, in which she was to play the role of enraptured confederate. She allowed herself to seem to respond to his warm smile.
"Doesn't feel like scales, either," Starbuck mused. "Your skin is soft..."
"There's a reason for that," she whispered as he leaned closer. Her grip on his fingers tightened perceptibly.
With her free arm, she pulled him closer. Their lips touched. With the slight pressure, she let her mouth open to his.
A second later, Starbuck tried to pull back in shock. She held him with alien strength for a moment, forcing him to accept the full implications of the forked tongue exploring his throat.
She continued to smile sweetly as he gagged, backpedaling and nearly falling in his haste to get out of her reach. Hand clasped over his mouth, he stared at her in pale shock.
Her tongue flicked out briefly. "Body suits," she informed him. "Of course, what you propose might prove an interesting experiment. You might even be to my taste." She paused a moment as the thought sank in, enjoying his expression of loathing and horror. "However, you don't seem to have the stomach for it. But you are turning a most attractive shade of green..."
Before she could further bait the Colonial warrior, the door opened again, admitting Philip and a handful of other men.
Starbuck blinked in near-recognition at the Visitor's resemblance to an acquaintance of yahrens before, then started in open-mouthed shock at one of the armed men following him.
The men got their first good looks at Lieutenant Starbuck.
"I'll be damned..." Templeton Peck, a/k/a Face, stared at the young warrior whose features were his own. The uniform sank in. His thoughts suddenly clicked. "You're Starbuck!"
"What?" Philip stared from one to the other of them. "Incredible..."
"How do you know who I...?" Starbuck mouthed faintly. "You..."
"That's it! He thought I was you! But how..."
Neither of them could find anything else to say; they simply stared at each other. No one else had anything to say, either.
"That's the same uniform the man who tried to kill you was wearing?" Hannibal asked conversationally after a moment.
"Uniform... Apollo! You found Apollo!" Starbuck realized.
"Dark-haired guy, light green eyes, about your height?" Starbuck shot back.
"Yes! Where is he? Is he all right?"
"I don't know. And why do you care?" Face demanded, perplexed.
"He's my friend! Of course I care if he's all right! When your people shot him down..." Starbuck was getting angry.
"Your friend tried to kill me."
"Yeah. Called me Starbuck – your name? I thought so – and first tried to shoot me, then settled for strangulation. After the battle, he was gone." Face recovered his equilibrium.
"But..." Starbuck had faced too many shocks in the past five centons. He sat down heavily on the floor.
"In Diana's nest?" Lydia inquired with deadly politeness.
Face nodded, unable to take his eyes off the visibly bewildered man who looked enough like him to be his twin.
"Then he belongs to her," she stated with finality.
"What...? What does that mean?" Starbuck demanded, forcing himself back to his feet, reaching for her arm. Touching Lydia, he suddenly remembered what she was, and stepped back with a shudder.
The older, gray-haired man known as Colonel Hannibal Smith, answered. "That she-snake's raised brain-washing to new depths. He's had an 'attitude adjustment'."
James spirited both his lover and the human captive safely out of the battle. Diana was displeased – and secretly disturbed – that her nest had been discovered, but at least an escape route had been planned. Her first orders to Douglas upon reaching San Carlos were to prepare several such escapes. If the Resistance found them once, they could do it again. And next time, they might be accompanied by troopers of the Visitors, if Philip had his way.
Science Frontiers was still secure. Taking a handful of scientific personnel, and leaving one of her lieutenants in charge of the occupied community, Diana returned to Los Angeles. Among the crowds of humans, it would be both more difficult, and easier, to find her. At Science Frontiers, however, she was certain she could accomplish more than in isolated San Carlos. With Captain Apollo's willing cooperation, Juliet and Serina, both scientists, under Diana's supervision, began their experiments – both on the Colonial ship, and on the Colonial.
Serina, primarily an engineer, concentrated on the ship. Juliet had to put up the required front to the rest of the staff, and deal with occasional visitors. James and Douglas were put to work supervising the installation of certain pieces of equipment in the sub-basements of the sprawling institution; since few people used those areas, or were even aware of their existence, the Visitors could use them as an excellent hide-out. Leaving security to her mutually wary lieutenants, Diana was able to concentrate on her prime interests, genetics, and the reason for a Colonial presence on Earth.
Her first scan of the Colonial captain's chromosome structure excited her. Certain it was familiar, she cross-checked it with another from her personal files, then called her two associates at once.
Juliet, the Visitor disguised as Julie Parrish, joined her instantly. It took the alien masquerading as Serina a bit longer; Apollo had required a few moments of time from the woman he believed to be his wife, somehow rescued by Diana and restored to him.
"What is it, Diana?" she asked, disgruntled.
"Serina, dearest. Is Apollo happy?" Diana was too charming, too happy. The other woman was instantly on guard. Loyal as she was, as much as she believed Diana was her ticket to power and glory, she had her own reservations about their current course of action.
"I'm doing my best to ensure his contentment," she responded warily.
"You will soon do more," her leader purred. "And you will secure for yourself a noble place in both my affections, and our history, forever."
"Commander?" She glanced at Juliet, who was intently studying the comparative charts of human genes.
"Captain Apollo has something in common with another former ... guest of ours. He and Robin Maxwell have the same special genetic attributes."
It sank in slowly. "What particular attributes?"
"A certain ... complementary nature to ours. With a little help, that enabled Robin Maxwell to bear Brian's child, the one she called Elizabeth, the Starchild." She lifted Serina's chin. "We can use that. You, my dear, will bear the second Starchild, the key to our success. With the abilities of another Starchild, and what such a one could mean to our people..."
A look of cold revulsion crossed the other woman's face. "Diana," she enunciated precisely, "I follow you because we must fight these human vermin, not accommodate them like the weakling Philip would do. You plan to make use of this human Apollo's knowledge, and I am willing to assist in that. But I stand with you to kill humans, not breed with them! I will not hatch a child of human siring! I will not! How could you ask me to..." She shuddered in horror and disgust. "It is enough that I must let him touch me. I will not accept his child."
"Serina. We need his child," Diana insisted with quiet persuasiveness.
"Then you carry it!"
Diana studied her. Truthfully, she had considered that option. It would ensure she would have control of the child, if it were her own, but she was unwilling to risk the long months of pregnancy, which would leave her vulnerable to capture during the later stages. Too, if she were by some chance to have the opportunity for Investiture, she couldn't risk the weakness incubating an egg would cause during the test and ceremony. If she became Leader on her own, the child would also become unnecessary.
"Serina, think what this could mean to you..."
"No! I despise these humans! I will not!"
Diana's face hardened. "You limit your usefulness to me, Serina..."
"If that is the price, I prefer to be called by my own name," the Visitor engineer stated clearly, her fingers gripping the arms of her chair.
Diana glared furiously. The woman's usefulness lay only as far as her willingness. Her technical skills were valuable, but the suddenly revealed potential of the captive human overshadowed them. Still, even if Serina was unprepared to bear a hybrid child, she was useful in keeping Apollo content. Her strong race-hatred was merely an annoyance, and with the image-lens, any willing female would suffice to carry his child.
Too, a child would bind Apollo to her even more; a strong streak of fidelity and familial closeness had showed up in his psychological examination.
Arrogance and hatred toward the humans were no more than Diana felt, but she didn't let it blind her to the possibilities shown by the existence of Elizabeth Maxwell, the Starchild, and the plans she'd once had for that young woman.
"Very well." She capitulated, for the moment. But she would not forget, and Serina would pay for her stubbornness. "You will continue to play his wife, for now. Juliet, check our ranks for young, healthy lower officers of good family and impeccable loyalty. I want his child!" Someone controllable, and expendable, if necessary. The thought remained unspoken, but all three women understood it clearly.
Philip handed his security commander the list of hostages to be given into human hands during the meeting in Los Angeles. The score of officers would be ferried from California to the dangerous city of New York on the following day. They would remain as guests or prisoners for a period of over two weeks, at the least. "I don't believe you've yet had opportunity to study the list."
"I can't believe we actually have volunteers for this mission," Lydia commented as she perused the computer sheet. Then she suddenly gasped. "No!"
She met her superior's unblinking eyes.
"He volunteered, the same as the rest."
"No, he couldn't have..."
"You may ask him yourself, if you don't believe me."
"No ... I believe you..." Nigel volunteered! But you accepted him ... and you, Philip, know more than any but Diana, what I would do to protect my brother! Damn you, Philip!
"Still no word from the missing pilots?" Adama inquired quietly.
The flight officer shook his head.
The commander turned away. It had been days. There was little hope left in his heart.
In a moment, Colonel Tigh was beside him. "Commander, we could send out a search party..."
"And risk more lives? No, Tigh, I won't order any of our people..."
"You won't have to order anyone. We've had eleven volunteers from Blue Squadron alone."
"And what purpose would be served by sending more men there? We don't know where to begin a search, and they might be captives, or dead..."
"But we would know where to begin. One of our patrols, Boomer and Sheba, picked up a brief distress signal from Starbuck's Viper. One of our people is alive, at least, and on the surface of the planet. We could begin with that. And we have no guarantee these people are enemies. It's been a full day since the encounter with the alien craft, and no attack has materialized..."
"Nor have any communication attempts," the commander pointed out. "These strangers could still be interrogating their prisoners." It hurt to think of his son possibly enduring torture, but it would be no easier to send other personnel to face the same risk.
His executive continued. "Adama, a small team could be sent with the capacity to serve as ambassadors, to contact leaders of the planet. We'll have to meet with them at some point anyway, if we wish to make an alliance," he reminded his old friend. "We might as well make the attempt now, when lives could be saved by a show of friendliness. I know we can't send a civilian into possible combat situations, but a superior officer..."
"Captain Apollo was of sufficient rank to make such a contact, and he is one of the missing."
"But his orders were to maintain silence about who we are, where we come from, why we're here. A special envoy..."
"And who," Adama interrupted with foreboding, "did you have in mind for this envoy?"
"You know quite well I mean myself. I'm volunteering to go to the surface, to try to contact the leaders of Earth and the leaders of the aliens occupying this planet."
"How long has it been since you've had such a mission? You don't have the training, the experience..."
"Which of us do? Adama, we must try. There's too much at stake for any other course of action."
Much as he hated to risk another life, especially that of his dearest surviving friend, Adama knew Tigh was right. "Who are our volunteers?"
The colonel handed him a computer list. He scanned it briefly. "Boomer, Sheba, Jolly, and Greenbean," he decided with a heavy heart. "And you'll need a shuttle pilot. Tigh, be very careful. If it were anything less at stake, I wouldn't risk..."
"If it were anything less at stake, you wouldn't have to. If the risk were any greater, you'd go yourself. I won't let you down, old friend."
"Don't let humanity down, Tigh. We're expendable. That world ... isn't."
He turned to meet his daughter's determined expression.
"I'm volunteering to pilot the shuttle."
"Athena..." both men protested at once.
"I have some of Mother's diplomatic ability, Father; you've always told me that. I'm a good pilot, and I've served as Colonel Tigh's aide before. I'm the best possible choice."
She was as stubborn as her father, with her mother's persuasiveness. There was no way around her arguments.
The young blonde woman shivered in the mountain chill of the early evening. The sleeveless gown of pink satin and froth did little to protect her from the elements, yet she disdained the weather, reacting to something within herself that transcended mere climate. Her eyes burned with sapphire flames and her hands moved spasmodically as she stared sightlessly down the overgrown incline. A light green veining covered her bare arms, and her skin peeled as if from a bad sunburn. Her complexion was strangely pallid, as if some odd light was trying to gleam through her human skin, but could only discolor it.
"Elizabeth?" It was Kyle, who'd taken care of her over the past few days, after burying the bodies of her dead pilots. She hadn't spoken since regaining consciousness, and she scarcely seemed to know where or who she was.
"Elizabeth? Are you cold?" Touching her arm, he was the one who shuddered away at its cold, alien feel. "I brought you a blanket." She made no response as he draped the brightly-patterned quilt over her shoulders. After a moment, he spoke again. "I've got some food ready. Come in if you're hungry. You haven't eaten all day."
Again, she made no response. After a moment, he walked slowly back to the old ranchhouse that had belonged to her human grandfather.
There was anguish in the gaze she sent after him, but she still didn't speak. After a moment, the blue blaze in her eyes began to spread, until her entire body radiated an urgent shadowy blue. She seemed frightened as she studied her own hands.
Then she looked to the sky, and slowly turned until she faced southwest – and the distant city of Los Angeles. Some homing instinct said there was the help she needed.
"Willie?" she whispered, speaking for the first time in a week. "Come to me. Help me. I don't understand what's happening to me."
In the depths of his mind, a call struggled to the surface. Willie stared at nothing. The voice was familiar. He'd heard it before, when a lost child turned to him for comfort, for some small touch of home when she was the hybrid creature, viewed with fear and fascination by her mother's people; and when her grandfather died, and she mourned that she couldn't save him; and every time she'd felt alone, uncertain, or afraid; and when she contemplated the future predicted for her by a dying mystic scientist of her father's distant people, little known to her except through him.
"I hear you, Elizabeth!" he whispered. An alien tear appeared from somewhere, and ran down his face. "I hear you. You are alive..."
Waiting was an agony for Julie Parrish. At any moment, she expected Diana or James to appear at the door to her cell, to turn off the energy field, and drag her to a conversion chamber. She remembered the process from before. The thought of enduring that experience again was almost too much. Only a deep core of strength, a resolve not to let Diana win, kept her going as the hours passed. She thought over every avenue the aliens had used in trying to break her, every psychological trick and quirk of her own mind they had thrown at her. Though it might do her little good when the machine was on, and the Visitor peered into every dark recess of her soul, she tried to plan protective thoughts, reminders that it was all a fake. Maybe it would give her the anchor she needed to cling to, a barrier between herself and the illusions, an edge.
The image of herself had been a shock, when the alien "Juliet" appeared in front of her. But she understood. While she was a prisoner, Diana intended to keep Science Frontiers running as usual, for her own reasons. It would allow the vicious alien to extract a long-due revenge against her. It meant no one would realize she was gone, or think to look for her. Diana could take vengeance at leisure. Julie wondered bleakly how long she could hold out.
"Greetings, Julie Parrish." Diana herself entered the chamber, flanked by two men – one in the red uniform of a Visitor, the other in a brown outfit that looked like a uniform, neither of whom she recognized. Julie rose defensively, trying to adopt a defiant attitude. The other woman simply smiled.
"My, my, aren't we ready for anything."
"We try to be." She matched Diana's expression, knowing the Visitor detested not being in control, whatever the situation, and hoping to goad her into some action she could exploit.
"Dear Julie," Diana sighed dramatically. "How you misread me. But I'll not hold you responsible for it. I've brought you a visitor, a man I know you'll want to talk to." She gestured at the darker of her companions, the one in brown pants and tunic.
Her glance darted to him, then back at her enemy.
The brunette laughed lightly. "He's one of your people, Julie – or should I say, you are of one race, though he is not of your world. But his ... attitude is different from yours. Perhaps he can explain to you the advantages of cooperating with me, where I have failed. Apollo, this is Julie Parrish, an Earth scientist who insists on construing herself my enemy, when I am so willing to welcome her as a friend and ally. You must tell her anything she wishes to know, about yourself, and where you come from, and what follows you. She has to know what she's up against. Dear Julie, this is Captain Apollo, a Colonial Warrior who truly understands the situation, and what we face in this new conflict. I'm sure you'll find him as fascinating as I do. Douglas, let's leave them to their discussion."
Diana and her guard left. Julie wondered for a moment what Diana had planned, what this man would do to her, and pressed herself against the wall. The man made no overt moves against her, simply crossed the energy barrier that held her and took a seat. She noted how carefully he moved his arm, and wondered if he had some injury. If she got a chance to run, a solid blow on that arm might slow him down. She carefully sat down beside him.
His smile was warm. "Hello, Julie. Diana tells me you two have had your differences in the past."
"And you've had an attitude adjustment! How can you trust that witch? How can you work with her? Who are you, anyway? What was she talking about?"
"I'm Captain Apollo, from the battlestar Galactica. I'm the pilot of a ship very like the one you're investigating upstairs." There was a humorous expression in his very attractive green eyes. "We were checking out your planet prior to making contact with whoever's in charge. It's very important to us that Earth be a unified entity, with what she now faces. We, of course, are very eager to help you all we can – our people know what's at stake."
"You're ... not from Earth?"
Julie realized what a coup Diana had pulled, capturing the pilot of the ship. She had a dreadful fear what the enemy scientist would do with the knowledge this man must be supplying her. Remembering what she herself had gone through in the conversion process, she felt a deep sympathy for him.
"My God," she whispered. "I knew what she was trying to do to me. I could fight it. You couldn't have had any idea what you were up against. You never had a chance. You're hers, now. And I don't think there's anything I can do for you, and maybe nothing for me..."
"Diana's not a wicked woman," Apollo told her evenly. She could see he was truly concerned for her, and mourned the more. Diana would use his emotions against him, and manipulate him against his own people, if he were truly...
"I ... see." She looked away, and knew she had to play Diana's game, too. "If I could believe that..."
"How can I prove it to you?" he asked.
She wondered what he had been told, what he was willing to do to serve his new mistress. "Are you supposed to convince me to ... listen to you, because you represent new information, knowledge I've never had access to before? About your people, and cosmic conditions?" Fleetingly, she wondered if this man's people were the enemies of the Visitors, the ones they'd risked so much to contact, but discarded the idea. If it were only humans the Visitors were up against, their approach to Earth would have been different, total destruction, rather than open-handed, deceitful friendliness.
"She feels you'll understand the value of cooperating, if you realize our situation, and accept that we have to work together, to survive..."
She didn't understand what he was talking about. If this was a trick, it was a deep one, worthy of the witch's deep guile. If it was real...
"Okay, Apollo," she said with a deep breath. "Tell me about yourself. And what new information you've given Diana..."
Quietly, he began to speak. "First, you have to hear about the Cylons..."
It made sense. He was telling the truth, not mouthing Diana's lies. The tale of destruction and treachery was awful, terrifying, bleak... As she listened, Julie began to cry, thinking what she and Mike Donovan had unwittingly brought to their planet.Chapter Four
Name Thy Prey
It was Dusk-Time. In the full warrior regalia of another time and a world far away, the guards waited to escort the representatives of the other mother ships to the Hunt gathering. The seven ships commanders, or their representatives, would serve as the Hunters. Philip, now serving as Fleet Commander, would designate the prey and oversee the Hunt. An ancient ritual would be enacted, a ritual of blood and war.
In black hunting leathers, tanned and cut from the hides of creatures alien to the human world, Lydia waited. She would serve as weapon-bearer and speaker for the Hunter-warrior, Philip's role. The brief loinguard, halter, and tall boots might bare human-style femininity to any who cared to look, but they also showed the body of a warrior, a descendant of hunters and conquerors. Her face and bared skin were painted in silver and black, the Hunt-colors and designs of the family and tribe of the man she served. Each of the representatives would be clad in family colors, and painted according to the tradition of his/her tribe. Her weapons were likewise traditional – the ceremonial spear of Raman, a translucent lance last used for the near-sacrifice of her brother at the Feast of Raman; and a sharp short sword at her waist, used for the carving the prey in the old Hunts on Homeworld. Throwing daggers in her boots and a garroting wire wrapped around her leather belt completed her armaments.
Within his own chambers, Philip waited for the arrival of the representatives. Then, it would be part of Lydia's duty to lead him to them. Until that moment, he prepared alone, while a specially chosen group of priests, properly garbed, performed the appropriate chants in the gathering hall and spread certain ritual objects in their proper places.
Lydia had never participated in a Dusk-Time Hunt. It was a sacred ceremony of tremendous significance, in which it was an honor to join. Certain parts of it were close secrets of the priests and warrior caste of her people. Other parts were performed in public, as in the seasonal celebrations of Homeworld, or whenever the People were at war, as they had been for many, many years. The Hunt could have many purposes, but all of them were ritually important, especially the ones preceding war and succession.
She was aware of the honor bestowed on her by her participation, although she wondered if Philip trusted her loyalty only because of Nigel's role as a hostage. She waited, preparing silently for what she was certain would be an act of war and a declaration of Investiture.
It was logical. If Philip were Invested as Leader, he could truly offer the humans alliance, and Homeworld and all the colonies of the Sirians would accept it.
A tall, mahogany-curled woman attired in simple black with a black-and-silver, geometrically patterned tabard approached, alone, as custom demanded for the Hunt. She was unarmed, but the small silver chains at her ankles and the studded gauntlet she affected made her seem very dangerous. The image was real; Michelle, First Officer of the Toronto Mother Ship, was like a cobra sleeping in the sun. She had to be. The Toronto Mother Ship served as the science base for the Visitor forces in the system. It was also the private battlefield of its officers and the playground of the ruthless, hedonistic Commander Damian. To be anything less than deadly was to have already lost.
Lydia took an aggressive stance in the woman's path, laying the spear before her, its point directed at the other officer.
"Who approaches?" Lydia demanded formally.
"I am Michelle. I stand for the Leader's force of the Toronto Mother Ship. I have come to join the Hunt, to prove my loyalty and offer my life at my Leader's command," she answered. It was the required response, even though the Toronto Mother Ship, as a science base, had not actively participated in the invasion of Earth.
"On whose authority do you dare make such offer?"
"On the authority of Philip, as Raman, as the Leader."
"Then join him. Good Hunting, Michelle." Lydia raised the lance and stood aside, permitting the officer to pass.
Over the next half hour, five more representatives arrived, repeating the ritual of passage – Katherine, of the London Mother Ship, in black and deep blue, with a beaded, similarly-colored band holding back the red hair of her wig, a female as tightly wound to spring as a coil of steel; Francois, of the Paris Mother Ship, proudly displaying a myriad of gold braid and medals of honor on his uniform, one who loved the display of power as much as its use; Dona del Rey, of the Rio de Janeiro Mother Ship, in close black and glittering green, bejeweled with gold leaves, reminders that her clan came from one of the few regions on Homeworld that was still swampy; Kheper, of the Cairo Mother Ship, in the basic red uniform, liberally trimmed with black and gold ankhs, scarabs, and udjats, symbols of a glorious human heritage that fascinated him; and Bruce, of the Sydney Mother Ship, affecting a khaki brown outfit, complete with bush hat and the jaunty, laid-back air and accent of Australia, which disguised the fact that his clan produced the fiercest warriors of Homeworld. Each was passed into the inner chamber where the priests prepared them for the Hunt. All wore the humanskin they'd become accustomed to during the years of war with the inhabitants of Earth. Their nominally uniform clothing betrayed a new individualism, and a sense of identity with this mammal-dominated world and its people that would have disturbed the war-councilors of Homeworld.
A gong sounded from within. All arrangements were complete; the representatives were armed and in position around the center stone; her own security team was at guard. It was time to fetch Philip to the Hunt. Still carrying the ceremonial weapons, Lydia marched to his quarters.
"Inspect General Philip, the Hunt is prepared. Will you lead us?"
"I will." The Inspector General was ready, in human guise, as his officers were. She presumed he wore the kilt and leather harness expected of the Hunt-leader under the floor-length cape – but his face was bare of paint, and she saw he carried no personal weapons of any kind.
"I am not the Leader; I have no claim to that regalia. I only seek to lead the Hunt and speak during Dusk-Time, for now. Take me there, Lydia." His voice was firm, but distant. He'd obviously prepared for the meeting in the proper fashion, if he hadn't dressed for it.
Puzzled, she led the way back to the ceremonial chamber through the empty halls; as tradition called for, their passage was marked by no one.
The security commander couldn't help but wonder if Philip planned to call for Investiture during the meeting, with that ceremony to occur before he dared make a call for war. It was a risky proposition; if a Leader was Invested on Homewold in the meantime, it could mean a death duel between two pretenders or civil war between their followers, in the absence of a named heir by the former Leader. The Cylon attack had very likely made such an action necessary. Lydia wondered briefly if there would be civil war, and how thoroughly the Cylon enemy would pick the leavings of it. A death duel would make a war unnecessary, but many could die following conflicting orders before the duel took place. The enemy would give them little time.
The hidden gong and drums resumed a measured, primitive cadence as she paced into the room, Philip following with equally measured steps. Each of the Hunters took his or her place as they passed to the head of the carved-rock table. Sand from Homeworld crunched at his step; the lights slowly dimmed to match the sun's red gleam at dusk on the world they nostalgically recalled; the temperature in the room likewise had been raised to that of Homeworld's tropic zones, where their race was concentrated, and where the Leader normally resided.
A final double-timed beat, and the background instruments fell silent. The priests waiting behind the inspector general began the ritual invocation, calling upon the gods and the ancient warrior-spirits to hear and find favor with their Hunt, and send the prey blindly against the weapons of the People; then they began the call for blessings upon the Leader.
At that point, Philip gestured and halted them. "The Leader is not here, not yet. Hold his blessings until I have spoken."
The priests, their purple-cowled robes covering only the scales they'd been born clothed with, hissed at the unexpected and almost profane disturbance. The chief of them stepped forward and took his place among the representatives. A heavily-nailed hand pushed back the cowl, and reptilian-pointed teeth, unmasked by any human disguise, gleamed as he drew back his lips.
"If ritual is not observed," the priest began, "how is the Hunt to be blessed and consummated?"
Philip was silent for a moment, choosing his words. Lydia stepped unobtrusively closer. The priest was the one who'd mated Charles and Diana, and might still be of uncertain loyalty. If he were to curse Philip, she was ready to aid him, and perhaps draw the curse from his head. She was almost certain, now, that he would call for Investiture; they needed the presence of a strong Leader, and he was best qualified to fill that role, even if uncertainty made that choice a grave risk.
"We all know of the presence of the Cylons," Philip began quietly. "We have fought them for long seasons, and the Hunt against them has been called on Homeworld many times. This Hunt is not for that.
"We called, at first, for a Hunt against the humans, although we were not really at war with their species; we thought of them and treated them as animals – useful but of limited intelligence, and certainly not equals. The Leader changed that, calling for truce between our peoples. So we do not call a Hunt against the Earth humans.
"The humans from beyond this system... We know nothing of them, where they have come from, what purpose they follow, how they will view us. The Earth humans do not know of them. I do not believe, however, that these humans mean to come with war against their own kind. I do not believe they are leagued with the Cylons against us. They have given us no cause to fight against them; indeed, if they are friends of the humans of Earth, the Leader's truce will extend to them as well. We have no cause, therefore we do not Hunt them."
He had their attention. Several nods showed that they agreed with what he said, and followed his line of thought, but he saw confusion, too. If there was no Hunt to be declared, why were they here? Even Lydia seemed surprised, but her attitude was still that of loyalty. She would accept his word.
Decisively, Philip threw off his cape. Beneath, he wore the kilt of a Hunt-Leader – but not the harness, or the expected painted designs. Instead, his bare chest was colored with the moebius strip of infinity. It was the mark of Pretanama, the mark of peace.
They reacted with consternation or blank surprise. He couldn't fault them; he'd summoned them to Dusk-Time, as to a Hunt. Instead, he now flaunted the sign of Pretanama. He raised his hands; the mark was repeated on his palms, now visible in the reddish light.
"The Leader proposed truce between our peoples. I propose more. Let us call for peace, for alliance, for oneness, for ... brotherhood, as the humans would say. Let us offer them Pretanama, and let us accept it in our hearts for them..."
Audible hisses of shock greeted his urgent words. Pretanama was ancient, a word symbolizing a concept deep in their racial memory, a feeling too intense for any other word, a part of who and what they were, part of their very soul. That he could even suggest sharing that part of themselves with the humans...
Pretanama was more than peace. It meant a unity greater than mere alliance, more than the human term "brotherhood," so easily bandied about. To most of them, the very thought of sharing that with humans was blasphemous, tantamount to baring their soul, losing part of themselves to aliens who couldn't possibly understand. To Philip, it was perhaps best exemplified in the existence of Elizabeth Maxwell, the Starchild. She was the best and only proof he could offer that Pretanama could work with the humans.
Michelle began carefully, "What you suggest..."
"No! Don't judge now, but hear me out..." Very intensely, he continued. "The enemy we face will be satisfied with nothing less than our total annihilation. We know the Cylons; I've no need to expound on their hatred. We created them; they have made us what we are today. We do not need enemies in the humans as well. Some, like Diana, would fan a fire that could destroy us by making them our foes, by treating them as less than ourselves, as unworthy of possessing the stars. The presence of the strange humans from beyond the system proves that their kind already possess the stars, perhaps that they have already met the Cylons as well. We know the humans can fight; we have faced them for years. Do we really have the flippancy, the absolute arrogance, to brush them aside? Do we have the military might to face them both..."
"But why call Pretanama?" interrupted Kheper. The dark-skinned representative of the Cairo Mother Ship was distressed. "The Leader called truce before his death; we are at peace with the humans..."
"We have a truce," Philip clarified. "We have yet no peace. We have no alliance. We may have to account for our behavior on this world to the strangers. And we are now a minority, with no line of supply or reinforcement from our own people. If the humans reject us, cast us out, we will be dashed against the Cylons to perish alone. Do you believe we can face a Cylon armada, our seven mother ships?"
They averted their eyes from his glare, knowing the truth.
He softened his voice. "How seldom among the stars have we encountered a race such as theirs? They are worthy to stand beside us. Are we worthy to stand beside them?"
"But their world's not even united!" objected the London Hunter. Katherine seemed to find their disunity ... distasteful. "Until we came they were in danger of destroying themselves in a nuclear holocaust! They fought about everything, divided their planet into arbitrary 'states'..."
"And yet they united, all creeds and colors and ideologies, to fight us!" he returned. "And now their star brothers have come. Can we risk not extending a hand to them?"
"But ... Pretanama? Must it be so?"
Philip studied each of his Hunters in turn, all disguised as the creature they had expected to prey upon, all wearing ritualized garments stained with otherness from an alien world. "You came expecting a Hunt and perhaps an Investiture. This is what I offer instead. Pretanama, and a warrior who will lead you while he can. If Homeworld calls I will risk my life to become your Leader. While we are cut off, I will not call myself Leader and raise rebellion here or on our world. I will continue to lead you, if you will obey my orders. I will not ignite our people in civil war. We face a grave danger in the arrival of the Cylons, but a graver one in warring among ourselves.
"What will you have? The choice is yours. I will not make you rebels – but there must be peace between us and the humans. Go back to your ships. Speak to your commanders and crews. Tomorrow, send your answers. I will wait."
Resolutely, the inspector general turned to leave, to face a stunned Lydia. He would have stepped past her, but she recovered herself and took the position the ritual would have demanded of her if he had been the Leader of a called Hunt.
Spear at the ready, she preceded him to the door. The guards fell in step behind them, leaving the mother ship representatives and the priests to discuss their decisions.
In the dark, chill atmosphere of a Cylon base ship, Commander Baltar waited impatiently for word from Cylon and the Imperious Leader. It had perhaps been a mistake not to simply prepare his own battle plans and attack, and present the machines' ruler with a fait accompli, but he distrusted Lucifer and several of the gold centurions newly placed in the fleet. Any of them could contact the Cylon seats of power, and having his orders countermanded would destroy whatever chance he might have. So he waited, and plotted alone in his quarters.
After what seemed an endless wait, word came. The surviving Colonials were dangerous, a needle in the side of the Alliance, but no longer any real threat to Cylon dominion; their brothers on Earth were primitive, to be conquered when there was time – they would prove no real danger, and it would be ... satisfying to subjugate the remnants of a race that had produced the likes of Cain and Adama to bedevil them. The real enemy was the lizard race which now called itself the Visitors, the Sirians, the forebears, the ones who'd once created them. Baltar took pleasure in knowing the Imperious Leader had a weak spot for them, an obsession with their destruction, even more so than for the humans.
His orders were to disrupt and harry shipping at every opportunity, as he had been doing, and to encourage rebellion on outpost worlds – which, he considered wolfishly, was what Earth was, now. They'd fought the Forebears for many millennia, longer than they'd even known of the humans. Now, they had some idea of the concentrations of strength. With the humans defeated, the Cylons could finally take on the Sirians in a death struggle.
Baltar knew what he would do. He had once thought to make Gamoray his seat of power. With Sirians and Cylons at each other's throats in full fury, he concluded Earth would do quite as well. He would finally rule as he was destined to rule. And when the struggle was over, he would be there, perhaps to gather the scattered reins of command...
Julie Parrish's expression was haggard as she faced Diana.
"Do you understand, Julie?" The Visitor seemed uncommonly gentle.
"I have to choose the lesser of two evils," the blonde replied quietly. "The Cylons will destroy humanity entirely, if they get the chance. You'll do the same."
She fastened a defiant expression on her enemy. "But I've fought you before. I know you can be beaten. So yes, I'll help you against the Cylons. And then I'll destroy you, too."
I think not, Julie. Outwardly, she smiled. "We must work together, for the survival of both our species. I'm sure you understand that I can't put you in any position of trust?"
Julie nodded dumbly. She needed a weapon, a plan. This was the beginning. And Diana knows it, too. You've underestimated me before, witch. Apollo's the key, and I'll use him against you.
A score of Visitor officers clustered in the bay. They were silent, as if the dangers of their situation had just become apparent to them that morning. In a very few minutes, the shuttle would launch. Once in Los Angeles, they would be handed over to United Nations forces and escorted to New York. In the next few days, human delegates would be arriving in Los Angeles from every nation-state on the planet. There would be a meeting of Visitors and humans, to discuss the Cylons and a bit of Sirian history. They would also discuss the human captive, the man brought into the city the night before, the stranger to Earth.
And if anything went wrong with the meeting, if any of the human delegates met with disaster or some treachery, they were the sacrifice. They humans would likely kill them in retaliation. Even males and females who had been with the fifth Column, who knew and trusted some of the native Earth people, were worried. As simple a thing as placebos substituted for the Red Dust antidote tablets, and they would die in agony. One human's need for vengeance could destroy them.
And if anything happened to them, would Philip act?
Lydia watched the boarding with anguish and rage in her soul. She and Philip were the only others in the bay – he, to offer support to his officers; she, to attend to security.
"Do you doubt my loyalty so much?" she hissed at the inspector general.
"He volunteered, as did the rest."
"You had more volunteers to be hostage than the humans demanded. Why did you choose Nigel as one of them?"
"A lesson, perhaps, in trust." He seemed preoccupied.
She stiffened. "Do they know he is my brother? There are humans who would fight each other for the chance to kill him, to strike at me."
"They do not know."
"He is young and idealistic. He hasn't been a warrior long enough to learn to protect himself, and he has little experience with the humans."
"He survived our academy. That is no little thing, Lydia, as I'm sure I need not remind you."
"What if Diana chooses to sabotage your meeting? She must know of it; this entire planet knows of it! And it could destroy any trust or chance of peace between our peoples."
"I leave their protection in your hands, Lydia. I trust you will make certain Diana cannot strike at our guests. And now, I have responsibilities."
She watched him cross the bay, mingled admiration and fury in her heart. So easily he had done it! For Nigel's sake, she would never betray Philip now, if she'd ever considered it before. Whatever it took, she would protect the humans at their meeting, and capture Diana, if she could.
And Nigel was now out of Diana's reach. She had feared that her former commander would strike at her through her brother, as the witch had done before. There were still Renegades on the mother ships, she knew, and any of them could have killed a young officer and disappeared. Perhaps Philip was more canny than she'd guessed.
A lesson in trust, indeed.
Morning broke over the distant mountain range. Willie shivered in the chill air, but kept on his way, some instinct unerringly pulling him forward. Elizabeth needed him. Somehow, she had survived, and she needed him.
At last a ranchhouse came into view. He could tell, even from here, that this was where the call had originated. As he ran the last few hundred yards, a young man, haggard of expression, walked slowly from the woods on the other side of the clearing.
"Kyle!" the Visitor called, breathless.
The human looked up; an expression of happiness dispelled the grief. "Willie! Thank God someone's here! You found me. But the air, the Red Dust..."
Willie happily waved an aspirin bottle at him. "I have a supply of the antidote capsules. Elizabeth told me to be prepared, so I took them from Science Frontiers. There was no time to ask Julie..."
"Elizabeth told you... But how could she? She's been here this past week... Unless..."
"She reached my mind." He shivered again, despite the heavy coat. "What happened, Kyle? What happened to the Leader and the shuttle? You were returning to Homeworld..."
Kyle Bates looked away. "We exploded," he said simply. "I don't know how we got here – if it was the Leader's doing, or Elizabeth's. But the Leader is gone, and the pilots died as soon as they breathed the air. I've been taking care of Elizabeth, but she's been sick, I think, disoriented, and she's been flashing blue, and refusing to eat... And Willie, this morning she was gone! She ran off in the night. I've been searching for her, but I can't find her. Can you still feel her mind? Help me find her, Willie.
"I love Elizabeth. I've got to find her. Help me, Willie..."
The Visitor had never felt so out of place and so helpless as on that green and verdant mountainside, trying to comfort the human sobbing for his missing love. And he had no idea where the Starchild might be. If she had indeed brought them safely back to Earth from an exploding shuttle, there was no telling where she might be now, and what she might be capable of doing...
Starbuck's eyes were glued in fascination to the video screen. It was something the Terrans called "television," and it was an odd mixture of primitive technology and futuristic programming. Dramas whose basic plots seemed to be love and hate; short programs whose situations were more ridiculous than comedic; information periods, referred to as "news"... Most of the media presentations were broken up with something called "commercials," whose purpose was trying to sell products of dubious value through the efforts of perky homemakers, frenetic salesman, and occasional narration and animation. He recognized the sales pitches from pre-Destruction media on Caprica; some things never changed.
"Lady," he finally announced to the beaming, glassy-eyed beauty on the screen, "either your husband doesn't care about wax build-up on your kitchen floor, or he's incredibly stupid. Either way, you're wasting your time. Me, I can think of better things for you and a man to be doing."
The kitchen scene faded, to be replaced by a movie advertisement. A bruised man draped in the red, white, and blue banner of his nation faced a larger man in black, red, and gold as music rose to a crescendo. "He met Apollo Creed; he crushed Clubber Lang; he dropped Ivan Drago. But now the Italian Stallion faces the toughest challenge of his life. With all humanity at stake, can he vanquish the Visitor Juggernaut? See it now, in Rocky V."
That advertisement was replaced by another for something called the "Star Wars Trilogy," showing at the same group of screens; Starbuck was intrigued, but the mention of the name "Apollo" had reminded him that his friend was still in captivity, and had likely been brainwashed as well. His mood spoiled, he turned off the television set and paced to the window.
From the Visitor Embassy where he was nominally a guest, Los Angeles looked like a beautiful, peaceful city. He knew it was an illusion. Much of the city was being rebuilt from the ruins of war, and media reports showed many cities across the planet were in a similar state. The humans had suffered greatly from the Visitor occupation.
It was Philip, who'd left abruptly the afternoon before, and returned quietly this morning. The warrior cocked his head questioningly. His initial antagonism toward the alien hadn't abated; he couldn't trust him.
"There are some matters we have to discuss."
"I have nothing to add to what I told you yesterday," he broke in. Keeping in mind the commander's instructions, Starbuck had kept his mouth shut for most of their interrogation. Philip and Lydia had obviously been exasperated, but for some reason hadn't pressed the issue.
"Indeed? Not even concerning the small group of spacecraft our radar detects approaching this planet, even now?"
The Colonial stared.
"What appears to be a shuttle craft, and four more vessels of the type you were flying when you arrived."
He blinked, uncertain if this was a deception or if the Galactica was really sending an envoy of some kind, perhaps even Commander Adama himself.
"I see," Philip commented. "You were unaware of any plans to approach this planet openly. I must therefore assume your leaders have changed their course of action and are now interested in meeting with us – we have been aware of your presence in this system for several days, you must understand. Do you wish to be present for the arrival of your fellows?"
"The arrival?" Starbuck pulled himself together, still uncertain why Philip's mere presence unnerved him so – true, Lydia's alienness had shocked him, but his reaction to this ... man was a personal, gut feeling.
Philip nodded, smiling. "They've requested clearance at ... what I recall to be named L.A. International Airport. I intend to greet them in person."
"Why?" he demanded suspiciously.
"There have been ... certain changes in the past day, and there will undoubtedly be more changes where you humans are concerned. I would wish it to be known at once that we extend our hands peacefully to you, and the war on this planet is truly over, to our mutual benefit."
"They're landing soon?"
"Yes. If we take the transportation vehicle now, we will be in time..."
"Then, no offense, but let's stop talking, and go!"
The red-clad Visitor gestured toward the door. Starbuck instantly accepted the unspoken order – if this was a trick, there was only one way to find out. And if there was an ambush waiting at the "International Airport," he would do everything in his power to sabotage it.
Diana was furious. Not at her prisoner, not really – he'd been most cooperative since the conversion chamber process, and the presence of what he thought was his late wife made him quiet compliant. No, it was her own test results, and those of her fellow scientists.
The genetic experiments she'd hoped to conduct wouldn't work. Apollo's compliance was irrelevant; it appeared no Visitor female could hatch a child of human siring.
So she raged, in her usual fashion, and the unfortunate technician cringed timidly, as he usually reacted to any criticism.
"It won't work," she fumed. "A half-mammalian child won't survive in one of our females. And the artificial cloning wombs are ineffective as well – without incubation in one of their females, the native bacteria are fatal to a fragile embryo. The genetic mixture functions successfully only way – Visitor male, human female – and apparently only the female zygote will survive parturition beyond a few days. Why are we so susceptible to their misbegotten bacteria and viruses in infancy? How can they carry our children when we cannot carry theirs? And why only to the delivery of daughters?"
The unfortunate technician scurried away on some quickly-found errand. She let him go, only to be disturbed by one of her officers a few moments later.
"Commander!" It was James.
"What is it?" she demanded in irritation.
"Colonial ships, landing in Los Angeles!"
"We're down, Colonel," Athena reported nervously.
Tigh stared past her through the front port. He could just see Viper noses to either side of his small shuttle – Boomer and Sheba, he knew. Greenbean and Jolly were at rear guard position. But what made him anxious, although he couldn't show it, was the assortment of alien ground and space craft clustered some distance before them, and the group of red-garbed men and women approaching. With that official-looking assemblage were a number of what appeared to media personnel, carrying cameras and recording devices. The Colonial arrival was at least not being kept secret, with the crowd gathering beyond the distant fences.
"Starbuck!" Athena suddenly cried joyfully. "Look, it's Starbuck!"
He stared in the direction of her pointing finger, and saw one brown-uniformed man among the red. It was, indeed, one of their missing warriors – apparently unshackled and walking freely, although surrounded by several more of the crimson-garbed strangers.
"He doesn't look like a prisoner," Tigh muttered, earning a worried look from his aide.
"Do you think he's all right?"
"I expect we'll find out soon enough," he replied. "Stay here until we know what kind of reception we're getting. I doubt you could pilot this ship out of here safely if we had to run, but keep channels open to the Galactica."
"So they'll know if we're all murdered in the next few centons..." Athena gulped.
Tigh smiled grimly. "Correct. Warriors, stay in your Vipers until I've approached their leader. Stay on this channel..." Adjusting the headset he intended to wear on this vital first meeting, the black man strode out of the shuttle, taking only a moment for a few deep breaths to steel himself.
The asphalt under his feet was hot from the midday sun beating down on it. It was a warm California day, very bright after the artificial light of the ship, and Tigh wished briefly for a visor.
Then he set his thoughts aside and carefully walked toward the man walking toward him.
The blond man wore a red uniform trimmed in gold, and a dark pair of sun-glasses over his eyes. He stopped, saluted briefly – Tigh assumed it was meant as a friendly welcoming gesture – and began to speak.
"I'm Inspector General Philip, representing the Leader of Homeworld, and commanding all Visitor forces in this system. Welcome to Earth."
Tigh studied him. "You're one of those who invaded this planet," he said steadily, but carefully without accusation.
"An unfortunate situation, but it has been remedied. There is truce between our peoples now, and we hope for a lasting peace and alliance." The alien ignored his lack of identification; the human wondered if he was as anxious for this meeting to go well as he seemed – he knew its importance to his own people, waiting in the Fleet in the system Earth identified as that of Bernard's Star.
"Alliance against your star enemies?" he asked.
"We do not demand the humans go to war with us against the Cylons, but I admit we would find their aid useful. We have been fighting for a long time, and it has perhaps made us more warlike and less trustful than we should be..."
Tigh started in surprise, as did Starbuck behind Philip.
"Your enemies are the Cylons?"
"Yes. You know of them?"
The colonel nodded. "The humans called us here to aid them against you. Their signal also led the Cylons here. It seems we fight a common enemy, and we will soon be facing them here."
Philip seemed to find this enlightening. "That explains many things about the past few weeks, Earth time..."
"Seven complete rotations of their planet, seven days. You say you fight the Cylons also. Yet you were quick to answer your brothers' call for help..."
The gentle probing of their military strength and purpose didn't pass the Colonial, nor his frankly evaluating study of the four Vipers and shuttle, where he knew five more of the starfarers waited. Tigh glanced at Starbuck, who shrugged marginally, then stepped forward.
"May I speak to this warrior?" Tigh asked, sidestepping Philip's unspoken questions for the moment. The alien frowned slightly, seemed uncertain, but finally nodded and stepped back, waving his own people and the assorted media away as well.
"They haven't hurt me, or pressed their questioning. I ... couldn't say one way or the other whether to trust them. I haven't given them much information, besides my name and service number. But there's a couple of factions here, Colonel, and the other side has Apollo. It sounds like he's been brainwashed by them. We may have to ... trust this Philip."
"But you don't?"
Starbuck was silent a moment. "The humans I've met here... Well, they seem to trust him. And they have an embassy in the city. I think it's on the level. He's the man we have to deal with, among the Visitors."
Tigh made an instant decision. Touching his headset, he said, "Warriors, I believe you may join us."
Tigh and Starbuck faced the Visitors. Athena, Boomer, Sheba, Jolly, and Greenbean joined them a moment later. It was an impressive honor guard as Philip stepped forward, only a blonde in uniform at his side.
The colonel extended a hand, hoping a handshake was a recognizable gesture of friendship. Starbuck didn't contradict the action – he was too busy smiling at Athena. Philip quickly reached with his own hand, and they shook.
"I'm Colonel Tigh, from the battlestar Galactica," he announced formally. "I believe we have a great deal to talk about, and a few communications links to establish. Commander Adama, leader of the fleet and president of the Quorum of Twelve, is very eager to speak with you, and those governing Earth..."
The fact that their fleet was all that survived of the Twelve Colonies, after a complete Destruction by the Cylons, and that they had come seeking asylum on Earth, were things Adama would have to explain.
Apollo stared with jaundiced eye at a piece of abstract art, a prize from the looting of a museum. He looked as disturbed as the painting.
"Are you unwell?" Diana asked sympathetically, entering the well-secured but extremely comfortable prisoners' quarters.
"I'm bored," he responded honestly.
"But safe," she reminded him. "And you have the company of your dear wife..." She ran her fingers along his shoulder, wondering briefly if humans from the stars were as delectable, when properly prepared, as Earth humans. But she had come to test his loyalty, not his gastric appeal.
"Safe..." He shuddered. "It's hard to believe my own father could sell me out like that, and my friends..." He closed his eyes and grimaced against what he thought were bad memories, but were only the induced insanity of the conversion process.
"But you know, now, that they are truly your enemies, and they despise me for harboring you...?" she questioned delicately, watching closely to see the degree of loyalty he would offer her.
His eyes were cold when he faced her. "I know. When I saw Starbuck with those raiders who tried to capture you, I knew. I can't depend on him, or any of the others. You're the only one I can trust. I wish I'd killed him..."
"You protected me, Apollo," she purred with pleasure. "We're both safe now, and Serina as well. We're all safe..."
His gaze rested briefly on the painting. She didn't hear the quietly breathed, "Boxey..."
"Apollo," she began again, "there is something I wish you would help me with..."
"Several of your people are on our planet, perhaps even some of your enemies, including the one you call Starbuck."
His expression remained cold, but she saw a twitch in the right hand of a left-handed man.
"Could you identify them for me? So we may know what we face? If they have come to search for you, to drag you back, or to destroy us all..."
"I'll tell you everything I know," he assured her.
As you already do. "Come." She gestured toward the door. The guard who'd followed her into the chamber stepped aside to let them pass.
A few moments later, they were watching a videotape of the arrival of Colonel Tigh and his party. The captain's face was expressionless as he watched his former shipmates, until Athena stepped into view. His eyes softened.
"Who is it, Apollo?" Diana demanded. She watched every blink closely.
"That's Athena," he said evenly.
Diana frowned. "I remember the name; you spoke of her once..."
"She's my sister."
"Your ... sister?" The unholy smile on Diana's face would have congealed the blood of any free-thinking human being. Apollo knew only that his benefactor looked pleased.
His sister. A female of the human kind. One who could bear a Starchild to one of my officers... Her thoughts skimmed over several of her people. James ... no, too ambitious. Douglas... Yes...
As though with great concern, she spoke to Apollo again. "Could she be in the same danger as you? A sacrificial lamb to your father's ambition and your people's folly? Would they be as willing to offer her to an enemy as they were to send you?"
He drew a quick, horrified breath. "Maybe..." he whispered. "She would be as quick to go, if asked..." He stared at the screen a moment more, then grabbed the alien scientist's hand. "Diana, you saved me and my wife. Save my sister, too! Get Athena away from them!" he entreated.
"How could I not do such a thing for you?" she answered softly. "You had only to ask. One of my people works at the Embassy. We can reach her secretly, and bring her to safety. We will do it, Apollo. For you. And for her."
He smiled gratefully. Within her devious mind, Diana laughed.
Baltar studied the patrol reports. One of the large "mother ships" was approaching. It would be a good test for his mechanical pilots, to see how they performed against a living opponent again, against beings different from the humans they'd trailed so far across the heavens.
The ship moved cautiously, with skyfighters out constantly. So they were aware of danger, but uncertain of its origin or degree. So much the better. While he had no intention of squandering his strength, a kill of such magnitude should earn him greater forces from a grateful Imperious Leader – and with a sudden strike, they should offer little resistance.
"Sound the attack," he ordered. "They are one ship. It should take no time at all to destroy them utterly."
It had been a long day at Science Frontiers. To Dr. Steve Maitland, it had been a frustrating one as well. He hadn't come running from Seattle at Julie Parrish's urgent summons to be ignored and refused admittance to some super-secret project.
"Well, how's your first day back?" A man in jeans and checkered shirt fell into step with the scientist in his white lab coat.
"Hello, Mike Donovan." He forced a smile of friendly recognition for the man who'd regarded him distrustfully during most of their previous encounter.
"You look like you've had a lousy time," the journalist continued genially.
"Rather," he acknowledged. "Between that secret project, the break-in, and Willie's absence today, I haven't seen Julie for more than five minutes..."
"Willie's gone?" Mike demanded in sudden concern. "I was supposed to meet him here after work..."
"Well, he hasn't been here." Seeing the other man's concern, he asked, "Was it important?"
"Uh, not really. What kind of break-in was it? I didn't hear anything."
"Julie wouldn't say, but I talked to one of the other technicians – Mirella Lincoln. Know her?" Mike shook his head. "Seems a minute quantity of drugs were stolen very late last night. Very odd. All the stores of pharmaceuticals kept here, and somebody stole some Red Dust antidote – not supposed to be common knowledge, if your journalistic instinct is surfacing again. But speculation is, either a renegade working alone, or Diana has something specific in mind that she needed some of the anti-toxin – maybe mass production on her own, if she's got the equipment and the raw materials. I'm surprised the news hasn't been passed on to the Resistance..."
Donovan's face was pale as he shook his head again. "No. And she should have told us. She's been acting strangely these past few days. Even Willie thought so... I wonder if he could've taken the drugs?"
"I have no idea. His being missing today is suspicious... Unless it was meant to be interpreted that way..." His voice died away, and his jaw tightened suddenly. "You thought Julie was acting strangely, too?"
"Well..." The blond man shrugged, but thought for a moment before speaking slowly. "I thought she was just busy, with everything that's been going on, that she didn't have time to see me, but if other people have noticed it, maybe..."
"Maybe she doesn't want to see me..."
"Why would she do that? She almost married you once; she almost went back north with you after we sabotaged that brain bacteria of Diana's. You had to tell her to stay, and promised you'd be back after the war."
"True." Steve Maitland stared into the distance. "You've seen more of her than I have these past few years. But thinking how she was when I first knew her, and then on the mother ship... The war changed her. And now..."
"It's almost like she's a different person..."
Donovan understood. "You don't think... My God, what if she is?"
Another disturbing fact surfaced in the scientist's mind. "Oh, no... Mike, I saw her signing a requisition form today... I'd forgotten, until now. She was writing with her left hand!"
"It's not our Julie," the other man concluded woodenly. "Diana got to her. She may have been through the conversion process. That means Diana could be here in Los Angeles even now. Maybe she got Willie..."
The possible implications slowly sank into their stunned brains.
"We've got to talk to Philip, and get Julie out of here, to where we can help her..."
"That, Michael Donovan and Steve Maitland, is precisely what you will not do."
Mirella Lincoln stood behind them, a very large laser in her very capable hands. And she wasn't alone. Another woman backed her up. When she gestured toward the door, and slid the weapon into her lab coat so that it was still pointed at them, they understood what was demanded of them. Dumbfounded, the two prisoners obeyed.Chapter Five
Donovan and Maitland sat in the back seat. The black woman they knew as Dr. Mirella Lincoln drove the inconspicuous late model car through the streets of Los Angeles. The red-haired technician kept a laser on the two men from the front seat.
"Who are you really? Are you visitors?" Donovan asked bluntly.
"No." Their freckled guard shook her head decisively.
"Then why take us out of Science Frontiers at gunpoint?" he persisted.
The woman was momentarily distracted at something behind their automobile. Before the man could take advantage of it and try anything, she glanced at Dr. Lincoln, and her fingers tightened on the weapon. "We're being followed, Mirella."
"I know, Caitlin. I saw the headlights a few blocks back. It's nothing to worry about yet." The driver was brisk, unconcerned, as if this contingency had been planned for.
Steve Maitland joined the conversation. "What's Humanidyne's interest in Science Frontiers, Dr. Lincoln, if that's your real name? You're primarily funded by the government. Is somebody trying to take over the Visitor technological studies?"
In the rear view mirror, they saw Mirella smile. "You could say that."
"Does Archangel know you consider kidnaping to be part of your job?"
"C'mon, Steve," Donovan broke in. "Kidnaping has been part of the government's job before, hasn't it, Mirella? I presume we can drop the 'doctor' bit?"
"I really do have a PhD in engineering, as well as in five other areas," she replied blandly. "And I am fully qualified to fly anything in the military today, up to and including the space shuttle and Visitor skyfighters."
They heard squealing tires behind them, and glanced back to see a dark pick-up truck peal out of an alley, slamming sideways into their pursuer with a satisfying crunch. The street was effectively blocked, and for a moment they heard drunken yells before Mirella turned left and out of sight.
"Courtesy of Archangel?" Caitlin asked lightly. "I hope no one got hurt."
"Of course not. The driver and his companions are experienced stuntmen, and as they have acted as bounty hunters in the past, they are also quite adept at taking care of themselves. All they have to do is delay our followers for a few minutes."
"What if they catch up to us again?" Donovan asked from the back, detesting the professional not-quite-smugness in the driver's voice.
"Figures. It is the government. What do our holier-than-thou politicians want with us?"
"You'll have to talk to Archangel about that."
"In about ten minutes." With that, Mirella swerved left again, and headed straight for the side of a brick building. At the last second, the side of the building swung away, and they drove inside.
Donovan had barely stuffed his heart back down his throat where it belonged when the floor seemed to drop away beneath them.
"Elevator going down," he heard Maitland mutter through clenched teeth.
When it stopped, Mirella and Caitlin got out, putting their weapons away.
"Well, gentlemen, you wanted to see Archangel. Are you coming?"
They followed through a dark corridor to a small room full of electronic equipment. The tall, sandy-haired Archangel was waiting for them, leaning on his cane, dressed, as always, in immaculate white. He gestured them to chairs, and took a seat himself.
The journalist refused to sit down. Instead, crossing his arms and trying to look determined, he demanded, "Why did you kidnap us? And why do you have agents infiltrating Science Frontiers?"
"Infiltrating? Now that's a harsh word. Mirella is more than qualified for the position we gave her." Archangel seemed quite at ease with the situation.
"That doesn't answer my question. Why did you kidnap us?"
Archangel fixed him with a steely gaze. "To protect the situation."
"Mirella and Caitlin were assigned to investigate certain suspicions of several officials. Their evidence confirms those suspicions. The female currently in charge of Science Frontiers is not Dr. Julie Parrish. She is a Visitor – obviously a competent scientist, but not one of ours or Philip's."
Maitland stared. "That would explain..."
"A Visitor? Then why not take her in? Why'd you stop us from...?"
"From recklessly exposing who and what she is? Because right now, Michael Donovan, we need the Visitor Juliet."
Archangel shook his head. "We're getting the information we expected from Julie about the alien ... Colonial ship, from our agents. That's no problem anymore, with this Colonel Tigh and his people in Los Angeles. Negotiations with the Colonials should make their technology available to us before long. If it were just that, we'd arrest her quietly. But we have reason to believe Juliet is a link to Diana's Renegades. If possible, we want to exploit that information and find Diana. She may be somewhere in or near the city."
"What about Julie Parrish?" Maitland broke in, outraged.
Archangel glanced at him. "That's another reason. Take Juliet, and we warn Diana, who may be holding Dr. Parrish. Juliet may be the only chance of finding Julie Parrish alive."
The two prisoners stared at each other for a moment.
Then Donovan asked, "What about Willie? Did you take him, too, to prevent him from messing up your operation?"
For the first time, Archangel looked uneasy. "No. We've got no idea what happened to Willie. And that is ... disturbing. If he ran, we have no idea why, or to where. If he found out something, Diana's people may have taken him, but we've no idea where, any more than..."
"Any more than Julie? In other words, they may both be dead." Donovan was grim.
"Perhaps. But will it do any good if you join them?" the Firm agent countered.
"So what do we do now?"
"Juliet would prefer to keep her distance from you, to prevent your finding out who and what she is. That's not a bad idea. Gentlemen, would you care to disappear?"
Athena flitted through the garden of the Visitor Embassy in borrowed night clothes, feeling delightfully naughty. The night was warm, and there were enough flowers in bloom to scent the entire acreage. Their perfume had drawn her from her room to experience a starry Terran midnight, and the heady feeling of running barefoot and half-dressed through dew-touched grass. She ran her hands through a bush, and broke off a deep pink blossom – a rose, they called it. The color matched the lacy robe she wore.
The stem had thorns, and a tiny drop of blood stained the pink. She stared at her pricked finger, but a single drop was all it bled, and it stopped hurting.
Humming she caught the flower up in her hair. She was content.
Her people had reached Earth. It might not be the safe haven the Colonials had hoped for, when they fled their own ravaged worlds, but at last the journey was over. And while the Cylons were still behind them, and the Sirians and Terrans had at best an uneasy truce, there was at least a chance their diverse peoples could work together, and drive back the Cylons. Here in the Terran city of Los Angeles, they could rest a little, and a warrior like herself could forget the war while the Council and the commander and the human and Visitor leaders worked out their plans.
Her brother was a prisoner of the Renegades, but someone had seen him alive, and apparently well-treated; perhaps he could be rescued.
Starbuck was alive, too, and here in the Embassy. Staring up at his window from the shadows of a tree, she saw a light still on, and mischievously contemplated surprising him. She'd been good at climbing trees when she was a child, and it hadn't been as long as her parents and brother thought since the last time she's shinnied up an old, wrinkled trunk. She wondered what he would think of a night queen stealing in through his window, perhaps even sneaking into his bed – something she'd never even thought of doing before.
"Starbuck!" she whispered into the intoxicating night. Maybe he'd hear her, and think there was something in the wind. She giggled to herself.
A hand touched her shoulder.
"Oh!" She jumped back. "Willard!"
"Are you sure you should be out here tonight? And dressed...?" His eyes slipped over her figure, but the expression was no threat. The Visitor wasn't interested in human women.
She smiled sunnily. "But it's such a beautiful night, I couldn't resist. I know, you're just doing your duty, guarding me. But I'm all right, really." Athena then sighed and slipped into his arms in a faint.
A dark-haired female Visitor joined the Embassy guard. "Her evening 'tonic' seems to have done the trick, finally."
"I'm certain I slipped the proper amount of the drug you gave me into her drink, Diana," the husky Visitor protested, lowering her to the grass.
"I'm sure you did. These alien humans may be stronger than they look. Take her to the west gate and give her to Douglas. In an hour and a half, check her room, then raise the cry that she's missing."
"You want her disappearance noted before morning?"
"An hour will give us time to disappear. It will be safer for you that way, Willard, if you appear to have been doing your job conscientiously. And right now, your position is a very valuable one to me." She smiled, haunting alienness covering a reptilian beauty he remembered with hunger.
"Whatever you wish, my leader."
"You will be well-rewarded for your services."
"Permitting me within your presence is reward enough."
She favored him with a light kiss that quickly grew to tongue-twined urgency. The female broke away first, with regrets.
"You are off-duty tomorrow, I believe? I will wait for you, at the place you know."
"I will be there..."
She vanished into the night, and he gathered up the unconscious warrior to deliver her to her captors. A single pink rose was left on the grass, with a broken stem, a few long strands of brunette hair caught by a thorn, and a small spot of blood drying on a soft petal.
The Embassy had settled down for the evening. Philip had given orders for the comfort of the human guests, and the Embassy liaison, Scott, had seen them through; the Colonials were, indeed, now guests, and even Starbuck was being afforded more of the courtesies and amenities of host-obligation. It had been a long, tense day, nonetheless, and the inspector general was glad to see it end, glad to bask for a few hours under the lamps approximating the heat and light of a warm afternoon on Homeworld. The altered heat lamps of the Embassy were an amenity that he occasionally permitted himself when he was in Los Angeles. Curled in the warmth, he was a very contented lizard, nearly asleep, when the pager on his desk sounded loudly.
The woman at the other end of the telescreen wore the red and gold of a security officer, with the bands of a commander. It was Lydia. She'd returned to the mother ship, but he'd left word he was available if she should call, at any time of day or night.
Wearing only his humanskin, Philip flipped the toggle to accept her call. "What is it?"
"We're receiving a distress signal from one of our mother ships, Philip."
He shivered unexpectedly, and not from the sudden chill of leaving the so-called "tanning bed" that was so comfortable to those of his species. "How can that be? Which one?" Did one of the commanders move away from the fleet against my orders? Is there a mutiny aboard? If the war begins here...
"Not one of ours, Philip. The ship in inward-bound toward this system. From Homeword! They're being attacked by Cylons, and request any help we can give them."
His fingers and toes tensed instinctively into claws, tearing through the bodysuit in several digits. "Positive identification?"
"Affirmative." She looked as ready for battle as he felt.
"Do they give the strength of their attackers?"
"Cylon fighters, several squadrons of them – perhaps what could be spared from the defense of three of their base ships, in enemy territory. They're holding them off, but with losses."
Philip's mind raced over his own forces. Seven mother ships. What could he spare? What if this was a trick to lure him from the system? To defeat his ships one by one? But he couldn't sit by and let one of his own people's vessels be destroyed, especially when that ship might have information and supplies crucial to the situation.
Then it's not which of the mother ships I can spare, it's which of them I can trust, either not to mutiny or run if I sent them out, or which I can trust not to turn on me if I bid them remain. I dare not send the Los Angeles Mother Ship, not now. Her presence is needed for the conference, or the humans may wonder what new menace has come to their planet. And I know the people I can depend on from that mother ship, and which are likely still Diana's snakes.
The Toronto Mother Ship is a science vessel. She could fight if she had to, but it's not her purpose. I would rather have her people and technology at my disposal. And I would not trust Damian with the eggs of my house.
Paris? London? One is trustworthy; the other is not. But I don't know, yet, which side they would support in a civil war. Cairo? A good ship, but... Sydney and Rio de Janeiro, then? Yes. Their commanders are as loyal as any, and their friendship makes them unlikely to turn on each other like saurotons over a single prey.
"Send the mother ships of Sydney and Rio de Janeiro. I'm coding in the orders right now."
"I'll send the orders..." She signed off.
Raman keep them strong until we can reach them. The forces of two or three base stars attacking one of our mother ships?
It struck him that such a thing was unusual. Either the commander of the new ship was uncommonly canny, or they carried more armament and firepower than the norm. Another Triex battle station? Or some new design of mother ship incorporating some of its aspects?
After calling the other mother ships to inform them of the situation, if it was necessary, and confirm Lydia's orders for defense, he dressed in a simple robe styled after something from Homeworld. Then he stood at the window. The desire for sleep was gone, but he knew the following day would be busy, and he needed the rest. The temperature outside, though warm to the humans, had a chill to the cooler-blooded lizard. As his body temperature lowered, he felt his prior drowsiness and lethargy return. Then he returned to his bed to warm himself and sleep.
Night in the mountains was cold. The stars in the clear sky shown down with icy hauteur on the two figures struggling through the underbrush.
"Elizabeth?" Kyle yelled with no real hope of response.
He and Willie had been searching for the missing Starchild all day, and had found no trace of her. He turned back to see if his Visitor friend was still following. Since sunset, the lizard had been moving much more slowly, rubbing his mittened hands together and hunching deeper into his jacket.
Willie had stopped and was slumped against a tree, arms crossed over his chest and his eyes closed in near stupor.
"Willie?" Kyle ran back to his friend.
The lizard gazed dully back at him; even his blinks were sluggish.
"I am sorry ... Kyle," he slurred out the whisper through stiff jaws and tongue. "My people cannot ... take sustained periods of cold ... as your people can... Cold-blooded but ... you humans are so warm..."
Kyle Bates would have remembered that, but he was half out of his mind with worry for Elizabeth Maxwell, who'd walked into the woods a few days before and seemingly vanished from sight and sound of human or Visitor senses. Now reminded that Willie had been out in the forest with him all day, with nothing to eat and insufficient preparation for the climate, he felt guilty. The Visitor trooper had been unselfish and uncomplaining about what must be torturous cold. All he'd thought were frantic demands to know why Elizabeth wasn't calling Willie any more, if it had been her who summoned him from Los Angeles.
"Here." He pulled a bulky object from his backpack, something he'd intended for the Starchild, who'd ignored cold and heat since their return to Earth. He draped the knitted shawl over his friend's shoulders instead. "Maybe you'd better go back to the ranchhouse."
"I do not think ... I would make it back ... and shawl won't warm me. Not enough body warmth... Better just sleep here ... wait for sunrise."
"Are you due for another antidote capsule?"
"I do not ... remember..."
Kyle grabbed his wrist to check the watch. It was almost time. He rummaged in the Visitor's pocket for the small vial of capsules, then extracted one and shoved it into his friend's mouth. Alien jaws opened, a tongue rasped over his hand, and the pill was swallowed in one convulsive movement.
Willie's skin was cold. Kyle knew it was nothing to worry about, really, but there were predators in the woods, and dangerous night prowlers. He couldn't leave his friend at their mercy. Heart wrenching, he made a decision.
"I'll help you back. We can't find anything at night anyway."
"I'll go out again after you're safe and warm." He put his arm around Willie and dragged him upright again, wishing he'd thought to bring a thermos of coffee or hot chocolate.
"It is kind of you to care about ... a chosen lizard..."
"Chosen...? Oh, frozen, as in very cold." Kyle thought about it for a moment. "Actually, Willie, you are chosen. A chosen friend. And I'm glad you're here to help me look, and care about her, too. Nobody else even knows we're alive." His thoughts rested briefly on Mike Donovan, Julie Parrish, Ham Tyler, Chris Farber, Robin Maxwell, and his other friends from the Resistance; but they quickly flew back to Elizabeth. He'd risked everything to try to win her back, even stowing away on the Leader's shuttle. She had gone anyway.
And she had brought him back alive from the fires of an explosion and a sudden empty chill in his lungs. And there had been another light, after the heat and chill, before the blue enveloping fire and the feel of air around him and ground at his feet...
Had he died? He wasn't sure.
But if he had, what had Elizabeth become that she could bring him back? What mortal human vanity made him think she needed him now?
Philip stirred quickly from his bed for the second time that night, his blood flowing quickly from a combination of heated bed and natural chemical rush at the call. He recognized the guard who stood at his door, ready to run. "Yes, Willard?"
"One of the Colonial women, Athena, is missing!"
"What?" He grabbed his robe. "Have you checked...?"
"I've checked with all of them, including the males. She is not in any of their rooms, nor anywhere else in the Embassy. The Colonials are dressing now, sir. Their Colonel Tigh wishes to speak with you as soon as possible."
"What arrangements have you made for a search party?"
"I've called the day shift, sir, and the night shift is already scratching the grounds."
Philip had to smile. "I think the humans might say, 'combing' the grounds, Willard."
His eyes nictitated, and his face suddenly looked out of place as he nodded. "Yes, sir, I think that is the way they would say it. We are searching for Athena everywhere. Do you wish to expand the search to the city?"
The Inspector General was half-dressed. He considered the security man – not one of Lydia's better men, he decided. "Only if she is absent from the grounds. But alert the local police force. They know what she looks like."
Willard saluted stiffly and returned to his duty. Philip heard him barking orders.
He finished clothing the humanskin bodysuit, covering it as the humans would cover their own naked flesh. The whole planet knows what every one of these Colonials looks like, now, after the way they landed today. She wouldn't be hard to find if she walked off. But I suspect there are renegades working on our ships, so why not here at the Embassy? Is it Diana...?
Colonel Tigh met Philip with a cold stare. "Lieutenant Athena is nowhere on the Embassy grounds. I was under the impression these grounds were supposed to be safe. Do you have any idea what may have happened to her?"
The Inspector General glanced over the Colonials. Only Starbuck and Boomer weren't there; they were still out prowling the garden, not entirely trusting the report of Embassy security. Tigh was, at that moment, in full accord with their suspicions. To lose one of their number on the first night, in a supposedly secure area, did not bode well for future trust and cooperation.
Several more Visitors passed through the lobby in their search; only one remained, a worried-looking female.
"We've alerted the local human civilian security forces to be alert for her, in case she went for a walk and simply became lost in an alien city..." Philip began.
"But you don't think that's what happened to her?" The black officer scowled. "You spoke yesterday of renegades from your own people, who are hidden on this planet and supposedly have taken Captain Apollo prisoner..."
"We have a witness to his presence among them, and his apparent conversion," Philip interrupted. "And if you are about to suggest the renegades are a fictitious threat composed by us to justify our continued presence on Earth..." The Colonial Warriors straightened coldly, as if that were indeed their belief. "...I suggest you speak to members of the human Resistance, who can verify the danger of these renegades, and that our Fifth Column is not involved with them. You might particularly wish to speak with Michael Donovan, a journalist who–"
"But Michael Donovan is gone!" the female spoke up.
Tigh and Philip turned as one; Jolly, Greenbean, and Sheba also turned their hostile attention to the newcomer. The colonel noted she wasn't as attractive as the other female Visitors he'd been introduced to. Did that imply she was less attractive to her own species? Or perhaps human-appreciable beauty had been chosen as an attribute of alien officers, indicative of rank to humans who might not understand Sirian insignia and titles...
"Thelma? What do you mean, Donovan's gone?" Philip demanded in concern.
"I went to see him tonight," she responded in agitation. "Willie did not come home yesterday evening, and Michael was going to check at Science Frontiers, with Dr. Maitland. But Donovan did not come home, and Maitland is not at home, either. I called Dr. Parrish, but she had no idea where they might be, so I came here to speak to you..."
"Willie did not come home?"
"We have lived together as humans do, but we plan a ritual mating..."
Tigh felt like yelling at the woman, but restrained himself. "So there have been four disappearances these past two days?"
"Willie, Michael Donovan, Steve Maitland, and Athena," Philip confirmed, his attention still on Thelma. "A dangerous group to be absent, and the council gathering only a few days off. Already there are delegates arriving from New York..."
"What council?" Tigh interrupted again. There hadn't been much time the previous day to discuss the current political system – and neither Tigh nor the Visitor Inspector had volunteered any non-essential information.
The alien officer's face and voice were carefully empty of emotion, as Tigh could remember Adama's being on many occasions. "A council for Pretanama, true peace, not an uneasy truce, between our two species," he said flatly. "I sent some of my officers as hostages to New York while the delegates of their United Nations come here. Enemies within each other's grasp. Your arrival has somewhat altered the agenda of what must be discussed."
Tigh found himself remembering how Apollo had spoken to the representatives of another Terra, across the stars, to buy time for peace. The thought touched him in a way he didn't expect. There had to be peace on Earth, and between Terrans, Sirians, and Colonials, if they were to face the Cylons and survive.
"I will contact Commander Adama and the Council of Twelve," he told Philip levelly. "I am sure we will want to be present, and perhaps contribute to the discussion."
"Colonel!" The three pilots spoke as one, stunned.
Philip stared at him, then slowly lowered his face and worked at his eyes and hands. A moment later, he raised his gaze. Tigh saw, with shock, the yellow, slit-irised eyes that hid beneath human-seeming lenses. The blue-eyed shams rolled in Philip's hand like half-marbles. The skin on that hand was pulled back. Green scales glimmered through the rent, and a yellowish claw poked out where a fingernail had been.
A forked tongue tested the air. "Perhaps you would wish to know, truly, with whom you deal."
The warriors were shocked, and Sheba looked close to bolting, but Tigh held his ground.
"We had an idea what the old Cylons looked like. And we have dealt with lizard species before," he said quite steadily. "I suspect your disguise will continue to be of use in dealing with our Terran brothers, who have less experience with the diversity of the galaxy. I would recommend, however, that you make it quite clear to the delegates and the population that they are dealing with a non-human, non-mammalian species."
The Visitor replaced his eyes, and blinked several times to settle them.
Tigh noted he kept the damaged hand clenched out of sight. What does he think he's hiding? Or does he even realize...?
"Those who have dealt with us know our true appearance." Philip's voice carried discomfort, as if this was a difficult subject. "It is what first precipitated their uneasiness with our presence on their world, and then their resistance. It is only that..."
"That you have lived so long on this planet, looking and speaking and trying to live as humans, that you no longer feel comfortable with your own appearance? That you have come to identify too totally with the ones you came to subjugate?"
The Visitor stared mutely.
The Colonial gestured at the hidden hand. "Or is it perhaps not the image you chose to wear, but what your people did here, when you first came, that makes you ashamed of what you are?" He glanced at Thelma, who looked down, while other Visitors present hissed shock or denial; then at his own people, who appeared startled with the idea; and finally back to Philip, who studied the rents in his hand. After a moment, Tigh waved his pilots out of the room.
"Check the garden," he ordered. "See what's keeping Boomer and Starbuck."
They left reluctantly. The Visitors followed a moment later when Philip hissed something in their native tongue. The two officers faced each other, alone.
"You are very perceptive," Philip finally replied slowly. "Especially for one reading the unconscious language of a being from an alien people, through a disguise many humans still do not penetrate. You read what I did not even know I thought or said. Your commander must value you highly, and properly.
"You are correct that I am not proud of our attempt to conquer this world instead of dealing with its inhabitants honestly. But I am proud of my people, Tigh, proud of our history and our survival against many odds. We have been what we had to be. In some cases, that made us hard and cruel, made us revert to the instincts that we had left behind long, long ago.
"My people are my first concern; they always have been and always will be. I studied the law codes for that reason. I work in the service of the Leader for that reason. But I simply find myself less willing to see the destruction of an intelligent, innocent species to reach our goals.
"Especially since our goal, now, is the same – to face the Cylons and survive. I have observed and listened to your people, Tigh. You are few, but there are many humans on this world who could join you. The Cylons have tried to destroy us for many cycles of our history, but I think they have come very close to destroying you. What will happen to your fleet, hidden in the stars, if there is no welcome here?"
It was as though a moment of truth had come. Each male felt a certain admiration and respect for the other, and a certain knowledge that he could trust the other and risk the truth.
"You also read men very well. As I said before, I will contact Commander Adama. This council is important to all of us, and there are some things which should be discussed before it opens."
"Yes. And while you do so, I will encourage the search for Athena."
Tigh felt a stab that he had forgotten, even for a micron, the disappearance of his aide and best friend's daughter. What happened to her? And how do I call Commander Adama and tell him, "Both of your children are lost on this planet, but will you trust the alien leader and come here to speak to them anyway?"
Starbuck scanned the bushes. She'd walked in dew before stepping on the concrete walkway, and small damp footsteps led this way before wandering into the grass. In the lantern's glow, something caught his eye, lying next to a tree and half-crushed from some heavier footfall.
He stooped. It was a flower, a rose, as the Terrans called it, in Athena's favorite color, a pink that matched the nightwear she'd been lent. One of the petals had a dried smear of something on it, and strands of hair were caught in a thorn on the stem.
He picked it up very carefully, but several crushed petals detached and drifted to the ground. Where one of them landed, he found a bit of pink lace, torn from clothing. His heart in his throat, Starbuck searched the grass and shrubs. From the rest of the scene, it appeared she had fallen here, and someone had picked her up and carried her away.
He still didn't trust the inspector general. Without raising a hue and cry, he first contacted Colonel Tigh on his portable comlink.
Diana studied the medical report so rapidly compiled on the new human prisoner. It was as favorable as she had hoped. Athena carried the same genetic codes, in the necessary chromosomes, as her brother Apollo. Similar enough to Robin Maxwell's to permit the human, with proper preparation and care, to conceive and carry a child of Visitor siring.
Her smile was victorious. Philip might have access to Colonial technology, but what was technology compared to the abilities of a Starchild? And Elizabeth, the first Starchild, was dead, with the Leader who'd been Diana's own lover, then sent her to this planet when he tired of her. She had removed him when he threatened her ambitions a second time.
Yes, I have the trumps now. I have Apollo to tell me anything I need to know. I have the knowledge and equipment to create a second Starchild, one completely under my control and teaching. And I have the perfect vessel for her in Athena. It will take some time, but I can wait. Philip's attention will be turned outward, and he cannot know what I plan.
Your council will be a dismal failure, Philip, when I shatter it and send you to war with the humans again...
She swivelled her chair at that urgent voice. "Yes, Juliet?"
The female blinked at seeing Diana comfortably nestled in her own chair at her own desk, but discarded the reaction as disloyal. "Thelma contacted me while you were performing your genetic tests."
"Oh?" She tossed the sheets off-handedly to the desk. "Thelma's not one of our people."
"She was concerned about Willie..."
"I understand he disappeared, but it wasn't my doing."
"I know, but apparently Michael Donovan suspects his disappearance may be connected to Science Frontiers. She said he told her that he was coming here last evening to check things out, and to talk to Dr. Maitland, but that neither of them returned to their homes, nor did they contact her with any information. She was concerned, and wondered if they had spoken to me."
"They were here?"
"I don't know. I sent James to check..."
Diana rose and began pacing with some agitation. "They were here? What do they know? What do they suspect?" She glared at her blonde subordinate. "What did you tell her?"
"That I hadn't seen them, and that they hadn't spoken to me. I said I would call her if they contacted me, and asked her to call me if she saw them, as naturally I was very concerned about the possible disappearance of several of my closest friends."
Her smile was tight. "Excellent response, Juliet..."
The page on the desk rang out imperiously. Diana nodded at her to answer.
"Yes?" Juliet leaned over the desk to flip the toggle; Diana was out of sight of anyone on the other end, but could listen and observe freely.
James's arrogant face appeared on the screen, raking quickly past Juliet. "Is Diana there?"
Juliet stepped aside to give her superior access to the terminal.
"Yes, James, what have you found?"
"We have two prisoners, Commander." He licked his lower lip with the point of his tongue, looking ready to sample the prisoners for breakfast.
The woman's response was as predatory as his. "Donovan and Maitland?"
He shook his blond head. "No. Mirella Lincoln and Caitlin O'Shaughnessy, the personnel sent over from Humanidyne a few days ago. We found them lurking in the computer data storage chamber, trying to access certain files. They put up a fight, but both have been secured, and are relatively undamaged."
She loved the emphasis he put on the words "secured" and "undamaged." "My dear James," she hissed lovingly. "My trust and faith in you grow every day. I have a special task for you, then, since you serve me so well. Take them both to holding chambers, and guard them – personally. I will speak to them later, and determine what we ... will ... do ... with ... them..."
His eyes moistened at the patent invitation. Then he saluted and signed off.
Juliet met her gaze questioningly.
The other woman virtually shot sparks. "It will keep James away from the medical chamber while the subject is prepared. Douglas's task will be done before my dear lover is aware of her being captive here." She gently stroked the other female's jawline. "Let us go."
Athena felt everything through a delightfully warm haze. She purred softly to herself as she curled up on the soft cushions. The cold was gone, and the unyielding metal against her back. Whatever they'd given her to drink had been tasty, and now flowed soothingly through her veins.
"Hello, my love."
She rolled at that throaty whisper. There he stood. She stretched languorously and smiled.
He took her hand and pulled her to a sitting position. She drew her feet under her and leaned on her free hand. His fingers coiled along her arm in a most intriguing way.
"Do I know you?" she teased coyly.
"I am Douglas." He stroked her shoulder and reached for her neck as he settled beside her on the bed. Stripped to the waist, his presence had a strange effect on her. She let her own fingers glide across his chest, over his well-muscled shoulders.
"I think I've seen you in a dream," she mused. There was something in his eyes...
He bent to kiss the hollow of her throat, and lingered, nipping gently.
"Umm..." She pulled him to her, breathing faster. Should she encourage him this way? It was hardly proper; she hadn't know him long, after all – though just how long was fuzzy. And what would Starbuck think if he knew? Or her father and brother?
Why should I care? It's my life. And if I want Douglas to be part of it...
He pulled the lacy garment from her shoulders; she responded by reaching for his belt.
Athena was no virgin, even if she wasn't as experienced as some of her friends, and she soon realized there was something odd about the man's lovemaking. It didn't matter, though. He brought her a fire she couldn't resist, and she responded more than eagerly. He held her curled close to him, later, and whispered to her.
"You are so delicious..."
And she fell asleep in his strong arms, glad she wasn't dreaming.
Diana watched coolly as Douglas disentangled from the sheet and draped it over the sleeping human's body. A silly, sentimental gesture, but some males and females were that way in the afterglow of sexual activity. She didn't hold the moment's tenderness against him. The duty was done, and obviously done quite well.
Observing, Diana felt her own clinical detachment slipping away to a certain excitement beyond anything ambition could account for. Now, as Douglas dressed and left the chamber, she wondered why she had waited so long to take the young officer to her own bed.
She would soon remedy the situation.
When he came out of the mating chamber, she touched his shoulder. "Well done, and she was no child like Robin."
His eyes were half-dilated as he finished dressing. "The colors, textures, and pheromones were well-chosen." His voice was somehow distant, as if his mind were as clouded as the human female's had been. He stared at the viewer, beyond which was the room where the Colonial woman would sleep for many hours; she would be watched for any unexpected reactions during that time. "All preparations were successful."
"Are you ... weary?"
"Yes," he replied with a quiet sigh, then moved away.
She was stung. He stared back at her. But perhaps he does not realize what I offer, or is too drained to accept. Another day, when we are both rested...
Diana didn't like waiting for what she wanted, and her interest was now piqued. She didn't realize that, as she studied Athena through the screen, her face was clouded with jealousy.
The deep cavern should have been dark and cold. Instead it glowed with blue fire, and the heat drew the reptilian inhabitants to bask in its warmth like the sycophants of some long-gone tyrant. In the center of the chamber the large, amorphous blue lump twisted and spasmed as if from internal agony or metamorphosis. The heat and eerie light came from that shape, and occasionally it emitted sounds like pained hisses and lost moans.
Dawn over Los Angeles. Philip hadn't slept since Athena's absence was discovered, and he and the Colonel spoke. He watched the reddened horizon with a lethargy common to his species at this time of day, and aggravated by his lack of rest. He knew he'd feel better in a few hours, when the sun brought warmth and light to the city.
There had been no trace of the missing woman. Philip was certain Diana had engineered her disappearance and was working against him in other ways as well. Commander Adama was on his way to Earth, while his ship, the Galactica, retrieved the rest of their survivor fleet. Lydia had likewise informed him she was ordering the remaining mother ships into an orbit around the planet for "mutual protection." He hadn't come up with any countering arguments, and hoped there would be no incidents between the Colonials and his people. There hadn't been word yet from the incoming mother ship, nor from the rescue force he'd sent out. The hostages were safely arrived in New York, securely in the hands of possible enemies. In a few days, there would be a huge council between the Terrans, Colonials, and Visitors.
He closed his eyes, facing the rising sun, hoping its warmth and light could dispel his worries as well as the chill in his blood.
Startled and shocked, he glanced quickly around, feeling, for a moment, blue fire lapping at his face. The compulsion returned, searing an urgent command into his brain.
"I obey, my Leader."
She turned to the communications officer. "Yes, Miriam?"
"Report from Commander Bruce on the Sydney Mother Ship. They have rendezvoused with the newcomer, and the Cylons are retreating. Also, several of the mother ships sent back to Homeworld are returning!" the petite officer informed her.
"The Tokyo and New York Mother Ships are returning. Their commanders demand to speak to Philip and no one else, and they refuse to enter orbit until they have done so."
She blinked. Mutiny. It must be. I suspected Philip was a Fifth Columnist – he all but admitted it. If they have to speak to him, there must have been mutinies. Were there others? Will they come here too? Or have the Cylons already found them?
"What word from the newcomer?"
"She identifies herself as the Leader's Mother Ship. The Commander reports they were summoned here, but refuses to give any additional data. Sydney and Rio de Janeiro are outfitting her crew as we are, with names, tongues, and costuming, apparently also by the Leader's orders."
"Then the Leader did survive." A weight left her shoulders. "Send word that we await their arrival eagerly, and look forward to extending proper honors. I'm going to the surface to speak with Philip. Contact us at once if you receive any further transmissions."
She trusted Miriam would obey her orders. She wasn't aware, however, that the idealistic young Visitor had also been a member of the Fifth Column, and was already passing along the information to several individuals on Earth and on the returning mother ships, reassuring them that orbit was safe, and their mutineer crews would face no reprisals.
As Lydia boarded her shuttle, she considered how canny Philip had been in not proclaiming himself Leader at the Hunt. It was very likely he would survive the audacity of his orders as Fleet Commander...
Adama flew the shuttle himself, with Omega as his co-pilot. Council members Tinia and Geller came as representatives of the Quorum and the Fleet, at their own insistence. Vipers from Red Squadron accompanied them, and skyfighters from several mother ships joined them along the way. Earth was in sight, growing in the ports as a blue, white, and green world of incredible beauty to the veteran who'd spent so much of his life between stars, and spent so much of his soul to bring his people here safely.
The quest had also cost his family. Zac, his younger son, was dead back at Cimtar, the first casualty of the Destruction. His wife, Ila, had perished in the firestorm over Caprica. His son's wife, Serina, had fallen victim to a Cylon gun on distant Kobol, the world which had spawned the Colonials. Apollo, his oldest child and his pride, who'd lived through so much and come back so many times, was said to be a prisoner of an enemy faction, likely brainwashed, if he had indeed tried to kill a man who was the image of his best friend. And just a few centars previously, Athena had been reported missing as well, her fate unknown.
His sight blurred. All warriors but Ila, all sworn to surrender their lives at their people's need, all young, courageous, and noble. And all gone.
He steeled himself, and surreptitiously wiped away a tear.
This is our goal. This is what we fought and died for, across the stars. Soon, we will know if the journey was worth the price.
They dropped into the atmosphere, skimming over a vast expanse of ocean before sighting land that was the western edge of the continent called North America. Wispy clouds, wide swells of water topped with whitecaps, then hills of brown and green, dotted occasionally with structures and marks of human presence, and finally the tallest roofs of the city. Primitive, by Colonial standards, but still with a grandeur of its own.
The Visitor skyfighters led toward the spacedrome ... airport.
"Shall I take us down, sir?" his flight officer asked with concern.
Adama realized his mind had been wandering a bit, and there was still a smear of tears in his vision. "Take us down, Omega."
Omega took the controls while Adama turned back to Siress Tinia, Sire Geller, and their aides. "We'll be on the planet's surface in a few centons. Prepare yourselves to meet our brothers and sisters of the Thirteenth Tribe and the aliens who have occupied their planet."
Geller looked somewhat anxious, as did the four aides, but Tinia nodded more confidently.
"I'm sure we will be able to reach an accord with this Inspector General of the Visitors, and the United Nations President of the Terrans," she said.
"We don't really know how much power either has, over what parts of this world," he warned. "We have yet much to learn, and it might be wise if we listened more than spoke, at first."
"We are not fools, Adama!" Geller snapped nervously.
Commander Adama shared a momentary glance with Tinia. The issue of who might be fools had yet to be satisfactorily determined.
A centon later, the shuttlecraft settled to ground with a delicate thump. It sat on a long concrete lane, surrounded by a maze of similar lanes. Several tall structures were visible at some distance, and hangars of other craft.
An honor guard waited outside, consisting of several uniformed and beribboned Visitors, the warriors he'd sent down previously, and the members of the Viper escort. At the end of the line, a blonde in the uniform of a high-ranking Visitor officer stood with carefully schooled face.
Adama walked up to her, with Tinia, Geller, and the aides and pilot behind him. He and Lydia studied each other frankly. The Visitor broke silence first.
"Commander Adama, of the Galactica."
"Yes. You are Security Commander Lydia. I recall you from several communiques."
"Yes. A vehicle is waiting for us, and other limousines for your Council members."
"We are to be separated?" Tinia interjected.
Lydia smiled. "It is a Terran custom to grant dignitaries private transportation. A gesture of respect. We will be traveling to the Embassy in caravan, of course. If you find that unacceptable, we could perhaps fit you in one vehicle, but the space would be cramped, and your aides would still have to travel separately from us."
"Terran custom is quite acceptable to us," Adama replied firmly. "But I had expected Inspector General Philip to greet us?"
"He is busy. As his second-in-command, this happy duty fell to me." She led him to a waiting black vehicle with small banners on its front bumper.
As soon as they were in the car and the doors were closed, Lydia took a deep breath, then released it in a deep sigh. "Commander Adama, I have bad news."
"Inspector General Philip is missing."
He stared mutely.
"He vanished this morning from the Embassy. No sign of foul play, but no one saw him leave, and he hasn't contacted us since. I tried to find him with urgent news, but... Do you know how many people have disappeared in the last two days?"
"Colonel Tigh mentioned several. I presume you have a reason for passing along this information privately?"
"We are both affected by this, Commander. I think we should find a way to deal with it."
"What do you suspect?" he asked quietly, his mind already racing.
"I suspect Diana is trying to disrupt the council. And I fear..."
"Yes?" He watched her closely. There was a personal interest in her posture.
"Adama, my brother is one of the hostages Philip told you of. I will do whatever I can to keep him safe. To protect him, I must protect the council delegates, and find Diana. But..." He saw how she hated asking. "...I need your help."
"My children may also be considered hostages." He leaned back in the plush cushions. "And my primary concerns are my people, and preserving them from the Cylons. If we can be honest with one another, perhaps we can meet our goals together."
He thought gratitude flashed in her falsely-human eyes. Her brother must be what mattered most to her in this life. He filed that fact away, as if he were in the presence of an untested ally against whom such information might be useful.
Athena woke up slowly, her head as achey and her mouth as cottony as if she'd drunk a couple of bottles of insufficiently aged ambrosa. She stared upward at her watcher for a moment before the image made any impression on her. Blonde woman, hair to her shoulders, lightly waved. Worried, almost sick expression. Her first thought was that it must be Cassie, but a micron's consideration told her it wasn't.
"Hello..." Talking made her nauseous. "I feel sick..."
The woman's expression turned angry, bitter. "I'm sure you do. Robin was too. But Diana knows I delivered Elizabeth, so she's got me watching you, the bitch..."
"If you can sit up without retching, here's something that will help your head."
Athena tried to sit, but had to lean on the other woman for a long moment before she could support herself. She downed the tablets and water without protest. It stayed down, and after a moment she was able to look around without her vision blurring.
"Where am I?"
"The basement of Science Frontiers, in the Terran city of Los Angeles. This particular luxury suite is one of Diana's prison holding cells." She spoke bitterly.
"Why am I here? Who are you? Where's..." His name wouldn't come to her.
"I'm Julie Parrish, the real Julie Parrish. Call me Julie. I'm to be your doctor for the next nine months or so."
"Oh. Am I sick?"
"You will be."
The chamber was not large, containing only a bed, a small desk and chair, a mostly-empty book shelf, and sanitary facilities. The walls were painted a light blue, but were empty. There were no windows, and the one door looked like it sealed quite tightly.
"Will I have to stay here?" she asked, not especially thrilled.
"Not if you cooperate, and accept your situation."
"You don't sound like I should."
"You're human." Julie rose and went to the door. "She's awake."
A male figure appeared in the doorway.
"Apollo!" Athena threw herself out of bed and staggered into her brother's arms. "You'll all right! What happened, Apollo? Are you all right?"
His smile was encouraging, but doubt suddenly nibbled at her.
"But they said ... they said you were a prisoner of the Renegades..." She glanced back at Julie, who couldn't meet her gaze.
"We're all prisoners, Athena," she said quietly.
"What? No! Apollo..."
"Not prisoners, exactly, Athena. We're just being protected, from people who would just as soon see us dead as alive. Diana's keeping us safe..."
She stared in shock at her handsome brother. The words had a monotonal quality to them, and the supposedly reassuring smile was somehow mechanical, and wrong on his face.
"What did they do to you?" she asked in a small voice.
Another person entered the room, a brunette in a white lab coat. "Julie, you can return to your chamber. Apollo, my dear, Diana would like to see us."
"Of course, Serina."
It didn't register at first. "Serina?" It couldn't be. Stunned, she stared from Apollo to Serina to Julie. Serina's expression was mocking. Apollo appeared engrossed in her very presence. Julie looked compassionate.
Guards appeared to escort the guests out. Athena tried to grab Apollo's sleeve. He shook her off when Serina took his other arm.
"But Apollo, Serina died at Kobol!"
Serina's tight smile was gloating. "Diana saved me," she told the other woman. "She saved us all." She pulled Apollo out.
Julie closed her eyes, shaking her head, and left, looking downcast.
The door closed, and she was alone.
"But..." She ran to the door and pounded on it until her hands bled. "Apollo!" she shrieked at the top of her lungs. "Serina's dead! She's dead! They're using you! It's not true, this isn't real! Serina's dead!"
There was no answer, and after a time the pain from her bleeding hands got through to her brain. She slumped by the door, too shocked to cry.
"But Serina's dead..."Chapter Six
Daughters of Fate
It was an emergency meeting of those who had been leaders of Resistance groups operating in the Southwestern region of North America. Ham Tyler had called it, with Archangel's cooperation; he and Chris Farber represented the larger, global resistance movement that had originally sent them there. Colonel Hannibal Smith was there, with his team. Devon Miles represented FLAG, with Michael Knight, his "secret weapon," and several others of his organization. Archangel was, of course, in attendance, minus his usually-present driver, but with a handful of operatives sent from the Washington, DC branch of their bureau, who'd been sent to ensure the security of the United Nations representatives to Philip's council. Soviet and British agents were present for the same purpose. A handful of trusted others were also there – some from other Resistance cores, some the last survivors of groups less lucky during the war.
"Do we trust them?" Tyler asked bluntly. "How do we know these so-called Colonials aren't some new trick by the Visitors to divert our attention?"
"I supposed that depends on whether or not we trust Philip," Devon Miles commented diplomatically. "He seems to have accepted them as genuine, and as he seemed sincerely to be a Fifth Columnist, I would say this is not trick – at least not of his."
"But Philip disappeared last night, just after the 'Colonials' appeared yesterday, and were guests in the Embassy – and one of the Colonial women disappeared as well," contributed one of the newly-arrived Washington agents.
"I saw a picture of that woman – if they disappeared together, Philip's got good taste!" cracked one of Smith's men.
There were a few snickers and some glares; one of the women elbowed her male companion. The amusement and other reactions quickly died when Tyler ignored the remark.
"We don't know if they're human or lizard, if they're plants of the Visitors, or Diana, or some new party throwing a monkey wrench in everybody's plans..." the dark-garbed mercenary continued.
"They are human." Archangel stood to gain the group's attention. "I've seen the medical reports on the one called Starbuck, the one you took into custody in the desert, Michael Knight."
"And that's why we trust 'em?" Knight answered, unconvinced. "I'm not sure I should trust everybody in this room, much less strangers I've never seen before, who claim to be human, and to have come from outer space, and to be interested in our welfare. The Visitors haven't exactly been real convincing that we should trust what comes from out there, and when they're concerned about us, it makes me wonder what they really want."
There were answering murmurs, and a few nods. The Firm agent caught a few troubled glances sent his way.
"Whom did you intend to suggest you don't trust?" he asked directly.
After a moment more, Tyler finally spoke. "Word is, Donovan and that scientist friend of Julie's disappeared last night too. We've also heard they were last seen on their way to visit you – at gunpoint."
Archangel cocked an eyebrow and smiled tightly. "I can see we'll have to be more careful about using Mr. Seavers in the future."
"Colt's concerned with all of us, not just the government's wishes."
He nodded. "All right. It's a fair question. Yes, Michael Donovan and Steve Maitland saw me last night. And we brought them from Science Frontiers under ... a very strong suggestion that they obey. And today they are nowhere insight. Obviously, I can hardly deny knowing anything about them, and you don't seem willing to take my word that they're unharmed, so...
"They discovered something that we have no desire to make public, at this point. Since they could conceivably betray this information without intending to, I suggested they go someplace where the information would present no danger to them – or anyone else. Dr. Maitland is currently at a scientific research station. Donovan has been sent south with another Resistance group.
"I will point out that both went willingly, after our discussion."
Tyler and Farber both stood up straight, and looked suddenly menacing. "I don't know Maitland," the leaner man said, "but I don't believe Donovan would just up and leave without letting someone know where he was going."
Archangel locked stares. "Even to save his son?"
"We finally located the Visitor Youth camp where Sean is training. Our people took it this morning. Donovan will be helping with deprogramming over a hundred American and Mexican teen-aged boys. You tell me, would he do that?"
Tyler refused to back down. "He would. But how do we know you're telling the truth?"
"You trust me." His eyes bored into the group. "Like you've had to before."
That didn't seem to reassure everybody.
"And just what information don't you want to make public at this time?" asked one of the other Resistance leaders.
Archangel studied the people in the room. Tyler, Smith, Miles, Knight, Robbins, Allen, Rider, McConnell, Hawke, Jones, Cutter, Holt, Steele, a dozen lesser known Resistance operatives... Some of the best people he'd every worked with, under the worst of situations.
"We think we know where Diana is holed up. Again. And this time we're not moving in until we're sure, and we know we've got her."
"And Donovan found out? What's dangerous about that?" Farber asked, perplexed. "That's information any of us would bring back to this group."
"Let's just say he had some personal involvement, and leave it at that."
"Let's not." Tyler seemed determined to find out what was going on, and most of the others were going along with him.
And you'll react as he did if I tell you Parrish is gone. The Visitors can't have the woman who saved the world.
At that moment, one of the guards stuck her head in the door. Archangel nodded to her, glad of a moment's reprieve. "What is it, Jayne?"
"Dr. Lincoln from Humanidyne to see you, sir."
"I'll see her in a few minutes, unless it's urgent."
"It's urgent." A tall, think black man stepped past the guard. He literally stared over the crowd, towering over everyone else present. Despite Archangel's quick gesture that they would speak privately in a moment, he addressed all of the Resistance leaders. "The Visitors got Mirella and Caitlin last night. I stuck around 'til I found out where they were taking them, then I got out and called Billy to bring me here. Diana's holed up at Science Frontiers, but she's moving to a place called San Carlos, and taking her prisoners with her. And the woman at Science Frontiers isn't Julie Parrish. She's a lizard."
The room erupted in a hubbub of shouts and cries.
"That's why she took us off the alien ship!"
"Oh my God, then Diana knows..."
"How'd he get away?"
"All right!" Tyler's yell, backed with everything he had in the way of menace, intimidation, and command, brought back relative quiet. There was near-enmity in the glare he fixed on the Firm agent. "I think we're all entitled to the complete story now, Archangel."
The grim agent finally nodded. He'd sent people into danger before, including Mirella. It was never easy to lose them; several deaths lay as uneasy blots on a conscience he often had to ignore. He'd sacrifice her if he had to, as he'd sacrificed people before, but he'd rather not have to...
"We first suspected something was wrong at Science Frontiers several days after Philip approached us with the plan for a United Nations discussion here in Los Angeles. Dr. Parrish suddenly stopped checking in, and became singularly uncommunicative about the alien ship. I sent in Mirella Lincoln and Caitlin O'Shaughnessy to investigate. Dr. Lincoln and several members of Humanidyne's think tank assisted. The capture of the one Colonial, followed by the arrival of Colonel Tigh yesterday, dropped the priority of the Colonial ship; however, they'd also discovered by then that the woman in charge was no longer Julie Parrish, but a Visitor, presumably one of Diana's. Donovan and Maitland reached that conclusion last night; their closeness to Parrish, and the likelihood of their doing something impetuous and idiotic, made it necessary to temporarily remove them from the scene.
"I sent our agents back tonight to learn, if they could, where Diana was, and how much she had learned about our operations from things some of you might have passed along to the phoney Julie Parrish."
The dry finish brought uncomfortable looks from some of the Resistance fighters; they had indeed spoken with her, and if the false Julie was in league with Diana, she now knew much more about the Fifth Column and the Resistance than they wanted her to.
"So she knows about the UN conference?" Miles asked, voicing a concern the others hadn't yet considered.
"The conference is common knowledge; but we took the liberty of changing a number of the arrangements when our suspicions were raised; even if Parrish spilled everything she knows, it's outdated information."
There was collective relief.
"Is Julie alive?" inquired Callie Jones. The tall woman was a friend who also worked at Science Frontiers, and had been on the team examining the Colonial ship until the Visitor took Parrish's place and reassigned the human.
Archangel glanced at the male Dr. Lincoln.
He nodded. "She's listed on the cargo manifest for the trip to San Carlos, along with Lincoln and O'Shaughnessy, and the missing Colonials."
"So they're not her agents?" Tyler demanded.
"No. She's as agitated about them as we are. And I suspect, from everything I've heard, that this means they're on the level."
Everyone absorbed the thought.
"Humans from outer space." Jones took a deep breath. "What my father would have given to know that..."
Archangel smoothly resumed control of the gathering. "If we all accept that, the next order of business, now that we all know the situation, is planning a raid on San Carlos. Who's in?"
The response was unanimous.
"But how'd you get away?" someone piped up again, talking to Lincoln.
He replied in utter seriousness, "I ran under a cabinet."
The thought of the tall, lanky youth literally running under a cabinet to hide from Visitor troopers sounded so ridiculous that several of the fighters actually laughed, in spite of knowing something of his abilities, and the planning for the raid began on a slightly more optimistic note.
Dawn over Los Angeles. They two newly-arrived mother ships, accepting Miriam's information, identified themselves to Lydia, and rejoined the alien fleet. Seven Visitor mother ships – Los Angeles, Cairo, Toronto, London, and Paris, with the newly-arrived New York and Tokyo – strung their orbits around the planet, their skyfighters and shuttles weaving a pattern between them as they ferried personnel and supplies, and established a guard routine to protect the world – and its satellite, for they knew well how easy it was to approach from behind Luna, and hide there, undetected, until it was time for an attack.
The mother ship of the Leader remained aloof, still preparing her crew to deal with the humans, with the aid of the equally silent Sydney and Rio de Janeiro Mother Ships. She still refused to give any explanation for her presence. Her commander simply stated that they had been summoned, and that they would wait until they knew why.
Human radar blipped as yet two more vessels approached the web of protection. Those mother ships asked for, and received, permission to rejoin the Visitor fleet.
The Moscow and Athens Mother Ships, their crews decimated first by Red Dust poisoning in the second invasion of Earth, and then in a mutiny by Fifth Columnists, were no longer solely manned by Visitors. Each had carried massive cargoes of human beings, meant as a food source for Sirian troopers in distant quadrants as they faced the Cylons – unlike the Tokyo and New York Mother Ships, which had carried mostly water and natural resources. Tokyo and New York had limped back short-handed, after their less-bloody mutinies. The Fifth Columnists of Moscow and Athens had freed enough of the Terrans to crew the ships, and begun teaching them.
Upon returning to Earth orbit, without contacting Lydia or any other Visitor superiors for approval, they defrosted the rest of their captives, and began shuttling back to Earth thousands of Russian and Greek scientists, doctors, engineers, computer and defense specialists, and myriads of ordinary men, women, and children.
In one day, Visitor technology became irretrievably available to the humans.
The Fifth Columnists passed that information among themselves, but Lydia wasn't aware of it. As she studied the odds, however, she realized there were now four mother ships firmly committed to peace with the humans. She was certain the Renegades would figure that out too. If push came to civil war, Diana would no longer have any chance of regaining control of the fleet. Especially with Philip so obviously committed to the humans as well.
But Philip was missing.
And the Leader's Mother Ship hung in disquieting silence over Luna.
Lydia quietly announced to the commanders of the mother ships that Philip had gone into Retreat, taking a few days to meditate and prepare for the conference. She assumed command of the fleet in his name.
By noon, there was still no word on any of the missing, not human, Colonial, nor Visitor, nor any challenge to Lydia's new-claimed leadership, from Diana or anyone else. The commanders of the other mother ships either accepted her story about Philip, and her ability to lead them in his absence, or were too cautious about seeing one of themselves take control to contest it with her. Or else they doubted they could take command from her in combat, for she was fully prepared to duel any who challenged her. Her reputation was well-known; the number of her kills was not exaggerated, and there were in fact only a small fistful of other Visitor warriors in the Earth fleet whose challenge she would hesitate for even a second to accept. Even the unpredictable Damian, from the Toronto Mother Ship, seemed to have adopted a wait-and-see attitude for the moment.
As the sun rose high over Los Angeles, Lydia prepared for the midday meal, to be shared with the Colonials. She considered formal attire of some sort, but rejected it. This wasn't a celebratory occasion, but a serious discussion, and she intended to meet the humans as an efficient officer carrying out the duties assigned her by her superior. Only Adama knew that Philip was gone.
I hold a fleet for a male who may be dead or a prisoner, as good as dead both by our codes and by the nature of his likely captor. And this is the man who gave my brother to our enemies as a hostage. I am becoming a fool, or...
And why do I trust this Adama? I should not trust him, but he reaches something in me, draws my loyalty as the Leader did. He is human; he has no reason to trust me, yet he seems to. He knows he could control me, as he controls his own people, almost effortlessly, and still he does not. And that binds me, as Philip does, more than if he...
They have power, both of them, power from within to compel others, and power from their people to command ships and crews. I am drawn to that. I joined the Military to serve such power, and to find it in myself.
Philip, what has happened to you?
For a rigid, timeless moment, Lydia felt something at the edge of her mind, a call, or a command, or reassurance. It was powerful, but distant. She had never felt anything like it before, and she had no idea what it meant. It was not repeated, and she began to doubt she'd heard or felt anything.
The security commander-cum-fleet commander ordered a marvelous banquet for Adama and the other Colonials, a sample of the near-infinite variety and bounty Earth had to offer. They were suitably impressed, and enjoyed the meal immensely after yahrens of ship-bound life and limited menus.
Afterward, Lydia discreetly followed Adama to the garden.
"You wish to speak to me?" he called quietly.
She was surprised; she hadn't expected him to notice her until she was near him and ready to talk. She stepped into view and settled her sunglasses to protect her eyes from the direct sun, strong and quick to burn delicate alien retinas. "Yes, I had hoped we might speak privately..."
"Any word of Philip, or the others?"
Lydia marveled at the iron control that held his voice and features neutral, when his children were at risk. If it had been her brother who was missing and likely in Diana's clutches, she would have torn the city apart looking for him, and raged or pleaded with everyone she met.
"No, nothing. I'm afraid we have to accept that Diana may have taken Philip, as she has likely taken the others, but I don't understand why she hasn't acted against us in any other way..."
"This Diana has a long reach, and a most intricate sense of timing, to have snatched so many prisoners at her whim, when we can do nothing but wait for her next move."
The blonde female bristled. "What are you implying?"
He stared levelly at her. "The disappearances, as explained to me, could only have occurred if there are Renegades in the Embassy."
You find fault with my security? Or is it me you accuse of being a Renegade? "We suspect as much, yes, but..."
"I believe there are also Renegades, or Diana herself, at your Science Frontiers facility." His eyes were steely gray, and something of brooding menace now hung over his thick brows and set mouth.
She gaped. "That ... would explain much..."
"I suspect it would be safest to move the ... United Nations meeting to another site, if Diana has so thoroughly infiltrated this city."
"Such as?" Lydia felt humiliated that she hadn't figured out Diana's probable location herself, but had let herself be caught up in anxiety over Nigel.
"The Galactica has facilities for such a meeting. She is neutral territory to both of you. We are not of Earth, so your people would feel safe from reprisals of vengeful Terrans, and the air is uncontaminated by the Red Dust. To the humans of this world, we are brothers, and we will let no harm come to them, if we can prevent it; they need not fear being on our ship as being entrapped." He delivered the words calmly, logically, totally reasonably.
"If the humans trust you, and accept that we would not attack your ship..."
"The hostages in New York would prevent you from attacking," he replied, with a curious emphasis that told her he knew her weakness. "And Diana would not have the capability to attack us. I have spoken with Colonel Tigh and our Quorum representatives on this matter..."
There was a rustling in the bushes near them. Commander Adama ignored it, but Lydia whirled to face whatever was there, dropping into a fighting crouch, since she was unarmed, as per Embassy regulations.
Whatever was in the bushes continued to move violently, suddenly accompanied by grunts and thuds.
A moment later, a Visitor trooper was shoved into view, his red uniform and humanskin somewhat mangled, his sunglasses shattered and dangling from his nose at an odd angle. Two Colonial warriors, a black man and a blond-haired white man, rolled into sight after him, obviously out of breath from a wrestling match with the physically stronger Visitor, and equally roughed up.
"Willard!" Lydia exclaimed.
"Lieutenants Boomer and Starbuck," was Adama's calm statement. "This is the gentleman who has been following me?"
"Yeah!" Starbuck panted.
"What?" the Visitor security commander demanded.
"So he is not one of yours?"
"He is, but..."
"I suspect we have one of your Renegades."
Willard squinted against the sun to glare at the two of them, and looked ready to bolt, until the Colonial warriors grabbed his arms and twisted them behind the man. After the effort they'd put into tracking and subduing the Visitor, they didn't want him getting away.
He hissed at her, but gave no answer.
"So you are Diana's link." There was deadly fury in every tensed muscle of the woman's body. "And she is behind Philip's disappearance..."
The man's startlement was too real to be feigned.
"It would seem he finds this a surprise," Adama commented. "Since you have kept Philip's disappearance a secret, I suspect Diana's people do not know he is gone. Therefore, they are not responsible."
"But why would Philip just leave?" she shot back.
Adama had no answer to that, but he did have another suggestion. "Perhaps the young man can give you other information."
Her tight smile was unholy. Yes. Information about Diana, no doubt, and other matters as well. I should call the guards... How many other Renegades are there, when I trusted my forces? No. I made enough of a mistake, in almost trusting you... Her eyes fastened hypnotically on Willard's; he tried to flinch away from her. You will pay for my mistake, and your own treachery, soldier. You will pay for betraying my trust, and Philip's...
She glanced at Starbuck and Boomer, then at Adama. "This man may well be responsible for the disappearance of your daughter Athena."
His eyes narrowed fractionally; she saw the warriors tighten their hold on Willard as their own expressions grew grim.
"I am not sure I can trust all my men here, at this point," she admitted. "Commander, with your wisdom and apparent experience..."
"I have dealt with traitors before," he acknowledged without emotion.
She made an offer. "Perhaps you would care to be present at the ... interrogation? And if I might ... borrow your warriors for a short while?"
"We do not believe in questioning under torture."
"I know how to run the equipment, and I know several Fifth Columnists I can trust to work with me on this, if nothing else. You need not be present, if you do not wish to be. All I ask is that you help me get him there. Let us administer our own justice."
Adama nodded, and gestured at his warriors to obey her for the moment. "I trust you will consider our offer of the Galactica for your conference?"
"It seems ... a logical alternative to a difficult situation."
Philip stared at the mountain ranchhouse. The call had not come from here. He would have walked past it, but two figures ran out to him.
"Philip!" It was Willie. The other male was Kyle Bates, blinking against the bright sun that warmed lizard blood.
He studied them, only half-aware of what he said and did. His soul was some distance from here, and his will was guided by another. "The Leader is not here," he announced distantly, then turned and left them.
"The Leader is dead!" Kyle erupted, catching his arm. "The shuttle ... it exploded, me and Elizabeth are all that survived..."
"The Leader is not here." He pulled free without effort and continued the quest. Shining blue, the time of change... Investiture... For the People...
"What's got into him?" Kyle demanded of the other Visitor.
Willie's eyes were wide. "Now I understand..."
"Understand what?" The handsome young human was still confused.
"It is not Elizabeth. It is the Leader. The Leader calls..." His jaw slackened, and his eyes glazed over as if he'd gone into shock. "I obey the will of the Leader..." He fell into step with Philip.
"Not Elizabeth? The Leader?" He suddenly remembered with awe-inspiring clarity exactly how Elizabeth and the Leader had interacted; the feeling hit like a punch in the gut. The Leader and Elizabeth. Elizabeth, the Leader. She's gone. He's taken her over completely. Elizabeth is gone...
"No!" he screamed. "I'll fight you! I'll fight for her! Not you, you bastard, you've got no right to her!"
The Visitors walked on, unheeding, vanishing into the woods.
He ran back into the cabin. The guns and rifles from hunting expeditions of better days were still there, along with the lasers from the last stand when Diana had tried to recapture the Starchild. Working feverishly, Kyle pulled out weapons and ammunition. Armed with loaded weapons, he charged out into the forest to track his possessed friends. One way or another, his Elizabeth would be free...
Julie sighed. Reduced to its most truthful level, Diana had her working as a technician or graduate assistant, not a scientist. But she hadn't really expected access to any of the massive computers or advanced equipment – the Visitor wasn't giving her any opportunity to contact the outside world, or to mess up any experiments under preparation or in progress. So she cleaned up, washed the most primitive equipment, collated data, and stood around a lot. The Visitor had promised her a role in providing for Earth's defense against the Cylons; so far, she hadn't been allowed to do much of anything.
She glanced up from her collection of freshly sterilized glassware to see James striding toward her. The hulking soldier was close to Diana, in many ways, but recently, there had been competition in the form of Douglas. Julie had seen how wary it made this male, and wondered if she could use it in any way.
She pasted a falsely warm smile on her face as he stopped next to her.
"Hi, James. Can I help you?"
"We are leaving here in a few minutes. Finish whatever you're doing and wait until I return," he ordered brusquely.
"Where are we going?" She tried to keep up a facade of amiability. James had a perverse interest in human females; she'd played on that once, to escape, and it might have worked if Diana hadn't interrupted. She figured it was worth trying again, so she had been friendly on the few occasions when they were together.
His eyes devoured her on several levels. "You'll be traveling with the Colonial female. You'll see where we're going when you get there."
"Yes, James." She nodded submissively and began stacked away the petri dishes, pipettes, and assorted flasks.
He suddenly caught her wrist in a vise-like grip. Startled, she glanced up to see an unreadable expression on his face. Just as suddenly, he released her and stalked away.
Rubbing the bruising skin, she wondered what he'd meant by it.
She finished storing the equipment, and took a seat near the door under the watchful eyes of another Visitor trooper. In a few minutes, Apollo and the alien Serina entered as well.
An alien, pretending to be his wife. When I first saw Serina, I thought she really was a Colonial, 'converted' as he was, and working for Diana. It wasn't until they kidnaped Athena – poor woman! – and she said the real Serina was dead, that I knew. Diana, you are utterly without any moral sense or compassion. To play on a lost love...
But there was a flicker in his eyes when Athena screamed at him that Serina was dead. He reacted to her. And Diana doesn't want to use the conversion chamber on Athena for fear it'll disrupt their vile 'experiment.' So she'll be an influence on him. And maybe she can tell me things I can use to make him remember, to help him pull clear of his brainwashing...
Robin, I wish you'd talked more about your feelings during your pregnancy. We couldn't end yours when you wanted to; maybe we couldn't end hers even now, this early. Athena's a mature woman, and I've got some idea how to deal with the physiological aspects – if these Colonials are human enough for that to matter – but I don't know how to help her deal with the thought of an alien offspring.
Something – Athena recovered from those drugs pretty well, and faster than I expected. I'll have to keep a close eye on that, if maybe there are some differences between the Colonials and us. Something I can use, or something to watch out for...
They're from the stars, Apollo and Athena. Maybe it won't be as shocking a thing for them to face, a half-human child. Maybe among them, someone like Elizabeth would've had a more normal life, more acceptance... Star Trek might be a lousy way to look at it, but maybe they've got their own real versions of Mr. Spock, and all these things that shock us so much will be perfectly acceptable, if a little out of the ordinary...
Pointed ears. I remember when they first came, some kids and Trekkie-types were disappointed because the Visitors looked too human, not alien enough. We sure got over that. No pointed ears... 'Dr. Parrish, you are thinking most illogically. Please confine your thoughts to subterfuge and escape.' She stifled a giggle.
Apollo sat down next to her as Serina hurried off to tend to some other unknown duty. Julie watched his eyes follow her until she vanished from sight around a corner.
Then he looked at her. He seemed troubled. "Julie? Why doesn't Serina remember Boxey?"
"Our son. From before me. She doesn't remember our son..."
Your son...? Diana didn't go deep enough! She didn't think far enough when she prepared Serina! You're pulling away, seeing again! God, I'll help you every way I can. Maybe I can save you...
"Remember what Athena said?" she whispered back.
He was silent, eyes downcast. His glanced flickered back to her for a moment. "She said ... Serina was dead ... but..."
"They bleed green, the Visitors. They bleed green."
He shook his head and moved away from her. But the tension in his body was very obvious to his fellow human.
It's begun. You know, you just don't want to accept. Apollo...
James returned, taking unnecessarily long steps. The dark-haired woman he dragged along had to hurry to keep up; the way he held her arm, it would have snapped if she tired to stop. There were angry tears in her eyes, but she held her tongue.
He almost threw her into Julie's arms, face grim. "Let's go."
Julie nodded quickly, and sent an encouraging look at Athena.
The woman's attention was on her brother; the expression was of hurt betrayal. He took her arm to help her, but couldn't meet her eyes.
"Let's go," James repeated, glaring challengingly at Apollo. The human's eyes hooded over, and he returned the stare with a watchful intensity. After a moment, the Visitor shoved his way past them to lead the way.
Julie took Athena's other arm and whispered. "Don't fight them, not now. They're stronger than we are, physically."
Athena understood; James hadn't been kind when she tried to resist him. "We need a plan, first. And we choose our own time to strike." She yanked free of her brother to lean on Julie.
Apollo looked hurt and unsure as he trailed behind them.
Julie couldn't help but notice the light green flaking on the sides of Athena's neck.
The armored truck, emblazoned with the logo of Science Frontiers, was loaded and ready to go. Part of its cargo was four human females – Julie Parrish, Mirella Lincoln, Caitlin O'Shaughnessy, and Athena. The fifth human prisoner, Apollo, traveled in a separate car with the Visitor Serina. Diana saw the two vehicles safely off through the gate before turning to James.
"You know your duty?" she demanded.
"Yes, Commander," he replied. "While you and your prisoners and staff move to San Carlos, my task force and I remain at Science Frontiers, with Juliet to give a semblance of normality. When the council convenes in a few days, we blow up the Los Angeles arena where they meet, and Science Frontiers. Then we go to the sands, and disrupt the city in every way possible. We especially want the Colonials to see these Fifth Columnists as incapable of bringing peace to Earth – if necessary, taking their superior officers and councilors as hostages. In the meantime, our people on the mother ships will move against the Fifth Columnists and retake our ships. You would prefer Lydia and Philip as captives, but better dead than free to act against you again."
"You have people in position to assassinate them if they cannot be taken?"
"Again, yes. But I'm sure you see why I cannot entrust that information to you. No one person can know too much, in case he should be captured – many of my Renegades know only a handful of my people, and don't know where our new base is, for their own protection as well as ours."
His eyes hooded over coldly.
Diana touched his hand in promise and farewell; he grabbed her fingers almost roughly in response. She took it as a gesture of passion, and pulled away with seeming reluctance, then hurried to her own vehicle.
Douglas was behind the wheel, a lover she had yet to claim. She slid in next to him, nestling closer than was necessary. "Let's go."
James's eyesight was very good; he observed the closeness. His expression was stony as he watched them drive away. After a moment, he dismissed his squad and re-entered the sprawling, mostly darkened technological center.
Juliet was still in Parrish's office.
He watched her blonde head bowed over the results of some experiment or other. The human Julie had played up to him these past few days, and for a moment he regretted not having taken her up on her implied offer. Whether she meant it or not, he would have enjoyed the use of her body, and she would have learned the folly of teasing him. Or perhaps she was one of those Earth females who secretly enjoyed being mastered, and actually wanted to be his toy...
Diana's interest was so obviously elsewhere, with Douglas and with some other she'd slipped away to meet on several occasions – he didn't know, yet, who the other was. James now had a reputation as belonging to Diana, as more than just a night's entertainment, and no other Visitor – male or female – was ready to risk dallying with Diana's own.
But she'd almost ignored him the past days, except for the day he captured Lincoln and O'Shaughnessy. It seemed his time as favorite was running out; perhaps he ought to be looking past Diana...
He continued to study Juliet. As a scientist, there was much she could gain from the right connection in the military – and he was still an officer of high standing, with the likelihood of gaining much from the situation. She was now the image of Parrish, even if she was of his own kind. If she kept the humanskin, the fantasy would be there... He felt his interest igniting.
With natural arrogance, he entered the office.
All around them was night. A few vehicles passed the small convoy, but they mostly had the road to themselves. As they left the urban area behind, Apollo saw stars glowing above in a clear sky. They twinkled warmly, as stars did through a thick atmosphere. In space, they were only cold, hard points of light; on this world, they were comforting and awe-inspiring against the night.
He reached to take Serina's hand. She stiffened, and he could feel tension in her cool fingers that suggested she would rather pull away from him.
"Are you angry with me?" he asked softly, to keep their conversation private from the other riders in the van.
You're lying. Or maybe you're not angry, but you don't want my presence. You've been cold every time I touched you, in every way. You've found excuses not to share my bed. I think you despise Athena, and she seems horrified by your very presence.
And you don't remember Boxey. There was no recognition at all in your eyes when I mentioned him.
Athena says you're dead. Julie says you'd bleed green.
My God, I don't want to believe it. I don't want it to be true. I can't lose you again...
Why did I think that? What...?
Again. Kobol. I saw her fall, held her... She died in my arms, back on the ship...
No, you're alive!
Fight... I have to fight...
What did you do to me? What happened to my mind? I'm breaking out in a cold sweat! Something... They gave me something. But what...? I have to remember, I have to! For Athena, for myself, for Boxey and Father...
You don't know Boxey. Serina died on Kobol.
Lords of Kobol, help me!
The distant stars did little to lessen the darkness which covered the town of San Carlos. Only a few streetlights glowed to mark where Visitor sentries walked their routes, disguised as humans. The rest of the citizens, the real humans, obeyed the Visitor-imposed curfew and had confined themselves to their homes. They knew the lives of friends, neighbors, and family members depended on their obedience. Some of them knew more.
A handful of men moved stealthily through the darkness, watching, listening, meeting friends, and then retreating to their own base far from town. It hadn't been easy bringing in men and weaponry, and establishing a camp, without the Visitors observing, but the aliens were lethargic in the midday heat and sunlight and through the coldest parts of the night, when the Resistance moved. There were former Resistance members in the town; they'd passed word about Diana's take-over, and were now working with Archangel's people to free their community.
A half-dozen men huddled over a map in the dimly-lit cave.
One of them pointed to a pot on the crinkled paper. "The hostages are being held here, under a guard of a dozen lizards. There's supposed to be two sets of explosives in the walls, ready to be detonated if there's any trouble. Stone says they'd have already attacked if not for that. Fifty hostages, mostly children, and some teachers and the town council."
"Certain of the location?"
The dark man nodded. "We send food every day; some of the women followed to find out if their children were still alive. You can't keep mothers from their children."
Archangel smiled faintly at that bit of chauvinism; he suspected plenty of fathers had followed too. "So we have to take out the guards and disarm the bombs, then find the hostages in the caves and get them out before the alarm can be sounded in town and the Visitors rally to a counter-attack..."
"Take care of the guards and the bombs, and we guarantee the rest."
Archangel raised an eyebrow.
"My family came here as migrant workers, illegal aliens; so did some of the others." Memories shadowed his eyes. "The caves may be cold, but they're better than sleeping on the bare ground under pouring skies. We know every bolt-hole in the caverns, and a dozen ways to get out of each. All we needed was a little help, or some organization, and we'd've acted before this..."
Archangel nodded efficiently. The old question of illegal immigration between Mexico and the United States had become something of a joke since the Visitors arrived; his assignments no longer included tracking down individuals involved in it. "And the town?"
"We'll be ready at dawn," piped in another. "As long as we know our children are safe."
"They will be," pledged the first man.
"We trust you, then," responded the second. Between the pale-skinned landowner and the dark, weathered farm worker, there had obviously been differences in the past. A common foe had ended that past enmity most brutally.
Archangel gestured at Hannibal Smith, watching from the shadows with a slight smile. "Get the guns and grenades to the meeting site by three a.m.; you should all be armed and ready by four. Tyler's team takes out the sentries at four-thirty. If our intelligence is correct, that gives us twenty-five minutes to get the kids to safety and begin our attack on the town before the five a.m. guard change."
"How about the women and kids in town?" demanded a big burly black man decked in gaudy jewelry. "Don't do no good to save the kids in the cave if the ones in town get blown up."
The landowner spoke. "They move as soon as the sentries are out. We know which of the townspeople are collaborators – not as many as there used to be, since the lizards took some of their children, too. They go out under guard so they can't warn the lizards, but we aren't leaving any human blood for the Visitors."
B.A. nodded satisfaction, and crossed his arms in silence.
Archangel finished the last details in a few moments. "Good. Our own sentries are on guard; the rest of you try to get some sleep. We'll wake everybody after midnight and get moving..."
They dozed only fitfully as the truck bounced over the rough road.
"Does anybody know what time it is – ouch!" Athena complained when they hit a particularly deep pothole and she almost flew off her seat. She bumped into Julie Parrish; in the darkness of the truck, they couldn't see anything.
"This highway needs work," Julie muttered. "Sorry, Athena, this can't be any fun for you, especially in your condition..."
Caitlin murmured something in her sleep about Airwolf needing repairs, then was out again.
"What condition is that?" Mirella asked sharply. She was the only one of the four women who hadn't slept at all.
Athena sounded quizzical as well. "You never did tell me why I needed a doctor," she announced. "What did they do to me?"
The scientist was glad it was dark in the armored truck. In daylight, she would have been ashamed to admit to Athena what the Visitors were doing. "Um, Diana planned... Uh, do you know anything about Elizabeth Maxwell?"
"Who's Elizabeth Maxwell?"
"The Starchild," Mirella supplied. "Half human, half Visitor. She had a number of interesting abilities, and... But the lizard leader took her, and she died with him... Julie, do you mean...?"
Julie couldn't answer for a moment.
"Julie?" It was Athena, sounding worried.
"I'm here," she whispered. "And yes, Mirella, that's what I mean. Diana wants a second Starchild, one she can control. Athena, you're pregnant. The father is a Visitor."
Shock hung heavily in the silent darkness.
"He must be the father. Douglas." Athena spoke in a stunned whisper.
"I don't know who Diana chose..."
"She chose him? I thought ... but it couldn't have been, could it? I didn't know him ... until then. I'd never met him before. I didn't think. She must have drugged me..."
"Very likely. Robin needed ... special preparation, too – Elizabeth's mother. I delivered the babies."
"If we get out..." She was hesitant.
"We tried to abort Robin's baby. We couldn't do it without killing her. There may not be any way out of this."
Athena took a deep breath. Julie remembered how Robin had reacted when she realized what Brian was, and what kind of child she carried. But Athena was a woman, not a frightened teenager, and from another world; surely she wouldn't react with panic or hysteria.
"Julie, you'll get me through it, if we have to, won't you?"
"I'll do all I can," she promised fervently.
"If we get out, maybe our doctors can do something... But if we don't, Julie, that woman doesn't get my baby. I see what she's done to Apollo. She doesn't get my baby..."
"Why hasn't she 'converted' Athena, too?" Mirella intruded a moment later. "Then there'd be no questions, no problems. She wouldn't have to worry about losing control of the child."
"The conversion process may harm the child, now, and I think she was afraid of what those drugs would do to Athena before. I managed to get a look at Apollo's charts. They had to use more of those will-suppressants than they expected, and they don't know yet if it was just him, or something in the Colonial physiological make-up that makes them more resistant."
"My poor brother," Athena whispered.
"What is his condition?" Mirella asked intensely. "Is there any chance we could count on him for assistance of some kind? Diana's given him more freedom than she's given us."
Julie thought for a moment, then voiced her suspicion or hope. "I think the conversion is beginning to break, but I don't know how long it could take, or how thoroughly he's actually converted. And Diana may put him through a second process if she suspects he's pulling away from her."
The truck suddenly swerved and threw the foursome to the floor. Caitlin woke finally as they sorted themselves out.
"What happened?" she asked in confusion.
There was an explosion somewhere outside, muffled by the metal walls, but obviously close. It was followed by rapid bursts of machine-gun fire.
"Trouble," Mirella whispered. "Or maybe help. Get ready to run if we get a chance to get out of here. Whoever's shooting may not know we're in here. We could get roasted alive if one of those shells hits this truck, or shot trying to run if they suspect we're from the wrong side or escaping."
"That's real encouraging, you know?" Caitlin muttered sourly.
They clung to the edges of their seats as the truck bounced over even rougher terrain than before, obviously at top speed.
"We must be off the road..."
It suddenly spun. The women screamed as the truck shifted crazily, then righted and rolled on, more slowly.
"What's happening?" Athena swallowed. Nothing in Academy training or fleet experience had prepared her for such mad travel in the dark.
"I think we're stopping," Mirella answered with sudden hope. "Get ready..."
The truck stopped, then slowly tilted, and fell on its side. The women were tossed together in a tangle of arms and legs, still in darkness.
The door popped open with an audible clang, the final indignity of toppling being too much for the lock. Starlight and distant dawn illuminated the inside of their metal prison, and the sounds of gunfire and explosions were louder.
For a moment, they stared at each other and at the open door, almost expecting a Visitor trooper to thrust a laser through it and order them to stay where they were. Nothing happened.
Mirella crawled to the door, peering out the open half.
"Anything?" Caitlin whispered.
"Nobody! Let's go..."
"But what happened?" Athena demanded as Julie pulled her toward escape.
"Somebody attacked the convoy. We rolled off the road, I guess, and nobody's come to investigate yet..." Mirella dashed out of sight around the side of the truck. She was back in an instant, two lasers in her hands. "Our driver and the guard are dead. Let's go."
"Athena, we don't know who attacked, or why. We don't know who's winning, or even if anyone will come looking down here. Julie, you get her out of here, hide in the bushes somewhere, or run as far as you can. Caitlin, we'll check things out on the road..." The black woman handed the redhead one of the lasers. "Maybe we can help with the odds, if there's fighting."
"I can fight too," Julie stated briefly. "I've been with the Resistance for a long time, long enough to..."
"No, stay with your patient," Mirella urged.
"That's enough!" Athena chimed in. "I'm tired of being somebody's patient and somebody's prisoner and somebody else's breeding stock. I'm a trained warrior. Give me a laser; I can probably outshoot the three of you together."
They heard running footsteps. Apollo appeared between some shrubs, looking a little the worse for wear and an apparent accident of his own. He was bruised and disheveled. "I saw you go off the road, then we got hit..." He was breathless. "Athena, are you all right?"
She drew back warily, but Mirella stepped forward.
"What happened up there? You could see, we couldn't."
"Somebody bombed the convoy. We got hit, too, and rolled. One of the trucks blew up, mostly equipment, but some armaments, that's what made the most noise, I think. There were troopers in another of the trucks, they fanned out looking for whoever it was. Shouldn't take long to find them and round them up..."
"Then we've got to escape in the meantime." The agent's voice was grim.
"Nobody moves." The icy voice froze them all in their tracks.
They all stared. The Visitor Serina had them covered with a vicious-looking weapon. She, too, looked the worse for the accident. Her clothing was ripped in several places, and there were rents in her bodysuit, revealing stretches of green scales. Across the top of her forehead, the wig had been deeply torn, and something green and viscous oozed through the hair.
Apollo stared, choked into silence.
Caitlin raised her laser, but not fast enough. A shot from Serina's weapon sent it spinning out of her hands and away from her, amazingly only singeing her fingers and not drawing blood. No one else moved, seeing in the Visitor's expression that the next shot would kill.
"Do you really think you can take all of us?" Mirella demanded coldly. They were scattered, there were bushes and shadows, and the light was still uncertain. Maybe if Serina were distracted, they could separate, and some of them would get away.
Serina smiled fiercely. "Try it, and find out." She wanted the chance to shoot them. "I suggest you drop your weapon and accompany me back to the convoy, which should have taken care of your troublesome would-be rescuers by now."
"Serina," Apollo began reasonably, "there's no reason to hurt anybody here. They'll do what they're told."
Athena's glare was poison. "Like hades we will!"
"Then your brother dies." The alien obviously relished directing the gun at Apollo. "No one will question his death in an escape attempt. And you're the only one of this herd we really want alive anyway."
Julie swallowed and interrupted. "You'll try to tell Diana her converted pet suddenly tried to escape from his 'beloved wife'? And you had to shoot him to save yourself? I doubt she'll find that palatable," she finished lightly.
Mirella and Caitlin stepped slowly apart.
"Don't try it, Dr. Lincoln!" Serina snapped. "You're the only one with a weapon. I shoot you, and I can hunt your friends down like the animals your species is! We've lost enough people here that none of my leaders will complain..."
Mirella dodged and came up firing.
Julie grabbed Athena's arm and pulled her to the ground as Caitlin moved as well. Only Apollo stood stiff as stone.
Mirella's shot grazed Serina's arm, and more green flowed freely, but the Visitor's shot struck the human and Mirella went down, ashen-faced as blood forced its way through the burns on her hands and arm. The laser dropped.
Apollo stared at the dripping green and Serina's hate-contorted face.
Serina laughed and raised her laser to sight on Mirella again; this time, the shot would kill, not merely wound, but not quickly; it would be a slow, agonized death.
Caitlin threw herself at Serina from the other side, hitting her in a low tackle that would have knocked a human woman to the ground. The alien only staggered, then kicked Caitlin solidly in the stomach. She reflexively rolled away, gasping for breath. Athena screamed as Serina turned again, leaving Mirella for the moment to concentrate on Caitlin.
She pointed the weapon.
Mirella cried out, unable to fire with her wounded hands and arm, watching in fury as Serina prepared to kill her friend.
Apollo moved. He grabbed the laser Mirella had dropped, and whirled to aim. "Serina!" he yelled warningly.
She glanced over her shoulder and laughed to see him armed. "You can't shoot me, lover!" she taunted. "But I will take pleasure in killing you!"
She spun to one side, forgetting that Apollo was naturally left-handed. All she saw was the weapon in his left hand; all she thought was that he was still under Diana's conversion spell.
She fired at him.
Apollo was faster. He fired first, then instinctively rolled from her line of fire.
Serina froze in shock. The laser dropped from her bloodied hand, and she clutched at the wound in her chest as she fell.
The human knelt at her side, having no recollection of how he'd gotten there so fast. She stared up at him, still disbelieving the speed of his draw, that he'd shot her at all. He touched her hair with incredible tenderness; his hand came away smeared with green. She saw his eyes fill with alien tears, and hated the suit covering her, the semblance of belonging to his race. Serina didn't want an enemy's tears, any more than she had wanted his love. When he stroked her face and whispered the alien name, she only wished she could see the world through her own yellow eyes, not the false lenses she wore. She wished she could have killed him...
"I'm sorry, Serina..."
She had no strength to curse him as her life ebbed into eternity.
"Serina?" Apollo whispered desperately.
A hand touched his shoulder hesitantly. It was Caitlin, who'd recovered from the kick; her fingers were red, and he thought he saw the beginning of what would be painful blisters. He glanced over to see Julie tending to Mirella's wounds. Athena was with them, avoiding him.
Something blurred his vision. He was crying. He tried to rub away the tears with the palms of his hands.
"She was an imposter, she wasn't your wife. She would have killed us all..."
"I know," he replied huskily. "She bleeds green, just like Julie said she would. But it wasn't easy, shooting her, even knowing..."
"I understand," the freckled, redheaded woman answered in a whisper.
He needed to cry. He wondered if she'd mind if he borrowed her shoulder.
"We've got to get out of here." It was Julie. "Apollo...?"
Apollo blinked and saw the other two women assisting Mirella to her feet. Her arm and hand were wrapped in something white – Julie's lab jacket, he realized. Athena's expression was anxious, maybe a little bit guilty.
He glanced at Serina one last time, and took a long, hard look at the green blood cooling on her forehead, hand, arm, and chest.
"We need you, Apollo. We've got to get out of here. You heard what she said, that the troopers were routing the ones who attacked them. You're the only one with any idea where we are, which direction we came. We've got to get out of here before they come looking for us..." Caitlin.
"They want your sister, Apollo." Julie. "Diana wants her. She's pregnant. Diana will use her child, your niece, unless we get them both out of her reach. Help us. Help her."
He stared at his sister, who responded with a single nod, then held her head high, as if challenging him to ask for an explanation.
"Apollo?" Caitlin again. "Let's get away from here, please?"
He felt very empty. He took a deep breath and nodded, then turned away from the image of Serina, forever. "Let's go."
He grabbed up the extra lasers laying around the fallen truck, and led off.Chapter Seven
Of Three Peoples
Baltar stalked his command deck like a hunting carnivore. "You lost! You were driven off by the forces of one mother ship! How do I explain that to the Imperious Leader?"
"So you ran?" Baltar yelled in fury.
"There-were-two-additional-base-ships-approaching. We-could-not-face-the-firepower-of-five-base-ships. We-would-have-been-destroyed."
Baltar threw himself into his chair, breathing heavily, wondering how he could salvage some semblance of victory, or at least a tie, from this latest rout.
He groaned. Twelve base ships! How symbolic, twelve base ships for the Twelve Colonies. Probably more on the way, to stand for the Thirteenth Colony. Add the Galactica, and whatever forces the Earth humans can muster. And while we were watching the Sirians, the Colonial refugees passed us undetected to reach safety as well! I need reinforcements. We can't take this planet without a greater force. I must return to Cylon, speak to the Imperious Leader. I need a larger fleet. Surely the Leader will see that...
He turned back to the gold Cylon who'd been in charge of the attack force. "Order the navigation station to set course for the nearest Cylon outpost."
"Then take yourself to the recycling station, and have yourself broken down for replacement parts."
The Cylon Centurion swivelled its head to look at him. "By-your-command."
The monotone took all pleasure out of the order. What good was it to command a being to enact its own destruction, when it accepted the order without complaint or defiance?
The Cylon lumbered out of the command chamber without further comment.
Baltar leaned back against the hard chair. His stomach churned with impotent rage at the defeat, and even promises of future destruction seemed to do little good. All he could do was focus on one target, one enemy he could blame for everything. It might be the Sirians who had driven him off, but it was the Colonials, and one man in particular, that he held responsible.
I will be back. I will return to take that planet, and destroy both Sirian and human forces. And I'll come with more than a simple task force; I'll have enough basestars and fighters to destroy them.
Adama, I'm still here. Don't become complacent while I'm gone, because I will be back to end your miserable fleet and the planet you hoped to escape to. How long do you think they can hold out against the might of the entire Cylon Alliance? You couldn't beat the Cylons before; the Sirians won't stop them for long. Then we'll come for you. Keep your eyes to the skies, because I will be back...
Philip and Willie had found the cave without any difficulty, even in the dim light of dawn, after an endless night in the mountain cold. The closer they came to their goal, the easier it was to home in on it. Kyle followed in deadly silence, his heart already broken, his laser rifle ready.
Within the cave, the light was blue, flickering off stalactites and reflecting into the darkest curves and corners. Uneven walls threw shadows like the writhing unrealities of a madman's mind. Guarding the passage and central chamber were hundreds of cold-blooded creatures, drawn to warmth and light and something else. The Visitors stepped over those coiled snakes and assorted reptiles, whose attention was on the writhing cocoon in the center of the chamber.
The human followed more cautiously, pushing snakes out of the way with a long stick, wondering what was at the end of the long, blue-lit tunnel.
Then he saw what waited.
His friends had paused at the entrance to the chamber. They'd first stripped off their human-style garments, leaving them in two jumbled piles. A step further, they'd torn off the humanskin bodysuits, leaving what looked like tortured, empty bodies in shredded masses. It was the torn heads and flattened faces that made him want to vomit. It didn't help his stomach to see their false eyes rolling under the claws of a fascinated lizard.
He clenched his teeth and walked gingerly past the heaps.
What must be Philip and Willie, in their natural reptilian appearance, stooped on either side of a glowing, pulsing, amorphous blue mass at the center of the cave. The odd light played across their scales, making them even more alien and threatening to the watching human. Their clawed hands moved across the cocoon in some odd pattern, and they crooned a decidedly unmelodic tune in a kind of harmony with the pulsations. They swayed in time with their own singing, and soon the other denizens of the cave were swaying and hissing with them.
Kyle tightened his grip on his laser, near-religious awe and fear almost overcoming his anger and determination to save Elizabeth. It was easy to harden his heart against his friends when they looked as alien as they were, but the very intensity of emotion in the chamber came near to drawing him into the song as well. He leaned against the wall so nothing could come at him from behind, and waited. Despite his intention to be alert to everything that happened, and ready to act when the time came, he found himself dozing off. It had been a long afternoon and night before; tracking the Visitors in their single-minded search through the mountain wilderness hadn't always been easy. He fell asleep.
"Here!" Murdock and B.A. pushed the Visitor female forward, their guns trained on her, ready to kill her if she gave them the slightest bit of trouble. "We found her, Colonel. She was trying to run toward San Carlos. You think maybe she hasn't figured out yet that we freed that town an hour ago?"
By dawn's early light, Diana glared at her captors.
Hannibal just laughed at her, while Murdock grinned and B.A. traded her glare for glare.
"I'd say she didn't know, Murdock," the Colonel answered easily. "I don't think she expected to find us here at all, the way she fell for that diversion trick, sending her people out after us when she had no idea how many of us there were, or how well armed we might be." He waved his cigar at her. "You can tell she's a scientist, not a strategist. Now, if it had been Lydia, she'd never have fallen for that old trick."
Diana wanted to scream with fury at the mention of her rival's name.
"I'm sure Lydia will be glad to know we've got you in custody again. She was rather annoyed when you slipped away last time. Did you know, she actually promised Murdock a piece of your heart? Whaddaya think of that? Hardly the sort of comment one expects from an old friend."
Her hands clawed air as if they itched to rend his torso and spread his guts across the dirt to rot.
Templeton Peck joined the group, looking more serious. "I found an overturned truck, and an empty van. A couple dead Visitors, and some red blood, but no human bodies. Looks like there was a bit of a shoot-out, and the 'cargo' got away on their own."
"Set some of the locals to trailing 'em, and you go with 'em, Face," Hannibal ordered brusquely. "B.A., Murdock, let's get this lady to safer quarters, then check in with the angel."
"How long we gonna play his game for nuthin', Hannibal?" the black man groaned. "He been callin' our shots long enough!"
"He calls our shots while we fight the war, Sergeant," the gray-haired colonel shot back. "We work as a unit in his team – no time or need, now, to play it on our own. But I'd say, with a certain treacherous lady out of the way, that war'll be over pretty soon."
B.A. snorted at that, and Face looked doubtful. They'd been at war too long, in too many ways, to expect it to end that easily.
"'Course, I could be wrong." Hannibal grinned at his men, then lowered the laser crooked in his elbow so it pointed directly at their poisonously attractive prisoner. "Now, Diana, let's take a walk."
The humans made her walk all the way to San Carlos, where she was greeted with jeers and scowls from the freed citizens of that town, and a few thrown rocks and vegetables, until Tyler's people took her into custody and waved off the crowds. It was more for their benefit than for her pride, she knew.
"You look good bleeding red," Farber commented loudly.
She realized a rotten tomato had spattered her crimson uniform with darker red smears and small yellow seeds. Her guards laughed when she wrinkled her nose in disgust at the stain and smell.
As she was chained with the rest of the captured Visitors, she heard the sound of human media technology, and glanced up to see Michael Donovan, camera whirring as he recorded her shackling and the loading of the prisoners, under guard, in a skyshuttle. Her eyes widened.
"I was in the vicinity, at one of your youth camps." He didn't offer her a second look as he panned the camera over the line of Visitors. A few seconds later, he put down the camera and yelled, "I need more film!" He smiled at her. "I could get a Pulitzer out of this, Diana – the discovery of a Youth Corps camp, the liberation of a town, and the capture of you. I should thank you for it, but..."
A youth ran from a nearby vehicle, several canisters in his hand. "Here, Dad! I'll load it for you..."
The boy glanced at her once, troubled, then shrugged and turned his attention back to the canisters. He'd broken free of the alien training, and she knew she could expect no loyalty from the boy, nor likely from any of the other youths who'd been in the secret camp.
The triumphant look Michael gave Diana was all the revenge he ever need to take on her. He put his arm around his son's shoulder and they walked away, not looking back.
"Yes, Commander Adama?"
"Your discussions with the civilian representatives of this world?"
The elegant woman nodded at his low-voiced query. Commander Adama and Siress Tinia had each spoken to those they could more skillfully deal with. Adama had been more comfortable speaking with the leaders of the Visitors, military men and women as they were, than with the understandably wary human civilian leaders. The Terrans had been happier talking to a civilian government representative, one of their own kind, who knew what it meant to be attacked and beaten down by aliens – if they were smug about having fought the Visitors to something of a standstill, Tinia played the diplomat and ignored the point that Diana had almost destroyed them anyway, but for the Leader's intervention. The humans and the aliens had also felt more comfortable, each dealing with one they felt better understood their situation.
"Our suggestion was well-received by the President of their United Nations delegation," she replied. "The Terrans accept the invitation to hold their meeting aboard the Galactica. In fact, they seem to find it something of a relief!"
Adama had to smile. "Commander Lydia seemed to find it something of a relief as well. Her security concerns have lessened, and she can now concentrate on locating the Renegades, both in her forces and loose on the planet, and taking them into custody."
"The names and locations of the Renegades are being supplied by her prisoner?"
The commander answered her grimness with a setting of his own jaw. "So it seems. I believe the young man has already given her what information he could, and he is now incarcerated. But several of those he named have also betrayed others of their movement."
"Betrayed? A harsh word. But then, you were present for the beginning of his interrogation. I'm sure you could not help but wonder if our people, under the same or similar circumstances..." She had to glance away as they paced the quiet balcony of the Embassy. His son had very likely been in the same circumstances, and Adama's presence at the "interrogation" had been more out of a need to know what Apollo might have endured than any vengeful urge to see pain inflicted on a young Visitor.
"Under the circumstances," she continued quickly, "I can understand how many of their young warriors must have felt torn, with conflicting loyalties. The decision must not have been easy, for some of them, to chose either the Fifth Column or the Renegades, in their struggle with our Earth brothers and sisters. It has been a long and difficult war, and the deeds they have done must not always have rested easily on their souls." She lifted her face to the sun, feeling the warmth with a pang of nostalgia for lost Aquaria. "Sometimes warriors must act as their conscience commands, even if it goes against the orders they have been given."
"True." He remembered how the councilor had clashed with several of his crew, particularly Colonel Tigh and Captain Apollo, until each discovered the value and strength of the other. Tigh was still with him, but Apollo...
She touched his hand. "I'm sorry, Adama. I didn't mean to remind you... I'm sure they're all right, and it's only a matter of time before they are found and safely returned to you."
"I pray you're right. But for now, Tinia, we have duties to attend to. The Galactica must be prepared for the conference." He met her gaze.
"And it will occupy your mind while we wait for word from the task forces sent against Science Frontiers and the other community? If you wish, Adama, Geller and I can prepare for the conference, and you could remain here." Their hands still rested together on the stone railing.
"I would not have it said that I shirked my duty..."
"From concern for your children? There are times you carry your sense of duty too far, I think. Adama, ought we not to maintain a military liaison here while conference preparations continue, someone who can communicate with the Visitor leaders? Especially as they seem still to be in charge of much of the city, however they appear to defer to the local human militia and civilian authority. The Visitors, after all, must be convinced at least to permit us our chance at union, if not to consider a peace or treaty alliance. We must still deal with them. As you seem most capable of doing so..."
He chuckled warmly. "Ah, Tinia, it is no wonder you were re-elected for the quorum. Send your aides and Sire Geller back to the Fleet to prepare for the conference. We must also have someone here who can communicate well with the Terran diplomatic leaders, and I suspect you are the more able of us to accomplish that."
Was it the heat of the sun or her reaction to his eyes that so flushed her cheeks? "A wise suggestion, Adama. This is, after all, a human world. We ought to be speaking more frequently with its rightful occupants."
He took her arm as a gentleman ought as they went in search of Geller.
"Diana has been taken! And San Carlos..."
For a long moment, James stared through the officer bringing the news. Juliet moved closer to his side, eyes worried.
"Diana is taken. Then the prisoners are free, and the humans know we are here. Ronald, order immediate evacuation of any of our people still at Science Frontiers. We go to the sands, now."
The other saluted briefly and ran.
"What do we do now?" the female asked.
James's eyes were totally devoid of expression. "Diana is taken. There will be no mercy for us from Philip, and none from the humans, not now. And the Colonials will likely not forgive us either."
He stalked the room with easy grace; when he turned, there was a hooded, almost malevolent smile on his face. "I will not surrender. I have orders to do otherwise, to disrupt the humans and see certain of them dead. If Diana were to be in a location where it were my duty to carry out certain orders, she could possibly be caught in the line of fine..."
"Then should we not surrender, rather than put her at risk?" Juliet was confused.
"No. It would be unfortunate if Diana should be killed along with our enemies, but such are the fortunes of war. She is a scientist, not a warrior, but I'm sure she has learned that over the years we have been on this humid world."
Her eyes narrowed.
He approached her and took her chin roughly in hand. "I must of course assume command of whatever forces we still have."
"It would be ... pleasant to have someone at my side I could trust, someone I could speak with, in our own language."
"As we ... spoke last night?" she asked, her voice dropping lower.
James nodded, feeling a definite heat at the sun-touched memories of the night spent with this female. He saw her consider for a moment, then felt the second she discarded her loyalty to Diana and gave it totally to him.
"The fortunes of war...," she murmured. "And we must do our duty."
"We will make a place for ourselves, one way or another, and you will be my consort. The war may still be turned against Philip's people. A new Leader on Homeworld may decree the destruction of the humans. The Cylons may turn the tide and give us a chance to escape. We will take our chances."
"I will be yours." She whistled a low, tuneless hum as she stepped next to him. He ignored the invitation to an embrace, but offered no protest at her tongue flicking easily over his chin and high cheeks. When she finally touched his lips, he pulled her closer with rough arms.
"Lieutenant James!" It was Ronald again, interrupting the intense moment.
"What is it?" He put Juliet away almost rudely.
"A message from one of our people at the Embassy. The Leader's Mother Ship is in orbit around this planet. He has no more information than that, and he fears Willard has betrayed him as well, but he sends us this last information, and his farewell."
"Finish the evacuation," James ordered evenly.
Ronald nodded and disappeared again.
"And now, my lord?" the female demanded when they were alone in the office.
"We will soon know the fortunes of war, my lady." He calculated the possibilities and odds. "I think we must surrender now."
"You just told me..."
He turned a cool, amused expression on her. "We will surrender to the Leader, whoever he now is, and swear our fealty. We are most obedient to his will."
"But Diana ... and Philip! And the humans!"
"We will profess our loyalty, as we must. We obeyed Diana because we believed she was carrying out the will of the Leader. Shown otherwise, we are of course penitent and at his disposal."
"He will dispose of us!"
"I think not. An exile would have been possible, in previous days. I think an execution is also unlikely, as the situation stands. If we were to testify against Diana's treason ... and it is possible the Leader will have such need of our abilities that he will parole us, after a token punishment. But now, we go to the sands. There are things we must do before turning ourselves in..."
"Diana will never let us testify! She'd implicate us in everything, imply it may have been our idea, take us down with her, if nothing else!"
"You have heard very little of what I said, I think. The fortunes of war are not kind..." You will never understand strategy. If Diana and Philip and Lydia perish in terrorist activities apparently of human origin, who will question us? If there is enough turmoil, and insufficient evidence of our involvement, we may win the new Leader's ear...
But you are beautiful, Juliet, in and out of humanskin, and pliant to my wishes. You are intelligent and capable, and I'm sure you will prove yourself useful to me in many ways. For that I will keep you. For your blindness to the ways of ambition, I will trust you – but never with a blade at my back.
Lydia was of mixed emotions, and the sun bath was doing little to settle her thoughts or feelings. She squirmed to a more comfortable position under the heat lamp, wishing life was as simple as it once had been. It was much easier carrying out orders than accepting uncertain responsibility for the current unsettled situation.
True, Willard had told her everything he knew of the Renegades, under the persuasion of the conversation chamber; the human Adama had stood by for the interrogation, offering questions of his own, but with obvious revulsion at its use. The offered use of the Galactia as the meeting place for the delegates to the conference made her security work easier, and the Earth humans seemed equally pleased to be out of Visitor reach.
But they insisted on keeping the hostages in New York until the conference was completed. The delegates were already transferring to the battlestar, relief and doubt openly displayed on every face, but her brother and the other Visitors would not be allowed to return to their ships for another week – or longer, if there were any difficulties at the meeting.
And where was Philip? Someone had to serve as Visitor delegate to the conference, and those of the Leader's Mother Ship still refused any but the most routine communications. The humans would never accept her as a representative, but who could she send? Who could she trust? What was expected from this conference, and how was it to be achieved? She was a warrior, not a diplomat...
She uncurled lazily and faced the human warriors. Adama had graciously offered the Embassy his own warrior security while she investigated her own forces; with Colonials in residence, it had seemed prudent to accept. "What is it, Boomer?"
Neither male, not Boomer nor the blond she remembered so well, could quite keep their eyes off what appeared to be a perfect, naked, human female in the tanning bed, even though Starbuck had to remember clearly their first meeting, and had probably made it known to his friend.
Boomer swallowed. "Report from San Carlos. The town is free, and Diana is in custody."
"What?" She slid sinuously to her feet and grabbed for her clothing.
"They report Diana is one of the prisoners, and they are bringing her in with the others. No trace of Captain Apollo, Lieutenant Athena, or the other missing people..."
"Regrettable," she hissed without emotion, already half-dressed. "When will Diana arrive?"
"Within the centar ... uh, hour."
"Thank you. Dismissed."
Their anger at her lack of concern for their friends burned through her, but she didn't really care. She ignored their glares, only for a second noting how their emotions had driven out their interest in her body. It was of no consequence to her.
Life ... life ... life...
The struggle was eternal, to burst free of the bonds, to live, to defy the throbbing suffocation of death, to claim the heritage.
Life ... life ... life...
And more than life.
The time was near. She struggled against death, felt it close around her. But also present was the need to live, an instinct to continue when the mind said surrender.
And something more.
There was another within, many others. They led back into the past, and reached for the future. They were her heritage, what she possessed, what she could offer. They craved release, craved her life, pushed her to live that they might survive.
Life ... life ... life...
Investiture. As they had triumphed, she must also.
The past embodied within her spirit and flesh. The eternal link of past to present, of present to future; of yesterday to today, of today to tomorrow, of tomorrow to eternity.
She must live. Intensity built within her, growing to a passionate flood she couldn't identify, could only flow with and fight for.
Life ... life ... life...
The throbbing continued, and she heard, with an alien sense, the call of the ones who waited for her. Their need reached her, as her need had drawn them. She could not resist. She tried to scream.
Life ... life ... life...
She put out a final effort, and the web shredded at her touch, her fire, her need. She gasped, felt life-giving air sear her lungs, and knew triumph at her own success. She, too...
In his dreams, Kyle heard something change in the serpent song. He dragged himself from sleep, feeling tingles and aches in every joint and muscle from the hours on the stone floor. Groggily, he forced himself back to his feet.
The two reptilian Visitors bent over the blue shape, now so bright the human couldn't bear to look at it without flinching. He squinted, trying to see. His grip tightened on the laser.
Something moved wildly within the cocoon-like form, pushing, kicking, writhing from side to side. Then whatever was within tore along an entire side, and blue-green fluid trickled out.
The alien song rose in volume, and Philip and Willie continued stroking the blueness, but offered no assistance in freeing whatever was within.
The trickle became a flood as a second rip paralleled the first, and an appendage was visible for a second before the blue seemed to ooze over it again. A third slash crossed the first two, and the glow in the cavern died as if a power cord had been cut.
With a wild cry, the entire cocoon shredded into a half dozen pieces, and a form lunged upward to stand alone.
Willie and Philip fell back, hissing, flattening themselves to the floor on their backs, exposing throats and bellies as if to a conqueror's claws.
Kyle caught his breath, fighting an urge to scream.
A woman stood there, blazing blue, with lines of green racing along her bare arms and face. The blue-green fluid drenched whatever gown she had been wearing; it clung to her almost obscenely. Her hair dripped in discolored tendrils; it had once been blonde. Formerly blue eyes were now sapphire pits into eternity – youth, age, pain, power, and incredible knowledge were there, if one could bear to endure their gaze. An aura gleamed from her body, almost palpable in the now-dim cave. The glow was of majesty; the image was of a woman reborn.
Or, perhaps, a goddess newborn.
She was not human. She was equally not Visitor.
Elizabeth stepped free of the ruined cocoon.
The Visitors rolled over and crawled to her on their stomachs, cringing at her feet.
"Leader..." The hiss was Philip's.
Willie's call was less formal. "Elizabeth..."
"Yes, my loyal friends, I am..." Her voice resonated through the cavern and echoed back a dozen times. The voice was not quite masculine, but too similar to that of the previous Leaders for her human lover's taste. Then she seemed to notice him for the first time. "Kyle. Ah..." An affectionate smile touched her lips, and she extended a hand to him.
He shuddered back.
She was saddened. "Kyle..."
"You're not Elizabeth," he whispered in agony. "I don't know you. Don't call my name, you butcher. Don't wear her shape and call my name..."
"I am Elizabeth." Some of the glow faded, and the cave darkened further.
She appeared as she had on the Los Angeles Mother ship when she'd first accepted the Leader's possession of her mind and body. He could not believe anything but that she was again the tool of an alien, this time perhaps forever.
"Leader?" Philip rose from the stone at her feet.
She took his hand, and reached for Willie as well. "Trusted and oldest friends, please, call me Elizabeth. It is my name. I know what I am becoming, but I am still Elizabeth."
Her eyes pleaded with Kyle; he couldn't resist. Against his own will, he dropped the weapon and moved closer to her. Tears rolled slowly down his cheeks. His panic was contained in his terror-stricken eyes as his hands reached steadily for her of their own volition.
With a sigh, the glow faded from her body, and all that was left was a soiled young woman in a ruined gown, looking very human and cold.
Kyle pulled away.
"I'm sorry, Kyle, I forgot..." the female whispered. The sound reverberated sadly through the cavern.
"Elizabeth?" It was Philip.
She drew her arms around her suddenly shivering body. "I think I'd like to get cleaned up, and find something else to where. Then we must go home."
The morning was almost gone. Apollo was worried. They hadn't gone far from the crash site, and there could be pursuers on their trail. But Mirella was too badly injured to move fast, and her failing strength might force them to seek shelter from the growing heat of the sun.
"You should go on without me," the black woman forced through clenched teeth. She tried to squirm out of his arms. "The rest of you are unhurt. You could get away. You're the ones Diana wants, not me."
"No. I'm not leaving anyone behind." He tightened his grip, carrying her more securely without putting any pressure on her wounded arm. In the lighter gravity, it was no difficult chore for the muscular warrior to carry the woman over several miles of relatively rough terrain. There were too many memories from his past of those who'd been left behind.
Beside him, the civilian doctor looked worried.
He tried to reason with the agent. "Diana would know which way we'd gone if she found you. She might question you. We can't let you betray us." It was a brutal statement, but Mirella seemed to accept it.
We'll get out together, all of us. I'm not sacrificing anyone in this command for Diana to find. He'd quickly assumed the lead of the small group, in more than just his own thinking. He was a trained warrior, a senior officer, used to command; the others had deferred to that quickly, almost without realizing it. His most likely competition, of course, had been the wounded woman.
Athena and Caitlin came up from behind. That meant their trail was covered, and there was no one in immediate pursuit.
"I'll check ahead," the redhead murmured.
He nodded and watched her go, grateful for her familiarity with the terrain, if not the exact location, and her obvious expertise at survival. She'd recovered from the Visitor's vicious kick; fortunately, there had been no broken ribs, and apparently no bruised internal organs. Caitlin's only remaining injury, besides the rib bruising, was the blistering on her hand from a laser near-hit.
It could have been worse. I could've been stuck with a group from the Quorum of Twelve! Julie's a doctor. Mirella may be injured, but she's well-trained and self-disciplined; she's holding up well, considering how seriously she seems to be hurt. Julie thinks she's got a chance.
Caitlin used to be a member of their security forces – police, they call them, I think – and she knows the terrain, and how to survive in it. At least she wasn't badly injured. If we'd had two injured women to carry with us, I don't think we could've gotten away.
Athena had the same survival training I did at the Academy. If we only knew the world a little better... But she's so quiet. She's hardly spoken to me all day. I guess I can understand that. I betrayed her. I believed Diana would help us. I believed Diana. That makes me responsible for Athena's ... condition.
We'll get by, as long as Mirella's not too badly hurt, and nothing goes wrong, and I don't mess up again.
I know what Diana did to me. I won't let her get me again. I won't go through it again. I won't betray my friends and family again.
Serina didn't even occur to him. She was a closed book, an empty, cold spot in his memories of the last few sectons – weeks. It was over; he had no desire to remember her. Someone had used the memory of the woman he loved to deceive him. That fact cast a pall over their love. His emotions were dying within his soul, and he knew he didn't dare care long enough to stop it. He had to let go of her, or risk being destroyed by Diana, along with his sister and Lords-only-knew how many other people. Remembering her would only tangle his memories with Diana's foul dreams, and of killing the alien Serina. He had to let her go, send her away. But this was the only thing, the cruelest thing, that could compel him to leave Serina's memory behind.
And there a memory of Starbuck, too, of wanting to kill him, that made Apollo want to forget his friend...
Mirella's head lolled on his shoulder, and he realized she was unconscious.
He stopped and lowered her to the ground while Julie Parrish checked her pulse and looked at her eyes, then examined her wounds again.
"We've got to stop," she announced. "I've got to wash that wound, and she needs to rest. We all need to rest."
"And what if Diana's people find us?"
She looked exasperated. "Apollo, you're a slave-driver! You may find this pace exhilarating, but I'm almost exhausted! And Caitlin must be too – she was a bit bruised up as well, you may recall! None of us had much sleep last night. We can afford to take a break – we have to! The Visitors would have to be ahead of us to catch us after this pace, and with Caitlin and Athena covering our tracks, it won't be easy for them to trail us. If they are waiting for us somewhere ahead, I'd just as soon face them rested as beat. Look at your sister!"
He glanced her way, and saw Athena did have a greenish cast to her pale complexion, and exhausted circles under her eyes. It was as much emotional as physical exhaustion.
The captain glanced around. There was a lot of shrubbery nearby, scattered rocks, occasional groves of small trees. It was not a very fertile area; outside of San Carlos's irrigated and cultivated orchards and fields, which they'd left behind them, the area was largely unfenced and uninhabited.
"Where do you suggest?" he deferred to Julie's presumed knowledge of her own world and Mirella's needs.
"Caitlin?" she called softly.
The petite redhead appeared almost instantly. "There's a stream not too far ahead where we can rest. Trees for shelter and wood, some cliffsides so there should be caves if we need to hide. And if I remember my maps of this area, there should be an interstate not too many miles to the north."
"Interstate?" Apollo inquired, brows furrowed.
"Main traffic artery," she supplied, by now aware of his limited familiarity with American English idioms. "Lots of assorted vehicles, and there may be towns and telephones – communications devices – along the road."
"Will that suit you?" he asked Julie.
"It'll have to."
He gently gathered the woman up in his arms to continue the journey, realizing as he did so that his shoulders were beginning to ache, and his legs were getting tired. It had been too long since he'd had time for long walks and weight training. Too, his arms were still sore from the grazing wound he'd received in the attack on Diana's first hide-out. He needed a rest as much as the women did, and was glad, almost a centar later, to ease down his burden and rest in the shade of a group of ... cottonwoods, were they?
A weary Caitlin willed herself to stay on her feet long enough to stalk the perimeter of the grove. Athena just dropped to the ground, head resting on her knees, looking exhausted.
Julie examined her patient, then shook her head. "Not good. She needs real help, in a hospital, or at least from a doctor with the instruments and medications to do some good."
Apollo hesitated. He wanted to talk to Athena, make things right between them, share her difficulty, but there wasn't time. In a war zone, personal matters and medical staffs, too, for that matter, took a back seat to the needs of the military and the exigencies of the moment. This wasn't the life or the people he knew; maybe... "What do you suggest?"
Her blue eyes held anxiety. "I wish I knew..."
There was a droning sound somewhere in the distance.
The freckle-faced young woman ran back into the clearing. "Something's up there. We'd better get out of sight."
Apollo glanced around quickly, but there was no place better that they could reach in the microns they had.
"Roll in the weeds, then don't move," he hissed, wishing the women were wearing something besides the prison white bodysuits Diana had given them – and glad the Visitor witch allowed him to continue wearing his own uniform, which at least would match the local soil.
The droning continued, fading for long moments, then coming back louder, always seeming to get closer to their grove. Apollo knew holding his breath wouldn't do any good, but it seemed an instinctive response. Beside him in the wiry grass, Athena was doing the same, until she buried her face in the vegetation and sighed in despair. Julie looked more anxious at that, but kept an arm protectively over her wounded patient.
Mirella suddenly stirred, staring heavenward, then smiled and relaxed.
Catilin blinked and caught her breath. "That's Airwolf!" she gasped.
"Airwolf!" The redheaded woman darted out of the trees and into plain sight of the very close aircraft. "Here we are! Hawke! Dom! We're here! Help! SOS! Mirella needs a doctor! Hawke!"
The aircraft hesitated, then slowly set down, a sleek technological marvel of human engineering in gleaming black and white. It was indeed Airwolf. When she was safely down, a man in flight fatigues and a black helmet jumped out and ran toward the woman.
Apollo fingers tightened on the laser. This was the craft which had shot him down on his first day on Earth, almost an eternity ago. He moved protectively between the stranger and the rest of the women, but there seemed no need for concern.
"Caitlin!" the newcomer bellowed.
"Dom!" She flew into his arms.
"Are you all right? The others...?"
"We're all fine now, we're all fine..." She was almost in tears with relief.
Julie crawled out of the grass and moved into sight, leaving Apollo and Athena more or less concealed with Mirella.
"You Dr. Parrish?"
"Yes," she responded gratefully to his question, ready to hug him herself. "You're Santini? I've got a patient who needs medical attention, Mirella Lincoln..."
"Mirella's hurt? Why didn't ya say so!" The hefty man barreled into the grove, but the Colonial had already picked up the woman.
"Mirella..." He halted uncertainly.
"Hi, Dom..." She managed a smile before lapsing again into unconsciousness.
The men exchanged glances, then Apollo carried Mirella to the aircraft. Another grim-faced man reached out and pulled her in, strapping her into the co-pilot's seat while the man identified as Dom Santini clambered into the back.
"We've informed the search team of your coordinates," the pilot announced almost tonelessly. "They should be here soon. We'll get Mirella to a hospital."
Apollo stepped back as Airwolf's blade began to whirl, and a man-made windstorm blew dust at him. "Right. We'll be here..." The confirmation was lost in take-off.
He studied the remaining women. His sister, and two Earth women who had proved extremely competent and dependable. "Well, I guess we wait, now. You sure we can trust those men?" He thumbed a gesture at the vanishing speck of Airwolf.
"Completely." Caitlin stared after the craft with fondness, hands planted lightly on her hips.
He accepted her word.
Perhaps fifteen centons later, the first of the rescue team blundered into view out of the weeds.
Apollo stared at a blond man he would have sworn was Starbuck, under any other circumstances. He wasn't sure how to take it.
The man glowered at him suspiciously.
"Hi," he ventured.
"You're not going to try and shoot me, are you?" the man demanded.
Apollo glanced at his laser, then sent back a puzzled stare. "No. Why should I?" He wasn't sure he could if he wanted to, in the mixed emotions of the moment, but it seemed rather odd to want to kill one's rescuer.
"Or strangle me if I get in range?"
"I hadn't planned on it..."
The man nodded. "Good. Say, hi there, pretty lady..." He very solicitously took Athena's hand to help her to her feet. She stared at him in bemusement as an arm slipped around her waist to guide her.
Apollo had to sigh. Whoever the man was, the resemblance was more than skin deep.
"What about Diana? And San Carlos?" Julie interrupted.
The stranger sent a winning smile her way. "Diana's a prisoner. San Carlos is free."
She cheered. Athena looked ready to faint. Apollo felt a great weight lift from his shoulders.
"So where do we go now, uh... Who are you?"
"Call me Face. We go to Los Angeles, where I understand they're people who are very eager to see you all." He directed suddenly mischievous eyes at Apollo. "Though I can't imagine why..."
Lydia strode into the reception room with the expression and bearing of a conquering warrior queen. Her eyes swept imperiously over the waiting men and women, cataloging each in her thoughts. Adama, Tinia, Tigh, a handful of Colonial warriors, and a boy. The man known as Archangel, with his new female driver. Several Resistance members with personal interests in the returning humans – Tyler, Donovan, Maitland, Farber. A number of her own people, including Thelma and representatives from several of the orbiting mother ships.
She caught their attention with her entry. She faced down all of them for a moment before speaking. Some of them were familiar with part of what she had to say. None of them knew it all. And none of them knew the contents of the last message she had received from a skyfighter on its way to the Embassy from a mountain cabin.
"As you all know by now, Diana was captured this morning and returned here to Los Angeles, a prisoner. She is interned in the facilities here at the Embassy. She will be transported, under guard, to the Leader's Mother Ship as soon as it can be arranged."
The representative from that ship, also its commander, a male who now wore human guise and carried the name Lloyd, nodded as if it were already done.
"Her human prisoners have been found by a search team. The woman Mirella Lincoln has been taken by one of your aircraft to a hospital here in Los Angeles. Her injuries are reportedly not terminal; she is expected to recover."
Nobody but Lydia saw the relief on Archangel's face.
"Caitlin O'Shaughnessy and Julie Parrish are also free. Both are well, and arrived here at the Embassy a moment ago. They will be here as soon as they have refreshed themselves." Her lips curled in detached amusement at human vanity.
Steve Maitland and Mike Donovan sent looks at each other that said quite plainly, "the truce is off; winner take all." Farber gave a raised-fist salute for his friends, but Tyler only nodded his head, in tight control.
Lydia's next words went directly to Commander Adama, without scorn or arrogance, as a warrior to an equal. "And Captain Apollo and Lieutenant Athena are here as well. We will question them later as to their treatment and why Diana wanted them, after you have seen them. I doubt you will have to wait long. They seemed overjoyed to know of your presence."
Starbuck whooped aloud, and Sheba and Boomer exchanged embraces. Jolly scooped up his charge, Boxey, and deposited the boy in his grandfather's arms. Tinia and Tigh exchanged relieved smiles of truce. Adama held Boxey tightly, and nodded back at Lydia, for a moment too choked to speak.
"Do they seem well?" Tigh asked, seeing his friend's brimming eyes.
"Yes." She hesitated. "A little tired, that is all." She had seen the light green blistering on Athena's neck, and guessed what Diana had planned, but she wasn't going to air her knowledge and suspicions here.
One of the Embassy staff moved closer to her, and under the hubbub of the humans' babble, asked her, "May I be excused? If we have new guests, I have certain responsibilities..."
He sounded nervous. Lydia barely glanced at him before dismissing him with a flick of the wrist. The man left quickly.
Lydia waited for the noise to quiet down. She had another announcement to make, of importance to all three peoples represented here, but mostly to those of her own race.
"Anything else?" Archangel. She marveled at his shrewdness in reading that from her.
"Yes." She studied Lloyd. "But I suspect you already know."
The man shifted. Like John, he had chosen a more mature appearance that stood out like a beacon among the young soldiers and officers around him. His appearance had affected the Colonials deeply, especially the female Sheba, but there had been no time to inquire why. "All I know is that I was ordered to come here, to be here now. And I cannot tell you how the order came, because I don't know myself."
Lydia accepted that. There was, at times, an almost mystical link between the Leader and his personal commander. She had seen it before, in her years of service, even though she suspected she would never understand it.
"Then I will tell you. Several hours ago, one of our skyfighters was diverted from its usual patrol route. We lost it on scanner, but picked it up again a short while ago. It is now on its way here, after picking up several passengers in the mountains."
She took a breath, seeing their expectation.
"The passengers are Inspector General Philip, and Willie, and the human Kyle Bates, and another. The other is the Leader, according to Philip."
The Colonials didn't catch the importance of that statement, but Donovan did. "Kyle? And the Leader? But they were killed in the shuttle explosion, weren't they? And what about Elizabeth?"
Lloyd had risen from his seat, his gazed locked on Lydia.
"Elizabeth Maxwell lives. She is coming here."
"Different skyfighter?" Donovan persisted, perplexed.
Lydia was silent.
"Then the truce is still on? There really is peace between us? And she and the Leader..." Donovan didn't seem to know how to proceed.
A figure appeared at the door. It was the Starchild.
"Elizabeth!" Donovan and Tyler both started forward, then suddenly stopped.
Light blue played across her body with a certain majesty. "Yes. I am Elizabeth." She stepped into the reception room as everyone rose, studying her with varying degrees of confusion and respect. Behind her, a very subdued Kyle and several Visitors in their natural reptilian skin followed.
"I am Elizabeth. I am the Leader."
Before anyone could respond to her calm announcement, she stiffened and glanced around her, as if studying the air.
Something shook the very foundations of the Embassy.
"Again! No! It will not be, if I die..." She raised a hand...
James studied the chronometer lying on the floor, then rolled and faced Juliet. "It is time," he announced in satisfaction. "The bombs should have gone off a few seconds ago. By now, the Visitor Embassy in Los Angeles is an inferno."
She smiled enticingly and slithered closer to him on the ceremonial bed of rock. "Then let us seal our mating, my lord."
"Sealed in blood and fire..." He pulled her closer.Chapter Eight
Stillness reigned in the Visitor Embassy. The Starchild stood like a statue, her face blank with concentration, her hand still outstretched. Around her, the air seemed to have solidified into some blue sphere highly conducive to energy; no one could get close to her without angry sparks arcing outward from her body. Lydia tried to touch her shoulder, and fell to the floor, stunned. One of the Visitors who'd come in with Elizabeth stooped to check her; the other remained focused on the Starchild, entranced.
The foundations shook again, and the blue sphere intensified.
"What the...? Geological instability?" asked one of the Colonials. "I heard something about groundquakes in this region."
"That was no earthquake!" Donovan shot back at Starbuck. "I've been through enough of them... What was it?"
Commander Lloyd moved to stand in front of the very young Leader. "It is her. She is doing this."
"But what is she doing?" demanded the Earthman.
"Saving our lives."
A Visitor guard ran into the room, nearly tripping over Philip and Lydia. She cried out something in her native tongue, the garbled hiss only confusing the humans more. It took a moment for her to remember their speech. "Explosives! There are explosives in the building! But they only burn with blue fire, then fade..."
She stared open-mouthed at Elizabeth.
Everyone waited mutely as a third shock rattled pictures and knocked a glass figurine off a shelf.
Then the blue faded from around the Starchild, and she slowly lowered her hand and stared about her.
"What was it, Leader?" asked Lloyd.
"Incendiary devices," she replied distantly, her eyes still far from any of those present. Her voice was feminine and rich with power. "The one who set them is across the street, wondering why this structure still stands. The one you call Scott is reporting to James. Follow him, and he will lead you to the male who tried to kill us all."
As the Starchild knew or perhaps caused, Scott fled to the Renegades when he realized nothing was happening at the Embassy. There, he was confronted by his shocked and furious superiors, the newly-mated James and Juliet.
"What went wrong?" James howled.
The much less physically imposing Scott flinched and bared his throat. "I don't know... They should have blown up. I don't know why it didn't..."
Juliet fought down her panic. "What do we do now, James?"
"Philip and Lydia are still alive. And Diana. And the new Leader, the half-breed Starchild..." James was still stunned, his mind racing but finding no avenue of escape. A feeling of imminent danger rushed through the Visitor warrior's blood. It was an old taste, one he was well-familiar with, and which usually stirred him to heroic action. But this time, he needed time to find an alternative course. "Time. We have to move again, to one of our own places. Diana will tell them everything, to see us taken, to revenge the bomb set against her. She will see us as a danger to her now..."
"The plan was based on them all being dead..." The scientist quailed, the thought of a short and already lost battle unnerving her.
"But they are not dead. And we must proceed from that..."
A sudden noise echoed off the cavern walls from outside their chamber. James and Juliet started, while their messenger scuttled into the shadows, out of mind and out of reach. The noise was repeated: laser fire, quickly followed by shouts.
"Too late." His expression was grim, his eyes cold. "Prepare to die."
James grabbed a weapon and moved to the door like the serpent he was. As he set his hand to the control pad, it opened from the outside.
There stood a husky, dark-skinned human decked in combat fatigue trousers and strings of gold jewelry. Lieutenant James and the former Sergeant B.A. Baracus locked stares, and recognized each other. Long-lived and slow-burning hatred came to life in each of them, with bloody memories. The Visitor hissed; a drip of venom stained his lips. The human growled deep in his throat, like a bear. As one, each threw away his weapon and charged, locking together in a wrestling grip from which neither would give quarter. They froze in their grapple, leaning into each other, fighting for leverage before pressing the battle.
The Visitors were physically stronger than the humans, and James was not small for his race. He should have forced the human back. But B.A., too, was strong for his people, and he fought to avenge small victims.
Both Juliet and Scott stared in silence. The female was a scientist, and untrained in combat; even if she'd been a skilled warrior, she knew she couldn't face what she saw in both combatants' eyes – and James would kill her for depriving him of the duel, if she intervened. After a moment, the bewildered Scott saw an opportunity and moved forward to grab one of the tossed lasers.
"B.A.!" An older, gray-haired man pulled up short. Understanding at a glance, he trained his own weapon on Scott and Juliet. "Why don't we just let them settle their little 'discussion,' shall we? Yours to win, B.A."
For a moment more, neither was winning. Then, bare shoulders and back muscles straining, B.A. began to step forward. James tried to shift his hold without losing ground. With a single Herculean grunt, the human jerked the Visitor from his feet and tossed him to the stone floor.
"That's for the kids..."
"She's changed, Mike." Kyle's face was haggard.
"That's obvious! Elizabeth as the new Leader... This puts a whole new complexion on the war, and what we do next."
"That's not what I mean."
Donovan waited for his young friend to continue, but Kyle just slumped into the easy chair. After a moment, he asked, "Care to elaborate, or is this a guessing game? I thought you'd be happy to have Elizabeth back – that's why you went after her."
He shook his head, still staring at the floor.
"Kyle, what happened out there? There were rumors the Leader's shuttle exploded, that you and Elizabeth were killed with him. But here you are, and the Starchild claims to be the Leader. How did you get here? What happened? Can't you tell me?"
Kyle glanced past him, his eyes bright with unshed tears. The journalist felt a pang; young Bates had always looked up to him; he hoped he wasn't pushing the kid into telling him things that Kyle wasn't ready to talk about. But something was eating at him, and if it had anything to do with the new Leader, and maybe all of Earth's future, he had to find out what it was.
"The shuttle exploded. I think I died."
Donovan started visibly.
"Then suddenly we were at Maxwell's cabin. The pilots were dead, just me and her still alive. Only I don't know who or what she is now. She didn't talk for a week. Then she ran away. When Willie and Philip came, we looked for her, and we found a cocoon, in a cave, just like you did the first time. They acted real strange, I don't know what they were doing, they just started humming and touching it. I waited. Then it ripped open from the inside and she... But... She's not Elizabeth any more. She'd the Leader, too. He's in her, somewhere. It's like they're one being, now."
"And you've lost her? That's what hurts?" Donovan prompted gently after a moment.
The younger man shuddered. "No. I think I could take it, if I'd lost her. But I haven't lost her. She still wants me. And so does he, somewhere in her mind. So alien..."
He was unsure how to answer that; there were too many layers of innuendo and uncertainty in what Kyle had just said. "Do you want to leave? Get away for a while?"
"I would if I could. But I can't." He sighed, and suddenly looked older and very tired. "I can't leave. The Leader won't let me. I tried to run, back in the cave. And she called me back. I didn't want to go to her. She just reached out her arm and called me, pulled me. I tried not to go to her. But I did. To her, or him, or both of them. She ... they ... won't let me go."
"Elizabeth wouldn't..." He couldn't help remembering some of the things Philip and Lydia had said when the Leader first appeared to take the Starchild.
"She's changed, Mike. She's different. She's ... them."
"I remember her first metamorphosis. She may need time..."
"They won't let me go."
The fatalism in those words shook Mike Donovan to the depths of his soul.
Diana paced in her holding cell, hating the power bars between her and the door, loathing the gray prison tunic and confinement belt, and despising the bloat-bellied guards who obeyed Philip and Lydia rather than serving her and advancing Sirian goals on this planet. The fury at her captivity was fed and twisted by fear. She'd felt it when James's bombs detonated, yet failed to incinerate the structure.
He has to know I'm a prisoner. He tried to kill me as well. Faithless, ambitious... I should have disposed of him before.
But the bombs... Elizabeth took them into herself, controlled their fire. And she survived the explosion in space. She is the Leader. And she is stronger than my former lover, and younger. She has so much power. It should have been mine to command. Now...
Will she order my death?
Fear and hatred warred in her mind and twisted her features.
The distant door opened, admitting more guards, under Lydia's direction, and more prisoners, heavily shackled in cold steel chains. James, Juliet, and Scott. Her people.
Or were they?
The obviously shattered Scott was quickly stripped of his uniform and handed a confinement tunic before disappearing behind the partitions and bars of his cell. Diana felt nothing but contempt for the young officer, seeing his meek acquiescence to Lydia's commands.
Philip entered as the guards turned to the other two. With a gesture, they stepped away, and the inspector general faced their defiance. He studied them for a moment before speaking.
"The Leader states that if you request mate-right, it is granted."
Diana froze in shock. Mate-right? James has taken Juliet? No!
She caught James's eyes, staring at him in disbelief. He held her gaze, then nodded briefly and responded as custom demanded.
"I am a prisoner of my Leader, as is she who is my mate. Let the Leader be merciful, and grant a common cell to us who are mated as one." He hesitated a moment, then added, "I have disobeyed the Leader's law, unknowingly. I submit myself to her will, and accept her punishment as the will of Raman."
"A confession is not required to claim mate-right," Philip observed.
"We disobeyed in error, not knowing our Leader survived. We would never have acted against her law had we known," James stated levelly. He glanced at Juliet, who quickly nodded.
"Indeed," Philip murmured. It was impossible to tell if he believed it or not. "Juliet, do you claim and accept mate-right with this male?"
"He is my mate, and I claim the right. May the Leader grant it..." she affirmed.
"It is done." Philip quickly exited.
Lydia gestured the guards forward again. James and Juliet stood in silence as they were stripped and searched, obeying orders mutely. Then, dressed in loose gray tunics and confinement belts, they were escorted to a cell together.
If Diana could have found a voice, she would have screamed in hysterical fury at this proof of ultimate treason against her as a woman and a commander.
"Lydia is seeing the prisoners tended to, personally," Philip reported to Elizabeth. "We are of course monitoring their cells to record whatever conversations they may have, and to prevent a second escape."
"Well done." The Starchild's words were faint. Her eyes were far away as she sat cross-legged on the floor before the Sword of Raman. The blue sphere around her sparkled and flared lightning in arcs between her spread fingers and the Sword's hilt. She did not touch the sacred weapon. Ten such Swords existed among the Sirians; this one had been the property of Charles, an heirloom of his house. If Diana had produced a child, it would have belonged to that child. Without an heir, the treasured weapon reverted to the Leader, to keep or bestow as he or she chose. Philip had taken custody of it during Diana's and Lydia's competition, and kept it in a place of honor. When the Leader came for the Starchild, he had left the Sword. Now it was Elizabeth's property.
"When there is only us, Philip, please call me Elizabeth. Sit."
"As you wish, Elizabeth." Wondering, he knelt opposite the weapon.
She smiled finally, and drew back her hands. The blue fire faded from her body, but the Sword's glow continued for a moment before dying. Elizabeth stared in frustration.
"You power a Sword of Raman..."
"But not with the fire of a Leader," she overrode. "The Sword knows me, but it also knows I have never stood under the sun of Homeworld or walked the Path of Proving. It knows I have never held the firestone or worn the diadem. It does not answer me."
"You were self-Invested, by the will and power of the previous Leader, may his spirit fly with Raman. How could the Sword deny that?"
"Invested, but never crowned. Never proclaimed on Homeworld. The Council knows of me, but they have never sworn to me. I must go to Homeworld."
Philip was uneasy. "It may not be safe..."
She stared through him. When she spoke, her voice held something ancient and terrible. "I will not hide here while the People face war. I must go to Homeworld. Without a Leader, the People will not survive."
He bowed to her will. "We will leave at your command, Elizabeth."
"I will go with Lloyd. You, Philip, will remain for a time, in command of the forces I will leave here. Lydia will remain as your ... aide, as she has been. You are Wardens of the People, Philip. Do not fail me."
"I will not. And Kyle?"
"Kyle..." Her voice caressed the name. "I pray he will understand, and accept what I can offer him. We will speak of this later. You may go, Philip."
Shaken, he moved back and slipped toward the door. The young woman took a deep breath and reached out mentally once again for the Sword, fanning her fingers above blade and hilt without touching it. Her plans remained her own.
Several members of the Galactica medical staff shuttled to the surface to examine the freed prisoners – they weren't risking contamination by exposing the general population of the Fleet to potentially hazardous Earth micro-organisms. The ones who'd been on the planet so far were unaffected, and decontamination took care of whatever they might have picked up, but Apollo and Athena had been prisoners for some time, too long to trust to their usual procedures.
"You're clean, Apollo. Check out perfectly healthy." Cassiopeia gave him a smile and her hand to help him back to his feet.
"Thanks, Cass. What about Athena?"
"Uh..." The blonde med tech looked less comfortable as she handed him his tunic. "Well..."
"She's pregnant, I know. But how is she?"
"Salik's still checking her out. We don't really know yet. Dr. Parrish is helping him, but our physiology seems just different enough from Terran to slow the examination."
He sighed. "Thanks anyway. Hey, where are Starbuck and Sheba? I haven't seen them. I thought my friends would be here, to see how I was." He pulled on the shirt and strapped on his laser pistol.
"Well, actually, once they knew you were alive and all right, they found reasons to leave the Embassy," she laughed easily. "Starbuck is trying to avoid the Inspector General – and I don't blame him, he looked too much like Ortega for Starbuck's comfort. And Sheba can't bear the sight of Commander Lloyd. I know the Visitors didn't deliberately make him the image of Cain, but it's eerie, and Sheba..."
"Yes. That should have occurred to me. Maybe I am a little bit insensitive."
"You're fine, Apollo, maybe just a little disoriented yet. And speaking of your friends, here's Boomer."
The black warrior waited, grinning.
"My guard, right?"
"You can't deny it, Boomer. Somebody's been following me ever since I got here. And I understand. I was ... brainwashed, converted, they call it. The commander has to make sure I'm not going to do something ... treasonous, now, that I don't revert."
"Don't take it too hard, buddy."
"I'm not. Say, I got an idea. Do they still have drivers ready to take us on necessary errands, until we're cleared to operate their vehicles?"
"Yeah, but mostly the Siress and the Commander, I think–"
"It just became necessary to visit that hospital."
"Have to check on Mirella and Caitlin. And you, Boomer, have to come along. You're my guard. And besides, there's a lady I think you'll enjoy meeting."
Was it the way she'd said it, that Lydia should be his aide? Had Lydia said or implied something to Elizabeth that the Starchild was in favor of? Did the Leader have some purpose of her own that she wanted to encourage a closer relationship? Philip had looked at the security commander as a female, but never with any consideration that she and he be anything more than fellow officers.
The humans considered her attractive, he knew – there was something about her combination of facial features, hair and eye color, well-filled body, and way of moving that drew the attention and raised the sexual interest of human males. Under the human disguise, she was equally attractive to Sirian males. Philip had seen her before the Earth invasion. Her body was slim and sinuous; human style hipswing was nothing compared to the way she could move when unencumbered by their necessary disguise. The delicate green of her mouth and jawline, the tilt and fire of her golden eyes, the iridescent hues of color in the smooth, even scaling of her body under Homeworld's day... He found himself wondering how brilliantly her crest would purple in mating ritual, how deeply her nails would score in the combat of passion-frenzy, how she would taste and smell when ripe for the joining, the whiplash of two bodies on sand or stone...
Some part of his mind reminded him he was on duty. Lydia was a fellow officer, not a pleasure toy to be recalled with fond arousal. Except for that one party, and the implications of her gratitude after he saved her brother, she had always behaved with propriety for her rank and his. He had to disregard her actions where Diana was concerned; that was personal feud, and common enough. He surreptitiously smoothed his ruffled hair. No one was in the hall to notice; another moment or two, and his body would cease betraying him.
"Inspector General?" Lydia came down the corridor, framed in golden sunlight from the window at its end. "Has the Leader made her wishes known?"
"She has. The Leader will return to Homeworld for a proper ceremony of Investiture, and a call for the Hunt. Commander Lloyd prepares for the journey."
He saw pride in the female's carriage. "And the fleet?"
"I do not know how she will split the fleet. I'm sure some of our mother ships will accompany her, but a few will remain in this system, for Earth's defense and continued negotiation with the humans. You and I will be remaining with them, you as security chief, and I, in my role as Inspector General and one familiar with our codes and customs, to speak with the humans."
He saw her deflate as if from a blow to the belly. To be left behind from such a voyage and the following events among their people was almost a defeat, a mark of disfavor.
"After Investiture and the Proclamation, she will return to Earth for our reports."
"Return?" Lydia was puzzled, then her eyes opened wider. "We are her Wardens?"
"We are." From abandoned dishonor to trusted glory. To be Warden was to stand for the Leader and all the People, living symbols. As Raman had been, long before. As both John and Pamela had been, during the invasion of Earth, before Diana's assassinations. Diana herself had never been so titled.
Lydia fell into step beside him. "And then?"
"I don't know. I doubt if our young Leader has planned further than that. War, I suspect."
"We will do our duty."
"Of course." Another thought occurred to him. "Ah, word came from the New York Mother Ship a few minutes ago. Commander Adama has spoken to the human United Nations forum, and they have agreed to release our hostages, now that the meeting will be aboard their Galactica, and with the other circumstances of the Leader's return and Diana's captivity. They will be restored to us as soon as arrangements can be made, perhaps tomorrow."
"Nigel...?" He almost saw her spirits soar with relief as the last of her worries vanished.
"Yes." An idea from elsewhere nudged his mind. "Perhaps we could celebrate the successful conclusion of our current duties with dinner this evening, and plan our future courses of action? I could arrange a special meal – I believe there are some very tender hamsters in the commissary, and certain other delicacies are available in the right quarters..."
"I could arrange the meal, Inspector," she interjected, smiling. "I am not so much the officer or so little the female that I can't plan a simple menu."
"Ah, but your responsibilities just now are greater than mine. I have several bottles of Homeworld vintage that I believe we might open for such an occasion, and I suspect carrying them from the mother ship to your quarters would cause comment. Shall we meet in my chambers?"
"I am honored, Philip. And now, as you reminded me, I have duties..."
There was something in her smile and the sparkle in her eyes that made him eager for the evening. Yes, Lydia was pleased about her brother's release, and the singular honor the Leader had bestowed upon them, but there was something else, too, an excitement... Philip suddenly discovered he couldn't stop thinking about her.
"Lydia, Lydia, oh have you seen Lydia, Lydia the tattooed lizard..."
The off-key song echoed weirdly through the stone hall. If Lydia had been human, or less elated at the current situation, she would have flushed furiously. As it was, her eyes narrowed, and she followed the sound to its origin, in one of the Embassy parlors.
It was Murdock, Smith's man. Her entrance was noted; the others had the grace to look abashed, but the lunatic Murdock only grinned saucily.
"Lydia, Lydia," he warbled again.
"Murdock!" Hannibal Smith shushed him, then sent a casual leer of his own her way. "Hi. Come to say good bye?"
"And why would I say good bye? Are you leaving? What a pity." Her cool tone said completely otherwise.
"Well, your Leader's going back to your Homewhatchacallit world..."
"And you assumed I would be accompanying her?" Lydia smiled with assumed lightness. "Actually, the Leader has appointed me to stand as Warden for the People. I suspect I shall be here for a long time."
Murdock and the other two looked distinctly disappointed, but for some reason, Hannibal only grinned the wider.
Uncertain if she'd won or lost the round, Lydia nodded slightly and turned to the door.
Murdock tried a new tack. "We're off to see the lizard..."
She glanced back coolly, and found a condescending smile. "Off, at least, as even your friends proclaim. And while I do not know the song, I think off-key is also fitting." She retreated triumphantly, knowing from Hannibal's genuine laughter that one human, at least, respected her.
Athena tried to rest, as per the doctors' suggestions, but someone disturbed her nap. There was a man at her door. She wasn't sure she wanted to see Apollo, but he stepped into the room despite her hesitancy. Once there, he didn't seem to know how to proceed, either. He reached a hand to touch her neck and pushed back the forward-combed hair. He couldn't help wincing at the color and feel of the green scaling. The gesture angered her; the alien pregnancy had come between her and her family and friends.
"Are you ashamed of me for it?" she demanded.
He finally looked her in the eye, and she saw a glimmer of tears. "No. How could I be?"
"An alien child, by one of them. Starbuck won't get near me; I haven't seen Father; the others look nervous when I'm around. They can't stop looking at my throat. I can see them wondering what it looks like under my collar, under my hair. It's like I've been tainted with something terrible."
"An alien child. Diana wanted that from me, too. I'm as tainted as you are. I shared a bed with that Serina for several ... weeks. I thought she was my wife," he stated simply without going into details she could deduce for herself; it was her turn to shudder. "How could I say anything about your having a Visitor lover once, when there was nothing you could do about it...?"
"Lover?" she repeated angrily.
"All right." He swallowed. "Rapist is a more fitting word. And I was responsible for your being a prisoner."
"Yes, you were." She was almost rude, but her voice softened almost at once. "You were drugged, too, brainwashed, Julie told me. That creature used us both. I ... don't really blame you, I guess. I just don't know how to react, it's not something I ever thought about. I don't like my condition."
"There's really nothing anybody can do? Not us or the Visitors or the Terrans?"
She shook her head. "It would kill me. So I'm stuck with it."
"I know..." Impulsively, she hugged him, and felt his arms tighten around her shoulders in response. Somehow there was no longer anything awkward about her brother's presence. They each understood what the other had gone through, and even if nobody else knew or understood, brother and sister could depend on each other, as they always had.
"Well," she asked a moment later, "how are the others? Mirella and Caitlin?"
"Oh, they're both fine. Caitlin's being released today, and Mirella should be out in a few more days."
"That's wonderful. They're very special people."
"You're not the only one who thinks so. My ever-present and faithful companion Boomer took one look at Mirella, and didn't come back with me. He muttered something about later..."
A sudden breeze stirred the curtains. Both glanced toward the window; Athena gasped and pulled back, while Apollo went for his weapon.
It was a man in red Visitor trooper fatigues. Douglas blinked against the light, having obviously climbed in from outside. He glanced once at the male warrior and his laser, then focused his attention on the woman.
She stepped behind Apollo.
"Who is it?" he asked.
"The father," she replied flatly. She sensed her brother tensing, and for a micron was pleased that he would kill the alien.
Then he relaxed with difficulty. "What do you want?"
"To see the woman."
"To kidnap her again? To hurt her more? No."
Douglas had made no threatening gestures; Athena edged around Apollo to see him more clearly. "What do you want, Douglas? I thought you were killed at Diana's convoy ambush."
"Or hoped as much? I survived. I escaped. I came here to find you."
"Why did you want to find me?"
He stared at her, puzzled, as if he hadn't considered that question himself until that very moment.
"Turn yourself in, Douglas."
"I would be killed!"
"Then why did you risk coming here?"
There was a sound at the door, and they heard Lydia's voice. "Athena?"
Douglas jumped like a startled animal, and vanished through the curtains. Apollo would have called to the security commander to begin a search for the Renegade, but Athena suddenly caught his arm. Resting her fingers on his lips, she whispered, "Don't tell them."
He was obviously stunned, and wanted to ask why, but she'd already reached the door and was opening it to admit Lydia – and the Starchild.
"The Leader wishes to speak with you, Athena."
She studied Elizabeth, glowing an odd, gentle shade of blue. Then she nodded. "Of course."
"I'll see you later, Apollo."
So summarily dismissed, he had no option but to leave the room. Lydia followed, leaving Athena alone with the Leader.
Elizabeth studied her calmly, then raised a hand to touch her throat. "So you keep the child."
"I have no choice." Athena endured the surprisingly warm touch tracing the green band.
She nodded slowly. "I fear that is so. But when she is born, what then?"
"I don't know."
"I am leaving Philip and Lydia here. And Julie, too, had a hand in my rearing. She knows how to help you. Heed their advice. They will help see your daughter safely to her very early adulthood."
Athena took Elizabeth's hand. "From everything I've heard, our reactions have been different from your ... from Terran reactions. We are stronger, we tire less quickly. But our bodies react differently to drugs. There will undoubtedly be other differences. How can you be sure everything will be all right?"
The Starchild closed her eyes; the blue aura intensified. Then she smiled. "It will be all right. Raise the girl until I return. Trust the ones I leave with you. If you do not want her, I will take her..."
"I'll keep my daughter, thank you,"Athena replied with more spirit than she'd shown in days, surprising even herself. "Diana meant to use me as a breeding machine, and I won't let you do the same. I'll keep my child – whatever she turns out to be. And I suspect Salik and Cassie, who are familiar with my medical history, will do an excellent job of delivering my baby."
"So be it." Elizabeth smiled. "A willful people, and strong. Our alliance will hold against the Cylons. Raman and Kobol will be the poles of strength. Thank you, Athena."
Then Elizabeth exited, leaving the Colonial to wonder what she meant.
Security Commander Lydia and Captain Apollo waited in the hall. After a few moments, the Leader came out of Athena's quarters. "She will rest now. Be there when she needs you, Captain," the strange woman said distantly. Apollo stared after her as she gestured to Lydia and walked away. The trooper followed.
"There is another of the Renegades in the gardens below. Lieutenant Douglas, from the Los Angeles Mother Ship, communications division. See to his capture at once."
If she was surprised at the knowledge or the order, it didn't show. "I will. Shall he be disposed of privately or kept for public trial?"
Her expression was enigmatic. "Keep him alive, and uninjured. There will be no public trial for him. Athena would prefer it that way."
Lydia was surprised when he surrendered without a fight.
The Visitor Embassy holding cells were all but emptied at Elizabeth's command. Many of the Renegade prisoners were transferred to the Leader's Mother Ship, where Commander Lloyd saw to their incarceration. Several were handed over to Earth authorities for various specific crimes against humanity. A few simply left and were not heard from again. Only four remained: Diana, Douglas, James, and Juliet. As most of them were not on speaking terms with each other, and the guards were careful not to converse in their prisoners' hearing, the long room was silent.
When Lydia came for them, she took Diana, James, and Juliet, leaving Douglas in his cell. She ignored Diana's deadly hiss as her wrists were chained and a small mouthpiece fitted over the venom pits in her palate. The gag wouldn't keep her from speaking, but it would prevent her from spitting poison. The other two put up no resistance; their strategy was obedience.
Douglas waited tensely. The security commander ignored him., but ordered the room guards out as she left. Astonished, they obeyed. The door sealed behind him, and he was left completely alone. He heard a quiet hiss beyond the walls, which quickly died as the air circulation system shut off, and realized the holding area was completely airtight against the outside world.
From a blank wall where no door had been a moment before, two women entered. One, the blonde in the low-cut pink robe, was Elizabeth Maxwell, the Starchild, the Leader. The other, the nervous brunette in a tightly-fastened, hooded Colonial dress, was Athena.
He waited, unable to take his eyes from the dark-haired woman.
"This is him?" Elizabeth asked quietly.
Athena nodded mutely.
"Do you wish his death?"
"I..." she started, then fell silent again.
He wondered if they would simply leave again. Tightly sealed, and without the circulation system functioning, he would slowly suffocate over a period of days in the ever-more stale and poisonous air.
The Starchild produced a small vial, and handed it to Athena. The vial was half-filled with a powder the color of a Visitor uniform. Douglas stiffened, knowing.
"This is live Red Dust," Elizabeth informed them both. "It is what my mother used to kill my father. Athena, if you wish, you may use it to kill the one who fathered an unwanted child. The room is sealed – the powder will not affect anyone outside this room. The Red Dust does affect humans in such a limited dosage, for such a short time. Nor will it affect me. It will become dormant in a day or two, and the room will be flushed and heat-sterilized then. No one will know what has happened to him."
The human woman stared in horror, then shoved the small container back at her.
"It is your right."
"You cannot kill him?"
"No!" She stepped back.
"If you desire a proxy, it is allowed. Shall I open the vial?" She lifted it, rested a finger on the seal.
Athena grabbed it away.
"Do you wish him to live?"
She nodded, not trusting her voice.
"For your sake, or your child's?"
"I don't know..."
"So be it." Elizabeth studied Douglas sadly. "I never knew my father. I knew what he was, what he had done to my mother. I saw him die, and heard my mother laugh. But I never knew him. Humans raised me, humans at war. I was raised to fight against half of my heritage, to see my own kind as dreadful aggressors and brutal, treacherous invaders. Willie tried to teach me a peaceful way, but it took Philip to show me what my people could be, that our culture had produced beauty as well as violence, kindness as well as brutality. Philip..."
She drew a decisive breath. "He lives, Athena, at your will. If you want him, he is yours. Otherwise, I will find a place to exile him. But he will live." She turned away.
Athena stepped closer, finding Douglas's eyes locked on hers as if mesmerized.
"Your scent," he murmured. "It is still the same ... and your taste lingers in my senses... How can a human affect me so?"
The woman shook herself. "Probably because your life is in my hands and you know it."
Athena fled before he could say anything more.
The three prisoners stood in the circles before the judges, their hands chained to the railing. The male stood between the females. Although it felt cold as ice from their personal enmity and the hatred from every direction, the chamber was hot, lit with reddish light. Sand crunched underfoot. It was the same room where the Dusk-Hunt had been called, and it appeared the same, but the feeling was very different.
Inspector General Philip sat on one side of the main throne, silently watching; if not for Elizabeth, the matter would have been his to conduct. Security Commander Lydia held the position on the opposite side of the throne. Several other Visitors were ranged beyond them, including representatives of several of the mother ships and the supreme priest from the Visitor fleet. Commander Lloyd of the Leader's Mother Ship waited behind the throne. Several humans sat or stood behind the aliens, sweltering and uncomfortable in the heat and light. Their tense conversations never rose above low whispers.
One of the Visitors made the humans additionally uncomfortable; one look from the yellow-eyed, cat-irised female, and they drew away from her. Lydia leaned back to speak to Michelle. "Your aide forgot her eyes today."
The Toronto representative pushed back mahogany hair and smiled sweetly. "Lucinda never wears them. She feels they distort her sight in combat," was the light response.
Lydia's own eyes narrowed, recalling the female's reputation. She almost spoke again, but at that moment the Leader arrived, alone, and took her place on the center stone. Elizabeth studied the prisoners, her face unreadable. She dismissed the mated Renegades apparently without a second thought, focusing on Diana.
Diana couldn't meet that look.
"Diana," Philip announced solemnly, "you are charged with multiple acts of treason against the Sirian people, with the murder of the Leader, and with numerous crimes against the human species. Have you anything to say to this court before judgment is passed?"
It was the same as at Lydia's trial after Charles's murder; there was no real question of acquittal, innocent or guilty. A decision had already been made. At this point, honor demanded silence. She kept it.
Philip's attention passed over James to Juliet. "Juliet, you are charged with attempted murder against the Leader and others, and with numerous crimes against the human species. Have you anything to say to this court before judgment is passed?"
The scientist stared at the floor and trembled.
The blond male next to her stiffened as he realized he had no stake in this trial; his destiny was decided, and it would not be stated here. That could only mean he would be turned over to the humans, to face their punishment. He glanced over the watching Visitors and Terrans. His eyes halted for a moment on the Toronto representative, but moved on. Julie Parrish wouldn't meet his eyes; her wrathful attention was on his mate. One human, with dark eyes and a brooding aura, watched him closely. James recognized him, and the two who flanked him. It could only mean he was being returned to–
Elizabeth leaned toward Philip, and he unexpectedly spoke again, addressing Juliet.
"Do you still claim mate-right?"
Juliet stared for a moment, then turned slowly to look at James, studying him for a long moment. Knowing his life was in her hands, that he could share whatever was in store for her or endure whatever fate the humans concocted for him, his eyes were hard. Diana moved restively, but both ignored her. Finally Juliet nodded, as if hypnotized.
"I claim mate-right. Let he who is mine share my fate."
Philip finally focused on him. "Has Juliet the right to such a claim?"
"She has the right; she is my mate."
"Do you accept her claim, and accept her fate if the Leader so grants?"
If she were condemned to death, he would die with her. It was better than facing "justice" at the hands of his human enemies. "May the Leader be merciful, and let our fates be one."
"The Leader grants it. May judgment be passed."
Elizabeth finally rose. "We are at war," she began quietly. 'These females are scientists. Their knowledge is valuable, and they have already proven they are capable of much. They are ... useful. They are therefore handed into Security Commander Lydia's custody, to work with Science Frontiers and the Toronto Mother Ship for the defense of this system and its peoples – all its peoples. As Juliet claims mate-right, it is granted that James will accompany her." Her eyes bored into the astonished trio, and she had to speak above cries from the stunned human witnesses. "They must take the Oath. If it is violated, let the traditional punishment be dealt to them, that they be sealed alive with the bodies of their victims, to perish as time allows."
As this sank in, Julie Parrish and some of the others looked revolted, but the prisoners seemed to have expected worse.
The rest of the Visitor version of a trial was quickly over, and the room emptied.
Outside, Lydia caught up with Michelle again. "Is Lucinda to be in charge of security while Diana is aboard your mother ship?"
"Lydia is my personal bodyguard," Michelle replied off-handedly. "Ship's Security Chief Daniel will be responsible for them."
"I understand James is kin to you."
The other officer's gaze traveled slowly over her face. "Traitors are kin to none. Do you question my loyalty?"
Lydia knew her own dueling abilities. But seeing the silent Lucinda tense, she knew who she would face if she pressed the issue. And truly, she had no quarrel with either woman, worth killing or dying for. She found a smile. "As you say, traitors are kin to none."
"Father?" a hesitant voice asked.
Adama turned to see Athena in the doorway, looking as timid and frightened as her voice had suggested. He felt a pang of guilt; he'd been so busy with arrangements for the great council that he hadn't had time to see her or Apollo, and they were both still recovering from... He shook off the thoughts.
"Athena, come in, child."
"If you're not busy..." She moved into the room, eyes and face downcast.
"No, most of the preparations are complete, and Inspector General Philip and Siress Tinia are seeing to the final details at both ends. Is there something troubling you?"
She stared at him, obviously on the verge of tears. "I thought you knew. Didn't Dr. Salik tell you...?"
He finished quietly. "That my daughter is pregnant, by an alien, and there is nothing he can do about it. Yes, he told me."
"Is that why you haven't come to see me? Are you ashamed of me?"
He started. To conceal it, he stepped next to her and raised her chin in his hand – unwittingly revealing the green band staining her neck. She jerked away. Her too-visible pain hurt.
"I've been busy, too busy. I've neglected you, I'm afraid. I didn't realize how much you needed me there. Athena, you have never shamed me, you or Apollo. I have always been proud of you, I want you to know that. I'm afraid it is old habit, putting duty first, even when it's not necessary. But don't ever fear that I would walk away when I knew you needed me. I will be there for you."
Her tension eased, and she leaned into his arms.
"Have you decided what to do?" he asked, a moment later.
"I'll keep it. That's what I told Elizabeth. If it turns out like her, Dr. Parrish will know what to do. If not, I don't have much choice anyway. But I want to go away for a while, where nobody knows, and I can rest, and think."
Adama wished there was more he could do for his children. For now, he just held his daughter closer.
Julie Parrish stared around the office she hadn't seen in what seemed forever. It was good to be back home. Her white lab coat hung over the chair. She picked it up, then put it down. Juliet had worn it, while running Science Frontiers at Diana's command. She would never wear this coat again. She opened her top desk drawer, and found her old wire-rims where she'd left them. She picked up the glasses lovingly; the Visitor had never touched them. Perching them on the tip of her nose, she strolled back into the empty hall.
Science Frontiers was still silent, although she knew it would be bustling again in a few days. The human scientists were coming back, after the place had been reclaimed from the token Visitor force. A few of her people were already on duty, cleaning and gearing up for new efforts – Murray Bozinski, California Jones, two or three others. She signed. War again, when they'd hoped to leave it behind...
But now, they wouldn't be alone. The Visitors were working with them – even Diana and the other scientist, both currently aboard the Toronto Mother Ship. And Colonial scientists and engineers like Wilker and Shadrack were making themselves at home, too, with their star-brought technology and techniques. The Toronto Mother Ship was supposed to open its computer library and facilities to them before the Leader's Mother Ship returned to Homeworld. Several Colonial research vessels were computer-linked with Earth, working with Humanidyne as Science Frontiers would be working with the Visitors.
What a tremendous future they could have–
She turned at the tentative voice, and saw the Starchild.
"Elizabeth," she greeted her fondly. Mike and Kyle had been worried about her, but Julie thought the young woman looked fine, if somewhat reserved, considering what she had recently gone through, and what she was becoming.
"Do you have a moment?"
She scanned the empty hall and nodded. "Of course, Elizabeth. What is it?"
"The Galactica talks begin in a day, and we will be leaving soon after. I wanted a chance to say good bye to you..." She was being too formal.
Julie pulled the girl into a hug. "We'll miss you, Elizabeth, you know that. You're facing a lot of responsibility for one so young and inexperienced."
"Oh, Julie..." She suddenly seemed to crumple, leaning her head on the older woman's shoulder, fighting for control. "I ... I... You've been so good to me ... I'm frightened, I don't want to leave you now..."
"Honey, if you really don't want to..."
"But I have to." Still clinging, she drew a shuddering breath and looked up. "Not much time for tears, with a war to fight. Philip is staying here, and Lydia, to lead our ... my forces, the Visitors. But Philip is a jurist, and Lydia is a soldier, not a warleader, not yet. I think ... I think the Colonial commander is someone they will listen to, and I think he can guard this world better than any of ours, just now ... he knows the Cylons... Listen to him, and..."
"Hush, honey. You're babbling. We'll get by. We'll fight. Will you be okay?"
She smiled brightly. "Oh, yes. Lloyd will teach me more, and I'm taking Willie and Thelma to stand by me. When I feel the fire too brightly, they'll remind me of Zan, and I won't be lost in battle-hunger. And the warcouncilors of Homeworld will stop me from making too many mistakes with our strategy. Knowing you're waiting here will remind me to come back. I want to come back, to you and Mike and Kyle and Mother and all my friends..."
"You will, Elizabeth." She stroked the young woman's hair, whispering soothingly. Elizabeth was still little more than a child, only a few years old in real time, forced into a terribly important position. She was coping as best she could. Mike and Kyle were just paranoid.
"Hey, Colonel! You're him, right?"
Tigh looked up at the call. It was one of the Earth pilots who was now serving as honor guard for members of the Terran delegation. He was a dark-haired young man with a devilish grin. Another man walked with him, a blond with close-cropped hair and a definite attitude.
"Depends on which 'him' you're looking for," he replied with some stiffness.
"The one who's responsible for setting up the program at Miramar."
For some reason, he felt relieved. "That's me. What do you want?"
"I used to be an instructor there. Thought you might like a little help."
"Are you volunteering?"
"Thought I might."
Tigh sized him up. He seemed competent enough. And from what he recalled, those who taught at Miramar Academy were mostly graduates of the special programs there, men who had been tops in their classes. He knew he could do worse than to have such a man participating in the set-up of the new flight training program. "You'll have to go through our qualifiers yourself, you know."
The instructor's grin widened. "No problem."
"You sound very sure of yourself."
"I've heard pilots are supposed to be confident, even egotistical."
"Some more than others," the second Terran muttered.
Tigh ignored it. "If you pass, I'd certainly appreciate your assistance and familiarity with the current programs and performance standards."
"Good. I'll see you after the meeting." He spoke to his companion as the two moved away from the colonel. "And then I can get back to teaching. You should come, Ice. A few things you still have to learn..."
"Mav, the only thing you have to teach me, I don't want to learn."
"Not yet, but keep talking..."
Tigh realized their banter was rapidly sliding off into the obscene. He couldn't catch the exact meaning of it all, but some things needed little explanation. Having women at the Colonial academies hadn't kept such talk out of the dormitories or everyday life, and there was a special comradery between pilots that sent a wave of nostalgia crashing through him. It had been long since his own yahrens at the Academy, less long since he'd flown regularly. But suddenly, Colonel Tigh felt he'd come home to what he was always intended to do.
Apollo watched the assembly from the doorway. He'd never seen so many chairs and tables stuffed into the gymnasium, each with its own languatron – translation equipment. And the main body from the Earth United Nations – its Security Council, or some such – was in a separate chamber, the Council Chamber, with the Colonial Quorum and Visitor Leader and her people, visible on massive vidscreens on two walls. It was an impressive group, with representatives from almost every arbitrary nation-state on the planet. Most wore the toughened expressions and guarded wariness grafted into the species from the yahrens ... years spent in war against the Sirians. They'd taken well the knowledge that their war had really just begun, that an equally deadly foe was not far off among the stars. That their former enemies now stood with them could not be easy to assimilate, but the tolerated presence of several Visitors among the delegations said they were willing to try cooperation.
He sighed sadly. They had hoped for so many things, and it all came down to one inescapable fact. The war continued. But maybe with the Colonials, the Terrans, and the Visitors together, it would have a more positive future.
At any rate, if one could judge from the Terrans present, they were prepared to fight tooth and nail to continue holding their world – as the Visitors would undoubtedly fight tooth and claw. Apollo found an unexpected smile.
The next speaker in the chamber caught his attention as she rose and took her place at the podium. She was a black woman with the language and accent of the United States, the nation-state he'd had opportunity to investigate firsthand. Elegant features, he thought, though middle age had filled out what must have been a very attractive figure. He saw the attention focused on her, and realized she must be an influential, well-known person.
"Ladies and gentlemen," she began, "most of you know me, and you know my interest in space travel, and in the future of our planet and our peoples. I hope that will not prejudice you against what I have to say, for I have thought about it long and hard. I hope you will consider, equally deeply, what I now have to say.
"I suspect there is no question, despite the generous offers of our Visitor ... friends, that we will be placing first priority on familiarizing ourselves with the culture and technology of our brothers and sisters from the Colonies, including and at this point concentrating on their military hardware..."
She hesitated, glancing around her. There were nods of agreement and some applause as the speech was translated for everyone present. On the screen showing the Quorum chamber, the members of the Security council likewise expressed agreement. The Visitor Leader seemed quite at ease with their opinion, although some of her people showed consternation.
Satisfied, the woman continued. "Then it would seem our first action must be the construction of vessels capable of patrolling our star system and protecting our planet; we cannot, after all, expect to be safe here while leaving the stars open to whoever warps by..."
There were assorted chuckles. Apollo saw several individuals muttering to others, apparently explaining something that wasn't stated outright in her words; he wondered what it was.
"And we can hardly expect our Colonial friends to risk their lives so we may cower here..."
Several men and women glanced at Apollo and the other warriors scattered around the room among the delegates. He almost looked away; risking his life was what he'd always done, and if called upon, he would continue to do so, whatever the humans decided. He saw his father on one of the screens; the gray veteran was sitting very erect, very calm, the image of dedication and pride. He wondered briefly what codes and customs the Terrans honored and lived by; he hadn't had time to study their laws...
"So it seems to me that we must begin building battlestars of our own."
Approval rippled forth again, in cheers, claps, raised-fist salutes, other gestures and calls the Colonials were less familiar with.
"To this body, then, I would like to offer a suggestion for the naming of the first battlestar, and hope you will all consider it well..." She took a deep breath, looking taller and straighter. The audience leaned closer; some suddenly smiled as if illuminated.
"There was a ship, a vessel of the United States, which fought the Visitors in the early days of the first invasion and resistance. Her captain refused to surrender when attacked, and a mother ship sank her. We remembered that day, all of us. She was a symbol to the Resistance, a rebel, she went down fighting. We know the handful of survivors who came back. Remember them..."
Apollo almost sighed in exasperation. The Terran audience was obviously recollecting the incident she referred to, but for someone like him, with little knowledge of Earth's history, recent or long-past, this was frustrating. She was mistress of the audience now, and they followed her speech quite willingly, but he knew these oratorical techniques, and wished she would get to the point.
"There was another Earth vessel, designed to leave our surface, to 'slip the surly bonds of Earth and touch the face of God,'" she continued, her voice a song of glory, lyrical and full of emotion demanding response, dropping in the next moment to a heart-wrenching dirge or tribute. "One of her design died, with her crew, but she still waits, flightless, a symbol of what we wanted to be, and where we wanted to go..."
Her words brought a lump to his throat; he saw tears, and wondered what memories they brought to these humans.
"And, if you remember, our first shuttle was named for another ship, one that never flew except in our imaginations, a vessel named for others in the past, to be an ideal and a symbol, and a goal for humanity, as we stretched our arms to the sky and reached out..." Her own voice quavered.
"There are many names we could give a ship, a battlestar, and I fear we will need every name for the war that's coming. But let the first be a symbol and a dream, a plea, a tribute, a reminder of what we wanted to accomplish, and where we wanted to go. Let us remember all the ones who fought, and reached, and were willing to explore and pay the price...
"Name the first battlestar Enterprise."
Without waiting for a response, she sat down.
Apollo heard a husky voice beside him whisper, "Right on, Nichelle."
From the others in the room, he heard nothing for a long moment. Then he saw tears, and heard small conversations, people exchanging comments, smiles, handclasps. It was the same as when his father had spoken to the gathered survivors after the Destruction, promising them a dream. His vision blurred, and he couldn't see anything else. But he heard the scattered applause that built to a deafening crescendo as the representatives of the nations of the world accepted the suggestion.
Earth's first battlestar would be Enterprise.
He turned away, and bumped into one of the Earth pilots. Blinking, he saw the young man's proud smile, and the determination in every line of his erect carriage. A shiver ran down his spine, followed by an incredible joy and calm certainly. Earth's future was written in that body. This youth was what would stand between the Cylons and this planet, this people. The Visitors would fight, too, but the spirit that had held against aliens for so long would stand with or without them.
Earth would survive. He was sure of it.Epilogue
Howard K. Smith
As the last fireworks display burned into darkness, the enigmatic face of the American Statue of Liberty faded into the shadows of the starry night, obscured for a moment until the island's lighting system switched into blazing life. Leaving the Independence Day celebration, the network switched back to the commentator. Howard K. Smith stared out through the camera, reaching humans all over the world and in the Fleet above the planet.
"And the decisions of the gathering aboard the Galactica have filled the world with hope and pride. We face a long war, and the new enemy is as vicious as the old. But we stood against the Visitors, with whatever weapons we could find, against all odds. We will stand against the Cylons, and we will survive.
"Our engineers and designers are already pouring over the blueprints and specifications of the Colonial vessels. They will undoubtedly produce variations in the Galactica's original design, to accommodate both changes in Colonial technology and expertise since she was built, and to meet our own particular needs and expectations, but Earth is grateful to accept what our Colonial brethren have offered so freely. Soon, we will reach for the stars, and while the purpose must be militarily defensive, our dreams are of a better future.
"The delegates have agreed that the first battlestar to be commissioned will be the Enterprise, to remember the men of the United States aircraft carrier of that name, lost in the war, and as a tribute to the ideals espoused by an old American television program known world-wide and obviously well-remembered. Every nation in the world has expressed a willingness to contribute to her construction. Miramar base in California will soon begin pilot training classes, under the experienced hands of the Colonial fleet instructors and her finest warriors. Miramar – America's Top Gun Academy – is accepting applicants for those classes from every nation in the world. This will be a global struggle, and we must all be part of it.
"The Enterprise will be followed, of course, by other battlestars. We have already received confirmation from the British, the Russians, the Japanese, and the Scandinavian bloc. Enterprise, which will carry the name and number of her fictitious counterpart, will be joined by the Prince of Wales, the Yamamoto, the Oktober Revolution – which has already been granted the call number 1917 – and the Hammer of Thor.
"We are still waiting for word from the French, the Germans, and other nations expected either to build their own vessels, or to join with their neighbors for this world's defense.
"In other news, one of the Visitor mother ships, that commanded by Lloyd and carrying the new, half-human Leader, moved out of Earth orbit this evening, and will soon be leaving our system. We send our best wishes and hopes with Elizabeth Maxwell.
"And now for some commentary...
"It seems a dream of an eternity ago, that our planet would be so committed to one cause, would stand together. The feeling of unity and strength around this world tonight is almost palpable in the very air. We could only wish it would be for peace, but alas, that is not so. There is another struggle to be waged first.
"We go now to prepare for war. May we stand as one, and stand true and firm. From here in New York, on planet Earth, our prayers and best wishes be with you all, wherever in this world or system you may be.
"Now I must repeat, with heavy but hopeful heart, what I had hoped I would never have to say again when the end of this unasked-for confrontation seemed within our grasp.
"That's the state of the war tonight..."