Galactica History:

From Kobol To The Colonies

By Sharon Monroe

Copyright 1994. Used with permission.

This was originally published by a Galactica fanzine called Clean Slate Press. Stories from the fanzine era were better because much more effort was put into the writing and editing. For more novels like this, check out my profile for more info.

"Exodus"

In the beginning:

And this is the Book of the Lords of Kobol, the story of their wisdom and the days of their rule from the time of its beginning, and how that rule came to an end. This is the truth of their vision. Heed it well, sons and daughters of ancient Kobol, and learn what the past can tell to those with eyes to see and ears to hear.

For we are not of Kobol alone, but that is a truth from another time and place, and is not meant to be written here. It is enough that you know we are not alone, and why.

I

Kobol was a dying world.

Her people were happy enough. The world was fruitful, supplying all their needs. They were reaching for the stars, yearning to see what might lie beyond their own system, but always knowing this was the place to which they would return - Kobol, world of wonder, beauty, mystery; world of thirteen tribes of humanity. Other humans might lie scattered elsewhere in the universe, but they had ceased to matter to the children of Kobol.

But humanity was in danger. The star that had sustained Kobol and given her life for all the billions of yahrens of her existence was becoming unstable. There were subtle changes in its radiation spectrum, dangerous changes that boded disaster for its planet. The star wouldn't reach its next evolutionary phase for millions of yahrens, but soon its changes would alter both the world and her people. Mutations, extinctions - anything was possible. Perhaps Kobol would become uninhabitable. Her assorted scientists couldn't predict what direction the human species might take if they continued to dwell on the planet they called the world of their birth.

The radiation shifts would eventually pass, and the star would stabilize. But for the next few millennia, it would be dangerously wild.

And the star might not be Kobol's greatest danger. Her children, the humans, were numerous, and they required a great quantity of resources to sustain them. It was foreseeable that Kobol could not continue to feed and supply her children, careful though they be. They could gain much from trade and expansion through nearby star systems; but, eventually, their numbers would exhaust their world. Perhaps it was time for them to become wanderers.

The ruler of the human tribes considered all this as he looked out his window at the brilliantly lit city spread below him. From his high tower, he could see to the farthest reaches of Kobol's capital. Fair Eden, so beautiful at night - a gleaming diadem of light, challenging the stars beyond the Void for brightness.

Sagan, ninth Lord of Kobol, knew there were people awake in the city, wondering and questioning their lord's motives. He had called a Council not long before, and the men and women of the Great Families who formed that Council had gathered. Soon, he would have to face them, and tell them.

Sagan had thought it best to keep his fears secret until he reached a decision. Ever since the dreams began, he had studied the possible future of Kobol, with the help of every scientific discipline at his disposal - and some of the unscientific as well. All the intellectual and mystical resources of the planet were at his call, bound to secrecy at his wish.

Finally, Lord Sagan had made a choice - as he saw it, the only choice for his world. But would his people believe, and accept? Could they put forth the mighty effort it would require?

"Father?"

Sagan turned to see his oldest son standing at the door. Young Adam would one day follow his footsteps as Lord of Kobol, the tenth lord. Only a title, perhaps, with no meaning, since there would be no Kobol to ward and guard and care for. But perhaps on a new world...

"The Council is waiting, my lord. And the media are getting edgy. I think it's time you came and made the announcement." The young man seemed preternaturally calm.

Sagan had to smile. Adam, his handsome face often brimming over with his emotions, could be so distantly formal when he felt it necessary - a hazard of their positions and duties. Sagan nodded, and started down the hall to the Council chamber, leaving the image of Eden behind. He wished the walk were longer. It would be difficult to announce to a planet's population that they were abandoning their home. He loved this world, all of it. The people were happy here. He steeled himself with the reminder that there was no real choice.

Sagan entered the ornate Council Hall, scanning ranks of men and women settled in quiet, tense discussion. Many of them were old friends, some related by marriage ties, and most were from the ancient Great Families of Kobol, the traditional rulers of the tribes. Their attention turned to him, waiting at the door, and the murmurs of conversation died. They waited for the heart-breaking decision. They'd known of his work, of the emotional struggle as he tried to pierce the veil of the future, but they'd kept silent before their people, respecting the will of Lord Sagan.

He took his place at the head of the small table at one end of the room; Adam, his heir, took the chair at his right. The representatives of the families and regions of Kobol were silent, watching from the semi-circle of seats ranged around the room. The media personnel took a few moments to move their cameras and other equipment into position. When all disturbances had died down, the ninth Lord of Kobol rose to speak.

"I will be brief. We will all have more than enough to do when this meeting is over. I will not keep you long, Councilors. I know how valuable your time is.

"You are all aware of the alarming changes our star has evinced these past few hundred yahrens. Changes on Kobol have also occurred - changes in climate and geology. I won't take the time to list these well-documented disasters. Our best advisors predict the stellar changes will continue for several millennia. They do not know if our population can survive thousands of yahrens of fluctuating radiation and its attendant effects on us. This has led to the necessity of a very serious decision, whose outcome will affect the entire future, if there is to be one, of our people.

"It is not feasible, in my opinion, to remain on this world. Our resources, great as they are, are limited, and Kobol may be incapable of sustaining life when the millennia have passed.

"It is therefore my decision, after much thought, after viewing and examining our options with care, that humanity cannot remain on Kobol. Though it will take yahrens to prepare for, and a tremendous expenditure of materials, we are going to abandon this world. Humanity will take its chances among the stars."

There was utter silence; shock spread across the surface of a world. Across the planet, all who heard the astonishing message waited with open mouths and staring eyes. All activity seemed to stop, while dazed men and women struggled to accept the awesome concept of an entire population leaving a planet. Only children couldn't sense the enormity of the decision. They watched their parents express fear and amazement, and they wondered in silence.

"Are there any questions?" Sagan asked in the deathly stillness of the Council Hall.

There were long moments of silence before an unsteady whisper, barely audible, reached him. "There is no other way?"

Sagan's voice was grave. "We have studied every option we could conceive. This is our best hope."

"How...?" continued the desperate, thin whisper of the newswoman who'd spoken.

"We have considered some of the details, and have a number of possible solutions, if you wish to hear."

Throughout the chamber, those who'd comprehended and assimilated the lord's words nodded in mute assent. Sagan glanced once at Adam, who stared at his father with an expression akin to worship. He must be right, for his people's sake, and for the sake of the young man who would be left to follow the trail he chose.

"We must turn the efforts of our people to preparing spacecraft capable of spanning half the galaxy. We don't know where we will find hospitable worlds to settle, and we may be in space for generations. We have the resources for this now; in a few hundred yahrens, we may not.

"You know, of course, that even now we do not have the resources to feed and supply our entire population for a voyage of perhaps hundreds of yahrens. Most of our ships will be sleepers. I know we haven't used them in a hundred yahrens, but they are our best - perhaps our only - hope now; and we will of course be updating them with all the technical advances we have made over this past century.

"We will not leave ourselves defenseless on this journey. Along with sleepers for over ninety-nine percent of our people, we will also have multi-generational ships, with full weaponry; there will also be full watch crews aboard the sleepers. Warriors and technicians will be awake, alert, and available constantly on all vessels. Most of us will sleep and wait, but a portion will stand guard.

"We will travel in fleet phalanxes. Perhaps we will even find several habitable worlds in close proximity. The settlement of those worlds will be the responsibility and joy of the children - our children - who will reach them. We in this room-" Lord Sagan gestured at the Council, still pale and mute in surprise "-will not survive so long."

There was little to say when Sagan was at last silent. The economy of Kobol would have to undergo many changes, and those changes would have to be examined and explained before they were implemented, but this was hardly the place for details. Whatever was necessary would be done, by Sagan's plan. Sagan was not yet an old man, and his son shared the dream. When the time came, everything would be done.

II

The yahrens passed. The will and resources of a very willful, resourceful people were turned to the future. The present didn't matter much as shock gave way to understanding and acceptance. They stripped their entire system of its resources and potential, of everything it could give that they could possibly need over a lengthy voyage. Kobol would look to the future alone and abandoned, but she gave freely to her children. Their hopes lay elsewhere.

Children grew up with the knowledge that their world would not be "home" for long. They dreamed of worlds of fantasy, where anything might be possible. They grew, learned skills that might be needed on new planets, and played games that took place on exotic worlds filled with creatures their parents had never dreamed of. It was a great adventure, and there were no limits to their imagination.

The elders watched their children grow, and sighed. Most would not reach the new world-to-become-home. Their energies were spent to assure their young of safety and hope. They wondered at their children's plans, and smiled sadly. They aged - and died. Their dreams were of an afterworld, and the past that had once been all they could ask for.

A mighty fleet formed in the vast emptiness of the Kobolian system, ships of many sizes. Most were sleeper ships, with great compartments of cryonic tubes to hold the bodies of those who would become colonists. Some were warships and supply ships, to carry the defenders and their families, who were to care for the living and maintain the lives of the sleeping. Necessary supplies filled every ship. The people were provided with sufficient stocks to enable them to survive aboard their ships for several hundred yahrens, for once they were beyond what stars they had already explored, they had no idea what they might expect to find, or how long they might have to travel. Their own scattered colonies would help as they could, but most were abandoning their own worlds to join the migration, for however many centuries it might be.

But the voyage was not expected to take so long. They were prepared for the worst, but they expected better. The supplies were also for the children to use to begin a new world. Everything that could be taken, would be taken. Only the past and a raped, dying planet would be left behind. If life survived there, it would be without a human touch.

A generation passed.

"You may see him, my lord," the doctor said formally.

Adam shook his head sadly. "I'm not a lord; I'll never be a lord. Father was right. I am simply Adam. The ninth Lord of Kobol is also its last." He entered the quiet room. Adam was the oldest child, the heir. His father was dying. It was his duty to hear any last words and commands.

Sagan was neither a coward nor a fool; he knew he was dying, and accepted it. He'd set all his affairs in order, and visited his friends and every member of his large family. He could face death. Now, he had only a last request for his son, the one who would lead the human race from Kobol.

Adam knelt at his father's side, heartsick at how thin, colorless, and old Lord Sagan had become in so short a time. "You summoned, lord?" There was great sorrow in his voice, but he kept it strong. The dreamer was dying, but the dream would be carried forth. Adam hoped he was strong enough to be worthy of the lord's trust. Dear Father...

"Adam." The voice was low, strained, but utterly calm. "I know I have very little time left. There is one more thing I must say, one more dream to leave on Kobol..."

Adam thought he understood. He took his father's hand. So thin, so light. Oh, Father! "We will take your body with us, wherever we go. You have earned the right to see our new home."

"No!" The old man shook his silver-white head. "That is the one thing you must not do. I would become an idol, the god of the Migration. I'm only a man, and this is my home. Bury me here; leave my bones on this world. I lived as Lord of Kobol. I wish to die and be entombed as Lord of Kobol. You will be the new lord of a new world; I belong to the old. Do not let them make me into anything more, Adam. If you love your father, let him be a man."

"Father..."

"No. I must stay here, to guide the way... You have given Cain his command?" he asked, suddenly changing the subject - and effectively settling the matter.

"Yes, as you wished." Adam wondered why this was so important to Sagan. Cain was one of his own sons, Sagan's grandson. He was still very young, and had not even been born when the decision to leave was made. Sagan had insisted Cain be given command of one of the tribes, one of the fleet, even over the objections and better claims of other, experienced commanders.

"Someday, Adam, your distant children will return here. I will be waiting, to point the way. Remember Cain, whatever you do. As I have trusted you, trust your own son, and remember him..."

"Father?"

"My son, I think... I know. It is time. Fare well, Adam. Take care of our people. Take care of them all..."

Tired old eyes faded and closed. Breathing ceased. Sagan, ninth Lord of Kobol, dreamer and seer of the future, architect of the greatest migration in the history of man, was dead.

Adam stayed alone for nearly a centar, kneeling at his father's side. He had much to do, much to consider. The fleet was ready for the migration. He had a tomb to prepare for the ninth lord. Final preparations had to be made for many things. He wanted to speak to Cain, ask what the youth knew of Sagan's wishes, what they'd discussed in their last meetings. He had so much to think about, to finish, and to begin before he could truly rest. But all that would wait. First he had to mourn the passing of his father.

When he finally rose to his feet, his knees were cramped and his back was stiff, and a headache throbbed with the memory of tears. He left the room, standing tall, his face composed, to announce there was a new lord.

Through the window, the bright star of Kobol seemed to pulse more brightly for a moment. It almost seemed that a smile creased the old man's face.

Cain, commander of the Thirteenth Fleet, stood before Sagan's tomb in the pyramid of the ninth Lord of Kobol. It was lavish, brilliantly painted and gilded after the fashion of the Great Families, designed to keep out both strangers and the elements. No one ever thought to prevent entry by a grandson with a "borrowed" key.

Two young men were with him, and the trio surveyed a new mural secretly added to the burial chamber. Tubal and Prometheus were the only ones he'd trusted to help him. They were excellent artisans, friends of his, and would be aboard one of his ships.

"It is done," Prometheus said softly. The star map and the image giving directions in a special code had been of his devising. Tubal had carried the work through, bringing it to enigmatic life in the dimly lighted crypt. The beautiful mural would be hidden for unknown ages before light would reach this deeply into the pyramid again.

Cain smiled wearily. He'd helped as much as he could in the long night, but he was a warrior, not an artist. He was of the royal house, trained to rule and fight if necessary; the intricacies of this work meant little to him. His own work wasn't over yet, but theirs was.

"Thank you both," he said. "It is lovely, and it has the message. You'd better go now. I still have something to do."

Tubal quickly gathered his tools, and with a murmured farewell to his friends, disappeared through the low stone passage. Prometheus lingered for a last look at what was undoubtedly his masterwork.

"Cain," he asked, "are you sure what you're doing is the right thing?"

"I only know what I feel," the young nobleman replied. His features were shadowed as he looked away; with dark hair and eyes, clothed in gray, he almost vanished into the dimness beyond him. "I know what my grandfather told me. This is the right thing. It may be the only thing. It feels right. I have to trust it."

Prometheus sighed, nodding, and picked up his torch. "That's enough for me, I guess. Don't forget the time, though. See you aboard the ship." He followed Tubal. Departure would begin in less than six centars.

Cain walked slowly to the burial sarcophagus. All the ankhs in the universe had no meaning to the dead man within; the power to restore the dead was beyond humanity.

On top of the stone lay the tape and the letters Cain had prepared. In the morning, he would slip the last pages into the book his grandfather had written over the yahrens. Some day, when the book was read, if the language could still be translated, someone would know to come here, and to find the way to Earth. "Earth" was the world the thirteenth tribe would seek, following a dream and writings even more ancient than the lordship. Earth was part of the heritage of Kobol; perhaps it would yet be the salvation of its children.

He picked up the top sheet and read it one more time...

I am Cain. My father is Adam, Lord of the Migration, who leads us from Eden. My grandfather is Sagan, ninth Lord of Kobol, the dreamer who sends us forth.

There are thirteen tribes, descendants of Kobol, children of humanity. Twelve of these tribes will follow my father. He expects me to do as well, but my fleet will not follow. Rather, our course will be to another world. I pray it will be as beautiful as Kobol, as shining as the planets the twelve will colonize. But we go. We must. It is our destiny...

Remember Earth. When the ancient powers gave Kobol to humanity, they also gave us another world - Earth. Our legends and writings speak of this world, and its location, and that there are humans there, brothers of Kobol. It was our knowledge of them that first called us to reach for stars we cannot even see in the dark Void around us, that taught us we were not alone. Now, by the will of the ancients, by the pain of future fate, our destiny lies there.

For I dreamed a dream so similar to my grandfather's that he declared it must be true, and gave me leave to pursue it. And so I pronounce what I know.

The children of Kobol must separate.

I dreamed I saw twelve worlds, happy, prosperous, glad to be alive. They were brave and strong, unbeaten by anything in the stars, reaching with laughter and joy and awe for the glories of the universe.

Then a silver cloud swept over them. They resisted, but fell, one by one. Their last alliance was swept aside, and the defenders died by the millions in a great war, but their lives were lost in vain. Their children died by the sword. Twelve worlds ran red with human blood, their soil soaked with human tears, their silence broken by human screams.

Only a few survived. These gathered together, under one command, one tribe for the first time in millennia. They fled across the stars, across the all but endless sea of the great Void. They returned to their home world, our world, Kobol, long still and dead.

A clue had been left for them, a clue that lay in the tomb where Lord Sagan lay. The descendants and survivors of Kobol found the clue - a clue that pointed to Earth.

I do not know if there is any way to turn aside the silver cloud of death, or why so many of our children must die in it, but it will not be the end for humanity.

We wait for you on Earth, as Lord Sagan predicted, and as do I. This dream is true. Come to Earth, my brothers and sisters! When the time has passed, come to us! We wait for you.

Cain set down the page. With all that his grandfather had written in the most ancient tongue of their world, these words should be decipherable, in time. He picked up the recorder. There were some things he was not going to write for the book. He had to leave a message for his father, and this would be the hardest thing to say.

"Father," he began, starting the tape, "since you're hearing this, you know that the thirteenth tribe has disappeared into the Void. We are not lost. We ... I ... have deliberately chosen another route.

"I had a dream of the future. You know some of our family are gifted with precognition, Father. Lord Sagan believed my dream to be a vision of the future. I can't tell you what it is, but believe me, the day will come when the colonies of Kobol will need a refuge. When that day comes, remember us.

"All you need to do is return to Kobol, to the tomb of our ancestors. I have left the route, the clues, there, to lead you to us. Lord Sagan has also given you clues, in his writings, if you can decipher them.

"I know this must be a shock to you. You're probably very angry, to lose such a portion of our people on a voyage you may not understand. But please, realize that I am doing what I have to do. If you follow, or call me a traitor, that must be your decision. But the only thing that will stop me from what I am doing is my death. If you choose to kill me, that, too, is your option, your decision. You must do what you think best for our people. I am expendable.

"Father, I can't think of anything to say that will ease the hurt you must be feeling. There probably isn't anything I could say. I'm not doing this to hurt you or anyone else. I am doing what I must.

"I love you; please know that. I love Mother and my brothers and sisters, and all our people. I would never do anything to hurt you or them unless there was no option.

"Some day...

"The planet we seek is described in the ancient writings - beautiful, blue and green and white, growing and new, the gift of some merciful power over all. Blood will call to blood. Mankind will know its own. Do not be afraid to follow our path.

"The tribe you gave me to command is, perhaps, not the best for the difficult duty I must obey. They are the wildest, most unruly group of people Kobol possesses. The thirteenth tribe, the wild ones. Perhaps we'll need to be, to survive. I don't know what lies ahead. I'll try to keep them together. It won't be easy, for you, or for us. But we'll survive, as a race. Humanity must survive.

"Father, I'm sorry. I'll never see you again. But there's nothing else I can say or do. Someday, our children will meet, and be glad for this day. Until then, good luck to you, all of you. I pray you will wish us luck as well, and give us your blessings."

There were tears in Cain's eyes as he finished the recording and switched off the tape. Duty was hard, but he could not deny the future. There was nothing more to be said.

The tape would now be smuggled aboard the flagship, into his parents' quarters. If it were discovered too soon, Adam would likely relieve him of command, and Cain would make the trip as a virtual prisoner. The true disaster, however, would be to the human race.

He left the tomb. When the last people abandoned Kobol, in a few days, the tape would be with his father. Someday, Adam would find it, and know what had happened to the vanished tribe. In the meantime, it would have to appear that they had somehow become lost in the Void. It was the easiest explanation.

Cain fingered the royal medallion around his neck, the medallion that had given him access to the tomb. It was a simple thing, but its preservation would be essential to the future ones who would return here. He suddenly felt very alone, with a heavy weight on his shoulders. He shuddered at a vision of destruction, hoping his other visions of salvation were equally true, that there was a chance. Some day...

The ships were loaded. Sleepers dreamed, suspended in their cubicles until they reached a new home or died in oblivion. Those who would be awake to see the passage of yahrens among the stars had stowed gear and settled their families, and had taken up their duties. The fleet was ready to get under-way.

Kobol lay all but deserted.

Aboard the flagship of the thirteenth tribe, Commander Cain watched the scanners intently. His was the last to begin, of his own choice. A spearhead of ships fanned out behind his, using the flagship as their navigational fix. Shortly after entering the Void, he would order the slightly skewed maneuvers that would soon take them on a completely different course than his father planned.

It would probably be several days before anyone knew they were missing. They could intercept messages and send acknowledgments of position for some time. Then they would simply cease to exist, as far as the rest of the fleet was concerned. The magnetic sea would hide their true course, and Adam couldn't be sure of their actions until that sea was far behind.

A signal came along the comm lines.

"Ready?" asked his scan officer, Athene. She was one of a small group entrusted with the secret, part of his conspiracy. He'd chosen them all carefully. It had to be held in confidence that they weren't following the rest of the fleet, at least for a time. If it became common knowledge, this proud and volatile tribe might become unmanageable; it might cost his life, his command - and their future.

With a deep breath and a desperate hope that he wasn't making a fatal mistake, Cain nodded. "Ahead full. You know the course. Make sure all ships continue to fix on us."

Athene nodded, her eyes carefully devoid of emotion, her face fully composed. She gestured the order to another officer, then turned to her own console. They began the trek to Earth, on a path no humans had followed for unremembered eons of time.

"No, Commander, my scanners are not malfunctioning! And they haven't been malfunctioning this past secton, either. We're far beyond the range of the Void. Why don't you admit it, my lord?" The term was almost a curse, spoken sneeringly. "We're not following the fleet - we're lost!"

Cain faced Captain Brent, who commanded one of the other warships - not by Cain's choosing. Brent had stormed into the briefing room, followed by half the watch captains of his fleet, and demanded an explanation. Cain realized the moment had come, and almost felt relief that the matter had been forced. It was time to explain.

"Marcus, send word through the fleet. I want to see all the watch captains here, as soon as possible. If you will sit down, Brent, I will wait until the others arrive."

The communications officer ran from the room. Unobtrusively, Athene also left. Cain let her go. Better if she were out of the firestorm to come. It would be difficult enough to explain. Although he would have appreciated her support, he could understand her wishing to be elsewhere.

Brent finally threw himself into a chair, scowling at his commander. Cain watched with an assumed air of calm. His mind was in turmoil. These were a volatile enough people in easy times. How would they react to being told they were cut off from the rest of humanity?

It was nearly a centar before the rest of the captains were assembled. Cain gathered his courage to face the men and women who guarded the sleepers. It would not be easy, not with Brent staring at him like a thunderhead, and several of the others looking dubious. The rest watched with expressions of unquestioning obedience, or awe that almost scared him. He was responsible for that, too - and worship was a thing he found hard to accept.

He spoke. "I understand there are questions about my running of this fleet. Would you care to ask them of me to my face, or are they only for muttering behind my back?"

Brent rose promptly, his expression forbidding. "Our scanners haven't picked up any ships but our own for over a secton. I demand to know what's going on."

"The Void made it difficult to keep a constant fix on anything. Perhaps its effects linger-"

"I've been on your bridge. You aren't picking up anything either. You're hiding something from us. What is it?"

Damn! Who'd allowed Brent on the bridge without his knowledge? "What are you implying?" he asked, as calmly as possible under the circumstances.

"We're lost, or deliberately led astray."

Cain was silent. Brent faced him belligerently.

Finally, Captain Vesta rose. Cain knew she was loyal to his family. "Commander, I've noticed it too. Something strange is going on in this fleet. We're your captains, for whatever reason we were chosen - ability or skill or intuition or your father's royal capriciousness. Won't you trust us with your decisions?"

He couldn't refuse such a direct request. "Very well. Sit down, Brent, Vesta."

The fiery-haired Vesta sat, but the darker-hued Brent remained standing.

"We are not following the fleet," Cain said simply.

"I knew it! We're lost!" Brent snorted.

"No, we are not lost. It was never my plan to follow them."

Cain faced disbelief and astonishment in his captains, as well as the pained, wary expressions of his senior officers.

"What have you done?" whispered Vesta.

"I don't expect you to understand, but there is a reason we aren't following the others. We have a different destiny. We will settle on another world, one called Earth. We go with the blessings of Lord Sagan."

"Sagan is dead. That's not good enough." Brent spoke through clenched teeth, coldly furious, his eyes glittering dangerously.

"I command here. I say it is good enough." Two very stubborn men locked stares.

"And how do you propose to hold us?" His captain's voice dropped to a menacing hiss.

"While you follow this fleet, you follow me. You obey me. If you choose to leave the fleet, that is your business, your choice. Or do you suggest mutiny?"

Other captains drew back with audible intakes of breath. Brent and Cain were battling for control. If Cain backed down, he might as well surrender his authority at once. He would lose control. He might not survive the day. And Brent, for his part, would never accept the loss of face from backing down.

"We're doing what is necessary for survival," Cain said finally. Not a note of pleading or disdain entered his carefully neutral voice. He had to handle this with the utmost caution.

"Dying alone in space? Traitor!" Brent spat the last word at Cain. "You're leading us to death! Why? Inflated imperial ego? Damn the lords!"

"I do what I must!" Cain snapped as shock rippled through the others.

"Then you do it alone!"

Athene reentered quietly, slipping back into her seat under cover of the argument; no one noticed.

Cain rose, turning to face the others. "Brent may well be right. I lead on the strength of a dream and an old man's last command to me. But lead I will, until death or my goal end this journey. Consider for yourselves what you feel you must do, what answer you will make for your people, for the sleepers. You can follow me - or you can turn back, and make your own way, alone or together, as you wish."

Cain stared them all down. They squirmed, eyes searching elsewhere. Taking responsibility for abandoning the exodus, against the old lord's command, was a serious decision. There was a great deal of respect in these people for the line of the Great Lords of Kobol, left from centuries of rule. Most of them would be held by the power of that respect, Cain saw.

Brent was another matter. "I will not stay. I'm turning back, going to Kobol, to try and follow the rest of the fleet, and Commander Adam. Who goes with me?"

Athene rose, as quietly and gracefully as she'd sat down. "I think you should consider other factors before making this decision. It will be more difficult than you imagine, navigating the Void."

Brent glared at her. "We have the coordinates. We know the route we've been following. We know how to return, and the course we should have been following."

"I don't think so," she replied.

"If Cain is fool enough to try to overrule a majority of us, he deserves his fate. You, too, if you stand by him."

"A mutiny will do you no good," she stated. "Cain's dream is all we have to go on, now. If he's dead, we're completely lost." Something in her tone finally penetrated the man's anger.

"What do you mean?" he demanded, deeply suspicious.

Cain's eyes widened in horror. He understood.

"I've already mutinied - against you, Brent. I erased the navigation scan tapes, and fed a pulse into the helm computers of the other ships. We can't go back, because no one has any idea where back is, except me, and I stand with Cain."

Brent's hands were around the woman's throat almost before she finished speaking. Cain tore him off her and threw him back against his chair. He stood poised to attack again, or to defend himself if it should be necessary. Brent glared at him, then at Athene, and finally around the room where the others stood, shocked and uncertain.

"I'm not following the likes of him. Anyone who wants to go with me, I'm leaving, as soon as we're ready. I may not know where we're going, or where we are, but it doesn't matter. I'm going to look for the fleet. Anyone who's with me..." The sentence was left dangling as Brent stalked from the room.

Men and women glanced covertly at each other. Suddenly, a man rose, exiting the room hastily. Another swiftly followed. Others shifted uneasily.

Cain ignored them, checking his officer. Athene was all right - only a bruise on her throat, and that would soon fade. He turned, then, to face his other people.

"It's your choice. You're all dismissed, unless you have questions or comments. Consider carefully what you will do, because it will affect your children, and their children, and perhaps your entire tribe. The choice you make today will be for life or death, maybe for eternity for all our people. Consider it well."

Slowly, they began to shuffle out. There was no conversation. They no longer seemed willing to look at one another.

Cain turned back to Athene, who stared at the floor. "Why?" was all he could say.

"They'd have killed you otherwise. Brent would have killed you and taken the fleet. It's not his right."

And do I have the right? Lord of All, what have yahrens of our rule done the people of Kobol? Cain asked himself. "Maybe," he hedged, knowing her words were true, that Brent would have tried to kill him. "But why such a desperate measure? We needed that information."

"Not as much as we need your dream, which I can share. I know what was on those tapes, and I'll help you all I can." Cain sensed a barter in her words, not quite a demand, but an offer with many possibilities. He'd never taken a wife; perhaps...

He nodded in acceptance. What the future held, they would discuss later. He looked around the room. Only Vesta remained. She'd been one of his staunchest and most loyal supporters. Had he lost her now?

"Vesta?"

"She's right, Commander. We need your dream. But when we do get to this Earth, what do you expect to find? What will you say to the tribe? They expect to join the others. They'll be alone."

"Perhaps - and perhaps not. What do you think?"

Vesta shrugged eloquently. "Some of them will be glad to be free of the shackles of the old ways. Others will be very angry. They may revile the very name of Cain. Your name may be cursed forever, by the sleepers and the guardians both, when or if we reach Earth, alone."

"I accepted that when I chose this path. I knew what it might mean."

"I understand, Cain. I follow you."

"Thank you, Vesta. What of your crew?"

"They will go with me. They are, after all, from my clan." He remembered Vesta was from one of the minor Families, related in some way to his elder brother's wife. Family loyalty was important to most of the lesser Families, whose position often depended on their interrelationships with other clans.

Cain smiled without humor. "I left my clan."

"You're the last lord we have, and you have the gift of dreams. You aren't like ordinary men and women. You have other sights, other duties, perhaps another destiny. A clan must not stand before that."

"I'm not sure that's complimentary."

"I don't know either - but it is necessary. Commander, what shall we do now?"

Cain turned to meet Athene's gray eyes. She watched him silently, her face impassive. He sensed her belief in him, and Vesta's more wary acceptance of facts. He would have to talk to them both, and depend on them. Yes, he knew in a flash of insight, he would depend on both of them very much in the future...

"I'll know in the morning, after I've dreamed."

They lost several warships, and a number of sleepers, for Brent made good his threat to leave, but the majority of the fleet remained intact. They traveled on the strength of Cain's dream, and they traveled with hope.

They found a world called Earth.

Across the stars, Commander Adam, Lord of the Migration, stared through the port across space, a tape in one hand, several sheets of actual paper in the other.

"Why, Cain? Why couldn't you tell me?"

He crumpled the letter and struck the wall with his fist. Tears ran freely, despite his anger. There was nothing he could do, no way to follow his son, no chance of contacting him and calling him back.

The twelve passed on, to their destiny.

Epilogue:

Across the yahrens, Adama, commander of the battlestar Galactica and leader of another Exodus, looked up from the Book of the Lords of Kobol, rubbing his tired eyes. He'd again read the passages that foretold the end of the Colonies, if they'd had the wisdom to look back and understand it. The passages also spoke of another planet - Earth - hidden somewhere in space, a waiting haven for weary refugees.

"You were wise, lords, to foresee this. What you must have endured, to assure our salvation...

"I pray you succeeded..."

"First Chronicles"

In the beginning:

Adam would have been the tenth High Lord of Kobol. Instead, he became the Lord of the Migration. Humanity reached for new planets to colonize; their old home rapidly became uninhabitable as their star's radiation levels fluctuated. Kobol's ecology shifted - and the humans chose to abandon their world rather than try to adapt to its changes.

Sagan began the preparations. It took a generation to build the massive ships and plan for the journey. The old lord died on the very eve of departure, and his body was buried among the pyramids of his forbears. Adam was left to take up the task he'd prepared for through the yahrens.

When he took up the dream of Lord Sagan, ninth lord and his father, Adam was still at the height of his strength and glory. Over the journey, he aged, hair growing silver and a bulge growing around his waist; wrinkles lined his face and his previously athletic steps slowed. A young wife kept his eyes turned from ultimate death, and the child she carried was proof that he was still young and virile enough to live and rule.

But the starfaring yahrens told on them all. The bulk of the population dreamed in their sleep compartments, protected by a few fast warships with three generations of Warriors, navigators, and planners. But those Warriors and planners tired, wondering if their mission would ever be concluded, if they would ever walk on worlds they could call their own again. They looked to Adam for leadership. He gave them all they asked for, although their doubts and fears haunted his dreams when he allowed himself to sleep.

Only with Eve, his second wife, who understood his soul, could he let himself relax; she was the only one who saw the man behind the mighty lord. The heritage of centuries of domination of Kobol did not intimidate her.

Lord Adam scanned the star chart made during the past centars. It was his rest period; he should have been sleeping, but he hated to leave the bridge of his flagship for any length of time. The astrophysicists pored over the sheets as well, searching for a star that might have several habitable planets. The twelve tribes, once released on a planet's surface, would soon grow, and would demand much of their world in order to recreate the society they'd known. A system of several worlds would give them room to expand, and resources to exploit.

What was equally important to Adam, even if the others didn't realize it, was that they would have to maintain their starfaring ability if they were to remain united. His greatest fear, and the most haunting terror of his dreams, was that his human descendants would forget what they had been, where they had come from, the glory they had known. He had no desire to lead them to a world they would never leave. Better to become star migrants, never settling more than a generation or two on any world!

At least we've left the blackness of the Void behind. That starless sea sapped our sanity and purpose as if it were created by some cruel being to keep us bound to Kobol, to quarantine us from the rest of the galaxy. We are long and well through that!

Smooth, slender fingers rested on his shoulder. He glanced blearily at the dark-haired woman, and found a smile to answer the concern in her amber eyes. As the long yahrens passed, he'd won himself a young wife to stand beside him.

"Have you found anything?" Eve asked, low-voiced. There were those among the aristocratic crew who disapproved of her status - her family was priestly, not noble. She preferred to avoid them, especially now, when they stared at her growing belly as if outraged that she dared to give the lord a child. Even her loose robes had ceased to conceal the baby.

Her husband shook his head wordlessly, then gestured for one of the men in the room to take the chart. Rising from his seat, he took her hand and led her away from the bustling archival chamber. The men and women buzzed respectfully around them, giving the royal couple privacy.

"Nothing," Adam said restlessly.

"Surely there must be stars with planets..."

"Not for us." He relished her dark beauty and glowing eyes, finding delight in the extra curves pregnancy had given her. "We need more than just one planet; we need space enough to expand as our population grows. I have to plan for the future as well as the present. Not every star has worlds we can use; many of the ones that do are already inhabited, and I won't displace another race, however primitive, because our own sun can no longer support us."

She lowered her gaze. "I was born the day before we left Kobol," she murmured softly. "And now I carry a child of my own. I had hoped she would be born in our new home."

"You are still certain it will be a girl?"

She laughed demurely. "Of course, my lord!" she replied impishly. "But if I had known you so desperately wanted a son..."

"No!" He smiled at her teasing. "I already love our child, male or female, and have no doubt it will be as gifted as its parents. Three sons and a daughter already grown - how will I learn to speak an infant's gibberish again? Such a difficulty you're proving to be!" A shadow passed over his face. One of his sons, his beloved Cain, was already gone, lost somewhere in the Void, engaged in pursuing his own mad dream.

"You had no such complaints when you learned Seth was making you a grandfather!" she retorted quickly, driving away the dark thoughts. "I'm sure you'll relearn how to speak to a child."

"Our child." His pride was evident in the uncontained smile and crinkled eyes. "Well, my Eve, I will do my best to find a suitable planet for this daughter to call home. But I think you should be resting, or did I mishear the physician's orders?"

She made a face and turned to leave, moving as fast as her unwieldy body would allow. He felt fiercely protective of her as she walked; when he caught one of the technicians curling his lip to give her a scornful, disdaining glance, he vowed the young man would find himself pulling extra shifts for the insult.

Eve will be treated as my lady!

"Lord Adam?"

"What is it, navigator?" he demanded with all the arrogant majesty at his command.

"Another chart has been updated, my lord, based on calculations of Lord Seth and Captain Feraia."

"I'll take it." Scowling, he swept up the armful of star charts and tapes and stalked to the entrance portal. "Send more to my cabin as they're updated," he ordered the hapless officer. "I concentrate better without constant interruptions and the din of ceaseless chatter!"

The crewman, barely more than a boy, quaked in his boots. "Yes, my lord. I'll bring them to you personally, if you wish it..."

"I do," he snapped curtly, and left.

Sectons passed, and still Adam found no system suitable for the humans to colonize. Considering the long voyage they'd already endured, he began to wonder if he'd failed his father's dream. Sagan had seemed so sure the last time they spoke, before he died, that the children of Kobol would find a new home...

Even Cain - the grief still struck deeply - even Cain had shared the dream. In the words he'd left his father, hidden among Sagan's memoirs, histories, and perceptions, he'd told of traveling his own path, of seeking another world and destiny for the thirteenth tribe. But he foresaw that the twelve, too, would find worlds of promise for many yahrens.

Adam wished he could be as sure. But he doubted himself, and the doubts grew as the days passed. Where would he find what his people so desperately needed? How long would they be content to follow him, when no end to their journey manifested itself?

The lord shook his head and looked away from his fruitless study. Eve was already asleep, and he considered joining her, abandoning the quest for the night. But he knew his dreams would be haunted by his failure.

He sighed, and chose to spend a few moments in meditation first.

"Ummm ... Adam?" Eve stirred uneasily and maneuvered herself to her feet. "You've spent the night at work again!" she reproved as she turned off the lamp and gathered the scattered charts.

The man sitting so stiffly on the mat made no response.

"Adam?" With careful grace, she sat next to him, nudged his shoulder, and called his name again with growing concern. "Adam?"

His green eyes were closed, and his face was slack, expressionless. His skin was cool, too cool to her fingers, and she could scarcely detect breathing.

"My lord!" she wailed. "Adam!"

He slumped to the floor.

Light gleamed everywhere, with no discernible source or variation of luminosity. The man stared at the shimmering visions walking through that light; they nodded at him as they passed, those that appeared to notice him at all. Their faces were veiled in gossamer; only their Void-dark eyes showed, blazing with somber purpose. What little expression he could detect in them was not cruel, or even disturbed at his sudden presence; they simply accepted his being there, and moved tranquilly about him.

"Adam of Kobol."

He turned in wonder at the voice calling his name. It sounded gentle; its image was as gleaming as the others. Unlike those others, it didn't hurry smoothly from his sight toward some unknown destination. Its attention focused solely on him. The being extended a hand; he reached for that hand, but touched nothing.

"What...?" he gaped in shock and awe.

"I am sorry. I meant merely to gesture you on, not to frighten you, Adam. Come. This is the way you must follow." The voice was rich, kind, and left a sweet impression in his mind that he yearned to hear always. It echoed through his soul, reassuring him, but raising a deep fear as well.

"Who are you?" His own voice sounded strange, somehow ... younger. In the brilliant sheen of something around him, he caught a glimpse of his reflection. "That...!"

"Yes, it is you, Adam. It is the expression of your spirit in our dimension. Come, the chosen one of us waits to speak to you."

"Your dimension?"

"We have come to help our brothers in their quest. We know of your need. We wish to help, and we have much to tell you, Adam of Kobol."

He followed mutely as the glowing being flowed before him.

"Have I died, then?" he finally found the courage to ask. They'd walked a long way, he thought, and it was strange that he wasn't out of breath, as he should have been from such a distance. "Are you creatures of the dead, angels or demons? Is this a heaven, or hades? I know I am old, but I had hoped to finish the dream, to see my daughter's birth..."

He felt strangely calm at the thought of death, regretting things he'd left undone, but accepting that the best of any man's plans could be upset by the very fact of his race's mortality. And truly, this was not so terrible a place to come to.

"Your spirit is strong," the being told him. "You are not dead yet, Adam. You have much time before you pass to that other plane. We are not angels, as you think of them, nor are we demons. We are ... like you, but of another time and place."

"Why do you wish to help us? Why do you care about humans?"

"You will see, in time. He is here."

"He?"

"One of us. You will come to know him well, and your descendants also. We have aided you before, young one, and we will continue to help you until we stand together."

A second form of living fire flared gloriously into existence before him. Adam felt its touch reach into his soul and almost wept for that transcendent beauty and majesty. A sudden urge to kneel was gently shunted aside as comprehension of its being enveloped him.

"Do not kneel to me. Our kind are far from gods. We merely offer our knowledge and aid to those who freely accept it, who choose a certain path, and reject the ways that have seduced even some of our own kind..."

The man nodded silently. I accept, for myself and for my people. Let me be worthy. Let us all be worthy.

Seth stood rigidly on the command deck of Adam's warship. His father should have been there, but he lay in the medical bay, silent and unmoving. His stepmother Eve, heavy and near term, waited beside his bed, hollow-eyed from two sleepless nights.

Are the people of Kobol mine now? The responsibility was awesome. He was fifty-one, old enough for the task, but uncertain... Watching the flow of people through the cramped and crowded chamber, he wondered again if he had what was necessary to be a leader, to save these refugees from a dying world and give them new hope.

What choice is there? I must assume the responsibility, and lead them.

Adam might not survive. Though he blunder blindly without the vision of the elder lords, he knew his duty - somehow he must fulfill his people's hopes.

He heard a sound of disbelief, and turned, then gasped in shock.

Adam stood before him, staring with some wild fire flickering in his eyes. Eve was beside her husband, smiling almost insanely. There was no tremor to the old man, no sign of weakness or illness.

"I'll take over here now, Seth. Thank you for your stewardship of the tribes." The lord's voice was strong, much too strong for a man who'd been unconscious for over two days.

"Father...!" Seth stammered.

Fanaticism gleamed anew in Adam's eyes, reaching out to touch the young man's soul. Seth drew back in awe. What happened to you, Father? You look as though you've spoken with the gods themselves, and survived to tell of it!

Then Adam smiled. "We have a new course. Forty, twenty-five, eighty-two on the galactic center. The planets we seek are there, perhaps two sectons travel away. We will find our new home among the stars of that sector."

The young heir stiffened at his father's certainty, afraid to come near or ask questions. The bridge personnel, suddenly more alive, moved to obey their master. Only Seth's stepmother remained near him, following her husband with a worshipful, submissive gaze.

"What happened ... Lady Eve?" Adam's son demanded. Like many others, he had never really accepted her as his father's wife.

"He has seen a vision, a gift of the gods. He knows where we will go." What gave such conviction to her voice? How could she be so certain of madness?

"Are you sure Father isn't ill? These last few days..." Is he insane? Are you?

"He's fine, Seth. We must hurry. Our worlds are waiting." Her voice trailed dreamily, and the young man felt sudden dread.

That gift! And he shares it with her, the old knowledge of our clan. He shares it with her, and not with me! Not with his son and heir! Father!

Mere disdain for the woman flared into hatred and envy, and passed alike to the child she carried. He thought of his own wife's pregnancy, and wondered bitterly if his heir would matter when the lord had another child, perhaps more gifted then he was - it was rumored there was strange blood in Eve's veins, from some ancestor whose siring had never been known. The burning anger and resentment grew - was this a slur on Lilith, the lord's first wife, Seth's mother, that he demanded a young wife and second family?

That imagined or real slight, and the subconscious fear that his father found him somehow unacceptable, would stay with him all his life.

He waited while Lord Adam gave further orders to the bridge crew, expecting his father would explain his decisions, and his supposed "visions," to his son. But no explanation seemed forthcoming; the old man simply studied the star chart with his burning eyes, while his wife whispered beside him.

Seth was further enraged. In angry silence, knowing his presence wouldn't be missed, he stalked from the bridge.

A day short of two sectons later, they first detected the binary star system. It contained a full dozen planets in the life zone; more than a score of moons were shared among those gleaming worlds; a handful of other celestial bodies filled the heavens - asteroids and comets, potential bases and suppliers of resources. After a brief survey, numerous tests to determine the habitability of the worlds, and a search for hidden dangers, Adam thankfully pronounced them open for colonization.

With his gleaming eyes and newly-enlivened stride, no one questioned when he proclaimed a lottery among the twelve major families, with each minor clan assigned to one of the larger dozen, splitting and reforming the population into new divisions. A representative from each tribe thus formed drew a random lot assigned to each of the planets. That done, the great fleet that had traversed the stars for so many yahrens finally disbanded, each group steering to a new home, each with many new responsibilities and a world of its own to build.

On the world which would henceforth be known as Caprica, Lord Adam and his family were among the first to walk on springy green grass and breathe fresh, unfiltered air. Seth drank from a spring, and proclaimed the water sweet. The ruling family, together, planted the first small rows of vegetables and flowers brought from Kobol, and dug the holes for the shrubs, trees, and flowers that they knew from home. They ceremonially set out the first of the sacred Eden flowers, the ancient, holy tree whose flowers carried the sign of life, and so often grew in close proximity to a dozen healing herbs.

No one noticed, in the depths of their feelings at the time, that Seth, the heir, had set a coolly polite distance between himself and his father, and never crossed that unseen line. He and the rest of his generation joined in the unloading and building of temporary shelters until a city could be planned, land distributed for farms, boats constructed and sent out on the small seas, and the population scattered.

Eve remained with her husband.

"It is a beautiful world," she gasped, tired and breathless from the short walk from the landing site to the hill.

"Yes..." Adam was preoccupied. His gaze fixed on the rounded bay far below. Dusk slowly spread over their vantage point; the valley was already wreathed in shadows, and there was much to do before they could sleep that night.

"It will be a good place to build a home," his wife continued. "Your alien friends are kind to us."

He nodded slowly. "Not alien, dear love. And I will never forget the help they offered freely. Neither must our children, Eve."

She glanced at him oddly. "What is it you fear, husband?"

"Nothing." He laughed, a full-throated roar. "I have many yahrens ahead of me, wife, and this place will be home to us forever. I am happy."

"Forever is a long time," she murmured.

"We are human. We must always think in terms of forever - and in terms of the day, as well, whether we think of ourselves or our people. When we have passed on, our love and laughter will still echo among the worlds here, and glow in the light of our double sun. And I will write what I know, of our past and our destiny, and the tales the beings of light told me. We must remember them, and that they will be here when we need their help or advice, in any way. That knowledge will be my legacy to our daughter, along with everything else we can give our own flesh and blood. We give her a great deal, a great and joyous hope. Be happy, my Eve."

"With you, always," she replied with simple honesty.

He reached for her, drawing her ungainly figure into his arms. "The future is very bright for us..."

"Oh!"

"What...?" He was alarmed.

She began to smile. "I think our daughter knows we are home!"

And it was so. It was duly recorded that Eve, the last child born on old Kobol, was the first to give birth on the new world of Caprica, to a daughter, named Sarai, of the House of Sagan. And as she grew, the Colonies grew with her.

Epilogue:

Starbuck glared at the old text, a mutinous twist to his mouth, wishing he hadn't heeded his friend's suggestion to read the Book of the Word.

"Nah!" he insisted aloud. "Apollo was just having a laugh at my expense, to see how I'd react. Why'd I come to look at these, anyway? Besides, I don't care if some of the old lords did have young wives. That's just old myth, probably not even true. They probably called you old before you hit a century!

"Cassiopeia won't marry Cain. She won't. She can't..."

"Wisdom of Sarai"

In the beginning:

Sagan was the ninth and last lord of unified Kobol. He planned the great exodus that took the humans to the colony worlds; the twelve, together, the one lost beyond the Void. He kept his secrets well.

The last lord sired four children, all of whom took their places in human history. Adam was the eldest, Sagan's heir, the lord of the migration. His name will be revered forever, surviving in glory as long as humanity exists. He saw the twelve worlds settled and strong before his death, flourishing as each tribe claimed its territory and made a home for itself. He, too, became a man of many secrets as the worlds became home. These hidden things haunted him always, but the mystery was not born in fear, so he trusted the knowledge he received from the Beyond.

Adam sired five children.

The oldest son was Seth, who became the first Lord of Caprica of the House of Sagan, taking his grandfather's name for a surname, as he was proud of his heritage but still wished to start anew. His line led the Twelve Colonies until the great Devastation.

The second child was Cain, who led the "lost tribe" astray in his mad dreams. His name is hidden through human history, condemned as a traitor by many, honored by only a few. Only in the last days of the Colonies was his vision recognized as their salvation.

The third child, Debora, is remembered as a fair and honest woman who traveled widely among the growing Colonies, overseeing and guiding their development. She chose to settle among the Gemonese, and her wisdom was lost to the rest of her people when they could most have used it.

Gideon, the fourth, died young, but left a daughter who was to follow Cain.

The fifth and youngest child of Adam was Sarai. Truly a gift of the past to the future, Sarai was as talented as her grandfather and brother had been, and always knew the truth of Cain's vision. She felt the new danger threatening the Twelve Colonies. Because of her youth and his own arrogance, Lord Seth did not listen to her warnings, and the seeds of the Devastation were sown.

I

An impatient young woman paced in the atrium of Lord Seth's dwelling, a newly completed villa overlooking the city. Her brother had promised to see her earlier in the day, but had kept her waiting for over a centar. She halted her steps abruptly as a man entered the hall, but he passed through without speaking to her, nodding in preoccupied fashion at the younger sister of his lord.

Tossing back her dark hair with a snort of disgust, Sarai stalked to the huge open window to glare at the beginnings of the capital city for the Colonies. It was still in the early stages of occupation and construction, as was nearly every city in the Twelve Worlds, which had held humans for just over a score of yahrens, but Babelon already promised to be a place of beauty and strength. The elders claimed it would never match Eden, their distant home, but Sarai felt that was the nostalgic longings of people still fearful of the differences on the colony worlds.

When the refugees of Kobol reached the system, they thought it a godsend, twelve habitable worlds in such close proximity, a place apart and safe. Lord Adam, her father, recently dead, had known some great secret about the worlds, but his records and diaries were entrusted to the keeping of a small, separatist order of mystics, and his rich legacy of knowledge was all but unknown even to members of his family. But Adam had recognized something special about his youngest child, and had promised her the secrets when she was of age.

Sarai would never forget the look in his eyes when he spoke of these worlds, set apart for them for some special purpose; his provocative hints and the distant, almost maniacal gleam in his eyes told her how important the secret must be. She'd promised to visit a Retreat when she came of age, to devote a proper period of study and contemplation to his writings, but had forgotten her promise in grief at his death and funeral. There'd been so many duties to attend, public affairs, and Seth to deal with...

Then, two days before, Elders of the Retreat had appeared in the city and sent a message to her, reminding her of her promise to her father. She wondered how they'd known, but the reminder was enough to make her eager. She needed only her brother's permission to leave Babelon.

She sighed, staring at the sunny day and the bustling, churning streets below. All the people's energy was put into shaping these worlds into the homes they wanted, building grand monuments and memorials, gaining identities as nations.

She shivered in the window's sunshine, brown eyes turning bleak at the thought. Her father had been uneasy with the idea of settling each tribe on a separate world, but it had been the easiest way to begin. He separated them as much as he could, with the family lotteries, and hoped that commerce, intermarriages, and wanderlust would be enough to keep the original tribes mingled and united. But with her father gone, and Seth trying to forge an identity separate from that of Adam, a common heritage might not be enough to keep the Colonies together. Already there were shifts in the population, back to the older tribal loyalties. Sarai had had dark dreams about that over the last sectons, but her brother regarded them as the distraught fears of a young girl still grieving her father's death. He rejected and was suspicious of anything that might undermine his newly-gained authority.

He wouldn't listen to her now, when she was simply the much-younger half-sister of a man well into his prime. She doubted he would be much interested in her wish to leave Babelon to spend time at one of the Retreats, but he would let her go.

She grinned humorlessly at the thought that he'd probably be glad to see her gone from the capital, and wouldn't care if she stayed away permanently! Sarai was aware that Seth knew little about their father's writings, and cared even less; she herself had been entrusted to deliver the materials to the Elder officiating at his mourning ceremonies, and she had no intention of informing Seth about it now.

"Siress Sarai?" a prim voice interrupted her brooding.

The young woman turned to see a severe-faced elderly woman. "Yes?" she responded eagerly. "Will he see me now?"

"Lord Seth has a few centons free for you," the woman answered reprovingly. "Try not to tire him, child. He's had a busy day, and he still has to arbitrate a Scorpian dispute. They're the most argumentative people, except of course for the lost tribe."

"Our brother Cain's tribe." She couldn't help herself; Sarai dashed past the menial, running as much to anger the woman and flout proper behavior as to get to her brother. She was no longer a child, and she resented being treated as a lower-class, unwelcome member of the family. Several of the attendants of Lord Seth felt her mother had seduced Adam for greed, ambition, or worse, and couldn't or wouldn't keep their opinion of the offspring of the union to themselves.

Sarai didn't care. She knew quite well why her parents had married, and what others thought was immaterial. Unwanted or no, she was still a member of the House of Sagan.

Lord Seth wasn't alone, but she hadn't really expected a private audience. The last time she'd tried to talk to him privately, they'd ended up shouting at each other, and nearly carried the argument into a public scene at an official ceremony of mourning. She resolved she wouldn't lose her temper this time.

"Lord Seth, dear brother, I'm pleased to see you looking well," she began before he could speak. She took the wry amusement in his eyes as a good sign. He knew what she was doing - proper notice of respect and humility, sweet reminder of familial relationship, polite concern for his health, couched in loving terms.

"Greetings, sister Sarai." Not Siress Sarai? He really was in a good mood. She let her eyes flicker over the others as her brother continued speaking.

Seth's son, Aeron, only fifteen, was looking bored. As usual, she thought ungraciously, having little respect for her nephew's capabilities. It would have been better to insist on training Leah, Seth's oldest daughter, for the lordship. Leah was only Sarai's age, but had already announced she was abdicating any such claims to spend her time among the stars. Aeron was next in line, and resented that he owed his position as heir to his sister's refusal of it.

Seth's handful of counselors she passed over without thinking. They were intelligent, talented people; she knew them all by face, and some by personality. None of them took the time to seek out her friendship. She well understood why.

Three others waited patiently for Seth's speech to end, listening attentively. She recognized two of them as Elders from the Retreat; their eyes were quietly settled on the Lord of Caprica. The third was a much younger man in the simple beige robes of the order, with the sun medallion of a full mystic, but not much older than herself. He turned to glance at her as she looked at him. There was nothing spectacularly handsome about his face or form, but Sarai almost gasped aloud as their eyes met. She'd seen those distantly-gazing, cloudy blue eyes before somewhere, perhaps in a dream. He smiled politely at her, dropping his eyes for a moment as custom required, then gazing directly into her own amber-flecked brown eyes; they reached, it seemed, through her conscious thought and into her soul.

She turned quickly to her brother, immersing herself in concentration at what he was saying, but unable to shake the young mystic's gaze fixed on her.

"...and I have spoken with the Elders of Highpoint Retreat, as well as listening to your request, sister. I can only give you my blessings in this, and hope you will be content with your chosen place in life. You have my permission to join their community, with no obligations here. Be happy, Sarai."

Seth gestured at the Elders. "Elder Harmakhis will escort you, with his party. You will leave in the morning, as I understand the Elders have reason for haste. I am sure you can say your farewells this evening at supper. Don't worry about packing; Libitina is aware that you are leaving, and is supervising the gathering of such things as you might need immediately. Anything else will be sent after you. And of course you are free to visit when you choose."

The lord rose smoothly to his feet, brushing down the overrobes of state he was wearing. Aeron rose instantly to stride pompously behind him, smirking at something. The counselors, too, moved en masse toward the far archway.

"I leave you in capable hands, sister. But now, I must go. You know the Scorpians; keep them waiting and they'll solve it with blood feud. I'll give you formal blessings at supper."

Then, incredibly, he was gone, with his entourage, and Sarai stood still rooted to the spot, elated that he'd acquiesced so easily to her request - not that he had any reasonable excuse to do otherwise. She turned gaily to the mystics from Highpoint.

"Elder Harmakhis, it's good to see you again. We must talk, on the journey back."

"Sister, think over what the lord said, and reconsider your reaction," the elderly, ascetic man replied calmly. His eyes were almost as blue as the youth's were, but showed maturity rather than dreaminess.

"Why, he's given me permission..." she began, perplexed; then her mouth dropped and she felt sudden rage as her voice died. A long moment spent trying to deny what she knew passed before she spoke again, in a strangled, shrill voice. "He ordered me to lay aside the lordship and my obligations! He's sending me into exile, not a temporary retreat!"

"He has put you in our keeping," Harmakhis replied with a grave nod. "You are to remain with us as a sister. You can never ascend to the lordship."

"But I have no aspirations... I didn't realize he hated me so much!" she whispered. "He can't..."

"It is done," the other old man told her gently. "But it is for the best, or we would never have accepted you without the tests and your consent."

"Why?" She raised a hand to run her fingers through her hair; they clutched on a thick hank and twisted the dark stuff, pulling it free of its careful styling. "How can he do that?"

"You did ask to spend time with us," Harmakhis reminded her.

"Yes, but ... Grandfather and Father left their writings with you, and I was to study those, and learn..."

"And you shall," the Elder interjected.

"But what good? Why? To what purpose? Seth's ordered me locked away where anything I learn will do no good!" she wailed frantically, speaking her thoughts before they were half-completed.

"So he believes," the youngest man said, speaking for the first time.

Sarai gazed at him again, the half-smile and gentle, clouded eyes stilling her panic. "What do you mean?"

"He has removed you as a threat to his authority, for so he saw you, by sending you where he believes you can do him no harm. You never intended to challenge him, but there's never been love lost between you; that is well known. Members of our Retreat aren't cloistered; we travel through the worlds, and we have Shelters on every world. We are here to preserve knowledge, and do what we can to prevent disaster. What you learn will be put to good use."

Sarai listened as if spellbound to the young man. For some reason, he was correct. If she remained, Seth would continue to disregard her and attempt to discredit her, to relegate her to the background of his lordship where she could never accomplish anything. Thinking he would heed her if she came back with Father's wisdom has been a noble but foolish dream.

But to flee without trying to prevent what she could foresee...

"How can I just leave?" she asked helplessly.

"You will be doing the best thing you can do. Lord Seth will no longer fear you; with a place among us you can move freely on the worlds, unhindered by the formalities required of a Siress of Sagan. You can return with the reputation and honor of our Order behind you. Even Seth listens to our Elders occasionally, with reluctance, we must admit. The other people, the members of our tribes, they all listen to us on the scattered worlds. We are their wisdom. Where they might not trust the lord, they do trust us. You can accomplish far more with us than struggling alone." The youth was persuasive, and Sarai knew he was right.

"Then I should tend to my packing," she finally acquiesced quietly, clasping her hands, hating to leave.

"That's being taken care of; and you won't need much, as a novice," Harmakhis overruled. "I think it would be more soothing to your agitated mind to continue speaking with my son." He smiled at her quick, automatic comparison of features. "We aren't celibate in the Retreats, and your father isn't the only one to have discovered a soul mate in his advanced yahrens. Starmont passed his Initiation over a yahren ago, and is a full mystic. Perhaps you will listen to him with more attention than you do to me, Novice Sarai. He can prepare you for the trip better than I." The old man was still smiling; he and his companion quickly left the room, walking spryly despite their yahrens. The mystic and the novice scarcely saw them go.

"It was wise to bring him after all," the other man commented under his breath as the two walked sedately through the high-arched corridor. "She might have been difficult otherwise."

"It is for the best, I'm afraid, Charon," Harmakhis chuckled. "And he's the one who insisted most strongly that she be accepted without a test. I think he's developing the Sight. Unusual, in one his age."

"And what of Sarai?"

"Starmont will give us his evaluation of her talents this evening. We can only proceed from there, and accept that this is the will of the Forces Beyond," he replied with a smile. Time would teach best, but his own gifts told him the siress was worth training. And only the full training of a mystic would develop her gifts to where she could truly learn from the writings of Sagan and Adam. The writings had been sealed, waiting for the one who could open them - perhaps this daughter of that house would be the one. Perhaps her child would be. And perhaps they could yet avert the terrible Devastation.

II

It had been yahrens since Sarai had walked in the gardens of Babelon, and she relished the experience.

She'd reached full womanhood in every way, and her maturity of mind showed in the confidence and serenity glowing in her dark eyes. With Starmont as teacher, she had learned a great deal in a very short time. When Lord Seth had summoned her back to the capital for her niece's wedding, Harmakhis had freely given his permission for her to leave Highpoint.

Leah, Seth's oldest daughter, was now sealed to a Scorpian she'd met in the space service. The Lord of Caprica wasn't pleased at the match, but since Leah had renounced the lordship, he could say nothing about her marital choice. The pair would soon be off on their wedding trip, but Sarai had a few more days before she left Babelon.

For now she enjoyed the garden. She stopped her easy pace to breathe the sweetly delicate perfume of a large white flower in its prime, growing on a tree-like shrub. She ran a finger lightly along the fragile blue veining of one of its petals; from this natural beauty had come the design for their ankh, the symbol of life itself, as this plant had come to be called the Tree of Life. Its ancestor had come from Kobol, had grown in the royal gardens of Eden; one variety was in fact named the Edenflower. It thrived only on Caprica and Aquaria of the Colony worlds. She wouldn't bruise the flower or break it free, but left it growing for another to enjoy after her.

Babelon hadn't changed much. Some buildings had been completed; numerous parks and gardens surrounded clusters of homes and offices; the spaceport was across the valley, out of sight, seldom busy; most industry was developing in the hills, away from the quiet beauty of the river plain.

Sarai shuddered at an unwelcome vision of the city in flaming, poisoned ruins, and she couldn't remain outdoors. The gardens were lovely, peaceful, and calming, but they overlooked a possibly doomed city. She fled for the shelter of her royally-appointed quarters. They were more ostentatious than she was used to, but Seth persisted in treating her as if she were still a Siress of Sagan, rather than a simple sister of the Retreat, now that she was no longer a threat to him.

A visitor was waiting for her, pacing the tiled floor of the shaded courtyard with nervous steps. It was Ester, Gideon's daughter, a tall young woman of even temperament. Sarai had an idea what the elegant siress wanted to see her about.

Ester was an unofficial ambassador of her uncle, visiting the Colony worlds to show the concern of the lords for their development and growth. Before the wedding, Sarai had spoken to her of the possibility of becoming an ambassador to another world. It was one of the reasons she had accepted Seth's "invitation."

Ester had seemed doubtful. But now, as the young siress turned to face her, Sarai could see fierce determination in her eyes. She'd made a decision.

She gestured her niece to an upholstered couch nestled under a flowered trellis, then turned to a waiting servant woman before she could speak. "It's a warm day, and my walk has been tiring. I'm sure Siress Ester would appreciate a beverage as well. Bring us something cool."

Veiled eyes shifted from one young woman to the other before the elderly servant bowed reluctantly and left.

"Seth still doesn't trust me, to have Libitina reporting my every move to him," Sarai breathed quietly, moving to sit next to Ester on the plush pillows of the couch. "You'd best speak quickly, and quietly, unless you've decided against..."

The taller woman shook her head grimly. "I've decided for," she stated flatly, her face shadowed by the leafy canopy.

She was surprised, and uneasy at both tone and look. "Why? What made up your mind?"

"Seth was monitoring us when we spoke after the sealing, and drew his own inference from your veiled request. He ordered me not to listen to such foolish words, and to be careful what I said to you in the future. Apparently, only your standing in the Retreat prevented him from raising a hue of treason against you for even considering such an idea."

Sarai sucked in a breath of surprise. This was something she hadn't expected. That Seth would go to such measures, that he distrusted her so much, was so jealous of his position...

"And that made you decide to go?"

Ester shook her head violently, sending loose dark hair flying. "No. I was willing to abide by his command, except for..."

"Except for what?" Sarai asked gently.

"I've had dreams since then," the other woman whispered, looking away. "You're right, Sarai, you are right. We have to find a way. Even if it means conspiring against my lord, even if it means treason. There has to be a way."

Sarai was chilled. She was not the only with forebodings about the future. Now Ester saw them too. But conspiring against her brother... All she'd wanted was for someone to make the journey that Harmakhis had forbidden her to take. She hadn't planned a conspiracy.

But Seth's tight grip on authority was growing by the yahren. He wanted no challenges. And right now, the Order could ill afford to risk such a challenge. It wasn't their purpose to divide the Colonies, but to try and preserve them against a violent sundering.

"So what will you do?" she asked her niece. Her own actions were limited, at the Retreat; the other woman would take the actual risks, one way or another.

"I need a ship and a crew, with a captain we can trust."

"Have you someone in mind?"

"Yes. The one captain Seth won't act against, won't even suspect, until it's too late."

"Leah's husband. Theseus."

"Yes."

Sarai sighed, closing her eyes and leaning back on the soft couch. It sounded more like conspiracy all the time. "Have you spoken to them?"

"Yes. They ... understand. And they supplied the plan."

"Which is?"

Ester leaned closer. "No one will suspect a young couple, especially when one of them is the daughter of the lord. I will have a commission to fulfill. They will permit me to accompany them partway on their sealing trip, perhaps around the perimeter of what we call our space. From there we can easily vanish."

"And I remain here for the first few days of your trip, but will have returned to Highpoint by the time you've disappeared."

Ester nodded once. "You'll be safe at your Retreat; no one can say for certain what's happened to us."

Sarai smiled humorlessly. "How like Cain."

The other woman laughed nervously.

A slight sound from the antechamber drew their attention. With a finger on her lips, Sarai rose soundlessly, moving with the smooth grace of a skilled athlete, gained from her training. At the door, she listened quietly for a moment, then returned to the couch.

"Libitina's back," she mouthed at her niece.

"And Leah made a beautiful bride," Ester murmured, understanding immediately. "And Theseus looked noble enough to be a lord himself!"

The mystic easily shifted her mind into girlish gossip of weddings and appropriate attire. Their giggling and mindless chatter might delude the ever-vigilant spy in the next chamber. Sarai knew Libitina hadn't been there long; the sound had been the elderly woman stepping next to the door to listen to what the young aristocrats discussed. And whatever she heard, she would carry back to the suspicious Lord Seth. But she could have heard nothing; she'd been detected immediately - and if either the servant or the lord chose to construe details of lacework and color in a bride's gown as treasonous, they were truly paranoid.

The servant entered the luxuriously decorated courtyard several moments later, a sour look on her face and a tray of cool fruit punch in her arms. She found excuses to bustle around the sunlit chamber for the remainder of Ester's visit, giving the young conspirators no further privacy or chance to discuss their treason. It wasn't until the siress left that Sarai could give any further support or acknowledgment.

"Ester," Sarai said, taking the other woman's hands in a warm and encouraging gesture. "I wish you a safe and successful journey. And as you will be traveling with Captain Theseus and Siress Leah, give them my fondest wishes for a happy life and prosperous endeavors. I doubt I shall have time to see them, or you again, before you leave..."

"Not likely," the elegant young siress responded. Her eyes held tears, and her grip tightened painfully, knowing the separation of family and friendship could be for yahrens - perhaps even the rest of their lives. "We leave today. I wish you happiness and safety as well - the Fellowships of the Retreats don't look for wealth or fame, I know. Thank you for your kind wishes; I'll carry them to Leah."

She turned away quickly, hurrying from the room. Libitina watched her narrowly, then turned to her supposed mistress.

"You may remove the tray now," Sarai ordered evenly. "I think I shall rest for a few centars. The last few days have been strenuous, and I have an arduous trip home soon. Wake me for dinner." She ignored the servant's muttered response and retreated to her dark bedroom. They must all play their parts, for a few days more...

Meditation had proved useless; she was too anxious to settle her mind to any one thought. Instead, she chose to spend the hot afternoon perusing tapes and records from the Migration - Sagan's, Adam's, and Cain's primarily, though she knew them nearly by heart after several yahrens of intense research and study.

Cain left because he foresaw a tragedy; Seth interpreted his brother's defection as wild ambition. He doesn't see what Cain must be going through now, trying to build a world alone, without support from either a mother world or sister Colonies.

And we don't know where that Colony, Earth, is. But we must learn. Did Cain know we would follow him? Did he know that we would send someone to Kobol, to find his secrets, and follow him to this Earth?

That's what Theseus, Leah, and Ester must do. Find the way to Earth, establish some communication between our worlds. But Seth is so afraid of Cain that he doesn't want the link, doesn't want a human world beyond his control. He prefers to let the thirteenth tribe be forgotten...

Brother, you would call us all traitors for doing what we must do to be loyal to humanity. Do you really see yourself as the only one whose opinion matters? Perhaps we have been lords too long...

"Sister Sarai?"

The woman glanced up from her contemplation. One of the younger novices, barely past adolescence, still shy, still in awe of his elders. "Yes, novice?"

"You have a visitor. Lord Seth of Sagan is here, and Master Harmakhis permits. Will you see him?" The meek youth obviously expected an affirmative; he was her brother as well as their lord.

By now Theseus's ship would be gone, hurrying back to the Void, finding the way through it and back to Kobol's pulsing sun. Was Seth calling her to account for its disappearance? He might, especially since he'd taken the trouble to monitor her at Leah's wedding, and suspected her interest in reestablishing contact with the thirteenth tribe, wherever it was. She hoped all had gone well with her conspirators - if she were punished it meant nothing, so long as they succeeded. Harmakhis and others at the Retreat knew of the plan, and could take her place if necessary as contact for Ester.

She took several deep, cleansing breaths, controlling herself and bracing for a possible confrontation. "I will be there shortly."

Visitors, even the Lord of Caprica, were not permitted within the Retreat's main cloister, only the brothers and sisters. Unlike the freedom granted when members of the Order traveled in the outer world, they maintained strict privacy in the Retreat. Guests stayed in shelters scattered over the lower mountain slopes, and could speak with members of the Order only with permission, in a specially set apart chamber. To that chamber Sarai now made her way.

"Greetings, my lord," she began quite formally, hands clasped passively before her, nodding in the proper reverence those of the Order gave only to members of the House of Sagan.

He had been studying a fresco in the simply-plastered walls; now he turned to her, and his face was ugly, distorted with rage and grief. His eyes shot hatred and distrust at her.

"They're gone."

She cocked her head quizzically, glad she'd prepared herself for this moment. "My lord?" she inquired gently.

He took two controlled steps nearer, then seemed to lose any concern for appearance or propriety. A powerful back-handed slap from the middle-aged man sent the young mystic flying backward; only her agility saved her from serious harm. Lord Seth continued to glare at her, while the novice at the door gasped in dismay and shock.

She stared up from the floor while he stood over her, breathing heavily. Her own face had gone ice-cold and empty at his behavior. It was a tribute to her training and strength of will that she could still be in control of the situation from her awkward position. "My lord, explain yourself," she demanded, without raising her voice.

"Ester is gone," he stated slowly, accusingly.

"And I am to blame?"

"She was aboard Leah's ship."

"Then I have lost the two members of our family who was closest to me. Ester and Leah were close as siblings to me," she replied deliberately. "How were they lost?" Now she allowed a trace of grief to pucker her forehead. She doubted he believed it.

"We don't know. They simply disappeared. But you are responsible, and I know it, and someday I will prove you brought them into a conspiracy..."

She started as though in surprise, then pulled herself back to her feet. A gesture, and the novice at the door was gone, to bring back Elders who could either reason with her brother or shame him into leaving.

"My daughter..." His voice was grieving. He had truly loved Leah, and cared filially about Ester. He was shaking, and she felt sorry, suddenly, that things had to be the way they were between them. If Seth had shown any willingness to listen to her explanations, she would have told him everything then.

"And you did it all, lured them from their loyalty, sent them off on your wild quest for a dead traitor!" he continued in rage. "Someday, Sarai, someday, little sister... You will learn who it is you have crossed..."

Her pity vanished. She knew who she had crossed. Her dark eyes were empty of emotions as she spoke. "My sympathies to their families," she said coldly, distantly. "Both shall be missed. They were fine women, true daughters of the House of Kobol."

He felt the force of her words, knew she'd excluded him from the family house deliberately. He seemed to recollect himself with a strain, forcibly schooling his face to a more appropriate aristocratic emptiness. "I thought you should know, half-sister."

The words were intended as a return slap, but she'd heard them so many times from him that they no longer disturbed her. She merely continued to watch him minutely, without response.

"Until next time, then, Sister Sarai. And you will regret it." The threat delivered, he turned on his heeled shoe and stalked out.

She felt relieved. At least he hadn't tried to drag her away by force, though he certainly had no evidence that she'd committed any treasonous act. But he was the lord...

And now they were gone. It would be long yahrens be-fore she saw Ester or Leah again, she knew, and grieved for it. She would deeply miss them. She hadn't seen them of-ten in the past few yahrens, but they had often exchanged letters, and she had still felt close to them. They had been like sisters to her, and now risked their own lives and honor for her vision...

An image formed in her mind, and her eyes snapped open, the tears halted. Seth is no longer sane! Her mission was suddenly more important. And she and her brother would never meet as friends.

III

Seth's sanity came to be seriously questioned as his temper grew more volatile; his furious outbursts and hysterical threats couldn't be hidden from the aristocratic men and women who held government positions, though they were kept secret from the public. Pressure to step aside in favor of Aeron, his son, grew stronger, but the lord resisted every effort.

Aeron, at forty yahrens, was quite ready and eager to take on his responsibilities; Seth's response to every offer of assistance was a suspicious refusal - often followed by a withdrawal of current duties. The aging leader no longer trusted his own son.

Sadly, the frustrated, bitter young man reacted exactly as his father feared - he began drawing a small but powerful and growing political faction to himself. Some were able bureauticians fearful of where Seth's insanity might lead them; others were ambitious sycophants fawning on the heir as a key to future power for themselves.

It was not long before Seth acted as his friends feared, and his enemies hoped. Accusations of illegal behavior on the part of Seth's own captains were callously brushed aside by the lord; there were rumors that his own ships were acting as pirates against craft from Scorpia. It was known that Seth had grudges against owners of several of the attacked vessels - the very idea that he, the lord, was using his position to react personally against his own people, those he was supposed to protect, brought a public furor that couldn't be silenced or bribed away.

Lord Seth was caught; Lord Aeron stepped in. When the mess was settled and peace restored, it was the younger man who wielded power. He intended to keep it. His father was forced to abdicate.

For appearance's sake, he chose the Retreat at Highpoint for his retirement. It was not really his choice. It was the safest place for him to be, after the enemies he had made in his last yahrens as lord. Pressure from his successor and his remaining true friends forced him to accept the suggestion; all seemed afraid he would soon be back in political games and ploys if he stayed in Babelon, or wandered to another of the Colony worlds. At Highpoint he would also be protected from the intrigues of powerful Colonials with grudges against him, who might try to revenge themselves now that he was out of power.

He accepted it all as best he could, putting a noble and generous face on his only option as "the best thing for all concerned, especially the people." But once at Highpoint, he bitterly denounced his son for his betrayal.

His rage extended to Mystic Sarai, whom he again and loudly accused of treasonous conspiracies, though she was innocent, this time, of any involvement. After a rambling public diatribe and a physical attack upon his sister and her chosen spouse, Mystic Starmont, the Elders quietly confined him, and kept watch over his activities. It went against their usual actions, and was as repugnant to them as to their former lord, but it was necessary. His behavior showed his utter loss of control.

So Aeron reigned as Lord Sagan of Caprica, competent in his own way, but not brilliant. The Colonies flourished under his uninspired rule, each world becoming more independent as populations grew and economies expanded.

Sarai remembered the wanderers she had sent on their journey while the rest of the Colonies seemed to forget that Cain and the thirteenth tribe had ever existed. The yahrens at first seemed long, but as her own time passed, her life changed. Her understanding deepened, and she felt more sure of her choices, and she was content with them.

IV

Elder Sarai felt very much alive on the bright autumn day, and so much attuned to the world around her that she chose to take a walk through the mountain meadows instead of spending her afternoon in quiet contemplation as she most often did.

She had reached her hundred and fortieth yahren, and knew her steps were beginning to slow, but her body still obeyed her mind. Exercise kept her agile and trim, and her senses were still good. Streaks of silver gleamed in her dark braid of hair in the strong sunlight of the peak. A calm and restrained lifestyle had kept her face relatively unlined. Her dark eyes were still as lustrous as the day she'd first left Babelon, well over a century before.

Since the conspiracy that had sent Ester and Leah into space, she'd kept herself strictly free of government policies and intrigues. Life was healthier, less bothersome that way. However much the former lord ranted in his confinement, she'd been uninvolved in his removal, and slept serene and secure in that knowledge. After so many yahrens, the brothers and sisters of the Retreat simply cared for the old man's needs and treated him kindly, as if his mind were still intact, without taking offense at his accusations and threats.

Through the yahrens, Sarai had risen to a position of great esteem among the elders. She had a sense for things that must be done, and had learned to ease the pains and fears of others. Through teaching and study and contemplation, she'd developed her skills to a fine edge where she controlled her talents, and could use them in the best interests of the Retreat.

Starmont, her lover, then her husband, had done much the same with his time. Also an elder, he could read the hearts and minds of those who came to visit or to stay, finding hidden talents and detecting secret knowledge, helping young people to know themselves.

Among those young people had been their own children.

Their oldest child, a daughter, Britomartis, had left Highpoint for the other Colony worlds. She'd traveled for many yahrens before returning with the certainty of her mission in life. With the blessings of the Retreats, scattered here and on the other Colonies, she'd led a small group of brothers and sisters away, to try and settle a world somewhere else. Neither Sarai nor Starmont was ever able to see where Britomartis's life would lead; she had taken her people, along with a number of others dissatisfied with life on Caprica, and left.

The world was not far, but communications were few, as the new colony refused to acknowledge the sovereignty of Lord Aeron, who had become almost as despotic as his father. Aeron, fortunately, was still sane, and had sense enough to refrain from a military attack on the fledgling community.

Their second child, Serapis, lived in a Retreat on Gemon. That world was a harsh one, prone, for some reason, to new ideas and strange customs. The Order there had divided three times since the settlement, and attempts to reunite the arguing groups had proved futile thus far. But Serapis was a competent mediator and a very charismatic man - if anyone could convince the Gemonese to draw together again, it was him.

How long any such agreements or reunions lasted, however... The elder shook her head as her footsteps stirred the wild mountain grasses and delicate blooms hidden among them. The Gemonese, it seemed, were doomed to disunion; politically they seemed capable of working together, but in the absence of an outsider to face as a common bond, their philosophical and spiritual disputes splintered them ever more rapidly.

"Elder Sarai!"

She heard the voice calling from below her, echoing softly among the hills. It was her third child, who hadn't called her mother since the day he turned ten yahrens old. The youth was bonded to the Retreat, and to a life of mystical contemplation. His spirit communed with others of like gift across the star system; he could reach any of the distant Retreats on this world and the rest of the Twelve with his mind. It was unlikely he would ever wish to leave Highpoint; the emotional chaos of the outside world appalled him.

"Here, Apollos. I'm returning to the Retreat." She spoke softly but knew he heard; she felt the slight stirring in her mind that suggested urgency.

What disturbed the talented young man? Sarai halted for a moment and turned her face up toward the primary sun, feeling its warmth as she opened her mind, trying to reach out as her sons, daughter, and husband were all capable of doing with such ease. Something... A suppressed excitement... The vital secret.

Her eyes flew open in shocked joy, tearing up against the sudden brightness of the sun in the brilliant sky.

She's back! She lifted the skirts of her robe and ran breathlessly back to the stone-and-wood walls of Highpoint.

Apollos directed her to one of the visiting rooms. She knew what she would find when she stepped through the door, but it was still with tremulous amazement and a multitude of mixed emotions that she reached out her hands to greet the woman who had spent nearly a century wandering the stars at her request.

"Ester!"

"Sarai!"

The trip had aged the woman; gray streaked her hair as well, and there were lines of worry around faded green eyes that told of many responsibilities and hard decisions over those yahrens. The tall woman's trim figure had filled out, though she carried thirty extra pounds better than most women could have.

They embraced, and time fell away as their tears mingled on each other's cheeks.

"You're back!"

"We're back..."

Between Ester's tale and the logbooks of Ark Kobol, the knowledge was there, the story of their trip and the yahrens it had taken, and what they had discovered and learned.

They had gone first to Kobol, treading a backward passage through the infinitely empty Void that had so terrified the first traversers. Only the knowledge that it had another side, that humans had passed it safely before, and that their first destination waited there for them had driven the young, idealistic humans on, through all their fears and the panic when they'd thought themselves lost. Captain Theseus had kept the most minute of navigation notes on that part of the trip, leaving a record of how to return to their home world that would be invaluable one day, when humans again returned to their birthplace.

On Kobol, tragedy had struck. They could stay only a small period of time, as the planet wobbled under an uncertain star. They had gone to the tomb of Sagan, last Lord of Kobol. A yearning summons had been left, as Ester had somehow known it would be, in that still place - left by Cain, in the last days, as he prepared his plans and led the thirteenth tribe on its lonely journey.

Captain Theseus and several of his officers had vanished as they prepared to leave, readying for the next leg, following the path Cain had marked for them on the walls of Sagan's tomb. They had searched for days, but no one had thought, until too late, that the single-minded officer might have returned to the pyramid that contained his wife's ancestor. They found the missing men in an antechamber, already past help in the arid, unfriendly climate. They would never know why he had returned there. Leah had ordered her husband's body and those of the others left where they lay, and resealed the tomb. She'd become grim at the loss, and her eyes held dark death for any who dared to question her after that. The young widow had simply taken command of the Ark Kobol, and ordered them to proceed. She never spoke of Theseus again.

Of the yahrens of the trip, there was much to say, but little of it concerned Cain and his destination. They'd passed numerous systems, found worlds with small human groups, and planets humans could one day settle. They encountered a handful of alien peoples on some of those worlds; only one of the species had space-faring ability.

Once they thought they'd made contact with the thirteenth tribe, long before they expected to. That signal fell silent, ending when they tried to contact the senders. Whoever it was, vanished before them. They returned to their original heading, and followed it faithfully.

They'd reached Earth. And been as shocked as Cain must have been when they first saw the world - or perhaps he hadn't been so surprised after all, considering what they learned.

There had already been humans on that world, humans with a long history, but in a culturally depressed time, in an almost constant state of conflict that rent any attempt to build a society before it could become viable.

As Cain himself had feared, the thirteenth tribe had split on that world. Some had joined local peoples and local troubles. While they meant to help, often their involvement only worsened the condition of the native humans. A few of the more ambitious tried to establish themselves as leaders of the scattered humans, either for altruistic motives of unity and benevolent despotism, or openly as a power base. Several large groups remained together, trying to settle in regions where they thought they might survive and draw other humans to join their more peaceable societies.

It was too soon to tell if Cain's scattered experiments would bear useful fruit for this world. Cain himself was dead, and his descendants faced a difficult task. But the literature of the world, as well as Cain's own diaries and records, was made available to Ester's people. She'd brought it back with her, carefully preserved with their own logbooks.

Another exchange had been people. Some of the crew of the Ark Kobol had chosen to stay, to try and help recivilize this possibly failing world. Some of the children of the thirteenth tribe had petitioned to return to the stars, longing to see the universe as their near ancestors had done.

When they felt they had learned all they could, and had trained the new crewmen and given whatever assistance they could to the pockets of civilization, Leah had ordered them underway again, for the long journey home.

They had returned to the Colonies safely. It was long since anyone had cared to search for the Ark Kobol, and other ships had carried the name in the intervening time, so it had been able to pass through the shipping lanes unnoted. Ester had come down to Caprica alone. No one had gone to Babelon, and no one would until they knew what the situation was on their old home world...

The situation was not good. Aeron, like Seth before him, had little patience for anyone who questioned his rule, and no interest in learning that Cain's mission had been partially successful. Ester remained at the Retreat for a time, sequestered from her former life, never making it known that she had survived and returned. Seth learned she had returned, but despite his requests to see her, she never spoke to him. A few yahrens later, she traveled to Gemon and spent the rest of her life helping Serapis hold the world together.

Captain Leah departed again with the Ark Kobol, and disappeared. Sarai believed she had chosen to return to Kobol, and wished her luck. Leah never returned to Caprica.

V

Sarai leaned back into the comfortable cushions provided for users of their extensive archives. Ester's logbooks were classified as reserved, open only to elders of the Retreat and certain others; few beyond that even knew such materials existed. Most other documents, including extensive and irreplaceable histories of Kobol, were available to any serious scholar or student who was willing to take the time to come to Highpoint. The aging mystic had spent the last few yahrens engrossed in the huge quantities of records her nieces had brought back from their voyage to Kobol and Earth. Few others among her peers were interested enough in the thirteenth colony to devote as much time to the study as she did.

It would take more than one lifetime to learn everything. Besides the information on what was happening on Kobol, the dying world, and the massive amounts of literature and history of the revitalized Earth, there were star charts and world surveys among the logbooks. Ester had done a thorough job. A traveler could reach Earth from the Colonies, via the Void and their planet of origin, and know every step of the route - how long it would take, what systems would be encountered along the way, planets containing human-usable supplies of food and water and fuel, and even a handful of worlds, human-settled and alien, that could be counted on to greet traders and peaceful travelers with open arms and pleasure at the contact.

But the distance... Sarai thought. I was born at the end of the voyage from Kobol, and my mother was born there at its beginning, far across the stars. She grew up and married Lord Adam on the journey. I didn't realize it was so far back to our home world. And Cain went even further the other way, to reach Earth. Why did the Ancients settle so far from each other? What were they afraid of if their worlds were in close proximity?

It doesn't matter now. We know where Earth is, that it exists, that Cain reached there safely. That world is growing again; I wonder how long before our brothers and sisters reach the stars again...

What we need to do is cut the stopover at Kobol. A direct route would save so much time.

She was tired. Early afternoon had turned into late night while she was engrossed in the old records; perhaps in the morning she could speak to one of the archivists, one with astronavigation in her background. The woman might be able to suggest some way of plotting the necessary charts for a starship seeking Earth again. Perhaps she would have some idea how to more safely and easily cross the Void...

She returned most of her documents to the brother on duty, keeping only one of the logbooks to reread in her own small chamber. Once there, with her husband, her reading was forgotten. She swiftly fell into restless slumber.

Something is wrong! She woke with a wild terror ripping at her heart. Pausing only to grab a robe and pull it about her body, she ran out into the hall, past the cubicles of fellow mystics, ignoring the rising confusion and questions behind her. Barefoot, she ran through the central hall and out into the night, leaving her footprints in the thin, crusty banks of snow. Alone in the windless darkness, she reached frantically with all her senses, trying to see what had so disturbed her.

The peace of the mountain winter was shattered in a fireball explosion. Sarai stared, horrified, as the magnificent archival hall became a wild storm of flame, its stone shattering under heat stress, and its contents burning to cinders or molten metal before anything could be done to prevent it.

"Merciful ones, why?" she whispered as the tears flowed. Standing in a snowdrift as close to the fiery structure as she could, she felt its heat searing into her soul. The archives! The treasure of their worlds, and more importantly of Kobol and Earth. How could the gods rob them of the information they so desperately valued and needed? How could this have happened?

Starmont was suddenly beside her. She felt his physical presence and the mental horror he was projecting. For once, there was no comfort they could give each other.

Voices lifted in screams and prayers around her. Brothers and sisters who hadn't been awakened by their own sensitivity before the explosion were aroused by its fury. All poured out to stare in agony as an important part of their purpose was lost in centons. There was no question of extinguishing the fire; the structures burned to its shattered foundations in too short a time.

And we thought our mere existence would preserve our culture, our past! But why? How? What happened to the automatic sensors, the systems that should have turned on before it got this far? How could this happen?

Among the laments, there came an answer. One voice suddenly raised in laughter, a mocking, giddy, half-crazed giggle. Sarai spun to see an old, gray-haired, bent-shouldered man watching the fire with gleaming eyes.

Seth, formerly Lord Sagan of the Colonies, was laughing! He was staring at the fire and laughing hysterically. "Do you see, dear sister? I told you, I told you, you shouldn't cross me! For what you cost me, my daughter and my honor, I took your precious archives. I know you sent Leah and Ester away. Now I have them back, because you don't have her journey anymore. I took them back. Their travels are gone, gone, back to the stars..."

The logbooks of Ark Kobol, the star charts, the planet surveys, the history of Kobol, the records of Earth's civilizations and peoples.

"You have stolen our past, and perhaps our future as well!" was all she could whisper.

Someone - she didn't remember who - howled with rage; then a man threw himself on the old, former lord, and the two fell to the snow, struggling. Others broke up the one-sided battle, and the senile Seth was taken away, still laughing, still screaming in victorious fury at his younger half-sister.

Through tear-blinded eyes, Sarai saw the last rafters collapse in the dying blaze, sending a final, faltering flurry of red sparks into the night sky. Insanity had planted a bomb in the structure, and all it held was gone. The cold of the starless night began to seep into her middle-aged bones, and she shivered. Starmont's arms around her weren't enough to take away the chill, or bring feeling back to her bare feet. She felt very old, very frail.

"There's nothing we can do here," her husband whispered. "Come back inside; you're nearly frozen."

"We are old, Beloved," she muttered sadly. "What have we left, now that Seth has struck, in his madness? All we worked to accomplish in our lives - and he has destroyed it in one act."

"Not all. What were you reading, before we settled to bed?"

She continued to stare bleakly at the glowing embers of the ruins, unable to tear her gaze away. "A tape..."

"It was a logbook. We have something, if we can protect it from Seth and his kind, from common knowledge and hatred and fear."

She could look at him, at the fading eyes, no longer the blue of a clouding sky, at the wrinkles marring his face, at the slowly stooping shoulders. He was aging, too, but she saw him for a moment as the young man who'd taught her and trained her. She took a deep, shuddering breath as yahrens fell away, and realized it was his doing, reaching into her mind for that memory, giving her what consolation he could.

"We have one logbook..." And that one was the first step of the journey - from the Colonies to Kobol, through the Void, perhaps the worst part of the trip; Theseus' navigation notes and comments. And once on Kobol, Cain had left instructions of his own on how to follow him to Earth. Yes, they still had the most important knowledge. And they could record what she remembered, she and the others, of the histories and journals.

"We can send it off-world, to one of the other Retreats, keep its existence secret," her love argued persuasively. "When the time is right..."

"Serapis, on Gemon," she told him dreamily. "The knowledge will be there, when our people need it, even if it be six millennia from now. We will know the way to Kobol. And a little of our goal."

She staggered on cruelly frostbitten feet, falling toward him. Starmont caught her, realizing that beneath the light fabric of her robe, her always-trim figure was becoming frailly thin. Monastic life here could be hard in the winter, and yahrens of winter on this mountain were beginning to tell on her.

It was beginning to snow again. Dark hair and fair were touched with beads of melting ice. Their clothes, inadequate for a winter night, were becoming frosty as they dampened. Starmont turned away from the eerie red shadows of the burning building. His wife in his arms, he walked away from the dying archives into the darkness. Tiny dancing snowflakes continued their crystal-bright song, swirling around their vanishing forms.

Two days later, in the middle of the worst blizzard since Highpoint was settled, Seth died. An age ended.

The greatest memory kept of Sarai is that she saved the knowledge of Kobol. That information was kept by the Retreats for all the millennia, to one day become the link to Earth and hope, so desperately needed by the refugees fleeing the destroyed Colonies.

Epilogue:

Adama handled the crumbling pages of the ancient book with extreme care, almost reverence. There were tapes of the old history, but so translated, revised, and updated that he sometimes thought they were worthless. This was the oldest book he possessed, supposedly made directly from the original logbook of the Ark Kobol. He never learned where old Mimir had obtained it, but his mentor from the Academy had sent it to him when he became commander of the Galactica. This book had led him to Kobol, and the tomb of the last lord.

When Kobol's star appeared in the Void, it had been the first time he accepted the book's words as true, stark history, not embellished myth and religious propaganda.

Rereading several passages that he already knew well, he replaced the tome in its protective trunk, and prepared for a restful sleep.

Sarai had been real. Ark Kobol had been real. And Earth was real, too, waiting for them, somewhere. They would find it. Someday.

"The Gardens of Babelon"

In the beginning:

Twelve tribes of Kobol settled the Twelve Worlds. As the populations grew and spread across their worlds, their cultures and beliefs diverged. Under the overlordship of Caprica, they prospered, but their ways of life changed to fit the worlds they occupied. The time came when the other Colonies realized how different they had become, and began to see themselves as separate entities; they began to question rule from another world.

The Lords of Caprica, heirs of the Lords of Kobol, were caught in their own world's needs, and scarcely noticed the murmurings at first. The lords eventually realized that something had to change, and tried to adapt or stem the tide.

I

Apollo, Lord of Caprica, studied the architectural drawings on the table before him. Vulcan, the architectural liaison, stepped back respectfully.

The plan showed a magnificent, many-tiered structure in the center of an elegant, sprawling garden paradise of parks, ponds, flower beds, hedges, and groves. Buildings strewn as if haphazardly through the gardens were of the same motif, but smaller and less ornate; as a whole, the main structure and its many outbuildings, spread over several square miles, would be a capital worthy of any lord. The idea had been his; he'd called in specialists in history and architecture to craft his ideas into a workable reality.

The men and women who had designed the structures from his dream assured him it was a replica of buildings that had stood in Eden, the old capital city of Kobol; they would be built of materials brought from each of the Twelve Colonies and their myriad scattered outworlds, the smaller colonies and space settlements that looked back to the main system. Pyramid-shaped pavilions surrounded the greater pyramids that would be the government buildings and monuments. Tall columns and carved stelae would dot the grassy sections. Plants from every Colony and even from old Kobol would grow in profusion, each in their carefully tended section of the garden.

It was his dream, a dream that might keep the Twelve Colonies and their own spreading offspring from tearing themselves apart. Seeing a reminder of old Kobol at the heart of their government might keep them together a few yahrens more. Every ancient-looking building focused on the greatest pyramid in the middle of that garden; that structure, in turn, aimed starward, oriented true on the ancient Void that hovered between old Kobol and the Colonies. It would be a grand reminder of whence they had come, a challenge to the separatists who claimed the individual colony worlds should go their own ways.

That had always been Apollo's hope, though his father, the previous Lord of Caprica, had been impatient with his oldest child's interests in history and architecture, and would never have cared for their anachronistic, worldbound grandeur. Dispater had preferred starships and engineering, when he had the time. Apollo hoped an appeal to the past would buy his people time, at the least.

"It won't work, my lord," a soft voice murmured in his ear.

The young lord jumped in shock. "I left orders not to be disturbed!"

Serapis smiled dreamily, his eyes half-closed. "And your servants will tell you they've followed those orders."

"So how did you come here?" Alone in his quiet alcove, he hadn't been expecting company - nor did he relish the idea that someone could sneak up on him so completely unnoted. The family had enemies; he was not too much of a dreamer to be unaware of that!

"Never mind, I'm not sure I want to know." He waved the architect out. "Sit down, cousin, and tell me why you're here."

The "cousin" was purely an honorific; the two descendants of Lord Sagan were generations and worlds removed from each other.

Apollo was the Lord of Caprica, the ninth of his line, descendant of Sagan and the House of Kobol, and ruler of the twelve tribes and the worlds they had claimed and settled over the past four centuries. He was a dark-haired, green-eyed man of even build and distinctive features, athletic when he had time to be. He was considered handsome, although he would have deprecated the fact by stating another fact that people usually proclaimed their leaders attractive, for less than altruistic motives.

Serapis was a mystic, born and raised in a simple religious community on Gemon, trained by some of the most Gifted individuals in the Colonies, already with a reputation for wisdom and diplomacy. He was fair-haired and more slender than Apollo, with finer features and blue eyes that almost, but not quite, uptilted at the corners. He was part of the heritage of the Highpoint mystics, who now had communities throughout the Colonies, and had earned a name as Keepers of Kobol - among those who knew of them. The order sought no publicity.

With Apollo's interest in the past, and his family's old ties to the order, it was only natural that he looked to the mystics for guidance and information.

Serapis settled into a chair opposite Apollo with the self-assured ease of someone who owned the place, without consideration of the superior rank of his companion. The lord still stood, eyebrows raised.

Nettled, Apollo asked, "But what do you mean, it won't work? You don't even know what I'm considering!"

Serapis closed his eyes briefly, the smile turning sad. "You want to build a monument to the power of the old lords, and hope the Colonies will gather around that monument and make it a shrine to unity, and cease our arguments and fall into compliant harmony with the will of the heirs of the Lords of Kobol."

Apollo crossed his arms and frowned.

"But we have come too far over the yahrens to surrender our independence and be made docile by the raising of one palace in a garden on a world not our own. Our people have learned to relish freedom in all things."

The lord shook his head. "I can hear the Gemonese in you. The only belief your people have in common is a refusal to accept anything that won't let you hate everybody else!"

Serapis cocked his blond head to the side, ignoring what might have been an attempt at humor. "Apollo," he said seriously, "if old Eden itself were transported here across the stars, and the Nine rose from their pyramids to stand at its gates, it would not be enough to hold our Worlds together past starset."

"Do you suggest I let our planets splinter as if we were all alien to each other, instead of blood kin and children of one world? Serapis, you're a pessimist, tainted by what you do. You of all people-"

The Gemon laughed, breaking the somber mood. "I, of all people, who has spent his life trying to arbitrate between a hundred sects in a thousand quarrels. Yes, I suppose I should be the last person to comment on symbols of unity. So tell me, how will your gardens grow?"

Apollo grinned finally, and gestured at the blueprints spread across the table, his expression becoming eager, like an artist ready to display his work and proud of it. He and his mystic cousin were actually very close, and it was Serapis he had instinctively felt would most understand what he wished to accomplish - even if he disagreed with its chances for success.

"I've already ordered the garden layout to be planted; it may be yahrens before it's ready for the monuments. But take a look, I'd like to hear your opinions on what I've been considering. And there are a few other things..."

The time with Serapis always went too fast. Before Apollo realized it, the afternoon was half-spent, and his distant cousin was bowing his way out of the lord's presence. The mystic managed to disappear as thoroughly and easily as he had appeared, all but vanishing between one micron and the next, an image of white robes, then emptiness where he had been. Apollo had to wonder if anyone else in the palace would even know that Serapis had been there.

The Lord of Caprica remained alone in the alcove, still enjoying the image of his dream, quietly proud of what he would create, lost in visions of the unity it would bring his people.

This time, he heard the approach of the newcomer. Not that Councilor Lokie could have been missed by anyone - the man was large and walked with a ponderous, deliberate gait, and wore such flashy, colorful robes that no one could fail to see him.

Usually, he walked accompanied by two or three aides. Today, he was alone.

"My lord Apollo," Lokie began.

"Councilor," the young lord replied neutrally, though inside he groaned. Lokie had been a good, honored friend of his father's, and came from a High Family with wealth and connections to several of the greater Families on the other Colony worlds. Apollo privately thought Lokie had lost his wisdom with his hair, which was now thin and silvered, but he still had a great deal of influence. The young man tried to look and sound as though he were engrossed in his blueprints, and too busy to be disturbed, but the councilor wasn't put off.

"My lord," he repeated, "there is a matter of extreme urgency which must be discussed. I have attempted to raise it in Council, only to have it put aside with one excuse after another..."

Apollo sighed. So that was it again. Lokie was pushing for him to be sealed. And undoubtedly he had some girl lined up from one of the related Families.

"You feel it is time for me to marry," he interrupted, resignation heavy in his voice.

"My lord, you are already forty-five yahrens old! How long can you put off your duty?" The councilor lowered himself into the chair in which Serapis had sat with much more ease. "Your father, Lord Dispater, already walks in Kobol's light. While it is easy for a man of your yahrens to ignore his mortality, it must be for men of my age, who have carried out their responsibilities to our people, to remind you of your duty to the children of Kobol."

Apollo groaned inwardly. Lokie was obviously winding up for a long and patriotic speech.

"And therefore I must marry and sire children of my own," he interjected when the councilor paused either for breath or for dramatic effect. "Thus to carry on the line of Kobol - which I am sure my two sisters and half a hundred assorted kinsmen are very capable of, should the need arise. But I'm sure you have found at least one eligible woman in the Colonies who is of good Family, good health, and proper political connections to suit the purpose?" he finished with heavy sarcasm.

A flash of anger crossed Lokie's face, but he set it aside and responded civilly, "My lord, I am pleased to know you have considered the matter. Yes, I - with the help of others for whom the safety and happiness of our people is paramount - am considering a young woman who would not only make a fine wife and Lady of Kobol, but who would bring many assets of her own-"

"Who is she?"

"Elisheba of the Third House of Sagittara."

Apollo thought quickly. Try as he might, no image came to mind. Lokie responded to the young man's blank look with a very slight smile.

"She is a very charming young woman, a cousin of Ambassador Solamon, and something of a beauty, if I may say so myself," he preened as if the girl were his personal creation.

Maybe she is, Apollo thought. He brought up his hand before Lokie could go into more detail.

"Councilor, I recognize that your concerns are for the good of the Colonies and for the future of the House of Kobol. But I must remind you, as Lord of Caprica I must be more concerned with all our people than with my own selfish desire to see my descendants ruling twelve worlds," he said, trying to sound determined but conciliatory and noble at the same time. Inside, he was pleased to be able to use the same arguments against Lokie that the councilor was using against him.

Lokie frowned.

"After all," he continued carelessly, "there are other matters of greater impact than any man's mere marriage."

"Such as building a new capital center?" Lokie's eyes rested on the blueprints. Apollo's interest was well known to his councilors.

"Yes," he replied honestly. "Our people need a symbol of unity. And this will be it, a capital to last for a millennium. That has to matter more than who one man seals to at one point in time-"

"Unless that point in time is critical," Lokie said bluntly. He slid forward and raised himself out of the chair. "As it is now."

The intensity in the councilor's voice made him listen.

"My agents have uncovered pieces of a plot, my lord."

Apollo met his gaze with equal intensity. "'Pieces' of a plot?" he repeated carefully.

Lokie nodded abruptly.

"What kind of plot?"

"A conspiracy that could destroy the Colonies and set the tribes at each other's throats. If what I have learned is true, and I have no reason to believe it is not, at least one of the Colony worlds is within a decade of declaring its independence of Caprica and withdrawing from the Hall."

Apollo was taken aback. "How? When? Who's behind this?" he snapped.

"I don't know who's behind it. Nor do I know when, or how. But the evidence is that at least one of the Families of Sagittara is involved, and also that of Scorpia."

The lord drew a deep breath. "The rest of the tribes would never allow it!"

"I believe they would."

"What?"

"I believe they would sit back and watch to see what Caprica did. And if you couldn't hold Sagittara and Scorpio, the others would be gone in another decade. You would begin as Lord of the Twelve Colonies, but end with Caprica alone, if she survives, for your children to rule."

"If she ... survives?" Apollo repeated, stunned.

Lokie nodded his head vigorously. "I would not be surprised if, after the first attempt to hold the breakaway worlds, another tribe chose to try to claim the Seal for themselves. We would have to fight to hold Sagittara and Scorpio; it we let them go, we would have no way to hold the others. The struggle would weaken us, have no doubts on that, no matter how much assistance any of the other worlds provided. It would leave us vulnerable, easy prey for another battle. Which would no doubt be provided."

Apollo stared down at his blueprints. "What you predict is a civil war that could destroy humanity." There was no response. None was needed. He looked up again. "But you believe that if I marry this Sagittaran girl, it will somehow allay this plot, and stop a war?"

"I believe it will. A Sagittaran lady, of the Third House, will tie the population of that world to us with great enthusiasm. It will keep the First and Second Families off-guard. It will give us a valuable ally - as you recall, Solamon is of that House."

There were too many things to consider. Apollo grasped at every straw, couldn't put any of them into words, until: "But why haven't you brought this up at Council? Why now, to me alone?"

"There are Sagittarans on the Council, my lord. Accuse their government and Families of treason?" Lokie replied in an odd tone. "Why warn your enemies? And I tell you now because I know of it now."

Apollo didn't realize he'd begun to pace. "Where is your proof?"

"I have copies of transmissions we intercepted," the older man came back mercilessly.

"A decade seems a long time to plot treason..."

"Not if you must rally one population and undermine another, and gather arms and ships and supplies to fight a war against your brothers - all subtly, so one detects your hand."

"But we don't know who's really behind it..."

"Not that I can prove - yet. But I will. And they will be dealt with. And in the meantime, you must act to pull their teeth. Even if it means a sacrifice on the marital altar."

Apollo clenched his teeth.

"But I assure you, once you have seen her, you will not consider it so great a sacrifice."

Apollo stared at the girl he had all but agreed to marry. Elisheba of Sagittara was all that Lokie had said she was, and more. She was petite, fine-figured, small-boned, and as delicate as an Edenflower. She wore the formal robes of Council with grace and ease; they flowed with her every movement. Her hair was blonde shading into moonlight-silver, with streaks like moonbeams, from what he could see in her upswept hairstyle. An emerald-studded silver arrow in a green enameled bow gleamed in that hair, a visible mark of her Family and obvious identifying mark; no one else was wearing Sagittara's sigil tonight. Her face was perfectly composed and devoid of expression. She lifted her chin slightly when she realized he was staring at her; he finally met her eyes. They were as green as the Southern Sea at twilight, a lighter shade than his own, but just as cold as that sea, as well as determined and veiled and very intriguing.

Apollo suddenly had the distinct feeling, staring into her eyes, that she was as much blown by the winds of politics and threats of war as he now seemed to be. He was sure Lokie had cued the girl in on their respective roles. Did Solamon of Sagittara know the purpose of these well-planned festivities? He must...

Her mouth seemed very set, he noted now, and there was something in her eyes that said defiance had been worn down with much effort, and was still difficult to reconcile and conceal.

He realized she no more wanted to seal to him than he desired to seal to her.

A symbol would not save them, Serapis had said. Yet, he mused, this marriage, if it came about, would be little more than a symbol. Lokie swore it could make the difference. Unite two houses, two worlds, two tribes. Make right, wrongs that were centuries old. Hold the people together and try to keep them united until they had some greater, more tangible reason to stay as one. The lords weren't enough. The capital wouldn't be.

So what could?

Councilor Lokie made the unnecessary introductions, then moved off to just out of earshot, somehow managing to take others with him and drawing more into his loud conversation. The hall, filled as it was with diplomats, councilors, and nobles, seemed to have to force itself to gaiety. All the same, there was much attention on the lord and the siress.

"Siress Elisheba," he said, bowing his head slightly.

She dropped in a deep, elegant bow. "My lord Apollo." Stiff as an ice sculpture, her face was empty of emotion now, as though she'd controlled whatever her feelings were. He was disappointed.

"You know why we have been made to meet, I presume?" He would give her the dignity of honesty.

She inclined her head. "Yes, my lord."

"And you are amenable to this?"

"The stakes have been explained to me, my lord. I would not care to see my world destroyed, or our people at war with each other."

He nodded, managed to force a smile. All the formalities to make this look less like a plot of Caprica's, less a political necessity... "Then perhaps, Siress, we should begin with a dance, very publicly. We will speak several times over the evening, always as privately as we can arrange."

"But visibly," she added, and laughed, loudly enough to be heard by others. Apollo wondered how she managed to put on such a smile, and stare at him so attentively, especially after the first bleakness.

"But visibly," he repeated, trying to smile as though they'd shared a humorous thought. "We should leave this gathering before it ends, together, also with witnesses. To be followed by a quiet but known envoy to your parents. All evidence of our personal wishes being firmly in favor of a match." There were plenty of witnesses to their continued speech. The music swelled; he held out a hand to lead her onto the floor. "Shall we?"

"Actually, my lord, I would prefer not to dance," she declined. "I have heard, however, that we have an interest in common, in a love of history. Is it true that you are planning a new capital center, inspired by old Eden?"

"It is." He wondered if he should be flattered and grateful, or humiliated that she might be condescending to him. Was she pretending an interest for his sake? If they really shared that interest, but no others, would it be enough?

"I would like to see it, if I may, my lord," she said, her voice halting just a little, as if she suddenly felt awkward or concerned that her interest would be unwelcome.

"Certainly, Siress ... or shall we use our given names?"

She appeared undecided for a micron. "I ... would prefer not to until we are more comfortable with one another."

He nodded and held out his hand. She placed delicate fingers in his grasp, and the two of them walked toward the archway and out of the public hall. Both were very aware of the eyes watching, some speculative, some satisfied, some smoldering and suspicious. For those eternal moments, Apollo fervently wished for less formality, for less rigid roles and for fewer political necessities.

He heard Elisheba sigh, and wondered if she felt the same as he did.

"If you would prefer that this not be..." he began under his breath, just loud enough for her to hear. They were out of sight and hearing of the hall, but there were always eyes and ears, and sometimes similar mechanical devices, in the home of the lords.

"I know what's at stake, for more than us," she returned, equally quietly.

"Not so much for you," Apollo told her. "I have no choice, I'm afraid. I have to make a proper marriage for the good of the Colonies. You do not have to be the bride."

"The Councilor and my father have explained why I am the first, best choice for bride, my lord. And I suspect that by having left together, we have already sealed ourselves to our fate. For either of us to decline now would be ... unexplainable."

He was quiet for a few moments as they walked. There were discrete footsteps hurrying behind them, undoubtedly a servant or guard trying to catch up to them and still be undetected.

"We will of course arrange a mutually agreeable accommodation," he offered. "Once the formalities are complete, and ... and there is ... an heir."

He thought she winced. "Are you that dissatisfied and eager to be rid of me already?" she asked softly.

Apollo blinked in astonishment and stared at her. "I don't know you enough to know what I might feel... I was trying to be considerate of you... What were you told?" he demanded.

She looked at him inquiringly. "I was told you had decided it was time to do what was required for our people, but the implication was strong that you didn't want to marry, that it was only political, and that my family connections were what mattered..."

"That ... may be true, at this point, but you sound as though you think I have some reason to personally dislike you..."

She blinked, and her face turned thoughtful. He discovered her eyes could be the color of spring growth as well as the twilight green of the Southern Sea. Color flared up and through her cheeks. "It is known that Sagittara and Caprica have their differences. I ... I believed that you disliked the prospect of marrying me specifically, but perhaps I ... only assumed... No one said any such thing..."

The footsteps behind them had stopped. Apollo glanced back, then took Elisheba's hand again and resumed his pace. "It seems I may have assumed the same, that you would find this distasteful, especially when you said you knew the stakes."

She sighed heavily in relief, and smiled. "Then at least we are not starting with negative feelings. Maybe we won't be hiring assassins for our anniversaries after all!"

Apollo was shocked at first at the flippant remark, but the lighter tone she used was so much sweeter than the tension he now knew she'd been under, that he found himself laughing. "Well, I'm happy to hear that!"

"Lord Apollo," she continued more seriously, "can we promise each other honesty, and fairness in our treatment of each other, and our feelings?"

He nodded solemnly. "I will promise the attempt."

"And I," Elisheba responded.

They nodded affirmation of their promise and continued down the hall.

Apollo felt more hopeful already. "Tell me, Siress Elisheba, do you really have an interest in history, or was that merely so we would appear to have something in common to explain our meeting?"

"Oh, my interest is real!" she assured him. "When I heard what you planned, I was eager to see it. At least it told me you weren't..." She flushed.

"It told you I wasn't what?" he demanded.

"It impressed me. It told me you weren't ... like your father, with no ties or concerns for our past except where it could be used to justify himself." Her face was still red, and she seemed braced for anger. "Being with you, I can see you are not like him..."

Apollo was shocked to hear it stated that way, but it was true. His father had no interest in history; he had ruled the Colonies with a heavy but distracted hand, preferring to use his time and energy in the design and flying of spaceships. That had been the death of him, in a ship that had failed in space; Apollo suspected his father would have chosen no other way to die.

"He never understood my interests," Apollo deliberately shifted the focus. "Neither do my sisters. It will be a pleasant change having someone here who understands and shares my feelings. This way..."

II

Apollo, son of Dispater and Materna, Lord and Lady of Caprica, heir of Kobol, married the Siress Elisheba of the Third House of Sagittara, daughter of Sire and Siress Candar of that House, and made her Lady of Caprica. Those who disapproved of the sealing kept their silence.

Actual construction on the great citadel began on the day after the young couple's sealing. There was no time for a wedding trip; as ruling Lord of Caprica, Apollo couldn't spare the time. Instead, the royal pair presided over the groundbreaking ceremonies, which were broadcast with sufficient pomp throughout every world in the Colonies.

They looked wonderful together. Apollo was tall and dark, with the clear green eyes and prominent features of the Sagans; he moved among his people with the unselfconscious ease of someone familiar with the milieu and very comfortable with his role. Elisheba was small, slender, and blonde, and moved with the grace of a dancer, even if she felt uncomfortable among dancing crowds. They seemed to complement each other's strengths and weaknesses.

And as they adjusted to each other and their lives together, it appeared they complemented each other emotionally and personally as well. Always, they remembered their purpose was to ensure the well-being of their people. They fulfilled their responsibilities and carried out their required roles impeccably.

They had been sealed only a little more than a yahren when their daughter Mirian was born. Zakaryah followed five yahrens later. Their youngest, Zurvan, came fifteen yahrens after that, a personal gift to each other that they allowed themselves because of the delight they'd taken in their older children.

All that time, construction continued on the citadel of Babelon, the successor to Eden. The great pyramid in the center of the complex neared completion, its gold-capped apex reaching loftily to the stars. Cornerstones were laid for the smaller outbuildings, each oriented on the greater one reclining in their midst. Pacrete walkways meandered among the structures and garden plots - no transports would be allowed to disturb the spell with noise. Trees and rare plants that had first been sprouted and tended in special greenhouses were carefully transplanted in their planned locations in the gardens. Publicly, the leaders of the Colonies lauded the "capstone of glory" that would signify unity for millennia to come.

Behind the public view, five of the Sagittaran conspirators and two from Scorpio were located and quietly taken into custody. All seven committed suicide before they could be tried for treason, and none betrayed any other conspirators. However, that seemed to remove the head of the conspiracy, for as closely as Lokie and his agents listened, nothing more was heard of attempts to instigate war between the Colonies.

Thirty yahrens passed.

III

Apollo stared out through the window of the higher tower of the lord's residence. From there, he could see the gleaming golden cap of the New Eden Center. At this time of day, from here, with both suns still low in the sky, the pyramid cast a shadow over half the city. But from his own height, Apollo could see where the high point eclipsed the larger sun, like a spear into the sky with flame dancing around the lance. It was a sight that always filled him with pride and joy, a good reason to wake early and come here, to enjoy the view and the fresh morning breezes from off the sea.

Bare footsteps crossed the carpet behind him; idly, he noted Elisheba's approach. She was still as sleep-touched as he was, this early in the morning. She slipped her hand into his and stood beside him.

He glanced at his wife. Thirty yahrens they had been together, the same thirty yahrens that marked the time from the groundbreaking to the current point of construction.

She yawned, and rested her head on his shoulder. He let go of her fingers and slid his arm around her waist, pulling her closer in front of him. She leaned back against his chest, sighing with contentment.

They stood there for about five centons more, then the edges of the larger sun cleared the peak, and brilliant light and color flooded the city. Apollo and Elisheba had to turn away from the blinding glory.

"How many mornings have we watched the sunrise?" she wondered as they returned to their sleeping chamber to shower and dress for the day.

They were alone together; it had become part of their personal ritual, yahrens before, to spend that centar with each other. Often, it would be the only part of the day they truly had to themselves; during the day there were meetings and audiences; the evenings were often filled with formal events and gatherings. Many times, there were also events on other worlds that would take one or the other of them off-planet for as much as a sectar at a time.

The discrete knock came when Apollo was brushing out her long, wet blonde hair, now with just the one narrow streak of silver at her left temple. Elisheba's family grayed early, but elegantly; her kinsman Solamon had iron-gray hair now, but his face was almost as unlined as a teenager's.

They ignored it at first. The house staff knew they were not to be disturbed. If it were important, there were certain procedures to be followed - knocking on the royal couple's door at this time of morning was not part of it.

It came again.

Elisheba swiveled her chair. "Who is it?" she called, though her husband shook his head and tried to wave it off.

The door opened, and a man glided in.

"Cousin!" she exclaimed in surprise, grabbing her robe - though, thinking about it later, she realized she should have known that only Serapis or an assassin would have entered without waiting for permission. And an assassin would never have knocked.

Serapis glanced at them, then moved to one of the cushioned chairs, embroidered with a single blue-and-white, multipetaled Edenflower. He sat and faced them somberly.

"What is it?" Apollo asked. He was still only half-dressed, still with damp hair from his own shower.

Serapis stared at the floor for several uneasy centons, then met Apollo's eyes. "It was not in time."

"What? What was not in time?"

He flicked a glance at the high, narrow window.

"The New Eden Center?" Apollo asked, brow furrowed.

Serapis nodded.

Old memories came back quickly. The Lord of Caprica remembered that the mystic had always felt the government center was insufficient for its hoped-for purpose. But what would bring the man into their private bedchamber, at this time of day...?

"Serapis, what have you learned?" he asked.

"There are rumors on Gemon," he said with soft distinction. "Rumors of scorn, and anger, and preparations for war."

Apollo thought for a moment. "There are always rumors of that sort on Gemon. Gemon hasn't agreed with itself since before the Migration! There has to be something more! What is it?"

Serapis shook his head, troubled.

The next knock on the door was thunderous, echoing.

The lord and lady both jumped.

"What is it?" Apollo yelled. When he looked back at Serapis, it was to see only an empty chair.

"My lord, Sire Lokie wishes to speak with you," returned a hesitant voice. "I have explained that you do not wish to be disturbed at this time of morning, but I fear he is not dissuaded, and insists on seeing you..."

Apollo sighed in exasperation and turned to his wife. She nodded fatalistically.

"We'll have no peace today, it seems. You might as well see him."

"Very well." More loudly, he said, "In a moment, show him in."

The woman slipped through the door to her sitting room. The man picked up a robe of his own and pulled it over his trousers and bare chest, then seated himself in the chair the Gemonese mystic had so quickly vacated.

The door opened, and an elderly, balding man tottered in, leaning on the shoulder of an strong-armed aide. Lokie still affected colorful robes, but now they looked garish; he could no longer carry them off as he had when he was a few decades or a century younger. With only wisps of hair on top, he looked more ancient than his years.

The aide guided the old man to another chair, then stepped back and remained silent, arms crossed before his chest.

Apollo contemplated Lokie. He hadn't seen his former councilor since his retirement, over fifteen yahrens previously. He wondered what had brought the man here, now. Sire Lokie's stature would have gained him an audience at any other time, but at this time of day...

"What is it, Sire?" he asked.

Lokie jerked, and Apollo would have sworn the old sire had been dozing off.

"Lord Apollo?" The voice was almost as strong as he remembered.

"Yes?" He wondered if Lokie's mind was beginning to wander. The councilor's eyes looked as sharp and glittering as ever - but troubled, and he seemed unable to start talking.

After a moment that lasted a centar, when Apollo had begun to feel impatient, Lokie spoke. "My lord, there is something amiss."

"Yes?" He waited, giving the elderly councilor the benefit of his yahrens. "What is it? As I recall, the last time you found something amiss, I found a lady - I hope it is not something similar this time, as I am still quite happy with the one I have!" he finished on a lighter note.

Lokie worked his lips a few microns. "My lord, it is, regrettably, similar. But not so easily remedied, I fear. There are rumors of trouble on Scorpio."

Apollo glanced quickly at the councilor's aide.

"Damoclees is trusted with my life," Lokie caught and interpreted the look, but fell back into silence.

"What kind of trouble?" Apollo prompted as the silence lengthened. "More plans for dissolution of the Colonies?" There were always rumors; if not for Serapis's words only a moment before, he wouldn't have been much concerned with another rumor.

"I ... do not know for certain." The old man leaned forward. "My lord Apollo, my people are listening to every tale, talking to everyone who might know, spreading currency where it may do some good. But ... they are learning nothing."

He felt relieved. "You are concerned because they are learning nothing? Your agents are some of the best - you find every plot almost before it's thought of. If you and your people are finding nothing, wouldn't that tell you there is nothing to be found? Maybe you can find no evidence of a plot because there is no plot."

Lokie shook his head stubbornly. "They are finding nothing. No one has heard the rumors - but the rumors are there. People look sideways - and people vanish. Some of my people have disappeared." He closed his lips tightly for a moment. "If there were nothing to hide, there would be no reason for that. I have ... fear, deep in my heart, that this ... this may be worse than what happened before."

Apollo leaned back to think, somberly considering the implications. "You suspect there is some serious plot underway, and that those of your people who have learned anything, have been killed?"

Lokie nodded, his chin dropping to his chest. "They were good people," he mumbled.

"You believe it may be similar to the planned rebellion three decades ago, because it also comes from Scorpio?"

"Similar, yes."

"What do you suggest I do?" Apollo asked carefully.

Lokie looked up sharply, as though his attention had come from somewhere far. "Be careful. Something feels different this time, I don't know why. Be careful."

The councilor reached out a hand; his aide helped him out of the chair, and the pair moved to the door with no more words.

Apollo let them go. Frowning, he remained where he sat, mulling over what the sire had said, trying to make connections when he really had no information to work with. He would have to speak to Serapis. The Gemon always knew something. Sometimes he wouldn't say all he knew, and sometimes he spoke in what might as well have been riddles, but he always knew something...

Elisheba came out of the sitting room, her arms wrapped around herself. She glanced out the window, then moved to kneel beside him, taking one of his hands in hers. "When Lokie and Serapis both speak of trouble, I worry. Apollo, I think we have to do something."

"Our people will focus on Scorpio too. If there's something there to find, we'll find it."

"No, not just that, that's what we've always done..."

"What more can we do?" he asked helplessly. "I can't make people want to be united! I can't force them to feel devoted to our home world, to our government! What can I do?"

"I think we must be ready for the worst."

"No!" He rose from the chair, pulling away from her, and stalked to the window. "I won't concede the battle already lost! Our people survived and escaped from Kobol. We settled these worlds, made them our homes, unchallenged by anyone else! We've had peace and prosperity here for five centuries! It can't end in civil war, the Colonies can't fall into ruin that way." He turned abruptly and stared out across the city. The first sounds of construction carried to him on the wind. He considered the violent destruction of all that he was building. "We can't end that way..."

"We won't."

Apollo and Elisheba both jumped at Serapis's reappearance from behind the tapestries.

"This is a time of crisis," the mystic said softly, "and it will not pass easily. But it will pass. And we will survive. As we have survived before, and as we will survive again." The last was said with gritted-teeth intensity. He glanced at the lady and continued, "All the same, I think certain ... preparations would be a very good idea."

IV

The Citadel of New Eden was all but complete; the Garden of the Ages and Worlds was in full, luxuriant growth and bloom. A royal reception was held to celebrate the dedication, the first such formal occasion in the grand central pyramid, on the night of the greater vernal equinox, and a planetary holiday declared for the same occasion.

As dusk fell over New Eden, the larger sun dipped below the horizon; the smaller sun continued to bestow its reddish light over the city, as it would for another centar before it too dropped from view and the stars came into their full brilliance.

The celebration was actually city-wide. Half of Caprica's population seemed to have come to the city for the dedication, which was, to them, as much a mark of pride and Caprican dominance of the Colonies as a symbol of unity for the twelve known worlds of humanity. Music blared everywhere; light glittered from every dwelling; the scent of fresh-blooming flowers spread through even the business districts, with their hard pacrete streets and cold stone structures. People thronged the streets in their finest garb, and far more alcohol flowed than was wise and more food eaten than would normally have been eaten in any other secton.

In the citadel itself, high in the pyramid rising above the city, nobility from all over the Colonies gathered in the reception room under the vaulted golden cap. Robes in rainbow hues and gems of every size glittered in the great hall, reflecting an aurora upon the faces and bodies of an equal variety of humans of every world, color, and creed.

Apollo and Elisheba reigned over that court, as fine and elegant as if they were Lord and Lady of Kobol itself. Standing before tamarwood thrones on a raised dais, they looked out across the chamber, watching the human dance as people moved through the reception line and joined groups that flowed and reformed on a regular basis. At one time or another, everyone present came before the Lord of Caprica and his lady to pay their proper respects.

For their part, Apollo and Elisheba had little choice but to play their public role and greet people, welcoming them to the dedication. The lord kept an eye on the crowd, picking out their dark-haired son Zakaryah where he moved among the population, being eyes and ears of his father. Young Lady Mirian, the heir, fairer-haired and complexioned like her mother, had her own receiving line, at the second cardinal point of the pyramid, opposite the lord's.

"Sire Solamon of Sagittara," intoned the official host in a stiffly formal voice as an old man hobbled up the steps with labored breath. Three aides waited respectfully behind him, along with a middle-aged woman whose features were so similar it was impossible to miss the relationship between her and the aged sire.

"Greetings, kinsman." Elisheba smiled and moved into a close embrace with the statesman.

He mumbled some response and nodded at Apollo, then moved off with an almost distracted air. The royal pair watched him go with some sadness.

"His mind wanders, these days," Elisheba murmured under her breath as Solamon's aides quickly moved forward for brief greetings, then rushed off after their nominal leader. Siress Tamada was now the true speaker for the Sagittaran delegation, but she continued to defer to Solamon as if he still spoke for that colony.

"He will be a terrible loss," Apollo commiserated. He knew Elisheba was fond of her once-wise, elderly kinsman. There was no time for any further words as the next woman moved up the steps.

"Siress Vivienna of Scorpio." The official host sounded suddenly more interested.

Both of them looked in time to see a head bowed formally in their direction. The woman's face was hidden from view for the moment; all they could see was the long coil of rich red hair ornamented with stars of silver, emerald, and amethyst. The low curtsey exposed deep cleavage in a gown as deep green as the gems. The gown was slit high on one side; when she walked it showed one slim leg nearly to her hip. Her arm on that side was also bare from the shoulder, where the sigil of Scorpio gleamed; the other shoulder and arm were covered with a gauzy fabric that flowed with her every move.

Siress Vivienna stood up, and Apollo's gaze met eyes as green as his own, with silver-tipped lashes for frames in an oval face accented with high, perfect cheeks. Her gaze dropped, and she smiled with a gentle modesty that was at odds with her daring attire.

"My lord, my lady," she said in a cultured voice.

"Siress..."

Then she moved away.

The lord watched her go, unable to summon words. After a moment he drew a deep breath and turned to Elisheba. She was watching him with raised eyebrows. He flushed; before he could say anything, the host spoke again.

"Sire Eller and Siress Korinne of Aquaria."

The reception continued.

"She is a beauty!" Nessus whistled, nudging Zakaryah's arm. He stared in rapt appreciation as the Scorpian siress crossed the pavilion with elegant steps, her red hair gleaming in the lights that reflected from the gilded ceiling.

Zakaryah chuckled. "You do like the exotic ones," he murmured back to his friend.

"Exotic? Try gorgeous."

"I suppose, but I've never been partial to redheads," the young lord responded with a shrug.

"Yes, you prefer 'em as blonde and slim as a riverfall tree," Nessus retorted in a jeering undertone. "But I'll take the full-bodied ones any day."

"She's a Scorpian, from the First House," commented the third youth more critically, recognizing the family and planetary sigils in the gems in the young siress's hair and in the clasp at her shoulder.

"So?" Nessus said, stroking down his own black hair. "I wouldn't mind getting to know her more intimately - whether she's Scorpian, Caprican, or asteroid miner's daughter!"

Zakaryah shook his head, still amused at their comments. He was amazed the Scorpian siress was present; there had been harsh words in the Council over the past yahrens, and from what he'd heard, he hadn't expected any representatives of their First House to attend this gala. He certainly wouldn't have expected one of them to be seeking out his parents for formal greetings.

Nessus and Tremain continued to eye the woman with appreciation as she moved, then decided to see if she wanted company. Zakaryah couldn't quite bring himself to that; he knew it was unfair, and he'd probably regret it later, but somehow he knew he wouldn't feel comfortable with the Siress Vivienna. Something about her touched a wrong nerve in him.

The reception seemed a success. No brawls had broken out, and no quarrels had erupted into feuds. In fact, everyone actually seemed to have relaxed and to be having a good time, and to be impressed in exactly the manner he'd hoped for. Apollo let his eyes wander across the pavilion. From his vantage point, it was a swirl of color and muted sounds of enjoyment.

"My lord," said a cultured, instantly recognizable voice. Apollo glanced sideways almost eagerly; it was indeed the Siress Vivienna.

He nodded formally at her bowed head. "Siress."

She touched her hand to his in a formal fashion. "All things appear to be going well this evening," she remarked, scanning the crowds herself.

"They do indeed," he had to agree. The scent of her perfume reached him; it was as exotic as she was, touched with something that reminded him of a gentle spring rain blowing in across the bay. He cupped his fingers around hers, holding them for a micron longer than was proper for the occasion.

Perhaps distracted by this, her eyes seemed to focus on a spot in the crowd for a few moments.

"The plans of our forebears seem poised to be borne out tonight," she commented shortly.

His eyes had never really left her. "Indeed? In what fashion, Siress?" he asked.

She gestured across the chamber with her perfectly manicured hands; Apollo caught the flash of silver from her nails, then was caught in the flash of her smile. "Our ancestors came here with hope of new lives ... resources ... a future that Kobol no longer offered us. Now, standing here, I sense that we stand on the verge of the realization of those dreams..." Her voice faded.

"Ah," he replied, nodding. "You have an understanding of things that I don't often hear from the Houses, and, I must admit, I did not expect to hear from the Scorpians."

Vivienna glanced at him sideways. "We look to the future for our people as well as you, my Lord Apollo. Or do you think we're all short-sighted and unwilling to do what must be done?"

The words carried an edge, though the tone was teasing. He was intrigued, and became more so as they talked.

As the evening progressed, Zakaryah found himself increasingly isolated from the celebration, feeling more and more like he was some kind of shadow moving through the swirling crowds. It had nothing to do with their behavior toward him; he was the son of the lord, the next in line for lordship after the Lady Mirian. Now that he walked alone, some took the opportunity to fawn over him as they fawned over her, but no one ignored him unless he deliberately gestured them away. It was distasteful to him, their gaudy robes and ostentation, their excess of food and beverages, their loud voices and trivial conversations. The aftertaste in his senses was stale and almost bitter. He found himself unable to concentrate or enjoy himself, unable to shake the moodiness.

After a time, he came near Serapis, the ageless mystic who, he thought, looked no older then he did, though he knew the man was more than his father's age.

The fair-haired mystic was also sitting to one side, something troubled in his faraway eyes. The Gemon, at least, was wearing simple, elegant robes, and the plain insignia of the Retreats. His glance swept over the crowd again and again, as if looking for something or someone that he couldn't spot.

"Something disturbs you about the celebration?" Zakaryah asked with a facade of gaiety, taking a place at his side. "Everything seems to be going very well."

Serapis glanced at him fondly. "If it were going that well, you would be out among the dancers or entertaining the ladies," he shot back. "But you sense something too, or you wouldn't be standing apart, wondering what's troubling your soul."

Zakaryah couldn't stop the reflexive shiver. The Gemon mystic was right; he was always right. And it was frightening that someone could know him that well.

"So what is it that touches us both tonight, when we should be resting on the hem of our lord's robe and enjoying some well-earned pride in what's been accomplished in the last yahrens?" he asked with a lapse to his moodiness.

Serapis shook his head. "There are too many people here with too many motives to read easily," he admitted quietly. "I feel a deadly shadow slipping through the corners, waiting for the appropriate moment. But I can't find it, and I'm afraid I will be late to stop it." The last was said so low that Zakaryah had to lean closer to hear it, and may only have heard it in his thoughts.

Zakaryah scanned the brightly-lit chamber himself, trying to sense whatever it was that Serapis recognized, the unknown something that only made him uneasy. There was nothing concrete that he could detect. He glanced toward the nearest of the wide-open doors, wondering if maybe the thing they feared was still outside, wandering the grounds, or above them, still distant enough to be found and stopped...

Wandering the grounds. Above them. To be found and stopped...

"A human enemy," he breathed.

Serapis studied him hard, then slowly nodded. "You're right. That's what it is..." His glance jerked toward the far end of the pyramid hall, to the second tier, where Lord Apollo was speaking with the Scorpian woman, the red-tressed beauty who had caught everyone's eye - and maybe escaped everyone's notice.

Zakaryah followed the gaze, saw it too. He could see his mother, the Lady Elisheba, crossing the gallery, obviously intent on joining her husband, perhaps sensing danger too, but of the wrong kind, the lesser kind...

"The Scorpian!"

Elisheba had been starting to wonder where Apollo was. She felt vaguely disquieted without him by her side. After a few words with their daughter Mirian, she began to scan the crowds. It wasn't difficult to spot him; his strong and regal air always stood out, no matter where he was, who he was with. But tonight, he was with that red-headed Scorpian woman, walking together up on the second tier overlooking the inner pyramid, and Elisheba felt a flush of anger and something she had never experienced with regard to Apollo or his activities - jealousy.

She fought the admission for a centon, then acknowledged it. Siress Vivienna was beautiful, young, and of a wealthy, noble House; she had an air of mystery and a sideways glance-and-smile that could mean anything. What man wouldn't find her attractive, or want to spend time with her?

And she was no longer a young woman herself, she and Apollo had been married for decades, they had three children together, she had added a few pounds and there were liberal waves of silver in her hair, maybe she was starting to look old to him, or he was just becoming bored...

After acknowledging the jealousy, and trying to lay it aside as unreasonable, she decided with unexpected forcefulness that it was reasonable, and it was real, and she was going to join her husband before her imagination had him running away in the night with this Scorpian siren.

Elisheba saw Vivienna smile at her approach, and felt relief. The siress's reaction seemed normal, welcoming. Apollo turned to her with a smile as well, and perhaps a slight flush of guilt in his cheeks. The Lady of Caprica felt a little foolish; Vivienna's reaction said there was nothing to worry about, she had no amorous designs on another woman's husband, even if that husband was the Lord of the Colonies.

"My Lady," Apollo said with a start, moving fractionally away from the siress and extending his hand to his wife, who took it with proprietary speed.

"Welcome, Lady Elisheba," Vivienna chimed in, nodding slightly.

"We were discussing the history of the Center," Apollo added hastily, "how we developed the plan together over the yahrens, and what we hoped it would mean to our people." He glanced back at the siress, still holding Elisheba's fingers in his. "We were discussing the importance of the New Eden Center, and the symbol it will be."

"Among other things." Vivienna was very calm as she changed the subject. She stepped closer, took their clasped hands in hers. "It is a pity your father never understood the importance of symbols, and of martyrs."

"Martyrs?" Apollo was taken aback. "We're not looking to create martyrs-"

"But we are. With Lord Dispater, it was necessary to remove him before he became a threat to our plans."

"Plans?" The Lord and Lady of Caprica stared at their guest, puzzled.

"His death was no accident," she said softly. "Nor will yours be, nor will the destruction of this place be. And I will be the martyr for our people, the symbol of how far one must go to take freedom, and claim it for one's people. Here, where everyone will see and understand, when they have had time to consider it."

They were still uncomprehending.

"We killed your father, those yahrens ago. And now we will kill you. And by morning, we will have killed this place," she hissed in sudden fury, eyes blazing. She curled her fingers into claws, raked them across their hands, drawing blood.

The royal pair stared in bewilderment, not yet feeling pain. All the warnings they had been given, the lifetime of looking behind them, fell aside at the unexpected attack in the most unexpected place.

It took only a micron for the poison to flow to their hearts, and then to stop their beating.

Zakaryah saw his parents fall, and froze where he stood, hearing Serapis breathe a prayer behind him. The Scorpian woman turned to the railing and raised a hand, as if delivering a message, or a challenge. Then she spotted him, and stared for a moment. As if sensing that he knew, she whirled abruptly and ran, catching up her emerald skirts over her covered arm to free the long, trim legs that set a sprinter's pace.

"Serapis!"

"Too late for them, cousin... Stop that woman. I'll warn Lady Mirian, and alert your forces. Your parents aren't the only targets tonight; save the rest, or everything is lost..."

Zakaryah raced after her.

Serapis knelt beside the fallen lord and lady. A touch to their throats confirmed they were already dead, probably had died before they fell. She must have dealt it through her fingernails, he determined, seeing the bloody scratches on each of their hands, still joined in death.

Such a quick poison...

And Apollo and Elisheba were gone. He had known that Apollo's symbol wouldn't be enough to hold the Colonies together; he had suspected that they would be the center of threats and plots; he had been afraid for them. But he had still hoped that somehow something would work out. He had hoped that his distant cousin had a deeper sense than he had, and prayed that Apollo really had found a way through the dark maze of shadows that was all the mystic could see for the children of Sagan.

And he felt a deep sorrow that would never fade.

Those below had become aware that something was wrong. There were shouts of concern, fear, anger. People were beginning to push, some to make their ways to the exits, some forcing a way nearer, to get the better view. Serapis felt revulsion for both groups, in the midst of his grief.

The screams began, and he realized that the other killers must be moving for their targets as well. He stood up, yelled over the side of the railing to one of the warrior captains who met his gaze in shock. "The lord and lady are dead! Scorpian assassins! Let no one leave until we have them! Protect Lady Miriam! Warn the Families!"

The warrior raised his communicator, and the military moved into action.

Zakaryah had almost grown up in the Great Pyramid, following its progress and growth with nearly as much interest as his parents. Now, he had the advantage of knowing its layout intimately, knowing every short cut. He knew exactly which of the internal conduits he could squirm through, and which would likely permit the woman to pass but not him. He knew how far he could jump to cross from one catwalk to another in the interior, and which cables would bear his weight if he climbed. He figured out where Siress Vivienna must be going, if she hoped to get out of here alive, and knew how to get there first.

One of the thirteen gates was guarded by a Scorpian contingent. Zakaryah calculated, correctly as it turned out, that at least some of that guard were loyal to the First House, and would let the woman pass, even if they hadn't been part of whatever original plot had so abruptly taken his parents' lives.

He couldn't let her reach that gate, and disappear into the shadows of the garden around it. From there, there were too many places to hide, and too many ways to escape.

Guards, he thought. I'll need warriors to back me up...

He knew he couldn't really have heard the affirmative in his head. He also suspected it was foolish to try to stop the woman, unarmed, without assistance. But he couldn't let her go. Adrenalin kept him going when grief should have dropped him to his knees in pain.

He waited in the last passage before the circular patio that led to - and through - the gates.

The killer in siren's form appeared on the lift, glancing back above her, as if expecting attack from there. She'd ripped off the bottom of her glittering dress and discarded it, along with the one gauzy sleeve; what was left of her elegant gown was somewhat less than decent. Her bare arms and legs had a controlled, feline grace as she stepped off the lift.

"Siress Vivienna."

Her gaze jerked toward him. From the slow, almost predatory smile, she must have immediately realized he was alone, and without weapon.

"My young Sire Zakaryah..."

"I am a patriot. I am loyal to my world and my people."

"Do you think I'm not? Or that my parents weren't?"

"The Lords of Caprica are leeches, anachronisms that the Colonies no longer need," she spat back, moving toward him with easy grace and a knowing twitch to her cold smile. "You refused to grant our people the freedom to grow, to be all we can be. Therefore we chose to take that freedom. And since your House will not surrender without a fight, we will give you a fight, and show you that our blood is as good as yours!"

He could only shake his head. "You'll spill too much blood. And for what? You're not interested in freedom for your people - you're interested in power for your House-"

"At least our House is Scorpian! Our people will never have to worry where our loyalty is, or whose interests we'll protect!"

He felt weary; the need to grieve was overcoming the need for vengeance.

She was slowly moving closer to him. He saw her fingers twitching, and a warning went off in his head. That was how she'd killed his parents...

He stepped backward.

She halted, silvered eyebrows lifting sardonically in comprehension. "You know how I did it."

"Yes."

"Then you know you don't dare let me get close enough to touch you."

"I assume you'll try to kill me as you did my father. I don't intend to let you succeed."

Vivienna laughed, a sweet trill of amusement that sounded to Zakaryah like it echoed from the sealed pyramid of a madwoman.

"How many others have you killed?" He drew back another step, eyes narrowing.

"Personally?" She shook her head. "None. Believe it or not, I am not the brutal, subhuman creature you and yours would like to make me and mine out to be, so you can continue to ignore us and rationalize your domination. I did what I did because it was necessary. And I will continue to do what is necessary."

"Unless you're dead, too."

She sighed. "Always possible. I accepted that likelihood. So have the others. Some of us have already died for our cause, when they were captured and unable to escape, or in the course of their missions. One of us died to make sure your grandfather never came back from his test flights."

She almost looked sad; if he hadn't known better, he would have thought the woman really cared... Then his gorge rose in his throat. He recalled his father talking about Lord Dispater, and his interest in spacecraft, and how he'd died when something went wrong on his ship, out in space, something that had never really been explained.

"You have been killers for too long," he murmured softly.

Vivienna lunged forward, silver nails flashing as she went for his face.

Zakaryah dodged, throwing himself aside, rolling to come up well out of her reach.

"You can't stop me - you can only delay your own death!" she hissed, her face contorting with the first real rage he'd seen.

He felt calm again. "I suspect a delay is all I need." He somehow knew he only needed to keep her for a moment more, and Serapis would have had time to get their guards in position. They would have taken control of the gate, and would be moving through the Pyramid, searching for her, for them both. His sister Mirian would have been warned and moved to safety. A moment more, and she would have failed in at least part of her plan.

Her eyes widened in comprehension. Vivienna glanced past him to the entrance to the patio, and he almost saw her make the decision to rush past him, kill him if she could on the way, but get past him to her only chance of escape-

Two warriors appeared in that entrance, weapons drawn.

She drew in a hiss of breath. Her stance changed, from a woman poised to flee, to a proud creature captured but not broken. Her green eyes still flicked about for any chance of flight.

"Her fingernails are coated with some deadly poison," he interjected as the men moved forward. "Don't get too close for now - and cover her hands until someone can do an analysis of-"

She turned and bolted unexpectedly.

One of the warrior guards cursed.

Four more men appeared from the lift tube.

She drew up short, her hands coiled into claws, ready to fight. "You can't stop the inevitable, little lordling. Your world is doomed, we stand ready to attack, the word has already gone out!" she declaimed, the first panic in her voice.

The captain of the warriors handed him his own weapon, and glanced at the young sire questioningly.

If the attack was already underway, they had to get warning out to their bases and the loyal Colonies. There was no time to deal lightly with-

Vivienna whirled and ran for Zakaryah again, her hands raised to strike.

He had no choice. He fired.

She fell dead before him, her hair flying loose and spreading across his feet. Her deadly hands fell limp and wide, spread as though in supplication.

Zakaryah froze. He hadn't intended to kill, hadn't realized the weapon was on its highest setting. A fraction of a micron later, he realized he didn't care. She had killed his parents; she might be destroying his world; she was dead.

So be it.

The warriors around him weren't too perturbed either. One of them sidled close enough to nudge her hip with his boot, checking, in a rough way, to make sure she was really dead. She didn't respond.

"Shall we remove her body, Sire Zakaryah?" the warrior captain asked briskly.

He nodded. "Carefully. Those delicate hands are terminal - and for all we know, she may have equally deadly teeth and toenails! Bring word of anything you find to me, to Lady Mirian, or Serapis of Gemon." His heart lurched. Lady Mirian. "I'll be with the Lady of Caprica..."

The Scorpian warships came at dawn. Caprica was still in shock and turmoil, too early yet for mourning, and the other Colony worlds were in not much better condition, waiting as though with bated breaths, to see what happened next, how Caprica answered this threat. But Caprica didn't expect the lifetime-trained warriors and heavily-armed fightercraft. The outer satellite defenses, never really intended to hold against their own people, were shattered in moments. The moon bases were besieged, unable to rally a defense or get word off to the planetary bases. The Scorpian horde swept through, and on to the surface.

In Babelon, Apollo and Mirian were just leaving the Great Citadel of New Eden when streaks of silver appeared in the bloody-fingered sky. They stared in heartsick silence as the streaks resolved into ships, and the ships sent forth their lancing rays of destruction. Babelon erupted into flames, and the ships continued their strafing fire, destroying any attempt at resistance, any attempt to lessen the damage that was being done.

New Eden was obviously one of their targets as well. A dozen ships converged on the Center, laying down a fire that nothing could withstand. The gardens around it filled with smoke and fire; the gold apex melted, then exploding into fury, spewing molten drops of metal across the entire site. The main center collapsed in on itself in flame; the surrounded pyramids erupted.

"There were still thousands of people inside the Center and its gardens, ambassadors, nobles, members of almost every High Family in the Colonies..." Mirian murmured softly, shocked beyond any other expression of grief.

"By Kobol's star, it'll be two generations before the Families can regain what we're losing this moment..." Zakaryah breathed.

They watched as their city and their worlds' leaders were destroyed.

"Your parents were aware this day could come," Serapis finally forced out, watching the youthful pair in desperation. "Lady Mirian, we must get you there, you must reform what's left of the government and the military, rally the people-"

"No."

"What?"

"I will not be the Lady of Caprica." Her voice was preternaturally calm as she stared across the burning city.

"But-"

"No." She raised a pale and delicate hand, determination in her tone and gesture. "I will not. I have never had the desire to be the leader, but I would have done my duty, in peacetime. Now I know my duty demands I step aside, and I will do so gladly, in favor of one with the will to endure the agony of what is coming. I don't have the strength for this." She glanced at Zakaryah. "You must be the Lord of Caprica. You have the strength of will to do what must be done."

"But-"

Mirian smiled sadly, turned away from her brother and Serapis, and made her way back to the transport that would hopefully take them to safety. One of the guards followed her; the other remained with them.

Serapis stared after her. This was something else he had never foreseen, that she would so totally reject the lordship. And yet, she was right. He sighed. Her gifts would be missed as leader; but they would be put to better use.

He touched Zakaryah's shoulder. The young lord continued to stare at his burning capital, shaking his head, still apparently having difficulty comprehending what was happening.

"My lord, we must go."

"So many of us are dying. We have to stop this, we have to help them."

"We can't, not now. You have to rally the people, and the military, and counterattack, to save them. You can't do that from here, and you can't do it if you're dead. Vivienna wanted martyrs, and she was willing to be one. But your parents are martyrs enough, and your grandfather, now that we know what really happened to him. We can't afford to lose you too."

"Why did she kill them? Why so publicly, when everyone could see them fall, and knew she did it?" Zakaryah stared intently.

"Maybe she didn't realize that everyone would recognize the cause of their deaths," the guard ventured, formality almost forgotten in shock at what was happening and old familiarity with the young man who never expected to be lord.

He shook his head. "No. She knew. That's why she ran. She made her statement, her stand... Then she ran..." Zakaryah was having trouble breathing.

"She felt she had to, to be the martyr symbol of ultimate resistance..." Serapis told him; he knew the Scorpians, especially some of the old High Families. Their history was full of fallen martyrs, heroes more in failure than success. And they valued their history, glorified their lost causes. "They're very big on symbols, some of these Scorpians..."

"Zurvan. What about our little brother?" He stared toward the hill where the family estate had been built; young Zurvan would have been there. Now it was on fire, one of the primary targets, along with the Center. They could hear screaming from where they were. The panic was spreading, along with the flames.

"If our people got to him in time, he is safe. If not, there is nothing you can do. Come."

The guard touched his shoulder, repeating the mystic's order. "Come, my lord. For our world's sake."

Numbly, the younger man let himself be led to safety.

Reports filtered in to their sea vessel as it hugged the bottom of the bay and moved out into the open sea. The reports were bitter to hear, agonizing in context. Cities were coming under attack, and there was little that anyone seemed capable of doing. There were reports of massive damage everywhere, of so many fires in both urban and rural areas that their local government branches were unable to deal with them, of thousands of casualties overloading their medical system. The military was mobilizing, and defenses were responding; in a few hours, they would be able to mount a reasonable counterattack and drive off the enemy. There was insufficient information to know if their space fleet had survived in enough strength to keep them away, now that they knew.

The other Colony worlds were responding, some throwing in with Caprica, some with Scorpio. Aquara and Sagittara had chosen another path, and almost instantly declared their independence of any of their sister worlds. All were, however, sending orders to their fleets and their bases, and multiple, confused attacks and counterattacks were underway on all worlds but one. Libra had declared itself neutral, and reported it would not become involved; it was doubtful, however, if they would really be able to stay out of the spreading war.

And in the meantime, Babelon was being destroyed, and the chaos spreading.

The family huddled together in the cramped sea craft.

There were several dozen people aboard, a few of them loyal servants of the House of Sagan, most ambassadors and dignitaries of friendly Colonies, rescued from the conflagration. They were all in shock; the Scorpian plot had somehow escaped everyone's notice and gone completely undetected and unexpected. No one had the energy or presence of mind to question it now, or even to ask why. They only stared blankly at nothing or cried softly.

Zurvan's eyes were solemn as the youth announced, "This is the beginning of a battle that will never end. Even when the last bomb is dropped and the last drop of our blood is shed, the arguments will continue, and there will always be an undercurrent of war among our people. It's as though we were born to fight forever..."

The elder siblings shuddered. Zurvan could sometimes see the future.

"We will be at the shelter in a few moments," Serapis said, joining them. "We'll be safe under water, below the sea bottom and hopefully below the range of any of their scanners - you know you're the next target, once they find out you survived. We'll wait there until the attack is blunted, and a proper defense raised. Then you will have to determine your next move," he finished, studying Zakaryah.

"My next move..."

"You will always have a place at Highpoint, as well," the mystic continued. "Your parents felt that could be necessary as well, and made the necessary arrangements for it. There is a way to reach Highpoint that only some of the mystics there are aware of. It will be at your disposal, for the good of the Colonies."

"Zurvan says the war will last forever."

A shudder ran through the other man. "Only if we choose to let it go on. And we may have help that your brother doesn't see - there are other forces in the universe, and some of them are beyond anything we can rationally know. I don't believe this war will be the end of humanity."

"How long does it have to go on before it doesn't matter anymore?"

"It won't be our end," Serapis repeated more strongly, then moved on through the cabin.

Zakaryah bowed his head, let it drop to his sister's shoulder. She claimed she didn't have the strength to handle what was happening, but she had strength enough to lend to him, to let him know he wasn't alone...

Not the end. Well, maybe. He had to hope for that, or the struggle would make no sense.

It had been too long a day, night and morning after. In spite of himself, he fell asleep.

Epilogue:

Omega held the datacrystal with tender care. Somehow, the old myth of the distant lord's monument brought special sadness tonight. The old lord had seen his worlds coming apart, and tried to bring them together with a monument to the past and future. If there was any truth to it, the structure had been the first destroyed in the civil war, and the last lord of the united Colonies had died with it.

His own people had hoped to see peace and the dawning of a new day; he remembered the Presidium, decked with flowers and banners, and Serina's last newscast. A monument to longed-for peace, shattered in Cylon fire. The image of that structure, equally burned into his memory forever that dreadful night, gave the history a horrifying reality and immediacy.

His mother had been the architect of that monument; she too had died, seeing her work come to ruin in betrayal. But this time there might again be a rebirth from the ruin, if they reached Earth. He wondered if they really had a chance.

He had to hope. There would come a time...

"Lament for the Lords"

In the beginning:

The Great Devastation was finally over.

Twelve tribes of Kobol, who had somehow succeeded in leaving one world and settling on twelve other worlds, had proved unable to maintain any kind of unity in their new homes. Greed, fear, growing resentment, and splintering cultures had led them into a terrible war. Their space fleets had joined battle above their worlds, and then brought the war to the face of the planets, proving their destructive capability. City after city was bombed into submission; spaceports were utterly vaporized; smaller outposts and moon bases were completely destroyed. Each attack renewed the outrage of the planets, and the great fleets would turn on each other again.

Finally, after half a century of war, the fleets had destroyed each other completely, and rendered each other's home planets sufficiently devoid of population and technology to make further attempts to return to space doomed efforts. The Colonists were now planet-bound, confined to their wounded worlds, where they would remain for over a millennia.

But at least the bitter war was over. For some, that was enough of a relief. They could begin again. But for others, the lost battles and ruined potentials were cause for hatred. Since the other tribes couldn't be reached to vent their rage upon, it had to be directed elsewhere.

Minos was just a little bit mad. Like many of his fellow citizens, he was angry that his world, Caprica, had lost the war. Although the entirety of humanity had also lost, it seemed the ultimate shame to him that his world must suffer the degradation with them. Caprica had led the others, was the planet where the lord of the mother world dwelled, until the Great War. Then, she had been sucked into the vortex of insanity with them. And when the war was over, she was as ruined as they, the great world that should have kept the others strong, free, and sane.

But she had not. She had failed.

In that insanity, over that half a century, Minos had lost his family. His parents had died early, in one of the bombing missions over the capital city. His brother had died, too, still a child. His two sisters had perished later; one, a medical student, had been trying to save her patients when a hospital was strafed; the other had let anger lead her into the military, and she'd died somewhere in the emptiness of dark space.

His wife had died halfway through the war, carrying their second child, unable to flee to safety. His small daughter had nearly reached adulthood, a beautiful, sensitive child who would wake at night and scream for fear of the bombs and fires; she had run out into the night once, and never returned. He'd searched for sectars, and found no trace of her.

He was only middle-aged, but he looked and felt very old, old beyond his time. Minos had seen too much in his sixty-two yahrens, all of it violent. What he had seen and felt had made him mad. What he learned to endure had made him cunning. Where he had chosen to rest the blame had given his rage a target.

The Lord of Kobol should have known, he thought. Great Zakaryah, tenth Lord of Caprica in direct line from Sagan of old Kobol, should have known. He should have been able to prevent the war, or to keep Caprica out of it. But he hadn't.

To Minos, it didn't matter that Zakaryah had tried against all odds to restore peace among the Colonies; that the young lord had grown old fighting a war he hadn't begun; that the house of Sagan had lost many of its own in the struggle.

All Minos knew was that his family was dead, and his planet was in ruins, and Zakaryah was still alive and Lord Sagan of Caprica.

More ruins. Zakaryah stared bleakly at what had once been a center of commerce and government, a few decades ago, a lifetime ago. Now, it was overgrown with vegetation. At least the growth covered the scars from the old bombs and the fires. Nothing could overgrow the terrible screams and horror of that night. He'd been there, a young man, he and his sister learning their duties at their father's side. His father had died when the false peace delegation came, really an assassination team. They had botched the job, leaving the children alive. Zakaryah had seen to their capture and punishment.

But then had come the starships, attacking Babelon, the capital city, hoping to force an immediate surrender.

His numb gaze returned to what had once been an estate fit for the rulers of the Twelve Worlds. Perhaps they had been too much the rulers, or perhaps not enough, at the end...

It didn't matter. The war was past.

When the last of their star armada was destroyed, the Capricans had waited in terrified expectation of the next attack. They didn't know if any allies survived to come to their aid, or how many enemies would come to destroy them. To their amazement, the feared attack never came. Perhaps their enemies were engaged elsewhere, or no longer considered Caprica worth the time.

Only now, after yahrens, had they reached the conclusion that the other worlds were so depleted themselves from the war as to make further attacks impossible. The humans had nearly destroyed themselves, and not one of their worlds remained with the strength to stand triumphant over the prostrated ruins of its fellows.

The Capricans, overcoming their fears, had at last decided to try and rebuild, and salvage what was left of their civilization and culture. From a secret undersea fortress, Zakaryah had returned to his citadel. Time could heal the city, but nothing could heal the scars he carried in his mind and heart.

The Tenth Lord of Caprica wasn't a tall man; he stood at medium height, slenderly built. He had the dark hair, now silver-streaked, and the forest green eyes of many of the Sagans. Belying his slim build, he could be a most commanding presence when he raised his deep voice in heated anger, or dropped it in cold rage. His eyes could pierce a man to his soul. He carried the additional burden of occasional flares of precognition, the gift and curse of his family, along with a strong sense of empathy.

The empathy and slightness of build had come from his mother, who was Sagittaran. His parents had settled for a marriage of convenience, back when diplomats still thought the growing crisis between planets and factions could be defused with aristocratic unions and fancy words. Apollo and Elisheba had been happy, much to their mutual surprise. Of their three children, two still lived. Mirian had retired to one of the Retreats. Zakaryah, the second eldest, had become Lord Sagan of Caprica at Apollo's brutal murder.

"I don't even remember when this was a city," said a wondering voice at his side. Ammon was his younger son, and hadn't even been born when Babelon was abandoned, over forty yahrens before. Now, he was a grown man, with a wife and children of his own. All those yahrens, spent growing up in hiding and caution, governing a world from Sanctuary, the hidden bunker under the sea, safe from space attack. The world was a wide place to a young man used to heavy walls all around, and dark chilly waters a kilometer deep. Ammon had left the fortress only a score of times in his life.

Zakaryah sighed, placing a hand on his son's shoulder. "This was such a beautiful place, then. The loveliest city in all the Twelve Worlds. Now there's nothing left for you."

"There is still the future," his son reminded him. "That's why we came here, to rebuild and create the future. We've only truly lost this insane war if we let it destroy our spirit." Ammon had his mother's blue eyes, and wisdom unexpected in one so young. Zakaryah suspected he was psychically gifted in some way.

He nodded in response, and found a smile. "You're correct, as usual. As I lose my senses, you seem to gain more." He sighed, feeling very much his hundred and two yahrens.

"You're not old, Father," Ammon insisted quietly.

"I feel old," the lord replied thickly. "All that has happened in my life has been crisis and war, stretching on for yahren after yahren. A war is never an easy thing to live through, when it totally destroys everything you value and want to save..."

The young man was silent, staring across the overgrown gardens to the ruins of city buildings, now gentle green and gray as mosses and ivies covered their bleak starkness. It would take so much work...

"Maybe we would be better building somewhere else?" he suggested tentatively.

"You haven't the ties to this place that I have," Zakaryah responded. "Maybe it's better that way. You can build your capital wherever you wish, a new city for a new generation and a new way. But for me, there must be something here, something to remind people of our past, a place where I can be buried."

Ammon drew a quiet gasp. "Not for a long time, Father!" he insisted strongly.

He shrugged. "When the time comes."

The Lord of Caprica and his son rode on sturdy mountain equines. Vegetation to feed them was plentiful; fuel for mechanical transports was not, as most of the synthesizers and refineries were either in ruins or using antiquated, worn out equipment that often broke down. Replacement parts were difficult to procure. It was a small display of economy for their people, and evidence that the lords intended to share their people's burdens.

Ammon shivered in the cool morning breeze as they cantered along the shattered pacrete street, but not from any weather's chill. "The people don't seem pleased to see us," he stated in an undertone.

Zakaryah looked up from his grim reverie. "The few civilians who stayed in Babelon don't want a lord again, Ammon. They could be difficult. Perhaps we should have brought a few companions after all."

They rode on in silence, trying to ignore the dark looks cast on them from the few onlookers. Only a handful of those men and women raised hands in greeting or dropped bows of obeisance to their nominal lord. Sagan's rule hadn't been felt here for over thirty yahrens, and was not entirely welcome back. Most of the people eked out their living from the ruins, the river flowing through them, or the surrounding agricultural lands. They had come to be independent and belligerent when faced with any stranger - and to them, Zakaryah and Ammon were strangers.

Minos watched them pass. "See their fine beasts and clothes?" he muttered to his companions as the men watched from the security of an alley. "Highpoint treats them well, while we are left to survive or die as we can. They ran when the bombs came. What right do they have to claim governance here? Where were they when we were destroyed? Why didn't they do something to protect us?"

The others scowled their agreement.

"If we'd stayed on Kobol, there would've never been a war," one of the others grumbled. "We'd still be the ruling tribe, and we'd be powerful."

"They say Kobol was ruined, worn out, that humans couldn't live there anymore," a third hazarded. "What good would staying there have done?"

"The lords would still rule, if we survived," Minos agreed. "We came here for a reason, a new chance for our people. And look what happened. The high-and-mighty lords brought us to ruin instead of salvation." His tone was as vicious as the fist he pounded into the broken stone of the alley's pavement. "We don't need them. We don't need any of them or their fancy ways and laws. And we don't need those traitorous other Colonies either."

There was an ominous undertone in the murmurs of agreement from his fellows.

The palace of the Sagans had been destroyed by a direct hit in the first attack of the Devastation. The lord and his family were living in a villa beyond the old city's boundaries, with the owner's gracious permission. Around the modest group of dwellings had grown a small clustered town since then, survivors of Babelon's destruction. The elderly owner had been of minor aristocratic stock; he now held his small territory as a feudal lord, and Zakaryah knew it was a critical advantage to have the man as a supporter and ally now. So they remained as guests, he, three of his children, and his grandchildren. His wife and their youngest son were at Highpoint under Mirian's sponsorship. It was safer, and they were still in mourning. One of the numerous plagues that now were difficult to combat had taken kinsmen of his other daughter-in-law and his wife that winter. It had been an unnecessary reminder of the aging, weary lord's mortality.

But now it was spring, and being back in the pleasant country of the river plain surrounding Babelon made him feel more alive, though seeing the ruins told him he would never be young again.

Ammon's dark-eyed wife was in the atrium when the two men returned from their survey of the city, tending to the Edenflower shrubs that grew clustered around the central fountain of the open-air chamber while waiting for them. Beruth was devoted to her husband and their twin sons. Of Cancerian extraction, her refugee ambassador parents had left her as the lord's ward for her own protection. She and Ammon had grown up together, and it had seemed only natural when they fell in love and married.

"Welcome home!" she called.

Ammon smiled as he dismounted to join his wife; a servant led away the beast. Two small boys ran out of one of the buildings, and the family moved away.

Zakaryah watched them for a moment, then sighed and crossed the paving-stones to the hall set aside for his own use. His wife had been beautiful and loving once, too, but disillusionment and fear had worn her down until she turned away from her husband more often than not. He wasn't bitter - he couldn't blame her - nor did he envy his son his happiness. He merely grieved for that relationship as another casualty of war.

Neftys was bent over the table there, studying documents. She looked up when he entered. "Hello, Father!" she called warmly.

His spirits lifted at her smiling greeting. "And what minor problems are you solving for me today, Neftys?" he asked her gaily. "A new source of fuel from water, or the secret of immortality?"

While her oldest brother had been taught to govern, in preparation for the lordship, this quiet but clever daughter had prepared to become the power behind him. Indeed, her dedication and ability to puzzle through the most confusing situation was invaluable to him as well. She had the intellect and quick-wittedness to deal with problems in ways other people could not, and she was willing to sit quietly in the shadows and work for what was best for their people. Zakaryah trusted her judgment; he knew that Horus, the next lord, also respected his sister's ability. A wise and loyal counselor was something any lord could make good use of.

The young woman laughed, shaking her head. "Merely studying the reports from the family vault, Father. It survived intact, after all these yahrens. I think we ought to have copies of all this made and sent to the Retreats." She gestured across the tabletop, strewn with yellowing papers and aging tapes. "Some of the family history is valuable, I think, and we may be able to learn where we went wrong before the Devastation by examining the diplomatic records."

"Indeed. Well, see to it, then. You may be the only one I can trust to have it done properly," he told her wryly. Few people were concerned with the events prior to the Devastation, which now was ancient and best-forgotten history to many.

She nodded obedience. "Of course. I'll prepare a pouch for the Retreat right away. I won't send it until Horus is back from his inspection tour of the delta factories so we can include that information as well. If you think of anything else you want to send back to Highpoint..."

Such as a letter or tape to your mother, my wife? "I'll let you know before the courier leaves. When is Horus due back?"

"Not for a centar; he checked in a little while ago. There was something he wanted to look into."

Trust Neftys to keep tabs on the family endeavors. In the busy days they spent, she was the cord binding their efforts into a concerted whole. "I want to see him when he returns, before dinner if possible."

He studied the daughter he was so proud of for a moment more. Her beauty might win a strong and influential husband as well. She was very fair-skinned, with jet-black hair and light blue eyes - her mother's daughter in coloring, with his high cheekbones, narrow pointed chin, and slim build. Trying to rebuild Caprica, it might take many such marriages of necessity, over several generations, to win back all the splintered territories, now ruled over by men like their host, who'd developed a taste for authority, and expected rewards for their assistance.

Zakaryah had faith in her ability to choose a useful husband. She knew her responsibility, always had. She was level-headed enough to be pragmatic about her emotions, and not let them interfere with her duty. It was a duty the Sagans had accepted for generations. Their purpose was to serve the people.

His eyes gleamed in the dim moonlight that was the room's only illumination. The gathered malcontents agreed with him completely. Minos knew he could accomplish little on his own, but with the help of others that the lords had wronged, there would be just retribution. Let the high and mighty incompetents learn what it meant to suffer!

"The other Colonies are free of the yoke of the lords!" he continued, to the group's fanatical applause. "We should be no different! And we shall take away the means of their power, so they never regain it! We'll become what we were before, what humans were meant to be!"

In his personal quest for arguably-deserved revenge, he'd been accepted as a leader by these men and women, who were as eager as he to see the Sagans fall. But it was he who'd given them the means, who showed them the way. He was a prophet of bitter vengeance, and it had become almost enough in itself. When the plan was carried out, he would be complete again; then, there would be rest for his parents, his brother, his sisters, his wife, and his children. He himself would have peace in his new role.

Once he had thought that death would be the natural successor to his vengeance; now he knew he had a higher purpose. He would live. The lords would pay. The people would be free.

"I don't like the tone of things, Father," Neftys told him seriously. "Something's happening in the city. I wish you wouldn't go out without some sort of guard..."

Zakaryah looked at her closely. "So you've already arranged a spy network, have you? Well, I'm sure you'll receive adequate warning if some real trouble is brewing."

"There hasn't been time! And I'm afraid it might be serious already! Please, reconsider... Wait a few days - an anniversary of mourning, whatever excuse you like. It'll give us time to determine the true feelings of the people."

The lord frowned at his daughter, seeing the questioning gaze Beruth cast on him. She would be concerned for her husband and children, and would undoubtedly have something to say if she believed he were acting foolhardily. That was assuredly the reason Neftys brought up the issue in her presence.

He doubted he could fight both women. His daughter would be unswayed by any argument if she believed there was danger, and Beruth was quite adept at bullying him if she thought it needful.

"Who can argue with a woman?" he declared self-mockingly. "Perhaps I must confine myself here today. I'm sure you've prepared plenty for me to do - or perhaps this is simply your ploy to ensure my assistance at your chores?" he teased Neftys. She wouldn't be fooled; but it would put Beruth's mind more at ease if he treated this lightly. "But what of Horus? Hasn't he already left for another of those interminable inspections? Who will warn him of the danger?"

Neftys smiled as they stepped away, leaving the young mother to guard the children as they played in the fountain at the center of the villa. Beruth had to warn them to be careful of the shrubs; the Edenflower required careful cultivation to grow on Caprica, and was only rarely found in the wild; if these plants were broken off or damaged, it would be difficult to replace them.

"I've sent a man after Horus," Neftys quietly told her father when they were out of hearing.

Zakaryah blinked at her. "You're serious! This isn't some minor rebellion of a handful..."

She shook her head. "It sounds like a coordinated effort, planned and directed by a small group. It ... disturbs me greatly. I'm worried, Father. I think we ought to send Beruth and the children back to Highpoint or Sanctuary."

"And you as well."

"No! You need me, you've always said that. One of the other landholders near here is sending a shipment of spring amaranth to Highpoint in a day or two, as soon as it's threshed. They can travel with the harvesters; no one will think anything of it. But if there's trouble..."

"You want to be in the middle of it." He studied her gravely. Suddenly his pleasant mood and optimism of the past few days were overshadowed by the brooding fears he'd first felt upon viewing the ruins of Babelon. "Very commendable, but not exactly the kind of intelligent decision I've come to expect from you."

"Father..."

"Where's Ammon?" he interrupted.

"In the fields around the villa, assisting Lord Tammus with harvest supervision. The spring crops are ready..." She watched her father minutely.

"Fine. I'll join them. Send word if you hear more - and I promise to stay safely out of Babelon today." His steps were decidedly slower as he left the fountained courtyard.

Phoebus had grown up near the city, but his parents had always been partisans of the Sagans. One of his uncles had, in fact, assisted the family in its flight to Sanctuary. When the lord returned, the youth had been quick to volunteer to their service. Familiar with the city's physical layout and emotional currents, Siress Neftys had soon found a use for him as she assessed the situation in Babelon.

He had been loyal to her alone from the moment he found her blue eyes resting on him, and heard her say, "You're a man I can trust." He served her eagerly, swayed by her slightest frown as if under an enchantment. He gloried in satisfying any whim, fancying himself the heroic protagonist of some old story, who would one day rescue his lady from great danger and she would realize he was her one true love. In the meantime, mundane errands would keep him near her, let him hear her fluid voice, and see the woman he was truly willing to die for.

Phoebus had been sent to inform the Siress's brother, Lord Horus, successor to Zakaryah as Lord of Caprica, that there might be danger for him at the fishery, and that he should return to the villa.

There were crowds gathered in the streets near the mouth of the river where the fishery was located and the fishing boats docked. The youth noted their grim temper, and hurried his steps, thinking with misgiving that the lord should never have gone into the city that day. He himself had warned the siress that a man named Minos was fomenting unrest, spreading and encouraging anger directed at Zakaryah. He'd learned there was a plot - he lived in the city, and was somewhat trusted and accepted by the inhabitants. Neftys believed his word, but had he learned it soon enough to prevent trouble?

The ominous crowd became a mob, and he had trouble shouldering his way through it. Hearing the violent threats many of them muttered, his concern turned to fear. The fishery was in sight, but if he reached it, what could he do? If Horus hadn't already realized the feverish temper of this crowd, and left the long piers...

Phoebus was packed in. He stood in the midst of several hundred men and women, too silent and orderly for the action to be spontaneous. He was carried along as they moved en masse to the wharf.

Let the lord have seen, he prayed. Let him have taken one of the fishing boats and gone!

He couldn't give any warning. He couldn't obey his lady. He thought frantically of getting out of this mob, moving around and ahead of it, but he couldn't push through their ranks.

Horus was of an old and proud blood. Phoebus caught a glimpse of him standing tall on the wharf, facing the crowd calmly, with none of the arrogance one might expect of a lord in his stance. The yahrens of exile had schooled him to face men on their own level.

An older man stepped out of the crowd. Phoebus knew it was Minos, who was rumored to lead the conspirators. He faced the youthful Sagan for but a moment before turning from the steady gaze. The messenger saw anger on his face that he couldn't endure the eye-to-eye confrontation.

Then Minos lifted his fist, jeering at Horus, and the mob surged forward with a bestial howl.

The lord moved one step back, with startled, honest fear in his brilliant eyes for that micron. Then he held his ground, knowing there was no escape from the mob. He went down beneath their rage.

It didn't take long. Fists, gathered stones and clubs, and suddenly produced bladed weapons wielded by so many quickly though painfully ended a life, leaving noble blood on many hands.

Phoebus finally got free of them, face ashen. He'd seen. He'd heard what Minos said, satisfaction in every fanatically uttered word: "This is first blood! Now we claim the rest! This is not Kobol; there will be no lords on Caprica! Our slavery ends today!"

He was appalled, but there was nothing he could do here. He must warn the siress, and the rest of them. He held his tears and nausea until he was clear of the now-milling crowd. Then he fled for the villa.

Zakaryah stared in heart-struck horror at the young blond man who'd gasped out the story. "Horus is dead?" he asked faintly. The foreboding of the day now had a name: violent death.

Phoebus nodded mutely, still breathless from his race to outrun the coming mob.

"And he says they are coming here now, to kill us as well," Neftys added steadily. "They want no lord in Babelon. Father, we have to leave, right now."

The older man turned away, shaking. They killed my son! I saw my father murdered, and now they have killed my son... The darkness grew closer, smothering his heart.

"My lord..." the messenger breathed.

"No. No, I will not go."

"Father..." Neftys's voice turned pleading.

"No!" His tone was firmer. "I will stay here. I will face the madman who's stirred this up. Let the murderers face me..." One last resolve, one last act to avenge his son and leave his name for the ages.

"They'll kill you too, lord!" Phoebus protested.

"Let them try!" he declared grimly. "See if they have the courage to treat their lord as they've treated his son. See if they can stand up to me as they did a young man..."

"But..."

"Neftys, go. Get Beruth and the children, and Ammon, and go to Highpoint, now. Tell the household staff and farmhands to vanish until this is settled. Tammus, too." The face he turned back to his daughter and her sworn agent glittered with cold tears.

The young woman gestured at Phoebus, sending him to carry out the lord's commands. She herself remained in the austere records chamber.

"You, too, Neftys." His voice was a whip. "Go! Leave here!"

"If you expected to win, you'd keep us here, you'd let us back you when that mob arrives," she declared. "But you don't believe it'll do any good. Leave with us! They're drinking and rioting all over the city, scared to death and building their courage and out of control with what they've done! You know what a mob like that can do, incited as they are! Father!"

"They killed my son. I'll not risk any more of you."

She stared at him for a long moment, then bowed her head in acceptance of his decree. "I love you, Father," she told him quietly. "I'll miss you. Shall I take any message to Mother?"

He shook his head wordlessly. She'd long since ceased to care for his words and actions.

She slowly walked out of the room.

They killed my son. Why?

He'd felt age hanging heavily on him; this doubled the yahrens, made him ancient with grief. He had no heart to live longer, to have more burdens heaped on his head, more recriminations for the war, more duties to carry out, more fears and losses to endure. He had no expectation of living, nor did he want to; he only wanted to see the man who'd taken his son's life in so brutal a manner, and curse him forever as he himself passed into the Beyond.

He gritted his teeth as rage and sorrow battled. He must prepare himself, choose a weapon. If he had the chance, the murderer would precede him into death...

Ammon rushed into the transport garage. A handful of people turned fearfully at his entrance, then one of the women threw herself into his arms, weeping fitfully. The two children locked themselves around his legs.

"You're safe!" Beruth sobbed. "Thank God!"

His expression rested questioningly on his sister as he held his wife tighter.

"Horus is dead," she answered. "The conspirators have turned the people into a mob seeking our blood. We're running."

"Again. Like we did when the war started," he stated bitterly.

"We aren't welcome here, and we have a right to live!"

"Don't argue!" Beruth interjected tearfully, clutching her husband's sleeve. "We've got to leave! We've got to get the children to safety, and ourselves! The transport is waiting..."

"Where's Father?"

"He's ... not coming," Neftys answered in a low voice.

"What?"

"He thinks he has to face Horus's killers."

"No!"

"I tried to talk him out of it! But he won't come, you know how stubborn he can be..." Ammon managed to disengage himself from the clinging arms of his family. "What do you think you're doing?"

"I have to find him, talk to him..."

"Ammon!" his wife shrieked; he paid her no attention, but ran for the doors. She made as if to follow him.

"No, Beruth!" Neftys caught her arm. "Look at your sons. They need you. If we can't talk sense to our men, we have to protect our children. Get on the transport."

"Ammon..." Her tears started running fresh. The twins, only four yahrens old, wailed in confused anxiety, echoing their mother's pain. "Come, children..."

"We're ready!" Phoebus called anxiously. Her messenger was also a good pilot, one of the few in the city; she'd trained him herself. There was little fuel available in the ruined city, but Neftys felt quite justified in using what they had to escape.

"We'll wait at the loading dock by the south amaranth field!" she instructed him as they loaded. "If he convinces Father to come, or realizes there's nothing he can do here, he'll know he can find us there. And we'll be able to see if the mob comes to fire the field or attack us."

"As you wish, Siress Neftys."

She gave him a small, watery smile, thankful for the evidence of one man's loyalty.

Zakaryah waited before the fountain in the courtyard, grim determination on his regal features, his slight body quivering with suppressed agitation as he waited for his murderers' arrival.

His family was sent safely away. The villa, too, was silent; it had emptied rapidly when a panic-stricken servant reported a noisy rabble was approaching. No doubt the magnificent structures would be looted as a requisite part of the overthrow of power.

But the man, Minos, would pay for that exchange of authority. He would not live to claim the right to rule after his rightful lord's death. Zakaryah carried an old weapon in the hands so casually hidden beneath his robes. He waited eagerly now, to avenge himself and his son.

"Father!"

"Ammon!" His son was disheveled, standing panting in the open archway to the inner hall - he had to have come through the stable. "I thought you were away with Beruth and the others."

"And leave you alone? Everyone else has run away!"

"And you will too!" The old man's voice lashed at him. "Isn't Horus's death enough? And mine? I forbid you to stain these stones with your blood! Go!"

There were shouts outside; the mob had reached the villa's outer walls, and no doubt wondered that the gate stood open for them. Both men looked toward the source of those ominous cries.

"Do you hear?" Zakaryah hissed. "They've arrived! Go! Make your capital where you will, as I said the last time we rode! This is my last command to you. This is one confrontation from which you can learn nothing."

"Why do you have to make a martyr of yourself?" the young man cried. "How can I run from this? Would you, at my age? No! You avenged your lord's death, but you order me to be a coward and run!"

"I avenged my father's murder, as I must now avenge my son's." His father was calmer, ready and almost eager for what was coming. "I leave you no choice. Go. Survive. There is nothing greater you can do for our memories. You can't serve your people from the grave - if this rabble even grants us tombs to lie in."

"But you can?" Ammon rejoined.

Zakaryah ignored him, moving steadily forward toward the gate, where the first few figures of the crowd now appeared. Those men yelled at their fellows, pointing at him. None seemed willing to enter where the old man waited with so fierce an expression on his face.

Ammon gasped and drew back into the shadows, his face burning with shame as he realized he had no stomach to die. His suddenly-old father smiled grimly.

A sturdy man with weathered skin stepped through the gate. "Lord Zakaryah!" he mocked.

"And you are Minos, the conspirator, the coward who comes with hundreds of blind madmen at your back to kill the ones who have devoted their lives to you and our world." The lord's voice held every nuance of insult and derision possible.

The other man's face contorted in rage at being once again insufficient to his intended victim.

"Yes, I am Minos!" he grated through clenched teeth. "And here is your son's seal!" With that he threw a golden medallion to roll across the smooth stones and clank at Zakaryah's feet. The ancient seal of the Lords was crusted with blood; a piece of broken chain still hung from it, evidence that it had been roughly torn from a dying man's throat.

"I know what you did to my son," he replied softly, almost gently. "We were told, though I need only look with my mind's eye to see his murder on your head, his innocent blood on your hands. And here is what I do to you in his name."

The weapon, fashioned to resemble and function as an old-style projectile gun, was brought into view, pointed at the leader of the crowd. The heavy old piece had suited Zakaryah's mood when he chose it. He took grim satisfaction in his enemy's slack jaw and suddenly pale cheeks.

Then he fired. It shot true. Half of Minos' chest disappeared in a gory mess. The man staggered back a step, surprised disbelief on a face now stained with his own blood. The rabble drew away in shock, staring.

Minos fell, twitched for a moment, then was still.

The surging crowd faced the rock-still man for long centons. Then a woman threw the first chunk of concrete.

Ammon plunged through the tall, dried stalks of the thick amaranth crop. Clutched in his hand were the seals of his father and brother, grabbed in the general melee as the mob ran riot through the villa.

He hadn't been recognized as he escaped from their midst; they'd been too concerned with their search for more victims and spoils to carry off, and his face was not well-known. Once he'd taken the large medallions, his brother's easily snatched up from the paving-stones, having to fight a man for his father's, he'd run back through the stable and into the fields.

He suspected Neftys would wait for him as long as possible, and Beruth, given a choice, would wait even longer. There was a landing strip and garage at the harvest dock. Maybe he could reach it before the human animals behind him torched the fields.

He tripped and stumbled headlong, tangling himself in the golden grain stalks. The tears could not be stopped; he could barely see. He couldn't find the energy or reason to continue.

Beruth. Two small boys, his children.

He pulled free of the clinging vegetation and staggered back to his feet. Behind him, he heard yells.

"It's on fire!"

Neftys glanced in the direction Phoebus pointed. It was the villa; orange fire lapped about its roofs, and dark smoke drifted skyward.

"Let it burn," she said softly. "It may be the only funeral pyre the lord receives, the only memorial to his name. Those monsters won't give him a pyramid..."

There was a rustle in the grain. The woman whirled, her weapon pointed. The pilot leaned on his controls, readying to lift the transport into the air. Behind them, the other woman screamed, clutching her children close.

Ammon staggered into view, scratched and dirty from running through the amaranth, bits of brownish leaves clinging in his dark hair, spots of moisture staining his clothes with the sweet smell of harvest-ready grain.

"They've started fires!" Neftys yelled at him. "Get aboard!"

She caught his arm and hauled him in. One look at his haggard, red-rimmed eyes told her all she needed to know. She turned back to the pilot.

Beruth pulled her husband's head into her lap, crying over the bruises on his face and fists, marks of the fight and his escape. He spared her a grateful glance before dropping his face, hiding his emotions. The boys huddled closer to their father's side, eyes wide and uncomprehending as their mother tended his injuries.

So Father is dead too. Did I expect any different? She felt exhaustion creeping in. But we're alive. And we'll escape.

"Let's go," she ordered Phoebus. The handsome blond man nodded and concentrated on his controls.

As they rose into the air, she saw something else. "The city's on fire, too!" she called harshly.

Ammon and Beruth's gaze followed her pointing finger. It was true. There were fires in Babelon. The riot had gotten out of hand, with its leader dead as well, and was now a mad spree of violence and looting.

"Good!" Ammon muttered thickly. "Let it burn!"

He opened his swollen fingers, and two gold seals rolled free into the bottom of the transport.

Neftys bent to pick them up. Both were bloodied; one was dented. How did he save these? she wondered. Father! Brother!

She gave in to her grief and began to cry, leaning against the young pilot. They were safely on course; he put a comforting arm around her shoulders.

Beneath them, the city burned from the river to the hills, as it hadn't burned since the first attacks of the war, a second cleansing by fire of something vile.

Without a leader, the fledgling revolution flickered and quickly died in its own violence. Zakaryah and his son rested in dishonor, unburied, but with a city itself as their death offering. Babelon was in ruins anew, and this time her population fled as her lord's children had fled, carrying the tale to the entire world. A new city was eventually built nearby that would one day become the capital of their world, and it was called Caprica City.

The exiles fled to Highpoint, which quietly hid them. The elders of the Retreats kept their records and their counsel, though they knew the line well, and could later boast that they kept the kinship records of the Sagans to the very Destruction, even after the family no longer knew its own heritage. Members of that clan would serve Caprica and the Colonies for over five millennia under the name and rank of Ammon's wife, a less-noble and less endangered family. The patriarchs and rightful lords claimed only the modest title of Squires of Valerium.

Epilogue:

Athena let the book drop, and mused over the history she'd just read.

It was tragic that the rule of the old royal family had ended in such circumstances, in war and assassination and exile, but there was no way they could have held the Colonies together any longer. And considering the type of government she'd grown up under, with its elected representatives and the Intercolonial Quorum, she found it hard to imagine living under an absolute monarchy - especially one that claimed divine sanction, as the Sagans were supposed to have done. It was hard enough, at times, living under the civilian rule of the Council of Twelve, on those occasions when they chose to exert real authority.

The Colonies respected those old rulers, and even swore by them, but Athena doubted there were many people who would actually want to go back and live under their absolute political and religious dominance.

The story of their final downfall was darker than the one she was teaching Boxey in that history class, and the one she remembered from her own girlhood, but murder and treachery to such degrees were nothing to give impressionable children, even children who'd survived what the children in the Fleet had lived through.

It was possible there was some truth to the story that the surviving Sagans had taken the name of Valerium when it was no longer safe to admit to being children of the Lords.

Athena remembered her brother telling how Commander Adama had used the title "Lord of Valerium" when passing himself off as a simple agricultural squire on the planet Sectar. Their father certainly knew their history if anyone in the Fleet did, but she wondered if it meant anything more...

From the Journal of Commander Adama

Our worlds were settled, six millennia ago, bright with hope and promise. But we could not sustain our first effort. The pain of our terrible Devastation was almost too great to bear, too great to overcome.

But we endured. We rebuilt. We reached once more for the stars. And there were those among us who never forgot the message of Cain, who never forgot whence we had come. We remember the ninth lord, and Adam, Cain, Sarai, Apollo, Zakaryah, Serapis, and Ammon. We remember those names of history, the ones who led us here, from those days that were almost as dark as what we now endure. We remember that there were beings who cared what happened to humanity.

And now, though we have seen the Destruction of our worlds, we remember the promise of our early days. And we pray for a brighter future, and a rebirth of that promise, on a world called Earth.