This is the first in The Anointed sequence. I was always fascinated by the religious overtones of BSG. Not because I've much (any!) religion myself, but because of the potential for tension that it brings. This sequence looks at the consequences for Apollo of becoming a religious icon - The Lords' Anointed - coming from the War of the Gods episode where he was brought back to life and given the co-ordinates to Earth by the people on the Ship of Lights. There are two completed stories in this sequence (Heart of Glass and The Lords' Anointed) - the third and final part, "Safe in these Arms" will be written one day. I promise.

TIMELINE You'll need to concentrate on this one, because it's not writen in the most linear fashion. There are three timeslines which eventually converge.

Set about 3 months after Hand of God, a year after the Destruction of the Colonies. Maybe five/six months since the Pegasus squadrons joined the Galactica

 

 

Section One

 

 

FAST FORWARD

This sure as hell ain't Kansas anymore, Toto.

It was getting very cold in the cockpit now.

He'd powered down the little fighter, diverting all available energy to the engines and life support. There was none to spare to keep him warm. It was very cold now. Almost too cold to bear.

On a quick assessment of the ship when he'd regained control, he'd decided that he'd been lucky again. The laser bolt had given his Viper a glancing blow, not hitting him full on. If it had, he'd be dead now. Instead of dead in a little while, maybe. Still, to a man whose talent to put off unpleasant things was legendary, a grisly fate deferred was one he didn't have to worry about just yet.

And though the glancing blow had done damage enough – his port engine was out and navigation was going to be of the seat of the pants variety – he'd been lucky because the sealants had kicked in before the little fighter could decompress, and he'd lost very little of his breathable atmosphere.

Of course, that could be a bit of a disadvantage if the seat of his pants turned out to be wrong and he couldn't get back to the Fleet. He'd infinitely prefer a quick death to suffocating slowly. Not that he was keen to sample either variety, but he was realistic enough to assess his options honestly and without fooling himself. He was very good at fooling others, but he rarely fooled himself. He knew himself to well for that. But he'd always thought that what had filled the seat of his pants was pretty neat. Now he had to rely on it.

The laser bolt – the tinheads had been lucky there, he thought, given their lack of any real skill in dog-fighting – the laser bolt had damaged his engine, kicking in the turbos and sending him spinning, out of control, the little fighter swooping away from the firefight and carrying him to a kind of spurious safety well away from their attackers. And well away from his friends as well, of course. It had taken him a few centons, five maybe, to get the Viper back under some sort of control and slow its wild career, and in that little space of time he'd got far away from the Fleet his fellow warriors were defending.

By the time he'd shut down the damaged engine, rerouted the navigation circuits to give him a modicum of directional control, and looked around to get his bearings, he was sitting alone and almost defenceless in a alien starfield with no sign, either through the clear tylinium canopy or on his scanner, of home, or the battle or anything else recognisable. Nothing on comms either: he was definitely out of range there. Even the static sounded alien, unfriendly.

He was glad that no-one was there to see the blank expression on his face as he realised he was lost. He had a reputation to maintain, after all; a long life of fooling others.

Still, he thought, he'd been lucky so far. They'd find him. He knew that they wouldn't give up on him., Once he had been sure that there was one person there who'd move heaven and hell to find him… well, he still was pretty sure.

And then he sat back to think about what to do next, and the nagging little pain in his left side that he'd managed to ignore flared into a stab of agony so sharp and intense that he screamed and slumped helplessly in the seat, held upright only by his flight harness, fighting for control over suddenly harsh and painful breathing.

He couldn't believe the pain. Nothing he'd ever experienced before had felt like this before. Nothing. Every hesitant breath was a sharp stabbing in his chest that left him weak and shaking. He could feel the cold clamminess of sweat on his body, taste the sourness of bile in his throat. His mouth was filling with saliva and he felt unpleasantly dizzy, almost overcome by the dreadful indifference of extreme nausea, the indifference to anything outside his own pain and misery. Everything seemed very far away, except the dreadful queasiness and the feelings of loathing and revulsion.

It was a few centons before he had enough control to nerve himself to see how bad it was. He couldn't see much, looking down; the mouthpiece of his helmet got in the way. But he could see that the controls down on the left-hand side of the cockpit were spattered with blood and other things. He didn't want to think about what other things.

Hesitant fingers probed at the wound. It felt wrong, everything felt wrong, not the way his chest usually felt, or should feel. Frayed and charred cloth gave way to an alien-ness of wet, hot slimy edges, like the edges of a raw steak, and lots of sharp jagged spikes that could be metal or bone.

Oh. That was what the loathing and revulsion were about. This.. this violation, this abuse of what had been whole, and now, most obscenely, wasn't.

And oh, sweet Lords, but it hurt. It really, really, hurt.

Sick and trembling, he fumbled for the first aid pack. All he needed was something to take away the pain, just a little. Anything. Then he could think about what he had to do to stay alive until they reached him.

Until Apollo reached him.

 

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REWIND TO REAL TIME

Lieutenant Starbuck was a man of simple tastes. He would cheerfully tell anyone who wanted to listen – and quite a few of those who did not - that only five things were needed to make a man completely happy. Not complicated things like worldly success or rank or social eminence; not even things like wealth (which would, he conceded, be a very acceptable state of affairs) or the exhilaration of fighting and winning, which he rather worried about enjoying so much until he realised that it was merely one more manifestation of his life-long skirmish with Lady Luck: but five simple pleasures. Pared down to essentials, as his life had been since the Destruction, all he needed was good food, good ambrosa, good friends, good card games (that is, those where the odds were firmly in his favour no matter how little he won) and good sex; although, to be honest, he'd take sex of any quality so long as it was hot and frequent. Only five things. And any order you like. He wasn't fussy.

Almost a yahren since their world had shattered in the Great Destruction and they'd learned to live without a million things that had once made life sweet. Like everyone else, Starbuck missed all the things he'd once taken for granted – his pet hate, he'd once told Boomer, was having to breathe air that had been recycled so often you could render it down into a nourishing soup, while remembering standing on the shore on Caprica near Apollo's house, watching the twin suns dip into the ocean and feeling that fresh, fragrant wind blowing in his face – but as he said, he'd somehow managed to hang on to all of those five key little indicators of happiness. His normally cheerful temperament had held firm.

Boomer was so familiar with Starbuck's mantra that he could recite the five criteria along with him. He was guessing, but based on yahrens of knowing more of Starbuck's emotional life than was good for his own peace of mind, he thought that in the last couple of sectons Starbuck felt that he'd been robbed somehow of one or more of those five happiness indicators. Boomer hadn't quite worked out which had gone and why, although he had noticed that Starbuck's attentions to the ladies had fallen off from their previous dizzy heights, and for a little while he'd wondered if the break-up with Cassie was the cause of Starbuck's moodiness. It couldn't be denied – and Boomer certainly wouldn't deny it – that a sex-less Starbuck was definitely a difficult-to-live-with Starbuck. In Boomer's humble, admittedly un-medical opinion, Starbuck was a martyr to his hormones and probably untreatable. Alleviation therapy was the only recourse, and one that Starbuck embraced with enthusiasm.

But Starbuck had been ostensibly lady-less for about three sectars, ever since he and Apollo had destroyed the Cylon base ship. He'd broken up with Cassie almost immediately he got back. So far as Boomer knew, Starbuck hadn't been chasing anyone else, but he had to be seeing someone and keeping uncharacteristically quiet about it. There was no other rational explanation for Starbuck's behaviour. It couldn't possibly have been a period of grave sexual deprivation. Starbuck had seemed too disgustingly happy for that.

At least, he had until a couple of sectons ago. Since then, the sunny disposition had showed a tendency to cloud, with the real threat of rain squalls later. Indeed, if Boomer were to continue the metaphor for the state of Starbuck's mind and heart, the weather had been decidedly unsettled for every day of the last two sectons.

Now Starbuck dumped his tray onto the usual table in the Officer's Mess and sat down beside Boomer, pushing the food around on his plate with a distinct lack of appreciation.

“I wouldn't mind if I knew what it was,” he said.

“You're whining,” Boomer observed, with the kind of brutal honesty reserved for old friends.

Starbuck shrugged one angry shoulder. “Must be my turn.”

Boomer looked at him thoughtfully. The changeable meteorological conditions were evidently worsening. He wondered if it would be worth trying to find out what was wrong, whether he was strong enough to listen to Starbuck pouring out his troubles or whether he should just divert the man by sacrificing his pay in a card game. Both options offered pain and suffering. All Boomer had to decide was whether he wanted the pain to be emotional or financial.

“At least we're getting regular meals and extra food for those on combat duty,” he said mildly, playing for time before making a decision. “Things are getting pretty bad out there, Bucko. I hear that most of the civilians are on pretty short rations now.”

“Lucky them,” Starbuck said, unappeased.

“And I heard that it'll be sectons before they finish the repairs in hydroponics and get everything geared up again properly,” Jolly chimed in, his cheerful face dragged into gloom. He rubbed at his ample waistline. “I could shoot Kyle's squad for letting those tinheads through to the agriships. We'll all starve.”

“I don't suppose he did it on purpose,” Boomer said, trying to be fair despite wanting to kick the Red Squadron leader around the flightdeck a few times himself. “And you could stand to lose a few pounds, Jolly.”

“Losing's one thing,” the big lieutenant said sadly. “Having them stolen from me is another thing altogether.”

Starbuck poked unenthusiastically at some unidentifiable, stringy meat with his fork. “Has anyone eaten any of it yet?”

Sorrowful nods from around the table.

“Well, you're all still breathing,” Starbuck said, dubious. “I wouldn't go so far as to say you all look okay, but I'm used to the lack of good looks amongst my friends. It makes for a pleasing contrast when I honour you with my company.”

“Easier for the girls to pick you out, you mean?” Boomer gave him a sour look.

“They can always pick me out, Boomer. It's keeping me that's the real trick.”

Boomer's eyebrow rose at the face Starbuck pulled, at the faint look of irony. Was he regretting Cassie, or Athena, or Gina or any one of a hundred others? Boomer concluded that Starbuck had been seeing someone, and they'd split. The cloudy weather had to be down to hormone overload and industrial strength pheromones with nowhere to go.

Starbuck held the plate up to the light and squinted at its contents. “How the hell did they get it to be this shade of grey?”

“Never underestimate the military mind,” Jolly said. “There'll be a regulation about it somewhere, and a sixteen page long specification so they get that exact shade. They'll have colour charts to match it against.”

“I guess they do it to toughen us up, or something,” Greenbean said thoughtfully. “Make us more ferocious warriors.”

“You mean, if an enemy saw how brave we were to eat this crap, they'd run for it?” Giles shook his head. “I wish.”

“It does make death in battle seem glorious in comparison,” agreed Boomer, trying not to shudder.

“It looks like something that's been in the deep freeze for a very, very long time.” Starbuck was still poking gingerly at this food as if he were afraid it would bite back. “What do you lot think?”

“It looks a bit like a piece of dead Ovion.” Giles spoke with a detached interest.

This time Boomer didn't attempt to hide the shudder. “I hate bugs.”

“I wonder what radioactive Ovion tastes like?” Starbuck chased the meat around the plate a little more, then dropped his fork in disgust. “No. I think I'd rather leave that experience in the realms of theory. I really don't want to know. I'll take death and glory in battle instead.”

“At least eating radioactive Ovions ranks as poetic justice,” Greenbean said.

Boomer gave Greenbean a warning look. He knew – they all knew - that, even after almost a yahren, Starbuck could still get upset about what he and Apollo had found in the Ovion breeding nests below the Carillon resort, and that the planet's destruction had done little to wipe out the memory of the larval chambers with their human food supplies.

Boomer knew, too, that several times over the sectars, Starbuck had woken shaking and sweating from the nightmare, imagining the feeling of larvae writhing sinuously in his gut, imagining the intense agony as rows of bitterly sharp teeth tore at him, devouring him from the inside.

Boomer didn't think that Starbuck would ever had told him. But one night, by chance, he'd crashed out in Starbuck's quarters after a particularly intensive ambrosa and cards session. The noise had got through the ambrosa fog, and he'd woken to find Starbuck thrashing in his bunk, almost whimpering with terror and more than half-hysterical. Boomer had tried to help and comfort, but in the end, he'd had to call in Apollo to help. Apollo was the only one who'd been there on Carillon; who understood about Starbuck's dreams; who could comfort him about them; who had, he'd admitted as they all three sat drinking ambrosa and waiting for morning, dreams of his own.

Both Giles and Greenbean looked apologetic. Starbuck copied Jolly's gesture of rubbing at his midriff, but Boomer thought it was for vastly different reasons. He didn't think that Starbuck was mourning the reduced rations, but reassuring himself that nothing was there, that nothing alien was moving under the skin.

“You'd better eat it,” Boomer said, gentle. He dropped a comforting hand onto Starbuck's arm and grinned at the lieutenant, silently reminding him it was all over. “I have to say that it tastes like shit, but you know what Apollo says about eating all our primaries.”

The little grin Starbuck gave him looked tight and forced. “Oh, the standard welcome speech to the new cadets? Know it off by heart. I love it, especially the ending.”

“The stop chasing girls bit?” Greenbean asked.

“Yeah.” Starbuck spoke in his usual light tone. “I love the way he says that, even to the girls. Pity you lot weren't there, that time. You should've seen Dietra's expression. I thought she'd bite him. She's had the hots for him for, what? A couple of yahrens, at least, ever since she got here as a shuttle pilot, and he's never even noticed. And the very first time he talked sex to her wasn't exactly what the girl was hoping for.”

“We were all in life support, otherwise engaged,” Boomer reminded him. He and the other pilots had almost died, stricken with a bacterial infection he and Jolly had picked up scouting a Cylon outpost. They'd missed training the mainly female shuttle pilots on Vipers, missed Starbuck's disappearance and Apollo's sudden wedding, almost missed Kobol and Apollo's equally sudden bereavement.

Starbuck nodded. “So was he. Otherwise engaged, I mean. Serina would've killed him if he'd talked any other kind of sex with Dietra.”

“Where is the captain?” Jolly asked, looking up from the plate that he'd just about scoured clean.

Starbuck pushed his own plate in Jolly's direction, grinning at the big man's nod of thanks. “The commander wanted him. He'll be along in a few centons. I said I'd keep Bojay from stealing his seat.”

They all grinned at each other, and as one they turned to look at the table where Silver Spar squadron were having their own noisy lunch. Lieutenant Bojay, late of the Battlestar Pegasus and Silver Spar Leader, was noteworthy for his ruthless ambition, if not for much else. His belief that he belonged in the captain's chair was absolute and, as Apollo had wryly noted, the man had all the subtlety of an armed warhead. Apollo spent as much time these days watching his back as getting on with the job.

Boomer watched Lieutenant Bojay's behaviour with critical eyes. “He's too occupied mooning over Sheba,” he decided after a centon or two. “He sure has the hots for that girl.”

“Military ambition's taking second place to sex,” agreed Greenbean.

“As it should,” Starbuck smirked. “I'm willing to bet that I'll stay a lieutenant for the duration, but there'll be a lot of happy bodies out there and I'll die a contented man.”

If there was a touch of self mockery in his tone, Boomer was the only one to notice it. What in hell was wrong with him? Testosterone poisoning didn't usually manifest itself in quite this way.

“An exhausted one, anyway,” said Giles dryly.

“Which is more than can be said for Boj. I don't think he's getting anywhere with Sheba. Another one who's got her eyes on Apollo. Maybe military ambition's just taking second place to sexual frustration.”

“Not something you know much about,” Giles said, envious. “Here's Apollo.”

Boomer shifted his chair to give Apollo room between him and Starbuck. It was the natural thing for to do, make room for Apollo between them, where Apollo always seemed to belong.

But then he saw it, unfolding in front of him like one of those tiny, minimalist dramas that had been such a feature of Caprican theatre, little scenes in which some aspect of love and life and death had been depicted with a kind of direct sparseness, with an economy of words and movement where every emotion and action was stripped down to raw, and often bleak, essentials.

In this little drama, the essentials came across without words, like watching a mime. No grand gestures, just Starbuck stiffening ever so slightly before hooking an empty chair forward from the next table, as if having to brace himself to endure something unwelcome or unpleasant, and a brief, split-micron's hesitation on the captain's side before taking the seat.

Boomer almost, but not quite, missed it all. Only the fact he'd already got his antennae tuned in on Starbuck gave him the clue. Whatever was bugging Starbuck didn't have oestrogen, then, but something infinitely worse. An Apollo and Starbuck fight. Just to think the words had Boomer cringing inwardly at the potential for grief. But how in hell had they managed to keep it quiet? And if they had kept it quiet… oh Lords, that was serious, then. What the hell was he to do about it? After a micron of questions buzzing around his head, he decided he had to be in shock. His brain couldn't come up with anything sensible to say. He found himself thinking only one thing, over and over.

Oh-oh.

Oh-oh.

Oh…. Forcing himself to concentrate, Boomer gave Apollo a closer look. The captain kept his eyes on his plate, but he looked tired and out of sorts. Difficult to tell whether that was down to the commander doing little to improve their Strike Leader's already stressful life with whatever new demands he was making, or if Boomer was right about this possible explanation for Starbuck's mood. Boomer decided they both deserved watching. If they really had fought, his personal safety demanded that he knew about it in time to take evasive action.

Apollo looked at the food with the same lack of enthusiasm that Starbuck had shown. “What in Hades is this stuff?”

“You're the one with access to all the command information,” Starbuck pointed out, tone still light, still indifferent. “You tell us.”

“Besides, we've been through all this once,” Boomer said. “I can't face another bout of Starbuck speculating on the likely origin of the protein.”

“It's not too bad, actually,” Jolly offered, and flushed slightly at the disbelieving stares. “Better than nothing.”

“Just,” Apollo said, and chewed on a forkful. He didn't look like it was a life-enhancing experience.

“They seem to have sold you a bit short on portion size,” Starbuck said.

Apollo flushed slightly. “I've a highly developed instinct for self preservation. I've got enough.” He swallowed the stuff and scowled. “More than enough.”

Boomer's eyes narrowed. They all knew that Apollo was quietly diverting his extra rations to Boxey, determined that the child should suffer as little privation as possible through the current food crisis; although given the quality of the food recently, Apollo might be killing his step-son with misplaced kindness. They also all knew that it was the kind of gesture that Apollo would always do unobtrusively, and wouldn't want anyone to remark on. Why in Hades' name was Starbuck embarrassing Apollo about it? More evidence of something up between them?

“What did the commander want?” Starbuck asked abruptly.

“I have to go to the Council meeting this afternoon. He just wanted to brief me first.” Apollo turned to Boomer. “Will you pick up Boxey for me when school's out?”

“Sure,” Boomer said. He was definitely onto something now; Starbuck would normally be the one to be asked. “What's it all about, Apollo?”

“Oh, the usual Council things,” was the decidedly evasive reply.

“Sneaky, manipulative backstabbing, then,” Boomer said. He wished they weren't in a crowd, so that Apollo might be persuaded to answer the question Boomer was really asking.

Apollo nodded, looking morose. “Yeah. Politics.”

“And you aren't going to tell us any more?” Starbuck was watching Apollo closely now, as closely as Boomer was watching the pair of them.

Boomer thought that Apollo's grin looked as tired and forced as Starbuck's had a few centons earlier.

“Not until I have to. Knowledge is power, Lieutenant. I need all the edge I can get, keeping you under control.”

“Me? I'm a joy to command!”

“There is an emotion attached to the experience,” the captain acknowledged with a sudden bitterness that had Boomer looking at the pair of them with every alarm bell ringing in his head. “But joy is not it.”

Oh-oh.

Oh-bloody-oh.

“Give me time and a thesaurus and I could come up with a list for you,“ Starbuck said.

“Starting with infuriating.“ Giles grinned.

“Maddening,“ was Boomer's offering, but he was very thoughtful.

“Irritating.” Jolly suggested.

“Frustrating.” Greenbean said. “Annoying.”

“You know him so well.” Apollo swallowed the last of his rations with a grimace.

Starbuck sniffed. “If I'm that bad, I can't figure out why you haven't arranged a fatal accident for me before now. It would be easy enough to do.”

There was a brief silence, and Apollo stared down at his plate. Starbuck watched him, still with the careless grin on his face. Boomer glanced around, but no-one else appeared to be picking up on the tension. Maybe all they were seeing was the usual Apollo-Starbuck friendly bickering and were missing the undercurrent of real ill-feeling that he thought he could see.

Apollo shook his head. “I know, and don't think I haven't thought about it. It's not that I object to killing you, Starbuck, and the Lords know there'll be witnesses enough to swear to the provocation, but there's rules against slaying your lieutenant. There's even a regulation in the Military Code against it somewhere.”

Boomer watched them carefully, keeping his tone light and normal. “Come on, Apollo, where's your sense of adventure? Think of the extenuating circumstances: this is Starbuck we're talking about here.”

“Thanks,” said that individual, ungratefully.

Boomer grinned at him. “All it'll take will be convenient moment to do it, no witnesses and a little paperwork afterwards, a few forms to fill in … “

“Don't tempt me,” Apollo said. “But I've enough red tape to deal with already.”

“I knew there'd be a reason for the unnatural restraint,” Starbuck said, and scowled. “At least you don't make me pick up your bratty son from school.”

“Ah yes,” Apollo said quietly. “Real punishment, that is, for being a joy to command.”

Boomer sighed. “Last time I looked, I wasn't Starbuck. So what did I do to deserve the fate worse than death?”

They both stared at him, and said nothing. Apollo looked away, and Starbuck showed a distinct tendency to deepen the cloud cover.

Oh-bloody-oh with bells and whistles attached.

 

 

 

A very reluctant attendee at Council meetings to begin with, forced to go along as commander of the warriors to listen to the Council's advice on matters military, Captain Apollo was a little disconcerted to find that he was beginning to enjoy the experience. Not because he felt drawn to politics – he was neither subtle enough nor dishonest enough for that to be a serious career choice – but rather because he enjoyed watching the way the commander handled the varied bunch of self–serving rodents who made up his democratically elected Government. When the elections had been held, Apollo had been temporarily and unavoidably marooned on a farming colony after leading a Cylon patrol away from the Fleet, and hadn't managed to cast his vote himself. Freed from any personal responsibility in the matter, he often found himself looking at the results of allowing his fellow citizens to exercise their voting rights and thought wistfully of the attractiveness, the purity and single-mindedness of military dictatorship.

His father, though he had bowed to the wishes of the majority for a return to democracy and an end to the military emergency, had held on to the Presidency and had learned what Apollo knew he himself had not. Always controlled, Adama had learned how to bend with the tide and not break, getting his own way by using the shifting alliances in the Council to best effect, working with the Council when he could, around it when he could not, and not hesitating to ignore it completely on the few occasions when he decided it was necessary. Apollo knew himself well enough to admit that he didn't have the patience or the tact to bother with anything other than the third option, and he was finding the Council meetings an object lesson in patience and endurance. Adama's unfailing serenity was in itself one of the best weapons in the commander's armoury, and Apollo's enjoyment came from watching the councillors' vain attempts to breach it.

This was turning out to be a difficult meeting. Three sectars before they'd come up against what they hoped would be the last Cylon baseship. Although Apollo and Starbuck had managed to get aboard and disable it, allowing the Galactica to destroy it, the victory had had its price. One of the waves of Cylon attack craft had somehow managed to get around the Galactica's Vipers and had done the worst kind of damage before the squadrons had succeeded in rounding the attackers up and destroying them.

The loss of any ship was to be regretted, not least because the Fleet had endured so much already that to lose even more of the survivors caused a special kind of angry grief at the unfairness of it. But this attack had targeted the three great agri-ships that fed the Fleet, destroying one and damaging the remaining two severely. Within a secton or two, the Council had been forced to reintroduce rationing whilst the engineers struggled to get the hydroponics units and food production lines operational again. In the sectons since, the repair work had been slow and the rationing grew ever tighter. Getting back to normal was taking longer than the Council liked – after all, irrespective of their natural desire to end the suffering and privation and fulfil all those altruistic ambitions they'd had when they entered politics to make life better for everyone, they would all come up for re-election one day. People could have such inconveniently long memories. Murmurings and unrest and dissatisfaction were uncomfortable emotions for a politician to face, and the Council members were facing them daily.

“Another sectar?” Councillor Piers sounded shocked and disbelieving, then silkily venomous. “Forgive me, Doctor Bowen, but I believe that we appointed you as head of the agri-facility because you were thought to be the one person in the Fleet who understood hydroponics and agri-management. Tell me, were we mistaken?”

Doctor Bowen returned the contemptuous look with interest. Apollo liked what little he'd seen of a man who didn't seem to be cowed by blustering politicians.

“I don't know,” Bowen said, sounding uninterested. “I don't have access to the Fleet records so I can't compare my qualifications with anyone else. I've no idea on what basis you made your decision to appoint me.” The minutest of pauses. “I doubt if you have any idea either, beyond wanting someone to take real responsibility of your hands.”

Apollo looked down hurriedly to hide his grin at Piers' outraged spluttering. Beside him, he felt Tigh shake with a similar effort to keep his amusement controlled.

“I don't think that anyone doubts your qualifications, Doctor,” Adama said soothingly, giving Piers a quelling glance. “We're aware that you are the best for the job. But you'll understand our concern. It's been over three sectars since the Cylon attack, and the food situation is getting very, very serious. We'll probably have to cut the rations again, if we're to feed everyone for another sectar from existing stores. Most of the civilians are on minimum nutrition now. If we have to cut further – we run the risk of people actually starving.”

Bowen nodded. “Yes,” he said. “I checked with the Quartermaster myself. It'll be a tight run thing.”

“Can you do anything to hasten the procedure?” Sire Anton spoke as mildly as Adama. The old man smiled. “Remember that we're not scientists, Doctor Bowen. Please explain to me as simply as you can.”

Apollo thought again that the wily old diplomat deserved watching, admiring the smooth way Anton operated. It had worked on Bowen. The irate scientist looked mollified and his tone was less aggressive, more conciliatory.

“It's been a problem getting enough plasti-steel and tylinium to rebuild the damaged tanks. The forge ship delivered the final consignment last secton, as you know, and we finished rebuilding the tanks four days ago. We've almost completed filling the tanks with nutrient solutions. The problem is, Councillor, that filling the tanks with nutrient solutions and taking out usable, edible proteins is not a simultaneous process. It takes sectons. Three or four, minimum.”

“Crops?” someone else asked.

“We've repaired both the remaining agri-ships, but both lost atmosphere. The crops were ruined. We've replanted, but again… “ Bowen shrugged. “Again, even with accelerated growth techniques, we can't grow enough to feed everyone. All we ever grew that way were supplements to the main hydroponics operation. Actually, the crops we grew were really luxurious extras, something to make the hydroponics more palatable.”

“But we are getting some crops?” Adama asked.

Bowen nodded. “Some. Not enough.”

Adama sighed. He glanced at Tigh. “Emergency rations?” he asked.

Colonel Tigh shook his head. “The Quartermaster estimates no more than a day's supply if we spread it around the entire Fleet.”

“Then we'll hold that in reserve for now.” Adama turned to his son. “Captain, I'm not aware that the long range patrols have found anything that might help us?”

Apollo shook his head. “I've had patrols checking out the next system, sir. Nothing so far. If we need to look further ahead, we'll have to take time out to refit a few Vipers with extra air and fuel tanks.”

“What are you looking for?” Piers asked. “Do you know?”

Apollo looked down to keep his face from showing what he felt at that acid enquiry. He resorted to his usual method of dealing with the Council: a satisfying mental image of an open airlock with various Council members tethered to it was usually enough to restore his equilibrium. His tone echoed Doctor Bowman's in its thinly veiled dislike, but stopped short of outright disrespect.

“We've a rough idea, Councillor. Either first contacts who might trade with us, or uninhabited worlds with a comparable atmosphere to ours where the flora and fauna might have developed in a way that's compatible enough for us to harvest them. On the latter, we're working within search criteria agreed with Doctor Bowen.”

This time his father turned the quelling glance onto him, and Apollo had to fight his resentment at the implied rebuke. Subservience did not come easily to him, even to keep the Council sweet and off Adama's back. He hadn't been rude, merely factual. Why did his father have to look so disappointed with him, as though he'd thrown a full scale tantrum?

“Then I think there's no more to be said at the moment,” Adama said. “Thank you, Doctor. Please continue to report progress daily.”

Bowen nodded and left quickly. Apollo watched him go with something very like envy. It might be some time before Apollo got out of there.

“This situation's ludicrous!” Piers burst out almost before the door closed behind the agri-scientist. “The man's an incompetent clown! He obviously has no conception of the seriousness of this situation.”

“Oh, I think he has,” Anton said. “He's just not willing to tell us soothing lies. You really should learn to tell the difference, Piers.”

“There is no-one else in the Fleet with his knowledge and expertise,” Adama said. “And there's no point in debating the issue. It's far more important that we consider what we do to try and manage the situation we do have.”

Apollo thought of Boxey, afraid for him. So far he'd been able to protect the child from the worst, making sure that Boxey got his, Apollo's, extra rations. But how did you ‘manage' starvation, he wondered. How did you choose who was to eat and who faced famine and death?

Joel, one of Piers' closest allies and almost as unashamedly self seeking, said it for him. “What's to manage? Let's just look at this, Adama. In two sectons we will be facing the first anniversary of the Great Destruction.”

“I know the date,” Adama said heavily.

“We all do,” Joel retorted. “The point is that it will be a very difficult time for everyone, a very emotional time, a time to remember our losses and grieve for the dead. People are going to be very volatile, Adama.”

“Yes,” the commander conceded.

“Add to that the fact that there's over 122,000 of those volatile people crammed into these ships, many of them still in makeshift accommodation and with nothing to do to keep themselves occupied. A recipe for frustration and anger, that we've been able to do little to alleviate. Only a few people have managed to find any sort of gainful work in the Fleet.”

“But useful and essential,” another councillor chimed in.

“Of course,” Joel said. “Supporting the military or working the agriships: no-one would deny that. But the majority can only sit inside those steel coffins out there with little to do except think, feeling bitter and angry, disenfranchised and powerless. They're growing more suspicious by the day, my friends. They've been on short rations for almost three sectars. And now we're getting to the point where there'll only be rations enough to feed people on alternate days, and they won't stand for that. They'll riot.”

“It may not come to that…”

Apollo gave his father an incredulous glance. Adama had to be terminally out of touch, or terminally optimistic, or terminally attached to his faith, to truly believe that. He knew both from the reports of his pilots and his own experience how bad the conditions were in some of those ships. There were ships in the Fleet that even he'd hesitate to visit without a fully armed escort made up of his biggest and scariest troopers and half the Viper squadrons riding shotgun outside.

Joel seemed to share Apollo's incredulity. “Well, you can cling to that belief if you want to, Adama, but I firmly believe that we've got to do something, and more to the point, we've got to be seen doing something before the Fleet descends into anarchy. At the very least we should consider changing course and sending out our Vipers in different directions. If there's nothing up ahead, maybe we should think about alternative routes.”

“You know why we're heading in the direction we are,” Adama said, patiently. “The information from the Ship of Lights was most specific. The course they gave us leads this way and no other.”

“A deviation from our course could be charted, surely, so that we could swing back on our original heading once we've found supplies?” Joel persisted.

Adama said nothing. Apollo watched him, knowing that this discussion was very unwelcome to the commander. His father had a distinctly religious fervour about the rightness of their present course. Of course they could take another route and plot their way back on to this one. Any rookie navigator straight out of the Academy could do it without even breaking into a sweat. But he thought that Adama felt that even the slightest deviation was a kind of blasphemy.

“You know why we're taking the course we are,” Siress Tinia said wearily. “We've discussed it often enough.

“I know why the commander always insists we must never deviate.” Joel's hard brown eyes flickered over to Apollo. “If we were given the correct course in the first place of course.”

Apollo stared back. How the hell should he know if it was right or not? According to Sheba and Starbuck's halting and hazy account of what had happened, he'd been dead at the time the people of the Ship of Lights had somehow put the course co-ordinates into his memory. He could remember virtually nothing of the Ship except for the blinding light and the vague recollection of voices. If he stopped to think about it, strained the recollection to its limits, he thought he remembered that the voices had the same sort of amused tolerance in their tone as he often found himself using with his six-yahren old son. That was a slightly irksome memory, although he was too grateful to be alive to be really resentful of implied inferiority.

When they'd got back – he still didn't understand how – to the Galactica, Starbuck and Sheba had better memories of the Ship than he had, but only fragmentary and transitory memories of the co-ordinates. Neither of them could now remember what little they'd had of the course data. Only he had it all. All Apollo had to do was close his eyes and concentrate, and the numbers were written across his mind, as if they'd been penned across the back of his eyelids. If he took the time to recite the co-ordinates out loud, it could take several centons. Wherever they were heading, it was a long way to go.

And that was the core of the trouble and of the Council's doubts: just exactly where it was that they were going. Despite the long discussions with the Council and the Kobolian priests and scholars, he hadn't been able to say with any certainty where it was those co-ordinates were taking them, even when they'd tried hypnosis to try and access the hidden memories. He didn't know, either empirically or through the kind of unquestioning faith his father had, if it truly was the course to Earth. All he did know was that the co-ordinates led somewhere, and the Ship of Lights expected the Fleet to go there.

That was enough for him. And enough for Adama.

“We have to have faith. We have to assume that intent of the people of the Ship of Lights was friendly,” Adama said now, his tone mild. “Without their help, we would all now be Iblis' slaves, our souls forfeit. They saved us there. What reason would they have to mislead us?”

Old arguments from old minds, Apollo thought, weary of them. They just liked chewing over old soup, hugging their doubts and prejudices to themselves like ragged comfort blankets. He sighed under his breath and looked down at the polished wood of the table, eyes idly tracing the pattern of the grain, and allowed his mind to drift onto his own more pressing and more personal concerns. Awash with the acute misery that only was just below the surface and which he only just had under control, he was only half aware of the discussion going on around him.

“All I'm suggesting is that it will hardly rock the heavens on their axes if we deviate into a different course, returning to this heading when the Fleet is better provisioned,“ Joel snapped.

“A difficult point,” Anton conceded. “I don't think any of us on the Council are qualified to judge.”

“If not the Council, then who else?” Piers demanded. “We are the Government after all.”

Anton smiled. “I'm not sure that this is a matter of governance, my friend. We came by the course co-ordinates in a very peculiar fashion, and I think that there's only one source of expertise in that area.”

It took a moment or two for Apollo to realise the change in atmosphere, and look up to see what had caused the sudden silence. He and Tigh sat at one end of the long Council table, the twelve white-robed councillors ranged to his right. Every one of them was watching him, twisting or leaning forward in their seats to get a good look at him. Even his father was looking towards him, expression as serene as ever but blue eyes calculating, weighing him in some sort of parental balance. Twelve pairs of eyes – thirteen if he counted Adama's - were fixed on him, some avid, some hopeful, some hostile, and some merely curious. But all of them were expectant, waiting.

He stared back, mentally reviewed the discussion, and flushed slightly. Oh shit.

“Your views, Captain?” Anton prompted him gently.

“I'm not sure I have any,” Apollo said, apologetic when he saw the flash of disappointment that Adama quickly hid. He swallowed down a sigh. Obviously he'd been found wanting in that parental balance. He hadn't given the answer his father wanted.

“What will happen if we change course?” Tinia asked, more blunt than Anton could ever bring himself to be.

Apollo stared, nonplussed. How the hell could he know? He closed his eyes for a micron, and the sequence started scrolling there, like programme code on a computer screen. Was that what they did to me? he wondered. Programme me like some computer? Or maybe more like a virus, something changing all the original software, altering the programme and altering the outcome? Maybe that was as good an analogy for what had happened as any. But had they altered it - had they altered him - for better or for worse?

“I don't know,” he said, opening his eyes and banishing the numbers. “But…”

He paused, thinking about it, reluctant to voice his thoughts.

“But what?” Sire Tomas, a deeply religious Kobolian leaned forward eagerly. The man was one of Adama's allies on the Council, although his unassuming personality meant that he wasn't a pivotal power.

Apollo hesitated. This would sound so.. so quasi-mystical that he wondered if he was being foolish in even mentioning it, but he felt almost compelled to. “But this way feels right.”

A centon's silence. Adama's eyes narrowed, and one or two of the more religious councillors, leading Kobolians like Tomas, stared openly. Anton, however, looked at him with increased interest, speculation in his eyes. When he saw that Apollo had noticed, the old man smiled. The nod he gave Apollo had more than a hint of affectionate complicity, of an understanding his own father didn't seem to have.

Apollo shifted uncomfortably as the silence lengthened, wishing he'd kept his mouth shut. Thankfully, he was rescued by someone with a healthy dose of scepticism.

“Wonderful!” Joel almost exploded with derision. “We continue on this barren course and watch our people starve, watch the Fleet disintegrate into violence and ruin and all because the captain here has a vague feeling that this way's right.”

“I don't make the decisions about which way you go,” Apollo said, sharp with anger. “Sir.” That was a definite and scathing afterthought.

“Captain.” Tigh spoke very quietly, warningly.

Apollo subsided, seething. The bloody fools had asked. It wasn't his fault that they didn't like the answer. He stared defiantly back at his father, almost daring Adama to voice the disappointment.

Adama ignored him. “I hardly think it's relevant,” he said. “What matters is that we follow the course we've been given.”

“Ah well,” said Anton. “Then it seems we more imperfect mortals must decide for ourselves.” He looked at Apollo kindly. “Perhaps it's deliberate, Captain, that they didn't give you too much information. We still need to take responsibility for ourselves.”

“Yes,” Apollo agreed, scarcely mollified.

“And you're quite right, Captain, that the responsibility is not yours. Not yet anyway. Adama, I think we might excuse the captain and Colonel Tigh for now. We need to debate, again, our present course.”

Adama nodded. “Yes,” he said, serene as ever. “Thank you, Tigh, Apollo.”

Apollo left so hard on Tigh's heels that he was almost treading on the colonel's boots. He jabbed on the button to close the turbo lift doors and slumped tiredly into the corner of the lift, thinking miserably about how foul everything was. After one measuring glance, Tigh ignored him, leaving him to stew over what was biting at him.

It was only as they reached the Bridge that he remembered what Anton had said.

What had the old man meant, ‘not yet'?

 

 

 

“You know,” Boomer said in what Starbuck wearily calculated was his fifth attempt at starting a conversation. “It reminds me of when Apollo first got here.”

Starbuck had been busily – and uncharacteristically – catching up on the filing. It wasn't a job he liked, but in the last couple of centars since that uncomfortable lunch, he'd tried to keep busy in the duty office, filling in the time while Apollo was at the Council meeting. It helped him not to think, to try and forget his anger and the hurt at what Apollo had done to him.

It had startled him, the tension between him and Apollo. He found himself wondering about it; not that it was there, but at how quickly it had grown, how unpredictable it was. They'd achieve some kind of uneasy balance, according to their agreement to be as normal to each other as they could manage, and then that tension and anger would come up out of nowhere, and they'd be snapping at each other, looking to wound and hurt, to score points. Usually it happened when they were alone, and they managed to achieve at least the shadow of their old easy relationship in public, at least enough to fool everyone. Today had been the first time they'd sniped at each other in front of other people.

And in front of Boomer in particular. Nothing much got past old Boomer. He wouldn't be fooled. And as Starbuck had thought, Boomer hadn't missed it and had turned up at the duty office - “To keep you company”, the dark lieutenant had said airily – to find out what was going on. Starbuck had choked off four attempts to get him to talk about it.

Now Starbuck looked at his friend warily. Attempt number five. “What does? What reminds you of when Apollo got here?”

He was finding it easier to say Apollo's name as if nothing had happened. So he was getting over it, he thought, to be able to say the name without an effort. Well, if he kept telling himself that was true, it would be true. It *would* be true. Eventually.

“Well, remember we were sitting in here after we got word that the commander's son was going to be our new Strike Captain?”

Starbuck nodded reluctantly.

“We weren't exactly jumping with joy at the thought. Poor Apollo! He was about as welcome as an infestation of Corellian bed lice. We were convinced that it was some sort of dynastic plot between him and his Dad. You know, the commander would make sure that Daddy's boy got looked after, got a few medals, got promoted, Remember? You swore that you'd make his life hell. You spent more energy on trying to run him ragged than you did on chasing girls.”

“Mmn,” Starbuck said, non-committal. He preferred not to think of the past. Or the present. And right at that centon, he didn't much like the look of the future either.

Boomer waited, while Starbuck pretended to be looking for the right papers for the file he was holding. After a centon or two of silence, Starbuck walked over to the cabinet and slotted the file into place.

“So?” Starbuck asked, keeping his back to Boomer, and now he pretended to be searching for something else in the drawer. “So what's reminding you of when Apollo got here? It was five yahrens ago. Ancient history.”

“You used to try and needle him then, too.”

Again Boomer waited, while Starbuck fidgeted at the cabinet, pulling out files at random and stuffing them back in again.

“We're always joking around,” he said at last, voice a bit muffled as he bent his head to read a file label.

“You meant it, then,” Boomer said.

“Then.”

“And you didn't today?”

Starbuck said nothing. He concentrated on trying to read the file label, wondering why his eyes wouldn't focus, why the letters were so fuzzy.

“Starbuck?”

“His writing's so bloody hard to read!” Starbuck said, after a centon, with far more vehemence than the words demanded. “You'd think that expensive school they sent him to would have taught him better. I can hardly read this bloody thing!”

“What's going on, Bucko?” Boomer's voice was gentle.

“Nothing's going on.” Starbuck stuffed the file back into the drawer, roughly, not caring that it tore. It gave him an obscure satisfaction to tear the file, to destroy something. A feeling of kinship with the torn thing welled up in him. He was briefly and mordantly amused to think that he was reduced to a fellow-feeling with a torn file, with something broken and damaged.

“I'm not blind and I'm not deaf, Starbuck. You two weren't joking around at lunch. What's it all about?”

“Nothing!” Starbuck shot back, with rising panic. He didn't think he could hold this back much longer. He didn't dare turn around and let Boomer see his face. He held on to the file drawer to steady himself, clutching so tightly that the metal edges of the drawer pressed painfully into his hands. He welcomed the little pain. It detracted from the bigger one, gave him something else to focus on.

Boomer sighed noisily behind him. “Hey, this is me, remember? There's no point in lying to me, I've known you forever. I want to help, Bucko. What have you two fought about? Athena?”

“Hell, no! That's long over, and there's nothing wrong.”

“Starbuck…”

“There. Is. Nothing. Wrong.” Starbuck allowed a heartbeat between each word, almost spitting them out. He took his hands off the drawer, looking with a detached interest at the deep red dents the drawer edges had left across his palms.

“Balls,” Boomer said calmly.

Starbuck took a step backwards and slammed the drawer shut with such force the cabinet would have rocked if it hadn't been fixed to the office wall. He turned to face Boomer, seeing the other man almost flinch at the fury and violence.

“He dumped me, all right? He fucking dumped me!”

He leaned back against the cabinet, raising shaking hands to his face, trying for control. His whole body was aching with the effort of not letting go.

Boomer couldn't have sounded more astonished if he'd been poleaxed. “You mean… you and Apollo?”

“Not any more.” Starbuck let his useless, shaking hands drop. “He dumped me. It's not me and him. Not any more.”

 

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FAST REWIND

RETROSPECTIVE : OVERTURE AND ENTRE'ACT

“I thought I'd yanked you out of here once already tonight!” Starbuck was laughing as he clambered up through the hatch of the Celestial Dome for the second time within a couple of centars. “You know, you need to work on your social skills, Apollo. I'm the one who was brought up in the orphanage, but even I know that it's not done to get your medals then run away the micron the commander turns his back on you, before we're even halfway through the congratulatory toasts. You definitely don't leave a party like that sober. We just got a baseship, dammit. We're heroes.”

Apollo, back in the seat at the console where Starbuck had found him earlier, looked down on him solemnly. “I'd had enough of it,” he said. “You didn't need to leave.”

“Rank curiosity,” confessed Starbuck. He checked that the hatch was secure, and straightened, relieved to be out of the noise of the Battlestar's huge thruster engines in the cavernous chamber beneath their feet. “I wanted to know what you're up to. I mean, I know you aren't exactly party animal of the yahren, but usually even you last a bit longer than a centar. You didn't exactly look happy, even when your Dad was almost bursting out of his uniform buttons with pride at his baby boy's exploits.”

“I had other things to think about.”

“Trust you to be thinking when you should be partying. Apollo, we've just got back from the worst mission ever. I don't mind telling you that I was scared witless most of the time we were on that baseship. I never really trusted what Baltar was telling us until we got there, and I never, ever thought we'd get back in one piece.” Starbuck laughed. “Especially waggling our wings like that! Even if you don't want to celebrate the medals, don't you at least want to celebrate being alive? It's more intoxicating than ambrosa!”

Apollo switched off the console. He jumped down to sit beside Starbuck on the edge of the dais and for a few quiet microns they just watched the stars wheel past. It was peaceful and companiable and they both sat in quiet satisfaction, shoulder to shoulder.

“I am glad to be alive,” Apollo said at last. “It's just… I've been thinking. Starbuck, do you think I'm suicidal? It was plain daft to come up with that idea and I just dragged you along with me.”

“It worked,” Starbuck pointed out.

“Yeah, but… but someone pointed out to me that I always take the worst missions, like I'm trying to get myself killed.” There was genuine dismay in Apollo's tone. “I never thought of it like that. I just saw a job that needed doing, and I don't like sending other people in where I'm afraid to go myself. But do you think that I've got some unconscious death wish?”

“I think you've got a severe ambrosa deficiency and you sometimes act as if you've had a sense of humour bypass.” Starbuck grinned at him affectionately. “Don't be an idiot and believe that psycho-babble felger, okay? If I thought you were suicidal there's no way you'd have dragged me anywhere. I went because I trusted you to get us out of it again.”

They looked at each other and Apollo smiled. “Thanks.”

Another short, silent, stargazing centon, then Starbuck said, “The someone you mentioned. Sheba?”

“Sheba.” Apollo nodded confirmation. “When you and Cassie were talking, she decided it would be a really good time to hit on me. Her timing sucks. I'm trying to work out how in hell that Cylon raider flies and she's telling me that the reason that maybe two people like her and me fight so much is because we're trying to deny deeper feelings for each other.” He pulled a face. “She sounded like the kind of romantic novel my grandmother used to read. And when I refused to let her come with us, she accused me of taking all the dangerous missions so I'd get killed and rejoin Serina, or something.”

“Crazy,” Starbuck said.

“Just dumb. I still miss Serina, sure, and I probably always will a little bit, but I'm over it and I don't want to be dead. And maybe the reason that me and Sheba fight so much is that I don't actually like her.”

“I thought you did,” remarked Starbuck, tone neutral.

“Well, I thought I did, too, but I've been thinking about it a lot. Not just about her, I mean, but about me and what I want and how I feel about things. She's okay. She's sparky, and pretty and she's a damn good pilot, but she's too much like her father for my liking. She's inherited his gene for condescending superiority, that's for sure.”

Starbuck hid a smile. “You didn't kiss her back, then?”

Apollo grinned and shook his head. “No. Should I have?”

“Not unless you've got a gene for masochism.”

“Well, I might have, at that.” Apollo showed a surprising amount of self-knowledge with that confession. “But not in that direction, anyway. Didn't you notice her at the party? She spent all her time watching me, and I suppose I got a bit spooked. It was like she was waiting for me to react to her… well, it was an offer, really. I got away before she could hit on me again.”

“I was a touch occupied with Cassie. We just split.”

Apollo turned, astonished. “Starbuck!”

Starbuck shrugged. “No sweat, Apollo. Really. Oh, I'm sorry it had to end, but I'm not heart-broken about it.”

“I thought you two were really going to make it this time.”

“So did she,” Starbuck said. “And that's the problem, Apollo. People always want to tie me down when all I want is to have fun. She had that marrying look in her eye, the why-don't-you-commit-to-me tone in her voice.”

“The one Thenie used to get?” Apollo asked, interestedly.

“Yeah. Why do they always have to take things so seriously and want more than I can give them? Why can't they just enjoy what they've got?” Give him his due, Starbuck was uncomfortable with that reminder of his relationship with Apollo's sister, if only because of the brief strain it had put on his friendship with Apollo. After a micron his natural buoyancy reasserted itself. “Anyway, while Sheba was making her play at you in the Raider, Cass was storming around the flightdeck, accusing me…“ he broke off, then laughed, and it was unforced and genuine. Starbuck definitely wasn't broken up over this. “It's so funny, Apollo! There's Sheba in the Raider telling you you've a death wish and Cass ranting to me about taking on suicidal missions. They can't both be wrong!”

Apollo grinned. “At least we'd have gone together.”

Starbuck paused, and for a long, long centon he stared up at the stars moving slowly over the clear tylinium dome.

“Well, I don't think I'd want to go with anyone else,” he said, and meant it.

Apollo's expression was puzzled as he turned to look at Starbuck, to find the lieutenant watching him, grinning.

“So, you're over Serina?” Starbuck asked, walking over dangerous personal ground with a best friend's privilege.

Apollo nodded. “I think so. It hit me pretty hard, you know that, Starbuck, but the more I think about it the more I wonder why the hell we did it.”

“I suppose that the “someone” addicted to psycho-babble would see it as a desperate attempt to find something good coming out of all that carnage.”

They were still looking at each other; Starbuck speculative, Apollo looking a little apprehensive.

“Maybe,” conceded Apollo. “Desperation might have something to do with it. We were snatching at it, not giving it a chance to see if it was real or if it would last. We had a few fights, you know, even in those few sectons we were together, especially over her doing pilot training without even talking to me about it. I don't know if that would've settled down.”

“Both stubborn and bad-tempered,” Starbuck observed. Then after a centon, he asked, “Why *did* you seal with her, Apollo? Right then, I mean. It was hardly decent, given that I'd just disappeared. It wasn't exactly the remembrance service I would have wished for.”

“I never expected you to come back,” Apollo confessed. “I was kind of numb from that, thinking you were dead. She persuaded me that we could never know how long we'd have, so we should take it while we could. Now, when I think back, I think I was mad to have listened to her, but nothing else much mattered at the time.”

“Mmmn.” Starbuck gave him another watchful, thoughtful look. “So what is it you want?”

“Sorry?” Apollo looked confused.

“You said you'd been thinking about what you wanted and what you felt. What brought that on? I mean, you're a deep thinker, we all know that…”

“You like doing constant long patrols, do you, you sarcastic beggar?” Apollo inquired mildly.

But Starbuck was not an easy man to intimidate. “Love ‘em. So, tell me.”

Apollo looked embarrassed. “Iblis, I suppose. I know I can't actually remember much about it all, but I don't think that matters. What I feel about it is what matters. It's taking some getting used to, what he did and what happened after.”

“Ah, one of those experiences that make you sit down and evaluate everything about yourself and your life.” Starbuck grinned at Apollo's nod. “Me, too, Apollo. It had the same effect on me. I've been thinking hard about what it is I want, too.”

He looked unusually serious. It was less than a sectar since Iblis had tried to destroy them. Neither of them was absolutely certain of what had happened, but the memory, vague as a distorted dream, of Apollo lying dead on that red-hued planet had haunted Starbuck, almost mocking him with what he'd foolishly and blindly left undone. Until now, he hadn't said anything to the captain, figuring that Apollo had enough issues of his own to come to terms with without him adding his. Barring the day after it happened, when Apollo was released from Life Centre and the pair of them had holed up in Starbuck's quarters and drunk themselves into insensibility, Apollo had never seemed to want to talk about it.

“I think I'm more spooked about the Ship of Lights than anything else,” Apollo said. “I wish I could remember more of it. I wish…”

“What?”

“I wish I understood it, Starbuck.” There was real distress in Apollo's tone now. “What if I screw it all up, and those co-ordinates are all wrong and everything goes wrong and it's my fault?”

“Ah, the masochism gene just kicked in,” Starbuck said. “You do like to blame yourself for everything, don't you?”

“I'm serious, Starbuck. I wish I really understood what they really wanted – want – of me, so I get it right. I wish I understood why they brought me back.”

“They said we needed you here,” Starbuck said, voice quiet and remembering. “They said there weren't many like you and we needed you.” He half turned and raised his arms to rest both hands on Apollo's shoulders, gently turning Apollo to face him. “They were right, Apollo, whoever they were on that Ship. We do need you here. At least … well, I can't speak for the other 122,000 people in this fleet, although I think they're beginning to share my point of view, but *I* need you here. I've never felt so awful as those centons I thought you were dead. I don't think I'd be able to keep going without you to keep me in line.”

Apollo stared at him, dumb, eyes widening at something he saw in Starbuck's face.

“So whatever it is the Ship of Lights expects of you doesn't matter to me, except that once we've figured it out, I'll do everything I can to help you do it. All that matters is that they did give you back to us. To me.”

“Oh,” Apollo said.

“Ever the articulate one in this relationship,” Starbuck was laughing now, no longer serious.

“Oh,” said Apollo again.

“What relationship, I hear you ask. This one, Apollo. The one I believe they sent you back for.”

“Starbuck," said Apollo, eyes so wide now that Starbuck might have drowned in them.

"Yes?" Starbuck's face was moving inexorably closer to Apollo's.

"You look like…

What?”

“You look like… you're not going to kiss me, are you, Starbuck?"

"You know, I think I just might.”

And then Starbuck's lips were on Apollo's, tasting the soft warm mouth for the first time, tasting Apollo for the first time; his tongue licking over Apollo's full bottom lip, teasing and loving. For a long centon Apollo just let him, not reacting, but sitting still and shocked, his eyes darkening with astonishment. It was just long enough for Starbuck to feel a jab of despair and hot embarrassment, then Apollo sighed and got his hands behind Starbuck's head, tangling his fingers in the thick blond hair, and pulled him in closer, opening his mouth to Starbuck's insistent tongue.

When he was able to think again, Starbuck thought that as kisses go, it was the most profoundly wonderful he'd ever experienced during a misspent youth and adulthood in which he'd enthusiastically indulged in a lot of what Apollo had once described “osculatory exercises”. Although he'd hotly denied the imputation that it was the only kind of exercise he bothered to take, Starbuck was a man who prized kissing for its own sake, who thought of it as far more than the mere preliminary of sex.

This was the kiss to savour and to treasure.

This was the kiss he thought he'd never have for his own, not once Serina had claimed it. This was the kiss that was the heat and spice he'd never tasted before, but that he'd wanted for such a long time now. This was the kiss that was of a surprised passion, unexpected, almost bewildering in its intensity. This was the kiss that was love and comfort, and an affirmation of a long and comfortable, undemanding friendship that had suddenly flared into something demanding and urgent.

This was the kiss that made them lovers.

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FAST FORWARD TO REAL TIME AGAIN

 

“Bloody hell!” Boomer's astonishment was unflattering, but he could do nothing to keep it from his voice. “You and Apollo? You're joking, right?”

“I wish,” Starbuck said, still looking down at his hands.

“But…” Boomer took a deep breath. Started again. “You mean that you and Apollo… *Apollo!*… Him and you… “

Starbuck's shoulders shook slightly. “Him and me and me and him,” he said.

“Bloody hell!” Boomer said.

“Except now it isn't him and me. and it isn't me and him,” Starbuck said, and looked up at last.

“Bloody, bloody hell!”

“You said that.”

“But you never said anything, either of you! Not one bloody word!”

Starbuck shrugged. “I don't think he wanted anyone to know,” he said in a dull tone. “I guess he thought that if the commander found out…” he paused and shrugged again.

“Hell, yes,“ agreed Boomer, wholehearted, then with a resurgence of anger, “But when did you last see me go running to the commander to tell tales?”

“Sorry.”

“I should bloody well think so. I thought we were friends.”

Starbuck winced, and looked down at his hands again. “I thought he was, too,” he muttered.

Boomer, hurt by the implied lack of trust and ready to snap out another harsh, accusatory sentence, let his mouth close with the words unsaid. He looked closer. Now that his control had finally given way, Starbuck looked dreadful. There were dark shadows under his eyes, and his face was drawn.

“Hey,” Boomer said in a gentle voice, getting to his feet. Starbuck was only two steps away. He pulled the shaking man towards him. “Hey.”

Starbuck put up no resistance, limp and almost boneless in Boomer's comforting embrace. Boomer patted him on the shoulder, trying not to feel embarrassed at the contact, and rubbed his back comfortingly. By stretching out one hand, Boomer could just flick the lock on the office door, making sure they wouldn't be disturbed without warning.

“I'd say you have it bad, old friend,” Boomer said, when the trembling stopped and Starbuck, apologising incoherently, finally pulled himself free.

“I suppose,” Starbuck said dully, rubbing at red eyes. He straightened his back and tried for all the old Starbuck manner. “Quite a turn-up, don't you think? Blasts my reputation to hell and back.”

Boomer shook his head. “Geez, but you amaze me, Bucko. I've seen you break so many hearts, I wondered if you had one yourself. But Apollo!”

“Why so surprised?” Starbuck got himself into Apollo's chair behind the desk and propped his chin on his hands.

“Well, I know you swung both ways…”

“Sex is sex,” Starbuck said, on automatic. “And it doubles my chances of a hot date at the secton-end.”

“Whatever,” Boomer said gently, recognising the attempt at light heartedness for the desperate unhappiness it was. “But I didn't reckon Apollo was as equally … er …flexible. That's what surprised me. He always seems a bit too buttoned up and Kobolian for that.”

Starbuck rubbed again at his eyes. “Well,” he said. “He isn't.”

Boomer stopped himself from asking. He longed to know if Starbuck was Apollo's first, but that, he thought sadly, might be a question to which he never got an answer. And there were more important things to worry about right then.

“Tell,” he invited, feeling guilty at such voyeuristic curiosity.

Starbuck shrugged. “What's to tell? I split with Cassie, Sheba's on the prowl and he's on the run, we're both still trying to work out what the whole Iblis thing means to us… there we are, sitting in the Dome on the night we got the baseship, and it just sort of happens.”

“And?” prompted Boomer. “Look, Bucko. I lost count of the number of affairs you've had when we got into three figures and I ran outa space on the score card. I've seen you a bit disgruntled about them now and again, but I've never seen you like this.”

Starbuck hunched a shoulder. “I'm all right.”

“And you look like it.”

“I'm all right,” Starbuck insisted. “Bloodied but unbowed, Boomer. It's not fatal.”

“Uh-huh,” grunted Boomer, unconvinced. “What happened?”

“You're going to insist on this, right?”

“I'm between you and the door, Bucko, and you don't get past me until I know.”

Starbuck sighed in defeat. “I'm not sure. Everything was great - wonderful - for a few sectons. I didn't much like keeping it quiet, but I agreed with Apollo when he said it was better than a lecture from his father about duty and honour, morality and sin. You know how the commander can be. Then… oh, I don't know! He started making excuses for why we couldn't meet, stood me up a few times, wouldn't ever be around when I wanted to talk to him or arrange a meeting. He even skipped Triad practices. It was like he was pulling away from me, putting space between us. Then one night, a couple of sectons ago, he just said it wasn't going anywhere and he hated having to keep it quiet and all the secrecy made him feel furtive and dirty, and that was it, he didn't want to see me again like that.”

After his outburst, Starbuck seemed surprisingly calm, almost himself again.. But for the slight tremor in Starbuck's voice and the reddened eyes, Boomer would have thought that he'd just dreamt it all. The hurt was hidden away again, under the surface, but Boomer could see it now he knew what to look for.

He frowned. “No fight?”

“No.”

Boomer hesitated, doubtful. “Look, Bucko, we both know you. Did he catch you with someone else?”

“No!” Starbuck's indignation seemed quite genuine. “There wasn't anyone but him.” A pause, then Starbuck said in a sad voice, sounding slightly surprised, as if just making a significant discovery that had escaped him until then: “There's never been anyone but him, Boomer. The others were me just marking time, something to do until he realised what he meant to me. I thought he'd realised that. I thought he knew.”

“Maybe he didn't.” Boomer's frown was back. It just seemed so unlike Apollo to be so wantonly cruel. “Did you tell him?”

“Say the words?” Starbuck shook his head. “But I thought he knew, Boomer. I thought he knew without me having to tell him.”

“Maybe not,” Boomer said. “You broke up, what, two sectons ago?”

“He dumped me two sectons ago,” Starbuck corrected him resentfully.

“And you two have managed to keep this to yourselves for all that time? How? I mean, I can understand Apollo managing to hide behind being the captain and no-one would realise the difference, but I didn't figure you for having that much control.”

Another shrug, another attempt at the old armour of indifference. “I've got my pride, Boom-boom. I know how irritating I always found it when someone wanted to cling, so I made sure I never did that. I never yelled at him for breaking a date, always tried to be reasonable and calm so he'd realise that I'd take whatever he could give me and not ask for more…”

“That's pride?”

“Better than weeping all over him, disgusting him.” Starbuck looked away. “Not if he realised he'd made a mistake and he didn't really want me. I won't beg, Boomer. I wanted to make it easy on him.”

Boomer had a momentary urge to kick his captain around the flightdeck a few times and be damned to regulations. Then he frowned, wondering if Apollo had been as fooled by Starbuck's act as he had. That might explain a lot.

“So you just grinned and went off and play Pyramid or something when he didn't turn up and then he'd think you didn't really care?”

Starbuck nodded. Boomer let his eyes roll in despair. He allowed his imagination full play on a pleasing little vision of banging one blond and one dark head together with a very satisfying thump.

“I've been all right, really,” Starbuck said with a fragile brightness. “I don't know what set us off today. We've been able to handle it until today.”

“Yeah. Right. Like you look like you've been handling it.”

Boomer didn't relish what he was going to say next, but knew he had to. He needed to know what was going on with Apollo too. It annoyed the hell out of him, getting involved to this extent, but they were his friends after all. Though he loved them both, there were definitely moments when that wasn't much of a boon, and he thought longingly of the attractions of social leprosy. Friendlessness, at that moment, would be a good and safe place to hide.

He sighed. “Want me to talk to him?”

The flare of hope in Starbuck's eyes was his reward. Yeah, and one day I'll get to go to heaven, too, he thought sourly. I should stay right out of this. I want to live.

“Do you think it'll help?” There was an ironic twist to Starbuck's mouth.

Boomer sighed again and heavier. “Starbuck, old buddy, I'm pretty certain that it'll land me in the felgercarb right there alongside you, but hey! What else are friends for?”

Starbuck nodded. “Well, you'll be in good company.”

 

 

 

 

“Captain.”

No reaction. Apollo, slumped in a chair in the briefing room at one side of the Galactica's bridge and deep in thoughts that had nothing to do with the Council or his duties and everything to do with how miserable he was feeling, hadn't noticed the colonel's entrance.

“Captain!”

Apollo jumped slightly. “Uh?”

“I believe that the correct way to address a superior is ‘Yes sir'.“ Colonel Tigh's grin wasn't entirely unfriendly. “I don't think that grunts feature much in military discipline.”

Apollo summoned up a smile. “Sorry, sir. I was miles away.”

“Parsecs, I'd say, would not be enough to save you this time. The commander just called. The Council wants you back.”

“Now?” Apollo looked at his wrist chronometer. “But I'm almost off duty”

“And much the Council cares for that. You'd better go.”

Apollo grimaced and stood up. “Did he say what they wanted, sir?”

“No,” Tigh said. “He sounded put out, though, if that's any help.”

“Not much. I must have been really evil in a previous life. Maybe I was a mass murderer or something, and this is my punishment. God alone knows what misery they've thought up for me.”

Tigh walked with him out onto the bridge. “Don't be so pessimistic. They may just be pining for a smile and a roguish glance from those bright green eyes.”

“I said I was sorry, Colonel, ” Apollo reminded him, reproachful. “It's unfair to punish me.”

“Fair? Who cares about fair?” Tigh was unmoved. “I'm a colonel, remember. I have no finer feelings any more. Punishing junior officers with withering sarcasm is one of the compensations of command and my only delight. And if you say I should get out more, you're on report, Captain.”

“Never crossed my mind, sir,” Apollo said, opting for virtue and meekness. They were at the turbolift doors. He stiffened into a more military stance. “Permission to leave the bridge, sir.”

“Permission granted, Captain. Carry on.”

Apollo saluted with such exactness that even Tigh was satisfied, and took the turbo down a level. A short trek aft took him to another set of lifts. Two decks up and he was outside the Council chamber trying not to look as sour as he felt.

They were in recess, he was relieved to see, standing in little groups, talking and eating. Although he frowned slightly to see that the Council, however much it might deplore the food situation, wasn't prepared to face any rationing for itself, the recess at least meant a short respite before they got back to business again. The delay was to be welcomed, however much it bit into his off-duty time. Not that there was anything to rush home for, except another evening helping Boxey with his homework and avoiding going to the OC unless he was sure Starbuck wouldn't be there.

“You really should try and restrain your joy at your recall,” Sire Anton said in his ear. “Refreshments?”

Apollo shook his head. “No thank you, sir. I'll be meeting my son as soon as you're finished with me, and I'd like to eat with him. We don't get a lot of time together as it is.”

Anton shook his head sadly. “No subtlety, you young ones. I'll try to ensure that we don't keep you too long.” He smiled gently at Apollo's stammered apologies. “No need to apologise to me, Captain. If it comes to it, I quite enjoy the company of five yahren olds.” The gentlest of pauses, mild blue eyes surveying his fellow councillors. “Perhaps that's why active politics is still such a joy.”

Apollo grinned. Anton was really very old now, but as sharp as a laser. He and Adama were not only political allies, but real friends. Apollo liked the old man, despite the total ruthlessness with which Anton operated, and he was the only Council member that the captain trusted and treated with real, as opposed to feigned, respect. Along with watching the Council breaking like surf on the rock of his father's unshakeable serenity, watching Anton in operation was another pleasure that made the Council meetings bearable.

“The commander didn't say why I was wanted,” he said, questioningly.

“Really unsubtle.” Anton sighed. “You should stick to direct questions, Apollo, until I've given you a few more lessons.”

Apollo grinned at the old man. “All right, sir, why am I here?”

“Because the Council wants you,” Anton countered serenely.

Apollo laughed and gave up. “I'll wait to be told, then.” He glanced over to his father. “He doesn't look too overjoyed about it, either.”

“That's because he's displeased with the decisions we made today. I'm afraid, my boy, that the Council's been doing some independent thinking again.”

“Oh, but that's bad.” Apollo was beginning to enjoy himself.

“You'd try to discourage that?” Anton asked with interest

I would. My fath… the commander's more tolerant.”

“Ah well, you're young yet and the young always have a pleasing, if erroneous, consciousness of their own omniscience,” said Anton. “Whereas with old men, the consciousness is not erroneous. And not only are we omniscient, but your father is a generous and tolerant man. So am I.”

“You mean you are going to tell me why I've been recalled?”

“Unsubtle, but quick. Yes. It seems to be time for another perhaps-Captain-you've-remembered-a-little-more-about-the-Ship-of-Lights session.”

“Oh, but that's bad.” Apollo's enjoyment ebbed away.

“I'm sorry, Apollo.” The old man seemed to be sincere. “It's very difficult for you to have to keep trying to recollect your own supposed death, but I know you understand how important this is to us.”

“Yeah,” Apollo mumbled, unenthusiastically. He looked across the room to where his father was speaking into a communicator, catching Adama's eye, and pulling a face. His father stared back at him for a micron, expressionless, and Apollo stifled a sigh and turned back to the old man. “Yeah. I've had it all explained to me *very* carefully.”

Anton smiled. “Much better,” he approved. “That almost sounded as barbed as me. Once we've mastered that lesson, I'll teach you the devastating art of understatement.”

“I'm honoured to have you as my mentor, sir.”

“I'm flattered.” Anton looked thoughtful. “I think it's beginning to get very uncomfortable, isn't it, Apollo?”

Apollo didn't pretend not to understand. “Yeah. It was bad enough when it was just the Council and the Vicar-General grilling me over it, but word's got out. I was over on the Rising Star a couple of sectons ago, and complete strangers kept coming up to ask me about what happened and if it's really the route to Earth that the Ship of Lights put inside my head.” Apollo shook his head. “They acted really weird. Almost… almost, but not quite, afraid of me.”

“Be grateful they haven't yet started bringing you the sick and dying to heal,” Anton said wryly, and looked over Apollo's shoulder. “Ah, Adama. Are we ready?”

“I think we'd better begin, yes. I've given Tigh his orders.” Adama, oddly enough, was in close company with Councillor Joel. He nodded to the Secretariat members, who hastened to usher the Council back to their seats. “Has Councillor Anton explained why we wanted you, Captain?”

Apollo curbed the unpleasant jolt that Anton's words had given him. “Yes; to go over the course co-ordinates again. Is this really necessary, sir? Nothing's changed since last time.”

“Yes, it's necessary.” His father was uncompromising. “The Council has made some decisions today – with which I do not agree – and now needs some reassurance that they haven't made a mistake.”

“You see, my boy?” Anton murmured as he made his way to his seat. “Understatement.”

“And you expect me to give this reassurance?” Apollo asked.

He wondered just what it was Adama expected of him, what it was Adama believed. Ever since Iblis, their relationship had subtly changed. It was as if Adama were waiting for something, for Apollo to manifest something new or have some sort of epiphany or a religious conversion or.. or.. or something. Apollo thought that his father's faint disappointment came from Apollo's failure to do anything of the kind. Apart from those numbers and co-ordinates scrolling in front of his eyes whenever he needed to recall them, Apollo was no different than before his brush with Iblis. He certainly hadn't discovered spirituality and religious zeal.

The hint of disappointment again. “I know you'll do your duty, Captain,” Adama said.

Cold comfort and not even a frosty smile to go with it, Apollo thought glumly, only a mocking grin from Joel. Discomforted, he got himself into the chair that someone from the Secretariat had set in front of the Council table. This blasted gift - curse? – was seriously affecting his relationships with the people who mattered to him.

Adama waited until everyone had settled down before gesturing to the Secretariat to leave and announcing a closed Council session. Only then did he turn to his son.

“Captain, I believe you know why the Council asked you back this evening. We'd like to run through with you once again the information from the Ship of Lights.”

“Yes, sir.” Apollo concentrated hard on keeping his tone neutral, not letting the resentment show. He had the oddest feeling that he was becoming less Adama's son and more a databank to be exploited for religious and political ends. Definitely time he and his father had a talk about this,

“There's nothing more you've remembered?” Sire Tomas asked, as eager and as religiously ardent as ever.

“No, sir.”

“Ah well,” Adama murmured. He glanced at the rest of the Council. “Your datapads should now be logged into Council file 100/E/452:Obsidian. You all know today's password.”

Apollo waited as they all checked the data stream. The co-ordinates were in locked, encrypted computer files, with half a dozen backups. The access codes and the encryption changed daily to new arbitrary settings, to increase security. When they all nodded at Adama, able to check Apollo's verbal recitation against the records, the commander looked at him.

“Please begin, Captain.”

Apollo closed his eyes and let it through. “An elliptical course on heading 154 theta by gamma1782.5, 567.83….”

He listened to himself reciting the numbers, switching himself off and cocooning his real self away from this walking, talking databank that seemed, at the moment, to be all anyone saw of him. His voice, still neutral and very clear, seemed to go on for ever. At least six, seven centons before the bright numbers faded back into whatever part of his brain and memory the people on the Ship had altered.

“No deviation,” Joel said, at last when the computer confirmed exact correlation with the file. “Not one number. Not even one decimal place out.”

There never was any deviation, no matter how many times they made him do this. Apollo opened his eyes to meet those of the councillor. He kept his expression as neutral as his voice had been, reading the man's hostility, not letting his own show, he hoped. He'd taken some of Anton's lessons to heart, not least that to let others know what you were truly feeling and thinking made you vulnerable to them. The lesson hadn't only been for the Council chamber, either.

“It's always the same,” Tomas said, a note of awe in his tone. “Thousands of numbers, and never any variation.”

As usual his quiet voice was over-ridden by one of the more vocal and confident members of the Council, and Apollo watched as the little man sat back, a flicker of impotent dissatisfaction on his face.

“Such perfection.” Joel's mouth twisted in faint mockery. “Astonishing how well your memory works, Captain.”

Apollo let it go, not bothering to react or respond. He straightened a little in his chair and waited.

”I wish you could remember more of the Ship,” Sire Solon said fretfully.

“I wish I could too, sir,” Apollo said, leaving unspoken the hope that they might then just leave him alone.

Adama nodded, giving Apollo a small, pleased smile. Apollo nodded back, feeling a bit like a schoolboy who'd shown his father some good test results in a bid for parental approval He wondered what sort of test it had been, how well he'd passed it.

“Are you willing to undergo another deep hypnosis scan, Captain?” Adama asked now.

Apollo bit back protests about the fact he was supposed to be off duty and had a child to care for. Somehow he didn't think they'd accept that domestic duties overcame the military ones. “I am, of course, willing to do anything the Council will find helpful, sir,” he said with resignation, grateful he had Boomer to look after Boxey.

His father's smile widened fractionally, and he thought sour thoughts about another test passed, and the way his father could relate to the concept of Duty over everything else.

Adama nodded. “Doctor Salik will be here in a few centons.”

“Yes, sir.”

And then it happened. A momentary shock of discomfort that had him gasping for breath, as if he'd been kicked in the gut. What the hell… ?

“Captain?” Adama said.

He looked up at them. They were watching him with the same avidity as they had earlier that afternoon, waiting for him to do something. With thirteen pairs of eyes fixed on him, it was unnerving, to say the least. They looked at him like he was a prize specimen in a zoo or a circus, and they were waiting for the performance to start. He shook his head to clear it. His ears were buzzing, and something inside him was tugging insistently upwards and to the left. He made himself stay calm and analyse it. It wasn't unpleasant, exactly. Just a feeling…

“Apollo?” There was faint alarm in his father's voice now, he noticed, and wondered about it. “What's wrong?”

“I don't know.” He closed his eyes, feeling suddenly nauseous and giddy, even though he was sitting down. “I don't know.”

“Are you ill?” Anton asked quietly.

“Nooo…,” he said, doubtfully. “No. I don't think so. Something's changed, I think.”

“What?” Joel asked sharply

“I don't know.”

He forced his eyes open, looking back at them in faint bewilderment. Once more the look his father gave him was disappointed, and Joel and Piers had their heads together, both looking smug. He frowned, wondering, then everything settled down. The odd feeling persisted, but it was more muted. It reminded him of a music tape being played in the far distance, the tune just on the edge of hearing and tantalisingly familiar, yet distorted by distance, as if the sound were coming from an unexpected direction, from the wrong direction.

The wrong direction. Oh.

“We've changed course,” he said.

“Have we?” Adama asked.

Apollo nodded, analysing what he felt. “We've moved starboard, and at a declension angle. Our original course was left of this, to port, and up. We've moved off course.”

Startled muttering for a centon, then silence. The looks they were giving him were amazed, even, in one or two cases, fearful. Joel and Piers were scowling, both looking as if he'd pissed them off considerably. Not entirely sure yet how or why, Apollo hoped he had.

Adama sat back and looked around the Council, looking, his dazed son thought, insufferably smug. “I think that proves it beyond doubt. As all of you know, I didn't give the order to Colonel Tigh to change course until after the captain joined us here. Councillor Joel can affirm that I didn't tell the captain of the order.”

“Yes,” Joel said, looking chagrined.

“We trust you absolutely, Adama,” Tomas assured him. If anyone heard him, they didn't bother to acknowledge him.

“I don't understand,” Apollo said. “What's going on?”

“We were merely testing that feeling of yours, Captain,” Adama explained. “It seems you really can tell if we're moving in the right direction.”

“The direction given us by the Ship of Lights, in any event,” Piers said. “I don't know about 'right' since we don't exactly know where we're going.”

“Testing me?” Apollo looked down to hide the surge of anger and outrage. Another bloody test! A hoop for the circus animal to jump through, to a round of pleased applause. Oh, but it was long past time he and his father talked about this. This circus animal wasn't so well trained that he'd forgotten how to bite, even if only a little.

“I'm sure you'll accept the necessity,” Adama said, now.

And he was right to be sure, Apollo groused to himself. Early training told, and brought up from the time he could talk to value, almost to worship, service and duty and honour, what chance did Apollo have to do anything other than accept?

He frowned. “But this doesn't make sense. I'm out there in a Viper every day, changing course constantly, and I don't get this reaction.”

“The fleet has always stayed on the heading you gave us,” Anton pointed out. “Perhaps this feeling is selective, only needed if the Galactica and the fleet diverge from the course.”

Apollo considered it. “Oh. Maybe. That makes sense.”

“What does it feel like?” Sire Solon asked eagerly. He, too, was religious, but seldom in the same camp as the commander when it came to policy decisions. He was seldom in Piers and Joel's either. Apollo disliked the man, but admired his independence of mind.

“It's fading,” Apollo said.

“Fading?”.

Apollo nodded. “Someone turned the volume back up.”

Adama gave him a doubtful glance, but Apollo took a childish pleasure in not explaining himself. He knew he was being childish, but he didn't care. His rebellions against service and duty and honour might be small, but they were important to him.

“Well.” Siress Tinia was watching Apollo with interest. “One more reason, Commander, and a most compelling one, to support your disinclination to change course? Despite your earlier assurance that you would be able to return us to our original course no matter what diversions we take?”

Adama, his son noted, was wearing his most magisterial expression.

“My reasons for objecting to a course change were not technical, but more... more ethical, perhaps. But, yes, the navigational computers log all our course changes and headings, and the programme can soon get us back onto the course the Ship gave us.”

“Back onto the… “ She paused, checking the datapad in front of her to be accurate. “Onto the heading of 154 theta by gamma 1782.5, whenever circumstances permit it?”

“Yes,” Adama agreed, magisterially reluctant now.

“That's wrong,” Apollo said abruptly.

He was stared at again. He stared back, pissed off about it all now.

“What is?” demanded Joel.

“That course is wrong.”

“It's the original heading, the one that you gave us, Apollo,” his father said.

“It's wrong,” Apollo persisted. “It's wrong now.”

“Explain.”

“I can't. It's just that heading's wrong.“ He closed his eyes briefly, checked the bright numbers. “We should be on course 118.7 gamma, by epsilon 45.33 for 398.501 time periods.”

Apollo opened his eyes and looked up to meet his father's calculating, blue stare. He couldn't quite work out if Adama was pleased or perplexed or both.

“That's our new heading, Apollo,” Adama said.

“It's right.” Apollo spoke with conviction. The eerie feeling had dissipated and he felt okay again. Normal.

“Oh for Sagan's sake!” Joel's fragile hold on his temper had failed again. “Either the original heading is right or this new one is. They can't both be right, surely!”

“Of course they can,” Apollo said, going in for once for the chance of scoring against a councillor he heartily despised. “We're in three dimensional space. There's more than one way of getting from A to B. In fact, there's an infinite number of ways to get from A to B.”

Joel gave him an unfriendly look.

“Oh my God,” said Adama, and it was obvious he was more perplexed than otherwise. Apollo was slyly pleased to have shaken his father from his habitual calm.

“Is it too much to ask to have done with the mystical felgercarb and have an explanation for what's going on?” demanded Piers.

Adama gave Piers a cold look. “I think so. Apollo, do you understand what's happening?”

Apollo nodded. He thought he did, anyway.

“Then on my mark I want you to repeat the course co-ordinates for me. Computer, record data and make simultaneous comparison with Council File 100/E/452:Obsidian. Code word, Hornblende.”

// CONFIRMED //

A little part of Apollo's mind registered the fact that today's passwords were all based on mineralogy. Tomorrow's could be astronomic or gastronomic: whoever wrote the random selection programme for the computer had a wide range of interests, or just a strange sense of humour. Maybe the same strange sense of humour as the people on the Ship of Light. His attention was recalled by his father.

“Now, Apollo.”

Apollo took a deep breath and closed his eyes, calling up the co-ordinates to scroll across the front of his mind. “Course heading,” he said, his voice clear and almost resonant. “Elliptical course 118.7 gamma, by epsilon 45.33, 398.501; course change; 568.22 delta by alpha 59.1 ..”

It took the same amount of time to recite, he thought, scanning the data as it came through. There it was! Seventeen changes of course, seventeen sets of directional headings and time frames, and then they were back on the original course by the eighteenth co-ordinate cluster. Clever.

He sat quiet, mulling over it all as the Council, studying the computer analysis and the new data stream, made its slow, astonished, corporate way to the same conclusion he'd reached. He watched them idly as they exclaimed and argued, noticing the awed looks he was getting, but discounting them. They really weren't important. What the Ship had done to him was important. The potential consequences for screwing up his already difficult life were frightening him silly. It was bad enough everyone beginning to treat him like some sort of religious object. If this got out, this proof that might be taken for infallibility, those pressures could become nigh on unbearable. Anton's words about the sick and dying came back to him, and he shivered, suddenly cold and faintly nauseous.

“We're guessing here,” Solon said at last, sounding unhappy. “Speculating about what this might mean. We've no real idea what we had in the first place, much less what we have now.”

“What do you think, Apollo?” Adama asked quietly.

Apollo had had time to come to some sort of conclusion. “I think it's compensating.”

“What is?” Anton asked.

Apollo concentrated his attention on his father, shutting out the rest of the people at the table. This was between Adama and him, the opening shots in that talk they needed to have. He chose his words carefully, deliberately avoiding any religious or mystical connotation, trying to play down what had happened.

“The reprogramming. The virus. Whatever you want to call what they did to me. It's compensating.”

“Dear Lord,” someone said, astonished at the implications.

“It seems that the destination is what's important. The exact route isn't.” Apollo found it gratifying to say it, remembering his father's almost fanatical insistence that to leave the original course was a form of blasphemy. It was good for the old man to realise that he was as fallible as the rest of humanity. “The new course plots us through some different star systems, that's all.”

“You mean that you can always tell where we need to go, and you can always find us a course there, no matter what deviations we take?” Adama was as calm as ever. He'd stopped looking disappointed, at any rate.

“That's what it looks like,” Apollo agreed. “Insurance.”

“Insurance?” Joel asked, looking morose.

“I suppose that if you look at it logically, the Ship of Lights people must have anticipated that we might need to detour from the original course, depending upon what we ran into on the way. We could hit wars, dead zones, unfriendly first contacts: all sorts of reasons to want to take a side road. They're just making sure we don't get lost.”

There was a stunned, almost disbelieving silence, and this time it was real fear that clouded the atmosphere, almost strong enough to touch.

“Great day in the morning,” Piers said, all ordinary oaths patently inadequate.

Apollo caught Anton's eye and smiled slightly. Time to prove himself an apt pupil.

“Indeed,” he said, with all of his father's usual serenity.

 

 

 

 

When the school door opened, Boxey, typically, was among the first to charge out to freedom, eyes flickering over the assembled adults to see who was collecting him. He grinned when he saw Starbuck straighten up from where he had been leaning against the wall amongst the crowd of parents, and whooped delightedly in noisy and exuberant greeting. He flung himself on his favourite “uncle”.

“Starbuck!”

"Hey, Tiger. How was school?"

Boxey grinned happily. It was a high point when Starbuck came for him, second only to those wonderful days when Apollo's duties meant that he could snatch half a centar to collect his son himself, or those even rarer days when the commander was waiting patiently for him. Boxey had only slowly come to realise that his Dad was very important and his Grandpa even more so, and that this big ship was under his Grandpa's command. It didn't hurt his standing with the other children if it was either of these two exalted beings who came to collect him. But Starbuck was a very acceptable substitute. Starbuck was fun. But he hadn't seen much of Starbuck recently.

“But I thought Boomer was coming for me, today. Dad said he was going to ask him.”

“Your Dad's still with the Council, so Boomer's still in charge in the duty office. I must have done something to upset him.”

“What?”

“I don't know. But my punishment was to come and collect you.”

Boxey laughed, swinging with enthusiasm on Starbuck's arms. “You don't mind. I know you don't.”

“I'll live through it.”

“But I haven't seen you for sectons!”

“Yeah, well. I've been busy.”

“You haven't been to see me and Dad at all.” The tone was definitely accusing now.

“I've been busy,” Starbuck said again. He swung Boxey upside down once more, then set him on his feet and started off down the corridor towards the Rejuvenation Centre.

“Yeah, but you've never been away from us like that before. I asked Dad if you were seeing someone.”

“Oh? What did he say?”

Boxey didn't recognise the bitterness. “He said you probably were. He said you usually had someone. Only I know it's not Cassie ‘cos I was at Athena's the other day when Dad and you were on patrol, and Cassie came over to be miserable with her about you. They spent a long time trying to work out who it is. I don't think they realised I was listening, ‘cos they said some things and Athena got all bothered when she realised I was there.”

“What sort of things?” Starbuck was grinning at him.

“I don't know,” Boxey said with an indifferent shrug. “Kissing and stuff, I think. Then they had a fight about the way you like it. Like what, Starbuck? Athena wouldn't tell me. She said I was too young and Dad'll kill her.”

“She's right, on both counts..”

“Okay,” he said, agreeably. “Are you seeing someone. Starbuck? Is that why you don't come to see us now?”

“No, I'm not seeing anyone. Anyway, I'm here now. So, did you have a good day?”

“Okay.” Boxey, just six yahrens old and in reception class, pulled a face. He gave Starbuck a sideways look. “When I saw you last time…” he said, hesitant, “…when you came to get me last time, you said we should do it.”

“Yeah? Did you?”

Boxey shook his head. “Not yet. I thought we'd do it together,” he said, not seeing the strain on Starbuck's face. “So, we do it?”

Starbuck nodded. “We do it.”

 

 

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FAST FORWARD

 

Follow the Yellow Brick Road

It took a while for the pain killers to kick in. He sat slumped in the cockpit seat waiting for the pain to ease, vaguely grateful for the harness that kept him from slipping. If he slid to the floor, he'd never be able to get up on his own. He concentrated on keeping his strangely wheezy breathing slow and calm.

When he was able to straighten up, the pain in his side had returned to a dull ache. Bearable. Just.

Carefully he eased open his combat jacket and unfastened the tunic and pressure suit beneath. It seemed to take for ever, his hands clumsy and tired. He tried to think of pleasant things to divert him from the unpleasantness of what he was doing, of Apollo's hands undoing the fastenings, Apollo's long fingers running lightly over his ribs, finger tips rubbing gently over a nipple. It didn't work. He could remember the look of Apollo's hands, remember the long fingers and the neat, slightly curved nails, but he couldn't remember the touch, how they'd felt. The shaking hands were his own, the touch not loving, but painful. The fabric of his tunic, stiff with his blood, felt disgustingly greasy. He wouldn't want Apollo to see him like this, to touch this and be disgusted as he was disgusted.

The fingers searching through the first aid box felt like someone else's, as though he had only partial control over them. Three times he grasped the pressure bandage, three times it slipped from numb fingers. The fourth time he almost stopped breathing to concentrate, catching his bottom lip with his teeth to help him focus. This time he managed to get the bandage pad into the palm of his hand and slide it underneath the pressure suit over the gaping wound at the bottom of his chest.

He pressed it home gingerly, catching his breath as the pressure caused pain to lance through him.

“Keep your bloody great fingers out of your lungs, you idiot!”

His voice sounded startlingly loud in the cockpit, making the silence around the little fighter close in more oppressively. He shivered, waiting until the plas-skin of the bandage bonded against the undamaged skin each side of the shrapnel wound.

It was, almost instantaneously, easier to breathe. That confirmed how serious it was. The wound had opened a hole in his lower left chest, and he thought that there was more of at least one rib splattered over the control console than was left attached to his breast bone. The pressure pad had sealed the hole, making breathing less painful and difficult, but it was probably only a temporary respite. He needed medical help and fast.

“Now then, Toto. How do we get back home from here?”

When he glanced at the chronometer he was horrified to realise that over a centar had passed, while he'd drifted, helpless and lost and semi-conscious. He checked the sensors hurriedly.

Nothing.

Check sensors again, full spherical sweep, calibrating them with fingers that shook with pain, shock and the increasing cold, to catch even the most fleeting trace of the Fleet. Anything. Anything at all…

There. The merest hint of an ion trail, the faintest of signatures, already fading. Didn't look Cylon, didn't look like the K'far Shon. Had to be home. It just had to be home. It just had to be.

He was dead if it wasn't.

He set course carefully, aware that the damaged engine would slow him considerably, and sent the little Viper chasing after the faint trail. Half speed, or less. This was going to be a long slow trek.

He pushed away the thought that with the Viper this slow, this badly damaged, he didn't have a hope of catching up with the Fleet.

He wasn't exactly being energetic, so he had air supplies for about ten centars. Enough painkiller in the hypospray for about three more jags, say enough to keep the pain under reasonable control for about the same amount of time, for maybe nine, ten centars.

Great. It would be a race to see which would get him first.

Apollo. He'd just have to hope and pray that it would be Apollo. That he'd done enough on that God-forsaken little planet to make Apollo realise the truth, and persuade him that he was worth coming after.

Come and take me home, Apollo.

Better make it soon. Me and Toto are in a really bad way here.

Please come and take me home.

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