Section Three

 

 
STILL IN REAL TIME

 

“Do you think Dad'll be back today?”

“I'm sure he will. They're all coming back today.” Starbuck settled back in his seat.

“Grandpa said so, too. I've been asking him every day, but today's the day, he said. He said he'd be glad when Dad gets back and I can go home.” Boxey looked up from their shared lunch and grinned.

“He'll be glad to get rid of you, huh?”

Boxey nodded solemnly. “He says that Dad's punishing him for something. He just doesn't know what.”

“I guess he's not used to kids. Your Dad said that when he was little, your Grandpa was away a lot of the time.”

“I know. Grandpa says he's paying for that in spades, now. That's why he said I could come with you and eat, so he can concentrate on his speech without me bothering him.” He looked at Starbuck and added earnestly: “He doesn't mean it, you know. He's nice, my Grandpa. But, he's not my Dad.”

“Your Dad'll be back late tonight in time for the Requiem,” Starbuck promised.”

“I'll be in bed by then,” Boxey said gloomily.

“You'll see him at breakfast.”

“I wanted to wait up, but Grandpa said the Watch is for grown-ups. He took me and Athena to a Remember Service this morning instead.”

“Remembrance,” Starbuck suggested. “It's a Remembrance Service.”

“Uh-huh. A ‘membrance service.” A heavy sigh. “He's sad today. Everyone's acting really weird.”

“It's a special day for us, Boxey. Most people are sad today, because of what happened when the Cylons came. They're thinking about all their friends and family who aren't here any more.”

“I don't remember when the Cylons came. I was too little then.”

“You're lucky,” Starbuck said, thinking back to the miserable, dangerous days that had melted one into the next, each more horrible and tragic than the one before. At the time it had seemed endless. Once more he envied the child's ability to distance the past. He wondered if Boxey remembered anything much other than this restricted, fearful life they led now.

“I don't see why you're sad, though. You're an orphan, like me.” Boxey's logic could be witheringly direct.

“True,” agreed Starbuck, half amused and half exasperated that his orphan status apparently banned him from feeling sad about anything. “But there were people that I was very fond of who aren't with us now.”

“Like who?”

“Well, like your Grandma Ila.”

“But she was my Dad's Mom, not yours.”

“But she was nice to me and I liked her a lot. I met her a quite a few times after I got to know your Dad, and I spent a couple of home leaves with him at their house on Caprica. And there was your Uncle Zac. I liked him too.”

Starbuck could almost see the cogs whirring as Boxey processed this, but his reply was evidently satisfactory.

“Oh. Okay.”

“Being an orphan doesn't mean you can't be sorry for things like that.” Starbuck pressed the message home gently.

“I guess. I thought that you could only be sad for people like your Mom, not people you're not related to.”

“Doesn't work like that, Boxey. Sometimes I wish it did.”

“I'm sad about my Mom, but…”

“But?”

“I wish my Dad would come home. I miss him.” Boxey looked down quickly at his plate, and Starbuck knew it was because he didn't want anyone to see he was almost crying. Boxey was definitely into a phase of being too big to do babyish things like cry, even when Muffit had broken down.

“Me too,” Starbuck said.

“No. I mean, I really, really miss him, and I want him.”

Starbuck thought of the last four miserable sectons. The last two, with Apollo on K'far, had been the worst; a time almost sleepless nights, of not wanting to eat, of not wanting to play cards, or drink, or see his friends; of not wanting to anything but sit and stare into space and wonder just what, exactly, it was that he'd done to make Apollo turn away from him like this. He felt like someone had torn his life apart, and somehow it was worse with Apollo gone, with not even the faint comfort of seeing him now and again. Even when Apollo was at his least approachable, when his voice and those green eyes were cold and he would only talk to Starbuck when he had to, about work, at least he was there to look at. Starbuck had missed that since Apollo had left for K'far. He'd missed not having Apollo to look at and yearn over. He even missed being ignored.

He sighed.

“Me too.”

 

 

 

 

“I'd almost given you up.”

“We got out of decontamination twenty centons ago. I just had time to shower and change.”

Apollo slid into the pew beside his father, dressed, like Adama, in the Colonial Warrior's dark-blue and silver dress uniform. He hadn't worn it since Serina's Farewell, Adama realised, sorry that the uniform should become so associated with death and loss.

“I knew you'd landed.” Adama smiled at him. “There's time's I get a bit impatient with Salik's thoroughness. I thought he'd never clear you all.”

“I was beginning to think he was going to keep us there all night until he was sure we were clear of noxious organisms,” Apollo said. “He even irradiated the present I brought for Boxey.” He watched the priests for a centon. “I needn't have hurried. I see the stage hands are still setting up.”

Adama squashed down his reaction to that. “They're getting ready for the Service, yes. There's a few centons to go yet.”

“I was beginning to think we wouldn't make it back today at all. The K'far Shon didn't seem to want to let us go.” Apollo grinned at him. Adama thought it was forced, and Apollo was feeling as strained as he was himself.. “I think they wanted to adopt me.”

“I'm fine with that, as long as they take Boxey as well.” Well, he'd allow a little humour. It wasn't as though their dead would begrudge it to them. Adama smiled at Apollo, remembering Ila's wicked sense of humour and Zac's almost inhuman skill at practical jokes, usually aimed at his elder brother. He forgot his momentary annoyance at Apollo's less-than-pious attitude, relieved to see him back, and not just because taking care of an energetic six yahren old had made him feel his age. He had so many losses to grieve over today, just knowing he still had Apollo was a comfort.

“Run you ragged, has he?”

“Almost as bad as you were at his age,” Adama conceded.

“Oh, that good, eh? Where's Thenie?”

“She decided she couldn't face it and would rather take care of Boxey so we could be here. She came to an earlier service.”

“I'd have liked to have seen her today,” Apollo said.

Adama looked his son over carefully. Apollo looked tired. No, more than tired. He looked bone weary, worn out.

“How was it?”

Apollo frowned slightly. “I'm not sure. Good, for the most part. They were friendly, and they were quick to trade.”

“The food situation is much brighter,” Adama noted. “The tension's eased considerably.”

“But… well, you got my messages. They were very careful about what they were willing to tell me. All I got were hints, no more.”

“But it was enough for you to code the messages.” It wasn't a question. Adama would die before he admitted it, certainly before he'd mete out anything but the most sparing of praises, but he was intensely proud of his son's abilities and instincts. If it came to it, he thought Apollo was a finer warrior than he himself had been, certainly better than he had been at Apollo's age. His edge now came from experience. If those instincts had warned Apollo that there was danger ahead, Adama was content to trust to them.

Apollo shrugged. “I didn't want the whole Fleet to know before we had the chance to work it out. Have you told anyone?”

“Apart from Tigh, no. You?”

“Only Anton.”

“Oh?”

“Well, he's a ruthless old bastard, but I trust him. We really need to talk about this before we say anything to the Council, Dad.”

“But not here.” Adama looked around.

The dimly lit Chapel was crowded, every pew filled with people. All the Council was there, seated, like Adama and Apollo, in the front pews, in the places of honour. More people were pressing in through the doors. Even after a day of services to remember the dead, this, the Requiem, was the most important. Everyone wanted to be there.

“No,” Apollo agreed.

“Have supper with me later? Athena will be there and you can stay over. Boxey will be delighted to bounce all over you in the morning, instead of me.”

“Ah,” said Apollo, with a grin that made him look ridiculously young. “Payback time.”

“I owe you.”

“You owe me a decent supper. All right, I'll come.” Apollo looked around the Chapel again, before meeting his father's gaze.

“Good. You need to relax. You look tired, Apollo.”

“I haven't been sleeping too well recently. And I've not looked forward to today.” Apollo looked away, then said in a tone that made it clear to his father that he didn't want to discuss it further, changed the subject: “There's quite an audience here tonight.”

“There's been non-stop services and remembrance events all day, and not only here.” Adama ignored the provocation. “But this one's special, of course.”

Apollo nodded. The Requiem was one of the most significant of the Kobolian rituals.

“We caught up with some of it on the shuttle on the way back. Core Command relayed through some of the IFB coverage, including your speech. Good one.”

Adama stared at the priests for another centon or two before he spoke, trying to make sure that he didn't sound as if he was just making a pained complaint about his son's attitude to him. “I'm sorry, Apollo, if it's something I've said or not said, done or not done.”

Apollo's eyes widened. “What are you talking about?”

“That little comment. I'm hearing a lot of them at the moment, little digs. There has to be a reason for this animosity.”

Apollo sounded genuinely astonished. “You mean what I said about the speech? But I meant it. I liked it. I thought it was right, not to glorify things but to talk about the mistakes we made and learning from them.” His voice dropped. “And God knows, I've made some mistakes.” A pause. “Why did you think I was getting at you?”

“I've noticed you when you talk to Anton, or Tigh, how easy your relationship is with them.” He met the surprised look Apollo was giving him. “I know you like Anton. He treats you like a grandson, and I'm glad to see it. I'm only sorry that you don't feel that relaxed with me. I'm sorry that you always seem more on edge with me. Why is that, do you think?” He paused, but Apollo said nothing. “Maybe I'm being oversensitive, but it worries me when I think about us, how distant we can be sometimes. I've been thinking about it a lot over the past few days, thinking about your mother and Zac.”

“Yeah,” Apollo said. He sounded choked, and Adama guessed he was thinking of Zac in particular, and what he'd had to do a yahren ago, still blaming himself.

“I just don't know how to deal with being closed out, I suppose,” Adama said. “You and Athena are all I have left, Apollo.”

Apollo was very still, his face turned towards the altar, seemingly intent on what the priests were doing in the initial purification rituals. Incense smoke drifted towards them, heavy with a musky perfume that brought back to Adama a thousand memories of services in Chapels like this one. They'd used an incense like this when he'd sealed with Ila, on Apollo's naming day, on Athena's and Zac's. It was familiar and comforting. Beside him, he heard Apollo's half smothered expression of distaste, and he smiled slightly. His son had never been an enthusiastic attendee at Service and the memory of the thirteen-yahren-old Apollo's horror-filled face when their priest had asked him to serve as one of the incense bearers at their local Chapel in Caprica City, was almost enough to make Adama laugh, even now when he was heavy and solemn with remembered grief. He and Ila had laughed over it, yahrens ago. Apollo's emotions had been so transparent then. It was only as he grew older that he'd learned to hide.

“I like Tigh and I like Anton,” Apollo said quietly, after a moment. “They're easy for me to talk to because that's as deep as it goes. It's all on the surface. With you and… with you, maybe it's edgier because it means much more to me. It matters to me what you say, because I'm more concerned about what you think. I react to it more.”

“It's more significant?” Adama considered this. He wondered who else fell into the same category as he did, which other name might have been said if Apollo hadn't managed to stop himself. He wished it had been Sheba. He would have liked to see his son and the daughter of his old friend together. That disappointment still grated at him.

“Yes.” Apollo half-turned to face him. “I'm sorry if that bothers you. I hadn't realised.”

“Sometimes you seem to be looking for things to needle me with.” Adama couldn't quite keep the hurt out of his voice.

“Sometimes you need it.” Apollo gave him a half smile. “Or I do. Maybe it's been worse in the last few sectars. I told you the other day, after that little scene in the Council chamber, that it was getting to me.” He glanced around. “Look at them, Dad. Most of them are watching me, not concentrating on the real reason they're here. I don't like that, and I didn't like the way you and the Council seemed to think of me. Well, actually, I couldn't really care one way or the other about the Council, but it did bother me when all this religious claptrap started and you seemed to be going along with it.”

“I can't think of it like that, Apollo. It really is very important to me.”

“I know. But Dad, you can't really believe that I've been chosen to do anything special. I was just there, on hand, conveniently available. Hell, probably Muffit would have served their purposes just as well. I can't accept that there's something in me that marks me out for... for whatever it is Cantor and idiots like Tomas are marking me out for. I'm just me.”

Adama sighed and shrugged.

“Besides, if they were making a real, considered choice, don't you think they'd have engineered it so they could have gone for someone whose faith is a bit stronger than mine? I'm not exactly seminary material, Dad”

“You'll do,” Adama said gruffly.

“Thanks.”

“And they were maybe making the best of their choices – you or Starbuck? I'll agree he's hardly a candidate for sainthood.”

He was surprised at Apollo's reaction, at the sharp indrawn breath and the sudden rigidity. But he couldn't say anything. Even as he opened his mouth to speak, the lights dimmed and the Chapel grew very quiet. A priest lit the huge candles on the altar; other priests lit shaded lamps around the Chapel. Adama silently handed Apollo three small white votive candles. White. The colour of mourning and loss.

“One each,” Apollo said quietly. “Mother, Serina, Zac ...” he broke off, shaking his head.

“You did what you had to do at Cimtar, Apollo.” Adama had candles of his own, one to be lit for each of their dead. “Don't blame yourself about Zac.”

“That doesn't make it any easier.” Apollo sighed. “I know I couldn't have done anything else, but he was so bloody young. A kid. He'd only be twenty three now.”

“Yes.” Adama looked down at the candles in his hands. It was a dreadful thing to watch your son die. He was glad Apollo had been spared listening to the explosion and seeing Zac's Viper being torn apart. Zac's death had been hard enough for Apollo to deal with, without that.

“I shouldn't have left him,” Apollo said, so quiet that Adama barely heard him.

“If you hadn't, we'd all be dead.” Adama spoke firmly, in his no-arguments-permitted voice. “And it wasn't your fault on Kobol, either.”

“Maybe. If I hadn't married her, she wouldn't have been down there to get killed. And I shouldn't have married her.” Apollo gave him an odd look, almost apprehensive. “That was one mistake of the many.”

“Mistake?”

“Like your speech today, about learning from our mistakes. I don't think that I did the right thing by her.”

Adama looked at him, puzzled. He'd worried a little at the haste at which Apollo and Serina had married, but had always thought that his son had loved her. Apollo was hinting that wasn't the case? Then why in Heaven's name had he done it? “We all have regrets, Apollo.”

“Yeah.” Apollo sounded morose. “Mine are that I keep making stupid mistakes. I don't learn.”

“And mine is that I wasn't there when your mother… when it happened. I was never there when it mattered. Never.” He gripped the votive candle that was for Ila tightly.

“She always understood that you couldn't always be there. We all did.”

“Like you said, Apollo, that doesn't make it any easier. And don't tell me that you don't sometimes still resent it that I wasn't around to do all the things with you that your friends' fathers were there to do.”

Apollo inclined his head. “I never did learn how to fish,” he said, surprising a faint laugh out of Adama, despite the solemnity of the occasion and the deep and abiding grief for his dead wife and youngest son.

“Did you want to?”

“Not after meeting the K'far Shon. That's what they reminded me of. Fish. It put me off, a bit. I liked them too much to imagine them wriggling on a hook.”

“Another bonding opportunity lost, then,” Adama said and put an arm around Apollo's shoulders. He was delighted when Apollo let him. A Remembrance was never the happiest of occasions, but if it closed some of the distance between them… well, he'd be glad of it.

He rose to his feet, Apollo with him, as the great doors at the back of the Chapel were flung open and Cantor and his priests, all black-robed and cowled, came down the aisle to the altar. The whole congregation, silent and sombre, watched the procession. There wasn't time to think of the future now, only time to think of the past. It had begun, the great and wonderful and heart-breaking ritual for the remembrance of the beloved dead, the Requiem. It would take all their concentration and fortitude to get through it.

 

 

 

 

“How was it down there?” Colonel Tigh moved away from his usual position. He grinned to himself as he thought about the Bridge crew's opinion that his usual position was rarely more than three feet from the commander in any direction, and when, as now, the commander was off the bridge, the commander's chair did deputy duty for him to orbit around. Well, he was the exec officer and it was his job to be there in support, and he didn't really care what they said. He joined Apollo at the command dais railing, where the younger man was lounging.

“About as wet as Aquaria.” Apollo turned to meet him. “You should have come with us, Colonel. You'd have felt at home.”

Tigh's dark eyes narrowed slightly. Well, it looked like he'd been wrong in thinking the break from routine would do the captain some good. Apollo, if anything, looked even more pale and tired than he had before he'd left. The grin he was getting from Apollo looked forced.

“I might never have wanted to come back, though.” Tigh let his normally stern expression soften at the thought of his admittedly damp homeworld.

“Well, that's one way of me getting my promotion at last,” Apollo said. “I should have thought of marooning you earlier.”

Tigh laughed. “It's as well for you that I'm not an insecure man, Captain, or I might be tempted to send you on every dangerous mission to keep you at bay. I know it'll come as a shock to you, but my sole function in life is not to keep the colonel's seat warm for you. And what's more, the generous nature that allowed you two full sectons holiday has paid for it in spades with all the extra work your absence left me with. You owe me, Apollo.”

“Let me guess. Extra duty shifts to remind me to say thank you next time?”

“And to curb your insatiable ambition.” Tigh looked for a moment at the main screen, doing one of his periodic checks on their status, and returned to business. “As soon as the commander gets here, we'll do the debrief. I've delayed the Command meeting by a centar.”

“I expected him to be here. He didn't say anything at breakfast about being late.”

“Sire Anton called by. They're in the briefing room. He said he'll call us when he's ready. Anything I should know before we get in there?”

“Nothing concrete.” Apollo glanced around at the Bridge crew, and Tigh knew better than to press him here.

After a moment's pause he said, waving a hand at the screen, “We're following the route you negotiated with the K'far Shon, around the edge of their system, Captain. A pity, as it takes longer.”

Apollo shrugged. “They were nervous about the appearance of over two hundred alien ships in their skies, sir. We'd have been the same.”

“Yes. I'd noticed that they're keeping us well away from either habitable planet.”

“They were very friendly and helpful, but they don't want us to stay around too long in their territory. Understandable. I don't think they want us to settle here. They don't want the competition.”

“I don't think we want to settle,” Tigh said, then in a quieter voice, he asked. “Were you all right with the course change? The commander told me what happened when we changed course last time.”

“I adjusted,” Apollo said, wryly. “I expect he'll have me recording the changes as soon as the opportunity arises.”

“It's an amazing thing, Apollo,” Tigh said. He frowned at the expression on Apollo's face but had no time to deal with it. A yeoman appeared at his shoulder, murmuring something in his ear. “The commander's free, Captain. We'd better join him.”

Apollo nodded and fell into step beside him. Off the back of the bridge, past the tiny Bridge office and into the big Briefing Room behind. Adama was at the head of the table, a cup of coffee in front of him. Tigh took two coffees from the tray and took the seat at Adama's right. Apollo slid into his seat opposite, nodding his thanks when Tigh pushed one of the cups towards him.

“Sorry, no tea. You just can't get the staff these days.” Tigh looked at Adama and nodded, signalling his readiness.

“I've talked with Anton,” Adama said. “He tells me that he wasn't picking up on the same signals that you were, Apollo.”

“He's not military,” Tigh pointed out.

“But no man's fool.”

“Maybe I imagined it all,” Apollo said.

“I doubt it. Colonel Tigh's probably right in that Anton will react to a different kind of signal. All he's confirmed is that the K'far Shon diplomats weren't trying to tell him anything.” Adama turned to Tigh. “Apollo talked to me a little last night at supper, after the Watch. I want him to go over it again. I want your opinion.”

Tigh nodded, fighting down the little surge of resentment. In the five yahrens since Apollo had arrived on the Galactica as Strike Leader, he'd revised his original opinion of the younger man. At first he had been convinced that Apollo, at barely twenty five the youngest Strike Captain in the Fleet, had got there by hanging onto his father's coat tails and that Apollo's posting to the Galactica was part of some sinister dynastic manoeuvrings designed to see Tigh on his way and Apollo's colonelcy assured. It had taken a little while for Tigh to appreciate Apollo's abilities, to realise that both father and son had fought, vainly, against the posting and dynastic succession wasn't on the cards. Not just yet, anyway. Tigh was secure enough in his own abilities and the knowledge of how much Adama relied on him to allow him to joke with Apollo about keeping the colonel's seat warm. Five yahrens ago, he couldn't have done that.

But it still rankled sometimes, that Apollo and Adama had a relationship outside of this room, and that it was inevitably deeper than any other, certainly deeper than the purely professional. He told himself often that there was nothing ominous in them talking, but sometimes he still felt excluded.

“I read the coded reports you sent,” he said now. “There didn't seem to be much in it.”

“I know.” Apollo shrugged helplessly. “There may not be. And I could say even less in the reports, just in case.”

“From the top,” Adama ordered, reaching for more coffee.

“Yes, sir. To start with, you'll have scanned the outer defences?”

Tigh nodded. “We've located the grid of automated listening posts around the edges of the system. Sophisticated, but nothing we can't match. That's how they picked up Lieutenant Gillian's patrol, of course.”

“They aren't evenly distributed, did you notice? There's more of them ahead of us, than there is behind us or at any other part of the system.”

“That's important?” Adama asked quietly.

“It could be. I'll come back to it later. So far as I could tell as we went in, the listening posts have limited defensive capability and they're all unmanned. Our escort picked us up at the edge of system and took us in on a trajectory that took us close to the second moon in orbit, the other one with a breathable atmosphere. It doesn't seem to have any indigenous civilisation. All we picked up on our scanners were a few K'far Shon settlements, all of which were held within closed, climate-controlled bio-domes.”

“Why?” Tigh asked, interested.

“The atmosphere's okay, Colonel, but the climate's quite different: colder and dryer than K'far, with little in the way of surface water. The only water our scanners could find was in sub-surface aquifers and they'd need deep boreholes to access it. The K'far Shon seem to be amphibious. They can't cope with the dry atmosphere on the second moon.”

“It makes that much difference?” Adama said.

“I think so. K'far's pretty wet: it rained constantly all the time we were there, and the moon itself must be something like four-fifth's water. The K'far Shon spend a lot of their time in water. I think we could inhabit the second moon – it's no worse than Sagiterra was - but we seem to be more adaptable than they are, less dependent on a limited environmental range.”

Tigh nodded. “I suppose it's comforting to feel a touch superior.”

“They swim better than us,” Apollo told him, gravely.

“Captain.”

It was the merest warning from Adama to stick to business, but Tigh knew it was aimed at both of them. The wry look Apollo gave him showed he knew too.

“So far as we could tell, the bases on the second moon weren't civilian. We weren't taken to visit them, and the enquiries I made – I tried hard for casual – were just politely ignored. But they had a lot in common with the military bases on K'far itself. They were heavily shielded against our scanners, of course, and in the same way. The power signatures we did manage to read didn't seem to match the civilian settlements we scanned as we came into K'far.”

“Military bases?” Adama looked intently at the schematics of the system on the table in front of them.

“I think so, Commander. I think that the bases on the second moon are the first line of defence, and all their forward squadrons operate from there. Then it got really interesting. The defences around K'far itself are really very impressive.” Apollo paused, thought about it. “Yes. I think impressive is the word. They've set up three concentric rings of power units and laser cannon satellites. An invader would take heavy losses as they came in: if they got past one circle, there was always the second, and then the third. Very comprehensive.”

“Our scanners picked it up,” Tigh said. “I'd agree. Very impressive.”

“And very expensive,” Adama said. “I remember the debates in Council about the costs of the planetary defence grid back home. It cost the gross domestic product of several small planets and it wasn't nearly as elaborate as this seems to be.”

“It's not like they're ruled by a military junta or anything, either, that wants to spend all the taxes on the latest hardware,” Apollo said. “They're a democracy, like us. The Government would have had to build this with the support of popular mandate.”

“So?” prompted Tigh, wondering where this line of reasoning was taking the captain.

“I'll get to it, Colonel. These are all just the things that made the spot between my shoulder blades itch.” Apollo paused for a mouthful of cooling coffee. “We were allowed in, thankfully. I would *not* want to stack up against that grid. That's when we picked up the data on the power signatures of the civilian and military settlements.”

“So you think that the military bases on K'far itself are the defences of last resort, to mop up anything that got through the grid?” Adama asked.

Apollo nodded. “I'd say so. Not that much would get through. Anyhow, when we landed, after the social bit was over, they split us up. The ones looking after Anton and the other councillors seemed to me to be the real diplomats. I got the military.”

“Any hints on their set up?” Tigh asked.

“Very integrated. They seemed not to have any kind of infantry, just a single service. Mainly Fleet-type pilots, but I think that their warriors carried out any ground missions that were needed as well. Actually, it was a bit like what we're trying to build here, integrating Fleet and Trent's infantry. I was assigned to a General Zhimn. We spent a lot of time together and I got a few guided tours of some their bases, although I doubt that she showed me everything.”

“Assessment?” Tigh sat forward in his chair, eager to hear whether the captain's judgement bore out what they'd been able to establish from long range scanning.

“Tough,” Apollo said at once. “They'd give us a run for our cubits. Their ships are bigger than ours and slower, much slower, but more heavily armed and heavily shielded. From what I could see of their armaments, their laser pulse cannon looked pretty much like ours. Of course, I never saw one fired so I wasn't able to assess the power range.” He sounded regretful.

Tigh nodded. “I'd agree. We'd have greater manoeuvrability but that might be our only advantage. Their firepower outmatches ours. The commander and I had already concluded that we most definitely do not want any incidents. That's why we've reined in the patrols.”

“Zhimn told me that you weren't patrolling within their system. She approved of the decision, and, actually, I think it helped us a lot. She appreciated the sense of responsibility we'd shown. Maybe that was why she started talking to me a little more openly. I think she was trying to warn me about something.”

“What?” Adama turned the intent gaze to his son.

Apollo shook his head, looking frustrated. “Only a little more openly, sir. It was never explicit. Just hints that there was something outside, something in the direction that we were headed in, that bothered them. And then I got to thinking. I'd asked Zhimn about other settlements, colonies. She let slip that although they had the capability for interstellar travel, they'd never settled outside this system because they hadn't ever found a planet with the right environmental conditions for them. Most of the neighbouring systems are uninhabited, she said….” Apollo paused and looked enquiringly at them.

“Long range scanners concur,” Adama said. “The system immediately ahead has no habitable planets at all, just gas giants.”

“So it seems to me that they never got out very far from their own system before deciding that they shouldn't stray too far from home. So why the elaborate defences? If the immediate systems are uninhabited, where did they go to make the enemies who might follow them back here to strike at their home planet? Something's spooked them enough for them to build that ring of listening posts and those defences. And it didn't just spook the military. Like I said, the whole population had to have agreed to the expenditure on that defence grid, so whatever the threat is, they all feel it. And whatever the threat is, it's not that far away and we're heading towards it.” Apollo was looking apologetic now. “I'm sorry,” he said. “It's not much to go on, is it?”

“No, not much.” Adama looked at the schematics again. “Enough for me to be uneasy, though. If you look at the agreed course through their territory, they've plotted us a route that takes us in the direction where they've the most listening posts.”

“What about their own patrols, sir? I know from Zhimn that they're running them: the reason she was pleased with your decision to pull in our patrols was that it reduced the possibility of an incident if they ran into us. Are they concentrated in the same direction?”

Tigh looked at Adama and grinned at the expression on the commander's face. They had been logging the K'far Shon patrols, but hadn't looked for a pattern, merely watching to ensure that the aliens didn't come too close to the refugee fleet inching its way through their territory.

“We'll need to check. Speak to Isometrics, Colonel.”

“Done, sir.” Tigh spoke quickly into the communicator on the desk. “Five centons,” he said.

“I'm sorry there's so little to base this on,” Apollo said, rubbing at his eyes.

“Both the commander and I have a lot of faith in that itchy spot between your shoulder blades, Captain,” Tigh told him. “It's been right before now. What next, Commander?”

“Next we review what information we have. Call it up, Tigh. If we all go over it, we might spot something.”

Tigh nodded, and started downloading information onto datapads. For a while they pored over patrol intelligence, memos from the Quartermaster and fleet status reports – anything and everything that might give them a clue to the K'far Shon's intentions.

"Another food shipment from K'far is being unloaded." Tigh checked over the list of supplies he'd just printed out from computer terminal at the side of the room.

The commander looked over the report and frowned "Generous."

“That bothers you?”

Adama shrugged "I don't know. They seem willing enough to be generous with us, but they do seem to be herding us in one specific direction. It's almost like bait, giving us supplies to lull our suspicions.”

"They might well be hiding something from us,” Tigh agreed. If only they had more to go on. He held up a hand as a message flashed onto the datascreen in front of him. “Isometrics report that the K'far Shon patrols are more heavily concentrated in the direction we're heading in.”

The commander nodded, leaned back in his chair and watched his son for a moment. It took Tigh a few centons to realise that Apollo was sitting staring into space, face expressionless, an unread datapad held loosely in one hand. He noted Apollo's air of abstraction, and wondered how much of that was down to the younger man's undoubted fatigue. He'd have to have a word with Apollo, and soon, to try and find out what the hell was going on.

“Apollo,” Adama said.

Apollo didn't seem to hear him.

“Captain!” Adama said louder and when Apollo started slightly and focused on him: “You'd get on faster if you turned that report the right way up.”

“Oh. Sorry.” Apollo looked sheepish and carefully turned the pad. “I was just wondering about their reasoning for the course they gave us, for sending us in this direction. If I was them, I might have two reasons for doing it.”

“Which are?”

“Well, I'm not sure how valid this is since they aren't human and don't think like us. But either they're hoping that whatever it is will destroy us because we seem too great a threat to them, and they don't want to risk any losses of their own in getting rid of us. Or….”

“Or?” Tigh prompted.

“Or they're hoping that we'll destroy the threat for them. Either way, they're minimising the potential for damage to their forces.”

“But perhaps not actively hostile against us. I can live with benign neutrality,” said Adama. “We need to find out more.”

“I could go back down there,” Apollo offered. “We've been all diplomatic and sneaky, and pretending there's nothing worrying us. Maybe it's time for us to be a little more military.”

“Obvious, you mean?” Tigh said with a grin.

“Frank and open and direct was what I had in mind, Colonel.”

“That's what I said. Obvious.”

“We'll consider it later, Captain,” Adama said. “The command staff will be here in a few centons, and there's not time to think about it now. We'll keep this to ourselves for now, gentlemen.”

“Yes sir.” Apollo put down the datapad and stretched.

“Won't be hard,” Tigh said, as there was a knock on the door and the squadron leaders and senior lieutenants came into the room. “It's not exactly as if we know what we've got.”

 

 

 

 

“I think that's all, ladies and gentlemen.” Adama closed the Briefing meeting with words that had almost become a ritual. “Return to your posts, please. Captain Apollo…”

“Sir?” Apollo looked up from the table top that had fascinated him for the entire meeting. If he closed his eyes he'd be able to see and describe every knot and whorl in the wood, see precisely every gleam and every blemish in the polished surface. It wasn't that he particularly liked staring mindlessly at wood, although he realised that he'd done a lot of it recently, but it did mean that he hadn't had to look at Starbuck.

They'd shared one short glance as the senior staff came in for the meeting, while the lieutenants had greeted the return of their prodigal captain, then Apollo had looked away and not looked back. That one look had been enough for it all to flood back over him, the weariness and misery. He wondered how Starbuck felt. His greeting had been mumbled and subdued, half-hearted. Apollo didn't know if Starbuck was pleased or sorry he was back, and the uncertainty made him feel sick.

So, looking at the table top had been preferable to looking at Starbuck and thinking. It wasn't that he hadn't thought of Starbuck over the last couple of sectons he'd been away. He most certainly had, and often, but with the distance and the very full programme the K'far Shon had kept him to, the opportunities to think for very long hadn't arisen. Only when he was alone in the spacious quarters the K'far Shon had given him, when it was dark and the only noise was the constant sound of moving water from the fountains that graced every room or the ever present rain on the wide windows – then he'd thought of Starbuck, relentlessly and miserably. In the end, he'd had to do something to help him function with even vague normality. After two almost sleepless nights he'd raided the shuttle's medical supplies. The sleeping pills he'd found there had at least ensured that he got some sleep, deep and dreamless enough to keep him reasonably alert the next day and make sure that he didn't crap up the mission too badly.

He touched the pocket of his flight jacket, feeling the comforting shape of the little bottle through the thick fabric. But the magic little pills wouldn't last for ever, and the odds on him getting more in any legitimate fashion were slim. Somehow, he couldn't see himself wandering into the Life Centre and explaining to Doctor Salik that he couldn't sleep because he was so cut up about breaking up with his lover, and the chances of Salik handing out more pills without an explanation were about on a par with chances of the Cylons voting Apollo in as Imperious Leader for life. Either he kept on stealing the medical supplies from every shuttle the Galactica had, or he'd have to learn to cope without them, to hide things better. Now, looking at his father's grave face, he was uneasily aware that he probably wasn't hiding things at all.

“I want a word with you,” Adama said.

“Yes, sir.” Apollo waited as the senior staff filed out and Tigh, leaving last, had quietly closed the door, then looked expectantly at Adama, hoping that he'd be able to field whatever it was his father was about to throw at him.

“I couldn't say very much at breakfast this morning, not with Boxey there.”

“It's a bit hard to get a word in edgewise when he's excited,” Apollo agreed, deliberately misunderstanding. He saw his father's faint frown deepen. Oh-oh.

“I didn't want to make him anxious, or spoil your reunion,” Adama didn't react further. “I'm worried about you, Apollo.”

“Why?”

“Did you sleep at all, last night?” Adama demanded.

Apollo looked back down at the table top, wishing for a micron that he could just tell Adama straight, that he could just be honest and say... what? How about: //Well, no, Dad, now you come to mention it. I didn't sleep at all. I wish I could blame it on the uncomfortable bunk in your spare room or on Boxey sleeping in the bunk up above me. For a kid, he sure snores a lot and I guess I ought to get Salik to check out his adenoids, just like you said a sectar ago. I'll try and remember to do it this secton, if I get the time. I should have been able to sleep through an alert, I'm so damn tired. But I couldn't. And I didn't dare take the little pills last night, Dad, because we didn't get to bed until two and if I had, I'd still be sleeping like one of those dead we mourned last night, and then you'd have guessed that something was up. And I don't want you to guess. I don't want you to know what a miserable mess I've made of my life, all the crap decisions I've made, what a snivelling coward I am, the mess I got into with Starbuck and how much I want… what is it I want? Him, I guess. I want him.//

Instead, all he said was: “Not very well. The Watch was a bit wearing. It affected me even more than I thought it would.”

Adama nodded. “I thought before you went to K'far that you were looking tired. You look worse now. What's wrong, Apollo?”

“I'm fine.”

Adama gave him a long, considering look. “I don't think you've ever lied to me before. Don't start now. You're not much good at it.”

Great, thought Apollo sourly. Add guilt to the grief, why don't you? That's what being religious does for you. It's not enough to feel something. You have to have a moral dimension.

“I'm not lying. Look, it wasn't exactly a holiday down there and last night…” Apollo paused, trying to fight down the emotion. “Last night was hard. I'm not one for services, Dad, and the Watch is one of the hardest to sit through.”

For a centon they were both silent. Apollo remembered the dim Chapel, the subdued murmurs from the other people there, the sonorous chanting from Cantor and the other priests, trying not to let his hand shake as he held the white candles to the flame Cantor had kindled on the altar. They'd had to wait a long time as everyone there had lit their candles, standing quiet in the flickering light. The Watch was a time for reflection, for re-appraisal, for remembering. Apollo had watched the melting candles in his hand and had tried hard to reflect and remember, to lose himself in ritual and ceremony. The wax had run down the sides of the candles in strange, soft contorted shapes, solidifying slowly as if it meant something, signified something. Apollo didn't know what and didn't want to think about it, hastily banishing any thought that smacked of mysticism. It was just wax. Nothing more.

God, but he'd dreaded this service. He didn't need this to remember the dead. The trick would be to forget, and forget how his failures had killed them. He'd tried to distract himself by watching the rest of the congregation, but seeing Boomer, then Starbuck, lean forward to light their candles had distracted him in entirely the wrong way, and only the hot wax dripping onto his hand had brought him back to the service and the climax it was reaching. As the midnight bell tolled and Cantor's voice rose in the incantation, he'd torn his gaze from Starbuck – what was he doing there? He was even less religious than Apollo, and had no family to mourn – and, like everyone else in the Chapel, had blown out the candles.

Lives snuffed out. So very appropriate.

“Yes, it was hard,” Adama agreed. “But there's more, I think. I wish you'd trust me enough to tell me, son.”

“There's nothing,” Apollo said, almost squirming. He hated it when his father did this, piling on the guilt with a shovel. “Honest. I'll be fine in a day or two.”

“Maybe.” Adama's expression was still pained, anxious. “Anton mentioned it, too. He said he thought there was something wrong. He thinks that you're getting worried about the reaction to what happened with Iblis.”

“It's not helping,” Apollo said, knowing that he was sounding as sullen as a thirteen-yahren old, but for the life of him he couldn't keep it out of his voice. He hated being managed, and he suspected a spurt of parental management was coming on. Adama was showing all the signs. He hadn't been this intrusive since Serina had died, when he'd interfered pretty comprehensively for a few sectons until he was sure Apollo was back on an even keel. Apollo had been too listless to protest too much back then, but he wasn't sure he could survive a second bout within the yahren and not fight back.

“No, I expect it isn't. And I expect that I haven't helped there, either.”

Apollo sighed slightly, unsurprised by this gambit. That was always the next step: Adama looking to take the responsibility himself. His father would have made a perfect martyr. He had the disposition for it. “It's nothing you've done. I'm just a bit tired, Dad. But really, I'm fine.”

“You don't look it. And what I really want to know, Apollo, is how you're managing to keep going on so little sleep. I know we sanction the use of stimulants occasionally, but I'm beginning to wonder just how much you're using them.”

“Stims?” Apollo was surprised by that. “I use them when I have to, Dad, that's all. No more than most people.”

“And when did you last have to use them?”

“The day we met the K'far Shon, as it happens. But given that you seem to expect me to pull full duty shifts, three Council meetings and a first contact, all within thirty centars, I can't see why you're complaining.”

“I'm not complaining. I know we ask a lot of you. I'm just worried about you.”

“There's no need.” Apollo tried hard not to sound petulant. Dammit, why did the old man always make him feel so defensive? He knew that he wasn't overusing stims, although he hoped his father didn't start in on the other end, on his use of pilfered sedatives instead. “If I was overdoing it, I think you'd have noticed it by now. Do I look wired, for Sagans' sake?”

Adama looked marginally less anxious. “No. Just the opposite, in fact.”

“Yeah. Well.” The feeling of virtue, unfairly calumnied, buoyed Apollo up a little.

“But I'm still worried about you not sleeping. I want you to take the rest of the day off and try and relax a bit. And most of all, I want you to see Salik today, let him check you over.”

“Salik? But I'm all right!” The buoyant effect of vindicated virtue melted away as quickly as it had come. The last thing Apollo wanted was to have to explain himself to a sharp-eyed, and sharp-tongued, medic.

“I don't think so.”

Apollo took a deep breath, counted to ten and then said, mildly: “Well, I am. Look. I'll take the rest of the day off, if you like, but I really don't need to see Salik.”

A centon's pause while Adama looked him over then the commander nodded. “All right, but I reserve the right to make you go to Salik if I don't see a marked improvement in you, understood?”

Apollo's eyes narrowed. Adama had acquiesced far too quickly, and Apollo had a distinct feeling he'd just been suckered into accepting a day off. The smile Adama gave him confirmed it. God, but the old man knew what buttons to press.

“Get out of here,” Adama said. “Go and get some rest and spend some time with Boxey before he forgets what you look like. If I see you again before tomorrow's Briefing session, or if I hear you've been doing anything connected with work, you'll be in deep trouble, do you hear me?”

“Yeah,” Apollo said gruffly, cross with himself for falling for it. Even Boxey would have seen that one coming. Maybe he was too tired to think straight. “I just need to see Boomer for ten centons.”

“All right.” Adama put out a hand as Apollo got to his feet, letting it rest on his son's arm for a micron. “I really am a bit worried about you, Apollo. If you can't work it out, whatever's bothering you, maybe I can.”

Not unless you can order him to love me, Apollo thought, but managed a faint smile. “If there *was* anything… but there isn't.”

“God, but you're incorrigible! You're as stubborn as your mother.”

“Really? Strange. She always said I took after you.”

 

 

 

 

“I'm not staying,” Apollo said. “I've been given the rest of the day off, so you're still in charge.”

“Uh-huh,” Boomer said, cautiously. He stood stiffly beside the chair behind the captain's desk. Apollo was leaning up against the filing cabinet that Starbuck had so abused a few sectons ago, watching him, looking faintly surprised.

“I just thought I'd tell you myself. Can we have a catch-up session tomorrow, early, so I don't go into tomorrow's briefing without knowing what's been happening?”

“Uh-huh,” Boomer said again.

The look of surprise deepened, the lieutenant noted. Maybe he'd been expecting balloons and a banner. Welcome home, Apollo – but only if you've left your bad temper behind on K'far.

Apollo glanced around the unnaturally tidy office. “Been spring cleaning?”

“It's been quiet with so few patrols to run,” Boomer said, still cautious. He thought Apollo was okay again, but he wasn't risking anything like normal conversation until he was sure. He reached into a drawer and pulled out a pile of folders. “You don't want these today, then?”

“What are they?”

“This one's the Viper review.” Boomer put each report down on the desk as he mentioned it. “Weapons audit. Stores inventory. And the personnel and training review.”

Apollo looked at them, laid out in a neat row, each carefully and neatly bound into colour coded folders, and Boomer could have sworn he saw the captain's mouth twitch.

“Ah,” Apollo said.

“There's two copies of each one,” Boomer said.

“One for the file and one for the arsehole who made you do them?”

Boomer blinked. That sounded hopeful.

“And no, agreeing with me will not get you thrown into the brig. For Heaven's sake, sit down and relax, Boomer. You look like someone has a broom handle rammed up your backside.”

“As long as that particular punishment isn't next in your pick-on-the-lieutenant programme.” Boomer obediently sat down. This was decidedly more hopeful. Maybe he would break out the balloons and bunting, after all.

“I'll bear it in mind as a disciplinary aid.” Apollo leaned over the desk and took one of the reports. “I didn't really think you'd do them.”

“I seem to remember that it was a direct order,” Boomer said without trying to hide his resentment.

Apollo winced slightly. “Okay, I was a bit of an arsehole.”

“Yeah,” Boomer risked.

“I'm sorry.”

Apollo didn't offer any excuses. Perversely Boomer decided to do it for him. He knew Apollo, and he knew that Apollo always bitterly regretted the occasional temper tantrums. The captain wouldn't say very much but he'd be much easier to be around for the next few days, ultra careful to be nice to anyone he'd taken it out on. Boomer wasn't stupid. He would definitely make use of that, and it didn't hurt to heap coals of fire onto the penitent's head by being understanding and soothing.

“It's okay. You were pretty tired and stressed, and I don't blame you in the circumstances,” he said, wondering if he could swing so he got some time off as well. “And I guess I knew better anyway than to interfere. I knew you'd hate it.”

“So why did you?” Apollo idly turned the pages of the Viper status report, not looking up.

“Because he asked me to help.”

It was Apollo's turn. “Uh-huh,” he said.

It was enough for Boomer to get his head below the parapet again until he was surer of Apollo's mood. Not yet. Apollo wasn't quite conciliatory enough yet. God alone knew what the captain would come up with to punish him if he hacked him off again. Maybe the broom handle wasn't such a remote possibility. Boomer changed the subject rapidly.

“Hard work down there?”

“Away missions always are.” Apollo looked up, and Boomer couldn't be sure if it was relief or disappointment he saw on the pale face. “You know that you can't relax, just in case. It gets tiring after a few days. Why?”

“I can see why the commander's given you the day off, that's why. How was it, really?”

“Wet,” Apollo said, avoiding, as Boomer suspected he would, giving much else away.

“Figures. We thought they looked like fish, the ones we saw.” Boomer shrugged, accepting that Apollo wouldn't tell him anything else and nothing at all if the captain had decided that K'far came under the heading of ‘military secret'. Still, it had been worth asking.

“They're a lot like fish,” Apollo conceded. “They really aren't very like us. Friendly enough, though.”

“Yeah, well, I didn't say they weren't friendly fish.” Boomer relaxed and grinned, not at his captain, but at his friend. Welcome back, Apollo.

“Very friendly. The General took a shine to me, I think.”

“Tell me more.”

“Well, she took me swimming every day.”

Boomer let his mouth droop in disappointment. “Yeah? I'm sure that was significant,” he said dryly. “Was the swim personal or diplomatic?”

“Both. It's a very social activity and they spend half their lives in water. Unless I really misunderstood bits of guided tour, they even spawn in water.”

“You didn't!” Boomer noticed Apollo's grin and shook his head. “Nah. Not you. You didn't.” Boomer thought back almost ten yahrens. “I remember the joys of sex on the beach. That little blonde cadet from Gemina I dated in my first yahren at the Academy had this thing about doing it in water. I don't think she spawned though.”

“Not unless you've been paying paternity all these yahrens without telling us. Although it could explain why you're so mean.”

“I'm not mean. Just careful.” Boomer grinned to himself. “Bloody careful, when it came to blonde Gemon cadets. I wasn't ready for fatherhood. Speaking of which, I guess Boxey's glad you're back.”

“He seems to be, if breakfast was anything to go by.” Apollo looked more comfortable, more relaxed. “He's a noisy little tyke.”

“He missed you. We all did.” And some of us a lot more than others, he thought, thinking of Starbuck's unnatural quiet.

“Even with all the work I left you?” Apollo dropped the report back on the desk.

“Oh that. I farmed it out and spread the pain. They weren't expecting it, so none of ‘em moved fast enough. You should try that sometime. All I had to do was find the pretty coloured folders.” Boomer grinned. “But I was very careful to put the blame where it belonged. You needn't expect a lavish reception, Apollo. It'll be sectars before they forgive you. Come to think of it, from what they were saying about your likely parentage and morals, maybe they didn't miss you that much after all.”

“I suppose I'd better go to lunch and see if anyone's still talking to me then, before I crash out for the afternoon. Coming?”

“With more enthusiasm than a few sectons ago.” Boomer swept up all the reports and crammed them back into the drawer. “The rations have improved no end since we ran across our fishy friends. Almost worth eating.”

“Only almost?”

“The rations are still being cooked by military cooks,” Boomer reminded him, as they walked towards the mess. “They've got certificates in removing the taste. Still it keeps the complaints down.”

“Had many?”

“People are a bit bored, Apollo. With no patrols, they're virtually confined to the ship, and that gets a bit irksome for a pilot. You even get them volunteering for picket duty.”

“Lord, that sounds bad. I normally have to drive them out on picket with a laser and very harsh words. Are they coping all right?”

“Most of them.” Boomer paused wondering if this was worth jeopardising everything for. But he'd been cursed with a conscience, and an unfortunate habit of getting bored with safe places behind parapets. “Look, I'm not going to interfere…”

“Good.” An ominous monosyllable that went well with cold green eyes.

“But some of us coped less well than others.”

For a centon Apollo looked furious, and Boomer thought with trepidation of the amount of work he'd just got through in the last few days, and the amount Apollo could pile on him if he felt vindictive. Why the hell couldn't be keep his bloody mouth shut when he was ahead? Just because he thought Apollo's conscience wouldn't let him throw two tantrums with him in such quick succession… what if he was wrong?

“Just what are you up to, Boomer?”

“Apparently risking the application of a broom handle to my nether regions,” Boomer sighed sadly.

He was surprised and relieved when Apollo's expression softened and the captain choked down a reluctant laugh.

“I'm bloody tempted, Boomer.” But he sounded more tired and exasperated than annoyed. “Why? Just leave it.”

“You're my friends, Apollo. Both of you. And little though I like admitting it, I care about both of you. Okay, so what I'd really like to do is bang your stupid heads together – no disrespect intended, Captain - but getting you to be civilised and talk to each other is a start.” Boomer stopped and put a hand on Apollo's chest, stopping him too. “He's really been pretty miserable and you don't look too chipper either.”

“Oh, don't I?”

“No. You look like shit. As bad as he does.”

“And that's bad, is it?”

Boomer grinned. Hooked you, he thought triumphantly. “Even Giles is beginning to notice something's up with him, and you know Giles. Usually you have to attract Giles' attention with something soft and subtle, like an exploding nuclear warhead. Starbuck's not been too good, Apollo.”

“I saw you and him at the Watch last night.” Apollo was staring away from Boomer, as if reluctant to meet his eyes.

“We all have dead to mourn, Apollo, even Starbuck. He liked your mother and Zac a lot.”

“Yeah.” Apollo sounded thoughtful. “They liked him too. I'd forgotten…”

“Give him a chance, Apollo. That's all. And that's all from me, I swear it.”

“Good,” Apollo said. He looked at Boomer at last. “All right. I'll think about it.”

“That'll do,” Boomer said, satisfied, and thoroughly grateful that he'd got off lightly. “Come on. Everyone will be there already.”

Apollo grinned and followed him into the mess.

As usual, the mess was noisy and crowded, and, as usual, Blue's table was one of the noisiest and most crowded. As they walked through the door, the squadron erupted in a roar of laughter that drowned out every thing else in the room. Starbuck, grinning so widely his face ought to have split in two, tossed back the mane of blond hair, looking impossibly pleased with himself. Jolly, still laughing, threw an affectionate arm around his shoulders.

Boomer would really have liked to have put his head in his hands and groan. He could not believe the idiot's timing. It just wasn't possible. Not even Starbuck could do this. Two sectons of Starbuck being so depressed he was almost invisible, and now this! At the very centon that Boomer had got Apollo to unbend a bit…

“Hey, Boomer, Apollo!” Jolly saw them and beckoned them over. “You have just got to hear Starbuck's latest! It's a killer.”

Starbuck turned to face them, and although his eyes widened, if the huge grin faltered at all, Boomer couldn't see it. He nodded a careless, casual greeting to them both.

“I think I've heard them all,” Apollo said. He glanced at Boomer. “Miserable?” His voice was low and curt. “Yeah, well he looks it, Boomer. Like he doesn't know what fun is.”

“Apollo…” Boomer said, but Apollo had turned on his heel and was gone, leaving Boomer despairing behind him. “Shit!”

Boomer walked slowly over to the table.

Starbuck's grin faded just a little, then he shrugged. “What's up with the captain?”

“Nothing. He's on his way to get some sleep, is all. Look, I can't stay: he's got me rechecking those damned reports.” Boomer extemporised with a skill that came from long yahrens as one of Starbuck's closest friends. You couldn't spend yahrens with the man and not have some of it wear off. “I need a quick word, Bucko about the one you did. Spare me five?”

“Here?”

“Not here, unless you want the entire squadron to discuss your annual assessment?”

“Hey, they already know I'm great.” Starbuck got to his feet, gave an ironic bow in response to the derisive catcalls from his friends. “Did Apollo guess I'd put in the straight A's myself or something? Now how did he do that?”

They got into the corridor.

“You fucking idiot!!” Boomer hissed at him, all patience gone and, irrationally, angrier because Starbuck couldn't possibly have done it on purpose. “You thrice damned moron!”

Starbuck sighed and leaned against the wall, rubbing a hand against the back of his neck. “I was telling a joke, that's all. What's so wrong with that?”

“Your bloody timing, that's what so wrong.” Boomer stamped around for a micron or two, waving his arms about in best temper tantrum fashion, in an effort to relieve his feelings. “My God, whoever said that you were lucky?”

“It was just a bit of fun, Boomer.”

“Yeah. That's what Apollo thought too. I'd just got him to agree to think about…” Boomer paused, then went on, “Well, I'm not entirely sure what it was he was agreeing to, but I'd at least persuaded him that you'd been as miserable as sin for the last few sectons. That got him interested enough to agree to whatever it was he agreed to. To give you a chance, maybe. And then we walk in and find you having a bit of fun.”

“Oh,” said Starbuck. “Oh, shit. It's just that I was so pleased to see him this morning, Boomer. I missed him, and there he was, home. Just seeing him, I felt better, even if he's mad at me. I just kinda like looking at him. And I was just telling a joke, for Sagan's sake!”

“And the joke's on you, buddy.”

“I blew it, huh?”

“And without even trying. It's quite scary, Starbuck, as if some higher power's determined to keep you two apart.” Boomer sighed.

“But it was such a little thing,” mourned Starbuck.

“They usually are, aren't they, the things that matter the most? It doesn't take anything as daft as dancing on tabletops. You know, I think I've worked out why you're here, Starbuck, in this life.”

“I wish I knew,” Starbuck said, voice choked.

“Take it from me. There's no other reasonable explanation. Your sole reason for existence, Starbuck, is to be an Awful Warning to the rest of humanity.” Boomer shook his head sadly. “And you do it so well, it's frightening. Bloody frightening.”

 

<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><>

 

FAST FORWARD 3

Oh, dem ruby slippers! Oh, dem ruby slippers!

Cold.

So cold that the thick, padded flight jacket might have been as insubstantial as tissue, and his hands and feet were numb and aching. Each painful breath hung in the cold air like steam, and the inside of the clear tylinium cockpit was misting over with condensation. At the edges of the canopy, the trails of condensing water were forming themselves into little frost stars, like the images of tiny fireworks caught in ice.

If the cold was hard to bear, the pain was worse, growing steadily despite the best efforts if the painkillers in the emergency medical kit. Even shivering hurt.

He'd done everything he could to try and survive. There was nothing left for him to do, now, except wait and hope. Hope the faintest of ion trails was the right one to follow, hope that it was the Fleet somewhere up ahead, and hope that they were looking for him. Hope that Apollo would come for him.

Better make it soon, Apollo.

Very soon.

Please.

 

<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><

 

REWIND TO REAL TIME

 

“I saw you at the service last night, Apollo.”

Apollo started, surprised. He hadn't realised that Cantor was there. The Vicar-General hadn't been in the Chapel a few centons ago, when Apollo had sat down. No one had. Apollo glanced surreptitiously at his wrist chronometer, wondering if he'd dozed off for a few microns, allowing Cantor to sneak up unnoticed.

“I don't often see you in here,” The Vicar-General continued. He lowered his not inconsiderable bulk into the pew in front.

“I don't often come.”

Cantor's mouth widened into something Apollo thought might approximate into a smile if you stared at it long enough and didn't have a discriminating mind. There was an uncomfortable acreage of teeth to look at, anyway. The man obviously had a conscientious dentist.

“I'd noticed. There's an old saying, my son, that I thought I might have to embody: if the mountain won't come to the prophet, then the prophet must go to the mountain. Well, the mountain has moved, after all, and saved me the exertion.”

“But not necessarily moved towards the prophet.” Apollo tried not to let his annoyance filter through into his voice. Being caught like this irritated him. He was seldom in Chapel, but seeing Starbuck seemingly careless and carefree, apparently un-regretful, had brought on so acute a feeling of loss and desolation, that he'd found himself thinking of ways to try and deal with it. The little votive candle he'd set burning alone amongst all the representations of snuffed out lives was morbid - he'd be the first to admit it - but fitting, somehow. But if you wanted to avoid a priest, perhaps the Chapel wasn't the best place to hide.

“This is the prophet's place,” Cantor pointed out.

“Really? Is it under new management?”

Cantor looked slightly bewildered.

“It used to be God's.” Apollo didn't spare him.

The bewilderment changed to a flash of anger, and the genial expression faltered slightly. Only slightly. Cantor's tone was still friendly, almost indulgent, a man humouring a favourite but wrong-headed child. The approximation of a smile widened. “It still is, Apollo. I am merely His servant.”

“Uh-huh.” Apollo could do non-committal as well as Boomer could.

Cantor sat for a moment, tapping one beautifully manicured hand on the back of the pew. “I think we should talk, my son.”

“We already have.”

“Not very productively. I know that what happened to you affected you very deeply - how could it not? - and that you've found it difficult to talk about to anyone, even to me.”

*Even* to me? Apollo raised one very sardonic eyebrow at that and made sure that Cantor saw it.

The smile didn't slip this time. “Please, listen to me, Apollo. This is important.”

“Important to who?”

“Your church. Your father. To the Fleet itself.”

Apollo frowned. “I know that. I do understand the importance of the flight data. Of course I do.”

“I didn't mean that - at least, not entirely. I mean, the importance spiritually to everyone, the hope that this brings them.” Cantor put a hand on Apollo's arm. “You were here last night. You saw the crowds in here for the Watch. They're looking for hope, for a future, to redeem something positive out of everything they've suffered.”

Apollo glanced down at the hand on his arm and up at the priest. He waited until Cantor moved his hand before carefully and pointedly drawing back out of range. “And you think that I can provide that?”

“I do. And more important, they believe it.”

“Because that's what you've persuaded them to believe,” Apollo said, resentful as he remembered the looks he'd got the previous night. It had seemed even more obvious, the fascination people had with him and what had happened. Anton's words about the sick and dying came back to haunt him.

“I'm a priest, my son. It's my job to find something for them to hope for, to give them meaning.”

“And it's my job to keep them safe, to keep the Cylons off our backs, until we find safety; Earth or whatever planet we're heading towards. No more.”

“The two are not mutually exclusive, Apollo.”

“No? If I'm reading you right, you'd consider that to change our course, to find some other destination would be - what? Blasphemy? Impiety? I don't think that way. If the military situation demanded it, I'd be perfectly fine about a complete change of direction and frankly, I don't much care where we end up as long as it's safe.”

“Even though the way that They gave to you ‘feels right', and you were able to reroute us to Earth when the ship changed course?”

Apollo scowled, although he was not surprised that his words to the Council had filtered back to Cantor. The Vicar-General was a force to be reckoned with politically, and had strong links with the Council. Any one of them would have done that, particularly one of those prominent in the church; Tomas, Tinia or Solon. Maybe even his father, although he didn't think that Adama would talk to Cantor about him, except in the most general of terms. Adama was too private a man for that. What made Apollo react was that he could almost hear the capitalisation on the ‘They'. It was like a warning: today we'll capitalise it, tomorrow we canonise you and bring you the halt and lame to heal. Not if he could bloody well help it.

“Whoever they were and whatever it was that they did.”

“Can you doubt who they were? Really and seriously doubt it? Think what They've done, Apollo. It's the way to Earth that They've given you, and through you, They've given that to all of us. We've all felt despairing and abandoned over the last yahren, as if the Lords had turned away from us. We've all suffered grievous losses. I know that you have, too. But for so many of us, what happened to you on the Ship of Lights has calmed our fears, reassured us that we haven't been abandoned by the Lords, that God is still with us. And the fact that no matter how often we change course, that wonderful, sacred knowledge inside you changes with it, keeps us on an infallible course to Earth… that's brought so much hope back to those who had lost their hope along with their homes and their families. You've brought them hope, brought them redemption, the promise of salvation. You were Chosen for something very great and wonderful, Apollo. You must share that new sense of hope. You must believe.”

Apollo would have dearly liked to say that he didn't give a burnt out Viper part for the Lords of Kobol or the delusions of the simple-minded, but early training told too well. He might not be, as he'd cheerfully acknowledge, the most devout member of the Kobolian church, but he had enough remnants of the faith he'd been raised in to prevent him from denying it altogether.

“I believe that whoever the beings were on the Ship, they were far more advanced than we are, but I don't know who they were,” he said. “I believe that, for some inscrutable reason of their own, they decided to help us, but I don't know why. I believe that they were benign enough, although I have no proof and admittedly I'm taking that on trust. But I don't know where they're sending us. I don't pretend to know. There's nothing there for me to believe in.”

“You've not protested about the route,” Cantor observed. “Doesn't that tell you something about the rightness of what happened?”

“You don't understand, Cantor.” Apollo refused to give the Vicar-General the honorific “father” that he'd be expecting, and knew that Cantor had noted it. “Why should I protest about it? It might be the route to Earth - you and my father and all the other Kobolians may well be vindicated and justified about that - but I don't know and ultimately, I don't care. I do care about finding somewhere safe where my son can grow up and not have to be a warrior, like me, because there's no choice but to fight or die. Somewhere we can have another chance to build something, where we can stop running . How we get to that place, wherever it is, doesn't matter to me. We're fugitives, and every route we take is dangerous. Even if I knew for an absolute certainty that it was the Lords who sent us this way and it was Earth we were going to, I'd still be treating every metre we travel as potentially enemy space.”

Cantor was silent for a centon or two, evidently weighing this up. “I have to say that find your lack of faith disturbing and disappointing, given what happened. Surprising, too, given your upbringing. Yours has always been one of the leading Kobolian families.”

Apollo shrugged. “I can't help that. Any of it. I'm perfectly happy with you believing what you want to believe, as long as you extend to me the same courtesy.”

“It's not that simple.” Cantor's cold grey eyes met Apollo's. “I am going to be very honest with you, my son, and as a son of the church, however lapsed, I expect you to listen to me and remember where your loyalties lie. I want you to think very hard about what's expected of you, what the Church has always expected in service, and I want your word that you will treat this discussion as confidential.”

Apollo frowned, said nothing.

“Even your father acknowledges my authority in spiritual matters. Will you extend to me that courtesy?”

Apollo hesitated, then nodded reluctantly.

“Good. Then listen to me. The days following the Destruction were dark days for the Church, for everyone. But for a lot of people, the test of their faith was too great. They blamed us for what happened, seeing no value in religion or ritual, believing themselves deserted by the Lords and God. Isn't that something of what you feel yourself?”

“No. I've never had much faith. I went to services because it was, as you say, expected of me.” Apollo was slyly pleased at the annoyed look he was getting from the Vicar-General. “I stopped going when I was in a position to make the choice for myself. It wasn't the Destruction.”

“For many people, though, it was enough to turn them away. There were two great pillars in our society: the Church and the military. One they were turning away from, the other had already failed them.”

Apollo grimaced slightly. “A line of reasoning unlikely to make you any friends in the OC.”

“No insult intended.” Cantor's smile widened into something Apollo thought was very insulting indeed. “A statement of fact. We lost.”

“The Council acted against military advice.”

Cantor shrugged. “I don't doubt it. However, the reality is that for most of the survivors, the military failed to keep the Cylons at bay. Agreed?”

Apollo nodded. “Agreed.”

“And if they also feel that the Church has failed them… well, what would be left to hold things together, if both Church and military were seen as imperfect and weak?” Cantor paused, looking at the altar for a centon still surrounded by its banks of snuffed out candles. “I don't know if you've been on many other ships in the Fleet?”

“A fair few.”

“The Ramses? The Calliope? The Danae?”

“Not without an armed escort,” Apollo conceded. Each of the ships Cantor mentioned was one with high populations of the dispossessed, those who lived from handout to handout, with little to alleviate the monotony. The ones the Council feared.

“And they aren't the only ships like that. The people on those ships are not bad people, Apollo, just despairing and miserable, but they're symptomatic of what happens when the two pillars holding up society break down. Now, I've watched what you've done to rebuild the military into a cohesive and credible force. You and your father have done well. I've been trying to do the same for the Church. I think that we have a lot more in common than you think.”

“Uh-huh.” Apollo fell back on non-committal.

“The people need a strong Church. They need the security and assurance that brings them. An assurance that I'm determined to give them. You know what I believe.”

“I know what you've been telling everyone,” Apollo said. “That it was the Lords of Kobol, that we've been redeemed and saved. Fine, tell them that if you think it comforts them. Just leave me out of it.”

“I can't really do that, can I, in the circumstances? I need your help.” Cantor leaned forward and reached out a hand, hesitated, then as if remembering Apollo's pointed distaste for being touched, he merely dropped his hand onto the back of the pew. “You're the key to this, Apollo. You're the one the Lords touched, spoke to, entrusted with the information to save us. That is a powerful, iconic message that I can't afford to ignore.”

“I've told you where I stand on that,” Apollo said firmly. “Whatever you tell people is your business. I'm just a soldier. I'm not an icon. I won't be made into one.”

“Apollo, I am determined to rebuild the Church's power and influence.” The cold grey eyes were watching him closely. “That's an absolute necessity, if we're to have anything like stability here. You're the best weapon in the arsenal, and you are very well aware that I can't afford not to use it. Now, I'd far rather that you worked with me rather than against me, but I will win on this. I can't allow you to undermine what I'm trying to do.”

It was all the more chilling for being said with the Vicar-General's usual cold control. If the man was angry, he wasn't showing it.

“I wasn't aware that I was,” Apollo pointed out, keeping his tone mild. “Unless indifference is undermining.”

“It may be.” Cantor's cold eyes never left Apollo's face. “I am merely reminding you, my son, of the duties and service required of a Kobolian.”

For a long centon they stared at each other, then Apollo got to his feet. He took a step forward and leaned over the little candle he'd lit to represent what he'd had with Starbuck. Time to finish the ritual. Ignoring Cantor's measuring gaze, he bowed slightly to the candle and blew it out. He took the still-hot candle in his hands and crushed the hot wax into a shapeless mass, ignoring his scorched fingers.

A snuffed out life, that's all he had without Starbuck. Ashes and smoke, something as unstable as melting wax.

He let the candle drop into the heap of half burned wax, the remains of the thousands of candles from the Watch, and turned back to the Vicar General.

“You said you had a job to do, Cantor. I understand it, what you want to do, but I'm not going to help you. We've nothing in common, you and me. You talk about stability and the Church, but I'm hearing something different. What I hear is you wanting more power and influence.”

“That's a little simplistic….”

“I'm a simple man. I don't want power, just to get on with my job. I definitely don't want the kind of martyrdom you're offering me, even dressed up as sainthood. And I'm not sure I want the kind of society that you want, however stable and assured. I can just about cope with democracy. A theocracy scares me silly. No thanks, Cantor. Make your power play without me.”

“You're being childish.” The mouth was a hard line, and the grey eyes hard as ice.

“Maybe.”

“And you will learn to work with me, Apollo.”

“We'll see. You don't own me, Cantor.”

Cantor waited until he reached the Chapel door before replying.

“And are you so very sure of that, my son?”

 

 

 

For a secton after Apollo's return from K'far, Starbuck tried his level best to get the captain's attention, even if only for a fleeting moment or two. It wasn't that Apollo treated him as if he was invisible, he said sadly to Boomer, which might have at least meant that he was still significant enough to be singled out. It was more as if Starbuck was just like everyone else in the squadrons, not special at all. One of the many to whom Apollo was their quiet, slightly remote commander, someone who you could talk to about everyday mundane things, someone who was always friendly but was hard to get close to.

In a burst of romanticism that had Boomer's eyebrow rising, a morose Starbuck compared Apollo to one of those dolls that used to be sold to tourists in the opulent Gold Coast resorts on Leo, the little dolls that had smaller and yet smaller dolls inside them and you had to keep peeling away layer after layer before you got to the real thing inside. There was the outer Apollo, the remote, shy, rather gauche Apollo that was all that most people ever saw of him; underneath that was the one his family and close friends knew, warm, sensitive and gentle: and underneath that, said Starbuck, was his Apollo, the loving and passionate Apollo he'd had for only a few short sectons, two and a half sectars precisely, and who'd made him feel like heaven.

It was so long since Starbuck had seen anything below the first layer that he'd almost forgotten what is was to feel warm. Apollo chilled him. Apollo wasn't there when Starbuck was, just a cool, inaccessible captain, the outermost layer with the heart stolen from it.

“I heard Bojay grousing about Apollo taking Sheba to the Rising Star the night before last,” Starbuck said, giving only perfunctory attention to the pre-flight checks he was supposed to be doing on his Viper. The look he gave Boomer was so miserable that it would have melted a Cylon's tin heart.

“I heard that too,” Boomer admitted. He'd finished his own checks and had come to keep Starbuck company while Blue squadron waited for launch orders.

Starbuck leaned his head against the side of his Viper for a micron, welcoming the cool feel of the metal. He felt sick and very, very tired. “You don't suppose they'll get together for real, do you?”

“I don't know,” Boomer said. “She's one very determined woman. I figure she can't cope with being just another pilot. She was too used to being the commander's Daughter with all the privileges that gave her and she wants to be there again. I bet that Cain made damn sure his little girl got special treatment.”

“Apollo doesn't. Nor does Athena.”

“Adama isn't Cain, thank the Lords. And maybe Princess Sheba hasn't noticed yet that the last thing either Apollo or Athena would want would be special treatment.”

“She wants him,” Starbuck said, gloomily. “And she'll get him. He won't have to hide with her, he won't be ashamed of a relationship with her.”

“I would be,” muttered Boomer.

“Well, me too. But at least with her it could be all open and above board. Not like with me.”

“Is that what he said?”

“Near enough.” Starbuck flicked on the pressure gauges and stared at them, but for the life of him he couldn't have said what the readings were. He was vaguely aware that Boomer shouldered him out of the way and checked the gauges himself. Apathetic, Starbuck let him. “What can I do, Boomer? I've never felt like this about anyone.”

Boomer looked not unlike a lapin caught in a Viper's searchlight at this direct appeal. “Lords, I don't know, Starbuck. He's withdrawing from everyone at the moment. He's treating me the same as he's treating you; like he met me yesterday and while he's perfectly polite, it's like he doesn't know us very well, doesn't quite trust us yet, and won't open up. A bit like he was when he first got here, when we were strangers.”

“It's the polite bit that gets to me,” Starbuck said, still gloomy. “That's the killer. He's only polite because he doesn't care enough to get mad.”

“Don't think so. I mean, I don't think he doesn't care, Bucko. He looks about as bad as you do when you let it show, only he's looking like that all the time now.”

“Because he feels bad about me?”

“I'd say so,” Boomer said, then added hurriedly, “Only I'm not saying so to him. I'm staying right out of it.”

“Then why in hell did he dump me?”

“How do I know?” Boomer paused, then said, thoughtfully, “The day he went to K'far, when he chewed me out, I said something to him about you not knowing what it was you'd done. He said that it was more that there was something you hadn't done, but then he went ballistic and was too busy yelling at me to explain.”

Starbuck sighed. “I wish I knew what. I'd do it - in spades.” His gaze shifted beyond Boomer, to the other side of the deck. “Heads up, Boomer. He's on his way over.”

Boomer turned. “Captain.”

Apollo, wearing the inevitable headset and carrying one of the tiny handheld datapads, nodded a greeting of sorts. “Lieutenants. I've got your patrol orders here.”

“It's always nice to know where we're going,” Starbuck said, feeling the idiotic grin spreading despite his best efforts to restrain it. Apollo was just so damned beautiful, and he'd give anything to put a smile on that serious face.

Apollo's mouth twisted slightly. “If I could have your attention for a centon,” he said, pointedly. “We're just about to move out of the K'far system. We've got the fleet assembling here, while you and Silver Spar scout the next system. We know that it's uninhabited, so Silver Spar are heading straight across to see what's waiting for us in the next system over. They're already on their way out. Boomer, I want you to take Blue and crawl over this one. Uninhabited doesn't mean safe.”

“Done, sir,” Boomer said.

”And be wary. The K'far Shon have told us that they have some forward scouts in this system, and it's quite likely that you'll run into them. They've been alerted to our plans, so there shouldn't be any bother. Just be polite.”

“I always am.”

“And if the worst comes to the worst, Starbuck can try out the infamous charm and do his persuasive best.”

“And that means what?” Starbuck heard himself say it, heard the taut anger in his tone, but he couldn't stop himself. He'd spent over five sectons now stepping carefully around Apollo, and he'd had enough. He needed to know what it was he'd done, or hadn't done. The initial anger over the way Apollo had dumped him had long ago faded into a deep-seated hurt, that nothing and nobody could cure. He surprised himself with this sudden burst of anger, but he really needed to know.

“Just that you're always proud of your ability to persuade anyone into anything,” Apollo said. He wasn't meeting Starbuck's eyes, but focusing on something over Starbuck's shoulder.

“Oh, is that it? That's the excuse you're coming up with to explain everything away? I over-persuaded you into bed, did I?” Out of the corner of his eye, Starbuck saw Boomer wince and retreat rapidly out of range.

“You're out of line, Lieutenant.”

“Am I? Am I hell! What I am is confused, Apollo. And hurting, and mad at you, and I want to know what the fuck is going on. I want to know why I got dumped.”

Apollo said nothing, his face white.

“And I am totally pissed off, Apollo, because I'm damned if I deserve this. I do not deserve being treated like this! What in hell did I do to you apart from show as best I could how much you meant to me? Was that so bad that you treat me like shit?”

“Starbuck…”

“Or is it that you don't think that someone like me deserves any consideration? That I don't deserve to be treated decently? Why? Because of my background - or lack of it - maybe?”

“Of course no….”

“I thought we were friends. Even if we can't be lovers, we were friends first. Doesn't mean much to you though does it?”

“It's not like that!”

“Well how should I know what it's like since you won't tell me? You won't tell me what I did wrong, or what I didn't do that was wrong, and how the hell do you expect me to guess?”

The PA suddenly chimed into life, with Rigel's voice ordering the pilots into their fighters. Flight technicians appeared from the ready-room, running for the ships they were responsible for getting into the air.

“When I get back from this patrol, you and me are going to talk, you hear me? I want to know what this is all about. If I've wasted my time all these yahrens being friends with you, I want to understand why. I reckon you owe me that much and I've let you off too lightly, too long. I've had enough of sitting about not putting any pressure on you, and giving you time to think about it.”

“Oh, is that what you've been doing?”

Apollo, thought Starbuck, could do sneering all too well. He took a step forward, his face so close to Apollo's that he could have drowned in the startled green eyes.

“In between crying myself sick, you mean, and watching you go off with that Sheba?”

Apollo stared for a micron. “Who I go out with is my business, Starbuck. What's the matter? Jealous?”

“Damn right I am! Fucking jealous!” Starbuck took a very deep breath, seeing Apollo's face blank with surprise.

“Starbuck…” Apollo said, uncertainly.

Starbuck shook his head as Jenny raced towards him, his helmet in her hands. “Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a patrol to fly.”

 

 

 

 

Flip.

Grab.

Flip.

Grab.

Flip.

“You know,” Commander Adama remarked. “An historian of my acquaintance once told me that some very primitive societies make a feature of the practice of infanticide.”

Grab.

“Is that so?” Colonel Tigh said.

Flip.

“Oh yes. Apparently you offer up your first-born son as a way of venerating the Gods, as an act of piety and devotion to increase your sanctity. It doesn't do your standing with the priests and the rest of your society any harm either, of course, for you to be known as a religious and devout man.”

“Well, I'd be impressed,” Tigh said.

Apollo balanced the little datapad carefully on the flat-topped railing around the command dais on the bridge, one edge of the pad resting on the backs of the fingers of his left hand. A quick flip sent it spinning up, for him to grab it out of the air as it tumbled back. He'd seen Starbuck do this a zillion times, flicking cards into the air as he waited for a game to start, or just to keep his hands occupied as they all sat around the tables in the OC, talking and laughing. The tiny palm-held datapad was more difficult to deal with than cards, the weight too unevenly distributed to do anything but make its little flight excitingly erratic, but he was getting a neat rhythm built up now.

Flip.

Grab.

“It's a religious observance that I find myself increasingly in sympathy with,” Adama said. “And if he drops that thing, I'll do it.”

“There may be a queue,” Tigh said.

Flip.

“I won't hesitate to pull rank,” Adama told him.

Grab.

Apollo pushed the little datapad back into his pocket, turned and looked at them. “I was just keeping occupied,” he said, giving up all pretence of not hearing the sotto-voce commentary from his superiors. “It's always the dullest part, waiting for the patrols to start reporting in.”

“If it's excitement you crave, Captain, I'm sure we can arrange something.” Adama did not seem overly sympathetic.

“Human sacrifice, for example,” Tigh chimed in with a wolfish smile.

“I think that I also said to you, Commander, that as a practice, it was overly wasteful of scarce resources,” Apollo reminded his father. “It's far more efficient to sacrifice the old and infirm and keep the young.”

“For breeding, I believe you said,” Adama agreed.

“Are we talking from a purely scientific viewpoint?” Tigh asked. “Because as one of the ageing but not yet infirm, I don't think my breeding days are over.”

Apollo tried for a faint, but tolerant smile, and turned away to watch the big screens again. Athena, sitting at the navigation desk to his right, gave him a quick grin, and he pulled a face at her. There was no doubt but that she'd heard and was enjoying his discomfiture. From the grins he got from Rigel and Omega, she wasn't the only one, either. He put a hand into his pocket to feel the comforting weight of the datapad. For a centon he was tempted, but he knew how far he could go before his father and Tigh would drop on him for real. He was pretty sure that flipping the datapad once more would not go down well.

Out of the corner of his eye Apollo saw Adama gesture to Tigh, who faded away into the background. Adama joined him at the rail.

“I suppose that a direct order to tell me what's going on, won't have any effect?” the commander said very quietly now, not to be overheard.

“I'm fine,” Apollo said, equally as quietly.

“What you are, is a poor liar, Apollo. I think we should have a talk. Now.”

Apollo saw the quizzical glance Athena was giving them both, and turned his back on the rest of the bridge to face his father, leaning against the dais safety rail.

“Now?”

“Right now. I'd prefer the Bridge Office.”

There was no arguing with him, not in public and not when that tone of voice – a curious mix of pissed-off commander and parental concern – was used. Apollo trailed after him reluctantly, dreading what was to come, feeling every inch the sulky schoolboy about to get a chewing out. Tigh gave him a nod when he passed, the colonel's expression serious now, slightly sympathetic. He did not need this. He did not need all this on top of wondering what the hell Starbuck had meant. Resentment and a faint sense of humiliation put him even more on edge than he already was.

“Breaking the rule about father-son baring of souls?” he asked when he got inside the door. He put his hands behind him, leaning up against the door, letting his fingers drum lightly and almost silently up against the panel. Not quite as mindlessly soothing as flipping the datapad, but it helped.

“If I have to.”

Apollo shook his head, refusing the chair his father waved him towards, staying near the door for a fast exit. “There's nothing I want to talk about. I'll work it out for myself.”

“So far, with a singular lack of success,” Adama said dryly. “I won't let this go on much longer, Apollo.”

Apollo kept his tone even, and he knew that his calm detachment, however spurious, was as hurtful as the careful all-important word he chose to emphasise the distance he was putting between them by refusing to acknowledge their relationship. “It's my business, Commander.”

Adama winced visibly. “I won't accept that, for many reasons. But if it's formal you want, Captain, then I won't accept it when it affects your work.”

“I don't think it is.”

“You and I may have a different perspective on that.” Adama's tone was pure commander now. “You're evidently under some considerable stress. You were having trouble sleeping when you came back from K'far. I suspect that you still are. I doubt if you're eating much, given how thin you're getting. I fail to see, Captain, how you can be operating at your best in those conditions, but I'm willing to listen to your reasons for why I may be wrong.”

“I'm fine,” Apollo muttered.

“Hardly a reasoned argument, Captain.” Adama waited a micron or two. “So we can do this one of two ways. Either you tell me what's going on and we work out a way to deal with it – as a family - or we'll keep it formal and official and I'll downcheck you from duty and send you to Salik whether you want to go or not. Either way, I'm not letting this go on any longer. I won't be shut out any longer, either as your father or as your commander. Your play.”

A centon's pause while Apollo glowered at his father. He knew that Adama meant it.

“You know that I hate this stuff about being some sort of saviour,” Apollo said. “It's getting out of hand.”

Adama nodded. “I also know that you were coping with it pretty well until a few sectons ago. What happened to change that?”

“Nothing. It's been more intense, that's all. I can't even go to the Rising Star now without people talking about me, about what happened. And the Council's just the same, always going on about it.” Apollo shrugged angrily. “Even some of the warriors have started in on it, calling me the Lords' Anointed, for frack's sake! I hate it. I hate it, and it scares me. I'm no-one's saviour, not even my own. There's nothing special about me. It's just some stupid data in my head!”

Adama shook his head. “You are a very bad liar, Apollo. What's caused this?”

“Hell, isn't this enough? This is really scaring me, Dad. I mean it. You must have heard what Tomas said when you told the Council I was going to K'far.”

“He was over-ruled.”

“This time. But what about the next time he tries it?”

Adam shook his head. “Then we'll deal with it. I can't believe this is what's bothering you so much.”

Apollo's glower deepened, but Adama was wearing the same impenetrable serenity that the Council so often came to grief on. Nearly thirty yahrens of exposure to that serenity didn't equip Apollo to deal with it any better than the councillors could. Damnation! The old man wasn't going to let up on this. Apollo had a fleeting longing to be back at an age when he could just let Adama take over, when all they had to sort out between them was some quarrel at school or some adolescent trauma. But God alone knew what Adama would say if he knew that Apollo had thrown away the most important thing in his life, just because he was a coward and afraid.

And just what had Starbuck meant by all that on the flight-deck? He couldn't really have cried himself sick, could he? It just didn't fit. It didn't fit with the devil-may-care Starbuck that he'd seen every day since they'd split up. Starbuck couldn't hide himself away that completely, that well, could he? But Boomer had said something about that, the day Apollo had left for K'far. Apollo chewed uncertainly on his bottom lip, the drumming of his fingers against the door panel more insistent and agitated.

Adama merely waited, watching his son's internal struggles with no discernable expression on his face. Waiting. Expectant.

Apollo sighed. He knew that Adama wasn't nearly as unsympathetic as he looked, but what would he say about Starbuck? The Book was, at best, neutral about homosexuality. Most Kobolian teaching was against it. He honestly didn't know how his father would react, and that scared him.

Coward. Starbuck was right. You're a bloody coward.

Adama kept on waiting. He did superhuman patience pretty well, even his half-distraught son had to admit that.

“I… “

Adama looked encouraging, and this time half the bridge must have heard Apollo's sigh.

“Look, I've fucked up big time. All right?” Apollo knew his father would hate the profanity, but the remnants of his pride demanded some sort of little defiance, some sort of little Pyhrric victory before he capitulated completely.

“In what way?”

Geez, but he hated that calm stoicism. He'd give anything to puncture it.

“On… on a personal basis. Look, Dad, do we have to do this? I crapped up something that was the best thing I ever had, bar nothing. I finished it, and it was the biggest mistake I ever made in a whole life of crap decisions and big mistakes.”

“Apollo…”

“Oh, don't worry. I'll get over it. I always learn to live with my mistakes, remember? Like Zac and Kobol…” He let his voice die away. What was the use?

“I'm not sure, though, that you ever get to live comfortably with what you perceive as mistakes.” Adama's voice was gentle now. “What's this all about? Sheba?”

Apollo choked. “Sheba? Of course, it's not Sheba! Why the hell should it be anything to do with her?”

Adama was frowning slightly. “Someone else?”

Apollo let his shoulder's slump and he came forward into the room, dropping tiredly into the chair in front of the desk. “Yeah. Someone else.”

“But I don't understand. Who…?” Adama broke off abruptly as Tigh burst through the door.

“We've got trouble, Adama. Big trouble. Silver Spar just reported in. They're on their way back as fast as they can do it. They've found whatever it was the K'far Shon are scared of.”

“What?” Apollo spoke in the same breath as his father.

“Isometrics are still analysing, but the power signatures are very familiar.”

“Shit,” Apollo breathed, his woes temporarily forgotten.

“You're sure?” Adama said, calm unbroken.

“We need confirmation, but I'm sure, yes.” Tigh took a deep breath. “We've found Cylons.”

 

 

 

 

“I'm pretty sure they don't know we're here,” Bojay reported to a hushed command meeting. “I picked up the anomaly as we crossed into the system and kept the squadron back while I went in on my own. I got in close enough to have a good look. It's Cylon, all right, a forward base, like Gamoray. But I stayed far enough away to make sure I wasn't scanned.”

“I hope not,” Adama said. ““If they saw you then the whole area will be on the alert as they try to anticipate and counter our next move, even if they haven't worked out who we are.” He paused, and looked thoughtfully at the Silver Spar leader. “Whilst I accept that you weren't scanned, Lieutenant, we're going to be ultra cautious on this. I'm inclined to proceed on the basis that we may have been detected, and act accordingly. We can't rely on being able to sneak up on them.”

Apollo leaned forward slightly. “Were you able to see if there were any baseships in support? We weren't able to pick anything up on long range scanners.”

“Didn't see anything,” Bojay said stiffly.

Apollo thought that Bojay was offended by Adama's caution, as if the commander had called his professionalism into dispute, and made his tone as mollifying as possible. The Pegasus people could be a real pain in the astrum.

“How many planet-based squadrons did you pick up, Bojay?” he asked.

“Unknown,” Bojay was forced to admit, and the look he turned on Apollo was sulky, as if he was tarring Apollo with Adama's brush and disliking them both more by the centon.

“No estimates?” Apollo raised an eyebrow, too surprised to be diplomatic.

“Well, based on the size of the facility, probably about the equivalent of a baseship,” Bojay said and shrugged. “Maybe. It wasn't as big as the base at Gamoray.” He looked eagerly at the commander. “We can take it out, sir.”

“Perhaps,” Adama said. “Colonel Tigh, do we have anything from Isometrics?”

“They've compared the read-outs from the lieutenant's Viper with the data we collected on Gamoray. It isn't as big, by any means, but it's still a substantial obstacle. Most of it is underground, like Gamoray, and heavily shielded. Lieutenant Bojay's estimate of a baseship-sized planetary squadron is about right, given the number of launch pads.” Tigh's voice was calm, restrained.

“We can take it, sir,” Bojay said again. “We had a lot of experience of this kind of raid at Gamoray.”

And failed to make that much of an impression, Apollo thought sourly, but held his peace.

“Commander Cain committed the entire resources of a Battlestar at Gamoray,” Adama said. “And failed to destroy it.”

“I'm not saying that it won't take every ship we've got, Commander. It will. But we've got to hit it! They're the enemy. They destroyed everything! We have to get our revenge for that. Besides, what choice have we?”

“That remains to be seen,” Adama said.

Apollo shook his head. “Boj, you said yourself that we have a major planetary base with unknown, but substantial, forces, maybe at least at a baseship's strength, in the quadrant we need to pass through with the fleet. I don't have to remind you that most of the fleet's ships carry no armament. The risks are horrendous.”

“If we wipe out that base, there won't be any threat to them as they pass through the quadrant,” argued Bojay. He looked at Trent, the infantry lieutenant sitting quietly at Apollo's left. “And we've got ground troops now.”

“But you just suggested that we commit all our forces to hitting the base, leaving the fleet defenceless whilst we attack. It would take only a few of their forces to find the fleet whilst we're engaged, and we're finished. There'd be no fleet for us to come back to. Think what they did four sectars ago when they got the agri-ships. We're only just beginning to recover from that.”

“Are you saying we shouldn't attack?” Bojay demanded incredulously.

“No.” Apollo tried hard to keep his tone even and patient. “I'm not saying that it's impossible to attack the base, but first we have to decide if that's what we want to do.”

“What else is there to do?” Sheba asked, as incredulous as Bojay.

“Look, it's not going to be sitting out here on its own. It may be a forward base, but that means that the rest of the Empire isn't that far behind. If we do wipe the place out, it'll tip off the Cylons about the fleet's position. We haven't seen anything of them for over four sectars. But we all know we haven't lost them completely. We hit the base, and we tell them exactly where we are.”

“And your assessment about whether we can get the fleet through this quadrant without them realising we're here?” Adama asked the question quietly.

“Probably not,” conceded Apollo. “All I'm saying, sir, is that it's a factor to weigh in the balance when we make our decision. It makes the possibility of detection, a certainty. But if we decide that the risk of discovery's worth it, we have to decide how to hit the place in a way that minimises danger to the civilian fleet.”

“Yes.” Adama agreed. “Your recommendation, Captain?”

Apollo paused for a micron, ignoring Bojay's scornful expression and the way that the other Pegasus pilots were moving closer together, their unity against a common adversary – him – almost palpable.

“On balance – yes, we should hit it. but for different reasons. Revenge doesn't come into it. We have to go forward.” Apollo exchanged a glance with the commander, remembering their theorising about the K'far Shon and their motives. “The K'far Shon won't let us go back. Quite naturally they want us out of their home system, and if we try to go back we'd face a fight. We don't want to be caught between two hostile forces. We could try going around, but it's going to take the fleet some time to move through this and adjacent quadrants. If we don't destroy the base, then, realistically, a Cylon patrol will come across us at some point. A live base, probably with substantial baseship support, would threaten our rear and provide a staging post for long range tracking.” Apollo's tone was neutral, considering. “I'd say yes. We have to try. But minimising the risks all the way.”

“You're talking about leaving a substantial force back here,” Bojay argued. “Reduced firepower will seriously affect our ability to wipe that base out. We'll need every ship we have if we're going to destroy it.”

Sometimes, oddly enough usually when Bojay opened his mouth, Apollo regretted Adama's policy of encouraging serious debate at Command meetings. Bojay wouldn't be censured for stating his views as long as he kept within bounds. And Bojay knew it.

“I'm not sure we can destroy it,” Apollo said.

“It's our job to destroy the enemy,” Bojay snapped back

Apollo shook his head. Not for the first time, he wished they'd never run across the Pegasus and ended up with half the other Battlestar's pilots. If his life had been complicated before, it was doubly so now.

“No,” he said evenly, keeping his temper despite his irritation with the lieutenant. “It's not. Not any more. We lost, Bojay. We failed to destroy the enemy. They destroyed us. We have a different job now, to protect what's left after our failure, protect the civilians until we find Earth.”

“They'll be safer if we wipe that base out,” Sheba said. As usual, she supported her wingmate in every Pegasus-inspired move he made.

Apollo gave her a cold look, wondering why he'd ever thought her attractive. Like father, like daughter. Well, his brush with death and Iblis had given him an opportunity to really think about what he wanted out of life. Add that to the sudden focus risking his life getting that baseship had given his thinking, and he'd concluded whatever it was that he wanted, Sheba was not it. Then he had to look down to hide his expression when he realised that he didn't have what he wanted. He'd had it once, for a very brief time, then he'd lost his nerve. It was gone. He'd lost Starbuck, and everything was gone.

He kept his tone mild and even and forced his mind back onto the task in hand. “We've over two hundred defenceless civilian ships to protect. We can't risk them just to have fun with the Cylons”

“I'm not talking about fun or playing. I'm tired of running!” she said sounding frustrated.

Apollo sighed. Oh, very like her father. She never had agreed with Apollo's more cautious approach.

“We all are, Sheba.”

“Just that some of us have had more practice,” Bojay muttered scornfully.

Apollo flushed.

“I didn't quite catch that, Lieutenant,” Adama said. His tone was coldly, politely interested and Apollo grinned at him, suddenly liking his father very much.

Bojay looked nervous and shook his head. “Nothing important, sir.”

“So I imagined,” Adama said in the same cold voice, and Apollo enjoyed knowing that it was Bojay's turn to flush.

Adama turned to Tigh and the two senior officer went quietly to a corner to speak together. At the other end of the table, the Pegasus contingent - Bojay, Sheba, Lilias and Drake - went into a quiet huddle, closing ranks again.

“Bojay trying to make like Cain,” Kyle commented quietly to Apollo.

“I've had nearly six sectars of that Cain crap and I'm getting really tired of it,” said Apollo, still glowering at Bojay

“Yeah,” said Gillian acidly, leaning forward to speak across Kyle, and beside her Dietra nodded agreement. “Pity they weren't at Cimtar. They'd have won the war on their own.”

“I wonder how guilty they feel about taking off like that?” said Boomer, thoughtfully.

“Get real,” Starbuck snorted. “You'd get a more realistic grasp of their feelings if you asked how much they despised us all for not taking off.”

Apollo gave him a grateful look. His anguish and uncertainty about Starbuck was walled off, closed away by the need to do his job and do it to the very best of his ability. Too many lives depended on him for anything else. That wasn't to say that his heart hadn't given a little jump when he'd watched the senior lieutenants file in and Starbuck's eyes had sought his for a micron. The lieutenant's sombre expression had lifted a little when they glanced at each other and that was something else for Apollo to file away and think about later, when this crisis gave him the leisure. Starbuck had been glad to see him, he knew it. He couldn't and wouldn't let that absorb him now, but Starbuck's automatic support and championship warmed him. He'd missed just being friends with Starbuck, almost more than being lovers.

“And what wonderful warriors they are,” Dietra muttered, rolling her eyes.

“How can you say such things about such superior airheads?” Trent asked, using the infantry's half-affectionate, half scornful nickname for Fleet pilots. “Compared to them, you lot seem positively intelligent.”

All of them. All of them supported him. He relaxed a little, warmed and obscurely comforted, no longer so alone.

“Lieutenant Boomer.” Adama spoke quietly as he returned to his seat, but it was enough to call them all to order again. “Your examination of the system we're about to enter showed nothing?”

“Quiet, sir. No sign of Cylon activity, but the K'far Shon had a number of forward patrols there, guarding their borders. We ran across two. No problems. They were very courteous and friendly.”

And they would be if they think we're going to destroy the Cylons for them., Apollo thought. I'd be friendly, too.

Adama nodded, and thought about it for a few more centons. “Then we'll start to move the fleet into the system, otherwise we do indeed risk antagonising the K'far Shon. We don't have to make a decision about how we tackle the base for several days. Captain Apollo, I'd like you to return to K'far and consult General Zhimn, as we discussed earlier. The chances are that they won't help us: their strategy appears to be purely defensive, as you've already surmised. In the meantime, we'll be on yellow alert, and the squadrons will stay in close to protect the fleet, with one only on longer-range patrol, out on point. No Viper is to leave this system without my express authorisation. Lieutenant Boomer, you'll be in command in the captain's absence.”

Adama paused and looked down at the hands he had clasped loosely on the table top.

“This is confidential, ladies and gentlemen. Until we have a clearer idea of the scale of the threat and the K'far Shon's likely response, I do not want anyone outside this room to know anything about the base. I don't want panic in the Fleet. Understood?”

A variety of nods and mumbled agreement.

“With your permission, Commander?” Apollo waved a hand at the screen at the far side of the briefing room, the schematics Bojay had downloaded playing on it. “We can still use the opportunity to get the pilots up to speed. I think we can convert the data Bojay got into a plausible looking battle training simulation. Everyone can go over it until they can do it blindfold. By the time we do hit the place, they'll know every rock on the planet. And Trent can take his people through the base schematics, on the same training basis.”

Adama thought about it, nodded. “Excellent idea. But we don't want to arouse suspicions.”

Apollo grinned slightly. “Oh I think we can come up with something, sir, to avoid that. I had Lieutenant Boomer carry out a full skills and training audit when I was on K'far. Now I've had the chance to look at it, I see the need for some remedial work. I'm not happy with standards. They're getting sloppy.”

“You'll be popular,” Boomer said.

“That, I can live with,” Apollo assured him.

“We can add in some extra defences, just to tighten things up when they get used to this one,” Starbuck agreed. “Get them really sharp.”

Adama smiled slightly. “Then do it. That will be all.”

Apollo nodded to him as he left, meeting his father's rueful smile. Well, that performance left the old man without much of a reasoned argument himself. There wasn't much proof that things were really affecting Apollo's work, not on the evidence of that briefing meeting. He might need sedatives to sleep and he might have been operating on pure adrenalin, but he'd still been on form, still thinking strategically. Which was more than could be said for trigger-happy, I-think-with-my-laser Bojay.

Thank God he hadn't had to say anything to the old man after all.

And thank God that he was being sent back to K'far. That would put off any discussion with Starbuck for a few days.

Long enough to think of something to say.

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